Category Archives: Europe

Scheisse! Stahlen sie meine Kamera!*

You live and learn.  For example, just a  week or so ago, I didn’t even know there WAS a German-speaking region of Italy (just south of the Austrian border).  But now I’ve had the pleasure of explaining (in English) to a mostly-German-speaking Italian police officer how my American passport and my (Japanese) cameras had been stolen from my Swiss rental car.


First, I’d like to say that the Dolomites of northeastern Italy are a lovely place, full of rich history and beautiful scenery, and that the people of that region were all extremely friendly and helpful.  Except for the couple of  #%$@* assholes who broke the window out of my rental car while I was hiking and stole a camera bag holding one of my two primary cameras and four of my best lenses.  Two small consolations:  I had one camera and lens with me when the break-in happened, and the Volvo station wagon I’d rented did just fine crossing the Alps with a cardboard-and-duct-tape rear window and a back seat full of glass.

The ensuing days, of course, have included a few hours at the U.S. embassy in Bern for a new passport, an expensive trip to a Swiss camera store to bring my photography back to up to speed, and a couple of hours at the Zurich airport awkwardly swapping my rental car for a ‘fresh’ one with no broken windows.  Fortunately, I had double-backed-up all but the last round of pictures (and stored the backup elsewhere), so I didn’t lose many pictures.  Of course I had all the pictures from the hike itself, too.  Adding insult to injury, however, my pictures (an upcoming post) from the hike weren’t really all that good.

The shots on this page are not from the Dolomites.  They were taken somewhere along the road (in Austria, I believe) between the Ludwig castles (a prior post) and the Alpe di Suisi region (the next post).  The shots from this lovely spot (these taken on the camera that was not stolen) were the only ones that that survived from that drive.  I’d like to suggest that there were other, true masterpieces that I lost, but for better worse I don’t think that’s true.

 * I do not speak German, but I believe the title phrase above (“Stahlen sie meine kamera”) means “They stole my camera.”  The introductory exclamation (“Scheisse”) is an expletive, which I deem entirely appropriate under the circumstances.




Kings of Bavaria

Americans like me probably know Bavaria best as the “B” in BMW. Its biggest single tourist attraction is a legacy from an arguably-crazy nineteenth-century king.

The border between Germany and Austria is where the rolling hills and forests of the German state of Bavaria run into the northern edge of the Alps. A big tourist destination here is a set of castles built in the 1800s by the then-King of Bavaria, Ludwig II. The most famous castle (the big grey one above) is Schloss Neuschwanstein – built in the 1800s in a medieval style more befitting the 1200s. It is supposedly the model for the “Sleeping Beauty” castle that’s the centerpiece of Disneyland.

Legend has it that Ludwig was crazy. His eccentricity surely reinforced that idea. Besides castle-building, he was apparently obsessed with the 18th Century French monarchy and meticulously modeled himself and some of his palaces after that — notwithstanding the conspicuously unhappy ending the French monarchy had just faced. He also had a weird obsession with the famous German opera composer, Richard Wagner.  Some of his letters suggested that he was building these castles in hopes that Wagner would come to visit and stay with him there. Some of the rooms were modeled after scenes from Wagner operas.


Ludwig spent so much on his crazy castles he essentially bankrupted himself and lost power. He was dethroned based on his alleged insanity at age 41, and “mysteriously” found dead in a lake a few days later.

Ludwig lived in an era when Europe’s centuries of rule by monarchs were about to come to end no matter what he did. He had no heirs except his genuinely crazy brother Otto, so he spent everything he had on castles.  Building the castles has given him a legacy much more famous than any sensible king would have had.  To this day, millions of people come to southern Bavaria from all over the world to see those crazy castles – and to talk about the nutty King who was foolish enough to build them.  I think “crazy” King Ludwig got the last laugh.

 *  *  *

My friend (formerly one of my Gibbs & Bruns law partners) Jeff Kubin met me in Zurich and joined me on a few days of my European adventure — mostly through the German, Austrian, Italian and Swiss Alps. Ludwig’s Bavaria was our first, touristy stop before heading south and west.  That’s Jeff K in a picture below. I loaned him a camera and subjected him to photography lessons. The other shots below are his. Not bad!


A Longish London Layover

With just a day and a half of jet-lagged layover in London on the way to points further east, I don’t have many stories to tell.  It was my first visit to England, so I mostly hit the most touristy of spots, timing my outdoor excursions between episodes of drizzly rain.



Despite the supposedly-shared language, London can seem just as foreign at times as any other major European City.  Unlike the rest of the world, when the Brits speak English, they didn’t learn it from American television and music, so their accents are often harder to understand than the English you’ll hear in much more exotic-sounding destinations.  A few times I would have sworn I was in a Monty Python sketch.  My favorite amusement:  My hotel room had a set of bathroom scales, which clearly displayed my weight as about 10.5 stone.




