Category Archives: Travel

I Can See It In My Dreams

I had never been to New Orleans before the flood.  My deepest emotional connection to the city has always been Tom Waits’ brilliant ballad, I Wish I Was In New Orleans, which is the song used in the montage above.  I had know particular opinion of the place, except that I wasn’t much interested in the notorious debauchery of Mardi Gras, and I suspect a lot of exaggeration in terms of the seedy, dark side of the city that so many writers have so enthusiastically given their verbiage to.

My good friend Andy, who gave birth to the Do They All Die? series on here, has been living down there for the past year, aiding in the rebuilding project.  It’s hard work, what he’s doing there.  Work that burns out a lot of the people who try to do it.  Andy has signed on for a second year of rebuilding.  We’re proud of him up here in the northeast corridor. He’s been encouraging me to come and visit him in New Orleans all year.  Before that, he spent four years trying to get me visit him in Toronto.  Which I never did.  He called a few weeks ago and explained that he was coming to Philly, and I could hitch a ride down with him, splitting the cost of gas, and then I only needed to pay for a plane ticket back.  I agreed.

We left two Sundays ago, on August 10th.  The plan was to drive to Pittsburgh, spending the night at our friend Jess’ place.  On Monday, we’d drive to Tennessee, having dinner with an acquaintance of Andy’s, and spending the night.  On Tuesday, we’d get into New Orleans.  I’d fly back to Philadelphia at dawn the following Sunday, giving me roughly four and one-half days in the Crescent City.  The plan went off pretty smoothly on Day 1.  I met up with Andy a bit later than hoped, but we made good time to the ‘Burgh.  Jess took the two of to a friend’s birthday party, for free food and drinks.  Andy and I are dazzlingly charming fellows, and somehow, both Jess and the birthday girl, Sarah, were talked into joining us on the trip.  We thought as late as Monday morning that they weren’t coming, and, then, they bought plane tickets.  We decided we were now running late and twice as populated, and thus too much of a burden on some stranger in Tennessee who I can only imagine as being achingly beautiful.  We elected to drive straight from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, a 1200 or so mile drive, getting into town around dawn.

TC, Sarah, Andy, and Jess.

TC, Sarah, Andy, and Jess.

That’s us there, sometime early on Tuesday, probably somewhere in Tennessee or Alabama, two states in which we spent a lot of time.  Upon arriving, we met up with Maura, Andy’s better half, who made us pancakes as she and her roommate Caitlin prepared to eat their weight in ice cream, later that day.

Maura on the left, Caitlin on the right.  There were no survivors.

Maura on the left, Caitlin on the right. There were no survivors.

During the day we slept and took it easy.  That night, however, we went to the Maple Leaf, for Rebirth.

Andy had been talking about the Rebirth Brass Band for a while to me, and I was excited.  But to talk about Rebirth to people who haven’t seen it is like trying to explain the Sun to owls.  Rebirth Brass Band are eight or so black men.  They’re dressed like they belong in amateur rap videos.  Flatbilled, crooked hats, wifebeaters, jeans.  The Maple Leaf is dark, but they’re younger than you’d expect a 25 year old band to be.  The youngest members are probably in their 20s, and the oldest are, perhaps, in their 50s.  In the back of the stage stand the drummers, two of them, I believe, and the sousaphoner (sousaphonist?  sousaphone player?).  The front of the stage is all brass.  A couple of trombones, a sax, and a lot of trumpets.  Anyone in the front row may sing, apparently, but singing isn’t really the point of Rebirth.

Rebirth is shockingly loud, for starters.  Our ears rang all the next day.  At times, if you stand close to the stage, the volume is so extraordinary my ears couldn’t handle it, I heard the horns like they were coming through blown speakers.  They are, in fact, unignorable.

They are demanding, as well.  Tuesday nights at the Maple Leaf allow no room for dissenters, for the indifferent, for the analytical or critical.  You go, you hear, you dance, and there is nothing else, anywhere.  You are with us, or you are someplace else.  They’re a tradition with all the passion and energy of a revolution.  They’re beautiful like fire.

The next day we awoke slowly.  It was raining, and our plans involved a bit of a tour of the city, so we had nowhere we needed to be.  The tour is a strange thing.  Of course, New Orleans, as a city, post-Katrina, is a strange thing.

New Orleans has a remarkable and distinct identity, geographically and architecturally.  It gets hot, but, at least during the week I was there, the heat was bearable.  As so many have said before, however, it’s not the heat, but the humidity that gets you.  In and around the Bayou, the humidity is so fierce that every time I stepped from an air conditioned building or car, my glasses fogged.  The humidity means it also rains, at least a little bit, just about every day.  The drainage system in New Orleans is absurd.  The rain water falls into a drain, from which is it pumped into the nearby Lake Ponchartrain.  When Katrina hit, Ponchartrain flooded, and the water in New Orleans had nowhere to go.  That, of course, was just one of the problems that others have thoroughly documented.  Anytime a hard rain lasts longer than about 30 minutes in New Orleans, the roads start to flood.

