Thursday, July 16, 2009

Another Please. . .

Pilsner Urquell
Its been a bit since I have reviewed anything, especially a beer. But what was given a passing mention yesterday deserves a bit more comment. Pilsner Urquell, or Plzeňský Prazdroj as it is called in Czech is probably one of the best things to come out of Czech since, well, 1842. It is the original Pilsner style beer, and obviously all other Pilsners owe their lineage to this beer. Originally an attempt to have some sort of beer that could compete with the Germans, it has done just that (despite being brewed first by an imported German Brewmaster) and is one of the best beverages I have consumed in Europe. Forget all the other Pilsners you have quaffed, this is the real deal and has all the refreshment they do with a bit more bite which balances out perfectly. It is the Leatherman of beers, it drinks well when it is hot or cold out, goes with darn near anything, and the only complaint I can have against it is that it only comes in those annoying 1/2 liter bottles around here. Even Jak likes it, and for those of us who know her normal palate of dark and complex, it says wonders about that sharp bottom fermented taste to say that she likes it too.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Czech Please

Okay, so any foray into the Czech Republic demands corny jokes, and it is only fair to pass them on. Considering that Czech is only 40 minutes from home, it is easy to czech out the sights. This last weekend Jak and I, along with several other officers from our battalion decided to spend a bit of time in Prague. It was a bit late for the Prague Spring, so our experiences may be lacking, but the Prague Early Summer is probably more enjoyable for all.
The first impression when you drive into Prague is, ummmm, did I really want to come here? Is that guy selling his kidneys? Or crack? Or is it two for one buy a kidney and get some crack Saturdays? It is probably all three, but once you lock your doors and hit the older part of the city it is much nicer. The Czechs do not share the German insanity for cleanliness, but it is slightly comforting to see some graffiti and see hobos peeing behind bushes in the park. Jak has an extended philosophical discussion about the post-Soviet impact on Czech, Miller is rather more concerned on where Slovakia went. In all honesty she is quite right, there are some of the telling signs that occur from a country that is continuing to emerge from the old days (read almost 30 years) of a command economy into the burgeoning arms of capitalism. At exactly the wrong time. Perhaps the global downturn is less reflected here, in the land of cheap everything, more in the quality rather than the quantity. Goods are abundant and abundantly bought and sold, but their quality in everything, from ladies of the night to glassware, is very different. It is the first place I have been where the juxtaposition between success and failure is so evident, with beggars prostrating themselves for change outside of Hermes and Gucci. The notable exceptions to this general trend seem, rather hopefully, to be Skoda, Pilsner Urquell, and education. The last is the rather important one, as education is the one that can change the qualities already mentioned. More people speak English here than anywhere since Ireland, and universities abound. The arts are celebrated, with multiple excellent classical concerts competing at any given night. Hopefully Czech will change from the industrialized doorstep to Germany into something impressive of its own right. Only time will tell.
Anyways, we went to Prague. It was fun, the food was fantastic and cheap, and the sights were awesome. Music was second to none, and no parts of our cars disappeared. One of our compatriots even was able to bribe the police to avoid a ticket. They were honest police though, and only took their fixed bribe for making a ticket go away. Compared to police in the 3rd world where I have been (Hi Honduras, please stop being so crotchety) they are models of law enforcement. For all of the dark humor, Prague was rather stunning in parts.
On the home front (possibly a source of the dark humor) work goes well but very busy. Miller has managed to crash several government computer systems simply by glaring at them, which makes work harder. Jak is saddled with several cadets at the moment, but they seem like they will be good and be less of a hindrance than expected.
Love to you all.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Alpine Adventures!

