Visit to Salzburg, Austria


Last weekend I ventured back into Austria for a short day trip across the border to Salzburg — what many people call the “land of Mozart” and was the setting for “The Sound of Music”. 

For me, this was a completely unplanned trip (unlike me) but it was a great getaway from a very quiet Garching, the busy Munich centre and explore something new and different. I’m a great fan of classical music, including Mozart, so I felt it would be a wasted opportunity not to travel to this famous city which is a mere hour and forty minutes from Munich. And with the Bayern (Bavaria) ticket, it makes it more than worth a short visit for just 23 EUR to travel all across Bavaria which includes Salzburg — a stone’s throw from the German-Austrian border.

To my great surprise, the weather seemed mostly on my side.  The short train ride made for some great views and as I arrived in Salzburg, there were some stunning old markets with a mix of Austrian, German and Italian treats.

Entering the old town (or “altstadt”), I wandered around the cobbled streets and took in the baroque architecture — magnificently preserved in this unique city, offering a multitude of colour.

Salzburg's "Old Town" (Altstadt),  listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Salzburg’s “Old Town” (Altstadt), listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Credit: Ryan J.M.Laird

The old town seemed fairly easily to navigate; small enough that you don’t easily get lost. Despite its small scale, there is a huge wealth of culture, which unfortunately I didn’t have the time to fully explore. I stumbled upon the Residenzplatz, the city’s central square which played some great jazz music and made for a very nice stop.

A view from Residenzplatz, at the centre of historic Salzburg. Credit: Ryan J.M.Laird

A view from Residenzplatz, at the centre of historic Salzburg. Credit: Ryan J.M.Laird

I love castles, so the visit wouldn’t be complete without visiting the city’s fortress. As seen from Residenzplatz at the top of  Festungsberg, a small hill, lies Festung Hohensalzburg (or “High Salt Fortress”) — one of the oldest medieval castles in Europe.


Festung Hohensalzburg (Hohensalzburg Castle) — an icon of the city of Salzburg and one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. Credit: Ryan J.M.Laird

It’s a pity I couldn’t get a better picture of the castle! It was cloudy as I went up (although it had been sunny as I walked through the old town) and then it rained as I came back down. Luckily when I reached the top, it made for some stunning views of the surrounding area.


Looking south from the top of Festung Hohensalzburg (Hohensalzburg Castle). Credit: Ryan J.M.Laird


Looking (approximately) southwest from Festung Hohensalzburg (Hohensalzburg Castle). Credit: Ryan J.M.Laird


View from inside Festung Hohensalzburg (Hohensalzburg Castle) peering through a small window out to the city of Salzburg. Credit: Ryan J.M.Laird


Inside the castle, there is a small area which shows “The World of Puppets” and includes Maria von Trapp from “The Sound of Music”.


Taking the “Festungsbahn”, the funicular railway, down from the Hohensalzburg Castle. Credit: Ryan J.M.Laird


The train back to Munich after a good day trip around historic Salzburg. Credit: Ryan J.M. Laird

Visit to Neuschwanstein


A few weeks ago, on my birthday, I ventured off with a visiting friend on a tour of Neuschwanstein castle (“New Swanstone castle”).

With an early start, we needed to be at Munich’s central station (Hauptbahnhof) before 09:30 am for a guided tour. Packed with several snacks and drinks for the journey, we took the train to the village of Füssen in southwest Bavaria, about a 2-hour trip from Munich. At Füssen, a coach then met us for the short ride to the village of Hohenschwangau.

We began the tour in sight of Schloss Hohenschwangau, the childhood residence of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and was built by his father, King Maximilian II of Bavaria. From here, we made our gradual ascent towards Neuschwanstein.

Hohenschwangau Castle (High Swan County Palace),  the childhood residence of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Credit: Ryan J. M. Laird

Hohenschwangau Castle (High Swan County Palace), the childhood residence of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Credit: Ryan J. M. Laird

The weather treated us very well indeed, offering us some of the best views of each of the castles. The weather that week had been rather wet, so this came as a complete surprise. Only the day before was it almost completely overcast. Braced for inclement weather, I wore my coat and jumper which soon turned out to be a mistake in the heat.

