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 | 1 Comment

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:

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 | 1 Comment

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 | 2 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

Stumbling into the Budapest International Wine Festival, Hungary

A while back, travelling Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, we had ourselves a Budapest city break of sorts. We’d heard the Castle District (Várnegyed) was nice (and free) so we went up there…only to discover that for some reason you had to pay to get into the compound…and then that this included a wine glass, a handy “A Borfesztivál Budai Vár” shoulder-strap wine-glass-holder and a bunch of tickets for wine tastings. Yes, that’s right, we’d accidentally stumbled upon the sixteenth annual Budapest International Wine and Champagne Festival.

Sampling wine at the Borfesztivál Budai Vár (Budapest International Wine and Champagne Festival) in Hungary

Me and Ruth after stumbling into the Borfesztivál Budai Vár

In the same vein as the Berlin bears, the pigs of Bath and the strange, banana-shaped lambs of Liverpool, we found Budapest full of cows, in various states of decoration, just begging to be ridden.

Decorated cow parade in Budapest, Hungary in 2007

Cows everywhere!

Buda Castle (Budai Vár or Budavári Palota) looks out over the Danube from the top of an incredibly steep hill – called Castle Hill for some reason I can’t fathom – and is part of a UNESCO world heritage site. There’s also a funicular to take you up and down if you’re lazy or drunk.

Buda Castle District across Danube from Pest, Budapest, Hungary

The Castle District across the Danube from Pest

Budapest used to be three different cities – Buda and Óbuda on the west bank of the River Danube, and Pest on the other, but that’s all ancient history.

Pest, the Danube river and Széchenyi Chain Bridge from Castle Hill, Budapest, Hungary

Looking out over the Danube, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and the city of Pest

Me and Ruth each exchanged a few Hungarian Forint for a ticket that lasts all day and a stack of wine tasting coupons – the currency of the festival – which can also be topped up once inside. The wines on offer are supposedly Hungary’s best – with other wine-making countries, such as Italy and South Africa, also represented – and they vary in price. Knowing me, we went after the best alcohol-money ratio.

Tasting Hungarian fine wine at Budapest International Wine and Champagne Festival, Hungary

Enjoying every sip of Hungary’s finest

When it comes to wine, I didn’t know then what I know now, so I can’t give you much information as to who was there and how the wines rated, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a glass or six and I can tell you that we enjoyed every sip.

Tokaji woman drinking tokay wine at Budapest International Wine and Champagne Festival in Hungary

The temptation proves too much for this Tokay lady.

We tried plenty of Tokay (Tokaji) – wine exclusively from the Tokaj regions of Hungary and Slovakia, favourited by my man Kerouac who drank it by the “quart” while hopping freight trains. Among these were wines by the Pauleczki winery in the village of Tolcsva.

Pauleczki Birtok wine exhibition at Budapest International Wine and Champagne Festival

Festival goers fight for a glass of Pauleczki.

We filled up on free samples of grapes, berries and the cheese of just about every animal that’s up to the task. There’s also a grill, töki pompos lángos (Hungarian scones) and other local delicacies, plus music from Budapest-based bands, folk dancing performances, and even the chance to help judge the winning wine of the festival.

The ticket also includes access to the Hungarian National Gallery, where there’s a loosely wine-related photography exhibition to coincide with the festival.

Cool eagle or dragon statue in Várnegyed Castle District of Budapest, Hungary

Cool statue in the Várnegyed (Castle District)

Afterwards we splashed ourselves sober again at the Széchenyi Baths and spa, near City Park, where we got in two-for-one because it was late.

Széchenyi baths and spa in Budapest, Hungary by night

The Széchenyi Baths after dark

The wine exhibition and fair at Buda Castle is only part of the International Wine Festival. It takes place from the Wednesday to the Sunday, inclusive, and goes on after dark, until 11 at night. The 2015 festival is on right now and the 2016 dates look likely to be Wednesday 7th to Sunday 11th September. For future dates, that’s what Google’s for.

Budapest International Wine Festival in Hungary's Buda Castle District (Várnegyed)

The Budapest International Wine and Champagne Festival takes over Buda Castle District!

I for one will definitely be heading back to Budapest for this wine festival.

