Posts Tagged ‘Flowers’

Obliging Nibblers

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

The blue summer sky overhead is suddenly filled with swarms of insects.  Not knowing if the are locust, bees, wasps or something unique to Japan we stop and digest the scene above us.  It quickly becomes evident that the mass of flying bugs are harmless and beautiful four winged dragonflies.

We stare in amazement at the huge number of the graceful insects that are along the floodbanks of the Sorachi River near the town of Furano.  The airspace is teeming with them and we are mesmerized by the aerial antics of these low flying creatures.

After a few minutes we turn our attention to the variety of plants and flowers that line the pathway we are walking on and realise that the dragonflies are having a feeding frenzy too.  Hundreds of them are zipping from flower to flower and doing what dragonflies do when they find a tasty morsel.

With our cameras at the appropriate settings we venture closer and closer to the dragonflies in the hope that we can take photos of them feeding.  Fortunately these little insects don’t seem to be too concerned about our presence and, after a while, we realise we can get up close and personal to them.

Over the next 20 minutes or so we take dozens of photo’s of obliging dragonflies in different poses as they feed on the beautiful flowers. A photographer’s delight!

Whilst we came to the Furano region to photograph the stunning array of colourful summer flowers these beautiful dragonflies have provided us with an unexpected photographic experience.  What a win!

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Fields Of Rainbows

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Acres of brightly coloured flowers all perfectly aligned and following the contours of the land stretch out in front of us like a rainbow that has decided to lay itself across the landscape.  Bees, dragonflies and an assortment of opportunistic insects make the most of Hokkaido’s summer blooms and fill up on the delicacies offered up by the variety of plants.

We are in Furano, Hokkaido and we are allowing our eyes to feast on the beautifully prepared gardens that draw thousands of tourists to this area of Japan during Hokkaido’s brief but stunning summer.  Hills that entertain skiers in winter are full of lavender, sunflower and other beautiful plants.  Lower fields around Nakafurano and in Farm Tomita are covered with the many colors of Sage, Cosmos and the bright pink of the Cleome.  It is a gardener’s paradise and a photographer’s easel.

The cloudless blue sky overhead allows the full intensity of the sun to make the stunningly beautiful colours of nature even more vivid and we stand in awe of the display that is neatly arranged before us.  Mother Nature has put on a show that makes one appreciate how beautiful the simple things are when you take time to stop and smell the roses (or other types of flowers).

The region around Furano is also renown for being the “fruit bowl” of Hokkaido and many of the vegetables and fruits that adorn the masses of food halls in Japan are grown in this region.  Today, while our eyes savour the stunning display of flowers our palates soak up the taste of juicy cantaloupe – a seasonal delicacy grown right here in Furano.  Our personal favourite was the soft ice cream infused with the orange melon’s pulp.  Wow.

After several hours of roaming around the garden beds in the Furano region we board the opened carriage Norokko Flower Train and literally ride off into the sunset.  The spacious booth style seats in the train give us room to unload our backpacks and cameras and the large open windows provide an unobstructed view of the passing fields and towns.

We arrive in the city of Ashaikawa just as the sun is setting and just as our stomachs have emptied out enough to consume another steaming hot bowl of locally prepared ramen.

Another incredible day in Hokkaido!

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Oh, Oh, Odori

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

The excited squeals of a child playing with her mother compete on an aural stage with the sound of water flowing from the beautiful fountain that forms the centre piece of this part of Odori Park.  Young lovers, families and tourists like us soak up the warm Hokkaido summer and take time out to enjoy the wonderful atmosphere here in Sapporo.

The Sapporo TV tower proudly stands like an “at attention” guard at the eastern end of the expansive 13 block park and it provides a great backdrop for photographs.  Flower beds resplendent with summer blooms are planted inside intricate creations that sit atop the beautiful lush green lawns.  The ever respectful Japanese locals ensure that they honour the local littering laws and this results in a beautifully clean parkland for all.

During the summer months Odori Park is home to the Sapporo Beer and Jazz Festivals – a great time to be in town.  In winter, Sapporo’s frigid temperatures and significant snowfalls allow ice carving teams from around the world to create stunning ice statues and display them during the Sapporo Snow Festival.  Millions of tourists flock to Sapporo to see these stunning statues and many of them stay on to spend time on the world class ski resorts that are located around Hokkaido.

