Tuesday, April 26, 2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: The mouse, the elephant, and a clash of nonpareils ... part two.

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: The mouse, the elephant, and a clash of nonpareils ... part two.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

The story began yesterday, as I explained how two hicks from somewhere near French Lick (Roger and Barrie) toured the USSR in 1987 and made the acquaintance of two Danes (Kim Wiesener and Allan Gamborg), who began conspiring to introduce us to their friend, Kim “Big Kim” Andersen.


Once the canalside vodka bottle was emptied, we stumbled back to the hotel, which was a tall concrete monstrosity located in a 1960’s-era suburb of Leningrad. One of the tour participants named Nick had packed a full-sized American flag, which we proceeded to unfurl on the building’s roof after bribing an elevator attendant to take us there, against the dictates of common sense and all prevailing regulations.

Miraculously, even after it flew in full view all night, we were able to reclaim the flag without any difficulty, and there were no disciplinary repercussions. In fact, Nick subsequently traded it to a Soviet railway employee in return for a huge tub of first-rate Black Sea caviar. Still, when I recall allowing vodka to dictate my behavior while passing through a totalitarian country, shivers go down my spine.

Brief stays in the oppressed Baltic lands of Latvia and Lithuania followed, and then the group proceeded to Warsaw and Krakow in Poland.

There are too many anecdotal tales to coherently relate: An elderly fellow tourist mistaking the liquid in our vodka bottle for mineral water and gulping it down on a scorching hot day at the Polish-Soviet border as we waited for the train’s wheel carriages to be changed … building the “Leaning Tower of Pivo” from empty export Carlsberg cans in a Riga hard currency bar … the well-endowed Danish lass Metta’s provocative push-ups at a meet-and-greet with Lithuanian students … wild going-away parties in Warsaw, where Barrie and I drank Bulgarian wine with Bozena, our leggy blonde Polish tour guide, alongside a few of the tour group’s stragglers … and a cab ride to Warsaw’s cavernous train station and desperate, futile foraging for food and drink prior to the long overnight ride to Prague and our ultimate redemption, otherwise known as Pilsner Urquell on draft.

Kim Wiesener, an amazing, hyperkinetic tour leader, was right in the thick of these occurrences, and a sort of wartime kinship was born. At the conclusion of the Soviet bloc tour we exchanged addresses with him, promising to keep in touch. Barrie and Kim agreed to meet later that summer, when Barrie would return to Copenhagen for his flight back to the United States. You can bet your last black market ruble that even then, Kim’s cerebral wheels were spinning: What could be done to bring Barrie and Kim Andersen together in Copenhagen?

In the meantime, Barrie and I embarked upon the beer-based itinerary we had plotted far in advance for the remainder of our time in Europe, first traveling from Prague to Munich, where we met Don “Beak” Barry and Bob Gunn for three epochal days of Bavarian beer hall carousing, and then pressing on with Bob to Paris and the D-Day beaches. After Bob’s departure, Barrie and I crossed the sea to Ireland aboard the “Guinness ferry,” meeting up with Tommy, a newspaperman and good friend of Don’s, and later watching U2 perform at the Cork soccer stadium, before experiencing the operatic wonders of Brian and his “High-B” Hibernian Pub, also in Cork, all the while marveling at the classic pleasures of the Irish countryside.

As the revelry continued, I didn’t think there would be enough time for me to accompany Barrie to Denmark and then double back to Brussels for my own return flight, but at a pub somewhere in Ireland, after my tenth pint of Guinness, I changed my mind. I had a rail pass, after all, and what better was there to do with it?

We began concocting a plan to surprise Kim Wiesener with my delightfully unexpected presence, refining the insidious plot over smoked salmon and Bailey’s Irish Cream (both charged to ever-groaning credit cards) while aboard the ship back to Cherbourg. Once in Paris, we hopped an overnight train to Copenhagen, and contrary to so many failed plans made over the years, this one came perfectly to fruition.

Soon after debarking in Copenhagen we were reunited, burrowed safely in Kim’s tiny apartment with chilled Tuborgs in hand and Monty Python songs in our hearts. Following opening toasts, our devious and conniving host divulged his own surprise: An evening with Big Kim already had been arranged, and so finally, Ottersbach would meet Andersen.

Fortunately, so would I.

