Archive for the ‘hotels’ Category
So, four years now (or, rather, next week it will be…here’s the annual reports for years Three, Two, and One for historical perspective).
We just received our new visas valid until 2016 but plan to take the next step toward citizenship in a year, Indefinite Leave to Remain…sort of the British Green Card. There is an exam, first, but in general it is all downhill from here.
The view from Western Street near the new house…also all downhill
Additionally, we are in the process of moving house (which is why I rushed the annual report a week forward) from just north of the Oasis over to Old Town to a house situated close walks to either the Beehive or the Castle or the Globe (recently reopened!)—three locals instead of one and all three of high quality—and dozens of others a short walk. The new house has three bedrooms each larger than its counterpart in the old house, the two receptions are larger and made into more of an open-plan configuration, the bath is larger and has a tub (not just a shower), and there is a finished basement; on the down side, the kitchen is a little narrower and more primitive as is the small garden but everything we do and everywhere we normally go in Swindon (save for the butcher) is so close.
The only races I did this past year were the London Marathon (5 pubs plus a can of Carling on the last mile) and the Beerathon (5 miles with a pint and a hefty food item between each) and the mileage run for the year suffered from this lack of focus—1950 give or take about 25 (most estimates pretty good using gmap-pedometer), while the last several years (except for the year of the wreck) were in the 2200-2500 range.
On the runs, I visited 255 new pubs with a stunning 67 new ones (steep part of the graph) in September when I took two weeks off work and ran at least 10 miles per day in new territory each day. The 1000th wasn’t as big a thrill as I thought it would be, but I saw some really nice places and met some really fine folk. The September holiday found me visiting Gloucester, South Wales, Slough (exotic, I know) and Exeter along with some nearer-to-Swindon trips. The 100 Yellow Beer Challenge was responsible for a lot of second visits to pubs I might not otherwise have gone to after an initial stop and many of these seemed better the second time around. Oh, and my Workingman’s Club appears to have failed or at least hasn’t been open the last several times I’ve popped by (I have a grand one scoped out for the new neighbourhood, though).
Best pubs in Year Four (reverse order by First Visit write-up):
The Southgate Inn, Devizes
The Hop Inn, Swindon
Dicey Reilly’s, Teignmouth
The Brass Monkey, Teignmouth
One Eyed Jack’s, Gloucester
Ye Olde Red Lion, Tredegar
The Rose of Denmark, Woolwich
The Volunteer Rifleman’s Arms
The Green Dragon, Marlborough
The British Lion, Devizes
The Blue Boar, Alsbourne (for the Dr. Who connections)
British Citizenship Exam Prep
Assize Court, Bristol
Paul Simon in Hyde Park
The Bremen Musicians (German children’s story)
Sex Tourism in Wiltshire
Modern Algebra for Omid
Burns’ Day Lunch
There are others search for ‘made me laugh.’ The blog may or may not have made some of the over 100,000 visitors laugh, but the damn fools keep checking in (that’s you, that is).
Still boiling sweat after the final dash down the Thames Path to the White Hart, I ordered my third Wiltshire Gold of the day (yet another Arkells pub) and begged directions to the loo: “I have some dry kit in my bag…I may smell better after that.”
“Oh, bless. It’s right down there.” In the States, Southern ladies have this way of saying, “why bless your heart,” that might be interpreted as “thank you, how very sweet,” or, just as often, “go fuck yourself.” In England, they just say, “bless,” but it is just as multifunctional. I think the landlady here was using it both for saying thanks as well as, “damn straight, stinkpot…get your foul arse down to the w.c. and maybe use a little soap.” My humblest apologies.
The building is huge and the interior is charming. To get to the outside drinking area you can go out a side door but I walked the length of the building–a decent hike–emerging in an old stable now used as parking. Great house, good beer…sorry I left it so long to visit.
