Dream trip Day 94 Tattoo festival, walking tour, the Hanging Bat

Another gloomy, overcast day in Scotland. Perfect for a walking tour!

Yet again, I was unable to charge my phone overnight in my room so I had to take a leisurely breakfast while it charged.

Today I just had some coffee, figuring that the Piemaker was just down the street, so  I should go there. Better quality food and a bit more affordable.

I got into a small talk with a local gal who also needed to charge her phone so we shared a table and outlet.

She was a nice Scottish lass, very talkative and friendly. Fringe Fest was her time in the city when she went out every night to catch a performance.

We talked awhile, me drinking coffee, her screwdrivers. She gave me a few hot spots to check out in the city, namely Princes Street Gardens and university area for free views.

I was given a list of shows not to be missed for the next couple days. She was less enthused when I suggested we check them out together.

“Oi, my boyfriend would not go for that. Neither would my girlfriend, ha!” She replied. “But you are cute, keep asking girls around here, you’ll be fine!” came the reply as she snatched up her phone.  Swing and a miss.

I’d located a walking tour that met in the city square not too far away. I should have time to get a pie and make it by meeting time.

For some reason, I see stairs as a personal challenge by architecture to me. It’s as if they are taunting me, trying to tell me there are too many steps up and I shouldn’t bother trying to ascend them.

Wrong again stairs, I win.

I was in luck again as the Piemaker had haggis rolls today so I was finally able to try haggis, a dish I’d heard of for years.

It wasn’t bad! It wasn’t good either. I wouldn’t turn it down if someone offered haggis to me, but I wouldn’t seek it out.

Haggis= all sheep organs chopped up with oats , onion and spices, then boiled in sheep’s stomach. Sounds great, eh!?

I also had a traditional English meat pie which was great. Reminded me of Salisbury steak wrapped up in a roll.

Now fortified, I made my way to a statue to start my walking tour. Always look for a free walking tour in any city you visit. They are always great and led by real people who live there.

My guy was a stout man, wearing a beard and kilt. He looked like he would’ve walked around with a sword too but it wasn’t socially acceptable anymore. Instead he carried a walking stick that was as tall as him.

A true renaissance man.

He had a booming voice and a tendency for using the joining statement, “nonetheless…” to unite his stories about the history of Edinburgh.

We paused for a while at a statue of David Hume, where people touch a toe for good luck which polished it compared to the dull green hue the rest of the statue had turned due to years of exposure to the elements.

Passing under an arch we were in a 4 story building’s courtyard. We then got a lesson in social standing in old Edinburgh. If you were working poor, you stayed on the bottom floor, due to the practice of people tossing their waste into the street, you got to smell that all day and night.

The very poor stayed in the attic, no heat, very little insulation from the elements.

The wealthy stayed in the middle floors, above the stench of the street.

Robbery, theft was fairly common in these days so builders would create an oddly placed stair that you only noticed going down, thus if you were trying to make a quick escape or just leaving, you may miss it and break a leg.

We did pass by the castle where we were informed that cannons were placed there for looks only, they never fired them back when the castle was in use. Queen Elizabeth I felt that a castle should have cannons so they added some.

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As we circled the castle there was a large line of people waiting to get into the stadium. It was the country’s tattoo festival.

Not that kind of tattoo, bagpipes. Groups of bagpipers from all over competed to be the best group in the land.

They take the term tattoo to refer to last call at pubs who took to playing a regiment’s corps of drum as a way to get soldiers back to their barracks at a reasonable hour.

In Dutch they would say doe den tap toe  (turn off the taps).  Try saying that pharse in english quickly, sorta sounds like tattoo.

We soon made our way to a cemetery where I learned that JK Rowling wrote about Harry Potter while living here. See would usually write in a coffee shop after strolling through this cemetary.

Many of the headstones were smooth due to age and erosion, but a couple had new headstones as Rowling borrowed some of the names from these headstones for characters in the book.

While she wrote these books in a particular coffee shop, one grew tired of being asked if they were the  coffee shop where Rowling wrote they put up a sign, “Rowling didn’t drink coffee and write here.” She actually did pop in for coffee there, saw the sign and promptly signed it, “And I never will,” and left.

