Self Guided Tours

Voting, Bus Stations and The Argentina Reciprocity Fee

Hello again from Buenos Aires! We’re continuing to explore the expansive Argentine capital as we spend time in neighborhoods like San Telmo and Palermo. We’ve traded in one comfortable hotel for another across town in order to check out another section of the city and we’re quickly mastering the Subte (Subway) system. Our plans were thwarted a bit when had some big rain roll through the other night which ended up causing some flooding throughout town. But the storms really just made for a good excuse to stay in, order delivery empanadas and watch Three Amigos and Shawn of The Dead on television. Yesterday, however, we packed in a full day that included everything from Tango Classes to a visit to the US Embassy.

A real highlight of the day was that we managed to take part in one of the most patriotic actions an American citizen can do: We voted in the 2012 United States presidential election! Hell yeah. Brooke and I have never missed a big election but we were fairly certain that our four month trip around the world was going to cause us to forfeit our votes for this one. Bummed about potentially missing out on our chance to be part of the democratic process, we had looked into the possibility of voting absentee before we departed NYC. But since our departure date was so far in advance of the election, absentee voting was a difficult, unlikely and cumbersome proposition. The woman at the board of elections seemed to have no clue as to how we should proceed.  At that point, we gave up and figured we would probably have to miss out on voting.  Not willing to settle for this, we took a long walk down to the United States Embassy of Argentina to see what could be done.

The expansive US Embassy was more like an administrative compound than the lovely, grand mansions we’ve seen in some of the smaller European capitals. The guards directed us to a bank telleresque window where we were quickly assisted. To our surprise, it turned out to be an incredibly simples process for us to vote in the 2012 election! A pair of passports, two registration forms and a blank ballot for writing in choices were all we needed. High fives commenced! It felt like an awesome win and left us with a strong dose of American pride. I’m ready for my screaming American Eagle tattoo on my bicep. In retrospect, we should done a little bit of research on our local New York ballot in order to be more informed about local and state issues, but we were honestly so pessimistic about actually being able to vote that we never took the time. Our embassy guide told us that we just missed out on “Voting Day” a few weeks earlier that was made up of giveaways from American companies and a speech from the ambassador. I think for years we’ll remember how for this particular election our ballots were cast in the middle of Buenos Aires at the US Embassy.

From the Embassy, we made our way over to the central Buenos Aires bus station – La Terminal De Omnibus – to secure our bus tickets for our travel to Mendoza. Ever since Argentina’s government dramatically cut back on train subsidies in the 1990s, buses have been the preferred method of traveling from city to city across South America’s second largest country. Knowing all that, we weren’t surprised to find that the main bus station is absolutely massive. We’ve seen plenty of airports in our travels that are much smaller than this behemoth three-story station. Our first mission was to determine which of the 100+ ticketing windows best suited our needs. Once at the correct set of windows, we were able to adeptly apply our very broken Spanish to determine bus times, cost, service class, arrival and more. Brooke and I are actually feeling pretty strong about our abilities to hammer out the basics in conversation using the little Spanish that we know. For these long haul bus rides, there are several different classes of service. We decided on “Ejecutivos” which is somewhere between Semi-Cama, Cama or Suite. If we’re understanding the counter people correctly (fingers crossed), our ride should be in seats equivalent to Airline Business Class seats that lay at a 160 degree angle complete with in-seat meal service from a bus attendant. Snazzy. In short, it ain’t Greyhound. I’m a little apprehensive about doing a fourteen hour overnight bus ride to Mendoza. But then I remember some longer journeys in the states in which I’ve been in much less comfortable seats. And then Brooke stated that she didn’t realize she had married such a wimp when it comes to riding on a bus. So, I  got over my concerns pretty quickly.

Brooke celebrates after successfully securing our bus tickets….all by using our Espanol!

