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Another Trip. Another Beer. Another Stamp. Part 1

Just what the title of this post implies, Kit and I went on our 9th trip so far this year. The destinations this time? The beautiful and lush landscapes of Cleveland, Ohio and Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Maybe Cleveland wasn’t as beautiful or as lush as Bora Bora, but maybe just as interesting.

I didn’t actually accomplish any list items during the trip per se. What I did do though is work closer to my goals of filling up my passport and having a beer in every state. And both places are interesting enough to merit their own postings. So, here is part 1. My travel guide to Cleveland.

Cleveland ROCKS!!!!… Kinda.


Driving through Pennsylvania on a major highway is a test of one’s ability to cope with an insane amount of utter boredom. The scenery, rest stops and almost endless amounts of exits defy all that is great about road trips. Go ahead and picture yourself and your closest friends out on the open road, listening to great music, the wind in your hair. Picture the endless fun you and your friends are having on this road trip.

I can almost guarantee interstate 80 was not part of your idea about what a fun road trip is. But it’s not interstate 80′s fault. It’s not even the good people of Pennsylvania’s fault. It’s not even your fault. I blame the monotonous drive on truckers. Maybe not truckers so much, but the corporations that need trucks and roads to get products quickly to other places.

Kit and I spent the entire trip out to Ohio looking for the worlds’ largest ball of twine, or the worlds’ largest ham sandwich. Or any other horrible roadside tourist trap. But, they don’t exist on I-80. Nothing but Pilot truck stops or nothingness that is rural Pennsylvania. Our dreams of experiencing the wonder that is a piece of toast with the image of Jesus next to the petrified forest will have to wait til the next road trip.

Arriving in Ohio was nothing short of exhilarating compared to Pennsylvania. A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view. Even though at first glance it looks remarkably similar to Pennsylvania’s landscape, Ohio has a 65 mph speed limit and encourages slower traffic to get the hell out-of-the-way of faster and more manly speeding cars.

After 11 hours of driving and a few close calls of running out of gas trying to find a rural towns one and only gas station (BTW Newton Falls, Ohio is a nice town. Build another gas station please. One that is not 13 miles away from the highway. Thank you, Danny.) we arrived safely and exhausted in Cleveland’s downtown district only to find out the Cleveland Indians had just finished a game and had told all of their fans in attendance to leave at the same time as we were driving down Prospect street. Thank you very much members of the tribe! That’s why Jack Parkman was happy when he was traded to the White Sox.*

I know many of you are wondering what exactly is there to do in The Cleve. Well, according to tripadvisor.com, aside from visiting a museum or taking a small tour around the city not much. Well, not much compared to other big city like Sandusky, or Kalamazoo. But, a glimmer of hope is found when you learn that the same house that was used in the filming of  “A Christmas Story” still exist and is in fact a museum in present day Cleveland. So, that’s what we did. We went on a tour of the Christmas Story house.

And by pure luck, we visited the same time Ian Petrella was on hand to answer all of our Christmas story questions. (I know, I had no idea who Ian Petrella was either. He played Randy in the film. I would have much rather have met Ralphie, but an out of work actor gotta eat right? The highlight of the tour for me was about half way through “Randy’s” speech about working on the set of A Christmas story an elderly women stood up said,”ok, that’s enough” and walked away. The look on “Randy’s ” face was priceless, the look on the rest of tour groups face was even better and the look of embarrassment on the faces of the family members she was with was über-priceless.

The tour is definitely worth it. It’s cheaper than the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, which is a rip-off and visiting the house in the morning and then spending your afternoon in the Great Lakes science center is a fun-filled day for the entire family.

What I wanted to know about Cleveland was what’s the drinking scene like? Is it boring? Is it awesome? Will I meet some celebrity? What will the discoteca be like? Creepy? sleazy? Babe-o-licious?

Yes.

The drinking scene in The Cleve is a lot like the drinking scene around most of the country and maybe the world. It is what you make it out to be. If you like your drinks served in a dark neighborhood bar where no one is going to bother you, The Map room is the place for you. If you are a 20 something year old Romanian club rat and enjoy getting hit on by men 3 times your age wearing 6 times more perfume than yourself, The Velvet Dog is your oasis.

Kit and I partook in both scene. It’s worth it to step out of your own comfort zone every once and awhile even if it’s for some quick people watching in the latter bar.

This was my attempt at recreating a school portrait shot.

Highlights of the trip:

Christmas story house.

Meeting Greg Proops (Very nice guy, even after me badgering him for 20 minutes to admit/agree that Drew Carey ruined “Who’s Line is it Anyway”)**

Watching no less than 15 guys take turns hitting on the same 2 girls seated next to us in The velvet dog.

Meeting a few new friends out on the road. (Ola we promise we will send you the pictures of yourself and Greg. Luke I promise I will mail you the rugby shirt I stole.)