The world was advised to forget Ali’s and Frazier’s “Thrilla in Manila.” Instead, onlookers were to gird for the “Battle of the Titans,” to be held in the quaint beer venue called the Elephant & Mouse, or Mouse and Elephant, where we were informed there would be copious quantities of draft Elephant beer, Carlsberg’s fine, sturdy and strong lager.

It was to be our first visit to the M & E, a small and dignified pub near the main square, where the only sign of identification above the front door was a small sculpted plaque depicting – what else? – a mouse and an elephant. In the wake of the pub’s sad closing in the late 2000s, let’s hope the plaque now resides in a museum of cultural history somewhere in Copenhagen.

On the second floor of the pub, up a narrow flight of ancient steps, a handmade elephant head adorned the wall behind the wall. Draft Elephant Beer poured from the snout, powered by a clever tusk acting as the tap handle.

Big Kim arrived along with Graham, a British friend who chose to follow the lead of Kim Wiesener and me, nursing just a couple of half-liter glasses during the session. At $7 a pop, these were somewhat financially burdensome at the time, and anyway, we wanted to watch the spectacle unfold with faculties intact. As predicted, Big Kim and Barrie proved to be perfectly matched humans, perhaps separated at birth, both with a fondness for alcohol of any sort, hot and spicy food in large quantities, impossibly tall tales and jokes, and endless, infectious tsunamis of irresistible laughter.

Big Kim and Barrie approached the high-gravity Elephant Beer at full throttle, and much merriment ensued. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth one, Barrie stumbled; accounts vary, but we can gently infer that some of the Elephant Beer didn’t stay entirely down.

Advantage, Andersen.

After several hours of Elephant consumption, and with monetary reserves reaching dangerously low levels, we decided to continue the match at a nearby establishment where Metta (of Lithuanian busty push-up fame) worked as a bartender. As we stood on the street corner contemplating taxi strategies, Big Kim suddenly broke free of the group and staggered wildly into the middle of the street in a doomed effort to hail a taxi home. We quickly subdued him, dodging passing bicycles and cars, and loading Kim into our own hack to proceed to the next planned stop.

With this unforced error of Big Kim’s, Ottersbach had pulled even.

Now this Battle of the Titans devolved into a brutal battle of attrition, with the clock ticking and everyone involved thoroughly drunk and fatigued. Both Barrie and Big Kim made it through big export bottles of Pilsner Urquell at the second bar, after which we returned to Kim Wiesener’s apartment for obligatory nightcaps, the outcome still very much in doubt. Barrie and Big Kim both opened their green label bottles of Carlsberg. Barrie finished his, but Big Kim stole away, ostensibly to use the toilet, and was found a short time later sleeping on the host’s bed.

Seemingly, it was a last-gasp victory for Ottersbach, but as all those involved were physically unable to tally points in their besotted condition, the Battle of the Titans was fittingly declared a draw and passed into legend.

29 years have passed since that epic summer of 1987 and our first meeting with Kim Wiesener, Allan and Big Kim. Certainly all of us have changed, but the friendships carries on, and I cherish them. We five have met many times, in many places, and they’ve all been special.

Just like the next one, whenever and wherever it may be.

(The Curmudgeon's spring break starts NOW. I'll be back some time before Derby)


April 25: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: The mouse, the elephant, and a clash of nonpareils ... part one.

April 4: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Birracibo’s local/regional “craft” beer percentage rides the bench.

March 14: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Two decades of Beer Corner barrels.

March 7: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Can I get a “do-over” on Naughty Girl?


Monday, April 25, 2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: The mouse, the elephant, and a clash of nonpareils ... part one.

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: The mouse, the elephant, and a clash of nonpareils ... part one.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

It is worth noting for the sake of posterity that I was not physically present at the precise moment when a failing “Ignoble” Roman’s Pizza franchise situated off Grant Line Road in New Albany, Indiana, quietly was shifted into the “local” column by the O’Connell family and redubbed Sportstime Pizza, setting into motion subsequent events that changed numerous lives (some perhaps even for the better), and subsequently led to what today is known as the New Albanian Brewing Company.

Such are the vagaries of serendipity. Human beings put great stock in planning and preparation, and to be sure, there are times when advance thinking genuinely matters. Yet, much of the time, little of it is relevant. The Fickle Finger of Fate makes the final call.

