Old Grump’s guide to Cuba

January 3rd, 2015

So sometime before we got married we decided upon a a destination for our honeymoon.
Cuba
Somewhere warm, where it would be cold at home. Alright, I can get behind that.
Somewhere cultural. La-tih-fucking-da.
Somewhere with a different economic basis. Yeah, ploughing fields with cows. Whoopty-bleeding-do.
Somewhere 10 fucking hours away by plane. Great, I love sitting with my knees around my ears for 10 hours. Where do I sign up!

Not wanting to be an old grump, I agreed to this destination to celebrate our love and whatnot.

Well, if the holiday wasn’t just completely fucking perfect.

Food

All the food in Cuba can be eaten in 2 days.
The food we ate.
Every day
Twice a day
Consisted of a plate of rice and beans, a plate of cucumber, tomatoes and lettuce, fried bananas and a thing.
The thing could be quite interesting; squid, fish, lobster, chicken, pork or shrimp.
But no matter what.
There would be rice, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce and fried bananas
EVERY.
DAMN.
MEAL.

Oh sure, you can get lobster for $5 but if I have any rice OR beans in the next year I’m going to throw up.

Music

So, the music was described in the guidebook as:
“music seems to emanate out of every nook and cranny, much of it spontaneous and unrehearsed”
Which is code for: There’s a lot of it, and much of it is out of tune or out of synch.

The casa de la musica (house of music) in Trinidad has a nightly show of large salsa bands and in order of appearance I would have liked to forcibly remove:
– The trumpetist of the first band
– The 2nd pianist of the first band
– The trumpetist (again) of the second band
– The violinist of the third band
– The singer of the last band

I hope these guys were just jamming, because if these were practised performances Cuban music fucking sucks.

BUT. For all the disruption a trumpetist creates blowing a different time signature (and nothing quite stands out as much as a frigging trumpet) to the rest of the band at least they weren’t playing the Buena Vista god-damned Social club.
Walk anywhere in a major city in Cuba and there will be a band performing Guantana-bloody-mera. In the tourist quarters of Old Havana it can seem at times as if every Cuban with a guitar has come out to sing the songs that Buena Vista made famous [source].

Accommodation

Every one of our accommodations had a sign outside stating their capabilities.
Beds (No shit)
Aircon (Sometimes)
Laundry (Usually)
Television (With no volume control)
and a red and blue droplet of water side-by-side indicating . . .  I don’t know.
It sure as fuck didn’t mean what you’re thinking of. In the 9 places we’ve stayed at only the last 2 had consistent running hot water. And the last 2 were not the $55  or $75 resorts we have spent nights at.

But, at least if you are newly arrived at a new destination without a reservation there will be 30 Cubans outside of the bus’ door offering you their services.
Accept or not. It won’t matter, they won’t move to let you out of the damn thing regardless.

Jineteros

Or rondom-people-standing-around-on-the-street-for-no-good-god-damned-reason.

  • Would you like a hotel?
  • Are you looking for a hotel?
  • Cigar?
  • Are you looking for a room a room?
  • taxi?
  • Do you need a casa particular?
  • Come into my restaurant?
  • Allemagnia?
  • Amigo, cigar?
  • Come have a drink at my bar?
  • Allemagnia?
  • Do you need a taxi
    • To Viñales?
    • To the beach?
    • To Trinidad?
    • To Cienfuegos?
  • Do you want to get a cocktail?
  • Do you have a place to stay yet?
  • Cigar?
  • Amigo, do you need a taxi?
  • Hello my friend where are you from?
  • Best restaurant. Come in here and have the best food?
  • Stay at my casa particular. The most awesomest place?
  • Welcome to Cuba, is it your honeymoon?
  • Allemagnia?
  • Allemagnia?
  • Hollanda? RADIO VERONICA!
  • Do you need a taxi?
  • taxi?
  • taxi?
  • Allemagnia?
  • taxi?
  • Casa particular?
  • Hey amigo, where you from?
  • Cigar?
  • Excuse me, my friend. No I’m not trying to sell you something, but you are familiar with the music festival that will be going on at the Casa de musica tonight. It is the Buena Vista Social Club festival with special performances all night. Best place to go beforehand would be this little bar I know of, run by my brother. You can find it here. It serves the best little canchanchara cocktail, a local speciality. As a matter of fact let me show you. WAITER, 3 canchanchara please. Oh, you’re right 10 in the morning is too early for cocktails. WAITER, cancel those. The best restaurant to combine with that bar is only 2 blocks away from it, a special place I know of with a magnificent Ropa Vieja run by my cousin. No, no, no, I wouldn’t dream of asking money for this, but if you could help me out on a minor matter though, I could do with some milk for my kid, they only sell it at stores for foreigners though. Oh yes, you are very kind. No, I can’t tell you why they would put something so vital to young children behind a payment system like this. Yes, just this way. Full ration of milk please. That will be $30.

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHHHCK OOOOOOOOOOHHFF!

