Monday, April 27, 2015

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 2 … Hitting the ground crawling in Luxembourg.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 2 … Hitting the ground crawling in Luxembourg.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

(Second in a series chronicling my travel year 1985)

Thirty years on, two relatively odd twists stand out in my memory of my first European excursion in 1985.

First, given my usual compulsion to write, and considering the ample time I spent waiting on trains and then riding them, resting in hostel common areas after a long day’s touring or sitting on park benches watching life’s rich pageant – in short, with so much spare time to harness -- very little of that first trip was committed to paper.

Only snippets and random observations survive, along with a fairly accurate day-to-day record of my progress.

Why? Maybe it was laziness, although more likely the sheer sensory overload was too much for me to handle. I know what you’re probably thinking, but it certainly wasn’t because of the alcohol consumed.

To this day, people don’t believe me when I say that very little in the way of alcohol beverages was consumed abroad in 1985. In the beginning, there were stray beers here and there, but nothing approaching intoxication until I let loose for a night in Rome with a group of fellow travelers, having discovered cold, 2,000-lira (one dollar) 2/3 liter bottles of Carlsberg (and cold, too!) at a bar down the street from our pension.

Later in Turin, I drank with my cousin and his pal Scott, and after that at local place in Vienna and the Augustiner beer hall in Salzburg … of course, there was the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, and numerous pints of Guinness in Sligo, Ireland while watching Live Aid on the telly … and we can’t forget the vodka with the Australia during the Leningrad stay near the end … can we?

But seriously, fifteen drunken nights out of 90 is a fairly poor record for the allegedly professional drinker I fancied myself to be at the time, and it owed entirely to caution, to the fear of letting go in an unfamiliar environment, especially at night, walking long blocks back to bed following revelry. Also, there wasn’t much money, and I intended to hoard it carefully.

Parsimony proved wise. Stepping off the return flight in Chicago on August 8, 1985, I had exactly $100 in my pocket. The rest was gone, and for as good of a cause as could be imagined. Arthur Frommer, who helped start it all, ultimately was wrong in quoting a $25-a-day figure. The Euro was as yet a dream, the dollar was strong against national currencies, and the final calculation came out to about $19.50 a day, not counting the rail pass and flights.

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May, 1985.

A 45-minute stopover at Keflavik for comprehensive Icelandic souvenir shopping may indeed have afforded my first official steps on something resembling European soil, but in truth, the inaugural stroll across the continent’s sacred ground must be said to have taken place at the Luxembourg City international arrivals terminal.

After passport control and customs, I spotted an “exchange” window. Exhausted from a sleepless night, I turned and asked a fellow passenger whether I should get French francs or the Luxembourg variety.

“Well, that would depend on where you are, wouldn’t it,” he replied, with a surliness borne either by his own sleepless transatlantic night, or perhaps an upbringing of pain and betrayal suggested by an unmistakable New York City accent.

Nonplussed, I waited silently in line and when my turn came, swiftly shoved the immaculately clean traveler’s check through a tiny aperture, waiting to see what sort of money would come spitting back, and hoping I wouldn’t have to answer questions in an unknown local dialect.

The teller motioned toward my passport and yawned. Luxembourg francs appeared … and a new ritual had been experienced.

Further ahead, the baggage conveyor disgorged my inexpensive Service Merchandise “athletic club” gym bag, which lacked backpack convertibility, but had a handy shoulder strap – and one of the strap’s connecting loops had been ripped away from the fabric by the baggage sorting claws, leaving it useless, and subsequently fating the bag to be carried like a suitcase for the remainder of the journey.

Finally I emerged into a covered plaza, followed the signs for an airport bus bound for the central train station, and paid the driver with a crisp Luxembourg franc C-note. A short suburban ride later, the bus glided into its lane at the stylish old Gare, and I bounded out, finally, into a stereotypically busy, sunlit European street with sidewalks, bicycles and cafes.

All well and good. Now what?

Somewhere in Luxembourg City there was an officially sanctioned international youth hostel with a reservation (facilitated by “snail” mail, no less) waiting just for me. How to get there? Should I buy a city map, or risk humiliation by asking directions of a possibly non-English speaking passer-by?

