An Edinburgh Interlude
As regular readers may remember, I have met up with my mother on a couple of my previous trips (Amsterdam and Riga). On this occasion it was time to spend a few days with my father at my parents flat in Edinburgh.
Scotland's capital is a wonderful city with impressive buildings around every corner, some sizeable hills to make the scenery more interesting, and the great benefit of many museums and galleries (most of which are free to enter).
Finnair operates a regular, but infrequent, direct service from Helsinki to Edinburgh and this time I was able to fit my schedule to that timetable. Avoiding a transfer makes a big difference to your travel and also makes a big difference to the chances of your luggage arriving on the same flight as you. When travelling direct with Finnair from Helsinki I think I have a 100% luggage arrival rate over many tens of flights... which tells that they are doing something right.
My flight arrived early in the morning and I had breakfast in the Marks and Spencer's cafe in Princes street to pass the time until my father arrived. Here I had an unexpected new experience... I have eaten hard boiled eggs before, but never a hard poached egg. Not recommended.
After meeting my father at the flat we made our way to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, an interesting and ever changing set of exhibits in a beautiful building... with excellent coffee and "good things" in the downstairs cafe.
From the gallery I continued with a couple of ideas in my head, I wanted to check out different angles for getting pictures of the castle and I also wanted to visit the Usher Hall to see if they would allow me to photograph their staircase.
It is quite often the case as a photographer that the things which catch your eye are not the things you are "supposed to be" interested in, and so it turned out out on this occasion as I spent quite some time ignoring the historic and fabulous Edinburgh castle in favour of taking pictures of a slightly grotty public car park.
Staircases have been on my mind quite a lot having found very nice ones in Prague, Riga, Budapest and Vienna and my Edinburgh research had pointed me towards the Usher Hall as a place where I might find a good one. I went there to enquire about whether I might spend some time with their staircase, given that it is not in a part of the building that is normally open to the public. The reception staff were extremely helpful and informed me when it would be best for me to visit for that purpose.
Walking back through the city I had to take shelter from some extremely heavy showers and these rather removed my enthusiasm for further photography, although I did make a scouting trip to the top of Calton Hill to get an idea of the views and angles from there.
The next day it was time to head north from the city to visit my nephews in Lundin Links, stopping on the way to look at the three iconic bridges spanning the firth of Forth.
The three bridges, the Forth Bridge (a railway bridge), the Forth Road Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing were each built in different centuries (opening in 1890, 1964 and 2017) and each represents a remarkable step forward.
The Forth Bridge is absolutely my favourite of the three and was a true marvel of engineering at the time of its construction. The invention, patenting and licensing of the Bessemer process for steel production in the second half of the 19th century made that material available in bulk cost-effectively for the first time. The Forth Bridge was the first major British construction made from steel, about 55,000 tonnes of it - including 6.5 million rivets.
There was also the small matter of over 18,000 cubic metres of granite (from Aberdeen of course) involved in the construction.
The end result of the huge construction effort which lasted most of the 1880's was a 3 hour reduction in the rail journey time from London Kings Cross to Aberdeen.
The Forth Road Bridge is not so visually fascinating to me, but for road travel through Scotland the impact must have been huge. Before it opened in 1964 the north-south vehicle traffic would either have to make a 50km+ detour to make use of the Kincardine Bridge or cross the Forth estuary by ferry. The possibility to have much faster and more direct access to Edinburgh from the north must have been a great economic benefit for the settlements along the Fife coastline. It was also something of a record breaking feat of construction, the largest suspension bridge outside of the US at the time.
The pillars of the newest bridge, the Queensferry Crossing, can be seen faintly through the mist in the picture above. On this occasion I did not pay it much attention apart from while being driven across it... perhaps I return to that as a subject in a future trip.
Back to the important stuff... my nephews, Hamish and Finlay. These two young men are at that very endearing stage where they have interest and energy to do a million different things, and they are close enough in age that they do many of those things together. It is always a lot of fun to spend time with them.
