Glasgow v. Edinburgh

dont-kiss-me1

She may not like kissing in public but this bride likes posing for pictures on her wedding day in Ashton Lane, Glasgow.

Story and Photos by David Greitzer

The friendly rival between Edinburgh and Glasgow can be summed up in this little joke a man explained heading from Glasgow to Edinburgh recently by rail: “Do you know the difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh? Glasgow has a world-class city just 45 miles away.”

He also mentioned that the joke works just as well in reverse on the return trip.

It’s true that the two rival cities are just about an hour apart by car or rail but that hour separates two different worlds. Even in this technologically interconnected world these two completely different perspectives on Scottish life are evidence that the world wasn’t always so small.

Many consider Edinburgh the “touristy” of the two. While Edinburgh may seem to hold more historical sites in its more compact city center Glasgow dwarfs them in quantity of museums and sheer city size.

Edinburgh has the Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, Scott Monument, Holyrood, Princess Street, Forth Bridge.

Glasgow has the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Cathedral St. Mungo, George Square, Botanical Gardens, Bagpipe Museum, Glasgow School of Art and Mackintosh’s Art Academy.

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This wild party boy is seconds from getting maced.

This short list of city site attractions may hold little in–depth information to make a scientific conclusion about which of the two cities edges out the other for your time.  Of course everyone will have a different recommendation depending on their expectations and experiences.  Whereas Joe likes a more pub-filled experience, Jane opts for checking off landmarks. And, more interestingly, both can have those needs met in either city. It’s the actual experience that matters.

For example: Imagine Joe goes to The Barony, a traditional pub in Edinburgh’s New Town, and the bartender tells him drinks are on the house because the bartender just won the lottery and tonight will be his last n

ight working. Joe considers this a very good Edinburgh experience and shares pictures on social media and claims that Edinburgh is the best city in Scotland.

charcouterie-plate

Charcouterie board at the Whiski Rooms

In a comparative example: Jane jumps off the hop on-hop off bus at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow and discovers at the door that museums in Glasgow are free.  And, to top off her fantastic experience she meets her future husband while contemplating the Salvador Dali exhibit.

Who’s going to vote for Glasgow over Edinburgh so far?

How about Jane’s other Glasgow experience on Ashton Lane in the West End District? Jane, a normally mild keep-to-herself gal from St. Paul, Minnesota, makes this Saturday night, on this fun-time party strip, an epic pub crawl including making a gaggle of new Facebook friends. Her Air BnB host suggested she go there. It was just across the street from the Byres Road flat.

The Ashton Lane Night, as they agreed later to always refer to it, began with her meekly sipping a glass of Pinot Grigio alone at a street-side table in front of  the Ubiquitous Chip, a “wee pub” which often gets mentioned as a must-see stop on any Glasgow  night out. And, Ashton Lane is considered in the top ten of UK party destinations.

kelvingrove-lawn-bowling

Free lawn bowling at the Kelvingrove Lawn Bowling Centre.

Perhaps taking pity or just being the normal friendly Glaswegian, Robert began a conversation with Jane. Pleasantries were exchanged. The top five subjects were quickly covered: where you from; the weather; funny dialects; difference in foods; the local drink.

Jane was offered a wee dram, the Scottish term for a one-eighth fluid ounce of whisky. It was explained to Jane by Richard, Robert’s partner, that that’s how one orders a shot of whisky in Scotland. It usually comes in a narrow glass and a side of water. No ice. The water, it was further explained, was to add to the whisky in tiny amounts, if necessary, to open up and release the flavor.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh’s Castle

With her new-found friends Jane felt not only safe in this crowded party atmosphere but also as if she had been invited to the cool kid’s party. She was given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Ubiquitous Chip and several of the other bars on this narrow bar-laden street; The Lane, Vodka Wodka, Grosvenor, Cuffs & Buttons.

Robert pointed out the former mayor having a dram across the alley. There was something about a scandal involving money. He whispered more gossip in Jane’s ear about the owner of Jinty McGuinty’s who was standing out front just meters away talking to a muscle-bound swarthy character hatching, what could be considered, a shady plan.

As the night wore on Jane had had perhaps one too-many drams, beers and shwarma. Her memory of the evening’s events is spotty. Apparently they had wandered down the street to Tennent’s Bar which offers a boogie room in the basement and also a late-night shwarma stand nearby to fulfill that after-hours hunger craving.

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Pouring drinks at the Ubiquitous Chip, a bar and a restaurant. Always voted in the top five for food.