An Internet kiosk was out of the question, as the information superhighway had yet to be invented by Al Gore.

Looming before me was a large sign that turned out to be a map of the city, providentially erected as a public service for ignorant foreigners exiting the train station for the very first time. Walking toward it, I abruptly stumbled and looked down to see the arm of a street person in a decently clean suit passed out drunk in the shade of a fountain.

Fragrant and snoring, he was no help at all, but the map showed exactly where I was, and precisely where I needed to go, which looked to be about two kilometers in a straight line.

Easy enough on the face of it, except the street names in French defied easy memorization, and most importantly, the map failed to show the irregular topography of Luxembourg City, which lies on ridges and hills and is contoured not unlike corners of West Virginia.

My 2-km scenic hike took almost two hours, mercifully ending when it finally did only because I finally chanced by a pole sporting various directional signs, one of which was the familiar hut-and-tree logo pointing the way to the youth hostel.

It had taken so long to perform these simple arrival tasks that the hostel already was open for afternoon hours. I checked in without difficulty, located my assigned bunk in what would become a completely filled 12-person dorm room, declined both a shower and an institutional dinner of noodles and mystery meat, never once considered drinking a beer, and proceeded to sleep 15 hours straight through ‘til morning, a continental breakfast, and the trek back to station to board my first train.

How do you get to Greece from Luxembourg on a rail pass? I was about to find out.

---

Previously:

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 1 … where it all began.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Visits to West Sixth and Blue Stallion while philosophizing in Lexington, Kentucky.

Multiple kudos to Peter Fosl, Professor of Philosophy at Transylvania University, who came up with a first-rate idea for me to come to Lexington on a brilliant spring Thursday and speak with philosophy majors over lunch at the school cafeteria. That's because I'm a Bachelor of Arts degree holder with a major in philosophy (IU Southeast, 1982).

The missus joined me for the road trip, and a great time was had by all.


When the cafeteria shut down, Diana and I had two hours to ourselves, and so we took a 15-minute walk to West Sixth Brewing, where we enjoyed a plethora of beers (Berliner Weisse, Smoked Porter, Hefeweizen and Dunkel, all deadly accurate) and snacks from Smithtown Seafood, located in the same building.

Then it was off to a humanities faculty reception (thanks, Mr. and Mrs Furlong) where I conducted an impromptu beer sampling for those in attendance, with NABC bombers and local Lexington brews from West Sixth, Alltech and Country Boy.


Peter dropped us off at Blue Stallion, where first a Rauchbier and then a Marzen completed the day, in the company of numerous students playing trivia, and a superlative food truck: Rolling Oven, making wood-fired pizza and Italian sandwiches.

Blue Stallion inspired reflections of a modern oddity: Having locally-brewed lagers at a brewpub filled with kids half my age, who are listening to the same music we were hearing at Knobs field keg parties back in 1976. Strange. Do we really need the James Gang any longer?

Stuffed to the point of tick-like, we walked back to our room at the classy Gratz Park Inn and collapsed. Earlier in the day, we'd chatted about the late Christopher Hitchens, who visited Transylvania University in 2004, and stayed at the same hotel. Now, finally, I have something in common with Hitchens, who is one of my favorite writers.

Obviously, we missed a few worthy beer places, but after all, it was a "working" trip, and there'll be other times. Thanks to everyone at Transylvania for a fine day and a nice break from the routine.

Friday, April 24, 2015

"This year, Three Floyds' Dark Lord Day will double as a craft beer-soaked protest rally."


Speaking as a beer fan of longstanding, and in no official capacity whatever, please permit me to say just this one thing.

Thank you, Nick Floyd.

Nick is speaking much needed truth to power with regard to Indiana's disastrous RFRA legislation, as engineered by Indiana's GOP "super majority." Some might say that those in Nick's position should be more circumspect, and refrain from taking a position, especially given that many of these same legislators have favored Indiana's brewing business.

Not me. I believe they need to be called out, early and often.

RFRA, even as hurriedly revised when the backlash ka ka hit the fan, is a monstrous act of stupidity. It did harm to Indiana's brewing industry, and modifications aside, it will continue to do so. We must speak out whenever and wherever we can. As our customers are injured, so are we.

