How to Become a Travel Writer

I often dreamt of going back to Bath, to my old uni, to pass on my own words of wisdom (or lack there of). So, when last year I actually did get invited to come back to my “alma mater” and give a lecture on travel writing, my first thought was, wow, the Bath Spa Creative Writing department are really scraping the barrel this year.

When I asked some TEFL teacher friends for public speaking advice though, I got, “establish your credentials”. So…

My boring life story

I’ve been writing for the travel industry for over six years now, and have done a fair bit of travelling –including putting down roots in Japan, Bulgaria, the Australian Outback, and Barcelona, where I’m now the English Copywriter at one of the world’s biggest travel companies.

But basically, I think I’m here because I make a living doing what I love: travelling, and writing about it.

Not too many years ago, I was a creative writing student at Bath Spa, sitting in that very room, quite possibly listening to a lecture on travel writing.

After that I hit the road – a naïve young graduate, trading reviews of hostels, bars and casinos for a bed and a beer.

Working for exposure

Be wary of working for “exposure”.

When I got back, I had to search for a “real” job. It seemed I was qualified to be something called a “Copywriter”. But what the hell was “copy”? Or “SEO”? Or all these other new words that kept popping up? Hands up if you know what SEO is and how it’s done. (More on this later.)

After much Googling of terms, and a spot of bar work (“bar work” being the coolest possible way of putting it) I eventually got my “big break”: living it up in Varna, Bulgaria, with a rag-tag band of expat writers, churning out articles for a digital marketing firm that may or may not also have been a people trafficking organisation.

Since then, I’ve spent many a year working remotely from the road, picking up freelance work on the side, running this blog… I even once did a brief stint managing a backpackers’ hostel.

How to start a travel blog?

Do you have a website or blog? A travel blog? If not, do you want one? Hands up if you really don’t want one.

I used to hate the idea of travel blogging, but it has worked for me. It acts as a portfolio to showcase your writing, and, it took a couple of years, but nowadays I get regularly contacted by potential clients. Persevere, and people will find you.


How to Start a Travel Blog

It was here at uni where Mimi Thebo taught me the importance of writing to a target reader, and where Doug Chamberlin (Toy Story 2) told me, “go with your gut. Tell the story that you want to tell.” In fact, both are equally true. When your target reader matches the story you want to tell, that’s when you have your style, your voice, and, in this case, your blog. Even if your audience is just “people like you”, having that clear in your mind, you’ll always know what you’re doing and why.

To find your niche, just cross travel with something else you love, like fashion, exploring abandoned buildings, being a mum, or – in my case – getting smashed. (It’s really amazing how few blogs there were about travelling and drinking.)

Do a bit of keyword research and “competitor” research. Like a tattoo, it’s worth thinking long and hard about the name and the general concept before you make the big step. The amount of times I’ve had a great idea for a tattoo and said to myself, “okay, if it’s really that good, you’ll still want it in a few months”. Needless to say, I do not have any tattoos.

No regrets tattoo

Sure about that?

If in doubt, go with your name. While you might not want to travel forever, your name’s unlikely to change. Unless your parents really fucked it up the first time around, or whatever you’re up to is about to earn you a spot on the witness protection program, or you’re female.

Once you’re sure on your idea, get yourself a domain. (Not a sub-domain on Blogger, or Tumblr.) I use, and GoDaddy for the hosting, and my only complaint with GoDaddy is that they jack the price up once they’ve got you. If you’re serious about your idea, which you should be, I’d recommend getting 10 years up front at the introductory discounted price.

Actionable travel writing tips


Tips for Successfully Maintaining a Travel Blog

Take someone’s question or problem, like “How to get to Machu Picchu by local transport without a tour?” or “Where the hell am I supposed to get a drink in Brunei?” (you can get this from a Google search) and answer or solve it, making it entertaining enough that they want to keep reading even once they’ve got what they came for. This overlap between what the reader wants and what you want is where good writing happens.


Try me at home, kids.

Keeping a travel journal

When you’re constantly on the move, you have to write it down then and there. At least the next day. Three days and it’s gone.

I still recommend good old-fashioned paper and pen over a laptop or smartphone. While it seems like every banana farmer in Costa Rica owns an iPhone these days, and there’s no shame in being a “digital nomad” or a “flashpacker”, this stuff is valuable. If I travelled with a laptop, I’d have missed out on all my best travel experiences. I wouldn’t have been able to put my trust in strangers, take risks and step into the unknown, which is what provides the very stories a travel writer needs.

Really, it depends on your destination. (Japan is a very different place from Salvador de Bahía.) Remember, it can be cheaper to use an Internet cafe everyday for several months than to buy even the cheapest of laptops.

Writing is more than just writing

Take a look at these two pages…


Spot the difference.

They’re both exactly the same piece. Which one are you more likely to read?

I don’t want to say it’s true that nobody reads on the web these days, but it’s certainly almost true. People barely even scroll down. The sad truth is, it doesn’t matter how nice your travel writing is, if it’s on a crappy site.

The look and feel of your content is as important as the content itself. Add quotes, images, videos, lists, interactive content like this quiz.

Learn how to code CSS and HTML to style your writing and attract the audience it deserves. (It’s free and only takes the best part of a weekend.)

Failing that, you could try seducing a technical person, and while you’re at it, an artist or designer…and an SEO.


SEO stands for “search engine optimisation” and is basically the “art” of getting your writing found on Google. There’s a huge section of the net devoted to it, but to sum it up in one slide, you basically just need to put the “keywords”, or “search terms” (remember that question your piece is trying to solve or answer?) in as many of these places as possible:


Everything you need to know about SEO, in one slide. Not bad.

The days of “text-spinning” software and bargain-basement articles from India (or Bulgaria) are behind us. The real “trick” to getting your content on the first page of Google is…creating good content – content that people stay on your site to read and interact with; content that makes people want to come back for more. For that, companies need writers, like us.


Social Media Tips for Travel Bloggers

To be honest, you barely need to maintain a blog anymore. Not to say that writing a tweet (like a good title or lead) is easy. But it’s certainly less time consuming than a blog post. Some advice for building a social media following?

  • Use images.
  • Don’t lose your human touch.
  • Be patient, it can take years. Don’t worry about “rejection” (unlikes and unfollows). Not everyone is your target audience.
The Booze Traveler followed me on Twitter

My claim to fame


How to write about travel

Anyone can recount the information the tour guide gave them at the Taj Mahal. Travel writing is about taking the reader on a journey, capturing a sense of place, for which you need unique experiences, beyond “the sights”. As my man Kerouac so eloquently put it…


Kerouac’s thoughts on seeing “the sights”


How not to write about travel

By “useful cliches”, I mean “Top 5…” articles, “How to…” guides, infographics, etc. Some companies will ask you to write that way, and others will ask you not to, but at the end of the day, there’s a reason they’re cliches. If done right, they work.

By “reverse racism”, I mean: “Rajesh, the hotel manager, was surprisingly hygienic…” Basically, if you’re an incurable racist, you’re probably not cut out for travel writing.

Don’t overdo it on the adjective front. Just because they’re called “descriptive words”, doesn’t mean they’re the only way to describe something. Instead use clauses or new sentences (in the active voice), with nouns and verbs. For example, instead of “narrow alleys”, use “…cluttered the walls as they bent in towards us, pressing us into the crowd.”

“Then as the sun went down it seemed to drag the whole sky with it like the shreds of a burning curtain, leaving rags of bright water that went on smoking and smouldering… I saw the small white ship, my last link with home, flare like a taper and die away in the darkness; then I was alone at last, sitting on a hilltop, my teeth chattering as the night wind rose.”

 – Laurie Lee. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning


Blogstock Festival

Want another sad truth? The memory is shit. Take a look one seat ahead and two across. [Remember, this presentation was aimed at a hall full of creative writing students, but I feel there’s some words of wisdom in here for the rest of us too.] How well do you know that person? What’s their work about? What’s their name? Okay, their surname? If you don’t know now, how are you going to look them up in three years when you need to plug your novel? How are you going to ride on the coattails of their successes?

It’s not always the loudest, most “memorable” people who go on to become the most successful. (Especially true in the realm of writing.)

Go home now, get on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, add everyone in this room (and all your other classes for that matter). If you’re not on LinkedIn, get on there. You’re going to have to do it when you leave anyway, so why go out there with no contacts when you can already have 150? Don’t forget most of your lecturers are already published authors, with connections. Wink, wink.

What else have I got for you?

Read, read, read. Follow and subscribe to blogs. Not to all of them. You need to start finding “your people”. It can be hard at first, but once you’ve found one, you can ask them who they read, who inspires them. Never judge a blog by its homepage. Check the content, the themes and viewpoints that appear again and again in their work… Oh, I see we’re out of time.

Any questions?

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

San Vino Wine Fight & Haro Wine Festival in La Rioja

I first came across the “San VinoWine Fight (la batalla del vino in Spanish) a few years back when researching the most epic water and food fights around the world. Inspired, perhaps naively, by the idea of strangers spraying copious amounts of wine directly into my mouth, I couldn’t wait to go!

Taking the summit at San Vino Wine Fight and Batalla del Vino in Haro, La Rioja

Taking the summit at Haro Wine Fight!

The Wine Fight takes place on the morning of the 29th June (Saint Peter’s Day) no matter what the year, and is just part of Haro Wine Festival, which goes on for days. Head to the Plaza de la Paz the night before the wine fight, for what is by far the biggest party on Haro’s calendar. A lot of people – young and old, locals and visitors alike – end up pulling an all-nighter.

For the full schedule of events and exact timings for the batalla del vino, check the programa de fiestas on

Haro Wine Festival in Plaza de la Paz

Haro Wine Festival in the Plaza de la Paz

Plus, the La Rioja region itself is perfect for a roadtrip and even more picturesque than I’d imagined, with many a sweeping corkscrew bend. (Yes, wine pun absolutely intended.)

Below, I’ve put together all the info you need to know before you go, including a map with all the key locations, so feel free to bookmark this page or share it with your friends to have everything in one place.

What are you wearing?

The traditional “dress code” is white everything – from trousers to trainers – and a red scarf. Bear in mind, anything white will never be white again, so if you happen to be a painter, lucky you, but if not, it’s not like there’s a bouncer on the door of the festival telling you to turn around and go home. The red scarves can be bought the night before for a couple of euros in the local “chino“.

How to get to the Wine Fight/Batalla del Vino?

The actual wine fight is not in Haro itself, but in the Parque de San Felices, at the foot of the Riscos de Bilibio (riscos are cliffs or crags) which lead up to the Ermita de San Felices (San Felices hermitage).

On foot

It’s just shy of 6 km (about an hour’s walk) from the edge of Haro to the hermitage, so it’s technically possible, but with all the partying and the running around, I wouldn’t recommend it. There’s also not much point, since there’s a free bus:

By bus

Free coaches go from the other side of the Tirón river, just across the bridge from Haro town centre and right next to the campsite.

When we rolled into Haro at 7 am on the dot, there was no-one waiting yet, but in the time it took us to load our weapons and prepare for battle, the queue was already multiple coachloads long.

The queue is all part of the fun though. There were plenty of itchy trigger fingers, with people finding it hard to resist the urge to “test” their equipment.

Queuing for the free coach shuttle to Haro Wine Fight at the Ermita de San Felices de Bilibio, La Rioja, Spain

Some itchy trigger fingers while waiting for the bus…

The coaches only take five to ten minutes and drop you at a Muga vineyard. From here it’s 2 km (another 25 min walk) to the very top, although you’ll run into the fighting well before that. The screams and smell of bad wine will reach you first though.

Even from a kilometer away, the wine was already running down the streets. Oh, the horrors of war!

La Rioja vineyards on the way to the Batalla del Vino near Haro, Spain

Marching into battle, through the vineyards of La Rioja

By car

It turns out there are fields even closer to the battleground reserved for parking (with plenty of space as of 8:30-ish) so if you want you can join the convoy of tractors, flatbed trucks and cars – their boots open and stuffed with revellers – and drive right up to the festivities. Some of the locals looked like they’d been set up here for hours, with music pumping and barbecue smoke filling the air.

Car park near the hermitage of San Felices for San Vino Haro Wine Fight

Party in the car park!

Let the Batalla del Vino commence!

We were almost there when the cohete (rocket) screeched into the sky to officially kick off the battle. I looked at my phone: it was 8:30. Some years it’s 8:10, some it’s almost 9:00, but don’t worry, while it’s great to be there for first shots fired, even the reserve forces bringing up the rear (those who partied too hard the night before and overslept) still didn’t miss out on any of the action.

Arriving at the Haro Wine Fight

Sweeping in from the right flank…

Soon we were in the thick of the fighting – combatants armed to the teeth with everything from traditional Spanish wine skins to back-mounted pressure washers, water pistols, buckets, and even a couple of dirty old men wielding red-wine-soaked toilet brushes. (I got caught in a spot of hand-to-hand combat with these guys myself and so can only hope that they bought them specially for the occasion.)

Splashing wine in the air at La Batalla del Vino in the Haro region of La Rioja, Spain

Wine flies when you’re having fun.

We pushed on up the trail in a bid to “take the summit”…

…however, what we found instead was a place of peace and respite. The closer we got to the hermitage, the more there seemed to be a kind of unspoken armistice in the air. Up here, a monastic silence reigned…at least until some Australian yelled, “do you think anyone would mind if I just took my top off?

