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Monday, October 31, 2016

Czeching Out Old Town Prague



Yeah, I know...corny Czech puns. Sorry, can't help myself. Lucky for you, we're only here for a short time.

We have one full day in Prague so let's get to it.


Watch the Video!




It's a bit of a late start as we sleep in a bit. Easy to do in this very comfy Hilton hotel. We decide to skip the hotel cafe (good thing too...it's ridiculously expensive) and just head out. 

We'll grab a bite along the way.

A short block, downhill from the Hilton, takes us to the nearest subway station. Hidden behind an adjacent McDonald's is a lift down to the platform.



The station here is a bit dingier than we'd find in Germany but it's accessible and functional.
A few stops later we alight in Old Town. It's still quite a walk along bumpy cobblestoned sidewalks to the riverfront.

About a quarter mile of walking along the river gets us to a couple of riverfront cafes where we try to get a bite to eat.  Try is about all we can accomplish because the wait staff is determined to pretend we don't exist. We have to exit through a tight and crowded market at the foot of the Charles Bridge where we cross the street to go back to a couple of other cafes that looked a little more laid back.



An extremely narrow sidewalk, just about an inch wider than Tim's chair, takes us there.



Café la Crème offers up a sidewalk table we can sit at, and good food to eat. Service is friendly and we're soon sated. Back up the narrow sidewalk, we take on the Charles Bridge crossing.



Sitting across this strategic span of water for over 600 years, this bridge was a lynchpin for east-west trade over the centuries. It's massive bulwarks shake off ice in winter and slice through spring floods. It was the only river crossing in the area and carried a massive amount of traffic along the sixteen arches supporting its weight over the water before being restricted to pedestrian-only traffic in the last half of the 20th century.



With all the tourists crowding for a place to capture the perfect selfie, you'd think it was still the only river crossing in this fair city.

Tim's getting stressed with people haphazardly walking into the path of his chair without looking. I'm getting stressed trying to watch out for him. Letty's getting stressed that we're getting stressed.

It's not a good look for us.

We're trying to take in the scenery, majesty, and history of this beautiful bridge but it's more of a time of self-preservation as we try to work ourselves to the other side with our sanity in check.

Eventually, we do make it over to the other side where the crowd eases up just a hair. Once Letty catches up to us, we start to make our way upstream to the next bridge, pouring over our map to find the best, most-likely-to-be-accessible route there. Eventually, we end up in a quiet alley on another narrow sidewalk. A glance to the right reveals a little courtyard café...Café Soda...blissfully ignored by the traveling horde.



I need a beer and this is the place that's going to give me one.



Winding our way to the back table, we're cut off from the world outside. A very nice respite with a cold pilsner to help us recover from the chaotic streets outside. They also have nice, clean bathrooms here that are, unfortunately, not accessible.



Rejuvinated, we make our way across the next bridge upstream with no crowd at all and make our way over to Wenceslas Square to see the Astronomical Clock and to eat a trdelnik. This is a type of rolled pastry that is cooked over a wood fire. Some places put ice cream on it, others a sauce like Nutella.

We couldn't find a place that would do both so it was ice cream for us. Suffice it to say, we didn't think it lived up to it's status as a legendary Prague snack.



Again with the crowds in the square and we're feeling more run down than anything else and start to head into the direction of our hotel. 

The streets are teeming with people. I see a little break in the buildings on the edge of the square so we duck in to find a maze of alleys. It's seems us and maybe five other tourists are in this warren. It's wonderful.



Old, medieval buildings line crooked, cobblestone lanes with little shops, cafes and bars. We've finally found our sweet spot in Prague in this area that looks like it came from a Hollywood set or Disneyland, only it's real and devoid of the crowds we've been fighting for hours now.



Around one more corner and we come across Vycep Nastojaka, billing itself as "the smallest pub in the world." The name translates roughly into 'standing room only,' although there are about five barstools.



The bar itself is maybe four feet long. The shelves behind are well stocked, though, and there's even a flat-screen on the wall to watch your favorite sport, as long as it's soccer.
Inside, we have about as much room to move around as we do in our bathroom at home. Besides us, there is the bartender and the local barfly. Both are friendly and eager to strike up a conversation with these out-of-towners that landed in their bar.

