Vancouver, take 2

I’ve been on my way to get my motorcycle license since I was 17 years old, and I finally renewed my learner’s permit last month. Now I had to do two more riding tests, but didn’t realize they’d be fully booked months in advance. Spring time seems like an obvious time to get it, so I’m an idiot for thinking I was the only genius – needless to say, I didn’t finish my tests within the one week window I gave myself. I did, however, get an overdue pedicure to fix my Fiji-feet to finally looking like summer ready toes.

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picking a colour was the hardest part

Instead, I had sister time, visited my grandma, and did lots of beer and wine tasting with friends and family. Spring had officially turned into summer, literally the day I landed, and getting upgraded to a convertible jeep wrangler instead of the Toyota Yaris compact car I thought I rented felt like winning the lottery.

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I purposely parked under cherry blossoms so they’d flutter into the car and sprinkle my seat with pink pedals

My older sister was set up in a hotel in New Westminster overlooking the Fraser river for some work training, but we spent our evenings either at the hotel in the Jacuzzi, wine tasting, or gorging on sushi and Spaghetti Factory.

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one of the oldest wineries in the Fraser Valley, Mt. Lehman Winery in Abbotsford

My younger sister and her husband live in a brand new townhouse in Langley. My oldest childhood friend also lives there and let me bum around her stable to get my horse-cuddling fix (and some allergies, yay me). We went fruit-wine tasting in Abbotsford and visited the southern-most vineyard in canada – Glasshouse Winery sits at the 49th parallel on 0 Ave, where you look across the street to Washington state.

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Big Rock Brewery tasting paddle

I didn’t make it to Chilliwack or Whistler, my other two go to’s when in BC, but instead spent some time in and around Olympic village where my few remining UBC alumni friends now live. We spent a Sunday together touring the breweries, starting at the Big Rock Urban Brewery, winding up Ontario Road past Faculty, R&B and 33 Acres brewing companies, before ending at Brassneck and Main Street Breweries where I was politely cut-off by a power-tripping bartender. Instead we carried on to a concert in a second-hand clothing shop, and paid our way into a closed restaurant by buying cocktails from the bartender, and before I knew it, I was back on a plane to the bay area for some wine tasting.

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Ölverk: Pizza and Brewery

Hveragerði is definitely a happening place this summer, not only for me and thousands of scouts, but also for Laufey Sif and Elvar at Ölverk – the first geothermally powered brewery in Europe! They´ve just opened a pizza restaurant there, complete with the real-deal, wood-fire oven, and the family-run feeling couldn´t be cozier in this steamy hillside, country town. Their 9 month old son is often running around the restaurant, while Laufey works the front and Elvar in the kitchen. Elvar´s real speciality will be the brewery, set to open in September, since he worked for many years as the brewmaster at Ölvisholt brewery near Selfoss.

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Elvar checking on the wood-fire pizza oven

Since the brewery isn´t up and running yet, Elvar and co. are featuring a selection of craft beers from Ölvisholt, and a few international craft beers (one 750ml bottle with an alcohol percentage of 20% sells for a cool 14.900kr!). Once the brewery opens, there will be a daily tour and tasting (with food pairings too) of their 6 home made brews, and groups can also book private tours or events in their tasting room.

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Laufey and I checking out the brew room

If you can´t wait til then, go now to try one of their 15 savory (or 3 dessert) pizzas, cooked in an Italian wood burning oven. Definitely start with the breadsticks or zaatar flatbread with baked beercheese dip, which goes well with an ale called Sleipnir, appropriately named after Óðinn´s 8-legged horse. They have some typical pizzas (No. 5 is the most popular), as well as some vegetarian and stranger creations including bananas and coconut flakes as toppings. The dessert pizza toppings include nutella, salty liquorice sauce, mascarpone cheese, and an assortment of fruits, including some locally grown green-house strawberries.

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Ölverk beercheese dip, breadsticks and Ölvisholt pints

If you´d like to pop in, check them out at Breiðumörk 2 in Hveragerði (the kitchen is open til 22:00), or give them a call to book a table +354 483 3030. Find Ölverk Pizza & Brugghús on Facebook and Trip Advisor, and follow @olverkbrugghus on Instagram if you want to see more pictures of their delicious pizza creations or soon-to-open brewery.