Of course the roads deserve a brief mention.  New Orleans roads might as well be unpaved.  They’re Third World rugged.  They have cracks, bumps, potholes, sinkholes, the works.  Near Andy’s house is a road where the pavement goes up.  Like a reverse-pothole.  You can’t avoid it.  And it’s only about a foot or so tall.

In some ways, New Orleans is like a European city.  It’s not nearly as densely populated, of course.  And not nearly as old as Amsterdam or Paris or London.  But the buildings follow adhere to a style that you don’t really find anywhere else.  And the city gives the impression that these buildings have always been here.  There was never any wild swampland, any plains or forests.  There have always been these brightly colored little shotgun houses, with their ornate column and draperies and shutters, live oaks sprawling above and beside them.

Beyond that sense, the houses themselves are something to behold.  They are, nearly every last one, ornate.  Pictured below here is the Wedding Cake House, as it’s known, on St Charles Street.  The house is immaculate, and its perfect whiteness is, really, the most significant separating feature.  The rest of the New Orleans architecture is similar, albeit, usually smaller, but still with the columns and rails and the rest.  The difference is a certain amount of decay.  Sometimes the paint is chipping.  Sometimes a house almost appears to be leaning.  Some houses are painted so garishly brightly, the owner must be some kind of clown, and yet, the house fits in perfectly.  New Orleans buildings are drunks in tuxedos.  A little bit of mud on the shoes, the tophat is the top punched through, a little stubble on the chin.  Huge trees line every main street in the city, and hanging from some of them, still, are beaded necklaces from February’s Mardi Gras parades.

The city satires respectability, that old-fashioned southern aristocracy is New Orleans favorite joke.

The Wedding Cake House

The Wedding Cake House

The parody that is New Orleans architecture.

The parody that is New Orleans architecture.

We took the tour of the destroyed areas of town, which, of course, is what most people back home have been curious to hear about.  So, how is New Orleans, after the storm?  Odd.  A lot of the buildings still have visible waterlines.  In general, the visible waterline is somewhat lower than where the water peaked, as during the storm the water would reach its height, then sink, resting a few feet below the high watermark, and staying at this second line for days or weeks.  So, if you see a watermark five feet high, the water probably reached seven or eight feet.  Many houses still have the spraypainted messages from rescue workers, signaling that a house had been investigated, and what had been found there.  Perhaps no message is more famous or haunting than this one, with 1 Dead in Attic spraypainted on the front of the house.  The resident climbed into his attic to wait out the storm.  When the water rose into it, he couldn’t get out, he drowned.  There are a lot of houses with messages, though, all over the city, but especially in the 8th and 9th wards.  Most are somewhat more abstruse than the bluntness that is 1 Dead in Attic, however.

The Lower 9th Ward has gotten a lot of press, and justifiably.  But it’s hard to explain what it’s like to be there.  There is nothing.  There’s not enough left to even get a good sense of what was destroyed.  All that remains of the Lower 9th are the foundations.  There are few battered houses, signs of rubble, all that.  I remember being in New York after 9/11, and seeing the stunningly large pile of rubble, broken glass and steel and concrete, and being shocked.  Seeing the Lower 9th isn’t like that.  You could drive by it and not realize that there had once been hundreds, thousands of houses there.  There was total destruction.  Utter.  All that remains is grass.  There are a few rebuilt houses there.  A few of them are even occupied now.  And I can only imagine it’s bizarre and even terrifying at times to live within the city limits, with hardly another soul within a mile of you most nights.

New Orleans is unique.  It’s a stunningly poorly run city.  Remarkably corrupt.  Irrepressibly infuriating.  It’s also beautiful.  Dynamic.  It’s alive in a way that few cities can be.  Strangers on the street say hello.  Your next door neighbor is probably dealing drugs, but he’s quiet and friendly as anyone you’ll meet.  There are jazz bands everywhere–at the clubs, on the streets, at the midnight bowling alley.  I could live there, I think.  After all, I live in Philadelphia, so I already have an affinity for flawed, great, American cities.

Post-script:  On Wednesday night, Jess, Sarah, Andy and I were joined by our new friend David, where we went to a bar known as Snake and Jake’s Christmas Lounge.  The place opens up around 9PM, and stays open till the bartenders feel like shutting down.  This is the kind of place that can’t exist just anywhere.  The picture below is what the place looks like during the day.  At night, it’s almost entirely invisible, except that wreath is lit up.  They’ve got Schlitz for $1.50 and the other beer is, I think, $2.  The bathroom has no door.  While I still feel a little dirty from the place, I’m glad such dark, joyful places exist in the world.

