Tourist Days

It seems like it has been a while since Chris and I engaged in the typical tourist things on our trips. So with more time to spend in London than we have ever had before, we decided to try to take in some of the sites.

YiB-8First, we took a boat cruise down the river Thames to Greenwich. The trip started with us standing in line with hordes of other tourists to buy our tickets. The trip took over an hour, as the captain drove slowly and provided a commentary on the sites. Despite feeling a little dorky, it was very enjoyable. The weather cooperated and the captain had interesting things to point out. My favorite was the pier where they chained convicted pirates and waited for the tide to rise. Apparently, the judge enjoyed watching them drown while drinking pints at a pub across the river. The pirates were left chained for at least two high tides to ensure they were dead. Very considerate.

YiB-8Once in Greenwich, we couldn’t resist our natural state so we reverted back to our ‘normal’ selves and walked 10 minutes up the street to two pubs that were recommended to us. The first, the Greenwich Union, is a pub for the Meantime Brewery. Unfortunately, no brewing is done at the pub so we couldn’t count it on the list. Along with the taster set and half pints, we had this lovely dish with potato cake, salt pork and a poached egg.

We also visited the Young’s pub, Richard I, which is next door to the Greenwich Union.

With a few pints under our belt, we went back to the tourist thing.

We visited the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Located there is the clock from which we get Greenwich Mean Time. As we arrived, a tour group of older Russians was just leaving. However, still around were large groups of Italian tourists. Noticeably absent (on the whole trip actually) were Americans. It is just too darn expensive for Americans right now.

YiB-8The view from Greenwich Park (location of the observatory) is fantastic and I would have liked to wander some more. However, we got a late start that day and the boat trip out there took a bit longer than we anticipated, so we only had a few hours to spend out in Greenwich before the last boat left. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the Cutty Sark, as it is currently being renovated.

Our Greenwich tip: Leave by mid-morning to allow yourself plenty of time to walk around. Be sure to venture away from the pier area.

The cruise turned out to be one of the more affordable tourist attractions. We had intended to visit the Tower of London on this trip. However, it was going to cost over $50 for the two of us! We decided the money would be better spent on pints in historic pubs instead. Based on suggestions from friends, we visited several pubs that we later found in our London’s Top 10 book. So some of the pubs we visited turned out to be tourist sites.

YiB-8On the recommendation from several people, we went for Thai food at the Churchill Arms. It may seem like an odd combination, but Thai food in pubs is not so uncommon. The restaurants are usually operated by someone else, but located within the pub.

When we arrived at the Churchill Arms, it was packed. It took some hovering and vibing, but we eventually got a table. Then we began to notice that the place was crawling with Americans. We later saw it in a book of attractions, which would explain the high American count. The food was great and the pub did begin to thin out a bit as the time for food to end drew near. Table space was still premium, though, and our table was scooped up as soon as we lifted our rears off the chairs.

Our tip: In order to get a table to eat, try to get there before the after work crowd arrives. Don’t worry, the place will get hoppin’ in no time, but you’ll already have a seat.

YiB-8We also visited Market Porter next to Borough Market. We had a quick pint, then wandered the market. The market is phenomenal and we bought ham, cheese, cornichons and bread for our picnic lunch. We bought the cheese at the nearby Neal’s Yard Dairy and it was crazy good! The area was busy with tourists and business people alike since we were there during lunch time. We never knew that so many business people imbibed in the liquid lunch.

YiB-8Cheshire Cheese and Ye Olde Mitre House are two other historic pubs we visited. Both were hundreds of years old and they seemed like mazes with multiple small rooms and narrow staircases. A person could especially get lost in Cheshire Cheese if they were trying not to be found. Cheshire Cheese had a cozy bar in the front with a cool old fireplace. And, it said “Gentlemen only served in this bar” above the door. They must not enforce that anymore because I had already ordered and drank my beer before I noticed it.

