Custom Optics goes to Europe.... again.
can cite both Rick Steves and
Joesph Redondo who quote the first part of this well-known Mark Twain
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." - Mark Twain, from The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It
I have come to agree with that proclamation, especially when you are visiting people who enjoy the night sky as much as I do. A change of scenery once in a while does a person good.
For many years, travel stressed me out. The chaos and other uncertainties were a bit overwhelming for me. However, all of this is negated by the kindness of fellow astronomers and the friendly culture of Europe. Travel is still a bit stressful for me, but I'm learning to go with the flow. Honestly one source of stress is the length of time that I am gone and away from my work, but given the number of hours that I typically work in a week, I have come to ignore or not care about that small voice of guilt in my head.
For those of you who might scorn me for my travel or for my carbon footprint, or that think a long trip in Europe is an unnecessary luxury, and who might seek to shame me for indulging myself, I would say get off your judgemental ass and go make some new friends on another continent. Your friends here in the US might in reality be quite annoyed with you, actually, and might need a break from you. Stop spending so much on your cell phone to check Facebook and save some money to travel. Better yet, stop checking Facebook.....
So, after working very hard for many months prior to the trip, I was ready to head to the airport, despite all the hassles, security checks, and annoyances that make up air travel today. Of course everyone is trying to travel without checking bags, so I was forced by an uncompassionate airline employee to check my carry-on bag in Chicago for my flight to Philadelphia. I tried to explain that it was my only bag, and that I was traveling internationally and did not want to risk losing it, but the woman really didn't care. Luckily my carry-on (which was not intended to be checked) made it safely to Munich.
I had only planned the general outline of my trip, and booked flights when necessary ahead of time for economical reasons. I left train travel planning for later so I could be more flexible. The flexibility allows for more spontaneous activities that may be weather dependent, such as those that depend on clear skies.
I flew from Champaign, Illinois to Chicago, to Philadelphia, and finally to Munich, Germany. Of course this was an overnight flight to Germany, and I did not manage much sleep, which is what I expected. It is easier for me to stay awake than it is to go to sleep under most circumstances. Even with earplugs it is difficult for me to shut my brain off. I arrived at about 8am local time in Germany, and was very annoyed having to wait quite a while for my carry-on bag to emerge on the carousel. I met up with my client's friend, got coffee, and we were off to the client's house south of Munich. As usual I was amused by the amazing array of American music that was to be heard on the German radio stations. From to pop to rock to country, I felt right at home.
The setting that we arrived at was the idyllic German countryside with the foothills of the Alps on the horizon. It was beautiful. Meeting the client (who wishes to remain anonymous) and his family in person was wonderful. There was an amazing array of telescopes to behold. I was fortunate, and I got to see real German cooking and food and some views of the sky at night, and wonderful solar views during the day. Below the second story observatory is seen with the roof rolled off, and another smaller observatory is visible at left. The taller building in the background is across the street.
I dediced to just treat it like a normal day, even though I was a bit tired and it was only about 9am. After much talking and an excellent lunch of real German food at a local restaurant with the whole family, we enjoyed some views of the sun through two excellent small telescopes equipped with H-Alpha filters from different manufacturers.
I decided that even thought my body would probably object, a workout would be good. The scenery was similar to the image below, but with more small farms and a few houses visible. Also the mountains were a bit farther off in the distance.
Let me tell you, running up and down hills in Bavaria after flying overnight is not easy, but it is well worth it! One must dodge cow pies (mostly dried), but there were almost no cars on the one-lane rural road that I ran on, and I found it tranquil, picturesque, and idyllic. My seated elliptical fitness machine keeps me in good enough shape to run, but I don't run regularly. So, this was my first run since my Winter Star Party trip earlier in the year (2015), and it would be the most difficult as I got my muscles into true running shape during the trip.
As I headed back toward the small German town where my client lived, there was an interesting road that led downhill and wound through stands of trees and pastures. I knew it would not be easy to climb back up the hill, but I decided to run down it and then back up to lengthen my workout a bit. After about 30 minutes of somewhat slow running total, I was doing pretty good as I got back to the top of the hill and punched the button on my watch to stop the stopwatch. I walked for a while to cool off, enjoying the beautiful weather and nice breeze.
