nostromos bLog






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  `-bruxelles_07 (8)
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  `-paris_06 (1)
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07(03), 06(03), 05(02), 04(02), 03(02)
12(02), 11(01), 10(08), 09(03), 07(17), 06(01), 05(04), 04(03), 03(02), 02(02), 01(06)
12(05), 11(02), 10(01), 09(01), 08(02), 07(04), 06(01), 05(02), 04(03), 03(02), 02(02), 01(01)
12(01), 11(02), 09(09), 08(16), 07(02), 06(03), 05(04), 04(03), 02(03), 01(02)
12(03), 11(01), 10(02), 09(01), 08(23), 07(03), 06(02), 05(01), 04(02), 03(02)
12(03), 11(02), 10(01), 09(01), 08(23), 05(02)
09(04), 08(01), 06(01), 05(02), 04(02), 03(01), 02(01)
11(01), 10(02), 09(15), 08(01), 07(02), 06(04), 04(12), 01(06)
12(05), 11(01), 10(06), 09(12), 08(02), 07(02), 06(01), 05(01), 04(10), 02(01), 01(05)
12(02), 08(01), 07(15), 06(02), 05(03), 02(02), 01(03)
12(05), 11(01), 07(24), 06(06), 05(03), 04(02), 01(01)
12(01), 11(01), 10(07), 09(01), 08(04), 07(05), 06(04), 05(06), 04(01), 03(04), 02(06), 01(04)
12(04), 11(02), 10(03), 09(04), 08(03), 07(04), 04(01)
07(01), 05(01)
08(01)
10(01)

Fri, 23 Dec 2016
a few days in tyrol (0 comments)
it is christmas time, and this means we also pay a visit to nina's family in tyrol and to the two lovely cats named bonnie[10-12] and havanna[01-11]. i did not bring my camera, but used my mobile-phone to take some pictures.
as usual it was a very nice time, with lots of hugging, playing, purring and sitting in boxes, as some presents were delivered by post. the kitties also helped packing and wrapping[02] things.
merry christmas and a happy new year.

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Thu, 22 Dec 2016
a burger with special requests (0 comments)
so we ordered burgers for lunch today at the office. since i was asked by the co-worker who took the orders, if i had any special requests, i told him my requests. around 45 minutes later, i got this...
how awesome is that. only... the cat looks a little... hm... strange. but i can accept that - after all, the guys are cooks, not art illustrators. and i got a heart too <3

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Tue, 01 Nov 2016
day 07 in leprechaun land (0 comments)
oh no, time flies. and so we will we today. it is our last day in ireland for this trip. as our flight will leave today in the evening, we decided to pay some sights in dublin[01-91] a short visit. for better agility and mobility we left our luggage at the hotel which is near to the station of the airport bus. in fact, it's just on the other side of st.stephen's green[01-05].
since our last booking did not include breakfast we went to a small cafe[10-11] we spotted when walking to the city centre. guess this means last english style breakfast for nina for a little while now. after the breakfast we felt fortified again, so it was time to go to the trinity college[12-13], and enter the trinity college library.
that is where the book of kells is on display. since we watched the movie the secret of kells and we loved the cat named pangur bán so much, it was a must to see the original book.
unfortunately visitors were not allowed to take pictures of the book itself. but since the rest of the library was also very impressive, we took loads of pictures in this really marvellous library[24-43].
lots of people, lots of busts, and especially lots of books. while the latter one would typically expect in a library, the first two things were rather uncommon - at least to the libraries i knew so far.
we continued our walk through dublin's city centre[44-91], saw lovely house facades[44,​50-52,​55-57,​62-70,​77-78], came very close to some seagulls[45,​47-49,​84] looking for food, wondered about the street performers[71-73] performance, and saw many other stuff.
dublin really is a wonderful city. a lot of quiet, green areas, but then again narrow, busy streets, full of people - a balanced mix. but finally and sadly, it was time to get on the bus, bid farewell, and catch our plane. the weather was a little friendlier today, with sunshine from time to time, but most of the day was cloudy, with temperatures around 13°C.
this whole ireland trip was great. big thanks, as usual, to nina for accompanying me and doing most of the planing. some stuff for the statistics department: kilometres driven with car: 581 usable pics taken on trip: 750 track for day 07. track for day 01 to day 07.

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Mon, 31 Oct 2016
day 06 in leprechaun land (0 comments)
today is all about anseriformes. well, actually just the suborder of the anatidae. ahm, to be even more precise... it is all about ducks, geese, and swans. and do not think i am an ornithologist. i just like animals. and it seems the best place to see those animals in ireland is at the wetland reserve called castle espie wetland centre.
as it turns out, the castle espi wetland centre[02-065] was right next to our last accommodation. furthermore it turns out, there is no castle anymore, just the wetland centre is all that's left. and also it turns out that today was a special halloween day for kids, so the place was full with families and little kids. this day, so full of twists and turns.
although extolled by the information centre, we did not spot a single otter. too bad, we really would have loved to see one. but it seems they are really shy, or maybe they are already long gone. who knows. so, they really have a large collection of ducks, geese, and swans. unfortunately i cannot name any of the fowls on the pictures. they all looked different to me, so i guess it must be... a lot of different birds. especially cute was the duckery[54-55], where young birds were kept separately from the rest of the flock.
there were also trails leading to hides where one could watch wild birds at the shore of strangford sea lough. while all the ducks were "domestic", those were the real wild birds. therefore also quite far away from the loud humans in the wetland centre.
then it was time to get back to dublin, as we had to return our car today. we did the usual stuff before returning the car, like cleaning it on the inside, filling the tank, and such. but before the actual return we brought our luggage to the hotel where we will spend the night. it was quite hard to find a parking lot, but we finally made it. as the rental car hire was not far away from our hotel, we decided to walk back to the hotel. on our way we made a stop at the "the bleeding horse" pub to have an amazing burger. some people in the streets seemed to be going out and were in halloween dresses or costumes. since we were pretty tired, we did not join the party crowd, but rather got to our hotel, the stauntons on the green. today the weather was like the average day of this trip so far: cloudy and overcast. the temperature dropped to 12°C. track for day 06.

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Sun, 30 Oct 2016
day 05 in leprechaun land (0 comments)
we started this day with a visit to one of the three sandy beaches in portrush, namely white rocks[001-018] bay. as it was sunday, some people also had the same idea and took a stroll on the beach, were walking their dogs, or were waiting for the flood[002], so they can kayak.
the beach really is beautiful, especially with the patterns[008-010] and the reflections[005] in the sand, the little littoral caves[014-015] that got eroded by the sea over time, and the sound of the waves and wind. just the perfect place for relaxing sunday walks.
then we drove to dunluce castle[019-058]. hey, guess what... yes, it was used for the pyke of the greyjoy clan in game of thrones. now that came as a surprise, did it not. but to be fair, this really is an impressive castle, and also we were quite lucky with the weather and scaffoldings. it was built in the early 17th century on top of a castle from the 13th century. the castle itself is only accessible by one bridge[033], and has extremely steep drops on all sides - perfect for defence.
while the castle was still occupied, a large part of the kitchen collapsed into the sea, and from the whole kitchen staff only a boy survived, as he was sitting in a corner of the kitchen that did not fall into the sea. after that the owner's wife refused to life there any longer. since that the castle was uninhabited and started to deteriorate. as a consequence the north wall collapsed into the sea too in the 18th century.
then it was time to return to the giant's causeway[059-114] again. if you ever happen to go there, be advised that there is no need to pay for the parking, nor for the entrance. free parking lots were enough in the vicinity, and you only had to pay an entrance fee if you entered through the visitor centre, which you can easily, and legally bypass - tim gave us this tip yesterday.
legend has it, that an irish giant was challenged by an scottish giant to fight. so the irish giant started to build the causeway from ireland to scotland. but once the causeway was finished, the irish giant got frightened by the height of the scottish giant, and thus hid. his wife then dressed her husband as a baby and put him in a cradle. once the scottish giant saw the baby, he concluded from the size of the baby, that the father must have been enormous. thus he destroyed the causeway, so the irish giant could not follow him back to scotland. funny thing is, there is a similar place with all those hexagonal basaltic columns at one coast in scotland too, which also stretches out into the sea. so maybe the legend is not so far fetched at all. and since even giants seem to be in need of a house, there might have been one ages ago. but all that is left after millions of years of weathering is the chimney stacks[091-092,​111-112].
we kept on the top of the steep cliff of the causeway coast and did our hike there. the view was amazing, and again, we were pretty the only ones walking there, besides a few runners, people walking their dogs. only a few hikers or tourists were spotted.
it is really amazing how you can end up from being in a crowd to being totally alone within a few minutes or hundreds of metres. because at the main attractions there were even more people than yesterday - most likely because it was a nice sunday with sunshine from time to time with average temperatures around 13°C.
then it was time to get going to our accommodation for tonight. for this we had to go southward and through belfast. on the way we had a few short stops[115-120], and finally arrived at the old schoolhouse inn in comber. and it literally was an old schoolhouse, with boys and girls wing - we were in the boys wing.
at the inn there was also a fancy restaurant. and while we were pretty much underdressed we got some fine dining and an amazingly delicious fish pie. nomnomnom... track for day 05.

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Sat, 29 Oct 2016
day 04 in leprechaun land (0 comments)
while packing our stuff and preparing for checkout on the morning of day 04, we spotted a cute cat[001] in front of our window. later we found out it was the b&b owner's cat, and it is rather rare that someone gets to spot the cat. tim, that was the owner's name, also told us that lots of people from the uk are here for halloween and holidays, including school kids, since they seem to have holidays now. again we did not know that halloween was such a big thing over here. our first stop for today was the carrick-a-rede rope bridge[002-038], a rope bridge that was initially built by fishermen to get easier to their boats for salmon fishing. then later it was for tourists and fishermen alike, and finally it was another location for game of thrones.
and actually the bridge looks way longer in the actual scene than in real - it is the scene where balon greyjoy gets killed. also the island itself was way more an attraction than the rope bridge. really beautiful, but unfortunately full of people - a thing we were not used to over the last few days.
luckily the sun came out for a few minutes, and this gave a wonderful boost to all the colours of the sea, the stones, the flora, and the sky; just amazing.
after a short car ride we arrived at the ballintoy harbour[039-129]. seems also this place was taken for shootings of game of thrones scenes, namely the greyjoy's iron islands. there was even an ongoing GoT tour[039] with loads of real-life greyjoys. i wonder, why there is no tour for fans of ramsay bolton - so much cooler than any greyjoy ever will be.
we did not go to the exact place where the shooting for GoT took place, and instead we walked in the opposite direction, away from the car park. and after a few minutes of walk, we were totally alone again.
the walk along the coastline was really amazing, again lots of vibrant colours - even without direct sunlight. the place looked like it was autumn, all earth-coloured, endless shades of brown, lush green and dried out blades of grass - really an amazing colour palette.
walking further along the seashore we came to the elephant rock[060,​063,​066-067,​074,​076-077]. and from the right angle, it really looked like a huge mammoth or elephant. we also found the stone arcs right next to it pretty impressive.
while we wanted to walk to white park bay[094], it turned out we could not walk on since the flood blocked our way along the coast. but it was wonderful so far, so it was okay, to just walk back again. seems like another spare-time activity is to jump from rocks[114] in neoprene suits, and it looked like these guys really had fun.
we spotted a lot of birds there[105-106,​108-113,​117-118,​120], even rabbits[121-122], and a seal[126]. the spotting of the latter made us very happy, since we really love these creatures very much.
back at the car we had a little snack and rest, and then drove on to dunseverick castle[130-132], which - you might have already guessed it - was ... of course ... another game of thrones location. again we were pretty surprised what irish call a "castle", when it was in fact not more than the ruins of a ruined ruin. but well, why not - simply just enjoy and behold the beauty and magnificence of the impressive castle of dunseverick[132].
last stop for today was the giant's causeway[133-180], an area with hexagonal basalt columns, leading from the cliff foot to under the sea. almost all the stones are black, and if they are wet, it makes them even darker. they combined halloween here with the mexican day of the dead[134,137], so there are these little decorated skulls all over the way down from the visitor centre to the shoreline.
there were a lot of people - at least compared to what we were used to earlier this day. but after all, the giant's causeway seems to be among the most famous tourist attractions of northern ireland. so this was to be expected.
it was already late, the sun set, and thus it was getting darker with every minute. so we soon walked back to the car, as we will return here tomorrow anyway.
back in portrush we went to our room in an uladh, tossed our camera gear, and went to grab some food from a take away. today's temperature was around 11°C and it was again cloudy all day long. track for day 04.

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Fri, 28 Oct 2016
day 03 in leprechaun land (0 comments)
the day started like yesterday: with irish breakfast for nina and porridge and continental for me. after check-out at the hotel we drove up north and had our first stop at the flagstaff viewpoint[03-15], which also was our first stop in northern ireland. one really gets an amazing view over the area. and although there were quite many parking lots, we were the only ones here.
when we drove on, we noticed a really big viaduct. so we tried to get closer to it, and parked somewhere near it. we then continued on foot, and finally arrived right under the craigmore viaduct[16-25]. this viaduct seems to be largest one in all ireland.
soon we arrived at the dark hedges[27-48], a road with old beech trees on either side, that build a dark, atmospheric tunnel. it got famous for being a film location for "game of thrones", and thus our guide book said it will be lots of people and traffic here. again, since it is off-season we were pretty lucky, and only a few cars and people were around.
the dark hedges really is a cool place. but it seems it is in great danger, as from the initially 150 beeches that were planted here in the late 18th century, currently only 90 survived. most of the trees were destroyed by storms and heavy winds, but also increased traffic became a danger to the trees with their partially exposed roots.
a one hour ride later, we arrived at portrush[49-77], where we would spend the night at the harbour heights b&b. so we checked in, left our luggage in the room, and went for a little stroll through the small seaside city. portrush is most famous for its golf courses, its sandy beaches[50-51], an amusement park and the largest nightclub complex.
all of this was not our main reason to choose portrush for our place of accommodation. it was more, because from here you can easily reach sights by day trips. but still we enjoyed the walk along the shore line, again with not many people around; mainly people walking their dogs.
as the b&b is fully booked for the next night, we had to find another accommodation in portrush. too bad we have to move, it would have been more convenient to just leave the luggage there. but the other b&b is just a few hundred metres away, so it's fine. yet the view from our window[49] was awesome. it seems halloween here really is a big thing. that is why, even in off-season, almost all hotels and b&bs are fully booked. that was a surprise to us. today it was - again - mostly overcast and cloudy, with temperatures around 10°C. track for day 03.

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Thu, 27 Oct 2016
day 02 in leprechaun land (0 comments)
we started day 02 with an irish breakfast for nina, and sweetened porridge and continental breakfast for me. then we got in the car and headed for brú na bóinne[02-50], named as one of the world's most important prehistoric landscapes from the neolithic period. so the area includes megalithic passage graves, lots of monuments, mounds, standing stones, tombs, henges, and enclosures. all dating back from the early beginnings around 6000 years to the most active period dating back 5000 years to the neolithic period. we decided to start with the site of knowth[03-36], an ancient monument and a neolithic passage grave inside a mound, that is about 12 metres high and 67 metres in diameter.
the mound is surrounded by 128 massive kerbstones (though one seems to have gone missing), almost all of them decorated with monolithic art carvings like spirals, diamond shapes, and serpent-like forms.
up to now, the meaning of the carvings is actually unknown. so maybe it could just have been eye candy; but this is rather unlikely. like all the monolithic findings in brú na bóinne all this stuff is older than stonehenge or the pyramids of egypt; unbelievable. especially when it comes to explaining how they could transport all the stones and pile them up to build the inside of the chamber hallways.
next station was newgrange[37-48], another round mound with an inner stone passageway and chambers. it is a bit larger in diameter than knwoth, and almost the same height. around the mound there are 97 kerbstones, and one big entrance stone. in newgrange one can even enter the chambers, but you are not allowed to take pictures inside, besides it would have been too dark anyway. but you get to know the profound knowledge of science and astronomy that was needed when planning this site.
once a year, exactly at the winter solstice, the sun would then fill the whole 19 metres of the passage and light up the inner chambers. the illumination lasts a little longer than 15 minutes. a small group of people is allowed in the chamber when this happens, and the good thing is everyone can apply for it; by drawing lots the lucky few get picked. the inner chamber is 6 metres high and entirely built from stone slabs. it also contains three recesses and basin stones that contained the bones of the dead. at the visitor centre it is shown how the building of the mounds was done, namely with ropes and logs to transport the stones. still it is hard to imagine how those people at the time could manage to transport several hundred tons of stone just to build those impressive monuments, of which the purpose is unknown today. we have not been to dowth, the third mound. instead we drove back to carlingford, and took a walk through this lovely village[51-80], and enjoyed the lovely streets and halloween decorations.
not many people were in the streets, it obviously is off-season. though we saw some people through the windows of the few pubs and bars.
there is also john's castle[66-74] on a little hill looking over carlingford. it got its name because king john stayed there for three days in the 12th century. since we could not get inside, either because it was already closed as it was too late, or because it was renovated in off-season, or because it was not publicly accesible at all, we decided to go down to the beach.
after it got dark we went to "ma bakers" pub to have dinner. turns out there is a live band every thursday, the so called "the folk legends". and so we got free and cool live music, and carlingford local blond craft beer. and while this evening started with us being the only guests, the pub soon became crowded - seems the folk legends are pretty famous here in carlingford. but then it was time to go to sleep and spend another night at the belvedere hotel in carlingford. today's average temperature was about 15°C, and it was overcast and cloudy most of the day again. track for day 02.