The reason for my absence in 1987 was a four-month European sojourn – my second such trip overall. It has taken more than a year to write the 33 chapters of Euro '85 (the postscript is yet to come), stretching from the 30th anniversary of my founding epic into the 31st. Seeing as 2017 marks three decades since the sequel, perhaps it's time to begin the next chronicle in a series intended to arrest the encroaching mists of an ever-more-distant past.

My 1987 overseas pilgrimage was divided into three rollicking acts, with ample time for education, recreation and debauchery: One month in Western Europe, with extended stays in Benelux, Switzerland, Austria and Italy; two months behind the Iron Curtain, including Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, the USSR, Poland and Czechoslovakia; and then a final month’s swath of perpetual motion danced with considerable glee through West Germany, France, Ireland and Denmark.

To this very day, I am amazed, humbled, enlightened and utterly stupefied by my good fortune, when considering the places seen, the experiences savored, and the people encountered while on the road in 1987. Three months in Europe in 1985 had taught me the helpful rudiments of budget travel, and in 1987, because the daily budgetary regimen was established as a habit of sorts, much more time remained to absorb, to cherish, to live and to drink the occasional beer for breakfast.

These many years later, there can be no doubt that the single most abiding outcome of my wandering the continent in 1987 is an enduring friendship with three fellows I met there. The three Danes of the apocalypse are Kim “Little Kim” Wiesener, Kim “Big Kim” Andersen and Allan Gamborg. I’ve now known them for more than half my life, an existence immeasurably enriched by their camaraderie in myriad ways too profuse to recount.

But my motive at present for name-checking the three Danes, and by extension, recalling the manner by which we became acquainted during the summer of 1987, is the drinking bout dubbed “The Battle of the Titans,” held at the venerable Copenhagen pub called the Mouse & Elephant (sadly, it has since gone out of business). I cannot verify the exact date of this grand spectacle, although a solid guess would be August 12, 1987.

It is a day that will live in enduring forgetfulness.


This story is inexorably intertwined with that of my high school and college classmate, and illustrious, longtime partner in mischief, Barrie Ottersbach, who occupied a formidable role in the narrative of that long-ago summer.

An unsuspecting Kim Wiesener was the tour leader for a “youth” travel group visiting the Soviet Union and Poland, and Barrie and I were enthusiastic, if only marginally youthful participants (we were 27 at the time).

Legend has it that Kim fell under Barrie’s spell (or was it the other way around?) on a hair-raising Aeroflot flight from Copenhagen to Moscow, where I had arranged to meet the remainder of the group, having arrived in the capital of Ronnie Raygun’s evil empire by way of a 36-hour train trip from Hungary, during which my sole company was a bag of fresh cherries, two loaves of bread, a sizable salami from Szeged, and two bottles of delectable Egri Bikaver (Bull’s Blood) wine.

Water? I can’t recall drinking any of it.

On the hazy morning following the boozy evening of the group’s belated arrival at the hotel, all of us were supposed to meet in the hotel lobby for orientation before setting out on a bus tour of Moscow. Kim was mildly concerned when Barrie failed to appear for roll call; I reassured him that all was well, and that Barrie was in safe hands, having ventured into the Soviet underworld with “Bill,” the friendly neighborhood black market sales representative whom I’d met earlier under similar circumstances the previous afternoon.

At that exact point, not even a full day into the excursion, Kim surely understood it would be a very long journey, but he was reassured when Barrie appeared later that afternoon, brandishing a softball-sized wad of colorfully useless rubles. For the remainder of our stay in the USSR, he grandly depleted this ridiculously huge bankroll on lavish restaurant meals, caviar, vodka and champagne; beer was difficult to find, and the rubles were non-convertible inside or outside the country. It was fling time, and fling we did.

For a brief time, Barrie himself occupied a crucial position on the fringe of the black market, a mirthful capitalist amid communism’s decay, profitably reselling his rubles back into hard currency for those members of our group who were too frightened, squeamish or senselessly law-abiding to trade on the streets.

Our introductory lesson in entrepreneurial initiative thus completed, we moved on to Leningrad by overnight sleepless express train just in time for an impromptu Fourth of July celebration. Kim, Barrie and I gathered on the grassy, mosquito-infested bank of an urban canal, a scene made complete when a bottle of the finest Russian vodka materialized from Kim’s backpack. Illuminated by the White Nights, we were introduced for the first time to Allan Gamborg, who coincidentally was passing through the city with a tour group of his own.