When they find out we're from California, we're the recipients of a number of toasts to our state. Along with a shot of rum, the bartender gives us a taste of slivovitz, a plum brandy that is the national drink of the Czech Republic (according to him). It's very tasty.

The barfly shakes our hands and bids farewell...he has to go back to work after his lunch break here...but stays a few minutes longer when the bartender hands him another pint of beer.



After a slow start, a frustrating few hours of summer crowds, and finally breaking away, we find a little bit of the heart of Prague in these two, sweet gentlemen at the 'world's smallest pub.' It's nice to be able to put a good ending on our day before heading back to the hotel.



And that's how we'll end our Czech adventure...crazy crowds but friendly, heartwarming locals.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 30, 2016

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: American Wheat Beer Taste Off


What do you do when life gives you lemons?  Make lemonade, of course.  Or put a wedge in your wheat beer.

We taped the video below as a normal taste off and found when we went to edit it that the battery had died in the microphone, leaving us with no sound at all.  So what to do?  Make and old fashioned silent movie!

Watch the Video!

Go ahead and watch.  We taste test Sam Adams Coastal Wheat beer, which already has a splash of lemon in it, against the Widmer Hefeweizen from Portland, Oregon.

Which one do we like best?  Watch the video to find out.  I will tell you that we tried both with and without the lemon and found that we liked it with the lemon best in each case.

Cheers!


Darryl

Friday, October 28, 2016

Czeching In...Arriving in Prague and a Taste of Old Town. A Big Taste!


After our detour through Poland, we flying along very well into the Czech Republic only to find the car's GPS doesn't know about the road being closed and a detour around it. It takes a little fussing with the maps and the signs in a language we don't know but we finally find our way around a stunningly beautiful but very traffic clogged drive around a very pretty lake and river back to the main highway.


Watch the Video!


It's late afternoon when we arrive at the Hilton Prague. I present my reservation at the desk and we're introduced to the on-duty manager, a lovely woman  who says we might not be happy with the bathroom in the room we reserved.  She'd be happy to take us upstairs to show us a couple of different rooms and let us pick which one would be best for us.

Letty goes up with her while Tim and I hang out in the massive atrium lobby. A few minutes later, they're back and we finish the check-in process.

See a Video Tour of our Room!



Our room, three stories up, is very nice. Large by European standards (but about average for American tastes) has two twin beds, a queen size sofabed, a nice desk with fold-out vanity and internet connections, flat screen TV with plenty of English channels, lighted armoire with ironing board and a safe, a minibar with an empty shelf for our use, coffee, and a large accessible bathroom with a tub.

A few minutes later, the manager is at our door with a choice of two bath chairs. We choose one that is like a tractor saddle, mounts on top of the tub, and swivels to the side for easy transferring.



While pondering the lovely view of the atrium, I'm thinking this is some of the best check-in service I've every had in my life. It's a lovely hotel and the service is outstanding.

It's only a couple of blocks to walk from the hotel over to the Old Town section of the city. It's still daylight, although sunset will be soon, so we have time. We're not too tired from the drive and don't want to settle in yet.



Old Communist era trams mix with more modern models on the streets, rumbling along and we also bounce along the cobblestone sidewalks. We soon find a groove to the smoothest part of the pavement and try to stick to that.



We don't really have a plan tonight, so we just wander around, plaza-to-plaza, using the large Powder Tower as a landmark so we don't get lost.

A few alleys wander off here and there. Cozy looking restaurants hide in their nooks and crannies.  We're getting hungry.



After inquiring at a few that look good, we settle on the first one that affirms that they'll take our credit card for payment.



Thinking back to that delicate, juicy and moist pig knuckle Letty had in Poland, I order one for dinner but instead of her boneless, softball sized entrée, I get a bone-in monster that seems the size of a basketball.

It's good (but not as good as the one yesterday) and I can only make a small dent in it before I have to throw in the towel.



We wander around a bit, having a beer here and there...enjoying the exquisite hold buildings, before heading back to our hotel to rest up.