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Wed, 26 Oct 2016
arrival and day 01 in leprechaun land (0 comments)
before our arrival in ireland, dublin we flew from vienna to munich and then on to frankfurt for our final change to our flight to dublin. this procedure took us six and a half hours, so we arrived at around 23:30 o'clock. all that was left for this day was to fetch our rental car from the airport, getting used to driving on the left, and then find our hotel with a little detour. outside temperature was around 10°C when we arrived at our first hotel, the "ashbourne court hotel" at around 00:30 o'clock IST, which is irish standard time (UTC+1). we started the first day heading to trim castle, arriving at the priory of st. john the baptist[001-015] in trim. or at least what's left of it, which is ruins. but beautiful ones.
next we headed to the newtown clonbun parish church[017-026], newtown abbey[027], and the cathedral of peter and paul[028-037] which was adjacent. there was also a cemetery with very old gravestones. i really liked that place, especially with all the moss and the lichen with all those different colours.
on our little walk to trim castle[038-040,​042,​044,​046,​048,​052-083], we passed the yellow steeple[043,047,050] of st. mary's abbey, and old bell tower that was built in the 14th, and damaged in the 17th century. then there was also the sheep gate[045].
we then decided to take a guided tour[067-083] through trim castle, which is also known as king john's castle. the tour itself was pretty interesting, also seeing the castle from the inside, with all the chambers and few privies for the high ranked occupants of the castle. we learned a lot about the habits and living standards of the middle ages.
when it was time for lunch we decided to have the classic fish'n'chips. we really like them and so this was one thing i was looking forward to on this trip. and they were good, nomnomnom. going to st. patrick's cathedral church[088-103], also known as trim cathedral, was our after-dinner walk. the current church was a replacement built around 1800 for a church from the 15th century.
the inside of the church was rather small but very lovely, with beautiful stained glass windows and nice mosaic floors.
on our way back to the car, we made one more stop at the cathedral of st. peter and paul[106-108]. there were still no people at the ruins, and the place still seemed abandoned. although, this exact ruin was a filming location for a game of thrones scene.
we drove on to the hill of tara[109-122], got off the car and were greeted by loads of ravens and crows. pretty cool to see so many of them in one place. i fed them a little bit of what food we had left, but as always, they were very cautious and mistrustful of humans - so smart, so cute.
it is said that this is the "most spiritual place in ireland". and although it has a certain touch to it, i could not get that feeling. also, we did not see any fairies or leprechauns, so... no, just a nice, quiet place to me, where around 1000 years ago people chose to have the seat of the high-king of ireland, around 5000 maybe druids put neolithic monuments and a human habitat here, and only around 200 years ago irish rebels were defeated by the british troops here, ending in the death of over 400 irish people.
on our way out and back to the car, we were greeted by an native irish drunk. understanding the local accent is quite hard most of the time and takes a while to get accustomed to, but if the guy talking is also drunk, it gets really hard to get a grasp on what he's talking about. but he was friendly and bits and pieces we could understand, and so we had some kind of conversation. friendly, drunk irish people; we liked that. about one hour later we arrived at the monasterboice[123-137], again a place with historic ruins on a cemetery, containing four famous high crosses. the first one is muiredach's high cross[124] which is about 5.5 metres tall and considered to be the finest high cross in ireland (whatever that means). there's a similar high cross called westcross[129]. the monastery built there was burned around 1000 years ago, the church that was then erected had a round tower[123,128-129], which again is the only thing that remained, besides the ruins of rest of the building.
again we were the only people there. but we had company, as we spotted our first cat there. unfortunately the tomcat was not interested in getting in contact with us, but rather left the scene as soon as we got too close to it - too sad. as it was already getting late, the light got worse with every minute. that's when we decided to call it a day, although this place was really amazing. the colours, the atmosphere, the cemetery, the ruins, the cat... simply amazing.
so we drove on to carlingford to our b&b called the "belvedere hotel". once we got our luggage in our room, we decided to extend our stay for one more night and make this our temporary headquarter for day trips tomorrow. then we had an awesome fish pie and fish chowder for dinner. it seems like in off-season people use the time to fix or renovate their castles. so there most castles are a building site now, enclosed by scaffoldings. i hope this does not apply to all the castles to come. another good thing to mention: my tomtom watch tracked for over 9.5 hours, and was still running. so it lasts longer than my old tracking device. i am very happy with it. today's high was around 13°C,​ it was cloudy and overcast all day long - how clichéd. track for the day of arrival. track for day 01.

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Fri, 14 Oct 2016
it has been a long time... (0 comments)
after a very, very long time, we had been to the zoo in schoenbrunn again. this time we also paid a visit to those animals we usually come by less frequently. like the koala bear[001-004].
also the kangaroos[005-006] are usually off our usual route, so we stopped there too. the giant panda[007] had had babies two months ago, but they were not out yet, unfortunately. cute as always were the red pandas[008-012], aka firefox. so fluffy, so cute, i so want to hug and cuddle them.
but then i would also like to cuddle and hug the lions[013-025]. big cats as they are, they are lying around, dozing off, and napping.
and if cats are not sleeping, there is only a few other things they might be doing. either sitting in boxes, chasing red laser dots, or eating. and that is exactly what the tigress[026-052, 063] did. thus we got a good view on her, and could take a few shots of this majestic big cat.
we like alpacas, but they do not have them in schoenbrunn; instead they have vicunas[053-059], who come pretty close to the cute alpacas.
we had our next stops at the enclosures of the capybaras[060-062], the rabbits[064-065], the parakeets[066-067] - who have a aviary on their own, donkeys[068-070,072-073], goats[071], loads of insects[074-082] in the insect-house, and buffaloes[083]. our round trip then brought us to the nyalas[084-085] and the rhinoceros[086-092], who seemed to be grumpy as always.
next were the monkeys[093-096], where one of them tried to get some free treats by reaching through the bars of the enclosure. the rest of the gang was rather leisurely, and just sat around watching the visitors of the zoo.
we found the vultures[097-099] pretty impressive, but their cage seems way too small. those big birds, with their enormous wing span seem to be quite narrowed. the crow[100] instead was enjoying its freedom and was trying to get leftovers from the snacks the visitors were eating. or visitors leaving peanuts behind for them, such as i did. the clever bird liked them a lot. usually a rare sight are the wolves[101-109]. generally they can be found in the upper most area, the furthest away from any human eye walking along the fence. but this time two of them got pretty near, and were howling. what a nice, scarce sight.
the penguins[110-124] were next on our tour. they do not mind being stared at anymore. instead, they stare back at the visitors, maybe studying them or just being curious. no one knows.
last stop were the cheetahs[125-128], who usually rest right at the big windows so one really gets a very good look at them; they were sleepy and totally calm. we spent the last minutes there, before we had to leave, as the zoo was closing.
yeah, we definitely should go to the zoo more often again. we still find new things every time we go there - we love this place.

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Sat, 01 Oct 2016
china magic lantern festival (0 comments)
for over a month the luno festival took place on the donauinsel. and we payed it a visit. we got there around 20:00 o'clock, when it was already dark, and we had three hours to see all the attractions on display there. the front entrance is a huge impressive gate[001-005,​132-133,​136-147] with two dragons on each side in front of it, and loads of carps on the other side. that was a really monumental start for the festival. we decided to walk in a clockwise circle, so our next object was a tea pot[006-007,​117], with tea cups, bottles, and pots. everything was so bright and colourful and big. really amazing and notable.
then we came to a really huge temple[008-010] that was partially made, and totally covered in china spoons, plates, bowls and other pottery - wow. also very beautiful were big statues showing all the chinese signs of the zodiac[011-016,​114-116], like tiger, rabbit, ox, rat, pig, horse, etc. i especially liked the tiger. a little candy house[017] was also on display, as were pandas[018-020,​065-066,​093-094,​112,​127-131,​135]. actually pandas were all over this place, be it as lanterns or statues, or even as masks, one could put on there. then there was a huge group of monkeys[021-023,​113] - 2016 is the year of the monkey - depicting a big monkey surrounded by lots of smaller ones and a peach. unfortunately i did not remember the story of the monkey and the peach.
very, very high was a reproduction of the vienna opera house[024-025,​032,​091-092], that really looked imposing. i was wondering how this could stand against stronger wind gusts or a storm. some parts on the side were already a little damaged, so the silk used will be worn out by the weather after a while it seems.
again big and impressive, a greek fountain[026-031,​033-035,​068] with several statues sitting around it. oversized music instruments[038] and glamour accessories[039] were also very beautiful to watch. a total of 25 kilometres of silk was used to build over 30 structures that are lit by about 18.000 LED lights. it took over 100 workers four weeks to move and assemble almost 20 tons of bamboo, steel and silk. these are really remarkable numbers.
a cavalry[040-041,​095] of eight riders was to form a guard of honour. with the lighting bottom-up this had a rather intimidating touch, but maybe that was on purpose. the riders had arms that were lifted and lowered by motors - the whole arrangement was rather creepy. way more pleasing was the topic of the underwater fauna[047-050], showing fish and starfish, that built a tunnel that led to one of the side entrances. again very colourful and bright. but we did not leave yet, there was still lots to see.
like live performances on the open air stage[042-046], that showed traditional chinese theatre performances, with traditional masks, instruments and themes. those shown here also included fire breathing; great to watch. after a while of watching we decided to have a little snack while the majority of the visitors were still watching the show. but it turns out the culinary variety was pretty limited as they were already closing down and most of the kitchen wares have already been cleaned. so we had to go with the left overs.
in return for the rather poor meal we then admired the huge chef[051-054] with all the stuff he cooked and prepared. they looked funny and totally reminded us of cartoon characters. one more setup using only steel and led lights, was the swans and ballet dancers[055-056], which also included big diamond and sphere shapes. another reproduction was shown, namely the temple of heaven[058-060,​069], again quite tall and marvellous. the original temple is situated in beijing.
at kiosks[061-062] one could buy various items, from jade items to traditional chinese items like folding fans, wooden sculptures, kites, lanterns, etc. to more modern stuff like small clay figurines of doraemon (who actually is japanese) or american superheroes. quite the contrast, but they had clay pandas there too, so it blended in perfectly.
besides the opera house, there was another special for the show in vienna, a 20 metres high johann strauss[063-064] statue. the lighting of the blocks around the statue changed colours to the beat of a strauss waltz. back to the chinese themes, were huge dragon lanterns[070-071], that revealed some 3d parts on them when we got closer to it. those lanterns were several metres high and looked very stunning.
a huge pot and a bottle[072,​076-077,​087,​089-090], each one of several metres of height turned out to be made of tiny glass kegs. each one fixed with wire to a metal core. each one of the objects contained around 40.000 kegs - pretty crazy.
to me it seemed the venetian masks[073-075] were a little misplaced, but beautiful nonetheless. then there was another really huge temple[078-086,088] with all kind of little characters outside, and lots of pillars with mask faces around it - maybe the chinese counterpart to the venetian masks? who knows. an awe-inspiring sight was the very long dragon[096-110] that stood close to the danube river. my estimation was that it is between 80 and 100 metres in length; unfortunately i could not find any details about it. this one really was my favorite.
we almost had finished our round when there was an announcement that the festival will be closed soon, so we hurried to the aztec temple[118-126,​134], all in dark green, with a huge god(dess) in the middle and several heads to the left and right of it. almost the same green was a group of pandas around a very huge panda sitting in the middle and on top of a bamboo seat - very cute and lovely. chinese people really seem to dig pandas. but so do we, right? those cute and fluffy bears are just adorable.
then we were escorted to the exit by security guards who were already collecting all the people still on the venue and escorting them to the exit. so, like usually, we were among the last people leaving. but before leaving i took another few pictures of the carps and dragons at the exit. and i found out how dragons are born: a carp that could leap the falls of the yellow river at the dragon gate, would be transformed into a dragon. now that is important knowledge, and that is why the gate shows carps on one side, and dragons on the other side - mystery solved.
this was really a spectacular festival, totally worth the visit. the dimensions of some objects were gigantic, the level of detail was amazing, and the craft work was most impressive. we totally loved the chinese lantern festival. a little side note: i used my tomtom watch (as described in my previous bLog-post) for gps tracking this time, and i was very pleased with the recorded track. very accurate and the device is not annoying, as it is on my wrist, and not dangling in front of me all the time as it was with my canmore g-porter gp-102+ that was strapped to my camera belt. what a nice device.

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Thu, 22 Sep 2016
tomtom spark 3 cardio + music (0 comments)
it was time for a new sports gadget, as lately i was growing unhappy with my current setup while running, consisting of a heart rate monitor belt, in-ear headphones with cable that are about to break every moment now, and the runtastic app on my mobile phone for gps tracking, heart rate monitoring and playing music. way too many cables and straps, also the runtastic app got worse for me with every update and lately it took ages to get gps working, and once it worked it did not do so reliably. so why not get rid of as much ballast as possible and pack it all into one new and shiny device? after quite an amount of research i decided that the tomtom spark 3 cardio + music would be the best choice for me. here is why i thought so; it has an optical heart rate monitor that is embedded in the wristband; it has a mass storage device that can hold 3gb of (mp3) files; it does the gps tracking (that's what tomtom is best known for) and uses "quickgps" that should get it started faster; it has interval training support and you can get warnings if you are out of a customizable boundaries, such as heart rate zone range. as a bonus it is also water resistant to 40 metres, and it is controlled by just one button. the only thing i was yet unsure about was how to transfer the information to my laptop and then to runtastic, as runtastic is known to be not so open to other sources of input rather than its own. thus a direct link was not possible. although there is a command line utility that enables communication with older tomtom watches this latest model was nowhere mentioned in the documentation. but once the watch was unpacked, this problem was quickly solved. the watch automatically and effortlessly synchronises with my mobile phone via bluetooth, then transfers the data to the tomtom site at once. there i can export the data to various formats, such as tcx files, which then can be imported easily on the runtastic site. ha, now that was surprisingly easy. for listening to music i bought wireless in-ear headphones. pairing them via bluetooth with either the watch or the mobile phone was a matter of a few seconds. the mp3 files can be transferred via the included usb cable, the watch itself shows up as a mass storage device, and can be mounted without any problems in linux. the files can be arranged in playlists using the m3u8 (m3u with utf-8) standard. the only downside is the firmware upgrade management, which requires either a windows or a macintosh operating system. luckily, nina has the latter one. so once in a while i might have to borrow her macbook to hook my watch to it and install firmware upgrades. i do not think that would happen too often. no more cables, no more straps - i am happy. a first test showed the gps really starts very fast; once the "quickgps" was updated via bluetooth and the smartphone, it took less than ten seconds to get full bars on the gps indicator, and the watch was ready to go - how awesome. i covered it with a lot of layers of cloth, and still the gps data was extremely accurate. i think the watch might also serve as a mere gps tracker for my next holidays or photo trips, as you can disable all the other features of the sports tracker. on internet discussion forums i read the battery lasts up to eleven hours with these settings; i will try that as soon as possible.