Categories: Europe, Hungary, Travel Stories | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Florence Nightlife Guide

The night before I flew to Italy I happened to meet a girl from Florence. When I asked her where I should go to drink, she thought for a second then said, “it’s funny, all the time I lived in Florence we always liked to go to the Irish and English pubs.” It’s true, Florence is saturated with Irish pubs of all kinds, and the locals love them. (Full list below.)

A little more “authentic”, traditional (and therefore touristy) are the enotecas (wine bars), osterias and cocktail bars in the winding lanes around the cathedral and theatre. Here you can find the local specialities: aperitivos (aperitivi), Tuscan wine, Prosecco cocktails and often a free buffet.

Italian food and free buffet at Gallery art bar cafe, Via dei Benci, Florence, Tuscany, Italy

Free buffet with your drink at Gallery bar, Via dei Benci

However, the real nightlife in Italy is on the streets. Italians love to congregate in the open – in the piazze (piazzas) - and far from being seen as tramp-like, or even illegal, as it might in certain other countries, buying your drinks from kiosks and drinking on the street is the national pastime in Italy.

Some of the most common late-night hangouts in Florence are the pasticcerie (pastry shops; pasticcerias) and tabacchi (tobacco/cigarette shops) – many of which double as bars, such as the no thrills Bar Pasticceria/Tabacchi on the corner of Via Ponte alle Mosse, opposite the Piazzale di Porta al Prato. (Can’t miss it. It’s a big old gate.) Failing that, there’s a party around every idle moto (scooter). This makes for a very cheap night out in Florence.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence at night

Florence by night!

Where to Head?

Area Description
Il Centro Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza della Signoria and the little lanes that connect them are great for the early evening. This is where you’ll find the Old Stove chain Irish pubs.
Via dei Benci and Piazza Santa Croce Hip bars like Gallery, LochNess, Moyo and countless others offer cocktails, aperitivi and free finger-food buffets in the evening. This is one of the densest spots in the city when it comes to bars.
Piazza Santo Spirito Across the river, this piazza buzzes seven nights a week and offers a more local, alternative, some say “Bohemian” atmosphere where you can bring your own booze or grab a beer from bars like Cabiria with outdoor terrace areas. My personal favourite.
Funny penis statue in Florence

Penises everywhere!

List of Irish Bars & Pubs in Florence

  • The Fiddler’s Elbow, Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, 1am (2am Fri & Sat)
  • Joshua Tree, Via della Scala, 37, 2am
  • The Lion’s Fountain, Borgo degli Albizi, 34, 3am
  • Old Stove, Via Pellicceria, 2, 2am
  • Old Stove Signoria, Piazza della Signoria, 2.30am (12am Sun)
  • Finnegan’s Irish Pub, Via San Gallo, 123/R, 12.30am (1am Sat & Sun)
  • Friend’s Pub, Borgo San Jacopo, 51, 2am
  • Dublin Pub, Via Faenza, 27, 2am
  • The William Pub, Via Antonio Magliabechi, 7
  • James Joyce, Lungarno Benvenuto Cellini, 1

I’m sure there are more I’m missing.

Top Bars in Florence

All'antico Vinaio sandwich and wine bar in Florence, Tuscany, Italy

Start a night with rustic sandwiches and deliciously cheap Tuscan wine at All’antico Vinaio – a TripAdvisor favourite.

Bar Address Closing Time Description
All’Antico Vinaio Via dei Neri, 65/R 10pm (6pm Sunday) Incredible rustic sandwiches, very affordable local wine, TripAdvisor favourite and a great place to start a night.
Parco Piscina Le Pavoniere Via della Catena 2, Parco delle Cascine 12am “Magnificenza Le Pavoniere” is ridiculously expensive, but what do you expect from a cocktail bar, restaurant and swimming pool all rolled into one.
FUK Via Giuseppe Verdi 19/R 2.30am “Florence Unpopular Kafé”. You kind of have to, just for the name.

Where to Stay?

This is a nightlife guide, not an accommodation guide, but if it helps, I stayed in the Hotel Paris – a bit too grand for my budget, but luckily I wasn’t the one paying. It’s centuries old and has great views of the cathedral at night. Its rooms are like antique shops (without the dust), walking its corridors feels like a stroll around a museum – you never know what strange artefact you’ll stumble across next – and the breakfast room has crazy ceiling frescos that’ll make you feel like you’re eating in the Sistine Chapel.

Oh, and don’t forget to tell them it’s your birthday for a complimentary bottle of wine.

Passed out asleep on bed in Hotel Paris, Florence, Italy after night out

Goodnight, Florence!

Categories: Europe, Italy | Leave a comment

Drink, Drugs & the War on Reason

‘Man, being reasonable, must get drunk’ (Byron, 2005 [1819])

The legacies of the Enlightenment can be seen at work in almost every facet of contemporary culture. The emphasis placed on reason, during that period of history, has been integral to the development of notions such as freedom, liberty and truth, which in turn have formed the economic, political, and moral foundations upon which modern society is constructed – most notably; capitalism, democracy and ‘human rights’.


“Man, being reasonable, must get drunk…” – Lord Byron

It can be easy for the moderate drinker to dismiss grand claims, such as Baudelaire’s “yearn[ing] for the infinite” (cited in Nicholls, 2006: 144), as over-embellishment. However, alcohol does possess the ability to strip us of our reason. If this were not the case then there would be no ‘drink question’, nor the vast array of literature and debate that surrounds the subject. Although different drugs produce very different effects, this argument is still applicable to the majority of intoxicating substances.


“Get drunk!” – Baudelaire

The construction of the self within society involves a process of repression of our basic impulses that takes place throughout our upbringing, for example when a child is taught that it is wrong to fight. It is widely accepted that alcohol breaks down these restraints. In the first instance, this is beneficial in that it facilitates “conviviality: the empirically grounded belief…that drink facilitates free and easy conversation” (Nicholls, 2009: 55). However, continued drinking relieves us of our ability to form logical chains of thought, eventually resulting in the complete loss of reason, and leaving the drunkard to act on singular impulses – what Boothroyd describes as “a kind of snakes and ladders sequential logic” (2006: 119). The drunkard may be able to stumble home, but only in the same way that an animal functions (that is, if we are to believe to commonly held assertion that animals don’t possess reason and that is what separates us from them, which I’m not sure I do). He is without reason; and when he wakes he will have to come to terms with the actions of the night before that no longer make rational sense, whether regretting them, repressing them, or simply laughing at their ridiculousness.


“Memories of a Night” – Luigi Russolo

Why then, when rational thinking is the driving force behind our modern world, do we continue to pursue the irrational through drinking and the taking of drugs? It would seem that, as the world continues to develop, so too does the spread of substance use. Robin Room has stated that “psychoactive substance use is deeply enmeshed in human behaviour, and it is unrealistic to contemplate a world without such use” (2003b: 1). This essay will attempt to address the potential reasons behind this long unresolved issue: “Why would a rational person drink,” asks Earnshaw, “when all it could lead to was ‘crime, pauperism [and] insanity’?” (2000: 221).


“Binge Britain”

Throughout history, drugs have a habit of becoming associated with the imagined problems of their era, such as poverty (Warner, 2003: 213); fears over immigrants, minorities and the working-class poor (Davenport-Hines, 2002: 151); the adverse effects of industrialization and city life (Gootenberg, 1999: 126); or “the loss of traditional values…family breakdown and crime” (Dillon, 2002: 304). The Gin Craze of 1736 was the first account of a major scale panic over drink or drugs. However, it doesn’t follow that gin alone could be the sole course of such an uproar. For Warner, “the real fallacy lies in assuming that any drug…is by itself responsible for the poor health and poor behaviour of its users.” (2003: 212). She suggests that it is in fact the other way around; that the “culture in which the drug has taken root” is at least partially to blame. (2003: 219). This is a point echoed by Dillon, who states that “Drug Craze and Drug Panic might be Siamese twins…it might be the very same forces of fear and uncertainty which drove young people to drugs” (2002: 304). According to Warner, “cities are complex and often very frightening places…we are too easily seduced by the notion that the complex problems that come with complex places boil down to a simple and single source, be it gin, heroin, or crack cocaine.” In fact, it is most likely because so many of the issues of modern life remain “unresolved issues” (Nicholls, 2006: 132) that so too does the ‘drink question’.


