355. St Feuillien Blonde

No opportunity to try new things spared, my last shot at another Belgian beer (whilst in Belgium anyway) was found at the airport. Definitely the most novel of airport canteen drink fridges, it was stocked full of all kinds of crazy, and boutiquey looking beers. At least in comparison to the normal airport serve-yourself type canteen things!

Airports are apparently the only places where it is internationally socially acceptable to drink on your own, so I grabbed the most funny looking, odd shaped, novel one I could. Not bad either.

IMG_5884

 

 

266. House of Bols

In Amsterdam we were met with some pretty disappointing weather, so indoor activities were bumped higher up the priority list. Thanks to the wonderful iPhone app that is Tripadvisor Cityguides, we were able to download a guide to all the attractions, with map locations and reviews, and even a compass feature that points you in the direction of an attraction/restaurant/bar, all without needing to be connected to the internet. With that, our scavenger hunt began.

The House of Bols turned out to be quite the hidden gem, and probably something we wouldn’t have stumbled across if it weren’t for the bad weather, and the Tripadvisor app! Bols, creater of the Dutch spirit Genever, was an unfamiliar name to me, but once I arrived and saw the bottles, a realised I had seen them before, probably many times on the back walls of bars.

I had always assumed they were just another version of cheap and cheerful flavoured liqueurs used for cocktails. As it turns out, Genever is an apparently famous type of spirit, with a price tag to match, and careful effort has been made to create a range of different flavours.

The tour of the House of Bols goes through the history of its creation, gives an opportunity to smell all of the flavours, watch panoramic films and most importantly, try a few cocktails and sample shots.

The thing I liked the most about it, being a marketing geek, was how well designed the displays were. Given I was paying for a tourist attraction for a drink I previously thought was cheap, and came out knowing all about the product and realising it was actually quite nice and far more upmarket, I’d say it was a pretty succesful marketing campaign on their part. Now they just need someone to make the bottles less tacky.

261. Amsterdam Pub Crawl

CJ and LD looking fab!

Given we were now living in close quarters with a bunch of other travellers whose job was to organise pub crawls, we thought it would be rude not to join in. Plus we got a discount. I’ve become quite fond of these touristy pub crawls – guaranteed rentacrowd, you don’t have to think about where to go, and the price:free drinks ratio is very good. Especially this one.

We worked our way through everything from a grunge irish rock music theme bar, to an Australian themed club to quirky wine bars with hipster DJs on miniature balconies

It was a really fun night, and we made friends with some hilarious Amurrrcans and the people running it were actually so disorganised we managed to cram in quite a few extra venues.

I must say though, Amsterdam in the summer is just chock full of dudes. Guys, if you are looking for girls, you are only going to find them in windows! And just as common as those windows, were packs of beer loving (as evidenced by the size of their bellies) packs of “The Lads” looking like they were on stag do’s. Sights like these were not at all uncommon:

Whichever one of his friends told him he could pull off spandex was wrong

Another cycle bar

Skin coloured shark costume?

For the first time on one of these things I could actually knew who the organisers were, which kind of made me feel really sorry for them – they were tired, sober and bored, having been out to the same few bars every single night for the last few months at least. Didn’t stop us having a great time, eh CJ?

253. A True German Beer Garden

In Englischer Garten we found ourselves at the “Chinesischer Turm” (Chinese Tower), the second largest beer garden in Munich.

The history of the Beer Garden, so I’m told, is that brewers were only allowed to brew in winter (in the early 19th century). In order to keep their beer cool for sale in summer, they stored it in cellars along the river Isar under the shade of the trees. These areas soon became popular drinking spots, and a law was enacted in 1812 to allow/encourage the sale of food, thus bringing to life the beer garden.

Whilst there are self service beer/food kiosks at the beer gardens, you can actually bring your own food/drink and have a wee picnic at the tables.

At the Chinesischer Turm, named after the Chinese Tower in the middle (which is actually modelled on the “Great Pagoda” in the Royal Botanic Gardens in London), we were delighted by an Omm-pah band as well as a lovely leafy green area full of tables and chairs, and a little self service kiosk full of Hofbrau beer and bretzels, among other famed (clichéd?) German delicacies.

233. The Best Soundsystem In Europe

The largest speakers, or loudest, or best soundsystem, I forget which one, are supposedly found at a nightclub called Flex, on the riverside in central Vienna. The most hilarious thing is that the club itself is actually pretty small! I tell you, those bad boys are really loud. Well out of proportion there!

