Thursday, September 30, 2010

Found A Gym?

After attending some very meh gyms over the past few weeks, I think I have finally found what I am looking for.

After training in BJJ for years, I wanted to get back to my striking roots. I wanted to find a Muay Thai or Kickboxing gym that would train hard, using the correct tools, with willing and game students to train with, and treat everybody like family.

I found gyms that were mainly focused on the typical martial arts student. What is the typical martial arts student? He is the guy who wants to be a bad ass without breaking a sweat, or breathing too hard, or feel any pain at all. These guys fill dojos and dojangs across the country. BJJ and MMA came on the scene and these guys took to getting tattoos and TapOut shirts all while saying that they were cage fighters. This is the kind of person I found in the new age Karate gyms around town.

I settled for about a year at Lovato's, an excellent BJJ gym. Lovato Jr. is a world champion, and those guys knew how to train. BUT their kickboxing was sub par, they would spar without contact, and had set combinations that they were always doing. That and I had to introduce myself to the instructors every time I would walk in to the place. You were there as revenue for the school so that Lovato Jr. could have a place to train.

I left looking for a better experience. At my former job, they had a boxing class twice a week. It was tough, and the trainer would always greet everybody very warmly. The drills that he had us do were difficult, and taught proper movement and hand placement. BUT then I left that company. The trainer had my phone number, though and called me a little while ago to tell me that his gym now had kickboxing, and wanted to know if I wanted to check it out. I went last night to give it a try.

First thing in the door, the person in the front greeted me warmly, and took me to meet their MT trainer. We talked for a bit, I found out that he trains MT at a place near my work, but their class times do not match up with mine. His class is at 5:30, that works much better in my schedule.
He said that he was mostly a boxer, but when the owner of the gym wanted to expand to offer MT and MMA, they asked him to head the class.

About that time the other guys for the class were showing up, and I met them one by one. There were about 7 guys. They all were very excited to have me try out their gym. I liked the atmosphere from the start.

The trainer told me that he likes to break the workout up in to three minute segments. Fine with me, that is how I run my MT classes too. We started things off by jumping rope, then shadow boxing. Everyone was enthusiastic and worked hard to warm up. We then broke out Thai Pads and started the pad workout. They went 5 rounds of practicing combos that built on one another. First one was a jab-cross, slip a counter cross, hook-cross then plumb clinch 4 slip knees. Next was the same only we added a left then right kick to the combo. Next was the same except instead of the hook cross before the knees we did a left then right elbow. So on and so forth. It was tough, and, though I knew I was out of fight shape, the workout really had me working hard for breath.

After the workout, the trainer said that he wanted to get back in to competition, and wondered if I would participate in his training camp. I said that I had no troubles with that.

All in all it was a good workout with a good bunch of guys. They used pads, not their hands, so I could get some real power shots in the combos. I enjoyed it. The only real problem with the gym is that the guys are very green. All of the guys are boxers, and kicking is new to them. The stance and the whole mindset is kind of alien to them. The trainer is young, 22 years old, and really does not have much experience. The good news is that they recognize my experience and have asked me to help out. I don't have a problem with this, because the guys seemed really interested and excited about the training.

I think I have found a new place to be. I will go to some more workouts and see if I fit. A big plus is that they have some workout equipment, weights, treadmills and such, available for use as well. I can get my cardio and whatnot in on off days. If I can work a money deal out with the gym owner, I am good to go.

Check them out

Monday, September 27, 2010


At a party this weekend talk turned to politics, and I gave some opinions. One of the party goers, laughed and said that I must really hate Nancy Pelosi. On the contrary... I admire Speaker Pelosi.

I have often said, that I would like to see someone in politics who does not compromise on their principals, who goes after what they think is right, despite what the polls say. In the face of certain electoral defeat, I wanted someone to say "Screw you hippies! This is right!"

That person is Nancy Pelosi. In the face of overwhelming defeat in the House, and the possible loss of the Senate, she solders on with her agenda. She does not care that the vast majority of the country disagrees with the legislation she proposes, she still gets it passed. She is focused. She is driven. She has her agenda, and she WILL succeed.

What I admire most about Speaker Pelosi is what I admire most in other people. I admire her indomitable fighting spirit. She has that glint in her eye that you only see from those that will not break, no matter how thoroughly they are defeated or beaten. She exudes, as my friend Aaron Cerone calls it, Fuck You Energy.

I wish she were on my side. I wish that she saw the Constitution as the Foundation of Government, and not simply an obstacle to maneuver around. It is not to be. She and I are destined to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum. That does not stop me from admiring her.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Too Much Boob For Sesame Street Katy Perry!!

Parents complained that a music video shot for Sesame Street by Katy Perry was too risky. They said that Katy showed too much cleavage.

Seriously? You are worried about a pop star's cleavage? The kids watching that show are closer to having breast fed than to any knowledge of the body. You didn't mind the boob then, why now? The kids are going to be more excited about Elmo getting down than with Katy's neckline getting down.

Stop it helicopter parents. Just stop it. Some countries have all of the women dressed in burkas, this isn't one of them... Yet. A little boob never hurt anyone, especially kids watching Sesame Street.

Boobs are good for you.


I Hope The Other Whores Are Happy

I got an email from a guy at my former company, he asked the usual, what are you up to, are you well, are you happy?

The last one is the one that made me think... Am I happy? At my last job I went in with the attitude that I am an administrator who is stepping in to his first developer job. I had the attitude that I really didn't belong in that role, and that I was just happy to be there. I was treated in much the same way. Given a little bit of code to work on, but mostly I was there to do Web Administration.

After the first two or three months, I realized that the code that the "senior" guys were writing wasn't any better than mine. I realized that the only thing I lacked was a deeper understanding of common design patterns. It was when I tried to please everyone that I would screw up. If I did what I knew how to do, I would write solid good applications.

I then started to look around at what the administrators were doing. They were still manually moving files for deployments, and not taking advantage of scripting and other modern deployment methods. I cut deployment time from several minutes to several seconds, let alone the time it took for the administrators to get enough time to actually do the deployment. After the development of the script was done, my deployments were as simple, and as quick, as a double click.
However, the attitude that I brought to the job in the beginning had become what the others in the team thought of me. Thus, my ideas and innovations were treated just as an entry level person's would. They were not necessarily ignored, but all other options from other people would be examined before my ideas were looked at. It was very difficult for me to swallow, but it was my own attitude that created this situation.

I attempted to change the way others thought about me, change my attitude, and establish myself as a vital member of the team. The damage was done, and it would take a long time to pull myself out of the hole I had dug for myself.

Then, my new brother in law said that I should check out his company. I did, and found that they were looking for a guy with my skills. I walked in to the interviews like the developer/admin/ass kicker I am. I scored the job, and negotiated a sizable raise in the process. I started with the attitude that got me such success in my other jobs. My attitude was that I am a valuable member of the team. My ideas count. I am an experienced seasoned professional, and I am being hired to be a linchpin in the organization.

The attitude change has made all the difference for me. I have immediately been able to join development efforts and make an impact from the very first day. My name is out in the firm as a strong team member, and I am being requested by name to join projects. I have only been at the company for 2 months, but already I am becoming known.

With only an attitude adjustment, and a change of scenery. So am I happy? So far I am, but it has little to do with the change of job. It has everything to do with a change of attitude.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Who Owns Your Money?