So, Cleveland might not rock as hard as some may thing, and the heart of rock and roll might not be beating as strongly as Huey Lewis might like you to think, but for all its worth, Cleveland is a chill city with some down to earth party people. Worth the trip.

*It’s a Major league 2 reference. Sadly that movie and all its baseball players are all I can tell you about a Cleveland sports team.

** Greg is too nice of a guy to even admit Wayne Brady sucks.

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September 4, 2010   No Comments

The Pub crawl continues…

This past weekend Kit and I have added Delaware, D.C. and Virginia to the ever-growing list of states we have drunk in. I know D.C. isn’t a state but it makes up for how much Delaware sucks.

Sorry Delaware…

(Author’s note. I am not actually sorry. Delaware really does suck.)

Click Here for the link for all the drinking pictures and my beer map.

I’m also excited to announce that I will not be posting The Traveling Duck’s vacation photos here anymore. Kit has decided that Duck deserves his own blog and she is working on one as we speak. Stay tuned for updates on that.

On to the actual post…

The problem with the Travel Channel

I will start by saying I do enjoy watching the Travel Channel, I watch it often and I even Tivo-ed a few shows. Aside from a few great shows that the Travel Channel actually have, a lot of the shows on it are just plain crap.  Boring filler. Which seem written by the tourism office PR agent. No real content  or honest opinions, basically televised hotel brochure crap.

But, Thats not the real problem with the Travel Channel. Nope, I don’t care if the Travel Channel try to pass tourist propaganda as real television. Nope, I take all the 100 greatest hotels or the top 10 best restaurants shows with a large grain of salt.   The problem is when the Travel Channel feature a real special local spot on their shows.

Anytime a restaurant is given a considerable amount of  airtime or is given rave reviews by the likes of Samantha Brown or Anthony Bourdain, the chance of ever experiencing why they liked the places is lost.

Example, When Anthony Bourdain was shooting in Baltimore. He was taken by a real Baltimore native to Chaps’ Pit beef. A rough place that serves some great pit beef. The charm of this place, was that it was rough. It’s not in the greatest neighborhood, in fact the place is located in the parking lot of strip club. Fast forward a few months after Bourdain’s visit and the place is now packed with tourist. The line generally extending out the door. No more room for junkies or drug dealers, just your typical family of four visiting from Nebraska.

Looking at it from the point that the place is now cleaned up a bit might seem like a good thing, but that’s what made it fun. Judges and junkies sitting together enjoying good food. This was a place that real locals enjoyed. The food was good, and cheap. I didn’t need to be super nice and safe, it just needed to serve good food.

The same thing happened to Mexico’s sleepy beach villages and the majority of the Caribbean islands. Every guide-book wrote about the serenity of these places. The empty beaches, the small family owned restaurants. So, what happened? People flocked to those destinations… and with them came the super resorts, chain restaurants and commercialism. They lost their original appeal.

In all honesty, the only reason I’m writing this is because I really wanted a half smoked with chile at Ben’s Chili bowl, and the line was just way too long to wait. I am just as guilty as any other tourist but whatever, get the hell out of my way so I can eat.

So, please next time you travel please do not visit the following restaurants…

Ben’s Chili Bowl (DC)

Lombardi’s Pizza (NYC)

Chap’s Pit beef (Baltimore)

The Lazy Gecko (Key west)

Holla Batar (Reykjavík)

Just stay away from these restaurants… I’m hungry.

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April 6, 2010   2 Comments

A Saturday In Spain

I am a tourist. No matter how much I try to live up to the standard of what a traveler should be, deep down inside I enjoy being a tourist, sometimes. Walking down the road with camera in hand or stepping into the same souvenir shops over and over trying to find the perfect price on a tacky plastic lizard is fun. Sometimes. Granted, I have some traveler tendencies that I am proud of, like doing small loads of laundry even on short trips or packing very little in the first place. Or asking locals where is the best spot to find good food, rather than take Lonely planets’ word as gospel.

So, when it came to Kit and I’s latest getaway, there was certainly a mix of both the tourist and the traveler in us both. But, this isn’t a post about our whole trip. This is a post about the most organic and most satisfying experience I have had on a trip thus far in all our travels.

What is ironic about this particular Saturday in Spain is, even though Kit and I share many of the same ideas of what a fun trip is, On this particular Saturday, our opinions differed so distinctly that it even brought Kit to tears. Before you assume that I had made Kit cry, in this situation, it was not my fault. This Saturday that I write about was the last straw for Kit. Everything that we had planned or carefully researched prior to our trip had dissolved into a mess. Any time we made plans for the early morning, we wouldn’t wake up until noon. Anytime we got hungry, our appetites would go unsettled because the kitchen would be closed. It seemed as if the moons’ of Venus, just where not going to align for us.