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Sat, 10 Sep 2016
day 02 at the ars electronica festival (0 comments)
we started day 02 of the ars electronica festival in linz at the postcity[01-55]. first thing we did was to pay a visit to the "pie deck", an exhibition curated by the university of applied sciences in hagenberg, coordinated by our friend jake. at the playful interactive environment deck the movements of the participants are tracked via laser tracking devices and rendered in the virtual space. there they can interact with other participants - both real and virtual - in various new game concepts. also external sources like text or chat messages can be included in some games - very enjoyable and interesting. after admiring some professional drone steering at the "aec drone lab"[01], we started our round tour through the huge building with its many hallways, halls, small rooms, staircases, and many more locked doors. we were pretty fascinated by all the exhibits that dealt with fashion, like shoes from the "artist lab iris van herpen"[03-04]; or the "environment dress"[08-11], which was actually an awesome and amazing alien costume to me, that reacted to all kinds of input like brightness, noise, atmospheric pressure, etc, then calculated the hostility or friendliness of its environment, and raised or lowered the shields accordingly; or the "kinematics dress"[12], a dress that was entirely made in a 3d printer as a single folded piece. all of them pretty cool. but also entire small houses can be 3d printed with concrete, as shown by the "artist lab marjan colletti"[05-07] - it takes a while, but the printing process does not need any human interaction, besides the refilling from time to time. art with plants is shown in the "photosynthegraph"[14] installation, where a film is put on a plant's leave, so the dark areas lack chloroplasts, whereas the transparent areas leave the natural amount of chloroplasts. with chemical treatment, this effect gets visible, and thus enables the artist to "print" onto the leaves. easy concept, but looks great. very, very cute were the "phytowalkers"[15], walking plant pots - great fun to watch, i would have wanted one of them for my home.
the thing in common for the origami like art from "ori*lab"[13] and the "single-stroke structures"[16] are repetitive patterns, which i found very pleasing and soothing. same applies to the lain pieces of hardware[17-19], from keyboards to mobile phones and other electronic gadgets, although i did not find any information on what installation or by whom this was.
we also came by the "ready to crawl"[20] creatures again. still cute and nice to watch.a whole room was dedicated to the "artist lab yoichi ochiai"[23], but no artist was around, and we just could not make out what all the installations were about, or how to interact with them. so we left, and entered a bigger room, housing the "implant"[24] installation, a huge tube with shiny reflecting things inside, that become alive when you rotate the tube and shine inside with two big flashlights. it should represent an enormously enlarged virtual nanobot tube that should fix corrupted dna strings.
we just arrived in time for a live performance of "roboaction(s) a1 k1"[25-30], where the artist is strapped to an industrial roboter. the roboter then determines the patterns to be drawn by the artist. nice idea, and interesting to watch.
noise generated by a vortex in a glass container, made audible through spiral pipes of the "chozumaki"[31-32]. amazing fog landscapes are generated by "brume"[33-34], which uses ultrasonic transducers to produce very thick fog clouds that emerge through a membrane of a black cube. lovely little fragile looking jellyfish are the artist for the "aurelia 1 + Hz"[35] installation, where the creator tries to communicate with the jellyfish via sound. quite sadistic is the concept of "miserable machines: soot-o-mat"[38-39]. a mussel is attached to conductive wires and an indicator that scratches the surface of a cylinder. when an electrical current is applied to the mussel it contracts, resulting in a graph on the cylinder. a new stimulus is given every 20 minutes. after a certain amount of cycles, the mussel finally dies. poor mussels, who actually should represent human beings in the capitalism machine. an installation without any biological elements is "f₂( )"[40], an audio-reactive installation that reacts to its environment, changing sound and light accordingly.
three black horns producing sound and soap bubbles are the main elements of "black hole horizon"[43-47]. each horn has a different pitch and also produces different sizes of the bubbles. the bubbles then float through the huge room, to finally burst once they touch the floor or wall. "rotating lights"[48], is, as the name implies, an installation with five rotating systems, each equipped with neon lamps. they start rotating, slowly at first, then getting faster, and finally the power is turned off, so the rotation and light is gone. when we walked into the really huge gleishalle - the hall where train wagons were un/loaded when this place was still in operation - a concert was held, namely the "gleishalle, a concert cycle"[50]. minimalistic soundscapes of recorded noises were interwoven to create really amazing songs. we sat down to enjoy the whole concert by the duo "tamtam", and it was worth it. "sonic wilderness"[52-55] was another interactive installation that presented a new way of tracking precisely where the head of each participant (or to be more precise the ears) were, in what direction they were looking, and thus, how near or far they were from a source of sound. those sound sources where scattered all over the room, and i had to admit, it really was very precise and realistic.
then we had to head over to the aec, as jake had asked me to take pictures of a "pie" presentation by him later this evening. but before that we had a quick look at all the new exhibits, like the "active wood products"[57], that bends wood into predefined shapes, or the "infinite cube"[58], that shows seamless movements of reflective spheres. as a preparatory work for tonight's "klangwolke" we attended a show in the "deep space"[56,59-67] about the spaxels[56], the flying drones, that will be flying over the danube tonight. there we got insight on how the drones get coordinated and programmed, what to take care of with such a high amount of drones and what further steps are necessary to get such a show going. very, very interesting. a little later it was time for jake's performance. he presented the prototype of "cargo"[59-67], a vr game in which the main participants control a spaceship with vr headsets, while other spectators can join the team and act as collecting drones to bring resources to the spaceship it can then use to defend itself. a simple concept, yet it is a lot of fun to collect all the stuff as you can run around in the physical space that doubles as the virtual space around the spaceship.
after the "cargo" amusement, it was time for the spaxels, a combination of the words "space" and "pixels" in the "drone 100 - spaxels over linz"[68-72] show. as usual, at the klangwolke, the entire area around the main stage is massively crowded, so we could not get to the best spot for viewing. also it would have been way too late by now to get a good spot. so we gathered outside of the ars electronica center and watched from there. it was a very impressive and special performance. the show with the 100 drones was shown only once before in sydney.
once the crowd dissolved we ambled along the danube[73-75] to let the day unwind. ars 16 was really a positive surprise to me, as it was quite astonishing, and more interesting that it was back in 2013. but maybe it also helped that this year we had more time to explore, and did not have to rush. or maybe it was the new location; postcity really is an interesting place with a lot of possibilities for such a big event. anyhow, it was great.

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Fri, 09 Sep 2016
day 01 at the ars electronica festival (0 comments)
it is september, so it is time for the annual ars electronica festival in linz. this year luckily nina and i got a free festival pass, so we decided to go and see what is new on the digital arts sector. we started at the hoehenrausch[001-071], this year it is hosting the openspace[017,​021-037] by voest alpine on the roof of the OK, "Offenes Kulturhaus". from afar it looks like a pretty impressive construction.
to get to this 120 ton steel structure, one has to go through the OK[001-004] itself, where again several exhibitions with the focus on angels and/or wings are displayed.
the openspace is full of steel struts, meshes, and mirrors[021-025,​027-030,​032-033]. pretty confusing at first, but an interesting and funny concept, once you get used to the optical bauble. then there was the wooden tower[020,​032,​045,​047] also located on the roof of the OK, which was already here in 2013, the last time we were here at the ars electronica festival. you really get a wonderful view over linz, but we were too lazy to climb all the stairs up again.
there are also loads of music instruments on the roof, such as strings[049-051,​058-060] and organ[052-054] like sound machines. fun to play with and make some noise.
the tour then ends in the ursulinen church[005-008,​061-071], and via the church's attic[066-069] we got back to ground level and left the fallen angel[006,​071], and the church. i liked the crashed celestial being the most.
we decided to visit another church, namely the linzer mariendom[072-088], the biggest (but not the highest) cathedral in austria. the light shining through the huge glass windows in this gothic style church was amazing, turning some of the church floor tiles, walls and pillars into colourful canvasses.
after leaving the cathedral, we circled it once and had a look at the facade[084-088], the windows, spires, and gargoyles. then we took the bus to the main location of the festival. fortunately public transport is for free with a festival pass - how convenient.
we soon arrived at postcity[089-110], the old postal service's letter & parcel distribution centre, that is located not far from where i once lived[111]. the construction itself is not very beautiful as it mainly consists of concrete, but all the special postal equipment, like the huge parcel slides[092-093], conveyor belts and huge halls are impressive - i often wondered what it must have looked like when it was still in operation. for the interactive part we chose to do some drone flying[089], which was interesting and fun, as nina and i both had not done this before; takes a while to get the hang of it. it was already a bit late, and the location was about to be closed soon, so we roamed around the huge exhibition area swiftly.
as every year there was lots of cool, surprising, amazing, and funny stuff around. the first performance we saw at this years festival was "neighbor"[090-091], a nifty performance playing with the mixture of real and virtual, involving two dancing performers and two participants wearing virtual reality glasses. then we entered a room to find the "interface I"[094-098] installation, an ever changing system, triggered by a geiger counter. interesting to watch all the parts constantly moving and being triggered by new measurements. rather gross was the "terminal sulcus"[099] exhibit - a fridge lined with over 700 casts of human tongues. brrrr, not my thing. a fictional work of art was the "(im)possible baby, case 01: asako & moriga"[100], showing the concept of how it might be for same-sex couples to have children. images of their children can be generated, where the bodies are rendered based on the couples dna samples mixed together. fascinating, but fictional; yet. although we did not see a live performance for "alive painting"[101], we had a very nice chat with akiko nakayama, the artist creating beautiful pictures for the performance. she also elaborated on how she produces the colours she uses, all of them made from metals and minerals manually mixed together. then there was "instruments of the afterlife"[103], and "a hipster bar"[104], the latter proving that nina is 99.8% a hipster - who would have guessed? also, who would have guessed i would top that score with an embarrassing 100% hipsterdom? me definitely not. when we looked at a demonstration of "the physical mind"[105], where one gets squeezed by two fluffy oversized airbags, loudspeakers announced that the postcity will be closing now, so we moved towards the exit without having a closer look at various other exhibits. like a room fully lined with gold[106], or little animal roboters that were "ready to crawl"[107-108]. here we had a short chat with the inventor, hiroshi sugihara, explaining to us his concept to make the cute gecko crawl like a real one. i tried to get a closer look at "sculpture factory"[110], but security guards were already urging people to leave, so there is just one picture of that, and no further information.
so we went to the central[112-115], that seemed to be just recently participating in the festival activity as a location; at least i do not remember it being involved the last time. being a former cinema, it was obvious they showed the animation movies handed in for the prix ars electronica there. awesome stuff and really great animations with top-notch techniques, and quite often good humour. after that, we called it a day. tomorrow is another day, and so far the ars electronica festival was fun to attend. let's see what day two brings.

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Sat, 30 Jul 2016
day 17 in scandinavia, finland (0 comments)
today is our last day in scandinavia (well, technically not really the last day, as our flight is tomorrow - but it is so early, it does not really count as a day). before we checked out and left the hotel i stepped out on the terrace and saw the cat from yesterday again, it was hunting a mouse in a wood pile. and it was successful - the mouse ended up dead; poor rodent. generally, it seemed to me there are a lot of mice here in finland. they seem to like it here a lot; except when there is a cat around. then we drove to the next hotel to check in our luggage. next step was to fill the fuel tank of the car, clean the car, and return it. this meant we had no car any more. and also no radio. which actually was a good thing though, because radio here means there are about five well known bands like michael jackson, madonna, elton john, or bryan adams, and each day there is a different song from each band. this applies to all radio stations, although they all seem to be well coordinated, as they at least all play different songs. so you get a good load of songs from each one of them over the day; and only from them. well, as an interlude you get the one new song from coldplay. but then again, only this one song. so in short, radio here is horror - bring your own music device or suffer. once the car was returned, we took the same coaches as on day three again to get to helsinki city[01-40]. this time the vanha kauppahalli[05-06], the old market hall, was opened; and so we walked in. lots of cafes, bistros and little food shops inside, everything looked delicious, lovely arranged and nicely decorated. then we ambled along the harbour area[02-32].
a lot of people were going for a walk, having picnics in large groups, sitting and drinking, or just having fun with activities like bungee jumping, at the kaivopuisto park[15-32], aka brunnsparken.
of course also the ubiquitous waterfowl was around. there were a lot of geese[21-31], right in the middle of the town, surrounded by people, but they did not seem to mind too much. instead they were grazing the greens of the park.
then we went to a moomin shop, but unfortunately it had no (black) t-shirts for men, only kids and women. too bad, i so much wanted to buy a moomin shirt. well, maybe i will find one online one day... after a little more hanging out in various shops and malls we called it a day, and drove back to the hotel.
so we were back again at the holiday inn at helsinki airport, where we already had stayed for the third night when flying to ivalo. the aeroplane will leave at 08:30 o'clock tomorrow morning, so this means we have to get to the airport early. on this last day it was warm and sunny with highs around 23°C. and here is some stuff for the statistics department: * kilometres driven with (private) rental car: 6074km * 1870 pictures made it to the galleries, track for day 17. multi track, or single track map for the entire trip (unfortunately maps.google only allows to add a maximum of ten tracks per map).

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Fri, 29 Jul 2016
day 16 in scandinavia, finland (0 comments)
today we wanted to start the day with more birdwatching. so we tried to find birdwatching places at lake simpelejärvi. but we failed to find any street signs or any other hints on where to go exactly. after a while of driving, nina was in need of a bathroom, and i was in need of coffee. so we stopped at a parking area where there was a little snack stand that we hoped could gratify both our urges. and it could. we asked the staff there if she knows how to get to the ornithological sites, but she did not know either. instead she said there is a nice park here, that we might have a look. since she was not very enthusiastic about it, we were not really convinced it is a site worth visiting, but we gave it a try anyway. what we found was a wonderful well hidden attraction, both our guidebooks did not know about, and there was only a small sign pointing to the entrance hidden in a wood right next to a parking area along route 6, and only about 600 metres away from the russian border. if the girl would not have mentioned it, we would have not noticed it. and so we entered the sculpture garden[001-117] of veijo rönkkönen in koitsanlahti, parikkala, starting at the yoga park[001-018], that consists of 250 figures in various yoga positions. although we both have some yoga experience, we did not know that there were that many positions.
turns out the sculptures were all made by one person, namely veijo rönkkönen, who worked on this park for nearly 50 years, resulting in about 550 concrete statues. the reason for doing this was to communicate with the outside world, as he was very guarded and even more reclusive. instead of going out into the world, he invited the world to visit his garden. at least that is what the information brochure said.
the sculptures, overgrown by moss and partially strongly weathered mostly reminded me more of zombies than normal people. again according to the brochure the artist did not think the park would survive after his death. he wanted it to be buried like the chinese terracotta army.
eventually someone did care and is now maintaining the park, but leaving the natural touch to the sculptures. the entry was free, but there was a voluntary donations box, which we fed willingly. besides all the zombies there was also lots of explicit nudity and eroticism - it all felt like a huge PEGI 18 theme park.
but most of the sculptures were just scary ones. all these strange creatures mixed with the overgrown garden and its narrow paths really left a special impression on the both of us. fascinating and creepy at the same time. and the huge amount of statues was also very remarkable.
three years before the artist died in 2010, he received an award from the ministry of culture for his achievements in art. besides huge plants, alien plants and creatures, a dinosaur, and fantasy creatures, he also sculptured lots of animals[019,​022,​030,​050,​055,​061,​065-​066,​075-​076,​080-​081,​084-​086,​093,​099-​100]. i especially liked the three cats[075-076] holding hands with each other and the punk girl (or it least i thought it was one).
but still, most of them reminded me of zombies and creatures from horror movies. there were kids at the park too, but they did not seem to mind the resemblance to the undead.
on the circle loop trail we ended at the yoga sculptures[102-117] once again on our way out. still impressive and a reminder that we could do more yoga back home again. well, we will see about that...
we got into the car again, to drive the rest of the 400 kilometre distance we had planned to cover today. somewhere near our destination porvoo i saw another car with the license plate "LMR-278" while ours was "LMR-287" - what a coincidence. after checking in at the accommodation, which is a bit outside of porvoo, we hopped in the car again to drive to the old town of porvoo[118-194]. it was already around 20:00 o'clock, and we had learned our lessons so far what this means to the variety of places to get food. so we parked the car, and went to a sushi restaurant that looked good to us, just to make sure we get some food. but it turns out this place would have been opened for another few hours anyway. however, the sushi[118] was excellent. porvoo turns out to be a lovely little city, with many small houses, with small shops [119-128,​143,​169-172,​175,​187-188,​189,​192] in them. of course and unfortunately they all were already closed. but a little window shopping was still possible.
then we came to porvoonjoki river with oxblood coloured houses[146-​147,​151,​153-​156] all along waterside promenade. the promenade is decorated in many ways, like knitwear[147] on railings, or flower beds[150].
it already got dark, so we were on our way back to the car, when we came by porvoon tuomiokirkko, the porvoo cathedral[177-186] of the evangelical lutheran church, which was built in the 15th century. of course also closed.
when we arrived back at our accommodation, the villa anttila, only two rooms where booked; one was ours - so the entire villa almost just to ourselves. there would have been a really wonderful big garden, and a swimming pool on the terrace that was accessible right from our room, but by now it was already too late and too dark for any of these. oh, and there was a cat sneaking around. today it was cloudy, with highest temperatures of 16°C. tomorrow will be our last day in finland. too sad, we would not mind a few more days; there would have been so much to see here, but only so little time... track for day 16.

