Beer

And The Winner is….(Part 2)

Continuing on our post from yesterday, we’re reflecting back on our four month trip around the world and picking out some of our favorite stops and visits. Through a series of intense discussion, secret balloting and contemplative reflection, we’ve determined our top choices in a variety of categories. So, once again below are our Luggage Tag RTW Awards! It was a real challenge to hand out top honors, but here we go again with our remaining choices:

Luggage Tags  RTW Awards!

Best Public Transportation– Tokyo and throughout Japan–  This one was a no brainer. The rail system in Tokoyo and throughout Japan is efficient, clean reliable, modern and incredible expansive although not terribly inexpensive. With a system that includes the Tokyo Subway, Regional Rail and Long Distance Trains, there are hundreds and hundreds of stations and stops. A single train map usually does not do the job. One thing we love is that many of the train cars have unique options–there is a quiet car and an all female car on some trains for rush hour.  Announcements and signs are often given in three languages including English. If the trains weren’t enough to win us over, the passengers would be. As a rule, riders are incredibly polite. They even line up in an orderly way to board the most crowded train and rude behavior is rarely seen.  There really is no equal.

Best City-to-City Transportation  Once you place air travel in another category, we have a two way tie. The train ride from Zagreb to Munich finally fulfilled  expectations of what we had hoped for in a European train ride. Up to this point, our train rides in Eastern Europe had been on outdated trains, lackluster, and disappointing. Our overnight ride in a private sleeper to Germany was comfortable, state of the art and packed with amenities. We even had an attentive porter who brought us water and handled customs at the border. Phil spent a good chunk of the night excitedly peering out of the window watching the night landscape roll by rather than sleeping. And pulling into the massive Munich train station at dawn was a fun way to end the trip. The other winner is the bus ride from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. At first, memories of rides on Greyhound made us dread a 14-hour cross country bus ride. It turns out, it was probably more comfortable than sitting in our living room! Over sized seats that rival first class airplane seats mingled nicely with the service that included two meals, complimentary cheap wine, movies and even bingo, It all made for a great ride. If this kind of bus travel was more common in the United States, I think people might rethink their attitudes toward long haul bus rides! 

Best Local Beer– Munich  Shocking, I know. Since every country has their own national or local brew, we tried beer in every city we visited. But virtually all the beer we tried in Munich was simply better than the rest.  We particularly enjoyed the Hofbrau and Lowenbrau labels in all varieties, but they sure know how to do a Dunkel.  Strong and smooth.  Absolutely perfect with a pretzel and currywurst.  Yum!  We enjoyed beers all around the globe from the Quilmes in Argentina, to Carlsberg in Copenhagen and Asashi Ichiban in Japan, but few of them were particularly memorable.  We will give an honorable mention to some of the smaller breweries we tried in New Zealand and Bulgaria, but overall they paled in comparison to all beer in Munich.

There is no doubt – they make some really great beer in Munch

Most Beautiful Nature Setting- We have a split decision here. Actually, we have a no decision. This is likely the thing we get asked about the most. Brooke immediately said the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria, with the thick forest and rushing stream.  Phil was convinced it was the panoramic view from the top of Mt. Fuji.  But then, what about sunset in Dubrovnik or the view of the Adriatic?  The rock formations in HaLong Bay or the Waitomo Caves?  For that matter, what about all of New Zealand where they really earn the nickname of the “God Zone”? Honestly, we can’t even choose.

Bridal Veils in New Zealand

Most Beautiful City Setting- Budapest is tough to beat.  The architecture is absolutely beautiful. It has an old style, but in a classic sense, not like ruins which we saw in so many other Eastern European cities.  In addition, Budapest’s wide sidewalks lined with grand mansions and historic homes give the city a Parisian air.  Just around every corner was another stunning building. Toss in Buda Castle, Parliament and the Danube River as landmarks and it only gets better. What certainly stands out is that not a single building or monument is covered by spray paint.  How refreshing!  It is important to mention that we considered Edinburgh as the winner of this award, and it is a close second, but it has a grittiness (probably from all the rain and the fact that it is hundreds of years older) that Budapest is missing.

Budapest at night

Best Surprise–  Dubrovnik. We really didn’t know anything about Dubrovnik before arriving.  We learned that Croatia was part of the Serbian conflict, and we may have expected it to look more like Belgrade and Sofia.  Instead we found streets paved with marble and beautiful seaside views.  Wow and then some. The relaxed atmosphere, beautiful walk along the city walls and the historic nature of the entire city makes Dubrovnik the best surprise of the trip. Walking the city wall provided some of the best views and moments of the trip, hands down.

