DAY 104: NOTHING TO SEE HERE, MOVE ALONG…


A rainy day in tiny Vaduz

Top of the afternoon, blogaholics. Unbeknownst to us, today was Liechtenstein’s unofficial ‘water the whole damn country’ day and our gear just wasn’t up to the task for being 2km up, in the great outdoors trudging (drowning) in centimetres of rain.  So we stayed indoors… Being the awesome husband that I am, I even gave Robbie the day off from blogging – although for those of you that know us, you’ll probably credit that Robbie ‘took’ more than I ‘gave’, but let’s not quibble now, there’s more important matters to discuss. I’ve been given the opportunity (yeah, “told”, but don’t start that again) to put a photo page together with our best and boldest photos, and to pen a few notes about the gear we use and how we get some of those smashing pics…


The wonderful world of photography

Technical photographers we are NOT, but a lot of thought did go into what kit we should take on an extended trip, which includes some epic destinations indeed.  We agonised over whether we should take the big SLR or not (coz it hadn’t historically got a lot of action on our smaller holidays), or to bring it and invest in additional lenses and if so which ones, how many, for what kinds of photos… Did we really want to be carrying such a beast through some questionable destinations, with a big “steal me I’m worth thousands” bag full of canon… Because let’s face it, 90% of the time, a  modern point and shoot camera will do the job good enough for most folks to be happy.

In the end, the answer for us was yes, bring the SLR, yes buy the right lens(es?)… and it has absolutely been worth it; by  taking it and actually using it, the SLR has given us some extra-special memories and in a way having it, and knowing enough about how to use it in various conditions, motivates us to get out there on days when (evidenced by the lack of people) most tourists stay away (not today though folks – just too darn wet for mountain trekking).


Our rationale

We are real middle-of-the-line photographers… but it turns out we like to work up close or far away, with not a lot concern for things in the middle.  So our choice of kit was heavily influenced by this.

Type of Photo Our Impressions
Landscapes Awesome!
Portraits Meh.
Macro Oooh, shiny.
Telescopic Hell yes!
Day Obviously.
Night Mebbe.
Moving/Action Shots Awesome!
Stills Absolutely.

 

Or to put it in non-geek speak we needed gear which could do (in order of priority):

  1. Wide-angles for massive landscapes (think Norway and fjords, or Switzerland and mountains); 
  2. Wide-angle and macro for getting up close to small and large objects (think bugs and art, and architectural/building shots);
  3. Zoom for things we can’t get to (think Africa on safari, monkeys in japan, or features on distant mountains); 
  4. Quick fire for moving things (think birds in flight, running animals or moving landscapes from trains); 
  5. Everything else;

 

Norway - 10mm wide-angle for truly massive landscapes
Norway – 10mm wide-angle for truly massive landscapes.

 


Norway - 10mm wide-angle for truly massive landscapes
Norway – 10mm wide-angle for truly massive landscapes. 

 


Finland - Savonlinna, up close amongst the trees at 10mm
Finland – Savonlinna, up close amongst the trees at 10mm.

 


Liechtenstein - your average 10mm wide-angle landscape shot
Liechtenstein – your average 10mm wide-angle landscape shot.

 


Liechtenstein - Up close with a wide-angle lens
Liechtenstein – Up close with a wide-angle lens; this one is actually two photos with different exposures overlayed to give the fuller set of colours and textures (just Google “HDR” if you’re interested).

 


Iceland - Up close with a wide-angle lens at 10mm
Iceland – Up close with a wide-angle lens at 10mm – don’t be fooled, that thing’s massive – look for the people underneath…

 

 


Japan, 250mm from 100m away, with single-point focus
Japan – 250mm from 100m away, with single-point focus.

 

 


Japan, 250mm from 50m away, with single-point focus
Japan – 250mm from 50m away, with single-point focus.

 


Switzerland, Montreux - 90mm aimed 10km away
Switzerland – 90mm aimed 10km away.

 


Iceland - 65mm whilst roaring along at 130km/hr - no blur...
Iceland – 65mm whilst roaring along at 130km/hr – no blur.

 


Switzerland - a double stitch job at 10mm
Switzerland – photos stitched together at 10mm.  The polarising filter allows you to see through the water. 




The gear 

1. The Workhorse – Canon EOS 500D with a Canon 10-22mm ultra-wide (NOT fisheye) and a Canon 55-250mm zoom, plus circular polarising filters for each lens.

  • The 10-22mm is on the body most of the time, as for trekking and touring where we can get up close, or the landscapes are large enough, this is just brilliant.  It’s also the guy we use for most of our panorama/stitched shots..
  • The 55-250mm isn’t used as much as you might think; mostly for wild-life and ‘out of train/car window’ shots, as on the average day, zooming in on a mountain from 25km away just get’s you a hazy image.
  • The circular polarisers ($150 a pop) are worth every penny – the deep blues, the ability to shoot towards the sun, the ability to peer through water, etc, are all due to this guy.
 