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Thu, 28 Jul 2016
day 15 in scandinavia, finland (0 comments)
today the both of us did not feel so good. we were still very tired, most likely a delayed effect from the bear night. so we packed our stuff, checked out, and drove to savonlinna. also we had to reel off some more kilometres to get on further southwards. after about six hours and 500 kilometres later we arrived at the hotel, checked in, and took a little nap to get some extra rest. this little break helped, we felt better again. and so we got up, jumped into the car, and drove to the nearby kerimäen kirrko in kerimäki[03-12], the largest wooden church in the world. it has 3000 seats, and can hold up to 5000 people at a time. unfortunately it was just closed as we arrived - we saw people leave the church, but when we got to the gates, they were already closed. too bad, we missed it by only a few minutes. so no look inside, instead, we circled also this church, like so many before that were closed.
then we drove to the punkaharju ridge[13-26], an esker ridge that was formed at the end of the ice age as the glaciers in this region withdrew towards the bothnian sea and left stratified sand and gravel behind, forming an meandering mound. this 10.000 year old landscape formation became a bridge right between the two huge lakes, lake puruvesi in the north and lake pihlajavesi in the south, that was used by animals and humans alike. punkaharju esker nature reserve is said to be one of the world's oldest reserves.
the pines along the road are among the largest ones in finland, and there is even an entire area where the forest was left to its own since the beginning of the 19th century. there are two hiking trails around and through this spot, but it was already getting late and dark, so sadly we could not do this hike.
soon the sun was gone, so we drove back to savonlinna[29-31], went to the harbour and had delicious fish and chips[27] for me, and deep fried sprats[28] for nina - nomnomnom. while doing our after-dinner walk we came by the olavinlinna castle [32-37], which was beautifully lit. it felt like being in scotland, except that here the bridge to the entrance was closed.
then it was time to get back to the hotel, the best western spahotel casino - yes, that really was the official name of the hotel, to finish this sunny day, with temperatures around 25°C. track for day 15.

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Wed, 27 Jul 2016
day 14 in scandinavia, finland (0 comments)
today at around 07:00 o'clock we were fetched by michael, after we had spent the night in the bear hide of the martinselkosen wildlife centre in pirtivara. he asked what bears we had spotted, and we described them to him, and he in return gave us a little background information and history on some of the bears. for one, there was gandalf, a little gray cub. then there was tapeworm bear, but there was no need to elaborate on that further. another one was asthma bear, a really really very big bear who was breathing very loud, it sounded like he had asthma. over the years they had several bets on him how long he will still make it, but everytime they lost, because he is still alive and pretty active. and there was also tourette bear, who had a hip problem, that forced him to walk with legs more spread than usual. but walking like this in bear body language means to show off in an aggressive way. thus this particular bear ends up being attacked all the time, while he just tries to stay mobile. poor misunderstood him, we felt so sorry for him. when we had returned back to the headquarters we decided to stay for a breakfast. the swiss couple that had spent the night in the hide next to us looked as tired and exhausted as we did. everyone seemed pretty knackered so there was not much talking, everyone was busy with their coffees and breakfast. this was an awesome experience, with so many bears so close in their natural environment, roaming free as they like. of course we were aware the bears are used to humans, and in a sense "trained" to find the treats lain out by michael and janni at the hide spots, but they do so when and how they want. they also were not bothered by the shutter sounds of the cameras or the sounds and smells by us at all. so it definitely was not their first time to do that. but this bear hide night is definitely something we recommend. being so close to the bears is thrilling, amazing, and a tremendous and marvelous experience we would not want to miss anymore. after breakfast and saying farewell we drove to vuonislahta at lake pielinen[01]. there we checked in at the hotel pielinen. we had a shower, which felt so very good; after hours of sweating and sleeping in the hide this was a necessary thing. although physically we were very tired, mentally we were wide awake - we could not sleep. also to retain our sleep-wake-cycle, we tried to stay awake at least until 20:00 o'clock. thus we decided to go to the lake[09-10], borrow the hotels boat that guests can use and row[11-19] around a little.
they even gave us life jackets[09] at the reception, which we brought with us to the boat, but then did not put them on. it was too hot for that anyway.
the lake was very quiet, and besides another couple in a boat we were the only ones on or in the water. the obligatory waterfowl was there as well as the biting midges. surprisingly, the latter kept to an acceptable extent.
soon we gave up and went to our room to finally get some good sleep and recover. the temperature was around 25°C on this mild day full of sunshine and little activity. track for day 14.

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Tue, 26 Jul 2016
day 13 in scandinavia, finland (0 comments)
today we woke, up put our stuff into the car and drove to the restaurant for checking out. there was a family there sitting out on the veranda, it seemed they were taking a hike today. we got inside and had a little breakfast consisting of muffins and coffee. then we had a little chat with the owner of this entire complex, and he told us he had built every single building here by himself, over many many years. now that was impressive, because the cottage we stayed in really looked like it was built by carpenters. and he told us he was far from finished, so there will be more new buildings over the next few years. incredible guy, respect. then it was time to get to our bear watching experience at the martinselkosen wildlife centre in pirtivara. we arrived there at 15:30 o'clock and were greeted by michael, a friendly guy from lower styria. we still had to wait a little for another couple to arrive who would join us tonight. but besides the swiss couple, it was just us. how exciting. as soon as the group was complete, we got in a big atv and were driven to a nearby parking lot. there was another car, and dogs were barking in the distance. michael told us, most likely it is russians (the border is only 500 metres away) who are training their dogs for the bear hunt, as hunting season will start soon - poor bears. michael called at the office to inform border patrol, so they can handle this situation. then we walked about 1.5 kilometres to the forest hides. michael asked beforehand if it was okay for us to pick one of them too, as we previously were going for the swamp hide. with us being at the forest hide too, it would all be easier for the staff to coordinate this experience, from carrying lunch packages to picking us up. also michael recommended the forest hide to us after a little discussion with what we wanted, and what gear we had, with focus on focal length, camera model, and lens speed especially. so we agreed, as all we wanted was to spot bears, no matter in which hide. and if it makes life easier for the guys, we had no problem with choosing the forest hide. soon we came by the big main hide (which was for around 20 people and looked quite luxurious), where about 15 bears were scattered around and cute fluffy little bear cubs were climbing and hanging on trees, and playing around. the rest of the bears was just watching in curiosity. silently we walked on, avoiding eye contact - those were our instructions from the staff to stay out of trouble. at the forest hide there were three hides; the swiss couple picked the left one, we picked the middle one. inside it was like a finish sauna. we were ordered to keep the door locked and stay quiet at all times. once locked in, michael and janni, the other staff guy, left, the first bear appeared.
then came all kinds of bears[007-320]. old bears, big bears, even bigger bears, and even bigger big bears. it was like each time a new bear shows up, it is way more massive and bigger than the previous one. and the bears were seeking the snacks michael and janni had hidden in front of our hides, so the bears would come close and stay near the hides. once a treat was found, it was eaten right away, with lots of noises and even more pleasure - a lot of smacking and drooling.
by now we were very glad to have not chosen the swamp hide, because when walking to the forest hide we saw the swamp hide, and it was in direct sunlight all day and night long. so inside the swamp hide it must have been even hotter than in the forest hide - and in our hide it was already close to unbearable (uhm, no pun actually). within the first ten minutes of staying in the small hide i was already totally soaked in sweat. after a few hours we noticed the swiss couple was opening their door when no bears were in sight, so we tried the same. we got a slight cooling breeze, and it was soooo good. fresh air and a little cool down, we were so happy we did not even mind the mosquitoes that came along with each draught. the doors from both hides were closed, as soon as a bear approached the area.
inside the hides there was not much space. there was a very narrow and small dry toilet, a bench that was convertible to a bedding surface, two sleeping bags, and a small chair. then there were the openings in the walls, each with shutters and a net to hide the cameras and photographers from the bears (although i think it is more likely bears will smell you anyway), and bean bags to position the camera on top of it. there would have been openings for tripod plates too, but we did not use them, as we were more flexible with the bags.
soon all my memory cards - that is a 16GB, and two 2GB cards - were full, and i wanted to copy them to my laptop so i could erase them from the card to continue shooting, when i noticed i forgot my card reader in the car. thanks brain, and thanks canon for only allowing compact flash cards in my camera model; if i only could use sd cards, i could easily copy them with the built-in card reader from my laptop. so i hooked up the camera with an usb cable hoping i could mount it as a mass storage device, but to no avail. i was so desperate i even booted into my windows partition which i keep for gaming stuff, and hoped i could copy the stuff there via usb - and thankfully it worked. so i was copying the files from camera to my windows partition, then booting to linux again to move the files to linux, to have enough space on my windows partition for an eventual second round of moving pictures. puh, lucky me. i was really relieved this had worked.
at some point a mother bear with two bear cubs appeared on the glade. all three of them very careful and cautious to avoid the many big male bears that were already around. the cubs were very cute and fluffy, most likely the ones we saw in the afternoon when walking from the car to the forest hide. they were also enjoying the snacks for a while, when suddenly all three of them got on their hind legs[195], and then ran away. as we assumed, a big bear was coming nearer. later we saw the bear family again, and again after a while they fled the scene after mama bear got on her hind legs[231]. pretty impressive to see how large and enormous the bear really was, once it was standing tall.
after several hours of watching bears, i came to the conclusion that bears are like cats: they are cute, look pretty cuddly, and all they do is eat, lie around, and occasionally get up to make mischief. only they are much bigger than cats, and probably more dangerous. i was quite glad the thin walls of press board were between us. although if a bear really would have wanted to examine our lunch packs, it would have been no obstacle for them. but the staff had already thought of that and put all the food in sealed plastic containers. they also added a thermos flask full of coffee. still we thought it was more safe to have our snacks only when no bears were around. this way we also would not miss any bear action.
the bears were active and around until approximately 00:30 o'clock, then they all disappeared. after waiting for a while and no bears showing up, we went to sleep, to get a little rest. since it was so hot and tight in the hide it was not very restful, but at some point we must have dozed off. at around 04:30 o'clock i was woken up by the noise of a bear climbing a tree[312-320] to get some treats hidden in the trunk, but this one also left as soon as he got all the treats collected. so we went back to my plank bed too, but woke up at around 06:00 o'clock again. then there were no more bears until 07:00 o'clock; too bad. that was when michael picked us up, and drove us back to the headquarters.
all in all i shot over 1200 pictures this day, resulting in 32GB of data (i had to copy via windows a second time this night). i skimmed the pictures several times, sorting out the blurry ones, then reducing the double ones, so finally around 320 made it to the gallery. there were many more pictures that would have been usable for the gallery but i really tried to reduce them to the ones i really liked the most. so this was our stay at the "forest hide" accommodation in pirtivara, with a way too hot day at 32°C and no clouds. yet, it was an awesome and unique experience - bears are simply amazing. track for day 13.

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Mon, 25 Jul 2016
day 12 in scandinavia, finland (0 comments)
today i heard a police and later an ambulance siren for the first time during our stay in finland; i think this is a good sign. after breakfast we headed out to do some birdwatching in the liminka bay. the area is huge, and there are five birdwatching towers all together. since we had no plan or map, we decided to start with the first tower right at the tourist information centre. the information centre doubles as an exhibition centre, with information about all the birds you can see there including the habits of them, and much more on the bay and its birds. very interesting, and all for free. we even got our private film show, as we were the only guests, and the super friendly staff even allowed me to bring coffee to the movies. now that was really great. with a better overview on what we could do here, we went to birdwatching tower number 1 in liminganlahti, the virkulla tower[001-046].
while walking to the tower we spotted marsh harriers, but they were about to leave, so we did not see these birds again, unfortunately. instead we mainly saw ducks, but otherwise not many birds.
there is also an outside area on the roof of the tower where you have a wonderful overview over the entire area. but there is also an inside area that is a hide and gives you protection from bad weather. but it seems not only humans seek shelter inside the tower, but also a little robin[030-036,​038] found it convenient there. really cute, and he did not seem too shy. well, we could not have reached it anyway, so he was pretty safe from us. besides this one bird we got to see from close up, there were some swallows, and a few unknown ones spread over the marshland. especially the little swallows were circling us for a very long time. either because they were curious, or their nests were somewhere on the outside of the tower.
but because they are so fast and tiny, it was hard to get a few picture[022-024,​029] of them that were in focus. but i managed to do so - pretty lucky me. actually this applied to all the birds we saw. because most of them were simply just too fast, or they were perfectly camouflaged, so the auto focus of my camera had troubles focusing, or they were just too far away. my gear has met its limits.
after a while all the birds in the area knew there were humans around, and it seemed they all had fled or were ducking. in contrast to the millions of gnats that now were happily feeding on us. all the insect repellents we put on us did not help anymore after a while. so we decided to give up and drove to birdwatching tower number 2 in lumijoki, the sannanlahti tower[047-060]. again a bird was just about to leave when we arrived there, this time it was an eagle[047] (or at least it looked like one to us, so we were pretty sure about that). well, at least this one i caught on camera before it was totally gone, and never seen again by us. besides several flocks of geese[051-054] flying in formation, we did not spot any other birds. since the mosquitoes brutally started to attack again, we decided to also leave this tower behind and headed for the car.
it already got late, so we had to leave liminka bay, and headed to our accommodation for tonight. at first we missed the gravel road to it from the main road, because even our navigation system was unsure how to get there exactly. but a tiny little sign by the road then helped us to find the right way. the owner was already waiting for us, gave us a warm welcome and the keys, and then hopped into his car and asked us to follow him, so he can show us the cottage we will stay in. turns out besides us there was only a couple there, so we were almost alone. since this place looked so amazing and beautiful, we decided to take a stroll around the area near the cottage[061-084].
it was really amazing here, with beautiful woods, and again loads of ant hills[070]. we climbed down a hill, walked around there, then turned around and walked back again.
the mosquitoes were bearable as long as you kept on moving fast enough. then only half a million ones of them got to follow and bite you. so taking a picture always had to be considered and weighed up carefully: gaining pixels or loosing blood. although it seemed they always preferred my blood over ninas. grrrr...
when we came back to the cottage we noticed the sun began to set, and saw an amazing sunset in paltamo[085,​093,​095,​100-125]. it looked so breathtaking, we just had to walk around a little more, blood sucking midges or not.
we found the other accommodations that were scattered around this huge area. two smaller huts[110] were located on the top of a hill with an amazing view, and two chairs outside to enjoy this spectacular scenery. this place was really something very special.
on our way back to our cottage we went to the nearby restaurant/cafe where we were handed over the key before, and walked up a to an observation platform right on the roof of the restaurant. again we were the only ones here. it was a stunning spot, and we would not have minded, if these moments would have lasted forever, or at least a little longer.
but eventually, the sun had set, and it was time for us to get into our cabin, the "lacquer room" in the "forest spirit" villa, at the jättiliäisenmaa ("giant earth") holiday house in paltamo. we enjoyed our en suite sauna, and had dinner. and we even got the confirmation for the bear watching safari - yippieh, we had a booking for tomorrow night. what an absolutely wonderful day. today's high was around 25°C,​ and it was sunny all day long. track for day 12. track for day 12 hike.