We could gush and ramble for hours about some of our favorite parts of our trip, but those are some of the  real highlights. As you might imagine, there are tons of categories we could have listed. Anything ranging from Best coffee, Best Weather, Best WiFi Availability, Best encounter with a local and more. But, we have to draw the line  somewhere. We also have our share of low lights (I’m looking at you, Belgrade restaurant who served us massively undercooked chicken kebabs), but we’ll save those for another day. So, if you have any questions about our “Best of” awards or if you have any additional categories you would want to see, just drop us a line and we’ll wax nostalgically about those as well!

–Brooke and Phil

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Categories: Beer, Best Of, City Visits, Exploring, Post Trip Reflections, Random Thoughts, Round The World Trip, Surprises, The End of our Trip, Trains, Transportation, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

And the Winner Is…(Part 1)

Our time abroad may be finished, but the Luggage Tags blog is not! On our flight yesterday, Brooke and I realized that we still have boatloads to say about our once in a life time trip. We plan to post on our budget for the trip, reflections on returning home, how we would have packed differently and more. We’re proud that we managed to update the blog almost daily while we were abroad, but as we realign our life, posts may appear a bit less frequently. If this still sounds like your bag of chips, we hope that you’ll stick around and continue the voyage with us for a bit longer! – PK  

Throughout our trip around the world, we have experienced stays in more hotels than we count, ate at more restaurants that we can remember, and need an abacus to add up all the train rides, bar visits and stops at museums. We thought it might be fun to look back through on all of our experiences and present our findings on the best of the best. So, below are Luggage Tag RTW Awards! It was tough to narrow down the Creme de La Creme, but we did our best below:

Luggage Tags  RTW Awards!
Best Bar/Pub– Lord Nelson Bar, (Copenhagen) – A bar for locals located smack dab in the middle of an incredibly touristy area of Copenhagen. Unassuming, unsuspecting and easy to miss. Glad we found it because we had an absolute blast while visiting. The incredibly friendly and knowledgeable bartenders allowed us to sample just about every beer they had. The bar boasted an impressive collection of unique craft beers from around the area and friendly locals. It was just our speed. Honorable mention goes to Cafe Bar Bard in the Old City of Dubrovnik: While it is quieter and has a limited menu, it is right on the Adriatic with the best view any watering hole could hope for.

Best Museum–Te Papa – The National Museum of New Zealand (Wellington)  We visited tons of sensational museums on our travels so that makes this a hard one. But Te Papa was the biggest and the best. The museum is incredible interactive and expansive. The exhibits about New Zealand are diverse and modernized. You can visit without a guide and it’s still awesome. As you might expect, English was spotty or secondary in many museums we saw. The best part about Te Papa? Admission is completely free. Honorable mention here goes to the small but impressive Nikola Telsa Museum in Serbia and their passionate staff and also to the the quirky, effectively informative History Museum of Estonia in Tallinn.

Best Hotel Stay- Hanoi Moment (Hanoi)  Wow, what a hotel! The staff seemed to spend every minute knocking themselves out to assist you. Wine and fruit was waiting for us in the room when we checked in, the room itself was comfortable, large and chock full amenities including a laptop. It was all a real respite from the humidity and hustle of Hanoi. Plus they serve an amazing breakfast. And for all this luxury, the price was astoundingly low. The list of nominees for best hotel list was a bit shorter because mixed up hotel stays with nights through Air B ‘n B, hostels and more along the way. Honorable mention goes to Le Meriden in Budapest (but since the room was through hotel points, we can’t rank against cost) and The Lennox Hotel in Buenos Aires.

Best Airport- Changi Singapore Airport (Singapore)  With an amazing kinetic art sculpture, this airport makes an immediate impression on visitors.  Beyond that, it is new, clean and has a lot to offer.  On a long layover, passengers can visit a swimming pool to get some exercise or relax between flights.  We also loved that the security lines were at the gate when you board the plane rather than in the front of the airport with all other passengers.  There is also tons of shopping because, after all, it is Singapore. It is a big airport that seems to do it all well.  Honorable mention goes to the Amsterdam Airport.  We were just there on a lay over for a few hours, but with a casino, museum and massage center,  it seemed pretty great just walking through.

Best Meal –Dinner at Lubimoto (Sofia). – Man, what a meal! Run by a trio of brothers, a dinner at Lubimoto allowed us to sit outside and pace ourselves over a nice long meal. One of the brothers had spent considerable time in America and doubled as our host (so much more than a waiter) for the evening. We finally relented and began the meal like Bulgarians do -with Rakia! From there, we enjoyed another local staple that’s become a fast favorite and a daily must of ours: A shopska salad. After that, our host brought us two made-to-order entrees that were out of this world.  One pork dish and one chicken dish that I would only shame if I attempted to describe the deliciousness. A couple of pints of Staropramen and a dessert made of cake and pecan ice cream (compliments of our host) rounded out the evening. And the final bill left us wondering if the printer was broken or someone sliced off a few zeros. Great stuff, but not an isolated incident in Sofia.Honorable mentions go to Ocho Cepas steak house in Mendoza, Ippudo Ramen in Kyoto and endless number of Hot Dog carts in Copenhagen!

