Be Good to Your Dog – Keep it Leashed

be good to your dog
Keep your best buddy leashed – we’ll all be better off.

I love dogs. It’s just the people who hold their leashes who I often want to boil in a vat of porcupine urine. Or more accurately, it’s the people who should hold their leashes – but instead feel entitled to turn the whole world into an off-leash dog park.

If you leash your dog in public and (this is important) keep a hold of the leash throughout the duration of your time out and about, I salute you. You know how to be good to your dog. My fellow bicyclists also appreciate your consideration.

Now, the rest of you lot. The people who don’t think they need to leash their dogs. Or better yet, you put the leash on, drop it and let Fido run about. Yes, you.

You are a giant pain in the ass for bicyclists.

You see, I don’t know your dog. Your unleashed, 110-pound ball sniffer might be the sweetest dog on the planet. But -- I just don’t know that. I am unfamiliar with your dog’s personality quirks – the little things that might startle it into an episode involving barking, chasing, biting, stitches and possibly a rabies shot. When I’m on my bike, your dog becomes an X factor, a potential threat. The best way to nullify that threat is to put a leash on your pooch, and keep a solid grip on the leash. Problem solved.

Now, let’s talk about you people with the little dogs. They don’t propose much of a threat to me, aside from making me crash while trying to avoid them.

But I do not want to hurt your dog – not even if it’s a Chihuahua. You are being a bad human to your dog by letting it dart around unleashed. Your job is to protect and care for your dog. A fast-moving 200-pound dude on the trail or in the bike lane is a threat to your dog. Thing is, I’m legally allowed to be there. But I don’t know of a single city where your dog is legally allowed to roam at large. So, you’re breaking the law with your dog as the unwitting accomplice.

So, be good to your dog. Put it on a leash. We’ll all be safer for it.

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Hostels – Four Reasons They’re Awesome

hostels

Anything can happen in hostels – from just a good night of sleep to waking up to a naked Dutch dude parading around.

If you’re not used to that sort of mayhem, the latter can be a bit off-putting. You might even conclude "Well, I’m never staying in a hostel, then." And your travel experience will be poorer for it.

I’m not literally talking about The Flapping Dutchman here – but the overall vibe of a hostel. Here’s what I like about hostels, and why you should make it a point to stay at one.

They’re cheap – You dropped serious scrilla on airfare. Staying in hostels is a good way to take your budget back. You’ll pay less than a hotel. And yeah, in many cases, you’ll give up some amenities and privacy. But let’s remember: You’re traveling to get out and do things, not faff about in your room.

 

hostels
Me enjoying a relaxing moment at the Skotel in New Zealand.

You’ll meet people – Hostel crowds are more gregarious than typical hotel folk. They’re often younger, too. So if you’re just venturing into travel, you’ll find people who have something in common with you. It starts to get fun when you move from town to town and start bumping into the same people. Next thing you know, you’ll be hiking together or hitting a nightspot for a drink.

They’re not as Spartan as you’d think – Some hostels are far from the glorified barracks you’ll expect. Sure, in some places, you’ll bunk 20 to a room. But there are some way sweet hostels out there – like the three-person rooms at the Skotel ski lodge in Whakapapa, New Zealand: The cozy wood rooms and sparkly bathrooms make it one of my favorite hostels ever. You’ll be surprised at the quality of other hostels like it.

They’re great for planning travel – Hostels seem very plugged into the cool places to go. Often, the staff members are extra-helpful for planning excursions, getting boarding passes and finding local places to eat and drink. I’ve always felt the service is a little less polished, yet more personal. And I’ll take genuine friendly over corporate-mandated courteous any time.

So, what are your thoughts on staying at hostels?

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Tourism Versus Travel – And My Struggle to Not be a Jerk

Your backpack can be your best friend - or your worst enemy.
I like beautiful destinations – but I work for them.

