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Thursday, October 18, 2012


I'd been meaning to do something with the picture this poster is based off of for the last two years.  Seeing some show on Hulu, that I can now no longer remember the name of that was set in Chicago, acted as a reminder - some scene where they were down in the Loop area walking under one of the L-train bridges.  While working on this poster, I got to thinking that Chicago would be a pretty cool city to live in for a year or so.

I'm not much of a city boy, preferring my exposure to the larger collections of humans in short doses. However, living in Europe has changed my perspective on this somewhat.  In most European countries I've visited, almost all towns over 1,000 people have something in common.  It doesn't matter if you're in the Alsace of France or Bohemia in the Czech Republic.  I think it is so cool that you can walk to get almost all of your basic necessities.  Most of these towns have their butcher, their baker, and their..... a small grocery store (no candlestick makers, unfortunately) that are easily accessible on foot. You don't find that in small town America much anymore.  With the proliferation of the big box stores and the death of downtowns, automobiles are almost always a necessity.

It's only in the bigger cities of America that one can live a more Euro type lifestyle.  I'm not talking about wearing scarves year round or clothes that are two sizes too small.  I'm talking being able to walk to get fresh fruits and veggies nightly, being able to get fresh meat every day, fresh flowers, fresh baked bread, the daily newspaper, sit at a cafe sipping an espresso and watching the world go by.......

The downtown Loop Area of Chicago has all of the above and more.  Since I was mainly in the city for work, the six days I spent there simply wasn't enough.  However, I felt at home in Chicago.  It just seems like a place that will keep on surprising you and a place that would be a lot of fun to live, if only for a short time.  Ultimately, the flatness and extremely limited access to actual mountains, would be deal breakers for planting roots.  Not even the tasty fresh water waves of Lake Michigan can make up for the absolute lack of terrain variation.  Still, Chicago is one of the top cities I've visited in the US, perhaps even number one.  I hope to get the chance to go back to explore the city a bit more thoroughly in the future.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Halloween at Castle Veldenstein

Castle Veldenstein - with a Halloween twist

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Castle Veldenstein, which sits prominently above the town of Neuhaus an der Pegnitz in the Oberpfalz region of Bavaria, has a long and varied history.  Currently, the castle and it's inner grounds are used as a restaurant, serving up the standard Bavarian menu to travelers stopping by while exploring the Pegnitz River area.  Burg Veldenstein also offers the unique opportunity for travelers to stay overnight in an authentic castle.  Next to the castle is the Veldenstein brewery, brewing one of the more popular beers of the region.

Castle Veldenstein hasn't always been used for such benign purposes, however.  Hermann Goring (yes, that guy) actually grew up at the castle, even constructing a bunker in the castle wall just prior to the start of WWII.  You can read a full history about the castle by clicking HERE.

When I was growing up, Halloween was one of the best holidays a kid could ask for.  What?  I get to hang out with my friends, dress like a vampire, and get to go beg for tons of free candy?  Sign me up!  Even when I'd far surpassed the dress up age, Halloween was always a good time.  In high school, it was egg fights and after egg fight parties.  In college, well, I don't remember those Halloweens too well.  Must have had some fun!

While living in Japan, Halloween was almost non-existant.  I do think I remember seeing a package of that fake spider web stuff, some silly string, and some Dracula teeth at a Circle K that was near my house  - and fireworks.  Lots of fireworks.  It took some getting used to, but the Japanese seem to use fireworks for almost every occasion deemed important.  Like, say, 'Tuesdays."

I never got too many trick-or-treaters at my cabin in Alaska.  The first Halloween I spent in the great white north fell on a day that decided to be -30 Fahrenheit.  Yes, that is a minus sign in front of the 30.  In interior Alaska, trick-or-treating still does take place, regardless of the weather.  For some reason, the most popular costumes seem to be those where you can dress as warm as you want.  I mean, there is nothing cuter than seeing a 4 year old girl dressed up as, "north slope oil rig worker".  Ah, doesn't she look precious?

