Nach dem Urlaub ist vor dem Urlaub

Until I can land a job as a full-time Alpine hiker, I generally start planning (dreaming of) my next trip on the flight back from my existing trip.  Granted, the realist in me appreciates that wandering (it is very fitting that the german verb “to hike” is “wandern”) probably isn’t going to be my full-time career.  Besides, what would I do for a vacation then?  Most likely visit a metropolis and work as software engineer for two weeks. 😉

Me around Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland in September 2010. Did I mention I like the food…?

Before we get to the next trip, let’s wrap up this one.  First, I want to make some comments about the gear that I used:

  1. Handheld hiking GPS.  I know Garmin’s stock went down when Apple announced it’s maps initiative, but the iPhone can’t beat the battery life and sensitivity of a dedicated GPS (currently), especially one that can’t get connected to the Internet.  My Garmin eTrex 20 was fun on the trail, with constant moving averages and recorded the data to produce those great Google Earth maps.
  2. Camelback.  Absolutely essential in my opinion.  I had a backpack with a Camelback sleeve and it makes a huge difference having the water fit nicely in the mid of your back vice carrying water bottles.  Plus, it’s easy access to water.  I was drinking about 3 Liters of water each trip and honestly, I should have been drinking more in the 80+ degrees.
  3. Dry-fit clothing.  I sweat profusely.  After switching to all dry-fit clothing I adamantly avoid cotton on hikes.  When we stopped for breaks and I took my bag off, my shirts would dry.  The smell on the other hand…
What would now be called a geocache, around Lauterbrunnen, September 2010. It was a long way down…

Experience highlights:

  1. A lot of spoken German practice for me, which was fun.  After a few trips to Germany, I quickly became a fan of the German Trinkkultur, hiking and the language.  I mean, it’s a great language for Computer Scientists since it uses a stack; in some cases all the verbs pile up at the end of the sentence and once complete, one pops the stack of all the verbs!  I even was able to help hikers and tourist with directions in the area, in German!  So, you know… go me.
  2. Hotel-to-hotel-hiking is the way to go.  My previous hiking in Berchtesgaden and Lauterbrunnen were both amazing in their own rights, but having a luggage service really opens up the day to maximize time in the mountains.  This was also my first experience with a travel agency and Wanderweg Holidays really made this effortless.  They also specialize in this kind of trip.  I highly recommend you check them out if you are interested in a similar vacation!
On the Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany, October 2009. Another visitor yelled to me: “Come on American! Get over here already!” Apparently, tort litigation is on the side of the tourist attractions in Germany…


So, what’s next?  Some possibilities:

  1. Another hiking trip.  I would love to go back to German speaking countries (mainly for point number 1 above).  But there’s a lot on this geoid where I haven’t been, mainly I’ve never been in the Southern Hemisphere!  Despite a circumnavigation through both major canals and visiting Singapore (1 degree away!!), I’m still a pollywog.  So, if it is a hiking trip, New Zealand is looking like the candidate.  Or New Hampshire if we’re driving 🙂
  2. Cruise.  Cruises are effortless vacations.  I get massive amounts of reading done on these while I’m sitting on a deck looking out onto the sea.  It’s great, relatively cheap and easy.  While great, we’ve done our share, so meh.
  3. The Alps in the winter.  My wife is a skier, I’m a faller-down-the-mountain-and-kill-myself-so-just-stay-in-the-lodge-and-read-guy, so it works out great!  Plus, point 1 again.
Sign on the Zugspitze for the path to climb to the cross (see above picture). They are not kidding…

So, probably back to Germany 😮 , but I’ll work on my plans some more.  Of course, if you have suggestions, feel free to leave a comment!  Well, I don’t have any more hiking adventures upcoming anytime soon, but I’m burning through a backlog of books and my database class is interesting (sounds of massive unsubscribing… 🙂 ), so feel free to stick around.

Bis bald!