Dive Mecca.

Snake and Jakes Christmas Lounge: Dive Mecca.

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Where You See Lions?: A Closing

 

The memory of Kenya is all I have left. I remember the overwhelmingly green hills and mud rivers. I remember the crowds of children in high-pitched nasally voices yelling “How are you? How are you?” over and over at me. I remember getting stuck in African rain, mud clinging to the back of my legs, waiting for the rain to let up shivering under a banana thatched matatu stop. I remember the old mamas dancing and singing me down the road, grasping my hands, and asking me to return again one day.

The situation of Africa currently is dire. It’s not only the fault of corrupt governments or environmental disasters or inadequate international aid or deteriorating infrastructure or endemic disease or any number of other causes. Africa is in a dire situation because all of these causes feed and intertwine with one another to delay or eliminate positive effects. I am not suggesting that Africa will forever be subject to persistent poverty, disease, and death. I am suggesting, however, that the international community in conjunction with African political, community, and tribal leaders must act now and quickly to avert or prevent future disasters.

Currently, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) there are unspeakable acts of violence going on destroyed psychologically from the 1994 genocide have been carrying out crimes against humanity in eastern DRC. Rape and brutality are becoming everyday occurrences for the people of villages and communities. Although there are 17,000 UN peacekeeping forces currently in the region, the DRC is close to the size of Western Europe and the third largest country in Africa. Peacekeeping is an uphill battle, and those living in these communities are running out of time.

In the horn of Africa as of today, there is a drought effecting millions of lives. Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania among others are directly impacted by this environmental disaster in the making. Somalia is already fragile enough that a highly disruptive event such as a drought could send the country into a downward spiral fostering terrorism, war, and death. Somalia will not be able to weather this drought without sustaining international emergency aid and continuing grants and loans afterward to reestablish the economy.

I love Kenya. I love Africa. But there are problems on the continent that are beyond their resources. I am looking forward to returning as soon as possible to Kakamega. If not there at least to a new place in Africa. The beauty, the sadness, and the resilience of the people of Africa is astounding.

To end Where You See Lions? I’d like to share a few excerpts of my journal during the summer.

July 10th, 2007

“Yesterday, I went to Khayega with Bridget, Janet, and Ana to take a look at a program that CARD (Janet’s organization) holds every Saturday. It’s free VCT services (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) for HIV/AIDS. Each councellor meets with people for between forty-five minutes and an hour to speak of life style habits, high risk activities, etc. in a confidential setting.

I think it’s amazing the way it’s set up. There is a comprehensive evaluation and counseling before a person learns their HIV status. Additionally, they have a DJ playing music and theater groups performing in order to make it more inviting. Honestly, it’s a fantastic program.”

July 13th, 2007

“Last night, I fell asleep pretty peacefully until about 11:30pm. I wake up feeling something in my hair. Naturally, I freak out a little, fuss at my hair, feel around in the dark. I don’t feel anything so I lie back don. Then something (a roach) climbs on the top of me and bites my hip. I scream horribly and wake up Judith. I hate those roaches.”

July 20th, 2007

“After my first month in Africa, I can confidently say two things. I don’t understand Africa. I understand why people love Africa. I have only been to Kenya, but it is the kind of place that I could be happy. There is terrible corruption, roads are atrocious, disease is ubiquitous, and money is scarce. At the same time, family is essential, money is secondary, and community comes first. ”

August 3rd, 2007

“Mayowa and I saw it was going to rain so we grabbed bodas and headed back to Azare. Well, wouldn’t you know that half way there, it started to pour and my boda wouldn’t continue. The roads are awful in Matioli so I can understand why. But after fifteen minutes, I decided to walk the final mile to Azare. It was hateful. I was soaking wet and muddy when I arrived. I saw Mayowa shivering in the rain and sat next to him.

We waited two hours for a matatu but none came. The roads were too bad and the rain did not let up. So we called a taxi to get us. The taxi took another hour at which time two matatus came by. However, they preceeded to get stuck in the mud one by one. So when the taxi came, I was happy to my way down the hazardous road to Shibuli. When I arrived home, I was wet, muddy and cranky. But I was home.

The following day, I wake up at 5:45 am to get to Milimani. I spoke to Janet, and she was telling me that I had to get there by myself. Okay, no big deal.

I get a matatu out past Lubao and deal with an hour trip of being hit on by some older guy who wanted a green card in the U.S. I switch matatus at Junction and go to Turbo silently screaming the whole time because honestly, I have no idea where I’m going.”

