Three Bars in Three Cities

If there is one thing anyone can rely on when traveling in most parts of the world — it’s that there will always be a bar. When traveling, bars are not just a place to get a drink but a place to meet other travelers on the road and swap stories.  In my experience, it’s a place to meet the locals who can tell you more about the area you’re visiting and maybe even give you some good recommendations for getting off the beaten path. These are the places (drinking or not) that you start experiencing more of the place you’re visiting rather than just being a casual observer.

Budapest, Hungary — Szimpla Kert

I had heard about Szimpla long before I was even considering going to Budapest. Friends of mine from Germany, the U.K. and not to mention my Lithuanian husband had all been to Szimpla on their own respective trips to Budapest. So by the time I took my own maiden voyage to Hungary in October — I had high hopes for the bar.  Ruin pubs are unique to Budapest and they sound exactly like what they are, which is old buildings that are turned into bars. Szimpla is the ultimate ruin pub — it’s a massive old factory that has no roof (so everyone can smoke inside) and  multiple levels which include numerous bars. The place is covered in spray paint over it’s dingy walls, bath tubs cut in half serve as couches and old rusty bicycles hang from the walls tangled up in Christmas lights. I had never been to a bar quite like it. But, it lived up to expectation. When we were there we made friends with other pub goers who were from all over the world. People from Chile, U.K, Somalia, Romania, Italy, and of course Hungary were all happily sipping beer, sharing cigarettes as well as  stories. It was a fantastic place to go if you were looking for a friendly bar in Budapest.

Prague, Czech Republic — Hemingway Bar

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Hemingway Bar could tie first with Szimpla but it is a completely different type of experience. Hemingway was a huge highlight for my friends and  when we visited Prague in the fall of 2012. After a day of sightseeing we came upon a speakeasy style bar near the Vltava on the Old Town side of Prague.  This was a bit of a surprise as I’ve never seen speakeasy bars outside the U.S. and I admit I was skeptical. I rarely drink cocktails when I’m outside of the states because they often are over priced, way too sugary and just not as good. But, Hemingway won me over. They made a fantastic gin fizz and one of my friends couldn’t stop raving about his Manhattan which we all agreed tasted “magical.” In addition to great cocktails, Hemingway Bar offered a wide variety of cigars to enjoy with your cocktails. The atmosphere was incredibly laid back and we enjoyed our Cuban cigars and drinks on plush couches and chairs at the back of the bar.

Vilnius, Lithuania — Alinė Leičiai

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I am always on the hunt for a good home-brewed beer when I visit a new country. I find its a good cultural experience — especially if the country you’re in is renowned for it’s brew. My husband had been telling me for ages that Lithuanians make good beer and often win international brewing competitions. So when we visited his old stomping grounds in Vilnius, I was anxious to see if he was right. Leicai (pronounced Lay – chay) is a brewery in the old town of Vilnius that serves their signatures brews (light, dark and everything in between) as well as traditional Lithuanian food. Leicai is more of the perfect place to meet up with old friends (which is what we were there to do) than to go for a big night out. It’s a  place to relax and have a couple of beers and maybe a cheese/meat plate (which was enough to stuff three people).

What are some of the best bars you have been to?

Photo Credit: Aline Leiciai photo from Aline Leicia’s Facebook page; Hemingway Bar photo from Hemingway Bar photo’s Facebook page

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Heidelberg: Old World Charm (Part 1)

heidelbergWhen I first arrived in Heidelberg, Germany I recalled it looking like something out of an old fairy tale —  a riverside city surrounded by lush vineyards and the Black Forest with a castle on a hill overlooking the city below. Heidelberg has always had a reputation of being a place of culture and history rather than a major industrial hub. This coupled with the fact that it was spared bombing during WWII has made it an ideal destination for tourists and historians looking to experience both the natural beauty of the area and its preserved history. Initially, I traveled to the quaint German city for practical and sentimental reasons; I had family friends with whom I could stay and my father grew up on the U.S. Army base in Heidelberg.  But, since my first trip there — Heidelberg has given me many reasons to go back.

The Old Town

The Alstadt or Old Town sits directly below Heidelberg Castle and runs along the Neckar river. This part of town is breathtaking with its beautiful orange and red roofed buildings that are centuries old. The district is filled with hotels, shops, restaurants, market squares and scattered department buildings belonging to the world famous University of Heidelberg.

The main street or hauptstraße of the Old Town is a haven for pedestrians looking to roam around shops and pubs. The shops are mainly department stores and large chains but if there is one store worth poking your head inside, it’s Kathe Wohlfahrt. If you are curious how Germany wins Christmas every year, you just need to step inside this place to understand. This German chain, that serves as a year-long winter wonderland, specializes in handmade traditional German Christmas ornaments and is a great place to pick up a few souvenirs for friends back home.