Having a beer with Alan and John in Munich

Day 7 of 6.  Leaving the now familiar Salzburger Hof, we reversed the multi-hopped route back to Munich.  The 260 Bus from Lofer to Salzburg and Deutsche Bahn to Munich’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station).  For our last night in Europe, we treated ourselves to a more upscale place, Fleming’s Hotel.  Which, was also conveniently located near the train station, but not too near the train station, where an abundance of travelers hang out much like they did outside a famous publishing company’s headquarters on Ursa Minor Beta.

This was my third or fourth trip to Munich, so I had seen most of the major tourist attractions, including the 200th Oktoberfest.  Also, we really only had the afternoon and evening to enjoy in Munich since our flight left the next morning.  So, being the geek that I am, I went back to the Deutsches Museum.  This is one of the largest science and technology museums in the world and it is amazing.  It outshines my beloved Franklin Institute, the Smithsonian and the Exploratorium (from what I remember of it, I visited it a few years ago…)

Surfing in Munich: On a previous trip to Munich in 2008 I took this picture of river-surfers on the Eisbach, in the Englischer Garten.

Sure, all of these museums have interesting exhibits, but where the Deutsches Museum outperforms the competition, and makes it the best technological museum I have ever seen, is the detail of its technical descriptions.  Other museums really only scratch the surface, but the Deutsches Museum describes the science behind the exhibit with a depth of detail.  For example, in its Informatik (Computer Science) exhibit, one can find the following interactive exhibits:

  1. Logical operators, AND, OR, NOT, etc… implemented in both electronic and physical means!  One of which used capsules filled with mercury, where if the capsule was at a certain angle it would complete the circuit.
  2. A Turing machine simulator.
  3. A terminal explaining how the Von Neumann architecture works.
  4. An Enigma machine (not interactive, and I can’t remember if it was a four or three rotor version).

Also, fans of Gravity’s Rainbow will appreciate the V-2 Rocket on display.  One certainly gains more respect for the Raketemensch after seeing one of these up close…

Having our technological fill, we were now hungry and crossed the city to attend the famous Augustiner Brewery & Biergarten, Munich’s oldest brewery, founded in 1328.  It was Saturday night and the outside Biergarten was full, as well as the restaurant.  We awkwardly loitered outside the foyer trying to figure out how this was going to work.  Meanwhile, visibly incapacitated patrons, complete in Trachten Lederhosen, stumbled into the bathrooms of the opposite gender.  A table opened up in the Biergarten and we quickly sat down.

Enjoying a drink at the Augustiner Biergarten

Ordering “eine Maß” (one liter of beer) and our appetizer, a pretzel, that overflowed the 12” plate, we relaxed amongst the boisterous bachelor and bachelorette parties the occupied the shaded gravel that night.  But before our food arrived, a german couple about the age of our parents joined us at our small table.  While taboo in the USA, this behavior not uncommon from what I’ve experienced in Germany.  The couple was also visiting Munich and we had fun trying to communicate with each other.  So, in half-english-half-german, we talked about our trip to Austria, Euromeister 2012, and how revealing Drindl have become.

With our succesful Biergarten experience now complete,  we returned to the hotel.  The next day we fortunately had an uneventful return trip back to the U.S. and started plotting our next trip.  But, that will have to wait for another day…

Trip Metrics:

  • Total Distance: 105.1km over 6 days (65.3 miles)
  • Highest Elevation: 1457m on Loferer Alm, Day 2

Hiking in Austria Day 6: Weißbach to Lofer

Day 6 of 6.  Satisfied with a filling pre-hike breakfast, we set out north from Weißbach to the famous Lamprechtshöhle (Lamprecht’s cave).  The 700m of cave that is accessible to the public is just the foyer to the 51 km cave!  The cave has the medieval version of the Goonies story: a famous knight (Knight Lamprecht) hid all of his treasure in this mysterious cave.  The Knight’s two daughters, one blind, one greedy, inherited said treasure, but the greedy sister betrayed her kin and tried to take the treasure for herself. Somehow, the blind sister discovered this and cursed her sister with the treasure in the Frauenhöhle section of the cave.  Then there’s this thing about a Baby Ruth bar and a pirate’s ship, or something like that, I’m not fluent in German remember 🙂  Anyway, the tale convinced at least 198 adventurers to seek the treasure unsuccessfully, since that many human skeletons were found by more experienced spelunkers.

