Category Archives: USA

Great American Beer: A Random Perspective

Beer review

This is a guest post by my dearest husband, Andy McNamee. (Pic credit ursonate)

There are many things which make America a wonderful country (I’m not an American by the way, just to clear that up at the outset). These include the stupendous beauty of large swathes of the country, the genuine friendliness of the people, and the easy accessibility of really good hamburgers.

While all of these were good reasons for me to look forward to our recent two week drive through the American west, another key attraction for me was the choice and variety of great American beer (by which I mean beer that tastes of something, not the ubiquitous flavourless carbonated p*ss which continues to try to take over the world) served in friendly and interesting bars.


Coors beers (tripadvisor)
Coors beers (Tripwow)  

And I’m delighted to say that I wasn’t disappointed – while I didn’t exactly adopt a rigidly scientific approach, I did manage to sample a reasonable number of brews across four states, some of which had me vaguely wondering if emigration to the US could really be that complicated.

By way of background, I’m not a beer techie, so I haven’t really got much to contribute on brewing processes, cask versus keg, chilled versus room temperature – all those things proper beer geeks get really worked up about. In the UK, I really like British ales, which I think suit our climate and temperament, regardless of whether they come from a national producer or a local micro brewery. However, in the US, most of the draught beers I drank came from local breweries, serving their local area, and happy to do so. Much of what I drank was pale ale, for the very simple and (to me) compelling reason that I really really like pale ale, and it was my holiday.

Rocky mountain oyster stout

Rocky mountain oyster stout Wynkoop Brewery

We kicked off in Denver, which as the city in which Coors is based, has a long beery association. I managed not to drink any Coors at all while I was there (with one exception noted later) but we did visit the Wynkoop Brewing Company for a long lunch.

There are lots of local craft breweries in Denver – the Wynkoop is one of the oldest. The choice of beer to accompany lunch was a tough one. I started with Silverback Pale Ale, which was an excellent pint and beautifully hoppy, but reasonably strong at 5.5%, so in the interests of staying awake for the afternoon I switched after a couple of pints to Railyard Ale, an amber beer which was marginally lower in alcohol. Railyard is apparently one of their most popular session beers and I can see why – easy to drink and tasty without being the strongest flavoured beer in the world.

My other half went for a three taster flight – Wixa Weiss, Patty’s Chile Beer, and Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout. The Wixa Weiss had (Julie said) aromas of banana and tobacco, and the chile beer had a definite chile flavour without any of the heat. Interesting and slightly weird but wouldn’t fancy spending an evening supping it. The stout did in fact contain Rocky Mountain Oysters (aka bull testicles) and apparently began as an April Fool joke on YouTube but stayed on the menu as a result of customer demand. I’m not a big stout fan but Julie liked it – coffee and chocolate, she said, and no apparent testicle flavour. (Editor – for more strange beer flavours, see 10 Strange Beer Flavours). The Wynkoop Brewery is well worth a visit, not just for the beer – people are very friendly and it’s a beautiful old building in a converted warehouse near the railway station.

Next beery highlight was in Gunnison, a small Colorado town up in the mountains, and home to both the Western State Colorado University and to the Gunnison Brewery, a tiny brewery operating on a site in the town main street, with a bar restaurant attached. They brew small amounts of high quality stuff, using (they say, and I believe them) local ingredients when they can.

We called in for a couple of pints before dinner across the street, and liked it so much we came back after dinner for more. In hindsight, we should have eaten there too – if their burgers were as good as their beer, we would have had an amazing meal. Highlight for me was Apollo’s Remedy, an American Pale Ale, which was one of the best beers I drank on the whole trip. Refreshing, tasty, hoppy, served in a friendly bar full of what looked like a mix of students and locals – lovely stuff indeed. My only regret is that, given that the Gunnison Brewery is so small (albeit perfectly formed), I’m not likely to see Apollo’s Remedy in my local in north London anytime soon.

Durango steam train

Durango steam train (Wikipedia)

Heading on from Gunnison, we hit Durango, a self-consciously old western town but home to a number of local breweries. I was slightly hamstrung by the fact that our accommodation, very comfortable as it was, was about 12 miles out of town, and I was the only driver, so my beer consumption was limited.

