Saturday, May 19, 2012


It happened that Ursula and I took her mother back to Austria for her mother’s 100th birthday. While I was there I wangled a flight at the Turnau gliding club just up the valley from where Ursula’s mother was born.

The airfield lies in a valley at about 790m (2600 feet) AMSL. It is surrounded by mountains with peaks to 4300 feet directly to the south and about 5300 feet to the north.

Ursula and her aunty dropped me off there where I met Siegi who was to take me for a fly. Siegi spoke a little English and I spoke a little German so we just about managed.
After signing the obligatory blood book we got ourselves ready and were towed away by an American (!) registered Pawnee. An odd experience to be towed up about 2000 feet and then still be able to buzz over the roof tops of a group of holiday cabins just before we released.

We didn’t have a real plan, other than a gentle jaunt out to the east and possibly back again to the west if the day held.

I am familiar with some of this mountainous area of the Steiermark as we had visited Ursula’s family a number of times and done the sight seeing stuff from the ground. This usually involves driving along the valleys to the place of interest. It was a new perspective to see how physically close some of the places were to each other, often only a few kilometres apart, but in valleys on opposite sides of a mountain ridge, so, usually impossible to travel directly between them.

After releasing we worked the lift from the valley slopes to the north of the field. There were a number of other gliders from Turnau there with us. When we gained sufficient height using a combination of ridge lift and thermals we pushed out to the east heading along the alpine mountain ridges.

I don’t think Siegi took any logger along for the flight, but by having a look at my photos the trip went approximately like this -

We initially went north east, I recognised the Neuberg as it has a large church monastery, the “Muenster”, which I had visited a couple of times with Ursula previously. Staying high we followed the mountain ridges until they started to run out. This placed us in an area more than half way to the large Austrian city of Wiener Neustadt. From here we were above the eastern extremities of the European alps (I flew in the western extremities of these same Alps in France back in 2006). We could see where the mountains ended and the flat land stretched out toward Wiener Neustadt and beyond into Hungary. Turning around, our path took us over the Rax Alps, the most eastern point of the alps above 6000 feet. We ran along the ridge of the Heukuppe at 6500 feet which was mostly clear of snow although there was enough that I could see tracks on some of the steeper slopes which showed skiers had been there not that long before. Hikers were out along the trails and waved to us as we went past the large square stone cairn at the highest point.

From there we continued back towards Turnau, but got low in a valley near Veitsch. We were down to about 4000 feet, but the valley floor was at 2300 feet so we had to start thinking about what to do next. Landing out on the tops of the hills is totally a non option as they are covered in forest and there are no flat areas or roads. The only reasonable places are in the narrow valley bottoms which typically have a river or road winding along them and small fields either side. That is, providing there aren't small villages or farms restricting any potential landing area. The fields are typically 200 to 400 metres long and a few tens of metres wide with strong slopes across them. In any case we were able to finally scratch away and returned to Turnau. The flight so far had only taken about an hour and a quarter so Siegi decided we should gain height again up the face of the northern slopes of the valley and head north west into the more remote parts of Styria, the Hochschwab mountains.

We got to the highest point on these mountains, which is itself called the Hochschwab, at about 7500 feet. There was still thick snow in large patches on the mountains, even in late spring.

The Austrians tend to put markers on all the high peaks of mountain ranges, like the cairn on Heukuppe, and the Hochschwab has a large iron cross, six metres tall, erected in 1950. I was able to show my poor quality pictures of the summit to Ursulas mum who was most impressed as she was born and grew up at the foot of those mountains.

On a large plateau, 500 feet below the peak is a large alpine “hut”, the Schiestlhaus, which is used by hikers in summer and as a refuge in winter. The hostel can only be reached by walking or helicopter (that included the building materials of the house too!). A cableway which was built in the early 2000s was blown away in less than one year by the 200kph winter winds that occur there in the mountains.

We left the high mountains and headed towards a large open cut mine, the Erzberg, which made a good landmark and turn point. We didn’t quite get there, we turned a few km short. On the way there I spotted two other places I was familiar with.

The first was the tiny village of Sankt Ilgen. Easy to recognise because we had visited it many times to light a candle for Ursula's mum's older brother, who died in the 1918 flu epidemic and who lies in a now unmarked grave in the churchyard there.