Whether you are here in summer or winter, Sapporo’s Odori Park is a delightful place to spend some time.  Wandering along the pathways for 13 blocks is a great way to soak up the beauty of Hokkaido’s capital.

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Sailing On Turquoise, Falls At Giessbach and Chasing Cows

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Sailing On Turquoise, Falls At Giessbach and Chasing Cows

Schmocken, Interlaken, Interlaken, Brienz, Giessbach, Lauterbrunnen

Monday, 13 June 2011

The long alpine walk yesterday and 3 days of mountain air resulted in two tired bodies this morning! The alarm was set for 7.30am and our minds responded but our muscles gave us that: “you can wait” sort of feedback.

However, the mind is all powerful and it convinced the less than enthusiastic bodies to roll out of bed and into the shower – things to do and new places to see!

First stop after a shower? The dining room. Breakfast has become a rather important meal for us because it seems that we are either not eating lunch or rolling a late lunch/early dinner together. So today, like the preceding two mornings, we enjoyed a delightful breaking of our fasts while we appreciated the sheer beauty of the alps in the distance and Lake Thun several thousand feet below us.

We wanted to be “on the road” by 10.00am so after a short breakfast we returned to the room, readied our gear and headed for the car.

A light rain was falling in Schmocken when we left the hotel and continued as we descended the road down to Interlaken. Fortunately the visibility was still good so the trip down the narrow mountain road was made without the need to drive too slowly.

Our aim for today was to take a ride on the historic paddle steamer that plies the waterways of Lake Brienz. The steamer is called the Lotschberg and it is one of the nicest steamers in the region. It leaves from the wharf that is located next to Interlaken’s main railway station and it only runs a couple of times each day. Our plan was to be on Lotschberg for its first departure at 11.10am.

Departing On Blue

Our consistently accurate GPS “dude” guided us to a parking area next to the station and, after asking directions from the local constabulary, we found our way to the wharf and the ticket box. A one day pass for all boat trips on both lakes was f 29.00 – a Monday special. We didn’t plan to spend the day on boats but the normal fare for a one way trip was f 28.00 so for an extra franc it was worth it.

Our uninhibited trip down the mountain meant that we arrived early in Interlaken so we had some time to spare before the old steamer made its way to the departure wharf. Fortunately, the rain was light and so we didn’t have to seek shelter before the departure time.

We boarded Lotschberg around 11.00am and took up an undercover seat on the foc’sle (arrrr, the terms roll of the tongue for this old sea dog!) however, it wasn’t long before we started making our way around the vessel and taking shots of this historic old “queen of the lake”.

The shrill of the paddle steamer’s whistle signaled the 11.10am departure and with the hawsers released from the dockside bollards the beautiful old steam engines turned the two midships paddle wheels and the wooden hull slipped quietly and smoothly away from the wharf.

As the skipper expertly guided the Lotschberg down the narrow turquoise coloured inlet we took our time to take in the surrounding beauty of some of Interlaken’s prime real estate and the distant cloud covered mountains.

The hull of the boat cut through the smooth Brienzersee’s (Lake Brienz) waters as she made her way eastward down the lake. We pulled into a few different village wharves and watched as the experienced deckhands lash the vessel to the wharf with expert seamanship skills (or is that lakemanship skills?). The crew were about as well oiled as the huge connecting rods that drove the paddle shafts on this beautiful old boat.

Falling From High

Bernhard (co-owner of Hotel Gloria) suggested that we disembark the Lotschberg at the historic Giessbach Hotel and take a walk around the waterfalls and the grounds of the hotel. We are thankful for his advice because what lay ahead of us was spectacular.

The Giessbach Hotel is the most beautiful structure and it is located high on top of a cliff overlooking the blue lake. There is a funicular railway running from the wharf up to the hotel however we opted to hike up the steep trails in order to view the beautiful waterfalls that drop from the towering mountains above.

The trail that leads up to the hotel passes under old growth forest trees and it is like being in a child’s fairy tale. Beautiful lichen and moss cover the trunks of the deciduous trees and undergrowth of saplings struggle to gain a foothold in the dimly lit and moist forest floor. The roar of the spectacular waterfalls remind you of mother natures’ power and the whole scene is one of natural beauty.

We wound our way up to the hotel’s grounds and, just when we thought we had experienced all the beauty we could process for one day our eyes were met with man made beauty on a different scale.

