Who loves skiing?

Yeah who? Posting this in the middle of the year when it’s summer (well for the northern hemisphere anyway) seems odd?

For tropical folks facing the sweltering heat every day, sliding on snow and ice is surely not something usual. But you see, some things in life one needs to try out. Even if one is getting on age. Active ageing, yeah that’s it. Of course we weren’t that aged when we first skied, but it was surely not encouraging when we got off the aircraft.

Why? Read all about that here. Btw we actually enrolled in practice classes in Amsterdam before heading out.

And if you should have read the story in the link above, you would have known that we ran out of gas after 3 days of hitting the slopes. The ‘baby’ ones actually. We cannot imagine folks skiing all day for 7 days in a row… too much stress on the knees… moving on! But of all things we had to do was to go sliding down a mountain in the dark. Have you done night tobogganing? Looking back now, darn that was risky.

In winter it gets a little harder to do touristic things. Places open later and close earlier. Accessibility becomes an issue in some cases. But we took that all in stride and had a wonderful time exploring the city of Innsbruck.

Fortunately for us it did not cost an arm or a leg when we were skiing in the mountain sides of Innsbruck. Do you enjoy the exhilaration of skiing?

Salt mountain city?

Salt.

Chemically NaCl (aka sodium chloride). It is both essential yet detrimental to life, depending on how much or how concentrated it is. You might know Mel’s a history buff. But history is not just about political events or wars. It is also about economics and social development.

Did you know that in ancient days salt was considered a controlled commodity?

In fact, it was considered so valuable that it was taxed and in some case (such as dynastic China) its manufacture was managed as state monopolies. Take note, panning for your own salt was a crime punishable with a fine, confiscation and imprisonment! Can you imagine that?

The situation in Europe was perhaps slightly different, though it too was taxed while it made its way to the consumer. Now you know why cities in Europe would get wealthy from the salt trade. And this was no different for the city of Salzburg in Austria. A lot of the beautiful buildings in the city was funded by the trade and tax on this now common commodity.

But enough about salt already. For the hills did come alive for us, or at least we did as we examined the sites (and story) that inspired this movie. Read all about our super long weekend to Salzburg here, where had great fun and ate potato dumplings too (no photos unfortunately).

Can you hear the sound of the music? What did you like about Salzburg?

Who came to the Americas first?

Depending on whether you are an anthropologist, archaeologist, historian or zoologist, we might get a myriad of answers. So, let’s state the question clearer : who were the first humans to come to the Americas?

Again this will be subjective.

For if we go back long enough to the last ice age, a land bridge (of ice?) was apparently connecting Alaska with Asia via Siberia. Folks are said to have made it across to seed the continents (if you separate north and south America) with peoples as diverse as one can imagine. Alternately, folks could have journeyed the Pacific ocean and landed in the Americas too…

So how do folks who’s forebears supposedly hail from the Asian continent become so vastly different? The power of the environment to alter genes, albeit over long periods of time. Yep, we are stepping onto a minefield here. With today’s advance gene research, we’ve come to a cross road where we can either take the path of trying to be gods or leave nature alone to do its miraculous work. Oops, sorry we digressed.

Today it is not about this topic but about adaptation. How humans ingeniously fashion, accommodate and mould the environment around them to eke out a living. It is all rather fascinating. That how humans braved the oceans (of water and ice) to seek out new lands. Why did we do that? Join us (read here) as we did some surface scratching on the history of native Americans.

What do you know about the history of Pre Columbian America?

Preserving heritage with VR

If you had read us for some time, you might know that we are VR enthusiasts. We’ve written about the potential for the use of VR in a couple of posts here, here and here. Today we want to share yet another vindication of our belief, one where we foresee huge benefit.

Some might recall our post and essay on the Silk road (here). We shared about our adventure in the deserts that span between trading posts. And we also shared about the Buddhist grottos in Mogao (莫高窟). You might recall that we did not have photos of the interior of the grottos. And that was due to the ban on flash photography, or indeed photography of any kind. And mobile phones back then did not have cameras… sigh. Plus our film photography skills weren’t exactly stellar…

What if you were to know (here) that there are folks mapping out 3-dimensional maps of the grottos, murals and all?

We have shared our view that the sheer volume of tourists cannot keep growing without causing some form of overload of not only the transportation links, but also the infrastructure at the destinations. Some experts have deemed it a potential catastrophe because of too much love to death from visitors. We support creating a digital repository to preserve heritage before they are lost. No question about that.

So these questions keep coming up: should VR be encouraged so as to reduce the number of actual on ground visits? Can VR truly replace the on ground experience one gets? How about if the VR was near the actual location, but rather than stepping into the actual place, one takes a virtual tour?

What do you think?

Paying your dues on the Rhine

The Rhine river is famous not only because of the beautiful scenic views, but also for the numerous castles along it. Why did they build the castles? Collect money lah! Some red dotter might say. Like the gantries of our electronic road pricing system, these castles seemed to have sprung up all over along the river.

Ok, so these castles are no mere gantries with scanners that deduct a fee from your cash card. They are formidable and they tower over you as you cruise along the river. This was how we felt as we drove along the Rhine in the hunt for yet more castles…

So how far off was our red dotter response to why the castles were built?

Unfortunately, it is a spot on answer. For in medieval times the river was a main highway. And along it flowed goods and people. Trade and commerce. Too easy a prey to give up on for the powerful. Look, it was easy money. Wanna pass through? Well pony up a couple of gold coins buddy. Otherwise expect a shower – of arrows coming your way…

Today we don’t have to cough up precious coins for the opportunity to drive through. And that helps us in our hunt for yet more castles to be put under our belt.

Read all about our road trip here, as we share with you how many “gantries” we visited. Today we have the equivalent of the river Rhine in many places. Yes they are not exactly the same – but since someone built them, they have to recoup the costs no? So it seems not much have changed… don’t know what we are referring to? Wanna find out?

How we got to Russia

Not in a Lada.

You might recall that we finally touched Russia and added it to our handprint map two years ago. And in our journalogs (here and here) we shared the daily activities of the group tour. Fortunately we did not mis-goose step our way in Moscow and initially it was rainy… but we enjoyed it thoroughly.

Did you wonder why we chose a group over independent travel? As you might know, we try our best not to join group tours.

So what were the considerations for making our initial journey with a group? In our little essay, we recounted the events leading up to our final decision to be part of a chaperoned group rather than getting around by our own wits. Read here all about it. We have to say that despite all the reservations we had, we quite enjoyed that trip even if it felt a little ‘herded’. You know what we mean huh?

For an initial foray into a country with language completely different from anything we know, it was definitely a great introduction. Some day, we will plan a return journey getting a little off the beaten track. But not before we check off all the must sees first.

Have you been to Russia? What was your plan and journey to Russia like?