Jul 15

Germany is the World Champion in football (soccer) - and I don't really care

The last weeks have been packed with football matches on TV. Some really good ones, some crappy ones, some fun ones, some brutal ones. This phase has come to an end on Sunday. The FIFA World Cup came to an end with Germany (my country) playing Argentina in the finals. By now pretty much the whole world should know who won.

Germany won

After a good start into the tournament, some close matches in between, the disastrous beating of Brazil (probably just their view on the match) and the close 1:0 victory over Argentina, Germany went crazy. There was public viewing, and then today there was the public reception of the national team in Berlin. Their flight back from Brazil to the capital arrived in the morning and they flew low over the so called Fan-Fest in Berlin.


Photo credit: Martin Winkler

They then got on a bus and drove to the city to celebrate the title with thousands of fans who were cheering for the team and just having a good time (probably had a beer or two, too).

I don’t care

So while I am kind of happy that Germany won, these reactions made me think that I seem to not care about the world cup at all. I had this feeling during most of the matches, too. Let’s take the Brazil match for example, after the 3rd goal I felt more sorry for Brazil than enthusiastic for our team. The players deserve the deepest respect for this achievement, they won some tough matches and took some serious beatings.

I think I know at least parts of the reasons behind this: I dislike most players in our team for most of the year. And I seem to be unable to like them for international tournaments for a couple of weeks every other year.

Why am I not liking them? Well, mostly because they play for the wrong teams (read: teams I dislike for various reasons but mainly because they are not the VfB Stuttgart) during the regular football seasons (Bundesliga, Premier League, …) that make me dislike them. Don’t get me wrong what the players achieved is a big milestone in their career and for the German football in general. For me though that’s about it. It’s not like I walked around any happier after our team won the World Cup. There’s nothing more (happiness, enthusiasm) I can get out of it, others seem to be much better at this.

Maybe there is another reason, but I am not quite sure how to express it. There are fans that pop up everywhere every two years. These fans do not talk about football for most of the times in between international championships, they don’t care about football in general, but as soon as Germany (don’t know if it’s true for other countries) reaches the main round of a tournament, they go out and buy jerseys, paint their faces, put out flags, put flags on the cars, markers on the car rear mirrors, … This just feels wrong for me. It’s their valid right to do so and I would never ever want to ask someone not to do so, but it feels wrong. For me – as I care about football the whole year – it feels wrong.

Back to business

In a couple of weeks the Bundesliga is going to start. Until then most Germany flags will probably have been put away, the flags on the cars most likely end up broken on the Autobahn and it is back to people being annoyed by the fact that football will be on TV most of the weekend and be shown in pubs and bars. But it is different. This time it’s the local teams that are playing, not national teams and only a few fans remain (when compared to the „fans“ during an international tournament). For me this means going back to disliking most of the players on Germany’s national team because they play for the wrong teams.

Jun 07

Upgrading the Olympus PEN E-PL3 with a prime lense

As mentioned in a post on my new camera from around 2 years ago I am an happy owner of the Olympus PEN E-PL3. While I have constantly been checking out other cameras I still have not made the switch to a different camera. Not sure why I do not want to make the decision on whether to upgrade or not but most of the times I cannot find anything in my current camera setup that I am missing. At least that is the feeling after I purchased my first prime lense around a year ago. This purchase felt like a big change in my setup.

Getting closer to what you capture

When purchasing the camera I wanted to be able to change the lenses and have a couple of nice zoom lenses. I quickly (in about 1 year) realized that that was not what I really wanted. Zooming was fun. Not having to move to get closer was fun. I took some (in my opinion) pretty decent photographs in the first year of owning the camera. Zooming in on a far away object was also kind of staying in distance and apart from what you are actually taking a picture of. I realized that what was most fun to photograph are people and by that I mean situation that were not setup and/or artificial, but just their natural behaviors. In my opinion capturing this moments of happiness/sadness/laughter/tears is pretty interesting.

When you want to capture people from up close it is hard to get them in their natural surrounding because they feel watched and react to the camera . So I wanted an in between solution. A lense that enabled me to get closer to the objects/people I photograph and still kind of stay on a distance not to change their reaction be putting a camera into their face.

Meet the M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8

The 45mm for a micro four thirds camera means an effective focal length of 90mm and makes an ideal solution for portraits. When attached to the body of the E-PL3 you have a nice and handy point-and-shoot like camera that you can just take up, let the autofocus do its magic and take some nice pictures. On the other hand if you want to focus on something in particular you can go back to manually focussing. The f1.8 guarantees a shallow depth of field for blurred backgrounds as can be seen in the pictures below, too:

So far I ‚only‘ own the two kit lenses 14-42mm and 40-150mm alongside the 45mm prime lense. Since I purchased the prime lense I have only used the other lenses on really rare occasions. This prime lense is now my go to lense when in doubt. So far it did not disappoint.