The landlady here was remarkably rude, but only a little bit toward me. When I entered, a family was waving a printout of their reservation confirmation at her and she was saying that all she had on the books was a group of four lads, but she could gladly put the family (two adults and two nearly adult girls) in a double room. Or, she could TRY to find them some alternate accommodation (the tone of her voice sounded like she was doing them a favour). I pointed at my map and started listing off places with rooms I had been to today (on foot, so probably not a long drive). She said, “that’s too far and what I have in mind is nicer.” I laughed and looked at the unkempt state of, at least, the bar; “nicer than this? You know, I just ran from the Bull, the long way, it isn’t that far.”
“Why don’t I just serve you your drink and THEN I’ll see what I can do for these…people.” Yikes. I paid up and suggested, “you know, what they probably would have liked you to do is honour their valid reservations,” as I headed out to the river frontage. Outside a giant tent was up for a cycling group…ah, the other shoe dropped: she probably gave the family’s rooms away to some of the big cycle party.
The beer was good.
After the Coach and Horses, I was only about a half mile from the Red Lion so made another short loop around town then plopped down on a seat at the bar on my return. The bartender was different from the girl who checked me into the room so it was like a fresh start to the bar. I got a Carling (#130 in the Challenge) and watched some Paralympics track and field.
Along the way, I caught some of the conversation going on at the bar. One girl was explaining about her medications and how they help with the voices; apparently they aren’t all bad but sometimes it is voices she doesn’t recognise and ,”that can be terrifying, like.”
I decided to walk around after that, and have a look at the bar itself. It is very strange construction, and appears to be huge timber blocks with some sort of mortar between them.
I felt grungy and was certain I smelled awful. Drinking up, I moved on to my room and had a very hot bath to prepare for the evening in town.
The rest of the week in Bremen was wrapped up in 9 and 10 hour work days running experiments in the lab followed by some experimental dining (with mornings and one afternoon either running or taking long strolls to cover a bit of the city and its outlying neighbourhoods, mapped above). Our colleagues at the instrument manufacturer took us to a Turkish restaurant (Tendüre) that I would highly recommend (you could make a meal off the mezze, alone).
Left to my own devices for Wednesday night, I found a lovely Italian bistro called Pizzeria Cassetta in the Neustadt about a mile from the hotel (and a few doors down from the pool hall where I later watched the Spain v Portugal football match). Cassetta looks like a neighbourhood bar but was packed largely on the merits of the cheap but incredibly authentic Italian food cooked by incredibly authentic Italian dudes. I ordered a cuarto litro of the house Montepulciano and watched the service like it was a floor show.
I marveled as plate after scrumptious platter of fine Italian cuisine emerged from the kitchen where one busy chef plated like a machine. When mine (a ziti with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, garlic and a cream-based tomato sauce) came out, it never saw what hit it as I devoured it and a second quarter liter of the house wine in mere minutes. Wonderful and a perfect foil to the heavy German fare during the day.
I had less interest in watching the Italy v Germany match than in watching the German fans so I sought out a venue that would allow me to observe while I enjoyed my Thursday supper. I have, in the past, sworn off and sworn at Mexican food in Europe but decided to give Mexcal, a restaurant I had spotted on a run earlier in the week, a shot.
Wonder of wonders, I was the only one of about 30 customers that wasn’t watching the game despite, wonder of wonders, this being the most authentic and delicious Mexican meal I have had outside of places in Nogales, South Tucson or, at a push, the Buford Highway Guatemalan/Mexican corridor in Atlanta. Granted, the chiles were not hot but otherwise the spices were perfect.
My ‘taco’ had marinated grilled chicken slices and succulent beef along with mouth-watering shrimps. The burrito was a complex and challenging compilation of chicken, beans that retained texture but were flavoured like delicate broth throughout, and rice that failed to be bland or dry. The guacamole was made with sour cream instead of mayo and was, therefore, something I could (and did) slather on everything. Wonderful.