Soon I arrived back at my client's place and had a refreshing shower. There is nothing like the feeling after a good workout, especially after a nice cool shower. In my routine, the exercise tells my body that it's time for dinner. The shower relaxes me even more. Both remove the stress of travel.
For me, it is like hitting the reset button on stress and other worries. After a nice workout those seem to disappear, and I am left on a more grounded footing mentally. It is a vital part of life for me, and I don't feel right without it.
It's very interesting to see the differences and commonalities in what people eat in different parts of the world. With my friends here, lunch was a larger meal, while dinner was smaller, and consisted often of bread, butter, cheese, and some other foods. It was simple, and this was much different than I would experience later on in France!
A good beer or two in the evening is part of my routine, and it signals that it's almost time to call it a day. It relaxes me and improves my quality of sleep greatly. While my client did not drink, his wife had some excellent beer on hand for me to try, and I am very thankful for that and for her delicious cooking.
After a couple of very good German beers (see photo at right) and some conversation with my host family, I had a great night's sleep and woke up refreshed to a sunny, cool, still, beautiful Bavarian morning. It just felt like a great day. After breakfast and some much-needed coffee (from the very important, and most excellent coffee/espresso machine!), it was time for a nice speedy drive on the autobahn that would wake me up even more.
In the morning, I rode with my friends down the autobahn at speeds that would get you thrown in jail in the US. Look at the photo of the smooth, superbly maintained road above. It's just too bad that we don't have any place in the US to drive fast that is not in the absolute middle of nowhere. Sadly, there are too many people on the phone or doing other unacceptable things while driving, and it would be quite unsafe unless things changed substantially. But, here, people know how to drive safely at high speed. Exiting the autobahn and following another scenic road, eventually we neared the hill that we would soon climb, thankfully in a car. We crawled through some back streets looking for the road that led to the top of a hill adjacent to the town of Hohenpeissenberg. The trees cleared, and at the top we had an excellent view of the surrounding countryside. It was still a beautiful, cool, sunny morning in Bavaria, and it had become more scenic.
At the top was a group of buildings, including a restaurant, where I struck out on my own. My client had a meeting there, and I had the morning to hike and relax. However, first I had to enjoy staring at the German Alps while I had an excellent coffee on the terrace of the restaurant there (photo at right). This was definitely one of the most scenic places that I had ever had a cup of coffee, and I made it last a long time. I sat there for a long, long time, enjoying my first quiet break since arriving in Germany the day before. The shady terrace was almost deserted, and I almost hated to leave, but it was time to get off my ass and do some walking and hiking.
After soaking in the view, I explored the top of the hill. It was a little bit like a small village, with various buildings and a church. Past where the buildings stopped, a trail led along the ridge, and I followed it for a while. It eventually descended into a fairly dense forest, but the upper part had been cut down the allow the building at the top a commanding view of the lower areas around this hill. This was a site for Deutscher Wetterdienst, the German weather service, for which I have made optics for their LIDAR research. The informational sign below gives some information about the site (in German) and shows some of the sights that are visible from the top of the hill, including Andechs, a monastery/brewery that I would visit later that day.
I didn't want to climb all the way down the valley floor, so I turned around part way down and slowly climbed back up, somewhat regretting my run the previous afternoon! This was a bit of a preview of what was to come later in the day, but I didn't know it yet!
When I got back to the top, I found the church unlocked, and had a few minutes to myself inside before a large group of people came in for some sort of tour. The church was in the middle of a restoration. I managed to take some photos of the beautiful interior, and then I quietly found my way out into the sunshine of the beautiful day.
With some remaining time to kill, I found another trail down into some pastures on the side of the hill. I came upon an inviting shaded bench in a group of trees and sat down to watch some cows graze as the breeze cooled me off after my hiking. It was truly a peaceful morning, and a good rest for my legs. Below is a photo of some of the buildings on the hilltop.
This is what the outside and inside of the church looked like. It was not large, but it was quite beautiful.
Here's a closeup of some woodwork that I had to share, made long before the days of CNC woodworking and power tools. What beautiful work, and wonderful craftmanship.