Knight Lamprecht’s treasure is here somewhere.

The entrance to the cave is marked with a wooden awning with a stone carving, which gives the cave a dwarven feel.  We were fortunate to even get to see the cave since it was initially closed due to “High Water” when we first arrived.  But, the attendant told us it would open in about ten minutes and we waited while she setup her kiosk and arranged all the plush bats by the cashier’s stand.  We proceeded into the cave with caution…

Being tall sometimes comes with disadvantages.

After the cave, we continued up the Saalach a bit and then veered west to detour to the Vorderkaserklamm.  Just one… more… gorge… I’ve mentioned before that it had rained after we returned to the hotels, each night in fact.  However, we carried our rain coats with us every day, just in case.  Well, at the base of this gorge, we shrugged off the sign that said something like “You will get wet on this ride.”  After 40m of a single-file-wooden-catwalk, we were soaked.  A deluge of water, all runoff from the mountain above, poured into the gorge.  We took momentary shelter under a hanging rock and put on our rain coats and the otherwise beautiful gorge became a blur as we raced up the hundred or so steps to the exit.  We were immediately greeted by two resting women who could do nothing but laugh at the sight of us, so we asked for a picture 😉

All gorged out.

Out of the gorge and through the woods, back to Lofer we go.  Stopping of course, for a snack at a well-timed snack-bar just north of St. Martin.  Another healthy snack: Nussschnecken and Pretzels!  Ending our day at the Salzburger Hof again, we completed our six days of hiking without luggage in the Saalachtal!  One last night in Austria before we set off for a travel day in Munich where we had one more adventure…

Day 6 map.

Metrics:

  • Date completed: 22.6.12
  • Distance: 19.4km
  • Start Time: 0947
  • Start Elevation: 664m
  • Highest Elevation: 883m @ 1228
  • End Time: 1551
Day 6 Elevation Plot

Hiking in Austria Day 5: St. Martin to Weißbach

Day 5 of 6.  One of the nice things about a hotel next to a church, is that one doesn’t need an alarm clock.  Initially waking up at seven bells, we finally stumbled out at three short bells (0745) for a light breakfast before saying Auf Wiedersehen to St. Martin.

Hiking up to the Eiblkapelle. Pondering the question, which has an answer of 42…

Starting pleasantly enough on a shaded path, we reached the ascent on a road through the pastures.  Basically, today’s goal was to get to Weißbach, which isn’t really that far from St. Martin, but it wouldn’t be all that fun to walk directly there. 😉  Instead, the theme of the day was walk around the Gerhardstein “hill” (refer to map) and arrive to Weißbach through, that’s right, gorges and pastures.  So, maybe about 3/4 of the ascent (at 1260m) from St. Martin, there was a small chapel (Eiblkapelle) that had one of the best viewpoints of the trip yet.  We sat up there for a while, taking pictures and enjoying a snack before moving on.

Day 5 Map: St. Martin to Weißbach around the Gerhardstein

The peak of our day was at the snack-station Litzalm.  It was filled with hikers and bikers (of the bicycle sort) taking well-deserved breaks from wherever they came.  However, we decided to press on.  A rather steep and rocky descent (I’m glad we went in this direction) followed before we were back in a river’s valley.  Finally, our stomachs got the better of us and we stopped at the Gasthof Lohfeyer.

I never wanted to be an engineer anyway! Always, sitting at a desk, calculating this, programming that! I wanted to be… to be… a LUMBERJACK!

I had another grilled-meat-sampler-plate with a Weißbier and being a bit more aggressive about asking for the check then on our second day, we were soon off to the Seisenbergklamm.  The best gorge so far!  A few hundred meters long and maybe just less than 100 meters deep (the website has plenty of  great pictures, none of mine really developed well).  The gorge is the gateway to Weißbach and our hotel, the aptly named Landgasthof Seisenbergklamm, awaited us.  It rained again that night and we rested up for our last day of hiking which would be the return trip to Lofer.

