Beer? I have time for a beer.

Before I get into this one, I want to make a statement. Travel isn’t about places or things. Travel isn’t about crap you read in guide books and magazines. or, on blogs on the internet, for that matter. travel is about experiences that stay with you, after you leave a place. It’s about understanding the way people in other places understand things. Okay, that being said, go … 

I was sitting on the couch the other day, thinking about stuff that should end up on Pinterest. Somewhere in looking through external hard drives, USB drives, and random flash cards at pictures from the various travels, I noticed that I have taken a pile of pictures of beer. Most of the beer seemed to be Guinness. I think this is because the brand is so widely dispersed. In countries that have regional beers, I will go out of my way to drink those beers. For example, in Thailand I drank a lot of Chang. But, it seemed to keep coming up Guinness, so I decided to build a Pinterest board of the different Guinness pints I’ve ingested around the world.

Let face it, if you’re from the United States or Western Europe, you like a glass of beer. (For the purposes of this blog post we will forgo the wine and whiskey categories.) I certainly like several glasses of beer at any one sitting, but that might be one of the things that explain my current western-sized BMI. So I decided to put up a blog post a couple of my favorite pints from here-and-there. These are all Guinness stops, because I was collecting photos for the Pinterest board. I think they are accurate representations of one of the small pieces of travel that adult travelers enjoy so much. I hope this at least makes you chuckle.

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Number One, Drinking in Dublin, Ireland, 2009.

Part One, The Sky Bar.

The free beer you get after the Guinness Brewery tour. The views from the Sky Bar while drinking the free beer are outstanding.

When you make it to Dublin, Ireland, one of the things you are going to want to do is take the tour of the Guinness Brewery, at ST. James’ Gate. The brewery tour is quite enjoyable, and the gift shop on the third floor is HUGE! (I even came out with golf tees.)After your tour of the brewery and its beer-making process, but before your attack on the gift shop, you are ushered up to The Sky Bar, Located above the brewery, for a free pint of beer. The Sky Bar only gives out Guinness Draught, but that’s quite alright.

The barmen and women at The Sky Bar pour soo-many pints a day, that it’s all but guaranteed you will get a quality draft. The draft tastes excellent and the views from the high elevation above the city are outstanding. take the time to take the tour. It really is worth your time.

Part Two, the Brazen Head.

The Brazen Head, Dublin, Ireland, is Ireland’s oldest pub.

The Brazen Head is a nice little bar, in Central Dublin, just south side of the river. Dating back to somewhere around 1198, it is officially recognized as the oldest pub in the country of Ireland.

Now, because the pub is a landmark, and because the pub is totally stamped on the tourist map, and because the pub is easy to get to with a quiet walk through the city, it can be a disappointment if you go at it the wrong way. It is a major tourist draw. Most tourists looking to get a picture and a story will make it no farther than the hostess person standing at the little front door stand. The tourists are shown to a seat, normally outside because the place isn’t very big, and provided with a perfectly adequate time. If you require a more-genuine experience, smile and push past the hostess and grab a seat at the bar with the locals. They are quite welcoming, and you can have great conversations while you enjoy a pint.

If you’re looking at adding a stop at the Brazen Head while you’re in Dublin, do yourself a favor and make it to a barstool where the locals hangout. You will remember the conversation long after you leave.

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Number Two.

The Irish Village, Dubai, UAE, 2018.

Having a beer at the Irish Village, Dubai, UAE, 2018.

If you work in the Middle East for any amount of time, you WILL end up in Dubai. It’s almost a Guarantee. If you work in a dry country, like I did in Kuwait, A stop in Dubai will probably be one of your first forays out of the country. Why? Simple, they have beer. Not only do they have beer, but they require you to walk through the duty free shop when exiting customs at the airport. They know why you’re there.

Just south of the airport, between the airport and the river that separates the north older part of Dubai from the south newer sections of the city, sits the Dubai Tennis Stadium. All along one side of the stadium is The Irish Village. trust me when I say, these people know why they’re there. It’s a wonderful place to sit, listen to a little music, and drink several pints. I stopped there everyday that I was in Dubai.