German fans, watching their team getting their ass handed to them
Even more wonderful, the Germans like their beer cold and will serve it in pitchers (at a price about the same for 1.5 liters as two pints cost in Britain). I was a bit dismayed by the claim, on the little collar/napkin on my glass, that König Pils is the king of beers, but I’ll let you decide who to follow:
Perhaps not so much “King of Beers” as the Kaiser:
I left Mexcal at halftime and the streets’ large beer gardens were still full of singing football fans, their collective voices eerily echoing all over the town centre. I veered off toward the hotel a few miles away but soon needed a toilet and found refuge in a bar called Charly Treff, occupied only by two old dudes (one sewing buttons on a corduroy vest like those that appeared in several hundred photographs and artist renderings all over the walls of this weird little establishment). The game was on the tele when I returned but no one was watching with the home squad behind 2-0. I had a beer and then completed my journey home for the night.
Charly Treff from Google street view (it was dark out when I tried, and failed, to get a good photo on my own)
Charly Treff bathroom: any place that has a puke sink fitted to the bathroom wall is alright by me!
The last day at the lab we had a breakthrough just before I left to do a couple of hours worth of daytime tourism before my flight. I ventured up as far as the Hauptbahnhoff, a marvelous example of rail station architecture, then continued north to the Bürgerpark looking for a beer garden (yet finding none that really called my name).
The Germans of the modern world are much more accepting of alternative lifestyles, I believe, since on the search for a tram back to the centre I spotted a designated alley to cruise men:
In town, the area called the Schnoor is a network of medieval streets too small for most motor vehicles and, as I learned, overrun with tourists during the day. This was a shame since I had spotted many good bars on evening runs (when the tourists give way to the local populace) and only had the will to venture as deep into their midst as Gasthof zum Kaiser Friederich, about 100 meters from my tram. Still, a very tall, very cold, very refreshing glass of witbier suited my temperament and fortified me for the trip home.
Not really hungry when I arrived at Bremen Airport, I opted for lunch when I realised the place in there was preparing the pasta to order with a real chef tossing the noodles with one of about 15 sauces of your choice. The line was big so I ordered two glasses of wine to get me through the wait and the dining…and this was almost too much except that the food was better than I would have expected in a restaurant OUTSIDE the airport. What a treat! I will miss this city until I get another chance to explore it in more detail….
An arduous journey culminated in landing at the tiny Bremen Airport (larger than the one in Athens, Georgia but smaller than Lovell Field in Chattanooga). My hotel was attached to the lobby by a covered walk across the tramway and after exchanging notes with my colleague who arrived earlier I retired to my room where I cracked open a Becks and found a rubbery packet placed on my pillow (but I’ve stayed in crappier places that I SHOULD have been able to say that about).
I awoke at 5 by habit but was still sleepy and lounged around till 6 before stretching and going for a bit of a run around the bleak neighbourhood (mostly industrial park). There are as many bike lanes in Bremen as in a Dutch city, so finding a place to run is pretty straightforward. Work was a chore because we left so many bits we actually needed back in Oxford (on the advice of my boss and the folks at the development labs). Non-disclosure agreements limit that discussion to essential that.
Okay, it means radio-controlled clock; but, I like the idea of getting my daily newspaper at a place called, “Funk Hour.”
Work went on, regardless, and we eventually released our tired hosts and my Russian mate went home to the hotel. I opted to change back into my running gear and went out to explore the beer/running dichotomy, Bremen style.
Bremen is never going to be a huge tourist spot, but it is quite a charming city. It has a contrarian history (one of the furthest west Soviet Republics, until this was quickly quashed) and the folks here are quite nice if you try at all to meet them halfway. For instance, I sometimes can surprise myself at my comprehension of spoken German because, although I have good grades on my high school transcripts for German language coursework I have absolutely no recollection of ever enrolling, attending, or being examined in these lessons; nonetheless, I managed to follow the simplified-for-my-consumption conversations at the three bars I hit on the route. Very nice of them to let me try.
Down an alley I spotted the Spitzen Gebel and dashed in for a pilsner. I had a Haake Beck, which I think I could get used to, then smelled something strange…hey! Folks were smoking in here! I only have an occasional stogie, but this is what a bar should be like. The small venue was packed and friendly and reasonably priced. Moreover, I was the only non-local in the place despite its proximity to what should have been the highest density of visitors in the town.