Speaking of traveling, we wanted to mention the dreaded Argentine Reciprocity Fee that we had to pay when entered Argentine the other day. Fellow travelers we talk to are always a bit amazed by this, so we thought we would share our experience. In order to enter Argentina, citizens of America, Canada and Australia have to pay an entry fee which is in place as an equivalent “payback” for the cost of a visa application that an Argentine citizen is charged to enter those three countries. The cost? $160 per person (recently increased by $20 a pop). Not a small amount when you’re circumnavigating the world on a budget.

When we landed at EZE, the imigration lines quickly diverged for visitors like ourselves. A friendly cashier soon invited us to pay the fee using cash or a credit card. Lucky for us, We had been aware of the fee long in advance and had budgeted for it accordingly. But there certainly seemed to be some people stumbling off a 10-hour overnight flight who received a rude awakening when they learned that they have to fork over the cash before getting any further. The real pain of it is that this relatively new fee is ONLY enforced at the two Buenos Aires airports; the fee is not collected at any other entry point in the country. For what it’s worth, the fee is good for ten years which I guess might be beneficial somewhere down the line. Brazil and Chile also have similar policies. We’ve also read that by the end of 2012, all visitors must pay the fee online in advance of your arrival rather than at the airport. Good times.

Somewhere along the way between trips to the bus station in the rain and voting, we managed to cram in an amazing Wine Tasting, Tango Lessons and drinks with fellow ex-pats in a pub San Telmo – all which Brooke will write more about. All in all, today was a great day to be traveling around the world.

-Phil

Brooke enjoying a legendary South American treat: Buenos Aires Ice Cream!

Our swanky room at The Tango Hotel

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Categories: Argentina, Destinations, Self Guided Tours, Surprises, Tango, Uncategorized, Voting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 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

Rabbie’s Highland’s Tour- Day 2

Living it up on the Isle of SkyeI would be lying if I told you that all days on this trip were created equal. Some days are just simply better -more enjoyable, more interesting – than others. Today was one of those fantastic gems of a day. Brooke and I are on our second day of a three day tour of the Scottish Highlands through the impeccable Rabbie’s tour company. It was an extensive, full day of tramping around the Isle of Skye in our comfortable tour van. Traveling among the company of a small, but enthusiastic group of fellow explorers, we managed to hit all of the highlights of Skye by crisscrossing the island over the course of the day. We accomplished it all while enjoying a soundtrack provided by an animated guide (and top notch storyteller) who delivered memorable, captivating stories on topics ranging from Scottish folklore, sports, history, clan chieftains and more. The accompaniment for the ride was a solid playlist of tunes by Scottish artists and beyond which played between the commentary. And that’s all of the good stuff before we get into the amazing landscapes and dazzling vistas. Not too mention dinner, drinks and live music at the pub. And then evening pub hopping in the sleepy town of Portree. It was the perfect way to spend any Sunday. The sights here are largely made up of the natural beauty of glens, lochs, hills and rolling valleys. All combined, they make up some of the most beautiful views we’ve seen on the trip. And we don’t toss out such accolades lightly; beneath clouds or under bright sunshine, it is friggin’ gorgeous here. The Isle of Skye is remote and sparsely populated but has a more diverse topography than you might find over three states back home. Thankfully, our venerable guide Doug made plenty of stops so we could enjoy every photo opportunity that ranged from an old brock to a waterfall stepped in superstition.

Glen of the Faeries!