At this time of year the hotel’s gardens are filled with an array of colours and smells. The gardens surround the most stunning building and the outlook from the many vantage points is superb.

Towering cliffs rise above the relatively flat land that surrounds the hotel and the staggering waterfalls that start high up in the mountain fall down hundreds of meters to the wharf area below.

You can continue on a short hike up the trails that are located near the hotel and walk behind one of the large waterfalls that flows over a huge cliff. Bernhard had told us about this walk and we were keen to experience it.

Despite our muscles telling us that they had had enough mountain walking for one holiday we ignored their pleas and set off for another steep but short hike up to the “behind the falls” experience – it was worth the hike!

Being behind tonnes of fast flowing water is a real treat. The noise, the feeling of energy and the spray all add up to a wonderful experience and we would absolutely recommend any visitor making a trip to Giessbach if they are coming to Interlaken.

On returning to the hotel we took a look inside the recently (relatively speaking) restored hotel before paying our one way fare for the funicular railway trip down the mountain.

Like all departure times here in Switzerland, the funicular railway’s is fixed and, to the second, the driver released the brake and we started the slow descent down the mountain. The trip didn’t take very long however it saved our legs and gave us a different view of the forest and the waterfalls -well worth the fare!

The next boat to depart the Giessbach wharf (enroute to Brienz) was Brienz itself. She was due to depart at 14.16 and, she was just arriving as the funicular pulled into the lower (wharf) station – like clockwork!

The Brienz is a more modern boat however, she is beautifully kept and efficiently run.

After departing Giessbach the Brienz made its way across the lake to the town Brienz. The short trip took less than 10 minutes so it wasn’t long before we were disembarking.

We planned to take in a light lunch in the town of Brienz so after a short stroll around the wharf area we found a restaurant that was not too full and set ourselves up on the undercover balcony. Whilst the service was not particularly good, the small pizza we shared and the view of the lake made up for it.

We had two options for our passage back to Interlaken – a return boat trip of around 1 hr 30 mins or a 25 minute train trip. We had not taken any train trips during our time in Europe so we opted for the train.

Fortunately, for us, the train for Interlaken departed at 4.00pm and we arrived at the platform around 3.50pm. We purchased our one way tickets from the very helpful and polite ticket staff and walked outside and boarded the train.

The interior of the intercity train was very comfortable and we enjoyed sitting down in the well appointed cabin and waiting for the train to depart.

The views from the train during the trip back to Interlaken were wonderful. The large windows afforded us views of the lake and alps and allowed us to capture some nice shots on our video and cameras.

We arrived back into Interlaken spot on 4.25pm and took a short walk around the very “tourist focused” town before heading back to the car. We both agreed that Interlaken was not a place we would spend a lot of time (the 15 minutes we had today was enough). While it has some lovely old buildings it reminded us too much of most world wide “tourist hotspots” – not the sort of place we like to spend much time in. However, if you are up for some Swiss army knives, cow bells or any other kitsch gifts then this might be the place for you. Don’t forget to eat kebab (didn’t know the Swiss ate these) or some Indian food too.

We departed Interlaken and headed back into the mountains in search of a village that friends of ours visit each winter. The village is called Murren.

We “plugged” Murren into our GPS and set off according to ‘surfer dudes’ instructions.

We headed deep into the Lauterbrunnen valley, past some spectacular waterfalls that flowed down bare cliff faces and in and through some lovely villages. However, the GPS became a little confused and we never really made it to the centre of Murren. The village of Murren is perched high on a mountain overlooking Lauterbrunnen and not in the valley we were in. However, we are glad we got “lost” because we saw some beautiful scenery.

On the way back down the valley we had to stop for some dairy cows that were being moved in for milking. It was a real treat to follow them slowly back down the road and watch their owner coerce them past the “oh so tasty grass” that grows alongside the roads. The “grass is always greener” and these cows knew it! As the cows passed by the driveways of neighboring farm houses the owner removed temporary fencing – the cows would have a feast on the lovely summer gardens.

The trip back to Schmocken and Hotel Gloria took us back through Interlaken West (definitely not on our agenda to spend any time in) and back up the steep and winding mountain road that makes its way to Beatenberg. We arrived back at the hotel around 6.30pm – tired but very thankful that we followed Bernhard’s suggestion and spent a large portion of the day on beautiful Lake Brienz and visiting the stunning Giessbach Hotel.