We also spent time with their parents, my brother and my sister-in-law, but when looking through my pictures I can see that my camera only had eyes for the boys.
The nearby beach provides a great playground (and occasional workplace) for the boys and I followed them on an afternoon visit there.
There were many different activities undertaken in a short space of time!
Throwing is important, but it should be done "at", not "to"... and naturally it works better when the ball is first soaked in a puddle.
A good deal of jumping from high places was also in order...
... it seemed to be fun!
Although to any watching responsible (?) adult the walls seemed pretty high!
This day was certainly a highlight.
The following day it was time to head east instead of north as we journeyed to North Berwick. On our way we visited the National Museum of Flight where the attractions include a Concorde.
One immediately obvious thing when entering the passenger area of a Concorde is how cramped it is, the long thin fuselage does not leave much room for seats. You may have paid £2,500 for your ticket and be drinking fine champagne with your roast beef but you should not expect much elbow room.
A Hawk jet from the Red Arrows was another interesting exhibit, as was the imposing Vulcan bomber, a long range heavy jet which would have carried the British nuclear deterrant in the days before it was felt that a submarine based system was preferable. The spitfire hanging from the ceiling in the wartime hangar inevitably provoked the warmest feelings.
The museum was definitely worth a visit and we passed a couple of hours there before heading on to North Berwick.
This is a fantastic golfing area where you can find the likes of Muirfield, Gullane and Luffness as well as North Berwick and many others... but on this occasion I was chasing a different kind of birdie - the Northern Gannet - a large sea bird which inhabits Bass Rock off the coast of North Berwick in huge numbers.
Bass Rock, with its distinctive Stevenson lighthouse (automated since 1988) is now uninhabited by humans but absolutely inhabited by birds. There are around 200,000 Northen Gannets on the rock in the breeding season, the largest Gannet colony in the world. I took a catamarran trip from the Scottish Sea Bird Centre to go and meet some of them.
The first destination on the boat trip was Craigleith, another rocky island a few miles from Bass Rock. There we were able to see various gulls but also common eiders, common guillemots, cormorants, shags, razorbills, grey seals and.... puffins.
It was really great just to see a puffin (my first time), but there were not that good chances to photograph them on this occasion. They are a lot smaller than I imagined and you would need to get quite close to them, but they were quite nervous (probably for good reason) whenever the boat came near. Shooting small birds from a boat on the open sea is no easy task so I am happy that I at least got a documentary picture of this encounter.
Normally when you go searching for a particular bird, there is at least a small question of whether you will even see any individuals of that species... but on this occasion I could say that finding a Northern Gannet was not that hard.
These remarkable looking birds, which can have a wingspan of up to 2 metres, were covering every available nesting spot on the whole island.
With the best spaces being closely guarded and very little ledge being fought over there was a good deal of "keeping an eye on the others" going on.
This was a really super boat trip and I highly recommend it for any bird watchers or bird photographers. If you want to get good photographs then I guess that the catamarran trip offers better possibilities than the RIB boat trip as there are more possibilities to move around on the boat and to shoot on the journeys as well as at the destinations.
Back in Edinburgh it was time to concentrate on interiors for a change, starting with a visit to the Usher Hall and their interesting staircase, a winding spiral with an illuminated column suspended in the middle. The light in the centre and the window at the top create quite a huge difference in illumiation between the lights and the shdows and I felt that the pictures worked the best when edited in a high contrast black and white style.
Thank you very much to the staff at the Usher Hall who were helpful and welcoming to a visiting photographer.
Leaving the staircase behind I went on a small tour of churches, stopping first at St John's church on Princes Street where they have a very interesting ceiling...
... pausing to pay my respects to a lone piper playing a rousing tune / making a hell of a noise (delete as appropriate) with the castle in the background...
... and eventually making it to St. Giles Cathedral in the Royal Mile, where I had arranged to meet my father.