Climbing wall at Weißbach. We enjoyed watching them.

Metrics:

  • Date completed: 21.6.12
  • Distance: 18.9km
  • Start Time: 0932
  • Start Elevation: 674m
  • Highest Elevation: 1323m @ 1256
  • End Time: 1612
Day 5 Elevation

And because I can’t get the song out of my head and because it’s the rare German version, here’s a treat:

Fortunately, we did not encounter said Holzfäller.

Hiking in Austria Day 4: Unken to St. Martin

Day 4 of 6.  Leaving our luggage again, we re-traced Day three as far as the Innersbachklamm, but continued through Reith and quickly through Au.  Along the way we had great views of the Steinberge mountains.  The morning was relatively cloudless, but the forecast called for heavy rains starting around 1700, so we decided to clip about two hours from the planned route.  But back to the trail…  We stumbled on a few hunting shelters (Jägersitze) in the dense woods, which when discovering them unoccupied, has a creepy feeling, like finding the “others” camp on LOST.

Loferer Steinberge

Next, we went through the Maybergklamm (we were taking the Route der Klammen, “Route of the Gorges,” after all) and up to the Auer Wiesen pastures.  With panoramic views overlooking Au, we continued in the open slowly making our way back to Lofer.  As we approached the Knappenstadl restaurant, we passed a small chapel dedicated to St. Hubertus.  I took the photo at the well-trampled photo spot, where it should be obvious from the photo that St. Hubertus is the patron saint of hunters, which probably explains the many Jägersitze!

St. Hubertus Chapel

From there, we hugged the base of the Kienberg and popped back out in Lofer in the campground behind Castle Grubhof.  There is a cultural difference about camping in Germany / Austria than in the U.S. that I can’t quite explain; it’s somehow more accepted but still has a certain stigma to it.  In fact, a few years ago while I was traveling in Stuttgart, I saw a German comedy sitcom called, “Die Camper,” which captured the social drama of living in a RV-park.  Anyway, the Grubhof campers were very content sitting on their lawn chairs in the shade of their pull out patios.  From the campsite, we crossed the highway and arrived at our hotel in St. Martin, the Gasthof zur Post.  Interesting typography fact: a roman cursive medial character, ſ, looks like a ‘f’ but is pronounced like an ‘s,’ i.e. the “long s.”  A short trip around the church in St. Martin confirmed that the Gafthof zur Poft was indeed our hotel 🙂

Day 4 Map from Unken to St. Martin through gorges and pastures

Metrics:

  • Date completed: 20.6.12
  • Distance: 15.3km
  • Start Time: 0945
  • Start Elevation: 536m
  • Highest Elevation: 861m @ 1236
  • End Time: 1451
Day 4 Elevation Plot

Hiking in Austria Day 3: Unken and Innersbachklamm

Day 3 of 6.  Day two left us very, very sore so we decided to make Day 3 an easy day.  We were supposed to take a route following the Saalach river in the direction of Bad Reichenhall and cross into Germany and come back.  Instead we followed a trail south to the Innersbachklamm (gorge).

Salaach River after heavy rains
Day 3 Map

It was a particularly nice day to visit the gorge and we had fun walking along the bridge and taking plenty of pictures.  This entire trip and especially the gorges, made me feel as if I was wandering through Zork.  Going through the gorges, I felt I would suddenly

Innersbachklamm

stumble on flood control dam #3…  Fortunately, there was enough light so I didn’t have to worry about the Grues.

After a pause at the end of the gorge, we walked through cow-infested trails into the village of Unken.  Stopping briefly for cash and some groceries (pretzels and Mezzo Mix), we walked back to the hotel.  But on our way back, I walked up a trail briefly to get a view and I serendipitously found a small cabin, with a stone lion fountain (again, very Zork-like).  We had a short pause in the lion-hut before calling it a day.

You have stumbled upon a hidden hut. Inside the hut there is a stone lion fountain. You also see a jewel-encrusted egg.