August 10th, 2007

Paulina, mtoto mzuri, Paulina kiba
Paulina, mtoto mzuri, Paulina kiba

Habu cheza qua maringo tukuonae kiba
Habu cheza qua maringo tukuonae kiba

Eba chikicha chikicha eba (Repeat)

August 19th, 2007

“I am in Uganda overlooking the source of the Nile. I am tired, beat up, and my skin hurts. But I am absolutely happy right now.”

August 21st, 2007

“I am currently at the end of my final theater workshop in Butere. I thought this was going to be difficult. Now, I could do this lecture with my eyes closed. In addition, I am beginning to memorize the Shakespeare by heart, which is nice…

I really like the Butere CBO. Maybe the reason they are so good is because of Zablon. Maybe not. But they work hard, they’re fun to be with, and I enjoy teaching this group. I hope that I’ve actually made an impact.”

August 26th, 2007

“It was both how I imagined it and how I couldn’t have imagined it. Kibera was further than anything I have ever personally experienced. It was very difficult to imagine daily life there even with it in front of me.”

August 28th, 2007

“I am definitely excited to be in Amsterdam. Another country to add to my map. I’d like to go to Vietnam, Iceland, Ghana, and Senegal. Those are my top destinations now.

The guy next to me just pulled out a laptop in at the train station. I am millions of miles away from Kenya.”

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Dutch Beer, Part 3: Take Home

 

Going into the trip, I knew very little about actual Dutch beer.  Other than Heineken and Grolsch, I was unfamiliar with actual Nederlander breweries.  The one Dutch beer I was familiar enough with was La Trappe, the only Trappist beer brewed outside of Belgium, which is brewed (I believe) in Koningshoeven, in the southern part of Holland.  I did know, however, that Holland is ever so close to Belgium, where they have more breweries than people, it seems like.  While there are a lot of Belgian beers available in the US, I anticipated being able to acquire some beers unavailable (or extraordinarily expensive) at home.  Most prized on this list were the Trappist beers of the Westvleteren monastary, visible above.

A quick tutorial on Trappist beers (if you know about the Trappists, feel free to skip this italicized section).  Trappists beers are beers brewed by monks.  Not just any monks, mind you–there are hundreds of monastaries all over the world which contain breweries.  The Trappists are Benedictine monks of a special order.  There are 171 Trappist monastaries, worldwide, and only seven of which produce beer.  LaTrappe is the only Dutch Trappist brewery.  The six Belgian breweries are Chimay, Achel, Rochefort, Orval, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. 

All of these beers are available in the United States, though they are expensive.  All of the monastaries export their beers and allow distributors worldwide to sell the beer.  Westvleteren, uniquely, only brews, and sells, enough beer to support their monastary.  As a result, the beer is hard to get, as if it’s bought anywhere but at the monastary, the beer is being sold without the permission of the monks.  That said, you can get a six-pack of the stuff on eBay for about $60, plus an extra $45 for shipping and handling.  Yikes.

I knew of two beer distributors in Amsterdam, both with excellent reputations.  The first is De Bierkoning, or The Beer King.  I found it in a lousy little Amsterdam tourist guide, which reported over 800 beers, sold in bottles.  The internet tells me that Bierkoning sold Westvleteren, so I knew I’d be able to come home with something.  The second distributor is The Cracked Kettle, though I cannot recall the Dutch for the name.  The Cracked Kettle, by reputation, had a lesser selection than the Beer King, but the staff was friendlier and more helpful.

Our experience?  Pretty much the same.  We ventured to the Cracked Kettle during one of our first afternoons in Amsterdam, and met the Scot who runs the place.  Very friendly, and enthusiastic about beer.  We talked about what was available to us in the US, and what wasn’t, as well as what he had, that we couldn’t get.  We told him that we just wanted to scope the place out, so we had an idea what we could get here, so we could come back before we left to get all the bottles we wanted.  When we came back, a few days later, the Scotsman was gone, and in his place was a similarly enthusiastic beer guide.  This time, a Dutchman.  Both gave us honest answers to our questions, with equally honest assesments of any beer we happened to be looking at.  We never got the sense we were “being sold”, but we found more interesting beers to buy while we were there. 

The Beer King, meanwhile, had a larger selection, true to their word.  However, in all the time we spent in there, we were not spoken to by anyone, except the clerk who rang us up.  Of course, the clerk did a fine job of puffing up our egos (“Wow, you guys know your beer.”), but still, the experience wasn’t nearly as pleasant as The Cracked Kettle. 

As to our haul, here are two pictures of the beers we brought from Amsterdam.  Between the two pictures, you can see just about every bottle, and fear not, we’ll give you a little bit of a run down. 

Picture Number One:

 

Picture Number Two:

 

The contents are as follows:

4 Westvletern 12 – The bottle without a label, but with a Gold Cap is the Westvletern 12.  It’s a quadrupel, so it’s probably sweet, and it’s certainly high in alcohol content.  We’ll let it sit for a few months, and then give it a try.  Try to let as much of the sugar disappear as possible. 

4 Westvleteren 8 – The bottle is just like the Westvleteren 12, but with a Blue Cap.  The Beer is a dubbel, which is similar to the quadrupel, albeit lower in alcohol and not as sweet.  A more immediately drinkable beer.

4 Westvleteren Blonde – Same kind of bottles again, label-free, and these are the bottles with the Green Caps.  They’re not a blonde ale the way Leffe Blonde is, but rather, just a pale ale.  A session beer, almost, at 5.8% alcohol. 

The bottles with the diamond shaped labels are the IJ Brewery beers: Natte, Zatte, Columbus, Y-wit, Plzn, and Struis.  There are 7 total IJ bottles. 

Almost in the middle of Picture Number Two, and barely visible in Number One, are two bottles of Nieuw Ligt Grand Cru.  It is, apparently, a barley wine.  The bottle informs that the beer will be perfect in 2010 for drinking, though the beer is, apparently, delicious at the stroke of 2008. 

Between the Nieuw Light and the Westvleteren are two bottles of Silly Saison.  This beer comes from the French speaking part of Belgium, and is pronounced like the letter “C” and not the word that means humourous or goofy. 

The white labeled beer thrust between a couple of IJ Bottles is Oesterstout, pronounced Oyster-stout.  The beer is filtered through oyster-shells, but according the the friend Dutchman who recommended it, there are no oysters to be tasted.  I’m confident the beer will be tasty, as the same brewer makes Zeezuiper, a very tasty tripel. 

The final beer, which is easily visible in Picture Number One, and almost out of Picture Number Two, is Narke Kaggen! Stormaktspater Porter.  This beer is brewed by just a couple of people in a small town (small city?) in Sweden.  It’s a very, very rare beer which a very high reputation, and I was not expecting to find it in Amsterdam.  That said, I’m absolutely delighted to have it two bottles of it (two of the last 3 bottles in all of Amsterdam), eagerly awaiting my consumption. 

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Dutch Beer, Part 2: Bars

 

As is the case in most touristy places, the bars of Amsterdam running along fairly common themes:

  • Overpriced, generic “Irish” pub.  Serves Guiness, and maybe Harps.  Employs no actual Irish people.  Generally has TV with some kind of sports on it.
  • Even more common generic “Dutch” bars.  I put Dutch in quotation marks because these bars are genuine Dutch the way the Great American Pub epitomizes Americana.  These bars serve either Heineken or Grolsch, and are usually overcrowded with tourists who want to be drunk AND high.
  • Neighborhood bars.  Might get some tourists on the weekend, but they’re not a hotspot–no big lights and all that.  Usually with a small selection of drinks and snacks, and the staff frequently knows the customers by name.
  • Good bars.  Usually harder to find, to avoid the average tourist.  Good atmosphere, good beer selection, possible some decent snack food.

Mrs Thursday and I ventured into these Irish pubs on two occasions.  Once, while trying to kill 45 minutes before dinner, we ventured into a “Temple bar”, which I’m told is a chain of Irish pubs.  Anyway, the music was terrible, generic pop shit, the beers were overpriced (5 Euro for a Guinness?  Seriously?), and the bathroom was dark, and had what I’m guessing was piss on the floor.  The second was O’Reilly Pub near Dam Square (a highly touristy area), which we came to strictly to watch the Liverpool-Derby game on Saturday afternoon.  The service there was terrible, but the beer and food were tolerable, and we had a good view of the multiple screens.  Furthermore, at the moment of kickoff, the music in the bar is shutoff, and the game is piped in through the loudspeakers.  Wonderful stuff.

Generic Dutch bars… I’m not sure if we ended up in any of these.  Maybe to use the bathroom?  Maybe, briefly, to kill time for something?  None of them were memorable, if we did go to one. 

Neighborhood bars.  Our hotel bar was such a place (the Hemple Temple Bar).  It was tiny–the bar itself had enough room for about a half-dozen people.  Friendly staff, generally.  They had a decent array of your basic liquors, as well as Heineken, Hoegaarden, and Leffe beers.  A bar down the street from us, Oosterling, which had an ENORMOUS selection of liquors, and mostly Brand beers, was a similar place. 

As for good bars, we found three–two of them at the recommendation of the same Scotsmen from the Cracked Kettle who sent us searching for the IJ Brewery.  The first we visited, Cafe Gollem, is located just across the alley from The Cracked Kettle. 