Our tip: When visiting Ye Olde Mitre House, be sure to wear your running shoes and a reflective jacket in order to safely negotiate the Holborn Circus roundabout. Go there and you’ll know what I mean.

YiB-8On Saturday, we met our friend Paul at King’s Cross Station to go to the North London suburbs. If you are a Harry Potter fan, you know that the train to Hogwarts leaves from platform 9 3/4. Lucky for us, our train was leaving from platform 10. I had to stand in line behind a bunch of kids, but Chris did eventually get a photo of me trying to get to Hogwarts. I guess it doesn’t work for muggles.

No real tip here. Not being big Harry Potter fans, we probably would not have made a special trip to it, if we weren’t leaving from the platform next door.

We contemplated a whirl on the London Eye, but in the end we didn’t go. It was later recommended by our 16 year old niece as something cool to do. Some friends also later informed us that Londoners get discounted tickets to the Tower of London and they could get us some for our next trip. The Tower of London was also highly recommended by our niece.  So, we’ll plan to see those tourist sites next time.


Pulling Some Pints

Thursday was our day volunteering at the Great British Beer Festival. Pulling pints was something we looked forward to – we were just worried about the ‘money issue’.

Yib-8At GBBF, the volunteers also take the money. So, combine a strange currency with varying prices and no cash register – just a till – and you get a bit of anxiety. Could we do this?

We duly showed up at Earl’s Court staffing office at the requested hour, 10am. Well actually, we were there a bit early. Asked what we wanted for a job assignment, we passed on steward, and whatever other job there was and said we wanted to pour beer. We were assigned to area B5, Mid West England. If you are unfamiliar with this region of England as we are, it includes the counties of Staffordshire, Worcestershire Shropshire and Herefordshire.  To throw out some brewery names… Burton Bridge, Enville, Hanby, Hobsons, Old Cottage, White Shield…

Yib-8After donning our bright yellow vests – forklifts were still flying around the convention center floor – we headed  downstairs to B5 to meet Zippy, our bar manager.  After explaining to us the evacuation route, he quickly went down the line and gave a brief description of the 20-odd beers that we would be pouring: milds, bitters, best bitters, porters and stouts.

Then we spent almost two hours sitting around reading the tabloids because the festival didn’t open until noon. We also had a chance to meet our fellow staff and we particularly enjoyed chatting with Les and Des.

Noon finally arrived but because we were situated in the back part of the hall, it would take a few moments for the crowd to sift back towards us. However, we were guaranteed a busy day because the Champion Beer of the festival, Alton’s Pride from Triple FFF was in B6, the section right next to us. We were certainly going to get some overflow.

I pulled my first pint about quarter past the hour and we were off and running. I think it was Slater’s Top Totty.

Yib-8The crowd waxed and waned over the afternoon sometimes being several deep at the bar. Part of the time, this was due to the English inability to step away from the bar after getting their pints. At other times, it would be a ghost town in front of us.

The highlight beer in our section might have been the Ginger Ale from Enville which really did taste like ginger ale. Unfortunately, it will also the hardest beer to pull as it was very lively and foamed easily.

Taking money wasn’t too hard considering I hadn’t been in a job where I took money since I was in my teens. Once I could get a system down in my head, it went smoothly most of the time. I will admit, I messed up on the money once and the older gentleman was nice enough to help me out.

The most difficult situation was when some punter came up with five of his mates and he was buying. All six would get different beers and different sizes and you would have to keep a running total in your head.

Yib-8And I do need to mention that we were able to drink beer on our shift. On our break and after our shift, we were able to enjoy free pints in the staff bar. And we were able to sample the beers we were pouring.

Zippy in his opening talk told us that the main thing was for us to have fun. And it was fun… it was great… when we make it back to GBBF, we will do it again. For all of our hard work, we received not only fond memories, but also a free session and discounted beer.

We finished up the day at our second favorite pub in London the Wenlock Arms meeting Paul and Eilís for quiz night. Run by Eddie the – now not so – Fat Controller, it is a lot of fun and is something that we would recommend. The questions are a lot harder then quiz in the States… well, at least in our neck of the woods.  We came in sixth out of 13 teams.


