Markus' Travel and International Living Blog

Markus is an enthusiastic traveler, who lives in Houston, TX (USA) most of the time, but also spends some time in Saalfelden, near Salzburg (Austria). He is fascinated by travel and also by his experiences gathered by living in two different countries and continents.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Alte Schmiede

This is a bit of an insider-tip in the summer, and completely overrun by tourists in the winter: Alte Schmiede in Leogang.

This place always amazes me. Yes, it is somewhat touristy, but it is very well done. Basically, imagine a restaurant at the top of a mountain that you can get to by lift or mountain bike (long uphill ride...) built out of collected parts and pieces from very old buildings (farms, black smith shops, mills,...) from all over Austria. So everything you see at this place is hundreds of years old, much of it more than 500 years. I can not even begin to imagine the effort and time it took to find all this stuff. The cost aspect, we will completely ignore for now... ;-)

None of this is done by accident. The whole place is carefully designed, from the eating areas to the bathrooms to the great view. It is somewhat over the top, yet at the same time pretty authentic. Prices are also reasonable (relatively speaking of course), and all the food I ever had there was very good. All the dishes are very authentic Austrian food (generally I shy away from tourist places because they serve "Austrian" food that no local would ever eat...), and some of the items on the menu are very hard to find elsewhere.

In short: This is a must-see place.

We went there just a few days ago. Unfortunately, the weather was not very good, so I didn't take very many photos, and those I did take are not all that great. Here is one:


The mountains in the background are accross the valey. The place itself is really pretty much at the top of its own mountain.

To give you a better idea of what the place is like (especially inside), I "borrowed" a few pictures from their web page. Here they are:





As I said: None of this stuff is fake. It is all authentic and has been working equipment, some of it hundreds of years ago. Even the bricks and the wood came from old buildings.

And for the romantics among my readers, here is the winter shot:



Posted @ 5:56 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (258)

Thursday, August 11, 2005
Bike-World Leogang

Sometimes you end up living in a place for most of your life, yet you miss some interesting developments just around the corner. However, in this particular case I will claim the excuse that I spend so little time in Austria. <s> Anyway: As it turns out, they built Europe's larges Mountain Bike center in Leogang, which is just a few miles from my hometown of Saalfelden. This caught me off guard, because Leogang isn't exactly the world's most exciting place. But this is rather cool!

Mountain biking is very popular around here, and in fact, I enjoy riding myself. Yesterday I even biked up a real mountain again for the first time this year. Not all that far, just about 90 minutes of relatively steep uphill climb. There are people here that go twice as far every morning before they go to work, just for fun. Me, I almost ran over my own tounge a few times, it was hanging out so far, due to exhaustion. <s>

But anyway: Bike-World Leogang is quite a bit different. It is more about action than endurance. For one, they keep the lifts open all year just for mountain bikers. This makes for a quick ride up the mountains and miles and miles of downhill biking from there. Lots of options. Some are used as world-cup downhill courses I am told. They also have a "bike parcour" with lots of ramps and bumps and jumps. Some of them pretty scary. 10-15 feet high. Here's a picture Ellen took from the distance:


These are some pictures from their homepage:



Personally, I think the ramp-stuff is nuts. <s> I will keep with uphill biking. Nevertheless, this is pretty cool stuff...

Posted @ 3:33 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (17)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Heimatabend in Maria Alm

Back home in my home-country of Austria, there is a lot of fun stuff to do. Since I moved to the US years ago, I do not get to spend nearly as much time in Austria as I would like, but whenever we do get to go to Austria, we just do what the locals do, and lots of it. Most of the time anyway. But every now and then, we do a real touristy thing, just for fun. Last night was just like that. We went to a "Heimatabend".

Heimatabend translates to "local evening". If you ever go to a Heimatabend, you will see a lot of very traditional Austrian things, such as guys in Lederhosen, music, dancing, schuhplatteln (kind of a dance, actually), and so forth. While these things are very traditional, they are also taken to the extreme at a Heimatabend, but it certainly caters to what tourists expect Austria to be like. In a way, it turns out to be great fun for everyone. Tourists tend to really enjoy the show, and locals often get a laugh for other reasons.

The one we went to last night was in Maria Alm, a small town in the Salzurgean Alps not too far from our Austrian home (the town is somewhat hip, actually, with several of the world's rich and famous having houses nearby...). While the quality of the music and dances was sub-par from an Austrian's point of view, the overall setting and experience was very good. It took place out in the open on the main square, which is very nice for this type of event. And to be honest, it really doesn't matter how authentic and how good the music really is, because that is not what a Heimatabend is all about.

So if you ever end up in Austria, I recommend you visit a Heimatabend. You will be entertained. You will hear some unusual music, and see some interesting dances. Think of it as an "alpine Luau". Oh, and if you ever end up in Maria Alm looking for a place to eat, visit Max' Almer Bauernkasten. The food is excellent and authentic, and the setting of the restaurant is rather nice. Plus, you will have no problem whatsoever getting by even if you do not speak German (which is generally true for the area).


Posted @ 6:28 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (57)

Saturday, August 06, 2005
"Seefest" Zell am See

If you ever end up in Zell am See (Austria) during July or August, make sure you attend the "Seefest" (Lake Festival). We just got back from one of the two they have each year, and it was great, even though the weather is crappy (currently, the weather here is like it normally is in October...).