The second place was the Gruenersee. A large alpine lake which we visited a few days before this flight. It is normally a small lake with a park around it in summer but during the spring, as the mountains thaw, the water level rises to completely inundate the park. It then becomes a mecca for scuba divers who dive the clear mountain lake and swim around the park benches and amongst the trees! (do an image search on Google, it is amazing)

From the Erzberg we started our dog leg final glide, first toward the larger Mur River valley where we could see the large town of Leoben, then direct from there north east back to Turnau. Overflying Ursula’s auntie's house on the way.

Overall the flight was 2.5 hours and we covered somewhere between 150 and 200 km over areas of Austria which are both spectacular and usually difficult to get to.

By the way, the slogan on Siegi's shirt;
"Bodenallergie. Da Hilft nur Fliegen" - Ground allergy. The only relief is flying.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Kunst Historisches Museum

 In the morning of our first Vienna day we decided to go to the Kunst Historisches Museum.

We spent about 3 hours in the museum but only on the top floor with the paintings. For later we had a pre booked tour of Schonbrun with a concert and evening meal. This was the second time I had visited the Schoenbrunn, where we took all the back ways due to Christls wheel chair. They took us through Franz Josephs apartments, strange to think that Christl was alive at the time, although too young to remember anything. 
The Residenz restaurant was the place for dinner. Entree was rindsuppe with fritaten for all of us. Uschi had a sherry aperitif, Christine had campari and orange while I had hollersekt. The main meal was Wiener Tafelspitz with schnittlauch sauce and gerosteten erdaepfel. The potato was cut into about 5mm cubes and served in a dense mound, perhaps roasted in that way. Very like a browner version of corned beef. Uschi had a red wine (Wieninger wienertrilogie) I had a Paschinger “Urbileicht” gruener Veltliner.
Dessert was apple struedel. Chris couldn't eat more than about a third of hers due to her reaction to the cream.

We didn’t get back to the Pension until around one in the morning.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Bazaar and leave for Vienna.

Leaving for Vienna wasn’t scheduled till 14:30 so we had enough time to finally visit the Grand Bazaar. The three of us spent some time exploring many of the covered ways inside the bazaar itself, then around lunchtime we went outside where there were still more shops ringing the Bazaar itself. I found a hall which had a selection of hardware shops so I dropped in a bought a few minor tools, including a set of fine tweezers. A lot of the wood working tools seemed to be made in India.

We caught the plane to Vienna and by 21:30 that evening we had booked into Pension Neumarkt and took a walk around some of the now familiar streets.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Blue Mosque

The plan was to go to the Grand Bazaar, but when we got there we found it was shut on a Sunday. We walked around the quiet back streets and even got accosted by a shoe shine man, but only Uschi had shoes which would take a polish. We spent some time in the square where Constantines Column is and watched a man feed the pigeons with quite a large bag of wheat. We strolled back towards the Hippodrome Square and took a little stop at the German Fountain in Mehmet Akif Ersoy Park.

Just off the Hippodrome, we found the museum of Islamic art which was really a find. We stopped and had lunch in the museum cafe there as well. After three hours we left for the blue mosque. We couldn’t get in straight away as we had to wait for a non prayer time, but when we did get in we were able to walk around bare foot inside the cool mosque for the best part of an hour.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Ishtar Gate Again

I got up early, before breakfast and went out to do some early morning filming of the Blue Mosque. After breakfast the three of us went to the Hagia Sophia where we spent more than two hours wandering about, including taking turns to go up the high balconies while the other person waited with Christl on the ground floor.

After lunch of something like pita bread wraps with chips we went to the Archaeological museum. Amongst other things I saw more of the parts of the Ishtar Gate. Other parts of which I had seen in Berlin, Vienna and the Louvre.
Finally for the day we managed to get Christl in her wheel chair down into the cistern.


Friday, May 04, 2012


I didn't write much in my journal but sketched some items of interest. We visited the Topkapi Palace from about 10:00 till 17:50.