What’s next?

As I mentioned earlier in this post I came to realize that I do not use the zoom lenses that often anymore and that got me thinking of going for a camera like the Fuji X100s which does not come with changeable lenses. On the other hand, Adam Jackson (the guy whose blog post made me curious about the Olympus PEN and MFT cameras) just upgraded to the Olympus E-M1 (with which I could reuse my current lense(s), too).

What is your camera setup?

What is your camera setup like? Do you own several lenses or do you have a go-to lense that you basically use exclusively? I would like to hear from anyone who is interested in sharing her/his experience and look forward to hearing from you! Share you flickr // 500px site.

May 22

BBQing with a gas grill

I have been a long time fan of grilling and making (as in cooking) food outside of the house. Preferably using hot coals, which makes you feel like your ancestors back in the stone age. At least kind of. Last year I changed up my gear and made a move towards a gas grill, the Weber Q 320. For some this might seem like a step back, but for me this was a nice move, this post will describe why I think so.

Switching to a gas grill

So you might be wondering why I am switching to a gas grill when I was previously happy with my charcoal grill. There are two main reasons: Time and smoke. Time mainly because it takes time to get the coals hot enough for grilling, preparing the grill and cleaning out the ashes after grilling. Smoke because (although a lot of people say good coals don’t smoke that much), while lighting the coals in the chimney, they create a good amount of smoke, might just be for ~10 minutes, but that smoke made all of our neighbors move indoor on a nice summer day when you would expect everyone to be outside. Occasionally I still go back to the coal grill but that is mainly for special events when we do want to smoke some ribs and/or a turkey.

With the gas grill things got a lot easier. It’s on the terrace, I go out, turn on the gas light it up, go back inside and wait for a couple of minutes. Once it reaches the desired temperate (which I can monitor from inside) I go back out and put on whatever we had planned for grilling. Once the food is done you turn off the grill, go inside to consume the food. Once done you go back out turn the grill to full heat, wait ten minutes, then go back and scrub the grill surface off with a steel brush (not sure if that’s the correct translation) – and you are done. Once or twice a month you should clean out the grill, replace the dripping pan with a new one and clean the inside a little. Check the manual of the grill before using any liquids or grill cleaners for cleaning! Then you are done. I get that the cleaning argument might not be valid for everyone as they say you can handle your coal grill the same way, I think it’s easier (as in less hassle).

No low temperature smoking (for me yet)

As mentioned above I go back to the charcoal grill when I want to smoke something, but sometimes you just want to make some low & slow meat on the gas grill. It works, definitely. I have made ribs 4 times this year so far, 3 times on the gas grill. Only once on the charcoal with added smoke. The downside is I didn’t get the smoking part in. So while the ribs were awesome and delicious add some smoke flavor to them was nearly impossible on the Q320. There is a so called smoke box that you can use but is mainly made for the flavorizer bars in larger Weber grills. I tried putting the water soaked wood chips on the grate directly but the heat was too low at 125 degrees celcius (around 250 F). The chips just did not want to start giving some smoke. I have read of people adding a hot charcoal to a package of wood chips to get some smoke, but I have not tried that yet. Seems to work for others though.

More BBQ food pictures

Here is collection of what I have grilled on the gas grill (among other things). Still a big fan and kind of amazed by how much you can use the Q for:

Equipment and Resources

When it comes to equipment I rely on the Weber stuff. So I won a small Weber One-Touch Original that is now like 3-4 years old. Still rocking and giving me great results. The other and main grill I am using is the previously mentioned Weber Q320 Gas Grill that is always ready and gets fired up at least once every two weeks. I also own a pretty decent set of accessories for grilling, including a meat thermometer, an injection to get taste into the meat and other several things. The last addition was a present from a Canadian friend who brought a Weber Burger paddy maker. I guess you can just use your hands for making the paddies and they turn out great but it is a nice addition and makes the paddies at least all the same size.