Bernhard welcomed us back when we walked through the lobby and we spent time talking to him about our experiences. What a wonderful host!

We booked a table for 8.00pm and headed up to the room to freshen up and unpack our gear.

Dinner this evening was another dining experience – the most delightful zucchini and pepper soup and a Swiss ham and cheese rosti. The restaurant was not too full tonight so we were able to spend time talking with the staff too.

Bernhard exited the kitchen when the last of the diners (seemed like us) were finished and we enjoyed spending time talking to him about the art of Swiss cheese making. There were a few local farmers in the bar area of the hotel and Bernhard was able to get answers to several questions we had. Like: “How many litres of milk does each cow produce in peak season and how many litres does it take to make a kilo of cheese?” If you are interested in knowing the answers or if you have some feedback then post it in the comments section below!

After a very informative post dinner discussion we retired to the room for our last night in Hotel Gloria.

Tomorrow we are off to Frankfurt for our last night in Europe for this trip. We fly back to Hong Kong on Wednesday afternoon.

We will keep you blogged on tomorrow’s trip.

Gut Nacht!

The Queen Of The Lake
Princess Of Brienz
Departing The Wharf
Falling From On High
Red On Turquoise
Waiting Patiently
Fun On The Funicular

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Altitude Flowers, Spectacular Views and Knocking Knees

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

Altitude Flowers, Spectacular Views and Knocking Knees

Schmocken, Beatenberg, Niederhorn

Location – Switzerland

I opened the outside blinds that cover the room windows this morning and learned that the Interlaken weather Gods had received our message. The clouds had lifted and we had a spectacular view of the Eiger mountain face and some of the other “Top Of Europe” mountain peaks. It was going to be another good day here in Switzerland.

Despite making the most of the very comfortable bedding we did manage to extract ourselves from under the doona (duvet) around 8.30am and prepare for the day’s activities. I even managed to have a shave before venturing down to breakfast!

This morning’s window view was very special given that the clouds had lifted over the Alps. We enjoyed the view and the substantial breakfast we managed to consume – not a bad thing given that we were not going to have lunch today (of course we didn’t know it whilst sitting at breakfast).

We departed the hotel around 10.30am and covered the short walk to the Niederhorn cable car terminus in around 8 minutes. Hotel Gloria is so very well placed here in Beatenburg.

The weather continued to improve as the morning passed and by the time we arrived at the cable car terminal the day was shaping up nicely.

See You Thun

Our accommodation in Beatenburg came with a voucher that gave us 15% discount on the cable car trip so our one way trip to the top of the mountain was quite cheap.

Being a Sunday meant that the cable cars were running quite regularly so it wasn’t long before we were boarding the gondola and heading up the steep mountain cable car track.

The view from the very smooth gondola improved with each passing cable car tower and we both enjoyed the spectacular scenery that opened up below us.

We reached the top of Niederhorn in around 12 minutes and exited the gondola to a cool but sunny day. The gentle breeze and relatively thin mountain air were the reason we packed our warm weather gear for today’s outdoor activities.

Despite it being a Sunday, the number of people on the mountain was low so we did not have to compete for viewing space at any stage. Indeed, there would have to be a very large number of people on the mountain to stop one achieving time to take a very good look at the spectacular 360 degree views that are on offer from Niederhorn.

We took our time to walk around the area near the cable car terminus and we enjoyed the wonderful views on offer. The sun continued to warm the mountains and this mean that the cloud base continued to rise. More and more of the alps began to reveal themselves as the morning turned into afternoon and we enjoyed capturing the sights on offer.

From Niederhorn you take in 360 degree views for miles around. Views of lakes, mountains, valleys and distance towns are available from this 6000′ plus mountain top and all of the sights are spectacular.

All Paths Lead To?

In winter Niederhorn is a ski paradise. In summer it is a hiker and paraglider paradise. Indeed, it seemed that for every hiker on the mountain there was a least one or more paragliders. The Princess and I enjoyed spending time watching the paragliding fanatics prepare their rigs, don their warm flight suits and helmets and then negotiate the fickle winds before launching themselves off the slopes of Niederhorn.

We didn’t count the number of paragliders in the air over the Interlaken region but, suffice to say, there were dozens of them. The brightly colored wings stood out against the white snowcapped mountains and green forests and filled the sky like prehistoric flocks of birds soaring above some prey below.