Tomorrow, we're jumping in with both feet to experience what this city has to offer.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

CEREBRAL PALSY STORIES: The Handy Lap Tray


Over the years while I was growing up, my family and I have done everything possible to make it easier for me to things for myself because of my disability.  One of the prime examples of equipment that my Mom made years ago is a lap tray she got while shopping at Ikea.  When she originally bought the tray, that's all it was-just a tray.




Now you might imagine that for someone like me, it would be somewhat difficult to use a tray while worrying about whether or not it slip off my lap and fall to the floor, but my thanks to my Mom's good skills at adapting special equipment for me over the years, she thought of this beforehand while designing it for my use.  

To make thing easier for me she did two things.  First, she put a pillowcase cover on it so that whatever we would put on it, I would be able to move it around easier with my hands since the surface of the tray was originally much more grippier that before the pillowcase was added. Secondly, she added a pair of hook straps to the tray so that it could be tied around the armrests on my wheelchair.  



The train sits on my lap and I loop the straps around the supports for my wheelchair's armrest.



Then, I hook the straps together to keep the tray from sliding off.

As for how the tray itself comes in handy for me, its main purpose is for the TV and sound remote controls while watching television.  I also use the tray to put my snack plate on during the day when I'm feeling hungry for a snack as well as my cell phone when my Mom goes for her morning run. Without it my hands and arms would definitely get stiff and tired from holding these various objects myself.  



The Handy Lap Tray has definitely proven its worth and value to me ever since I started using it many years ago.  I would say my favorite thing about it is that I don't have to roll up to the TV and change the channel like people had to in the old days.  So if you are in a family of someone who is disabled, a lap tray like mine could be useful in allowing those members of the disabled community some freedom and independence while either watching the local news or a Sunday football game in peace.

Tim Musick
Copyright 2016
All Rights Reserved.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Pottery and Pig's Knuckles...Repositioning from Berlin to Prague


The Ford Mondeo wagon is a nice car. It's got sat/nav, air conditioning (a rare treat in this country), a nice stereo with iPod dock, and cruise control. This will be a nice break in public transit for a couple of days as we journey eastward for a detour to the Czech Republic for a few days.

I just wish I'd checked with the Hertz agent at the counter on how to put it into reverse...

Watch the Video!


I'm in a narrow lane, with a tight turn, trying to exit the garage in a station wagon that's just a tad too long to make it in one pass. The manual shifter says reverse is way to the left and up. Every time I try that, I end up in first gear and edge a bit closer to the wall.

Pretty soon, there will be no more room to edge.

I figure there must be a button or something to press but I can't find it. I can't find a manual, either, in this dark car in a darker garage. Finally, I see a small ring at the bottom of the shifter...lift that...and I'm in reverse.

Whew! that was a close one.  Now, I just have to do this for five more floors in this cramped, little parking garage until I have to make a blind exit onto a busy, Berlin street.

I manage somehow and find my way back to Lindemann's Hotel on Postdamerstrasse...our home in Berlin...where the manager kindly let me park out back to pack our bags, wheelchair, and Tim into the car.


Before we leave, we notice that it would only be about fifty miles out of our way and only add about 45 minutes to our drive to take a detour through a corner of Poland. We hadn't planned on going there but we can add a checkmark to our list (we add a new place to our list if we do something significant there such as eating a meal...changing planes at an airport doesn't count).




Once out of Berlin, I see my favorite German road sign...a circle with five diagonal lines through it...that says there is no longer any speed limit. Yes, we're on one of the country's famous autobahns with little traffic.


The cruise control is set to 160kph (100mph) and, in no time, we've crossed the Polish border on a very smooth, well paved, high speed highway (Note: be sure to watch the video, above, to experience this).



Then we crossed the Polish border...

Suddenly, the smooth pavement turned into a cracked and potholed disaster. Speed limit was dropped to the equivalent of 45mph, and even that may have been too high. It felt like the tires on our car suddenly became square.

After about 40 miles of this stuff, my wife found a side road that would lead south about 20 miles to the highway we'd need to take back towards Dresden, where we'd turn off towards Prague.


This road's much nicer. Just a two-lane country road, it winds through some very nice scenery.  My wife tells me the map shows a village up ahead.  The village turns out to be Dabrowa Boleslawiecka.