As grilling the same stuff over and over again gets boring I frequently check a couple of resources for new ideas an recipes and techniques for q’ing. I have to say that I probably have never ever made a recipe I found in the same identical way as recommended by the author but haven taken the input and combined with my ideas and executed the way I though it was right. And so far I was not disappointed. Following is a list of resources I am using:

Online resources

Books

As for recipe books I have a vide variety, but only two related to BBQ:

The Weber Grill Bibel (German) which is targeted at all kinds of meats and grilling in general. On the other hand the Barbecue Cross Roads book covers a lot more on the background of BBQ history in the South West of the USA and the history behind a couple of restaurants. It also includes some really nice recipes, though I have only used one or two of them yet.

Questions

Do you have any questions regarding what kind of grill you should get and/or need recipe recommendations for a certain meat/event, let me know and I’ll try to help. Also let me know what kind of grill do you use? Do you have any special recipes that you want to recommend/think I might like and need to try?

May 15

Getting in shape #strafi30 - kind of failure

During the winter months, as one does, my sports activities went down to tennis once a week and not a lot more outdoor activities besides going to work and back. There was a lack of motivation and I just did not feel like going out running all alone. Seems like all that was needed was a kick in the butt: And “strafi30“:http://strafi.de/ was there to do exactly this.

Strafi30

I came to know Strafi30 by a “former coworker“:http://meinlauftagebuch.de. He tweeted about a 30 day challenge to get into your bikini shape. Of course you do not have to take it that seriously, it’s just that 30 days are a basic minimum for a change in your day-to-day life to become a habit. So the goal is to change something within these 30 days and let it become a habit to change your life to the better. Some participants put out goals regarding doing more sports, eating less sweets, stop drinking soft drinks, drink less beer, basically do something good for your health, body and brain. If you are reading this, you are probably reading this on my website (where else?) – Is it a coincidence that this website was made in a sitesprint which was the same length as the #strafi30 now is?

My goal

So there was I – thinking of not doing enough sports anymore and there was #strafi30 – motivating me to go out and move my butt. So that’s what I did. My goal is to make jogging a habit again – I used to go jogging a lot but that was also a couple of years ago. There is a local running event in my hometown on May 17th and I would love to take part in it. They offer 5km, 10km and 21km. I originally aimed for the 10km run but as the deadline was approaching quickly and I only had ~42 days until the event (now it’s even less – surprise!) this goal might shift to the 5km run, though I am still trying to convince my body to get me into the 10km finish!

Since starting with training I have been doing sports at least 3 times a week with this week probably only making it to two practice sessions, but we will see. Workouts consisted of running, tennis and football (as in soccer) – mainly because I need the fun part to stay motivated. So far my motivation for running has increased a little as I was able to get in a couple of morning runs before heading to the office, which I thought would be out of option for me, but here I am in the office, after a morning workout – with sore legs ;).

Besides running I set out the goal to drink more green tea than before, which is not that hard when at work, I kinda forget it at home though and need to improve there.

What happens after the 30 days?

As mentioned earlier the 30 days are meant to make whatever you put out as your goal a habit. So I am hoping for my body to keep telling me that I am able and require to move and feel better when moving is an integral part of the week. I also do not want to overdo it, done that before several times and then stopped running faster than I could ever pick it up again.

So I am still going running alone but I know there are others out there try to break their habits and make a change in their life

Current status May 15th 2014: failure

The run would have been on Saturday. Unfortunately there is now another appointment I have to take for another important event this year. This means I won’t be running in the competition, bummer. This sucks and I feel like I kind of failed. On the other hand, I have worked out more regularly than I have for the last 3 years and I feel a lot more motivation to go running and after running I do not feel that sore anymore. Sounds like it is time to increase the intensity. So while I failed in competing, I am still seeing success in doing more sports more regularly! I am sure I will find another local competition anytime soon.

Sep 06

Using Chef to install mongoDB in a Vagrant box

Lately I have had the pleasure of playing around with a couple of new tools. New for me at least. I like to have a system as clean as possible. At work I have the pleasure of working with different technologies and different development environments and different databases. Installing all major databases and several different versions of it can mess up your system. So I started playing around with Vagrant for the different scenarios. This blog post will get you started with Vagrant as a tool and show what needs to be done (at least what I did) to get up an running with mongoDB in a Vagrant box.

mongoDB

mongoDB is and open-source document database. It is written in C/C++ and stores information in the form of JSON-style documents for you. There are several more features that would go into too much detail and that I (currently) do not require, they are pretty interesting nonetheless: Auto-Sharding, Replication, Map/Reduce etc. We went with mongoDB to give it a spin and get a feeling for its handling of data and getting to use NoSQL features and to get familiar with NoSQL in general.

