Tuesday, August 16, 2005
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
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thursday, August 11, 2005
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 (email@example.com)
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
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
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
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
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
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
Posted @ 5:02 PM by Egger, Markus (email@example.com)
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
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.
Posted @ 1:29 PM by Egger, Markus (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
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 (email@example.com)