Ominously, as the bottle was passed around from person to person, its silky contents ingested without any semblance of a chaser, Kim and Allan began speaking in hushed tones about Denmark’s answer to Barrie: Kim Andersen, hereafter to be known as Big Kim. Their descriptions of Big Kim were offered to us in impeccable English, although occasionally they would lapse into Danish or even Russian in search of the proper words to explain this larger-than-life phenomenon from their homeland.

We scratched our heads and made mental notes.

Would we meet Big Kim, and if so, where?

(Part two is tomorrow, and will take the place of next Monday's column. It's spring break for the Curmudgeon)


April 4: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Birracibo’s local/regional “craft” beer percentage rides the bench.

March 14: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Two decades of Beer Corner barrels.

March 7: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Can I get a “do-over” on Naughty Girl?

February 22: The PC: Beef Steak and Porter always made good belly mortar, but did America’s “top” steakhouses get the memo?


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Two new breweries coming to Louisville, and a cider bar to New Albany.

A long story made short: Some years ago at NABC's R & D Brewery, Jared Williamson took on an intern of sorts named Kyle Tavares. Later they both migrated to St. Louis to work for Schlafly, and now Kyle has returned to Louisville to brew at Mile Wide.

I've been following Old Louisville's progress on Twitter, and it's been fascinating to see how much has gone into rehabbing the building prior to brewing equipment arriving.

And: Matt's CIDEways project is a ten-minute walk from my house. A few weeks ago, we rode up to Indy and visited New Day, where cider and mead now sell 50/50.

I'm looking forward to all three of these.

Brewery Roundup: Mile Wide, Old Louisville, CIDEways on track to open in 2016, by Kevin Gibson (Insider Louisville)

Monnik Beer Co. and Akasha Brewing Co. both opened in late 2015, while Goodwood Brewing rose from the ashes of the Bluegrass Brewing Co. production brewery. In addition, 3rd Turn Brewing made its debut in Jeffersontown early this year.

But Louisville isn’t finished. Two breweries and a cidery are in various stages of completion in the area: Mile Wide Beer Co., Old Louisville Brewery, and CIDEways, which will eventually become a cider brewery in New Albany.

Here are the latest updates on these three up-and-comers ...


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Louisville's First Link Supermarket, and its connection with Frank Fehr Brewery and Rathskeller.

Who knew that a supermarket closing would bring submerged Louisville brewing history back to the surface?

Downtown's only grocery store closes after more than 70 years in business, by Marty Finley (Louisville Business First)

Downtown Louisville's only grocery store has closed after more than 70 years in business, and the building will be auctioned next month.

The independently owned First Link Supermarket building, at 431 E. Liberty St., near Jackson Street, will be auctioned at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 18. The auction will be held at the property, according to Indianapolis-based Key Auctioneers, which is leading the auction.

This part grabbed me:

"The site was formerly the Frank Fehr Brewery and Rathskeller, and features a huge lower-level, temperature-controlled environment which would enable it to be repurposed (i.e. liquor storage and distribution), continue to function as a supermarket and USDA meat-processing operation, or to be completely redeveloped for a new use," the release stated.

Broken Sidewalk picked up the story:

Seventy year old grocery closure puts last remaining Frank Fehr structure in jeopardy, by Branden Klayko

The First Link property is older than it looks, dating to sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s. While the facade of First Link along Liberty Street has been bricked up and windowless for some time, the original facade ... featured large expanses of glass, including a layer of glass admitting light to the basement. A rounded aluminum overhang added to the structure’s Streamline Moderne Art Deco aesthetic.

The structure was built by the Frank Fehr Brewing Company and clearly was an effort to modernize its eclectic collection of historic buildings, long demolished for parking lots and the Dosker Manor homes. Another sleek, modern structure approximately three stories tall once stood across from the First Link site, standing in stark contrast with the older architecture.

Following are four random views of the Fehr demolition, circa 1966. They're at the University of Louisville's digital library.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Brewers Association beer and brewing stats for Kentucky and Indiana.

The straight dope from Kevin Gibson, including Kentucky and Indiana production rankings.

 Since this short snippet was buried in a "business briefing" update, I'm including all of Kevin's text.