Vagrant

“Vagrant is a tool for building complete development environments” on your computer, inside a virtual machine. One of the upsides is that you could for example use it to handle a linux virtual machine on your Windows or Mac OS computer. For this Vagrant builds upon VmWare and VirtualBox for the virtualization of the VMs. It has been around for a couple of years now and felt stable in my usage. One could also describe it as a wrapper around VmWare or VirtualBox machine handling.

All there is needed to get started with Vagrant – after installing it on your system (Note: you also need either VmWare or VirtualBox installed) – are just 3 lines on your command line:

$ vagrant box add base http://files.vagrantup.com/lucid32.box
$ vagrant init 
$ vagrant up

This will download and add a base box to your system, the box is supplied by Vagrant. There are several other providers of boxes available. The box I am currently using I got from Opscode: bento on github – which comes with a newer version of Chef pre-installed (at least the older baseboxes). To connect to your new virtual machine just go to the directory of your Vagrantfile and run:

vagrant ssh

Chef

Chef is built to address the hardest infrastructure challenges on the planet. It transforms infrastructure into code. Into Ruby code. In a nutshell: There are recipes that you can use with chef that have the basic instructions ready on how a software (e.g. vim or mongoDB) should be installed. No more manual apt-get install xyz, though you can still do that. You can read here why you should use Chef. Chef is not a must use for Vagrant, you could use Puppet or not use any provisioning tool at all and just do the installation manually.

I use chef in a way that I download the required recipes from opscode and supply them in a directory that I later reference in my Vagrantfile.

My Vagrantfile

The Vagrantfile is the main configuration point for your virtual machine in Vagrant. This is where you tell Vagrant what software to install, which ports to forward, which folders to hook up on the host and guest system. The most important part of my Vagrantfile will be explained here.

  config.vm.box = "opscode-ubuntu-12.04"
  config.vm.box_url = "https://opscode-vm/.../opscode_ubuntu-12.04_chef-11.4.4.box"

This tells Vagrant to use the opscode supplied box as a base vm. To be able to download it on the first vagrant up I need to supply the URL to it, too.

config.vm.network :forwarded_port, guest: 27017, host: 27018

mongoDB by default runs on port 27017. To distinguish from the default port I use port 27018 on my local system, so to connect to it I can use localhost:27018.

  config.vm.provision :chef_solo do |chef|
    chef.cookbooks_path ="../recipes"
    chef.add_recipe "git"
    chef.add_recipe "mongodb::10gen_repo"
    chef.add_recipe "vim"
    chef.add_recipe "curl"
    chef.add_recipe "apt"
    chef.add_recipe "build-essential"
  end

This is the Chef setup. All referenced recipes are located in the folder of the cookbooks_path. Note the mongodb::10gen_repo snippet, this is required to get the latest stable version and not the version that is supplied by the guest system you are using. Depending on the feature of mongoDB you wanna use this can make a big difference. This is all there is to do to get a working virtual machine with mongoDB installed and ready to use. Adjust for your system in case you have to use different ports and or other recipes. After that just run

vagrant up

and get started using mongoDB on a vm of your choice.

Conclusion

As a result of this setup I can stop the Mongo DB box and my system is clean of any references to it. Whenever I want to use a different database I just boot up that VM if required. Another advantage: Once the setup is done and everything is working I could just go ahead and copy my Vagrantfile and the folders in my vagrant directory for a co worker and he could get started right away, or I just copy my box and give it to her.

Sep 05

Florida April 2013

Time is flying. There was no update to this blog since our last trip to Canada. And that was almost exactly one year ago now. A lot has been happening and we traveled quite a bit. The furthest trip this year was to Florida – I will post about the other trips later, this one will focus on Florida.

Why Florida?

Well, why not? I mean, we were aiming for a trip in late April and wanted to be safe when it comes to good weather. Maybe the weather in Canada were it rained at least once every day of our trip was still too much in our mind. But although we have seen lots of the USA before, we have never been to Florida and decided now was the time to go. The weather for April was supposed to be good and it was – except to the day we left Florida when it decided to heavily rain so they even shut down the airport for a couple of hours. But that’s a different story. ;)

The trip

When planning the trip we thought about flying in and out of Miami. After talking to a travel agent though we decided to fly into Orlando and then fly out of Miami on the way back. In that way we could cover more ground with the rental car without having to take too many streets twice. The price was basically the same for both options, so we opted for a late arrival in Orlando.

After spending two days in Orlando where we basically did shopping and a little bit of relaxing – Orlando is otherwise probably mainly famous for its amusement parks, which we skipped – we went off to Cape Canaveral. One has to check out the Kennedy Space Center when in Florida, right? It was impressive to see how big those rockets are and yet how small the capsule the astronauts are actually sitting / laying in during their missions.