Insanely great Ramen from Ippudo in Kyoto

Best “Bang for your Buck”– Vietnam. With a conversion rate of 22,500 Dong to the US Dollar, everything is incredibly affordable. There is a ton to see and plenty to spend money on from knock off bags to newly tailored suits and unique pieces of art.  In addition, there are endless wonderful, authentic restaurants, that serving  heaping portions with prices that make your make thing there is a misprint in the menu. Plus, visitors can easily stay at a Four-star hotel for $60 or less. Excluding accommodations, we’re pretty sure that travelers could do Hanoi on a mere $20 a day. A complete bargain for such a lively, friendly and different place.

Halong Bay in Vietnam

We’ve got six more that we want to share as we continue Part 2 tomorrow! Including Best Public Transportation, Best Non-Flight Transportation, Best Local Beer, Most Beautiful setting and, our favorite, Best Surprise. Drop us a line if there is anything you’d be interested in hearing what we thought was top notch. Trust me, when it comes to recommendations, feedback and opinions, we’ve got plenty of ammo!

-Brooke and Phil

Categories: Bars, Beer, Best Of, Eating, Flights, Museums, Post Trip Reflections, Surprises, The End of our Trip, Transportation, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Farewell Scotland, Buenos Dias Argentina!

Before the clouds, anywayOur time in Europe is coming to a quick close. Brooke and I spent one last quiet day in Edinburgh today before we shut the door on Scotland and set our sights on our next and (can it be?) final leg of our Round The World Trip: Argentina and possibly Chile. I’ve enjoyed being in the same country for more than just a handful of days. It’s allowed us to see more, do more and offers a nice change of pace. There is less debating nightly lodging choices, zero sweating inter-country transportation details and no need to work our key phrases in new languages. One big lesson learned on this trip: longer stays over fewer stops has its benefits! Of course, the other side of the coin is that you see a smaller number of places in the end. At this point, I wouldn’t trade any city visit for more time in any other city. Okay, maybe less or zero time in Guangzhou. Sorry, Guangzhou.

Last night, for our last evening in Edinburgh, we enjoyed a quiet dinner at a cozy pub called the Green Mantle. If there is one thing that Scotland isn’t hurting for, it’s cozy pubs. We were first lured in by the rare promise of dinner being served after 7:00 PM and it turned out to be the perfect place for a meal and drinks. Intended or otherwise, our meals keep coming with potatoes served in one form or another. Chips, jacketed, crisps, boiled and more. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I’ve consumed at least one potato every day since I landed in Scotland. Each one was exceedingly delicious so I’m not complaining, just pointing out that this might be a terrible place to visit if you have some strange, unique potato allergy. To our dismay, the bartender at the Green Mantle told us that we missed the ubiquitous Pub Quiz evening be one day.  Probably for the best since our skills at American Bar Trivia probably don’t quite translate directly into British Pub Quizzes. Questions like “Which footy forward kicked the equalizing point for France in the 2006 World Cup” would sabotage me.

Over buffalo burgers and tasty Tennet’s lager, Brooke and I mulled over some final reflections on our time in this part of the world. I know we’ve said it before, but it bares repeating: The Rabbie’s three day tour was outstanding and we can’t recommend it enough. Some of our most exceptional experiences abroad have been with knowledgable, passionate locals who have led walking, biking and bus tours. That includes our time with a lively guide at the Edinbugh Castle Tour and the extraordinaire Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour. A plan to do more of these tours moving forward is now part of our agenda. We were introduced to a great website named Viator.com that aggregates tours. Kind of like a Kayak.com for sight seeing. The tours left me with more stories, facts and impressions on Scotland and The Highlands than my wee brain can possibly remember. Local Scots are such a proud people who wear their Scottish Pride and passion for history right on the hem of their kilt. It tends to rub off; we feel like we’re leaving Scotland beaming with pride even though we’re just visitors. In the end, we’re both so glad that we included Scotland on our itinerary. Aye, a great visit.

This morning, we decided to take the day to regroup and relax. There was sleeping in. There was a postcard writing blitz. There was window shopping. There was time in a coffee shop. When you travel for four months, we’ve found that you need these kind of days to keep you sane. We did stumble across a unique store called “Americandy” that left us rolling our eyes. The theme of the store is that they stock all of the incredibly bad-for-you, over-the-top candy that’s popular in the states, but harder to find in Europe. We’re talking NERDS, GummyWorms, and Twinkies. So, to be clear, the one store we saw that boasts selling American goods is peddling the worst junk you can imagine. The kicker? They also sell boxes of cereals such as Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms but no other breakfast foods. A bit eye opening that a stores that sells novelty candy has kid’s breakfast cereal bunched in.

