The Return

October 29th, 2011 Posted in Europe 2011, Travel | 1 Comment »

We got back into London on Thursday night in the evening and decided that we weren’t really motivated to do much except have a pint at the local bar and go for a curry down the road. Dave lives within a block of about six different Indian restaurants. So we figured we try and sample a bit of the local. In England, Indian take away is a lot more common than it is in the US, certainly in the states that I’ve visited.

After having a pint or two at The Swan, we went down the road to the Blue Bengal to figure out what we were going to eat for the night and ended up ordering an entire mess of Indian food.

A mess of Indian at the Blue Bengal

I had ordered the chef’s special curry which was as sweet as it was spicy and was absolutely fantastic to soak up with some naan bread. We also ordered cabbage and onion cakes, prawns, and a few other bits and pieces of curry-flavored delight. I highly recommend this little spot in West Wickham, should you ever find yourself there.

Friday I was more interested in having a lazy day than anything else. We ended up going back to The Swan around 2 for a steak pastry in ale sauce and chips…I came back and went to bed for a bit and then sorted out a shower shortly before 5:30 when Dave got home.

Then we headed back in for the glorious return.

Down at The Lyceum just about everyone was there. It was really good catching up with a bunch of people I’m happy to call my friends from abroad. The feeling at the end of the night was even the same, a bit of it’s great to see everyone and a bit of I won’t see these people for some time. Josh found himself in love with the locals as well and got on with everyone.

The Gang

I’ve written about this before, but the pub culture in London is really awesome. It’s easy to connect with people and have a great night if you’re just open minded and looking for the right things. I think Josh got on well with that concept and really figured out what I’ve been talking about.

We had a few beers on the last train home, some sausage rolls, and Josh and Jim debated politics for the rest of the evening…then it was off to bed for me, a quick shower in the morning, and the trip back to Heathrow to fly home.

I can honestly say that I’m ready to come home this time…it’s been two solid weeks of traveling and since I’ve been dragging someone around Europe it’s been a bit stressful minding all the details as well. I’m looking forward to seeing Annie Oakley, my Zitorito, and my bed.

O'Hare

For now a few beers. I’m watching Josh walk around the shops near us, still effected by Xanax, although he won’t admit to that.

I’ll hope to post pictures soon and update all of that once I get things processed. Easy for now ya’lls.

Update. Josh passed out at yet another point in the trip.

Josh sleeping at O'Hare

lunks

It’s grim in the North

October 27th, 2011 Posted in Europe 2011, Travel | 1 Comment »

I wrote last time about Crewe Services or my friend Chris’ house. The house had been rented and Chris has moved in with Secret Agent Cath and the boys. I thought I’d bring Josh up to expose him to the culture in the North. One of the interesting things about England is how dialects and places change in such short distances. I also wanted to see everyone and was glad to hear Chris had planned a bit of a soirée over at the house for Wednesday evening.

We got in a bit late at nearly 10:00 PM and had a few beers and a chat before hitting the hay. Since Josh and I had traveled from the Alps, down to Geneva, and into London, and then into the North, we hit the bed hard. In the morning we had a pretty loose schedule to get out of the house with…

We figured we’d head north to Scotland…Where apparently Fargusson comes from.

I’d never been to Scotland, so I thought it would be a good idea. We rented a Vaxhaul Insignia 2.0 diesel and hit the road. We drove along the M6 into Scotland and as the sun was setting we decided to pull off the road and take in a bit of the scenery and snap a few pictures. I’m glad we did this because the clouds and the environment we were in were actually quite amazing. It did require pushing the rental car’s limits a bit on a hard road formed of very large loose rocks.

English services food :)

I of course had to first sort out where we could get a tasty pastry stuffed with English “meats.” We stopped at a service station which is basically an American rest stop except there are hotels, gas stations and places to eat. Stopped and got a Starbucks, pork pie, and a pasty…good to go.

Cowzen enjoying a Scottish Sunset

After it started to get dark we started our journey toward Edinburgh. Josh and I were left to decide which city we wanted to go to and Chris wanted to stay impartial. I started learning toward Edinburgh as it’s the eighth largest city in the UK and also the capital. I figured since it was, we’d have a better crack at seeing some good history.

We pulled into the city pretty close to 9:00 at night and without any sort of reservation managed to find ourselves shacked up at the Travel Lodge (West End) for about 69 GBP. It wasn’t the greatest place in the world and I was once again disappointed to realize it was very cheap European lodging. The beds were a parabolic shape and the room could not have been more basic…

But what more do you really need?

We hit the city for a walk around. It was a Tuesday so the town was pretty dead and all the shops were shut but it’s still a fun city center to frequent at night. As you started to get closer to the main drag you find the castle perched atop the city. If it isn’t the highest point, it’s very close and it’s situated on a large hill with a “mile road” leading up to it. It’s actually a great sight to see in the dark since they’ve got it all lit up.

We wandered up the hill and stopped at a place called Maxies for dinner. I had decided on a ribeye steak with a “rich port sauce” and black pudding. I won’t hold the black pudding responsible for making the meal just alright, as I’d never had it before. It’s a bit of a pig mix and match in breading. To be honest, it’s not bad and it’s just not good either. It’s one of those of those foods that you think you could go the rest of your life without eating again, but don’t hate it at the same time.

Ribeye with port sauce and black pudding...