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Sun, 24 Jul 2016
day 11 in scandinavia, finland (0 comments)
today we started our day with a long drive from tornio to oulu[01-95]. we arrived there in the early afternoon, checked in at the hotel then went out to explore oulu. while we ambled through the town, we came upon a stadium, where there was a big track and field competition, namely the 2016 finnish athletics championships[04-06]. there were various athletic contests going on, such as pole, long, high and triple jump, races over various distances, hammer, discus and javelin throw, and many more. we have already seen them on various tv sets in bars, and hotel rooms. so now we knew where this was taking place. athletics seem to be a big thing here in finland; or maybe there was just nothing else to show on tv.
the stadium was placed on a small island and almost filled it up entirely. in the centre of the town there are a few little islands, each of them connected with several bridges. in general, oulu was a very green city. we found many parks and lots of green spaces. it also seemed way friendlier than tornio - there was a friendly atmosphere all over this town.
we also noticed the red water[03,​18-23,​25-27,​29,​52,​54,​56,​60-61,​65,​67-68], which we had already seen before on previous days. according to robert, who told us about it a few days ago, this is because of the dissolved minerals. i was happy the tap water never had that colour. so far.
then we entered another big park, ainolan puisto[24-60], which spans over several smaller islands, where some were not accessible. there was a big rose garden[30-36] that nina enjoyed a lot.
loads of bees and bumblebees[37-38], loads of pokémon go mobs[39] (yes, of course i was jealous i could not join them, thanks to roaming fees). and there was even a publicly accessible greenhouse[40-50], that really looked amazing on the inside. along the little ponds there was lots of waterfowl again, many of them with cute fluffy little chicks.
a lot of trees were wrapped in webs[28,​58-59]. sometimes the entire tree was covered in them. we soon found out what the reason for that was: millions of ermine moths[58], building their communal larval webs. seeing whole trees swallowed up in the white sheath dresses was fascinating, remarkable, and disgusting at the same time. especially the larvae parties going on.
in the harbour area[62-89] there were lots of people enjoying the rest of this sunny sunday, that had temperatures up to 28°C and lots of sunshine. most of them were sitting, drinking and/or talking. there was also live music in the pubs and restaurants along the docks, that one could enjoy for free.
there were many little shops too, especially in the old market houses[69,​75-83] around the big market hall, called the oulun kauppahalli[70-71,​84,​86]. but since it was weekend, they all were closed - including the market hall. unfortunately.
it seems all restaurants in oulu close at 20:00 o'clock, so we faced the problem of where to get food. after quite a while of searching, we gave up as we simply just could not find a restaurant that would be opened for a little longer and still served hot meals. so we just went to a supermarket, and grabbed some food there. we took it back to our hotel room at the best western hotel apollo. that one, as many other hotels we had booked so far, was also lacking air condition in the rooms. with temperatures around 30°C this always means a rather warm night and room, where leaving the window opened was is no option because of the mosquitoes. so i guess this will be another sweaty night for me. finland is simply just for winter, it seems. at the hotel we did a research on organisers for bear photography, and sent a booking request to our favourite. hopefully they can fit us in an overnight package on such short notice, because that sounds like it would be a great experience. track for day 11.

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Sat, 23 Jul 2016
day 10 in scandinavia, finland, sweden (0 comments)
today was the day to face my finnish horror. i tried to fight it hard, but it seems there never had been a way around it. and so, on our way south to tornio, we stopped in rovaniemi[01-21], the village of santa claus. (almost) all year long, 24/7/​365.25, pure, never ending horror i successfully had suppressed since my last visit here. but to my surprise, it was actually less crappy than i had remembered it - maybe because this time i was mentally prepared for what to expect (as far as one can mentally prepare for... this). at least there was no christmas music, and besides two hordes of asian tourist flash mobs that vanished as fast as they had appeared, there were not that many people. i was a little relieved. nina[12,​16-17] totally enjoyed the whole christmassy thing in july; and she also liked to stand on the arctic circle[05].
the rest has not changed much, except that the elf girls now wear larger hats so their ears are covered by it, while they used to have elfin ears the last time. too sad, that was at least one thing i had enjoyed about this place. the rest is still all about santa, christmas and all related gimcrackery one could buy in various little shops. but since it is still exactly five months and one day to christmas, we left this little land of santa horror, and returned to mid summer's heat and the "normal" finland.
for the rest of the day we were driving to tornio. once arrived, we checked in at the hotel, right with "heku & eldis" at the reception. the two of them must be local celebrities because there were a lot of posters of them around the hotel - also the young female receptionist seemed pretty impressed by them. well, seems like the two are having a big gig tonight, right in the park arena event restaurant. to cool down our big excitement that we got so close to finnish stars, we took a stroll to sweden. the town adjacent to tornio is haparanda[22-42].
we hopped over the borders[23,​40-41] of finland and sweden; to nina this meant her first time in sweden; yippieh. first thing to see there was a huge ikea[31] store - what else. along the river bank where we walked there was lots of waterfowl, and - unfortunately - lots of mosquitoes too. soon we gave up and turned around, went back to finland, and continued our leisurely walk far away from the water, home of the blood sucking gadflies.
we walked past the tornion ortodoksinen kirkko[48-56], a wooden church from 1884. it was closed, so we just went round this small church. i was wondering what it would look like from the inside.
tornio spread a strange atmosphere and mood. there were lots of totally wasted people, lots of kids on the streets, but at the same time the surrounding looked quite friendly. our impression was that of a big, nice ghetto; really strange, and hard to describe. maybe (and hopefully) it was just so because it was saturday, maybe it would be always that way - we did not know.
we returned to the tornio park hotel, and called it a day. we even were too tired for "heku & eldis". too sad we missed their show. good thing is, we did not even hear anything from their act during the night. today it was sunny, with around 25°C. so absolutely and totally perfect weather for santamus[01]. track for day 10.

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Fri, 22 Jul 2016
day 09 in scandinavia, finland (0 comments)
we decided to stay another night at the fell centre kiilopää, so we can do another hike today. this time we wanted to try a looped trail hike, taking us from kiilopää to laanila and back again. the 24km long trail[01-85] started - like the trail we took yesterday - at the fell centre centre kiilopää [01-85]. it was a pretty hot day today with 30°C, but still we wanted to make the hike. we followed the snowmobile trails, that were used by hikers and mountain bikers in summer. but besides a few bikers we did not see any people at all. and also no reindeer so far, because either they are inside or outside the gate[01-02,​85].
after a while we decided it is time to have a short break, drink some water, and eat some snacks. we came to a public camping site, but no people were here, except a family right at a fireplace. we took pictures at the lake where the fireplace was, and once we were done we noticed the family had left. so we went to the fireplace, as there were benches to sit. strange thing is, they must have put on a few new logs, so the fire will burn on. we were a little confused. the ground was dry, it seemed it had not rained for quite a while, and still they put a new log in the fire and just leave? they did not inform us, nor did they care if we would go to the fireplace to watch it. so we assumed this must be common behaviour to keep the fire burning, no matter how dry the surrounding is. flying sparks? who gives a damn. well, for the time being we were watching the fire. we started to unpack our sandwiches, when suddenly we noticed a few birds[11-32] flying from the other side of the lake to our fireplace. it was obvious they were attracted by our food and were used to humans. so at first we threw them some crumbs and they happily picked them.
then we dared them to get closer and closer. it took him a while, but in the end one of the siberian jays even picked the crumbs from my hand - aaaaw, so brave, so cute. unfortunately the pictures of these moments were too blurry. i had my tele lens on, so they were too close - too bad. and for the record: before we left, we put out the fire; it just did not seem right to us to leave it behind still burning.
while hiking we saw loads of ant hills. there are a lot of them, and some got a little extra protection[03] from humans, like a stone roof for better rain protection. near the streams we spotted several toads[74] and a mouse too.
and we also saw some reindeer[44-46,​64,​67] again. as always, they were very cautious and shy, so we could not get near them.
today it was really very hot, all sunny and no clouds in the sky. so it felt amazing to take off our hiking shoes, and cool down our feet[57] in the cold water of another brook. this helped a little and was really refreshing, as the water was quite cool. with our feet dangling in the water we had another sandwich and some more water to replenish.
near the end of our trip we noticed that it got always steeper - there was a hill[75-84] at the end of the trip. at first we hoped the trail would lead us around, but it went right up to the top. uffz, we were already pretty exhausted, and not very happy with the ascend. furthermore this meant that the little shadow we had so far from the trees along the trail were now disappearing again. just like yesterday.
but eventually we also made the last piece of the trail and finally arrived back at the suomen latu kiilopää hotel again. today's trail was listed with a length of 24km, but my gps tracker said it was only 22km. so it seems we balanced the 2km difference from yesterday's hike. track for day 09 hike.

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Thu, 21 Jul 2016
day 08 in scandinavia, finland, norway (0 comments)
today it was time for farewell. nina's parents[01-02] had their last day on this holiday trip, and their flight would be in the early afternoon from ivalo back home. on our way to ivalo we had a little stop at a place called karhunpesäkivi[01-13], the bear cave.
although this place only existed because one can crawl into an abandoned bear cave, i basically got the impression that they do not really like bears, looking at the various exhibits[03-05,​13]. all bears were scary and/or placed in strange ways. another strange thing about this place was a promised view over lake inari - this really huge lake (3rd largest in finland) in the north of finland. to get it, one has to climb quite a lot of stairs, to finally see... a tiny glimpse of a lake on the far far horizon[12]. well, at least we had a little workout. besides that, there is nothing we could recommend - strange, and weird place.
soon we arrived at ivalo airport and once nina's parents were heading through security checks we left for the fell centre in kiilopää [15-61], which is right next to uhro kekkonen national park, the second largest national park in finland. we drove to the k-supermarket in saariselkä to get some provisions, then on to kiilopää. there we checked in at the hotel (this time no scandic one), got a map of the nearby hiking trails, and decided to start with an 8km hiking trail. but before we started, we joined a workshop to make your own pan cake[16-19] over open fire, which was taking place in a tent[19] right at the starting point of our trail. we managed to get a few good, not too burned, pancakes - delicious.
we started the "niilanpää päivätupa" hiking trail[20-61] in an area where there was still loads of trees[20-24], but soon the trees got fewer and fewer, and soon there were almost no trees at all[25-44]. why we had no idea, it was not like we had a steep ascend above the tree line. maybe it was the ground, or deforestation ages ago that kept the trees from growing.
there are emergency huts[37-38,​57-58] with supplies of fire wood. one can chop themselves if they find themselves caught here in winter (or so we thought). so we chopped a few pieces of wood for fun [37-40]. with the sun and the hot temperatures of around 25°C this soon began to end in sweat and exhaustion. so we stopped doing that again, knowing that we could chop if we would have need of it one day (maybe in winter, when being caught here).
the landscape did not change much during the entire hike, but at least it was a beautiful landscape, with lots of tiny rivulets[48-56,​60-61] and wide open spaces.
we found another hut[54] but this one seemed abandoned. we only found some empty beer bottles and a campfire. and we found other hut[57-58] that had fire wood again and even a little stove. this really looked cosy. we stayed a while to eat our snacks, drink some water for the fluid balance, and rest a little.
although it was totally silent - besides one bird every half an hour - we spotted wildlife. there were bugs, big dragonflies, tiny butterflies that nina likes a lot, a frog, a mouse, and a partridge. at least it looked like one. and of course reindeer, but only from afar. they seem to be very shy and cautious. back at the suomen latu kiilopää hotel it turns out we did a 10km hike, not an 8km one. either we took a wrong turn somewhere (which might easily have been the case), or the trail was labeled wrong. we don't know. but it was nice having a hike again. track for day 08, track for day 08 hike.

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Wed, 20 Jul 2016
day 07 in scandinavia norway (0 comments)
today was the day for our alta river boat tour[001-088], that we had already booked the previous days. robert was especially interested in the fishing waters and fish, while the rest of us was more interested in the canyon part of the trip. so we drove to sorrisniva, where our trip would start. being there a little early, we got to meet an impressive cat[002-010], both in colour and build. while we were petting the little kitty, the tour guide had also shown up, and we had a little chat. he told us that there are lynx around in this area, and many of his cats got eaten by lynx. too sad; too sad the cats get eaten, and too sad we did not spot any lynx.
then the fun started. we got our life jackets and a few short instructions what to do, and what not to do. then we were divided into two groups, a finnish and/or norwegian one (we were not so sure about that), and an english speaking one, which we were in. then we made it up the river with about 30km/h.
from time to time our cool and nice guide[047] slowed down, stopped the engine, and started telling about the river and other local stuff. once done, the engine and the wind would make it impossible again to understand a single word. in parts the ride was pretty bumpy[039-040,​073] as the river was flowing quite fast, and sometimes there were (visible) rocks[039-041] in the middle of the stream. that's why only experienced guides can go here by boat - at least that is what our guide told us.
we noticed a lot of traffic on the river, and it seemed most of the boats where fishermen's boats. although, according to our guide, this is a very expensive fun. a fisher card for this area, which is also known for having loads of fish at this time of the year, costs around 17.000 EUR. best part is, this is all "catch'n'release", which means you can not even take the fish with you.
after a while we had reached the turning point, from where one can look into the actual canyon[057-062]. but this is as far as boats are allowed to go. so instead of going on further up the river, we took a little break at a little camping spot[068-071]. usually this one is rented by fishermen too, so they can rest and have a little meal out here. actually there was a bbq place too, so maybe one is allowed to eat the fish there. unfortunately we could not bear it at this place for longer than only a few minutes, because as soon as we got out of the boat we were attacked by hordes of gnats.
as fishing here is pretty expensive, this of course has an impact on the people that come here to fish. and so our guide claimed the president of finland stays here from time to time, going fishing with him. well, we believed him. this time. he also told us, that if the president is here, he stays at this house[077].
on our way back to the place where we started from, we reached a speed of up to 45km/h, because now we were going downstream. it got really cold after a while, although it was hot when standing in the sun. so back at the headquarter, we got hot coffee and a cake to warm up again. then we asked our guide if the husky camp, we saw a sign for while driving here in the morning, is still opened in summer, and what our chances are to get to see and pet some huskies there. he said we should simply just drop by and ask. so we drove back to where the sign was, and came to the "northern lights husky" camp[089-123]. turns out the camp was currently run by a young american couple who stays here to look after the dogs in summer, while the owners were somewhere else on holidays. the couple seemed pretty happy to get a little distraction and have contact to other humans again. so we were shown round the camp full of cute little fluffy cubs[089-098,​113-115], ready to be cuddled and hugged.
it was pretty hard to get sharp pictures of the husky cubs because they were always moving, always active, and i forgot to adjust my camera settings because of the overwhelming cuteness of all those little hyperactive furballs. then we were allowed to enter the big enclosure for the grown up huskies[099-112]. it was pretty hot, so most of the dogs were in their huts seeking shelter from direct sunlight. but they were too curious, so almost all of them came out to get a scent and a cuddled from us. there was a lot of tail wagging, and all of the canines were super friendly and seemed happy to meet us - and so were we.
usually there is a cafe too, but it is only opened in winter season - bad luck; i would have enjoyed a coffee with all the little cubs running around. but instead we offered the couple a little extra income (for the service and friendliness), which they happily accepted. then, when heading to the exit, we noticed a black cat[117,​119-123] that was using us as guards, so that it could sneak past the dogs. but of course not without taunting the dogs[120] once it was past the cages - a cat has pride after all. the dogs barked and yelled, the cat enjoyed the spectacle. brave little feline.
time to get to our accommodation in karasjok, which seemed to be right in the middle of a sami park - the most touristy kind one. but it was just closing when we arrived. so we went to grab a bite. we chose a sami dinner in a big tent[127-134]. there we had reindeer steak and other reindeer meat meals[131-132,​134]. it was absolutely delicious - poor reindeer; nomnomnom.
then we went to our rooms in the scandic karasjok hotel. if you wonder why we only stayed at scandic hotels so far, the answer is simple: robert usually stays in scandic hotels when he is in finland, so he wanted to use the frequent guest program bonuses that he had collected over the months. this meant a little cheaper room rates, and 20% off in the restaurants. but maybe this will be the last scandic hotel for nina and me, because tomorrow we will bid farewell to beate and robert as they are heading home, while we get to stay another week. today it was sunny with 14°C, and it was quite hot in direct sunlight. track for day 07.