And, yeah, they even have the Blues Brothers out front.

Soon the time came to leave Edinburgh. The bus ride out made me a bit sad, but the unrelenting fog that blocked the usually stunning view of the Edinbugh castle made leaving a little bit more palatable. Actually, we split town just in time as the forecast calls for snow on Thursday. (Go ahead. Ask me about the Buenos Aires forecast. That’s right. 75 degrees and sunny!) Brooke and I were kind enough to leave Edinburgh just the way found it – in the rain! Our bus ride out of town gave us one last lovely view- rows and rows of captivating, old, giant homes made from stone that have been turned into B&Bs and small hotels.

Stop! Time is getting away!Right now, we find ourselves back in Glasgow while we wait for the overnight Megabus to speed us down to London. We’re downing just a touch of whisky (the true Scottish way is to spell it without the “e”!) and killing some time at a bar. Now that I’m back in Glasgow, I can say that Edinburgh feeels much bigger and more cosmopolitan even though it is the smaller town of the two. I’m also clearly hearing now how the accents vary so dramatically in this country. Man, I can’t believe I missed it before. Speech patterns change even over just a few miles. Most of the time I have no trouble understanding the locals, but other times I struggle to pick up every third word. Hell, it might very well be like this in every country we’ve visited, but since we actually speak the English language, here it is much more noticeable. We’re told that every little region of Scotland has its own accent. But the important thing is that apparently absolutely no one speaks with the strange brogue that Sean Connery invokes.

What's a sheep's favorite song? Ba-ba-ba-Babara Ann.So, we find ourselves changing gears again. Time to break out the Lonely Planet book on Argentina and brush up on the little Spanish we know. (“Donde esta la biblioteca?”) We’re not just leaving the United Kingdom, we’re leaving Europe where we’ve been hanging out since early August. It always takes a little adjusting mentally to go from one region of the world to another. But, as always, we’re ready to discover and absorb a new place. It’s another chapter closed on our RTW trip as we say goodbye to lovely Scotland (and Europe for that matter!) and head west.

-Phil

A much quieter High Street in Edinbugh at night!

Just your average pub lined street in Edinburgh!

Categories: Beer, Exploring, Scotland, Self Guided Tours, Tours, Transportation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Meeting literary ghosts in Edinburgh Pubs

It is hard to believe that the calendar today reads October 20th. I’m somewhat amazed because that must mean that Brooke I have now been traveling from the middle of summer to the middle of fall and now we’re knee deep in Scotland. I’ve said it before, but it bares repeating – this has been one hell of a trip. The day often concludes with so many reflections, reactions and impressions that it usually ends up being way too much for a single blog post. I’m left instead with copious notes scribbled on pieces of paper stuffed in my pocket, and later, in my suitcase. However, as long as I continue to find myself in interesting places learning interesting things, I think there is room to share a bit of what I picked up. During an unintended wayward bus ride today we learned that the popular American clothing store TJ Maxx is called TK Maxx in the United Kingdom. We learned today that the Scottish menu items “Neeps” are turnips. While looking at old gramophones during a visit to the National Museum of Scotland we learned that the name of music provider “HMV”stands for “His Master’s Voice” – an allusion to the image of the loyal puppy with his head in the record player speaker. And we learned on an exceptional Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour, that the correct pronunciation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic is “Jeek-yl” and Hyde.

Our time in Edinburgh continues to treat us well. We’re enjoying each day, despite the fact that we’ve still got gray skies as far as the eye can see. The sun glasses we packed are as useless as a coffee pot made of chocolate, but not much to do about that other than to resolve never to actually move here. Even the realistic locals won’t offer any encouragement about the forecast. (“But it’s really nice here in August, right?” “No, it still rains an ungodly amount.”) The real talk of the town isn’t the weather, but the upcoming 2014 referendum vote for true Scottish independence from the UK. That should make for a couple of interesting years. We love the walkability of Edinburgh and had a chance to stretch our legs all over town today. In preparation for the forthcoming cold of the Highlands and adding a whole new dimension to my wardrobe, we both bought used jackets and I purchased a pair of jeans from a used-clothing charity store. Jeans! Sweet Gravy on a platter, denim pants! I had packed none for the trip and now they feel…hmm…heavenly is not the right word, but it will do. A long journey like this has a way of making you feel a bit run down sometimes, but in the last three days I’ve gotten an overdue haircut, laundered all of my clothes and now some snazzy new (to me) wares. It really, really makes a difference in how you feel.

