Monday, March 31, 2014

Touching Down in Munich

In real time (as of this writing) we are fresh off a wonderful trip to the Continent, our first jaunt off the Emerald Isle since making the big move. We visited two of the most beautiful, historic, and bucket-listy cities in Europe- Munich, Germany and Prague, Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia). As always, our Travel Monday Posts will cover in words and photos our whole adventure.

Our first destination was Munich, Germany. On travel day, we got up VERY early, took the Aircoach airport service, with swanky, convenient, and reasonably-priced service from our front door to Dublin Airport. The flight was a quick hop, and we arrived in the late morning to Munich's clean and efficient airport. To get to the center of town from the airport, we had to catch the S-Bahn, the overland train covering much of outer Munich. The U-Bahn runs underground and services much of the main city center.

We noticed right away that the public transport in Germany operates much differently than Dublin's cobbled-together system. Tickets are reasonable and cover times and distances, allowing changes between trains and buses to arrive at any particular location. With the help of our Rick Steves guidebook, the English instructions, and multilingual transport staff, we were on our inexpensive train mere minutes after landing.

I must take a line or two to describe the Partner Ticket system in Munich. Any group up to five can purchase a group ticket for all public transport in Munich at an incredible discount. We purchased an all-day partner ticket covering all of us on any public transport for the whole day for a few Euro each. This would just about cover one and a half (one-way) rides on the Dublin Bus. If visiting Munich, even a pair traveling can save money with the partner ticket, and if you can max it out with five, travel will cost virtually pennies.

We arrived at the main Munich train station, Hauptbahnhof, right in the middle of the action. It was a nice day, and we enjoyed stretching our legs on the streets of Munich as we oriented ourselves to our hostel. We dropped off our bags and went off for a mini tour around Karlsplatz, the nearby square.

Euro Youth Hostel, Munich
Euro Youth Hostel, Munich

The German word, platz is often used as a suffix for town square. Karlsplatz, therefore, would be like "Karl's Square" in English. We enjoyed a nice lunch with some cafe sandwiches (one with cold fried chicken schnitzel) and soaked in the sun and the people. Karlsplatz was busy at lunchtime with local professionals in business suits sitting among protesters, street performers, and many, many pigeons. It was a bit like Madison, Wisconsin in a way...

Sandwiches at Karlsplatz Munich, Germany
Sandwiches at Karlsplatz

Chief among the sights in Karlsplatz is Karlstor, a remnant of Munich's Medieval wall. Most of it has been restored and rebuilt after centuries of damage. Munich is no longer the fortified, walled city it once was, but the modern designers have built around the standing remnants and preserved them for tourists like us.

Karlstor at Karlsplatz Munich, Germany
Karlstor at Karlsplatz Munich

Beyond Karlstor are the popular pedestrian-only shopping streets, Neuhauserstrasse and Kaufingerstrasse. Busy department stores, food vendors, and beautiful buildings line this busy thoroughfare. On this sunny Friday afternoon, the place was buzzing.

Fountain on Neuhauserstrasse Munich Germany
Fountain on Neuhauserstrasse

Neuhauserstrasse Munich, Germany

At the east end of the shopping street is one of Munich's truly unforgettable sights, which we will revisit in more detail later. Suffice it for now to say that Marienplatz would be the central hub of our Munich sightseeing...

New Town Hall, Marienplatz Munich, Germany
New Town Hall, Marienplatz

This Guy at Marienplatz Munich, Germany
This Guy

After our quick mini-walk, it was time to check into group dorm at the youth hostel. We stopped for some gelato (not very German...) on the way back and settled into our Munich home away from home.

Gelato in Munich, Germany
German Gelato

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Retro Saturday: The Adventures of Lolo (NES) Floor 3

After the first two floors, the game starts to ramp up the difficulty of each screen. Some careful planning must be done on each screen to avoid having to punch the suicide button. Enemies don't begin to move until a button is pushed on the control pad. In these later screens, the player has to take some time to "read" each level before moving to avoid death or entrapment by fast-charging enemies. Hold on for the ride!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Irish Film Institute Archive at Lunchtime

Located in Dublin's famous art, cultural, and party district Temple Bar is the Irish Film Institute.  The center screens many films that would not make the mainstream cinemas.  Many films screened here are of the non-Hollywood blockbuster type.