Jane woke up in her flat with half the shwarma sandwich on her shirt, a Scottish flag draped over her and surprisingly little to no hangover. Robert would explain later that he and Richard had delivered her safely, fully-clothed, to her room. Apparently, she had been the center of attention dancing seductively for the crowd in the boogie room, posing for group pictures with total strangers and even beating the local foosball champ in a team match-up.

shwarma-man

Shwarma Master

Forty five miles away, Joe discovered the Whiski Room, a restaurant and whisky bar in Edinburgh with over 300 malts to sample. Unbeknownst to the whisky tender was the fact that Joe had a medical condition that would counteract the effects of Single Malt Scotch whisky. While his whisky-tasting compadres were beginning to laugh and act foolish Joe, sober as a Scottish nun, noticed a sign above the bar. It read, “Free bottle of Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare if you can finish the full tasting.”

 

Advocate's Cross

Advocate’s Close in Edinburgh

While Joe had several questions regarding the challenge the two most obvious were how many separate samples was in the full tasting and how much did a bottle of Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare go for. The answers were 300 and $75,000 respectively. He did the math and figured he’d be out about $1,500 if he paid for all 300 whiskies and accepted the challenge.

The owners of the Whiski Room had no intention of giving away a free bottle of Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare, price: $75,000, but the crowd that had soon gathered to see this miracle unfold would have turned on them like the villagers chasing Frankenstein if they hadn’t made good on their challenge prize.

Not being greedy, Joe agreed to a cash settlement of $37,500 (half) for his prize. And so, Joe, from that day forward, will undoubtedly, always choose Edinburgh over Glasgow.

Street Artist

Street artist on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Jane, now running to catch her Ryan Air flight to Dublin, forgot to account for the hour-long security check because she didn’t know Scotland and Ireland were two different countries. Thankfully Jane is also not too bright when it comes to the 24-hour clock and mistook 10 a.m. for 2200. With 12 extra hours in the airport she figures it’s time to message that guy, Clyde McSquint, whom she met back at the Dali exhibit.

Decades hence, the two would laugh at the retelling of their second meeting and subsequent marriage. Had it not been for Jane’s ignorance with telling time they might not have married.

Joe’s romantic prospects were fleeting for the remainder of his Edinburgh adventure; however, he did manage to open a new savings account at the Royal Bank of Scotland’s main office at 36 St Andrew Square with an initial deposit of £ 28,918.45.

He asked the teller only one question. And, it was not related to the money. He asked the teller what a “close” was. He’d seen a few on his way from the Whiski Room to the bank and made a point to ask about it. He slithered stealthily, clutching his winnings, through tiny narrow alleys with names like Advocate’s Close, Writer’s Close and Craig’s Close.  He’d seen others like Fleshmarket Close, Mary King’s Close and Old Fishmarket Close.

The teller told Joe that a “close” is an entrance to a housing block, or tenement, which also may provide access to the rear of that building.  In the old days there might have been a gate at the front entrance which was closed at night.

Soup

There’s a reason lentil soup is on almost all traditional menus. It’s good!

For travelers considering one city or the other, consider dividing your time and visit both. Although, one can’t guarantee duplicating the experiences of Jane or Joe, all of the places they visited do exist.

In Glasgow, Jane’s recommendations would include those mentioned and a stroll down Buchanan Street, feeding pigeons in George Square, a drink at Chinaski’s (a small bar celebrating writer Charles Bukowski), lunch at Hanoi Bike Shop (fresh, gourmet Vietnamese food), free lawn bowling at Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre (Scottish bocce), and dinner at the Butterfly and the Pig.

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The Hanoi Bike Shop offers made-to-order authentic Vietnamese cuisine. A must when in Glasgow.

In Edinburgh, Joe would add these to his visit; breakfast at the Edinburgh Larder, coffee at Affogato, Castle Tour, pub grub and a beer at The Hanging Bat and Beer Café, a walk through the Royal Botanic Garden, one of the many haunted ghost tours, dinner at Michael Neave Restaurant and Whisky Bar.

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The Scottish Highlands, A Slide Show

There Can Be Only One – 2016

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Edinburgh. Rhymes with Marlboro.

Edinburgh's Castle

Edinburgh’s Castle

Scallops atop black pudding and greens

Scallops atop black pudding and greens

Pouring a pint

Pouring a pint

A pint poured

A pint poured

Advocate's Close

Advocate’s Close

"Tattered,"  Mick Jagger said.

“Tattered,” Mick Jagger said.

Rare sunny day in Edinburgh.

Rare sunny day in Edinburgh.

Stiff Scott

Stiff Scott

Shwarma Happiness

Shwarma Happiness

Charcoutterie

Charcoutterie

…good things are happening…

Street artist in Edinburgh

Street artist in Edinburgh

Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup

Dublin Again – May 29, 2016

Dublin Bubble
What’s the difference between God and Bono?