Here is one of the views from the top, barely showing the Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in Germany, in the far background, just left of center, barely visible through the haze. I would be closer to it on our next stop. It is very close to the border with Austria, so that gives some perspective here.
Soon it was time to meet up with my friend Frank and the friends that I came with for a delicious lunch. I believe I had some type of schnitzel with vegetables. Then I left with Frank for an afternoon of sightseeing and hiking. As we climbed a switchback on a hill, a tailgater in a Mini Cooper was left behind as he first tailgated us and then tried to keep up with us climbing a steep mountain switchback road. We noticed him, and Frank accelerated. We heard his tires squealing and he soon disappeared in the rear-view mirror, but Frank's car handled too well and was far too fast for him to keep up with. We drove very quickly, but safely through the foothills of the alps. I would not have had it any other way.
After a drive into the country, we stopped on a side road and Frank showed me one of his scenic observing sites in the rolling farmland, which he said was fairly dark. We drove on a bit further and stopped at a place where we could hike up a large hill or small mountain. Of course this was the day after my first run in months, and it was a climb of maybe 500 meters in altitude. It was very, very steep in many places. On the way up, Frank pointed out the view of the hill that we had just come from. The church spire is visible just left of center. The one we were climbing (on foot, not in my friend's car) was significantly taller.
This hill was quite steep. See the photo below left, which shows the slope. It is a ski slope in the winter. Below right is a clearer view of the Zugspitze in the background. We had gotten quite a few kilometers closer to it traveling to this particular hill to climb, and it was nice to see it more distinctly.
Of course, this is Germany, and there was a restaurant with good beer near the top of the climb! We sat down for a while and had a nice beer/lemonade (radler). This beverage is refreshing and gives sugar and also roughly the alcohol in about half a beer, so it is a little relaxing too, but not too much alcohol so as to make you tired or sleepy.
I am quite sure that this place does a nice business in the winter too, as thirsty skiers seek some place to sit down and rest and rehydrate.
Now you might start to wonder about all of the beer pictures that you see in this article. You might wonder if I spent the whole trip drinking, and the answer would be no. I exercised a lot and we saw a lot of places sights. But, I do enjoy beer in moderation, sort of like many people enjoy wine. I enjoy learning about it and sampling different varieties, and so naturally quitea few photos are going to end up in my travel log (which is what this is, really) so I can remember names of breweries that are not easy to remember in a foreign language.
There is something about the ability of Europeans to relax that is different from Americans. Here we have a hilltop restaurant that many people are hiking to, including families and older people. At the top, everyone is happy, and is relaxing and enjoying themselves in an unhurried manner. This is usually not the case in the US, where there would be people in some sort of all-terrain vehicle screaming up the hill, or people would simply take some sort of easier way to get to the top. There would be screaming children, angry parents, and a lot of noise.
But not here. There were couples, families and groups of friends having a leisurely beer, taking the time to enjoy a snack and a drink, and just enjoying the beautiful day. While I might sound like an elitist snob to some Americans, I will dare to say that we are not so good at this on the whole in the US. Our stress levels would all benefit if we took this lesson to heart. OK, I'll get off my soapbox now.....
Below the photo shows the sign on the side of the building, with an elevation of 1390 meters (4,564 ft.), this was not a small hill. The summit was in fact higher than the Okie-Tex Star Party, where physical activity takes a bit more breathing than at my normal altitude of ~800 feet on the plains of Illinois. It takes me a day or two to acclimate to going for a run at the altitude of Okie-Tex, and clearly I was working a bit harder here than I was used to climbing a hill. However, I didn't complain, I just enjoyed the surrounding scenery which gave me a boost that put me right back on the level I should be. While the flat plains are beautiful in their own way, this was quite different, and was inspirational. And I knew there was even more good beer to come after we hiked back down!
There was another small climb to the very top of the hill, and we ascended to enjoy the untimate view above the restaurant.
And here is Frank, as we have just started to descend, in the image below. The footing was bit tricky in this stretch, and one had to be careful so as not to turn their ankle. The restaurant is the building to the left, and I think the building on the right is related to the ski slope.
On the way down, my knees began to complain significantly about how I shouldn't take up running the day before I was to climb a small mountain and then go back down! Fortunately I made it down with no problem, just a little slower than we expected.
