"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.
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.
Now that school has reopened, and the holidays are over, I can finally get down to writing about the little holiday I took with the family in June.
We didn't really plan anything so I just booked a stay in a hotel in JB, Malaysia for three days. I know what you are thinking, what is there in JB? Well, I can tell you that JB has three things going for it.
1. It is near.
2. It has affordable and good Malaysian food.
3. The hotel has a pool and a mall attached to it.
Sightseeing was not on the agenda. My kids just like the idea of a hotel stay (and staycations in Singapore cost a bomb), being able to swim at the hotel pool, and hanging out at the mall. The wife was happy to just shop in ringgit and my mother could get some marketing done too. Isaac, Faith, my wife, my mom and my helper went by the little family car. Joy and I took the bus over. Yes, I took public transport to JB.
Given the mode of travel, the one thing I wanted to do was to pack as little as possible. I managed to squeeze three days worth of clothes, toiletries, and electronics in this little 20L Deuter daypack. When I say electronics, I mean my Sony A7 camera with two lenses and my iPad Air. That was it. No laptop, no PS Vita, and no bulky headphones. I just wanted to chill with the family, and maybe listen to some music or watch a tv show or movie on the iPad Air if there was time.
Enter the Klipsch R6 and R6i (with iPhone remote). This is the replacement for the Klipsch S4 (and S4i), the entry-level earphones that I used and liked in 2011 (how time flies!). And just like the last time, I experienced the Klipsch while on a trip.
For the purposes of this review, I used the R6i, with the iPhone remote. The R6i surprised me. If you didn't tell me they are meant to be entry level earphones, I would not have thought they were. The signature S4 sound is still there, but vastly improved. First of all, that sibilance that used to be fairly pronounced on the S4 is pretty much gone. Second of all, the build quality has gone up significantly, using aluminum and elastomer for a more high-end look. The headphone jack, a critical part, looks reinforced, which means better protection from failure.
The bass is punchy but not overwhelming. The mids are now less muddy compared to the S4 series it replaces. In fact, I could hear details that I didn't used to get from the S4. I also felt the sound was slightly warmer. You could say that the R6i is a more refined brother of the S4i.
The best way I can describe the R6 is that it is balanced. Soundstage has also improved over its predecessor. And the new flat cable is much better, making the R6 less prone to tangling.
It is very diminutive when you pack it for travel. Even in its pouch, the package is slim. I shoved it into my pants pocket when I wanted to take it along, and other times, I just shoved it with its pouch into my backpack. It was light, small and got out of the way, and rarely got tangled up.
The oval ear-buds, a Klipsch thing, made the R6i very comfortable for long periods of use. The remote control on the R6i is also nice, with the play button being obvious to the touch, while the volume controls are flush with the remote. This means that without looking, you can locate the single bump of the play button very easily instead of being confused by three bumps.
I normally burn in my earphones by playing them for more than 20 hours before using them, but the R6i was something I just grabbed for the trip and used. Sounded great out of the box, which I didn't expect. After hours of using it on the road, it sounded even better.
Oh, how could I leave you without photos of our little vacation, right? Here are the kids enjoying the heck out of the hotel pool, which even had a dinosaur theme pool area.
The yellow float cost me ten ringgit to rent, which was ok, I guess. I rented two floats so the kids wouldn't fight over it.
Faith totally loved the holiday. We let her swim all she wanted, and there were no plane rides (not her most favorite thing). And I got to eat all the lovely street food in JB, and even squeezed in some time for a late night massage with the wife.
Not bad for a last-minute holiday.
Klipsch SEA is giving away 20 pairs of Klipsch R6/R6i! All you have to do is to answer a few questions in their quick survey and you will automatically stand a chance to win a pair!
A big thank you for taking part and good luck!
We left Bodrum early in the morning and headed for Istanbul, planning to do the six-hour drive to Bandirma, and then crossing over to Istanbul by the one and only evening car-ferry.
When we reached the Bandirma ferry point at 6pm, an Ido Ferries staff told us, "Sorry, 6.30pm ferry to Istanbul is canceled. Ship not working. We refund your money now."
And just like that, a two-hour ferry ride turned into a four-hour drive around the Sea of Marmara.