God doesn’t think he’s Bono.

Let’s back up to the beginning, shall we? A smooth and comfortable flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles starts the trip. After landing at LAX we must fill 6 ½ hours before the direct flight to Dublin on Aer Lingus. Ach!
First thing is to get the boarding pass and find the gate so we can eat, grab a few pre-flight lubrication units and play a few hours of Candy Crush. Since we’re so early the flight to Dublin isn’t listed on the departure monitors. So, we ask a handyman who is fixing a lighting fixture where we should go to find the Aer Lingus counter. Asking someone at the information kiosk makes too much sense and, of course, we have none of that. Miguel the handyman directs us to the Tom Bradley International Terminal which is outside a mile away. I confirm this with Margorie the shuttle driver for the invalid. She rolls her eyes and says not to leave the terminal like Miguel said because we would have to reenter security and who needs two deep cavity searches in one day? She points to a long corridor and says to walk this way. I think she just might be Steven Tyler in disguise. This is LA after all. And as you will soon see we do encounter several high-profile, world-renowned celebrities.
It is a long walk to TBIL but we’re excited to log the steps. For every 2000 steps I get to treat myself to a donut. That’s how I programmed my Fitbit anyway.
Once in TBIL I feel the anxiety of being a stranger in a strange land (thanks Issac). I’m trying to imagine what actual foreigners are feeling as they meander the giant terminal dazed, jet-lagged and in desperate need of a sign explaining where the hell to go. There is a colossal lack of signage in LAX. They’s lax in LAX. The only signage available directs you to the over-priced brand-name stores and of course the “World-class dining” establishments. We take note of the latter as we are planning a robust dining experience that hopefully will chew up a few hours’ waiting time before the flight.
We glimpse a British Airways ticket counter and figure they’d know where the Aer Lingus counter is. Our logical assumption that since Britain is next to Ireland so must their counters be.
“No Sir, you have to exit this terminal and go to Terminal 2,” the polite but put-upon ticketing agent says matter-of-factly as if he’s heard this question for only the second time in his career. The first time was in 1982 when an irate Belfastian by the name of Fergus Tellersbee reluctantly approached the British Airways counter and first explained he’d rather punch his grandmother in the stomach than ask an Englishman for help but was at his wit’s end and had no choice. Making the scene even more uncomfortable was the fact that Fergus was traveling with his grandmother. And, yes after he punched her in the stomach he asked the Englishman for help. While MeMaw, clutching her gut, writhed on the dirty terminal floor Fergus was again thwarted as the Englishman shrugged and said he didn’t know where the Aer Lingus counter was. And after that encounter regarding the counter, the Englishman vowed he’d find out where the Aer Lingus counter was, if for no other reason, to prevent any further grandma punching.
“Does that mean we have to exit this terminal and go through TSA security again,” I asked ready to punch a grandma.
“Yes?”
“Oi.”
We better take advantage of this “World-class dining” while we’re still in here, I thought. Who knows what kind of burger-on-a-stick joint they have over in Terminal 2.
The III Forks Steakhouse was upstairs and away from the throng and promised to be world class. Subconsciously I read ill Forks instead of 3 Roman numeral III’s. Funny name for a restaurant.
White table cloths, a waiter in a cream-colored tuxedo and a hostess named Belinda greet you as you approach. She gives you a quick up-and-down measuring your financial worth and then seats you reluctantly.
The waiter zips by and asks what you’d like to order. Zips is apt since his beleaguered soul-like expression is evident from the way he is ready to take your order more like at Denny’s at 2:30 a.m. than a world-class restaurant.
I ask if I could have whole wheat bread on my hamburger. “No! Bun only.”
“Can I get a salad instead of fries?”
“No. Sides,” he says pointing to the three bottom menu items. Asparagus, mushrooms, mashed potatoes.
I order asparagus because it’s the only green thing on the menu. I hate asparagus because it makes your pee stink. But hey, it’s green and the last thing you want to do is get all blocked up before an 11-hour flight. Mushrooms are a known blockage food. And, who wants to put fungi in your stomach before an 11-hour flight. I figure the pee smell will get sucked out when that airplane toilet violently vacuums the oxygen out of the room.
Meanwhile Belinda wrestles a woman who snuck behind her hostess podium saying that this was her area and that she will attend to her when she has had sufficient time to exude superiority upon all who desire to be seated.
What Belinda didn’t see was that a party of four Hungarians sat themselves unknowing they were to wait for the gatekeeper to allow passage. I knew I was going to be entertained with the upcoming conflagration as soon as Belinda realized there had been a breach of her authority.
Belinda noticed right away. But instead of confronting the poor Hungarians and making them get up and follow her to the podium so she could then return them to their seats, she completely ignored them.
She whispered something to the waiter. He nodded. The hungry Hungarians now were unknowingly sentenced to wait in perpetuity without so much as a place setting.
We were served, finished our meal and the Budapest Four continued craning for the attention that never came.
Finally, Belinda the Keeper of the Gate brought place sittings to the Hungarian table. They got up and walked out. It’s as if they waited just long enough to return the insult. Belinda’s incredulous expression as they basically flipped her off Budapest style proves she just didn’t study very hard during “World-Class Dining” orientation class.
Now we’re trudging outside the terminal in the LA air. We find Terminal 2. No Aer Lingus. Not even their sister airline, Kenny Lingus is anywhere to be found.
Another maintenance man informs us that Qatar Airlines will close soon and Aer Lingus will show up and set up their counters. Qatar Airlines is flying to Qatar. Dozens of beburka’d women trailing 3 feet behind their husbands are queueing up for tickets back to the promised land. This is a very stark opposite from the dozens of red-haired rugby shirt-wearing Irish folks who are Dublin bound.image
Two hours later, another TSA groping later and we’re finally at the gate having that pre-flight lubricant. As airport bars go Sea Legs is all right. I ask about the seal egs. A little salty but surprisingly crisp and refreshing.
Remember when I said we encountered world-renowned celebrities? Ever heard of Teddy Hart? So picture this. A guy walks into the bar wearing a CZ-encrusted cross necklace that had to weigh 5lbs. His sunglasses had equally-bedazzled flamingoes on the rims. His black velour shirt had air-brushed pictures of angels and his name, Teddy Hart, emblazoned on the back. He had three shaved lines on the back of his head. We Googled Teddy Hart. Go ahead and look. I’ll wait.
Then out of the blue like a pigeon taking a dump from the ledge above Wanda Sykes walks by. I make eye contact for a split second and she darts into the ladies room to avoid my obvious autograph hunt. As it turns out, hers is the last autograph for my collection. I’ve reserved a place in my journal right next to Mel Swope’s, who appeared in three episodes of the Partridge Family.
“Wanda, you in here,” I whinny whilst opening stall doors looking for the elusive comedienne. Ach! Missed her somehow.
Kind of blurry after that. I just remember waking up as the wheels touched the tarmac in Dublin. My first impression is that it smells like asparagus pee here. Let the games begin.