Needing nourishment and loving a kebab, I found a döner place. No, check that, I found a very good döner place and had quite a delicious pita with lamb, salad, and chilli sauce; not at all greasy and the meat tasted like (and had the texture of) meat. Result.
Tasty and high quality though it was, I wanted something to was it down and to cleanse the palate. About a third of the way back to hotel I spotted the weird little side street bar, Baldu, with its Tiki Bar interior and 70′s soundtrack. I ordered a Franziskaner Weißbier and received an enormous glass of this faintly orange and wheat loveliness that I can still make out, faintly, even after the ‘run’ continued on for one more stop.
Everyone else in the bar was drinking equally large or strong drinks backed with shots of something or other (I recognised vodka and got one for myself after even the bartender rendered horrific face-pulls on some spicy black shot one of the punters bought her…the vodka enhanced the FW, whereas the mystery tipple might have ruined it).
The run started to approach my shoddy airport neighbourhood so I scanned side streets until I spotted a bier sign down one. I pulled up to the building to find it was a pool hall complete with some stinky bikers out front. It was still pretty tame inside, the soundtrack included Meat Loaf and the house wine was, I shit you not, Motörhead Shiraz…I had already ordered another Haake Beck but I really wanted to toast Lemmy (maybe I can get someone from work to come shoot a few racks before I have to leave).
The Bridge Hotel was full of marathoners largely due to it being inexpensive and near the transport links. It was also surprisingly clean, quiet for an in town residence, friendly and professional. Our room was small but more than adequate and came with a bowl of fruit. For location, it is a few hundred meters from Borough Tube Station on the Northern Line and only a few hundred more to Waterloo Rail Station or the Thames across from the Palace of Westminster.
The breakfast nook was down in the Iran Room, a strange little lounge in the basement. We had eggs but there was only white bread to toast, no real coffee (instant) and nothing healthier than corn flakes for cereal. More fruit was available, though.
I get Room 13 more often than any other when I stay in a hotel....
The receptionist asked, “how did you get so hot?”
“God made me this way, but thank you.”
“No,” she corrected, “it is bloody freezing out.”
“Ooooohhhhh, that. Running, mostly lost, out from Swindon.”
A few miles from the Bolingbroke I spotted a second country inn that might have a better attitude. Indeed, the Marsh Farm made me feel quite welcome and I returned the favour by standing aside in the lobby so the smartly dressed members of the large wedding party could get by without being soiled by the sweat and farm waste covered clothing I was in.
The bar was small but very nice and there is a big and quite posh restaurant on the premises. And, everyone is as nice as can be.
I had a duck in the oven but only needed to turn it once an hour so I reckoned the return run from The Windmill could afford a short break at the Victory, a pub I found listed on one or another beer related sites. I had my doubts as this turned out to be attached (and within) a business hotel but it was fairly nice inside, they had Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch, go Cards) on tap, and though it was easily as busy as the Windmill and staffed by fewer, as well, the staff was alert and eager to serve the overpriced swill so that I was seated and half through my pint 5 minutes after entering the bar. That makes a world of difference in civilising the atmosphere and I hope they weren’t too offended by my uncouth appearance.
The Nags Head is no longer a pub but it seems to have been one in the past. I realised the following morning on my way to Cambridge that the restaurant must be separate from the hotel area and that I probably could have gotten my drink down there. However, assuming that the hotel dining area was all there was and, since it was dark Tuesday night I treated the place the way I treat all ex-pubs in order to include them on the list and had a self-procured beverage (some bourbon from Aldi).
The drink was fairly pleasant and steeled my nerves for the evening in Room 13. I have never known a room 13 or a floor 13 in any hotel and Kevin the manager said that some people have left due to it. Kevin was a quite friendly fellow and he runs a clean, quiet, and convenient hostelry. My room was large and better than most I’ve stayed while in Europe. If I ever find my way back out here, it will be my first choice.