Alamosa, Colorado


San Luis National Forest, Colorado

18 years ago I visited Colorado while my sister was here on a student exchange. While I was here I made a friend that I stayed in contact with over the years, first by hand written letters and later via email and Facebook. Considering that I had not returned to this part of the world since then, I made plans to head back to Alamosa, Colorado to see my friend again. I flew from Vancouver to Denver then caught the bus south to Alamosa arriving in the early evening.

The five hour bus ride was quite interesting as I became involved in numerous conversations with the passengers, trying to learn a little about the culture and their current world view. The conversations covered the recent legalisation of Marijuana and the various issues associated with state law and federal law being out of sync; the American prison industry; hiking; climate change; skiing; distrust of the media; the obstructionist and divisive American democratic system; and the all-pervasive fear that has gripped America over the last 13 years. It made for a very interesting ride and I learned a great deal about the perspectives of individual Americans.

Columbine, Colorado's State FlowerAlamosa is in the San Luis Valley, the highest agricultural land in the US at an elevation of approximately 7500ft, and had changed a great deal from what I remembered. It has grown substantially to a population of around 9000 and become the central commercial district of the San Luis Valley. The area still had not become a tourist destination and I don’t quite understand why as Alamosa is a short drive to a number of excellent sites including the Great Sand Dunes Monument, the San Luis National Forest, a few 14000ft mountains are accessible from here in the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountain Ranges. It’s not that I think that it should be a tourist mecca but it should not be treated as a “Why would you go there?” place, which is what I was asked several times when I was travelling to and from there as well as while I was in town. And while Lonely Planet mention the nearby Great Sand Dunes Park they inform people to travel over 100 miles from Pagosa Springs or Crested Butte to get there, as though there are no other options.

Michelle picked me up from the bus and introduced me to her three children. When I was last here we bonded over a passion for writing and love of fantasy and science fiction, which we both still enjoyed. Sometimes when there has been years between seeing a person, it can be difficult to get the conversation flowing again, but over the week we spent most of the time talking.

Michelle had planned a few activities for me to enjoy while I was staying with her which included camping and a few sites but first she had one more day of work. She works at a local radio station and I accompanied her to work on the first day to be her guest host. The show went as follows:

 followed by: Cream ~ White Room; Eric Clapton ~ Wonderful Tonight; The Cars ~ Just What I Needed; Led Zeppelin ~ Fool In The Rain.

 followed by: America ~ Sister Golden Hair; The Allman Brothers ~ Ramblin' Man; Bob Dylan ~ Rainy Day Women #12 & 35; Whitesnake ~ Here I Go Again; The Who ~ Pinball Wizard; Supertramp ~ Goodbye Stranger.

 finishing with the songs: Led Zeppelin ~ Ramble On; Janis Joplin ~ Piece Of My Heart. It was a cool experience and I learnt a little about what it takes to put a radio show together.

Microbrewing has grown across America and the world in the last decade with many pubs and restaurants offering a selection of house or limited supply microbrews. Alamosa has one restaurant that I visited that does that, the San Luis Valley Brewing Company. Their restaurant is located on Main Street in a quaint old building that has been converted. The interior is all polished dark woods creating a western style saloon feel but not tackily. The menu is a single broadsheet newspaper, which is quite cool although could be put to better use with more small articles associated with their food and drinks. They offered me a choice of six beers of which I tried the Hefe Suave (American style wheat beer), Alamosa Amber (Ale), and Grande River IPA. The beers were good representations of American microbrewing, balanced and consistent but not impressive. But if your choice is between something in a bottle or can from the liquor store then these beers are miles ahead of what is widely available. They offer a variety of pub grub, 5 sausage dishes, 7 burgers, 12 sandwiches, and a variety of starts and mains. It is well worth dropping by here for a beer if not a quick bite when you are in the area.

Visiting Alamosa and Southern Colorado again was an excellent experience and there are many ways for a visitor to occupy their time here. For me, the best part was catching up a friend and spending time with her and her family. Getting to see their world from their perspective is the bonus, and I know that they were able to experience their home differently as well.

The Alamosa WitchWilhelmina Becker, The Alamosa Witch TombstoneP.S. There is an interesting urban legend in Alamosa of a witch buried at the cemetery. In the rear left of the cemetery is the grave of Wihelmina Becker, Died October 36th 1913. There are no county or cemetery records for Wihelmmina Becker and offerings are left on the statue. Many people have said they have felt a strange energy and gloominess around the statue, especially at night, with other reporting strange lights around the area, although these could easily be explained by the airport opposite the cemetery. The myth also says that the date of her death also alternates between the 36th and 32nd of October.