Our next stop on the trip was a hotel in Port St. Lucie which is located between the Space Center and Ft. Lauderdale (our next stop). The hotel was pretty nice and fairly cheap. It seemed like a business hotel that offered really good prices on weekends, check the hotels section for more details. After spending a good night in a hotel that offered a pretty nice breakfast as well, we were off to Ft. Lauderdale where we spent two nights. We did a lot of touristy stuff like getting sun burned and checked out a couple of beaches.

There was some rain in Ft. Lauderdale, too, which made it a lot easier for us to leave it behind us and head further south: The Florida Keys. It was a somewhat long drive with a couple of stops in between but the destination was Islamorada where we booked a small Motel as we thought going all the way down to Key West in one go was too far for one day. The keys are just awesome. Even just cruising through them in your car makes you relax and just enjoy the view. The motel we stayed at was OK and Islamorada was nice, though we decided to take the car to cruise around a little more and check out other islands. After one night we headed to the furthest south point in the USA: Key West.

We stayed there for two nights and had a great time. The hotel was awesome, Key West is plain and simple beautiful. Hanging out in a bar watching the sunset with a ton of other tourists, renting bikes to cruise to not so crowded beaches to get a second round of sun burns – and good food. What else could one ask for? We spent two nights there and then headed back north. We drove all the way back to Miami where we had booked a hotel a little outside of the main area to save a little money and decided to take this as our basis for the trip to the Everglades.

If you want to see alligators, the Everglades are the place to go. There is an alligator farm which is, well, touristy and packed with alligators. I wouldn’t think it is in the alligators’ best interests to live there but once they get used to it you do not want them back out in the wild. It’s kind of interesting, but I would not highly recommend it. The best part is the Everglades National Park. Spotting alligators in the wild is a whole different story than seeing some in a farm. There are some other really impressive animals there as well that I have not seen or known of before.

The Everglades were well worth the day trip. After one more night outside of the main Miami area we headed to our last hotel of the trip in South Beach! South Beach is full of people, young and old that just want to have fun. We were lucky enough to be there on a Saturday night (that luck was actually planned) to see other show off on Ocean Drive. Bar and club hopping and just watching people walk by can make for a fun Saturday night. We spent the last 3 nights of hour trips there and really enjoyed it. That was our trip in short. For more details see the following sections.

The Hotels

  • Orlando: Hilton Grand Vacation Club at Sea World – it was our first time in Orlando and there is not much to see/do besides shopping and amusement parks. As we are not big fans of the big parks, we spent most of our time their shopping and dining and just cruising around. A walk through Downtown Disney is interesting and seeing all the toys and movie themes brings back memories.
  • Port St. Lucie: Homewood Suites by Hilton Port St. Lucie – This hotel is highly recommended. Awesome rooms, pretty big, I think it was the cheapest hotel on our whole trip and it included an awesome breakfast. If you are in the area it is well worth checking out.
  • Ft. Lauderdale: Hyatt Regency Pier 66 – Not recommended. Old, dirty, only plus point: location.
  • Islamorada: Drop Anchor Resort and Marina Islamorada – Motel at the street to Key West, was clean, nice owners, kind of loud at night due to traffic. It was OK for one night.
  • Key West: Silver Palms Inn – Awesome Hotel in Key West, not directly located at a beach, but come on, it’s Key West, everything is in biking distance. Hotel offers bike rental. Pretty nice rooms, breakfast was OK.
  • Miami Doral: Hyatt Miami at The Blue Doral – Again Hyatt and again not that happy. Room was large, but not very clean.
  • South Beach: Nassau Hotel Miami Beach – Was a recommendation, location pretty good, around 5 minutes walk to the beach and bars. Not very clean and old. Could use a renovation.

Recommendations

During this trip we made excessive use of the Google Offline Maps where you can download a pretty big area to your phone on Wifi so you don’t need a data plan while on the road. OK OK, we could have rented a car with GPS, but we didn’t, so we used our phones to get around. Bonus point: you can use it while walking, too. As we have done previously we rented our car from Alamo and were again really happy with the car and how everything was handled.

Oct 15

Canada: Calgary

After spending the last two weeks on the road in Canada – going from Vancouver to Mount Robson to Banff – we reached our last step of out trip: Calgary, Alberta. This is the last post on our Canada trip, I am looking forward to hearing from you and your experiences, if you did anything similar.