A quote from Jim Moran (D) Virginia:
"... because we have been guided by a Republican administration who believes in the simplistic notion that people who have wealth are entitled to keep it and they have an antipathy towards means of redistributing wealth."
Wait wat? Seriously? He said that? Really?

Let's look at this quote and why it makes my pucker factor go up about 10 notches.
First, "the simplistic notion that people who have wealth are entitled to keep it." Where to begin? There is so much wrong with this, and it isn't even the the completion of his statement. I digress...
The above statement speaks to the heart of what the modern "progressive" movement is about. First, private property does not exist. Money, possessions, whatever they are all owned by the government. Second, that there is only so much wealth in the world, and by you having wealth, means that you took it from someone else. Thus the rich, who have stolen their wealth by exploiting it from the poor, must be forced by government to return the wealth by government redistribution.

This notion of government owning all things, especially money, can easily be picked out from the progressive vernacular. Anyone who mentions that Tax Cuts "cost" the government money espouses this theory. Taxes are the confiscation of property by the government by use of force. The way that the country originally was founded, income taxes were illegal, in fact expressly forbidden by the 4th amendment (The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...). It took the 16th amendment to allow this type of seizure. The 5th Amendment goes further, and defines the only situations where the government can obtain private property (No person shall... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation). These important amendments outline exactly what the Government can do with private property, and how to obtain it. So we see, that Mr. Morgan's principals are very very wrong.

The simple fact here is that wealth is, for the most part, obtained by those who earn it. Those who make good choices in life, and those who work hard. Fail at anyone of the above, and wealth will not be yours. However, there are certain types in Government that believe that if you work hard, and earn your wealth, you really didn't earn it. You took it from somebody else. This is simply not the truth. When I earn a dollar, that dollar is not taken from somebody else. It is freely given for the work that I have provided. There was no exploitation of anyone. I agree to do a job at a price. If I don't ask enough, or if I am not worth the price I am asking, is entirely up to me.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What the Tea Party Doesn't Need

The Tea Party movement is a great thing to behold. Thousands of people calling for greater freedom, more accountability in government, and, above all, smaller government. It is really awesome. So awesome in fact the opponents of the above are making loud wacky claims in efforts to discredit the movement. RACIST! They scream. HATEMONGERS! They cry. No evidence of racism or hate has been found, despite a $100K reward for it. The movement comes down to a bunch of people who want less spending in government, and more accountability of their politicians. You see, after George W. Bush and the Republican congress ass raped the American public that wanted to see less government, by giving them such gems as the Patriot Act, additional spending in Education, and prescription drug benefits for Medicaid, the public is pissed off. Next they staged huge protests over ObamaCare, TARP, and the Stimulus plan, only to be ignored. That pissed them off even more. So the Tea Party popped up as a reaction.

Some groups of people, will attempt to hijack a movement for their own ends. This is evident in the Civil Rights movement, the NRA, and the Conservative movement. A movement will begin with one intention, in this case smaller government, and get hijacked by people who espouse that intention, BUT have other intentions that they espouse more. The Tea Party finds itself at this crossroads.

The Tea Party was founded on the principal of less government, but it was founded by people with jobs, and other obligations. So, other people with time slowly took over the organization. As they were doing that, they started to inject their own agenda in to the rallies, giving favorable speaking spots to speakers who supported their cause. What is the cause? What is it that the Tea Party doesn't need? The social Cristian conservatives. With Christine O'Donnall's win in Delaware, the focus is slowly shifting to the stupidity of the Christian right. We are already seeing the O'Donnall smear campaign begin. She spoke out against masturbation. She said she dabbled in Witchcraft. That is fine. She is a nut, but what worries me is that the Christian right is taking over the smaller government message.

So far the Tea Party has the support of independents and Libertarians, because their message matches the thoughts and feelings of those groups. Most independents don't care what you do in the bedroom, and are very turned off by those who try to legislate what religion you should practice. Libertarians get nervous when you start spouting religious evidence against Evolution. Nut ball Christian issues will cause the independents and Libertarians to bolt your movement.

Ultimately, I don't think that the Tea Party will fracture before November, but afterwards, the Christian Right will ruin it. Just as the Communists and the Socialists ruin the Environmental movement. They can't help it. Both groups desperately want their agenda brought to fruition, and will hijack any movement that in anyway resembles their own.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

President Obama to Latinos: You Are All Illegals, So Don't Forget Who Helps You Break The Law

Well... Maybe he didn't say exactly that, BUT let me put this in to context.
The President did say on the subject of immigration reform at the Hispanic Caucus Institute: "Don't forget who is standing with you."

This is simply more of state sponsored racism, and generalizing a group of people in to one group. What is that called... When I pre-judge a group of people?? I know there is a word for it... I learned it in Grade School I think... Oh Yeah, PREJUDICE! And that's bad right?

Anyway, would the President go to the NAACP and say to them that Republicans were standing in the way of crack sales, and would not pass his comprehensive crack legalization bill? Would the President go in front of the Daughters of the Confederacy, and say that Republicans were standing in the way of passing his comprehensive incest legalization bill? Would the President go to the Vatican and say that Republicans were standing in the way of his comprehensive pedophilia legalization bill? I could go on... I really want to this is kind of fun..., but I need to get back to the point.

The President is the top law enforcement person in the nation. That is in his job description. Illegal immigration will ALWAYS be illegal. Even if we kick open the borders and let everybody in, you STILL need to go through the proper entry points. For instance while traveling in the EU, I could pass between EU countries with out a problem. I could just walk across the borders. BUT I needed to have a stamp in my passport from at least one EU country saying that I entered the EU legally. With out that stamp, off to jail I went, if I got challenged by law enforcement.
Coming across the border with out proper documentation is against the law. It will always be against the law, no matter what form "comprehensive" immigration reform will take.

The President was essentially saying to the Hispanic Caucus, "I know you are all illegals (he might have said "wetbacks," but that would be too much) and you know that I am the only one trying to help you break the law." So in his statement he is being a bigot, AND encouraging people to ignore the laws he swore to uphold.

Ok... So he went to this shindig so that he could talk on immigration. I get it. Democrats want to do a big amnesty so that the new citizens can vote for Democrats. I get it. And if something helps the Democrats, you can say things that would get others crucified. I get it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Looking for a Gym - First Review

Last night I went to the first gym on my list for a trial class. I had high hopes... Only to have them dashed on the rocks.

I headed to Premier Martial Arts for a tour and a little talk with the head instructor. They have a very nice facility, with many rooms for different types of training. They had a great bag room with lots of Thai style heavy bags, a large mat area for BJJ and kickboxing classes, a regulation size boxing ring, and two smaller rooms with mats for private instruction. They also had a large mat in an upper floor that they plan to make in to a fitness room with cardio equipment, and weights. I was impressed with the facility.

It was time for class, so I wrapped my hands and got ready to work out.

The class was about 20 people... I noticed right off that the average student was very young. I mean YOUNG, perhaps 13 or maybe 12 year olds. I don't mind kids training, but not with adults, especially not with me. There were some adults in the room too, but not very many. Red flags started to go up.

We began with a simple warm up, jumping back and forth, side to side. I don't mind this kind of warm up, I would have preferred some shadow boxing, or burpees, or something like that, but I have done the skipping rope without the rope thing before. We then started to do 180 degree turns... This I really didn't understand, but when in Rome. We rounded out the warm up with some basic Thai stretches (on one knee lean forward, drop the hips and try to bring your of the knee that is down to your butt. Lean back and stretch the hamstring of the knee that is not down.) and some push-ups and we went in to the main room for the class to start.

