Monday, September 20, 2010

Back in Montreal, back in Austria

I've been back in Montreal for a week now.  It's starting to feel less strange, being back.  My travels seem quite remote now.  Was I really bicycling down the Danube just two and a half weeks ago?  Was I really working in a summer palace in Austria for the past three months?  Was I really hiking in the Alps a week and a half ago?  (OK, that last one is easier to believe, since I've only just stopped aching from it :->).

Life has been a flurry of craziness since I got back.  Bills, car repairs, meetings at school.  The biggest craziness has been making plans for the next six months of my life.  I managed, after much ado, to schedule my PhD qualifying exam for November 22.  Once that was scheduled, I could then make plans to attend conferences (one early December, one mid-December).  Once I had that pinned down, I could make my plans for returning to Europe.  I've been invited back to do the work necessary (analysis and writing, mostly) to turn my summer research at the YSSP into a peer-reviewed publication.  Very exciting — this will be my first publication as an evolutionary biologist!

But not my first peer-reviewed publication ever; a paper just came out from my organic chemistry research at San Jose State when I was an undergrad.  I'm not first author on it, but since it's not in my field, it doesn't matter much anyway. The cite: Brook D.J.R., Richardson C.J., Haller B.C., Hundley M. & Yee G.T. (2010). Strong ferromagnetic metal-ligand exchange in a nickel bis(3,5-dipyridylverdazyl)complex. Chemical Communications, 46, 6590-6592.

But I digress.  Returning to Europe!  I'll be there from December 5th to February 19th.  Keewi will mostly remain in Montreal, but will visit me for two and a half weeks.  So!  If anybody reading this is going to be in Vienna over the winter, let me know!  I don't know whether I'll do any more blog entries when I return; that depends on whether anything exciting happens to me.  This may be my last entry in this blog, therefore.  If so, then farewell!  Adieu!  Auf weidersehen!  Good night!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Munich, part IV

  So actually, before taking the train back to Vienna yesterday, Markus and I went into Munich again, since my train left from there.  The fountain at Karlsplatz was going that morning (it had been shut off the other day we were there):

  We had another traditional Bavarian breakfast, at a different place than the previous one:

  The variety was nice, but the previous breakfast spot had been better; the pretzel chewier, the beer fruitier.  Still, sore from the hike the previous day, this breakfast hit the spot.  We went briefly into the Women's Church, which had been closed for services the other day:

  That's the pope, Benedict XVI, then Joseph Ratzinger.  Back in the day, he was Archbishop of Munich and Friesling, and so they have this statue of him in the church there.  This was the scene where the recent scandal originated, regarding Ratzinger perhaps looking the other way, or at least failing to exercise due diligence, as a known pedophile priest was reassigned to pastoral duties and recommenced abusing children.  That was very much in my mind as I gazed upon this statue.  Anyhow, apart from that stain it's a nice church, with a very simple, clean interior that emphasizes the immensely tall ceiling.

  Finally, we popped inside the new Town Hall to see the interior courtyard, which I guess we had overlooked the other day in Munich:

  Really quite a building.  We were puzzled by one detail:

  There was just one window, out of the hundreds of windows looking out into the central courtyard, that had a diagonal crossbar of stone through it.  Why?  Architect's whim?  Symbolism or some sort?  I have no idea.  Anybody know?

  Anyhow,then I caught my train and had an uneventful, and not particularly scenic, ride back to Vienna.  Now it's the next morning, and I'm too sore to move, but I will have to find lunch soon.  Tomorrow morning I fly back to Montreal.  I can't wait!  Kamja!

A Day Hike in the Alps

  For my second day in Munich, Markus and I went for a hike in the Alps south of the city.  It was perhaps an hour's drive through scenic countryside to get near the Alps, and a bit more driving to get to the spot where we caught the cable car.  We selected the "Zugspitze & Partnachklamm" hike from Lonely Planet's "Walking in the Alps" guidebook, which is a very good guidebook for such things.

  Zugspitze is the highest mountain in the German portion of the Alps, 2962 meters high.  Remarkably, there is a cable car that goes right to the summit of the mountain.  The woman selling the tickets for the cable car clearly thought we were insane to want to buy one-way tickets up.  From the cable car we got some views of a lovely lake at the foot:

  Then we plunged into fog and didn't see much beyond the immediate vicinity of the cable car.  The summit was completely fogged in; here are photos of the signs telling us what we ought to have seen:

  In the last photo you can see the lake that we saw from the cable car, the Eibsee.  We never saw it again.  The second photo shows the start of our hike, a station called Sonnalpin that is below the summit, at 2600 meters.  We walked from there towards the left of the photo, down into the valley called the Reintal that can be seen in the first photo.