Girl gets soaked in red wine at Haro Wine Fight and Festival in La Rioja, Spain

Ruth gets caught behind enemy lines

Back down in the war-zone, the battle gradually turns into a kind of rave, as people resign themselves to the fact that they couldn’t get wetter even if they wanted to. Not to mention that, had this been a real war, they would have been dead hours ago.

The epicenter of the fighting at the Batalla del Vino Haro Wine Fight

On the front line at Haro Wine Fight!


Where to stay?

There are plenty of hotels in Haro, plus the aforementioned campsite, “Camping de Haro“, but as we had a car, and to avoid the hiked up Haro hotel prices, we stayed just 5 km away in the unexpectedly cool little wine town of Labastida (Bastida in Basque).

Red flowers, wine-related street art murals and caves in Bastida, La Rioja, Spain

The quirky wine town of Labastida (Bastida in Basque)

Storm clouds approach in the wine town of Labastida, La Rioja, Spain

The calm before the storm…

Alright, time for a shower! Anything I missed, feel free to ask. ¡Salud!

Red wine running down street after San Vino Wine Fight near Haro, La Rioja, Spain

…and the streets ran red with…wine.

Categories: Europe, Spain, Travel Stories | 3 Comments

My Top 17 Best Barcelona Experiences

Tonight I celebrate a year in Barcelona, and while I realise this post isn’t going to do wonders for my Google rankings once people realise it’s not about the likes of La Rambla or the Sagrada Familia, I wanted to write something a bit more personal about my time in Barcelona – a few nights, highlights, never to be repeated and that could only have happened here.

“Transcurrió un año, durante el cual sólo viví por las noches. … Un año breve como una larga noche.”

— Augusto d’Halmar

Halloween Sunday Funday in Barcelona

Thing to do in Barcelona #16: The Sunday Funday

So as not to be completely useless, I’ve bolded some events, places, dates, etc. that the Barcelona virgin would do well to jot down.

The Biergärtenfest

22nd April – 1st May

My year in BCN got off to a good start dancing on the tables (and falling off of them, and repeating this process ad nauseam) at the Biergarten Fiesta de la Cerveza. I’ve seen Poble Espanyol transform itself into a lot of things, but this German beer garden festival was by far the most atmospheric. We even went back a week later for more broken knees.

German biergarten fest beer garden festival at Poble Espanyol, Barcelona

Dancing on the tables…

The Vermouth Festival

7th – 8th May

No drink says “Barcelona” like vermouth. Except maybe cava…or ratafía…or cervesa artesanal…or a gin tónico. The point is, vermut (or vermú) is ridiculously popular here – a way of life – with “vermuterias” all over town. So when I found out that there’s now a “feria” called Va de Vermut, there was no choice in the matter. We met up at the CREC – a kind of coworking warehouse space in Poble Sec – and spent the day there drinking copious quantities of Catalunya’s favourite apéritif…

Feria Va de Vermut vermouth festival in Espai Crec, Poble Sec, Barcelona

Day-drinking at the “Va de Vermut” vermouth festival

Va de Vermut vermouth and aperitif fair in Barcelona, Spain

Vemouth: Catalunya’s favourite apéritif

Afterwards, we ended up on Carrer de Blai – a little strip of the Basque Country here in the Catalan capital – with cañas (draft beers) and pintxos – then on to a live music venue called LACONTRA where Serie and the guys’ Spanish profesor was playing in the band Lullavy.

I danced like a bacchant to NITCH, snogged everyone goodbye and then we were off again, this time in search of Maikel’s house party with only a three-digit number scrawled on a bar napkin to guide us.

Wandering the streets, we followed the sound of drums and suddenly came onto a square where hundreds of hooded strangers were dancing as if in a trance. “Dragon people!” Audric yelled, and we plunged head first into their midst in a vain attempt to uncover the mystery of…whatever the hell was going on… We eventually found the house party – don’t ask me how – on the other side of town, where we continued drinking into the morning…

The ’90s Party

13th May

…that moment when four new friends in a strange new city find they have a shared love of R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion” as they belt it out together over the din in a dingy Gràcia dive-bar. It was “Smells Like 90s Spirit” at La Sonora de Gràcia, and that was also the night we happened to meet Gema from Guiris en Barcelona – Friday the 13th; just saying – and her friend Alba, and it turned out that all this time Audric, my party planner, had been poaching his best ideas for cool things to do in Barcelona straight from her blog.

Girona Cathedral is the Great Sept of Baelor in Game of Thrones season six

At Girona Cathedral, which doubles as the Great Sept in Game of Thrones

The Walk of Atonement

18th June

Caught up in the hysteria of Game of Thrones, for a while we’d been joking about doing our own “walk of shame” in Girona (where Margaery was all set to do hers). When we got there though, in broad daylight, tourists all around, we realised it obviously wasn’t going to happen.

La Plaça de la Catedral, Girona, Gerona, Catalonia, Spain

“This obviously isn’t going to happen…”

“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”

— Ernest Hemingway

A few beers later, and it was back on. Warning: this is what happens when you get drunk at a Game of Thrones filming location.

Update: since then, I’ve become incredibly buff and tanned.


Then one night me and Audric got “balls deep” into the editing process.

Sant Joan

23rd – 24th June

The longest day of the year, the shortest night, La Nit de Sant Joan (San Juan) corresponds with the Summer Solstice in Britain, but marks the “beginning of summer” and biggest party night of the year here in Catalonia! (An impressive claim. Believe me, there’s a lot of competition.)

By the time I got home from work, Audric was already a bottle of vermouth down and balls deep into a Caribbean cocktail-making sesh. It wasn’t long before he’d confessed his darkest secrets and we were on the beach. Everyone I knew and loved came down. Everyone they knew and loved came down. It was one hell of a scene. Thomas showed up with a yank called Trev and a girl covered in bandages.

“Wow, Thomas, you sure gave her a beating.”

Turns out she’d just survived the big bus crash.

Many hadn’t.

The three symbols of Sant Joan are fire, water and herbs, which translates to bonfires on the beach, thousands of people skinny-dipping in the sea, and, well, “herbs”. You couldn’t take a step without a firework going off at your feet. As darkness fell, Audric’s mind started to fall apart, fast, and with it the group. The noise was deafening. We wouldn’t be able to hear properly for a week, let alone hear what each other were saying there and then.

“This isn’t a party, this is a warzone!”

Audric has his own story from that night, but a few of us managed to rally together and made a last stand in Touch Music karaoke bar.

Touch Music Karaoke in Barcelona

“Nothing really matters, to me…”

When we finally got back out onto the street to say our goodbyes, it was 8 a.m. and the sun was up. The shortest night was over.

Karaoke at Touch Music in Barcelona

“There are many here among us, who feel that life is but a joke”

The “Perfect Day”

25th June

It all started because Audric caught wind of a place up in the foothills, undiscovered by tourists, where you could go, swim, and drink beside a “lake”: Parc Creueta del Coll. Only, when we got there it turned out to be a children’s swimming pool.

So we swam and got drunk.

…and incredibly burnt.

Pool at Parc de la Creueta del Coll

Dicking around at Parc de la Creueta del Coll

Drinking at Parc de la Creueta del Coll

Getting drunk (and severely burnt) beside the kiddies’ pool.

At one point Марко got bollocked for being in the pool with a bottle; which seems fair enough, but he was outraged, claiming that in Serbia it was normal – no, encouraged – to bring glass into a public swimming pool. Naturally, we took the piss.

A few months later he sent us this photo from Serbia:

Drinking glass in swimming pool in Serbia

Apparently drinking from glass in public swimming pools is encouraged in Serbia.

Cactuses in Barcelona

Dicking around on a mountain

Anyway, we climbed the mountainside…watched the Wales-Northern Ireland and Portugal-Croatia games in Grizzly72…at one point I was sprawled over a table in KFC…at one point we were drinking €3 mojitos at Berenjenal, tossing around the few ice-cubes that weren’t being used to nurse our burns…

At about 5 a.m. me, Thomas and Trev, suffering from severe sunstroke, were in some kind of “Jewish” bar in El Raval, where it was rumoured (by Maikel) that Thomas gave blowjobs in exchange for cocaine. We were just calling it a night when Carlos and his Portuguese countrymen happened to burst into the bar, drunk, shirts open, fresh back from a trip to somewhere or other. Pretty soon Carlos was playing the piano and we were all on our feet, singing:

Just a perfect day
Drink Sangria in the park
And then later
When it gets dark…

Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on

— Lou Reed

The view from Creueta del Coll

“Oh, such a perfect day”

Poblenou Beer Festival

1st – 3rd July

La Fira de Cerveses del Poblenou was my favourite beer festival of the year (and, I recently found out, the biggest and best in Barcelona). (Even bigger and better than the Barcelona Beer Festival, oddly enough.)

La Calavera beers at Poblenou Beer Festival in Barcelona

La Calavera beers at the Poblenou Beer Festival: the biggest and best (and my favourite) in Barcelona

Beers in Poblenou


It’s also literally just over the road from Platja del Bogatell (Bogatell beach) where we proceeded to get wet. Later, Audric and Rostie bought water-guns, me and Maikel went to buy water-guns and came back with beers instead, there was a huge waterfight in Ciutadella Park (Parc de la Ciutadella)…a ramen festival at Tatami Room… In short, a big day.


3rd July

For those looking to escape the city for a while, Montserrat is arguably the best place to go from Barcelona – only an hour out and easily one of the most beautiful spots in Catalonia.

Montserrat, Catalonia, Spain

Arriving at Montserrat

It reminded me of San Marino and the Basteibrücke in Saxony, but I have to confess, my personal favourite part of the day was when we sat for hours in an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant drinking all-we-could-drink, refilling glass after glass (despite the fact that drinks clearly weren’t included) until we were literally the last people in there, and had been for the best part of an hour, completely hammered, red in the face from laughter (and all the red wine) and all the time with a backdrop of views like these:

Restaurant view of Montserrat mountain near Barcelona

Bar with a view

Montserrat, Barcelona

Rockin’ my Jesus shades in Montserrrat

When we got back to Barcelona we even managed to drag ourselves to El Festival – a French music festival in Poble Espanyol – where we got in for the price of the France vs. Iceland game and somehow stayed for C2C.

France vs Iceland Euro football match at El Festival at Poble Espanyol in Barcelona

Supporting Iceland in the midst of the enemy

Crüilla Festival

8th – 10th July

The sun went down gold and mellow as Cat Power got me, Audric and Ania into the festival spirit at Crüilla Barcelona Summer Festival…then I got dragged to see Damien Rice…then Ramon Mirabet (the car advert guy) and the Crystal Fighters got us pumped up until at some point in the early hours I dashed off, met my man Pablo in Plaça Catalunya fresh off the plane from Brighton, and we got on the Estrella Galicia in Firebug.

Crüilla Barcelona Summer Festival at Parc del Fòrum

Crüilla Summer Festival at Parc del Fòrum, Barcelona

The next day (after a spot of parasailing of course) me and Pablo got nice and burnt and day-drunk in Barceloneta with Ania, then joined Audric and Maikel at Crüilla for round two: Xoel López, Snarky Puppy, 091, the Alabama Shakes…caught some Robert Plant, crept off to jig to an extemely militant Fermin Muguruza and the New Orleans Basque Orkestra, met the guys back at Love of Lesbian, got nostalgic with (and blown away by) Skunk Anansie and danced gypsy-style to Shantel and the Bucovina Club Orkestar until the sun rose just in time for us to watch Pablo disappearing with a group of sexy strangers…

Cruilla Barcelona Summer Festival by Estrella Damm beer

Don’t try this at home, kids.

He called me at ten-ish, having gone with Maikel – impossible since Maikel was with us looking for him – and ended up at a rooftop party in Eixample. We got a couple of hours kip, some tapas, and Pablo onto a plane to Galicia, then I was back at Parc del Fòrum just in time to watch Calexico perform “All Systems Red” – another experience in Barcelona I’ll never forget.

Afterwards, we went across the road to meet Ania and watch France lose the Euro.

Then this happened…

Spilt beer

My nerves are finally starting to go to shit.


15th July

Arguably one of our best nights in Barcelona – and not just because we finally got rid of Maikel – this one started out for me with an open-bar at a work summer party in Boo Beach Club (down on Platja de la Nova Mar Bella) and ended at ten the next morning eating tortilla (it seems they omit the “Spanish” part of “Spanish omelette” here in Spain) in a random Chinese joint.

Wrestling on Barcelona beach at sunrise

Just some innocent, homoerotic beach wrestling

Most of the gap was spent in Manchester bar (the good one, in Raval) where everyone came to see Maikel off, then wandering the narrow, winding callejones of El Gòtic (the Gothic QuarterBarrio Gótico), which by this hour have become rivers of piss, sitting outside Shoko shooting the breeze with an Ethiopian prostitute called Cindy who finally got a euro (from Trevor) and some much needed fashion tips (from me).

Barcelona beach sunrise with naked women swimming

Damn these naked bathers, getting in the way of our beautiful Barcelona beach sunrise shot!

