Archives for May 2015

Travelly Picture: Bavarian Forest

When many of us think of Germany, what we are really thinking of is the German state of Bavaria. It’s the land of lederhosen and beer gardens and all that other good stuff. We were lucky enough to watch a wonderful house in a traditional Bavarian village full of wooden chalet-style houses with windowsill flower pots for a few weeks, and I snapped this picture of the forest on our way to walk the dog in the woods one day.

Oh yeah, if you click on it, I think it gets bigger.

bavaria forest

 

 

 

 

Travelly Picture: Sydney Opera House

I took this picture of the Sydney Opera House around sunset.  Please look at it.

Oh yeah, if you click on it, I think it gets bigger.

syndey opera house

Drinking In Europe: Blanche de Namur

blanche de namur

I like to drink things. I especially like drinking beer from countries called Belgium, Germany, and the Czech Republic. And in this new series, every once in a while I will be drinking something from one of these places or their neighbors and then writing things about it.

Just to get this out of the way right from the start: I am not a beer expert. I’m just a guy who likes to drink a few beers in a row and sometimes stumble into something that makes him say “damn, this is a good beer.” I can’t explain exactly what causes that feeling, but as they say, “when you know, you know”.

And I know what you are thinking, and you’re right; this whole thing is pretty much just an excuse to drink.

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For the first edition of my European Beer of the Week, I am drinking Blanche de Namur, a Belgian wheat (wit) beer from the family-owned Bocq Brewery in Purnode, Belgium. Bocq claims to be one of the last remaining family-owned breweries of their size, which really makes me like them, since I come from a family, too.

I’ve had Blanche de Namur in bottles and on draft, and it’s consistently been cloudy and creamy with a light muted-yellow color and a teeny-tiny hint of orange flavor, but not too much orange. Blanche de Namur is really refreshing, making it the perfect beer to drink at the park on a hot summer day or to cool off with in the air conditioning after a workout.

If you are wondering, it’s 4.5% and goes for around €1.10-€1.50 per 25cl bottle here in Amsterdam.

In summary, I think that Blanche de Namur is a good beer. The bartender at the dive bar around the corner from us swears that Blanche de Namur is the best wheat beer in the world, and I look forward to doing much more research this summer to confirm this fact.

Photo Credit

Travelly Picture: Brasov, Romania

When we were in Brasov, we decided to grab a bottle of Romanian red wine and scale the local steep hill, Mt. Tampa. At the top I took a picture with my digital camera of the town below and as you might have guessed by now, this is that picture.

Oh yeah, if you click on it, I think it gets bigger.

Brasov

Islands in Europe You Should Totally Go To

Europe is definitely more associated with medieval castles and train journeys than sand castles and ferry rides in most people’s minds, but any close inspection of a map reveals that the continent is home to thousands of miles of coastline and scores of islands off its shores.

Some islands in Europe are well known homes of hedonistic frolicking while others are more the sandy-and-silent type, but going to any of them will give you a sunny-and-salty slice of life you simply won’t stumble across on dry land. So just in time for summer, here are some of the best islands in Europe to escape to during your trip.

islands in europe

Texel, The Wadden Islands, The Netherlands

Caramel-colored beaches, windswept dunes, and messy mudflats made for stomping are the signature scenes on Texel, the jewel of the Dutch Wadden Islands. The Waddens are an archipelago of 50-plus islands that stretch from west-to-east across Dutch, German, and Danish territory, but the very first one is Texel, making it a short 30-minute ferry ride from Den Helder, a town an hour north of us in Amsterdam. Once on Texel, a few of your preconceptions of Holland may change as gaggles of grazing sheep, seven peaceful villages, and one giant red lighthouse all vie for your attention and reside within a short cycle to the beach. The weather may not always be tropical on Texel, but it’s nothing a light sweater and a bottle of wine can’t fix.