We opted to hike back down to Schmocken so, after spending time near the summit of Niederhorn we made our way along the well trodden hiking paths to the village way below.

Our progress was slow because we couldn’t take more than a few steps before stopping to photograph another beautiful scene or some beautiful spring wildflowers that were blooming on the exposed parts of the mountain.

We were also fortunate to see some of the mountain’s wild goats albeit that they were not too keen to stick around for photos.

The number of hikers crossing the mountain’s hiking paths thinned out as we moved further down the mountain – all of them taking one of many different routes that are available on the mountain. Young and old alike venture out here in Switzerland and make the most of the excellent hiking available here. Some people are in a hurry and some, like us are just taking in the many distant views and natural beauty on offer.

Our trip back down the mountain took around 5 hours (from the time we left the cable car terminus area) and the “quoted ” time is around 2 hours 30 minutes. However, we were not in a hurry and the sun doesn’t set here until around 9.00pm at this time of the year.

On our way back down we passed by a farm house and spent time talking with the manager of the small but productive farm. He was managing the farm on behalf of a large Swiss co-op and he was happy to answer the many questions we had for him. This “large” farm (with about 30 head of dairy cows and 12 pigs) produced cream, milk, cheese and ham for Alp. It seems that 30 head of dairy cows in these parts is a substantial farm indeed.

As we descended the mountain the tree line was obvious and we left the wide open grass fields and prolific wildflowers and entered into darker pine forests with lush undergrowth.

The hiking paths we took crossed wet open areas before re-entering small forests and they also meandered around steep drop offs and under towering overhangs. Very spectacular.

Despite having a map, the signs on the trail didn’t really indicate that we were heading in the right direction but we were content with enjoying the beautiful views that were offered from our high vantage point.

We eventually left the higher areas of the wooded landscape and descended toward one of the many villages located below us.

Our knees were not happy with us as we made our way down into one of the villages. Indeed, if we had to hike downhill for much longer we would have had to have made a stop and give the knees a break.

Around 5.15pm we arrived in one of the small villages in the Beatenberg area (so small that we couldn’t find it on a map) and went in search of a bus stop. The buses here run every hour and, as it turned out, the next one was due through this town around 5.29pm.

Delicate Mountain Dwellers

Like a Swiss watch, the bus rolled into town and stopped to pick us up. Our accommodation voucher allows us to travel for free on the buses in the Beatenburg area so, on boarding, we showed the friendly driver our voucher and took our first comfortable seat since dining at breakfast! Our knees, backs and bums were very thankful indeed.

The bus stopped a few meters from Hotel Gloria so after a short walk we were back “home” and ready for a late afternoon treat. We did not eat lunch however we did have a banana and some trail mix – not bad going for over 5 hours of hiking.

The friendly staff at Gloria welcomed us when we walked through the door and were happy to serve us a nice hot latte and a delightful plum and apple slice. Like all the food here at Gloria, the slice was excellent.

We drank our coffee outside on the balcony overlooking the alps – a nice way to finish our day of outdoor activity here in the Jungfrau area.

When we returned to the room I ran The Princess a warm bubble bath and she happily lowered herself into the deep bathtub. Indeed, as I took some time to update our website, I didn’t hear a sound from her from around 20 minutes. She definitely enjoyed relaxing after the long day of hiking.

When The Princess had had her fill of relaxing I too spent time giving my muscles a treat in the warm water.

We made an 8.00pm reservation in the restaurant for dinner so after our long baths we changed into some non-hiking gear and made our way down for another sumptuous feed. The Princess dined on a beautifully prepared piece of salmon and I rapidly downed a lovely Thai green curry. Despite not having lunch we could not finish the ample meals that Bernhard and his team prepared for us.

Bernhard came out of the kitchen and spent time talking to us about our day and giving us some more tips on other attractions in and around Interlaken. Indeed, tomorrow (our last day here) we will follow Bernhard’s suggestion of taking a paddle steamer trip on the lake and visit an beautiful old hotel that is located near a waterfall. We will let you know how it goes in tomorrow’s blog.

Until tomorrow – Ciao!

Reclining Beauty
Cheese Protector
Minimal Fencing
Mountain Smiles
Winging Above The Eiger
Tread Carefully

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