We spread out on the floor and started doing some punch combos on command. Started with a jab cross combo, then added the hook, then another cross to round it out. We were then told to get a partner.

With a partner, we were supposed to throw either a jab or a cross, depending on which hand our partner had up. Red flags got raised a little higher... We were going to do pad work by catching other's punches with our hands. After the punch was thrown we were supposed to move in the direction of the punch, so after a right hand move to your right after the left hand move to the left. Red flags went to full staff, and alarms started going off. Typically you NEVER circle in to the power of your opponent. You play right in to where the bad guys want you to go, closer to the appendage that can knock you out.

My first partner was a teenager, wearing board shorts, a T-shirt and a black belt... This is when I learned that if you are a child, and reach black belt, you can join the adult classes. Anyway, he wanted to catch my punches and so I started throwing light punches in to his hands... I realized very quickly that they did not punch very hard, so I had to dial back my dialed back punches.
We were told to get new partners, a little girl, not more than 13 years old and weighing about 90lbs said that she was next. She also had a black belt around her waist. It was a complete joke. The next combo involved throwing a jab-cross-hook combo then moving in to your opponents power. I had trouble throwing the combo, because it felt so WRONG. Little girl then started to try and give advice. I am not opposed to feedback. If you see something shout it out. Little girl was trying to tell me how to move in to the power. Little girl did not have a clue. She thought she was bad ass.

Finally we moved in to drill that involved kicks. My next partner was a black belt about my own age, but out weighed me by 20lbs or so. His movement was OK, I could throw a bit harder. The combo again had us moving in to the power of our opponent. I just couldn't stand it.

A few more combos and the class was done. I got a good sweat going, but it wasn't anything that really made me tired. The fitness level of the other students was different. One of the guys looked like he was going to throw up. I am not in any type of fighting shape, but really this wasn't a hard work out. I very much doubt the members of the class could handle very many rounds of decent sparing.

Class was over and it was time to talk money and my interest in joining with the head instructor and his wife/business manager. I asked some simple questions, but wasn't pleased with the answers.
First, when and in what org did you get your Texas Kickboxing tile from? This question was dodged with him saying that he didn't remember what org, and that it was a while ago. Riiiiiiiiight.
Next question, where did you get your BJJ purple belt? The Machado brothers was his response. Follow up was at their academy or and affiliate? Their academy. Wich brother did you train with? All of them. Riiiiiiight. I decided to drop this line of questioning.
Next question are there always so many children in class? Yes. They are our black belts so they can handle themselves. Are they involved in sparing? Yes. They are good fighters. Do you hit each other in sparing? No, we like to emphasize control. Riiiiiight.

At this point I was done. This is not the right place for me. I want to get smacked around a little bit in sparring, and I didn't see any room for growth for me training with children. I don't mind training with people smaller with me, or even teenagers, IF the proper pads are used in training. I can unload in to Thai pads with little regard for who is holding the pads. The holder of said pads just needs to know how to take the kicks and punches, and with a little practice anybody can do it. These guys were training by catching punches. Not only can you not unload in to the other person's hands, you are left attempting to pull you punches. Not a good way to train, and certainly not a way to get a good work out.

I thanked them for the intro class, but said that I would not be joining their school. They asked me why, I simply stated that I didn't think that their school was the right fit for me.

That was it. I left disappointed, but mostly angry that these charlatans are making bank off of teaching improper techniques, not building fitness, and generally calling what they do kickboxing when it is little more than point karate with boxing gloves.

Looking For a Gym

I am looking for a new gym. I was at a good BJJ gym, but I had some fundamental issues with them...
  1. They were belt centric
    • Your worth was measured by your belt. If a white belt tapped a purple, the purple would get upset that you had the wrong belt.
  2. They had a set curriculum
    • All of their movements, BJJ, Kickboxing, what ever had a name and a time to learn it.
    • Very much like a TMA school in this respect (white belts do this blue do this purple do this)
  3. Their kickboxing and MMA was no to very very light contact
    • You can't learn good fundamentals without some contact. You won't know why you need to make your blocks tight if you don't pay for bad ones, you won't understand proper movement unless you pay for bad movement.
    • Light contact breeds a false sense of security. One of the reasons for hard sparing is so that you realize what a good smack to the noggin will do, so that when you are just training you do the proper movements.
  4. They were far away from my house and work.
    • OK, that is not a fundamental issue, but it was a chore to get there.

There are three gyms close to my house that offer Kickboxing or MMA classes, and one very close to my work that offers Muay Thai and BJJ. I really want to focus on Muay Thai, so those places that offer MT classes I have high hopes for. Time and money are very important as well. I don't want to be spending $100 a month for training. I have contacted several of the gyms I am going to try out and that seems to be what the going rates are in this town. Gyms that offer a class by class or a monthly rate are going to be tie breakers.

Here are my choices:
Premier Martial Arts
This one looks to be a family oriented gym. Lots of kids classes, but they offer a Kickboxing class (7pm-8pm Mon-Thurs) and a grappling class.
Instructor claims that he is the Texas State Kickboxing Champion. I say claims, because there are no years or organization stated. Instructor says he is a purple belt in BJJ, but not from whom.
They are about three miles from my house.
  • Very close to my house. If I had a bike I could ride there.
  • Kickboxing and BJJ classes
  • They are a family school, Kickboxing might be watered down
  • Class times a bit later than I want
  • You have to sign up for a 6 month or year contract
  • Red flags on the instructor's credentials. No org on Kickboxing title, and no BJJ credential.

Redline Juijitsu
These guys are primarily a BJJ gym, but they have a MMA (6pm-7pm) class.
The head instructor is a brown belt under Leonardo Xavier.
They are about 4.5 miles away from my house.
  • Well known BJJ black belt credential
  • MMA is fun, and they have active fighters
  • Class times are right in the time I want
  • MMA class might be just MMA sparing
  • No specific MT class
  • I checked them out before, and I thought that if I wanted to train BJJ I would train with the world champion.

No Limits Gym
These guys promote themselves as a fighting gym. They offer MT classes (Mon Wed Thurs 6pm-7:30pm), and MMA classes (Mon-Thurs 8:30pm-9:30pm). Their instructor for MT is a guy who I have had a class with before, and was not impressed. I don't know who their MMA guy is.
They are about 3.5 miles from my house.
  • 1.5 hour MT class
  • Class times are right when I want them to be
  • I know people who train here and like it very much
  • MT instructor is a douche, who really had no concept of combat MT.
  • MMA might be just a bunch of guys looking for "fight club."
  • Classes are set price of $100 a month. I don't know if I want to pay that for the douche MT instructor, for only three times a week, and the MMA classes are too late.

Academy of Martial Arts
These guys are a MT(7:30pm-8:30pm Mon Wed Fri) and BJJ(8:30pm-9:30pm) gym. I don't know what their BJJ credentials are, but they claim they are under Renato Tavares.
They are about 2 blocks from my office, but about 15 miles from my house.
  • School is a member of Thai Boxing Association of America
  • Verified that members of the gym are active MT competitors.
  • BJJ under legitimate BJJ organization and black belt.
  • Class times are way late
  • Very far from my house
  • Close to work, but at different times than I work, and I would return home after 8pm.