One of my ongoing travel problems is getting off my high horse – especially about types of travel. This writer seems to go through the same struggle:

When choosing your destination, you need to decide: are you traveling for leisure or culture? I define leisure travel as relaxed and quite a bit like home, but with either service or beauty influencing the destination (ex. beach, cruise, resort, etc). Cultural travel (my kind of travel) is where you set off in hopes to learn, truly experience and open yourself up to a whole new culture and way of life. If you’ve chosen leisure, unfortunately I will have to stop you here, because I don’t think I’ll have much to offer you as far as travel tips that you can’t easily find on some corporate-owned, high-dollar, travel website. While leisure travel is fine and there’s nothing wrong with it, I don’t have much experience sitting on my ass while locals wait on me, so I can’t really pretend to be an authority on the subject. (Emphasis mine)

"Beauty of the destination" is a huge influence on my travel destinations. You could say that Brandon argues that traveling for a destination’s beauty is inherently less valid than traveling to visit a bunch of historic museums. Or that a beach always has more intrinsic eye-candy value than a lava field. But I don’t think that’s what he means. I think he’s traveled enough that he realizes reaching beautiful destinations can involve serious work.

flam norway
Cruises are not really my bag. But … I could be kinder to those who like them.

I think he just didn’t thrust the point home all the way. What I read is that he grapples with the same thoughts about "travelers" versus "tourists" that make me act like a jerk sometimes. I’ve lost count of how many cruise ship passengers and "guided-from-arrival gate-to-wheels up" tour groups I’ve snickered at when I travel.

And I have to stop that. The travel industry is symbiotic: Every traveler of every type is part of a network that creates opportunities for us all to find the experience we seek. I’m glad not everyone wants to eat boiled silkworm larvae; watch a soccer game in a driving Icelandic rain; camp north of the Arctic Circle; or swim into a cave filled with human sacrificial remains. It would get awfully crowded, wouldn’t it?

There are people who just want to escape, clear their mind, recharge their batteries. A beach isn’t a travel destination that will make me happy. But others find solace and renewal in the sand. I get it. The way I travel can be arduous, and I understand why a glacier, a volcano or a cave isn’t a destination for everyone. And I grok why some might want a different dose.

I have no lofty goal when I travel. I just want to do something cool, something different from my everyday life. Call it whatever you choose. No matter what label you tag on me, I’ll enjoy myself doing what I like. You do the same, OK?

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In Honor of April Fool’s Day – SCUBA Mythbusting

whale shark, SCUBA, PADI
Don’t let myths about SCUBA deprive you of the chance to swim with a whale shark. (Image courtesy of PADI)

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I don’t go much for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m a Halloween sort of guy -- and I dig April Fool’s Day. I have a friend whose mother can barely speak to me without snarling nearly 10 years after a prank I helped pull on her (let’s say it involves my best police sergeant phone voice and a story about him misbehaving in some very bad ways).

You can imagine that I spend most of my April Fool’s time trying to -- well, fool people. But this time, I’m on the side of good: I’m going to help my friends at the Professional Association of Diving Instructors set the record straight about some misconceptions about SCUBA diving. Get ready for some surprises! My commentary on PADI’s info is in italics.

You know what's not a myth about SCUBA diving? That it's really pretty darn cool. (Photo courtesy of PADI)
You know what’s not a myth about SCUBA diving? That it’s really pretty darn cool. (Photo courtesy of PADI)

MYTH #1: I don’t live near the ocean, so I can’t dive.

Nope! With more than 6,100 PADI dive centers around the world, you can literally begin your diver’s certification anywhere. Diving courses can be found at your local sports and recreational center, or in less traditional locations like exotic hot springs and lakes. Visit PADI.com to locate the nearest dive center.

And be sure to check my Yahoo! story about beginner dive sites. It has some non-ocean locations like quarries and rivers.

MYTH #2: If I dive, I’ll likely run into a shark or other dangerous underwater creature!