Cafe Gollem is small.  The bar holds about a dozen people.  The cafe has a sort of split-level arrangement, so there are a few cramped tables for more drinkers about 4 steps up.  The place has a dark, smoky atmosphere, and it’s really not ideal if you prefer some privacy and fresh air.  The beer selection is vast, as chalkboards on three walls fail to capture the entirely of their stock.  When we were there, we had a female bartender who was kind enough and very knowledgeable.  The bar also has a cat (black, for you superstitious types), who was friendly enough to come and sit in my lap as Mrs Thursday and I enjoyed our tripels. 

The second fantastic bar we found is The Wildeman.  To be fair, we didn’t spend a lot of time there–people were tired and grumpy, and I, for one, didn’t give the place a fair shake.  The beer selection is similar to Cafe Gollem’s in legendary size, and the interior appears to be more spacious.  There’s a room for non-smokers, as well, though when were there, there was no one sitting in it.  We spent our time in the few outdoor seats, sipping our Trappist beers (Rochefort for me, La Trappe for the Mrs), and watching the hoardes of people passing through the (apparently highly trafficked) alley.  If we were in better spirits, I imagine we would have had a wonderful time. 

The third and final bar, my favorite, is the Arendsnest.  Unlike the Wildeman and Gollem, which have large selections of world beers with an obvious emphasis and the Belgian brews, Arendsnest has a large selection of almost exclusive Dutch brews.  Mrs Thursday and I went there our last night in Amsterdam, and found the place comfy and cozy and quiet, with a friendly bartender, and a wonderful beer selection.  At least, the recommendations we got from the bartender were excellent (we both tried the Czaar Peter, an outstanding imperial porter, and also Zeezuiper, a delightful tripel).  The place has soft, bright light, and a high ceiling, so it doesn’t get too smoky in there.  With Belgians being so widely hailed, it was fun to explore some of the beer of the Netherlands a little more thoroughly.  Highly, highly recommended. 

The next installment will address Amsterdam’s two best (and perhaps only) specialty beer distributors, as well as what beers Mrs Thursday and I have brought home to add to our “cellar”. 

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Dutch Beer, Part 1: The IJ Brewery

 

What you see above is the Gooyer Windmill.  Underneath it sits the IJ Brewery.  It’s almost picturesque, isn’t it?  A wonderful little brewpub sitting underneath a nearly 200 year old windmill, in Holland?  Well, beyond the excellent beer (which we’ll get to in a moment), I’d just like to take some time to explain the trouble Mrs Thursday and I went to trying to find this place. 

Here is a map of Amsterdam

Now, if you on the little arrow to make the big sidebar disappear, you should have a decent sized map of Amsterdam and the surrounding area.  You see where it says “Amsterdam” all nice and big?  Just above that you should see a little box that reads “s103”.  That’s Central Station, where our journey begins.  We were given some very vague, and uncertain instructions from the fascinating Scot who runs The Cracked Kettle on how to reach the brewery.  We were told a tram to take, and he pointed on a map where it was.  We assumed that we’d be able to see the giant wooden windmill from the tram, and we’d just get off at the next stop upon seeing we the windmill.  We know the windmill was west of the city, but we weren’t sure where. 

So the next day we get on tram number twenty-something, headed west, and I’m looking left, Mrs Thursday is looking right, and we’re both giddy with anticipation to try the new beers.  Several stops go by, and no windmill.  It’s only about half past noon (don’t judge us, we’re on vacation), so we’re not worried.  We pass over a bridge or two and through a tunnel.  Still nothing.  We’re in a large industrial park kind of area, with lots of concrete and general greyness (unlike most of Amsterdam, which is brick and colorful).  Eventually, we come to the end of the line, just the two of us on the tram, and the conductor cheerfully kicks of off the tram.  Still, we’re feeling pretty good, and we figure we’ll just walk back the way we came, and ask someone where the windmill is.  It can’t be far. 

Look at that map again.  On the far right side of your screen, you should see the words “Haveneiland-West”.  Zoom in on that a bit.  Adjust your map so you can see all of it.  That’s an island called Ijburg.  Or maybe IJburg.  Regardless, our final stop dropped us at the far end of this island.  From there we walked and walked and walked, back the way we came.  About halfway up the island, we stopped in a bookstore and asked a kindly, middle-aged bookkeeper about where the IJ Brewery or the Gooyer Windmill were.  She said, “A windmill?  On Ijburg?  There are no windmills on Ijburg!”.  We were saddened, realizing that we had missed our stop long, long ago.