I will check out each gym and report back. My gut tells me that it will come down to Redline or No Limits Gym. Redline got rid of their MT class, and the instructor went to No Limits Gym. I don't know the story there, but I will find out.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Super Bugs

Perhaps I like to be frightened... I like to think that for the most part, I am a cautious person. I have an emergency fund just in case I get fired. I have life insurance on both myself and my wife in case one of us dies. I have my trusty .45 in case of a break in. I have a concealed carry permit to be able to defend myself in case my, or my loved one's, life is threatened. I try to keep fit so that I don't have a heart attack, and my immune system is as strong as possible. With the advent of antibiotics people of the last 80 years or so have enjoyed a means to fight off the sicknesses and plagues of the millenia before. This is all about to change.

Evolution is a process in which the strongest organisms survive while the weaker ones die out. There is more to it, but that is the basis. Bacteria live inside animals. Over the last 80 years, we have been wiping out Bacteria with our miracle drugs. The problem is that antibiotics can only kill a certain type of bacteria. The good news was that that certain type of bacteria was the majority of the bacteria in the wild. The tables are starting to turn. The majority of bacteria is still the kind we can kill, but a new form have started to show their ugly head.

Out if India comes a bacteria with a gene that makes it immune to our antibiotics. This particular gene is currently attached to relatively harmless bugs. One gives you a tummy ache and one makes it hurt when you pee. According to doctors, the gene is one that can "jump" to other forms of bacteria. This thing is growing in one of the cesspools of the world. It is only a matter of time before the gene hangs on to something serious... Like Bubonic Plague, or typhus, or *shudder* small pox.

Just think what a drug resistant form of plague would do in the U.S. Mass panic. Break down of law and order. Riots. Death on an unprecedented level in modern times. In the dark ages plague killed 1/3 of the population of Europe. That was an agrarian society. What would happen in our tightly packed urban society? More than a 1/3.

Zombies? Maybe not but drug resistant plague? Definitely.

How do I prepare for this? Buy a rifle. Have a backup plan to the the hell out of the city. Only problem is that my wife is a physician. She deals with people who are most likely at risk for these types of infections. By the time we know there is a plague, she will already be in the the thick of it. How do I protect her, while she is trying to heal those affected?

On a side note, how is a bacteria being spread to the west from India? Socialized medicine. Patients from UK, and Canada are traveling to India for medical procedures that they could not get, have to wait too long, or could not afford in their socialized medical systems. So they go to India for medical procedures, and get sick with the goofy bugs. Had they been able to get their procedures done in the their home countries, they would be going to India for treatment.


Monday, September 13, 2010

European Vacation Thoughts

You think about a lot of stuff when you are in someplace new... Well I do anyway.

After seeing the splendor of a couple of European noble palaces, you really do get the sense of why the Americans wanted to throw off the yoke of royalty, in favor of their republic. The money that was spent, just in those houses comes from somewhere, and that somewhere was from the people.

Why are French speaking people rude to anyone who doesn't speak French? The German speaking and Dutch speaking people were cool, why are the French dicks? I don't get it. Several times we were treated to this idiocy. We did nothing to incur it, we were nice, even asking if they spoke English in French. No dice. They no likey. Why?

After visiting countries that bordered France, it became very evident that the aggressors in Europe, were not the Germans. The aggressive people in Europe are the French. They marched across Germany, they marched across Belgium, they took the Netherlands, even installing their own puppet king. It is interesting how time change. The Germans see their recent invasions of France as payback for all the times France invaded them back in the day. Many of the buildings in Belgium have had be rebuilt after French bombardments. The Dutch are still touchy about Napoleon. Everybody looks at France as a sleeping tiger, but since America has only once before looked at France as an enemy (John Adams nearly went to war with them) we see them as a benign, effeminate group.

The Anne Frank house really made me take a look at religious intolerance taken to an extreme. The whole "Ground Zero Mosque" has really brought this to light. If the power of government is used to prevent the building of the Mosque what is next? Do we prevent Muslims from owning certain types of business? They are kind of hard to pick out of a crowd, so how about we have them sew a crescent to all of their clothing? How about we round all of them up to "keep an eye" on them? Where does it end? When 6 million of them are dead?

Seeing drug use in the open in Amsterdam gave me pause... I still am in favor of the legalization of all drugs, but watching people puff on a bong in coffee shops... Wow. I don't like that very much. People are social beings, so, as sure as the sun rises, the day after drugs are legalized somebody is going to open a bar where people can get high together. I don't like it. But then again, I don't like it when drunk morons are in the bar... Unless I am the drunk moron... Then it is OK.

In Germany, it is the rule that if you have a town, you have a brewery. Every region, every town, every village has their own place that makes the beer that the people like. Sure, there are large breweries too, but the people mainly drink the local brew. It saddens me to know that the USA was very similar. Then Prohibition came along and destroyed that tradition. Entire generations of brewers, denied their craft. Why? One group of people imposed their thought of how people should live on other people by force of law. The brewing industry did not recover for nearly 80 years. Even now, the local brewery is an exotic strange thing. In Germany it is profoundly disturbing to them when the town does not have a brewery.

European Vacation Day 6

At dinner the night before, our friends asked if we liked fortresses and castles. I said that yes, I like that kind of thing. To show my absolute ignorance about Germany, I had no idea that there were castles in Germany... When you say "Germany" castles really don't come to mind. The simple fact is, Germany is an old world country. It was part of the Roman Empire, and fell in to feudal government when the Empire fell, just like the rest of Europe. Germany fractured in to many kingdoms, and these Kings built castles to protect themselves from attack. It wasn't until Charmaine came along in the 6th century that the land was under one ruler again. Even then the local governors often fought amongst themselves, and well, the French kept attacking.

Anyway we had made plans to visit a town that was one part medieval town, one part fortress. The town was in an area that had been traded back and forth with the French many times over the years, that is why it was created in to a walled city. This town is about 100 miles away from Dusseldorf, and called Koblenz.

Koblenz is situated where the Mosel river meets the Rhine, also, there is a tall hill overlooking the area, making this a valuable strategic spot. You can see the bad guys coming and bombard them from a height. So, everybody from the Romans on have put a fortress up at Koblenz. Torn down and rebuilt over the centuries the current fortress is called Ehrenbreitstein. Built up after Napolan ran through Germany, it is a fortress to prevent the French from invading inner Germany.

We started out on our trip, supplied with iced coffee, and an excellent apple strudel from the local corner cafe. Our friends have a Volkswagen Golf. I was a little disappointed, because I knew we were going to be driving on the autobahn. I wanted to go fast.

We join the autobahn, and I was shocked to see speed limit signs up. I thought that the autobahn was no speed limit. Not so. There is only no speed limit in certain areas between towns. Around the towns, the limit is much like it is in the U.S., around 65 or so MPH. Just as we hit the no speed limit area, a traffic jam prevented us from moving. So we switched off the autobahn on to another highway. We would get there, just not in the way that I was expecting.
Not going on the autobahn was a blessing in disguise. We got to see some wonderful country side, complete with old villages, the kind that I always had in mind when I thought of Germany. It was great.

Eventually we rolled in to Koblenz. We walked around the town a bit and came to a short river tour. We decided that the river tour would be a fun time, and took it out in to the Rhine. From the Rhine we saw several buildings and generally had a good time just relaxing on the boat.
The major part of the tour centered around a particular point where the Mosel and the Rhine rivers meet. This area is called "The German Corner."

In 1887 a large statue of Emperor Wilhelm I was erected. In 1945 the US hit it with an artillery shell... Sorry about that... In 1990 a section of the Berlin wall was moved to this spot, and all of the flags of the new German republic were placed around the statue area. The statue itself was repaired in 2003, and the German Corner stands as a monument to the unification of Germany.

