Brewin’ up a Storm

Rebecca and I started brewing beer. Years ago (2012) I started brewing beer with my friend Alex. I gave it up when I moved to South Korea since my apartment was so small. However, since back to America, I started brewing beer again, and Rebecca was happy to join in.

 

It’s a lot easier to get into brewing beer now. I remember four years ago having to scavenge on Craigslist for equipment. This time around I just went on Amazon and found a basic kit from Northern Brewer for $99, including a recipe for a beer (~$40 value). Our first beer was the White House Honey Ale. We spent a Saturday morning and afternoon brewing the beer. Once the active steps were done, we transferred the beer to a carboy to ferment for the next 2 weeks. Extract beer brewing (the sort that you can buy all-in-one recipe kits for) is pretty easy to do. Essentially it’s some variation on:

  1. bring 2 gallons of water to a boil
  2. put grain (look like oatmeal) into a cheesecloth
  3. steep in boiling water
  4. add malt extract (looks like honey)
  5. stir, add hops
  6. add enough water to bring total size to 5 gallons
  7. leave to cool
  8. transfer to a big white bucket
  9. leave to sit for 2 weeks
  10. bottle it

It can become a lot more complicated than this, and it often is, for example, there are usually specific amounts of time for many of these steps. An IPA might require adding hops in 15-minute increments for an hour. Sometimes you may also let the beer ferment an additional two weeks with some additional ingredients added to it. This second two weeks is referred to as a secondary fermentation. Coffee beers or anything with fruit in the name usually means it had a secondary fermentation with coffee or fruit added to it.

Following that beer, we also made a brown ale, a grapefruit IPA, and a Saison. The grapefruit IPA won second place at a beer brewing competition in Ridgefield, CT. The competition was judged by 2 brewmasters from Two Roads Brewery in Connecticut. The second place finisher didn’t get a trophy, but Rebecca’s dad had a trophy made for us online, which was awesome!

Rebecca and I at the beer competition

Last Day in Iceland and First Day in AMERICA

Today was my last day in Iceland. I had a blast. Nicole and I got up and had some coffee at a little shop down the road. Supposedly it’s the best coffee in Iceland, and it was pretty delicious, but I honestly preferred the place we went on our first day. We packed our bags and set them by the door. We bought a few knickknacks for family members at a shop up the road and we went to a $40 volcano documentary.

$40 Volcano Movie?!

Why did we spend so much? A simple conversion error. When I bought our tickets at the downtown…..volcano store? I thought we were getting a heck of a deal, especially by Icelandic standards, two movies for $4? What a steal. It wasn’t until we sat down in the small 15 person theater that I realized we’d spent $40 on a 45 minute movie about volcanoes.

Touching all the rocks at the volcano museum
Touching all the rocks at the volcano museum

The volcano documentary wasn’t even that great. It was basically 3 different volcano videos edited together one after the other. I made a note to myself to one day retire and open a volcano documentary theater. After the documentary, Nicole and I walked around the small display cases of volcanic rocks and touched all of them, that’s right, all the rocks. By god, we were going to get our $40 worth. I also sent several photos of the museum to my sister, further enhancing the volcano experience for myself.

Lunch

After our volcanic mismanagement of vacation funds we got some delicious fish and chips, as we are wont to do. It was much less than the volcano movie and it came with a delicious IPA. The little fish and chips shop is right next to the volcano museum and located a mere block from the harbor. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.

Icelandic Fish and Chips
Icelandic Fish and Chips

The breading was light and flaky while the fish was fresh and flavorful. If you find yourself in Reykjavik and you’re hankering for some fish and chips, I highly recommend Icelandic Fish and Chips.

Coming to America…TODAY

Welcome to America
Welcome to America

Our three weeks of adventures through Iceland, Germany, and India were finally coming to an end. We’d had a blast, but we were ready to return to America and see our families. Nicole and I returned to our AirBnB and loaded our bags onto the shuttle bus to the airport. The flight was that evening and because of the time change we arrived in Boston, our first city in America, around the same time we left Iceland. My friend Adam picked Nicole and I up from the airport and we met up with his girlfriend for some delicious giant pizza in Somerville, MA.

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First meal in America, a giant pizza
First meal in America, a giant pizza

Day Three in Germany – Nymphenburg Palace and River Surfers

Nicole and I slept in until nearly 10am, which meant I got an absurd 12 hours of sleep. It was grand.  For breakfast we found an 8 euro brunch buffet across from our AirBnB. We loaded up on all kinds of breads, jams, and yogurts before realizing that the rest of the buffet was around the corner. Nicole was already full but I enjoyed some fine meats and cheeses from the newly discovered rest-of-the-buffet.