The hauptstraße can be very crowded but the smaller cobbled streets leading off the main road have less people and seem to exemplify more local color. These small streets are where you will find numerous locally owned businesses and get a taste for the real Heidelberg. One of these cobbled side streets is called Steingasse and if you walk down it you will find a brewery called Vetters Brauhaus. Vetters (pronounced “Fetters”) is worth stopping in for one simple reason — they brew the best beer I have ever tasted. The beer I am referring to is their dunkelweizen or “dark wheat” beer . Order it in a steiner and enjoy over a skillet full of fried onions and sausages with a side of homemade sauerkraut and freshly baked pretzels. During both my visits to Heidelberg it has always been the best meal on either trip.

Heiliggeistkirche

In the old town there is one structure that towers high amongst all the baroque style buildings — Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit).This ancient church has existed in Heidelberg since at least the 1200s and stands as a major landmark in the middle of the Old Town. Throughout the main floor of the church are a series of stained glass windows; some that are centuries old and others only a few decades. These newer stained glass windows replaced ones that had been destroyed when the Germans bombed the Old bridge of Heidelberg, nearby, as they fled the Allied Forces.

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When I visited the church, I remember one of the newer windows stood out. I didn’t understand the image, which was of a large red cracked sphere, until I read the words on the glass –“E=MC2.” It struck me as both odd and ironic that Einstein’s famous equation was displayed on a stained glass window…in a church. Then I saw the date also displayed in the glass and no more explanation was needed — August 6, 1945. The day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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Once you leave the ground floor of the church and begin the ascent into the tower do you truly see how old the structure is. As you climb upwards, the walls become incredibly close and the passage very narrow. It’s not a journey for those who are claustrophobic or even those with wide shoulders. There is even a rope to help support you along the last path as it’s very steep. But, upon getting outside and onto the platform at the top — the view is absolutely worth the trouble.

Next post in my Heidelberg series — Heidelberg: The Castle and the Old Bridge

Dublin: Where Guinness is Gold

The first time I had a Guinness was on a hot summer day in the U.S. and it was horrible! I imagined it was what cold metal with some barley thrown in must have tasted like. I wouldn’t drink Guinness again until I moved to England in 2007, where I would find it to be a completely different beer all together. It was crisper and less bitter, with an almost refreshing finish to it. Guinness in England was delicious! I soon began to appreciate a good pint of the stout when I would go to the local pub. Why did Guinness suddenly taste better? Two reasons — Guinness must be poured a specific way (something that certainly wasn’t done in my first experience with it) and the closer you are to Dublin, the better the Guinness.

All Guinness in Ireland, the U.K. and North America is made in Dublin. Therefore, when it is en route to these far away countries the taste degrades. As one article noted, “Beer is liquid bread, or so the saying goes…and just like a baguette, the fresher beer is, the more delicious it tastes.”

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I discovered how true this was when I had my first Guinness in Dublin. Pouring Guinness in Ireland is an art form and the standards on how to serve it are exceedingly high. Therefore when I finally got my first taste of Guinness in Dublin, the result led to my and friends and I proclaiming “Guinness is gold!” But, our journey for the best pint of Guinness wouldn’t end with just any pub in Dublin. For that, we would have to go to the source.

The Guinness Storehouse

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The St. James Gate brewery in Dublin is the home of the original Guinness factory opened by Arthur Guinness in 1759 and the current location of the Guinness Storehouse. There are usually long lines to get in, but the wait is worth it. The Storehouse is essentially an adult’s version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, complete with waterfall. Here you get to learn about the history of Guinness, how it’s made, as well as the opportunity to start a batch of the black stuff. The Gravity Bar is at the top of the Storehouse and is where visitors can enjoy a perfectly poured pint as well as the amazing 360 degree view of Dublin.

Once you have left the Storehouse, the Guinness experience doesn’t end. Guinness flows like water all over the city and there is nothing more Irish than to enjoy a Guinness in the atmosphere of a pub in the Temple Bar district.

Temple Bar 

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The River Liffey in Dublin

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The Temple Bar district is near the River Liffey and is named after the Temple Bar (still in existence today) and has been around since 1637. The area is made up of numerous pubs along cobblestone streets. It is an ideal place to spend the evening in Dublin. The ultimate experience for me was popping into a few Irish pubs where a live folk band was playing Irish ballads and drinking a pint of the black stuff while chatting with the other pub goers.

So, whether you are a jilted beer drinker who didn’t enjoy Guinness the first time around or a seasoned Guinness drinker — I implore you to try another glass the next time you are in Dublin!

What’s the best pub you have been to in Dublin?

Originally visited: December 2007