German Corner

After the boat trip we sat down to have a nice lunch. Of course there was beer. I had a local pilsner, that was much lighter than the beers I have been drinking in Germany. This was so light, it was very close to an American style pilsner, close to a Boulevard Pilsner in taste. Anyway, since this area of Germany was disputed with France so often, the food has been influenced by the occupations. The traditional dish we had, Zwiebelkuchen, was like a pizza, but with onion cooked in to the dough. This crust can be thick or thin, depending on what the cook wants to put on top, and different regions have their own take... Kind of like New York and Chicago style pizzas. Mine was topped with cheese and bacon. Awesome.

We spent a while hanging out at the restaurant talking, drinking beer, and watching the Rhine roll by. We kind of lost track of time, and before we knew it, the gondola ride to take us up to the old fortress on top of the hill had closed. No worries though, we took a ferry across the Rhine, and started the steep walk up to see Ehrenbreitstein.

Ehrenbreitstein can trace its roots back to 1000 BCE. Its value as a strategic spot was known even then. About 1000 CE, a castle was built there to protect the Holy Tunic worn by Christ after the crucifixion (It wasn't really the garment worn by Christ. You can sell stupid people anything though, and wow did they in the middle ages.). In 1794 the French took Koblenz, and besieged Ehrenbreitstein for nearly a year, until the occupants finally surrendered due to starvation. The French had to leave a year later, because the treaty of Lunéville gave the Germans the rights to the fortress. However, the treaty did not give Kolblenz back to the Germans, so the French dismantled the fortress so that the Germans would have a place to bombard the city from.

After Napoleon was defeated, the Rhineland again became part of Germany, and with it the city of Koblenz. The Germans thought that if there was another invasion from France, Koblenz would be a prime target. "Screw them hippies" was the general feeling of the Germans and they began to create Festung Koblenz, or fortress Koblenz. After its completion, the area was nearly as large as Gibraltar. The crowning jewel was Ehrenbreitstein. Home to 1200 soldiers, and multiple ground emplacements, it was the be all end all in fortress technology... before the airplane.
The advent of air power ended the need for the old school fortress and as WWI ended, the fortress was obsolete. That did not stop the French from wanting it destroyed as part of the Treaty of Versailles. American general T. Allan saved it for its historical value of a pristine example of a 19th century fortress.

Today, Ehrenbreitstein has a very nice little restaurant with a spectacular view of Koblenz and the surrounding area. We made the long walk up to the top, and had coffee while the sun set.

Ehrebreitstein fortress from the Rhine

From the air

View from the top at the cafe.

With the sun set, we headed back to Dusseldorf. Now the roads were clear, and we were free to use the autobahn as intended. The little Volkswagen Golf impressed the hell out of me, easily reaching 110 MPH. What impressed me more were the Audi TTs and BMW M3s that were passing us like we weren't moving. Being on the autobahn, just made me realize another oppression of the American government. Why must we have a speed limit in between cities? Very stupid.

Anyway we made it back to Dusseldorf and said goodbye to our friends. We had a great time in Germany, largely due to their help and companionship.

The next day we boarded the plane and took off for the states.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Goddamn squirrels...

Friday, September 10, 2010

European Vacation Day 5

Amsterdam was less than impressive the night before. We hope, as we get ready for the day, that the city has more to offer.

We strike out for the day working our way to the Anne Frank house, which is actually her Dad's old company's headquarters and warehouse. It is a bit of a walk away, so we figure that we will be able to see another part of the city other than the tourist trap areas we saw last night.

We first thing that we need some coffee, so we stop in to a coffee shop. It is very dark in the coffee shop and smells strongly of cannabis. We notice that there are some people in the coffee shop with their lips around a large bong... We realize that coffee shops in Amsterdam are not necessary for coffee. We make a quick exit, and find that real coffee shops are called cafes. We get our morning coffee and start making our way to the house. After getting past the more tourist areas of Amsterdam, we start to realize the charm of the city. The buildings are very close together, most are touching one another and very thin. These buildings have been up for nearly 300 years, so you get a feel for the old town of Amsterdam.
You also get the feel for the canal culture of Amsterdam. Amsterdam literally means "Dam on the Amstel." When the people dammed this river, it created a reservoir. In order to use this excess water, it was channeled in to canals for people to use to quickly move through the city. These canals still remain, and really add to the uniqueness of the city. The people have taken to living in houseboats in the canals, so the sides of the canals are just as crowded as the buildings on the land.

While enjoying our coffee, and crossing many canals, we come up to the Anne Frank House, only to find that the line is out the door and around the corner of the museum. Not good. We then realized that a canal tour was leaving from just in front of the House in just a few minutes. SCORE! This is what I wanted to do in Amsterdam.
My lovely wife ducks in to a little cafe, and gets us an excellent ham and cheese croissant and we board the canal boat for the tour.

On the tour we learned that the houseboats are permanently attached to the sides of the canal, and are even wired in to the city's electric grid, and plumbed in to the sewer system. The boats have been on the canal for nearly as long as the buildings on the shore, some for over 100 years.
The canals and the bridges that cross them, used to be part of a large sea lock system, and the doors are still visible today. Four times a week the lock doors are closed in a certain way to flush the water out of the city canal system to ensure that the water, and the canals are clean. The city has such confidence that the water is clean that last year the mayor of Amsterdam dipped a glass in to the canals and drank it... He did not die.

The interesting part of the canal system is that the old school Amsterdam folk thought of their own defense, and in many areas built defence towers to fend off attacks. The Towers still exist at choke points, still defending their city 400 years later.
The buildings that line the canals are specifically built to lean forward. This makes it easier to haul stuff up to the upper floors via the block and tackle system that each building has. The buildings are so narrow, that it is impossible to get furniture up to the upper floors with out this system. You also notice that some buildings are leaning to the left or right... This is not right, and comes from sitting in foundations that are sunk in to a riverbed. Foundations can be repaired, but it is ghastly expensive.

After seeing the city from the canals, we arrived back at the Anne Frank house, and we stood in line to do the tour.

I read Anne's diaries in High School, but the smallness of the anex astounded me. Realizing that they hid in the anex for nearly 4 years put me in to shock.
In her diaries Anne writes about how she decorated her walls with pictures from the cinema books that the staff of the business used to smuggle in to her. The pictures still hang on those walls.
As you pass through the annex, then learn the fate of those who lived there, you begin to feel a great sadness... Not for the loss of this pretty, talented little girl, but for Otto Frank, her father. When the Nazis captured the Franks and the Van Pelts, they were carted off to different concentration camps. Otto was the only one to survive. He returned to his home, only to lean that his wife and daughter died just a short month before their camp was liberated. This man lost his entire family to the war. You leave the museum heart heavy and thoughtful,

The building in the middle.

Using the city map of sights we got from our hotel, we moved on to the next sight, the Royal Palace. The facade was wrapped in scaffolding, as the front is being worked on. The Royal Palace was once an administration office for the city of Amsterdam. It was built at the height of their power and wealth. It shows. The place is overwhelmingly awesome. Everything is marble, paintings by Rembrandt adorn the ceilings, massive sculptures dominate the doorways. In the main reception hallway there is a huge map of the world inlayed in to the marble floor.
Interestingly enough, this is also where the city decided to do their torture and executions. In a little room off of the main hall is what is called the "Room of Pain." This is where the guilty were tortured and executed. Sculptures of death, and of horrific punishments adorn the walls... It is reasonably messed up. The offices of the burgermasters, the rulers of the city, have large windows that oversee this room so that the screams of the tortured and dying could be observed and heard. A mccabe reminder to the city leaders of their massive responsibility.
When France took over the Netherlands, the puppet leader converted this city building in to a Royal Palace. Even today, this building is the traditional house for the royal family, even though they live in The Hague.
While the seat of Government is in The Hague, Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands, so specific state functions take place in the Royal Palace royal marriages are announced from the balcony, and state visits are conducted here.