We were paying a visit to the Institute to see their Archive at Lunchtime series.  This ongoing program screens a program of various old short films by Irish filmmakers.  Each week, a new program of short films is selected from the vaults of the Institute to show at lunchtime- for free.

I don't need to hear anything past "free" to sign myself up.  On a recent Saturday afternoon, we were in City Centre and decided to check out this week's St. Patrick's Day film program.

The first film we caught was a short newsreel film about the 1960 Industrial Parade and Kennel Club Dog Show.  It had the grainy black and white look with newsreel quick cuts and film that seems to be running too quickly.  Remember how fast Babe Ruth looked lumbering around the bases in the old game footage?  That's the look I mean.  It was brief and interesting... and the narration was in Irish.  More people must have spoken conversational Irish in here in 1960.  Maybe it was made by the Irish language board for further Irish Exposure?

Part II of the program was a longer film from 1971.  It was in color and in English, because it was produced by the Irish Tourism Board as an advertisement (probably aimed at Americans) to visit Ireland during St. Patrick's Day week.  It mostly followed an American high school marching band as they performed at Paddy's Day parades and events around the country for a full week.  At each city, they visited the popular sites and performed for the cheering crowds.  It was great to watch, even though it was a half-hour commercial for Ireland.  We weren't sure what would come next.  The film hilariously showed its age with the clothing styles, hairdos, and cigarettes.  So.  Many.  Cigarettes.  How did anyone get out of the 60s and 70s alive?

Especially smileworthy for me was the uniforms of the American high school marching band from '71.  Being a former high school band director myself, I have dealt with more marching uniform issues than I care to remember.  Modern marching uniforms trend to the simple, comfortable and form-fitting.  Appropriate cuts for men and women made of breathable (and easily washable!) materials are used by more and more bands.  Not so with the poor kids of this group.  Baggy, shaggy, scratchy coats and pants with nightmarish buttons, sashes, straps, capes, and spats. Spats!  That was just the rank-and-file member uniforms.  Drum majors and the (thankfully) now-extinct old-school majorettes had their own garish and uncomfortable uniforms, complete with meter-high puffy hats.  All of these wacky accessories had to be collected, inventoried, cleaned, and maintained.  What a mess that must have been for those poor kids and directors.

Anyway, we'll be back to the IFI to catch their next program of free archival films soon.  What a great opportunity it is to live in a place with such a rich variety of reasonably-priced cultural entertainment.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Pat Liddy Leads "Let's Walk and Talk"

Let's Get Walkin'!

Dublin City Council maintains a fantastic program called Let's Walk and Talk. The aim of the program is to inspire fitness and community connection with a series free of guided walks through historic parts of Dublin. What parts of Dublin aren't historic? The Dundrum Shopping Centre? Did I mention it was free?

The main series of walks are all led and narrated by celebrated local historian, Pat Liddy. Mr. Liddy and his staff run the best-known series of historic walking tours in Dublin. Pat himself also appears to be a minor (maybe major!) local celebrity and the go-to guy for historical facts and stories of Dublin.

His celebrity status was confirmed with me when I showed up for this guided walk, titled, "Kilmainham to Goldenbridge." The tour met at Kilmainham Gaol, one of Dublin's most important and most somber buildings. As I rounded the corner to the gaol (jail), after missing the turn on my first try, I saw a large crowd gathered around the reflective-vested walk volunteers. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people waiting to take a Wednesday afternoon guided walk. People here really do care about their history.

Listen, and You Shall Hear... 

The total participant count was well over one hundred as the tour began. The volunteers, organizers, and Pat Liddy were prepared for the crowd, and the logistics of herding such a large group through Dublin were well planned. The City Council reps had a portable microphone and amplifier so Pat didn't have to shout over traffic. Two emergency medical personnel were on hand from the Civil Defense in case of any sudden health issues, of which there were none.

The weather was beautiful for early Spring, and the tour kicked off with stories of the gaol and its, ahem, guests during the two-hundred odd years of its use. Not many happy stories came out of the high stone walls of the gaol, but I was interested to hear that the people who pushed for the restoration and opening to the public of the gaol were... the last surviving prisoners. Most well-known among them (by the Irish public) is Eamon De Valera, the New York born Irish revolutionary and long time President of Ireland. He is known affectionately as "Dev" between Irish people, something I've picked up by attending the history lectures disguised as a local.

