Scotland in Two Weeks

I spent the last two weeks driving around Scotland with my good friend Alex. We met in London, picked up a blue Audi A3, and promptly got used to driving on the lefthand side while making our way to Edinburgh.

After a couple days in the architecturally stunning capital, we went further north to a small town called Inverness. Inver is Gaelic for river mouth and Ness is the name of the lake, as in Loch Ness (Lake Ness). The town is situated at the opening of the river which drains Loch Ness. We followed the bank of Loch Ness through the glens to a grimy little hostel near the southern end of the great Loch.

The next day we toured around the Isle of Skye — it was absolutely gorgeous geography with a million little peninsulas and beautiful mountains. We also visited our first distillery, Talisker.

Getting back to the mainland we took a rest day in Oban — a picturesque village if there ever was one — and, in a fun little hostel built into an old church, I received a detailed history lesson from an older man who must have been Connery’s twin. Aye!

What should have been a 2 hour ferry ride to the Isle of Islay (Whisky distillery central!) turned into a 12 hour epic due to a ferry breakdown (we had to drive to another town, catch a different ferry that took a longer route, etc), but when we got to the B&B at quarter pass midnight, the owner poured us a wee dram and all our problems became as resolved as the 110 proof liquor heating our bellies.

On the Isle of Islay (eye-lah), we visited 5 distilleries in 24 hours, and it… was… good! Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Laphroaig, Kilchoman, and Lagavulin. Side note: Scotch Whisky isn’t any cheaper at the source — there’s just bottles you can’t find in Canada.

To finish it off, we spent two days in Glasgow. Some people told me to skip Glasgow, but it was awesome. It’s more of a functioning city and less touristic than Edin-brah. We owe our great experience in Glasgow in no small part to Debbie (who I met in a hostel in Vienna a couple years back) and her partner Hamish — big thumbs up for random hostel friends. She took us to an open-mic night and wickedly hilarious comedy show with at least a dozen stand-ups.

Right, so, two days to go in London and then I’m back home!

Which Korean Beer Sucks the Most?

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There is a reason why the people of Korea mix soju 소주, a 15% alcohol Korean spirit, with beer mekju 맥주 to make the semi-sweet, semi-vile combination known as somek 소맥. They drink this concoction for two reasons. First, Koreans, like any civilized and over-worked people, like to drink. And second, because Korean beer is so terrible that if you are going to drink it, it better be effective. Hence the reason for fortifying their tasteless, mass-produced lagers into what is essentially a beer cocktail that ranges anywhere from 5 to 14% alcohol depending on the mix. Interestingly the expression for tastes bad in Korean is without taste, so it’s ambiguous to me if Korean beer is tasteless or tastes bad; however, either interpretation is accurate.

Last night, I carried out a blind taste test of the main Korean beers as well as a few Japanese beers and Budweiser. Besides becoming fairly drunk and getting really, really, really sick of tasting beer, the results were surprising.

Beers used (all 355 mL cans):

  1. Hite 하이트 ₩1350 4.3%
  2. Cass 카스 ₩1350 4.5%
  3. Dry Finish 드라이피니쉬 ₩1390 4.8%
  4. OB Lager 오비 ₩1350 4.8%
  5. Cafri 카프리 ₩1850 4.2%
  6. Budweiser 버드와이저 ₩2950 5.0%
  7. Suntory The Premium Malts 산토리 ₩3200 5.5%
  8. Sapporo 삿포로 ₩2850 5.0%
  9. Asahi 아사히 ₩2950 5%

Purpose:

  1. Of the 5 Korean beers, which is most and least preferred?
  2. Is Korean beer worse than the Japanese beer available in Korea?
  3. Is Korean beer worse than Budweiser?

Method:

  • 5 cups labelled with numbers 1 through 5.
  • For each sip test, pour sample amount of beer into cup. Cup is chosen with random number generator.
  • Participant doesn’t know which beer is in the cup, ie single-blind test.
  • Participant tastes beer and arranges cups in order of best to worst.
  • Ranks are recorded as scores from 1 to 5.

Results:

I am incredibly embarrassed to say that according to this sip test, I prefer Cafri, the lightest and weakest Korean beer available. I also equally prefer Budweiser, a beer I’ve long considered to be the king of shitty beer.