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Tue, 19 Jul 2016
day 06 in scandinavia, norway (0 comments)
today it was time for art and a museum. namely the rock art of alta[001-066]. the main part of the museum is outdoor, including all the carvings, but there is also an indoor part, going more into details of the rock art.
the fine pieces of art were created by hunters and fishers, and most likely the drawings were part of their beliefs and rituals, and might also have been an aid in story telling.
most motifs show humans, animals, and tools they were using, like fisher boats, or fishing rods. reoccurring animals are reindeer, elk, bear, dog, wolf, fox, hare, goose, duck, swan, halibut, salmon, and whale. so all the animals that are still here today. other motifs include patterns and figures. also activities like dancing, hunting and fishing, gathering, and rituals are shown in the carvings. the timespan for all the carvings is from 5000 B.C. to 200 B.C., with the oldest carvings being high above current sea level, while the younger ones are closer to the sea. this is, because the land rose over the millennia, thus exposing newer rocks at the beach, where all the carving usually took place.
then there was still the same boat, that i had already taken a picture, almost nine years earlier. it lost the cabin, but the ship's hull was still the same. amazing how long it takes for this boat to decompose. i am pretty sure it will be around for another ten years, if left to itself.
the whole area was blooming[003,​006,​030,​035,​045,​047,​049-050,​052-054,​059-061],​ and there were bees and bumblebees everywhere. it was a constant buzz; so cute. also the colours were amazing.
after a visit to the indoor museum, the cafe, and the museum shop, we left the museum with its impressive rock art, and headed for the kobberverk kåfjord[067-104], an old abandoned copper plant. actually there was almost nothing left from the plant, but there were plenty of leftovers scattered all over the area. like even more stone carvings[071], or huge slag plugs[073,079-090] from the smelting furnaces. due to corrosion, colourful patina and verdigris[081-088] formed on a lot of the plugs, giving it an amazing alien look. i really liked that a lot.
combined with a little insight and shared knowledge from robert's experience on cobber working we got to get a better impression of what might have gone on here in this area when the plant was still active and intact[103].
close to the old copper plant was the kåfjord kirke[105-115], a little wooden church from the 19th century, with a statue[105-106] of a family in front, and a graveyard[108-115] in the back of it. as it was closed, we only could walked around it.
however the northern lights cathedral, or nordlyskatedralen[116-134], was opened. so we went inside[118-132] this church, that also was rather small on the inside, although it looked pretty spacious from the outside.
from nina's parents hotel room at the scandic alta - where we will spend our second night in a row - one could look over straight to the church[134]. our room unfortunately was to the other side, so no church for us. the weather today was mild and sunny, with temperatures around 15°C, and a few clouds. track for day 06.

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Mon, 18 Jul 2016
day 05 in scandinavia, norway (0 comments)
for today there were four planned stops: first stop, robert wanted to hold a king crab with his own hands, second stop, the north cape again, third stop, doing a bird safari tour, and last stop, our hotel in alta. on our way[001-018] to the first stop we drove to the nearby north cape fishing lodge[013-014], but unfortunately the fishermen were out on the sea on their boat. so instead of lifting crabs, we had coffee and bought some postcards, spotted a cat that lived at the tourist information right next to the crab cage. it was maintained by the fisherman's wife, who was born in england, but then moved here, as she told us.
back at the north cape[019-030] again (as mentioned in the previous bLog entry, the parking ticket is valid for 48h) there was cloudy weather, and again a lot of people. besides the globe, this time we also visited the visitor centre[026-030] and looked at all the exhibits[026-027], watched a movie in the "super video cinema", went to the souvenir shops, went inside the very small st. johannes chapel[030], and visited the also very small thai museum, which was built to commemorate the visit of king chulalongkorn of siam over a hundred years ago.
then it was time to bid farewell again, as we had our next appointment at our final planned stop for today. so we drove to gjesvær[031-050], as usual with several unplanned stops in between, to enjoy the amazing and beautiful landscapes. i really, really, really, really, really hope that i will finally get to see puffins, since i have been "hunting" them now for almost over 20 years, and they were never at their location when i was there, instead they were wintering or somewhere far away from people, or breeding, or hatching, or... doing anything else, just not to be there. and i sooooooooooo want to see them.
when we arrived in gjesvær we drove to the bird safari office[047], only to find out that this was not the right one. i was glad, because i have seen the huge boat that could easily carry 60 persons or more, but our tour was with a maximum group size of eight people. we got driving instructions from the staff there how to get to the other bird watching company. and soon we found our captain, and the small boat[050] in the harbour for us. the captain seemed happy to see us, since two other people cancelled their trip for today. so it seems, we will have the boat all to ourselves; how cool is that. after getting a coffee and biscuits, safety and other instructions, we dressed in thick overalls, took all the equipment we would need, and headed out with the captain from gjesvær harbour to gjesværstappan islands, where we were promised to see loads of birds. the weather was fine too, so we all were excited to get going.
we started our birdwatching boat trip[051-260] on the "aurora", and already in the harbour area i spotted a little puffin[054] - oh, i was sooooooooooo happy. but it turns out this was not the only puffin here. no, there are 1.5 millions (yes, one-point-five-mil-li-ons) puffins here. how awesome. i was sooooooooooo much more happy. and the puffins were really everywhere[081-093,177-178]; in the water, on the water, under the water, in the air, everywhere, yeah.
the captain gave us a few numbers, like the 1.5 millions for the lundefugls, and that there is an estimated total of three million birds here around those islands - that was incredible and mind blowing to me. amongst all those birds, there were ... ... eagles...
... cormorants, ...
... gannets, ...
... and i mean lots of gannets, ...
... seagulls (and i also mean lots of seagulls here), ...
... so to sum it up: birds - millions of them.
that was really amazing. and with the small boat we could get so close to the cliffs and almost pet the birds, who were, in return, understandably pretty grumpy. we were really amazed by how many birds there are, and that we could get so close to them. the little boat was so much better than the big one[060-061,155,212] we had spotted earlier this day. we were also happy to spot a few seals too - we already missed them since our last scotland trip.
and all those animals interweave with the dazzling and marvellous surrounding. the big open sea, the harsh cliffs, the colours of the green strips on the rocks, the colours of the rocks and their layers, and the colours of the birds - all this made a wonderful photo motif.
but unfortunately, and sadly, every trip has to end eventually, and so our cool captain[229,248,260] (who might look like a roughneck, but was absolutely lovely and nice) brought us back to the jetty safely. there we got out of our coats, and went right to the tables to order some food. because besides the boat tours, the captain's wife offers excellent sea food in the same building. so we had a really huge seafood plate[263], with really delicious mixed sea food. nomnomnom. oh, i wish we had that back home too in this freshness and quality (but then maybe also at a price level like back home).
still overwhelmed by the sheer amount of birds, we made our way to alta[264-271] to get to our last stop; our hotel, the scandic alta. there we will spend the night. the weather today was sunny (24 hours), with a few clouds, and 13°C. track for day 05.

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Sun, 17 Jul 2016
day 04 in scandinavia, finland, norway (0 comments)
today we had to get up early again. it was 05:30 o'clock when we got up, had a quick breakfast at the hotel, checked out, took our shuttle bus to helsinki airport[001] to get our flight to ivalo[002], and then head on to norway. ivalo is the northernmost airport in finland; we chose this one to get our rental car here, and return it in helsinki at the end of the journey - makes it easier and cheaper if you return it in the same country. so at the airport we queued for our car at the counter, when we ran into our first problem; we were told that they have to charge us for the additional driver, which we actually already had paid upon booking online. arguing did not help and we needed the car, so for now we grumpily had to accept, and were told that we should file a written complaint to the company once we are done with our journey - note taken. i was chosen as the driver to the north cape commune (nina did not want to drive yet), thus only a few pictures from a few short stops, like when reindeer[003-005] were blocking the street, or like the short stop[005-015] where we were looking for a cafe and washrooms, but found a little lake instead.
or our first stop[016-020] in norway, where we were looking for a toilet again, but found a wonderful mountain face. yippieh, we made it to norway - i was so happy. another stop[021-026] was just along the road, with a beautiful little bay (i was pretty sure i have already been here on my first scandinavia trip, and here is the proof). or the stop[027-031], where robert and i examined the layers of rocks in detail. and our last stop[032-036], just close to our destination, where we were so impressed by the beautiful landscape.
late, and finally, we arrived at the scandic nordkapp hotel. we wanted to check in at the reception, but there was our second problem: we were "upgraded" - aha? - to a room in scandic bryggen in honningsvåg, because scandic nordkapp was fully booked. this meant a ten kilometre detour for us. so we drove back to bryggen. well, well... the guy at the other reception there - who looked very much like hugh grant - confessed he was totally new to this job, and it seemed we gave him more than he could handle - poor him. he offered to check with his boss, and get instructions how to handle this situation.
enough with the problems; we were hungry, so we went through honningsvåg[037-054] and down to the harbour to have some king crabs[047-049] for dinner. most of us never had king crabs before - or at least not in this ... raw form - so it took us a while to get the hang of how to get the meat out of the crustacean shells. but soon we managed quite well, although the plates all looked like a battle ground. looking at other guests' tables, this was not the way to eat them properly. but it was very delicious and filling.
on our way back to the hotel we even spotted a norwegian forest cat; how cute. thanks to the midnight sun we could still go up to the north cape and enjoy a beautiful view over the sea. so at 22:00 o'clock we jumped into our car, and headed towards the north cape[055-071].
at the north cape [072-108] we spotted lots of austrians[059,100], and most of them upper-austrians, according to their dialect. in general, there were lots of people [085]; the last time i was here i was more lucky, because i arrived at the parking lot when it was foggy, but soon the fog was gone, and it was nice sunshine all over this place, with almost no people at all.
nevertheless it was an impressive and an awe-inspiring sight, and i enjoyed every minute on the northernmost point (where a road can take you on the european mainland).
a cyclist asked me to take a picture of him. i did, and we talked a little about his bike. turns out he rode his bicycle over 3000 kilometres, from south to north norway in only a month. amazing performance, i was really impressed. then we went over to the "children of the world" monument[092,095,098,099], and the "the mother and child" sculpture[093,094,096-099] right next to it, that also looked wonderful with the sun and the sea in background.
the ticket for the parking lot at the north cape is valid for 48 hours, so we will come back here tomorrow again, but for sure we will not have such an amazing sunset, as the sun will be in the back then. on our way back we spotted another herd of reindeer[109-113].
by now we have been up for almost 19 hours. scandic bryggen in honningsvåg seems pretty okay actually, it is just that we always have to drive ten kilometres more when going to, and coming from the north cape. if tomorrow we go there again, that will be already 40 kilometres, plus the first time when they sent us back, so another 20 kilometres. yay, sums up to 60 kilometres. oh well, the landscape is worth all the driving, so i am fine with that. and the overbooked scandic hotel did not really look that cosy as our little one in bryggen. so we told hugh grant that everything was fine; he was happy, and so were we. today the weather was sunny with a few clouds, and around cosy 18° celsius, though it was very windy on the north cape. i am so looking forward to get back there tomorrow again. but for now it is time to rest. track for day 04.

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Sat, 16 Jul 2016
day 03 in scandinavia, finland (0 comments)
first thing today was leaving pori and heading back to helsinki airport, because our aeroplane to ivalo will leave tomorrow in the morning. while driving back to the capital of finland, we stopped at a small flea market[01-02] right next to the street, and later stopped at a little lake called venäjänlammi[03-17]. there a family was bathing.
after another hour of driving we stopped at another little lake called salkolanjärvi[20-25]; there it was very windy. but the short break was good to keep awake while driving. finally, in the afternoon, we arrived at the airport hotel, checked in, left our luggage in the room, and took the airport shuttle to get to the finnair bus to helsinki centre. this gave us a few hours for a stroll through helsinki[26-89], starting (and ending) at the helsinki train station[26-27,81,85-86], with its beautiful granite statues outside[85-86], and a clock tower[81]. opened in 1919, it is the most visited building, and was recently chosen to be amongst the most beautiful railway stations, and is an important landmark in finland. next landmarks and not far from the station are kolmen sepän patsas[28] (the "three smiths" statue) and the stockmann[28-29] building right next to it. the stockmann building is the largest department store in finland, and the biggest in the nordic countries. right next to the statue is an esplanade[29-37], a big green area with loads of cafes and restaurants, an open air stage, and many people[32]. seems like a place for finns to hang out. at the end of "espi" there is a fountain[36] with a nude female status, called havis amanda[34-36], fish, and sea lions spouting water. while it was not accepted by the people of helsinki when it was first erected, it is now considered to be the most beautiful piece of art in helsinki; time and taste change.
adjacent to the fountain is the lyypekinlaituri[38-46], also known as the "port to luebeck", because ships started from here to luebeck. usually there seems to be a big market on the kauppatori[45-47], "market square", as the name implies, and according to all the street signs and marks on the ground, but now there was none.
so we went on to the uspenski cathedral[48-50], an eastern orthodox cathedral, we did not enter. instead we walked narrow streets to get to the next big landmark in helsinki.
the tasavallan presidential palace[52-53], and the senate square, called senaatintori[59-68]. in the middle of the huge place with loads of steps[63-65] is the helsinki cathedral, helsingin tuomiokirkko[59,61,63-75]. right in front is a statue of alexander ii[61-62]. usually this place is crowded, but we were pretty alone there.
our little stroll then took us back again to the shopping miles of helsinki, with loads of beautiful old buildings and storefronts[76-79].
for dinner we went to a kebab restaurant, where we had a decent kebab. well fed and full we headed back to the elielplatsen for our bus back to the airport, just to get our transfer bus to the holiday inn hotel again. this day the weather was way friendlier, with another 20°C and rain only from time to time. track for day 03.

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Fri, 15 Jul 2016
day 02 in scandinavia, finland (0 comments)
today we slept long, then got up and had breakfast from a k-supermarket. we were searching for a cafe or the like, but could not find one for quite a while. the streets were empty, and no cafe spotted. so we decided to try the supermarket.
once we were finished and left the store, turned around the corner the street was full of life again with lots of cafes, and a street festival[03-07] (or something like that). grrrr... if only we had known or had taken that one more turn. oh well... actually the street festival looked more like a mixture of health, fitness, age, provisions against aging, awareness raising topics.
then we met with nina's parents and drove to "cupori", the company robert is currently super visioning. there we got a private tour through the premises and the factory buildings. we did not take our cameras with us and took no pictures for the sake of trade secrets. the tour was pretty long and very interesting, showing how copper pipes of different diameters, thickness, and lengths were produced. unfortunately all the workers were already gone, so there was no machine noise, but also not much to see in action. then it was time for the pori jazz festival. again we did not bring our cameras, so only mobile photos are available. first artist was joss stone[08-10], then richard ashcroft[14-15] (yes, the "verve"-guy), and ms. lauryn hill[18], who seemed pretty grumpy and not in a good mood. since it was raining[12,17] all the time since we arrived at the festival area, we were pretty soaked and cold after hours standing around. nina's parents had access to the vip area, but nina and i had to get a warm place somewhere else during the performances. a big can of bear beer[11] ("karhu" means bear) was not exactly helping to get warmer, but it was good (and also - as one would expect from scandinavia - very expensive). but besides rain and a grumpy lauryn hill the mood atmosphere was all friendly and shiny happy.
after a short stroll through town, where we found various other little concerts in front of pubs apart from the main festival, we arrived at our airbnb accommodation again. today the weather was about 20°C again, but with lots of rain, especially in the afternoon and evening when we attended the festival. track for day 02.

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Thu, 14 Jul 2016
day 01 in scandinavia, finland (0 comments)
after ladakh it was time for another new holiday experience. since nina was currently searching for a job, it was rather unpredictable when she will get her next job and thus her next holidays. then a rather spontaneous offer came along: a trip to finland and to the north cape with her parents, beate and robert, and us. that sounded like fun (and also interesting), so we opted in. robert is currently a lot in finland, mainly work related. to see a little more of finland he suggested this trip. also, nina's parents got tickets for the "pori jazz festival" from the company he is regularly visiting. soon a rough schedule was worked out, and thanks to nina planned out more in detail. turns out we will be with nina's parents for one week, then we bring them to the airport and spend another week on our own to explore a little further. so another holiday trip with a little more planning and fixed targets on our route; interesting and unusual. day 01 started very early for nina, beate and me, as we had to get to munich to get our plane to helsinki, departure at 06:00 o'clock in the morning - brrrr. robert was already in finland and would fetch us in pori from the train station. to get to pori we had to take the train, first one to tikurrila[01-02], then the second one to pori via lempäälä[03], tampere, and nokia[04] (yes, the company is named after this particular town). the train had wifi on board, but that's just what i expected in finland. after about four hours of riding trains we got of in pori where robert was already expecting us.
another novelty was an airbnb accommodation. since the pori jazz festival seems to be the big event in this town it is always fully booked this one week of the year. we phoned our host and soon liisa arrived on a bicycle, gave us the key, showed us the room. we thanked her for her hospitality, left our luggage there, and went to the surrounding area[05-64] of the jazz festival, as the tickets were day tickets for tomorrow.
then we tried some crispy fish[57-58] (we think it was deep fried sprats), with salmon, potatoes and vegetables. pretty good stuff, especially all the fish.
so far pori is a lovely town, full of life and people. robert said, it is usually more of a ghost town once the jazz festival is over again. too sad, and currently hard to imagine. there are cafes, pub gardens, and outdoor activities everywhere. finish is still a strange language to me, even after the third time being here. although so far all my scandinavia trips touched finland was mainly for transit or visited because it was close by. but this time, the focus is mainly on finland. time to get this country a little better. the weather today was a warm 20°C and it was sunny all day long. track for day 01.