So we continued walking, reaching what the map calls Steigereiland.  There we find a gas station, and we buy water and ask for directions.  The teller there, thankfully, knows the brewery, and gives us instructions.  Through the tunnel, and hang a left.  Naturally, we go through the tunnel, somehow miss our left, overshoot the next one by a longshot, back track a whole bunch, and we find our windmill. So, to recap, we went from our hotel to Central Station, to the end of IJburg, all by tram.  We then walked from the end of IJburg to Kattenburgstraat, and all the way around to the brewery.  After 3.5 hours of walking, we came upon the windmill, as seen 600 words above here.

View Larger Map

Naturally, just outside the brewery, we find another tram that goes DIRECTLY to our hotel.  Damn. 

Anyway, onto the beer, and the pub. 

The pub has a few long tables outside, though there weren’t any chairs available for these.  Inside, the bar is fairly long, and manned by a very cheerful middle-aged Dutchman, and a younger Dutch lady.  There are no stools or seating of any kind between the open doorway and the bar, which is lovely, as it makes it easier to get to the bar and get a drink.  On the far end of the bar there are a few stools, and a number of small tables for patrons to drink and smoke and enjoy themselves.  I am genuinely a big fan of their basic, but practical setup. 

As with most European bars, IJ serves the bare minimum, food-wise.  They offer a plate of cheese (Gouda, obviously) and meat (dry salami), and give some delicious spice to go with it.  Mrs Thursday and I bought the spice before we left Amsterdam, but neither of us can find it in our bags (tears and sadness).  It’s a tasty snack, and it goes well with the beers.

While there, we had three beers each: the Y-wit, the Columbus, and the Natte.  I believe there should be some dots about the “a” in Natte, but I don’t know how to do that, and I’m not looking it up.  Let’s address them one at a time, in brief:

Y-wit

The Y-wit came highly recommended to us by the Scot at the Cracked Kettle, who knows his beer much better than he knows his public transit systems.  It’s a wheat beer, but what makes it immediately, and obviously distinct is it’s high alcohol content, for the style (7%).  The beer has the natural wheat haze, though it’s a good deal less cloudy than most of its wheat-brethren.  The beer smells very sweet, with a lot of orange scent–almost the way oranges can smell when they’re freshly squeezed, pulp and all. 

The beer tastes, well, really good.  The sweetness and tang we know and love about wheat beers is right there, of course, but the high alcohol content brings out a sort of spicy, warming, peppery flavor that is usually faint, or non-existent in such beers.  Very unusual beer, and all by itself, it was worth the visit. 

Columbus

The Columbus is a, well, I can’t remember what kind of beer the Columbus is supposed to be.  It’s another hazy beer, with a lot of orange in the color, almost like a pumpkin.  The beer has a wonderful, white, thick foam, that laces the glass as it settles.  Just looking at it, and knowing the alcohol content (9%), I’d guess it’s a tripel, but it doesn’t quite have the same taste.  Of course, Y-wit doesn’t taste like your everyday wheat beer, so this could be a tripel, or it could just be the ambiguous “Belgian Pale Ale”, which is a blanket term for basically any lighter colored beer with a high alcohol content. 

Anyway, the Columbus has a distinctly sour smell.  I used to be very putoff by sour scented beers, but over the course of this summer, I’ve come to appreciate a little tart in the nose.  The beer tastes almost fruity when it hits your lips, but tastes very dry by the time you swallow it.  Lots of flavors mixing it up in there, but well balanced, and very mellow.  On one sip, you may taste honey, on the next, perhaps some malt, or some pepper.  The alcohol is almost entirely undetectable.

Natte

This beer is a dubble, and unlike the last two beers, everything about it seems to indicate the style.  It’s a dark brown color, with a little bit of a muddy red tint.  The alcohol content is, again, fairly high, this time 6.5%.  The beer smells sweet, like chocolate and maybe something else.  Cherries? 

The beer’s sweetness definitely remains in the taste, this time the cherry-sweetness coming to the forefront, and the chocolate fading a bit.   Not nearly as exciting as the other two beers, but very tasty all the same. 

To Sum Up

A wonderful little brewery in Amsterdam, and worth looking for, for certain.  We were happy to bring home a few bottles of the beer, though if the internet doesn’t like, the beer loses a lot as it goes into the bottles–alas.  Certainly, the draft offerings at the pub are fantastic, and, without trying their bottles, I’d definitely recommend trying out the Y-wit and the Columbus, if you ever get the chance. 

Next, we cover the bars.

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Dutch Beer, Intro

This is the first of the posts that were meant for yesterday. 

Mrs Thursday and I found ourselves in Amsterdam for a week not because either of us had a lifelong desire to visit the place, but rather out of convenience.  The Missus had spent the two months previous living in rural western Kenya, and all flights from Nairobi’s international airport to the east coast of the US must pass through Europe.  The most common stops were London and Amsterdam. 