Scuba Diving in depths of the ocean
Scuba Diving in depths of the ocean (Photo credit: Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Maybe you’ve been watching too much Shark Week. In reality, the odds of having a deadly shark encounter is just 1 in 251,800,000, you’re actually 12 times more likely to be killed by a vending machine than shark! Many underwater animals that seem intimidating, such as the school bus-sized whale shark, are virtually harmless and enjoy human interaction.

Those are some low odds. People tend to worry too much – think of all those “afraid to fly” people you know, and how willing they are to drive at 85 mph in a school zone while texting and making themselves a cappuccino with their portable espresso machine. Makes fretting about SCUBA diving seem a bit silly, no? And watch out next time you go for a bottle of soda in the break room!

MYTH #3: Women with breast implants can’t scuba dive.

Never fear! If you’re worried that increased underwater pressure will cause damage to silicone- or saline-filled implants, you have nothing to worry about. A recent study found that diving caused an insignificant increase in bubbles ― nothing that will damage the implant or surround tissue.

Well, I guess that means most of the female population of the north half of my home city of Scottsdale is good to go. Um, what about collagen? (NOTE: PADI supplied the images for this story – none of which included breast implants.)

MYTH #4: Snorkeling is just as good as scuba diving.

Why stay on the surface when you can experience a whole new underwater world? Fully immersing yourself in scuba diving allows you to experience the wonder of breathing underwater, and explore amazing destinations such as reefs, underwater caves, shipwrecks, airplanes and more!

And let me say more about SCUBA versus snorkeling: Last time I snorkeled, I got bounced around in Belize by all the surface waves. Meanwhile, I watched as – 20 feet below me – SCUBA divers glided around unaffected. Soon, I was bobbing and barfing and getting laughed at while trying to escape a floating mound of my own chunder. So, I ask you: Would you rather be like the SCUBA divers or like me?

 

 

 

 

 

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Where to Drink Sahti

The moment I arrived in Finland, I was trying to find out where to find sahti, a traditional local beer.

Just about every bartender looked at me like I’m a mental patient on the lam because I asked for sahti. I struck out everywhere.

At Panimoravintola Koulu in Turku, my question riled the barkeep the most. Then the expat Italian barkeeper at Alvar clued me in.

Looking for Sahti in All the Wrong Places

First, I mispronounced “sahti.” The right pronunciation sounds like “sock tea,” as in tea brewed in a sock. But you give the “ck” a bit of gravel to it, a kind of Hebrew slant on the syllable.

where to fnd sahti
Sahti – the taste of the forest in a metal cup.

Second, I expected Finland was proud of its traditional brew. It’s made out of cool stuff like juniper and rye. It hits pretty hard. What’s not to love?

Well, Finland isn’t rooted in the past. They favor a good kebab, apparently, to a reindeer repast. And they prefer large amounts of whiz-colored lager to earthy-brown brews served in a small silver cup. It’s the stuff a Finn’s mothball-scented grandpa drinks, not the young and hip.

I don’t qualify as young, and I am too metal to be hip. But a guy my age asking where to drink sahti is an oddity. It’s also a bit of an under-the-radar quaff, almost like a moonshine. It tends to be small-batch stuff that the big brewers eschew.

I Finally Found Where to Drink Sahti

Back in Helsinki, I found sahti – the Lammin Sahti Oy brand – in a kitschy farm setting at Zetor near the city center. And my order  yet again surprised the bartender: I explained that trying local/regional food and drink is part of the reason I travel. I guess not many foreigners know about sahti.

where to find sahti
A glimpse of the beer menu at Alvar in Turku – some fine selections, but no sahti.

A few moments later, I had a small silver vessel – a cross between a ladle and a cup. The sahti was dark brown and opaque. I took a sip.

And found that sahti tastes exactly like the forest smells. It reminded me of pine trees, wind, cool air. It’s strong, but not absurdly so – probably 8-10 percent ABV. There’s little carbonation, but I didn’t mind the flatness.

Why Isn’t Sahti a Big Deal?

where to fnd sahti
Brewing a traditional sahti (photo from distantmirror.wordpress.com).