2. The Point & Shoot – Canon IXUS210

  • The battery lasts forever, it does an admirable job in cloudy or sunny conditions with the light beside you or behind you.
  • Always in the pocket as our point and shoot buddy for “memory shots” – we take literally hundreds of photos a day with this thing knowing we’ll get a dozen or so keepers.

3. The Backup – iPhone

  • Useful as it geotags our photos, so we often take at least one snap in each location with this for later use.
  • Basically rubbish in any kind of ‘non-perfect’ conditions – too variable, too prone to shake/blur, sucks in low light.
  • The Video has been great for ‘train days’ where there’s lots of things in the way and moving fast as we can just snap out the frame we want.
  • Always in the pocket as a backup (dead batteries on the other cams, whatever).
  • Good for sneaky shots where you aren’t supposed to take photos (or you’re too tight to pay)- no clicks, no whirrs, and hands free sneaky snaps.


4. Software: Google Plus, Picasa desktop software & “Hugin” for stitching multiple pics together

  • Google Plus and Picasa – Cataloguing photos, lightening dark photos, cropping photos, creating albums, hosting albums (at 1600 x 1200 px) online for free.
  • Hugin is a freebie that takes multiple photos and stitches them together.

5. Dropbox

  • Full-size backup in cloud-land; all original photos, after being imported into Picassa, are pushed up into our 100GB dropbox.
 

Point and shoot camera for "Memory Shots" - Canon IXUS 210
Point and shoot camera for “Memory Shots” – Canon IXUS 210.

 

Canon EOS 500d - shown with the stand lens we DIDN'T take...
Canon EOS 500d – shown with the standard lens we DIDN’T bring.

 

Canon 55-250 lens - for our zoom and action shots
Canon 55-250mm lens – for our zoom and action shots.

 

Canon 10-22 lens - for the majority of the 'wow' shots, this guy is responsible...
Canon 10-22mm lens – for the majority of the ‘wow’ shots, this guy is responsible…

 

 

Join us tomorrow, where we hope to have something a little more exciting to report as we cross into Austria!

DAY 103: LIECHTENSTEIN – A GREAT LITTLE COUNTRY


The beautiful, tasty flora and fauna of Liechtenstein 

We’ve had a fantastic day hiking through the forests and fields of Liechtenstein today, checking out the local flora. We got to explore the alpine villages of Rotenboden, Steinort and Triesenberg; and had our own little Liechtensteiniene safari. We saw squirrels, falcons, pheasants and deer in the forest – it was so cool! We also ate some very tasty Liechtensteiniene fauna (more on that later).

 

Hiking through Liechtenstein.

 

We basically saw all that Vaduz had to offer yesterday (i.e. not much), and have decided to spend the next couple of days here exploring the mountains and cute little farming villages around here. The closest mountain village to Vaduz is Triesenberg. It’s only 2kms away as the crow flies, but most of that 2kms is UP, so the actual hike up there is about 5kms long. We mapped out our route last night and set off nice and early this morning, after a hearty breakfast here at our hotel which, for Shane, included half a dozen Nutella-filled croissants*. 

*Note: Shane has recently discovered how amazing Nutella and fresh croissants taste. He is pretty committed to eating as many Nutella-filled croissants as it takes to conquer his addiction.

 

The first part ofour hike saw us retracing our steps from yesterday, through Vaduz and up the hill behind town. The views over vaduz were much nicer today with the sun out.

 

The first part of our hike took us up past the Prince’s castle again (we gave him and the missus a quick wave – no time for tea and a chat today), and into the Schwefelwald (translation = Sulphur Forest). This part of the forest certainly lived up to its name: we passed a number of malodorous springs bubbling up through the ground and crossed a few small streams that had that yellowy, sulphurous tinge to them. Apparently Liechtenstein has a few hot sulphur springs around the place, with one of the resorts up higher in the mountains even boasting a natural spring-fed spa. 

 

We passed the castle again but had no time to stop in for a chat and cup of tea with the royals.

 

It was dark under the canopy of the Schwefelwald as we set off for Triesenberg.

 

The verdant green of Liechtenstein’s Schwefelwald.

 

The hike up the Schwefelwald was pretty steep, but lovely. It was so quiet and peaceful under the green, green canopy of the forest. It was here we saw the deer and squirrels, not that we were quick enough to take any photos – animals sure can move quickly when they need to! 

 

We crossed a number of stinky sulphurous streams like this one on our walk through the Schwefelwald.

 

We had the forest to ourselves this morning – it was just us and the wildlife under the canopy.