The sip test was repeated  3 times with only the Korean beers. Cafri scored the best at 2.3 (highest is 1; lowest is 5); whereas the other beers all scored between 3 and 3.3 which is probably statistically insignificant. This suggests that I can’t distinguish between Cass, Dry Finish, Hite, and OB.

When Cafri, the winner of the Korean beers, was tested against Budweiser and the Japanese beers, the results were equally shameful. Cafri and Budweiser tied for 1st place with an average of 1.6 (again the test was repeated 3 times) while the Japanese beers scored between 3.6 and 4.

Again, as someone who considers themselves to prefer heavy and dark beers, like ales and stouts, these results were an equal mix of shock and embarrassment.

I can choose to interpret these results in one of two ways. Either, I actually prefer really light beer; or, the results are misleading. Perhaps, it’s simply the case that light beer is favourable in a sip test and the other Korean beers are indistinguishably bad. It’s well known that Pepsi usually wins in its taste test (it is distinguishably sweeter than Coke), but does anyone actually prefer Pepsi? Ergo, I will go with the latter interpretation.

So which Korean beer sucks the most? They all suck!

 

Bringing a touch of class to Bratislava

Yesterday James and I really dove into Bratislava culture. In a smaller square, off the main square, a dozen stalls were setup and selling Bratislava wine. This type of wine is apparently a traditional local specialty made from currants, and all the stalls had little thimblefuls for sampling. After a few samples, we decided to really class things up and get publicly wrecked on currant wine in the square. I bought a bottle for 5€, asked the woman selling it to open it for us, found a spot at one of the red plastic bar tables that they had setup in the square, and poured two plastic cups full. The stuff was really really delicious and as strong as normal wine. It looks like red Kool-aid and goes down just as easily.

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Then we got a second bottle from another vendor. At some point James went back to her with the new bottle and our previous empty to ask if they were both the same alcohol content. Seems they are both 13.5%. By this point we were proper smashed, and we could tell the vendor was talking about us so we waved and got a laugh and a thumbs up in return.

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After this we wandered back to the hostel, and I got my first lesson in the Slovak language from the hostel bartender.

Si krásna žena, môžem si ťa odfotiť?

Another day of getting lost… but with amazing weather!

If you are going to spend all day getting lost, today was a great day for it. There were only a few clouds in the sky and most of them were pretty cirrus clouds smeared across the sky. It was so beautiful out, I mastered the skill of taking my shirt off while still cycling, and I don’t care if you believe me or not, but I was pulled over shirtless on the side of the highway for less than a minute before a car with two women in it pulled over. They claimed to be asking for directions, but, as I clearly looked and was lost, I think they wanted something else.

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We left Vienna on the south side of the Danube making our way towards Bratislava which is about 3 hours by bike. The Radweg ends on the south side so we would have to get back on the bike path on the north side; however, this was a little less than obvious. We ended up taking a bridge to this long thin island that sits in the middle of the Danube, back tracking about 3 clicks along the island to the bridge we saw on the map, crossings the bridge and cycling back up. Upon recognizing the same old shirtless jogger in red shorts that we had already passed, I realized there was a much closer bridge that didn’t involve back tracking at all.

While cycling back up, I saw a jogger in the distance. At first I thought he was wearing a beige track suit, then as I got closer I realized that this is one of those moments where the brain rejects what the eyes see. Yes it was a man jogging completely nude. He must have been 90 and was tanned wrinkles from top to bottom and didn’t give a goddamn that he was slowly jogging naked. Some questions resulted: how did he get here? Did he drive? Where the hell are his keys?

Following this lovely incident, we lost the trail again and a nice couple pointed out the way which involved backtracking yet again. So here we are again cycling through our favorite landscape: giant industrial areas.

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Well at least it was an amazingly beautiful day to get lost.

I instantly thought Grein was way better than Linz… and I was right!

I was super happy to leave Linz behind me. For the third largest city, it was the 1st lamest — Saturday night and nothing going on. Only a few people on the streets and nary a smile between them.

Today was a bit of a struggle for two reasons: it was the first time it rained a shit ton, and it was the first time we got lost. Now for the rain, it wasn’t really a big deal. We both had waterproof everything and remained dry on the inside. Besides that it’s kind of fun cycling in heavy rain and I took every opportunity to dare the gods to make it rain harder or make it windier. The gods appeased me on both counts.