Statues in memorial to those executed at Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland
Kilmainham Gaol Memorial

Graduating to "Local" Status?

That was another great draw of this tour for me. It was aimed at an Irish (particularly Dublin) audience. I have done enough of the tourist-level walks and read the tourist-level books. I think I'm ready to take on the challenge of local history for locals. Just outside the gaol is the monument to the 1916 executions. During the 1916 Easter Rising, sixteen revolutionary leaders were taken to Kilmainham and executed. The English thought that the news of the executions would intimidate and discourage the Irish public. Unfortunately (for the English) the stories of the executions angered and turned the tide of public opinion to the rebels. Whoops.

Before the tour, I saw a few people standing around the memorial, naming off each of the martyrs from memory. Clearly, they learn these names in school just as American schoolchildren learn to recite the names of our own national heroes. If these people were here for this tour, then this was the tour for me.

After the gaol, we were off to the next stop in the Kilmainham neighborhood. Stay tuned!

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dublin Sidewalk Astronomers Meetup

We found yet another great activity in the list of totally awesome and free events, the Dublin Event Guide. I know we reference and link to D.E.G. a lot here, but being the tightwads we are, the weekly issue is always a home run for us.

This week we met up with members of the Irish Astronomical Society on Sandymount Strand. The group was set up as "Sidewalk Astronomers" to pay tribute to the late John Dobson. When we arrived at the strand (after dark, of course) members of the group had set up telescopes and were showing the wonders of the sky to the public.

Dobson is known in astronomical circles as sort of a godfather of amateur astronomers. He spent years studying in a monastery, and while there developed an extraordinary invention. Using tubes and mirrors, he was able build a relatively powerful telescope with inexpensive and easily found materials.

Upon leaving the monastery, he published his design and encouraged amateur skywatchers to build their own "Dobsonian" telescopes and start looking up. He co-founded the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers, and other Sidewalk Astronomer groups have formed in his honor. Funnily, what Americans call "sidewalks" go by other names in other countries, leading to some confusion among international newbies.

The members of the society here tonight are all amateurs with a range of different equipment. There were traditional telescopes with lenses and one Dobsonian reflecting telescope present from the society members while we were there. We spoke with the knowledgeable and friendly members of the society for a while, learning a lot about the planets, stars, and the state of amateur astronomy itself.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperating with us while we visited with the society. A cloud bank obscured the southern sky, so we weren't able to get a good look at the Orion Nebula or Jupiter, both of which were out and visible. We did get a chance to see some of the sights in the northern sky, and learned another interesting regional name difference.

Americans, what's the first (and usually only) constellation we ever learn to spot? That's right, The Big Dipper, that bright, shiny scoop in the sky. Good Scouts among us learn to use the Big Dipper to find the North Star, Polaris. Here, The Big Dipper goes by the name, "The Plough." I didn't catch it the first time our helpful astronomer friend pointed to it. I saw him pointing at the constellation, but missed it when he said, "Plough." When he said it a second time, I smiled and chuckled. I admitted to him that I didn't know The Big Dipper went by other names in different countries. He, of course, knew that it went by The Dipper in the States, so we both got a good laugh. Look at it again, Americans. You can see that The Dipper, when flipped, does indeed look like a plough blade and handle. Cool, huh?

He pointed out a few other constellations, or parts thereof, that were visible to the naked eye in the clear northern section of the sky. Light pollution from the city makes some dimmer stars difficult to see with the naked eye, especially in the sky directly above the city.

We checked out the telescopes themselves, fine pieces of technology, all. The modern lens-models were powered by a battery. When I asked why the power was needed, it was explained to me that these telescopes had driving motors on their mounts. The motors moved the telescope to follow the spinning of the Earth, keeping whatever was in the telescope still as it moved across the sky. I knew that stars moved slowly across the sky at night as the earth moved, but the movements are so slow to the naked eye as to be imperceptible. I suppose looking at something with high amplification would also amplify that movement. Installing these computer-controlled motors would indeed keep the telescope firmly focused on the field without irritating constant adjustments.

The Sidewalk Astronomers of Dublin conduct these public events regularly. Check their website for the latest public events. We certainly will, and we hope to come back on a clear night so we can fully benefit from the knowledge and wisdom of this enthusiastic society.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Turbo Yeast Sugar "Rum"

Washing Up

Looking for new small projects to keep me busy between batches of beer, I decided to test out the remainder of my turbo yeast on a wash.  Wash is the word used by some home distillers (illegal in most countries) to describe the fermented sugar water before distilling.  These moonshiners mix in large volumes of sugar and yeast nutrient with water and ferment it as far as the yeast will take it before dying of alcohol poisoning.  Alcohol is, after all a yeast waste product.  Once the wash is made, home distillers get to the illegal part of their process, heating up the liquid to the boiling point of alcohol (lower than that of water) and collecting and condensing the alcohol steam.

I decided to try the wash-making part of this process with my turbo yeast.  I have tried various other sugar water washes in my brewing history, including my first brew, which fermented four cups of sugar in one gallon of water with bread yeast.  At the end of fermentation, I added two Kool-Aid drink mix packets, bottled it up, and called it wine.  Later, I used some turbo yeast to ferment some old molasses and brown sugar into a lower-alcohol rum-like drink.  It tasted great when mixed with my homemade cola, but didn't much resemble rum when sampled neat.

Turbo Yeast Rum Ingredients
Turbo Yeast Rum Ingredients

For this wash, I was mostly testing how far the turbo yeast will take down a sugar water mix.  For this simple recipe, I have the yeast nutrient, some unrefined sugar, and the yeast ready.  I wanted this batch to be small, so I calculated that 200 grams of sugar would hit the correct gravity at a total volume of 750 mL.

Sugar and Water
Sugar and Water

I hit my gravity number at close to 750 mL, but I ran into a problem with temperature.  The hot water I used to dissolve the sugar wasn't being cooled as much as I'd hoped with my cold top off tap water.  When I got to my required volume, we were reading over 100 degrees F.  This isn't really killing temperature for yeast, but it's getting close to the top of their comfortable range.  I cooled it down to 96 degrees F in an ice bath, moderating it a little bit.

My gravity reading was where I wanted it to be, 1.120.  Huge compared to the 1.040-ish starting gravity for beer, but this wasn't going to be any beer now, was it?

Reading Gravity
Reading Gravity

I hydrated (but didn't make a starter) of the turbo yeast, pitched, and hoped.

Ready to Ferment?
Ready to Ferment?

Ingredients and Method

Brew No. 043
28 Feb 2014

200g Unrefined sugar
Pinch of yeast nutrient
Turbo Yeast

Dissolved the sugar and nutrient in hot water.  Topped off to 750 mL, cooled to 96 degrees F.  Pitched yeast.

I knew that high-gravity mixes usually require a starter*, but the turbo yeast instructions didn't mention needing to make one, and I was over-pitching* a bit to help compensate.  It didn't work.  Three days later, still no fermentation.  I had to make some... alterations.

*Starter- A means of kickstarting dried yeast by mixing it in a light water/sugar solution for several hours to a day.  This allows the yeast to begin fermenting and growing vigorously in a small environment before being thrown into the larger environment.

*Over-pitching- Adding more yeast than a solution should require for fermentation.

Next Steps

I feared my turbo yeast was too old and unable to get this thing started.  Worried about contamination, I decided not to risk trying the turbo again with this batch.  I went to a tried and true cider yeast I've used for several batches with no problems.  I made a starter this time, getting the cider yeast up and kicking for several hours.  I moved the whole mix from a 750 mL bottle to a full liter bottle to accommodate the new yeast starter.  I lost some gravity by adding the starter (now 1.100), but the cider yeast should be able to get it started.

The cider yeast kicked in!  The day after I mixed in my cider yeast starter, it was bubbling and working steadily.  I'm not sure how long it will take or how low it will go.  I'll treat this as a test of the attenuation (fermentation) potential of this brand of cider yeast.

Whatever comes out should taste fine mixed with cola and consumed while holding the nose, right?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Trim Village

Turning Townie

As we finished our walk along the beautiful Trim Heritage Trail, it was time for something to eat, something hot to drink, and maybe something cold to drink. We headed west back to Trim village proper, and took a look up and down the High Street in search of a suitable venue.

The village of Trim straddles the River Boyne, and the town, unlike the surrounding countryside, is built up high above the riverbanks to prevent flooding. The modern town doesn't have nearly the same population or the political influence it had 700 years ago, but it is a fresh and interesting place to visit, especially as a rest from the noise and crowds of Dublin.

Trim High Street Trim, Ireland
Trim High Street

Finding Food

We first ventured up the hill to a pub listed by Rick Steves as a great place for a drink. When we found it, we found a wonderful pub atmosphere, but it was empty but for us. When we found out there was no food menu, we had to move on.

Back on the High Street, we found several pubs, but none with a food menu! Across the street, we saw this charming food hall, An Tromán. This translates to The Elder Tree. Trim, after all, comes from the Irish, Baile (Town) Átha (Ford or river crossing) Troim (Elderflowers), meaning, Town at the Ford of the Elderflowers. The relation to Tromán and Troim is obvious, even to non-Irish speakers like us.


Lunch was beautiful, diner-style, and served at diner prices. We had hot tea with sugar and milk with hot toasted sandwiches, salads, and Hunky Dorys potato crisps. After a long walk in the slight early-Spring chill, this was exactly what we needed.

Lunch at An Tromán, tea, crisps, and toasted sandwiches
Lunch at An Tromán

Sniffing out some Suds

After lunch, we needed to find some cold drinks. We walked around the corner from the High Street, which was still very quiet on this Saturday afternoon. Several pub signs dotted the hill north of the High Street, so up we went. These small pubs looked busier, and gentlemen were walking to and fro between the pub and the sports betting bookie next door. We chose one and went in.

This pub was hopping compared to the larger, nicer High Street pubs. Every television was tuned to live coverage from the horse racing track, and the patrons of the pub all had their betting tickets and were watching the races closely. So that explained the busy bookie next door. These gents were enjoying a Saturday afternoon at the pub losing some money on the ponies. Now it all made sense.

We weren't quite ready to start throwing down our bucks on the horses, but we did get a round of drinks as the pub regulars looked at us like the out-of-towners we were. They weren't unwelcoming, but we could tell that everyone to a man knew each other in that pub, and this couple with American accents were a bit of a novelty.

Before we finished our drinks, the pub got busier (and the average age of the crowd much younger) as a wedding party piled in for a pre-or-post-wedding drink. Probably post-wedding, pre-reception. In a small town like this, a local wedding would be a big deal that everyone knows about, and there was much celebrating.

After our drinks, it was time to go back to the bus stop and catch our ride back to Dublin. We saw more of the wedding party driving and honking in the streets on our way through town. Back at the bus stop, we waited and admired the castle, River Boyne, and the trail. All were clearly visible from the lonely bus stop at the edge of this small town. We reflected about how great a day it had been in this cute and historic Irish town. We hope to visit many more towns like this, in Ireland and on the rest of this great continent.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Retro Saturday: The Adventures of Lolo (NES) Floor 1 and Floor 2

Welcome back to Saturday, where we are all about retro. The next game, by request, is the famous action/puzzle (mostly puzzle) game The Adventures of Lolo. In Lolo, the eponymous blue hero must trek through the castle of King Egger. The mysterious looking-like-a-Rhydon King has taken Lolo's pink girlfriend/wife/possibly female round companion hostage.

The aim of the game is to make it through each screen and climb the stairs at the end of each floor. On each screen, Lolo must collect all the heart pieces to open the chest. Once the chest is open, he has to grab the key and make it to the exit door. A variety of obstacles and enemies stand in his way, and he (the player) must carefully plan and route his way through each room to avoid getting stuck or killed.

This week we take on the first two floors of the castle, as they are brief and easy. Later floors will take much longer as they require more maneuvering and thorough exploration.

Friday, March 21, 2014

St. Patrick's Day Weekend 2014: Part IV

After the parade, it was time to let the craziness commence! We weren't so much into the heavy partying, but we were curious about the sheer volume of humanity that would pack Dublin's popular tourist neighborhoods. Many of the big streets were closed to traffic as they were full of seething masses. We strolled through Temple Bar, the quays on the Liffey, and Grafton Street. We ended up at The Duke, our favorite Grafton Street pub to wait out the crowd over a toasted sandwich and a glass of something cold. After a long day and a long weekend, we hoofed it home to rest.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

St. Patrick's Day Weekend 2014: Part III

Monday, St. Patrick's Day proper. Parade day.

We hoofed it downtown to grab a parade spot early. The parade was scheduled to kick off at noon, and we snagged a prime location at ten. The route was fully packed by 10:30, so we were just in time.

Time for the parade highlight reel. St. Patrick himself led things off. After that, a series of artistic and creative floats reminded me to the scene from Knocked Up. I'm freaking out, man!