I need your help guys

October 9th, 2014

So

I’m now well into my thirties

Balding badly

Married

Switching companies

Again

And now I have a drivers license

There is one last step to make, and I need your help

A:

B:

C:

Bring on the mid-life crisis!

Harz trip

October 4th, 2014

The Harz is German for “The Heart”. It is, however, situated in northern Germany.
You can probably deduce when the place was named based on the history and locations of the various German Kingdoms. But I won’t go into that. There’s a proclamation of Charlemagne that mentions it by that name though so it’s pretty old if you want to look into it yourself.

Being in northern Germany though means that we can reach it easily though and we don’t really have to go into how the name isn’t very accurate or appropriate in the current political climate.

However, there is a small naming issue. There is the Harz, and then there is the Harz. One is the area, the other is the national park.

So I thought to go to the second and upon arriving found out about the existence of the first. Considering we’d booked a hotel there we just went with it. Also, this leaves us with a good reason to return.

We stayed in a nice pension at Goslar that allowed dogs so Orion came along.

Goslar is a nice little fairytale village that doesn’t exist in the real world and it looks quite nice.

If ever you need to leave the real world and visit a fairy tale location I heartily recommend it. Although, please read up on original Grimm fairytales and their ending. Disney has no place in this town

Goslar was founded in 922 AD, although it is widely assumed that it has been settled since pre-Roman times. The town is famed for its magnificent gates and ramparts, the medieval Imperial Palace, Romanesque churches, its half timbered guild houses, the ancient Rammelsberg ore mine… and its witches [1]

Being on the recovery side we did some nice hiking in the Harz area (but not the Harz national park).

Photos can be found here.

Oh, and another word of warning.

That is a full sized spoon in there.
And that’s a cappuccino next to it

Oktober time in Germany

September 22nd, 2013

Oktober time in Germany means one thing to many people. Oktoberfest.

In face, most people would miss most of Oktoberfest because the bulk of Oktoberfest is in September.
Maybe that’s a left over from the Julian Calendar, Oktoberfest being such an old tradition an all.

Oktoberfest is about 2 things:

  • Beer
  • Sausages

Actually, it’s mostly about beer. It’s just really hard to have beer without sausages in this country. They’re just ALWAYS there!

Always.

I suppose there’s a couple of other things. The tents, the drindl and the schlager. But for today we will focus on beer.

Beer is big deal here.
Germany has the second largest beer consumption per capita in the world[1] up from 4th in 2004.
The stein is an internationally recognized symbol of German beer.
There are 1300 brewers here, something I believe to be the 2nd largest amount per country (although the internet is having trouble coming up with a uniform answer to that) and per capita it easily trounces said list leader.

The character of beer can vary enormously, Bavarian beers (and Bavaria is kind of king of beers within Germany; quantity at least, flavour being rather personal of course) are very different than the stuff they brew up here.
There’s wheat beers and pale beers and dark beers, oh my.

There’s also, and this is the reason of writing this, the Isotonic beer.

You know the isotonic drinks, it’s what you drink after exercising because of useful additives or smthg.

Well, here in Germany we have the very best of isotonic drink:

No, seriously, click on the picture, it should take you to a review of the stuff as sports drink.

Whereas in the Netherlands alcohol free beers get ridiculed by celebrities[2] in Germany they are exploring new marketing angle and it appears to do so successfully [3].

And now that I’m exercising again I’ll be sure to do it German style, with a beer afterwards.
For health reasons, of course.

 

This, btw, is what the Danes do with Beer.

Germany vs the working man

August 18th, 2013

So I’ve been in Germany a while now and there’s an aspect of living here that really annoys me.

Back in this post I mentioned my local bank being opened until 18:00 TWICE during the week. The rest of the week, they close at 16:00. I live next to two banks and both have this. Being considerate to people that live there their 18:00 days coincide.

It isn’t just banks either.
Bike stores close by 18:00 (and 13:00 on Saturdays)
I am trying to get a new apartment, no visitation has ever been later than 18:00The pet store closes at 18:00
Post offices close at 18:00
Gaming shops close at 18:00
I live next to a coffee shop that closes at 18:00

Basically, if you want to get something from a shop that isn’t a LIDL or a H&M it closes at 18:00

This really sucks if you . . . you know. Work.

This week I had to leave work early for two days so I could do stuff with stores and once because of viewing an apartment (which was 200 euro more expensive and 8 m2 smaller than advertised btw, and that sales lady surprised a room full of people that had to leave work early to see this place were annoyed with her). And this week I didn’t need to do anything with post or a bank.

Possibly it wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t work on the outskirts of the city as well as on the wrong side of a large river to the entire rest of the city.

Can you imagine that arrangement before internet banking, though?

Turns out

And this was quite shocking to me

Turn out that the employees of these places are people too.

People with hopes and dreams, that want to get home at a reasonable hour as well.
Something something family something something social life something something.

Which brings me back to those places that are opened after 18:00, if you work the cash-register at the LIDL your hopes and dreams were likely crushed years ago so your managers don’t feel bad having you work later.