Breakfast Buffet in Munich
Breakfast Buffet in Munich

Palace Nymphenburg Our Return

After breakfast we returned to Schloss Nymphenburg, the palace near our AirBnB. The weather was agreeable and we enjoyed a walking tour of the palace and a leisurely stroll through the palace gardens behind it.

Nymphenburg Palace was the primary Summer residence of the Bavarian family. It was added onto several times during its few hundred year existence. The palace and palace grounds were neatly divided in several places by an elaborate system of canals. At one time, the canals connected Nymphenburg palace with the rest of greater Munich through these canals. The Bavarian royal family hired gondoliers from Venice to carry them through the canals in the city.

Marienplatz, Munich

After the Palace we returned to Marienplatz downtown, where we’d met our walking tour on the first day in Munich. Near to Marienplatz is a large outdoor food market called Viktualienmarkt. At the market you can get delicious meats, cheeses, wines, fruits and vegetables. We had a beer in the biergarten there and enjoyed a Leberkäs (frankfurt in loaf form) sandwich with a big piece of crackle. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Munich.

Biertour

After our snack, Nicole and I did a mini beer tour of the different Biergartens around Marienplatz. At the behest of our tour guide the first day, we visited the Augustiner biergarten next to the Frauenkirche. We also visited Andechser am Dom, at the suggestion of my friend Rob. Of those two, I would definitely recommend Andechser. It was perhaps the best beer I had in Munich. The beer is brewed just outside of Munich in a monastery. I wish we could have visited the actual brewery, its beside a lake, Ammersee, and supposedly a very nice day trip, alas, our time was short and a second day trip just wasn’t in the cards.

After our lazy afternoon, we went for a stroll through the Englischer Garten in Munich. It’s a large park within the city, similar to central park in that it has a little bit of everything in it. The park is massive and includes everything from surfing to Chinese towers. That’s right, surfing in the park. Along the Eisbach river that runs through the park, there are several places where artificial waves are formed and surfers can take turns surfing on these waves. Nicole and I stayed awhile and watched the surfers hop in, ride for a few minutes, then fall back and let another surfer take a turn.

Chinesischer Turm
Chinesischer Turm

We walked on through the park until we came to our second destination, a giant Chinese tower, called the Chinesischer Turm, or Chinese Tower in German, original I know. The tower is the central feature of a giant biergarten within the park. It’s one of Munich’s largest. Nicole and I tried some of the garten’s strong beer, or starkbier. It was sweet and delicious with a little bit of a bite to it from the higher ABV.  We also ordered some sausages and sauerkraut in the park. The sauerkraut ended up being some of the best we had in Germany.

This was the last full day we had in Munich and it was a great day at that. India was a fantastic experience, but it took some work and planning. It was really nice to visit Munich and just be able to relax. We were able to see a lot of sites, but at the same time, we could take our time and not worry about having to see “everything”.

 

Our first day in Munich, Germany – Beer and Pretzels

If India was an adventure, Germany was a vacation. After our late night/early morning plane from Adu Dhabi, Nicole and I took the commuter rail into central Munich and transferred to a subway that took us to our AirBnB for the next four days. Our host, Benjamin met us downstairs and let us into the apartment. The previous guests were still there and asleep as it was only 8am. Ben made us some coffee while we freshened up. It had been nearly 48 hours since either of us had bathed since the water ran out in India, and we were both very smelly I’m sure.

Nicole did not enjoy the train to the Munich AirBnB
Nicole did not enjoy the train to the Munich AirBnB

A nice shower, its the little things

After a year of living abroad in Korea with visits to Japan, Thailand, and India, I’d forgotten what it was like to take a shower with real water pressure. Everywhere we’d stayed over the past year, hotels and hostels included, had poor water pressure and I forgot what it was like to have a good shower with enough water pressure to really massage your back. Munich was my first fantastic shower in a year and I didn’t want to leave, but I wasn’t traveling around the world for its plumbing. I was here to see the sites and Munich was calling.

Marienplatz

 

After a quick shower and some coffee with our host we headed back into downtown Munich to take a free walking tour of the city. We met at the central plaza, or platz, Marienplatz. It’s the hub of Munich culture and where many of the cities sites and walking tours start.