We went in search of this place, with some dubious google maps directions and an even more dubious cabby, and at last we were thrown out of the cab “Pretty sure its down there” and pointed toward some stairs leading down below a bridge, not seeing or hearing much partying at all. We saw a few people headed that way, and thought “seems legit” and followed. At the bottom of the stairs was what looked like a large beergarden, minus the garden. So really a whole bunch of people at picnic tables, and a bar opening out. This can’t be right, we thought, its really quiet. Eventually we spotted the door, with the glittering “Flex” over the top and realised that upstairs must be the pre-game area. Once we got downstairs our suspicions were confirmed – the drinks were significantly more expensive downstairs than up.

Inside, it was loud, like don’t even try to shout at eachother loud. To get a drink you had to point and gesture wildly and then drink whatever the bartender gave you because it was just too difficult to try to tell them it wasn’t what you wanted. The order of the day was some particularly grimy dubstep, and you definitely need to be a tad inebriated to enjoy a night of that at serious decibels! Many, of course, had taken that to whole new levels, and there were definitely a few crackpots on multiple combinations of not so legal stimulants. One of which came up to me and tried to bite my shoulder. It was weird. Mum and Dad you’ll be pleased to know those self defence skills came in handy!

There were a couple of weird, old guys, pulling out some nutty dance moves. This one was my favourite.

Wait no, that was Rob. This guy:

He was cutting shapes so intensely I couldn’t even get a decent photo.

A further observation, as is common with drum n bass/dubstep gigs, was the male:female ratio was well off. Uncomfortably so. I’m usually not bothered by that sort of thing, but I was very close to requesting an escort to the bathroom to make sure I got back again OK! On that note, some pretty nifty bathroom decorations.

All in all though, a fun night and definitely worth a visit. And for anyone keen to check it out but nervous about the volume, get some free earplugs while you are getting your cheaper drink upstairs!

228. Get Collectively Dumped

I’m not gonna say it was love at first sight, but we became pretty fast friends with a guy staying at our hostel. In what was going to be a quiet night, with a few drinks at the bar before bed, a nice young chap from the US of A came up and said hi. Before we knew it we were teaching him to play our drinking games, translating our kiwi lingo for him and just generally having a laugh.

Mike, an architect from Chicago, who didn’t watch How I Met Your Mother (Ted Mosby jokes fell flat), seemed to find our banter pretty hilarious, and by sheer coincidence we ran into him the next day whilst sightseeing. It seems New Zealanders have become exponentially more endearing since Flight of the Conchords. We continued hanging out with him as we toured Prague, and he even came with us on the pub crawl. We were really getting to know and like Mike, especially Fraser, who seemed to be striking up quite the bromance with!

The next day we saw him again when we were getting some lunch, and it seemed to be a general consensus we would all hang out again the next night. So there we were, in our room, dealing with the terrible chat out of the Aussies that had moved in (they’d come straight from Schoolies to their Eurotrip), waiting for Mike to come on by and join us for a few drinks before we headed out. A few hours went by, and no Mike. Did something happen to him? He’s probably just having dinner.

As the night dragged on we eventually gave up on Mike (we also knocked on his door, just to check). The next day we were chekcing out, off on our next adventure. He never called, never said goodbye. We thought we had a real connection, you know? Thought it was something special. Did something awful happen to him? Was he just not that into us? Did he find a new group of friends? Were they more fun than us? We’ll never know.

Well jeez Mike, you coulda just said so!

227. Prague Pub Crawl

I once read an article in the NZ Herald, that apparently someone (residents, local government, not too sure) was complaining about New Zealand tourists travelling to Prague and getting too drunk/making a mess of the town. I can’t seem to find the link, but I thought it was hilarious that people would be complaining about the drunken antics of tourists, when all day whilst wandering through the centre of the city I was being harassed and accosted by people trying to get me to go on their pub crawls.

Such was the fierce competition between them all, that it begun to be quite entertaining hearing their sales pitches. They also had some really ludicrous deals. Apart from the usual free entry to a bunch of bars/clubs and free drinks on arrival, most of them had a two and a half hour “power hour” or “happy hour” where you could drink as much as you wanted. So these salespeople would try to get us signed up and committed right there on the spot, and would be listing what deals they have, how you can drink for longer on their pub crawl, how the other ones all watered down their drinks. My favourite of course was “Come on our pub crawl, we have absinthe.” Really? Your sales pitch is listing what the bar has in stock? At that moment I really felt whoever the complainers were ought to take a long hard look at their tourism industry before pointing the finger at the tourists.