Olympic park

We were lucky to be able to stay with family in Calgary (Thank you!), so no review/recommendation for a hotel in Calgary from us. We stayed really close to the Canada Olympic Park (COP) and had a great view on Downtown Calgary from there. Calgary is a pretty young city when you compare it to European cities. It grew due to a lot of oil around it. I am kind of curious what will happen when the oil is running low.


Downtown Calgary

The view and the landscape around Calgary is just fabulous. On a not foggy day you can see the Rocky Mountains. Of the 5 days we spent in Calgary there was one rainy/foggy day. Guess which day we picked to go Downtown and visit the Calgary Tower! Yes, the rainy one. It was still impressive. They have a glass floor which really feels wrong to step on and although it was raining you were able to see a good amount of interesting things around the tower.




Due to the rain we were really happy about the mall structure they have in Calgary. There is a what I would call maze of different malls inside other buildings with corridors spanning between different buildings which made the shopping in Calgary a unique experience. Make sure you plan some time to check this out when you are in or around Calgary.

Saying goodbye to Canada

The last 3.5 weeks have been one great experience. It was first time camping for us. It was the first time in Canada. Definately not the last on both points. Camping gives you a certain amount of flexibility and the chance to stay at different places every night. You could do that with hotels as well, but with camping you can go places that are not too over crowded and see parts of the nature that stayed untouched by humans so far.

Everyone in Canada we talked to was really nice and tried to make us feel welcome in their country. And we will definately come back. So if you are looking for a recommendation if you should / should not go to Canada (especially the western part), do it! You will not be disappointed not matter what you are looking for. Be it action and sports, or nature and silence, or a mix of both!

Aug 12

Canada: Jasper and Banff National Parks

This is part 3 of 4 of our trip through western Canada (see part 1: Vancouver and Vancouver Island and part 2: Sea to Mount Robson for the first two parts). So far our trip has been a blast. Though we had some bad luck with the weather and lots of rain, the landscape was incredible.

The last part of our camping trip takes us to the next province of Canada: Alberta. There we went to Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff.

Heading to Alberta

Starting from Mount Robson we were off to our new destination – Alberta. Alberta is the size of Germany but only X Mio people live there. Entering the Jasper National Park. So far we have only camped in provincial parks but now we were about to enter a National Park. There is a booth right after you cross the border where you have to buy your Park ticket (telling them how long you are going to stay there or if you are just transitting through). For us it meant 5 days in the park – the ticket included the Jasper, Yoho and Banff National Parks. At first we were kinda shocked by the price: ~ CAD 100, but well, there was no way of not paying and getting into the Park (I am sure people have done this before, but not us).

We soon realized that the landscape – domintaed by the Rocky Mountains – is a lot different than what we have seen before. And it was impressive. But see for yourself:



Camping in a National Park

There is a slight difference between the Provincial Campgrounds in BC and the campgrounds in the National Parks: the size. The first campground we went to was almost full and there were only a few spots left without electricity. As we had our batteries fully charged before we did not need that the first night, but already made reservations for a campground with electricity for the second night. You also have to buy a so called fire permit if you want to have a camp fire, as for the campgrounds we went to, that permit (~ CAD 8) included wood for your fire. So it was about the same as in the Provincial Parks where they would sell you firewood for the same price.

Alberta is for tourists

After arriving in the Rocky Mountains there was a lot more traffic with tourist busses and other RVs. And by “a lot” I mean “A LOT”. In BC we would not come accross other people / cars for 100-200 kilometres. That was the total opposite for Alberta, there were people everywhere. I could imagine that these places are really packed in July/August when the main season hits its peak. For us it was still OK, though we had to leave out a few view points and waterfalls because the parking was full and with the huge RV that we were having there was no chance of getting a parking spot anytime soon. So instead of waiting we headed to the next viewpoints which usually were not too far away.

The Icefield Parkway

This was again one of the most famous routes one could drive. Closed in the Winter because of snow, open for us in the summer ;-). When heading towards the Icefield Parkway we were hoping for better weather than what we had when we were taking the Sea-to-Sky-Highway (there it was only clouds and rain).





Lake Louise to Banff

After spending 2 nights in Lake Louise and traveling to the Yoho National Park, we left for Banff early in the morning. Our goal was to get to the campground, make reservations for the night, go check out Banff and its surroundings and then meet family in Banff. Two kids were going to spend the night with us in the RV which was an adventure for them – and for us ;-).




You have two options to travel from Lake Louise to Banff, we decided to take the Eastern route, which is a little longer and slower (look for the Bow Valley Parkway), but you get to see more.