Barcelona, would not be reaching Kit’s top five destinations anytime soon. And I could absolutely understand her frustrations. In all fairness to her, we have had an unprecedented easy time traveling. We rarely had problems with airlines, we were always happy with our hotel choices. We had always found food that was edible and generally good. Aside from a slight detour during our flight to Bermuda and the subsequent argument about said detour at the airport with the ticket agent. Our travel record was just about spotless.

For this trip which was pretty routine as far as distant and exotic destination goes. For everything to fall apart must have been incredibly hard for her. This is where are most core philosophes differ. In all fairness to Kit, she is as laid back as I think women come. And I love her for this. Nonetheless, even her laid back (for a women) attitude to obstacles can’t compare to my laid-backness. Especially when it comes to plans falling through.

The day started out like most others during the trip, meaning I was slightly hung over and tired. The plan for the day was to wake up relatively early and head to Tibidabo. A mountain that surrounds Barcelona to the north. On top of Tibidabo is an amusement park and a church (no relation). Aside from a grueling Mt. Everest type trek to the summit of this mountain, the only practical way to get to the top is to take a slow ride up, on a cable car. Not unlike the ones found in San Francisco, except for the blue paint job.

We waited patiently in line for over an hour. Once we boarded we paid the 8€ fee for 2 round trip tickets. Leaving me with only 2€ or 3€ left in real cash. Blame it on our cashless society we live in, but I rarely carry cash on me. Anyway, the ride was very scenic and to our surprise very short for the distance we should have covered. When we were let off of the cable car we looked around the empty lot and realized that we were only about half way up the mountain. Confused, we followed the crowd and stood in another line next to a small building. Not knowing exactly what we were standing in line for. We stood there waiting for everything to become clear.

And then everything became clear…

The cable car was only part of the journey to the top. Now, we needed to hop on the funicular to reach the park and church. Not a big deal, if… You had more than 3€ in your pocket. When it was our turn to buy our tickets at the ticket booth, three stickers on the glass sealed our fate.

They read:

Cash. No Visa. No ATM.

Damn it!

In my best Spanish I asked the attendant where the closest ATM was. Her confused expression led me to believe that my best Spanish is no where near good Spanish. We left the ticket line, defeated but determined to find an ATM. This is the 21st century, how could an there not be an ATM on every corner? We asked a waiter in the restaurant across the street the same question. He told me that the closest bank was on the cable car’s last stop. HEY! I know where that is! That’s where we started! And that’s where we stood in line for an incredibly long time! I could have easily had gotten money while we were down there, at the ATM that was across the street from the very spot that I had stood in! They say hind-sight is 20/20. Well, fuck them.

Back to the cable car, which at this point had lost its charm due to our change in mood. We headed back down the road. We found an ATM and after getting a very decent amount of money (for added security), we started walking back over to the line when we realized that it was now a little after 2 in the afternoon and the park closes around 4. The line was at least a half hour to an hour-long and the last funicular down the mountain was around 5pm. How badly did we want to go? We pondered this question for at least 10 minutes.

I turned to Kit and said, ” Screw it, I don’t feel like walking anymore. Do you just wanna get a cup of coffee or a drink at a café?” Kit’s reply was less than enthusiastic but she agreed. Poor kid, she really does like roller coasters. We hopped on a bus that we hoped would bring us in the direction we wanted to go.

The main square that we got dropped off in front of, was alive with people. Some locals going about their daily business, but mostly tourist. Then there was us. Myself, walking towards a general direction of coffee and chairs and Kit, silently growing more and more frustrated with our vacation. Now, I love roller coasters as much as the next guy. And Yes, I was disappointed that we were, because of bad planning unable to partake in the fun of a roller coaster. But still, I had not to this point felt the disappointment that Kit must have felt. When I looked over at her, she had started to tear up.

After being assured repeatedly by Kit that she is not crying because of my recent purchase of a cigar, we found a small outdoor café were we could sit down, relax and drink coffee and tea. Or so we thought. apparently we had found the ONLY café in Barcelona, that does not, in fact, serve coffee or tea. I understand that false advertisement sometimes is necessary in this competitive economy, but if your establishment takes its name from a drink, you should, in regards to good business, probably go ahead and serve that drink!

Nonetheless, we are flexible people, a beer and a glass of sangria will just have to do. After a few sips from my beer and lighting my cigar, the mood began to turn. Within a second, gone was the resentment towards the funicular operation for not accepting credit cards. Gone was the annoyed feelings towards this “Cafe” for not serving coffee. Gone were the frustrations of a week’s worth of plans not materializing.

Sipping on my beer and slowly drawing smoke from my cigar had transformed Barcelona from a crowded and hectic city, into an obtainable neighborhood. Watching the people walk by,  the huge bubbles produced by grimy looking teenagers, helped calm my feelings. Out of no where I had found my peace within Barcelona.  Looking across the table seeing Kit take pictures of Ducky drinking sangria with a smile on her face, lead me to believe I wasn’t the only person whose mood had been changed.