Halloween is a holiday that is picking up in some European countries.  Many of the bars, pubs, and clubs where I live in Germany host Halloween parties now.  When I first arrived six years ago, perhaps only one or two establishments did so.  Hey, nothing says Halloween like a little sauerkraut and some weisswurst.  Bob for apples?  Nah, bobbing for pre-formed balls of headcheese floating in a washtub full of Weißbeir is much more fun!

This year, Halloween should be taking on a brand new meaning for my wife and I.  With our twins being nearly 9 months old when the holiday occurs, there isn't a lot we can do with them yet.  I don't think they'd enjoy the techno music, nor the smell of hundreds of cheap colognes mixing together with the stench of alcohol sweat, at the Josefhaus.  I've got a feeling, though, that my wife is going to have some fun playing dress up with them on that evening.  I just hope she still lets me have my backyard pagan bonfire......

Siena and Névé in their pumpkin hats

Friday, October 12, 2012

The First Hard Frost of the Season

In honor of the hard frost of 11 October 2012, the frost that killed pretty much everything in the garden that wasn't protected, I give you more ice - the longest glacier in the European Alps,  The Great Aletsch Glacier.  From Wikipedia:

"The Aletsch Glacier, or Great Aletsch Glacier, is the largest glacier in the Alps.  It has a length of about 23km and covers more than 120 square kilometers in the eastern Bernese Alps in the Swiss canton of Valais"

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The photograph the above poster is based off of was taken from the Jungfraujoch, a saddle between the 4,158 m (13,642 ft) Jungfrau and the 4,107 m (13,474 ft) Mönch, two prominent peaks stoutly standing next to their better-known cousin, the Eiger.  The saddle is reached by a cog railway that climbs from the tiny hamlet of Kleine Scheidegg to the Jungfraujoch Railway Station, the highest railway station in Europe at 3,454 meters (11,332 ft).  After arriving at the station, one of the more popular destinations is the Sphinx viewing platform, which can be reached with a short walk and elevator ride up out of the railway tunnel.  On a nice day, this is the view that greets you as you step outside on to the large platform:

The scale of the scenery in these Alps is absolutely massive, making the engineering accomplishments of the railway and the Sphinx station all the more impressive.  To give a demonstration of the scale of this place, notice the two large 'holes' in the snow in the bottom and middle right of the above photo.  Now, look at the bottom hole, taking notice of the small dot just to it's right and just to the right of the faint trail (click on above image to enlarge).  That is a Snow Cat.  Not exactly a small piece of equipment.  The below image is a better view of it.  This was taken with my 70-200 Canon telephoto lens at full zoom from the end of the Sphinx platform.  The Snow Cat is still tiny. 

The landscape that serves as the accumulation area for the mighty Aletsch Glacier is one of those places where it feels as if your head might explode from scenery overload.  Where to point the camera first?  How long can my bare hands last outside of my thick and warm mittens to take photos in these -35 C temperatures?  Those are just a couple of the questions that come to mind when you first see the visual buffet laid out before you.  At the opposite end of the railway station from the Sphinx platform, even the casual traveler can get their boots (or sneakers as we saw on a few people) on the snow, and get some varied scenic perspectives.  Here's my wife posing with the Swiss flag at over 11,000 feet in -30F or so temperatures.  The drop off behind her?  Ehhh, few thousand feet or so straight down to Kleine Scheidegg.  This is one way to beat the train down to K.S. with confidence - and save yourself the cost of the return ticket!

The gateway to recreation and sightseeing of this section of the Swiss Alps is the village of Interlaken, although there are less touristy and more quaint villages to stay in higher up the mountains, accessed in some cases only by train.  Although I have only been to the area during the winter, I do own a copy of "The Eiger Sanction" and can attest to the beauty of the area during the Spring and Summer seasons - based solely on watching said movie once!  It's kind of scary just how little Kleine Scheidegg has changed since 1975 when the movie was made.......... but that is also part of the charm of the region, making it a great place to visit in the Alps.

The Aletsch Glacier (on White) - Click Here to Purchase

More Posters from the Interlaken, Switzerland region:
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