We did the math and decided these pub crawls were much more efficient than drinking in the hostel bar, or even buying our own drinks and off we went. It was loads of fun, they did have absinthe, it was watered down, and we met a hilarious bunch of UK students, who as a travelling first, rather than say “Oh you’re from New Zealand, that’s where Lord of The Rings is from” or “Ohhhh like Flight of the Conchords” instead rolled with “That’s where Paul Henry is from!” and the hilarious quotes ensued. We also taught them all our favourite drinking game “fingers” and had a good laugh at how Fraser turned into Zach Galifianakis when he got all sweaty and swooshed his hair to the side.

We went to some really cool bars – from a Cold War themed one (with hilarious fashion magazines from Prague in the 80s decorating the bathrooms), to the creatively named “Music Bar” which had many levels and areas which were also quite well designed – from murals of famous artists to table tops covered in photos. All in all it was a fun night, and I definitely recommend a bar tour run by whoever has the best sales pitch at the time.

205. Das Boot

For anyone that has seen the movie beerfest, there is a quite hilarious scene where the lead characters are challenged to drink a beer out of a glass in the shape of a boot as fast as possible without it splashing in their faces. Our hostel, Grand Hostel Berlin, happened to have a wee deal on beer served in such a vessel. The incredibly enthusiastic bartender explained to us it was actually a drinking game, where a group each drinks as much as they can out of the boot, and if it splashes you in the face or you are the last to finish, you lose and have to buy the next one. We thought to ourselves, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, so naturally we gave it a go. I found it was actually quite easy to drink it neatly if you just turned it on the side…

204. Berlin Pub Crawl

After our previous going out experiences, we caved and decided to go on one of those tousristy pub crawls. I had originally written them off as being yet another tourist trap, but we were a bit sick of the admin that is working out where to go and how to get there. There was one run through the same company that ran the excellent bike tour we had just been on, and we thought at the very least, we have just as much fun in our own company if no-one is there, and it was really good value, for the amount of free drinks you get.

Our guide

As it turned out, it was really fun! The first people we met were some guys from London who informed us they were planning on going on a big eurotrip but on their first night out in Berlin had spent 1500 pounds, so they couldn’t afford to go any further. That particular fact absolutely blew my mind! Even on my most wreckless nights of spending, with cocktail drinking and loads of food I would still struggle to spend more than $100. I just don’t know how he managed that.

I have no idea who that guy on the right is…

Other notable attendees were a hilarious bunch of dutch girls, who definitely were not in Berlin to soak up any culture. They informed us that technically they were in Berlin for 6 days, but it was really three because they spend every second day in bed with a hangover. Good laughs, those girls! Definitely could NOT keep up with their drinking though.

All in all it was a really great night, and we may not have been at the most popular bars/clubs, but every spot had a rent-a-crowd that filled the place up and were nice and chatty, and we went to some quite cool, quirky bars. My favourite was a Cold War Propaganda themed bar, in an alcove under the railway with loads of original posters and signs.

At the end of the night the boys needed a kebab stop, and damn good kebabs they were too! Everything we had been lead to believe about kebabs in Berlin, and more. It seems like competition is so fierce between the stalls that they are all trying to out-gourmet eachother!

192. Clubbing in Berlin

Our first nightclub attempt, Berghain, had failed, but that wasn’t to deter us! This was, however, our first realisation that when someone says “Go out in this area, that’s where all the bars are” it actually isn’t that useful. The other difficulty in Berlin is that given it’s history of being so divided, there really is no main centre or one area to go out in.

We were told by our helpful hostel receptionist (which later would prove to be a rare luxury compared to other hostels and hotels) that Friederichshain was the place to go. So we headed off in that direction. The problem when we arrived was that it was a lot more spread out than we had anticipated. Given the advice to just head there and we will find the bars, we were envisaging it being a Courtney Place type scenario where they were all quite central. But alas, it was a really spread out area, and it was quite difficult to tell if the bars were any good. Especially when they all had cover charges so you don’t want to part with your euros for a crappy bar. We sat down at one that had a cocktail special, but it was pretty average and we were getting tired, so decided to call it a night. As we were headed back to Westbahnhof station, however, we stumbled across what seemed to be an old railyard, with bars in all these old wharehouses, many of which were covered in really cool graffiti, political statements and art. It turned out to be quite the find, with loads of cool bars and beer gardens with novel themes and far more reasonable prices. We stopped in at a few of them, and it was just such a cool, laid back and novel atmosphere compared to most cities which try to have the classiest bar or compared to really intense clubbing districts.