The center hall. Notice the maps of the world on the floor and the massive Atlas sculpture.

The Palace before restoration

We made our way back to our hotel, and then onward to the train station. Time to head back to Dusseldorf to meet back up with my wife's friend, and to meet her husband for the weekend.

As we passed the border of The Netherlands in to Germany, the train was stopped... A little while later two large plain clothes police men went walking through the train with a drug sniffing dog. Guess what? There were at least two people on the train who were escorted OFF the train. Drugs are bad. Don't bring them in to Germany!

We arrive in Dusseldorf, and check back in to our familiar hotel of the NH Dusseldorf City Center. From there we made for the Asian section of town to have dim sum with our buddies.

Dinner was great, and, of course we had some altbier. My wife's friend's husband likes his pilsner and suggested that I try it. It was awesome, but, of course, much less hoppy than American pilsners that I am used to.

We ended dinner and headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow we are going to see an old fortress town, and to get there... AUTOBAHN!!!

European Vacation Day 4

We woke up in the great country of Belgium, and thought on only one thing... WAFFLES!!!! We checked out of the hotel and asked if we could leave our bag at the hotel while we went out on the town. The NH Stephine had no problem with that. Off we went!

We started our tour of Brussels, and our quest for real Belgian waffles, at the Palace of Justice in Brussels. This is a building that was finished about 1880, and is reminiscent of the time... That being very classical in look. Big marble pillars, marble floors, and lots and lots of sculptures.
This is a building that is still in use today, so you really can't tour the building... Unless you did something very bad. Walking all around the building were people in black robes, we supposed that these people were either lawyers or clerks or something, because they looked official.

One of the staircases.

We kept our walk going until we came to the Royal Square. This spot in the middle ages was the center of town, and the Duke had his palace built here, however in 1769, the city decided to rebuild this section of town to a more organised layout. So the palace was raised and the St. James Church was build in its place. The noble families built residences around the new square, however, unlike the Grand Palace, the style was strictly enforced to be in the Neoclassical style. The final piece of the square was placed in 1843, a large statue of the first Ruler (King) of Jerusalem Godfrey of Bouillon (born in present day Belgium) on horseback.

The Royal Square showing St. James Church and Godfrey of Bouillon.

There is a tourist information desk in the square, and we stopped in to use the bathroom and the free wifi. We asked the French speaking desk clerk if he spoke English, he said "Yes. Of course." We asked him the best place for true Belgium Waffles. He said that we could go anywhere, but there was an ice cream truck that served ok waffles outside. Very little help from Frenchy. This would soon become a common theme.

From the Royal Square we went on to the Royal Palace, where the King and Queen of Belgium used to have residence. BUT it wasn't open yet. We decided to move our tour on, and catch the Royal Palace on the way back to the hotel.

We turned down the street in to the area where the nobles built their residences and gardens. This area is now all museums. A large clock was built with many historical characters in this area in 1958 for the World's Fair. The bells chime every 15 minutes and the figures do a little dance on the hour.

The clock.

On to the Grand Palace again. In this area we finally found a place to have breakfast with a true Belgian waffle. The waiter walked up to us and said all of this stuff in French. We responded with "Do you speak English?" He said "Yes" and promptly walked off. Awesome. He did eventually come back and take our order and serve us, but we were obviously not his favorite table. Despite the jerk of the waiter, we got to eat a great waffle. It was everything I was expecting and more.

The Grand Palace was very busy. There was a very large Belgium Beer festival that was going to go on... The day after we left. Dang. It would have been awesome too. With our tummies full we moved on to see more sights. The next on our hit parade was the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.

Completed in 1490 the cathedral is done in the Gothic style. Two large towers dominate the front of the church and the doors are, of course surrounded by sculptures.

The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.

Inside the church there are large sculptures of the apostles, one of St. Simon with a gigantic golden saw... Kind of intimidating. What catches the eye is a huge pulpit carved from oak by Hendrik Frans Verbruggen in 1699. The pulpit depicts the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It is an amazing sculpture.

The pulpit.

This church is very important to the people of Belgium, as it is where their royalty come to get married. Like Westminster Abby in England, this church is the spiritual heart of Belgium.

From the church it was time to get a look at the city's most famous land mark, the Manneken Pis. A statue of a little boy... urinating. Seriously, this is your contribution to the world? Really?
The statue was created by Jerome Duquesnoy in 1619. There is really nothing more to it than that... It is a little boy peeing in to a water basin.


It was time to do the visit I was most excited about. Visiting the Brewer's Guild hall in the Grand Palace and going to the Belgium brewing museum.

The guild hall.

The museum was in the basement, and... we were kind of disappointed. The museum was just a few old barrels, some stirring equipment, and a video. The best part was a very fine dark beer that was served after the video. The other really cool thing was the guy pouring the beer showed us how to serve a Belgian beer. You poor until the head gets to the very top, and slightly over flows, a knife is then used to level off the head, then the entire glass is dipped nearly to the top in water to wash off the excess beer. Very cool, and explained why all of our beer glasses in Belgium were wet.

We finally circled back to the Royal Palace to see what the King used to live. The front of the building was really nothing to write home about... Compared to some of the facades we were witnessing in Brussels so far. But the inside... Stunning. Gold leaf is used throughout the palace. Large ball rooms, receiving halls, the whole ball of wax. It made my speculations and dreams of what a palace inside would look like seem shabby and not up to standard.

The Palace

With that we were on our way back to the hotel and on to Amsterdam.
Again, the train ride was disappointing. The sound barriers and trees did not really give us a chance to see anything, except at the very end... We got to see some WINDMILLS!! I freaked out, and the people in the train looked at me like a moron.

We got to Amsterdam and checked in to the hotel. It was late and we wanted to get something to eat. The hotel desk clerk gave us directions to the restaurant area and we were on our way.
After being in beautiful, immaculate Brussels, Amsterdam was quite a shock. It was dirty, and a tourist trap nightmare. We walked along the main shopping area in the city and we were sorely disappointed in the shabby appearance of the area, and the shops. The people looked good though...

We finally made it to the restaurant area, and had a very tough time finding a restaurant that served traditional Dutch food. Mostly there was anything BUT Dutch food. Lots of Italian, Chinese, and Tapas places.
We found our Dutch restaurant and sat down. I ordered a combination plate of what the waiter said was the most traditional food. It was three mashed potato scoops each with a different filling. Ground pork, kale, and sauerkraut. It was very good. The restaurant had a nice selection of Dutch beers as well, not just Amstel and Heineken. I had a very nice doppelbock brewed by a company not far from Amsterdam.