But a couple of highlights were the Jackrabbit Pale Ale at the Carver Brewery Company and a pint of Ska Pinstripe at the Olde Tymers Cafe. Carvers is the sort of place I wish was round the corner from where I live – great range of beers, excellent food (my rodeo buffalo burger was fantastic) and very friendly staff. The Jackrabbit ticked all the pale ale boxes on a hot day- I could quite happily live there.  The Pinstripe, an amber ale, went very well with my Cobb salad in the Olde Tymers. My main regret about our visit to Durango was that there were so many other microbreweries we didn’t visit – but we’ll be back some day and we’ll stay in the centre of town…

Dam Bar and Grille (with replica dam)

Dam Bar and Grille (with replica dam)

We spent a couple of days near Lake Powell, in northern Arizona, where I found the best beer of the holiday, Lumberyard IPA. Lake Powell itself we decided we could take or leave to be honest, in comparison to some of the other great places we visited, but Page, the local town near the lake, was a very friendly place with a couple of good bars and at least one really excellent Mexican restaurant.

I found Lumberyard in the Dam Bar & Grille, in the centre of Page and all I can say is, if you ever visit, have the baja burger and fries and a pint or two of Lumberyard IPA and you will leave a better, happier and more spiritually uplifted person than you arrived. Best burger of the holiday plus the best pint – what more can I say? Lumberyard, brewed in Flagstaff, Arizona (another very fine beer town), was probably the hoppiest, bitterest beer of the holiday (my other half wasn’t keen on it for this reason) and pretty strong with an APV of 6.1% but I l loved it. I was even happier when I found out they served it in the Lake Powell resort where we were staying, thus removing the complication of the car.

I’ve restricted myself here to thoughts on the local draught beers we tried but there were lots of other good beery things on our trip – the first pint of orangey Shocktop on arriving late at night at our hotel in Denver to find they’d screwed up our reservation, the off licence in Page where you could assemble your own 6 pack from a huge range of bottled craft beers, the consistently good Coors Blue Moon Belgian White beer (though I know the purists aren’t keen…) and finally Uinta Wyld Extra Pale Ale, a lovely Utah beer which we never found on draught anywhere but a few bottles of which actually made me want to visit Mormon-dominated Salt Lake City.

Beer drinker of the year

I’m not an uncritical admirer of the US, and I wouldn’t claim after a couple of holiday there to know the country well. But I do know there are lots of things that Americans are good at and one of them is beer. E pluribus cerevisia.

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Bryce Canyon: A Helluva Place to Lose a Cow

Bryce Canyon Strange and Weird Bryce Canyon – Photo by Quirky Travel

We were lucky enough to get to see some fabulous National Parks on our latest road-trippin’ holiday in the U.S. – lucky because two of the best closed with the government shutdown just a few days after we’d visited…

The one that knocked our socks off was Bryce Canyon. It’s a magical place where fairy folk and wicked queens most likely frolic;  and where a painter with a fondness for red and an avant-garde sculptor must surely have been let loose a long time ago. (NB look out for the two tips at the end).

Bryce Canyon Mythology

Bryce Canyon hoodoos Petrified Legend People – Photo by Quirky Travel

The Paiute Indians who inhabited the area after earlier tribes like the Fremont and the Anasazi had moved on, found a way to explain the existence of the weirdly-shaped red rocks.

They believed that Legend People (To-when-an-ung-wa) used to inhabit the canyon. These people were animals, lizards and birds who looked human and were bad because they used up too much of the land’s resources. Because of this unacceptable behaviour, the mighty god Coyote lured the Legend People to what was supposed to be a celebration banquet, but instead turned them to rocks.

These would-be banqueters became the hoodoos that now make Bryce such a special place to be in, and the manner in which they’re clustered together near the rim reflects the panic that ensued when the Legend People realised what was happening to them. The red of the hoodoos is the war paint they were wearing at the time of their transformation.

The name the Paiute gave the area is a very suitable Agka-ku-wass-a-wits (red-painted faces). Or it may be

What’s a Hoodoo?

bryce-canyon-17
Thor’s Hammer hoodoo – Photo by Quirky Travel

The word hoodoo, according to this post, was brought to America by black slaves who used it to refer to something approximating a jinx. It was picked up by Native Americans from fur trappers who were using it to refer to evil spirits or forces.

The formation that is a hoodoo is a totem-like column of soft stone that has survived only because it’s capped by a ‘hat’ of harder stone. It’s been shaped over millions of years by the vagaries of the weather.

Queen Victoria, Bryce Canyon

Queen Victoria Hoodoo (www.geo.de)

As in all these places many of the limestone hoodoos of Bryce Canyon have been given names, including:

Queen Victoria
The Chessmen
Wall of Windows
Thor’s Hammer
Tower Bridge
The Poodle
The Sentinel
Queen’s Castle
The Hat Shop
Wall Street

Visitors and Settlers

Dutton and Powell

The Paiute were still living in the area when they first explorers and  settlers arrived, including geologists and explorers Captain Clarence E. Dutton and John Wesley Powell. Some of the Paiute names for area features have stuck, apparently because of them:

Paunsaugunt: home of the beavers. (A plateau above Bryce.)

Paria: muddy water of elk water. (The river running through it.)

Panguitch, water or fish. (A nearby lake.)

Yovimpa: point of pines. (An area above the canyon – there’s an excellent view from Yovimpa point that many visitors miss – including us…)

Ebenezer Bryce

ebenezer-bryce-and-wife Serious People, the Bryces (dailykos.com)

One of the first Mormon settlers in the area and the man the canyon came to be named after was Scottish shipyard carpenter Ebenezer Bryce. He  built a track to help transport the timber he was harvesting in the area and the visitors who used it began to call the canyon at the end of the track Bryce’s Canyon.

It may be apocryphal, but Ebenezer is said to have told an admirer of the hoodoos, “It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow”. Even though he and his family moved away from the area to Arizona, his name will always be associated with the place.

The Canyon isn’t his only claim to fame – he designed the oldest Mormon chapel still in continuous use, Pine Valley Chapel, even though he had never designed one before. He did it on the condition that he was allowed to build it like a ship.

3 Tips for Visiting the Canyon

An excellent hike is the Navajo Loop combined with the Queens Garden Trail. It took us about 1.5 hours and we’re not spectacularly fit (to put it mildly). BUT start at Sunset Point and end at Sunrise point – not the other way around. The slope up to Sunset Point is fierce. Early morning is better as it gets quite crowded near the points, and not everyone seems to agree with me that it’s nice to appreciate magnificent areas like this quietly. Plus the light’s better at this time of day.

If you’re attending the ranger’s astronomy evening, check beforehand how many telescopes are likely to be used that night. Although we had expected eight, there were only two on the night. The queues for them were enormous.

Ruby’s Inn Best Western has microwaves in each of its rooms and there’s a very decent supermarket on site if you’ve had enough enormous on-the-road meals to last a lifetime.

Have you been to Bryce Canyon and if so, do you have any tips? Leave them below for future visitors :o)

Iconic Las Vegas Signs at the Neon Museum Boneyard

Neon Boneyard

Neon Boneyard from http://www.markwu.info

One of the must-sees on the itinerary of our US road trip in 2011 was the Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas, partly because I’m a neon and history fiend and partly because I’m not much of a gambler or glitzy show watcher.

Therefore I had to find alternatives for our visit to Sin City and this seemed a great way to learn a bit more about the history of the place, and get an insight into what the predecessors of the MGM Grand and New York New York looked like.

And of course, the neon signs, being so important to draw tourists in off the Strip, are impressive pieces of work.

The Neon Museum

When we visited, the La Concha motel lobby, removed in bits from the Strip and reconstituted alongside the boneyard, wasn’t in use: but it’s since opened up as a beautiful visitors’ centre. This iconic building (you may have noticed it in the film Casino) has been beautifully restored and events are now held regularly in the Boneyard, including weddings on Valentine’s Day.

The museum has already restored some of the old neon signs, and you can take a self-guided tour of ten of those in the Fremont Street area. Many of the rest will be restored and mounted along Las Vegas Boulevard, which will be a fantastic sight. Some unfortunately are just too far gone to restore to working order but even those in the worst condition will still be of use. There’s a plan to construct an entrance sign made up of lettering from more than one sign.

The museum is a fantastic organisation who have done a great job saving neon signs that are no longer viable (LCD and LED signs are much cheaper to make and run and can be seen during the day). And they keep the history of Las Vegas alive, a city which mostly obliterates and builds over its past.

Neon Boneyard signs

Here are some of the stories behind the signs:

Ugly Duckling Car Sales sign, Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Ugly Duckling car sales was a franchise that specialised in selling cars to those who would otherwise have difficulties finding finance to do this. The franchise has since closed down, and the company has now changed their name to DriveTime. Hence no more Mr Ducky. I’m not entirely sure in whose view this duckling is ugly, mind you! There’s a view of the sign in situ on this great web page

Laundrette sign, Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
I haven’t been able to find out anything about the company behind this sign. If anyone has any information, please let me know. As you can see, however, the design of the sign means that in the dark you would have a cute animated shirt waving its arms about!

Binion's Horseshoe sign, Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Benny Binion was a convicted murderer and mobster and came to Vegas in 1946. His Horseshoe casino was popular due to the high limits for bets. And he was the first to get rid of the sawdust on the floors and bring in plush carpets and free drinks for patrons.

Lido de Paris neon sign. Neon Boneyard Las Vegas.
The Lido de Paris girls arrived in Vegas in 1958. There’s a great photo of them scoffing hot dogs on this Early Vegas page. According to that site “The Lido Girls set a Las Vegas trend, followed by the Beauties of Japan, Hawaii, the South Pacific, the Mambo Showgirls of Havana and the Carnival Women of Brazil.” The Lido was replaced by a new show, Enter the Night, in 1992.

Sassy Sally sign, Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Sassy Sally’s was a strip joint. The sign showing Sassy Sally herself, wife of Vegas Vic (they were actually married by a Vegas minister) is back up in Fremont Street and part of the Neon Museum self guided tour (along with Vegas Vic). (Photos of both of them here.
Sally’s leg no longer kicks up (I’ve read that it never did work, really) and Vic’s arm no longer moves.

Neon Museum details (Updated Jul 10 2013)

It’s advised to register for one of their tours beforehand – they run seven days a week and the number of days per week fluctuate through the year, and they’ve introduced evening tours during the summer months (we’re hoping to go on one on our next trip this year). Full information on how to do this can be found on the Neon Museum website

The museum is situated about 20-25 minutes’ walk from Fremont Street. Bear this in mind if you’re planning on walking on a hot day, and think about taking the taxi or car instead. Take plenty of water as you’re out in the open.

10 Strange Beer Flavours from Around the World

I researched strange beer flavours originally for a reporter who was looking from suggestions for a story on weird beers. As I didn’t hear back from them (rude), and because I quite enjoyed researching them, I thought I might as well just post them here).

Quirky Travel’s 10 strange beer flavours from around the world (well, mostly the USA):

Creme Brulee Stout

Creme Brulee Stout (http://www.flavouredbeer.org)

Creme Brulee Stout http://www.flavouredbeer.org

The Southern Tier Brewing Company  in Lakewood, New York, suggests having this beer as a dessert, pairing it with bananas foster (bananas with dark brown sugar, cinnamon etc) or even pouring it over vanilla ice cream.

One tasting of the stout describes it so: “Do you like expensive, vanilla-heavy desserts, but hate the whole chewing thing? Grab a bottle.”

 

Mama Mia Pizza Beer

Tom and Athena Seefurth of Mama Mia Pizza Beer

Tom and Athena Seefurth, creators of Mama Mia Pizza Beer

Mama Mia Pizza beer is the “world’s first culinary beer” and made in Chicago. Here’s some information from the website on how it’s … cooked:

“The Margarita pizza is put into the mash & steeped like a tea bag. A whole wheat crust made with water, flour & yeast is topped with tomato, oregano, basil & garlic. The essence of the pizza spices is washed off with hot water and filtered into a brewpot, where it is boiled for a long, long time. During the process, we add hops & spices in a cheesecloth type bag & filter the cooled liquid into a fermentation vessel. (big glass 6 gallon water jug). After a week or two, the beer is good to go. Keg it or bottle it.”

Yum.

Smisje Wostyntje Torhouts Mostaard Bier

Smisje Wostyntje Mostaard Bier

Smisje Wostyntje Mostaard Bier

A strong golden ale flavored with mustard seeds from the nearby village of Tourhout, this beer is brewed in the town of Smisje in Belgium. It is said that there isn’t a strong taste of mustard to it, but for some this is probably a blessing.

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel

Mikkeller beer t-shirt

Mikkeller beer t-shirt (draftbear – Flickr)

Unusually, this beer is made from the coffee beans that pass through the guts and out the rear end of the civet cat – the Kopi Luwak.

A black, chocolately stout, it actually sounds very pleasant and complex. But whether you’ll be able to stomach it or not will really depend on being able to put the journey of the coffee bean out of your mind

 

Bilk

Brewed in Hokkaido, Japan, this product was created to use up surplus stocks of milk. Yes, it’s beer mixed with milk. In fact, a third of the concoction is made up of dairy goodness.

Bilk is a sweet beer that pairs up well with desserts, apparently tastes like real beer, but has a wiff of dairy about it. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to work out if it’s still available (it first went into production in 2007) if anyone has any information, let me know and I’ll pass on the details.