The steak was bleh, not a very good cut of meat but the sauce was nice. Our wait staff was a little inattentive at times, but they were happy. The meal was totally redeemed at the end by lemon cheesecake with a cream sauce, and a nice latte to finish it off. The latte gave me just enough rejuvenation to get myself going again for the evening.

I should also mention the beer we had. Innis and Gunn…It was supposed to have a vanilla flavor and made in an oak barrel or something like that. It tasted like whiskey that had gone off to be honest. I wasn’t very happy with this beer selection, so it was back to light beer for me. I think at this point in the trip I’m starting to look forward to the occasion of drinking water and living normally J

Innis & Gunn

We walked up to the castle to have a look in the night and I took a reference of what it was like to be there without people. It was an amazing place where you could see in most directions of the city from atop your perch. It was a cool way to take in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh at night

We wandered back down the cobblestone streets and started making our way back to the hotel. By this time I was extremely exhausted again and hit the bed pretty hard. I think in a way this trip is starting to get to me. Since we’ve been moving around a lot and have been trying to get from place to place, it’s been a bit exhausting. That doesn’t mean I’m racing to get home…but I’ve got something really nice waiting for me when I do get there and as well my own bed and bathroom are starting to look appealing J

We woke up a bit early on Thursday with the intention of heading back into Edinburgh to actually see some of the things we felt we should see during the daytime. Really this only included the castle and the same areas we had frequented the prior night.

Cowzen at the castle in Edinburgh

The spot was now full of tourists and busses everywhere…it was an absolute mad house…I find myself being annoyed by tourists, even when I am one. People are beside themselves with excitement, and that’s great…but sometimes it’s misguided.

We stopped at the pub we originally tried to get dinner at the prior evening (they weren’t cooking any longer) and had a full Scottish breakfast. Pretty much an English breakfast but a couple of black pudding hockey pucks added to the meal. I opted out of that this time and just enjoyed the beans. I’d much rather of had fried bread.

The full Scottish..

We had a wander around, stopped in at the gift shops and then made our way back to the car. We had spent enough time in Edinburgh that we had to cut the Lake District out of our trip back, but we were headed to Hadrian’s wall to have a look at that.

We sorted out where we were and hit the A702 to take the scenic road and cut down the country. I had to navigate, which was proving to be a bit difficult because there aren’t any straight roads in the UK it seems. I was tired, and trying desperately to stay awake so I could keep Chris interested in driving, but it proved futile at times, as I was nodding off for a minute or two from time to time.

We hit Hadrian’s wall in a grey cold Autumn sunset…not a lot of people were around. Keep in mind, this wall used to stretch from coast to coast, but the places you can actually see bits of it are a bit far and few between. A lot of this has to do with the fact that pieces of the wall have been stolen over the years to be used to make outhouses or sheds.

The wall stands around 10’ tall and wouldn’t be that interesting, except that it’s a few feet wide at the top and spans for miles and miles across the country. It would have required an intense laborious process including a lot of slave labor to put this thing together. You start to get that sense of it as you walk along the top of the wall and take in what it represents.

Cowzen at Hadrian's wall.

We had a look at some of the fort ruins nearby and got back in the car. We needed to make it back to Crewe as Chris was having some people over that night. It was the usual bunch and I was happy to hear that some of the people I had met from the last time would be around. We ended up being about a half an hour late, after stopping to put a tiny bit of gas in the rental and slam a few cans of red bull. I picked up a pepsi bottle for Kimberly, after I lug the damn thing across the world I hope she can use it for something. J

We got back to the house and the rest was a bit of history. Big Steve, Emma, Mick, Dan, Chris, Cath, and for the briefest of moments Rob got together, had some good drink, ate some delicious mussels and had some conversation. I think Josh and Steve fell in a sort of nerd love with eachother after the discussion of magic cards and computer gaming came up. I’m an IT Director and I still thought it was far too nerdy for me. It’s ironic, I suppose, that I don’t really do computer games, but I do work on computers.

I headed off to bed early, which was a little past 1 AM. I needed the sleep and it was quite nice to get that in. In the morning we had some more bacon croissants and Chris hit the road to drop us off at Crewe station. I’m writing this blog entry from the train, but it’s offline. So I’ll probably finish putting this together after we get ourselves sorted out and moved back into the London flat.

Easy for now,

Lunks.

The Eurodash

October 25th, 2011 Posted in Europe 2011, Travel | 1 Comment »

Decided to one of these the old fashioned way on the Virgin Train to Crewe with Josh since it reminds me of the last trip up to see Chris last year, writing everything on my phone, transferring it to the mini and then touching things up from there.

We had a pretty uneventful night last night after getting back from Gstaad. We had picked up some more beer in town and went through it at warp speed. A little amusing actually because at one point I was looking at the litter of bottles in the kitchen with the horrifying discovery that we’d completely run out!

Not to worry, there’s wine in the cellar I’m told!

Drunken lunky

Ah, Dave and I stayed up until the wee hours discussing things like proper etiquette abroad and it got me thinking about traveling in countries where you can’t speak the local language…it can be quite and overwhelming experience. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the world speaks English, but the reality is that only seems to be fully accessible in touristy-type locations.