Our first stop today was at a 2,000 year old brock (an old stone tower) just off the side of the road. I’m sure everyone has their own benchmark, but I know I’m in middle of a good day when I’m conquering ancient castle remains all before 10:00 AM. After dodging both loose rocks and sheep droppings, we climbed our way to the top to soak in the first of several stunning views of the day. A short drive down the road took us to the seaside cliffs of the Neist Point Lighthouse on the Western Coast of the island. We all shrugged off the winds and clouds to meander down the walkway and up a steep hill. Again, amazing view. Woooo.... After another quick stop, we enjoyed a quick rest and tasty lunch in Uig. Before long, the sun was out and we were off to my favorite stop of the day: The Faeries Glen. Doug gave us three strict rules when visiting the fabled land of the mythical Scottish faeries: We were warned not to whistle, not to leave any gifts made of iron and not to remove anything from the glen or else we might risk a curse. I was just afraid that Brooke might fall somewhere through time after entering a stone circle. Legends and fairies aside, the place was relatively magical in its setting alone. Green as far as they eye can see and steep, sloping grassy hills punctuated with a towering stone formation. Amazing landscapes are tricky because short of an IMAX camera, words and a few photos really fall short. Serene, beautiful and solitary (aside from the loud group of student tourists), I could have spent another hour there. By the by, this is like the third bridal veil falls we've seen in this tripThe day only got better from there. Our van made it’s next stop at an overlook with an astounding view of the east coast of Skye. Looking down into the valley and beyond, we where able to catch a glimpse of the mainland. The steep cliffs als would have doubled for a terrific golf driving range or hang gliding starting point. From there, it was on to see Kilt Rock, The Old Man Of Storr (complete with its own amazing story) and then Bride’s Veil Falls. It was there that Doug convinced a handful of us that an old legend states that dipping your head into the falls is certain to gaurantee…hmm…satisfying romantic encounters for seven years for every second you can stand the cold water. Not wanting to take any changes, Brooke and I both drenched our heads in the water. We ended our tour day with live music and drinks in a neighboring pub.A great day from start to finish. We really can’t say enough great stuff about Doug and Rabbies. It’s safe to say that I’ve absorbed more quality, wonderful information about Scotland in the last few days than I learned in some college courses. Next time we meet up, ask me to tell you the tale of the shirtless clan battle or the Archie Gemmel’s legendary 3rd goal against Holland during the 1978 World Cup. I can know speak in depth to the Scottish origin of the phrases “To tie the knot” and “armed to the teeth.” Under pressure, I could even draw a realistic looking dirk and tell you why it’s best not to hit on the girl at the bar whom your Scottish friend are calling a Minger. I’m loving this exposure to every single ounce of trivia and new vocabulary. Odds are strong that I’m going to bursting with Scotitsh pride by the time we blow town on Tuesday evening. Just like New Zealand, we’re back to seeing sheep every time we turn our head. We’ve been told that the sheep outnumber the human residents eight to in Skye. Contented, slow moving sheep certainly have the run of the place and, thanks to Scottish law, the right of way in the roads. There is no shortage of gentle honking to prod them to move on but since all of the other wildlife (bears, wolfs and more) are long gone from this area, the sheep don’t have a lot to sweat. Thier only threat is blank stares from the occasional neighboring cow. To top it off, this visit has had a bit of special significance because I’ve wanted to visit the Scottish Highlands for as long as I can remember. After all of the photos I’ve seen and all the stories I’ve heard from those who had visited, it’s been a wish of min to see this part of the world in person. Today, I’m able to write about it from a table in a hostel in the middle of Portree. Pretty dang cool. It doesn’t hurt that we’ve met some awesome people during our trip to the Highlands. I look forward to tomorrow: another day in the tour van and a chance to see Loch Ness up close and personal. As we wind down our time in Sottland, I think it’s time to start downing some prime Scotch Whisky and sample the Hagis, but we’ll cross that particular bridge tomorrow. -Phil

Categories: Exploring, Hiking, Music, Reflections, Scotland, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 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

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

Delightful Dubrovnik

Croatian BeautyHello from Dubrovnik, Croatia! Our traveling crew has temporarily expanded to four once again. Brooke and I were joined by our good friend Jack from NYC and his buddy Jon. Both have been traveling in Turkey for the last 10 days and we had planned in advance a rendezvous in Croatia. And now we find ourselves soaking up Dubrovnik. This seaside town is packed so full of amazing beauties that I’m really at a loss of where to begin today. From walking over the ancient city walls to enjoying beers at a bar directly on the Adriatic to watching the sunset from the top of Mt. Srd, this gem of a place is simply sensational. In the short time we’ve been here so far, we’ve chalked up a number of incredible experiences. I know that this may sound like I’m being glib or just plain lazy, but words and photos can’t really do this place justice. To say that we have been swept off our feet by this city is an understatement.