We watched the sunrise from Platja de la Nova Icària, swam in liquid gold…sock fight in the sand…found ourselves in a playground playing on a zip-line, the swings, slide, merry-go-round…wow, I didn’t realise we made such a habit of hanging out in places designed for children…finally the aforementioned farewell breakfast…

Peace sign on slide in park


We watched Maikel walk away for the last time, barefoot, carrying his own sodden shoes – his socks in a bin somewhere en route, never to be worn again – as the sun crested the Sagrada Familia like a halo. (Oh, look at that, the Sagrada Familia made it in here after all.)

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
I’m not sure all these people understand…

The recklessness in water
They cannot see me naked
These things they go away
Replaced by every day…

Deserves a quiet night

— R.E.M.

Contemplating the sunrise on Barcelona beach

“One of our best nights in Barcelona”

The Bunkers

22nd July

A week later it was time to say goodbye to Марко and Trev too. We met in Meson David for several jarras of sangria and ended up in Casa Almirall on Joaquín Costa with our new amigos. Then, after saying goodbye to his two great loves – The Raval Cat (El Gat de Raval by Botero) and Russian girls – Марко went home so he wouldn’t miss his flight. Waiting with him at the bus stop, the rest of us suddenly decided, in a desperate bid to top the last weekend, to go up to the top of Turó de la Rovira and watch the sunrise from “The Bunkers”.

The Búnquers del Carmel give by far the best views of Barcelona and put nearby Park Güell to shame. Also unlike Park Güell, they’re totally free. The Bunkers are the remains of an anti-aircraft defence from the Spanish Civil War, but only really started appearing on Barcelona bucket lists as recently as 2011, when they got a clean up and were deemed safe for public consumption.

These days, at sunset and on long, hot summer days the place is carpeted with locals and well-informed visitors, with hampers of red wine, beer and snacks. At sunrise though, you have the place almost to yourself. (Maybe because of its remote location. Maybe because its popularity hasn’t yet extended to include “morning people”.)

We took a night bus as far as it would go, then continued our ascent on foot. Then my love of running up and down mountains took over and I dashed into the woods, leaving behind the last street lights, vaguely aware of steep precipices at my side and, finally, the fact that I hadn’t heard the guys voices in a while. Considering it a race, I pushed on in the darkness…and somehow did actually reach the Bunkers, where I waited, looking out over the sea of lights.

Eventually I gave up all hope and made “new friends”, with whom I was sitting drinking when the sun rose over the horizon and everything was made real again and I happened to look over and see that Trev and Audric had made it after all! I’ve never been so happy to see them (and by “them” I mean the bottle of wine in their custody).

While we didn’t take any photos that night, we did get chatting to a videographer who’d been staked out there all night making some kind of time-lapse, so I’m confident that, somewhere out there, this Barcelona night and its sunrise have been documented for a while.

In the end we did manage to top the previous weekend – still out having breakfast with Trev at 10.30 in the morning. I took an “Irish” tea, and that was about it for me. The last thing I remember was a text from Марко. He’d overslept and missed his flight.

The Nasty Monday (AKA: The “Monica Lewinsky” Scandal)

29th August

“So how do you know Tara?”

“Actually, last time I saw her, she was firing me.”

And here we were, a long way from Australia, in Dow Jones – a “stock exchange” bar where the prices rise and fall (mostly rise) throughout the course of the night. Tara, Simon and Helen had been drinking all day at the beach in Pacha and it wasn’t long before the madness began. Vlad “the Impaler” joined and we went for tapas and cañas in La Cueva del Ángel, where the waitress was completely wasted and, one minute after rudely asking us to leave, demanded that we sit back down and joined us for more beers.

Rostie appeared just in time to watch the waitress grab Simon and stick her tongue down his throat without warning.

Cañas and tapas in Bar de Tapes La Cueva del Ángel

Cañas and “brave potatoes” with old friends and new

We cruised across town in a convoy of taxis…only the cabs got split up and we ended up at different Espit Chupitos bars. (There are two, within three blocks of each other). After regrouping, me and Ruth had the misfortune of ordering the infamous “Monica Lewinsky” shot, and were promptly blindfolded, violated in the mouth with a cream covered dildo and sprayed up and down with beer.

The Monica Lewinsky shot in Espit Chupitos bar in Barcelona

Doing “the Monica Lewinsky” in Espit Chupitos, Barcelona

We were off the next day for La Tomatina, so took this opportunity to dance the rest of the night away at Nasty Mondays in Apolo – one of the best club nights in Barcelona.

The “Foc and Run!”

25th September

Throughout the months of August and September (while no other work of any kind is getting done in Spain) Barcelona’s barris take it in turns to put on their biggest parties of the year: les festes majors. First Gràcia, then Sants, Poblenou, Barceloneta…finally culminating in La Mercè – the fiesta mayor of Barcelona entire.

This year La Mercè included a free Manu Chao concert for the entire city at Parc del Fòrum, plus free entry to the Sagrada Familia (there she is again) and other big Barcelona sights, and, of course, the running of the Correfoc (literally “fire run”).

In England, when there’s a Catherine wheel (or any kind of fireworks) everyone has to maintain a certain, “safe” distance. In Spain they put hundreds of them on sticks and storm into the crowd. This year we joined the mad dash up Via Laietana – hot sparks showering down on our backs – Irish coffee in hand – and in the thick of the smoke, there they were… “The dragon people!”

Raquel Lúa Live @ Club Cronopios

7th October

I’ll always remember this night for two reasons: 1) an intimate and moving concert by Raquel Lúa with Mary and Karan in the back room of Club Cronopios, Raval, and 2) what happened afterwards…

(Jump to 3:21 for “Preciosa y el aire” – inspired by the Federico García Lorca poem of the same name.)

After the gig, me and Karan dropped a couple more pints in The Shamrock, then, toying with the idea of getting a kebab, I decided to call it a quiet night. On the way up to my flat I started taking my clothes off, as was my custom at the time, only to open the door and walk right into a room full of strangers. Three girls I’d never met in my life stared at me and burst out laughing.

“We’re going to the beach. You want to come?” Marcin said.

“Sure. Just let me put some clothes on and I’ll be right with you.”

So we went down to Somorrostro beach, sat drinking in the sand, danced the “Macarena”, ate kebabs…

Howl and Other Stories

21st October

I’d been living in Barcelona for months before I learnt of On the ROAD – a bookshop in El Born dedicated to my beloved Beat Generation. Luckily I didn’t miss this BYOB (bring-your-own-booze/bottle/beer) reading of Howl (Aullido in Spanish). In true Kerouacian style, I showed up with a bottle of Tokay in a brown paper bag…

Howl reading at On the Road bookshop, Born, Barcelona

“I saw the best minds of my generation…naked…hipsters…”

Only when the last reading reached its wailing climax did I remove said brown paper bag to discover that I’d damn near finished the whole bottle to myself.

I cycled beatific and more than a little borracho through the Barcelona night, met the gang in Los Chiles Mexican restaurant in Poblenou and ended up at something called Fabricarte in La Nau – a strange, cavernous place where your wanderings could lead you to anything from live music to getting a massage. Hell, there was even a bathroom in there somewhere!

(This was also the weekend we “sank the Bismarck!” in BrewDog Barcelona…and had a free beer on the roof of the old Antiga Fàbrica Estrella Damm brewery…and discovered “the best bar in Barcelona”.)

The Sunday Funday!

30th October

It was the long weekend (or “puente“) of Halloween, Día de Todos los Santos, Día de los Muertos… I know this because for weeks there’d been posters around the office informing us that everyone would be dressed up on the Friday…so by the time I turned the corner in my towering witch’s hat and flowing cape only to see everyone else dressed for business as usual, it was too late to turn back. I spent the next four days more or less constantly dressed up as something.

Absenta absinthe bar in Barceloneta, Cataluña

#sugartime in Absenta, Barceloneta

After €1 cañas in Malpaso with work folk, the bruja borracha cycled her way over to Absenta absinthe bar in Barceloneta to meet Audric, Gema, Karan, a random Luxembourgish guy out drinking with his mum, his mum, and a Brit who claimed to work for “Lady A.” We all ended up on the beach, where me and Karan sat up on a lifeguard station watching the waves of the Mediterranean lap against the sand…and the most theatrical beach blowjob you can imagine…and our friend manhandling Alan Sugar’s first mate (well, “second engineer”, but what’s a bit of libel between friends). #sugartime #workingforsugar

The next day Hattie rolled into town and I went to meet her under the Arc de Triomf, at which point I realised my face was covered in lipstick from the night before. (Not as cool as it sounds.)

Little Miss Piggy Conchita bacon Bloody Mary brunch cocktail at Firebug, Barcelona

The “Little Miss Piggy Conchita” bacon Bloody Mary at Firebug

It was Hattie’s birthday and we were doing brunch with Audricin Firebug, on our second or third cocktail – no doubt a “bacon bloody mary” – talking about how we should really do a “Sunday Funday” at some point, when suddenly we realised it was, in fact, a Sunday.

Gema appeared, we went back to the flat for shots and coats, then to Creps al Born for a Naughty Colada and other naughty cocktails. Still we were the only ones in costume. The music was swinging. The lamps were swinging. Tea was brewing. Gema disappeared into the Barcelona night. We found ourselves at Ilusiona bowling alley, Diagonal Mar, where we sank another three pints each before we’d even got a lane.

Beers accumilating

Nine pints later…

Bowling at Ilusiona, Diagonal Mar, Barcelona

It’s a miracle I didn’t accidentally throw it backwards into the crowd…again.

More “road beers”…Duran Duran…The Rocky Horror Picture Show…chilling on the terrace of El Rey de Istanbul except every time someone mentions “David” someone gets slapped, and for some reason everyone’s mentioning “David”, a lot, and the whole thing’s quickly deteriorating into a street brawl. Midnight. Hattie’s birthday’s over. Nobody ever heard of a Monday Funday. We can all go home.

The next night we threw a Halloween party, dressed up again, drank, ate worms, played “the penis card game”, did Plataforma with Ash, Javi, Xavi, Carla, “Brendan Frasier” and Karan, who “broke my nose”… When will this madness end?

The Gay Christmas Party

17th December

We ushered in the festive season with a “no raclettes” party, and “Friendsgiving” a week later, but it definitely came to its jolly climax at “Gay Christmas”. (I’d been promising the guys a “boy’s night” for a while, and there was talk of doing a Secret Santa, so the two naturally went hand-in-hand.)

Ecstatic at having finally found a peep show in Barcelona after all these months, I spent the morning in D’Angelo Sex Shop buying gifts for everyone. When I got back I was immediately rushed out for lunch with my housemates to BRO Room (big beautiful Barcelona burgers) where I hastily wrapped gay porn in La Vanguardia (newspaper) and told them the story of where I’d acquired them. They were so intrigued we ended up all jumping on the metro and going back to check it out…

Eventually I made my way to Sarrià (also home to “Barcelona’s best bravas“) where me, Karan and Gema nipped out for pizza (and a cheeky cava break in Bar Treze) while Ash and Audric put a man in Karan’s bed…

Drinking cava in Bar Treze, Sarrià, Catalonia

Cheeky cava break in Bar Treze, Sarrià

The night unfolded with said pizza, several bottles of wine, spirits, singing, dancing, dick pic’ing, phone licking, shirt sucking, giant card fighting, gay porn, getting undressed, getting redressed in strange clothes…and a partridge in a pear tree…and all ended fittingly in Aire and Arena – the biggest gay and lesbian club in Barcelona.

Smiley face balloon in Arena, Barcelona's biggest gay club

Smiling – como siempre – in Arena

I strolled home with an extremely generous rum and coke in one hand and playing my new harmonica with the other. A great night – as the Catalan Christmas song goes – des del primer fins al carrer…

FILF Father I Like to Fuck gay porn DVD cover

What utter F.I.L.F.!

Anyway, that’s enough of that. The night awaits! Let’s see what this year has in store! (Actually, I’ve been editing this on and off for days, but that doesn’t sound anywhere near as cool.)

Passed out at Cruilla Festival, Barcelona

Goodnight, Barcelona!

Categories: Europe, Spain, Travel Stories | Leave a comment

The Best Burger & Beer Joints in Barcelona

Back in July it was the Ruta Burger here in Barcelona, at which point my amigo Audric announced, “I hereby declare this week, Burger Week!” …and we’ve been living in Burger Week ever since.

There’s a lot of “best burgers in Barcelona” articles floating around the net, but there’s also a lot of palm-greasing and favouritism in the world, so I figured I’d better check them all out for myself.

Sure, taste’s a subjective little fella, but trust me, this shit is good! If you like good burgers and good beer – preferably in your mouth at more or less the same time – then you can’t go wrong with these bad-boys:

The Americana burger at Bar Centro, Carrer de Casp

Bar Centro’s Americana burger

Bar Centro

Burger + beer = €10–16.50

Beer lovers will especially appreciate the Saison burger, stuffed with sautéd mushrooms, brie, what seem to be crispy fried shallots and, as the name promises, a touch of French farmhouse ale (well, Belgian really, but alliteration comes before factual accuracy). The Americana (cheese and bacon) and their signature Monkey Burger are also absolutely increíble! (The Pulled Pork can be a bit too intense, especially if foolishly ordered with a rich, hearty Russian imperial stout. Black sauce overload.)

The Monkey Burger at Bar Centro, Barcelona

The iconic Monkey Burger at Bar Centro

Also look out for their Monkey House Beer, brewed, if I remember rightly, by Cerveza Fort – one of my favourite five local Catalan breweries.