St. Giles Cathedral has a really beautiful interior with high vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows and various interesting artifacts.
The ceiling of this fine old church was definitely the most interesting part for me to point my camera at... it had such a beautiful blue colour.
Alas, my time in Scotland was now coming to an end, there was just time to make one more climb up Calton Hill to see if I would be blessed with a beautiful sunset... but after all this is Scotland, sometimes you have to just be thankful that "a bit overcast" has not deteriorated into "you should probably build an ark".
I really enjoyed these few days in my home country, and especially enjoyed being able to spend time with my father. It was a memorable trip.
Until next time!
Crossing the border
In my last post, I signed off from the 1600m high summit of Rossfeld... so that is from where I will continue. As I mentioned the border between Germany and Austria runs through the middle of Rossfeld, the border line is indicated by a number of small white square stones that have a D for Deutschland on one side and an Ö for Österreich on the other.
This allowed me, for my own amusement (and probably nobody else's...), to set my tripod up with one leg on the border and one leg in each country in order to take the following photograph. My thought was that the top part of weather station looked a bit like a droid...
It may be that a lack of food and lack of sleep were affecting my thinking at this point :)
Breakfast helped restore some of my capabilities and I decided to head back across the border and make a visit to the village of Gosau and the lakes at Gosausee which was about an hour's drive into Austria, near to the mighty peaks of Dachstein.
In this part of the Northern Limestone Alps the geology is just right to produce spectacular jagged peaks similar to the Dolomites in Italy, making it very attractive to look at and of course to photograph.
From Gosausee you can journey to higher ground by cable car but on this occasion I decided to stay closer to the ground and hike along the path to the the upper Gosau lake. I did not study the signs very carefully but it was possible to see that the route was "suitable for families" and should take about an hour and a half.
As it turned out this route would require quite a bit of effort as it included a number of sustained climbs along the way, it was quite hard going in the early summer sun. Certainly it was suitable for families, as evidenced by the number of frustrated and tearful children I passed by the side of the road on my way. The hour and a half estimate was probably accurate enough for the downhill journey back to Gosausee but for the uphill outward journey I think that it was over-optimistic.
After reaching the upper lake I continued round the lake to the most welcome sight of the day, the Hohe Holzmeisteralm restaurant, where I could refuel with some cold drinks and a plate of bratwurst. The views around the Gosau lakes were spectacular but the light was too harsh to make for successful photography. I made my way back down the hilly path and drove back to the attractive Gosau village.
It seems to me that the Germans and Austrians have a huge appreciation for the beautiful scenery of their home lands, they seem to be at their best when out in nature and quite at peace with their surroundings. You almost always get a friendly greeting from the "locals" whenever you meet them whereas other tourists tend to be a little more suspicious.
After wandering around the village for a while I had a look at the map to see what I might do next and realised that I was rather close to Hallstatt, an idyllic village which is also a UNESCO world heritage site. I have tried on a number of occasions to organise a short trip to Hallstatt but the hotels there seem to be permanently full (or at least the ones that mere mortals can hope to afford are permanently full), so I decided to go there and check it out rather than returning directly to Berchtesgaden.
Hallstatt, as it turns out, is quite the tourist trap. As you approach by car you are carefully funnelled towards a sequence of car parks (costing about €3 per hour for the first few hours) from where you continue your visit on foot. The village itself is very nice, but also very touristy, and packed with people. When it comes to photography there, it is of course possible to find different views with varying levels of interest, but the main view is only easily photographable from one single public place - a 10m long gap beside the road from where you can get a view of the church against it's mountain backdrop. This space was packed with photographers.
I realised that I did not like the place enough to visit it again, so I decided to get some food and wait for dusk so that I could try and get a decent picture from the one viewing place. I believe that the best time to be there would have been sunrise, the village being in shadow well before sunset due to the mountains, but an early evening shot would have to do. As I got back to the car I could see that I had exceeded 40 thousand steps for the day, and it felt like it. The journey back to my accommodation in the dark was a careful one.