Rain to finish our RV adventure

Two weeks went by fast and we had to return our RV before noon so it was an early start for the last part of our camping trip. And guess what, it was raining all the way until we reached Calgary. We dropped of the kids and left for taking the RV to the renting company. It was not too far but we had to go through Downtown Calgary which was packed with cars and constructions. Imagine a large RV going through a narrow construction zone. I am glad this was the last part of our trip and I was familiar with the dimensions of the vehicle. We returned the RV without any accidents / scratches or something broken.

I was kind of sad when we had to hand the keys in. It was a fun trip. But, it was already over. We were tired and really happy to get into a real and privat shower and were really looking forward to sleep in a real bed under a roof. Sounds weird, but it does make a difference.

Jul 30

Canada: Sea to Mount Robson

This is the second part of our journey through Canada. After a couple of nice days in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island it was time to head back to the main land. Our route took us from the ferry terminal to Whistler on the Sea-to-Sky highway, passing a few small villages until we got to Pemberton where we spent the night.

Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay (the ferry)

On Vancouver Island we spent the majority of our time on camp grounds without full hook up, which means that we did not have external electricity connected to the RV. Without external hook ups to electricity you can not charge your devices using the plugs that a available. As we were taking a lot of pictures the two batteries I brought for the trip werde both running low (actually one was empty and the second one at like 5% remaining power). As we expected to take one of the more beautiful drives in the world (Sea-to-Sky highway) we needed to recharge. Lucky us, the ferries offer terminals (originally made for business/work desks) that we used to recharge during the 90 minutes ferry trip.

Due to a little (translate to a lot) rain and clouds we did not see anything apart from the street we were driving on on the Sea-To-Sky Highway. Which was a pitty. Same was true for Whistler, there was so much rain and clouds we did not see the mountains. Taking a gondola to the top of the mountain did not make any sense for us as there were clouds everywhere, so we skipped that, too. So we just kept going and were hoping to escape the rain and clouds. When we reached the Nairn Falls provincial park we called it a day and stayed there for the rest of the day and night:

Next stop Okanagan Lake

The next day we started our journey to the Okanagan Lake area. Our route took us through Lillooet and Merrit to Kelowna. On the way there was not a lot to see. Locals told ust that the rivers going through the area a around 8 meters higher than usual which was due to lots of rain (we knew that ;-)) and melting ice and snow from the mountains. We did not go through Hope which was part of the movie Rambo: First Blood in 1982. The Okanagan area felt like 10 degrees celcius warmer than where we came from and we spent the night at the Okanagan Lake North campground.


As the are was nice, there was not too much rain and we had some time, we decided to stay in the area for another day. Although the campground was nice we decided to spend the night in a different campground. Checking the BC parks campground maps we found one in Salmon Arms, right at a lake that sounded pretty nice.

Of course while driving there the weather changed just a little bit and it started raining, not as much as the days before on the Sea-To-Sky Highway. As we checked into the campground we met a German park keeper who went to live in Canada some 20 years ago. His job is park guide in the summer and ski guide in the winter. Sounds like a not so bad job to me.

The next stop was still kinda close to the Okanagan area. We stayed at the Juniper Beach campground which is close to the Thomson River. There is full hook-up at not too high costs compared to other campgrounds. The river was really high and got close to the campground. Not in a dangerous way though. Something that we realized that night is that there are a lot of campgrounds that are close to railways. And at night, you can hear them. Most of the time it was not a problem for us as we were tired enough not to hear anything ;-).


Waterfalls and mountains

Sooner or later we had to move on and get closer to the mountains and Alberta. On the way there we stopped at the Clearwater lake. Unfortunately for us, it was too cold at every lake that we saw/stopped at for us to go swimming. The Clearwater lake was in the middle of the Wells Gray Provincial Park which meant taking a dirt road for 30 km which was muddy and slippery. It was well worth it as we saw some amazing waterfalls and interesting wildlife.


As there was only one street into the Provincial Park we had to take the same route out. It was not raining that hard anymore and we got used to the missing pavement so the way back felt shorter and smoother.

After the Well’s Gray Park we were headed towards Mt. Robson. There we went for a short hike and in the middle of the forrest on some rocky path we met someone jogging – barefoot. No shoes. That guy still has my depest respect, it was not an easy path and I had trouble on some parts with my hiking shoes on. There are two campgrounds at Mt. Robson, both are kinda big and parts of our campground were closed because they were not even close to being fully booked. This was our last stop in British Columbia and we would spend the next night in Alberta – in the Rocky Mountains!