If you can’t find Bilk, there is another milky Japanese beer on the market: Hitachino Nest Beer. It’s brewed with lactose sugars and is apparently thick and yogurt-like

Kwispelbier Dog Beer

Kwispelbier doggie beer

Kwispelbier doggie beer (gluttonize.wordpress.com)

Dogs can’t metabolise real beer, so this Norwegian product aims to serve a need – for the dogs who like beer but really shouldn’t drink it: Kwispelbier’s a non-alcoholic version.

This is another drink that appeared in 2007 (a good year for quirky beer, obviously) but I’ve been unable to find out if it’s still on the market. Again – any info greatly appreciated.

Bacon Maple Ale

Maple Bacon Ale

Maple Bacon Ale

Applewood smoked bacon (no less) is used is this concoction, cooked up as a collaboration between a doughnut company (spelt “doughnut” even though it’s an American company) and Newport, Oregon brewers Rogue Ales.

Impossible to say how the taste of doughnut comes into it, but some reviewers say that the drink in the garish pink bottle has a smoky aroma, while others can only taste “dirty bbq grill water”

 

Spirulina Beer

Photos of Red Dot, Singapore
This photo of Red Dot is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Get the Benjamin Button effect by drinking green Hawaiian Spirulina Beer (brewed in Singapore). Supposedly anti-aging, (although the alcohol is bound to undo any positive consequences), the spirulina grown in Hawaii is a superior variety of this micro salt water plant (nods head wisely).

 

Three Floyds Rabbid Rabbit

Three Floyds Rabbid Rabbit Beer

Three Floyds Rabbid Rabbit Beer (

Brewed in Indiana in a Franco-Belgian style, Three Floyds Rabbid Rabbit beer (don’t try saying that when you’re drunk) is flavoured with coriander, lavender, chamomile, rose hips and rock candy!

It’s quite a perfumed concoction with hints of lemon peel and cinnamon, according to some

 

Mongozo Coconut, Banana and Quinua Beers

Mongozo coconut beer

Mongozo coconut beer

The exotically-named Mongozo brand is actually brewed in the Netherlands, and they have quite a range of exotically-flavoured beers.

Choose from coconut, banana, mango, quinua (their spelling) and palmnut. Some reviewers have been less than enthusiastic about the coconut and banana flavours. (Overly sweet and artificial-tasting are some of the kinder comments).

 

Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer

Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer (Drunken Polack.com)

Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer (Drunken Polack.com)

The Amendment Brewery in San Francisco produce this sweetish wheat beer. Slightly strange, but apparently better when eaten with actual watermelon.

Have you come across any strange beer flavours you’d like to share with us? Post in the comments below.

 

Top Niche Museums from Around the World

This post started off as a Top 10, but, as I’m receiving requests to add other niche museums to the list, I’m going to do that. If you know of any museums that specialise in a particular subject – let me know and I’ll add it.

You’ve got to admire the doggedness of niche museums. Sticking to your subject and not veering from the path. Here are 10 of the, well, not necessarily best, but certainly 10 of the most interesting.

Dolphin stomach infested by parasites - Parasite Museum Tokyo

Dolphin stomach infested by parasites (Flickr)

Meguro Parasitological Museum

This isn’t a large museum, but it’s the only one in the world dedicated to the parasite and it’s situated in Tokyo. The star attraction is a tape worm just under nine metres in length, but you’ll also see examples of over 300 species of parasites, including a dolphin stomach infected by one as pictured above (or as someone quite rightly pointed out as a comment to that picture, is it the Flying Spaghetti Monster)? And you can take home a souvenir: t-shirts with pictures of parasites on them can be purchased in the museum shop.

Website: http://www.kiseichu.org/Pages/english.aspx

The Carrot Museum

Carrot Museum, Belgium

Carrot Museum, Belgium

In the tiny Belgian village of Berlotte lies a carrot museum that is actually just a rotating display unit in an ex-electricity tower. The unit is controlled by the user turning a wheel to view the carrot exhibits. There’s more carrot-related paraphernelia in the vicinity including a carrot clock, light, weather vane and a carrot light. The “museum” is maintained by a carrot club that admits only men, because only men can grow carrots, obviously.

The Bunny Museum

Bunny Museum, Pasadena

Bunny Museum

Over 28,000 examples of bunny-related items decorate this Pasadena museum. It’s in a private house and visits are by appointment only. Giant bunnies, little bunnies, pictures, books, fancy dress outfits, live rabbits, cuddly rabbits, Elvis-bunnies, Canadian Mounty-bunnies: whatever your interest, as long as it’s rabbit-related, it’ll be catered to at the Bunny museum!

