travel

Getting Weird in Austin

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Austin, Texas

December 2018

The Broken Spoke is an Austin dance hall tradition dating back 1964 and has played host to a passel of Texas country music legends. Karen and I found ourselves at the venerated dance hall on a rainy Friday night in December.

We arrived around 7:30, just as the Texas Two-step lessons were being concluded. The area around the dance floor smelled like Aqua Velva and partially digested beef brisket, just as you would expect. The class is catered to tourists and recommended if you want to efficiently cut a rug on the crowded floor.

The small stage stands at the end of a long narrow dance floor which is lined on both sides with tables. In Texas, dance floors are for dancing. If you want to watch the action, you’ll need to find a spot at one of the side tables.

At 8 o’clock, Jason Roberts (former fiddler for Asleep at the Wheel) made the announcement that he and his band would be playing both kinds of music…country and western. The locals danced with the tourists in a loose amalgamation that could be described as something between order and chaos. Most songs were played in 4/4 time, which meant the two-step would be the proper dance method. Couples shuffled and twirled counter clockwise on the edges of the hardwood floor, while the more skillful swing dancers exercised their advanced moves in the middle.

Songs played in 3/4 time require the waltz and can really trip up the novice who just barely learned the two-step.

Occasionally, a song will be played in time signatures and tempos similar to polkas. This gives the tourists from the lake states the opportunity to show off their dancing prowess and University of Wisconsin sweatshirts. In what shouldn’t be a surprise, many C&W songs are compatible with the polka.

Unfortunately for Karen, I only have two dances in my repertoire. There is the Junior Prom dance, where points of contact are limited to hands, shoulders, and waist. Then there is the Sokol Shuffle so named because apparently it only comes naturally to the male line of my family. It has influences rooted in Myrtle Beach Shag, too much gin, the Disco Bump, and the tap dance that Yosemite Sam does below. I usually just tell my dance partner to loosen up and hold on.

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travel

Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit

Munich, Germany

September, 2018

This past Fall, Karen and I were invited to celebrate the birthdays of some friends in Munich for the famous Oktoberfest. This annual beer drinking festival takes place at the Theresienwiese (the fairgrounds in Munich) and is locally know as the Wiesn. It dates back to 1810 when the crown price and future king of Bavaria, Ludwig I, married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. As its name suggests, Oktoberfest begins in…yep, late September and runs for 16 or 17 days or until the locals get tired of plastered tourists. According to a USA Today article from 2007, it is considered the largest folk festival (Volksfest) in the world.

Oktoberfest in Munich is a pilgrimage for beer drinkers and lovers of Bavarian tradition. If you go, I recommend that you go with some friends and reserve a table at one of the beer tents. There are thirty-some-odd large and small”tents” built just for the festival, then removed afterwards. Many of these structures are quite elaborate seating anywhere from just under 100 to well over 8,000 merry-makers.

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Official Oktoberfest beer must be brewed in Munich and conform to the Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, which states that the only products that can be used in the production of beer are water, barley, and hops. Yeast was also added to the list later after its discovery. The beer served in the tents are from six breweries: Augustiner-Brau, Hacker-Pschorr-Brau, Lowenbrau, Paulaner, Spatenbrau, and Hofbrau-Munchen. Please add umlauts as you see fit.

Most of the attendees are from the Bavarian region of Germany, but we met people from all over the world. Traditional dress is very common both at the festival as well as around town. Dirndls and lederhosen of varying quality are worn by locals and tourists alike.

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While in Munich, we stayed in a hotel near the English Garden, which deserves a mention as well. The 910-acre park was created in 1789 and is one of the largest urban parks in the world. Popular attractions include the Monopteros Greek-style temple, the Chinese Tower, a 21-acre pond known as Kleinhesseloher See, a Japanese teahouse, and an artificial stream frequented by surfers (seriously).