The village has an interesting history. Before World War II, it was part of Germany. After the war, it became part of Poland and the German population was expelled so that Poles could move in. Despite the ugliness of the war, it's a picture perfect European village in the rolling, green, tree covered hills.


It's time for lunch. There's a restaurant in the center of town but parking there looks iffy as does the wheelchair access. We saw a little 24 hour, truck stop diner at the edge of town so we turn back to go have a quick bite there. There's plenty of parking and wheelchair access at the Zajasd Lesny.

We quickly realize we're not on the tourist trail anymore when the server does not speak more than two words of English and we speak even less Polish. Somehow, we manage to get our point across and, luckily, the restaurant has had the foresight to print one menu in English. Pointing will help at this point.

Tim orders a plate of cheese and potato pirogies, I get a plate of the meat variety. The plan is for each of us to eat half of the other's meal so we can have both. Letty goes with the pig knuckle and some red beet tea.

The guys get their pirogies and they're heavenly. Steamy little puffs of dough with such tasty fillings.


The star of the show, though, is Letty's pig knuckle.  It's a softball sized mound of pork that is tender enough to slice with a fork.


Happily, she agrees to share some with us. The savory broth that covers this dish up adds to the joy our stomachs are feeling after this meal. This will turn out to be one of the most memorable meals from this trip...here, at a little roadside 24 hour diner, far off the main highway in a corner of Poland.


Before we venture back into Deutschland, Letty wants to visit one more town appearing on the Polish map, this time Boleslawiec.  Expecting just another pretty Polish village, this is clearly a bigger town with old Communist factories and smokestacks dotting the landscape.

Some of those factories specialize in ceramics, a tradition in this town going back several hundred years, making this a hotbed for the product. My wife immediately wants out.

Tim and I pass the time in the parking lot while she shops for some plates to take home, picking up a nice little haul for only around twenty bucks.

Done with our side trip, we get back on a much smoother highway for the trip back across the border and on to tonight's destination, Prague in the Czech Republic.

Stay tuned for that adventure.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved


Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Los Angeles, California: The Gold Line Pub Crawl, Version 2.0


Yes, we already did a pub crawl along the Gold Line, the east side light rail line in Los Angeles. That was just a small trial run for the real thing, an all-day, complete end-to-end, deep exploration of the line. With an added visitor, my bother in law, and no driving to be had, we're not holding back.

Watch the Video!




The Gold Line runs 31 miles from the edge of Monterey Park in the south to Azusa in the northeast end of the San Gabriel Valley and makes a loop through downtown L.A. and Pasadena along the way.

We start off at Atlantic Station, the south end of the line in East Los Angeles and make our way a couple of stops to the Indiana Station.  This is a nutrition and fortification stop to prepare for the rest of the day-long journey.


Breakfast is red pork tamales and chicharonnes at Lilliana Tamales before getting back on the train.


Little Tokyo/Arts District Station is next where we take the short walk over to Traction Avenue.  Two breweries are here and two breweries are closed today.  We thought they might be open on their earlier weekend hours since it was a holiday (Memorial Day) but, no.


Lucky for us, Fritzi...which shares the building with the Arts District Brewery...is open and pours brews from the back of the building.


To go with our backyard dog and pastries, it's a Nitro Red Ale, their Belgian style wit, and a pilsner.  They were good, not the greatest beers we've tasted but decent, and the hot dog messy.

Back on the train it's a two-station jaunt to Chinatown. The newly built Blossom Plaza apartments have finally opened up the sidewalk adjacent to the station so it's much easier walk over to Gin Ling Way, the heart of the area.


Unfortunately, we couldn't find any bars open so we hit up Phoenix Bakery for some treats and jumped back on the train.

It doesn't take long until we're at the Del Mar station in Pasadena. This is the historic train station for the city and the old Santa Fe station now houses a fancy restaurant. Next to the southbound platform itself is a branch of Escondido's Stone Brewery, famous for its Arrogant Bastard ale.


We set up a row of tasters and dig in. We find a couple that aren't bad but most are a little too hoppy for our taste.

