Searching for the Alpine Ibex

2019-06-16

While hiking the beautiful Engadine Valley mountain landscape its not that easy to spot local Swiss wildlife, apart from the occasional warning whistle of the alpine marmot. A highlight of every hiking trip to the Swiss Alps is the sighting of wild Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex), also known as the S teinbock a species of wild goat that lives in the mount...
Bild: Alpen Steinboecke, Pontresina, Engadin

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While hiking the beautiful Engadine Valley mountain landscape its not that easy to spot local Swiss wildlife, apart from the occasional warning whistle of the alpine marmot. A highlight of every hiking trip to the Swiss Alps is the sighting of wild Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex), also known as the Steinbock a species of wild goat that lives in the mountains of the European Alps.



A great location for spotting the Ibex, is the high-altidute mountain region near the town of Pontresina, about 5 km from the famous ski resort St.Moritz at the Engadine Valley. Depending on the season they can be seen above (summer), or below the tree line (autumn, winter). I have seen and photographed a group of about 20-25 animals, that were quite relaxed and used to human contact.

From my experience, a good chance to see them is in early summer when the air is still cool and the last snow is melting. The warmer it becomes the higher they will climb, and therefore the harder they will be found. I twice found them relaxing and sunbathing a few hundred meters away from the Segantini Hut at 2731 m, where the painter Giovanni Segantini died September 1899.



There are two different, quite steep routes that lead to the Segantini Hut. One starts from the Muottas Muragl mountain station from where you can enjoy a spectacular view almost all the way along the Engadine Valley. Muottas Muragl can be reached by funicular from Punt Muragl just south of Pontresina. From the view point, the route is marked and can be reached in about 2-2.5 hours.

Alternatively, take the chairlift from Pontresina to Alp Languard and approach the Segantini Hut from the opposite side. About 200-300m before reaching the hut, follow one of the small pathways on the right to higher terrain and a plateau about 50m above the hut where they sometimes rest. Alpine Ibex are not easy to spot due to their brownish grey hair. Sometimes its easier to wait, look around carefully, and see if there is any movement on the mountainside.

Please be careful not to disturb the animals, move slow and quietly, and respect their escape distance. Since those Ibex are used to humans, they are quite relaxed unless you come too close. Be aware that the group is scattered over a wide area. Male Ibex, easily recognizable by their long horns, are protecting the group by securing the boundaries around the females and the young ones. It can happen that a curious male Ibex is coming closer and even crosses your way, it happen to me..we were both surprised and a bit shocked. Stay calm and slowly move backwards, from my experience, they won't attack unless provoked.

For taking nice pictures a telephoto lens of about 200-300mm will be sufficient, unless you want to shoot very close up. For the images in my gallery I used my 70-200mm lens on Nikon D200 and D800 bodies.


Have fun and good luck for your search!


Visiting Kamakura

2018-09-17

Located just an hour South of Tokyo, Kamakura is a "must-see" destination if you feel tired of the traffic congestions and crowds in the Megacity. Catch one amongst the three trains that travel about an hour to Kamakura; JR Yokosuka line, JRShonan Shinjuku line or Enoshima Kamakura free pass. ...
Image: Kamakura cityscape, Kanagawa, Japan | Kamakura cityscape seen from Hase-dera temple, Kanagawa, Japan. | Aussicht ueber Kamakura vom Hase-dera Tempel, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefektur, Japan

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Located just an hour South of Tokyo, Kamakura is a "must-see" destination if you feel tired of the traffic congestions and crowds in the Megacity. Catch one amongst the three trains that travel about an hour to Kamakura; JR Yokosuka line, JRShonan Shinjuku line or Enoshima Kamakura free pass.

    


JR Yokosuka is the fastest means to reach Kamakura right from Tokyo station, taking a period of 1 hour. If you decide to use JR Shonan Shinjuku, you will spend the same period of 1 hour from Shinjuku station to Kamakura. The Yokosuka line is considered the cheapest way, providing you unlimited access between Shinjuku and Kamakura through Odakyu railway; in 1 hour 30 minutes.

Ranked as one of the most important historical sites in Japan, Kamakura is often described in history books as a former de facto capital of Japan. It has a rich historic heritage, with 65 Buddhist temples and 19 Shinto shrines spread throughout the town and surrounding hills.

Kamakura’s major sights are located in two areas: Kamakura Station, the town’s downtown with the tourist office, souvenir shops and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine; and Hase, with the Great Buddha and Hase Kannon Temple.

The Great Buddha

Also called Daibutsu, the Great Buddha, located at Kotokuin Temple is probably Kamakura's most famous attraction you will love to visit. Cast in 1252, eleven meters high and weighing 93 tons, it is the second tallest bronze sculpture in Japan. Once the Kamakura Buddha was housed in a temple like the Nara Buddha, but a huge tidal wave destroyed the wooden structure. The Temple is open daily from 7am to 6pm (to 5:30pm Oct–Mar). Admission is 200 Yen for adults and 150 for children.



Hase-Dera Temple

A short walk from the Daibutsu is Hase Kannon Temple (Hasedera) located on a hill with a stunning view over Kamakura and its scenic coastline. Photographer will love to visit this temple. The picturesque traditional Japanese garden with Koi ponds and hundreds of statues Jizo Bodhisattva (the guardian deity of children) standing beside each other, it is a perfect example of a Japanese gardening in a religious setting. Hase Kannon Temple is also the home of an 11-headed gilt statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, housed in the Kannon-do (Kannon Hall). Also in the Kannon-do is a museum with religious treasures from the Kamakura, Heian, Muromachi, and Edo periods. Hase-dera temple is open from March-Sept daily 8am to 5pm and Oct.-Feb. 8am-4pm. Admission is 300 Yen for adults and 100 for children.