 You probably recognize Big Ben — it’s the clocktower at the House of Parliament.  My hotel was very close to it — thus all the pictures.  The place (just above) with the flowers, all the British flags, and of course the Beaver-hatted guards is Buckingham Palace.  The high-up views are from the Tower Bridge and from St. Paul’s Cathedral.  The big Ferris Wheel is called the London eye.  The church you see pictured from the outside is Westminster Abbey.  The statuesque fellow riding horseback wielding a sword is Richard the Lionhearted.  I didn’t know the happy Asian couple strolling around the Tower Bridge in their wedding wear.


Paris 2012: A History Lesson

Here’s the last of three posts from a great trip to Paris with my niece Caitlin and sister Jana.

I had to brush up on some superficial French history  just to grasp some of what I was seeing in Paris last week, and to fit it in with a little perspective.  Here’s the crash course:

France had a series of Kings from the 5th Century through the 18th Century.  After 1610, they were all named Louis.  They lived in the Louvre (then a Palace) in Paris until the the 1680s when they moved 10 miles outside of town to a huge estate and a new palace at Versailles (now a Paris suburb).  Versailles served as the royal residence and center of most government until the late 1700s.  In 1789, Louis XVI  and Marie Antoinette were reigning as King and Queen, which was very bad timing for Mademoiselle LetThemEatCake:  Louis and Marie were dragged out of Versailles by French Revolutionaries.  By 1793, the monarchy was done (mostly) and both Louis and Marie were guillotined in Place de la Concorde in the center of Paris.  Ouch.

After the big Revolution ended the centuries of rule by kings, it took the French about one decade to appoint, instead, an Emperor!  Pope Pious VII (go figure) presided over the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte and his Empress, Josephine  in the 12th Century cathedral, Notre Dame (“Our Lady”) de Paris in 1804.  Napoleon ruled France from 1804 until he met his Waterloo — at Waterloo — in 1815.

The next several decades saw a mix of monarchs (Louis XVII, etc.) and an occasional return of Napoleon and/or his nephew (Napoleon III) as temporary emperors.  The famous  book/musical/movie, Les Miserables, was set (in Paris) in the early 1800s, during a period of monarchy (i.e., not during the French Revolution, as I’d always thought).  It was 1871 before a successsion of elected Presidents took over for good (sort of).  That was the era when the Parisians put up the Eiffel Tower.

It was Napoleon Bonaparte who commissioned the Arc de Triomphe to honor his military heroes and fallen soldiers.  Napoleon’s own body passed through the Arc on the way to his tomb.  The French marched around the Arc to celebrate their Triumph at the end of World War I; Hitler’s troops did the same when they took the city in 1940.  Happily the last big triumph along those lines was when our own American GIs (together with French and English Allied troops) liberated the city in 1944.  Their well-deserved celebration parade went around the Arc and down the adjacent avenue, the Champs Elysees to Place de la Concorde (toward the Louvre, where this story began).


The big archway (pictured at night) is, of course, the Arc de Triomphe; the traffic pictures are from the precarious middle of the Champs Elysees.  The ferris wheel was set up at Place de la Concorde.  You probably recognize the church facade as Notre Dame.  The greenish statutes, the lavish landscaping, and the fancy chandeliers are at Versailles.  The pretty girls are my sister and niece. 




For camera ‘folk’:  For the shot of the Arc in twilight, I quickly realized couldn’t get the cars out of the picture.  At faster shutter speeds, it looked like a parking lot of oddly-spaced cars.  To blur the cars, I adjusted ISO and f-stop ’til my shutter speeds were around 1/4 or 1/6 second.  Handheld.  The VR (Vibration Reduction — same as Canon’s Image Stabilization) elminated the blur on the stationary arc, but doesn’t (couldn’t) eliminate the blur on the moving cars.  Though the cars are blurred beyond recognition, I was surprised how sharp the VR system kept the Arc itself.  The picture (below) on the right is just a cropped section of the one on the left — notice that you can read the inscriptions on the Arc.  If I had it to do over, I’d have left the f-stop wide open and improved my ISO instead.





Paris 2012: Endless Louvre

It started as a 12th Century fort, and became the royal residence and seat of the French monarchy until Louis XIV moved his throne and his wig collection out to Versailles in the 1680s.  Since then, the Louvre has been (mostly) a museum housing (mostly) pre-19th Century art.  Its most recognizable residents, of course, are Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and the armless Venus de Milo.  But it’s a bit of a mystery to me why these two pieces (as opposed to some of the thousands of other options in the Louvre) are so famously iconic.


The building itself is surely as impressive as any of its holdings.  It’s U-shaped, with half-mile long legs paralleling the Seine River.  The 1980s glass pyramid looks a little odd amid the 16th Century architecture, but the contrast makes for some interesting pictures.

I wandered the grounds late one night after the crowd had gone home to get some shots in the interesting light.  The girl in red is my neice, Caitlin.

For fellow photo nerds:  The night shots are all hand-held, with existing light.  Mostly around 1/15th second, ISO 4000 or so, with the D800 and the 24-120mm f4 lens, presumably testing the limits of Nikon’s “VR” and high-ISO capabilities.