Ah well. I shall think about the lovely sea we enjoyed in Bodrum as we drive the extra 300 plus kilometres.
Once again, it is time for the annual IFA Global Press Conference, where offline and online media gather to find out about the European consumer electronics show held in September every year, in Berlin.
We had speakers from companies like Philips, Vestel (Turkish company) and BSH Group, who came to talk about trends and numbers and of course, their own new products. I particularly enjoyed the bits by research people from GfK. Curved TVs, for example. What is up with THAT trend? Is it going to change the world? Or is it going the way of the 3D TV flop?
There were a few booths to see, not many, since most of the brands will be showing off their wares at the IFA in Berlin itself. I was quite fascinated with Philips' new A5-PRO headphones made in collaboration with DJ Armin Van Buuren.
Also cool was their new Android Smart TV and the surround speaker system with detachable rear satellites that are wireless. I own the first gen Fidelio HTL9100 myself and was keen to see the next gen.
I also got to touch the Panasonic GH4. I say touch because inside no battery. They lost it in transit. Pffft.
We got to see a bit of Antalya, after a coach ride that took a little too long in the rush hour traffic. We wandered around Kaleici, or Old Town Antalya. It's actually quite pretty, as long as you don't get dragged into tourist trap stores.
I got to drink a red drink from a barrel off this guy's back.
I got to try some Turkish delights.
I got to eat Turkish ice-cream with an elaborate show.
And in Old Town Antalya, I found this shop with a very odd room of life-sized figures.
The final night's dinner was quite enjoyable. There was a Turkish singer who sang covers and some Turkish songs. I called her the Celine Dion of Turkey.
Then, just when you thought the night was over, boom, the belly dancers showed up. The (male) photographers in the audience went wild.
But the highlight for me was Marit Larsen, from Norway. Yes, if that name sounds familiar, she was formerly from teen duo m2m. I am such a fanboy. Marit has had a fairly successful solo career too, with that 2008 hit song, If A Song Could Get Me You.
Watching her sing live was awesome.
After a red-eye flight on Turkish Airlines, I am finally in Turkey. Belek to be exact, in Antalya.
The view from this golf resort is lovely, and everything smells new. Because the Carya hotel is new. Hey, the room is ginormous, I can't complain.
I am going to be here for a few days for the IFA Global Press Conference. More photos will follow in the days to come. Especially when I get to Istanbul.
For now, I am resting and enjoying a little TV from my iPad Air hooked up to the hotel room tv. The hotel thoughtfully provided an HDMI cable for guests to hook up their devices to the big screen TV. Good thing too, because the TV shows are all in Turkish, Russian or German, and only CNN is in English. Aargh.
We're back from a great time in Bali. The kids spent most of their time swimming in the villa pool or playing at the black sand beach. And when they were not, they were watching lots of TV and playing iPad games (holiday period, so we parents closed one eye).
The adults got to play some cards, drink some nice wine, and generally talk about the past, the present and the future. Shopping and sightseeing was kept to a minimum. It was a fine way to have a holiday.
I was apprehensive at first, about taking along just the iPad mini Retina (no laptop) but I wanted to see if I could lighten my travel gear load and keep my tech choices simple. It worked.
The iPad mini Retina did all the photo editing and uploading I needed with the Lightning-to-SD-Card reader (Pro Tip: it doesn't work with SD cards above 32GB), allowed me to blog/tweet/Facebook fairly well, and provided video/gaming entertainment on the plane as well as in the room via a simple Lightning-to-HDMI adapter to the big LCD TV.
I only used a Fuji x100s camera (no zoom, no changing of lens, just fixed lens simplicity) because I didn't want to carry and fiddle about with lenses and other stuff, and also because I knew I'd be busy with the kids. As you can see from the photos, I think it worked out pretty well.
Who says traveling with three families has to be hard? All you need is some planning and friends who are good travel mates. We are so doing this again. Where shall we go next, I wonder?
Today's loud and thundery storm reminded me of the children's church that the wife and I saw on vacation last year. The awesome building belongs to His Place Community Church in Burlington, Washington.
If I had an ark in Singapore, there wouldn't be space for pairs of animals, because it would be an HDB ark.