islands in europe

Hvar, The Dalmatian Islands, Croatia

This sliver of an island lying just off Croatia’s coast has seen its reputation rapidly rise in recent years as the tales of its beauty have been fervently told by travel writers, celebrities, and really rich people that sail around in things called yachts. For good reason too, as like the rest of the Dalmatian Islands of Croatia, Hvar is home to old towns full of faded-white stone buildings bumping up against teal blue harbors full of bobbing boats. Add to the mix swaying fields of lavender and chic sunset bars built into the rocks, and you have yourself a glamorous stop in the Adriatic that manages to feel both off-the-beaten path and on the coastal catwalk. If you are like me, you will want to hit the Hula Hula Beach Bar for drinks and then snore so loud that night that your friend has to pile clothes, towels, and shoes on top of you to muffle the noise.

islands in europe

Santorini, The Cyclades, Greece

Even if you have never heard of Santorini, Greece, before, you have likely already laid eyes upon its beauty dozens upon dozens of times. A favorite of the cell phone wallpaper, motivational poster, and film industries, Santorini and its chalk-white buildings wearing a crown of blue are an “I can’t believe I’m actually here” feast for the eyes. The village of Oia is the place to go to see the azure-topped beauties, and is a great place to take part in the local tradition of asking a stranger to take a photo of you so you can use it later as a profile picture. The rest of the island is home to sun-soaked villages all with their own rustic appeal. The cliffs the villages cling to and the colorful red, brown, and black sand beaches below aren’t just composed of any old rock as the crescent-shaped island of Santorini is in fact an active volcano. Don’t worry, though; there hasn’t been a large eruption in over 3,000 years, and even if there is one, at least you will be able to say you went out on top.

islands in europe

Jersey, Channel Islands, Jersey (?)

Jersey, or Old Jersey if you will, is the largest of the Channel Islands that lie between England and France and is awash with idiosyncrasies that make for a unique European island experience. An English-speaking enclave with French street names, Jersey is well connected to both nations by a bevy of ferries and flights and is home to an independent streak that comes from being a British overseas territory but not a full-fledged member of the United Kingdom. Weather-wise, Jersey benefits from being sheltered by the Gulf of Saint Malo, and as a result is home to considerably warmer and sunnier days than you would expect for this region of Europe. Charming harbors and beaches abound on Jersey, but for those who like to get active on holiday, the interior of Jersey is criss-crossed with biking and hiking paths, and even the crumbling ruins of a castle.

islands in europe

Ibiza, Balearic Islands, Spain

Known the world over as a hub of clubs that thump dance music to the break of noon, the Spanish island of Ibiza is worth – raving about (get it?) – for a host of other reasons. The “hippy sister” of the Balearic islands has a much more laid back Bohemian vibe running through its sands than many people expect when they arrive, and as a result has a real tendency to surprise. Make no mistake, if partying and clubbing is your thing, you won’t go home a wallflower, but Ibiza is home to a surprising amount of serenity and history too. Ibiza Town, and its fortified old town dates back to the 7th Century B.C. is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the island is home to many quiet coves and beachy enclaves where you could hear a glow stick drop.

 

An earlier version of this post appeared in U.S. News & World Report.

Photo Credits: 1,2,3,4,5,

Travelly Picture: Budapest, Hungary

We actually spent a few weeks in Budapest, Hungary, lowlighted by a disastrous stint volunteering in a hostel in exchange for room and board. In between the chaos of that fiasco, we managed to have a pretty good time and trekked up a hill one day to get this picture of the Danube River and something called a bridge.

Oh yeah, if you click on it, I think it gets bigger.

budapest

Around Asia Chapter 3: Penang

After a few days in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s skyscraping capital and renowned center for sidewalk rodent-punting, we boarded a bus for the island of Penang.

I say island, and I know according to mapmakers and the planet Earth, Penang is indeed one, but it didn’t really feel like an island to me. Penang is massive and since we arrived via a 13 kilometer-long suspension bridge, I thought Penang had more the persona of a coastal city than an island. But hey, that’s just me.