“Gin Lane” – William Hogarth

One of the largest of the perceived threats to society is the idea that drink and drug use encourage “unwholesome pleasure-seeking” (Davenport-Hines, 2002: 156) and have negative effects on the mentality of work, labour and productivity that is essential for the functioning of capitalism. Derrida (1995: 241) suggests that this is the reason that drugs are “condemned by a society based on work and on the subject answerable as subject.” Drugs, therefore, undermine capitalism by exposing the inherent contradiction that it tells us to be productive, but also to pursue happiness – in other words, to ‘work hard, play hard’. According to Benjamin, “the surrealists [were] the ‘first to liquidate the sclerotic-moral-humanistic ideal of freedom’” (cited in Boothroyd, 2006: 116). It was Benjamin’s aim to utilise “narcotics to counteract the stupefying effects of life under capitalism.” (Boothroyd, 2006: 116).

Drink and drugs, due to their intoxicating nature, point out a flaw within the concept of freedom through which “individuals not only realize themselves, but also govern themselves.” (Reith, 2004: 285). Drunkenness is a kind of “temporary madness” (Nicholls, 2000). Because to be free in all senses requires a sane and reasonable mind, one is not free when intoxicated. This means that freedom requires restraint (not to drink or take drugs) and so is not freedom at all – by its own nature freedom must be complete and free of limitations and restrictions.

One of my favourite examples of where drink and drug use have provided an insight into the failings of modernity is in the work of Jack Kerouac. Up until his death as a result of cirrhosis of the liver, aged only forty-seven, his work became increasingly obsessed with motifs of the city and its polar opposite – solitude; and with the lack of purpose in modern life once the myth of freedom has been quashed. The following extract is taken from Big Sur, his semi-autobiographical novel telling the story of his mental breakdown, and is typical of the angst, depression and desperation resulting from his search for meaning:

Me drunk practically all the time to put on a jovial cap to keep up with all this but finally realizing I was surrounded and outnumbered and had to get away to solitude again or die. (Kerouac, 2001 [1962])


“Me drunk practically all the time to put on a jovial cap to keep up with all this…” – Kerouac

Robin Room (2003a: 3) argues that “addiction…emerge[d] as a way of understanding…the failure of the drinker or drug user to behave rationally…to stop a recurrent pattern of use despite the harm it is seen as causing” and as such is “culturally specific…of the late modern period.” (2003a: 2). He insists that the criteria upon which addiction is defined only “make sense in a culture where…individualism [is] taken for granted, where each citizen has the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ [and] only in the context of a culture attuned to the clock…in which time is viewed as a commodity which is used or spent rather than simply experienced.” (2003a: 4-5). Room suggests that addiction has become “an arena for struggle and triumph.” (2003a: 8) In other words it can give people the conflict that gives their life a purpose. This is where a fallacy emerges in the addiction concept: how can someone overcome an addiction that “proved stronger than [their] will”?

Valverde has asserted that “alcoholism, addiction, and alcoholism’s strange offspring, codependence…as a construct and as an experience, [are] rooted in the perceived opposition between one’s willpower and one’s desires” (1998: 33). Room also addresses this “assumption…that desires are something distinct from the will.” (2003a: 6). The words ‘will’ and ‘desire’ are effectively referring to the same thing but are caught up in addiction discourses that, as already discussed, came into being to serve a particular cultural purpose. A better term then might be ‘conflicting wants’, as it disperses of the myth that one is somehow worth more than the other. It is now clear that in some situations people consider their ‘want’ for alcohol or drugs a higher priority than their ‘wants’ for health, security or perceived success.

Liberalism – the dominant philosophy in Western thought – is heavily based on the notion of “maximum freedom from state compulsion (with the caveat that individual actions must not restrict the freedom or rights of others).” (Nicholls, 2006: 132-3). Already the “caveat” highlights what we have already asserted: that freedom is inherently an unattainable ideal. This can also be seen in Mill’s assertion “that an individual’s ‘choice of pleasures and their mode of expending their income, after satisfying their legal and moral obligations to the State and to individuals, are their own concern and must rest with their own judgement’” (cited in Blackman, 2004: 186-7). Although well-meaning, Mill’s remark is essentially meaningless. Without clarification of these “obligations” they could mean anything, thus justifying any amount of state control and any infringement upon personal freedom. It is not hard to see how his work became appropriated by the temperance campaigners, whom he was in direct opposition with.