Check out stylish Brooke- new jacket and all!

After shopping, self-guided sight seeing and some delicious lunchtime pies (one with steak and gravy, the other with meat and onion), we took a quick spin through the National Museum of Scotland. We went partially because it looked interesting and partially because, well, it was free. The museum is giant and packed with well curated displays.  It also offers a surprising number of dining options. But at this point, with the sheer number of museums we’ve seen since New Zealand, our bar to be impressed has been raised quite high. We definitely liked what we saw especially concerning the Scottish history over the last 400 years. Although it is a bit embarrassing to visit the museum’s Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, celebrating 50 native athletes and their achievement in the fields of boxing, rowing, football, racing, golf and more, and find you’re familiar with approximately zero of the names. Not a one. After traipsing around the museum for a while, fatigue gave in and we headed back to the apartment. Well, that was the plan. Unfortunately, it was remarkably easy to confuse bus #49 with bus #42 and we received an unintended tour of greater Edinburgh. Not a bad thing, actually. It’s kind of fun getting safely lost when you’ve got no where to be and there is no additional cost (we were on a day-long bus pass). Plus, it is no where near the first time we’ve gotten on the wrong bus. With a little patience and time, two must-have qualities on a trip like this, Brooke and I always manage to end up where we need to be.

I would kill for this to be my nieghborhood barBut the peak of our day came just after 7:30 PM when we started our journey on the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour. While we didn’t know exactly what to expect, what came next exceeded any possible expectations! Part historical tour, part pub crawl and part performance art, this was a lively, informative and colorful way to spend a few hours in Edinburgh. And this is the perfect city for such a tour – with so many bars that date back 300 and 400 years, there is bound to be some amazing stories just waiting to be told. We made stops all across town at the Beehive, The Jolly Judge, Ensign Ewart and Kennilworth. We were entertained by stories and history on Scottish greats such as Stevenson, Walter Scott, Robert Byrnes and more. We heard some sensational tales like the one of craftsman Deacon Brody who built the gallows that would later be used to hang him. Being sucked into the middle of all this history with a Guinness in my hand, there was no where else on Earth I wanted to be. We want to rave about this tour to the far corners of the globe. It’s a must for anyone who enjoys literature, compelling local history, bars and/or beer! If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with Simon and Dewi as your hosts and guides.

Tomorrow, we’re taking off on a three day tour with the much beloved Rabbie’s Trail Burners. One nice thing about having so much time in one country is that we can venture away from the big cities and into the countryside.  We are both looking forward to visiting the famed and romanticized Highlands and getting away from the hustle of city life for a while.

-Phil

Hanging at Edinburgh Castle

A look at the stone streets of Edinburgh

Categories: Beer, Europe, Exploring, Reflections, Scotland, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Let Glasgow Flourish!

Today marks our 101st post since we began the Luggage Tags blog back in June. We thought that was a nice little achievement worth noting. We’re proud that we’ve managed to blog almost every single day. Huzzah us!

Great buildings. Look up for stone cutting that's top notch!Hello again from Scotland! The weather outside is cold, wet and windy but that’s pretty much par for the course for Glasgow in October. It’s not hard to see why all the Scots we’ve met make so many jokes about their crappy weather. We’re currently hold up in a tremendous cafe called Artisan Roast near the university. A place like this can keep us cozy and warm while we plan our next steps over hot cups of long black and Ethiopian Chemex drip. Yeah, somewhere between Singapore and Copenhagen we became coffee aficionados. The coffee bean has become our unofficial sponsor and mandatory fuel for this trip. So far, we’re both really relishing our time in Scotland. I particularly dig the city’s motto: Let Glasgow Flourish. We packed it in yesterday with a stop to a famed city museum, grabbing tickets to a lunch time one-act play, and soaking up a football match over some traditional Scottish pub grub. A nice, full, if not tiring day in Scotland.

After knocking out some well-past-due laundry, our first stop of the day was a short trek down Argyle Street to visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Much to our delight, Glasgow boasts a substantial number of historical buildings and museums that offer free admission, including the much cherished Kelvingrove. Given our budget, Brooke and I are definitely making good use of that. The Kelvingrove, opened as a city museum way back in 1901, is a beautiful, big, old structure that is fantastic just as a building in and of itself. You get the impression that some of the same money that built the City Chambers we visited yesterday was used to construct this place as well. We’ve seen our fair share of museums on this trip so far, but we’re going to go ahead and put the Kelvingrove in the top tier.