Website: http://www.thebunnymuseum.com/

Museum of Food Anomalies

Dracula pepper

“Dracula pepper” at the Museum of Food Anomalies

This one’s purely online and features food that has “Gone Horribly Wrong”. Novelty items like a “Blackhole M&M” (gravitational pull has stretched it out of all recognition), a “Peanut Zombie Pirate” complete with eye patch and scowl and “The Saddest of Sad Potatoes” all the way from Slovenia.

Website: http://www.hanttula.com/exhibits/mofa/

British Lawnmower Museum

British Anzani Lawnrider at the Lawnmower museum

British Anzani Lawnrider at the Lawnmower museum

Discover the fascinating history of the lawnmower in an apparently internationally known museum in Southport, Merseyside. The lawnmower dates back from 1830 when a cloth cutting piece of machinery was ingeniously used by a man called Beard Budding to cut grass. The museum has many Victorian and Edwardian examples of the lawnmower, “The water cooled ‘Egg’ Boiler Lawnmower” and some of the most expensive lawnmowers in the world. Not sure about the photograph of Nora the Tour Guide on the page below.

Website: http://www.lawnmowerworld.co.uk/gallery.php?location=all

Shanghai Eyeglasses Museum

Shanghai Eyeglasses Museum (

Shanghai Eyeglasses Museum (Echinacities.com)

Thousands of pairs of glasses are on display at this Shanghai museum, including some dating back to the Song dynasty in the 10th century. There are exhibits on eye health, plus a giant eye, an eyeglasses workshop from the 1970s and a 1.4 meter pair made of turtle shell.

Website: http://www.ujayou.com/product.do?method=detail&id=112

Museum of the Purpose of the Object

Religious knick-kack at MODO

Religious knick-kack at MODO

The Museo Del Objeto (MODO or Museum of the Purpose of the Object) examines the design and packaging of everyday objects. Whether that be water bottles, religious knick-nacks, 1980s trainers, skateboards or more. The collection upon which the museum was founded was that of Bruno Newman who found that visitors to his home enjoyed looking at five old French toiletry containers he’d bought. So he thought he’d expand. These days, many of the 30,000 exhibits have come from collectors who have donated part of their collections.

Website: http://elmodo.mx

Museum of Enduring Beauty

Museum of Enduring Beauty

Museum of Enduring Beauty Flickr

AKA the Museum of Torture. No, that’s in Amsterdam. This one’s in Malacca, Malaysia and counts among its exhibits coils designed to lengthen the neck and shoes to bind the feet: basically tools used for body modification in the name of some sort of culturally-defined beauty that in the grand scheme of things means absolutely nothing (sorry – I’ll get off my soapbox now).

The Medieval Crime Museum

This Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany museum is, according to the museum’s website, the only one on the subject of law in Europe and should actually be yet another Museum of Torture. Execution equipment, a wheel for killing the convicted by crushing their bones, a torture chair specifically for bakers who sold bread that wasn’t big enough, a mask of shame and a chastity belt are among the gruesome items on display.

Website: http://www.kriminalmuseum.rothenburg.de/Englisch/engframe.htm

Condom Museum

Condom museum Thailand

Condom museum Thailand

Thailand is one of the largest producers of condoms (who knew?) And this Ministry of Health sponsored museum in Nonthaburi, Thailand, was set up to encourage a more positive attitude to these small rubber items. The building is actually within the Ministry itself and is quite hard to find as it’s hidden away at the back beside a sewage treatment plant (full details in this CNN article but it’s well worth a visit if you’re into condoms and penis pumps and lubricants. Plus there’s a large selection of sexual health posters through the ages. Unmissable.

And no, I’m not going to mention the Penis Museum in Iceland.

The Museum of Chicken Art

Chicken Art Museum sculpture

Chicken Art Museum, Seoul (blog.iwannagothere.com)

If you’ve seen those chicken calendars, you’ll know that chickens are, as well as a food source, very beautiful creatures. They’ve been well represented in art and this museum in Seoul explores its role in Western as well as Eastern art and sculpture. (This museum was recommended by @2wheelwanderer)

Website: http://visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=562869

International Cryptozoology Museum

FeeJee Mermaid film prop for "P T Barnum" - Internal Cryptozoology Museum

FeeJee Mermaid film prop for “P T Barnum” – Internal Cryptozoology Museum

This is the only cryptozoology museum in the world and it’s situated in Portland, Maine. This particular branch of zoology, as you’ll know, focuses on animals not proven to exist (yet), and the museum has a look at the work of explorers in this field and the popular culture and stories surrounding it. Expect to see things like hair samples of abominable snowmen and the fecal matter of a yeti. There have of course been fakes in this field of study and these aren’t ignored – see the FeeJee Mermaid above.  (Recommended by cryptozoologist @CryptoLoren who established the museum).

