Weekend Wanderings: Mont Saint Michel

When talking about Mont Saint Michel, we are talking about one of the most visited tourist attractions in France. The island commune with its strategic position just at the border of the Normandy and the Bretagne originally served as castle to defend Normans against Bretons, later on to defend the French against the English. Today, the abbey and medieval city of Mont Saint Michel are on the list of UNSECO world heritage.

mont saint michel horses

Visiting Mont Saint Michel with style! Since the parking places are a few kilometres away from the island, you can alternatively walk, bike or take a shuttle bus. A long bridge will lead you to the island, which is located just a few hundred metres off the French coast.

mont saint michel cathedral

A mass is held each day (except Monday) in the abbey of Mont Saint Michel, which crowns the islet and makes it twice as high. Due to its special location, history and look, Mont Saint Michel was inscribed into the UNESCO world heritage list in 1979.

mont saint michel hall

Mont St Michel is built on 3 levels due to the steep slope of the mount. In the Great Halls under the abbey, monks used to study and host members of the royal family. Did you know that there are still monks living in Mont Saint Michel?

Mont Saint Michel

Mont Saint Michel’s main alley is a bustling tourist trap. Most products offered there can be found way cheaper in other Brittany towns, but of course you can’t say you bought them IN Mont Saint Michel. Originally, the series of stairways, alleyways, courtyards and paths were built due to the need to feed and house the pilgrims visiting the site since the middle age.

mont saint michel

The quicksand and tides surrounding Mont Saint Michel form a natural defence; the tides can reach speeds of 10 km/h and can rise and fall up to 13m (highest tide in Europe). During the low tide you can book a guided walk around Mont Saint Michel — I definitely need to come back for that!

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Dangerous Winter Wonderland

Before blogging about the first signs of spring I would like to share some winter photos with you that I took in Germany last year. They depict a weather phenomenon, which is both beautiful and dangerous at once.

Fichtelberg ski lift Germany

Frozen ski lift on the Fichtelberg, the highest peak of the German Erzgebirge

In December, Saxony’s low mountain range (Erzgebirge, East Germany) was wrapped into thick fog layers lasting for weeks. The high air humidity coming along with the fog covered the region’s trees with hoar frost, which built up to a 30 to 40 cm thick ice crust. Needless to say that trees snapped off like matches under the heavy weight.

To avoid accidents, local public services decided to impose a ban to enter the forest above 800 metres. Streets were blocked for days and ski lifts had to shut down when some tree branches threatened to fall on the ropes.

Once streets reopened, we wanted to have a closer look at this newly created winter wonderland and went on a day trip to the highest point of the German Erzgebirge, the Fichtelberg (1,215 m), which looked as stunning as I had never seen it before. Me and my camera(s) got all excited; I could have easily spent the day looking at the most bizarre ice formations, but the cold…the severe cold…

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Photo Essay: Queensland, Australia

As we travelled from Cairns to Brisbane (North to South) we discovered that Queensland is much more than sunny beaches, surfers and adventure parks. There are also endless stretches of straight boring roads, millions of acres of sugar cane and in between — these treasures…

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Witnessing Australian Bushfires

bushfires in kakadu, australia

Bushfires in Kakadu NP as seen from the plane towards Cairns

Remember when I explained why Australian bushfires can be good — not talking about wild fires of course? I witnessed burning bush and grass in the Darwin region (Northern Territory) on 5 out of 6 days last July (cool season).

Even though prescribed burnings are considered “low intensity” it felt odd to drive through forest areas burning till the border of the street. The following photos are taken out of the car while passing fires in Kakadu National Park.

1. Approaching a managed fire area by car. Park Rangers scout the park for high growing plants, then throw in a few matches to avoid that too much fuel is building up. This shall prevent the region from struggling with high intensity fires, which would be much harder to control.

bushfire australia northern territory

2. Most of the bushfires I have seen around Darwin were smouldering, producing lots of smoke only. However, I did come across fires with high flames as well, and despite of my distance I clearly heard it crackling and sizzling. Controlled fires usually extinguish on their own during the colder morning hours.

bushfire australia northern territory

3. The sun through a thick smoke cloud. Since Park Rangers only burn small patches here and there, animals like birds and kangaroos can easily change location. For mice, lizards and other small ground animals however, fires are a real threat. They have to leave their ground holes and escape the heat while hawks are circling above them, watching out for food (yes, the black dots on the photo below are hawks — click on the image to see it in big). They learned fast that fires mean feast time for them.

northern territory bushfire

Bushfire between Kakadu NP and Litchfield NP

4. Passing a part of the forest which had been recently burned and now starts to recover. The ashes act like fertilizer for fireproof seedlings.

bushfire australia northern territory

A few months after, nature recovered, new plants grow wildly and the whole cylce restarts.

What do you think of fire management?

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Photo Essay: Northern Territory, Australia

How could I ever squeeze the words “freezing”, “dry”, “red”, “traditional”, “heat”, “crocodile”, “billabong”, “blue” and “bushfire” into one photo essay description without writing a novel? You’re right, I can’t. So let me just briefly discuss some weather phenomenons of the Northern Territory, which create a huge natural variety and diversity on the 1,800 kilometres between Australia’s tropical North and the continent’s arid centre.

During our first week in the Red Centre — around Alice Springs — we didn’t see a single cloud. Unfortunately, that clear blue sky over the desert didn’t offer much protection when temperatures dropped from comfortable 20°C over the day to uncomfortable 0°C at night. Camping fun!

That said, taking the plane to Darwin to spend our second week in the Northern Territory’s tropical North sounded like the greatest thing since sliced bread. Due to the wet season, when tropical cyclones and monsoons reign the northern top end, the Darwin region gets 9 times more rain each year than the central desert. While it didn’t rain during our stay (July = dry season), we got to see some clouds up north; and we were finally back to comfortable camping temperatures at night.

Let’s have a look at how these weather differences influence(d) the land, nature and animals of the Northern Territory.

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Photo Essay: Tongariro, Middle-earth

Are you as excited about the latest The Hobbit trailer as I am? Five weeks from today I will sit in one of those wide and comfy cinema armchairs, glued to the screen, absorbing Peter Jackson’s latest visual tricks like a sponge, while marvelling at the Trilogy’s sceneries.

mt ngauruhoe new zealand tongariro mt. doom

Mt. Ngauruhoe aka Mt. Doom, in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

Best thing about it: I have been there! Most outdoor scenes have been filmed in New Zealand, just like most scenes for The Lord of the Rings. New Zealand is officially Middle-earth; and Mt. Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park is the most popular location among orcs fans, as they can attempt to climb “Mt. Doom” and conquer Mordor.

One does not simply walk into Mordor? Oh well, I must have gotten lucky the last 6 times I visited. Yes — visited. I looked and behaved like a tourist in Mordor, and of course I captured it on film (in the form of a 16 GB memory card).

On a foggy day, the region is indeed all about doom and gloom (like in the movies). But on all other days, Tongariro is one surprisingly colourful place to discover. I have been lucky enough to visit the region during all 4 seasons. Each season is unique and totally worth it. But let’s allow some photos to talk for themselves.

Who else is looking forward to rediscover New Zealand in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies?

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From One Extreme To Another: Four Ends Of New Zealand

In New Zealand, “From Cape Reinga to The Bluff” is a frequently used phrase to describe a trip from the country’s northernmost point to the country’s southernmost point. It’s a bit incorrect though.

While Cape Reinga is the northernmost point you can reach on State Highway 1 (SH1), and Bluff is the southernmost point you can reach on SH1, both locations are, from a geographical point of view, no extreme points of New Zealand (points that lie farther north or south than any other location in the country).

Therefore, I’d like to show you how the northern and southern extreme points of New Zealand’s two biggest islands look like. Please expect a few surprising differences given that the length of New Zealand — measured as a gentle curve from the northern tip of the North Island to the southern tip of the South Island — is around 1,500 km. (I’m sorry that I have to turn a blind eye on Stewart Island here; I sadly never made it there. Wrong! Never say never!).

Join me on my photo series from the North Island’s northern tip — the North Cape — to the North Island’s Southern tip — Cape Palliser, before we continue on the South Island’s Northern tip — Cape Farewell — heading all the way down to the South Island’s Southern tip — Slope Point.

Make sure to click on the photos for detailed captions and insights.

1. N/N: North Cape

2. N/S: Cape Palliser

3. S/N: Cape Farewell

 4. S/S: Slope Point

Have you been to one or several extreme points of New Zealand yet (N-S-E-W)? Which one is your favorite?

Since the South Island’s extreme points in the West and East are hard to reach, I would be very interested to see your photos and hear your story of the West Cape in Fiordland (westernmost point) or the West Head in the Marlborough Sounds (which is, despite its name, the easternmost point).

Now let me end today’s post with one of my photos from another beautiful extreme: The North Island’s easternmost point — the East Cape. This is where I have witnessed the last sunrise of the year 2012 (December 31) as one of the first persons in the world (a stone’s throw from the international date line).

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