Green canopy of trees on a rare sunny day in Dublin.

Green canopy of trees on a rare sunny day in Dublin.

INNSBRUCK, Australia — Why No Chinese Food?

Oktober 16, 2015 —

A fleeting glimpse of Nordkette on accent to the tippy top via the funicular.

A fleeting glimpse of Nordkette on accent to the tippy top via the funicular.

A recent Yelp reviewer, when describing the nightlife in Innsbruck, said, “Shame on you Innsbruck for not having any nightlife.”

The Innsbruckialites do tend to “shut ‘er down” rather early. At 1900, 7 p.m., all stores slam their doors in Swiss-watch precision. Frozen tumbleweeds blow through the streets and the faint sound of the last yodel from the tippy top of Nordkette can be heard.

Nordkette is a range of mountains above the Tryolean capital Innsbruck. I don’t believe they exist. The sky is constantly blocking the view of the mountains. The only time Innsbruck allows them to be seen is during a Winter Olympic hosting. The funicular will take you to the top but on days like these you might as well fog up the bathroom mirror, stand in a bucket of ice and open the window. You’ll get the same view and the same experience. The most stunning view of the alps is either en route to or from  Innsbruck. Nordkette 2

The restaurants are pretty good with typical Austrian fare including schnitzels, roast duck, sausages, dumplings, sauerkraut, etc.  The only Chinese restaurant in town was closed for a private party. Why was Chinese food even on the radar? After eating every kind of schnitzel, sausage and dumpling three times over I needed a break.

I did find a kepab place that was awesome. Kepab is pronounced kay bahp. It’s basically a gyro either in a wrap or pita bread. Kepabs are very common in Europe and go by several different names; schwarma, gyro, kepab.

The Breakfast Club is a cozy (read cramped, uncomfortable, claustrophobia inducing) breakfast restaurant that was constantly busy. Upon entering you’ll see maybe one open table. As soon as you approach a waitress darts out to block your way “Ziss ist rezer veird.” And, sure enough, there are reserved signs on the table.

For the next day, I call to reserve a table. “Vee don’t accept rezerveerungs today. Just come by and vee find a schpot.”

The next morning I trudge to the restaurant and head towards the open table. “Nicht so schnell, Amerikahn,” the waitress says as she points to a reserved sign on the table there. “You can sitzen outside.” What the hell?