Our tour ended in hangman’s square where we heard about the lady who was hanged but survived. Reading the letter of the law it only stated ‘hung by the neck,’ nothing about til death so she was a free lady and opened a pub overlooking that very square where she almost died. Soon after the law was changed, “hung by the neck until death.”

I’d done a spot of research about the craft beer scene in the city and other than BrewDog, there was a small microbrewery named, The Hanging Bat.

Very modern pub, pretty sure food was served on just thick, round cuts of wood, not plates.

Still they had some good beers here. I even recognized a couple guys who worked at BrewDog having pints.

It was around end of work day time so the pub filled in with nicely dressed people. I still didn’t miss work, not yet.

Exiting the now full pub, I was in search of reasonably priced food. The Bat did have food, but it seemed like small bites, appetizers.

Ah here we go, a potato shop. Looks to be a brick oven of foiled, baked potatoes. There must have been 30 toppings from haggis, chicken salad, to standard cheese, butter, chives.

I got a potato with an ungodly amount of cheese, he just threw a literal handful of cheese on it. He may have been working with the Scottish dairy industry.

It was good and I was able to chat up the owner who told me some cool facts about the city, country. He really loved Scotland. He said Glasgow and the highlands to the north were worth a trip.

Soon enough, I’d take him up on his offer by going west, to Glasgow.

On my walk home, I again was struck by how cold it was, especially as the sun went down. 50’s in August is quite unusual for a Texas boy and I couldn’t image a winter if that was the avg temp in the heat of summer.

I caught a couple performers on the walk back, and man, they really could vamp, promising an amazing trick, coming up soon, just need a few more people…

It was literally like sitting through a 10 min ad on YouTube for 20 seconds of content. I caught a fire breather show this night.

I was at my pub and tonight was their weekly pub crawl so it was very crowded. I was soon joined by some English kids at my table who were waiting to go on the crawl.

These types of things go on all the time and while they are usually great way to meet people, it was mainly an occassion to get black out drunk. Not my scene.

The organizers of the trip were setting up, one had a bottle and as each person was checked in, he poured a shot into their mouths. He had a spigot so it was a slow pour.

He soon came around to our table and got the English kids before asking me why I wasn’t going and I said it wasn’t my thing. He said I should at least have a shot, open wide!

I’m not sure what it was,  maybe grape vodka, but I recall it was purple liquid.

Soon the place was empty and I sat charging my phone, watching fubol.

This bar had big windows with shutters that were open this cool night. A guy yelled hey at me and motioned for me to join him outside.

We talked a bit, I had taken to carrying a lighter so I lit his cig. Soon he said we should go next door for 1 more pint, on him.

No sooner than he set foot into the door, the bartender said “Oi, out, out, out mate. We can’t keep doing this,” as he strode over ready to physically remove the guy who just turned and left mumbling under his breath.

I’m not sure what he did but he was banned from that pub. The bartender apologized, I said I had just met him and didn’t know his story.

I had a pint as they were calling for last drinks. The bartender recommended I come back in a couple nights, they had live, traditional music.

It was back to raining as I left the pub, at least I only had to go a couple doors down.

Another fine day in Edinburgh! Tomorrow was Arthur’s Seat.

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Beer: The Kernel Brewery  Table Beer

Song: Jesus and Mary Chain  Head On

Dream trip day 73 Walking tour, Jewish quarter, Texas flag encounter

Woke up to the sounds of rain and snoring. Another traveler had joined our room overnight.

Always bring earplugs and eye shades if you’re staying in a hostel. Someone will always, always, snore in your room and it will be way louder than you thought humanly possible.

These plugs also come in very handy at other times so be sure to either buy good ones or a lot of the disposable kinds and leave in your bag. Sometimes the front desk will have plugs so check there.

It was also my experience that my bed was directly in view of a window, and most hostels won’t spring for any type of shade, so unless you want to wake up at the literal crack of dawn, you’ll need eye shades. These will also aid with the inevitable occasion when your roommate comes in very late night and flips on the lights to see.

People are just pretty rude most of the time especially given the incredibly long travel times and early arrivals for budget travel.

Still raining after a shower so I researched a free walking tour of the city. It didn’t start for a few more hours so what to do?