Part of the Expressions Exhibit at KelingroveThe museum quickly impressed us with a diverse balance of fine art galleries, historical exhibits, zoological displays and more. Themed galleries spread over the different wings made the expansive museum accessible and easy to digest. We learned all about the local artists known as “The Glasgow Boys”, soaked up displays on the biggest and smallest features of animals around the world, and I got a particular kick out of the pristine collection of fierce looking 14th through 17th century armor. There were some notable oddities like the legendary, albeit somewhat disturbing, locally beloved 100 year-old stuffed Elephant named “Sir Roger” and the striking collection of floating fiberglass heads in the “Expressions” exhibit. The crown jewel of the museum is probably the moving, 1951 Dali crucifixion painting “Christ of St. John of the Cross”. Very cool, very different. We wish we had another hour or two to explore (and maybe enjoy an organ recital), but we had to hustle off to A Play, A Pie and A Pint!

After another short walk in the rain, we took in a show at an old converted church turned bar/club/theater/event space aptly named “A Play, A Pie and A Pint.” This is such a fantastic concept that it is begging to be introduced in the United States: A ticket costing ten pounds get you a traditional meat or cheese pie, a pint of your favorite drink (beer, wine, juice, etc) and a performance of a one-act play that changes every week. Genius! With daily shows, this is a fantastic way to spend any lunchtime. We managed to catch “Faith Fall” which showcases three actors in front of microphones performing a play about love, cancer and the devil on an empty set. The show itself was unique, thought provoking and quite good. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a stripped down, dialogue intense one-act play. There was a nice big crowd on hand nibbling away at pies and quiet sips of beer. As Brooke mentioned yesterday, Glasgow clearly has a remarkably strong dedication to the arts and culture. I have a feeling that when Glasgow was struggling with a seriously down economy a few years back, the town poured energy and money into establishing a strong arts scene. And it shows.

Bartender at Work!As with just about every city, we managed to take a ride on the city Subway (they are back to being called Subways instead of Metros). While each city has a slightly different set up, Glasgow’s limited system has surprisingly tiny trains that look like squished sausages. I felt like I was crammed into a torpedo and the bumpy ride almost gave us a case of whiplash! Definitely unique! Later that evening, we visited a pub to watch the National Scottish team take on Belgium in a World Cup qualifier. I’m a bit slow on the doings of international sports, but I’m still amazed that there are qualifying games for a World Cup tournament that’s almost two years away. Apparently this one was a “win or it’s over” scenario for the Scots even though qualifying games continue into 2013. Given the weak performance of the team thus far, the crowd at the pub already seemed partly resigned to a loss before the game even started. The 2-0 win by Belgium was less of a surprise than seeing “Haggis, Neeps and Tatties” as a meal option on the menu. By the way, among the endless taps of beer found at every bar here, Guinness has started offering handles with “Extra Cold Guinness” in which the beer comes out two degrees colder. Is it any better? Who knows, but chalk one up for beer marketing teams. We’ve had a busy, full day in Glasgow, but there is still more to see and do! Tomorrow, we’re going to take a short train ride to Blantyre to explore some of my family history.

-Phil

Brooke with pies, plays and pints

Part of the Excellent Armor Collection at Kelivngrove

It’s just a wee subway for the lads and lassies of Scotland!

Brooke Enjoying the Scottish Weather this morning

Categories: Bars, Beer, City Visits, Museums, Reflections, Scotland, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Glasgow, Scotland

GlasgowWhen we told people we would be heading to Glasgow, almost all of them asked, “Will you got to Edinburgh?”  Time after time people told us there isn’t much to do in Glasgow and we shouldn’t spend too much time here.  After spending the day exploring this city, we are so chock-full of things we want to do that we are considering extending our stay one more day.  Filled with great food and culture, Glasgow appears to be a wonderful city with tons for us to see and do.

We began our day the way anyone should while in Scotland–with a traditional breakfast. Pulled in by the sign that said “Scottish Breakfast £2.99”, we sat down in Wetherspoons.  I went for the breakfast wrap, but Phil is in full Scottish mode and ordered the Traditional Breakfast.  When his plate came, it was a feast of all things protein:  fried egg, fried sausage, bacon, and beans on toast.  Figuring this to be the perfect way to start our day in Scotland, we cleared our plates and then headed into the city.

As you have seen if you’ve read other blog posts, we really enjoy the Hop-on/Hop-off City Sightseeing bus tours.  Doing this upon arrival to a new city really helps to understand the layout and what it has to offer.  In the past, we have always had the pre-recorded tours.  This allows for greater flexibility as the tours can be given in several different languages.  This company also has that option, but the bus we got on had a live tour guide.  It didn’t take us long to realize how much better a live tour is than a pre-recorded one.  Having grown up in Glasgow, this gentleman could speak to the way things were when he was a boy compared to today.  He kept us updated on current events regarding construction projects and city news.  Most importantly, he was much more entertaining than a recording.  His dry sense of humor had us questioning a few times whether he was joking or not.  On the tour, we explored the city’s centre, west end and river front.  We were unaware of Glasgow’s rich ship building history and learned that the town still engages in this trade today.