The festival usually starts during the day (as early as 10am or 11am) and then goes on throughout the day with all kinds of bands and concerts and food and various other types of entertainment. This is very nice on a warm mid-summer night. This time however, we went there late, because it simply was too cold to stay there for hours and hours. There weren't all that many people (5000 perhaps... 10,000 tops), but it was still fun.

The best part was the annual fireworks display (we timed our visit accordingly). Maybe my opinion is biased, because I know the person in charge of the fireworks (he mixes them together himself...). He is also the person who arranged for the fireworks at my birthday party last year. Anyway: I think this is the best fireworks display I ever saw. It was called the "Sound of Fire" and that's pretty much what it was. A choreographed affair with music around the entire lake (they actually put up wireless speakers all around the lake, which is quite large). The conventional parts of the fireworks were impressive enough, but then on top of that, he did several things I have never seen before. During one part, he shot up fireworks with tiny parachute, so the fireworks just kind of hovered in the air for minutes at a time, suspended on an invisible line between 2 parachutes. Very cool (and almost spooky). Then, they had some fireworks that they fired very flat so they immediately fell into the water where they floated for a while and "danced" in the water which was lit up in all kinds of colors. During another phase, they launched the fireworks from below the surface of the water. Awesome! They also used other pyrotechnics and fog. At one point I would not have been surprised if a Viking dragon ship would have emerged from the clouds.

You can imagine this like a mixture between an impressively choreographed conventional fireworks and the "dancing fountains" at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, except done in fire instead of water (and with a lot more variety). On top of that, they mixed in some very imaginative new ideas and at times almost overwhelmed the audience with sheer power, while at other times building up lots of suspense by varying the pace and intensity.

This was extremely impressive. I have seen a number of very large and expensive fireworks before. So far, the "Power of Houston" was my favorite (and at the time, the most expensive firework ever done, I believe), but this beat even that. It wasn't as long as the one in Houston, but the setting on the lake and the way it was choreographed was simply amazing!

Posted @ 5:02 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (93)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Saalfelden City Grand Prix

An odd thing happened on the way to our Austrian home today: The road was blocked off. As it turns out, it was because of the Saalfelden City Grand Prix, which is a professional bicycle race held right in downtown Saalfelden, where we have our home. So we had to leave the car at a supermarket parking lot and made the rest on foot. In return however, we got an exciting race to watch right from our window.

I have actually seen this race before (it has been an annual thing for the recent years), but it amazes me again every time. It is almost unbelievable how quick these guys go through the narrow downtown roads, some asphalt, some cobble stone. Lots of tight corners. I even walked around for a while to see different areas of the track and wanted to take some pictures, but I forgot the memory card of my camera. So I ended up taking a picture right from our place. Not the most spectacular spot of the track, but anyway:

While this is not the Tour de France, it is still a pretty spectacular race. I am not sure that all the guys are professional cyclists, but a good number of them are. Quite a number of countries and teams had riders here. This was fun. Very cool...

Posted @ 1:29 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (64)

Monday, August 01, 2005
What Exactly is a "First Class Ticket"?

I just got off the plane from Houston to Munich. We had "first class tickets". But what exactly does that mean?

Here's the story: We originally had planned to go from Houston to Salzburg, but it turned out that flights were way expensive, even for mid-summer flights. So we tried to use miles, but we were told repeatedly that during the summer months, we had to use double-miles to get premium seats, because no regular frequent-flyer-miles-seats were available. So that would have made 100,000 miles round-trip each. Too expensive, if you ask me. But besides, we were told that for over a month, there weren't any seats available, even under the double-mile offer, so our options were extremely limited.

After calling back several times, it turns out that we were able to get first-class seats paid for with miles, at least going to Europe. So the trip from Houston to Munich would cost us 50,000 miles (which is regular milage-price for a first-class trip and equal to the premium price for economy seats we were told before). So the total round trip, with one way first class, was 75,000. Still not inexpensive, but especially ging to Europe, first class is nice, since you can sleep on the plane and arrive at least somewhat rested.

As we checked in however, it turns out that we had business class seats. Not bad, mind you, but not quite the same. So I said, "didn't we pay for first class tickets?". "Yes sir", the checkin girl replied. "So then we have first class seats, right?". "No sir, you have business class seats". Now that is just wrong! Maybe I just expect too much, but it seems to me that when you pay for first class tickets, then the answer to the question "do we have first class seats?" should always be "Yes". I can not conceive of a scenario where that would not be so. But then maybe I am just naive and simple minded...

As it turns out, paying for first class seats with Continental miles gets you a business class seat. They still insisted that the tickets we had "are first class", but they only buy you admission into business class. It apparently made total sense to them. And besides, since I "didn't really pay", I was to shut up and be happy anyway. What's up with that?!? As a frequent flyer, I have an agreement with the airline to get certain benefits. This is not a "free goodie" or something "to be happy about and lucky to get it". It is a contract! "I give you way more business than I would otherwise, and you give me benefits in return". There is no wiggle room here. So when I use miles to pay for a flight, that simply is an alternate form of currency the airline has contractually agreed to accept. Why would I show up at the airport and "be lucky to even have a seat"?!?

Now the business class seat wasn't bad. It was a nice flight, don't get me wrong. But my visions of being able to sleep on the plane did not come true, and I arrived in Paris feeling like, well, you know what. And the connecting flight to Munich was even more "interesting". Business class on that flight was a flight in regular airplane seats (you know, the kind that is too small for an adault human butt), but you were guaranteed an empty seat next to you. I would have much rather had enough room in front of me to actually be able to open up a magazine and read it...

Posted @ 4:17 AM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (20)








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