For the real experience I think you need to get into the local spots. Learn a little bit of the language to give the impression that you’re trying and try and interact with people as much as you can. Interaction is the best part about traveling out of your country. If you want to go to a themed resort and spend the entire time sitting by the pool or ocean, that’s fine too! But maybe consider having a wander through the real places around…I think you’ll find it to be tricky at times but full of lessons.

And for gods sake be nice to foreigners!

I think in the US we’ve developed a little bit of the one world our world kind of outlook. Being in non English speaking countries makes one reflect on being part of the negative experience in the past for people not from where we are. Help them out! I think that karma comes around. I know it has for me. Flash the person a smile, learn how to say please and thank you, and smile!

Cowzen doesn't care for Swiss tunnels.

The one thing that is universal in non-verbal language is the smile.

Its a powerful tool! It disarms situations and it projects confidence. I won’t go on anymore about this as I’m not drunk enough to put myself in the same mindset I was in last night. :)

We woke up a bit late the next morning and Dave made a breakfast out of the remaining bits of German groceries we had purchased. It was a combination of potatoes and sausages with some coffee…which was exactly what I needed to be honest. I think the beer had done me in! :)

We sorted out the refuse and recycling, cleaned up the place, packed our luggage and got the hell out of there. I ripped down the mountain one last time in the Skoda. All was well on the A1 until we hit Lake Geneva.

Coming into Geneva

I’ve seen very few things in my life that were this breathtaking. As we came up and over the hill this misty mountainous area appeared and as we turned right to go along the hill by its shore the view overcame me.

It was shortly punctuated by road works. Germany and Switzerland are a lot alike in their feverant love for random roadworks and speed restrictions!! :) ah, fuck it I said to myself. I’ve simply got to get down there and take some pictures!!

I headed down a hill hoping to find a spot, and boy did we. There is this gorgeous hill that is filled with wine grapes and no one around. The sort of place that is adorned with million-dollar houses and cobblestone bridges. A fine mist covered the mountains behind the lake and a few clouds brought the composition together. One small sailboat far away in the frame completed the picture.

I took a few snaps and even got a quick snap of Cowzen (pronounced in lunky psuedo German as “cow-zehn”) enjoying the absolutely stunning views.

Cowzen at Lake Geneva

We headed down the road, which I’d later learn was a big mistake. I could have just headed back up to the A1, but I was trying to be efficient. We ended up winding up and down these intense hill roads that were littered with tiny French-influenced villages with barely enough room for my poor Skoda.

I have to admit, the first part was fun.

The second part started to suck completely. I couldn’t get back to the A1 so I ended up on some b-road that went along the coast. Street sweepers, slow pokes, sunday drivers, and delivery trucks constantly messing up my attempt to get us to the airport quickly.

We made it to near the airport ok, then it turned into a disaster. Having not left from Geneva, but driven across Munich I was completely lost. We found a “gas station” which was basically a “pay near the pump” type situation with some really unfriendly f’n Europcar people milling about. We then got a ticket to the garage and gave that ticket back to another ticket machine that ate it and let us in, by chabce we sorted out how to drop it off and headed through customs for our EasyJet flight.

EasyJet is a cheap version of Southwest in the states (ironic, I know). They charge for drinks of any kind and thanks to some medium turbulence and a mom having a panic attack the service was cut short. Josh tried to chat up a cute French girl next to him with no avail. It was a flight filled with failures.

We got a Southwest train to victoria for far too much money, got ourselves to Euston and made the train an hour before the one we booked. I’m glad I got open tickets now because it meant we wouldn’t have to sit around.

IPod blaring, Josh staring out the window. Soon we’ll be in Crewe for round 2.

More to come, my fine listening audience of 1 person, but you know I love ya!

lunks

The Catch-up!

October 23rd, 2011 Posted in Europe 2011, Travel | 6 Comments »

Hey Everyone…I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted on this trip…but before you assume from the last post ending in my declaration of Munich drinking that I’ve ended up in some basement somewhere, prey to some German who wants to do weird scientific experiments on me, rest assured I’m in Switzerland now…a country known for it’s neutrality!

But before I go on about that, let’s play a little catch up, shall we?

Drinking in Munich is fun…and interesting. It was on a Thursday night that we decided to head out. Little did we know that near the city center where all the action happens, it’s god damn well impossible to get a table at any brewhouse!

We had planned on doing the main touristy thing that anyone does when they come to Munich, that is stop by the Haufbrahaus and have some food and drink while listening to loud polka and people talking. It’s a massive place, several levels tall with different styles to each floor and a huge convention-type place upstairs. With, every, damn, table full.

We wandered in and out of brahuas after brahaus, Dave, our trusty translator, telling us they only take reservations. Rejection after rejection until we’d winded out of the city a little bit to a small cafe near the market (which we didn’t realize was a market until the morning).

Paulaner Weisbier

We proceeded to start having some dark beer which was a heffewisen (wheat) and some good conversation. The setting was nice and ambient and the food menu looked good. I ordered some lamb cutlet and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but ended up having the best meal I will have had in Germany to date.

Lamb cutlet, so good.

Sinfully amazing with a sauce on top of potatoes with vegetables. Simple, filling, and my god fantastic. The unfortunate reality of it all is that I can’t remember at all where the hell this place was. I’m searching on Google now to try and figure it out. I was sober when I went in, and a bit drunk when we stumbled out.

Ah well, I’ll sort that out later.