On the tour we learned about the Michael Jackson memorial, a famous church in Munich, and had a visit to the Hofbrauhaus, one of Germany’s most famous beer halls. Its odd that the beer hall is so well known. Its not the oldest, its not the largest, and arguably, its beer is not the best. However, that being said, no visit to Munich is complete without a visit there. We each ordered a large stein of beer. I got a dark beer, or dunkel, and Nicole got a lighter beer, or helles. We split a giant pretzel and relaxed for a bit.

Nymphenburg Palace in the rain

After the walking tour we took a train to Nymphenburg Palace and attempted to visit it, but the rain prevented us from exploring the palace and gardens that day. Instead we hailed a cab from the palace and returned to our AirBnB for some rest. I intended to take a quick nap then get up and check out more of Munich but instead fell asleep around 7 and didn’t wake until the next day.

It was nice to be back in Europe. Three years ago I visited on a 3 month backpacking trip around the continent and really liked it. Returning with Nicole rekindled my fondness of Europe and Germany in particular. The city was so clean and compared to Korea and India, so quiet. There weren’t neon signs everywhere and every store downtown wasn’t blasting its own music to compete with stores around it. No one on the street was trying to sell me postcards, t-shirts, or to be my guide. The weather was nice too. It was a relief to be out of the Indian heat. The weather in Munich was cool and rainy.

Birthday Weekend in Seoul: Good Beers

Bus to Seoul for my birthday weekend

The month is November. Nicole and I are running ragged from too much work and not enough fun. Our bodies are ravaged by illness and runny noses, but hark! What is that in the distance? It’s December! The last month of the year and an oasis of vacations in an otherwise bleak desert of work weeks. Nicole and I eagerly look forward to Christmas and New Year’s, but first…

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December 1st, My Birthday in Seoul

December 1st, first day of the last month, and also my birthday. To celebrate, Nicole and I headed North to Seoul for a much needed vacation. Neither of us had visited Seoul since the Color Me Rad Weekend months before. Nicole and I left Gwangju Saturday morning via the bus terminal. We arrived in Seoul early in the afternoon and made our way to Itaewon, for some delicious sandwiches, Sam Adams, and Dr. Pepper. This might sound like an odd combination, but it comes with the territory. Korea only imports certain things and the selection seems pretty random. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts and Popeyes Chicken are everywhere, yet, there aren’t any McDonald’s in Gwangju.

[box type=”alert”]Disclaimer: I make a habit of eating mostly Korean food, with my trips to Seoul being the rare exception[/box]

Aloha from Itaewon

After sandwiches, Nicole took me to a bar called Praha in Itaewon. The bar serves a fantastic selection of beer including several of their own home-brews. Nicole and I enjoyed our beers and watched a selection of ironically, or possibly seriously, terrible music videos, including this gem…

Mail, Cookies, and Chili

After lunch, Nicole and I wandered around Itaewon in search of stamps. I had a lot of postcards from Japan that I had never got around to actually mailing. My quarter-century anniversary of being alive seemed an appropriate time as any to use the Korean Postal System.

Nicole and I managed to track down a little shop selling stamps and purchased 14 stamps to send postcards home to family and friends. On the way to the mail box, we also found a delicious cookie place called Ben’s Cookies and picked up some awesome cookies.

[box type=”info”]Ben’s Cookies was Nicole’s favorite cookie place in London.[/box]

After cookies and stamps we went to this shop called High Street Market that specializes in foreign food. They ship in foreign beer, cheese, meats, Kraft macaroni & cheese, and a plethora of other hard to come by foods. I bought some vegetarian chili and Nicole and I bought two Rogue beers to share.

Looking for Lodging

Nicole and I tried to find a place to stay in Itaewon that night, we wandered up and down the main street and stopped in a few hotels. Itaewon has a few western-style hotels, but, as Nicole and  I found out, they also come with western-style prices. We decided to return to the hostel we stay at every time we visit Seoul, but to our dismay the hostel was booked. Many foreigners visit Seoul (and specifically Itaewon) on their weekends to indulge in their western guilty pleasures of good beer and delicious tacos.