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But perhaps most famous area of the English Garden is the expansive meadow know as the Schonfeldwiese, where nude sunbathing is allowed. Here’s a pro tip. If you decide to go sunbathing in the raw, you’ll want to remember two things. One, you are not likely to see Scarlett Johansson or Chris Hemsworth. You are more likely to see olden folk with much more surface area. Two, and this one is very important, use sunscreen with a high SPF rating. Imagine the embarrassment of having to explain sunburnt naughty bits to a German doctor.

We’re looking forward to getting back to Munich soon to see more of the outlying area.

Thanks for reading,

Üncle Jön

Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @UncleJonSokol and peruse my articles and stories on http://www.myunclejon.com.

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travel

Living the Wild Life

San Diego, California

July, 2018

Karen and I do not have kids.  It was a decision we made before we were married.  It is not one that we took lightly.  We certainly have nothing against children.  Parenting is just something neither of us found interesting.  We do, however, enjoy spending time with our various nieces and nephews.

A late bloomer when it came to travel, I was in my early 20s when I went on my first flight.  I was well into my 30s when I made my first flight across the Atlantic to visit another continent.  Since then, Karen and I have become very fond of traveling, and we’ve made it a big part of our lives.

In an effort to pass on travel skills, and as a way to justify more journeys, we decided to take each niece and nephew to a US city of their choice the summer after their thirteenth birthday.  We figured this would be a good age to learn how to negotiate airports, hotels, public transportation, etc.

Our oldest nephew, Noah, chose San Francisco as his travel city a few years ago and we had a blast experiencing the city through his eyes.  His brother, Luke, turned thirteen late last year, so this year was his turn.

Like his brother, Luke is an experienced traveler having flown to Chicago a couple of times to visit family.  When we asked him where he wanted to go for the “Aunt and Uncle Weekend” he never hesitated. “I want to go to the San Diego Zoo.”

There are three things that Luke enjoys most: video games, professional wrestling, and zoology.  In fact, he is quite an expert in all three.  All you have to do is ask him.

We arrived at the Atlanta airport on a busy Friday afternoon. After scarfing down hamburgers at the airport’s version of The Varsity, we boarded our plane for San Diego. We arrived around 4 PM Pacific and took a taxi to our hotel in the Little Italy neighborhood near the waterfront, and walked along the harbor where tall ships like the Star of India and the HMS Surprise are docked near the USS Midway, the famous WWII-era aircraft carrier.  For dinner, we ate some great pizza at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto.  Get there early.  It can get crowded. The pizza is really good, especially if you like it extra cheesy.  And who doesn’t, right.luke pizza

The next day, we set out early for the zoo located a few minutes away in Balboa Park.  We bought our tickets ahead of time to skip the lines, but they really weren’t that bad. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the zoo handles busy summer Saturdays.

This zoo is amazing.  It is, of course, world famous, so our expectations were high and it did not disappoint.  One of the many things that sets this zoo apart from others is that it is more than just an animal display.  Education is a major focus here and they do it well.  Additionally, it is very helpful to have your own thirteen-year-old zoologist while visiting. Here’s an example.

As we approached the cheetah exhibit, I was shocked to see a yellow Labrador retriever wearing a collar lapping up water from a small water feature. Inside with the cheetah.  I remember thinking, “This is going to turn out bad. We don’t need to see what’s getting ready to happen to that dog.”

I put my arm around Luke and told Karen, “We need to get away from this. This is going to be ugly.”

Luke rolled his eyes and took me by the hand. “It’s okay, Uncle Jon. They’re buddies.”

Apparently, my expression warranted further explanation.

“When cheetahs are born, they’re paired up with a puppy to keep them calm. Otherwise, cheetahs are too nervous to live in captivity.”

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This turned out to be the first of several lessons I received from Luke that day. It’s interesting how Karen and I learn as much as our young travel companions do on these trips.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend becoming a travel mentor. It can be very rewarding.

Thanks for reading,

Uncle Jon

@sandiegozoo
@filippis