In the same vein of tempting things to get worse, we’d been joking the whole time that one can’t get lost following a river. We’re going East so either we’re on the north side and the river is on our right or we’re on the south side and it’s on our left. Well at some point it was on our left and our right because we were in the middle. I’m not exactly sure how we got there but we were in the middle of the river on an islet where the trail abruptly stops. Later we found on the map that there is a small ferry that continues the path but it definitely wasn’t running in the off season.

We cycled about two kilometers through a large industrial yard filled with a variety of shipping containers and a giant crane on rails for loading them. We were cycling towards a bridge in the distance to get us out of the middle of the river. With the bridge over our heads, we pushed our bikes up a steep grassy footing and got on top onto a highway. It wasn’t long before we were back on the Radweg but we’d been cycling for 2 1/2 hours and only covered 28 km. Having a shit time is what we have come to refer to as character building.

Getting to Enns, we stopped at the first pub we found that looked open since at this point it was still pissing rain and we were ready to murder a couple schnitzels. They had beer but kein Essen. That wasn’t the end of world since riding with a slight buzz from one pint on an empty stomach is fun. It’s actually kind of ridiculous: my consumption of beer has gone up on this bike trip, averaging about 5 pints per day.

As we got to Naarn, we found a large pub with a family leaving which means there must be food since children usually aren’t there just for the beer. We sat down and ordered two Radler. Radler is the word for cyclist and is beer mixed with sprite so as to be less alcoholic for cyclists. This was my feeble attempt to drink less.

The menu had Reh and Hirsch. Reh is deer but we weren’t sure what Hirsch was so I asked the waitress what it was in English. She didn’t know and after returning from the back, it was apparent no one knew. Being the intrepid traveller that I am, I wasn’t going to let a little language barrier get in the way, so I asked if she could zeichnenwhat Hirsh was. Not being an artist, she came back with a photo to point at. James claimed it was an elk but the internet told us they were both deer or rather venison.

In order to make up for our detour today, we decided to push forward to Grein which was another 35km. The cycle was fun as the weather had cleared up and we got a beautiful sunset over the rolling hills dotted with a farmhouses and a church. Well after dark we rolled into Grein, and, while standing outside of a guesthouse and discussing where we should try to find accommodation, a woman came out and told us the only one open was down the road. We checked in and found out that yet again we were the only guests. The hostess was a very likable older woman who kindly poured us a couple pints and gave us directions to a pizzeria.

Shower. Pizza. Pint 2x. Schlaff.

Arrived in Linz

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We left the unknown village near Hofkirchen after a huge breakfast of bread, jams, 4 types of meat and cheese, eggs, cereal, müsli with yoghurt, and tea and coffee. Crossing the bridge to the south side, we passed through the collection of small hotels and guest houses that we had looked at longingly the previous evening. After about two hours of cycling, we stopped at what looked like a truck stop diner and took a seat outside. The woman happily brought us two stout pints of very cold and frothy beer. James got a huge schnitzel and I got the “XXL” curry wurst. It really was beyond large and the woman shook a bunch of curry powder all over it at the table. I told her in German that it was better than Berlin curry wurst and much bigger. I also asked the woman where we were. Apparently we were almost in Aschach.

From Aschach we biked the rest of the way to Linz which is like the third biggest city in Austria, which doesn’t really mean much because everyone lives in Wien (Vienna). On the way we saw a couple kids being arrested for graffiti. No handcuffs or Polizei brutality.

Finding the tourist information in Linz was super easy, and I asked the young woman at the desk for ein sehr billig Platz für schlafen (a very cheap place to sleep). She called youth hostel but no answer. Well what’s the next cheapest? I also asked where to find sehr viel schön Bier (very many pretty beer), which doesn’t really make much sense but I thought it might get a laugh. It didn’t but it did result in directions to a Brasserie with about thirty different Belgium beers. Maybe the question made sense after all…?

We cycled to the city’s second cheapest accommodation and checked out the deal. You could get a double room with a shower but without a toilet for 56€ all in. Upon getting into the room and seeing the shower and sink, I realized there were in fact two toilets.