I was on vacation and had spied a beer I’d heard about for a long time, but had never seen for sale in the US.

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Duffman haha! It wasn’t bad, made by a Dutch company if I recall correctly. It was nice, light lager.

After the beer, I felt it time to finally try the conical cinnamon roll pastry I’d seen people carrying since I arrived to town.

Skalický trdelník was the local name for this pastry. Dough is wrapped around a metal rod, cooked over coals, and finished with a cinnamon/crushed walnut mixture. You could also add ice cream, but it seemed pretty indulgent already.

It was good, tasted like a cinnamon roll. I unraveled it as I walked over to the stature in city centre to meet my free walking tour.

Red umbrellas are the thing to look for walking tours and then you’ll be directed to another person who takes your info down and give you a number.

Due to groups being over 100, they break them up into 2 groups of 50.

My group was lead by a guy born in Prague who was a history major with a psychology minor so he encouraged us to ask him quite literally anything about this city or existential crisis we may experience due to what we were seeing.

We began with the very dark history in the Jewish Quarter as most cities isolated or segregated Jews from the other parts of town for centuries. Remember, Europe was at one time ruled by the Catholic church who wasn’t a huge fan of any non-Catholics.

This made things a bit easier in the 1940’s sadly.

We saw a very old synagog then a few blocks over was a very tall Jewish cemetery.

The cemetery was centuries old and since it was the only place to be buried if you were Jewish, they had to stack graves on top of each other, creating a noticeable hill.

We then located an eerie statue dedicated to the Franz Kafka who was born and resided in the city until his death.

Oddly enough, he wasn’t published during his lifetime and as such directed his friend to burn his writings upon his death. Lucky for us all, his friend read everything and decided not to burn anything but publish them.

There are 2 Kafka statues in the city and we were at the one of a man in a top hat sitting on a creature’s shoulder, but it didn’t have a head, hands or feet.

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A short distance away we encountered the Old New Synagogue, which is the oldest active synagogue in use, dating back to the 12th century!

The legend is that a golem resides in the  attic and strangely, almost as if it were planned, the stairs no longer go all the way to the top.

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We soon took a break at a bar and encouraged to eat and have a pint.

I was safe from the rain due to umbrellas and overheard a guy being hired as a tour guide. Mainly his job was to encourage people to join this boat tour as his salary was totally based on the number of people he got on board.

His 2nd most important job was to be on time and stay sober.

Our tour ended at the State Opera house that was still in operation since the 1880’s.

Despite the sprinkling rain, I spied a familiar sight coming my way: the Texas flag! 20160802_172103.jpg

They walked too fast for me to find how what they were protesting, but it was a nice reminder of the homeland.

Deciding I was hungry, I popped into a small grocery store and picked up some items to make some pasta.

It was strange what you missed on the road and yes, cooking was one of those modern annoyances that I wanted to do again.

I thought it turned out well and my Italian friend even had a bowl I offered him.

He gave me a thumbs up, though I suspect it was due to the fact I didn’t drown my pasta in sauce like he thought I would.

He and his new girl of the week were going to the statue in the square area to drink some wine and people watch. I told him I was off to see a rock show.

This venue was downstairs and I was met by a rather surly door guy, well he may have just been Czech, hard to say.

The cover was around $6 which was entirely reasonable I felt.

The band was a 5 piece and all looked like pretty normal dudes, but the crowd was fanatically in love with them.

People danced alone, swayed, or sang along arm in arm with a friend the whole show.

One guy kept raising his glass quickly, spilling a bit all around him, but he never did get anyone else wet.

I was quite taken by a female dancer with a shaved head, suspenders and boots who danced front and center the whole show.  Oh she was so graceful!

She later retired to a table occupied by a chain smoking, long haired guy who she kissed.

Oh well, I doubt she spoke English. The band didn’t either so I have no idea what songs they played or how funny they were. Lots of laughing in between song banter.

I left quite happy with a ringing in my ears.

Staying on the street lead me back to the English pub where I’d seen karaoke a few days ago.

“Ah you came back!” said the Dutch bartender. “I thought we’d run you off!”

There were maybe 5 people here so we all sat outside as that’s what he wanted to do.

When I told him I had come from a Už Jsme Doma show everyone at the bar perked up and shouted.