It’s 20 below outside. Icicles are forming on people’s noses. They’re eating their omelets like ice cream cones. “Vee have blankets for you,” she says while pointing to down comforters on each table. The benefit of eating outside is that if you want ice coffee you just have to order coffee. It’ll ice up on its own.

For evening beer consumption, my advice is to start in the morning. Maybe, you can order a beer slushy to go with your omletcicle at the Breakfast Club.  After that, try the Irish pub called Limmerick Bill’s. Although they haven’t a clue in the proper pouring of a Guinness, at least they have it on tap. The place is a maze. With four levels and rooms that snake throughout, this place is pretty cool. Three pints of Guinness cost 12 Euros, about $15. This seems reasonable as there was talk of fancier places charging 14 Euros for a bottle of beer.

All in all, I found Innsbruck, Australia to be friendly, clean and reasonable. My only complaint is that I didn’t see any kangaroos.

Shame on you Innsbruck!

About 80 Klicks from Innsbruck is the famous Neuschwanstein Castle who some say inspired Walt Disney.

About 80 Klicks from Innsbruck is the famous Neuschwanstein Castle who some say inspired Walt Disney.

Venice, Itlee- October 14, 2015

St. Mark's Square FloodedThe first thing you’ll notice about Venice is how closely they modeled it after the Disney World Italy exhibit. Those Venetians are pretty good at copying our architecture. The second thing you’ll notice are the pigeons.
In our hotel someone left a copy of Rick Steve’s book on Italy. In it I read Rick Steve’s little blurb on pigeons in Venice. He says if you are pooped on try to resist the temptation of wiping it off because you’ll just smear it in deeper. Instead, he says, let it dry and then allow it to flake off. I will bet my next three paychecks that no one has ever left a pigeon turd to dry on their head before flicking it away. Can you imagine being on your honeymoon sitting in a gondola and whoosh, squirsh, plorp a giant nasty pile of pigeon guano lands on your wife’s head? You instantly grab her hand and wiggle your finger in the universal sign for “My darling, please do not wipe that disgusting dollop of pigeon shit from your beautiful hair. Remember what Rick Steve’s said, I’m sure it will be dry by dinnertime.” Then it rains.Rubber Boots1

Oh yes, it rains in Venice. As a matter of fact in the rainy season it often floods parts of Venice. When it’s high tide and rainy St. Mark’s Square is often under a foot or more of water. Warning sirens blast this on those days rattling tourists from their beds in frantic search for the bomb shelters. They even have a system of platforms in the more travelled parts of town where you can walk above the water. It’s real tempting to play King of the Mountain while walking on these. Oh the fun it would be just to bump some selfie stick-toting tourist off the platform and into the water. Oops, scoozi.Rubber Boots2Venice Flag

The entrepreneurial Venetians are now selling plastic boot covers in obnoxiously flourescent colors. Hordes of galosh scuffling cheesey-footed tourists are marching through the water trying to get that snapshot of Aunt Marge feeding a pigeon out of her hands. Don’t feed the pigeons!

These same tourists have no umbrella etiquette either. Venetian streets and alleys are very narrow. Imagine what happens when hundreds of 5-foot 4-inch people with umbrellas are walking through these narrow streets. Eye gouging everywhere. I saw one lady’s umbrella fish-hook this other lady on the Rialto Bridge. Venice is not for pussies.

The nightlife in Venice is a little disappointing. Things tend to shut down early, around 10p.m. Maybe our tour guide knows why. “Venice at night belongs to the rats.” This is very disconcerting considering the Bubonic Plague or Black Death was first brought to Europe through Venice by flea-ridden stowaway rats on ships. Fantastico disgusto!

The famous Rialto fish market where the seafood is so fresh you don't smell it.

The famous Rialto fish market where the seafood is so fresh you don’t smell it.

The food is good in Venice. The seafood is supposedly the best to get. I did have some of the best mussels in light tomato sauce. They say the pizza is not so good because they aren’t allowed to have wood-fired ovens in Venice. I ordered the Pizza Hut hotdog-in-the-crust combo, and got a shrug and a squint from the waiter. So, I opted for the quattro staccione.

Salzburg, The hills are alive with the sound of my churning stomach.

SALZBURG, Austria – October 11, 2015

Salzburg Castle1

Ok, quick, name five famous Austrians. That’s what I thought. Like me you probably only know two, Hitler and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, Hitler was from Austria. Welcome to the land of the Sound of Music. The hills are alive with the sound of…..three beer guzzling Americans in search of a castle. Julie Andrews must have taken the week off. We didn’t see her.

Despite the current lack of Von Trapps, Salzburg is beautiful. A pristine Salzach River (rhymes with ball sack) runs through the town with a castle fortress atop a hill. Evidence of Mozart is everywhere. This is his birthplace and there are signs everywhere saying Mozart slept here. He got around.