A new day dawned and it was time to change locations - the final two days of my trip would be in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, revisiting some locations from my earlier trip where the weather was mostly un-cooperative.
On that occasion my main target was the hillside above Geroldsee, where some alpine cabins decorate the sloping field with the lake and the mountains in the background. I didn't get what I wanted then, so I continued the search for the right conditions on this trip.
The mountains leave the scene largely in shadow at sunset (at least at this time of the year) and also partly at sunrise, so the ideal combination for Geroldsee is probably to have mist which endures for an hour or so after sunrise, allowing some diffused light to illuminate the scene.
When my alarm went at 0430 the following morning the conditions looked quite promising, clear-ish but not quite totally clear. As I drove towards the small village of Gerold the conditions changed dramatically... there was a very thick, very local, rather wet mist hanging over the area - visibility of about 50m.
Things did not quite look so promising at this point, but I still thought it might work so I climbed the hill to get to a good shooting position, my feet truly soaked by the long wet grass of the meadow. The time of sunrise came and went without any major changes in visibility, this may have been a boring passage of time if I had not been joined by a fellow photographer (and optimist) - Patrick Weinhold had arrived and set his tripod up near to mine.
As the sun rose and the mist burned away, we were rewarded for our patience.
It was good to meet Patrick and discuss various photography locations in the area, you can often meet interesting people when setting up your tripod in different locations.
On this occasion the mist made a couple of small comebacks before finally being defeated, offering good variations in the scene, and we tried to make the best of our chances.
This was a good morning after all and I was quite satisfied with events as I walked back towards my car and said goodbye to Patrick and his dog.
I returned to the Werdenfelserei hotel (where I was staying), a completely new hotel which just opened recently, and restored my energy with a truly excellent breakfast. It was a good choice to stay at this family owned hotel, there were still some finishing touches being put to the premises by the builders (it really was that new) but this did not interfere with the experience and it was possible to see immediately from the moment you walked into the reception that they are going to try and do things in the right way there. If they can continue that approach after a month, a year and a decade then it will be a big success.
After breakfast, it was time to get high. Almost 3000m high in fact as I headed to the top of the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany at 2962m. The weather remained variable, cloudy with clear patches, which meant that there was a real risk of not being able to see much at the summit, but this was my only chance to be there so I went anyway.
There are two easy ways to get to the summit of the Zugspitze - you can take the cog wheel train through the mountain to the skiing station and then a short cable car ride to the summit, or you can take the Eibsee cable car directly from the valley floor (beside the beautiful Eibsee lake) up to the summit.
At the ground level cable car station I was able to read that the cable car broke three world records - the longest unsupported span of wire, the biggest difference in altitude from bottom to top and the tallest support tower - for a cable car. This is all very impressive... but if you are slightly nervous about cable cars you really dont want to hear that - you want to know that it has world records for being the safest, smoothest and least frightening.
Despite some reservations, the journey into the clouds was a smooth one. The cable car ascends quickly (the entire journey takes less than ten minutes, the gondola travelling at nearly 40km/h), the first section is a short one, connecting the ground station to the lone support tower (a 127m tall pylon - meaning that you are over 120m off the ground when the car passes). From there the rest of the journey is without support along the the 3213m wire which stretches between the support tower and the summit. The ride as a whole takes you from an altitude of 973m to one of 2950m.
Upon reaching the summit the visibility was about 100m... there was nothing much to see apart from the activities of the Alpine Choughs which were very actively circling above the bratwurst eating visitors on the sun terrace, looking for scraps.
I spent a couple of hours at the summit, hoping for some breaks in the weather, but was not lucky. That is my second time to stand at the very top of Germany, and on both occasions there was nothing much to see... maybe one day I will be third time lucky.