After the tour, we stopped for a warm bowl of soup to warm us up because let me tell you–it is cold here.  Maybe 45 degrees today, everyone seemed cheered that at least the sun was shining.  Our tour guide joked that we were all baking in the hot sun at the top of the bus and added that maybe the sun would come out again in another 3 years.  In fact, all day we heard joke after joke about the gray, rainy, cold weather which is commonplace here.  We realize we might be very lucky to be graced by sunshine today and we should enjoy it while we can. (The weather for the rest of the week looks like a lot of rain.)  Once sufficiently warmed by some sweet corn chowder, we ventured back into the cold only briefly to head to the City Chambers, the headquarters of Glasgow’s City Council.  This beautiful old building is situated in the center of the city, just off George Square.  When we heard they offered free tours of the interior, we figured it would be a great way to learn a little bit more about the city’s history.  The building was completed in 1888 and is a display of decadence and wealth.  It has two staircases, the white and the black, so named for the material which was used in building them.  In days of old, only the wealthy nobility and royals were allowed to use the white marble staircase.  The other was reserved for servants and working class visitors. On our tour we visited the banquet hall, the council chamber and the art gallery, where each Lord Provost throughout history has a portrait hanging.  All in all, our tour was really interesting and a good start in helping us to understand the Scottish brogue (I swear, sometimes it sounds like a totally foreign language).

After switching our luggage from our previous night’s hotel to our new Air BnB stay, we went looking for our first pint of the day.  We discovered The Grove, an old man bar if ever there was one.  With horse racing on the TV screen and talk of the Scotland v. Belgium football game tomorrow, it was a great place for a drink.  Phil opted for a Guinness while I tried a Belhaven, all for a mere £5.  At this price, I imagine we’ll be back here again tomorrow! From here, we went to a place called Neighborhood Bar to take advantage of their 2-for-1 deal on dinner.  Then, we headed to the famed King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut for some live music.  We haven’t really caught too many live shows on the trip yet, and King Tut’s is known for having all kinds of different bands each night of the week. (Their claim to fame is being the bar where Oasis was discovered.)  The lineup tonight consisted of bands we have never heard of, but that is half the fun of going to a show like this anyway.  The first act, Jonny Jack, was a young rock band.  Well rehearsed, they played together tightly, but their music wasn’t terribly original.  The lead singer’s voice reminded us of Rob Thomas from his Matchbox 20 days.  Next was a solo artist named Luke Sital-Singh, who played slow, sad songs on his guitar that would have been perfect if we were terribly depressed.  His voice was great, but the songs started to all sound the same after a while.  The headlining act, Fossil Collective, seems to have been around a while since they definitely had some regular fans there to catch the show.  Following the footsteps of many other modern bands, they have a multi-vocal, full harmonic sound along with their many guitars.  They sound a bit similar to Grizzly Bear with a voice like My Morning Jacket.

But the gem of the night was Cherry Grove.  We knew we were in for a treat when they began setting up their stage.  Instruments include your basic keyboard and guitar, but then they also had a violin, harp and accordion.  These incredibly talented musicians played a great set.  Sometimes with vocals, sometimes only instruments, they modernized traditional music and instruments in a creative and innovative way.  They seemed to genuinely have fun on stage, and you got the sense that they probably all met at a music conservatory because they have mastered their instruments.  They were releasing their first EP tonight, and it was clear to see that much of the audience came to see them.  The show would have been worth it even if Cherry Grove was the only band we saw.

King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut has a midnight curfew to respect their neighbors, so once the bands were done we walked home, huddled together to keep warm.  We are so pleased with our first day in Glasgow and we can’t wait for all that we have in store for tomorrow.  We will do a nice variety of museums, exploration, and sport.  As long as we don’t freeze first!

–Brooke

Beautiful view of the Clyde River.

Phil in the City Chambers.

Brooke always wants to be in charge.

One Lord Provost chose to have his portrait done by an artist with a very unique style. It is very intriguing.

Categories: Bars, Beer, City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Eating, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, Music, Scotland, Tours | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Prost From Munich!