“Oh man, wow. They are still playing! I played a show with them in the 90’s.” the bartender related to me.

A couple at another table told me they loved the band too and were happy I was able to see them.

“They are best Czech band, good experience for a tourist to the city.” one of them told me.

Alas the mood didn’t sustain as the bartender related how good his time in the band was compared to now.

Apparently they toured the UK and Europe and did well, but couldn’t sustain the lifestyle and broke up.

Now he seemed stuck in Prague with his girlfriend. I advised him Prague was a great, cheap city to be in. He didn’t disagree, but rent was due and he barely made it.

Apparently most nights were like this, not many people and he wasn’t paid much for his work.

I made sure to toss in a few koruna into his tip jar after he poured my final pint and we returned to our table.

He opened his beer with a very familiar opener that resembled a key. It was the same bottle opener from Boulevard Brewing in KC that I had on my key chain.

What are the chances?! Such random coincidences like this made me feel like I was on the correct path. I was again in the place I was supposed to be.

We shook hands as I left and wished me well. I returned the sentiments.

What a great day in Prague. You don’t win rain!

Song: Už Jsme Doma – Propast/Abbys

Beer: Pilsner Urquell

Dream trip day 60 Budapest communist tour, bridge beers

I’ve come to the point of my tour where I don’t want to spend money so instant coffee with sugar sounds like a great way to start the day, but really it isn’t. It’s like coffee flavored liquid, not much to it.

Plus you get so wired you have to walk it off.

Most of the hostels had brochures for tours of all types in all cities, from boats, busses, to walking tours.

The best were free walking tours, so you just gave the guide a tip when it was over.

I selected a free tour of communist Budapest, given by a local history student.

She had a small backpack, water container, short hair and hiking clothes. She was cute, especially with her light accent and super intelligent.

What’s shocking to me is Hungary was under communist rule in the 80’s. They’ve only been free for perhaps a generation.

The Soviets helped them fight the Nazis, but afterwards never left so the citizens didn’t choose to be communist, it was forced on them.

Travel was extremely limited even within Soviet countries via a lottery. Of course a whole family never all won, it was mother and daughter, brothers only, so escape wasn’t an option. They had party members with them, too, watching, listening.

The tour hit in some controversial landmarks to Soviet liberators and Hungarian Jews who died during the war as well as Soviet style apartments.
The Soviet memorial was deliberately located just outside the US embassy so that was always in their view.

The US put a Reagan statue up in sight of the Soviet one, as if he were overlooking their memorial. This is what countries do, just mess with each other inside a 3rd country.

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After learning so much about the city’s communist history I had to stop by Red Ruin again for a pint amongst all the propaganda posters.

Hardly anyone there so I was able to talk to the bartender. I’d tried all the local drafts so he showed me a couple bottle options.

I selected one that was trying to make American style beer, but was Czech. It was pretty hoppy.

The place soon filled up and I felt odd sitting alone at a long table so I left.

Once again I watched the skaters turn tricks by the river. Watched the party boats sail by, couples pausing to gaze in each other’s eyes or snap a sunset pic.

I walked back over the bridge but this time I encountered the German receptionist and another hostel worker. I decided to join them for my last beer.

We talked about where we were all from: Germany, Brazil and the US, what we missed about home, what we like about Hungary and where we were headed next.

I told them I was headed to Bratislava for a couple days as it was on the way to Vienna where I really wanted to see. I knew nothing about the city so why not go?

I waved goodbye after finishing my beer, now I really had to pee.

Turns out there was a pub next to the hostel but it closed early so I had missed it in the afternoons.

Ordered a pint and headed upstairs to the restroom which was odd, restrooms usually are down in the basement.

I sat at the bar and talked to the bartenders for a bit about the city. They both lived out of town so they didn’t have sightseeing tips for me.

I sat and watched a non pro soccer match then got another pint.

The bartenders are talking and laughing about something, I don’t know what as I don’t speak Hungarian.

Soon I grow tired, lots of walking and beers, plus sitting in silence yet again is frustrating. I wish we all had translator earpieces so we could talk to each other regardless of language.

It’s about the loneliest I’ve felt on the trip.

Beer: Zipfer Urtyp
Song: Strauss Blue Danube Waltz