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Sylt, Germany

Welcome to Sylt, We hope you enjoy your stay!I had a few days remaining in Europe before flying to Vancouver for the next leg and I thought it would be great to spend m shaped island in the north of Germany with 40 kilometres of beach. The island is constantly changing shape as the North and Wadden (a UNESCO site) seas lap and erode its shores. Sylt advertises itself as a resort island and culinary destination with many health spas and restaurants. Sylt is also home the Windsufing World Cup. The only access to the island is by train or ferry. If you want to bring your vehicle it can be loaded onto a train Niebüll.

The train stops at Westerland and the first thing that greets you there are weird green statues of a family on holiday. What makes the statues unusual is that their faces are mixed up and one is upside down. I have no idea what message this is supposed to send visitors, but it makes for an interesting entrance.

We rented a camping pitch at one of the campgrounds, Dünen Campingplatz, which was predominately for caravans but a short distance beyond the restaurant and showers were the dunes where our pitch was located. There were a number of tents scattered amongst the dunes and we found a small area that was reasonably quiet to set up in. Our three days here would be spent relaxing, walking, swimming and eating.

Sand Dunes stretch the entire coastline of SyltThe campground had an access to the beach over the dunes and our camping fee included beach access. I’m not used to the idea of paying to access a beach but I would guess the fee goes towards paying for the dredging that keeps the island from eroding to nothing. The beach is beautiful, around 50 metres of flat white sand being lapped at by the North Sea, skirted by sand dunes as far as the eye can see. The beach never seemed crowded while we were there, maybe because we were too early in the season or just because there is so much beach you only have to congregate if you want to.

We walked the beach enjoying the sun and stopping occasionally for a swim. We paused at one point, and while taking in the view of the North Sea, I noticed that many of the people were naked. I thought that I must have inadvertently come across the nude section but I couldn’t find a sign specifying it. As we continued our southerly walk I became aware that people were randomly naked. To the left I would see an elderly couple playing nude beach tennis while a few metres away a clothed family built sandcastles. Further along a person doing naked yoga while others played Frisbee. It was an altogether odd experience as in Australia I was used to nude beaches being clearly marked and a general prudishness to the beachgoers at nearby clothed beaches. Here, nobody seemed to notice and definitely nobody cared. It was quite liberating to walk amongst people that were enjoying themselves as they saw fit, not hurting anyone, and not have some prudes ruin the mood.

Just another day relaxing on the beach and swimming in the North SeaThe beaches are quite clean near the lifeguard towers but have the usual scattering of plastics between. We spent a bit of time collecting the trash and dropping at the frequently placed bins along the way and feeling a little disappointed that beachgoers here were so tardy with litter.

South of Westerland we came across some interesting thatch rooved buildings which marked the village of Kampener Heide. We wandered inland here to see what was there. We eventually found a café and had coffee and cake (a dish the Germans do very well). Looking for other nearby attractions we didn’t have much luck even though there were signs directing us.

On our final night we sat on the beach to watch the sunset at 10pm, and take a swim in the North Sea. The air on the beach was frigid, somewhere around 7 or 8 degrees and the wind was blowing make it feel even colder. The water however was great. Around 16 degrees, it felt like a cool bath compared to the beach. We swam for an hour or more under the moonlight trying to get dunked too harshly by the crashing waves of high tide before running madly across the beach to dry and get dressed before we were frozen by the wind.

Sunset on the North Sea

A nice little wood to walk in, Westerland, SyltAround Westerland there is the beach, a small wood to wander through, dozens of restaurants and hotels, and boutique stores selling chocolates, trinkets and souvenirs. The island is considered a culinary icon but personally I found the food to be rather plain. I was also disappointed that nowhere I looked could I find a take away that served fish and chips to eat on the beach. Westerland is a resort town, and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. If I came again, I would more than likely head north or south of Westerland into the less populated regions to spend my time and see what else the island has to offer.