We were running about an hour behind our intended schedule, but that's how it goes. It was not all due to my being sore. So it was off for another fast drive in the countryside, and I was not complaining about this on an absolutely beautiful summer day in Bavaria!
Our next stop was Andechs Monastery and Brewery, a stop that I was greatly anticipating. The beer is actually made by monks, and very good beer at that. I really like the way that Germans drive. You can go fast when it is safe, and pass slower vehicles, but then you get out of the way in case someone wants to go even faster. It's refreshing to see some place where you don't have to go ridiculously slow for no reason. Arriving in the beautiful Andechs area, we parked and climbed the hill on foot. We passed a carved wooden sculpture of a person sitting and raising a large beer mug (photo below at left), and this of course foreshadowed the very tasty activities to come. Below at right, I am seen holding a 4-pack of beer that I enjoyed later in the trip. I wish I could have carried more - it was that good!
We visited the small biergarden rather than the larger one, a bit calmer and quieter. We sat under shade trees with only a few people around and watch some storm clouds move north of the town. Stathis had bicycled all the way there from Munich, which is quite a distance, and then back to Munich again! We apologized for being late and ordered our food and beer and sat down for a relaxing meal and drink.
I enjoyed a dunkel and a dopplebock over the next few hours. It was so good that I left with a 4-pack that I enjoyed during the rest of the week, and later on Jan van Gastel helped me finish the last Andechs dopplebock, my favorite of the trip! Below is a photo of our group, and I would have smiled if I had know the kind person who took the photo was going to press the shutter button so quickly as I was telling him how to use the camera.
After some food an a lot of great conversation, Stathis got back on his bike and headed home to Munich, and Frank drove me back to the house of the friend that I was staying with, and I slept very well after my full day with lots of activity. I am one of those people who has to do something during the day. I don't feel right sitting around all day, and I sleep and feel better after some activity.
Later in the week I got to watch some real German home cooking, as seen in the photos below. The pan on the left is spatzle, the yellow vegetables are squash, and there is beef in the pot at upper right. The photo below at right is a potato dish that ends up in a loaf, and is sliced. It was also very tasty. I don't think I had any food in Germany that I didn't enjoy tremendously, though I would have like a few more salads.
My mouth is watering when I see this again. Look at that plate. All I need is a nice salad next to it.
On one afternoon I had a nice, long, relaxing dinner with Werner, a client, in the charming small town of Konigsdorf, and talked about many things over a good dark German beers and food (below, left). I was wonderful to meet him in person, and I appreciate him driving a couple of hours so we could do it. As I am writing this, he is just getting familiarized with his new telescope built by Matthias Wirth. In the photo below at right, later in the week my friend does solar observing using an off-axis aperture mask in a large instrument. The views could be stunning when the seeing cooperated, but the sun was very hot this afternoon with the roof rolled off of the observatory.
If you see a common theme here, I am a lover of good beer (in moderation) and the authentic darker German styles are held in high esteem. One of my favorite activities is to relax with a good beer with fellow astronomers during or after some good observing. There is something about the combination about a dark sky and dark beer that is just so right.
One day I went into Munich to meet with Stathis Kafalis, and we found a sim card for my cell phone so it would work in Europe. This was quite inexpensive, about 20 Euros for the sim card which worked in every country that I visited, for the entire duration of my trip, which included some time spent sightseeing in England, four weeks in total. After this Stathis and I met with Frank and headed to Paulaner for a good couple of beers. Paulaner is well know in the US, and I enjoy most their Salvator doppelbock.
The biergarten is above, but it was cool and rainy, so we sat inside. It is a beautiful building with polished copper piping and tanks dominating the center of the space.
I spent one afternoon riding the subway and trains around Munich visiting various sitesand a brewery, and then had a nice dinner with the client and family that I was staying with. It's only 12 Euros for an all day, all system transit pass, and that makes afternoons like this easy.
I had a Spaten at the restaurant shown above, and I needed a snack so I had a tasty dessert to hold me over until a late dinner. It was really delicious, and gave me some energy to do some more walking.
This restaurant was on the edge of a large park in southern Munich, with gardens and a zoo nearby, and the river flowing through. It was cool and peaceful, and many people were out enjoying the nice afternoon weather.