From the Quiet to the Not So Quiet

YiB-8Tuesday morning we left the quiet English countryside for the bustling sounds of London…and the Great British Beer Festival.

Arriving by train, we took just enough time to drop off our bags at the hotel and head over for the trade session. It was amazing and overwhelming at first. We had no idea how this festival worked. Turns out, first you buy the size glass you want: 33ml, half pint, or full pint. We opted for pint glasses, which have the smaller quantity markings on them. In the end, I never got more than a half pint anyway. And you can return the glass at the end and get your money back.

YiB-8This festival is unlike any festival we have been to in the States. Not only because of the size of pours, but also because you pay cash for your beers. Basically, the place was like one huge pub. Some breweries had their own bar set ups, some of which were quite elaborate. The one confusing thing, besides not knowing what beers to buy, was that the beers were all different prices.

At the risk of sounding like a total eejit and rookie traveler, I’ll tell you about the first beer I bought. The price was £1.70 for a half pint. I gave him what I thought was the exact amount. He brought back the coin marked 50 and indicated that he couldn’t take it. I was completely dumbfounded and couldn’t figure out why. Well, when I got back to Chris and was telling him the story, I looked a bit closer. It was actually a 50 Euro cent piece and not a British 50p coin. What a rookie! Oh well, I figured the guy chalked it up to another goofy American.

The mood was crazy. People in drag. Pubs with huge contingencies all dressed in matching shirts. Singing. And of course, beer drinking.

YiB-8We started out at the Irish bar, where we talked with Aiden from Galway Hooker, Liam from Carlow Brewing, and Cuilan from Messrs. McGuire. We also talked with John, aka TheBeerNut, from We were having a great time, but the Irish beers were right next to the American beers and I felt it was wrong to come all the way to England to be near American beers that I’m already familiar with.

Sierra Nevada sponsored the “U.S. and Rest of the World Bar” and S.N. Wheat and Big Foot were served. Other American beers offered included Lost Abbey’s Angelshare, Stone IPA, Cape Ann Brewing Old Fisherman’s Ale, Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron, and a Sly Fox beer that I can’t remember.


The highlight of the day had to be the contingent from the Cornish brewery Skinner’s. Thirty to forty people strong, they spent the all day drinking beer and singing songs, mostly traditional. They even had a guy in drag dress up as Betty Stogs, the name of their bitter. And when the beer won champion best bitter , the revelry increased.

In the end, between the two of us, we tried around 12 beers. The trade session was ending and the masses would start coming in, so we decided to call it a day at GBBF. We were meeting our friends Paul and Eilís at The Old Fountain later and needed to rest up for the second part of our night.

It was a good day of beer drinking and fun. Tomorrow we actually get to sleep in and will do some sight seeing.


Setting Out On Our Own

YiB-8With the guided Real Ale Walk with Lynne and Ian under our belts, the next day we set out on a self-guided walk. Armed with the a set of instructions provided by Ian, the eight mile loop would take us to the town of Holford and the Plough Inn.

Admittedly, I was a bit worried that we would take a wrong turn and end up in Cardiff, but the feeling more had to do with our ability to follow the instructions, not the quality of the directions.  The walk instructions were very specific, such as advising to turn right just after a “grassy clearing with a solitary tree”.  Lo and behold, we did in fact come across a clearing and turned dutifully to the right hand trail.

The walk took us through farmer’s fields, woodland, and finally along a trail astride to a meandering brook that lead us to the town of Holford.

After a little over four miles, we arrived at the Plough Inn ready for some pints and food. The pub had 3 real ales; two of which I had not tried yet. My favorite was the Tawny Bitter from Cotleigh, a Somerset brewery.

The publican was very friendly and when he saw me take the picture of the tap handles, he said he had something to give me to better remember my visit. He started digging in a bag – I thought he was trying to find me some bar mats – but he pulled out this nice Cotleigh bar towel and handed it to me.  It was a nice gesture and while we find friendly publicans most of the time, they are not always willing to give up their beer stuff.

They also had a real cider. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention cider, as Somerset is the home to English cider. The real ale pubs will have a ‘proper’ cider on and in the case of the Plough Inn, it was the cider from Cheddar Valley. It looked like orange soda, but the flavor was crisp and refreshing. If you make it to Somerset, you need to give proper cider a try.

Filled with a few pints and some food, it was time to head back to Nether Stowey. Our return journey took us through moorland similar to what we hiked the previous day and in no time we were back at the Old Cider House.

I was pleased. We finally got some exercise on a trip – two eight mile walks was just what the doctor ordered. But moreover, Real Ale Walks was everything I imagined it would be. Great walks, great beer, and great people.


Real Ale – Real Walking

YiB-8We arrived in England a bit delayed, but safe and sound. We are staying in the Somerset village of Nether Stowey for a few days before heading back to London for the Great British Beer Festival.

On our way out to Somerset, we passed by Stonehenge and took a quick look at it. Chris said it looked smaller than he expected. I thought it was amazing, but almost a let down because it looks, well, just like all the pictures you see. Maybe next visit to England we’ll have time to pay to go into the park and get a bit closer.

We came out here to Nether Stowey for one reason; The Old Cider house and Real Ale Walks. Chris saw an article about them several years ago and we have wanted to come out here ever since. The idea is brilliantly simple and combines two of our loves, hiking and beer. You walk between villages on well-marked trails, enjoying the scenery, the fresh air and a pint or two or real ale at a village pub. It is really the essence of our travels.

Last night, the proprietors, Lynne and Ian prepared a beer-inspired 4 course dinner, including a mushroom risotto made with Guinness and dessert made with Hoegaarden raspberry wheat. Chris kept eying my dessert because he had already finished his, but I was not about to share!

Each course was served with one of  the beers from Ian’s Stowey Brewery. The first starter course was served with a beer made with nettle, which Ian used as a bittering agent. Stowey Brewery brews real ale and the beers are sometimes served in the local pubs. Ian admitted that not all of his beers have turned out good, but all of the beers we had were very tasty. I’m looking forward to seeing the brewery and drinking more of the beer tonight.

YiB-8This morning, they offered us an equally tasty traditional English breakfast sans beer (darn!) and then guided us on a walk through the Quantock Hills.

Today’s hike was a nice 8 mile round trip jaunt to the nearby town of Crowcombe and their pub The Carew Arms. The hike took us over heather-covered hills and sheep-filled fields. The beautiful 360 degree view of the area included seeing Wales across the bay.

But the highlight of the walk was the pub that has been the center of Crowcombe village life for 400 years.

YiB-8The front bar was very traditional and probably hadn’t changed much in 400 years. Chris wanted to take some pictures but the regulars didn’t look in a posing mood.

Another neat thing about the Carew Arms was a skittles lane in the old stable. Because it is a historic building, they had to keep the stable dividers. So now you can play skittles and sit in a booth where the ol’ gray mare used to eat her hay.

Skittles is a classic Somerset game similar to bowling. Played mainly in the winter, skittles really is a drinking game because as one team is playing, the other is in the bar having a pint. Still popular, the local area supports over a dozen leagues.

The hike was just challenging enough  for me, as it is our first full day here in England and I’m a bit jetlagged. Despite dragging a bit, we enjoyed the company of Ian, Lynne and two black labs Buster and Ozzy. We miss Porter and Stout, so this was a perfect fix of dog play. They allow dogs at the Old Cider House, so last night we also played with Gibbs, a spaniel here with his owners on holiday.

We still have several more days here and so far it has been a trip made in heaven; beautiful hiking, yummy beer, great food, and good company, all in one spot! This has been a great start to this month’s Year in Beer adventure. I’m sure it will prove to be a gentle adjustment to England before the craziness of the big city and the Great British Beer Festival.