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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Brussels Grote Markt/Grand Place

The Grote Markt/Grand Place of Brussels is probably the most magnificent town square in all of Europe. I put together an old-fashioned panorama of the place, which you can view here. It's not a new-fangled Quicktime VR thingy, just a long spread of photos taken side by side. The photo(s) start(s) at the Breadhouse (Broodhuis/Maison du Roi) and continue(s) past the tightly packed guild houses... then the Houses of the Dukes of Brabant, more guild houses with a statue of Charles of Lorraine on horseback, followed by Brussels Town Hall, even more guild houses, and back to where we started at the Breadhouse. Spin yourself around in the square, why don't you?

Panoramific Grote Markt/Panorabulous Grand Place

Friday, September 28, 2007

Big Time in Brussels

Jan & Maxine, with whom we stayed, and our guides to Lueven, took us sight-seeing in Brussels. Brussels is the capital (or center) of:

  • Belgium
  • The European Union
  • Flanders
  • French Community of Belgium
  • EUROCONTROL
  • NATO
  • Western European Union
  • Sprouts
  • Statues that Urinate
As if that list were not impressive enough, being the capitol of Belgium, it is the capitol of of a country known for excelling in the production of:
Not bad for a country created just to piss off the French. With this impressive list in mind, we set out to experience as much of it as we could. Brussels was a difficult city to figure out... that could have been because we had friends showing us around, and we didn't really have to look at a map or even think about it. Our hosts led us into the Brussels metro near their home to head downtown. Their stop is adorned with characters from the classic Belgian comic Tintin and Snowy. This set the expectations for the day, all of which were met, except seeing a metro stop covered with Smurfs.

The city is divided into two sections: Upper Brussels and Lower Brussels. The naming has nothing to do with one being further north than the other and everything to do with one being higher than the other. Really... there's an elevator you can take to go from Upper Brussels to Lower Brussels.

Upper Brussels offers some good views of Lower Brussels, obviously. Also up here you can find the Palais de Justice, Belgian Parliament, nosebleeds and, occasionally, John Howard. The Australian Prime Minister whizzed passed us in a motorcade while we were waiting to cross the street. We waved but he didn't wave back.

The Grand Place, tiny pubs, bizarre statues and other interesting works of art can be found in Lower Brussels. Most people know about Manneken Pis, a statue of a small boy peeing, but not many know about his female counterpart, Jeanneke Pis. Little Manneken Pis has a colorful past, and I recommend his site for a humorous presentation of his history. These days, they dress him up for special occasions. When we were there, he was dressed as a musketeer. I have no idea why they picked this over, say, an astronaut. Jeanneke Pis, on the other hand, was installed in the 1980s to provide some much needed gender-balance to prepubescent peeing statues. She's hidden down a dead-end alley. Discrimination.

Our history walk was broken up by stops in some of the best bars in the world, of course. We stopped in the marvelous La Mort Subite for some rare gueze, the Delirium Café to flip through their selection of 2004 beers, the hidden-in-a-secret alleyway Au Bon Vieux Temps for a quiet beer beside the stained glass windows, the Flemmish hangout Café Monk for some, yes, Flemmish beers and, finally, the only brewpub in Brussels: Les Brasseurs De La Grand'Place. Phew, that was a full day and night. This may have been the most entertaining city of our entire trip. It's a wanderer's paradise. Thanks again to Jan & Maxine for such an incredible time.

Photos of scaffolds with a giant embryo sketched on them, a statue of a giant cat on a bicycle and a poster for Bruxelles Lesbains/Brussel Bad... among other things.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Winding Down the Big Trip Blog Entries (and Patriotic Fire Hydrants)

I am finally reaching the end of the Big Trip blog entries. The only photos yet to be sorted through and posted are of Brussels, Antwerp & Ghent... but there are almost 600 total. Perhaps I am also concerned about suffering from postpartum after completing a nearly nine month long birthing process of the Big Trip Blog Baby.

I won't have a completed entry today, so, in the meantime, here are some photos taken around the New York/New Jersey area:

Patriotic Fire Hydrant








R2-Mail2











Cactus/Shrub











Great Blue Heron Between New Hope & Lamberville

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dana's Special Day!