Thanks again, Nick.

Three Floyds Makes Dark Lord Day Pro-Gay With Big Freedia Show, by Mark Konkol (DNAinfo - Chicago)

This year, Three Floyds' Dark Lord Day will double as a craft beer-soaked protest rally.

The target: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and his state’s controversial Freedom of Religion Restoration Act — the so-called “anti-gay” law that prompted national outrage from politicians, liberal activists and rock bands alike.

“We’re fighting the power of the governor of Indiana over the freedom of religion act, or whatever it’s called, that basically makes it legal to discriminate against anyone,” Three Floyds brewer-owner Nick Floyd said.

So, at Saturday’s annual celebration of Three Floyds Brewery’s Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout — the only day you can buy what many craft brew geeks consider the world’s best brew — Floyd added a gender-bending performer to co-headline its hard rock lineup of bands with the reunited original lineup of heavy metal rockers Corrosion of Conformity.

Floyd, who lives in Ukrainian Village, said his Munster, Ind.-based brewery also got calls from people asking him to protest the law by canceling Dark Lord Day — the one day of the year you can buy Three Floyds' Russian Imperial Stout — in protest of the controversial law.

“I tell them, ‘Look, Dark Lord Day is the biggest f--- y--- to that law,” Floyd said. “One lady even wanted to sell her ticket because she wants us to boycott [the law.] I had to tell her we’re on your side. We’re fighting back, and the best thing to do is come here and support us.”

Thursday, April 23, 2015

I'm for it: CAMRA debates and passes progressive motions.

I'm aware of all the reasons why an American is supposed to frown on such an organization, with its conferences, motions and cardigans. I love it just the same, and it remains a yardstick to me, 25 years after I first began paying dues and getting monthly newspapers. Eventually I stopped getting the paper copies, and started following CAMRA electronically.

Let’s get behind the beer industry: CAMRA members vote for a more inclusive campaign

Members of CAMRA, Europe's largest beer consumer group, have reinforced the organisation's positive approach to campaigning for beer and pubs by passing a series of progressive motions at its annual conference.

More than 1,200 CAMRA members attended the conference in Nottingham between 18-19 April and debated and voted on 20 motions about issues affecting the beer and pub industry, as well as CAMRA's future campaigning. Decisions were taken to support the practice of serving real ale from ‘key-kegs' and to recognise cider with whole fruit and spices as ‘real' were passed, whereas motions that advocated CAMRA distancing itself from wider beer industry initiatives were rejected.

Members clearly voted in support of an inclusive approach to the beer industry, reaffirming that the Campaign is about the promotion and championing of real ale, and providing a choice for drinkers, rather than outright opposition to other types of beer. The Conference expressed the strong opinion that denigrating other types of beer should not form part of the Campaign's active advocacy of real ale ...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

An inspiring Rauchbier at Gordon Biersch in downtown Louisville.


On the topic of the Gordon Biersch restaurant/brewery outlet in downtown Louisville, I'll have more to say a bit later in the year, as my column in Food & Dining Magazine (3rd quarter, circa August) will profile it.

First, having been called upon to represent NABC in a "throwdown" evening at Biersch, with our Helles and theirs flowing at the same time, I had a wonderful time on Tuesday with beers, pizza and Nicholas Landers, who brews at Biersch.

Given my habit of antagonizing the peanut gallery with rote chants of "Death to Chains," there'll be an inevitable rejoinder alleging hypocrisy, or worse. But life isn't black and white, and localism is about principled shift -- and at Louisville's branch of Biersch, all the beers are brewed on site, and a greater degree of site-specific latitude than ever before is offered to Landers. I think his core portfolio of German-style lagers (and the occasional Teutonic ale) is delicious; meanwhile, he's doing an American-style Pale Ale and IPA.

In particular, if you like Rauchbier of the Spezial model, get over there now. Nick's made a fine version using Weyermann malt. There's a growler in the fridge as we speak, and it isn't expected to last very long.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

These requests from abroad, Vol. 12: From Munich, a young man seeking to break the bottle cap record.


If you own or work for a brewery, you've probably fielded numerous e-mail inquiries from overseas asking for beer labels, crown caps and the like, as destined to become the cherished keepsakes of private collectors from just about anywhere -- although it seems that most of them live somewhere around eastern and central Europe.

To me, there is something compelling and yet haunting about these foreign requests, places of longtime personal interest to me both historically and geographically. I've been in or near many of them. They speak vividly to my inner melancholic. Lately, I've been pasting their addresses into Google Map and seeing what their places of residence look like.

After all, they can look at my business via the same technology, and it seems only fair for me to see where they live, so very far away. Especially coming from European locales, these are images that speak powerfully to me, conjuring memories of places I've been, people I've met ... and beers I've consumed.

Say hello to Moritz, who is a resident of Munich, Germany.

It has been a decade since my last visit to Munich. Once upon a time, this would have been cause for concern, but I've been to Bamberg a few times since then, and it just goes to show how priorities change.


Moritz's residence appears to be the smudgy building in the center, which is located around eight miles from the center of town, to the northwest, just before the countryside begins. Quoted verbatim, you'll note something perhaps unusual about this request.

Dear Sir,

I am 15 years old and I am collecting bottle caps (crown caps) since four years.

Now my greatest wish is that my collection will be listed in the Guinness Book of Records. The world record is 175171 caps and therefore I am always looking for new caps to catch up and to break this record.

Therefore I would like to ask you to send me one of your bottle caps for my collection.

It would make me very happy if I could add a bottle cap of your company to my collection.

My address is: Moritz Bester, Lidelstrasse 3, D – 81245 M√ľnchen Germany

Thank you very much and kind regards

Moritz Bester

I returned Moritz's e-mail, informing him that alas, I could be of no help; NABC's bottle caps bear no logo or insignia. However, if anyone can give him a hand in his quest, please feel free.

Meanwhile, I'm not being flippant when I say: If I were to send him caps, would it constitute statutory breweriana?

After all, at this late date we're still plagued with many instance of Internet idiocy, wherein there must be an age verification process to read a web site about beer. I remember an episode many years ago when I was trying to access the Samuel Adams web site. Being slightly lubricated and butter-fingered, I managed to enter bad information and was blocked. Being me, I complained. Being them, a cyber-reply was forthcoming.

We understand that the age verification process may seem cumbersome. However, it is very important to us that we take every reasonable precaution to ensure that the only visitors to our site are those who can legally enjoy the great taste of a Samuel Adams beer. We take this responsibility very seriously, even to the extent that it may cause someone like you to become frustrated.

Not for the first time, I couldn’t resist the impulse to cast a line and see if there were humans somewhere on the other side.

Thanks for the template. Does this mean that we shouldn't allow children to study automobiles until they're old enough to drive? 

When it came, the reply was bureaucratic and humorless, so three cheers to censorship, to “reasonable precaution” in studying the history of fermentation science, and to those deep bows to the dictates of Puritanism that we feel like me must make.

Up the revolution ... and send Moritz some caps if you have some.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 1 … where it all began.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 1 … where it all began.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

“The Greek word for "return" is nostos. Algos means "suffering." So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”
― Milan Kundera, Ignorance

One May morning in 1985, a middle-class American youth from bucolic Floyd County, Indiana, stumbled greasy and sleepless into the arrivals hall of a foreign airport. Following the requisite passport, customs formalities and currency exchange, he endured a thoroughly confusing and memorable first day in Europe.

Thirty years have passed since that bewildering and exhilarating Luxembourg inaugural, and the nostalgia is palpable. My inaugural European sojourn was conceived and executed with a single-minded determination unknown to me at the time. It taught me to believe in myself, and it led to many, many more pilgrimages. There have been no regrets whatever.

During my first European summer, I commenced an overdue transition from populist local yokel to genuine “citizen of the world,” as the athlete Edwin Moses so eloquently phrased it during the otherwise jingoistic and embarrassing David Wolper Memorial Olympiad in Los Angeles in 1984.

---

Europe in 1985 was a life-altering epiphany, but in truth, even the most minor of ephemeral insights would have seemed huge given my indecisiveness and youthful lack of focus.

A university degree in philosophy made for witty repartee, but little else, and it seemed to me that career choices were for fools who never saw the sun rise after an evening spent closing every bar in town. Ten placid green acres with a split-level dream home, a riding lawnmower, little leaguers and a fridge filled with Old Milwaukee Light? That was philistinism, right?

At the age of 24, two part-time jobs were sufficient to pay my bills. They also provided a semblance of scheduling flexibility in the event of hangovers – as there always was enough beer money. Why else would a person work at a package store in the first place? But in truth, I wasn’t going anywhere.

Even worse, I knew it.

In 1983, I was asked by an area high school teacher to accompany him as a second chaperone on a student trip to Europe the following year. The price seemed reasonable at $1,600 for nine days, with airfare, hotels, bus and most meals included. I responded affirmatively.

A few months later, I was strolling past the travel section in the library when a title caught my eye: “Europe on $25 a Day,” by Arthur Frommer. As ever mathematically challenged, I shook my head with disbelief. Was it a misprint? Could it really be true? Skeptical, I checked out the book, took it home, poured a beer, and started reading. Eventually a pocket calculator was produced.

The earth fairly shook.

---

My fellow twenty-something males would have required the woman (or women) of their dreams running bikini-clad across a Florida beach during a sultry rainstorm to elicit anywhere near my response to Frommer’s book, in which clear and reasonable tips plainly illustrated how to do Europe right, and for far longer duration than a mere week.

My new writing hero insisted that travel could be educational, and offer a rare glimpse into different worlds. His advice on the nuts and bolts of budget travel technique was relentlessly informative, effortlessly evocative and consistently pragmatic.

Always think like a European traveler, not an American, and like a local, not a visitor.

Don’t expect things in a foreign country to be the same as home, and expect to pay more when they are.

Think, plan, and accept the available bargains.

Don’t eat every meal in a restaurant. Pack a salami, but a loaf of cheap crusty bread, and picnic.

Walk, ride the bus, rent a bike.

My brain was hard-wired for the humanities and history, and yet the comparative sums quickly became persuasive. At $25 per day, my $1,600 properly budgeted the Frommer way came out to 36 days, not nine. If I were to postpone the epic voyage for another year, leaving even more time to save money, the trip might last three months, not nine days.

For the next year and a half, my European travel obsession escalated, fed by a steady diet of travel books, magazine articles and PBS documentaries. Thomas Cook rail schedules were studied, and European history devoured with renewed zeal. Plans were jotted, expanded, revised, discarded, and brought back from the waste paper basket. I acquired a Pentax K-1000 camera and learned to use it, just barely.

By the spring of 1985, with departure nearing, a rough outline had settled into place.

---

There would be a round-trip flight on the then-cheapest Icelandair from Chicago to Luxembourg, returning 88 days after departure. Ground transport would be a three-month Eurailpass. Convinced that it would be my sole and only trip to Europe, a kamikaze itinerary was planned, incorporating nights on trains sleeping in seats, and crashed on the decks of boats. I studied every available trick to skim cash and expand the duration of my experience.

Then suddenly, the curtain finally rose.

There was a sleepless night on an eastbound flight, and before I knew it, a strange Luxembourg airport. Subsequently, theory yielded to practice. My well-ordered plan did not take into account greenness, timidity and stubbornness. The real work was just beginning.

The profusion of languages, local customs and currencies overwhelmed the senses. ATM barely existed, and the failure to note esoteric regional holidays and erratic hours kept by mom and pop shops led to foodless nights. There were missed connections, panicked fumbling and myriad disappointments.

There were times of panic, but I managed to keep moving. Despite the red-faced embarrassments, cheap hostels already booked, standing-room-only overnight train trips, pain in my arms from lugging a silly gym bag, fear of squat-only “toilets” in Turkey, forgetting a towel and using my only long-sleeved shirt to dry off, all of it managed to work out in the end. 88 days later, back again in Luxembourg for the westbound flight home, I could think of only one thing.

When’s next?

In the coming weeks during this 30th anniversary year, I’ll be describing the summer of 1985. At selected intervals, beer will factor into the narrative, although in retrospect, it must be conceded that I knew next to nothing about beer and brewing.

In all probability, that’s what made learning so much fun.