Hello again from Munich! We’re thoroughly enjoying our time in Germany thus far as we attempt to experience as much as possible over our short three day stay. So far, so good. After some of the more complicated & confusing cities we’ve visited, tackling Munich has been a cake walk. Getting around is a breeze and our single snag was based on the confusing labeling of the “S” and “U” subway system. We’re still not sure why seemingly identical systems have two different labels, but we have to give the public transportation system credit. The subway has remarkable accessibility through ramps, escalators and elevators. Plus, friendly dogs on public transportation is a very common site. Additionally on the helpful side, we’ve found that a majority of Munich residents speak English and speak it incredibly well. Although, once again we have to be head’s up pedestrians because we’re back to dodging bikers in bike lanes similar to Copenhagen. We’re also trying to make the most of our breakfasts because we realize that we’re winding down our time in regions known for delicious morning pastries. Our most important discovery however is that we’ve also cracked the code on exactly what the traditional German outfits are all about. For lack of a classier description, Lederhosen are essential festive drinking clothes.

Through a happy coincidence, the apartment we had booked happened to be just down the street from a local brewery and beer hall. And what trip to Munich would be complete without a visit to a traditional beer hall? We spent an evening in the Lowenbrau Beer Hall – a lively, fun place that was just our speed. Every item on the menu makes for a big, heavy meal that is complimented by gargantuan glasses of delicious, full-bodied beers. The sprawling beer hall, just one of many in Munich, was packed with a boisterous crowd of everyone from tables of regulars who keep their own personal steins locked up at the restaurant to tour-bus sized groups of visitors. Between bites of sausages and german meatloaf (that was really more like a giant slab of cooked ham), we struck up a conversation with a neighboring table of visiting gynecologists and compared notes on musicians popular in Germany such as Anastasia, The Scorpions and, yes, David Hasselhoff. We also learned a lot about Munich’s own Lowenbrau. Loosely Translated as “Lion’s Beer”, Lowenbrau has been in production since the 1300’s and is one of only six beers sold at Oktoberfest. Why? Because all Oktoberst beers must be brewed in Munich. Not surprisingly, but still somewhat sadly, Lowenbrau recently joined the global Anheuser-Busch InBev family of beers.

The next morning, eager to get outside and see more of Munich, we took the train to Olympic Park – home of the 1972 Olympic Games. It was such a sensational place and we’re now considering relocating to Munich for the park alone. The city has done a phenomenal job of repurposing the massive complex to serve as a central city location for green space, sporting events, community pool, concerts and truly something for everyone. In fact, our visit came the day before the Munich Marathon which started in the park and ended right in the middle of the Olympic Stadium. Forking over a few Euro allowed us to take a trip to the top of the Olympic Tower. It may have been just another tower to see on our trip (and we’ve seen several), but “Olympiaturm” delivered the best view in Munich with a stunning 360 degree viewing platform. From this tallest point in the city, we could see for the first time the large number of parks and forests scattered through small neighborhoods that continued out into the horizon. There was also a strangely placed and largely forgettable Rock museum at the top of the tower.

After the tower, we elected to take the “Adventure Tour” of Olympic Park. Not sure where the adventure came in unless the German word for Adventure really means “stand around and listen”, but it was still interesting. Our easy-going, enthusiastic guide delivered the tour in both German and English, but Brooke and I are pretty sure that only about 25% of what he had said in German got translated to English. Nevertheless, it was a great background on the design and history of the unique stadium and complex. Highlights included seeing the swimming complex where Mark Spitz broke all of those Olympic Records years ago and visiting a locker room that was used by the local Football Club for years. For us, it was just an old empty locker room, but the rest of the tour group was buzzing about excitable while taking photos of signs that players had used this particular rack. We found it interesting that no mention was made of the tragedy involving the Israeli athletes, but to be fair we didn’t visit the Olympic Housing section.

Ready to get off our feet, we headed back to the city center to see some of the Marienplatz area and take a quick trip to the legendary Hofbrau House. We were disenchanted at first its touristy location (right next to the Hard Rock Cafe) and the teeming crowds, but we’re glad we went in. We grabbed a seat along side others on a bench and we had giant steins, pretzels and sausages in no time. What a fun, iconic and tremendous place! The lesson there is just because a location is the most well-known touristy place in town, doesn’t mean its not worth a visit. So, all in all, we feel like we have made solid use of our three days in Munich. It’s been a great city to visit and fall feels like the perfect time to be in this part of Germany. Still, what’s taken some getting used to is that we’ve found Germans to be incredibly friendly, but the language always makes it sound like they are angry or yelling. It reminded us of this hilarious old Dana Carvey/Steve Carell sketch. Now, we have a train ride to Stutgart, a very short night’s sleep and then (after a connecting flight through Amsterdam) off to Scotland!

-Phil

That's a lot of polls to control!

The World’s Largest Foosball Table! Part of The Olympic Stadium. Could get some great games going here!

Munich’s Olympic Park

View of the BMW Headquarters and Museum from atop the Olympic Tower

Brooke soaking up the whole Beer Hall experience!

Categories: Beer, City Visits, Destinations, German, Oympics, Parks, Self Guided Tours, Sports, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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