We finished dinner and made it back to the hotel. Tomorrow we see the sights, and hopefully find a better Amsterdam than the one we just witnessed.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

European Vacation Day 3

We get up on Wednesday and head to the train station. On a side note, we left our big luggage with the NH Dusseldorf City Center. We told them we were going to return in two days, and they very graciously allowed us to store our luggage in their room, no charge. They didn't have to do this, they just did. Great hotel!
Anyway we get to the train station to board a high speed train to Brussels, Belgium. I was expecting something like the Japanese bullet trains... While the trains were fast, they were no where near as fast as the bullet trains. The guy who checked our tickets said that the trains get up to about 100 miles an hour. On the bullet train it was not uncommon to get to speeds of 125mph or 150 mph. Not complaining, but not as high speed as I expected.
The train ride was a bit disappointing. There are a lot of sound shields and trees and such around the tracks, so you don't really get to see much of the country side. I was looking forward to that. So, I slept.

We got in to Brussels about 2 pm, and we checked in to the NH Stephanie. It was a virtual carbon copy of the NH Dusseldorf City Center, except the bed was a proper double bed with a top sheet and comforter.
We stowed our luggage and went out in to the city. The one thing that struck us as we began our wandering, was how clean the place was. It was like Disneyland clean. Not that Dusseldorf was dirty, but the streets were immaculate. We wandered up to a point with a WWI monument that had a view of the city. The place was just stunning. Multiple churches and other tall spires dot the horizon. Each spire is topped with some sort of gilded statue. Very striking in the later afternoon sun.
We knew we wanted to check out the Grand Palace area, so we kind of wandered in that direction, not really knowing where we were going, but not really worried about it. Brussels is just what I expected an Old World city to look like. Narrow streets, paved with cobble stone. Thin thee story buildings touching one another on either side, with cafes and shops on the bottom floors.

Not really expecting it, we turned a corner and walked in to the Grand Palace of Brussels. It took our breath away. I had not really done a lot of research on Brussels. What I did do, said that the Grand Palace was a place that was not to be missed. I really had no idea as to what it would be like. I was stunned.

The Grand Palace is really a town square, with the town hall on one side, faced by an administration building called the King's House, and guild headquarters buildings on the other sides.
The town hall was built first, followed by a bread hall directly facing it. The Duke ruling the place at the time needed money, and started selling off his mills and such to the various merchants. The merchants then stared to become very powerful in their own right, because of the money they had made. The merchants started to take over the bread hall as an administration building, then were kicked out and a new building was constructed in 1539 by the ruling Duke. It was called The King's House... Except by the Dutch, who sill call it the Breadhouse... Go figure.
Around the rest of the square, the more and more powerful guilds and merchants built houses and headquarters buildings.

In 1695 Marshal François de Neufville, duc de Villeroi and 70,000 of his closest and dearest friends decided it would be a good idea to use the town hall as target practice for his artillery. Virtually every building in the square was destroyed... Except what they were aiming at, the Town Hall. They only mostly smashed that. In 1698 Brussels decided to rebuild their town hall. The guilds thought that would be a great idea, and built their headquarters buildings in the same place as they had before. At the time Brussels had a lot of money, so the merchants attempted to out do the town with their buildings. Essentially the Grand Place's, or more appropriately, the Grand Marketplace's, buildings are a mishmash of architecture styles of the late 17th century. The town hall is Gothic, reminiscent of the churches of that time, the guild halls are in the Baroque and Louis XIV styles. So you get the Grand Palace as we have today.

The Town Hall

The Kings House... or Breadhall. What ever tickles your pickle.

Some Guild Buildings

We sat down in this very historical and beautiful place, and sampled some very fine Belgian Beers. The Belgians, being overrun and controlled by many of its neighbors, it wasn't independent until 1839, the French, Dutch, and Germans all have left their mark on the culture, food, and beer. The Belgians treat their beer like wine. They brew varying styles, using different adjuncts, berries, and yeasts. On this day we tried a White (Wit), Amber, Blond, Pilsner, and a Berrywies. They were all awesome. A blending of styles that would make anybody happy. Like most European beers, hops were hard to find, but the wheat malts, and spices were definitely there to add to the flavor.

We wandered around a bit more after our beer break, then went looking for dinner. We found a restaurant near our hotel, and I asked them for the most traditional dish they had. What did they bring me? Pork knuckle! The very same meat that the wife had the night before in Dusseldorf. BUT this had one very important twist. The pork knuckle had a dijon mustard sauce. Thus blending the French sauce with the very German meat. It was, of course, awesome, and I finished it all with an awesome Belgian amber.

We returned to our hotel for some hard core sleep. Big day tomorrow seeing the other sights of Brussels.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

European Vacation Day 2

We slept very well in to the morning after our fun first night in Dusseldorf. Our plan was to spend one more day in Dusseldorf before going out to the neighboring towns. Today would be a day we could sight see around Dusseldorf.

We started out getting lunch at a Ramen shop that the wife's friend recommended. The problem was they opened at noon, and it was 11:00... We wandered around the Japanese area of Dusseldorf, there is quite a large population of Japanese people in Dusseldorf, and killed an hour before finally getting a table at the restaurant. We had a great lunch of ramen and gyoza. Then it was off to see the sights!

We walked back to Königsallee then over to the old town to get a look at what Dusseldorf looked like, old school. In the center of the old town is a large statue of Johann Wilhelm the ruler of the area from 1690 to 1719. He lived in Dusseldorf and held his court there. He did many things for the city, and the city showed its application with the large statue.
Jan Wilhelm sits in front of the old city hall. A beautiful old building complete with ivy running around the outside.

The town hall and Jan Wilhelm

After that we walked the short way to the Rhine River and looked out at Dusseldorf's cable-stayed bridges. They have two very nice bridges across the Rhine for automobile traffic, and one for foot traffic. All are built in a similar style and look awesome.

Theodor Heuss Bridge the northern most bridge.

We walked down the Rhine to the TV Tower. This is a very cool tower that has the worlds largest decimal digital clock on the outside. There are lights that run up the side of the 240 meter tall tower that tell the time. There is an observation deck on the top of the tower that gives an unparalleled view of the city.

The tower at night, with how to tell the time

From the tower we moved over to Dusseldorf's iconic new building, the Stadttor. It is an office building essentially, but is built to resemble the Arch de Triumph in Paris, but with a more modern and functional twist.

After checking out the tower and the Stadottor it was time to check out some of Dusseldorf's more unusual buildings... American architect Frank Gehry designed some interesting apartment buildings for a spot on the Rhine river. In his deconstructionist style the buildings twist in strange ways, and tilt at odd angles.

Gehry buildings

About that time it was time for some coffee and cake. We made the trek back to Japan town to have coffee at the Hotel Neko. My first impression of European coffee is that it comes in a small cup. Next it is super duper strong. I thought they had given me espresso by mistake. Nope, coffee. Anyway I added cream and sugar and made kind of a coffee paste. It was awesome.
I have always loved sweets, and if you took one look at me you would know it... The cake that I had was off the hook. You don't get baking like this in Oklahoma...

Then it was off to meet the wife's friend. This was the day that she was going to take us for traditional German food. I was very excited. My wife's friend knew that not only did I want to experience the traditional sort of German food, but I am also kind of a history nut. She chose a restaurant that was absolutely perfect for both aspects.
We went to a restaurant that has been doing continuous business since 1628. The building was partially destroyed, along with most of the town, in 1794 by the French, but rebuilt. In 1811 after rolling through the Rhineland Napoleon and his general staff drank Altbier and had dinner at the restaurant after a victory parade, that he threw himself... Attended by the citizens of Dusseldorf... At gunpoint. Nice.
The restaurant was again destroyed in 1944, and again rebuilt bigger and better.