    

Hiking Trails

Some of the more hidden treasures of Kamakura can be found along the hiking trails through dense wooded hills, such as the Daibutsu-Path, the Tenen-Path and the Gionyama-Path. Brochures and maps are available at the tourist office inside Kamakura Station.

Most of the trails on these hills are interconnected to some of the most popular temples. The Daibutsu Hiking-Path connects Joju-in Temple in Kita-Kamakura with the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) in the west of the city. The Zeniarai Benten and the Genjiyama public park with a statue of Minamoto Yoritomo can be found on their way.

The Tenen Hiking-Path connects Kenchoji Temple in Kita-Kamakura with Zuisenji Temple in the east of the city, leading mostly along the ridge of the hills. The Gionyama Hiking-Path connects Myohonji Temple, Yagumo Shrine and the Harakiri Yagura, a cave tomb where the remains of the last Hojo regent are buried. Some nice views of the city can be enjoyed along the way. The trail is shorter than the other two, taking about 30 minutes to complete.



The most popular times to visit Kamakura are early spring, during end of March to early May when cherry trees bloom, and in autumn from mid November to late November, when colorful autumn leaves, known as koyo in Japanese, draw many visitors.

Unfortunately I didn't have time to cover all of Kamakura's sightseeing and tourist spots. But autumn 2018 I am planning to return to Kamakura again. My stay will be longer, that I can cover the remaining tourist sites at the beautiful ancient city, as well as tourist spots around Nikko and Hakone.

If anyone needs specific Japanese travel stock photos, please drop me a line olaf@travelbild.com



Exploring Italy’s Lake Como

2018-09-17

Situated in an idyllic region of northwest Italy, Lake Como is set within picturesque hillsides and mountains. An ancient retreat, Lake Como has welcomed many travelers ...
Image: Varenna, Lake Como | Waterfront of Varenna at Lake Como seen from the lakeside, Lombardy, Italy | Aussicht auf die Seepromenade von Varenna am Lago di Como von der Seeseite gesehen, Lombardei, Italien

Situated in an idyllic region of northwest Italy, Lake Como is set within picturesque hillsides and mountains.  An ancient retreat, Lake Como has welcomed many travelers coming to relax at its lapping shores of enjoy views of the Alps as well as the towns of Como and Lecco.

The lake has been historically famous for its beautiful shore-side villas since the days of Pliny the Younger.  The climate and lake water allow gardens to bloom with both temperate and even tropical plantings.  Some of the lake’s most attractive villas include Villa d’Este, Villa Carlotta, Villa del Balbianello, Villa Melbi and Villa Serbelloni. Some have been the retreats of princes and princesses, but all have been painstakingly maintained and add to the illustrious beauty of the locale.

    

The landscape around Lake Como is pretty characteristic. It has a kind of flair and sense of history and has been appreciated for its beauty and uniqueness for ages, and even as early as the Roman times.

A long and narrow expanse of water, Lake Como was formed by glacial erosion.  One of Europe’s deepest lakes, it is the third largest lake in Italy.  In some spots the lake extends four hundred meters deep. Located within Lombardy, Lake Como features many resorts that cater to vacationers. The lake is noted for its wishbone shape. The town of Colico lies on the northern branch of the lake while Como and Lecco lie to the south. Other towns such as Bellagio, Menaggio, and Varenna are located near the middle.



Bellagio is one of the most attractive towns at the lake, and can therefore a bit expensive and over-crowded. It's the busiest of the touristy towns and a hub for the boat service on the lake. Attractions and landmarks of the town include Villa Melzi, (Via Melzi d'Eril) and Villa Serbelloni, at the upper part of the historic centre, not to be confused with the nearby Grandhotel Villa Serbelloni, which has the same name.

Varenna is a pretty lakeside village in the central part of Lake Como. Traditionally it's a fishing village with colorful houses and villas built close to each other just below a mountain. The main attractions of the village are the two picturesque botanical gardens in Villa Monastero and Villa Cipressi.

Menaggio is the main town on the western shore and not as touristy as Bellagio and Varenna opposite. The town has as a nice pedestrian-only area at the lake-front with shops, coffee-bars, hotels, ice-cream parlours and restaurants.

A variety of boats and hydrofoils travel all the way up Lake Como from Como to Colico stopping at most of the towns en route. There are fast and slower services and some that only travel short distances, stop at fewer places, but go more frequently, like the services between the towns in the centre of the lake, Menaggio, Bellagio and Varenna. Timetables are available at tourist information offices and the ticket offices at the lakefront.

Vacationers have a variety of recreational opportunities on the lake.  Windsurfing, sailing, and kite surfing.  Travelers enjoy exploring the lake shores as well as the towns and their charming markets.  Hillsides offer unsurpassed views of the lake and nearby mountains.  The northern regions of the lake offer wilder, more untamed stretches of beauty, while the southern regions offer resort life and recreational activities that suit a variety of tastes.

Since Lake Como weather is humid subtropical and the temperature around the lake are higher than the surrounding regions, it can rain quite a lot in Spring and Autumn. Rainfall is heaviest in May and lowest during the winter months. So to avoid the seasonal crowds I would recommend visiting Lake Como in late summer.

Have a safe journey!


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