We left Sylt and returned to Bremen in time for Germany to win their first match of the World Cup. The streets outside the Hbf were filled with cars and people cheering. It was surreal after being on a beach for three days. It made me wonder what it would be like to be here if Germany won the World Cup (which they did).The foreshore at Westerland, Sylt


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Beer in Aschaffenburg and where to drink it 


Beer in Aschaffenburg and where to drink it

Faust, a German BeerBeer is an integral part of the German Culture I have experienced, and every bar and biergarten will have a small selection of beers available for you to choose from based on your mood. One of the more interesting parts of this culture is the German Beer Law which is based on the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516. This law established how beer was to be brewed including safety of product and to ensure that brewing did not interfere with the production of bread as both were staples of Bavarian life and utilised ingredients that placed the industries in direct competition. By 1906 this law had been adopted by all German states and colonies and was thus established as the German Beer Law. You may think that this would place many restrictions on the creativity of brewers but from my experience it created an excellent framework of minimum standards from which to build an industry.

The Augustine beers are brewed in strict accordance with the purity law and I tried the Edelstoff Exportbier brewed in München. It was a bright beer with a slight bitter aftertaste but my preference soon became Weizenbeir. When I was in Germany last time visiting Frankfurt and then Bremen, I had not enjoyed the weizenbeir. There was a muddiness to the flavour that I didn’t like, but being in a different region I tried it again and I’m glad I did. The weizenbeir here, in the Bavarian style, while lighter in overall flavours still had a great body and was extremely tasty.

As I like to taste as much as I can in a region, I also tried beers such as Tegernseer Hell from Herzoglich-Bayerilches Brauhaus; The Radler and Pilsner from Martinsbrau; a Pilsner from Pfungstadt; Spessart Specht, a delightful Pilsner; and a few different beers from Brauhaus Faust and Schlappeseppel.

Traditional Bavarian breakfast: a pint of Weiss Beer, 2 Weiswurst (boiled) and a Brezn (a large pretzel) served with a sweet mustard on the side.Schlappeseppel beers were available at many of the biergartens I visited. Their beers were quite good, made in the Bavarian style. The brewery is also home to a restaurant which I visited with a few locals (Seb & Max) that I had met a few nights previously. We came here for a traditional Bavarian breakfast which was intense. The breakfast consists of a pint of Weiss Beer, 2 Weiswurst (boiled) and a Brezn (a large pretzel) served with a sweet mustard on the side. Bavarians normally skin the sausage before topping it with mustard. What makes the breakfast intense is the density of it all. Each part is much denser than it looks, but it is tasty. I found that I had to have two beers to be able to finish it all.

Baba Bier was founded in Aschaffenburg and had their first beer tasting in 1868 and steadily expanded until they began exporting beer in 1895 and in the early 20th century began assimilating other breweries. Baba Beir is a heady and hoppy cultural icon, and if you are visiting here I would recommend you try it, and if you get to the restaurant early enough, have it with a meal.

Baba Bier, an Aschaffenburg TraditionMartins Brau Raddler and Pilsner

Raddler is quite a popular beer in Aschaffenburg, and is available everywhere. In Australia a Raddler would be called a shandy, a 50/50 mixture of beer and lemonade, and is not widely consumed. Here it is available everywhere and is drunk by everyone depending on their mood. Almost every brewery makes one or two varieties of alcohol free beer as well.

Along with a number of good pubs and bars, Germany celebrates the biergarten. Biergartens usually have many large tables set in a courtyard and if it is busy you ask people with space at their table if you can join them. Most of the time people will let you sit at the table.

I really enjoyed the Fansanerie, a Schalppeseppel bar, nestled in a park with an old farmhouse it provided a great atmosphere. Dozens of tables (each fitting around 8 people) under umbrellas fill the courtyard while to the left of the entrance is the bar, to the right is the kitchen where you can order light snacks and meals.

The Zueghaus (Armory) is located a few minutes from the Fansanerie and is a refurbished inn. The refurbishment is wonderful and well worth the visit just to look at with a grand dining hall that has to be seen to be believed. The biergarten fills the courtyard and stretches between the hall and the bar providing ample seating under the shade of some large trees. The food is good and decently priced with good service.

On a bright sunny day, the Biergarten am Main is a great place to stop for a beverage. Located below the castle on the riverbanks they have a small area of tables under the shade of large trees.

The beirgarten at the Schweinheim GuesthouseAnother beautiful biergarten that offers some excellent food is the Schoenbusch, it is a country manor in a large park that has a few areas to enjoy. If you want something lush, the main restaurant at the country manor is the way to go, but for my money I prefer the open biergarten just a bit further on. Tables are arranged beneath some grand trees, so at the right time of day you have great shade or sunshine.

One night we were looking for a new biergarten to enjoy a nice dinner after swimming. A quick web search and we found Ottels Biergarten and went to seek it out. It was difficult to find, located in a light industrial area and next to a Sports Club, but it was a small biergarten with very nice food and excellent service at a good price.

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