Website: http://cryptozoologymuseum.com/

Pencil Museum

Longest colour pencil in the world, Pencil Museum, Cumbria

Longest colour pencil in the world, Pencil Museum (nothingtoseehere.net)

The world’s first graphite pencil is believed to have come from Cumbria. 500 years ago a storm uprooted some trees, uncovering black graphite: shepherds then began marking their sheep with this handy substance. The family-friendly Pencil Museum in Keswick, Cumbria sits in the first pencil factory in the world and is a home to the world’s longest colour pencil. Discover the history of the pencil and find out how lead gets in there. And it features in my favourite film of the year, “Sightseers”. (Recommended by @Durer_x)

Website: http://www.pencilmuseum.co.uk/

 

 

10 Christmas Delicacies and Their Traditions

Christmas is a time of traditions seemingly cast in stone and some of them dating from the stone age.

We all indulge in unusual customs that people from elsewhere may mock or jeer. In Sweden, for instance, watching Donald Duck on Christmas Eve is a communal pastime, in the UK we eat sprouts, in Spain they have a defecating nativity figure. And there’s lots more where they came from.

Food is important at times of communal festivity and the choice of food can sometimes be thought-provoking. And of course the traditions attached to that food can sometimes be even more interesting that the grub itself …

Mince pies

Mince pies (telegraph.co.uk)

UK – Mince Pies

These I’m a big fan of but didn’t realise until researching this post the superstitions associated with them. Originally there was real meat in a mince pie and the idea of sweetening the meat idea was brought back from the Middle East by returning crusaders. Not surprising as meat dishes sweetened with icing sugar are still a part Middle Eastern cooking. There are some great traditions that we forget about when pigging out on them at Christmas time (or maybe that’s just me):

  • Superstition number 1: If you eat one mince pie a day between Christmas and 6th January you’ll have happiness for the next 12 months. This is an excellent excuse to eat mince pies.
  • Superstition 2: Always eat them in silence…(?)
  • Superstition number 3: Stir the mixture clockwise because obviously stirring it anticlockwise is as unlucky as tripping over a black cat.
  • Superstition number 4: The cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves represent the gifts bought by the three kings.
  • More a fact than a superstition number 5: Eating mince pies and puddings and generally behaving in a festive way was banned by king of the killjoys, Oliver Cromwell.
KFC Christmas

KFC at Christmas (http://turtlepack.blogspot.co.uk)

Japan – KFC

Even though Japan isn’t a Christian country they love their celebrations and Christmas is one they’ve taken on board: ‘Christmas chicken’ is their Christmas dinner of choice.

Partly because of a lack of ovens big enough to cook turkeys in and partly because of devious marketing efforts by Kentucky Fried Chicken, their branches on Christmas Eve are chock full of revellers and there are often queues out the door.

Chile – Ponche a la romana

An eggnog-style concoction, this consists of champagne and pineapple ice cream. Basically a more expensive ice cream soda and served during the summer months as well as being a Christmas and New Year’s Eve treat. The only reason I’ve added it in here is that I wouldn’t mind trying it.

Romania – Piftie

While a traditional Romanian main course at Christmas consists of standard fare such as pork chops and baked gammon, their appetisers are a tad heart attack-inducing. The piftie is a prime example.

Piftie - pork in aspic

Piftie – pork offal in aspic (http://foodlorists.blogspot.co.uk)

Pigs feet are boiled to make the piftie as there’s a lot of gelatin in the foot. Then garlic and pig offal (head and feet) and sometimes vegetables are added to the liquid in moulds. What you’re left with is a scrummy gelatiny mass of yuck. (Sorry – I’ve a thing about gelatin – can’t eat panna cotta because of it).

Iceland – Fermented Skate

Thorláksmessa (Mass of St Thorlac) falls on 23rd December and it is on this day that the whole of Reykjavík is alive with the smell of ammonia.

Eating fermented skate was traditional in the Western part of the island but has become common throughout Iceland these days. Cooking it with smoked lamb gets rid of some of the smell and it’s served with sheep fat and potatoes to counteract the taste a bit …

The tradition of eating this tasty meal came about as a result of Catholic non-eat-meating in the period coming up to Christmas. And as some parts of the skate are poisonous, fermenting the fish for a while is said to make it less dangerous.

Slovakia – Bread Throwing

A Slovakian Christmas Eve meal is a solemn occasion full of symbolism and superstition. As in many Eastern European Catholic countries, a 12 course vegetarian banquet is eaten which harks back to the 12 apostles.

One course in this Slovakian feast is a tart soup as a reminder of the bitterness of slavery (in the exodus from Egypt bible story); poppy seeds are included in lots of dishes as they’re believed to bring luck; and walnuts are thrown in the corner for the same reason.

My favourite, however, is the custom of soaking local breads or a wheat based dessert called kutia in water, forming it into little balls and chucking it at the ceiling. The more that sticks, the better their crop will be next year. That must take a bit of cleaning up afterwards and presumably it’s only done by people with crops.

Netherlands – Gourmetten

Dutch gourmet cooking

Dutch gourmet cooking (yummydutch.com)

Gourmet at Christmas isn’t the posh food that we would normally associate with it. The host provides meat and vegetables which the guests cook in little frying pans, stove set or grill (the ‘gourmet set’) on the table between them. Pancakes are also made at the table and fruit is provided for dessert.

Greece – Christopsomo

Christopsomo bread

Christopsomo bread (http://roundthetable.net)

Christopsomo (Christ’s bread) is a sweet, buttery bread made carefully and with only the best ingredients. It’s decorated with a Byzantine cross or with symbols representing the cook’s family life, like animals or a family crest. The cross is flavoured with aniseed and the ends of it encircle walnuts. A variation is the Zakinthos version with dried fruits.

Worldwide – Candy canes

Candy canes

Candy canes image (Wikipedia)

The tradition of selling candy canes and decorating trees with them is popular throughout Europe and common in the US. It never featured much in the cornucopia of UK sweet treats but it seems to be appearing more often here as well.

The custom is said to have come about in 1670 when a German choirmaster created these particularly shaped sweets to keep children quiet during long church services. He had the bright idea of asking the local confectioner to shape the candy like a shepherd’s crook to remind the kids of the nativity story.

Dr Who, Clint, Lawrence, Beckham: What do they have in common? The Tabernas Desert

 

Gunslinger in A Town Called Mercy, Dr Who

Gunslinger in A Town Called Mercy

I was watching a episode of Dr Who that’s just aired in the UK recently, “A Town Called Mercy”. It’s a sort of “High Noon in space” episode complete with a cyborg gunslinger not unlike Yul Brynner in WestWorld, a marshall in the form of the good doctor in a stetson and the pouting Amy Pond as the doctor’s deputy.

The location looked familiar – I was certain that the BBC had shelled out for a trip to Arizona to film it. And it was obviously filmed either in a ghost town, or on a ready-made Western film set.

Lawrence of Arabia in Tabernas

Lawrence of Arabia in the Tabernas desert (thanks to http://prospain.wordpress.com)

It didn’t take too much digging to find out that the episode was actually filmed in the only desert in Europe – theTabernas Desert, Almeria, Spain. And not too much more digging uncovered the fact that films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Once Upon a Time in the West , The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Magnificent Seven, For a Few Dollars More and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Even a David Beckham Pepsi ad …

Turns out there’s more than one Western towns in the desert, all built by Sergio Leone’s people in the 1960s as the backdrop for his spaghetti westerns:

Mini Hollywood: The custom-built Western town (erected for For a Few Dollars More) known as  and formerly known as Yucca City, forms a perfect backdrop to Western-style films. The town is these days owned by a hotel group and it’s now known as Oasys and there’s a swimming pool and zoo on site (!?)

Fort Bravo/Texas Hollywood, a few miles away, was another of these Western towns built by Leone and was used by the Dr Who team also. There’s a Mexican and a Mexican set still in good nick on the site. According to this Once upon a time in Almeria article Ennio Morricone’s greatest hits are piped out all over town. (Read about the Spanish illegitimate son of Henry Fonda in that article for ideas on how to boost your film career).

Clint Eastwood in the Tabernas desert

Clint Eastwood in the Tabernas desert

There’s a great Japanese site that compares shots from the movies with more recent photos of where they were filmed. Have a look at these pages For a Few Dollars More and http://y-yasuda.net/mh2.htm use Google Translate.

If visiting a resort isn’t your thing, go for walk in the desert with Spanish Highs and imagine you’re Clint Eastwood instead. Don’t try that in summer though – you’ll fry!