Lovers put locks on the bridge and throw the key in the river to symbolize their permanent love.

Lovers put locks on the bridge and throw the key in the river to symbolize their permanent love.

As with most European cities, walking here is the main mode of transportation. Second would be the bicycle. In fact, throughout the town there are two congruent paths, one for bikes and one for pedestrians. It’s also well marked. For peds you’ll see what looks like a chalk outline of a child in a crime scene. For bikes you’ll see bikes painted on the path every 30 meters or so. The bikers don’t seem to slow down so keep an eye out.

Skirting the town is a walled fortress with paths leading through a forest, Kodak picture spots, a Kloister and a small castle.

Mozart rode this horse once.

Mozart rode this horse once.

My two mountain goat-like friends opted for the furthest hike through the forest leading to a castle. Only 800 more meters was mentioned to me at least four times. Those meters add up. All of this wouldn’t have been so bad had it not been for the previous night’s beer consumption and the resulting severe dehydrating hangover.

Based on a recommendation we visited the Augustiner Braustubl beer hall the night before. It reminded me of a food court, with lots of beer. Here’s how it works. You enter the brewery/beer hall. You grab a stein from a wall of steins. The sizes vary but, like us, you’ll probably opt for the big one. A running water fountain is there for you to rinse your mug if you choose to. You pay the man. You hand the other man your ticket and he fills your mug. You choose from three huge halls to sit and enjoy your beer.

Obligatory bum pic.

Obligatory bum pic.

After a bit you can peruse the food stalls. There’s a meat stall offering wursts, meatloaf, and other mechanically separated pork-like goodies. There’s a lady who only sells radishes. There’s a bakery stall. A cheese stall. A schnapps stall. A fish stall. The fish stall has weird seafood like pickled herring, eel, sea slugs, sea snails, etc.

After another bit you go back to your seat and enjoy your beer and pile of radishes. You’ll notice that on the walls behind the tables are small license plate-sized signs with the word Stammtisch. A typical Stammtisch sign might read, Stammtisch jeden 2,4 Dienstag ab 1700. What this means is that that particular table is reserved for a group of people every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m. What group? Well you have to understand what Stammtisch means.

Stammtisch is a German, Austrian tradition. Literally translated the word means trunk table, trunk like tree trunk. A group of friends, co-workers, colleagues, teammates or whatever make a plan to meet at a certain time at regular intervals in the same restaurant or pub and enjoy a few drinks and conversation. There are some Stammtisch groups that stay together for years, life. My grandmother belonged to one she started with a few of her grade-school classmates. They met weekly their entire lives. There really are no rules about joining or starting one. And, the Augustiner Braustubl is full of Stammtisches.

And, like all cool movies that suddenly end in the middle of a sce……

Czech, Please! 

Prague Market Place 1

PRAGUE– October 10, 2015 –

Apparently the Czechs love their legends and superstitions. If it’s it not a story about a lovelorn brewer who makes a pact with the devil or dying within a year after trying on the crown jewels when you’re not supposed to, it’s rub a statue’s penis or rub the breasts of the bridge lady (statue) for good luck.

The Czechs have reason to be mired in superstition. For over a thousand years, until 1989, they were oppressively ruled by warlords, drunken kings, the Romans, Nazis, Communists, and a lush of a president who likes to steal pens.

The walking tours are pretty good if you don’t have a lot of time in Prague. They’re good even if you have time. Beware that the “walking” part really means forced urban death march over a 10-square pile of ill-spaced, ill-placed, ill-sized cobblestones. This decision of urban planning, I’m sure, was a brilliant feat of social engineering and putting Darwin’s theory into practice. For example, elderly people are culled from the herd as at some point early in middle age they trip and break legs, hips, or necks on Prague’s cobblestones and are never seen or heard from again. Brilliant.

I feel completely authorized to speak for all Czech historians as I signed up for three walking tours; The Castle Tour, The Old City and Marketplace Tour, and the Beer Tour. As my Fitbit will attest I logged over 50K steps on the combined tours. My liver will also attest I managed to give the average Czech a run for his money in beer drinking.

Wikepedia and our Beer Tour guide, a French woman (!?!), says that Czechs drink an average of 160 liters of beer a year. That is about pint a day, making the Czech Republic the biggest beer consuming country per capita in the world. The USA ranks 14th. With gloomy weather, hardly any vegetables (sauerkraut is considered a vegetable here), and constant fear of snapping an ankle what else is there to do but drink beer? Plus, it’s good!

The food is all soupy, stewy and stinky. They have strange names for menu items like uncle’s fingers of pickled cheese, pork knee, gulash (ghoulass if you ask me). Other than the pork knee it’s all soupy and probably from the same pot. I recommend trying the horse. Seriously. The chicken gyro wraps at 2a.m. are the best though.

Prague Alley

Managed to fit our Skoda (Czech car) through this tiny alley with inches to spare.

On every corner you can see the amazing influence of American democracy, freedom and a little future obesity; KFC, McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Hooters, Burger King, TGiF’s. It’s a vey sad sight indeed. I mean, hey, where are the good American influences like Arby’s and Chili’s? Maybe after the next revolution.

All sarcasm aside ( difficult for me to do), Prague is a great city. It’s very affordable. The tourists are friendly and from all over the globe. Czechs all speak English. You can’t walk two feet without stumbling over a 400-year-old landmark. And, if you wait till the moment you’re about to leave, the sun may make a brief appearance. Oops, just a tad of sacrcasm again.

Praguoosians also love humor. Asking for the Czech in a restaurant always gets a laugh. Tapyour lapel and say; Czech, Czech, microphone Czech. Can you hear me? At your hotel, ask when Czech out time is? I’ve got a million of them.

Editor’s Travel Tips to Prague: Careful exchanging money. They will take advantage of your naïveté. Negotiate cab fares before you get in. Avoid driving here if possible. Bring good shoes. Always carry a jacket. Put your money in your front pocket. Validate your streetcar ticket. Don’t stare at your iPhone while walking past beautiful sights. Don’t use a selfie stick unless you want to look like a dork. If you must go to Starbuck’s, go in the early early morning to avoid being detected by me.

Czech, Mate!

Astrological Clock 1

,Volksfest – Stuttgart, Germany, October 7, 2015

 

    The Volksfest starts at 11 a.m. so you leave the apartment at about 4pm. It’s a 3-kilometer walk which helps you build up just enough thirst for that first beer. You follow the throng of lederhosen and Dirndels because the Volksfest is the only place to go dressed like that on a Wednesday in Stuttgart. It’s drizzly and grey out but you don’t care because once inside that beer tent the body heat of 5600 yelling drunk people will keep you cozy and warm.
No reservations tonight so you have your choice between  8 different beer tents. The first two hold about 5600 people. The third one about 4000. And, each other tent holds about 2500. You pick the Dinkleacker tent tonight because you spent last night in the Schwabenbrau tent and you feel like spreading the wealth.

It’s already pretty full and your choices of seats are limited since most people reserve their spot online ahead of time. One of the waiters finds a seat for you and your two friends. They have to shoehorn you in between four old ladies and a guy that looks like Austin Powers. Yeah Baby.

Neither the ladies nor Austin Powers want to relinquish any space. Austin Powers wags a crooked finger at you and says he’s saving two spots for his friends. You shrug your shoulders and say, “Nicht verstehn.” This means you don’t understand. This puts Austin Powers in an even worse mood. “Ach!” he barks with contempt for foreign intruders. The old ladies are a little nicer thinking they’ll get to flirt with three middle-aged Americans. Regardless, your charm only works so much and she makes you straddle the table leg which cuts off your blood circulation and renders you a unick.

You want to eat now so as to lay a foundation for the multi-liter beer onslaught you hope to endure. The waitress comes around and they are so busy you don’t have time for questions about the menu. You choose the six mini bratwurst on a bed of sauerkraut.  “Only women and children eat that. You don’t want that. Try this,” and she points to something else on the menu that says Schlachtplatte or Slaughter Plate. “Ok. I’ll have that,” you say trying to recover a little bit of manhood.

The Slaughter Plate arrives and at first it looks pretty good. Then, you start to scoot things around with your fork and discover the slaughter. Atop a bed of sauerkraut is a boiled pork chop complete with an inch of fat attached. Next to that are two sausages encased in some gut lining of something. The ends are stapled together. This worries you a little. If something has to be stapled to hold in the insdes then should that really be consumed? You cut the dark brown/red sausage and coagulated blood with chunks of pork fat pour out. Nasty. It wasn’t as bad tasting as the other sausage. You try cutting that one open and a very unnatural grey-colored meat-like substance oozes out. Revolting. You eat it. Yep. It tastes exactly like you think it would.

“Did you like it,” she asks while picking up the empty plates. “Wunderbar,” you reply forcing a satisfied smile on your face while rubbing your tummy.

Austin Powers suddenly has a little respect for you and winks as he bumps his beer stein into yours. The rule is, “if you clink, you drink.” This can get out of hand so you start guarding your clinks. You keep saying “Yeah Baby” but Austin Powers doesn’t get it which makes it even funnier when he smiles in return.