After visiting a variety of European capitals from Bucharest to Budapest over the last few weeks, Dubrovnik was a departure for the size and scene of the town alone. But we didn’t fully know what we were getting into before arriving. I’ve never quite seen a place like Dubrovnik before in the sense that you have a small range of tall mountains which just roll almost right down into the sea. Along the way, the sloping hills are dotted with houses and roads. And at the bottom of these hills, beaches and harbors spit out directly into a bay dotted with islands. This area has geography that is unique and striking.

Delightful DubrovnikBut the real highlight is the historic, walled old city that sits directly between the foot of the mountains and the coast of the sea. We’re not talking some random, partial ruins of walls from an era past. No, this is a compact city of hundreds of building surrounded by a massive intact wall. The impact of it all is amazing. The old city makes for the perfect setting for a slow amble through the pedestrian only, marble streets allowing us to gawk and stare at each new storefront, set of stairs or building entrance. It would also make the perfect setting for the ultimate game of hide and seek, capture the flag or even paintball (if you don’t mind ruining the beautiful, clean walls). More accurately, the low roofs, sloping tiles and endless stairs are the perfect playground for cats. Which neatly explains the number of stray cats at every turn. We’re pretty sure that one cat made its way to Zagreb years ago and started saying to other feline friends, “Dude, you have got to check out this place down the coast.” Hey, better stray cats than stray dogs.

Old City, and the rest of the area, is apparently an incredibly popular vacation destination although it seems to be off the radar for many Americans like Brooke and me. The town does tend to get swallowed by cruise ship passengers during the mid-morning and afternoons. A waiter told us that a couple of years ago, Dubrovnik had a day in which nine cruise ships were docked at once. Apparently, the increasing number of visitors has caused some issues, but there seems to be plenty of bars, restaurants,shops, museums and room enough for all. However, given the sometime geriatric nature of cruise passengers, the endless steps scattered throughout the city could pose a challenge for anyone who can’t hang with hiking up 100-200 steps in a given afternoon.

Walking along the best part of DubrovnikAmong the “can’t miss” activities is forking over a few Croatian kuna to walk the entire circumference of the outside city wall that towers above the rest of the city center. It took the four of us a couple of hours to walk all the way around as we made sure to check out every nook and cranny along the way. The one-way walk around the wall, turrets and towers easily makes our list of one of the most beautiful sights on the trip so far. Talk about meeting and exceeding all expectations. Each new turn or set of stairs gave us another view and another angle to snap some photos (our cameras have gotten a lot of work over the last couple of days). Parts of the walls were built as far back as the 15th century but more recently the walls took a pounding during the Croatian War for Independence in the early 90’s. What’s even more remarkable is that while the old city endured three months of bombing virtually all of the damage has been replaced or repaired. In fact, our visit coincided with Croatia’s Independence Day (the same day as America’s Columbus Day), but aside from the sound of a distant marching band and some closed shops, you really would not have known today was a national holiday.

Sign found in the Old City leading us to the perfect barI’m not one for hyperbole or exaggeration, and maybe it’s the insanely perfect weather or full days, but I’m pretty sure that Dubrovnik is a strong contender for  being the most scenic, beautiful and awe-inspiring place  I’ve ever visited. Brooke would agree. Today was an excellent reminder of why we took this trip in the first place. Sometimes it’s all about trying your best to do what you want to be doing with your life. Who knows? You might find yourself at the perfect back drinking on the Adriatic.

-Phil

This is Happiness

Sights like this are common! Easy to spend hours just meandering and getting lost in old city.

Phil hanging out in Old City

Hands down, a bar with one of the most beautiful views in the world

The narrow streets behind the walls of Old City

Categories: Bars, City Visits, Croatia, Europe, Friends, Self Guided Tours, Surprises, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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