Not only are the burgers the best and the beers excellently chosen; the people are also super cool: the guy once brought the wrong beer because I didn’t order very clearly, and they insisted on not letting me pay for it. That’s a nice touch you don’t get in a lot of places and all the more reason they deserve top spot on this list.

Oh, and if you’re in the area for lunch, they also do a mean menú del día for €10.90 with a soup/gazpacho that rivals even the burgers.

Where? Casp, 55

Dirty Burger (& Chicken Shop)

Burger + beer = €8–11

I’m not going to lie to you: things are about to get dirty. One might be accostumed to assume that the “Dirty Bacon” burger is simply a hamburger with bacon. Far from it, my friend! It is in fact full centre stage to a mighty slab of bacon and produces more juice than Mother Teresa in heat. Also not to be missed are the battered, deep-fried onions, the chicken, and the full range from Barcelona Beer Co.

Dirty burger, onion fries and beer in Barcelona

“Wanna get dirty? It’s about time I came to start the party!”

Where? Plaça del Duc de Medinaceli, 2

Cafe Menssana

Burger + beer = €9–11.70

Brutus beer and burger in Cafe Menssana, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Brutus and burger in Cafe Menssana

It’s all about the “Country Side”. This is one of my favourite burger places in BCN (obviously) which is why I’m willing to overlook the fact that they only have one craft beer…plus my favourite Spanish lager (Mahou) on draught…plus good wine…vermouth…Scotch…it’s a magical place, really, and well off the tourist trail.

Where? Sardenya, 48

Bacoa (Kiosko)

Burger + beer = €8.25–12

Consistently ranked Barcelona’s best burger, for me it’s in their massive, marinated chicken burgers where this place really comes into a class of its own. And if getting a seat is proving to be a problem, I have it from a trusted source that the nearby Barceloneta branch can be a better bet.

Roost chicken burger in Bacoa Kiosko, Barcelona, Spain

The “Roost” burger in Bacoa

Where? Av. del Marquès de l’Argentera, 1


Burger + beer = €11.50–16.50

A real shining star in an otherwise burgerless void. If you’re craving something a little bit different (veggie burger? fish burger?) or if someone in your gang has specific dietry requirements, this place is the one. Trust me, if I had a list of “Barcelona’s best gluten-free vegan burger and gin tonic joints”, Copasetic would be straddling it in shiny black leather, absolutely dominating it.

#burguer #organic #maison #brunch #foodporn #foodie#healthyfood #comfortfood #sooogoood

Una foto publicada por Copasetic (@copaseticbarcelona) el

All burgers come with salad and a hearty jacket potato – a rare find in these parts. Beer selection could be more extensive, but they still have one or two I’ve never tried, which is more than can be said for 99.9% of Barcelona’s bars.

Where? Diputació, 55

Almost the Best Burger and Beer in Barcelona:

At the risk of upsetting those who didn’t quite make the cut, I need to prove I’ve been doing my research. So, here are the runners up and why:

  • Rabipelao Rawalistan would’ve definitely made the list – they even brew their own commendable craft beer – but I have it on good authority they’ve just changed the menu and dropped the burgers. A national tragedy. If you fancy arepas and rum-tonics instead though, I was in Rabipelao Gràcia the other night and had a ball!
  • Babol Burger. Excellent burger and a full fridge of bottled beers from local Catalan craft breweries. The serving of fries, and the burger itself really, are a bit small. When your friend’s salad arrives and you develop a case of food envy, something’s not quite right. Seriously, if this was a “best salad and beer in BCN” list, Babol would top it.
  • Milk: one of the best brunch places in BCN and home to the “noodle burger”! You have to try it at least once before you croak, but you’ll soon realise there’s a reason hamburgers have come in a bun since the dawn of time.
  • Glups!? Japanese, manga themed burger joint with a comic book shop in the back and a “Tokio Burger” with wasabi mayo, shitake mushrooms and tonkatsu sauce. Unless you want an Asahi or something by Damm, though, beer choice is limited.
  • Panam75. French place we discovered on La Ruta Burger. “Le Sacré Coeur” burger with raclette cheese and crispy bacon is one of the best I’ve ever had, and they do serve beer, but that’s all.
  • Drink&Eat. Closes at 10 pm. In Spain. Screw that.
  • Picnic. Good burger, but overpriced and over-rated.
  • BlackLab. One of Barcelona’s coolest brewhouses and the burger definitely belongs on the list, but everytime we go in here the prices have gone up again. A victim of it’s own too-well-sought-after location.
  • Pim Pam Burger. Big, beautiful burgers, but the place lacks soul (by which I mean good beer); more like a glorified McDonald’s.
  • Alsur Café. Good burger and some interesting beers, but since you probably don’t enjoy being rushed out the door before you’ve even finished your meal, Alsur Café (Llúria) is the probably your only bet.
  • On Café. Great little place with excellent burgers but sadly no visible beer selection.
  • The Benedict. Another of the highlights from La Ruta. Though if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re British, and in any case probably didn’t come all the way to Barcelona for tearoom decor and brown sauce.
  • Chivuo’s would’ve definitely made the list – can’t fault their burger or beer selection at all – but when they charge 50¢ for mayo, and then give you a scraping smaller than a vaginal swab sample, that’s not cool. For non-white-sauce lovers though, it’s a must!
  • Thelma y Louise. Lovely little indie place I stumbled across. Sexy burgers. Only open weekdays ’til 9 pm. though.
  • Mavi’s. Unpretentious diner with shit Spanish lager and old-school, badass burgers. Practically next-door to the Aribau cinema, so makes an ideal pre-movie meeting spot.
  • BRO Room. Nice buns! Seriously. One of the best burgers on this list, but  – again – where’s the decent beer?

This list is a work-in-progress and a team effort, so if you think you’ve got a winner, toss it in the comments!

Oh, and I almost forgot the infamous food-trucks of Barcelona. Harder to pin down, but if you have the good fortune to stumble across them, take a burger!

Categories: Europe, Spain | 2 Comments

Where to Find the Best Craft Beer in Barcelona

I know. I’ve been living in Barcelona for ten months now and it’s taken me this long to share my favourite places to go for a good beer. In my defence though, you can’t just go around writing posts like “Top 5 Craft Beer Bars in Barcelona” until you’ve sampled all the other craft beer bars in Barcelona, can you?

Catalan craft beer by La Calavera at La Fira de Cerveses del Poblenou Beer Festival, Barcelona

Catalan craft beer by La Calavera at the Poblenou Beer Festival, Barcelona

Hungry? Check out my new bit on the best beer and burger in Barcelona.

In a hurry? Jump to the best craft beer…

The Best Craft Beer Bars in Barcelona

For an epic craft beer bar crawl, the vast majority (BierCaB, BrewDog, Garage, Napar, bELchiCA, Rosses i Torrades, Zythos, L’Espumossa, Cerveseria Catalana, Maestró, Barcelona Beer Company, Mikkeller, etc.) are located in what’s now coming to be known as “Beerxample” (a play on the Eixample district, and more or less the exact same area as “Gaixample”, Barcelona’s gaybourhood).

But Barcelona’s craft beer scene is by no means limited to Beerxample. Here are my personal favourites:

CocoVail Beer Hall

CocoVail craft beer bar in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Happiness is only real when shared…in a craft beer bar in Barcelona.

When I first wrote this post, CocoVail didn’t exist, and I’m being 100% honest with myself when I say you could literally feel the aching need for a big, open beer hall in Barcelona. There’s the two Ovella Negras, of course, and I’m not saying I don’t love a bit of “the black sheep”, but what Ovella Negra lacks is good beer. CocoVail has 24 taps of it.

24 pumps at CocoVail craft beer hall in Barcelona

CocoVail’s 24 regularly rotating taps

It wasn’t until chatting to Andrés the other day though that I realised the full meaning behind the massive tables and all the Chris McCandless memorabilia on the walls. They wanted a bar like the ones they found themselves in in America, the kind of bar where you had to pull up a pew alongside a group of complete strangers, and a few pints later…no-one’s a stranger. Looking around, I think they got it.

“Happiness is only real when shared.”

 — Christopher McCandless. Into the Wild

(I had to laugh over Christmas when it was obscured by decorations and read, “Happiness is only real when Santa”.)

When? Mon: 11:30 am–12:30 am; Tues: 11:30 am–2 am; Weds: 11:30 am–12:30 am; Thurs–Fri: 11:30 am–2 am; Sat: 1 pm–2 am; Sun: 1 pm–12:30 am

Where? Aragó, 284 (just off Passeig de Gràcia, right round the corner from Gaudí’s Casa Batlló)

La Bona Pinta

Local Catalan place, a little off the tourist trail (though conveniently for me, right on my walk home) and run by the spitting image of Withnail. I was coming here for months before I discovered there’s a whole back area, where you can even drink in a cage.

‘No coffee, no cocktails, “only” 200 craft beers!’

La Bona Pinta craft beer bar in Barcelona, Catalonia

“Only” 200 craft beers in “The Good Pint”

When? Tues–Thurs: 11:30 am–2:30 pm and 5:30–11 pm; Fri–Sat: 11:30 am–2 am; Sun: 5:30–11 pm

Where? Diputació, 433 (Eixample)


A bit bright for a vampire like me – especially on a hangover day (most days) – BierCaB is consistently ranked by RateBeer as one of the best beer bars in Spain (and currently in the world). The big screens behind the bar, far from showing sports, actually display the specs of the beers on draught, helping you to pick between 30 unmarked taps. Choose your brews by beer style, place of origin, etc. At the time of writing, many of the beers on offer hailed from Scandinavia, Britain and the various regions of Spain, with an obvious focus on local Catalan breweries.

Screens in BierCab craft beer bar in Beerxample, Barcelona, Spain

What’s on the big screen tonight? 30 world beers, that’s what!

When? Mon–Wed: 4 pm–12 am; Thurs: 12 pm–12 am; Fri–Sat: 12 pm–2 am; Sunday: 5 pm–12 am

Where? Calle Muntaner, 55 (Beerxample)


This might sound like a strange thing for a beer-lover to say, but Lambicus is one of the few craft beer bars in the world that’s almost as cool when it’s closed as it is when it’s open. It might take you – as it did me – a few glances to notice, but even the shutter’s been dolled up as a nice, foaming pint of cerveza.

Lambicus Belgian beer bar in Barcelona, Spain

No, you’re not hallucinating.

When it’s open though, this place boasts the finest selection of Belgian beer in Barcelona, plus regular beer-related events.

When? Tues–Fri: 5–11 pm; Sat: 11 am–11 pm

Where? Tamarit, 107 (Sant Antoni)


Ale&Hop sits on the fringes of the Ciutat Vella (Barcelona’s old town) in a little plaza in my favourite neck of town – El Born.

Ale&Hop craft beer bar in Barcelona, Catalonia

Just double-fisting in Ale&Hop, como siempre.

It’s no secret that the Spanish like to party (and do most things) late, and Ale&Hop’s no exception: show up anytime from ten ’til three in the morning and you’ll find yourself getting intimate with happy, hopped-up people, sampling craft beer from Cataluña to Canada and washing down some good grub while you’re at it. (They won RateBeer’s “Best Restaurant for Beer in Spain” three years running.)

When? Sun: 1 pm–1:30 am; Mon–Wed: 5 pm–1:30 am; Thurs: 5 pm–2:30 am; Fri: 5 pm–3 am; Sat: 1 pm–3 am

Where? Basses de Sant Pere, 10 (El Born)

BrewDog Barcelona

I seem to have found myself in a lot of BrewDog bars over the past few months – Stockholm, Brighton, London… – but BrewDog Barcelona has to be my favourite, for the simple reason that it’s the cheapest. If you like your Spanish spoken with a Scottish accent and your English peppered with Catalan turns of phrase, this is the place for you.

It’s also the only place I’ve ever known where you can get a shot of the illusive “Sink the Bismarck!” – a rare 41%, ice-distilled IPA. It’ll set you back eight euro, but where else can you drink a beer as strong as a good Scotch and knock back a piece of craft beer history? Also stashed away behind the bar somewhere is “Tactical Nuclear Penguin” – a 32% porter.

Drinking Sink the Bismarck beer in BrewDog Barcelona

Braving BrewDog’s 41% beer: “Sink the Bismarck!”

When? Mon–Wed: 5PM–midnight; Thurs–Fri: 5PM–2AM; Sat: noon–2AM; Sun: noon–midnight

Where? Casanova, 69 (Beerxample). Pretty sure they picked that address on purpose.

My Fave Five Local Catalan Craft Breweries

The Catalan craft beer scene is certainly not shy of talent, but I wanted to highlight a few breweries that have won my heart/really stood out to me during my time here in Barcelona. Some of them don’t get as much attention as they deserve and I wish I’d known about them the second I stepped off the plane at El Prat.

Cervesa CESC

This little-known eco-brewery in Poblenou has conceived and given life to several beautiful daughters. There’s sweet Marion, an old soul who never gets gas; Júlia, the Scottish lass – a rare thing in these parts – and perfect brunch date; and young Alba, who I haven’t had my wicked way with yet, but it’s only a matter of time before I get my hands on her. They can often be found hanging out in the Alsur Cafés of Born.