The Curse of Traveling Gluten-free

I recently discovered that I’m gluten intolerant. I’ve probably been for a while but only figured it out in August because a horse back rider on tour with me was a dietitian and tested me for it. I’m not a food blogger but food is a huge part of traveling, and gluten is a huge part of food, so being gluten intolerant causes some problems on the road. Personally, its made me crave sugar and sweets much more, so replacing bread with chocolates could slowly turn me fat… or super hyper.

I couldnt eat the khachapuri (bread boat) in Georgia

I couldnt eat the khachapuri (bread boat) in Georgia

Not being able to eat gluten doesnt just mean you have to skip your toast at breakfast – it means you can’t eat hamburgers, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, croissants, donuts or even french toast 😦 Worse than that, you can’t drink beer. Beer is an international social drink, and so many things happen around it, and on a super hot day, having an ice cold, salt-rimmed Corona with a lime in it just isn’t beatable.

Thank God I’m not vegetarian, and only God knows how vegetarians (or worse yet, vegans) survive on the road. But hey, I may as well give up meat too because its so unusual to eat meat without some form of bread (ie. here in the Caucasus you can’t be served meat without some sort of bread accompanying it or wrapped around it like lavash) and eating the meat without the bread means your no longer eating a hamburger, but a piece of meat with some salad.

atleast tomatoes, hummus and wine are still kosher

atleast tomatoes, hummus and wine are still kosher

I would much rather be lactose intolerant (and they have pills for that!), since milk and cheese are foods I’d rather give up than pasta or pizza. Oh pasta, how I crave to eat those mushy little noodles with Bolognese sauce. Or a cheesy tomatoey pepperoni pizza. Sigh. And how will I live without instant noodles, my go-to comfort food, always cheap and sold in every supermarket around the world? Or chicken noodle soup, chow mein or roti? I guess its rice and a lot of potatoes from here on out. And vegetables. But I’m going to have small tears well up in my eyes everytime I pass by a bakery with the smell of freshly baked bread, and the next time I see a sketchy street food seller with all sorts of doughy deep fried things, I’ll have to walk away and find the even more sketchy meat on a stick seller and hope its not dog. I’ve always thought bakers were more trustworthy than butchers, but I’ll just have to get used to getting a little Delhi belly once in a while.

Bavarian Heaven

Bavaria is the kind of place Disneyland should dedicate a theme park to. It would be located somewhere between Frontierland and Toontown, since it has this rugged countryfeel mixed with a colourful fantasy world. People would drink beer out of mugs and the carnival rides would be the same as at Oktoberfest. It would look like a typical Bavarian village, full of big wooden cottages with baskets of flowers hanging from every window, and all the staff in the park would wear dirndls and ledehosen. And maybe they could even speak with cute German accents.

Sandra and her Icelandic horses, with a Bavarian cottage behind her

I arrived in Berlin before taking a train to Munich, and Berlin could never be a part of Bavaria. It has a big-city, modern feel to it, with skyscrapers overshadowing its cobblestoned streets. Its huge, sprawled out with 3 and a half million people and there are 2 or 3 city centers, main train stations and airports (although one is now a huge green space). Munich, the capital of Bavaria, is only 1.3 million, with a pedestrian friendly city centre, full of old, closely-built buildings and churches. In Berlin, my idea of cosy was taking a touristy boat through the canals, and to live like a local meant I ate kebabs and smoked shisha in the Neukölln district. In Munich, I picnicked in Englischer garten, a beautiful park in the centre of town, and stayed in two different Bavarian villages with friends who gave me horses to ride, home made dumpling soup to eat, and swam in lakes with a view of the Alps.

the journalist and the photographer at Tempelhof

But don’t get me wrong, I loved Berlin. Nowhere else in Western Europe is it as cheap to eat and live, and the slogan “poor but sexy” rings so true. I was there for 3 days for an atypical interview. A friend of mine there is a journalist and he was covering my story, but that only took an hour or two, plus a short photo shoot in the abandoned Tempelhof airport, and the rest of the time we watched the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, patio-furniture shopped, and drank beer and wine on his balcony with the fruits of our shopping trip.