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Sun, 12 Jun 2016
baptism ceremony (0 comments)
today my niece mirjam was baptised. yippieh!

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Thu, 26 May 2016
new bLog layout (0 comments)
i did restructure and update my bLog site.
i started with splitting the css into a mobile and a desktop version. so my bLog now adapts to your device, and is even responsive. to achieve this i spent a lot of time on css hacking and tweaking. so there's a revised and shiny new css to both the desktop and mobile version. a positive side effect of this should be a higher compatibility with most blog aggregators.
the text layout also changed, and i cleaned up and removed some of the navigation items. also i restructured the "content" and "chronology" navigation items, which seem to be easier to navigate now, in my opinion. for mobile devices the navigation elements are now in a css only accordion to save precious display space.
additionally i added a "next" and "prev" link to the blog entry site, which should also improve usability and navigation - this was done by writing another plugin for my bLog-software, namely "blosxom".
and finally, i introduced and structured categories, mostly for myself to find entries easier and faster.
so, after almost two month of redoing and decluttering my bLog layout it is finally done - i hope you enjoy it.

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Sun, 22 May 2016
neko atsume (0 comments)
after almost three months of continuous playing, i finally managed to "collect" all the cats and their mementos in neko atsume, the cat collector.
the goal of the mobile game is to provide food and toys in your backyard, which attracts various cats. with the right toy and food even some rare cats appear. if they have paid you a visit for several times, they leave behind a memento for you. mementos are small items the cats collect on their daily tours, to show their gratitude.
in the meantime i have bought all available goodies, so i press on "auto set goodies", which randomly places the items in the yard, once a day. i could even afford all available remodelling styles (with the zen style still my favourite one).
i hope there will be a new release soon, bringing new kitties to collect. neko atsume is a wonderful, great game with tons of cute kitties and lovely animations, where everyone wins.

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Sun, 15 May 2016
a few days in tyrol (0 comments)
again a short visit to nina's parents in tyrol, and the two cute kitties named bonnie[02-05] and havanna[01,06-29]. don't let yourself be deceived by the fact that the cats are sleeping and dozing on almost all of the pictures. this is only, because it is the only time you get to take fairly sharp pictures of them with a mobile phone's camera.
later we did our obligatory hike, this time over the alpsteg bridge and the brunner berg, back to nina's place. nina's brother and his girlfriend joined us.
relaxing and lovely as always, and again after a long time an opportunity to cuddle a cat.

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Sun, 01 May 2016
central eastern alps hiking track, day 03 (0 comments)
day 03 of the hiking tour (my second day, as i skipped the first day). at the breakfast table one crew member announced he will take a bus back home and skip this day. the reason he quit is a mixture of pain, a girl and lack of sleep; he was one of the two seeking a party location in the empty streets of breitenbrunn the night before. as i thought, they did not find such a place. so we were reduced to a group of three.
again the weather was perfect, and our track was mostly through the woods, so we had plenty of shadow. also for a long distance the track was right along the border of lower austria and burgenland. furthermore it was an area used by the military too - at least we thought so, according to all the shooting ranges and strange signs[16] we saw along the road.
on our tour we met several local people, loads of them asking where we come from and where we are heading to. and most of them suggested we aim for mannersdorf, as it would be easier from there to get transport to vienna. so we took that tour, with a few detours as sometimes the signs were lacking or we simply just missed them to take the right turn. in mannersdorf we had a tasty lunch at a restaurant.
then it was time to get a bus home. so we located the nearest bus station, had a look at the plan, and were a bit confused. then we took out our phones, checked the bus schedule, and were even more confused. it seems, there is absolutely not a single bus that enters or leaves mannersdorf on a sunday. it looked like we were stuck in this little ghost village. too bad.
fortunately the mother of one crew member had a friend here in mannersdorf, who we called. we were very lucky, as she was just about to leave for vienna. so she delayed her departure, gave us coffee and biscuits, and let us play with her really super cute dog[23-25]. finally we left and were brought back to vienna. puh, we were saved - very, very lucky us.
thanking her over and over again we got off the car at a metro station and took the metro back home. what a relieve. the total distance for today was 17.30 kilometres. and remember: don't end up in mannersdorf on a sunday if you don't want to stay there overnight.
here is the track for day 03.

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Sat, 30 Apr 2016
central eastern alps hiking track, day 02 (0 comments)
the full extent of yesterday's disaster revealed itself at the breakfast. nina had blisters on her toes and her knee hurt, the rest of the crew was battered, and one member even quit and decided to go to the railway station to take the next train home because his feet hurt too much. so one man down, and plus one.
the rest started this day's journey in parndorf, paid the nearby "outlet centre" a visit, as it lay on the route of our trail. but we did not buy much because of the extra weight we would have had to carry for the next two days. at least i have seen the outlet centre, as i have never been there before. looks like it is worth coming back here one day to really do some shopping. but there was a pharmacy too, where we bought loads of plasters and bandages.
the weather today was good, and only a few other people were out on our road too. most of them were on bicycles, as it seems the route is a perfect trip with a bike. accordingly were the looks on the people's faces when they saw us hiking.
after walking quite a while we had our first break at an inn[03-04], had coffee, ice cream, and some water. refreshed we went on through vineyards[07-20] and over mounds[18-20].
on top of one we had a nice picnic in the vine yard. by now everyone was feeling better again, the pain almost gone, so we all could enjoy hiking and the landscape again. and also the weather was still good, although the weather report has predicted otherwise.
next we arrived in winden am see, where we spotted a strange sculpture[30,32,35,37]. turns out it was the "sonnenanbeter" by prof. wander bertoni, put there over 50 years ago, back in 1963. the sculpture did not look that old actually. being there also meant it was not far to our accommodation anymore. almost everyone of the group was happy about that.
in breitenbrunn[40-48] we went to our accommodation, which turned out to have a rather strange host. an old lady with a not too friendly behaviour (at least she had a cat[47]), but maybe that is local tradition. also we asked her if there is a tavern opened in the village, but it seems there was none. either they were closed due to construction work, or because the owners were on holidays or simply because some did not feel like opening today; it seems all that was left was a restaurant in the centre of the village, where we went[48] to have dinner.
there people were friendly and we had a few drinks and fun. but at around 22:00 o'clock they were closing, but we were told there is a first of march festivity on the main square. so we wanted to go there, but that festival was also already over. puh, what is wrong with the people in the country. too bad. so we went back to our accommodation, two of our crew did not want to give up that easily and wandered the streets of breitenbrunn in the hope of finding some place to party on. my bet was they would fail miserably.
the total distance of today's hike was 18.30 kilometres, and i am feeling pretty good actually. no blisters, no pain so far. that is good. i hope the others are fine too, so far everyone seems better than yesterday in the evening.
here is the track for day 02.

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Fri, 29 Apr 2016
central eastern alps hiking track, day 01 (0 comments)
we planned a three day hiking tour along the "central eastern alps hiking trail". initially "we" started as a group of eight people. after weeks of planning, and the first day of the hike coming closer, only five people remained. and eventually only four people started on the first day, because the fifth member (me) had to work on a friday - which is quite the exceptional event.
so the group of four started early in the morning, took a train to the starting point at hainburg, and sent me the first pictures of them having fun on the train. a few hours later, a picture of them having a break and a beer at an inn. perfect motivation for my working day.
but it was friday, so there was not much to do at the office, and my working day was over quickly. soon i could hop on the train to follow them; we have planned to meet at the accommodation in parndorf. when i arrived i thought i would find a cheerful and happy crowd, but i found four people being worn out, knackered, and quiet. turns out the total distance of 27.2 kilometres has left its marks.
hurting knees, hips, backs, muscle ache, and toes full of blisters, just to name but a few. maybe it was not such a bad coincidence i was not hiking with them today, as this was the longest distance. next two days are both around only 20 kilometres.
here is the track of the brave hikers on day 01.

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Fri, 15 Apr 2016
star wars "identities" exhibition (0 comments)
after having a "star wars" marathon in november, watching episode I to VI in the correct chronological plot order, and watching the latest movie of the sequel trilogy "The Force Awakens" in december, the next logical step of course was to attend the stars wars "identities" exhibition. it was hosted in vienna from 18th of december 2015 to the 16th of april 2016. so we made it there on the 15th of april 2016. just in time. i did not bring my camera, so all pictures are made with my mobile phone. quality is bad, but you get the idea.
right at the entrance you were asked to create your own avatar, and the first step was to choose a race. so all the people were queuing for humans and other boring stuff, while surprisingly, there was no one aiming for the awesome gungans. well, my first choice of course was to be a gungan - what else. nina chose to be an ewok. almost equally awesome. but also, no one seemed to go for them. humans are strange...
in fact jar jar binks[05-06] is so cool, that the designers of the exhibition chose to introduce him right at the beginning. i was really happy. nina was also very happy and totally liked jar jar[06].
next highlight was the original princess lea bikini[08] prop, right next to the carbon frozen han solo[09] prop; how appropriate.
then was the obligatory section about robots and drones[04], storm troopers[01-03], the fett clan, and darth vader[18]. and of course pod racing[07] with the cute little bundle of joy anakin skywalker - because everybody loooooves pod racing and little ani. right?
but fortunately it gets better again at the end of the exhibition, when it is all about yoda[12], chewbacca[13], padme amidala[14], and some jolly sytherins[15,16].
best of all were of course our avatars[19], a chubby hot little ewok girl named "ninsti", madly in love with the handsome gungan named "nostromo". an excellent basis for another sequel-sequel (or prequel-prequel) trilogy.
conclusion: the exhibition is a nice add-on when it comes to background information and a good summary of several topics. also the focus on your own decisions and how they affect others and yourself are nicely worked in. so if you get the chance to see it, do it.

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Sun, 27 Mar 2016
day 02 in tyrol, hiking in the kundler gorge (0 comments)
after a few days of laziness, we decided to go hiking in the kundler gorge. the weather was perfect, so nina, her dad, and i went for this little trip.
the hike is pretty easy, as it has no steep parts, always just straight ahead, with no appreciable amount of elevation gain. also the track was a good gravel road.
spring left its first traces, and here and there flowers were blooming and bees were busily flying around. it was also the first test in the field for my new gps tracker - it did an excellent job.
the bridge one crosses at the beginning (and the end) of the hike is still the original one that was built over a hundred years ago. it is fully made of wood, and is over 30 metres long. also, legend has it, the gorge was made by a dragon who bit the rock as he died, murdered by a local farmer with cunning and trickery. poor dragon.
a lovely track, recommendable for an easy, short hike.

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Sat, 26 Mar 2016
day 01 in tyrol, bonny and havanna (0 comments)
it was time for another visit to the cute cats named bonny and havanna, who spend their days in tyrol, at the place of nina's parents.
havanna is now an almost fully grown cat, but still cute and adorable as always. still her fur is fluffy and soft as silk. same of course goes for bonny.
another thing that does not change in the near future it seems is, that they both dislike posing for the camera. at first they are curious for about ten seconds, then they get bored, and within a few photos they get annoyed. a few seconds later, they just run off.
too bad they don't enjoy it more. i would love to take more pictures of them and know that they are deeply relaxed.

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Fri, 12 Feb 2016
canmore g-porter gp-102+ (0 comments)
since my good old navin minihomer stopped working in scotland (remember the indian man's course?), i was looking for a replacement. seems like there is a new version with the same casing, but slightly different hardware and improved software, available now; produced and distributed by canmore, a taiwanese company.
the little gadget called "canmore g-porter gp-102+", displays a lot more information, although the display-dimensions have not changed. it has a more structured satellite-signal amount/strength display, it even shows the current temperature and barometric pressure. also it can draw the track and you can view old tracks, and the two-button navigation has changed too - there's a long-press function now bound to each button; this makes navigation even more comfortable and faster.
so i ordered one for an even lower price price as my old navin was. first test was walking around in the neighbourhood, tracking and testing, and getting familiar with all the functions. then i wrapped it in my gloves and stuffed them in my front pocket of my jacket. the track was still pretty accurate - excellent.
the format of the tracks also has changed, it is now stored in ".fit" binary files, but conversion with "gpsbabel" works flawlessly, once the files got transferred to the laptop via usb mass storage mode.
so far i am really happy with the new device, the size of a matchbox.

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Wed, 10 Feb 2016
vienna ice dream 2016 (0 comments)
so after talking about going there for the last four years, we finally made it to the "vienna ice dream", a big skating rink in front of the town hall, with a total area of 8.000 square metres. also, it was my early valentine's surprise for nina.
since it was during the week, there were not that many other visitors, so it was all nice and relaxed. after renting the ice skates we went on the ice.
it took a while to get used to ice skating again; after all, the last time we both were on the ice was back in february 2012.
so we started slowly, always close to the barrier, so we would have something to grab a hold of if we would fall. but we did not, and so we got more confident with each round.

then it was time for a break, so we grabbed a bite and had smoked salmon. the price was moderate and the food was really good.
after a few more rounds we called it a day and went home again. the "vienna ice dream" is really big fun; ice skating in the middle of the city. maybe we manage to get there again in 2017.
i did not bring my camera with me but i would like to share some pictures i took with my camera - of course the quality is pretty bad.

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Wed, 06 Jan 2016
day 11 in braveheart land (0 comments)
day 11, and thus the last day in scotland for us, ownoez. time flies, and so will we. soon. but first we had a last scottish breakfast for nina, and a continental one with porridge for me. then, five minutes to nine our host came to us, warning us that the power will soon be out, due to works at some high voltage line in the area. we were a bit confused and thought the power out would be later, but we misunderstood the lady, as it seemed. she tried to inform us yesterday evening, but it seems the both of us were too tired to get her exact message. well it was no problem to us, and it turned out the power out was only about 10 to 15 minutes, and not two hours as officially announced, so we even could finish our breakfast with lights on. we would not have needed electricity anyway, because there was nothing to plan or book today. our agenda for today was quite short. it only included cleaning our car, which we did at a gas station on our way to the airport, which was our second item on the list. there we returned the car. then there was plenty of time for waiting. so we did exactly that - waiting for our first flight to bruxelles for several hours. we spent our last few british pounds at the shops at the airport. then we had to hurry to catch our transit flight to vienna - timing here was not really well done. but we made it, and got on the flight home. here are a few numbers for the statistics department: * we drove 1650 kilometres (1021 miles) with our rental car, * i took 3805 pictures, from which 1167 pictures were used in the galleries, * i spotted two cats on the entire trip, nina spotted three, * we have seen two castles from the inside (the explorer pass definitely did not pay off for us), * we had not a single haggis (unfortunately), * we spent new year's eve in the most northern point of our journey, in ullapool single track, or split track for the entire trip.

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Tue, 05 Jan 2016
day 10 in braveheart land (0 comments)
today the curse of the indian man also hit me, as my gps tracker refused to process any satellite signals. during the last few days i had problems a few times, but turning it off and on again (sometimes multiple times) always fixed it so far. but today it did not help anymore. that is why today's track is not really complete, i switched to tracking with "runtastic" on my mobile phone. thus the first one and a half hours are missing. good old navin minihomer, i really loved this practical little gadget - too sad. right after leaving our hotel, which had a nice view[01-02] over loch linnhe, one of scotland's longest sea lochs, we stopped at loch leven[03-10], where one could look over to the eilean munde island[05,07-09], which is an ancient burial ground. the island has three landing places, one for each clan that buried their dead there. and although the clans were at war most of the time, they took care of the island together.
next stop was an torr[11-30], an area where we wanted to do a little hiking, but all three tracks were closed due to lumbering. the sign was from october 2014, but the gates were still closed, so there must have been a huge need for lumbering we guessed. change of plan, we walked around without a plan, and while exploring the area and enjoying nature, we came to river coe[20-30], which we walked up a little. in the meantime nina cried a river[21] because it was so beautiful here and our journey is almost at the end. i understand exactly how she felt.
to get our share of hiking for today, we stopped at the three sisters[31-75], three peaks at glen coe, a big mountain. between each pair of sisters, there is a path one can walk. we decided to take the "hidden valley"[34-75] path, that goes between the east most and middle sister (so you have a rough orientation of where we were going). on our way up we found many lovely little water falls[43-48,50-51,64-71]. also the road got more steep the longer we walked, and also more difficult to walk. we soon ended at a spot where we would have had to climb to get on. we decided to return to the car park instead.
on our way back to to edinburgh we had another short stop along the road[76-80], and one more at the loch tulla viewpoint[78-80], each one providing a great view over the landscape and mountains.
over four hours of driving later, we arrived in falkirk again, after i suggested we should have another stop at the kelpies[81-92], this time at night. and it was worth the stop, because the horses were lit in a colour changing light. from white to blue, yellow, and red. they looked like they were glowing when the light was red. really great.
it was already late, when we arrived at our last accommodation for this trip, the "ashcroft farmhouse", that seems to specialize in golf fanatics, because the golf theme was everywhere. and while watching british tv, we fell asleep. track for day 10.