In the Topkapi museum I saw the staff of Moses, the sword of David, the turban of Joseph, the cooking pot of Abraham and 8 hairs of the beard of the prophet (in six separate reliquaries).
Walking back we stopped at a sweet food shop where we shared a main meal of aubergine and chicken with a cheese topping. There were three kofte with potato. Then Uschi got what we really came into the shop to get. A serve of nuts in nests, also a few slices of something like pistachio kataifi log (Burma Kadia?) with four versions of turkish delight.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Out of Dubai

Warm piratha, homous and chana masala is now Uschi’s favourite breakfast. There was also a very nice hard white cheese. The Chana Masala was a curried chick pea (I think), it was quite nice by itself.

The next leg of our trip to Turkey was to leave in the afternoon, so I took a walk around the local area near the hotel. There were lots of bicycles around the place.

By 14:30 we had left hot and dusty Dubai, after a particularly officious customs officer had taken some, but not all, of Uschi’s loose AA camera batteries. About four hours later we were in Istanbul, though it took a little while to get through the formalities there. Finally getting to a nice little hotel at just before 20:00. The hotel was in the old part of town and was called the Hotel Legend. There was a dining room and an open terrace on the roof, though it wasn’t in use when we were there, but it did offer good views of the city.

I woke about 05:00 the next morning and went on the roof of the hotel where I could take pictures of the rooftops of Istanbul in the dark.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


We got in at about 0530 and had pre-arranged pick up with "Arabian Adventures" to take us to the Ascott Bur Dubai. Once we got there we found no wheel chair access. Also the receptionist said they had no rooms big enough for the 3 of us, so they sent us to the Ascott Roya, an adjoining Hotel. After checking in we had breakfast and went back to our room to sleep till about 11. After waking we thought about where to go and decided the only thing we really hadn't seen was the Burj Kalifa. the hotel limo man took us there and on the way advised we should have booked online or through the hotel checkin desk; "Because there might be a long wait".

He was right, the tickets were booked out for 2 days ahead. we then went for a walk around the
bottom of the tower near the fountain. The driver, Wajid, told us to be there in the evening for the fountain show.

It was fairly warm (42C) so we decided outdoor things were no the go. the Limo driver took us to a souk (Madinat Jumeirah) near the Sails Hotel. We had stopped in the car park to look at it on the previous trip but this time we went inside and spent some time looking around. It was a small shopping precinct, made up to look like an old souk but not much patronised now by the looks. I suspect it was an earlier version before Dubai expanded rapidly and is now left somewhat stranded. The bigger malls such as Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall have probably taken away a lot of the custom here. We had some icecream and Uschi bought some little bowls. Some of the "antiques" included antique statues of TinTin. We left at about 15:00 to go back to the Burj Khalifa where we spent a lot more time in the Dubai Mall.

Traveling in a taxi back to Burg Kalifa, we seemed to travel west till reaching the Mall of the Emirates and the old Carrefour we visited on our last trip. We then headed east (?) on a six lane highway parallel to and north of the Metro track.

We had previously visited the mall in 2008 but it wasn't finished then. Now it appears complete. we happened to be in the book shop (which we visited in 2008) and I found that it had a cafe (Cafe Kino) which overlooked the fountain. we had been intending to go to a restaurant near teh fountain and have tea while the display was in progress, but the cafe had a balcony overlooking the fountain. We ordered curry chicken and rice for me and Christl and curry beef and rice for Uschi at about 18:30. Uschi's beef was actually a patty, maybe a hamburger. We watched the fountain display from there. After the display we kept looking around the bookshop and walking around the mall till around 22:00 then we retired to the hotel.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Off to Europe for a Birthday

We left Adelaide about 14:00 and got to Melbourne about 90 minutes later, where we waited for our flight out. There was an old couple and their son returning to Malta who we shared the wait with. They were going to Malta, Cyprus and Greece. The parents were in their 80s and were quite surprised when we said Christine was almost 100. Melbourne push back at 18:05 (777-300. A6-ECN. Seats 44 A, B and C).

Taxiing out, the night was dark already with the normal busyness of an airport. The airport buildings illuminated by the lights on the apron. We were expecting the trip to Singapore to be 7 hours and 13 minutes. Waiting for clearance took a long time before entering the runway at 18:23. Touchdown in Singapore was 01:36 Melbourne time (11:40 Singapore time).

After leaving Singapore I slept for about 3 hours then watched “Tower Heist” followed by a number of “Horrible History” episodes. About 100 miles out from Dubai I changed to local time from Singapore time (08:09 Singapore to 04:09 Dubai).