 

these rolling green hills in Olympia park are made of WWII rubble

I took a train to Munich, and the idea of German efficiency was proven time and time again by every long distance train or local U-bahn arriving on schedule down to the exact second. I would watch the minute hand click the same moment the train came to a hault, and I decided to synchronize all my clocks to theirs. I couchsurfed with Phil, a friend of the journalists, in Munich city, who took me on a tour of Olympia park – another huge green space in the city.

my Bavarian family at Oktoberfest

I went to Oktoberfest with Phil and his friends a couple nights and dressed as a boy in an extra pair of his lederhosen. The other nights I was at Oktoberfest with another couchsurfing friend named Kerstin and her entire family, and I stayed in her family’s Bavarian paradise home in Feldafing, close to Sternberger See. On our only day off from Oktoberfest, we went to Andechs, an ancient hill-top monastery that brews amazing beer.

Andechs monastery

I spent my last days in Bavaria with a friend I met in Iceland on one of the horse trips, Sandra, who took me riding on her Icelandic horses near Augsburg. Though it was Oktober, we rode in 25 degree sunshine, to a beer garden only reachable by horse or foot. We had even more beer there for lunch, and now that I’ve escaped to Austria, I’ve started my beer detox since I’ve never imagined that one could drink so much beer in one week.

 

The ABC's of Oktoberfest

Activities, Action and Alcohol:

 

a ride more entertaining to watch than try

Oktoberfest is a party designed for millions of people to come and drink beer, but its also a family-friendly festival full of things to do and see. There are carousels and pony rides for the youngens, and some extreme thrill-fulfilling rides for the more mature or drunk. There are shooting games and bells to hammer to win cheesy prizes like colourful plastic roses. There’s the ‘old’ part of Oktoberfest, a small section of the festival where they’ve tried to recreate Oktoberfest as it was in the good old days – smaller roller coasters, cheaper rides, and calmer beer gardens with bigger bands and a place to dance. There are competitions, one of the most famous being the Miss Bavaria contest: Miss Bavaria is a woman who can roll the best dumplings, clean a carpet with an old style wacker, and hold a liter of beer and head of cabbage up in the air for longest. There’s always live music, where only songs that the crowd can sing along with are played, and once a night 6 men arrive with whips they snap in beat with the band. At the end of the night, a male strip tease happens at the Braurosl tent, Im not sure about the others. All the sexy action between Oktoberfest lovers happens behind the festival on this one stretch of green hill where others also take time to nap, pee, or vomit.

 

a full tent with the band playing

Beer, Beer, Beer: Oktoberfest centers around 14 beer tents, which are more like warehouses each full of 10,000 people drinking mugs of beer. The mugs

Hacker beer

are made of glass or stone and only come in 1L size, and all cost 10 euros after tip. Tipping gets expensive after a while since the beers only cost about 8.75 and the beers are never full, but that’s part of the deal. Most of the tents are

run by a different brewery, so each tent only serves one type of beer. And you cant buy wine or schnapps, its just all about the beer. Bavarian beer, of course. But it is kosher to mix your beer with carbonated lemonade, and if you blend it half half its called a radler. And Boobs are also important, but Ill get to that at “D.”

Cookies, Chickens and Cuisine:

 

peanuts, pretzels and a cookie

Heart-shaped cookies with messages like “Greetings from Oktoberfest” or “I Love you” come in a variety of sizes, and are worn as necklaces to enhance the Bavarian costumes everyone wears. In the tents, you can order food from a small menu, and almost everyone at Oktoberfest ends up eating rotisserie chickenwhich is half a greasy chicken served on a plate. Pretzels and sausages are everywhere, in all different shapes and sizes. It isn’t exactly fine dining cuisine, but its everything you need after 3L of beer! Oh, and clothes pins. Everyone needs their name etched on a clothes pin. And then there’s the clothes…


die dirndls... Kerstin had a better pushup

Die Dirndl und die Lederhosen: The men wear leather shorts, held up with leather suspenders. They wear a white or checkered shirt underneath, knee-high white socks, and suede shoes. Some enhance with a hat, or a felt overcoat, and sometimes the leather suspenders has a badge on their chest with fancy embroidery, spelling out their family name or home town. The women wear a dirndl, a traditional dress with an apron tied on top and a fluffy-shoulder white blouse and 1 – 3 bras underneath.The push up bra is a very important part of the outfit, and you almost always need more than one to get the appropriate amount of cleavage sticking out of your dirndl, which also needs to be uncomfortable tight around your chest to help the cause. Some women wear crazy heels, but its better to wear flats that you can last in all day and keep your balance while dancing on the benches and tables everyone ends up standing on by the end of the night.