The Irish Village is easy to find on Google maps while you are there, and easy to get to. There is a metro stop several blocks to the north and a following easy walk from the metro to the village. The people are friendly, and the food-drink is quite good. I was really there for the beer. Dubai has a fairly large British ex-pat community, and the locals are quite comfortable with the consumption of alcohol. That being said, you can’t drink while in public (unless you are at a restaurant or other business that serves alcohol), and they DO NOT appreciate westerners being drunk in public.

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Number Three, U2 360 Tour, Chicago, Illinois, 2009.

The inflatable Irish Pub that travelled with U2 and served Guinness 250 Anniversary beer.
The Guinness 250th Anniversary beer. It was FANTASTIC!

Back in 2009, when U2 brought the 360 Tour through Chicago, Illinois, for the first time (The tour went on for so long that they came two years in a row. I went both years.), they brought an inflatable Irish Pub with them. I believe the tour was at least partially underwritten by Guinness, though I don’t know this to be fact.

Out on the lawn section of Soldier Field, A full-sized inflatable Irish Pub was installed to serve Guinness 250th Anniversary beer to the concert goers. This stop is being added specifically because of the beer. The 250th Anniversary special was one of the best pints of beer that I’ve had. It was creamy and smooth, yet thick and filling. They produced it for a short time and then stopped. I was somewhat upset when I couldn’t get it anymore. Oh, the concert was outstanding as well.

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One Honorable Mention. Mainly, because I don’t have or couldn’t find a picture of it.

The Green Dragon, Boston, Massachusetts.

In the middle of Boston, directly across the street from the oldest bar known in the United States, The Bell in Hand Tavern, is an absolute Historical Landmark, The Green Dragon. The Green Dragon is the place where the revolution was said to have been planned. And, if you’ve been there, you believe it. It has been kept as accurate as time will allow, and you can literally picture Ben Franklin passing out at the bar.

I stop at The Green Dragon every time I’m in Boston, and time will allow. The beer is always good, the food is very good, and the company is excellent. If you can make a trip in the summer, when the doors are open and the streets are full of people, you’ll enjoy it that much more. And yes, when at The Green Dragon, I drink Guinness.

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I really wrote this post because It made me happy to do it. It’s the interactions with people and places that stick in your mind the longest. It’s why we travel. So, next time you’re out exploring, stop at a good looking establishment and have a beer with the locals. It will be worth your time, and produce memories that will last. Now that I’ve just written that last statement, I have an odd sensation there will be an upcoming post specifically about time spend at O’Neill’s in Kings cross, London.

Now get out there. Enjoy your travels.

Decompression.

A sizeable chunk of bloggers on the internet is primarily focused on how to get adventuring. Those that aren’t are focused on the actual adventuring itself. The ‘look at me! I’m somewhere cool’ posts we all like to read so much. For self-inclusive purposes, I would think I best fit into the second category. I like to go do new stuff. I also like to talk about the new stuff that I am doing as it may inspire you to try something new as well.

I think that its safe to say that our current society is judging itself based upon how cool you make yourself look in the social media. I see it as both a blessing (it give me inspiring ideas) and a curse (It give everyone on the planet an extremely unrealistic view of success and happiness). One thing I am sure of is that It’s not going away anytime soon.

That being said, I think something that tends to get overlooked by most travel bloggers is what happens after the adventure is over. How do you decompress from travel? This is a very real topic of conversation with my different traveling friends. what you do to process your travels, and how you transition back into your middle-aged workaday world, are legitimate things to be considered prior to leaving.

The majority of people aren’t professional travelers nor are they independently wealthy. This implies that whenever you return from your trip, you are going to need to reposition yourself into whatever life situation you were escaping from. If you went on vacation for a week or took that three-day cruise around the Bahamas, this probably will be accomplished without much effort. If you dropped everything to travel the world or moved overseas to work and are now about in your own country, this will be a fairly more daunting task.

I idea of decompression after a trip of three weeks or less is pretty much avoidance. A long time ago, I started planning a free day at the end of every trip. A day off between the airport and having to go back to work. This day was used to get my head out of where I was (cool adventure stuff), and back into what I had left (work). Granted, this day off looked a lot like me doing laundry, organizing pictures and video, and generally lounging on the couch. Needless to say, It usually worked pretty well. If I walked out during an important time at work, it also allowed me to check in and see what was going on. That way, I didn’t walk in and get blindsided by something stupid.

Having been back from a year in the desert for a couple of months now, I find myself still adjusting from the adventure into what comes next. Even though I had a plan upon my repatriation, the shift from constant motion and the immediateness of another culture to the (quasi) normalness of the American condition has left me with the feeling of lingering. And even though I know that I’m going to be off again in a couple more months, I still feel like I’m spinning my wheels.

The funny thing is , I knew this stage was coming. I told everybody at my last job that, if I couldn’t keep myself from becoming bored, that I probably would be back. Where I’m super good at being lazy, I’m not good at be listless. If left to my own thought for too long a time, I tend to wander off in search of something to do. This leads to the title of this blog, namely Istray.

I can have the best plan ever to do whatever, and then in the middle of its execution I’m mysteriously off to Europe instead. Proof of this statement. After I had been in Kuwait long enough to start travelling, I made up my mind that I was going to see the city Ubar. The city of Ubar is located in the Empty Quarter of Oman. You have to want to go there. It would be proper adventure. A year in Kuwait, and five countries later, I left the Middle East not having gone to Ubar. I did make it to Oman, Technically. I had to change planes in Oman on my way to Cambodia. Yes, I know. It doesn’t count.

but, back on-point here. When you spend a significant amount of time moving and then you stop moving, it make you want to be moving again. My plan for spending the interval between adventures involves writing book and getting another book ready for publishing. While it’s mentally stimulation, it is NOT the life of the jet set that I’ used to. I am getting a lot more and better writing done than when I was in the desert. That’s a good thing.

So, if you plan of being off on a grand adventure, my I suggest that you take a quiet afternoon before you go and think about what it will be like when you come back. If you’re off on sabbatical or structured leave, then you probably have this done already. If you are cutting the cord and running off, well then, this exercise will be a practical use of your planning time. You need to plan your trip. You should also plan what comes after your trip. It’s all fun and games, until it’s not.

Well, that’s my two cents anyway.

The scene of the next Kristin Hughes thriller. That is, if I don’t wander off to Europe earlier than planned or go find another cool job first.

Now, get out there. Plan your way into and out of that next adventure.

English as Your Only Language.

So, I’ve been reading this book called The Timbuktu School for Nomads. It’s helping me keep my head in other places over the winter, before I start travelling again in the spring. I enjoy the story very much, and it makes me think of my own time in the desert (such as it was). The reason I bring this up here is that there is a fair bit in the story about struggling with language. The author kind of made his own way out of Europe and down through Africa. he went from local tribe to local tribe and had to adjust to different languages as he went. it is my impression that he spoke some Arabic before he left Europe, but not a lot. Which leads me to me topical question, Do you find it necessary to speak more than one language, or to have a backup language?

I only speak one language. English. American English, to be exact. I specify the difference, because the first time I went to London I had no idea what people were saying for about two days. It took me some time to listen to the differences in words and start to figure things out.

In my travels, I have found that there were many occasions where speaking the local language would have been handy however, it was never a necessity. I have always managed to get by on some hand gestures and a big cheesy smile. Case in point, Paris. I love Paris. It’s dirty and fantastic and ( sadly) full of Parisians. They are the international poster children for being snooty about language. Or, so it would seem from the modern media. The truth is not so far afield.

Whenever I can, I stay a little place called Le Tim Hotel. It’s on the Seine, down the street from the Louvre. It’s a nice little place with good access to the Metro. Directly across the street from the front door is a corner Brassiere. You can get a beer or some food, and watch the street scenes play out as you sit. It’s nice.

Now, to set the stage, I wouldn’t say I speak any French, at all. I took French classes in first through fifth grade, and grew up about an hour and a half from Quebec, in New York. One would think I would have retained some ability to fake my way through, but no! What I retained were words. Words buried deep in my memory. The stuff that comes out when you’re talking and not thinking.

Every time I get into town, I go to the Brassiere. I go there every day, late in the afternoon, for something to eat. Usually on the first day I can say hello. The waitress French girl looks at me with disdain and shows me a seat. By the last day, I can string together a sentence, and the same waitress French girl will usually smile and ask me to stop speaking French and just use American. I’ll laugh, do as instructed, and leave an extra tip.

The point to this is not that they don’t like people who don’t speak the language. They don’t like people who don’t try to speak the language. This is an important distinction to make. I try to learn enough of any language before I go to say hello, yes, no, reservation, please and thank you. This little bit, if applied correctly, will warm the heart of the person you’re talking to enough, to let you off the hook. You need to start out in their language, and let them tell you to switch.

Second case study was the Middle East. (I may have mentioned this bit in an earlier post. if I’m being redundant I’m sorry.) The Arabic language is not and easy nut to crack. I bought a Rosetta Stone set before I left and attempted to learn some of the language. it was not a success. So, I tried a second time, when I first made it to Kuwait. That too, was not a success.

You would think that a big white dude wandering around Kuwait and not knowing how to speak Arabic would be a problem. I certainly did. it turns out that it’s not. After a little trial and error, some random conversations at restaurants, and pretty much every cabbie in the country, I learned that the base common language in Kuwait is English. It was some thing I was unprepared for, and left a large cultural hurdle un-leapt, though it helped me significantly. The vast majority of people in Kuwait are imported workers. The Kuwaiti really don’t do anything useful. Mostly, because they have oil money. So everyone that I ended up interacting with out in the city, the cabbies, the shopkeepers, the restaurant waitresses and the like, were all from some other country. They were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, or Shri Lanka. They couldn’t talk to each other either, but they all learned from limited form of English in their homeland. So, by proxy, English became the common tongue.

I learned as I spent time there that it as definitely more helpful if you had someone in your group that did speak the language. I paled around with my British buddy Zahin. Z Man’s Cultural upbringing meant that he could converse in Pakistani. We got way better service and food at the local place when we conversed with them in their native tongue. I got perfectly acceptable service when I went at them in English, but I got way better food when Z Man went at them in Pakistani. People just respected that. That, I am fully behind.

So, I have found that if you are polite and courteous, people will also be polite and courteous. From Egypt to Jordan, to Dubai, to Italy, to France, and Peru, I have found that if you go slow and at-least start out I their language, you will end up getting the conversation completed. People are people. They just want you to respect their ways. After all, isn’t that why we travel? To learn the ways of others?

Have you had this same experience? Have you tried to get somewhere on hand gestures and a big smile? Knowing the native tongue is definitely good, but don’t let it stop you from going.

Kuwait, circa 2018. The shops signs in Kuwait are somewhat bilingual, as are the road signs. I think the camel just speaks camel though.

 

Now go on. get out there and make your own experiences.

Boxes Of Photographs.

This is a follow up post, of sorts. A little while back I wrote a post about travel photos and wrapped philosophic about what happens to them when you return from vacation. This is an adjacent take to that post. A bit more, present day.
Since returning from the middle east, I have found that I need to reestablish the general level of comfort that I am used to. When traveling from an extended period, one of your primary money drains, at least at an adult age, will be what to do with your residence. This was the topic of an early blog post. Some people find it a good idea to keep their homes and rent them, some sell them and plan to find another later. People living in apartments really need to address how to handle their possession, but still have the issue of unburdening themselves from leases.
Having struck a bargain with a friend for rental of his house, I have handled the where-to-live issue. This prompted a languid trudge over to my storage unit (where all my possessions live) to retrieve the most essential items. I needed a bed and a few pans for cooking. I confess that my cooking is minimal, mostly coming from frozen pizzas and microwave burritos, but you never know when you’re going to want some soup or something, plus I can’t exist without a coffee pot. I pulled out my grandmother’s dinning room table, so I could utilize it as a writing table. It’s the right size. And, almost as an afterthought, a grabbed a large plastic tote labeled pictures. It might be nice to have a picture or two on the walls.
I have numerous totes marked either pictures or photo albums, so I wasn’t sure what was in it, when I grabbed it. I simply assumed that there would be something cool. It turned out to be a good thought. The one I grabbed was almost completely travel photos. There was one of me at the pyramids in Giza, and another from Machu Picchu. I found the catacombs of Paris, the Cysteine Chapel, and Stonehenge. Street scenes from Lisbon, and Dublin, as well as the gardens of the Louvre. There was even me running with the bulls in Pamplona.
I scattered the pictures over walls, wherever a nail was left behind, and filled a couple of empty shelves with frames. As I walk around now, I find that the pictures have two profound effects. The first one is that they make me happy. Sometimes, I sit and just look at the ones from Pamplona and remember the crazy 24-hour street party that is the Festival. Other times, when I am having a bit of writer’s block, I look over at the picture of the Eiffel Tower. It was taken from the park in mid-summer, and really is Paris. Second, and much more real, they make me want to travel. I have places to see, and parts of the map that I haven’t been to. These pictures remind me not to rest too long. Life isn’t lived at a writing table, not even a nice one like grandmas. Life is lived out in the world. It’s a good thing that there is already something in the works for next summer, or the pictures would give me the itch to do something foolish. They can be powerful motivation.
The pictures also have one final power. They remind me of the people that I’ve met along the way. Random people that cross your path and give you something to keep. I spend half of my trip through Egypt partying with this group of Australians. I have completely lost touch with them over the years, but the memory of joking and drinking the night away as we waited for the sun rise over the Nile is permanently locked in my memory. (The pictures of the sunrise did not capture the majesty of the event.)
I guess the question wrapped up in all of this, if there is one, is what do you do with your travel pictures? Do you print them out and display them? Are they topics of conversation when people come to visit? Do they motivate you to travel more? Do they remind you of how good things are on the rainy slow days? I find my travel pictures do all of those things. I would suggest that you print out a few and scatter them about. So many people live in computers any more, that I think we all forget that we also live on the planet. And the planet has a lot of awesome history, and cool people in it. That’s just my two cents.
As a side note, my pictures aren’t super fancy or anything. I’m not a professional photographer, and I don’t do a lot of Kodak processing. I print most of my pictures off my printer, using photo paper. It works, and they look like photos. To me, that’s what counts. It’s the image, not the quality of the image. But, that’s just me. You do you.

Now, you get out there and take some pictures. Go make some memories.

Going Home.

Having come back to America from the Middle East, there was a requirement to head back home and see mom and dad. I utilized the initial couple weeks being back in the USA to handle the things that need to be handle after a year abroad. There was finding an apartment, rifling through loads of mail, miscellaneous doctor visits and the like. Having the necessary items in the bag, it was time to leave Texas for the unwelcoming fall weather in upstate New York.

I decided to fly, as opposed to driving, because I had a bunch of AA frequent flyer miles that were about to expire. I bought the remaining needed miles and ended up with a completely reasonable plane ticket. After that, I shopped around until I found a decent rate on a rental car. It ended up being booked from Hertz through Travelocity. Parking my truck at the long term in Austin is cheap. And, I also stay at the same motel in Potsdam every time, Northern Family Motel. It has great rates and is owned by a high school friend.

Being back in my hometown after a significant time has been an interesting affair. Spending time with mom and dad is great. They have been enjoying the time. After that, the stay has turned into a scavenger hunt of tracking down friends I haven’t seen in some time and catching up.

Small town food hasn’t changed, and I have been making my way through all of the small town hotspots. I think I’m gaining weight! The food in small town America is sturdy and sticks to your bones. Its meat and potatoes, washed down with beer around this place.

Small town America in the fall is as far removed from the deserts of the Middle East as one can possibly be. 100 degree sunny days of uniform brown have been replaced by 40 degree rainy days of half-emptied trees of dulled fall leaves. Brown sand handed off to green grass. The chatter of numerous languages replaced by quiet conversations in one language.

I always enjoy being up in the New York Adirondack mountains, but I must admit that the hotter Texas weather is more to my liking. I’m sure that my thermostat will adjust after some time. For now, I’m just going to wear warm clothes and complain. I can’t complain for long though, there are still more people to track down before I have to go get back on a plane.

Making my way through O’Hare airport in Chicago.

The heavy-duty breakfast. It sticks to you ribs.

There is no pizza better than East Coast pizza. Its just a fact, but I might be a little bias.

Now, get out there and explore the roads you already know well. You will enjoy the ride. Go. Enjoy.

Adjusting to the Weather.

It’s been a minute since I’ve left, what had become, my desert home. I have to say that of the small number of things I enjoyed about the desert, the heat would be number one. It’s interesting to me how something like the weather can have a lasting effect on people’s impressions of a place.

For the record, I grew up in the northeast. The winters were snowy and blisteringly cold. The summers were nice and sunny. Neither of these settings produced the hot heat that I found, once I started to travel. Admittedly, the northeast has much more to offer than snow, but that is the relevant part for this post. I still enjoy the change of the leaves in the fall, and the way the woods gives way to winter as that happens. It is a cycle of life thing, I guess?

I loved the cold, when I was younger. resisting it was how you measured up against your friends. Work had to be done, cold weather or not, so you just got used to it. As I began to travel for work, I got exposed to other climates. Climate that, now a much older individual, I enjoy better. There is something about the heat that is much easier on me, than the cold is. There is an old joke up home that says, old people go to Florida for the winter. Though a joke, there seems to be some truth in it all.

I bring this up today because, well, it’s cold out. I came back to the USA about two weeks ago. It was still summer in the Middle East. The heat was still on. I was hoping the same would be said of Texas, even though it was coming on to fall here pretty fast. I can say it was nice for a couple days. The sun was out, and the heat was still here. That, however, has changed. The last week it has been raining basically non-stop, and the heat has left the land. Yesterday, I was wearing three layers of clothes (though one was for the rain).

I not really a complainer. I tend to just accept things as they come along. I’m just shocked by the change in affairs. When I first moved to Texas, it was SOOO DAMNED HOT down here that I wasn’t sure I was going to stay long-term. Now, after a year in real heat, it just feels wet and cold.

Of all the memories I have from the last year wandering around the Middle East, I think that the feeling of the deep dry heat might be the one that stays with me the longest. The dry heat, like standing inside an oven, will hopefully stick with me as I re-climatize to a cooler climate. or maybe, it will be the catalyst to get me travelling again? Right now, it’s hard to say.

Remember, its the experiences you have that make traveling the world worth while. There is absolutely no substitute for actual experience. now, get out there. Have some great experiences!

Sunrise in the desert. Circa 2017, Kuwait.

Excited by Airbnb!

With my tenure in the Middle East coming to a close, I have set my mind on new adventures. My current musing have me, in my mind’s eye, backpacking around Europe. A Europe of the summer type of event. This, as we all know, is not the cheap time to be in Europe. Normally, I would consider the shoulder season, unless there is a specific date range that I need to be in a specific country for. Shoulder season is the better time to be in the land of the Euro. The prices are cheaper, the crowds are less, and the weather is still pretty nice. Current planning still has me heading back across the Atlantic in the spring shoulder season. That will allow me to cover some ground before prices start to climb. After the prices start to climb, I have been researching options to keep the overall cost down to a reasonable extravagance.

This research has led me to become extremely curious about Airbnb. I have heard a lot about Airbnb over the last couple years but have never tried them out. I tend to just find low cost hotels and consider that good enough. I’m not a hosteler. I’m too old for that experience. So, it’s usually hotels.

I was reading a good piece on keeping things within budget from light-travels.co. It is a great blog, full of good advice, and a breeze to read. In a section regarding maximizing your travel money, Carly (the blog’s author) was a great proponent of Airbnb, as their pricing for stays of more than a couple days was a good cost savings. This article led me to their website. Since then, I have spent many hours on their site typing in different cities and date ranges to see what is on offer. I am continuously amazed by the difference in pricing they offer compared to even low-grade hotels in the same cities.

I have to say, this has me very excited. I even changed my way of thinking about the trip to incorporate more week-long Airbnb locations, as opposed to 2 and 3-day hotel stays. I’m hoping that this will extend out my available travel time by keeping the cost down. I will definitely be letting everyone know how things are going once I get out on the backpacking trail. Until then, I’m just super excited about looking at the website and seeing what the available options are.

Hopefully, this gets you thinking about ways you can stretch your travel budget. Travel doesn’t have to be overly expensive. It just tends to end up that way via the path of least resistance. If you look around for options, they are usually there for you. Definitely look around before you just book that all-inclusive vacation package. A little research will save you some money.

Now get out there. Go vacation and stuff.