Back to the hotel for a restful afternoon.  I opened my Kindle and finally got around to finishing Life of Pi.  A decent book to read while traveling.  Although, the algae-island that turns carnivorous at night is a bit trippy…  Dinner was a delicious Austria BBQ consisting of grilled chicken, sausage, pork, beef and bacon.  Otherwise known as a Vegetarian’s Nightmare 😉

Day 3 Elevation Plot

Metrics:

  • Date completed: 19.6.12
  • Distance: 8.6km
  • Start Time: 1043
  • Start Elevation: 554m
  • Highest Elevation: 607m @ 1216
  • End Time: 1407

Hiking in Austria Day 2: Lofer to Unken

Day 2 of 6.  One of the best aspects of this trip was the “Wandern ohne Gepäck,” or hiking without luggage.  Each day when we would walk to a new hotel, we would leave our suitcases at the “old” hotel and then, magically, they would be transported to the new

Day 2 Map, Lofer to (almost) Unken

hotel!  This allowed us to hike with only a backpack and we could arrive at a hotel with our bags (and clean clothes) awaiting us.  So, we packed our luggage and left them at the reception desk of the Salzburger Hof and started our second day of hiking.

We started the day with a stroll through Lofer to the cable car to Loferer Alm.  We arrived at the lift after nine, but we had to wait to the first run until ten.  Once in the enclosed lift, we enjoyed a scenic ascent on a warm day to the first pasture (Alm).  From there, we went on foot up to Haus Gertraud (elevation 1348m).  Here we stopped for a healthy lunch: Wießbier und Apflelstrudel.  🙂  However, with the break (about an hour, mainly because I’m still not accustomed to aggressively flagging down the waitress, as is the custom in Germany/Austria) and the delay from the lift, it was already after noon and we still had quite a ways to go…

The author, having enjoyed a König Ludwig Wießbier at Haus Gertaud

Appropriately fueled for the the trek, we continued our slight ascent through alpine pastures before plunging into the literal “black forest” and the long walk to Unken.  On a

View on the way up to Loferer Alm

paved lumber-road, we descended all those many meters we climbed, which wasn’t too fun on the knees.  Brief interludes of the Schwarzbergklamm kept us entertained, but otherwise, it was a tedious walk.  Nearing Unken, my GPS, a Garmin eTrex 20, froze and unfortunately I was too tired at the time to think to take out the batteries and replace them, so unfortunately my track recording died.  Otherwise, the device was excellent save for this one incident.

A remaining pesky detail remained: we didn’t know where our hotel was 🙂  We thought it was in the center of town… At this point, I was pretty much exhausted and I probably looked as bad as I smelt.  Without a GPS, I was forced to try the old fashion way: asking for directions.  I’m not fluent in German, but I do have my Zertifikat Deutsch, so I asked a helpful looking man sipping his coffee.  Unfortunately, he had a heavy swiss accent, so all I caught was, “I’m a tourist here, … from Switzerland … ask the women.”  Seeing how he pointed in the direction of a young woman behind him, I tried again.  She was from Berlin and the Oracle women were apparently inside.  Wandering inside the nice hotel, I was quickly helped and given detailed instructions and told that I should get a new GPS. 😕 However, as detailed as they were, we were quickly lost without a map.

Fortunately, the information center was still open, we received our map and found our way to the beautiful Landhotel Schütterbad where we showered, ate a wonderful dinner with a very fancy dessert and slept very, very well.

Fancy dessert! Take that Sarah!

Metrics:

  • Date completed: 18.6.12
  • Distance: 24.3km
  • Start Time: 0932
  • Start Elevation: 633m
  • Highest Elevation: 1457m @ 1255
  • End Time: 1800 (or later… GPS went kaputt)
Day 2 Elevation Plot

Hiking in Austria Day 1: Lofer to Lofer

This is Day 1 of 6 hiking days in and around Lofer, Austria.  But first, some comments on Day 0, or the travel day to Lofer.  My flight was routed through NYC (JFK) to London Heathrow and then to Munich, Germany on British Airways.  Arriving late in Heathrow in Terminal 5 I had a funny experience with the BA staff, mainly I participated in a group run through the terminal.  There was a very nice staff member who met the lot of us going to Munich at the exit of our plane where we were instructed to run to the lift.  In the lift, she told us that despite how fast we run, we may not make it and that we

St. Martin, Austria

shouldn’t be upset at her.  When the lift opened, a group of 20 tired travelers dashed through the terminal to the next waiting point 🙂  We didn’t make it to the gate on time, but it was no problem rebooking the flight and overall, it was a fun game in the terminal. Oh, and we received a full bottle of Champagne from the BA steward (separate story), but we couldn’t take it with us since we had to go back  through security again in Heathrow, uggg!