The sahti-influenced ales – Samuel Adams Norse Legend or Dogfish Head Sah’Tea, to name a few – are not even in the ballpark. They’re alright, but they are far different from what you’ll get in Finland. You’ll probably like the real stuff better.

If you’re an exotic beer fan, don’t show up in Finland unprepared like I did. I assumed sahti would flow like wine. Do your research. Google “sahti in Finland” in a bunch of different ways. And make your game plan, and figure out what else to do while you search for sahti.

The late beer legend Michael Jackson (the un-gloved one) has a nice write-up about sahti, but some of it is outdated.

And pronounce it right!

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Homebrewing with Brooklyn Brew Shop’s 1-Gallon Recipes

Homebrewing can take up some space, as you see in transferring a 5-gallon batch from the primary fermenter into the secondary.

I know, I know. This is a travel blog. I’m supposed to write about travel and adventurous stuff.

But homebrewing counts as an adventure. I’ve been into it for about seven years now. I’ve brewed everything from a delicious chocolate-coconut stout to a clone of Dogfish Head‘s Midas Touch that turned out … bad. Like “dead lobster floating in the fermenter” horrible. On the plus side, it was perfect for making seafood stews.

Anyway, I was just walking around at Whole Foods when I spotted a bagful of grain. It had the intriguing label “Maple Porter” on it. I’ve had a yen to make a maple stout, and I figured I’d pick up these grains to modify a 5-gallon batch of cream stout I have planned. I also noticed a book … The Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Beer Making Book. It had lots of cool-sounding recipes, so I said “yes, please!”

When I got home, I realized the bag of grains also had packets of yeast and hops in it. That is was a kit from The Brooklyn Brew Shop – the same people who did the book. And it was sized for a tiny one-gallon batch. Hmm, time for a deeper look.

I cracked the homebrewing book open and got the background. Turns out Brooklyn Brew Shop is the work of Stephen and Erica, a DIY-lovin’ couple. The New York Times has a nice account of their story. I like the friendly vibe of their book, which tells how – while low on space and money but high on flavor and adventurous spirit- they started brewing tiny batches.

Happiness is a bunch of big brew-it-yourself bottles.

I like ’em, I do. The people and the picobatches. I’m writing this the night after I brewed a batch (which I tweaked with some honey and toasted shredded coconut added to the boil). To frame this, I’ve lost count of the number of batches I’ve brewed, all have which have been partial mashes recipes. I modify every recipe with some sort of offbeat adjunct. So here’s my overview:

  • It’s a nice, compact way to get into homebrewing. Perfect for people worried about space. You can get their entire kit for $40 with a recipe, ingredients and some essential gear. I do believe you’ll need a brew kettle, though.
  • Homebrewing journeymen like me who have been reluctant to go all-grain will get a nice intro. For some reason, Brooklyn Brew Shop’s approach demystified the process. I’ve seen many other videos about all-grain brewing. But this … well, it made everything seem approachable.
  • The recipes are kick-ass. I have two hulking rosemary bushes in my yard. I pondered using them in a beer. Sure enough, the book has a nice recipe for me. There’s also a spruce beer recipe. The book is a Finnish sahti recipe away from being perfect. Hint, hint!
  • Tiny batches are cool. You can brew them as gifts for friends. Or to experiment with crazy flavors. Experienced brewers can lure buddies who have hemmed and hawed about homebrewing for years.
  • All-grain homebrewing produces a massive amount of spent grains. Think about making some spent-grain cookies – for humans or canines (dogs, to the layperson).

So the blow-off tube is venting CO2 like a fully automatic BB gun. A sign of a nice, active fermentation. I’ll post again after I have a  taste to test the carbonation. I’ll be sure to post again once the batch ages awhile.

Bottom line – Stephen and Erica have opened the hatch to invite more people into homebrewing. If you’re looking for a friendly entrance into the club but have been scared away by the bouncers of space and expense, Brooklyn Brew Shop has the answer.

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