Tim suggests we check out of Stone and atone for our sins at the church across the street. At least you'd be forgiven for thinking it was one. It's Congregation Ale House, the Catholic mass themed drinking hall in the former Crown City Brewery space at Del Mar and Raymond Avenue.


Letty has a nifty blackberry sour ale while I have a St. Bernardus 12...a very tasty and strong Belgian quadruple ale.  Tim's done with beer and switches to soda while we all soak it up with a pretzel and beer cheese (pic at top).

So far, we've made four stops on this voyage across eastern L.A. county...breakfast in East L.A.; the Arts District and Little Tokyo; Chinatown; and Pasadena...it's time for the last leg of our journey.

The Gold Line ends across the street from the campuses of Citrus College (a public community college) and it's next door neighbor, Azusa Pacific University (a private Christian university).

Just to say we've been from end-to-end on the 31 mile line, we go to that eastern terminus before heading back one station to the downtown Azusa station.  It's here in this unlikely area that has one of the most lively station-adjacent areas for fun on the entire route.


It's just a little over a block south of the station to our next stop, Max's Mexican Cuisine, where we'll fill up our bellies on that great Mexican food and have some margaritas (you might remember Max's from our 'Southern California's Best Margaritas' video).


Since we've been drinking all day, I opt for the drinking man's Mexican friend, a nice steaming bowl of menudo.


This goes perfectly with a Cadillac margarita.

After our time with Max and his minions...with a hearty "See you tomorrow, WHY NOT?" as we leave...it's golden hour out on Azusa Avenue.

Halfway to the station, we spot a Mexican Dive bar...Maria's...and it's happy hour. I glance at my brother-in-law, we shrug our shoulders, and head inside while Letty and Tim roll their eyes and try to figure out how they got in this mess.


It's one more Pacifico for the road (or rails, in our case) before we stumble back up to the station and head back to our home station and walk or wobble back to our house.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved


Friday, October 21, 2016

Jesse Owens and the Fuhrer: Olympic Stadion, Berlin



Catch up on this trip...
Part One 
Part Two 
Part Three
Part Four

Part Five

Part Six


Our last, full day in Berlin. We've pretty much seen everything on our list. Now, it's a free day and we're looking for a way to pass the time.

"I see an Olympic stadium here on the map," my wife says while perusing another amazing Turkish breakfast.

Watch the Video!


The Olympic stadium!  I'd forgot...it's another big moment of Berlin history and I almost let it slip through my fingers.

It's a bit of a ride on the U-Bahn to the Olympicstadt station. From there, it's another long walk under a tunnel, up a little hill, through the woods, until you finally emerge at the stadium's parking lot.

An admission is paid at the visitor's center and then we're on our own (tours are available but we'd rather just explore at our leisure).



We find a ramp and a tunnel into the stadium. It's huge and imposing. It's also made out of marble, the height of Nazi chic at the time.



While the walls and façade are original, everything inside has been modernized. There's a well-maintained blue rubber track (that's being scrubbed by a beast that looks like the lovechild of a street sweeper and a Zamboni) and a flawlessly green soccer football pitch.



The Fuhrer's box has been replaced by some VIP seats and suites but it's not hard to imagine Adolph fuming from up above as a black man put lie to his 'master race' shenanigans.

The seats are serviceable metal folding chairs, bolted to the concrete. No armrests or cupholders.

The ever-present beer bar is open so we quaff one as we admire the view.



To the side, we find the old swimming and diving stadium, now being used by local kids to cool off in the crystal blue waters on this hot August day.



Eventually, we make our way to the other end of the stadium where we pose at the Olympic torch.

On the other side, we spot a bell from the old bell tower (it was destroyed in World War II and the current one is a rebuilt tower).



Although the swastika is illegal in Germany today, you can still see something suspicious on this old bell that the welders couldn't quite hide completely.



Closer to the stadium than the U-Bahn station is an S-Bahn station. From here, we catch a train back to central Berlin where we can walk through the Tiergarten.



We've been toying around the edges of this giant park for days but on this last day, we decide to walk through until we find a little lake with...of course...a biergarten at it's edge. It's here we'll have one more before signing off from Berlin.

Tomorrow, we'll go to the Hertz office and pick up a car to continue on.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved


Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved