"It's been a wet Summer in Austria," our host said. And she was right. We expected clear skies here in Reith bei Seefeld but it was not to be. We woke up to rain. Even the mountains in front of our terrace were covered with clouds and mist.
Still, we thought, we should see the Austrian Alps somehow. That's what we came for. So we drove to nearby Bergbahnen Rosshütte and took a cable car up.
The ride up to the summit was fun. It took two different cable cars, the first to the middle station, then a second one to the top. In winter, you would also be taking ski lifts to ski down the slopes but this was still the summer season and most folks came to hike.
The rain was not as heavy anymore and it was too beautiful to not try walking down the mountain. I learned quickly that I was no longer that young strapping soldier in National Service. Good thing I wasn't carrying a full pack and weapon on this hike.
Not a bad way to end a nice day, I think.
It is 9.30pm here in Austria and I just finished watching the Apple Event where the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, Apple Pay and Apple Watch was launched. It is one of the benefits of being in an Apple-Event-friendly timezone.
But I can't say I "watched' because I TRIED to watch the livestream, only to be annoyed by a simulcast audio of a Chinese translator talking during the stream (which you could not turn off) and more importantly, the livestream hanged on my iPad Air's Safari.
I mean, who was running the livestream? Interns?
In the end, I had to read Engadget's live blog.
Dear Apple, if your ability to keep my Apple Pay wallet safe is as good as your livestream for this event, I'll stick to my analogue wallet.
Anyway, this Apple Pay thing is US-only. By the time we get it here in Singapore, we will call it 超级Pay.
Tim Cook tells us that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will have equal to or better battery life than iPhone 5S. Er, that's not a high bar to beat, sir.
What else will we get?
Phase Detect AF and OIS? Nice. Thinner than the iPhone 5S? Awesome. Some kind of super strong glass in front? Yay.
Heavier than the iPhone 5S by 70g? What are you doing, Apple?!
With the 4.7 inch and 5.5 inch screens now a reality, Apple users will no longer be beat up by Android users and have sand kicked in our faces. We will just have sand kicked in our faces.
Anyway, I was more interested in the One More Thing. So much so that when Tim Cook said "One more thing", my livestream went offline again. Much swearing ensued.
The Apple Watch questions swirled in my head. Will it be able to make phone calls with its own SIM? Will it come in Rollex Gold? (Towkays, Ah Bengs and China need to know!) Will it be able to monitor my favorite sporting activity, Sitting Around Doing Nothing?
The answers are: No, it needs an accompanying iPhone (because Tim Cook says they were made to work together blah blah blah). Yes, kind of, there is an 18K gold version called the Apple Watch Edition. And finally, No, there is no iNuah app out yet.
The Apple Watch will sell for $349. That's in US dollars. For that money, the Apple Watch had better let me remote tazer the guy who steals my iPhone.
I am a little annoyed. I mean, come one, Apple. Even Samsung Gear S can hold a nano-sim and make calls without a phone connected to it. See? You made me use the S word.
I may be sticking to my first-gen Apple Watch for a while. This is my iPod nano with LunaTik straps. It isn't waterproof and doesn't make Apple Pay payments, but it has a headphone jack.
And before I forget, let us have a moment of silence for iPhone 5S cases as they are sacrificed on the altar of obsolescence for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus cases.
Now to decide on the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. Big or bigger? Decisions, decisions.
Here's a shot of the bedroom and the bathroom. We booked it via Airbnb, totally on a whim.
When we were in Salzburg, we didn't even know where we were going next. We just looked at the map and said, hey, this place looks nice. And here we are in Reith bei Seefeld.
From Reith, we can go up to the mountains via the cable car at Seefeld, the next town. We also visited Innsbruck, a larger, more touristy city.
One of the pleasures of traveling free and easy is you can choose to cook and dine in, instead of eating out.
We have been buying stuff from the supermarket to eat for lunch, like a €1.20 sandwich here and a €2 chicken drumstick there. Beats eating at expensive restaurants or fast food joints. This is me with our supermarket lunch at Seefeld.
As it was with our Turkey trip, we sometimes cook full meals if we think the place we are staying in has adequate cooking facilities. It saves money and you eat better.
At the SPAR supermarket, we shopped for two breakfasts and two dinners.
When Ryan saw the ribeye in the supermarket chiller, he couldn't resist and grabbed some. I asked him, "You bought steaks? You know how to cook ah? I like medium leh."
He replied: "Medium size ah? I only know Well Done and Not Done."
Yes, I told him, and after Well Done, there is Good Job.
It is Sunday in Salzburg. Almost all shops are closed. We hunt for a 3G data card desperately.
After a wondering around the Salzburg HBF train station area, we find a €15 for 5GB Yooopi SIM card in a tiny hole-in-the-wall internet LAN shop run by a young Bangladeshi man.
He cuts the SIM, puts it Into my iPhone and activates the data plan. I turn off the SIM pin lock via the phone, and put the SIM into my MIFI router. Voila, shared wifi for the Ryan and me.
The things we do for our mobile internet.
Anyways, this is how you get to see these photos I took at the top of Untersberg mountain, shortly after I got off the cable car. Got to have that internet, man.
We bought a €26 Salzburg Card that covers many attractions, public transport and the cable car ride too. This one lasted 24 hours. There are longer periods you can buy. The cable car ride alone is already €21 so the Card is quite worth it if you use it for the cable car ride and one other attraction, like the Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountains.
I am so happy I brought my Tom Bihn Synapse 19 backpack. It has been a real trooper of a day pack. Inside I usually have my camera with three lenses, an Ultralight Down Jacket, Polar Buff scarf and assorted cables and portable battery pack.
The MacBook Pro and iPad Air are usually back in the room, inside the Western Flyer, my carry-on where my clothes and toiletries are.
The hike, after we reached the top of the mountain by cable car, took us more than an hour. There were nearer spots but we decided to hike a little higher, a little further.
We overestimated ourselves. Chuan, can?
I ended up lying down like the guy above when I reached the summit. I laid down for a long long time.
I could not resist singing The Hills Are Alive on the top of this Salzburg mountain. Hey, The Sound of Music is a personal fave.
We are staying at Barbra's place in Salzburg. We found it via Airbnb. She rents out the rooms in her house and the one we have is her best, at the top floor with our own toilet and bathroom. There is a small breakfast setup in the room and I was happy to park my can of Czech Pilsner Urquell in the mini fridge for drinking later.
It even has a nice balcony with a great view, where I plan to drink my one lonely can of beer tonight, in the cool of the Austrian night.
We are finally in Prague after a long drive from Berlin. The road here was fairly smooth except for two hiccups: the terrible jam in downtown Prague, and the traffic ticket from Czech traffic police near the border. We didn't know there was a 80km/h stretch at the tunnel after the border (and it was a common speed trap) and were traveling at the usual highway speeds (in fact way below the highway speed) so we got our first ever fine in our history of road trips.
CZR2000, said the cop, and they take credit cards. We panicked for a bit because 2000 sounded like a lot of money and after a quick check on the iPhone, we realized it was about S$117. Ah well.
We are staying at fashion designer Lucie's place, a lovely apartment we found via Airbnb. It is about five to eight minutes by tram to the city, or fifteen minutes walk.
Her apartment overlooks greenery and you can even see a bit of Prague downtown from the roof terrace. Yes, we have a roof terrace with a gorgeous view.
Ryan and I wondered around the Anděl area and got our 3G sim card from the mall, as well as withdrew some Czech money from the ATM (we only had Sing dollar and Euros on us). Armed with internet and money, we felt braver and relieved.
We wondered through the little market outside the mall, and were tempted by the flowers, homemade jams and wines. But how to carry back?
We decided to get some dinner and for some bizarre reason, we ended up having Mexican food. Burritos and quesadillas in the heart of Prague. Hey, it tasted good, ok?
While we were waiting for our tram, some drunk guy asked for spare change and I absentmindedly gave him a 50 Czech Koruna coin. Turns out it's S$3. Ouch.
Back to our rooftop terrace with the view!
I am here in Berlin to cover the Samsung Unpacked event, and they have unveiled a bunch of new devices, mostly centred around the new Note 4.
The Note 4 sports a 5.7-inch Quad HD (2560x1440) Super Amoled display and comes in four colours, White, Black, Gold and Pink (they used fancier names but I can’t remember them off hand lah, simi Frost White or something).
The build quality looks better than the previous Notes, less plasticky. The front camera is 3.7 megapixels and the rear is 16 megapixels, which is fairly standard but the 3.7MP front camera aperture is now F1.9 for better low light use. They also added Smart OIS to the 16MP back camera to take away the shakes, and you can now do Wide Selfies with the front camera, a kind of panorama mode that stitches three portrait mode shots with the front camera together giving you a 120º field of view.
Also added to the Note 4, better multitasking, fast charging (you can get a 50% charge within 30 minutes) and also the Ultra Power Saving Mode inherited from the Galaxy S5.
With three microphones built in (yes, three), the Note 4 has improved ambient noise suppression, and if you use the Meeting mode to record a bunch of people talking around the Note 4, you can isolate up to 8 voices in a 360º circle.
Samsung says the Note 4 is meant to simulate pen on paper and the touch screen now has double the press sensitivity, so the touch and feel is improved and you get more elaborate brushes, like this fountain pen mode I used.
Also new is the Galaxy Gear VR goggles. It currently works with the Note 4 only, and you snap a Note 4 on the front and wear the VR to get a 3D experience to watch movies and play games.
I liked the 3D content I watched but I wonder how much content is going to be available for this gadget at launch. The circus video was in 3D and by turning my head I can see different views of a performance. Look up and see the trapeze artists, look right and see the clowns, turn 180º and see the seats in the theatre. It was pretty surreal.
I think most of us enjoyed the gaming part most. By turning your head to aim and tapping the touch pad at the side to fire, you can play games with the Galaxy Gear VR in 3D. You have to take off your glasses to use the Galaxy Gear VR but there is a built-in diopter to adjust the lens inside till we shortsighted fellows can see clearly.
The new Samsung Gear S watch looks way better than the previous ones. Now with Bluetooth, Wifi and 3G built-in, you can use a nano sim and operate the watch without being connected to a smartphone. The screen is a 2-inch curved Super Amoled display, and there are more apps now, supporting the Gear S. Straps are interchangeable.
And finally, the Galaxy Note Edge, which was quite cool to me. It is essentially the Note 4 with an additional curved screen on the edge.
You can park different menus and info along that edge, like the camera controls in the camera mode so the whole screen can be used for composition. Or watch a movie and if an SMS comes in, it just scrolls across the edge screen instead of interrupting your movie on the main screen itself.
You can even use the edge screen as a night clock (it involved rubbing the edge screen while the main screen is off, which I felt a little strange doing).
I think if you gave me a choice between the Note 4 and Note Edge, I would pick the Edge. That edge screen thing is pretty cool.
I am off to get more food now. I am surrounded by sausages and meats here in Germany. And for some reason, wasps.
Our driver told us, with a totally deadpan face, that it was the end of the wasp season, and they die off by the dozens during this time. And they tend to get a little crazy before they die. I am like lolwut?! Loco wasps?!
After a mad run at Frankfurt airport to catch our connecting flight to Berlin, we are finally here.
It makes me glad I packed light. I got a really good workout running through Frankfurt airport. Most of the delay was at the customs inspection lines. Also, for some reason, my passport wasn't stamped and I went back to the counter to get it done. You don't want to have a long interview about why there is no record of you entering Germany when you are about to fly home.
One of the earliest smells I remember after we landed and were wandering at a mall in the morning (waiting to check in) was curry wurst.
I am told it tastes horrible. But many readers were egging me on to try it. I don't know if it is because they liked it themselves or they just want my reaction.
Berlin looks like a very austere and serious city to me. The wall, or fragments of it, is a prominent part of the art scene here.
Our driver told us that in 1961, the first 150km of the wall was erected very swiftly.
I paid 25 euros for an O2 1GB data prepaid sim (with some call time) in Berlin. It is a bit steep but we are internet junkies so we need our fix. I bought two sims because I know we will use more than 1GB in our time here.
We didn't really have a choice. The Hilton hotel we were staying in, charges 25 freaking euros per DAY for internet access. It's the 21st century, people, and internet access is as basic as running water and air-conditioning in a hotel room, so 25 euros a day is just nuts.
I saw quite a number of stylish cyclists in the city and some bike paths. I think there is a city-wide bicycle rental scheme going on here. I'm certainly going to explore the city on a bicycle in this lovely 15-20°C weather.
Now to look for some beer.
By now, you would have heard the shocking news that Hello Kitty is not a cat. This shocker came from Sanrio themselves:
"Hello Kitty is not a cat. She's a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She's never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it's called Charmmy Kitty."
My life is all a lie. Next you will tell me Goofy is not a dog. Or Barney is not a dinosaur. Or The Force is caused by midi-chlorians.
Does Dear Daniel know? Does he know he hasn't been dating a cat all these years?
I believe all these years Hello Kitty wanted to tell us that she was not a cat. But Sanrio didn’t give her a mouth, to keep it a secret.
This is what I believe Hello Kitty will grow up to look like:
[Drawing above done by my super-talented artist friend Artgerm, in response to the shocking Hello Kitty news. Used with permission.]
Someone told me I was on this list. Nice list, ST! It is an honour to be in such esteemed company.
10 prominent Singaporeans who graduated from Hwa Chong Junior College: http://mrbrwn.co/1tvKpYb
This bozo thinks his kids getting wet is more important than an ambulance saving someone's life.
Your children kena a bit of rain will melt ah? Never heard of umbrella ah? Other people got heart attack is less important than you getting wet ah?
Anyone who has ever had to call an ambulance for a loved one knows how critical time is. Every second counts, whether it is at the pickup location or on the road.
Please give way to ambulances, and don't be a dick. One day you or a loved one may be in that ambulance.
[SCDF comment from TR Facebook]
How time flies, another year, another #ndrsg. And what is the meaning of my life if I don't live tweet it? Here we go!
1. @mrbrown: Wait. If PM is doing his #ndrsg tonight, does that mean don't have #夜市人生? Nooooooo…
2. @mrbrown: PM today not wearing pink leh. I feel so disturbed. #ndrsg
3. @mrbrown: PM just sang Liang Wen Fu's 细水长流. I think it is the first time he has ever sung at an #ndrsg Singapore Got Talent siol.
4. @mrbrown: I am sorry. It was a green screen behind PM and I couldn't resist. #ndrsg
5. @mrbrown: Help me, Obiwan Kenobi! #ndrsg
6. @mrbrown: PM can go and do insurance and financial planning agent liao. Wah he can really talk very long on CPF lor. #ndrsg
7. @mrbrown: Are you not entertained? #ndrsg
8. @mrbrown: PM after his CPF speech, "How many of you still don't understand everything I just told you?" #ndrsg Wah lau, which minister dare to say no?
9. @mrbrown: This year boh goodies ah? #ndrsg
10. @mrbrown: Good news: New Science Centre. Bad news: Still in Jurong. #ndrsg
11. @mrbrown: This year #ndrsg I learned: Fishball stick is now NEA problem. They bao ka liao.
12. @mrbrown: Idea to PM to improve Jurong Japanese Gardens and Chinese Gardens: Move them out of Jurong. #ndrsg
13. @mrbrown: Idea to PM to improve Jurong Japanese Gardens and Chinese Gardens: Plant some Japanese people in Japanese Gardens. #ndrsg
14. @mrbrown: PM shared about all the new MRT lines coming up at #ndrsg and all I can think about is, dig so much Singapore won't sink meh?
15. @mrbrown: The new Singapore-KL high speed rail station may be located in Jurong. So you need your passport to go Jurong first. Then again at JB. #ndrsg
16. @sohbengkuan: Who still say Jurong boring and ulu after this year #ndrsg? (Me. -mb)
17. @miyagi: In other news, Old Chang Kee to start selling fishballs without sticks. #ndrsg (Or without the fishballs too. -mb)
18. @mrbrown: This year the #ndrsg goodie is… Fishball Stick.
19. @mrbrown: And now stand by for the news, that will repeat everything the PM said at #ndrsg
20. @mrbrown: @miyagi and I ask important questions of PM after his #ndrsg
21. @Fake_PMLee Last year #NDRsg , selfie stick. This year, fishball stick.
22. @mrbrown: One fella anyhowly throw fishball stick, and Grace Fu now has new job as Municipal Services Office head. Buay pai. #ndrsg
And this morning, I turn to the Sunday papers and find: