Friday, May 22, 2015

Eurotrip - Osnabruk / Dortmund Germany - May 8 - 11

The Adventure

Our buddy Axel picked us up from the train station and showed up the 10 cent tour of Osnabruk. We got to his house, dropped out packages.

I was thinking that we were going to need a nap, but Axel, sensing our energy level instead offered us a beer.

Now, before I launch into how the rest of the Germany trip was, and before you judge me, I have to set out some rules of Germany.

  1. You do not drink tap water. Not in a restaurant, not at home. It's considered cheap and most places won't give you the option. You buy bottles of water. 
  2. Beer is cheaper than water. Yes, water is roughly $3.50 a bottle whereas beer is closer to $3 and you get a bottle deposit of about $.50 if you return the bottle to the vendor. 
  3. Germans drink beer with lunch, dinner, and before bed. Doesn't matter if it's Monday and they are working, that's just how the culture is. BUT, saying that, it seems they do not drink to get a buzz like many American's or the Irish did. 
  4. Beer is served usually by the liter in Germany. To put that in perspective, it's roughly 2.5 standard bottles of American beer. 
Axel's balcony overlooked all of his town. We could see the local cathedral, the town square, the mountains in the distance, and all the green trees. The weather was perfect. Really, this encouraged beer drinking. 

It also happened to be Osnabruk's May Fest. Every May, the town celebrates spring time with 9 days of drinking, eating, and music in the town square. It's a huge deal. Axel told us that 650,000 people came to May Fest in Osnabruk this year.

What happened over the next several hours is a blurry alternating beer, sausage, music, meet someone new, beer, sausage, shots, meet someone new pattern. We met about 12 of Axel's best friends, briefly were lost in Germany without any of our German friends, went to a packed German night club, ended up at some biker bar, and then ate my new favorite food, Doner, at 3 am.

We messed up bad.

The next morning we had to wake up semi-early so that we could drive to Dortmund to see a football (soccer) match. We all hated life. It was a bad hangover that lasted until the ball dropped.

And we found ourselves in a sold out 86,500 standing room only stadium. Sal and I were right next to what's called the Yellow Wall where the biggest fans of the team sing songs the entire 90 minutes, waved flags, shout names in unison. It's indescribable how loud and huge that place was. It was like something out of Harry Potter. Sal and I sat 10 rows back. The image below is from our seats.

We spent our last day in Osnabruk going to Axel's families horse farm. The place was gorgeous. It was one of the few times I thought, "Yeah, maybe I could live on a farm instead of in a city." 

Food and Drink

It was as early as the first night in May Fest that I knew I was about to have some incredible food. We were eating sausages from street vendors and they were better than anything I've had in America. 

The Donar, which is basically a gyro served in pita bread with either Tzatziki or a curry sauce is one of my favorite new foods. This stuff was only $3 and you could get it anywhere. 

Obviously the Germans love their lagers, pilsners, and weizens. All of the beer was just unbelievably good. I understand now why Axel made fun of American beer when he was over here. 

But, the cream of the crop was when we went to Rampendahl

This small brew pub opened in 1430 in Osnabruk and has been making beer since. The best Weizen I have ever had in my entire life was served of course in a liter mug, for about $3. And the food... half the menu was traditional Bavarian (southern Germany) and the other half newer German food. I ordered a pork knuckle, which I've never had before, and the thing was the size of my head and served on a pillow of saurkraut. Just everything about this meal was unbelievable.  

Leaving Osnabruk to go to Berlin

The train strike also ended on Sunday, which was a relief as we were about to get on a train Monday to go to Berlin.

This train ride was much more relaxing. 4 hours across Germany, train was only 1/3 full. Sal was able to nap and I read in peace. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Eurotrip - Dublin to Germany - May 6th - 8th


I hate traveling via airplanes. This is hilarious, because this trip requires me to fly on 7 planes in 15 days.

Surprisingly, the trip to Dublin from St. Louis was not bad. Security went quick, the flight went faster than scheduled, and even though I didn't sleep at all on the plane, we landed in Dublin and hit the streets immediately.

Most of the airports for these cities are fairly far away since you know... the cities in Europe were all built several hundred years before we had airplanes. So there's no way to avoid at least 45 minutes of travel after you get off the plane. Luckily Dublin's bus was incredibly easy to figure out. You hop on and it drives south to all the major spots you would want in the city.

The Adventure 

I have always had a romantic view of Dublin Ireland. One where everyone seems happy. Everything is green. You watch out for your fellow country men and have great pride in it.

This was not what I was greeted with. It was dreary and rainy. Everything was a shade of gray or brown. And there were more Americans and Englishmen than Irish.

It was as if they were trying to be a miniature England. "Yeah, we have castles and cathedrals... They are a bit smaller than those guys over the sea, but its still pretty good."

Irish drinking is a true thing. Every street is lined by shops, and every other shop is a full pub. Its not the sort of drinking Germans do (more on that later). Germans drink to celebrate, the Irish seem to drink to cope with a tough life. There's thousands of years of rough history behind the eyes of every blue collared, stumbling Irishman we came across.

It's easy to orient yourself in Dublin. The River Liffey runs straight through the middle of the city. Most of the spots you want to see are south of the river, but most of the local housing is north of the river. But as long as you could find the river, you could figure out where you were immediately. 

One thing we quickly found was that most the tourist destinations close at 5 pm sharp in Dublin. The first day, we were able to see Dublinia, a museum to the Irish Viking past housed in the Christ Church Cathedral

The next day was the tourist day. We woke up early and took the Jameson Distillery Tour. (Yes, you can drink early in Dublin, and yes, we did a whisky tasting at 10:30 am.) 

The tour was incredibly interesting, but my favorite part was the tasting. They lined up Jameson (Irish), Jack Daniels, (Bourbon) and Johnnie Walker (Scotch), the top selling brands of each of the types of whiskeys. They wanted you to taste the difference between kinds of whiskey. Man, did the Irish hate Jack Daniels. Everyone of them scrunched up their faces in disgust. 

We then went to the Guinness Storehouse tour. I was most excited about this and then most disappointed in it. They don't actually brew here. So really, they built a huge museum to how beer is made 101, which I already knew. I will say the ending of the tour was great. Top of Guinness tour, you're handed a pint of the black stuff, and you have a 360 view of all of Dublin. 

We then circled back to the Christ Church Cathedral and took a tour of the church proper. It was a very beautiful building, but felt cheapened by tourism. As we went into the crypt, a place where you should be solemn as you look onto people's graves, we were greeted by a cheesy gift shop, a mummified cat and mouse, and loud gawking tourists. 

After eating a disappointing lunch in a former church that was recommended to us, we went to the north side of the river and saw the Dublin Writer's Museum, Dublin City Art Gallery, (where we discovered that Francis Bacon was a crazy man) and Garden of Remembrance, we settled in to have some food and drinks as the 5 pm closure of Dublin attractions quickly approached. 

Food and Drink

Sal and I had done some research before our trip trying to find the actual Irish places rather than the tourist Ireland.

Our first order of business was to find food. We ducked into the first dark pub/restaraunt we walked into once we crossed the river, which happened to be a great spot with homemade Irish food called O'Shea's Merchant Temple Bar.

We drank at the famous Palace Bar, founded in 1823 and Hogans. One thing I was slightly disappointed by is the lack of a beer scene in Dublin. Everywhere had Guinness on tap. Most places had Smithwicks. But the craft beer scene was lacking.

Most of the food we had was very typical of British food. Heavy meat (either roast beef or sausage) or fried fish, and potatos and cabbage. All of it was surprisingly good as the British don't have the best reputation for cooking.

Leaving Dublin to go to Germany

We woke up at 4:40 am to catch our cab and get to the airport in time. Both we and John and Leslie had flights before 7:30 AM. And as a perfect send off, we left Dublin airport at 7:45  where a 30 Irishman bachelor party was drunk as can be in the airport bar.

The flight was easy. I would highly recommend Aer Lingus if you can fly them. The seats were spacious and the crew was incredibly nice.

The problem came when we landed in Hamburg. As it turns out, our train tickets that we purchased in advance were completely in German. We couldn't read them. After we found someone that spoke English and figured out where we needed to be, we waited for our train for 90 minutes.

Then the train changed platforms and we didn't know. You know why the train changed platforms? Because the train conductors were on strike and roughly 75% of all German trains were cancelled. So not only did we have to figure out what train we were on with only 5 minutes left, it was overcrowded to the point of where people were standing in the stairways, up against the doors.

Add the fact that we had all of our luggage, didn't speak the language, were incredibly tired from waking up at 4:40... we were stressed.

Then, after the first stop, some seats opened up. Sal and I sat down.

Something else that wasn't explained to us is that you can pay extra money to reserve seats. There are little LED signs above the seat that tell you if it's been reserved and from what stops.

Sooooo... we sit down, put our luggage in the racks, and Sal puts in her ear plugs, kicks off her shoes, puts on her eye mask, and passes out for the rest of the 3 hour train ride. And then in two stops, there are roughly 6 Germans yelling at us and the seat next to us, in German, because they reserved the seats as we were riding and we were in them. I didn't know what they were saying, finally one German said a word that sounded like reserved, I figured it out, woke Sallie up, she quickly got back into moving mode and we tried to vacate the seats, on this full train, with all of our luggage, with 24 German's crushing us. I have to lift our luggage over everyone's head and we finally find a spot to stand next to the bathrooms.

And then Sallie informs me we left her luggage. So I fight my way back, grab her luggage, and do it all over again. We finish out the last 2 hours in silence, tired and stressed.

Next Episode - Onto Osnabruk.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Growing Up

"It has been my observation that parents kill more dreams than anybody." - Spike Lee

That quote is somewhat true, but I would change parents with adults/adult hood.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist for Disney or comic book artist for Marvel more than anything. I was pretty good at drawing. I took a ton of college audit classes when I was 12-14. I was well on my way.

And then computers came into the world, Pixar took off. Cartoonists were being laid off everywhere and getting jobs designing graphics for companies. Marvel was just about bankrupt.

Even as a young child, I knew my prospects were slim. I was good, but not great at drawing and it seemed the industry was moving toward using cheap Asian labor or eliminating artists all together.

Then as a teenager, I started playing guitar. I soon learned that being left handed put me at a huge disadvantage, I was already behind peers of mine, and I couldn't keep rhythm while playing guitar. My fingers seemed to be much more clumsy that others.

My brief flirtation with the rockstar life style died when I went to college and realized that just about everyone had a guitar. Not only was I not unique for knowing how to play, but I wasn't even in the top 30 percent of song writers.

And now I'm brewing and cooking. I'd love to do it professionally. It's when I'm most happy.

But the realization is hitting me, unless I open my own place, no one is going to bring in a guy that hasn't worked in the industry in almost 10 years at this point.

My knee won't allow me to stand for 10-15 hours at a time. My back isn't going to allow me to sling 50 lb bags of grain across it. It's a young person's game.

It sucks. It really does. I never wanted to become a 9-5'er. Come home, watch TV, repeat.

But I'm coming to terms that likely writing is my defining factor. And I've been doing it more and more.

It's not the worst thing in the world. I like my job a lot. I just don't have a passion for it. But, having this job allows me to pursue my passions. I can buy brewing ingredients because I have a paycheck. I can go and get a full duck because I wanted to learn how to cook it.

I had always hoped that I would be able to make money doing what I want to. And maybe that is still in the future. But, I'm at a place where I'm comfortable knowing that it might not happen.

And don't take this as a declaration of giving up. It's definitely not that. It's more of my readjusting some of my expectations.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Childhood Adventures and the Cell Phone

Last week, Sal and I watched the coming of age classic, "Stand By Me." These are some of my favorite sort of films. Teens going on an adventure and by the end of the movie, they have had a major change in their life.

I started looking for some good coming of age stories like Goonies or Now and Then. I couldn't find much that was made in the past decade. Why is that?

Cell phones. It's got to be cell phones or technology in general. It's also the reason why it's hard to make horror movies work anymore.

If you want to make a story about a bunch of kids that go off the grid on an adventure or a horror movie where a bunch of teens are about to die because they did drugs, you have to spend at least a scene setting up why their cell phone doesn't work, why they don't have access to a computer, and why they don't have a GPS device.

It really takes away some of the magic of these sort of stories. Can we build a coming of age story set in the modern day or will they always have to be set pre-2000?

One of the first novels I wrote in college is going to require a complete rewrite just to account for this. I either need to speak about it as if it were the past or I have to bring cell phones in.

I don't know, this is sort of a ramble. I just feel really bummed out about it. I've sort of been anti-technology the past week or so. Feel like I'm getting sick of it. Maybe this weekend, or even for a day, I'll just turn my phone off. See how it goes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Being Reflective

I went into my 30th year on this Earth with no grace whatsoever. If it weren't for the beer, I would've spent my birthday rolling around on the dried out grass, in the 101 degree summer heat, balling my eyes out, and in between sobs saying, "I'm not 30."

I still feel like a child most the time. It's a hard realization when I think, "Dammit, I've been out of the safety of school for seven years now. I'm a freaking adult with a mortgage."

But, the thing that makes me feel better, is also the thing that made me feel better when I was 25, and what will probably make me feel better when I'm 40.

It seems like no matter what age people are, they always reflect back 5-10 years as these great years.

Marc Maron was talking about his 40s like that. Chris Hardwick thought about his 30s that way. And I too, think about my mid-20s that way.

To be fair though, if I was still 26 I would still be able to run long distances. (Not that I loved doing that) I would still be able to drink a few glasses of wine without waking up with a headache. I would still have a glorious, non-grayed beard. I could pound a double bacon cheeseburger without the fear of heartburn.

But I would also be making less money. I wouldn't have a majority of the friends I have now. I wouldn't have a high-def TV or be getting ready to go to Europe. I sure as hell wouldn't know how to cook good food. We would still be eating spaghetti and mac and cheese every night.

I guess what I'm saying is, I know there will be plenty of great things ahead. Things that when I'm 40, I'll think, "Damn, 33 was pretty good. And you know what, 36 too."

But as part of that, I need to take care of myself now.

I don't go to the gym because I expect to have a six pack. I go to the gym because I don't want to have a ton of back pain and no flexibility when I'm 60.

I contribute more to my retirement fund than most of my peers. Because I want to be able to retire by the time I'm 70 and not worry about money again.

And I wear sunscreen or just stay out of the sun dammit. It's bad for your skin and eyes. And that glowing ball of death is only poking through our atmosphere more and more.

So live on and look forward people. There's some rad stuff to come.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

True False 2015

Sal and I survived another True False film fest. This year was the biggest bust, but still incredible fun.

Since we're going to Germany, we went with the cheapest pass rather than the next tier up this year. We only booked 7 films before they sold out. And of the 7, only 3 ended up being good. Usually we can queue for other films and get in last minute, but it seems like the festival has become too popular. When we queued an hour before the film, we were still 160 people away from getting in the doors.

It seemed to be a sentiment shared across the festival. We kept hearing murmurs of people saying they were unable to get into films. It's sort of a bummer, but something I've expected for years.

You hear about how nice Sundance once was this small festival in the mountains. Now once a year, thousands of the Hollywood elite attack the peaceful mountain town to pretend that they are being "Indie." We've been going to True False for 7 years, and each year it seemed a little larger. People started coming from further away.

This year, there was easily over 50,000 people in Columbia. And not only were there that many people, but there were definitely more people talking with their nose up in the air.

Among the things we overheard was, "I bought the most expensive ($800 a piece) pass because I like to support the arts." Every time this lady said, "I" she extended it out and turned it into "IIIIIII" with plenty of emphasis on it.

We also heard a developer's genius idea for a business he was starting. "You see, it's guitar lessons with an instructor. You do it over the internet. That way, if you have a webcam, you can hook up with an instructor 24 hours a day. And the best part is, there's no overhead, so I can expand nation-wide immediately." While his friends clapped at this genius idea, I couldn't help but think two things.

1. Not only is this not a novel idea, but the website that I get my guitar music from already offers this service.

2. There's plenty of overhead. Servers, bandwidth, a website, marketing... yeah, this stuff doesn't just blow up.

The time change made things particularly fun. We had a late movie Saturday night and didn't get to bed until 1 am. We needed to wake up by 7:45 am in order to pack our things and make it to our first film.

Our phones updated their time overnight.

I get a panicked wake up from Sal saying it was 8:15. We jump out of bed, throw everything we can into our backpacks, skip showering and head for the car.

As I grab my phone, I notice it says it's 9:22 am, meaning there's no way we make this film. Sal's phone now says 8:22 am. We assume since my phone is an hour later, it updated and Sal's did not. So at this point, we're trying to think of where we want to get breakfast since we missed the film.

Jump into our car, and that clock says 7:24 am. So now we have no idea what time it is. We also can't remember if our car is some sort of smart car that can set it's own time. So at this point, I start driving toward the venue while Sal Google's "What time is it in Columbia MO?"

Turns out, we were only running 20 minutes behind and we made the film.

The feel of the festival is changing. I think that would be overlooked if we had more films. Which next year, we will probably just buy the next tier pass again since we basically ended up spending the money we saved entertaining ourselves with food and drinks.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


I suppose in different situations, some of the other 7 deadly sins might be considered the worst. But the one that seems to rear it's ugly head the most in my life is Envy.

I won an award last year. It's a prestigious award. But it wasn't a hand out. I earned it. I was voted as the recipient by all of technology management. 

A guy on my team lost out to me. The year before, he lost out to another guy. This guy is known to have a temper, but I've never really been on the receiving end.

So this guy finds out that he didn't win the award again this year. I had called him for something completely unrelated... you know... work stuff. He started venting to me about how angry he is, blah blah. I listen for a solid 30 minutes. 

I feel bad for the guy cause he did work really hard this year and the only reason he probably didn't get this is because the person that did, who is on another team, has much more interaction with the Technology Managers. 

I feel bad for him. I tell him so. I offer a little advice, but not too much. This seems more like one of those, "I just need to rant." And then the angry envy monster rears it's head.

So as part of this award, you get your picture up on the wall at Wells Fargo for a year, you get a mug, a cash value prize, and a nice plaque.

So this guy starts saying, "I can't believe I got beat by someone on this team in their first year. Sometimes I think about it and get so angry I want to come over and smash that damn mug. I've been busting my ass for an entire year and have little to show for it. I might as well just coast for now on."

He then spends the next 10 minutes dressing down people on our team, partners or our team, the maangement, etc. I guess sometimes you need to just rant, but it was hard as I like everyone I work with pretty well.

It's an award I won a year ago and somehow this guy is making me feel bad for it?

I guess my fuse just isn't that short. It takes a lot for me to actually flip out about something.

Anyway, I looked it up and stats / project-wize, I destroyed this guy last year. I probably would've won the award again if I hadn't just won it.