Júlia, Marion and Xesca beers by Cervesa CESC

Júlia, Marion and Xesca by CESC

Garage Beer Co. Barcelona

Not to be confused with all the other garage projects and garage brewing companies around the world. While they specialise in IPAs, their Contraband porter is the best I’ve ever had (okay, second best to Australia’s Holgate Temptress) and their BEAST is…well, an absolute beast! It’s a Berliner-weisse brewed with cava yeast and infused with merlot wine. I’ve heard somewhere out there there’s also a saison and an imperial stout in their “merlot series”, so if anyone lays their hands on some, give me a call. I’ll bring the cheese.

When? Sun–Thurs: 5 pm–midnight; Fri–Sat: 5 pm–3 am

Where? Consell de Cent, 261 (Beerxample)

Garage Beer Co. craft brewery in "Beerxample", Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Garage Beer Co. in “Beerxample”, Barcelona

Cerveza Fort

Based in nearby L’Hospitalet (de Llobregat) – which locals assure me is not Barcelona, but an entirely different city – Fort earned themselves a place in my heart with the (Monkey) house brew at my regular burger joint (Bar Centro). I wasn’t expecting much from a lager, but this one blew me away. They also brew a California common (Catalunya common?) – not a beer style you see every day – plus the likes of a 9% bourbon whiskey milk stout, a papaya gose and a smoky BBQ Bavarian Oktoberfestbier.

Edge Brewing Barcelona

Also based in the barri of Poblenou, Edge caught my attention at the Fira de Cerveses del Poblenou (Poblenou Beer Festival) with their Sangría Sour. I took a risk, and it paid off, and I haven’t been able to prise their colourful bottles from my lips ever since. Look out for their saisons, the “brutal” Appassionada passion-fruit Berliner-weisse and their Pure Decadence imperial stout – a collaboration with Norway’s Lervig.

Sangría Sour beer by Edge Brewing Barcelona

Sangría Sour by Edge


Another eco-friendly brewery, these guys in Sant Cugat (del Vallès) only make three beers, but L’Estupenda de Vi Blanc alone deserves a place on this list. It really is stupendous, tastes like a good old, oaked chardy, and was last spotted in ChichaLimoná on Passeig de Sant Joan.

Other Notable Craft Brewers in Barcelona:

  • NaparBCN (Napabier’s Catalan cousin)
  • Almogàver
  • The Brew Bro Corp (the bros behind Howling Cats and the Rabirra house beer at Rabipelao)
  • Barcino
  • BlackLab
  • Barcelona Beer Company
  • Maestró
  • Homo Sibaris, Sants
  • Steve Huxley (the founding father of Barcelona’s craft beer scene)
  • Ratpenat Cervesers
  • Music Hall Company
  • Birra 08
  • Barceloka
  • Flaherty’s Irish Pub
  • BIIR

Basically, when it comes to cerveza artesanal (or cervesa artesanal as it’s known here in Catalonia – spot the difference) there are very few cities with a better offering than BCN.

More Top Craft Breweries in Catalonia:

  • La Calavera, Ripoll
  • Guineu, Valls de Torroella
  • Montseny, Sant Miquel de Balenyà
  • Catalan Brewery, Mollet del Vallés (also responsible for the house beers at Chivuo’s)
  • Espiga, Sant Llorenç d’Hortons
  • Balate, Vilassar de Mar
  • La Pirata, Súria
  • Lo Vilot, Almacelles
  • Marina, Blanes
  • Art Cervesers, Canovelles
  • Cerveseria i Malteria Fondi, Fonteta
  • Roses de Llobregat, Sant Feliu de Llobregat
  • Quer, Berga

The Best Barcelona Craft Beer Shops

Beer shopping: the only kind of shopping that actually turns me on! La Bona Pinta and Lambicus (see above) both double as bottle shops with discounted take-away rates and more than 200 and 500 beers respectively. I also pick up my “supplies” in:

BeerStore Barcelona

Like all of the beer shops listed, you can stop and sample a brew or two at one of the barrels-cum-tables. The BeerStore is also only a manzana (block) or two from the Sagrada Familia, so you can even see the sights on the fly while pulling a beer-run.

When? Mon: 4:45–8:30 pm; Tues–Sat: 10:30 am–1:45 pm and 4:45–8:30 pm

Where? Provença, 495 (Sagrada Familia)

The Beerket

As Barcelona’s only Untappd “verified venue”, you can check what’s on tap and get availability and prices in real-time, to save you heading out on a wild booze chase. Growlers (refillable, take-away beer bottles) are also available.

When? Mon–Wed: 5–11 pm; Thurs–Sun: 11 am–2 pm and 5–11 pm

Where? Còrsega, 379 (Gràcia)

Also check out Zythos (Rosselló, 185) and Rosses i Torrades (Consell de Cent, 192). While they’re not my local craft beer shop, maybe they’ll be yours.


Categories: Europe, Spain | 3 Comments

Penis Park, South Korea & How to Get There?

That’s right, there’s a public park in South Korea full of giant phalluses. It’s called Haesindang Park and there’s a tragic story behind it, but to me (and other backpackers lucky enough to catch word of this little beauty) it will always be “Penis Park“. Because pictures of cocks speak louder than a thousand words, I guess you could call this a “photo essay”, interspersed with a few lines from my travel journals from Gyeongju to Sokcho.

Riding giant penis in Haesindang Park in Sinnam, South Korea

Overcompensating for something?

In the morning I was reluctant to get up. I knew I had to catch the 8.21* to Samcheok so at 7.50 I dragged myself up and set out for the Intercity Bus Terminal, grabbing bakery goods on the way. I finished One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest – good book; good ending – then slept, stretched out over all the back seats. In Samcheok I got another bus to Sinnam Harbour and lugged my bag to Haesindang Park – the Penis Park!

Walk from Sinnam harbour to Haesindang Penis Park, South Korea

The road to Haesindang Penis Park, South Korea

Penis carved into wooden bench at Haesindang Park in Sinnam, South Korea

Take a rest and enjoy the view from this comfortable bench.

Erect penis selfie at Haesindang Park in Sinnam, South Korea

Getting an erection in public can be so embarrassing!

Couple's heart-shaped penis chair at Haesindang Park in Sinnam, South Korea

How romantic!

Penis cannon at Haesindang Park in Sinnam, South Korea

Locals admiring their artillery piece

Giant veiny cannon shaft at Haesindang Penis Park in Sinnam, South Korea

Where are the cannon balls?

Laughing penis at Haesindang Park in Sinnam, South Korea

The laughing cock

Penis wind chimes and decorations at Haesindang Park, Korea

Penes everywhere! (Yes penes is the plural of penis. Trust me, I’ve googled it…many times.)

Penis with a penis at Haesindang Park in Sinnam, South Korea

A penis with a penis. How novel!

Penis with breasts at Haesindang Penis Park in Sinnam, South Korea

A penis with breasts. Not something you see everyday either.

Penis totem pole at Haesindang Park in Sinnam, South Korea

Korean penis totem poles?

Anal selfie at Haesindang Penis Park in Sinnam, South Korea

You should’ve seen the poor Korean kid’s face when I asked him to take this photo for me!

Year of the dragon penis at Haesindang Park in Sinnam, South Korea

The year of the dragon…in a cock

I had elderly strangers take obscene photos of me and the statues. It was good fun, and even the Koreans said they thought it was a strange thing to have in their country. So much dedication to the penis!

Statue with cock out at Haesindang Penis Park in Sinnam, South Korea

For a second I thought this was a real person, getting into the spirit of things.

I bought a penis-shaped bottle of what I assumed was beer, to give someone back home as a gift, then got the bus back to Samcheok. I’d planned to find a “sauna” to stay the night in (jjimjilbang – Korean 24-hour public bathhouses – are the cheapest places to get a shower and a good night’s sleep in Korea…not to mention a big dose of local culture) but it occurred to me I could move on again and, as chance would have it, there was a bus. I had an hour to eat a delicious Korean meal then I hopped aboard and have been writing (feeling lost without a book to read) and stealing the occasional glance at the stunning coastline as I make my way north, up Korea’s East Coast, to Sokcho.

*Note: bus timetables are likely to have changed.

Categories: Asia, South Korea, Travel Stories | 1 Comment

How to Do Machu Picchu without a Tour or Guide?

This is a post about having the courage to achieve a dream, even when it looks impossible. Every traveller knows the feeling of having to decide whether to go on or turn back; take a risk or make a compromise. There are times – especially for people who, unlike me, place some value on their lives – when turning back might be the right thing to do. This wasn’t one of those times.

Backpackers posing after journey to Machu Picchu, Peru

Anna and Anna at Machu Picchu after the adventure of a lifetime!

“You can go your own way!”

- Fleetwood Mac

Note: if you’re in a hurry, I’ve bolded all the important info on getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu the cheapest way, so feel free to scroll.

I first saw Machu Picchu – as I suspect did many of my artsy, subtitle-loving, travel-obsessed peers – on a misty morning in 2004 when Gael García Bernal took to the road as a moody Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Walter Salles’ brilliant Diarios de Motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries)…

…and I’d dreamed of following in his footsteps (Guevara’s? Bernal’s? Salles’? Bingham’s? Or some Inca’s?) ever since. So it was with mad anticipation that, years later, there I was, blitzing up South America – Bolivia, La Paz, Copacabana, Titicaca, Isla del Sol, crossing into Perú loaded up on “Mescaline” and “DMT” purchased from “witches”…

This was back when I’d laugh in the face of the word “tour” – back when I was young and poor and full of energy and enthusiasm for life. Now I’m older and wiser and…well, still poor.

So, Can I Reach Machu Picchu without Hiking the Inca Trail?

Yes, of course you can.

Is it easy?


Will you remember it forever as one of the greatest moments of your life?

I know I will.

How to Get to Machu Picchu from Cusco, Peru



In Cusco (Cuzco in Spanish, and therefore often, erroneously, in English), on a recommendation, I’d ended up at Wild Rover backpackers’ – a notorious (Loki-esque) party hostel and little piece of Irish drinking culture in the historic heartland of Peru. I spent my nights in the bar and my days wandering hungover amongst the dry-stone Inca alleys of this UNESCO World Heritage city.

Polished dry-stone Inca alleyways of Cusco, Peru

“Wandering, hungover, the dry-stone Inca alleys of Cusco”

I Googled (as you may be doing now) the “cheapest way to get to machu picchu”, but there wasn’t a lot on the net back then…unless you count a ridiculous TripAdvisor discussion where someone asked if there was a way to visit Machu Picchu without booking a tour and of the ten responses, not one person mentioned a reasonable solution. Among them were such pearls of wisdom as:

  1. “I did my entire 10 day trip without one booked tour. The only stuff I booked before I went were the plane tickets, hotels, and the train to Machu Picchu…I found a guide…to give us a tour”
  2. “You can…use someone like Sophie at to help you with your arrangements”
  3. “The only “tour” I booked was the Inca Trail…tour”.
  4. “I can’t imagine visiting Machu Picchu without a guide…a knowledgeable guide is the ONLY way to go…Sofia Barreda ( arranged my tour guide”
  5. “Another way to see Machu Picchu is with a guide book…hire a guide directly at the entrance.”
  6. “I would highly recommend contacting Sofia Barreda”
  7. “We…never had a problem getting tours”
  8. “The specialized guides at MP have extensive training.”

Machu Picchu’s only 50 miles (80 kms) north-west of Cusco. I could bloody walk it myself, if only someone would point me the way.

The hostel had a tour desk – in fact Cusco is full of tour desks – but if you’re not willing to fork out hundreds (dollars, soles, pounds) and want to know the real cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu, it’s almost impossible to find any information on the ground.

Tip: learn as much Spanish as you can before you go.

Only around 200 tourists per day are allowed to trek the “official” Inca Trail – part of the old Inca road system – and traffic is only allowed to flow one way. (No-one hikes back, so I knew there must – of course – be another way to and from Machu Picchu.) All these rules and regulations aren’t my style. Plus the Inca Trail was booked out way in advance. There are other, marginally cheaper tours along other, “unofficial” trekking routes, and of course there was talk of cancellations, waiting lists…but I wasn’t one to wait around.

The train to Machupicchu pueblo (village) (formerly Aguas Calientes) is considerably cheaper, but when you remember that it’s only 50 miles, and that you’re in Peru, it’s absolute extortion – arguably the most expensive train (by mile) in the world – for all intents and purposes, a tourist train.

I could see, on the map, a road that goes almost to Machu Picchu, via Santa Maria and Santa Teresa. What I needed was a local bus. I said goodbye to Gregor and “Shrewsbury” and made my way to Cusco’s Terminal Terrestre bus station in the Santiago neighbourhood.

Make sure you ask for “Santa Maria” (not “Machu Picchu”) otherwise they might chuck you on a bus to Ollantaytambo, where it’s either train or end of the road. The bus to Santa Maria cost 15 soles and was going on to “Quillabamba“.

I read Travelling with Che Guevara while I waited. The toilets stank of piss and swarmed with flies.

On the bus I was lucky enough to get a window seat, until this little old woman – as bent and knarled as a walnut and almost as small – who evidently spoke only Quechua (the still actively spoken lingua franca of the Inca empire) – insisted on la ventana and squeezed in beside me with her blankets and parcels of corn. She must’ve been 100 years old and there was no evidence to suggest she’d ever taken a bath in all that time. She probably thought the same about me though, muttering away to herself as the mountain road (and the day) wound on.

Chicha – Peruvian cumbia – seemed to play constantly from someone-or-other’s phone. Where in England he would’ve been swiftly beaten, the Peruvians – as with many cultures around the world – seemed to really appreciate the gift of forced musical entertainment on public transport. There was also a constant chirping, which for hours I assumed was part of the genre (honestly, if you’ve heard chicha, it wouldn’t surprise you) until I realised the person on the seat behind me was actually carrying a box of live chicks.

It got dark. One by one everyone got off, until I was all alone on this ghost bus and even began to miss that little, old muttering Inca lady. I did a lot of thinking…

Then the bus began to fill up again. I noticed a couple of backpacker girls standing so I pretended to be a gentleman and gave up my seat. Another guy, whose name I don’t remember, was talking about how he was on a motorbike tour to Machu Picchu for $400.

Dropped in the dark streets of Santa Maria, I sought out the cheapest hospedaje, where I ran into the two girls from the bus – both called Anna; one Danish, one German; teaching in Urubamba and Cusco respectively. We got talking and decided to go in on a room together. They too had decided they didn’t want to see Machu Picchu “as a regular tourist” and had travelled by local bus.

Danish Anna, who had to be back in Urubamba by Monday morning, suddenly sat up in bed. “I just came to think of the tourist rule,” she said. Basically, all tourists need a ticket to enter Machu Picchu, but there’s only a set quota of these tickets each day, and the office opens first thing in the morning. (5 a.m.? 5.30?) With that in mind, we decided to see if we could get there tonight.

I mean, what do you say when two pretty girls invite you on a crazy adventure?

We went to a local, all-night restaurant and over a meal and some Inca-Kola began one of the craziest, most spontaneous nights of my life. It turned out you can get the train from la hidroelectrica – the hydroelectric dam that supplies power to the entire Cusco region. (This is the way the locals who work in Machupicchu get there.) The only problem? La hidroelectrica was still many, many miles away. Most people take a taxi to Santa Teresa (10 soles), where they catch another taxi or colectivo (shared taxi; minivan) to hidroelectrica (5 soles), but we knew, at this time of night, even if we did manage to get to Santa Teresa, we’d never find connecting transport.

Did I say “only problem”? There was also the little matter of the recent rains, which had caused a series of landslides that had all but destroyed the road, sweeping it away down the mountainside. Not to mention that just a week before a bus had driven off a cliff.

¡Muy peligroso!

At around 2.30 a.m. we spoke to the hostel guy, who said “wait” and disappeared out into the night.

Later we heard the crunch of a car outside. At 4 a.m. his hermano would take us to hidroelectrica…or at least, he would try.

That gave us just under two hours to try to catch some sleep. In bed, too excited to sleep, a strange calm came over me as I realised, no matter what happened, everything will always work out okay.

I was just drifting off when Hermano arrived and we set off in the pitch black of night on what would come to be known as “death-ride”. It was raining and we bounced and splashed through the mud and loose rubble and mountain bends. We forded rivers, passed through waterfalls, rushed blind down steep downhills, skidded around tight bends, and then came the fog… Hermano kept talking about “rumbas” – or was it “retumbas“? – as we ploughed around rock-slides, under overhanging rocks, rocks in the road, through the thin gaps between them, rats’ eyes sparkling in the wet, dripping banana trees, limbs of trees – some cut back, some reaching suddenly out of the darkness to push us off the narrow, uneven, steep-drop-cliff-edge road into the dark abyss that passed by just inches from my passenger door – just blackness – I couldn’t see it, but that’s how I knew it was there.

The Annas were silent in the back – the thought of being swept down the mountainside as we struggled through a stream probably ever present in their minds – but there was nothing for it but to trust in Hermano. He seemed to know the road; seemed to know what he was doing…most of the time.

The things people will do for money!

Spoiler alert: in the end we didn’t die. We emerged at the surreal, floodlit hydroelectric dam. Thundering waterfalls plummeted into unseen depths and brief windows in the spray and fog offered views of black, mist-shrouded mountains. We tried to take photos, but of course it was too dark for a camera. It would be hours before the first photo of the day would come out, so one of the most incredible parts of my journey was committed to a memory alone.

The train wouldn’t be departing until 7 a.m. so we decided to walk. Hermano told us it was possible – only a few miles – and indicated that if we walked in a certain direction we would eventually hit the railroad track.

We left the bright lights behind us, took a piss and disappeared into the darkness of the Peruvian jungle, climbing up an increasingly steep gradient, making our own path through the cloud forest. Are there leeches in Peru?


What was probably only a few minutes felt like a lifetime in the dark until we finally stumbled into the clearing that was the train-track and set off along it towards Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.

Beside the railroad ran the raging Urubamba River, which becomes the Ucayali, which eventually goes on to become a little river you might have heard of called the Amazon. We were walking the Sacred Valley!

Night time photo of Urubamba river valley, Peru

The first photo that came out. By Anna Casse.

The noise was almost deafening in the darkness. We couldn’t see the river, but we knew if we stepped into it we were gone.

What an adventure! The adventure of a lifetime!

The Urubamba river or Willkamayu or Willkanuta by first light in Peru

Left my camera in Buenos Aires so bought a disposable, hence why it looks like I was travelling in the 70s.

The light leaked slowly like bleach into the inky sky. Everything dripped with life. The plants! Bugs! Bird? Bat? Butterfly? Ancient, stained mountain ridges wreathed in green amidst the gathering clouds. The smell of giant flowers in the mist. And all the time we followed the tracks, crossing train bridges over troubled water.

Smoky dawn mist and fog near Machupicchu, Peru

Hiking the train-line to Aguas Calientes in the smoky dawn! Photo by Anna Casse.

Dawn came, and with it rain. We met one other person coming the other way.

The sun came up, the train came and went, it got hot, we started to sweat, my backpack started to cut into my back, and Aguas Calientes never appeared. If I’m honest, we were all beginning to doubt whether we’d made the right decision by walking. We took a rest, then another, then another, increasingly frequent, until finally we began to see little country homes and arrived on the outskirts of town, where we were lucky enough to stumble right up to the Machu Picchu ticket office, and immediately stood in line to get our tickets. 126 soles.

Inca Rail train from Machupicchu or Aguas Calientes to La Hidroelectrica station, Peru

The train came and went. Photo by Anna Casse.

More walking was no longer an option, so we got bus tickets too. Chances are you won’t have the short time-frame that we had so you’ll be able to get Machu Picchu tickets for the next day, stay the night in Aguas Calientes and then hike up to Machu Picchu yourself (free) in time to see the sunrise over Machu Picchu (pretty much 7 a.m. year-round) and get in line for Huayna Picchu.

Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters) recently reverted to the name Machupicchu and is a kind of frontier railroad town cum tourist resort whose sole purpose seems to be to ruin the Inca Trail experience for everyone.

You can also buy Machu Picchu tickets in advance in Cusco, if that’s your style.

According to some scribbled diary notes I had a “pizza breakfast” and we got a hostel for 25 soles, where we stowed our bags before jumping on the bus, which climbed up and up a series of steep, switchback hairpin bends until it soon become clear that we’d definitely made the right choice. You can walk it – and many backpackers were – I would’ve done – but it’ll take you about two to four hours.

The bus broke through into the sunshine. I almost fell asleep in the warmth.

Peruvian Andes and Urubamba Valley from Machu Picchu


At the top you queue for a while – don’t forget your ticket and your passport – then, Machu Picchu! The “Lost City of the Incas”! (Actually it never was really a city, apparently. More an “estate”.)

Backpackers at Machu Picchu, Peru

We made it!

The short-lived Inca empire built Machu Picchu around 1450, and lost their last settlement to the Spanish in 1572.

However, they abandoned Machu Picchu before the Spanish could get to it, so, although known locally, the Spanish (and the rest of the outside world) never found it…until 1911 when Hiram Bingham “rediscovered” it, and at which point a bunch of other explorers and such jumped up and said, “Oh, that old place? Yeah, I’ve been there tons of times.”

Backpacker sitting contemplating Machu Picchu view

Anna contemplating Machu Picchu…

Unlike Alberto and the “Che”, we had to share the place with hundreds of tourists, but at least the tiredness helped render everything in a surreal, almost magical light.

Llamas grazing at Machu Picchu, Peru

Llamas grazing for effect

Black bugs everywhere. Llamas grazed for effect. We took the obligatory Machu Picchu photos.

Typical, obligatory Machu Picchu photo

The obligatory Machu Picchu photo.

A lot of the buildings have quite obviously been “reconstructed” so tourists can see what some other people think it once looked like. An army of workers cleaned the moss from the grouting in what must be a never-ending job.

Reconstructed outlying buildings at Machu Picchu, Peru

Many of the buildings have quite obviously been “reconstructed”.

Of the 2500 people who are allowed into Machu Picchu each day, the first lucky 400 are allowed to ascend Huayna Picchu – the tall mountain in the backdrop of every good Machu Picchu photo – in two batches, at 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. By the time we got there, there was a massive queue – we’d missed it, never to know what goes on up there – though my guess is some kind of goat-slaughter-related orgy.

View from Machu Picchu, Peru

View from Machu Picchu

There’s even a “Temple of the Sun”. Yes, the Incas worshipped the sun, which, to be fair, makes a lot more sense than worshipping a big fairy man in the sky as many of us do today.

Ancient Inca agricultural terraces - still functional today

Ancient Inca agricultural terraces – still functional today

It started to rain again and the hoards of tourists donned their usual technicolour array of ponchos and macs. We left, glad we’d made the right decision to come straight up. Back in Aguas Calientes, after Machu Pichu and over 30 hours without sleep, we all blacked out.

Polished Inca dry-stone walls at Machu Picchu, Peru

Polished Inca dry-stone walls at Machu Picchu


When we came to, we took it in turns to take a much needed shower (somewhere along the line, I’d lost my washbag) then for some reason went to a sushi restaurant. Our sense of time screwed, we bought train tickets and roamed the covered market like vampires. (The train follows the Sacred Valley from Hidroelectrica to Machupicchu, then all the way to Ollantaytambo, on the other side of which it splits; one route terminating on the outskirts of Urubamba while the other goes, via Poroy, to Cusco. But, knowing we could do – and had done – it for a tiny fraction of the price, we just couldn’t justify it, and decided to go back the way we’d come.)

More sleep.

I thought I heard an alarm.

It was beyond black in the windowless room. I didn’t have a watch or phone.

Did they sleep through the alarm? Did they leave without me?

Eventually, I turned the light on. The Annas were still asleep. 6.05 a.m. “10 mins!” I pulled on the same clothes. 5 minutes…

Somehow we made the train, sweating and on the road again. We bought sweet breads and apples from local vendors. Same train-track; completely different atmosphere.

As soon as the doors opened at Hidroelectrica, like London commuters rushing for the underground, we overtook the procession of locals and jumped into a crammed colectivo bound for Santa Teresa.

Unfortunately, while we’d been at Machu Picchu, the latest rain had destroyed parts of the road we’d come in on. Either the road had fallen away or trees and rocks had fallen into it. The van got stuck in the thick, clay-like mud, and even walking on it was almost impossible. We came to an impassable landslide.

Motorbike on the mountain road to Santa Maria, Peru

“We were able to move a tree just enough for the motorbikes, at least, to take the risk.”

We were able to move a tree just enough for the motorbikes, at least, to take the risk. Then, after waiting for over an hour, we were able to climb over the rubble and switch places with passengers of a cab on the other side.

Backpackers waiting in taxi in Peru

“Nothing to do but sit, lay back and wait…”

At the next rockslide the wait was even longer. Our driver went and perched contently up on the bank, whittling sticks or smoking a pipe or whatever it is that Peruvian men do for fun, and there was nothing to do but sit in the relative shade of the car, listening to the repetitive rhythm of chicha, and wait it out. It didn’t matter though. There are worse places to be stranded.

Urubamba Valley by day

“The Urubamba Valley as beautiful by day as it had been by the light of the stars.”

Finally it became clear what we’d been waiting for, and why everyone had been so calm and casual about it. A bulldozer made its way slowly around the bend, carving a new road out of the mountainside as it went. It seems this is a yearly process in these parts of Peru.

A bulldozer carving a new road out of the mountainside after rock-slides and landslides in Peru

“A bulldozer made its way slowly…carving a new road out of the mountainside as it went.”

We all followed the bulldozer in an unlikely convoy, until the road was clear and we could pass it. Once again we splashed through deep ruts, crossed precarious mountain bridges, forded streams, only this time I could see everything! I felt like I was riding my motorbike, leaning halfway out of the window, hanging over the valley below – the views incredible! The sun shining, the sky blue, fresh, green vegetation – life – everywhere! The Urubamba Valley as beautiful by day as it had been by the light of the stars.

Following bulldozer on mountain road to Santa Maria, Peru

“We all followed the bulldozer in an unlikely convoy…”

“To this day I am not quite sure if it was Machu Picchu or the journey to get there and back again that made it such a memorable weekend.”

- Anna Casse

Back in Santa Maria, our arrival coincided perfectly with the bus back to reality. We bought our tickets, went for a parting Inca-Kola and said our farewells. We’d only known each other a couple of days, but after what we’d been through, it felt like forever.

To prove it’s not just us who’ve done this, here are a couple of others who’ve made their own way to Machu Picchu since, using more or less this same route:

Anyway, after Machu Picchu I spent a lot of time on buses staring out at clouds that hung at eye-height between the broccoli green mountains of the Peruvian Andes, along the winding road to Lima – where I saw the latest Hollywood movie in Miraflores, strolled the Malecón and had coffee with two random Peruvian women who saw me walking on the other side of the road and told me about The Secret by Rhonda Byrne – only I couldn’t understand what the hell she was talking about at the time and god knows what they got out of the whole thing.

Then a month in Montañita, Ecuador, living out my very own Rum Diary, which it’s only a matter of time before I write about, because it doesn’t get much more “drinking traveller” than that.

Watch this space.

(P.S. This from Wikipedia: “Hiking along the train tracks is prohibited.”)

Categories: America, Peru, Travel Stories | 3 Comments

My Top 5 Best London Craft Beer Breweries

Obviously, narrowing all the craft breweries in London down to a top five was an almost impossible task and has taken a lot of thought, consideration and, of course, sampling. Also, as the craft brewers of London are in a constant state of experimentation and development, this list will change from year to year, if not week-by-week. So, I’m not saying these are the five best craft beer breweries in London: I’m saying they’re my favourite five craft beer breweries in London, right now.

Siren Craft Brew in Finchampstead, Berkshire, near London

Siren Craft Brew

These breweries were chosen based on a shared passion for two things:

  • Greater range of choice for the drinker
  • Better tasting beer

Brew By Numbers

Bermondsey, SE16

Brew by Numbers (or BBNo.) is a craft brewery literally founded on travel. Co-founders Tom and Dave met and bonded while travelling China and South East Asia, as well as on subsequent beer-fuelled tours in the great brewing nations of Europe. With these guys it’s all about flavour, and it’s that – along with their unique styling – that’s established them at the forefront of the London craft beer movement, where, more so than ever before, a huge emphasis is placed on taste.

Each beer is given a four digit number. The first two digits identify the beer style and the last two dictate the current batch. Take for example the “07|02″ – a strawberry and mango variation on their classic witbier. The only problem is they’ve only left themselves with 99 tries to get it right. Not that they seem to be having any trouble so far.

Weird Beard Brew Co.

Hanwell, W7

There’s something dark and sinister about Weird Beard, from their black IPAs to their Black Perle milk stouts, and definitely something inherently rebellious. “No gimmicks, no crap” is their maxim and their refusal to compromise, to be “stereotyped” or typecast by beer style, has led to some exceptional experimental pieces of craft beer. Look out for the Bad Habit collaboration, Rye Smile rye beer, and Sadako – the flagship, indefinable, somewhat-sadomasochistic, Japanese-horror-inspired imperial stout that helped bring them early acclaim.

Fridge at Weird Beard Brew Co

Photo by Natasha of Weird Beard Brew Co.

Meantime Brewing Company

Greenwich, SE10 (Moving soon)

There’s something properly London about Meantime, but most of all I love them for their experimental attitude, and because I love the kinds of beers they make – especially their wheat beers: the aptly named Wheat, their Weizen Double Bock and the Raspberry Wheat – the latter of which absolutely blew me away with its beautiful treacle colour, full fog of raspberry and wheat aromas, and the subsequent hallucinations… Their two-hour brewery tours are cheapest Mondays to Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 12 noon and 2 p.m.

Meantime Brewing Company in Greenwich, SE10, London

Meantime Brewing Company, London

Partizan Brewing

Bermondsey, SE16

It all started in Leeds as “essentially just a way of having cheap beer around the house”. Now Partizan are dedicated to rare, historical and “lost” beers; beers from different cultures around the world; beers that they can’t find anywhere else. You can visit their brewery bar on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

They make all kinds of beers – many of which are well over the 10% mark – but to my mind where they really shine is in their Belgian dubbels, tripels and quads, as well as their English barley-wine, stout and porter…and no, it’s not just because I love this Leonard Cohen/Joan Baez number:

Siren Craft Brew

Finchampstead, Berkshire

Sirens call the unsuspecting London drinker into the depths beyond the M25, to drown in a sea of incredible beer. Okay, so this one’s not technically in London – so sue me! It makes a nice day trip from the capital and their beers are to be found all over the city if you know where to look. I may’ve opened up a can of worms for myself though, as Berkshire alone is home to quite a few of my favourite breweries. (Bingham’s is another good one.)

Best known for their way-outside-the-box collaborations, such as a “smoked chipotle chilli and cherry milk porter” with Arizona Wilderness, “When the Light Gose Out” – a black gose with Stillwater Artisanal – and “Quadrophenia” – a quad with Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery, these wood-obsessed craft brewers have brought the world everything from barley-wines to braggots, Caribbean Chocolate Cake stout to “I Need A Vacation” – a Berliner Weisse infused with papaya, mango and lime. They’ve been voted ‘Best New Brewery in England’ two years running (and second ‘Best Brewery in the World’) by users.

Tempted? Go sink a Broken Dream (or even a Shattered Dream) over at their tap-room in Finchampstead.

Siren Craft Brew sessions

Siren sessions

P.S. Don’t forget Gosnell’s London Mead – that’s something very special too.

P.P.S. It also hasn’t escaped my notice just how many fantastic beers seem to be coming out of the North at the moment – especially Yorkshire, which, to be fair, is massive – so expect a few more posts in this series, focusing on my favourite craft breweries from the North, my native South-east, and, of course, Scotland and Ireland.

Categories: Europe, UK | Leave a comment

Eastbourne Beer Festival: A Drunken Write-up

It’s funny how, after everything, I’m still standing here alone on this windy carriageway waiting for the 51 bus to Eastbourne. But some things do change, as I soon found out after leaping out in front of the bus – which promptly screeched to a halt in the middle of the dual carriageway – and getting an earful from the driver about how, “It doesn’t stop here anymore. It’s too dangerous!”

I sat at the top, back, kicked off my shoes and put my feet up for the ride.

It was dark when I jumped off in Eastbourne with time to kill before I met the others and the need to eat. Eastbourne’s not known for it’s cuisine but luckily Old Dave’s Gourmet Burger Co. was right on route. The burgers are amazing, but they should really be called Old Dave’s Gourmet Chips – the chips are fucking fantastic. They also do quite a range of craft beer – mostly pretentious pales, but you can’t be picky about these things – craft beer doesn’t grow on trees in Eastbourne.

“Have you eaten in here before?”

“Er, yes.” Does this pretty waitress really not remember just a few weeks ago when me and Adam came in here and made a drunken scene of ourselves? If she doesn’t, it’s only a matter of time before she does, and then what’ll happen? Anything I do could be the trigger. Oh dear God, the ’18 and up for everything’ badge on my breast! God, I just hope I can get my food down before the shit hits the fan. Nonsense. You’re over-exaggerating. Finish your beer.

“Can I do something quite unorthodox?”


“Can I get these in a box…”

“Sure – ”

“…and have someone else come pick them up for me?”

“Er, okay… Would you like to see the desert menu.”

“Oh, no thank you, I’ve got to run,” and I sped off, Eastbourne Beer Festival bound – pausing only briefly to admire the nudes in a nearby art gallery – past all the pubs, each with their own little memories – the old Cavalier, now long gone, where we used to drink into the early hours with the underage chavs and the deviant queers and the ninety-year-old men who’d been going there so long they probably didn’t know any better.

Now where is that Winter Garden Theatre?

Ah yes, there it is. Just round the corner.

I collected my tickets. “Wow, why so many? I only wanted four.”

“There are four, sir.”

“I see. Thank you.”

The guy ripped my ticket.

“…What you do, see, is you go over to that booth just there to buy your beer tokens. These tokens come by the sheet, ten pounds for a hundred tokens. They’re essentially the currency of the festival. Each beer is available in three sizes: pint, half-pint and third, and costs a certain number of tokens. Beers are priced by strength, not on…er…you know…”

“Yes. I know.”

“…then you go down those stairs, there, and you can redeem your ticket for a glass. You can choose between a pint glass or the smaller, fancier one…”

I already know all of this, but it sure will be handy for my readers to get it in dialogue form. “Cheers.”

I bought two sheets of tokens, got my glass – “the fancy one, please” – and walked in to face the music and the large quantities of beer.

Jesus! A man could get quite drunk at one of these things!

To the Sussex bar!

‘Naked Beer Co.’? ‘Freudian Slip’? You had me at ‘naked’! Beginner’s luck (me, that is, not the brewers). 4.75 stars. Would’ve been a 5 but for that thing that happens when caramel flavours meet super-dark beer.

“What else would you recommend?”

“Well, all three Gun Brewery beers are proving quite popular so far…”

‘Gun Brewery’. ‘Parabellum Milk Stout’. The guy gave me a free taster, followed by a very generous third. My illusive local, we meet at last! Gun Brewery stealing the show down here at Eastbourne Beer Festival!

I got the call – “I’ll be right there” – sprang up the steps – “Your tickets, madame!” – letting fall the tickets like Joey with that packet of condoms in that Friends episode…except it’s funnier with condoms. There’s nothing inherently funny about beer festival tickets.

Phil was already all over the place. “…and I haven’t even had a drink yet!”

“That’s what I like to see; getting into the spirit of things.”

“We’ve just come straight from work. We need to sit down and sort our stuff out.”

“See, that’s exactly how I felt when I first arrived…”

“Well, what did you do?”

“…I just got a beer and everything seemed to work itself out.”

“Wait…what’s that? You’re not 18…”

“But I am ‘up for everything’.”

“…You’d be, like, the most haggard 18-year-old ever.”

“To the Sussex tent!”

“Tent? What tent?”

“To the Sussex bar!”

Carly, Phil and Ruth at Eastbourne Beer Festival

Eastbourne Beer Festival

‘Dark Star’. ‘Winter Meltdown’. Tastes like the parts of trees you’re not supposed to eat – first the sweet sappy smell, then the green branchy bitterness. “Oh yeah, check this shit out. You, my friends, are in the presence of a beer-writing God! ‘Tastes like the parts of trees you’re not supposed to eat…’ ”

‘Pacific Wheat’. Worst wheat beer ever. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the kegs must’ve been mislabelled.

“What shall I get?”

“Why, Boggarts Rum Porter, of course.” Leaning on the stage to write, the music blaring away: Tastes like Christmas in El Salvador. Trust me. I know.

They needed food and apparently the small box of fries I’d left for their collection didn’t hit the spot. Luckily the beer festival has a restaurant, so I held a table and “untappd” some beers while I waited.

‘The Drinking Traveller is drinking a Freudian Slip by Naked Beer Co. at Winter Garden Theatre.’

‘Earned the Taste the Music badge!’


‘Earned the God Save the Queen (Level 23) badge!’

“Yes, yes, yes!”

They came back and I finished the beer I was checking in and put the phone away. I don’t want to be that guy. My ego-masturbation – along with genuine masturbation – would have to wait.

Carly, I think, if you were any kind of – erm – what’s the expression I’m looking for – let’s say, Heathfield loyalist, you’d try the Zamzama IPA by Gun Brewery, near Heathfield…”

“Something along the lines of, I like IPAs.”

“Yes, you know what you need: a good Zamzama IPA by Gun Brewery.”

“…I mean, look what happened to Phil’s meat pasty.”

“Dear God.”


“Oooh, Ginger Tosser. That sounds nice.”

“Carly loves a ginger tosser!”


‘Kissingate’. ‘Black Cherry Mild’.

“We’ve had that. It’s really good.”

“Have we?”

“Yeah, we had it in Portslade, on the ale trail.”

“Oh yeah, that was lovely, Carls!”

“…It’s funny how, since having Untappd, you suddenly realise you’ve tried the same beers over and over again, throughout your life, each time thinking it’s the first time…”

“Ooh, Easy Rider – ”

“We had that last time.”

“Did we?”

“…because of course each time you’re drawn to the same names and the same descriptions…”

“That makes sense.”

‘Kissingate’. ‘Black Cherry Mild’. That’s a 5-star beer…with a licorice let-down. 4.75.

“You can have a Blonde Witch, Phil…fruity flavour and zesty aroma…”

“Well, you’ve put up with her for this long, what’s another taste?”

Yes, dear.

“Old Man?” Suggested Carly.

“You know what you need, Phil? A Skull Splitter… It’s from Orkney. It’s famous.”

“It’s 8.5 percent.”

“Why do you think I recommended it to him?”

“…Yes, you do have the same problem, Ruth, and you should use the same solution…and put your jacket in Phil’s bag.”

“Is it just me or am I at my funniest after a few of beers?”

“Yeah, that’s true actually…”

“…but not after too many beers.”

“Yes, I swear I’m funnier when I’ve got a beer in my hand.”

“Well, you’ve had three good jokes in a row, so…”

“But you do have a red face”

“Well, that’s just a necessary side-effect of being funny.”

Three good jokes in a row. I’m on fire! But what was the second joke? The first was something about putting Ruth’s coat in Phil’s bag, which now I think about it seemed a lot funnier at the time. Was there ever a second joke at all? Maybe there was just a first and a third. Come to think of it, what was the third?

One of two things has happened here. Either there’s something about the emotional effects of alcohol that cause you to think things are better, funnier than they actually are, or I really did tell the funniest jokes ever told, and never to be recorded. I know which one I’d like to believe.

Ruth did say “three good jokes” but then again maybe we’re all too smashed to know what the hell’s going on.

Also, if being drunk makes the world seem better, funnier than it actually is, why would anyone ever want to be sober? And if there’s more to life than what actually is, well, that’s a whole can of worms I don’t want to get into right now.

Guy with lots of empty glasses at Eastbourne Beer Festival

“Wow, this guy’s been working hard.”

‘Cairngorm’. ‘Nessie’s Monster Mash’. Malty; dry. 2.75.

“See Carls, if four other people check-in to the Winter Garden Theatre within the same two-hour period, we all get ourselves a badge to say we’ve had a ‘beer party’.”

“I think you’ve been spending too much time out there by yourself in the woods.”

“See, I know that, but for some reason that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it.”

Me and Ruth at Eastbourne Beer Festival in Winter Garden Theatre

Winter Garden Theatre, Eastbourne

“Roy, you should probably have a glass of water.”

“Well, let’s start with a beer and see how we go.”

‘Dark Star’. ‘Hylder Blonde’. Ticks all Carly’s boxes. Like their Sunburst, only with honey…and no sun.

‘Saltaire Brewery’. ‘Raspberry Blonde’. “We’ve had that before too. It’s one of my favourites.”

“It tastes like flavoured water.”

“Give me that! Oh yeah, that’s not what you want in a flavoured water, is it? Wow, they really fucked up this year.” I used to love this one. Not sure what happened. Is it a question of consistency? Or is it me? Did I not know how to taste a beer? Did I just go on the name? Raspberry Blonde…it does sound delicious. I’m so confused.

‘Exmoor Ales’. ‘Stag’. This is what ale is all about! “Stag, anyone?”

Trying to look smooth – pushed my hand through my hair. Wait, was that the front, or the back of the pen that just scraped across my face? “Oh dear God, did I just draw on my face?”

She nodded, laughing too hard to speak.

“Well, what beers do you have?”

‘Purple Moose’. ‘Dark Side of the Moose’. I just drew on myself. All good. Too much bitterness?

‘Pin Up Beers’. ‘Milk Stout’. Nice.

Did I try DarkNESS? I’m sure I tried the DarkNESS. Lord knows I wanted to. I had their InverNESS in Inverness, and it was fucking amazing.

Pub games! Travel planning over a game of ludo – me making up my dice scores and giggling to myself, but nobody noticing – except maybe Phil – Phil sees all – because who the hell gives a crap about ludo at a beer festival?

Carly eating cock at Eastbourne Beer Festival

Tee hee

Phil eating cock at Eastbourne Beer Festival

Hee hee hee

“What are you drinking?”

“American Pale Ale.”

“By Dark Star?”

Nod from Phil.

V. good American pale. 3.25.

“Wait! That’s my shirt! You stole my shirt!”

“Which shirt?”

“You know, the one that got stolen in Philadelphia.”

Phil's crunchy shirt at Eastbourne Beer Festival, East Sussex, UK

“Crunch.” Crunchy shirt.

Phil's crotch at Eastbourne Beer Festival

Phil’s crotch.

“Any more recommendations?”

“Have you tried the Prince of Denmark?”

“Nope. Who’s it by, again?”


“Oh… Wow!” Wow! Rich! Sweet! Oh…7.5%!

“It tastes just like a coffee.”

Tastes just like coffee!

“Well, we’re off now.”

“No! Stay!”

Intimate hugs all round.

“Well, thank God those fuckers are gone. Now we can really get this party started.” (Winking emoticon.)

‘Bingham’s’. ‘Vanilla Stout’. Sweet vanilla stout with a dry, spicy finish. 4.5 stars!

‘Windswept’. ‘Weizen’. ‘Flavours of caramel, spice, sweet fruit and light citrus.’ So floral! Blown away from a foot or two off! Sweet wheat and mother of apple strudel!


“That’s a five-star beer…easily the beer of the festival.”

I did a magic trick.

Ruth was captivated.

Wait, I was in the middle of a thought. What was it? I was writing something. I looked down. Get engaged in? The pen in my hand still trailing on the last word. Did I just write that? My handwriting – I must’ve just written that. But what could it possibly mean? That wasn’t the thought I was in the middle of. I don’t remember writing that. I don’t even remember thinking that. Maybe I did that thing where you go to write something and end up writing something else that’s on your mind, or something you hear… A kind of grossly, no drunkenly exagerated Freudian-slip? But where did it come from? ‘Get engaged in?’ I guess we’ll never know.

“Excuse me, but my friend thinks you look just like a young Donny Osmond. Could we have your autograph.”

“Who the hell is Donny Osmond?”

“I think it’s a compliment. He was supposed to be quite a heartthrob, back in his day.”

“Well, in that case…”

I signed it ‘Don’. With a flourish. The other option was ‘The Drinking Traveller’, which would’ve been more effective for marketing, but at the crucial moment, Don seemed the funnier of the two.

At the ‘World Beers Bar’, which has come a long way since last time we were here, afraid we won’t be able to use all our coupons in time, chickening out and ordering a take-away. “Let me make it real easy for you.” I put my hands over most of the beer list.

“This one’s quite good.”

“What the hell’s a ninkeberry?”

“We’ll take it!”

I remember trying a flattish allrounder and have evidently written, Flattish allrounder. 3.25 beside ‘Half Moon’. ‘Dark Masquerade’. But when did I write that? When did I try that beer? Who’s beer was it, anyway?

“To the cider tent!”

Little girls’ room.

“I got you the Little Red Rooster Cider…”

…and perry. ‘8.4%’ Alcohole! “…and what did you have?”

“The Side-r with Cherry…” …dry and gets exponentially sweeter… Never tried anything like it before!

“I’m after either the ‘Suicider’…or the ‘Ginger Cider’.”

“So…which one do you want?”

“I’ll take the Llanblethian Orchards Pick and Mix perry, please.”

He gave me a taster of the Llanblethian Orchards Mayday apple cider by mistake.

‘Llanblethian Orchards’. ‘Mayday’. Best cider ever!

‘Llanblethian Orchards’. ‘Pick and Mix’. ‘Be the first to write your own tasting note!’ Not good.

I have no idea what order any of this is happening in. It’s fair to say I’ve finally lost control.

‘Merry Moon’. ‘Dark Cider the Moon’. With blackberries. Lemsip.

“I’ve written ‘Lemsip’ to remind me which one it was. Ha ha!”

“Okay, mate.”

‘Glebe Farm’. ‘Ginger Cider’. Watery fermented ginger apples.

“Who circled that? Did I ring-around that?”

Beer garden at Eastbourne Beer Festival

Through the beer garden…

Voting for the beer of the festival even though it’s completely voluntary and we knew we were about to miss our bus.

Running down the street.

“Ruth, check out the nudes in this art gallery!” I yelled as the bus drove past us.

Spanish students on the bus. Trying to speak Spanish on the bus, but just yelling, “Arrastrar!” and Ruth timidly yelling, “La fe!” as we jumped off in the middle of nowhere and the bus disappeared, leaving us in complete DarkNESS.

“Fuck, we left your glass on the bus!”

Turns out we didn’t leave a glass on the bus.

A fitful sleep. Dreams of beer sampling.

In the morning, I counted and I’d sampled (or at least have descriptions of sampling) 25 different beers, ciders and perries, including of course that pint at Old Dave’s. Bear in mind there were four of us, each sharing and sharing alike.

Also Googled Donny Osmond, and look nothing like him.

All in all, a well worthwhile experience. See you again soon, Eastbourne Beer Festival.

Categories: Europe, Travel Stories, UK | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

How Does Travelling Affect Your Alcohol Consumption?

I recently published a loosely “academic” essay on why we continue to pursue the irrational through alcohol (and other substances) against all advice and reason. It had nothing to do with travel and I wrote the essay for Uni and never really expected anyone to read it. However, to my surprise, it quickly became the arena for a debate between two of my favourite fellow travel bloggers. At the root of the debate? The question of whether travel increases or decreases your drinking.

Drinking Beerlao in Ban Xang Hai Whisky Village near Luang Prabang, Laos

Stopping for a Beerlao with fellow travellers in Ban Xang Hai ‘Whisky Village”, Laos. Photo by Marion.

Does Your Drinking Decrease When Travelling?

Graham of Inside Other Places commented that the desire to drink (and whatnot) that he has when at home “disappears when traveling”, perhaps because “the urge is replaced by other sensory input“. For Graham’s camp, travel is too exhilarating and all-encompassing an experience to allow much time for getting pissed. He did concede that in my, shall we say, ‘line of work’, “travel probably only increases your desire to appreciate different modes of alcoholic excess”.

Sometimes travel is too exciting to waste time getting pissed

Ruth blown away by the scenery at Kawah Ijen, Java

While Graham is “certainly not against any flimsy excuse for beer o’ clock” – a fact I can vouch for, having enjoyed many a beer with the man – he confesses that he is glad of the lessened “social pressure” to drink. Having “spent a lot of time in Muslim countries that sometimes have restrictions on alcohol sale … doesn’t bother [him] … beyond the lack of non-sickly-sweet-drinks.”

Or Does It Increase?

Derek from The Holidaze pointed out that…

Alcohol brings people together…nearly as much as this one other plant I know of … I often find myself invited into random houses to enjoy a glass or four of whatever homemade beer or jungle juice concoction is the local brew of choice. And it’s these moments, these experiences, that I embrace the most when traveling and that keep me going. We don’t even need to speak a single word of the same language as long as we can tip our glasses and smile.”

For Derek, drinking and travel go hand-in-hand:

“Of course, back when I had a home (many, many years ago) I didn’t drink near as often. Perhaps because I was busy with work or perhaps because I was not accomplishing arduous feats on a daily basis that deserved a beer as a reward. Successful hike up the mountain? Beer me! Make it safely through that nerve-racking chicken-bus ride? It’s beer o’ clock! About to hop on a chicken-bus for a ride that could be your last? Better have a whiskey first. Too scared to try the local delicacy, goat brains? Do a couple shots to work up the nerve. Last night in [insert country/town/hotel here]? Drink up!”

As Derek quite clearly demonstrates, “there’s always a reason to drink on the road”… I just worry for his liver.


Drinking bia hơi with Andre and other strange characters at an “after hours” bar in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Travel Definitely Affects the Amount of Alcohol You Drink

Me? I know exactly what both Graham and Derek are talking about and have experienced both sides of the argument first-hand. Alcohol is a great social lubricant, perfect for the meeting of new people everyday that’s often a major aspect of life on the road – god knows where I’d be without it – but I also find that, yes, travel can be an intoxicant in its own right – the blur of rushing through the world, filling your senses with new things, cultures, personalities, being blown away by scenery you never could have imagined existed…

In my experience, travelling, as with any other upheaval or change of lifestyle, will inevitably affect your drinking – as well as your eating, sleeping and so on – but whether the volume of alcohol consumed actually goes up or down depends on so many factors: the travel style, the destination, your travelling companions (or lack thereof), transport method, length of trip, and more other variables than I can be bothered to mention.

For example, if you’re going to Ibiza, or maybe Amsterdam (or even, perhaps sadly, South East Asia) you’re probably going to drink a lot more than you normally would in your regular working life. That is, unless you’re an absolute wino in your regular working life. And assuming of course that you have a regular working life, which I’m afraid I can’t speak for anymore. Yes, I’m gloating.

Wine tasting at Budapest International Wine festival in Hungary

Sampling Hungary’s finest at the Budapest International Wine festival

The reasons behind why you travel also play a huge part. For example, if you’re travelling to meet new people, or to simply enjoy yourself, there’s a good chance there’ll be some social lubrication involved somewhere along the line, whereas I’ve met a lot of people – think hikers and extreme sports people – who travel in no small part for their fitness. I’ve noticed that, for these people, getting battered in the pub the night before the big ascent of Everest isn’t exactly on the top of their bucket list.

While I can never be 100 per-cent sure whether my average alcohol usage goes up or down when I’m travelling, I do know for sure that it definitely changes completely, in purpose, quantity, regularity, consistency, frequency, and so on.

Below are my findings and thoughts on the subject. While we’re all different and therefore drink and travel in different ways – as Graham says, “Vive la difference!” – I’d be interested to hear how your drinking is affected by your travels, and whether you draw the same conclusions as I have.

Lifestyle Typical alcohol consumption
Home Busy weekends, binge drinking. Quieter week-nights, evenings with friends, the occasional work do that always ends embarrassingly.
Travelling solo Two nights alone in the wilderness for every one night getting blind drunk with people I meet in a hostel, on the road, etc.
Travelling as a couple Not much need to drink. Wine with food, overlooking the scenery. Rarely drunk.
Since becoming ‘the Drinking Traveller’ Absolutely fucked. Wine regions, brewery tours, tastings, etc. Now drinking for your benefit in the gaps where I would normally be recovering from my own excesses. Wink.
Chilli beer tasting at Matso's Broome Brewery, Western Australia

Sampling the chilli beer at Matso’s Broome Brewery!

So to conclude, travel definitely changes drinking patterns, but as to how it will change yours, there’s no simple answer.

Perhaps the reasons why travel can both increase and decrease alcohol consumption go back to the points I made in my original post. Sometimes travel itself can play the role of intoxicant. It can blow our minds. We can even go mad on it. It is an escape from the world of the rational and the day-to-day. However, at other times travel is the day-to-day – with its own set of obligations and worries – and alcohol is always appreciated to free us from those, no matter how temporarily. I suspect both are true to some extent. Alcohol and travel are like two different drugs: sometimes they mix well, sometimes they don’t.

What do you think?

Categories: Uncategorized | 14 Comments