 

It took us about 2 hours to get up the hill and out of the forest. We emerged from the forest into a world of green rolling hills, cute farmhouses and grass-munching, bell-wearing cows. It was just so perfect up there – like something out of a movie! Mind you, what the movies don’t give you is the “smell-a-vision” version – cows sure are big and man do they stink. Lucky for you our photos convey none of that countryside aroma….

 

We emerged from the forest to see open fields…

 

…and pastures full of fat, happy cows.

 

Our walk took us past the farming hamlet of Rotenboden.

 

The green hills were dotted with wooden sheds and farm buildings.

 

The landscape up through the hills was just beautiful.

 

 

The hike took us along tiny country roads for about an hour, though the farming hamlets of Rotenboden and Steinort, and on to Triesenberg. Triesenberg is a small village of 2,500 people, perched high above Vaduz at around 1,000m elevation. The village functions primarily as a commercial centre for the surrounding farms; the only church in the district is also here (St Joseph’s). 

 

The village of Triesenberg.

 

St Joseph’s Church, Triesenberg.

 

We hadn’t really expected to find much in Triesenberg and had brought some supplies with us for lunch (i.e. bananas, mixed nuts, and a couple of muesli bars), just in case there was nothing open or available for eats. Ha! We should have known better – this is, after all, Europe! This place is so civilised compared to Aus! Not only did we find something to eat in this tiny village, we found a  5-star restaurant, perched on the cliff with a view to die for, and a seasonal menu serving fare from the locale. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where we discovered that Liechtensteiniene venison ragout is delicious when served with wild mushrooms and fresh, home-made spätzle (translation = small German dumplings); and that grilled Liechtensteiniene pheasant breast goes very well with a mixed salad of freshly-picked forest greens. Lunch was awesome!

 

Lovely views from our lunch table.

 

“Oh yeah…” Shane prepares to tuck into some of Liechtenstein’s tasty flora and fauna.

 

In order to work off some of our epic lunch, we decided to hike back down to Vaduz (the original plan was to catch the bus back). So we picked a different hiking trail to return by; this one took us back down through the Schlosswald (translation = Castle Forest). As the name implies, this used to be the royal family’s private woods, but they have since opened it up for serfs like us to trudge through. 

 

The hike home through the Schlosswald.

 

Passing the castle again on our way down. Nice view they must have.

 

Another 7kms and 2 hours of hiking through the forest got us back to our hotel where a warm shower and the pungent tang of cows and alpacas* awaited us. Definitely a good day’s adventuring – looking forward to more tomorrow!

*Note: Shane was a little disappointed we didn’t take an alpaca with us for the hike today but, as I pointed out to him, we didn’t really need one was we didn’t have any bags that needed to be carried. Besides 30CHF is a lot of money to spend on an animal that smells bad and spits at you.


Looking forward to more adventures tomorrow!


DAY 102: WOULD YOU LIKE AN ALPACA WITH THAT?


Welcome to Liechtenstein!

Here’s a conversation you don’t have every day: 

Me: “Good afternoon. We’re here to check in please.”

Nice lady from Liechtenstein: “Certainly. Do you have a booking number?”

Me: “There you go.” (Dutifully hands over booking reference)

Nice lady from Liechtenstein: “Ah yes, here we are. You’re staying with us for 3 nights.”

Me: “That’s correct.”

Nice lady from Liechtenstein: “Excellent. That will be 450 Francs please. And would you like an alpaca with that?”

Me: *BLINK* *BLINK* “Errrrr…, what?”

Nice lady from Liechtenstein: “Would you like to hire an alpaca during your stay? It’s just 30 Francs per day for an alpaca.”

Me: “Errrrr…..”  *LOOKS DESPERATELY AT SHANE, ONLY TO FIND HIM NODDING EAGERLY*

Nice lady from Liechtenstein: “We have alpacas here that you can rent if you are gong hiking. They are very useful for carrying your baggage.” 

Me: “Errrrr…..”  *LOOKS AT SHANE AGAIN PLEADINGLY SEEKING SOME ASSISTANCE, ONLY TO FIND HIM NOT ONLY NODDING, BUT ALSO HOLDING UP 2 FINGERS – AS IF 1 ALPACA WOULDN’T BE ENOUGH!*

Me: “No thank you. We’ll be fine. No alpacas, thank you.”

 

That, people, is a first. In all our years of travelling we have NEVER been offered an alpaca before. This is now our new standard by which all accommodations shall be judged. Forget spa baths, king sized beds and other such trifles – from now on we want alpacas! This, ladies and gentlemen is Liechtenstein….

 

Welcome to Liechtenstein!

 

The Principality of Liechtenstein is a tiny, land-locked country tucked away between Switzerland and Austria. This German-speaking nation still has a ruling royal family and lies entirely in the Alps and attracts lots of keen snow-seeking tourists in the winter. In fact, two-thirds of its 160 square kilometre land area is mountainous, with a little strip of the Rhine Valley at the bottom. We’re staying in that bit along the Rhine Valley, in the nation’s capital Vaduz, for the next few nights.