Below is one beer that I enjoyed, and also a photo of a bridge where locks are starting to be placed on it. This became a large problem on bridges in Paris, and the weight of the locks started to become excessive. Not sure what will happen here, maybe this bridge could be rated for more weight.
Finally I went to downtown and walked to Augustiner Brau Munchen, the home of Augustiner. I had some pretzels and enjoyed a dark beer before heading back to the train, and back to the train stop nearest to my friends. It was so easy to get around Munich, I must do it again for a few more days to see the things I missed.
Overall it was a beautiful week of weather in Bavaria, not too hot, and with only a little bit of rain overnight and just prior to our arrival at Andechs. I really enjoy the region, and judging my my comfort with the food and beer there, there is likely some Bavarian component to my DNA. My only request would be more vegetables, and a little less bread and cheese (both of which are delicious, I might add, but enough is enough!) Of course good beer is assumed, and vital, along with a little wine or grape juice to wash it all down.
While we got in a little bit of nighttime observing, there were clouds on quite a few nights, and it was not the best weather for that. Days were generally dry, and we did have some excellent solar observing, and I got to compare two very high-quality solar telescopes, both with binoviewers. The larger filter had a thermal regulation issue, and the contrast varied with the temperature of the filter. I don't have a nice solar telescope myself, but after using these I began thinking about it quite seriously. I'm still not sure which one is right for me.
I was sad to leave Bavarie, but it was time to move on after about five days there. Next it was time to take an extraordinary but ordinary 300km/hr train ride to Koln (Cologne), Germany to visit the amazing Matthias Wirth, builder of beautiful, high quality metal telescopes, and as I found, one wood telescope.
The train wound its way through a variety of scenery, and after quite a few stops and a few hours I saw the familiar spire of Cologne's famous and remarkable cathedral (see photos from my previous trip).
Meeting Matthias at the train station, we walked to his shop, in the heart of Cologne, and great food is just a short walk away. After food, beers, ping-pong and more beer (in that order), I slept in his very quiet shop, and then he returned for breakfast in the morning.
On my next trip I hope to have more time to spend in Cologne to see more of the city itself. I know that there are many sights that I missed on both of my short stays there.
Next I was off on my second trip (the first was in 2013) to the Naarden-Bussum train station in the Netherlands to meet with Jan van Gastel for a day. The train was running a bit late for some reason, but eventually I met up with Jan.
While Jan ran some other errands, I had a late lunch with Rik ter Horst (on the right in photo at right), who was involved with a project that I was working on an optic for.
Also joining us was Harrie Rutten (on the left in photo at right), the co-author of the excellent and very well known book "Telescope Optics". Harrie did all of the optical simulations and calculations for that book, while his co-author Martin van Venrooij did most of the writing of the text itself. Clearly it is a good partnership.
It was a nice relaxing lunch on another beautiful day, and we talked about optics quite a bit and I got acquainted with both of them. A photo of the restaurant, located in a beautiful old building, is shown below. It even has a surrounding moat, which you can just see below, even though it was a big green due to algae. Of course they were not made for swimming, so that doesn't really matter.
After lunch Jan came back to pick me up, and we took the drive back to his apartment. It's always a unique thing for Americans to see a traffic circle for cars surrounded by a traffic circle for bicycles, and of course the bicycles have the right of way!
Jan is retired, but stays active physically and in telescope making, and he is in good shape. I made a 20" mirror for him some years ago, and he has a web page for that telescope. He also refigures smaller mirrors, as described in his mirror making page in Dutch. We went for a run in the evening, despite my stomach still being a bit full from lunch. We had a small dinner later on, and we talked and finally enjoyed the last of my German beer, the wonderful Andechs Doppelbock. I couldn't take it with me the next morning when I was to get on a plane to fly to England, about a 60-minute flight from Amsterdam.
Jan's work room for optics is also his guest room, where I would stay for the night. I resisted the urge to work on some mirrors, and slept pretty well.
I got up at a reasonable hour to catch my flight from Schipol (Amsterdam) to London Stansted Airport, which is north of the city. The rest of my trip is covered in Part 2, which includes my visit to England, France, and a short stay in Switzerland. See link below.