We stumbled around the corner looking for a small pub. We found one and heard music and cheer so we walked in. A large man with an equally large beard held a gigantic stein up in the air and said something that was most likely incomprehensible to both Germans and English-speaking people a like. There was only a handful of other people there and my best guess is that they all knew eachother very well.

Since we’d stumbled in we didn’t want to look rude. We ordered up a few more dark beers and the waitress brought them out, marking a special encoded message on a beer coaster to keep our tab. We’d later learn that this was the custom anywhere you could have a tab using different roman numerals to specify what you had, and the amounts.

What’s particularly notable about this place was that the dark beer had a beef stock after taste. I’m a big fan of beef and and even bigger fan of dark beer. So the combination was amazing. It was a Paulaner beer whatever it was, we purchased some of the same type at the supermarket the next day, but I assure you it only tasted of beef there!

I’m not crazy, either, because everyone else agreed.

After we’d had our one there we made our way up to what would be the last pub of this particular night. In the Lyceum there was a beer that was brewed under license from the Ayinger Brewers in Munich…The owner must have decided he would make it under his own name, changing the recipe just a bit.

The beer that did us in.

Pint after pint we drank. This was a local bar as well but it was much nicer in it’s surroundings. The bartender was sweet and working by herself and the place was full of people that were laughing loudly. I managed to have a few conversations with some local Germans and was very impressed with their English.

To be honest, it made me feel like a dick for not learning more German before we came here. I’d gotten good at getting my way through some things, but I certainly couldn’t hold down a conversation, or even start one for that matter! I loved everyone I met because they were easy to engage. Some of them really enjoyed their time in America and some had aspired to come there.

I guess I forget when being so cynical, that America isn’t so bad!

The night went on, and on, we chatted about politics and music. I figured I was getting pretty drunk and as we were standing outside a couple of official-looking people with sashes and hats started asking questions about the bar. David, our very fluent translator, was speaking to them in English: “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

I figured this was a bad sign. We were at this pub at 2:00 in the morning and weren’t sure if they were licensed to be open, or to be honest how the licensing worked in general.

They started breathalizing everyone!

Joshy 5 Pints

Josh starting to pick up on the weirdness finished off the booze as we all figured we were getting chucked out of the bar for being their past closing.

We were wrong. Apparently a white sash doesn’t mean anything in Munich!

They were just portable breathalizer machines mounted to people that were trying to look somewhat official. You pay them 3.90 Euros (odd price) and they give you a reading.

Not drunk enough!

Only 1.14…I guess the German in me was in full swing, because it was late and I’d had many pints…granted, I had a few more before the night was through!

The lady was sweet, and of course I had to have a picture with her!

Me and the drink police

They even let me borrow their hat for a minute! They had asked me before I took the test what I thought I was going to come out at. I said 1.20…scarily accurate, but I joked with them that their machine needed some calibration.

Joshy Five-Pints, who already had stopped drinking, was another story.

Joshy 5 Pints blows a 17

1.72! Lightweight!

We settled up our tab and hit the road. It was nearly 4 AM before we left the Ayinger pub. The familiar blinding sober lights of the night coming on. They had been playing American music all night. I guess the Germans love our terrible eighties rock, since it seems to be everywhere! I heard a little Bryan Adams…maybe that was just their way of getting to get the hell out of the bar!

5 pints closes down Munich

Drunk and happy we hit the road after getting into a taxi. I was using my GPS to basically tell the driver we weren’t going to let him screw us over. I knew exactly where the hotel was and he was trying to take the long way ’round. Visibly upset, he dropped us off, we had a shot of Jeager back at the hotel, and we passed out.

In the morning I remembered our bar tab.

Ah! The booze bill!

Whoops. In just the last bit of the night we’d spent a couple hundred dollars just in pints of Ayinger…well worth it, I thought.

The next morning started with a chocolate croissant.

Chocolat Crossiant

mmm. Those are damn delicious I tell you. One of the best things you’ll find in Europe! We stumbled around Munich taking pictures and doing the sober thing. Had a couple of meals at local restaurants and hit the bed early. Not much to say about this day since it was mostly filled with sleeping, walking around on a hangover, and hitting the bed early. After all we had an early Saturday ahead of us.

We checked out of the hotel at 7:30. They tried to add a couple of breakfasts to my bill, but I was smarter than that and negotiated them straight off!

We stopped by the market and picked up our rental car. A Skoda Superb. A bit pretentious of a car name I figured, but it was a kind of luxury class car with navigation and lots of weird bells and whistles to boot. I figured it would have enough acceleration to enjoy the Autobahn.

We hit the road in search of Schloss (castle) Neuschwanstein. Once I realized that I was on an unrestricted motorway I hit the gas. Only to find out that I was soon slowed down by speed restrictions or people pulling out in front of us. I hadn’t had much a chance to realize what life on the A-roads was like yet when we hit the castle.

We wanted to not tour it, but take a few pictures. We did just that.

It’s a beautiful site and since we were there early it was pretty empty except for the occasional massive group of Asian tourists. I’ll have some pictures and reflections of that later I suppose.

We got back on the road and figured out our route to Switzerland. I was able to get our Skoda up to 220 km/h (137.9 mph) by using some hills, but found that everytime I did get the car up at it’s top speed I’d be slowed down again. It’s sort of a shame that they have all of these unrestricted roads, because you really never get the chance to open it up and experience incredible speed.