Day 1 Map from Google Earth

Once in Munich, I bought a Deutsche Bahn ticket in the Munich airport all the way to Salzburg.  For two people, it was only around 27 Euro or so since we used the local regional train, which only arrived 30 minutes later than the nearly twice as expensive trains.  The automated ticketing machines are so easy it really makes traveling by train in Germany a breeze!  So, S-Bahn to München-Ost and then the RE to Salzburg.  From Salzburg, the 260 Bus for 1.5 hours to Lofer, Austria.

After much-needed rest at the Salzburger Hof, we started Day 1!  A hike up the Salzburger Steig to almost 1100m (see elevation graph) and then down to the beautiful Maria Kirchental.  There was a service ending as we arrived so the Pilgrim’s church and surrounding shops were bustling with

Wallfahrtskirche in the Maria Kirchental

churchgoers.  Cutting between Lofer and St. Martin and then walking north along the Salaach River, I learned an important lesson about hiking maps.  The lesson is: a dotted black trail on the map basically means you pave your own path.  After 45 minutes of forging my own path through a black forest, I realized it’s better just to follow the more established “red” paths…

Anyway, back on the road and following the Salaach upstream back into Lofer, we finished Day 1!

Metrics:

  • Date completed: 17.6.12
  • Distance: 18.6km
  • Start Time: 0929
  • Start Elevation: 644m
  • Highest Elevation: 1070m @ 1115
  • End Time: 1614
Day 1 Elevation Plot

Hiking in Austria and Twitter Sockets

A flurry of updates in this post as there has been a lot going on:

  1. I returned from an awesome six-day hiking trip in Lofer, Austria.  First time using a travel agency and Wanderweg Holidays really delivered.  The entire package was well organized as our luggage was delivered flawlessly to each different hotel throughout the trek.  It was a self-guided hiking tour over 105 km total.  I’m hoping to submit an article to Greattreks.com with the details, when I do, I’ll link to all of the details.  For now, a teaser photo.

    The author looking at some Austrian Trees
    The author looking at some Austrian Trees
  2. I completed my Computer Networks course and I’m now taking a database theory  class.  The professor is one of the people behind Greattreks.com (which I found out when I was desperately looking for the class schedule… turns out the class meets on Tuesdays).  Invoking xkcd reference… now…

    People go to the website because they can't wait for the next alumni magazine, right? What do you mean, you want a campus map? One of our students made one as a CS class project back in '01!  You can click to zoom and everything!
    xkcd 773
  3. I read the following books, some of which spawned more insight than others: Life of Pi, In the Plex, Restaurant at the End of the Universe (re-read) and Homo Faber.
  4. I guess that was all the updates, but it seemed like a lot to me 🙂

Lastly, as part of my final project for my networks class, we had to design and implement a network protocol.  Our group designed a protocol to play hangman online and we decided to implement this over Twitter.  For a four person, distributed, graduate class team, we knocked out a pretty cool hangman game for the class, (high-five group 8).  I wrote the Twitter Adaptation Layer, which essentially provides sockets over Twitter.  Which, is a little weird since Twitter is broadcast like medium and besides direct messages (DMs), unicast communication is not really Twitter’s thing.  Anyway, applications of this idea are limited due to Twitter’s rate limits on status updates, but I put a lot of work into this so maybe somebody out there might find this useful.  That, I and I’m starting to use this blog as a repository of things I don’t want to forget…  The code is on a private bitbucket repo, which I can make public after some cleanup.