Richard’s Copycat Diner

Richard's Copy Cat DinerDejectedly, Nicole and I decided we would get a hotel in a different part of Seoul, but not before satisfying Nicole’s appetite for western diner food. There’s a place in Itwaewon called Richard’s Copycat Diner. It was created by a Korean chef who visited New York and fell in love with a particular diner. When he moved back to Korea, he opened up a restaurant with an identical menu and called it Richard’s Copycat Diner. We walked over to the restaurant and stopped in for a bite to eat only to realize that it was closed for the next two weeks for remodeling. The entire restaurant was under construction and the door was left unlocked. Nicole and I took a peek inside and walked around. It looked like a nice place. I unfortunately slipped in some wet cement and may have left a footprint in the cement. If you visit Richard’s Copycat Diner and find a mysterious footprint, it probably belongs to me.

[box type=”alert”]Disclaimer: If you are in fact Richard or his Copycat Diner, I did not slip in the cement and that must be some other handsome foreigner’s footprint.[/box]

Indian Food and Insa-Dong

One would think that being without a place to stay AND finding out that your potentially favorite restaurant was closed would leave us crushed, however, we persevered. I remembered Mary and Joseph were turned down by every Inn in Bethlehem and they ended up giving birth to a baby Jesus. Since Nicole and I were turned down by every hotel in Itaewon, perhaps something miraculous would happen to us. As long as it didn’t involve giving birth to a savior, I was on board.

Nicole and I had a nice little Indian meal instead, consisting of curry and delicious Naan bread. After dinner, we caught a subway over to Sinsa-dong. Sinsa-dong is known for its trendy shops and restaurants as well as its overabundant selection of love motels. It’s a popular destination for young Korean couples. Our subway car only had couples in it aside from one girl with a cake, about which I told Nicole, “Oh, that girl has a lover and his name is Cake.”

love motel in seoul with pool

In Sinsa-dong, Nicole and I stopped at a few love motels and were turned away at each one. With all this hotel rejection, I was certain we were going to give birth to a baby Jesus at any moment. Bizarrely enough, the hotels kept telling us that they were full and that we should come back in two hours. Apparently people rent out their hotel rooms to guests for a few hours for parties…or other things. Some of the rooms even come with private pools and bowling alleys. Although we couldn’t find one on this particular trip, I know what we’ll be doing on our next trip to a love motel in Seoul…bowling!

Ninjas, Beer, and Shooting

Nicole and I bided our time in the park nearby enjoying our Rogue beers like homeless people until out of nowhere a dozen ninjas ran into the park… or maybe they were just Korean teens, dressed in black, practicing parkour…. either way it was the perfect way to enjoy a park at night.

poop keychain birthday weekendAfter we checked in, the two of us headed out to Hongdae to enjoy fine beers. For my birthday, Nicole found the best bars in Seoul and luckily they were nearby. Before we made it to our first stop, we found an old-school shooting gallery off a side street. Nicole and I got pretty good at that shooting game, like, potential assassins good. Nicole even won a free poop keychain. That’s right, a keychain stuffed animal of poop.

After the shooting range we stopped into Oktoberfest, a neat little German beer hall in the basement of a nondescript building. It reminded me of the Hofbrau Haus in Germany and my Europe trip. While the place wasn’t an exact reproduction of the famed Hofbrau Haus, because there were no pretzels and everyone was Korean, it was pretty close. Nicole and I each got a beer. I got the Dunkel and she got the Hefeweizen in classic Austin and Nicole fashion.

At the front of the beer hall was a waiting area where Nicole and I noticed a man passed out sitting on the couch. We’d become used to seeing sights like this in Korea. It’s not unusual to see people stumbling down the road at odd hours of the night or day, clearly drunk. I don’t see it as much in my neighborhood, but it’s more common in Nicole’s neighborhood.

praha castle in seoul

After Oktoberfest, we checked out Castle Praha, the sister bar to Praha in Itaewon. The entire building inside and out looks like a medieval castle. Walking inside feels like being transported into Europe. The beer was delicious, the atmosphere was enchanting, and there were no drunks passed out in the lobby.

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Guilty Pleasures

delicious crunchwrap supremeAfter Castle Praha, we stopped to get my favorite guilty pleasure in Korea. Please don’t judge me too harshly for this, but there are certain stupidly silly things that living in Korea causes me to miss. One such thing is the Crunchwrap Supreme from Taco Bell. I’m told there are only 3 Taco Bells in Korea, and all of them are in Seoul. Every time we have traveled to Seoul, I have eaten a Crunchwrap Supreme, and I plan to uphold that tradition well into the future.

This was a great first day of my birthday weekend. Nicole did an awesome job planning a great weekend and it was only halfway over. The next day we visited…Lotte World!!