We left our seats and started our search for food. (And here is the first of my travel tips) If you are ever looking for really good food, follow the police. The job of a police officer inherently keeps them from brown bagging lunch. And the police like most people in the world, enjoy eating. So, they eat out. They eat out a lot. Follow them. Eat what they eat, police are the most local of the locals in my opinion. They know the best and worst of where they patrol and that opinion goes a long way. We followed a group of about 6 officers into a small crowed restaurant that was offering a very inexpensive lunch menu. And I am so glad that we did.

The restaurant was intimate and lively, slightly smokey but no were near as bad as some of the other restaurant we had been to in Spain. If you pictured a café in Paris this is what this restaurant looked like. Exposed brick walls, an open kitchen, lots of wine. From our table we had a good view of the entire eatery and it’s patrons. For me, nothing is more entertaining than people watching. And our table neighbors were incredibly entertaining group of drunk and passionate men. Screaming to each other about the finer points of infidelity.

I’m very American the way I eat. I want my food now! I look at food as a necessity not a leisurely activity. I want to get a meal over with so I can move on with my life. I generally eat fast. But the slow service and huge amount of food had forced me to take this meal slow. And the waitress was S-L-O-W even by Spanish standards. But I really got a chance to  appreciate the company of Kit and a good glass of wine. Two hours later we finally had finished lunch. TWO HOURS! The only time it takes me two hours to eat lunch is when I try to sneak out of doing my shift duties at work.

Full and relaxed with the help of wine we strolled on to the expansive square in front of the Cathedral. Which is the site of the Sardana. The Sardana is a traditional dance of the people of Catalonia . A small ensemble of musicians provide the dramatic music for the dancers. The dancers (just regular local people , not professionals) place their personal property in a community pile in the center of circle. At first a small circle with only a few other people, but as the night progresses more and more Catalonians join hand in hand, and the circle grows. Even with the massive amount of tourists walking through the square, rudely shoving their cameras into the faces of the locals, they continue to dance, kicking their feet and jumping in unison. In the time of globalization, for a community to come together and do as they have done, preserving their own culture is very respectable. And the music wasn’t half bad either.

The rest of the night found us walking through a Bohemian neighborhood of Barcelona. Sampling the local beer.We walked into a bar which was incredibly smokey even by firefighting standards, and Kit and I wandered through it to find an area with any form of ventilation. When we reached a back room with a large heavy curtain, a young man came out and offered us entry into the dark room. Confused I asked him exactly what we were getting invited into. (My second travel tip: I have come to learn throughout my life of wandering around that when a stranger invites you into a dark room, find out what you are walking into. You never know when you are going to walk right into an underground sex club… Which isn’t a bad thing per say, but you should at least, be mentally prepared for it. )

It was not a sex club that we got invited into, but a small concert. Music provided by a local band. Kit and I stood in the back taking in the surprisingly fresh air and funky sounds. Looking around, you could see young hipsters bobbing their heads collectively with the music. This was a fine punctuation for our night.

Of course it wasn’t though. It was just a comma. Two blocks away from our hotel we decided to sit for one more drink at a bar we had found the night before. Next to us was a short, blond man drinking a mojito. I’m not one to judge anyone on their drink of choice, but a mojito is, generally speaking a pretty bold choice when it comes to a drink to drink. After he offered a plate of meat to us, he insisted that we join him in his consumption of more mojitos. I have always been taught never to turn down an offer for a free drink. So, we accepted. They were pretty damn good mojitos too! Aside from his questionable drink choices, he was actually a very nice and funny guy. A Danish expat, with a Cuban wife (the mojitos make sense now right?) who was out celebrating landing a very important job. A job that would allow him to provide a better life for his wife and three children in Barcelona. We discussed the finer points of life with him over a hotdog and some more beer. Finally, after four in the morning, we said good night.

It’s hard for me to explain why that day stands out as my favorite day out of all of our trips. I think it stems from the fact that when we finally gave up on trying to see Barcelona, we finally got to experience Barcelona. And that I think is one of the biggest mistake that tourist make when they go on vacation. Their days are filled with itineraries and preconceived notions of what a destination must be, rather than just letting it unfold naturally.

And this is exactly the experience I was looking for when I started to travel. The so-called “authentic” experience. Even though I didn’t get anything crossed off the list while we were in Spain or Switzerland, I feel that I had accomplished a life’s goal. One that was too abstract to write in the list. It wouldn’t have been real if, number 36 on my list was to have an authentic experience in Spain. How would you ever be able to measure that?   I guess there are just going to be things on my list that I can never try to pursue, they just need to happen.

Vale!

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March 30, 2010   9 Comments