As discussed in great depth by Nicholls, these debates around alcohol and drugs flag up the many “complexities…divisions” and paradoxes that remain riddled in the fabric of liberalism (2006: 131). Prohibitionists objected to intoxication because it was “a radically subjective (and, therefore, un-selfless) cognitive experience,” (2006: 136). In other words, what one gains from the drug experience is useless – and sometimes even detrimental – to the development of collective society. Derrida has also pointed out that “The Enlightenment…identified essentially by the motif of publicity and with the public character of every act of reason, is in itself a declaration of war on drugs.” (1995: 250). In a side note, it may be worth considering that the reverse is also true: that persisting drug use could be a “declaration of war” on what Nicholls refers to as “the canonization of reason associated with Enlightenment ideals” (2000). Courtwright (2002: 169) takes these points even further, stating:

The Enlightenment and its legacy of secular philosophies such as utilitarianism, with its imperative to pursue the greatest good for the greatest number, gave rise to a simple but very powerful idea…that private gains, however large…entail unacceptably high and morally indefensible public costs…If alcohol abuse leads to more sickness and premature death, it translates into fewer days worked, which equal so many dollars less in productivity, wages, and taxes. If it causes more crime and accidents, it raises police and medical costs, passed on to others as higher taxes and insurance premiums…

The ‘welfare state’ is an unmistakably liberal idea in that it supports everyone’s ‘right’ to safety, good health and wellbeing. However, it means that how one chooses to treat their body becomes the business of the state. One is no longer free to take personal risks as they may cost others. Morality begins to be measured in terms of money. This is the second paradox of liberty: that freedom, once again, is subject to responsibilities to, and the demands of, the State.

According to Nicholls (2006: 147) there is “near universal agreement on the unacceptability of non-consensual and random acts of violence”. Prohibitionists maintained that the Gin Craze was evidence enough that individual freedom “would lead to anarchic hedonism…‘riot and debauchery’” (2006: 134) and argued that the role of the state was as “educator” and that it should therefore “intervene” (2006: 133). According to Stivers (2000: 38), “the ideology of the movement [was that] immense political and social problems are the result of crime, the principle cause of which is drunkenness…Therefore teetotalism leads to the amelioration of social problems, individual health, and ultimately individual salvation.”

Mill opposed them, on the grounds that while violence is wrong, alcohol, in itself, is not; that it is unfair – ‘fairness’ being another necessary offshoot of liberty and freedom – to impose on, and restrict, the lives of moderate drinkers, who show “irrefutably that drink does not inevitably lead to ruin” (Nicholls, 2006: 140); and finally that prohibition is “‘far more dangerous than any single interference with liberty [as] there is no violation of liberty it would not justify’” (cited in Nicholls, 2006: 141). Mill and others have equated the temperance movement with “tyranny” (2006: 142). This latter point is echoed by Blackman when he quotes Mill as saying that it “assert[ed] an unlimited right in the public not only to prohibit by law everything that it thinks wrong, but, in order to get at what it thinks wrong, to prohibit a number of things which it admits to be innocent” (2004: 186).

Behind the exchanges between temperance campaigners and their critics is another unavoidable paradox. If drunken violence harms and impinges on the rights of others, then prohibition and other forms of state control are necessary. However, this legislation infringes on the ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’ of both retailers and consumers. Therefore, there is no way that society can take a truly liberal approach in all respects.

There are clearly a wide range of instances when the loss of reason, whether fully, in part, or metaphorically, can be put to creative or other productive use, but in addition to this, intoxication is important in defining sobriety, and therefore rationality, through their opposition. It is precisely the fact that drink and drugs impair our capacity for reason that we are so attracted to them. For all the ‘good’ things we lose when intoxicated, we are also freed of all the ‘bad’ – the restricting demands of thinking, of identity, and of the constantly contradictory modern world. Sometimes we want to be no more than those ‘animals’ – simple and free.