We enjoyed British Columbia

In retrospect British Columbia was a nice area to stay at. The campgrounds were really quiet and we rarely saw any people. We had to get used to this at first but I think we enjoyed it as all the other places we have been to yet were always kinda crowded. So if you are in Canada and happen to be in British Columbia, make sure you rent an RV and check out places outside of cities. Also do not only stay in your RV, get out and hike around to see more/other sights that are not reachable by car! It has a great nature. Be careful with on the trails and stay on the trails as well. Watch for wildlife and respect it, give wildlife enough room to breathe and stay out of their life as much as possible.

Jul 02

Canada: Vancouver and Vancouver island

Wow, what a trip. That’s a summary of the last 2.5 weeks. This is part 1 of a four part series of our camping trip through western Canada. Part 1 will cover Vancouver and Vancouver Island. How the rest of the series will be split up is not yet decided, so stay tuned for updates. As pictures say more than words I will post some of the more interesting pictures we took and focus less on written words.

Frankfurt to Vancouver

Our trip started in Frankfurt on Thursday the 9th of June 2012. British Airways was our carrier for our flight to Vancouver with a short stop in London. I was surprised by how well the flight went and also kinda surprised by the service and on-board entertainment on our flight. Big plus point was definately the possibility to use ones own headphones (noise cancelling) as opposed to the crappy ones you get by the airlines (at least in economy class). That made it actually possible to watch a movie AND understand what they actors were saying.

Vancouver

Upon arrival in Vancouver we went straight to the hotel and used the public transportation system to get downtown. The first impression of the city was a little bit disappointing, but that might also be due to the weather that was welcoming us (rain). We did most of the ’standard’ tourist attractions but unfortunately missed out on the Stanley Park which is a pity.




Whenever you make it to Vancouver, try doing the lookout, that is definately a big must. The steam clock, well, watching a video of it on YouTube and you know what it is, I would not call it really impressive. Vancouver also has one of my favorite places to eat chicken: Nando’s

Saturday morning we got picked up around 9am by the rental company at our hotel and were taken to their offics to take over the RV. That would be our next home for the next 14 nights. We were kind of surprised by its size. Well, we knew it would be big, but actually seeing it was surprising at least. It also did come with sime extras that we were not aware of: Navigation system, clinch hookup (if I only brought cables for that), USB port (sigh, no micro USB to charge my phone with me) and a slide out that increases the size of the interior by quite a bit. We were pretty happy with the RV though it looked kinda used inside after just 33k kilometres.

As soon as we got the keys (took around 1-2 hours including paper work and demo of how things are working) we hit the road. It felt kinda weird at first but one gets used to the size pretty quickly. And hey, there is plenty of room on most streets in Canada.

Vancouver Island

To get to Vancouver Island you need to take a ferry (takes approx. 90 minutes but with a great view on a couple of islands). Well, that could be fun with a 3.5 metres high and around 8 metres long vehicle for the first time. But it turned out to be no problem at all. The ferry is kinda expensive though (~100 CAD each way). There are waiting terminals at the ferry stations which offer free wireless internet that you will also find on the ferries themselves. Big nerd plus point for that.




One of our highlights of the island was the drive from Parksville to Tofino which takes you through skme really cool landscapes, you pass giant trees and see so many things allmg the way that just the drkve theere was a highlight for us.

Wie took the ferry from Tsawassen to Swartz Bay/Victoria to get to the island and went for the Departure Bay/Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay ferry on our way back.

Dos and don’ts

If you are renting a RV make sure you rent an axe from the vehicle supplier. You can buy burning wood at every park/campground but those giant blocks of wood can be hard to get burning. I also think the water plane (actually called float planes I guess) airport in Vancouver was really nice to watch for a while if you are interested in these kinds of things. It is one of the largest water airports of the world.

As a don’t for camping here, before going to one of the private campgrounds, check the provincial parks (at least in British Columbia), we found some really good ones that were a lot cheaper than private ones and even nicer, more beautiful and closer to the nature than private ones. We actually only spent one of our 14 nights on a private campground and regret it. There are also some provincial parks which offer full hook up at lower rates as the private ones. Think about if you really need anything that a private campground would offer and if not, support the BC parks and go to a provincial park for camping.

Summary

We wish we would have had one more day in Vancouv to check out Stanley Park. But with only 2 nights in town we did not have enough time for that. Vancouver Island was fascinating and one could spend at least a week there tk discover it and then hike, bike, surf, whale watch, or do some other outdoor activity while there. We had 3 nights on the island and think that for a first impression (and only the southern part of the island) that was enough.