One liter in and you feel the buzz. Austin Powers is hammered. His lower dentures sag out a bit over-lapping his mouth. He comes in for a clink and you meet his clink with enough gusto to send him nearly off the bench. You are standing on the benches at this point. The old lady next to you just ordered another beer and this pisses you off because now you realize she won’t leave anytime soon. You notice she has some sort of tattoo on her upper chest. You thinks it’s a butterfly but it looks more like a weeping pteradactyl. Standing up allows for retuning blood circulation and the confidence that you can drink a Schnapps. A finger snap at the waitress and boom, a schnapps is delivered.

You realize you haven’t peed for about two liters so you climb down from the bench and go in search of the toilet. Of course it’s at the opposite end of the tent. You get caught up in the crowd and you’re pushed through the gauntlet of drunken weaving people and deposited in front of the urinal trough. You see a really drunk 16-year-old trying to stand up and not slip into the trough. Drinking age is irrelevant here. In the doorway is a woman collecting .50€ from everyone. Advisory note: take a lot of change with you to the Volksfest. And, if you’re feeling generous buy your friend a pee.

The old ladies have left and have been replaced by a group of teenagers. You realize one of them is yelling in your ear because the music is so loud. “Vare are you from?” You say near San Francisco because no one has ever heard of Sacramento. And with this kid, named Jerkel, you realize you have to pull back even further so you say California. He says cool but it sounds more like kewel. Jerkel is nice enough. He and his friends are loudly singing all the words to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline as if it was a new top of the charts hit.

Austin Powers looks jealous and tries to start a spontaeous clinking. You all do. Yeah Baby. More blarring music. More clinking. The band on stage is playing AC/DC’s Highway to Hell with an accordian back up. You realize you’ve just surpassed your old record of three liters and there’s a reason the record was so hard to break.  You’re seeing double and almost fall off the table.

It’s time to go home. Where do you live? How are you going to get home? Yeah Baby!

Stuttgart- Oktober 5, 2015… You Haves No Routine, Dahfeet.

STUTTGART – October 5, 2015 –

Castle Lichtenstein 1

Castle Lichtenstein

“You comes mit der car one day. Und den you comes by foot da next. You haves no routine,  Dahfeet. Dahfeet is how Germans pronounce David. It is not my favorite but it beats the way they prounouce George, Gayorg.

What I’d like to say is, “Don’t you worry about my routine. I wouldn’t be bothering you in the middle of the night had you advertised your “apartment” on Air BnB correctly. False advertising, Helga.

Not to be the ugly American and believe me, all of the above conversations took place in my head, but this “apartment” is more like a side room crammed full of stuff to make it look like a separate studio. There is a bathroom. Now I know where the closet part in water closet comes from. There is the world’s tiniest refrigerator stuffed under a book shelf. It wouldn’t hold a liter of beer and a bratwurst. Oh crap. I’ve gone native. I’m thinking metrically and in German food staples. Let me translate. It would ‘t hold a six pack and a leftover slice of Dominoes.

The water closet has a sink that must be have been on sale at Ikea in the children’s section. That stuff always looks really cool in the store. When you get it home you say, “Well it was only $29.” And into the garage it goes forever.

In this “apartment” there is no garage so into the closet it goes. Hey, while we’re at it, let’s stick the toilet next to the shower so you can do your business and wash your feet at the same time. Brushing your teeth is a practice in contortionism.

Barking at the Moon  All of this is of course not really a big deal. The big deal is sneaking through the house in the middle of the night after having been at the Oktoberfest (many liters of beer later). First there is the front door lock. As with most German-built things, it has too many extra levers, knobs, and switches. The key goes in here. Flip the handle up past two clicks. Then, turn the knob six times till you here another series of tumblers release. Now, with your other hand, while still holding the handle up, turn the key counter clockwise without stopping until you hear the homeowner yell and come to your rescue.

“Ach, it is you, Dahfeet. Been to the fest I see. Vaht do you needs help mit?”

“Umm, I’m trying to open the door. I misplaced your instructions,” I say while trying to focus and stand upright.

“Ze door ist open.”

“Ok, gut night,” I say as I try to slink quietly upstairs to my hole. The stairs (200 years old) creek with every step waking the entire block of row houses. It is the unGodly hour of 11p.m. and for this infraction I will probably get a bad Air Bnb review. Scheisse.

Side note about the language similarities and differences. There words known as False Friends. These are two words in both German and English that sound exactly the same but have different meanings. Example: Handy. In German this is a cell phone. In English it is someone who can fix things. There are hundreds of these fun and confusing false friends.
Also, there are cognates. These are words that are similarily spelled and translate to the same meaning. Example: Wasser – Water. Grape Clusters1