  So we took a cable car down to Sonnalpin from the summit, after a half-hour wait that was clearly calculated to try to get us to buy crap from the gift shop at the summit; the previous cable car to Sonnalpin had conveniently left a couple of seconds before we arrived.  From Sonnalpin we started walking, after getting directions to the trailhead from another incredulous worker at the restaurant there.  You'd think from all this that they never see anybody hike this trail, but actually we saw a couple of dozen other hikers over the day, and even a few insane mountain-bikers.  At Sonnalpin we were below the level of the fog, but just barely, and it was snowing lightly:

  The second photo is the view back towards Sonnalpin, with its cable car cables radiating.  The third cable car from Sonnalpin, if you're wondering, goes to a research station halfway up the slope towards the summit.  The clouds obscured much of the view, but they did make for some etheral photos nevertheless:

  We descended about 550 meters to the first hut of the hike, Knorrhütte.  Hiking trails through the Alps have these huts sprinkled liberally everywhere you go.  Sometimes they are a full day's hike apart, but often they are closer than that, and you can stop for snacks, water refills, and so forth.  You can also stay overnight in them, which gets rid of the need to carry a tent and sleeping bag and such.  They're remarkably big, well-run, and civilized; this hut had running water, plumbing, even showers.  It's a wonderful invention that the U.S. ought to adopt wholesale; I've only seen such huts in the U.S. in Glacier National Park, where there are two; but even those two are much smaller and more rustic.  At Knorrhütte I had spaghetti with tomato sauce for lunch, and Markus had a traditional German soup:

  You might think, based upon solid precedent, that that is a beer, but actually it's apple juice with soda water, which is the perfect refreshing drink while hiking, and is available at all the huts.

  After lunch we continued onward, descending into the vast valley called the Reintal.  Here's a sort of time series:

  As you can see, the weather got nicer the further we went.  The whole way from Sonnalpin it had been a steep descent over rocks and scree, with care taken each step to avoid losing one's footing.  Here's a view back up at the kind of terrain we were descending:

  Our knees were quite sore by the time we got to the valley floor.  Here the trail was still generally downhill, sometimes fairly steeply, but it was much easier going than it had been descending the mountainside.  Soon we reached the next hut, Reintalanger-Hütte:

  Well, actually that's not the hut, just a supply shed for the hut, but the hut is just around the corner.  I forgot to take any photos of huts, since each time when we got to one I was tired out and just wanted to sit down for a minute.  At this hut I had a piece of cheesecake and another mug of apple juice and soda water.  Here's a view back from the hut towards the top of the mountains:

  We had descended from the ridge on the right of the photo, down into the valley.  Actually we had come quite a bit further than that; Knorrhütte is well above the ridge, and Sonnalpin is way further than that!  Our reward now was a gentler trail alongside a river, winding through forest with occasional views of waterfalls and landslides on the mountainsides surrounding us:

  As we went along, the forest got bigger and the river got wilder:

  Sadly, the trail eventually left the river and became a supply road for the huts, winding around through the forest high above the river.  We walked for an hour and a half on that road, the only boring part of the hike.  Then we descended down to the river again, and eventually the river plunged downwards into a narrow gorge, the Partnachklamm.  We crossed over the river on a bridge above the gorge, and then descended into the gorge and walked along a small semi-tunnel carved into the rock next to the river:

  Water was dripping down all around us, the thundering of the water was deafening, and the air was filled with cool mist.  It was a perfect end to the hike.  Here are some views from the Partnachklamm:

  And then suddenly it was over, and we were out of the gorge, walking on a paved road beside the now-placid river:

  There were sheep:

  And then we got to the old ski jump from when the Olympics were held in Munich, and then the outskirts of town, and then we caught a taxi back to our car.  We drove through the countryside to an Italian restaurant Markus knew from previous expeditions, and had lots of food (four-cheese pizza for Markus, gnocchi with gorgonzola and mushroom sauce for me) and beer.  And then back to Munich for more beer and Futurama.  Does life get any better?

  All in all, it was a 19 kilometer hike (just under 12 miles) descending from 2600 meters to 740 meters (about 6100 feet of descent).  We were very sore afterwards.  Yesterday, the day after the hike, I took the train back to Vienna, and limped back to my friend's apartment here and collapsed in bed.  Today, two days after the hike, it still hurts excruciatingly to stand up or sit down; it feels like someone has taken a bludgeon to my thighs.  Still, I can't wait for my next chance to hike in the Alps; it was really wonderful. Hopefully Markus and I will intersect again some day to do that three-day hut-to-hut hike I fantasize about!

Munich, part III

  After the museum we walked past some more buildings and monuments:

  Partway along this walking route, we went through a very nice park.  In the park was a ping-pong table made of stone, which three men were playing ping-pong upon.  A bit further along was a giant chessboard with giant wooden pieces that two men were playing a game upon, with a small crowd of spectators.  I was so pleased and distracted by these sights that I forgot to take photos.  The chess game looked like it was heading for a draw.  :->  Eventually, with a little help from the U-Bahn, we reached our destination.  Can you guess?  A beer-garden!  This is the biggest beer-garden in Munich, in a park on the west of town.  It wasn't really possible to capture it in a photo, because the tables just stretched all the way to the horizon line.  Really.

  There are more tables behind me (we've walked partway through by this point), and the view looks the same to the left and the right.  Amazing.  Much of the beer-garden was closed, probably because the weather was poor, so we sat near a restaurant at the edge and got some food:

  That, ladies and gentlemen, is a Bavarian specialty called "Obazda".  Approximate recipe: take a big piece of brie cheese, a bunch of cream cheese, and a stick of butter.  Place together in blender.  Press "start."  Press "stop."  Serve with onions and pretzels and bread.  And beer.  I didn't think we were going to make it through, but we did.  It went really well with the pretzels and beer.  :->

  And that was my day in Munich, courtesy of Markus.  After this we went back to his flat, drank more beer, and watched "Futurama" for a couple of hours.  The next day I had Bender's rendition of "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain When She Comes" stuck in my head all day.