A close-up view of Neuschwanstein among the bright sunshine during the tour. Credit: Ryan J. M. Laird

A close-up view of Neuschwanstein among the bright sunshine during the tour. Credit: Ryan J. M. Laird

View of the Alps from Neuschwanstein castle. Credit: Ryan J. M. Laird

View of the Alps from Neuschwanstein castle. Credit: Ryan J. M. Laird

Overall, we were treated to some stunning views. A truly brilliant birthday.

Featured image – Magnificent view of Neuschwanstein castle. Credit: Ryan J. M. Laird

The Chilean Night Sky in Ultra High Definition

astronomy, communication, ESO, science communication

I am pleased to announce here “Phase 2” of our ESO Ultra HD Expedition releases. In ESO’s Education and Public Outreach Department (ePOD) we have been busy working through the 10TB of UHD footage our ESO Photo Ambassadors captured while visiting each of ESO’s sites in Chile in April/May.

Each of the huge number images and videos have to be carefully processed by our graphics team as they help bring out the very best of this stunning footage. Once these are uploaded by our web team, it is the responsibility of the science communication interns (that includes me!) to give some description to each of the images and videos to try to put them into some context for our archive. This also requires a careful consideration of certain keywords, which can help with a search of the vast amount of content ESO makes available to the public.

Our video coordinator, Herbert Zodet (also a team member on the expedition) carefully brought together some of the most spectacular timelapses and other footage taken during the expedition for inclusion in the ESOcast. It was my responsibility to co-write the script, working within a basic skeleton of the ideas we put together from this material.

Here’s the announcement of the ESOcast, which was released along with a blog post from Herbert about capturing the Chilean night sky in ultra HD. The ESOcast can be viewed on YouTube, as seen below:

As another month passes by, it is now my final month here at ESO. It’s a pity it will soon come to an end, but I’m looking forward to making the most of my time left both at ESO and in/around Munich. It’s been a lot of fun, as much as it has also been a lot of work. All in all it has been a fantastic experience.

The ESOcast is a video podcast series dedicated to bringing you the latest news and research from ESO — the European Southern Observatory. Subscribe to the video podcast now to keep up with the latest news from ESO: the ESOcast is available via iTunes in HD and SD. It’s also available on YouTubeVimeo and dotSUB and is offered for download in several formats.

Featured image: Screenshot of ESOcast 65. Credit: ESO

#EELTblast Livestream and Live Tweet

astronomy, communication, science, science communication

There are opportunities for science communicators, including media representatives and science centres around the world to witness first-hand the exciting milestone of the blasting of Cerro Armazones, the 3000-metre peak that will be the home of the future European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) — what will be “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

A live video stream will be webcast on Livestream and via YouTube on Thursday 19th June 2014 from 17:00 UTC until around 19:00 UTC. Participants can also follow the live tweeting done by @ESO under the hashtag #EELTblast and ask questions in English that we will try to answer in real time as much as possible. See further details in the announcement by ESO.

Featured image – The Paranal-Armazones Area. Credit: ESO/M. Tarenghi

The Beauty of Maths and the Number 27

astronomy, communication, personal, science

I sure love the magic and beauty of numbers. Everything is numbers! Maths is everywhere! Patterns appear in nature, in structures around the world and even in distant galaxies.

Bertrand Russell expressed his sense of mathematical beauty in these words:

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.

Twenty-seven is a perfect cube, being 3^3 = 3x3x3 and is the result of adding together the integers from 2 to 7 (2+3+4+5+6+7=27). It is also the only positive integer that is 3 times the sum of its digits (3x(2+7)). And 27 is the number of bones in the human hand.

In astronomy, Messier 27 (M27) is the magnificent planetary nebula otherwise known as the ‘Dumbbell Nebula’ and was the first planetary nebula to be discovered; in 1764 by Charles Messier from whom the catalogue bears his name. (See Featured image. Credit: ESO)

ISS Expedition 27 mission patch

And finally 27 is the Expedition number which was Italian astronaut, Paolo Nespoli’s second spaceflight. I have had the great fortunate of meeting him several times, including a Mission X opening event, Farnborough International Airshow, International Space University and he even appeared in a video appearance for us for the UKSEDS 25th Anniversary conference last year. From Expedition 26/27 he filmed the majority of the footage for the documentary film First Orbit, filming the view Yuri Gagarin saw on his pioneering orbital space flight. Paolo also captured many beautiful images during his mission, named MagISStra.

So why the number 27? Well, today is my 27th birthday!

Of course, I’m not going to argue with the great Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory that the best number is in fact 73.