Mar 182014

I can’t say this about many things, but I agree with Pat Buchanan’s analysis of Putin, Russia, and Ukraine in his posting: Is Putin the Irrational One?

If we Americans want out of Afghanistan, why would Putin want to go back into Uzbekistan? Why would he want to annex Western Ukraine where hatred of Russia dates back to the forced famine of the Stalin era?

Since the viewpoint repeated in western media these days regarding Russia is very one sided, it is worth taking a look at things from another perspective.

Mar 052014

I finally got around to listening to Dan Carlin’s podcast titled Common Sense #270 – Poking the Bear which was published last week. It gets off to a slow start, but I think he does a great job of portraying the larger scope and the lead up which brings us to the situation today around Russia, Ukraine, and the USA. I highly recommend taking a listen if you are interested in learning more about the current environment and motivations.

Apr 212013

Scotland Scotland
Photos of Scotland

We spent a little less than week in Scotland in the summer of 2012 as an “add-on” from a another trip to London and Scandinavia. I wasn’t terribly well planned but was very enjoyable; funny how that works sometimes. The country is small but the winding roads off main routes mean distances are generally slow to cover. Even so, it worked well that we stayed in Edinburgh as our base and took day trips and tours around the country.

Edinburgh is a lovely mixture of a city – lots new, lots old. The most popular point of the city is arguably the Edinburgh castle, and with good reason as it is well preserved and serves as the focal point of the city. I highly recommend walking through Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat to catch a sunset or sunrise. Not only because the view of Edinburgh castle is incredible, but also because we ran into some entertainment. Two bagpipers had setup on one of the paths and were practicing in the rain and enjoying the acoustics of the rocks. Few things have ever been as special for me than watching the city glow under a pink sunset in the rain while accompanied by a local soundtrack.

It is easy to get around by Edinburgh black cab, bus, or walking. As with most European cities the train station is located in the center of the city and it is easy to travel to major destination points that way (more on that later). To get a full taste of the country though you need to either rent a car or use touring companies. We took several small group tours to explore the highlands while visiting castles, lochs, distilleries, and towns. Though we encountered wet weather most of the trip all of our excursions were very enjoyable.

We also took the commuter train to explore Glasgow by day trip. The trip by train was fast and relatively inexpensive as the cities are not terribly far apart. Anna and I both enjoy Charles Rennie Mackintosh‘s work (Art Nouveau) so it was a must visit for us, including lunch at one of his tearooms. Despite the relatively close distance between Glasgow and Edinburgh they each have very distinct attitude. The cliche adage is that Edinburghers say Glaswegians are rough about the edges, and Glaswegians see the Edinburghers as snobs. I can’t remark too much on that as it was such a relatively short visit but I found that Glasgow felt much more like a vibrant new-world city than Edinburgh, which felt a bit more like a well curated museum piece in places.

It was a short but very packed and enjoyable trip. Scotland very easy and relatively cheap to visit if you are in London already, so consider it if you are already going to be spending any time in the UK.

Dec 052010

During our weekend in Brussels we missed out on some sites like Cantillon Brewery, but we managed to hit Bier Circus before it closed Saturday night. The food was pretty good, but it was the beer selection we came for. We poured through their beer menu and had some lovely selections over the course of the meal and evening. While their regular menu is impressive enough, we also paid a god awful sum to try an off menu choice, Westvleteren 12.

That name doesn’t mean much to most people. Westvleteren is one of only seven Trappist breweries in the world. The others you may recognize – Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Achel, and Koningshoeven (aka La Trappe). All are well known for their excellent beer. The critical difference with Westvleteren is that unlike the other monasteries, it has no interest in producing commercial quantities of beer. Westvleteren only brews enough beer to cover monastery costs, no more, regardless of demand. People have to call in to the abbey in advance to make a reservation on a particular day to pickup a case of beer (and no more than a case). Given the rarity of the beer, it has produced a bit of an obsession in the beer world and has consistently ranked one of, if not the best, beer in the world.

The “best” just seems silly to me. Ranking is such a strange concept when applied to intangibles and variances. A prime example is travel. When someone asks me “what has been your favorite place to travel to”, I honestly don’t have an answer. I’ve love to return to any of them; each brought a difference experience to the table. I feel the same way about *the best* food or drink.

Is the Westvleteren 12 an excellent beer? Definitely. The best? It doesn’t matter. I’m just as happy with a St. Bernardus Abt 12 or Trappistes Rochefort 10. Perhaps that’s for the best. Scarcity and expense have an impact on our perception of how much we think we will like something. But research shows it doesn’t work out that way – we frequently like the cheaper stuff better.

Dec 022010

brussels brussels
Photos of Brussels, Belgium

We stayed in Brussels over the weekend, in the north part of downtown, off Koningsstraat. I say that because I think it has a lot of impact on our impressions of the city. The city center was a complete ghost town over the weekend. Everything except Grote Markt and area of course. Those small streets were humming with activity and markets. Packing my suitcase at De Bier Tempel, a sample or four at La Maison des Maitres Chocolatiers Belges, and of course a waffle at Manneken Pis. I can’t say we were very original, but it was still a lot of fun.