After descending from the mountain I decided to make the short trip to the village of Wamberg... following a narrow single-track road as it wound it's way up a steep slope. I am not 100% sure that it was allowed to drive that road, I could not understand the German signs... so I was prepared to explain that I was an ignorant and apologetic tourist if anyone objected to my presence. At the top of the winding hill there was a beautiful scene... some mountain cabins with the village church in the background. The weather was cloudy, blocking the mountains, and it was the wrong time of day... but this could be an excellent location in the right light. Another time...
In the evening it was time to return to Eibsee, at the foot of the Zugspitze, where I hoped for interesting evening light so that I could take pictures of Frillensee, a very small but very beautiful lake. The light let me down on this occasion, so I tried to find some alternative shots that did not require a beautiful sky.
The next day was sadly my last one for this trip, I always feel so at home when spending time in southern Germany. On my way back to Munich airport I made a slight detour to check in on another favourite destination, the spectacular Neuschwanstein castle. This castle is an amazing subject for photography but it is undergoing renovations at the moment and the main gate is covered in scaffolding, spoiling the views that I like the most at this location. Another hazard is the huge swarm of tourists that gathers every day to visit the castle, so I confined myself to having a look from far away... I mean to revisit this location in a few months after the renovations are completed.
Thanks a lot for reading this post!
Until the next time,
The state of Bavaria, in the southern part of Germany, bordering Austria, is simply one of my favourite places to be, and also one of my favourite areas to photograph.
At the end of May I made my 5th photography trip to this amazing highlight reel of a region, spending a few nights near Berchtesgaden, followed by a couple of nights in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. By day I split my time between Germany and Austria, crossing the border multiple times as I travelled between destinations.
One thing that was immediately obvious as I drove towards Berchtesgaden was how lush and fertile the land was at this time of year. All the fields and trees were the brightest of colours and the plentiful birdlife was highly active wherever you looked.
On my first morning I was at the beautiful Hintersee lake by around 0500. This mountain lake, framed by tall peaks, is a lovely place to be and a really great photography destination. There are some famous views there which have been photographed extensively, but it is one of those places where there are so many possibilities that you can also find your own new compositions.
There is an "artists path" which follows the shore of the lake, with different Hintersee inspired artworks displayed at intervals. This walk is exceptionally beautiful, taking in a number of lovely views, and it takes around 30-40 minutes to walk round the lake.
At this time of year there are great possibilities for misty mornings, and this was a good example of one such morning. Conditions can change very fast once the sun starts to burn off the mist and it very quickly changes from "too much mist" to "not enough mist"... but on the other hand it is quite hard to predict exactly when that change will happen so photographing in these conditions involves a fair amount of waiting around.
The water at Hintersee is remarkably clear and free of pollution and it is also shallow, calm and sheltered - there are possibilities to see the bottom of the lake through the emerald waters and there are also good possibilities for reflections. There are many options available to a photographer when planning a shot.
For anyone who visits this area, whether they are interested to take pictures or not, I highly recommend Hintersee as a destination, it made an immediate impression on me when I first visited in 2016 and I have not become immune to it over numerous subsequent visits. It's one of those places you can't get enough of... I wish I was there now.
I could not leave Hintersee without making my version of one of the more heavily photographed views. There are a few rocks in the lake with trees managing to grow directly out of the stone, and they provide an interesting focal point for a picture with the mountains rising on either side (hidden by mist and cloud on this occasion) and the Hintersee village on the right hand side.
After the beautiful early morning at Hintersee it was time to retreat to my accommodation for breakfast. On previous visits I had always stayed at the truly excellent Hotel Edelweiss, a superb hotel which I definitely recommend, but on this occasion the Edelweiss was full so I decided to try a different approach, booking into Villa Bello in the village of Oberau, a few kilometres from Berchtesgaden. I chose this location because it was particularly near to Rossfeldpanoramastrasse and I liked the idea of being able to get from my room to the top of Rossfeld (about 1600m) in just a few minutes on occasions when the light looked promising. Villa Bello is a lot more basic and resides at the other end of the price range from the more up market Edelweiss, but I think that both offer great value for what they are.