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Mon, 04 Jan 2016
day 09 in braveheart land (0 comments)
being the only guests, our host had not much to do today in the morning. the usual scottish and continental breakfasts for the two of us. and again, an amazing sunset at guest house[001-007], but this time the view is from our room. with a cute sheep[005] included this time. isn't that lovely? after checking out we drove a few kilometres, had a few random breaks to take pictures of the landscape[009-013], or another fluffy sheep[013].
next stop was a little burial ground near cill chriosd[014-052], right next to the road. i was pretty amused by the sign "passing place", which usually refers to the broader spots on the roads on the pretty common single track roads here in scotland. so for two cars to pass, there are the passing places, this one was for people too. as most grave yards we have seen so far, this one was very green too, with very very ancient tombstones, dating back many hundred years, and the almost always present ruin of a chapel; seems obligatory.
then we had a short stop on the east side of loch slapin[053-064] on the outbound journey. we found a message in a bottle, opened it, but could not make much sense of it. seemed like a love letter. so we stuffed the sheet back in, and put it back where we had found it.
a short while later, we reached elgol[065-071], another small, sleepy fisher village, that seemed more like a ghost village. looks like they heavily rely on summer tourism, thus off season everything is closed, and everyone is gone. but we spotted a few people here and there, some lights in the houses, and... even two cats. isn't that amazing? unfortunately they were too far away to cuddle, but at least we saw some. since there was nothing to do in elgol, we drove on to strathaird[072-089], where we parked our car, and had a little hike. lots of sheeps were around us, but they were also pretty shy, and ran away if you got closer than a few metres. i managed to sneak up from behind on one sheep who was so absorbed in grazing, it did not see me until i was about one metre away from it. for half a second it gave me a surprised look, then ran away. so cute.
on our return journey we stopped again at loch slapin[090-116], but this time on the west side. we parked our car somewhere, and walked off road[095-102] over very soft moss, and had quite the nice view on the nearby mountains.
back in the car, we soon spotted a lot of little birds that flew in large groups of around 50 or more. but they were also pretty cautious and shy. only three birds[114-116] on one leg were courageous enough to wait for us to get as close as 50 metres (approximately). then they also fled and flew away.
at kyle of lochalsh[119-135] it was time to bid farewell to the isle of skye, as we got back again on the "mainland" of scotland. we had a coffee break at a small cafe, and when we left, we were very lucky as sunset[119-147] had just begun, and turned the mountains in a wonderful red, sometimes even pink. that was really a fascinating combination of colours and contrasts, especially with the bridge[126-128,130] to the isle of skye or the ones with the light tower[131,133,135] in the foreground. wow, that makes parting even harder.
while driving on, nina insisted on another stop, as the sunset was still going on. so we did not get very far, and had another stop at balmacara[136-147], where we also found big shells[140-141,143] on the beach. we took a few of them as a souvenir with us, because they really were big and looked amazing.
it only took us 15 more minutes to get to the very famous, and often photographed eilean donan castle[148-159]. of course it was closed already (and we do not know if it would have been opened anyway), but at least the bridge was open, so one could walk straight to the castle. surrounded by the waters of loch duich, the bridge is the only access to the castle (during high tide). the reflections on the water really looked amazing. too bad we could not see it from the inside.
well, then it was time again to make headway, as the gps navigator estimated the drive to fort william with three hours. driving past loch lochy (best name for a loch we thought), we finally arrived, almost three hours later, at "the willow" hotel, where we checked in, and went to bed early. track for day 09.

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Sun, 03 Jan 2016
day 08 in braveheart land (0 comments)
the weather forecast for today was promising. we had another really awesome breakfast at jon and pauline's guest house, due to the facts that they really have a relaxing and soothing playlist they play during breakfast, then there's the birds that chirp, caw, cry, and fly around in front of the window and then there is this wonderful view[001-003] which we had while sipping on our coffees and munching our food. we really wished everyday would start like that. but this idyll did not last long. remember the indian man's curse? well, it struck again. this time nina's bank card was retained by an atm at portree. it was sunday, so the bank was not opened. fortunately there was a phone number to call if there are any problems with the atm. someone even answered the phone and told nina that this was normal behaviour for scottish atms. they do not return the card if any problem (which ever it might be) is detected, and there is also no way she would get back her card - ever. aha. we are on holidays, we need the atm card. how about that? a local woman standing next to us tried her card, and it worked perfectly fine for her. i was afraid to use my card at this specific atm for we would be in real troubles if my card would be retained too. no, no, we did not want to risk that. so we decided to drive to a gas station or convenience store, where they also have atms most of the time. so time to hit the road... first stop was when we spotted scottish highland kettle[004-008]. we even could pet them and touch their hairdo. turns out the fur is more like dread locks; that's why their parting can withstand even the strongest wind. pretty fly.
next stop was a bit tricky to find, but it was a place jon told us about. it was an age-old burial ground, and although, according to jon, there should have been signs, we did not find any. but we finally made it to the ancient st. columba's island and burial grounds[009-053], and it was worth the searching. signs[011,027] say that 28 chiefs of a clan are buried here. jon also told us about the graves[016-017,025-026] in the shape of a knight, which really looked awesome. furthermore some parts of the ground were still flooded, which made some nice reflections on the water. here it was really calm and quiet and, again, we were the only ones.
next stop was at dunvegan castle[056-104], which surprisingly was closed too. seems like we are not very lucky with opening hours at castles. too bad. but, as we by now had learned, there is almost always a way to get to the castle somehow. and so we drove away from the front entrance[056-057] and after a few minutes drive we found a good place to start our attempt. the castle is also believed to be the home that is the longest inhabited one by a single family in scotland. walking across country along ruined houses[058-064,081-083], we made it to the backside of the castle. additionally we had company again by several seals that were curiously watching every move we made. looked like they were happy to have a little distraction, since there were no people or boats around here on this sunday. we also enjoyed their presence.
turned out the number of seals[086-093,097-099,101] we attracted grew. from around five to eight seals we spotted in the beginning, the group was now at a size of around 20. pretty cool. and while walking away from the castle, we got closer to the seals. the closest i think was about 10 metres. then their caution was unfortunately stronger than their curiosity. but so cute, all of them. we waved good bye, and left them still watching us closely.
soon we arrived at our next stop, namely coral beach[105-160]. but it took a little walking to get there. and for the first time today we were not alone anymore. but the area is big and open, so all the other people - a mixture of tourists, locals walking their dogs, families spending a day at the beach - we barely noticed. again the landscape is awesome, and the wind is strong.
the beach looks just like some tropical beach, with white sand and cyan coloured water. in fact the sand on the beach is from coralline algae that can survive in these temperatures. while climbing a little hill to get a better view we accidentally found a geocache[150], namely "peter and christina's coral beach cache". ha, i think the last time i was searching for geo caches was in ireland back in 2010. we took something out of the box and left something in the box, as tradition demands.
walking back to the car and driving to the neist point lighthouse[161-172] took quite a while, so by now it was already dark again. at the coast the wind was that strong, i was really worried that my phone might be blown away if i do not really have a tight grip on it, while taking pictures with it. also everything else that was not strapped up tightly really was at risk to be blown away. even walking against the wind was a tough fight[169]. at least the wind was blowing from the sea towards us, so there was no danger one might be blown away over the cliff and fall into the sea.
holidays and sundays here mean almost everything like shops, cafes, castles, etc. is closed. we did not think holidays would have such a big impact on everyday life here and on us. so we also were the only guests at the "luib house", right on the coast of loch ainort, and our host told us she just reopened today, as she was also away visiting relatives in some other town. so lucky us we had a place to sleep tonight. also this will be our last night on the isle of skye, a really fascinating, astonishingly beautiful, stunning, wonderful, and fabulous place to be. definitely a recommendation where one should go one day. track for day 08.

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Sat, 02 Jan 2016
day 07 in braveheart land (0 comments)
after a scottish breakfast for nina, and porridge and continental breakfast for me, we decided to stay at this guest house for at least another night, since it's well located, so we could make it our base camp and have trips to the rest of the isle of skye. also the hosts were really friendly, the rooms were comfortable, breakfast was ample and delicious, and one had a great view over the sea from the breakfast room. also there were several bird houses around the house, so the bushes were full of chirping and twittering. so cute. while getting ready for today's trip we had turned on television and saw reports about the flood damages, and pictures from the exact road we wanted to take on day 04. puh, nasty. they said it was the wettest december for over hundred years. amazing how we got away with good weather so far. today morning it looked misty and cloudy, but no rain, with mild temperatures again. usually i start my gps tracker, place it at the car window and start driving, and it soon catches up with the current satellite location. but not today. so when we arrived at the parking lot, it was still searching for a signal. turning it off and on again for several times finally fixed it. so today's track starts not at the guest house, but right at our first destination, the "old man of storr"[001-028]. walking to the old man took a while on a steep gravel road, but it was a really beautiful landscape. even some asian tourists were there, and people walking their dogs, so we were not alone this time. also we were very lucky, because when we spotted the rocks, the old man was standing out because there was a wall of fog[008-010] behind him. a few minutes later, the fog was gone, and the rock was hard to spot, because the rock face behind him had the same colour. wohooo, lucky us.
the hiking trail would have led on higher up the rocks, but we decided to go back to our car and drive on. daylight time is very limited here.
next we headed on to the lealt falls[029-033], where one could walk down the cliff to an abandoned diatomite mine[031], which we did not do. instead we stayed atop and looked down. that was when an older indian man approached first nina, and than me and was talking about how wonderful god's creation was and other rather scary things you don't say to a stranger. but he did, and also he warned nina that the ground is very slippery where she stood[032]. well meant, but nina did not like the obtrusiveness at all and gave him a bad look. at last, he stopped. later that day, we came to the conclusion that this was when the indian guy lay a curse on nina. but more about that later in this bLog entry. close to the lealt falls are the mealt falls[034-041]. seems like the scots are pretty imaginative with names. there we met the indian guy again. also there's a sign with dinosaur prints, since there were a lot of traces of dinosaurs all over the area. we placed the little plastic dinosaur[040] we found on the first few days in edinburgh for comparison.
only a few kilometres further northwards on the east coast of the isle of skye lies "staffin beach"[042-082] where we found a small group of seals[042-044,047-052,055,058-059,062,066].
while we tried to get as close to them as possible, they curiously watched our every move. so cute. one could also walk on a sort of artificial pier. this was really a beautiful place, so we spent quite a while there. again there were some fossil attractions around here, like dinosaur footprints one could see in the stones, but they are only visible during low tide. this meant we would have had to wait, which we did not want to; early sunset and such. also there was a big stone with such a footprint[077-078] right at the car park.
next stop was "the quiraing"[087-121], a still moving landslip. the landscape was very impressive and beautiful, and so we went on a little hike here. "the quiraing" consists of a few rock formations, like "the needle" or "the table". we were rather unsure what was what, so we took our guesses.
if you watched long enough you could see some people here and there also taking the hike, but they were all way ahead of us. so our only company were sheeps, which we sometimes surprised and then gave us a confused look to finally run away. too bad, i would have loved to touch one of those fluffy cotton balls on four legs. also we did not walk all the way to the top, but rather turned around and walked back to our car again. also we did not walk all the way to the top, but rather turned around and walked back to our car again. and while we were driving on, suddenly the sun came through the clouds and lit parts of "the quiraing"[104-119] which looked awesome, and forced us to stop again, jump out of the car and take more pictures. we stopped at the sartle grave yard[122-124] from which one had a great view into the big open area below.
after a few more random stops[125-130] we reached the duntulm sea viewpoint[131-159] and duntulm castle[137-138,140,143-148,151], although the castle was already more of a ruin. again windy, again we were the only ones there, and again it was really beautiful there.
it was another 30 minutes drive until we reached the place called "fairy glen"[160-179], near balnanock. it was already pretty dark when we got there, but we still got an impression of how awesome and magical this place must be during the daylight. some scenes from the movie "stardust" (the one from 2007 with robert de niro, michelle pfeiffer, and claire danes) were shot here. we will have to watch this movie again once we are home to see it ourselves.
since it was so dark, nina wanted to bring her tripod, but she could not find it anywhere. we tried to reconstruct where and when she had seen or used it the last time today. turns out it was at the spot with the seals at ""staffin beach". and indeed a had a picture taken with my mobile phone where she has it in her hands on the artificial concrete pier we were walking on. so we jumped in the car, drove all the way back there, but unfortunately the tripod was already gone. we think it was the doing of the indian man's curse. a little sad and frustrated we drove back to the "high beech house" in pitch black, as it was already past 18:00 o'clock when we left the beach again. there is a commercial on tv that was filmed in "the quiraing", so the spot[096,101] we have just been to today. we were quite surprised to see this on tv. here is the ad on youtube. another unpleasant thing was that we did not make it to the hamlet "peinlich" today. but at least we got pretty close to it. too bad. also be advised that there are not many accommodations opened during the christmas and new year holidays. many of the hosts are on holidays themselves, or take an earned out time. so told us jonathan and pauline, who will also go abroad to some sunny hot beach, somewhere south; lucky them. but after several months having strangers in your house 24/7 i can totally relate to that. track for day 07.

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Fri, 01 Jan 2016
day 06 in braveheart land (0 comments)
uaaaah, what have we done? with a pretty bad hangover we jumped out of our beds, because the room maid thought we had already left. but we did not, instead we had overslept and made it very close to check-out time. breakfast was long over, we did not shower, we felt terrible, we had no bed to rest anymore. also we had no room for tonight. so we sat in the car in the hotel's car park where we still had a wifi signal, booked a room for tonight in the next best guest house we found on the internet. surprisingly neil did not charge for all the whiskys we had the honour to taste. so the final bill was moderate - i thought it would have been way more. still, food, fuel, and accommodation is pretty expensive here in scotland. we did not think it would be that cost intensive. but back to the miserable two of us. to get in a condition near to transportable we sought out something like a cafe. and while i took a walk in the harbour area to find anything that was not closed today, nina tried to get some sleep in the car. i found exactly one cafe that was open, so we had a coffee and a little rest there. besides an older lady we where the only guests and ullapool seemed like a ghost town. what felt to be at least 10 hours later we felt a little better, paid, started the engine and our tour for today, and headed towards our next destination. i think some time really must have gone by, because by now there were some people in the streets, or walking their dogs on the bordering shore.
more than three hours of driving will lay ahead of us. nina started to drive, since i was pretty sleepy and also most likely outside the legal blood alcohol level. so nina was driving for the first time since we had arrived, and had troubles with both the driving and the gearstick on the left side.
and so we drove through impressive landscapes and loads of beautiful areas[01-29], but did not not gain anything from it, as nina was fully concentrated on driving and changing gears, while i was pretty busy dozing away. from time to time we made a short stop to take some pictures and get some fresh air. thus, there are not many pictures for today.
once i felt better i took over the wheel. nina was relieved and already exhausted from the efforts. but still there was a long distance to cover.
it was already dark and late when we arrived in portree, in the middle of the isle of skye at the "high beech house". as usual we moved our luggage to the room, then asked for recommendations where we could get some food. the owner said they are going to an indian restaurant later, but we did not feel like having indian food this evening. so he sent us to the town's main square, where we found two pubs. the first one, the "antlers bar and grill" looked really good, but was full, and the waiters also said it might take a while until we get a seat. seemed like we hit the dining rush hour. so we took the "isles inn", that was the prototype of a scottish bar. drunk lads at the bar, shouting and flirting with the waitress, shouts from the back of the bar every now and then. the restaurant section of the inn fortunately was way more quieter. each of us ordered a burger and had a soda with it. scots say you should drink the local speciality named "irn-bru", which helps with hangovers. but, to be on the safe side, we did it with a cola. the burger was average, but it helped to feel restored and regenerated again. we walked back to our hotel and were lucky to see the official broadcasting of the holiday special of "sherlock" (that makes it "S04E00" on imdb) on BBC1. how awesome is that? well, besides that, 2016 was not great so far. hopefully a good night sleep will fix that. also we haven't spotted any cat so far in scotland. but in even the tiniest grocery stores they have cat food and cat litter in the shopping aisles. so there must be cats somewhere. i hope we will spot some in 2016. track for day 06.

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