We had heard nothing but great things about Penang beforehand and arrived excited to embrace the culture, the history, the landscapes, and the people. There I go completely making stuff up again – the only things we knew about Penang going in was that it was known for having great street food and was home to some old buildings worth taking pictures of.

penang

The part of Penang where the great street food and the old buildings worth taking pictures of are located in is called Georgetown, and that is where we ended up staying.

We got a little turned around finding our guesthouse on the way in to town, but were directed down the right street by a friendly older Western lady, who seemed like she lived there. She was more than glad to help us, and busted out the directions with the speed and sharpness of someone who, as an expat, probably ends up shepherding turned-around buffoons on a very regular basis.

Penang was a bit of a strange stop for us. Sadly, since the entire internet had been collectively beating their chest and howling from the trees about how great it was, a bit of a letdown was inevitable. We enjoyed it, we just weren’t about to start beating our chest and howling from trees about how great the place was.

Our experience with the food of Penang was good, but nothing earth shattering. If I recall correctly (I definitely do, I’m just being dramatic), we may have (we did) ended up at a Pizza Hut one night because the street stalls choices were a bit underwhelming (they were fine, we just wanted a stuffed crust pizza).

Penang

There were indeed pretty buildings to take pictures of, many of them were clustered around a cute little area called Love Lane. I immediately took the name Love Lane to be a sign that Penang is an enclave for freespirited hippy types, but apparently no one really knows how the street got its name. Theories range from Love being somebody important’s surname to the street once being home to a bevy of brothels.

Regardless, the name Love Lane fits the little place like a glove.

Seeing Penang’s chalk white colonial-era buildings butted up against colorful temples was a thrill for sure, and further hammered home that we had really arrived in Asia. At times, Kuala Lumpur had felt like a step into the future, but Penang definitely felt like a lean back to the past.

penang travel

After being attracted by a trail of incense smoke, we popped into a temple one day and observed something called a ceremony, which definitely felt like the kind of thing we went travelling for in the first place.

Like I said, we had a good time in Penang, but for the most part, the only thing earth shattering to happen during our stay was when the earth nearly shattered.

Yep, they had an earthquake while we were there.

While Missouri is certainly never going to be confused with California or anywhere else on the Ring of Fire, any Missourian worth his or her salt, which I pretend to be by the way, is bizarrely proud to boast about the fact that the New Madrid Fault is located in our fair state.

New Madrid Fault? Oh, you didn’t know? That’s right, the New Madrid Fault is responsible for some of the biggest earthquakes in the history of the United States, one that even made the Mississippi River flow backwards.

Take that, San Andreas.

In fact, one of the strongest memories I have of my youth, involves the New Madrid Fault. A cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs scientist named Iben Browning made a bold prediction that a huge earthquake was going to strike on or around December 3rd, 1990. The media in the Midwest picked up on it and the whole region was a buzz with his fruity forecast. At school, kids were teetering between being afraid the world was about to end just before Christmas and excited for a potential Earthquake Break from classes.

Of course nothing happened, but the preceding hoopla will always be etched in my memory.

We really didn’t even feel the earthquake on Penang, but were alerted to the fact that it happened by some locals who had all come out to the street to swap stories of dishes shaking (it’s always dishes, isn’t it?).

Once back in our guesthouse after chatting with them though, there was a bit of nervous shaking on the internet about a possible tsunami headed our way after the earthquake. In the space of 15 minutes, I read everything online from the dire “run for your lives!” to the genteel advice of “swimming in the sea is not recommended at this time”.

The tsunami ended up being mostly internet hype, and hey, wait a minute, I suppose that’s a fitting way to describe our time in Penang.

Travelly Picture: Hoorn, Holland

We were in between apartments recently, and as a result ended up with some time on our hands to go out and explore some parts of Holland we hadn’t seen yet. We ended up spending a few hours walking around the town of Hoorn, Holland looking at things and having lunch. We even took some pictures and this is one of them, it’s of something called a harbor.

Oh yeah, if you click on it, I think it gets bigger.

hoorn holland