2018 Tour de France

This is the first time in 25 years that I didn’t watch the entirety of the Tour de France, thanks to our vacation. But I caught every stage since getting home.

It was a good one! The course was interesting, most of the big sprinters were eliminated in a single stage in the mountains, Peter Sagan won the green jersey yet again, and Chris Froome didn’t win. He finished 3rd, his teammate Geraint Thomas won and is the first from Wales and the first UK-born rider to win. I think this is only the second time I’ve seen a teammate usurp the team leader.

Looking forward to next year!

Frankfurt

We took the train from Cologne to Frankfurt for our last day of the trip. We didn’t get to do much in Frankfurt other than have lunch, do some shopping and get ready to fly out early the next morning.

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Breakfast before leaving to the airport:

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Trip observations & notes:

  • There are generally at most four beer choices in Germany: light (as in color, not in calories), dark, wheat and Pilsner. You almost always have two of those, usually three and rarely all four. Brands don’t matter at all, you order “Helles” (light) or “dunkel” (dark), “Weiss” (white for wheat) or “Pilsner”. There is never two beers with the same style from two different breweries. That is very unlike the US beer market. The US has come a long long way in beer in my lifetime.
  • There is no nuanced technique to beer-pouring — beers are poured roughly down the middle of the glass to release much of the carbonation and create a huge head of foam, often with a top-off pour. Lagers are traditionally carbonated at higher levels than ales but lagers in Germany are not “spritely” like they are in the US — they are almost creamy because they were poured so roughly. At Optimism, we teach the servers to pour beer in one motion down the side of the glass and time it to deliver the “perfect” amount of foam on top for each style. I think I’d like to get even more over-sized mugs for our lagers and pour them German-style with 2 inches of foam on top!
  • “Craft beer” in Germany is disappointing – muddy flavors, poor fermentation and cloudy. I just stopped looking for and ordering them. I don’t understand why they can’t make quality beers given the culture is so beer-centric and their big breweries make very high quality beers. My guess is that anyone who leaves the big breweries to start small breweries never learned the science of brewing, they simply learned the rote practice and it doesn’t translate to anything other than making Pale lagers.
  • Germany and the Czech Republic are averse to credit cards. Cash-only places are all too common. I expected Germany to be far more modern. Do Germans really carry $300 around in cash all the time?! Seems like easy prey for muggings.
  • People don’t care about World Cup soccer as much as I’m led to believe in the US. Lots of bars and restaurants have the games on TV but most people were disinterested. Maybe because Germany fell out of it in Round 1.
  • People smoke too much in Germany and Czech Republic — they rank 32nd and 7th, respectively, on the worldwide smoking list, whereas the US ranks 68th. And they seem to chain smoke, smoking 2-3 cigarettes in an hour of sitting. Coming from Seattle, where it’s unusual to see anyone smoking (mostly hipsters), it’s surprising.
  • Google Maps makes everything so easy and is surprisingly accurate with European travel. But it was wrong a few times with train schedules and bus stops.
  • Apple Maps and the Watch integration was nice for walking. I wish Google Maps didn’t drop their Apple Watch app.
  • The famously no-speed-limit Autobahn has a lot of speed limits. 100 km/h (62mph) and 120 km/h (75mph) seem to be the norm with some short stretches of no limit. Max speed I got to was 172km/h (106mph) and I was going faster than other cars. I don’t think the Autobahn is any faster than US highways but the drivers seem to stay in their lanes more than in the US.
  • It’s harder to watch the Tour de France while in Europe than in the US where the stages can be watched (or recorded) live but all I can find on TV in Germany and France are short broadcasts of the end or just summaries and are on late at night, as in 11pm or later.

Cologne

We made a one-night stop in Cologne (Köln, to Germans) to drink Kölsch – Cologne’s contribution to the beer world. Kölsch is the only beer appellation, meaning you cannot legally call your Kölsch beer a “Kölsch” unless it’s made in Cologne. Cologne banned lagers in the 1800s so all breweries in Cologne were forced to make ales. A Kölsch is essentially a pale lager made with ale yeast. Even though the ban has been lifted, no breweries in Cologne make anything else. Interestingly, the famous Rothschild family did build a lager brewery after the ban was lifted but it failed. So still there are no lager breweries.

My sister, my brother-in-law and one of their daughters were recently in France visiting their other daughter, Sarah, who lives in Paris. We just missed them being in Europe by a few days so we couldn’t meet up with them but we did get Sarah to visit us in Cologne:

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It seems like all beer served in Cologne is Kölsch (although I did spy a Pilsner once) and it is always served in 200ml (less than 7 fl ozs) glasses called a “stange“. Folklore about Cologne says that they keep bringing you these small beers until you put your coaster on top of the glass to signal them not to. That didn’t turn out to be true in our experience, we had to order another just like any other beer.

There are 4 or 6 historic Kölsch breweries and we made it to two of them, Päffgen and Früh and I was able to taste a third historic brewery, from Sion, at our hotel (in a 400ml stange even!).

Päffgen is a small brewery that dates to the mid-1800s and was and still is a family brewery that only serves their beer at their restaurant. This is the beer garden that sits between the indoor restaurant and their brewhouse, which can be seen through the glass in the 3-story building (note the wall-mounted old school valves, sight glass and, I think, a lauter grant):

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Früh is located closer to our hotel and the train station and comprises of 3 buildings on a square where they have outdoor seating:

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The Cologne Cathedral:

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Cologne is also known for having the oldest cologne maker, hence the name. Eau de Cologne (“water of cologne”) has been made by 4711 for 200 years. I meant to buy cologne in Cologne but didn’t get around to it, unfortunately.