What’s even sillier is the amount of petrol consumed when you are going that fast. I used half a tank of gas to go 200 km, and about a quarter to the remaining 300! Ah well, it was properly worth it. Going that fast legally is an experience. It’s also 9 mph faster than I’ve ever gone in states. However, when you’re at that speed in the US you have the constant worry that you’re about to be pulled over, and your license revoked!

We snuck into Austria, which is part of the EU, so it really wasn’t sneaking and took a B-road to avoid paying for a Vignette to use the main motorways. Switzerland and Austria alike have window stickers that must be purchased in order to use the roads. It’s a pretty shitty deal when you’ve got a rental car, to have to pay 40 francs to drive on a road you won’t see again after two days…but ah well. Call it a donation.

The view from our cottage.

We arrived just in time to enjoy the incredible view from the cottage. We settled in and unpacked the groceries we had brought. Dave made a lovely meal of potatoes, random meats, and meltable cheese. We used a special device (The name escapes me) to both cook meats on top and melt cheese on the bottom. You take the result of that and mix it together with the potatoes on your plate. It’s incredibly delicious.

Beer, potatoes, melty cheeses, meats = meal.

We had lots to drink and hit the bed somewhat early.

It was refreshing not to have to listen to the drone of police sirens and screaming that is typical for any large city. I slept hard as could be and woke up to a nice breakfast prepared by Dave. We then hit the road to go to the “old town” of Gruyères. It’s a really cool place with the old French cottage style design…there is a large Chateau at the end of it which can be seen from all over the valley.

It’s filled with tourists as well…I’ll have some cool pictures to upload once I get back of both the town and some of the artwork I discovered on the streets.

Grueyers

They are also well known for their cheese and offer a cheese-making tour. We weren’t really interested in that, so we hit the road to basically take in the Swiss Alps.

It’s amazing. It’s a lot like Colorado except with intense French influence. Switzerland has both German and French regions and it’s funny because all the sudden things change. Such as the exists, Ausfahrts turn into Sorties.

We took some great pictures in the mountains and were tentatively headed to a town called Gstaad which seems to have French, English, and German everywhere. It caters to the rich ski crowd and my can you tell it! It’s the off season and also a Sunday, so it was pretty empty, but the street is littered with Cartier and Chanel shops, fancy watch companies and places where you can spend a hell of a lot of money.

We even found a giant deer head, made of crystals for sale…my guess is that it was in the 50-75k range. :)

Gstaad

My Milk, My Cheese! Everyone has a cheese…sort of like the Germans, where everyone has their own damn brewery.

We found a place that had the same meal we enjoyed last night, for 38 francs a person (just over 42 dollars US). I think we paid about 10 US to get the ingredients :)

After that we hit the road to enjoy the sunset. Stopped at the shop to get a few things, and now we’re back at the cottage to enjoy one last night and some serious drinking. I’m looking forward to seeing the sunrise tomorrow and then winding our way to Geneva, where we’ll catch an Easyjet back to Gatwick to begin the Northern England leg of our journey, possibly into Whales and Scotland as well.

I hope you are all well! This post is getting long. I may have paraphrased a few things because I’m catching up a few days worth of activities. By all means, leave a damn comment. Let me know how you feel about life and love…but for now, be easy. More to come when I develop pictures.

lunks

The Munich Trip

October 20th, 2011 Posted in Europe 2011, Travel | No Comments »

Everything went well getting to Munich, you can tell by my slight jubilation for Lufthansa in the prior post that I was a fan of their service. We arrived late in the afternoon and sorted out where the hell our hotel was. I have to say, it’s pretty small by American standards. The bathroom is actually smaller than my first house’s bathroom (believe me that’s small) and the beds are very European. There is a small work surface and a TV that plays incredibly funny dubovers of American programs.

Winters Hotel in Munich

At the time of writing this I was just listening to a station on the TV (radio on the TV) that seemed like some good techno music…but then I noticed that “Jesus” came up a lot…German Christian Techno Rock? Hah!

We went out for a wander and to find some food and drink. Munich is a very nice city and at the center is a lot of shopping and activities. We stopped just short of the area we later learned was the pub district…but we did wander into the Augustiner Restaurant and Brauhaus. We were able to work out from their menu that they’ve existed far longer than the US has been independent.

Beer in Munich

That’s the funny thing about history in Europe. It’s just so much longer than American history and it’s great to compare things to how long your country has existed, not just as long as you’ve been alive. It’s very eye-opening.

The meal is also worth mentioning.

A big ass plate of meat.

Using the English menu I ordered what seemed to be the everything plate. On a bed of Spatzel was sausages, pork chop, onion straws and amazing cream sauce with mushrooms. It was delicious, but by god, if Germans really eat like this all the time it’s any wonder they don’t live past 12.

Also had some of their apple strudel, which to be honest was disappointing.

We were also charged 95 euro for a damn pretzel and given the wrong beer. It made giving a terrible tip much easier. Unlike the UK, Germany is more like the US when it comes to tipping. I’m guessing most of the civilized European countries are. However, they still don’t seem to be as crazy as we are about tipping for every damn drink. Which I love :)

We stumbled around in the rain. It’s about 45 degrees here and it wasn’t quite pissing down rain, but it will still wet and cold all the same. We stopped by a pub that was far too push for our kind, came back to the hotel bar for one, and then ended up around the corner at a Doner Kabab shop that had a bar/cafe next to it, for the last rounds of the evening.