 

Lovely Liechtenstein – all rolling green hills, mountains and a wee bit of valley.

 

The hotel we’re staying in is really a guesthouse, run by a local farming family that (obviously) has alpacas as well as fat, happy cows on their farm next door. It’s a lovely place – very rustic and cosy, with an all-pervasive aroma of cow sh*t wafting around to remind us that we’re in the country. We’re literally 1km from the centre of Vaduz (population 5,206), but surrounded by green fields and farms. It’s actually lovely and the restaurant the family runs on the ground floor offers a range of hearty local fare that we’ll HAVE to try!

 

Liechtenstein: rustic and quaint.

 

We arrived just before lunch, after a short train ride from Zurich to the Swiss border town of Sargans and then a bus ride to Vaduz (there’s no train line into Liechtenstein; there certainly IS a train though, more on that later). We crossed the Swiss/Liechtenstein border (i.e. the River Rhine) with no fuss as both countries are signatories to the Schengen Agreement, which allows you to go in and out of member countries without any immigration checks (you just get checked on your way into the Schengen area for the first time and when you leave). As Aussies we can stay in the Schengen area for 90 days without a Visa, which is great! 

 

Bus to Vaduz please!

 

Crossing the Swiss/Liechtenstein border (i.e. the River Rhine).

 

It was drizzling when we arrived in Vaduz, so it was with umbrellas in hand that we headed out to find some food and explore this tiny town. After a meal of schnitzel and aerated pork loaf (don’t ask – it was horrendous; the stuff nightmares are made of), we set out to explore Vaduz. There are half a dozen notable buildings in the whole town, including the Liechtenstein National Museum, their National Art Gallery, and the world’s only Post Stamp Museum. These were interesting enough and, more importantly given the rain, dry.  

 

The Post Stamp Museum. Shane was not that keen. “Tell me there is more to do here than THIS?!” He said, clearly unimpressed.

 

The only train in Vaduz. (Note: This is NOT a kiddie train – this is for adults to ride around town in!)

 

The Lantag (translation = Town Hall).

 

We found out today that Liechtenstein has one of the world’s lowest unemployment rates (1.5%) and a literacy rate of 100%. With a population of just 36,500, this minuscule nation is also one of the wealthiest (on a per capita basis). How’d they get so rich? By being the world’s biggest producer of false teeth; by attracting foreign businesses to base themselves here with very low tax rates (around 12.5% for businesses); and by “tweaking” their laws to make Liechtenstein a very attractive little tax haven for people with lots of money and no desire to pay tax. Even more interestingly, their ruling royal family owns the Liechtenstein LGT Bank, the principality’s biggest bank and asset management fund, and a major employer in the country. This makes ruling Prince Hans Adam von Liechtenstein one of the wealthiest men on Earth (not that you hear much about him). He is also one of the only monarchs left with genuine ruling authority. Liechtenstein’s ruling monarch has absolute power in his kingdom; he can hire and fire governments and veto any constitutional changes he doesn’t approve of. Quite an interesting political system in this day and age. But it seems to work for the Liechtensteiners so who are we to judge?!

 

Vaduz Castle is the primary residence of Liechtenstein’s ruling royal family.

 

Interested in who this elusive banker-prince is we decided to walk up the hill behind Vaduz and check out his abode: Castle Vaduz. It was a pretty steep hike up there (did I mention how mountainous Liechtenstein is?!) and when we arrived we discovered that the royal family doesn’t actually allow tourists into their home. Go figure?! Oh well, it looked very impressive from the outside and the trip up there made for an interesting walk.

 

Vaduz Castle was first built in the 12th century as a defensive fortress.

  

Other interesting factoids we learnt today:

  • Until the end of WWI, Liechtenstein was closely tied first to the Austrian Empire. It was only after WWI that they formed the close ties with Switzerland that persist today (Liechtenstein does not have its own currency, for example; they use the Swiss Franc).
  • The Roman Catholic church has traditionally had a strong role in Liechtenstein and the nation was part of the Holy Roman Empire until its dissolution in 1806. So strong is the Roman Catholic ideology here that, until 2005, women faced imprisonment for having an abortion.
  • Liechtenstein, in 1984, was the last European country to give women the right to vote.
  • This is the world’s eighth smallest nation in terms of land area.
  • Liechtenstein only became Liechtenstein in 1719 (as an independent principality of the Holy Roman Empire), and it became fully independent in 1866.
  • There are over 400kms of hiking trails throughout the mountains here (now THAT sounds like it will keep us entertained for the next couple of days!)

 

We’ll see what other interesting (and not-so-interesting) snippets of information we can find for you tomorrow. Auf wiedersehen until then!