So how many cool things can happen in Austria in four days....well, about a million! I know we are a tad tardy in posting, but we have been a bit busy. I have been wearing a few hats at work, as I am training our newest LT to take over for me, as I am moving up to XO. Nate has been busy being UMO (Unit Movement Officer) extraordinaire. We have been putting in long days, but have been rewarded with some awesome weekends. Our most recent adventure to the Alps was just amazing.
On Friday, the first day of our four day weekend, we woke early and started moseying to the Austrian border via Munich on the the Autobahn. Our drive was uneventful, except for a tad bit of traffic. As we reached the border, the Alps just rose out of nowhere. They are just a stunningly large mountain chain, of whose size, I just cannot truly fathom. We reached the village of St. Anton, which was the location of the 2002 Alpine Skiing World Championships. Well, I can see why! The town pretty much dies in the summer, but it was quaint and picturesque. Due to our love of a ski town in the summer months, our room was half the price it was in winter, and we were the only guests in the guest house we stayed in. We wandered a bit, bought a good topo-map and turned in early in anticipation of our next day's hike.
Although we got up quite early Saturday morning, the hotel owner was awake and served us a delicious, yet simple breakfast of tea, rolls, jam, cured meats, and cheeses. Although it may not suffice for breakfast in the 'states, we have learned to truly appreciate this sort of breakfast too. Anyone who knows me knows I can never turn down good bread, regardless of the time of day. After setting off to find the trail head, we wandered through town admiring the flocks of sheep and herds of horses and cattle that sprinkle the countryside in this area. Austrians have superior looking sheep, I will say that much! We passed a series of gates up to the trail ( it goes through a series of higher altitude grazing areas for sheep) and started to climb steeply. We slowly made our way up to the first peak, Mount Gampen (6056 ft). From that modest peak, the views were splendid and the alpine wild flowers were in full bloom. I have never seen a more beautiful variety of flora in my life! Next we moved on to a neighboring peak, Mt. Kapall (7600 ft) where things started to get cooler, and snow patches more common. We even started to see glacial formations nearby mountains. The air was noticeably thinner and the wind much stronger. This was quite welcome, as the heat and humidity of the lower areas was really bothering Nate and I. Our final peak for the day was Weissenschrofenspitze (9028 ft). This peak was truly daunting. Its trail wound in switchbacks up the steep gradient, as a direct ascent would have been nearly impossible. We saw delicate varieties of wildflowers growing from the rocks and glimpsed two alpine marmots (thanks to their shrill calls, which sounded oddly like emergency whistles!). After reaching the summit (well, a point 100 meters from the real summit), we quickly descended due to some bad weather coming in. We showered and had a very disappointing dinner at an overpriced and very mediocre restaurant. After watching the Williams v. Williams Wimbledon Final, we turned in for the night.
The next day, we woke to rain. So we did what any sane people would do: we strapped our boots on and set out to find some waterfalls! After following a trail on our map and meeting some truly fantastic elderly Irish hikers, we found some of the most stunning waterfalls. We continued along the trail, reaching no peaks, but following a contour line at an elevation of roughly 6000 feet. From a clearing in the trees, we spotted what appeared to be the Rabobank Cycling Team bus. When we finally reached town after descending for a few miles, we discovered with delight, that it was the team bus! In addition, numerous other professional cycling teams were there as well. After talking to a Silence Lotto mechanic, we learned that the Tour of Austria was in the area. We vowed to find it to see the start the next day. We made it back to the chalet to shower and drove through some impressive mountain passes to find some better dinner in the next town over, Lech. Well, we found a great restaurant in the charming ski town, ate gourmet pizza, drank radler (it is known as "cyclists' beer" as it is a mix of beer and lemonade). We wrapped up the night by watching bits of the Tour de France and seeing the most impressive Wimbledon Men's Final I have ever seen. Poor Andy Roddick lost to Roger Federer, whom I still dislike more than most human beings on this planet...but that is another post for another day!
Our last day in Austria started out soggy. We finished breakfast, thanked our host (well, we tried, our German was very incompatible, as Austrians have such a strong accent, it is almost impossible to get even a bit of what they are saying) and set off to find the race. Luckily, as we were leaving, so were all the cycling teams, so we followed them to the start. I will not bore you all with cyclists and teams you neither know nor care about, but I will say that it was awesome. After seeing the start and a bit of the race, we started heading home and stopped briefly in Garmisch to check out the shops. It was a truly fantastic weekend in all! We love and miss you all very much.
-The Millers
PS: The cats say "Hi" too and also very much enjoyed the run of the house while we were gone!