Kentucky ranks 38th in U.S. in total breweries, report shows, by Kevin Gibson (Insider Louisville)

The Brewers Association recently reported 2015 statistics on craft breweries state by state and the economic impact of the industry on each state; Kentucky ranked 38th in the nation with 24 total breweries, with California (518) by far being the highest.

The association reports that Kentucky breweries brewed 87,156 barrels of beer last year, or 0.8 gallons per adult (21 and over). Those numbers rank 32nd and 38th respectively nationwide. The economic impact is reported at $495 million, good for 27th in the United States.

Kentucky’s brewing industry, while it has taken a back seat to distilling in terms of popularity and growth, has shown movement in recent years. The number of breweries in the state has more than doubled in the last five years, according to the report.

In Louisville, Great Flood Brewing recently announced it will build a production brewery that will greatly increase its impact, while no fewer than two other breweries are in the process of opening.

Our neighbors to the north, Indiana, ranked 15th nationally with 115 breweries that drove more than $1 billion in economic impact. Nationally, there were more than 4,200 breweries doing business in 2015, according to the report. Domestic craft beer sales grew by 12.8 percent.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Facebook raids the secondary market for counterfeit whiskey sales, or something like that.

So, this happened.


One of the worst-kept secrets in the whiskey lover’s world is the existence of closed Facebook groups that function as a secondary whiskey market, where private bottle sales go on in a grey market style.

To date, the giant social media company has either has been ignorant of these groups, or chosen to ignore them. But today, that was not the case. A number of groups involved in this activity were shut down by Facebook in a virtual raid of sorts, apparently alongside other groups allowing private sales of other items that could be considered controversial.

This "virtual raid" was the subject of much chatter, but as someone who knows very little about shadowy gray worlds apart from the way New Albany's mayor chooses to govern, apparently it has to do with things like this.

Inside the Pappy Van Winkle Forgery Scheme That's Infiltrating Bourbon's Black Market, by Aaron Goldfarb (Esquire)

​Empty bottles, lesser booze, foil coverings, and blowdryers

... "There's a crazy problem right now," Riber, a senior accountant in Jacksonville and the author of Bourbonr blog, told me over the phone. "And you just know it's going on when you're seeing empty Pappy bottles selling for 100, 200 bucks online."

It's nothing to do with "craft" beer, right?


Monday, April 18, 2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Euro ’85, Part 33 … All good things must come to a beginning.

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Euro ’85, Part 33 … All good things must come to a beginning.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

(Thirty-third in a series chronicling my travel year 1985)


The Travela agency’s chartered motor coach departed Leningrad just after breakfast on Sunday, August 4. By mid-afternoon, I was situated in Turku along with the antebellum Mississippians, their fingernails on my metaphorical blackboard, Northerner and Southerners waiting together to catch the ferry boat from Finland to Sweden.

The island-strewn Baltic was crossed during the night, and Stockholm’s efficient subway connected the city’s docklands to its central train station for the next leg to Copenhagen, Denmark.

It seemed that nothing could stop this relentless momentum, and as the rails steadily clicked past, I made leisurely work of the previous evening’s Silja Lines buffet doggie-bag, all the while plotting a final “Sleep-In” hostel evening in the Danish capital, followed by an early morning train in the direction of the Duchy of Luxembourg.

Way back in May, I’d taken the precaution of reserving a dorm bed at the Luxembourg City Hostel for my last two European nights, but first, there’d be time in Copenhagen for another heaping platter of fried potatoes and eggs at the Vista Self Service Restaurant, a couple bottles of Tuborg, and a decent night’s sleep in something roughly approximating a bed.

Alas, it was not to be.

Somewhere between Stockholm and Copenhagen, surrounded by leafy rural copses, amber waves of grain and cloudless blue skies, the train shuddered to a halt. It remained motionless for a full three and a half hours.

The stoppage had something to do with engine failure, and better a train than a plane in such cases, but the delay necessitated an itinerary rethink. By the time we made Copenhagen, there was little sense paying for a bunk when another train soon would be queueing for the overnight run to Germany. I might as well keep moving.

Scraping together the haggard remnants of my Danish kroner stash, I found fruitful foraging near the station: Three bottles of Carlsberg from a shop across the street, a handful of rødpølser (hot dogs) from the pølsevogn out front, and an International Herald-Tribune. It was enough.

Providentially, there was ample room in the trains’ 1st class car to stretch out across the seats. It wasn’t a bed, though it was an improvement on the ferry’s unyielding floor the long night before.