Josh got pretty drunk and ended up wandering into the Kabab shop and just pointing at food and giving a thumbs up. He had himself a proper meal of random meats and vegetables on rice with bread and disappeared to fall asleep for the night.

I must admit, I had exactly one more than I should have last night, but it was great fun, stumbled down the block back to the hotel, sorted out some things for the morning, and put myself to bed.

Woke up the next morning, which was hard to do. Dave and I sorted out some breakfast and a coffee but Josh couldn’t be woken. We actually missed our tour group and decided to take the 12:30 tour, but then fount out that they don’t do a tour on Thursdays! No matter, we sorted out the transit and headed to Dachau.

Barracks and Administration @ Dachau

Seen here is the space between the prisoner barracks and the administration building to the Dachau Concentration Camp.

I have to say, this is a horrifyingly real experience.

I think I’ll write more as I digest it over this trip. I’d like to get some pictures processed and think about the emotion a little bit. I don’t want to bury these details in the middle of a post. Because it’s honestly such a sobering experience. This happened. I didn’t doubt it before…but now I’ve seen the remnants of it first hand, and that’s just…something.

On that depressing note.

We’re off in a few minutes to grab the tram to the city center and do a proper nights drinking. First some more sausage! Talk to you all soon.

lunks

The something or other…

October 19th, 2011 Posted in Europe 2011, Travel | No Comments »

I’m writing this entry from the Lufthansa flight to Munich…a good way to kill some time I figured. Luckily this HP fits nicely in front of me and the man in front has decided not to recline, yet. I really haven’t used the mini much since I left London in 2010. It really was kind of my computer savior, but I’ve been using a lot of temporary tablets and other things to get my by commutes for work. When I travel it’s been the Macbook Pro, as weird as it is to say that.

The first job of Tuesday was to have a full English, which was apparently minus the fried tomato.

Full English

Josh and I got out of the flat much earlier yesterday and headed down to the Tower of London. I’ve been before in 2004 and not much has changed, except that it’s aged a bit and newer places were under construction. It’s an interesting place with some serious history. Josh did the usual history teacher tweed jacket routine…but I have to say I’m fairly impressed by the fact that he knew a lot of things most people around us seemed not to about British history. It’s one of those moments that makes you feel kinda guilty for not listening to your teachers when you were a kid…but I digress. I live in the current, I love technology, and I love looking toward the future…perhaps we’re just somewhere in between to sides of one long continuum of pointless knowledge.

Now have a gander at Henry VII’s unreasonably-large codpiece

Henry VIIIs unreasonably-large codpiece.

Torture this, murder that, coup here, off with their heads there.

I guess that pretty much sums up the experience. Our tour guide was ex-military and from the conversations he had with us in the chapel it sounded like he was involved with the first Gulf War. There is a plaque dedicated to the fusiliers killed in that engagement. As it turns out, he was about 1 km behind them when they lost their lives. I personally think its great that the Tower has a place for soliders to continue to do ceremonial activities that are really vital to one of the world’s great historical landmarks.

Protecting the Jewels.

It’s also pretty cool to stand in the same spot so many famous people walked, slept, ate, and died whether by natural or less –than-natural causes.

After hours of that experience we headed back to the tube to get to Waterloo in time to sort out tickets for the London Eye. They’ve added a “4D” showing before you go on the trip which was new from my experience in 2004. I have to say I’m mystified by the construction and design of the Eye…It’s a useful and practical example of modern engineering doing something truly great to provide memories for many generations.

That being said, it’s rather fucking high in the air!

This was not a point that escaped Josh at all. I think he was struggling with the idea of getting on it, and gave himself some time to sort out his thoughts and make sure it was something he truly did want to do. This really seems to be a trip of getting over fears for him…and like a champ, he went for it and had a great experience, got some great standard touristy-type pictures and got the sense of pride one gets after conquering yet another thing in their lives.

It really reminded me of some of the things I’ve learned over my time traveling.

Perhaps a little more comfortable makes the experience easier, but you start to lose focus about what is so fantastic and really magical about the experience of being thousands of miles from home. The world is still massive at that point and every single difference in the culture and your surroundings makes you think introspectively about the world and your place in it.

“I learned a lot about myself on my solo European trip.”

I’ve said that before. Josh asked me to elaborate on that because he’s heard that phrase many times before. I know it sounds trite and probably a bit pretentious when people throw that out there but there is a lot of truth to the experience. At the time that I took my trip last year I really needed to be reminded that it’s ok to take on the world by oneself. I needed a practical example and the discomfort of being completely alienated from my milieu for a time long enough to discover that no matter where, I can get along.

I also learned how to communicate more broadly. How to open my ears and try to understand people of many different cultures. That’s huge. I think Americans tend to get arrogant and complacent with themselves. To be honest, that’s fine, really. Nothing wrong I suppose with staying in the states your entire life if that’s what you want to do. However, it’s just not for me.

Anyway, I should probably digress before I start sounding even triter.

After the eye we caught the Southeastern service back to West Wickham, settled in with a few pints and sorted out our travel for Munich today. BMI (British Midlands International) apparently was recently acquired in whole by Lufthansa…but really we’re on a Lufthansa flight now anyway. Check in and security were nice. They don’t take off shoes here, unless you are asked or are subject to some extra screening. You’d think in a country more concerned with terrorism they’d be worse than the US?