I started out drinking altbier, I am in Dusseldorf after all. After looking over the menu and talking with the waiter, he spoke English, I decided on a combination platter of mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, and 4 different kinds of SAUSAGES!! The wife had a boiled knuckle of pork with mashed potatoes (It tasted better than it sounds.). On the suggestion of the waiter I switched from altbier to a very nice local heffiwitsen. It was one of the best heffiwitsens I have had. Nice light flavor with the strong yeast taste coming right through. Very good, and it went perfectly with the sausages, which were excellent by the way.

After eating we learned about the history of the restaurant, and I visited the very corner that Napoleon and his staff had their beer. The waiter insisted that the corner survived the bombs of WWII, and had they even had a document signed by Napoleon himself.
Now it was late, and time for bed. We are due in Brussels in the morning!

European Vacation Day 1

We landed in Dusseldorf at about 7 AM. We headed for the immigration check in. It went surprisingly quick. I wasn't asked any questions, the guard checked my passport, looked at the photo, then at me, then stamped my book. It was very uneventful. We then gathered our bags and went on to customs. The guy asked us if we had any food. We said no, and that was it. I chatted briefly with the guard, and he remarked how getting in to the the European Union was easy compared with the US. I agreed saying that the US tries hard to show impartiality, but only succeeds in making everybody's life hard. The guard snorted his laughter and sent us on our way. In to the EU with minimal fuss. Awesome.

From the Dusseldorf International Airport, a very nice, new facility, we went straight to the hotel, the NH Dusseldorf City Center. It was only about 9 AM or so, of course, they did not have a room ready for us. That was bad, because the wife was not feeling very well, and was jet lagged from the trip. We checked in our luggage with the front desk and crashed in the lobby. The good news was that they had a little TV room off of the main lobby, so we could hang out in there, and not bother anyone. More good news was that the Hotel had free wifi in the lobby. The bad news was that you could only use it for 30 minutes...

After a couple of hours, I asked if a room was ready, and they told me that one had just come available, and we could go right up. It was great news! The wife and I got our luggage and headed for the room.

The room was a little small, but very nicely furnished. The bed, while very nice platform style bed, was simply two twin beds pushed together. I don't know if this is typical German style or not. What we did find out was that the beds had typical German style bedding, which is a sheet that covers the mattress, then a thick comforter that sits on top. No top sheet, or other blankets. Interesting. At the time it didn't matter. It was nap time.

We crashed out until about 3 PM, then decided to go walking around. We got a city map and headed on our way to see what we could see. We found the main shopping district in downtown Dusseldorf, the Königsallee. This was originally called Kastanienallee (chestnut avenue), but, during a visit from King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1848, someone threw a horse apple at the king. To make nice the city renamed the street Königsallee to make nice with the king.

Königsallee is a very beautiful street bisected by a canal that runs down the center. Old stone bridges cross the canal in several places, and high end shops line the streets.

Königsallee at night

We wandered around the shops and found a good place to meet my wife's friend who lives in Dusseldorf. She made a call and set up to meet later on in the evening.

One of the things that I really wanted to do in Germany was to get a feel for the beer. Dusseldorf is unique in Germany in that it does not use a Pilsner as its signature beer. Rather it serves a different kind, Altbier. Alt means old in German, so literally Altbier means "old beer." That is because it is a lager that is brewed with top fermenting ale yeast, rather than the bottom fermenting lager yeast that is typically used. It is called "old" because this top fermenting yeast was the first kind of yeast to be used in brewing. There is one brewery in Dusseldorf that has been brewing beer virtually in the same spot since the late 17th Century. Of course the original building was destroyed in 1945, along with most buildings in Germany, but it has been rebuilt almost exactly the same.

This brewery is named after the yeast that they use in their brewing, Uerige. One very unique thing about this particular brewery is that they use oak kegs to store their beer after fermentation. This is extremely old school. When it is time to serve the beer, they literally "tap" the keg with a spout by smacking in the tap with a mallet. It is AWESOME!!

Obtaining the "Delicious Droplet" altbier from the oak keg.

Altbier uses the most hops of all traditional German beers, it hangs out between 20 to 50 IBUs. Not really up to the British Porters, or many American Ambers, but still very hoppy for the German beers that normally hang below 10 IBUs. The beer uses barley and wheat malts, and does not have the typical yeast middle flavor that I am most familiar with German Pilsners and Heffiwitsens. The taste was great. It was not too bitter with lots of malty goodness. A slight woody, smoky flavor could be detected just as an undercurrent to the beer's flavor. Just outstanding.
The brewery also produces a Hefeweizen, but I am in Dusseldorf, and wanted none of the beer produced simply to appease the South German tourists! Besides, you are in a brewery that has been making Altbier for nearly 300 years, do you really want to have something other than Altbier? I didn't think so.
Simply as an observation, the Germans LOVE their beer head. The alt was served in glasses that were nearly 1/4 head. A little unusual for an American beer drinker.

After our beer we met up with the wife's friend and headed to... Where else? A Japanese restaurant. It still was in Germany and they served Alt from another brewery in Dusseldorf. We chowed down and caught up. The food was great, and we had a wonderful time.

It was getting late and we headed back to the hotel. Neither of us could remember where we walked, so we had a little adventure finding our hotel at night.
Sleep, sleep sleep.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Back From Europe

I have never really had any interest in Europe. To me they were a bunch of people more obsessed with their past than their future. A people that used American innovation, while looking down on the very people responsible for driving their lives forward.

I now that I have been there... I have the same feelings.
Very cool Architecture, good beer, the people... meh.

I will write up a "What I did on my summer vacation" later for now... Grades!!

Dusseldorf Germany:
Cool Stuff: B
Altbier breweries, cool old town, suspension bridges over the Rhine.

Beer: A
Altbier is awesome!! Went to a very cool brewery that has been serving their beer since the 17th century. All beer was stored in small casks, just as it was in the 1600s.

Food: C+
Sauerkraut, sausages, and pork knuckle. Sauerkraut, yuck. Pork knuckle and sausages, awesome!

Womens: C
A couple of head turners, but nothing to write home about.

Brussels, Belgium:
Cool Stuff: A+
The Grand Palace, guild halls, Palace of Justice, gardens, sculptures. On top of being almost cleaner than Disney World, the sights are just mind-blowing.

Beer: A
Belgian beer is just off of the hook. What can you say about a place where the Brewers Guild has their headquarters in one of the most beautiful buildings on the planet?

Food: B
Having being a country that has both been conquered by France and Germany, you get an interesting mix of both cultures in the food. Pork knuckle with a Dijon mustard sauce. Sausages with wine. Good stuff!

Womans: B+
Brussels is an international city. Being such should give the people an international look. Not so when the majority of the international countries are chock full of only one racial group. While the womans are beautiful, the lack of diversity really disappointed me.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands:
Cool Stuff: C+
The canals are fun. Anne Frank's hide out is worth a visit. The Royal Palace is kick ass. But... The place has been turned in to an international Tourist Trap, and... the place is dirty. With drugs legal in most places, there is a constant smell of pot nearly everywhere in the city.

Beer: C
Amstel and Heineken rule the roost, an I am just not a big fan. After spending time in Belgium and Germany where every town has their own favorite local brew they just don't cut it.

Food: B
Potatoes mixed with ground pork, kale, and such are actually really good. Deserts were awesome, and coffee was great!

Womans: A
Amsterdam is a shipping city, and with that comes trade from other than European countries. That and the city being a place where the world comes to get high, means that the people are diverse and good looking.