After breakfast it was time to head for my next location, I intended to be on the first boat heading out into the beautiful and peaceful lake Königsee in order to be ahead of the crowds as I made the trek towards the tallest waterfall in Germany, the 470m tall Röthbach falls.
The journey to the Röthbach waterfall is quite a long one, beginning with a boat from Königsee. The first stop of the boat is at the iconic St. Bartholma church with its red roof and towers, but in order to get to the waterfall you need to stay on the boat until the final stop at Salet, a trip of about 30 minutes from Königsee. From Salet it is about a 20 minute walk to reach the north side of Obersee lake. This lake is absolutely the most beautiful and most photogenic part of the journey to the waterfall.
At the north side there is a single boathouse which provides a great foreground for a picture of the surrounding mountains reflected in the lake, with the waterfall clearly visible (despite still being kilometres away) in the background.
The weather on this day was rather variable, the battle between the sun and the clouds was very hard fought and each had their victories, this meant that there were some moments with an interesting combination of light and shadow.
Obersee, like Hintersee, is exceptionally well sheltered from the wind and this means that flawless reflections are often possible in the lake surface. The walk around the lake is a bit challenging in wet conditions as the rocky path becomes quite slippery, but there are some very beautiful views to enjoy on the way.
The walk to the south side of Obersee takes around 30 minutes, depending on the traffic. The path, at the steepest and slipperiest part, is also rather narrow, so it can be quite a bottleneck due to slower moving people in front of you or people returning from the other direction. This was why I wanted to be in the first boat of the day, hoping at least to avoid the two-way traffic on my journey to the falls. At the southern end of the lake you can find another solitary boathouse, looking back towards its counterpart at the northern end.
After the boat journey, the hike to Obersee and the journey around to Obersee's southern side it is now time for the final push towards the waterfall.
That final part of the journey takes around 30-40 minutes. The waterfall itself is not a particularly good subject for photography when you get closer to it (other opinions may be available on this subject), but it was good exercise and interesting to see it in person.
Some of the other observers appeared to be somewhat less interested, this cow only had eyes for the fresh green grass.
After completing the return journey to Königsee I confess that I started to be quite tired. Even though it was only mid-afternoon it had already been a long day and I had carried my camera stuff for close to 30 kilometres. I retreated to a restaurant in Berchtesgaden for some food and checked the situation in some photography competitions I had entered.
I was delighted to see that one of my staircase pictures from Vienna had won the Top Photo award in the Black and Yellow challenge on GuruShots, an online photography competition. I participate regularly in these competitions and occasionally I manage some successes - I added a "Recognition" Page to this site in order to keep a record of any notable achievements.
Restored by the meal, and encouraged by the win, I decided to visit the Maria Gern chapel at dusk. Those who have studied my previous posts might remember that I have shared very similar shots before... but I really like this view and I always want to try and make improved versions or just capture the scene in different conditions.
This trip included such a range of locations that I will have to cover it across multiple posts, but before I conclude this instalment I would like to share some images from my drive up to the summit of Rossfeld the following morning. The Rossfeldpanoramastrasse toll road is a super way to get to a panoramic viewpoint without requiring extensive and time consuming hiking. For a few euros you can get past the gates and drive all the way to the summit at about 1600m elevation. Rossfeld is not a particularly lofty peak compared to many of the surrounding mountains but it is located beside the Salzach river valley which gives enough surrounding space to make Rossfeld a superb viewpoint to many directions.
The summit of Rossfeld is right on the border between Germany and Austria and the available views cover the territory of both countries. It is possible on a clear day to see all the way past the Tennen mountains to the Dachstein massif some 70km away.
I have spent many early mornings at the top of Rossfeld, sometimes quite uselessly if the cloud level is low, but so far I have not become tired of watching the sun gradually illuminate the different layers of the valley below and burn off the morning mist.
That's it for part one of this trip, I hope that you have enjoyed this post and consider tuning in for part two!
Thanks for reading,
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