But let’s face it…we’re out of control.

Speaking of out of control, check out this wicked graffiti seen by Waterloo Station.

Wicked. Josh, having only taken half of a Xanax this time is comfortably watching media on his Xune (hah!) next to me. I think he’s starting to get comfortable with the idea of flying and all that it really entails. I figure by the end of this trip we will have made a proper traveler out of him.

Tomorrow we will head to (sort out the spelling), a concentration camp. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this yet. I think it’s important we have this kind of history to remind us of how to proceed in the future…but let’s face it, that very concept has such a heavy burden to carry with it. I guess I’ll write more about that tomorrow. Drinks and dinner later…

I hope all is well back home…and that at least one person found this post even the slightest bit interesting. I guess in 10 years when I go back and read these I’ll be walked through my trip…so maybe this is all just for me…:)

Easy for now,

But wait! An amendment…a P.S. if you will. I <heart> Lufthansa. An Italian-Style Chicken wrap with a beer included with the incredible cheap price. I paid about what I usually pay to get to Chicago and got a beer for free? Love it.

Ok, I’m out for real.

lunks

The return

October 18th, 2011 Posted in Europe 2011, Travel | No Comments »

I was just over in the big smoke last year in 2010 but I had to keep reminding myself of how mystifying London can be the first time you are here…So I allowed myself to get lost in the culture differences and could tell that Josh was buzzing about everything happening around him. The permasmile on his face actually brought me a bit of a smile as well…there really is something to that first realization of “holy shit, I’m 3000 miles away from home.”

I kind of long to feel that again, to be honest.

There is a sort of familiarity to a lot of the experience here for me. I’m comfortable with public transit and savvy enough to get around without too much hassle. There are also other memories that are a little less inviting. We had stopped in a pub near London Tower that had bangers and mash, which were delightful. However there is this smell in the pub that reminded me of my days in the Lyceum. I honestly smell that same smell everywhere here.

Bangers and Mash

I think it is a cleaning product. It reminded me of the time I was here last where on one of the evenings I pushed myself too hard on a hangover and found myself a bit sick, spun out in a tiny flat above a bar trying to recover with Walkers Crisps, Coca-Cola, and sausage rolls. That smell, if anything, serves as a lesson that it’s important to have a damn water every now and again and recover. I got a little lost in pub culture here, and spent a bit too much of my time drinking until 4 AM last time.

That is a mistake Josh was committed to not making last night.

But before we get into that, I should tell you that we visited the London WWII Exhibit which is the Britain at War Experience. It was actually quite an interesting place and I’m glad we went in. Josh is a history buff, so it was kind of like seeing the exhibit with a history teacher who is really committed to the idea of teaching young minds and making them interested, when it’s clear they never will.

Children are Encouraged

There were a few things in this place that resonated with me. Children trying on gas masks was kind of one of them. I had read that issued gas masks at the beginning of the war were designed to look a bit like Mickey Mouse to make them a fun game to get the children used to wearing them. I also learned about how they put children, some women, and invalids into camps to try and keep the population stocked and avoid demoralization.

It made the concept of war very real to me…

We don’t really know war like we used to, do we? The emotion that started to come out just putting my mind into these situations was staggering. At the end of the exhibit they have a “blitz experience” which is basically a mock inside/outside area of bombing that is filled with smoke, devastation, and the sounds of sirens and searchlights. That sealed the deal for me to be honest. It was so vivid thinking about how one might feel and react to this situation.

However, I digress. I don’t want to bum out my loyal six readers.

We stumbled over to Tower Bridge, which is one of my favorite sites in London. It represents a long rich history and is quite ornate in its design. Josh took the usual pictures, but I found myself again being kind of bored…enjoying everything still, but not as excited as I once was. I think this emotion is reflected well in this picture.

Hello old friend.

I should be far more excited than this, right?

We headed over to London Tower and picked up some tickets tomorrow. It’s now tomorrow at the time of writing this and let me say I’m very glad for this fact. The sun is shining and it’s gorgeous outside. It will be a good day to ride the London Eye, see the tower, Westminster Abbey and etc. I’m glad that Josh will get to see all of these things.

Typical American

Let’s face it…if you’re going to be kind enough to bring someone along to the UK, they should do all of the ridiculously touristy type things. Josh seen here in a British phone booth. What’s funny is the phone booth just around the corner from Dave is much more boring. At some point they apparently decided to stop doing these…because, after all, who the hell really needs them?

Josh Acclimates

Josh is now used to getting around, but I thought I’d show one more shot of his permasmile because it amuses me, like the smile of a child amuses me.

We headed down The Strand, picked up a banana and popped into the Lyceum for a couple of pints. Saw Ritchie milling about but nobody else. The landlords have changed and I have to admit the entire feeling of it had changed. It was a bit like moving away from your home town and coming back only to feel kind of out of place and foreign. I suppose we all have to move on, some time.

Pie of the day!

We proceeded to The Globe to get some more drinks and have a bit of dinner. I love the fact that they have pie of the day here. What’s great about the UK is everyone thinks the food is awful. That’s completely rubbish. Everything I eat here I tend to really like. I had a lamb shank at this bar smothered in onion and rosemary gravy over a bed of mash with some shrimp tempura and sweet chili sauce mayonnaise to start. It was an amazing meal and just what I needed to pick up my spirits for a few more pints.