Now, long flights are taxing, but two long flights, with only a brief respite of a layover in a busy airport is simply miserable.  So the decision was made.  Mrs Thursday would book her flight from Europe to America to come a week after her flight from Nairobi to Europe, and meanwhile, I would meet her wherever she was. 

Amsterdam was the chosen layover/vacation point simply because it was cheaper than Germany, and because I had already been to London. 

Using a (crappy) book and the internet to find things to do, I learned there’s really only one thing notable about Amsterdam: legalized drugs.  Now, neither Mrs Thursday nor I are much for toking.  We both sort’ve assumed that, with marijuana being legal and mostly accepted, we’d probably smoke a bit, but there’s no way we could occupy a week with smoking up and heading for the Van Gogh Museum over and over again. 

So, I turned to beloved beer.  The only Dutch beer I was familiar with, before the trip, was Heineken.  Contrary to what both self-help writer Paul, and Mrs Thursday’s mother have to say about the subject, Heineken is equally (or at least comparably) disgusting in and out of Holland.  Furthermore, for anyone actually interested in beer, the “Heineken Experience” is a waste of time and money. 

So, I looked for some listed beer retailers and good bars, figuring I could find some good Belgian beers, if all the Dutch drank was Heineken.  I found, in fact, 2 retailers, 3 bars, and one little brewpub.  Sometime soon, I’ll produce a few notes on the two retailers (The Cracked Kettle and The Beer King), each one of the bars (The Gollem, The Wildeman, and The Arendsnest), and on Amsterdam’s marvelous little brewpub (The IJ Brewery), as well as what spoils the Mrs and I were able to bring back home to enjoy this winter. 

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Where You See Lions 4: Who’s Nostradamus?

The predictability of the weather in Western Province has proved an unexpected but welcome addition to my trip. I know that everyday at 4pm it will start to rain. I know that everyday at noon is will be dry and hot outside. I know every night will be cloudy (except for those rare, clear, and stunning nights without light pollution). This consistency can be charming and infuriating. I know everyday when I am trying to get a matatu home, it will be raining. But I also know to bring a raincoat in the mornings. It’s an interesting mix of both.

In contrast, the people of this country are not nearly so reliably predictable. Last week, I managed two workshops at two different locations near Kakamega. The locations were Burkura and Lugari (click on the map on the right–Kakamega, Lugari nad Burkura are circled). The workshops were concerning theater and microfinance. However, the reactions, experiences, and evaluation couldn’t have been different.

Burkura is a small town up a steep hill about 20kms outside of Kakamega town. Luckily, it’s only about 5kms from the village I am living, Shibuli. Nevertheless, it takes a good two hours to travel up the bumpy, treacherous and frequently cattle-prone road that leads to Burkura. In order to reach the Community Based Organization (CBO), which is not located in Burkura but in a smaller village called Matioli (which I’d like to point out was not related to me that first time I went to see the CBO) you must take another matatu and then a boda boda. The scenery is beautiful and on a clear day, you can see Mount Elgon from up there.

Nevertheless, what I discovered in Burkura are youth groups desperate for information and motivated to put acquired knowledge into action. They read Shakespeare with vigor, wrote plays with enthusiasm, and participated as often as possible. The Burkura CBO became a model, to me, for how Kenyan CBOs should behave. If nothing else, the fact that the people were friendly definitely helped.

However, Burkura has a merciless side to it as well. On the final day of the workshops, as I quickly tried to patch up loose ends, it started to rain. And it didn’t stop. Because the roads in Kenya are unsurprisingly dilapidated, paved roads are difficult to maneuver in the rain. A dirt road is nearly impossible. So when my bodaboda decided to stop a mile away from the matatu stop, I had to press on with the other volunteer and wait for three hours in the rain for a matatu. So it goes in Kenya. (We called a cab).

The following day, I went out to Lugari. Lugari is much farther away from Kakamega (about 30 miles), and it took five hours to get there. Unfortunately, the trip should only take three so I was late. Lugari was a disappointment on every level that Burkura was pleasure. The participants were immature, the director was only concerned with getting his hands on some muzungu money, and African Time took new levels of tardiness.

(Now, African Time deserves a moment of explanation.  Obviously, this refers to the way people observe time in Africa. If you plan a meeting for 9am, people begin to arrive at 10am. You should be able to start the meeting at 11pm. You will receive your final stragglers arriving around 1pm, when you’re trying to leave.)

Now, these two experiences should have not been too different. I had the same number of participants from the same organization with the same workshop. But this is how it goes in Kenya, Sometimes things work fabulously and sometimes they fabulously fall apart. This is not an indictment of one CBO and accolades for another, but simply an example that, here, things never work the way you think they will. People are unpredictable; fortunately, the weather is not.

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