We have seen that drugs and the debates around them help to undermine the capitalist system within which we construct our selves, show freedom to be an illusion, and liberty to be unobtainable and therefore unrealistic as a political and philosophical goal. The question is: if or when these concerns, which drug use has brought to the fore, become too compelling to ignore, will society be able to find a way to adapt? What else is there? More realistically though, drinking and drug-taking look likely to remain “key practise[s] in the social construction of the world as it is and as it should be.” (Wilson, 2005: 13).


Blackman, S. (2004) Chilling Out: The Cultural Politics of Substance Consumption, Youth and Drug Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Boothroyd, D. (2006) Culture on Drugs: Narco-Cultural Studies of High Modernity. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Byron, G. G. (2005) Don Juan. London: Penguin

Courtwright, D. (2002) Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World. London: Harvard University Press

Davenport-Hines, R. (2002) The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Social History of Drugs. London: Phoenix

Derrida, J. (1995) ‘The Rhetoric of Drugs’, in Points – Interviews, 1976-1993. [Translated by Peggy Kamuf et al.] Stanford: Stanford University Press

Dillon, P. (2002) The Much-lamented Death of Madam Geneva. London: Review, pp. 294 – 305

Earnshaw, S. (2000) The Pub in Literature: England’s Altered State. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Gootenberg, P. ed. (1999) Cocaine: Global Histories. London: Routledge

Kerouac, J. (2001) Big Sur. London: Flamingo

Nicholls, J. (2000) ‘Barflies and Bohemians: Drink, Paris and Modernity’, Dionysos 10.1

Nicholls, J. (2006) ‘Liberties and licenses: alcohol in liberal thought’, International Journal of Cultural Studies 9.2, pp.131-51

Nicholls, J. (2009) The Politics of Alcohol: A History of the Drink Question in England. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Reith, G. (2004) ‘Consumption and its discontents: addiction, identity, and the politics of freedom’, British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 55, No. 2, pp. 283-300

Room, R. (2003a) ‘The Cultural Framing of Addiction’ Janus Head 6(2). [online] Available from: [Accessed 14.1.2010]

Room, R. (2003b) ‘The Use of Alcohol and Drugs: Patterns, Pleasures and Problems’ [online] Available from: [Accessed 16.1.2010]

Stivers, R. (2000) Hair of the Dog: Irish Drinking and its American Stereotype. London: Continuum

Valverde, M. (1998) Diseases of the Will: Alcohol and the Dilemmas of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Warner, J. (2003) Craze. London: Profile, pp. 209-219

Wilson, T. ed. (2005) Drinking Cultures: Alcohol and Identity. Oxford: Berg

Further Bibliography

Burroughs, W. S. (1977) Junky. London: Penguin

Burroughs, W. S. (2005) Naked Lunch. London: Harper Perennial

Carnwath, T. and Smith, I. (2002) The Heroin Century. London: Routledge

Conrad, B. (1998) Absinthe: History in a Bottle. San Francisco: Chronicle

De Quincey, T. (1994) Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Ware: Wordsworth

Fachner, J. (2003) ‘Jazz, Improvisation and a Social Pharmocology of Music’, Music Therapy Today, Vol. 4, No. 3 [online] Available from: [Accessed 16.1.2010]

Frey, J. (2004) A Million Little Pieces. London: John Murray

Grinspoon, L. (1979) Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered. London: Basic

Hemingway, E. (1982) The Sun Also Rises. New York: Charles Scribner

Jay, M. (2000) Emperors of Dreams: Drugs in the Nineteenth Century. Sawtry: Dedalus

Kerouac, J. (2001) Desolation Angels. London: Flamingo

Kerouac, J. (1994) The Dharma Bums. London: Flamingo

Lee, M. (2001) Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD. London: Pan

Plant, S. (1999) Writing on Drugs. London: Faber & Faber

Reynolds, S. (1998) Energy Flash: A Journey Through Dance Music and Rave Culture. London: Picador

Thompson, H. S. (2005) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. London: Harper Perennial

Walton, S. (2002) Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication. (London: Penguin), pp. 239-64

Wolfe, T. (1989) The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. London: Transworld

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