Considering I can fill my time at work any way I like: 9-17, 7-15, 6-14 (And we added an additional ferry before 05:30 because enough people show up at this time), I can work around the stuff mentioned in this post.

But it is still kind of annoying.

Croatia

April 29th, 2013

We went there.

The thing is that we both have time off from work and Raph had to plan hers at the start of the year because of stuff.
So we planned 2 weeks off in April.

Come March we decided we really should come up with a plan.
Somewhere warm (because), not too far away, somewhere not too expensive, somewhere with good fresh food (because Raph and just . . . you can’t get cheap, fresh produce that’s not cabbage in this town) and Croatia was it because . . . .
Well, we found a cheap flight and didn’t want to look further to be honest.

Some 2 days before leaving we picked up a Lonely Planet and found out Croatia is kind of a nice place on paper.

I love preparing my travel. Those trips fully planned out are always best.

So with a booked hostel and a grand total of 10 minutes looking at destinations we set off.

Turns out Zagreb is a nice place, Croatia takes a longer time to travel through due to all the mountains and there’s a perfectly good airport at the other end of the country that flies to Hamburg directly.
Point 1 of that list was quite nice, point 2 we’d soon find out and point 3 wasn’t going to help us seeing as we’d already bought tickets without looking to see if Croatia had more than just the one city/airport.

Seriously, when I had this in school it was fucking Yugoslavia and the capital wasn’t Zagreb. And when studying maps on far and exotic places, Europe wasn’t where my focus was. Czechoslovakia split up the year after my European geography test in primary school and forced us to re-do that shit. Yugoslavia at least had the decency to wait till I didn’t have to re-do that test. But yeah, as a result, before this trip, I knew there was a Croatia and a Serbia and like two other bits . . . . but yeah.

Anyway, Zagreb is a lovely little city. There’s more to Zagreb than the lovely little city, but that’s the only bit we saw.
It’s a town that seems to live on the street, there’s cafés and restaurants everywhere and it is pretty sweet.



The little theme continued with a curious Lego roof

And . . . toast

Seriously, it’s images like this that make me think there’s point to all your whining that it’s not you that are short but me that’s tall.
That’s pretty average toast then.

We managed to see pretty much everything except the extra special viewpoint on the hill. We couldn’t find that one.
You know . . .
This one.
MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

After Zagreb we went to the Plitvice National Park
Which is a lovely park full of waterfalls in the Karst mountains that looked a bit like this.







Now, it’s a bit early in the season as you can tell by the lack of foliage on the trees. This meant that we could see the waterfalls better, but the photos didn’t really come out as nicely.
The other thing is that this is the time when a bit additional water comes down from the melting snow.

Couldn’t really reach all the areas without wellingtons which meant we missed the big waterfall which was safely hidden after 2 km of trail 30 cm below water-level.

After that we went on to Zadar.
Zadar is a nice town that has a nice middle-aged center which, before reading about all the other things in Croatia we thought was kind of special.
It also featured a sea organ and a sun thing that was being fixed seeing as it wasn’t the main season and all 🙁



From Zadar we did a nice little day trip to Paklenica National Park and walked up a mpuntain.
I suppose this is a good point to mention I’m suffering from some health issues and the doctor said I should be walking a lot.
Not sure this is what he meant though.



And after that we went to Split

First though, we took a day of sitting on our ass (some of that on the sea organ)

Split is a lovely little town with not just a middle-ages centre. It actually has a Roman Palace into which they built their lovely middle-age labyrinth.






Split was another town that offered great butt-sitting, reading and hiking opportunities but also offered the chance of going to several lovely islands just off the coast.

Not sure why people go there though. They were awful.
Seriously, don’t go there.

On the way back (because we weren’t flying from the city on the side of the country we were on now due to being idiots) we took in Krka National Park.

“That’s a nice place, it’s where we started our trip”
“Really? Most people start in big cities with airports”
” . . . Yes . . . . Krakau is a big city and has an airport”

Pronouncing Krka is tricky.

Krka, like Plitvice, is a waterfall park.

BUT, Krka has better management. You see Krka is the waterfall park that charges extra for the use of the bathroom.




After Krka we were kind of unsure where to go and ended up here

Where we knew we couldn’t afford the only hotel in town. But in Krka we met some people that said we should use the private option.

Interestingly, it turned out that all those people that had been approaching us at bus stations while we waddled to our youth hostel were offering us really nice deals.
At least if our experience in Sibenik was anything to go by.
This was, after checking, ALSO in the lonely planet. Really, prepping a little bit can apparently help.

The apartment was so nice (and less than the price of two beds at a youth hostel) we decided to stay there till we had to fly back despite that the main attracting for tourists in that town was yet another middle-age labyrinth town.

It was an interesting trip.
I’d left feeling harassed about having to take a holiday because it would put my already late projects at work even later and now I’m writing this ready for our next trip.

Our next trip, which is an agonizing 12 days away.

Life is hard

Full pictures here as always.