In honor of Dana's birthday, we had declared a cluster of days in the third week of September "Dana's Special Day!"s Dana's too special to only get one Dana's Special Day! so she got a few of them.

Dana's Special Day! 1 - Blind Tiger Ale House Victory Event
This sounds a bit like giving your girlfriend a subscription to Sports Illustrated, but Dana really does love the Blind Tiger, plus we are going to be serving Victory beer at the wedding... so we were taste-testing! Ben and I got there early to hold the prime real estate on the side of the bar facing the door. The usuals trickled in throughout the evening, and much excellent beer was enjoyed. Victory might be my favorite brewery... at least in the US. They had 17 beers available, and nearly all were fantastic. A couple were mediocre, but none were undrinkable. And, of course, a few were astounding. As their brewery has grown in size, they have not stopped experimenting, almost always with success, and their well-known beers have not suffered in quality. Sure, they don't have the same percentage of out-there beers as Dogfish Head, and they don't have the distribution of Brooklyn, but for now I think their maintaining the balance perfectly. Guess what... I brought my camera.

Dana's Special Day! 2 - A Hike in New Jersey and Dinner
Hiking in Jersey? Yep. About 15 minutes from where we are living is the South Mountain Reservation, which has 19 miles of hiking trails. These are real trails, not paved, and there are plenty of birds, chipmunks and deer to see. For a little while during the hike I was worried we get lost, like the Pine Barren episode of The Sopranos. I kept hearing Tony saying, "You got lost in the woods in Jersey?" Christopher corrects him, "South Jersey." Well, we were in North Jersey, so a trail of broken beer bottles next to a waterfall led us back to civilization. Dana's Special Day!

To satisfy the hunger we worked up, we had dinner at Antonella's with Susette, Marvin, Tom & Alexis. The Venetian food hit the spot. I know it was Venetian because of the blinds. I'm sorry, I had to.

Dana's Special Day! 3 - Gutterball!
After a makeover at Bloomingdale's with Beth, the two met Ben and me at Mug's for dinner. The destination for the night was the newly-opened Gutter in Williamsburg. Or is it Greenpoint? No one seems to know for sure. The place, opened by the same guys who brought you Barcade, is a retro bowling alley with craft beers on tap. (They do have some cutting-edge computers for managing the lanes, though. I think it was a Commodore 128. That's one hundred and twenty-eight kilobytes of pure power. I'm still using the 64.) Sadly, the hipster line was too long and we never made it bowling. I would like to get back there on a Saturday afternoon someday. The mooches that we are, we stayed at Ben & Beth's for the third weekend in a row. And so the Brooklyn apartment hunting began this week. For more on Gutter, you can find some great photos and misleading information here. Our photos here.

Dana's Special Day! 4 - French Food at Sophie's
Finally, Jim & Gail took us to enjoy the most authentic French food we've had since we left France. Mussels, goat cheese, beets and various fish and meat products left us very satisfied and very full. It was a fun week, but Dana and I need to take a break from birthdays for a little while now.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

In Leuven with Jan & Maxine

At last we made it to the last country on our Big Trip: Belgium! The land of chocolate, beer and confusing politics, the heart of the European Union, and the home of our friends Jan & Maxine. We met them while traveling the Top End of the Northern Territory in Australia. Jan is Dutch, and Maxine is British, so they live in Brussels, of course.

Our excellent hosts brought us to the nearby town of Leuven that first night. The Flemish city was alive with festivities for Beleuvenissen. According to Jan, this is "a word-play on the Dutch word 'belevenissen', plural for belevenis(NL)=experience(EN). Different themes every night: folk, jazz, latin and special." What I know is that it was a very good time. Besides boasting seven stages of music, Westmalle Tripel was available for four euros and served in a glass. Leuven may be the home of InBev, but they still know how to serve beer.

Photos from Leuven.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Farewell Germany, Heading to Belgium!

One of the main reasons we stayed in Düsseldorf was because I thought it was on the way to Brussels from Koblenz. I was wrong, but the drive was very entertaining. We had seen a postcard for a Chuck Close exhibit at the Ludwig Forum in Aachen and decided to make a stop. Winner, all around.

Chuck Close is an incredible portrait artist who has been painting for over 30 years. Most of his early paintings were brush paintings of people he knew. They were almost always extremely large. He began experimenting with making entire portraits out of fingerprints or dots, and these were amazingly lifelike. In 1988 Close suffered a spinal artery collapse, which left him a quadriplegic, but he has continued painting with his brush between his teeth. As perhaps the greatest proof that art comes from the brain rather than the hand, Close's portraits since then have continued to improve on earlier techniques and trump earlier paintings repeatedly. If you hear of a Chuck Close exhibit coming your way, please go. His Web site.

The rest of the Ludwig Forum in Aachen was almost as impressive. We pulled in at 11:50AM and were told to wait there at the counter until noon before we could pay and enter. That was a bit weak, considering we were the only people there and the counter was in the middle of the exhibition space. Still, the variety of art on display was fantastic. For a stop of a few hours, you could not beat the Ludwig Forum.

Back in the car, we drove through the Netherlands on the way to Belgium. The truck stop we chose for a snack provided appropriate views of windmills, and they served excellent beer, but the food was unbuyable. Actually, why offer good beer at a truck stop? Especially 8% Belgian beer... seems like asking for road rage.

http://dwarbi.com/BigTrip/Germany-Aachen/Germany-Aachen.html

Thursday, September 20, 2007

CORRECTION

In my previous post, I wrongly called the dish that Dave & Sabrina brought to the BBQ "dirty rice". It was, in fact, arroz con gandules. Evidently, someone called it dirty rice, and Dave said, "It's not dirty rice." This happened a few dozen times, but I must have heard him say, "It is dirty rice," each time.

A recipe for this tasty meal can be found here: http://www.hechoenpuertorico.org/comida/gandules.html

Dave recommends making your own achiote oil and adding chicken or pork rather than chorizo. I still think he made it with leftovers from the week before.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

BBQ at Ben & Beth's

Ben & Beth threw us a welcome back BBQ party at their apartment in Brooklyn this past Saturday. The food and beer, as expected, was astounding. Many folks brought interesting things for consumption, and Ben & Beth used some fresh ingredients from their garden right there in Boerum Hill.

The delicious things for the eating:

  • Cristi's X-T-Rex-special taco bake and mystery cream cheese onion dill dip
  • Ran-D Pant's special veganified stuffed mushrooms (Vegan but honey's OK, honey)
  • Beth's "you want chunk? you got chunk/you want smooth? you got smooth" guacamole
  • Dwarbi's fire-lambasted clove-and-other-stuff lamb grumfelds (served with Ben's grown-right-here-in-Brooklyn dill and cucumber yogurt sauce)
  • Found-on-the-Front-Step's beef grumfelds (served with Dana's You'll Feel This Tomorrow spicy chipotle cat-sup)
  • Black Bean Dip
  • Randall's served cold Gestapo Gazpacho - the veggie killa strikes again
  • Dave & Sabrina's Whatever-Was-Leftover-From-Last-Week-Don't-Ask-Why-We-Call-It-Dirty Dirty Rice Please see correction
  • Moxie's boiled and grilled potato salad with blue cheese vinaigrette over backyard-fresh arugala
  • My ma's salad as made by Dana and they both make it equally as good as the other always
  • Ken's year-aged Crown Heights special pickled hot peppers pickoos
  • Randy's whipped up in just one week! pickled carrots
There were too many beers to remember, but the massive bottle of Russian River Temptation, the 750 of Southampton Abbot 12 and the old-fashioned 12 oz Bell's Batch 6000 all stood out for me. Like Papa Beer, Mama Beer and Baby Beer. Jon's mojitos also rocked the house in Boerum Hill. Unfortunately, the growler of Rogue Impersial Porter I brought was off and tasted like carrot juice. Nasty carrot juice, though, not the good kind.

Tunes and topics of conversation carried on late into the night, and the next day I set off for the Lower East Side and the 7th Annual International Pickle Day Festival. Needless to say, the pickles were great, even if Davo, Randy and I had to wait on line for over an hour to get to Gus's. It was worth it.

Shots from the BBBBQ.
Thanks again to Ben & Beth and all who came and brought stuff. Great times.

Saddle Up, Boys, It's Time for Düsseldorf!

Düsseldorf kept us up at night. We were there for two nights, and it kept us up both nights in fact. This is a party town.

During our stay in mid-July, the city was lively with students and locals, many of whom seemed to have been transplanted from another country, but there were still locals. For a city of this size, the number of tourists was small. It was an odd mix of foreigners who knew the city well, a by-product of Düsseldorf's successful economy. The kind of party-goers who know how to party. We stopped by a few of the bars in the Alstadt, or Old Town, which is often called the "longest bar in the world" due to the fact that it has over 300 bars and clubs.

The specialty drink of Düsseldorf is the altbier, or Old Beer, which is brewed in a few of the larger pubs in the area. Most of these brewpubs serve only one beer, which servers carry in large numbers, poured in the traditional glasses, on enormous trays. Upon arriving at Uerige Obergärige Hausbrauerei, we weren't asked what we wanted, but two glasses of altbier were plopped down on the top of our high table. The waiter then took the pencil from behind his ear and made two strikes on my coaster. About fifteen minutes later, when my glass was empty (the traditional glasses are small), the waiter traded my glass for a full on and quickly drew another line on the coaster. When Dana and I decided to leave, he glanced at my coaster and told me how much we owed. With one beer to serve and the serving method down to perfection, it's no wonder that they can charge just 2 Euro a beer and still make a profit. It's an excellent deal for the customers, too, who can get as much of that malty goodness as they wish as quickly as they wish.

That night a group of rowdy Irish travelers in the room next too ours kept us up from 4AM until 5AM. Only when I pounded on the wall nearly hard enough to go through it did they simmer down. Surprisingly, this was the first time on our trip we were kept up by carousing neighbors.

Back in the Alstadt, the Old Town showed signs of the night before. Though it was late morning, the streets were empty. Of humans, that is. A few spots on the street had remnants of the partying from the night before. Bits dispelled here and there, if you know what I mean. We steared clear of the "Longest Bar in the World" until Düsseldorf's janitors could get a chance to clean it up.

The art scene is impressive in Düsseldorf. We weren't too impressed by the MTV dancers we saw practicing on the sidewalk, but the exhibits at Kunstmuseum K21 were better. The cloudy weather forced us inside. As good as the museum was, I enjoyed the bizarre statues scattered around the city even more. This is Germany, after all, so odd sculptures are to be expected. The fierce fountain of Triton on the canal Kö; the sculpture of a guy wearing an apron gesturing to a boy holding a sword; two bronze figures - one fat, one skinny - seemingly about to have a throw-down; the number of statues of "ordinary Germans" in full color and placed high up on pedestals... these were some of my favorites. Unfortunately, I could not find out much information about these statues. If you know of a site where I can find more information, please comment and let me know!

Night number two was disrupted by Americans on the street. Again, 4AM, this time with one rallying call: "Saddle up, boys, saddle up!"

Overall impression Düsseldorf: It would have been enough to spend one night. The food and beer were great, as was the artwork, but the city felt a bit grungy. Perhaps the seemingly transient nature of many of its residents has prevented it from developing a solid character of its own. To be fair, we were only there for two nights, and it doesn't help that our visit was preceded by stops in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, München, Bamberg, and Koblenz.

Düsseldorf in photo-reality. You will notice that we are having a great time in those photos. We don't regret having stopped there, but, simply put, our others destinations in Germany were even more enjoyable.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007

BBQ at Dave, Sabrina & Sean's

Dana and I met up with Ben & Beth in Brooklyn to catch the LIRR to Valley Stream for Dave & Sabrina's legendary BBQ. On approach, I remembered that this was close to where I saw Batman in 1989: Green Acres. Eighteen years ago, when I was just twelve, the Tim Burton film was released. My oldest brother, Chris, was home from Notre Dame at the time and sleeping in the spare bed across from my bed. Every morning, for weeks, he woke up and spun towards me to say, "I'm Batman." He doesn't remember this, of course, but the status of this summer memory is, for me, just above playing manhunt with the neighbors and hiding in a car with Erika. That's a different story, and not a very interesting one, either. I did say that my brother saying "I'm Batman" was above being stuck in a car with an adolescent female, didn't I? Yeah, we were found very quickly.

Wow, I got sidetracked there. So the BBQ was great. Dave & Sabrina put together an incredible spread of food, and everyone else brought an incredible spread of beer. Dave & Sabrina also had quite a bit of sampling from a new brewery available. Really, you could not look in any direction without seeing a beer or a food you had not tried before. Dave & Sabrina's BBQ scores the highest mark available on whatever measurement system you can use. Ten out of 10; 5 out of five.

Check out the photos from Dave & Sabrina & Sean's BBQ

Koblenz - Bikes, Castles & Fickle Weather

On July 9th we arrived in Koblenz, in the Rhineland, Germany. With the first construction taking place around 1000 BC, in the form of fortifications at what is now Festung Ehrenbreitstein, this was one of the oldest sites of civilization that we visited.

The old city was built up in the triangle where the river Mosel meets the river Rhine. At the very tip of this convergence is Deutsches Eck, or German corner, atop which stands a massive statue of the German Emperor Wilhelm I. This monument was first erected at the end of the 19th century, but it was seriously destroyed by an American hand grenade during World War II. A new statue was inaugurated in 1993, as a symbol of German unity... and as a tourist attraction. The site is impressive, and the view of the Rhine Gorge from its high pedestal offers an excellent view to both Wilhelm I and the Americans who climb below him.

Koblenz maintains the difficult balance of being inviting to tourists but not too touristy. The city is surrounded by magnificent castles and wine regions, so foreign guests should be expected. With the exception of one bus tour that dumped its contents onto a town square I was trying to photograph, the travelers seemed to blend in well. I appreciated the fact that the tourist council didn't shut down - or was unable to shut down - the bizarre sex shop in the middle of the old town. "Local flavor", that's what I learned to call it back in fifth grade. Of course Mrs. Carey wasn't referring to female mannequins in lingerie and male mannequins in camouflage and carrying lightsabers.

What of these castles? After Dana and I had seen enough cathedrals in Italy and France to last a lifetime, we didn't think the same thing would happen for castles. And it didn't... but we definitely would have overdosed had we visited every castle within 20 minutes of Koblenz. (There are about a dozen.) To get some exercise and delay the castle-touring, we went to Lahnstein, on the river Lahn, to rent bikes. The operation was run out of the guy's garage, but the bikes held up well enough. The weather, unfortunately, did not. Five minutes into our adventure, just after we had biked through the town and crossed the Lahn onto the bike path, the rain started. Bikes were delivered back to the guy's garage, and we delivered ourselves to a cafe for some excellent goulash.

And so we went to a castle. Marksburg Castle. Admittance was only allowed with a tour, and tours in English were only given when prearranged, so we tagged along with a bunch of 12 year old British students, all girls, who were probably really pissed to be missing the premiere of Harry Potter. The tour was excellent, and the schoolgirls were well-behaved. The castle has never (yet) been conquered, but after taking notes and photographing the interiors, I'm pretty sure I can assemble a team to do it. After all, the occupants these days are often distracted by updating their Web page and selling souvenirs. Sure, they have a tower full of genuine medieval swords and a dungeon full of torture equipment*, but I figure all we need is a helicopter and maybe Jack Bauer. Let me know if you are interested.

Night led us back into the old town for a bite and a walk. In Görresplatz there is a fountain that tells the story of the city of Koblenz. On a base that is an overflowing rowboat carrying barrels of wine, each stage of the city's existence is stacked on the one previous. So in this tower, a sort of temporal totem pole, you can see the town sacked by the Franks and destroyed by the Thirty Years War and both world wars. On the top is the city as it is today. Historiensäule am Görresplatz was built by Juergen Webers.

Our second full day in Koblenz was much sunnier, so we saddled the bikes once again. The rain held off while we rode along the river Lahn, checking out the old mansions and a few castles on the way to Bad Ems and back. We popped into a small pub on the river as well. The only parking there was for boats and bikes. I went to the bar and waited patiently for about eight minutes. Finally I tried pressing the Big Mouth Billy Bass on the wall but the batteries were dead. The bell seemed a reasonable second choice, but MAN was that loud! The publican came up from the basement, where she may have been buried and reawakened by the gong I had just sounded. If that was the case, my Paulaner hefe still tasted just fine.

Follow the words above in picture form here.

Stop at the Würzburg Hospital/Winery

Well, it's not quite a hospital anymore... it's a home for the elderly, and it has a tasting room open to the public! Now here's a part of Germany that enjoys its wine almost as much as it enjoys its beer. Sit back in that office chair and I'll explain. It's not really a long story, so you don't have to get too comfortable.

It all started back in the 16th century when the prince-bishop of Würzburg named Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn founded a hospital called Juliusspital. A wine estate was associated with the hospital from the start, providing revenue to subsidize it. This is still the case. Wine is sold from a store on the premises of the home, and by the glass in a tasting room. Both provide very good wine at an excellent price. Dana and I were happy to contribute to the cause. The residents of Juliusspital also receive a ration (1/2 pint) of their wine every day. On Sundays, they get two rations. Sundays are as notorious for the wild hook-ups during crafts sessions as for the wicked fights that break out over bridge.

The Würzburgian beer lovers and brewers, unwilling to let the Würzburgite winemakers and oenophiles steal their town golden boy, brew and drink a wheat beer called "Julius Echter Hefe-Weissbier".

Also notable in Würzburg:

  • 85% of the city was destroyed during WWII. In the decades since, it has been meticulously reconstructed.
  • St. Kilian, an Irish missionary in Würzburg in the 8th century, converted many locals to Christianity. One person he didn't convert had him and his companions, St. Colman and St. Totnan, beheaded. Once a year, on St. Kilian's day, their skulls are paraded around town in a glass box, then put on display in the cathedral for a week. Our timing was perfect!
  • The city had enough amusing statues to keep us entertained during our brief stopover between the amusing statues of Bamberg and the amusing statues of Koblenz.

So we bid farewell to the river Main and set off for the river Rhine. This visit was on the day of my birthday. That was over two months ago. I wonder if I can milk my birthday all the way to 2008...

While I work on that, check out the photos from Würzburg

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Labor Day in Bay Head

Harriett & Bette rented a house in Bay Head for Labor Day weekend and the week that followed. Let me explain what Labor Day is to the non-Americans: this is the extended weekend that marks the end of summer. The other extended weekend that bookends the season is Memorial Day. Memorial Day makes us excited for summer; Labor Day makes us wish that summer would last a bit longer. Most other countries celebrate their "Labor Day" on May 1st, or May Day, but the US is not one. "May Day" makes many Americans think "Commies".

Enough history. We enjoyed the beach, playing celebrity head, Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, and combing the beach for interesting trash. The best thing I found was an action figure with barnacles growing all over it. Check it all out here.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Bamberg Photos

Bad dwarbi!

I had a broken link for the photos of Bamberg, Germany. this one will work.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Look Out, Aussies in New York!

Last week we had our first Australian visitors. Two in a row, both friends from Sydney.

First we had Cory of Cory's Comment, who was in town to see some of the US Open live. Dana and I met him at Grand Central, had a bite at Waterfront Ale House and hit the town until well after the last train to South Orange. I crashed in Flushing, and we both went back into the city the following morning. I introduced Cory to a real bagel and nearly caused a bomb scare in midtown. After sitting on some steps to eat our breakfast, we set off for Tom's office to leave Cory's bag there. When we were a few avenues away, I realized that I had forgotten my backpack.

"They've probably called the cops," I joked.

Well, they had. When we returned to the deli, the bag was gone.

"With the police!" the deli-worker shouted at me.

A block away was a little cop-stand, and the officer inside had it.

He laughed, "They freaked out! Must have been as soon as you left it, I got a bunch a calls about an abandoned bag, they thought it was a bomb!"

It wasn't. Ah, paranoia. Next we hiked across midtown for a few hours and took a water taxi to Brooklyn for the best pizza in the world: Grimaldi's. After that full day, Cory set off for JFK, looking forward to sleeping on his flight to London. Photos from the 24 activity-filled hours.

After Cory was JFK-bound, Dana and I waited at the Gingerman for our our next visitor: Sai. Unfortunately I do not have nearly as many photos of our time with Sai. We enjoyed a few beers and some food at the Gingerman before heading back to South Orange for some rest. The real adventure was the next day, and not very photogenic... getting Sai to his hotel! Again, we introduced our visitor to a real bagel, this one a Jersey bagel, but still real. Perfect fuel to get our friend to his sister and nephews, who were waiting for him.

When will I learn not to trust Mapquest directions? Soon enough we were in downtown Newark, and the address I had led us to an empty lot. No problem, we thought, it's an airport hotel, so let's head to the airport. This worked... kind of. We could see the hotel just fine, but we could not get to it. After about three rounds of "Big Ben... Parliament" we finally went off-roading just to get close enough for Sai to get out, hop over some barriers and walk the rest of the way. Sorry about that Sai! We have't heard from Sai since, but I'm sure he made it back OK. Sai? Let us know how you're doing.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Bamberg, Germany

If I had to pick our favorite stop during the Big Trip, I would choose Bamberg. This is surprising, no doubt, but the city had so much to offer and so few crowds. It's a functioning city in Germany, and the entire Old Town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The criticism of UNESCO, that once a site is designated World Heritage it begins to deteriorate due to an onslaught of travelers, but that does not hold true here. It's probably true of The Great Barrier Reef, though. If only coral were as durable as stone.

Our visit coincided with a festival in Bamberg called "Unterm Sternenmantel". The Google translation of this term is "Unterm star coat", but it's actually a celebration of 1000 years of having a bishop. From what I could gather, they consider their year of founding 1007, when Rome recognized their significance by creating a diocese there: "1000 Jahre Bistum Bamberg". In honor of the occasion, the square in front of the Bamberg Cathedral was turned into a giant bier garten! That's Germany for you. The locally-brewed beer was not served in plastic cups, but you gave a deposit of a few Euro to received a stein, which you could fill as often as you like for 2 Euro. There was much to be seen, so I only had one.

The city is peppered with sculptures, both old and new, and they have not one, but two beautiful rose gardens. Beer from their nine local breweries can be enjoyed in one of the small pubs or one of the massive beer gardens. The River Main runs alongside the Old Town, and some of the most beautiful buildings in Germany can be found on it. Needless to say, there are a few things to do in Bamberg. We did quite a bit of walking, from the Wilde-Rose-Keller to the Klosterburg St. Michael, and enjoyed a few local brews, especially the fresh rauchbier. This is a smoked beer, the specialty of Bamberg. The best producer of this style, in my opinion, is Brauerei Heller-Trum, maker of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier. It's excellent in a bottle, but it's far better fresh on tap. And in Bamberg. With a pile of Bavarian food in front of you. Surrounded by magnificent Medieval architecture.

Don't miss these photos. Centurione I to Kunigunde; Doorknob to Door knocker.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Hitting the Water with Pete, Jane, Julianna & Valerie

Since Dana and I made our visit with my brother & his family last week, every Australian I have spoken to has had the same reaction: surprise. "The beach? Near New York?"

Yep, there are a number of beaches near New York, and you can even swim at some of them! Actually, some of them are very nice. They are a bit different from Australian beaches... a bit more crowded, maybe five or six more people, but the extra humans add comic value. "My wife's bustin' my shoes, 'Coming to the beach every day!' I gotta recharge my batteries! Whayagonnado?" Real New Yorkers here, people. Even in New Jersey, there are real New Yorkers... even more fun when they are wet and covered in sand!

Jane's brother owns some jet skis, and we took them out a few times. Crazy fun, but they definitely do not feel safe. I alternated between screaming with fun and crying in fear. Pete and I got ours up to 58 miles per hour, and Pete's little girl, Valerie, wanted to take one out by herself to go "Super-fast!" Wisely, Pete didn't let her.

Back at Pete & Jane's, Julianna tried to teach me how to hula-hoop, which I have never been able to do, and still can't. We also enjoyed a few episodes of Full House. Cut. It. Out! It's not as bad as you think it would be. Except the clothes. And the same catch phrases being used every episode. Really though, even fifteen years ago, was Bullwinkle still popular?

Pictures of said visit.

Munich/München

With our stay in Garmisch-Partenkirchen cut a day short, we found last-minute accommodation in München, the capitol of Bavaria and Germany's 3rd largest city. We knew the beer would be good, and it was, but the city itself was overrun with tourists. Dana and I found ourselves avoiding the major avenues and squares in favor of the smaller back streets.

The architecture is phenomenal, despite the fact that all statues and sculptures are covered in netting. Perhaps this is why pigeons rule over most pf Europe but are rather uncommon in Germany. While this may keep the stone structures poop-free, it severely detracts from the beauty of the artwork. München was hit hard by air raids during World War II, but much of the city has been restored to its original design. Amazingly, the towers of Frauenkirche, one of the most famous buildings in München, remained intact while nearly all of the rest of the church was destroyed. München was an early stronghold of the Nazis, and the first concentration camp, at Dachau, was built just 10 miles outside of the city. Not surprisingly, it was very difficult to find the concentration camp using road signs, which we attempted upon our departure. Dachau is now the site of an important museum, and we're disappointed to have missed it. Conversely, München was a site of strong opposition to totalitarianism during WWII. Among them was Rupert Mayer, whose resting place we came across in the Bürgersaalkirche.

On a lighter note, and as stated earlier, the beer in München rocks. Our visit landed on a Friday night, so we got ourselves a good table at Andescher am Dom and settled in for some excellent Bavarian fare and monastic beer brewed by the monks at Klosterbrauerei Andechs nearby. The quality of these beers was such that the four brews served on tap at the restaurant were more than enough to satisfy my Bavarian-bier-starved palate. The Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel was particularly smooth.

Over the course of the next day in München, we climbed to the top of Peterskirche for a view of the city from above, popped by the Viktualienmarkt for a pickle, had a beer at the famed Hofbrauhaus and witnessed vegetarians pretending to shoot people wearing Aardvark masks at a PETA demonstration. An eventful day, I must say.

Photos of Munich/Fotos von München

Monday, September 03, 2007

Feral Cat Stew & A Giant Fence

I've been back in the States for over a month now, and from time to time I get to wondering what's going on back in Australia. Thankfully, the series of tubes makes it easy for me to find out.

Some Aussies are trying a different way to deal with their feral cat problem, and some Americans are getting outraged by it. Come on, people, can someone tell me why it's OK to eat pig and cattle but not OK to eat cat? Just to stir you up a bit more, one of the things I miss most about Australia is eating kangaroo meat.

Also crossing international boundaries is President Bush. To the disdain of millions of Sydneysiders, the Australian government has built a 3 mile long fence around much of the city to keep demonstrators out while he visits for the APEC summit. The impact on transportation is so great that this coming Friday has been declared a public holiday. Sucks for my friend Ian, whose wife is expecting to deliver a baby that very same day. Ian, Agamemnon is a good name and all, but also consider Apec in honor of the occasion.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Big Birthday Weekend

No, not our birthdays, but the birthdays of others. This is a selfless birthday blog entry.

Birthday #1:
Bode's First Birthday! Last Saturday, Dana and I made it over to Park Slope, Brooklyn, to check out Jason & Cristi's pad and the roof above the pad. Bode decided on a luau theme, so he set up an inflatable palm tree, a little pool for him and his buddies and leis for all the guests. Jason & Cristi tease me about how many photos I took at their wedding four years ago, so I couldn't let them down this time. The photo count is huge, but it's sure hard to trim down photos of an adorable baby. Or of Jay, apparently.

Birthday #s2&3 (or is it Birthdays #2 & #3? or Birthday #2 & Birthday #3?)
Bah, whatever it's supposed to be, the birthdays were for Jim, of Raritan River fame and Kay, of Kay & Wally Visit Sydney fame. Last Sunday, we went to Middlesex, where Gail cooked up an incredible meal of pork loin and pineapple & cranberry salsa. She served delicious cupcakes for dessert. No one went home hungry. Some snaps from the Sunday.