I was in a way glad that the pubs close at around 11 in London. I was tired…but I managed to stay awake on the train. Perhaps it was because I was still pissed about having to pay 30p (0.41 USD) to go to the bathroom at the train station. I’m sure this is done to prevent homeless people from living in there, but jesus is it ever frustrating to try and sort out change when you have to piss!

Sleeping on the train

Dave like a champ sleeping for the rest of the train journey home, in and out while Josh read the news. Don’t tell anyone, but we hadn’t paid train fare and a ticket collector was supposedly on the train. He/she never showed up, and good job that because I didn’t want to have to pretend to be a dumb American.

I’ll thank you not to laugh at that.

By for now. Out to see the sights today, have a nice meal and then pack for Germany.

lunks

 

The stumbling American

October 17th, 2011 Posted in Europe 2011, Travel | 1 Comment »

Josh has some pretty bad flight anxiety, but I think he’s starting to realize that it’s really not that bad to get over it naturally. On the flight to Chicago, he took very little Xanax and wasn’t as much of the usual annoyance that he can be when he’s loaded up on pills.

Josh -- the tourist.

We got into O’Hare early in the morning and had quite a layover (roughly 4 hours) so we had a nice meal and got ourselves properly drunk to board. We were on a American Boeing 777 which really is quite a nice plane. We did have the torture of sitting just behind business class. Watching them eat delicious microwave filet mignon and eat with real silverware…ah well, it could be worse.

I can’t sleep on planes, ever…and even the international flights when I know I should, my sleep is often interrupted by any sound at all…especially the sound of Josh kicking my leg and then pretending that I had just woke up instead, to let him out into the isle to go the bathroom.

We landed at Heathrow in fog…which is quite incredible. It was completely ill visible outside, but I noticed on our flight path video screen that we were just a few hundred feet of the ground…kind of freaky to be honest, but then touchdown and all is well. Now off to Heathrow’s incredibly slow customs line for a little harassment from the border officer who dug through my travel documents for the week. I guess he didn’t like my brevity when it came to my Europlans…ah well. Josh held up like a champ this time. Since he wasn’t medicated, he wasn’t saying incredibly stupid things.

Hopped directly on the tube from Heathrow using our Oyster cards. What a nice thing these are. If you ever travel to London I highly suggest that you get yourself a pre-paid card before you leave. They’ll ship it to you ahead of time. The only funny part is the card you get sort of identifies you as a traveler. You simply place it against the gate and it opens, and you check out when you leave…then the card is debited the appropriate amount of fare. American credit cards don’t have chip and pin, and as I learned last time it means that most machines won’t take them. So you have to sort out a travel card with some dodgy customer service counter which may or may not be open on weekends.

After switching to the Jubilee line we headed on the overground to West Wickham…Josh is sleeping the entire way on the trains. I took a picture of him, obviously about to be pickpocketted. Good job I had my eye on him. Josh is learning lessons I’ve learned in trips past, with his huge luggage and his inattention to details. It will be fun to pass these lessons learned both in practice and in theory. It’s like having a protégé tagging along.

Josh sleeps on the train...

I decided that it would be best to catch a nap for a few hours, head to the pub, get drunk, have some nice dinner and pass out. It was supposed to be the perfect cure, with a combination of homeopathic jetlag pills a quite lovely girl gave me before we left…and, it worked! I was right as rain this morning which is the time I’m writing this entry.

Josh, on the other hand, was pissed up last night.

Josh gets put to bed.

What I don’t think he realizes is that they don’t make their beer here as poorly as we do in America. It’s for real. He had a few pints came back to Dave’s and promptly passed out on the toilet. We woke him up and sent him to bed and he laid there like a zombie for about 8 hours…but now, he’s right as rain and good to go for a night in London, or so I hope. While Josh slept, we ate like kings. Dave had prepared a nice roast with homemade onion gravy, Yorkshire pudding, veggies and horseradish sauce. It was absolutely fantastic! Dave is quite the cook…which is good for Jim because he gets the pleasure of living with him!

A fairly boring night in reflection…but no mater…we’ll make up for it in the days to come. This is just the important process of getting over jet lag and preparing the body to do some hellacious amounts of drinking!

lunks

That time, again.

October 14th, 2011 Posted in Europe 2011, Travel | No Comments »

The question I always seem to get before I head off on a new adventure is “are you excited?”

Oddly enough…the answer is generally, no. I mean…that’s not to say I’m not excited…but it hasn’t gotten to me yet. I can’t check out until I’m on the plane for the first leg of this trip…it’s just impossible to ignore all the things that have to be completed, but the moment my ass hits that plane seat…then it really has began.

I’ll be traveling with someone who suffers from a moderate level of flight anxiety that is mitigated through prescription anxiolytics…he’s also not been across the pond before so I’m excited to share some of travel experience and hang out in some cool new places…He’s a comedian and we’re fairly like minded…I’m hoping for an international incident, to be honest.

More details and pictures to come, but for now, in the immortal words of The Clash, Londons calling.

lunks

Stars at Night by the Pool in Barbados.

May 30th, 2011 Posted in Travel | No Comments »