Morning found me in Kӧln, Koblenz, or maybe Aachen? I can’t tell you exactly where I debarked on Tuesday morning. The most likely explanation is Kӧln, with a change to Koblenz for the final approach to Luxembourg City, via Trier. Wherever it was, two memories have survived reasonably intact.

Most importantly, the train station in question was “old school” and still had a for-pay locker room with hot showers, where filth-encrusted budget travelers could pay a few Deutschmarks to be clean and fresh again. These facilities seemed entirely obsolete even then, and I sensed they were doomed, but it was blissful to have a scrub.

Then, feeling human again, I visited the train station bistro and pointed at a dish that appeared to be chopped steak on a roll, ready to be cooked to order -- and it was, in a manner of speaking, except that the beef was supposed to be served raw, with the added bonus of an uncooked egg on top.

Such was my introduction to Steak Tartare. Had I not already paid for it, rejection likely would have ensued, but funds were running low. Silly American squeamishness had no choice except to be surmounted, and so I ate it. It wasn’t bad, and I did not die.

So it goes.


This is truly a remarkable story for such a small country (Luxembourg) that originated from an old Roman fort sold to a Prince by some monks.
-- Andre Sanchez

In early afternoon on Tuesday, August 6, my three-month European adventure finally came full circle. Once again, I stood on the plaza in front of the Luxembourg City train station, and this time it was without the incapacitated drunkard.

Roughly 54 hours and 1,750 miles had passed since the bus left Leningrad. My emotions were jumbled and conflicting. Exhaustion vied with exhilaration, and a reluctance to return to America was balanced by the inevitability of the air ticket.

In May, it had taken me almost two hours to find the hostel on Rue du Fort Olisy. In August, a quick stop at the handy tourism kiosk in the station produced a free city map and concise directions in English. I found the hostel after a pleasant 20-minute walk.

In May, confused and probably delirious, I’d noticed very little about my surroundings. Now, in August, Luxembourg City was revealed as a place worthy of exploration in its own right.

The hostel itself reposed in the shadow of a huge stone bridge spanning a quiet valley, north of the promontory where the centerpiece of the city’s fortifications formerly straddled. Two rivers snaked through the historic downtown area, a place seemingly devoid of flat ground.

Luxembourg’s blend of German and French cultural influences was newly evident, especially as reflected by the local language, Luxembourgish. It seemed a hybridized and impenetrable German dialect with French loan words.

Billeted and unburdened of baggage, there remained ample time late on Tuesday afternoon for a visit to the Bock casemates, accessible by climbing the hill behind the hostel.

The Bock casemates are underground passages remaining from Luxembourg City’s castle, formerly placed astride a rocky ridgeline surrounded on three sides by the looping River Alzette. Famed for its impregnability, the castle’s construction began in the year 963, and for 900 years, it was augmented with formidable walls and ramparts.

The Treaty of London in 1867 established a neutral Luxembourg and called for the demolition of the castle and adjacent defenses. The casemates remained. Originally, these radiated from the castle’s cellar. A long, central passageway leads to what were storage areas, workrooms and kitchen capable of being used when the castle was attacked or under siege.

Smaller tunnels radiate from this passageway, leading to artillery emplacements in the walls of the cliffs. After demilitarization, with most exterior structures removed, the casemates still had their uses, most memorably as bomb shelters during WWII.


Wednesday was my final opportunity to wander European byways with dreamy, aimless intent. It dawned a flawless summer’s day in the Duchy, warm and sunny, but without the oppressive and muggy humidity of the Ohio Valley.

I walked to the train station and exercised the magical powers of the Eurailpass for the very last time. The idea was to ride the slow locals northward to Clervaux and back, perhaps stopping to examine other small towns along the way, and getting a feel for the Ardennes.

As I was to learn the hard way from the saddle of a bicycle 19 years later, the Ardennes may not be lofty mountains by world standards, but they’re far more mountains than hills. They’re also beautiful and filled with history.

Clervaux was the scene of fierce fighting during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. In one of the war’s great military feats, George S. Patton’s 3rd Army broke off combat in Germany, reversed course in impossibly rapid fashion, and relieved American forces trapped 20 miles to the west of Clervaux in Bastogne, Belgium.

In the Great War, nearby Troisverges marks the spot in 1914 where Imperial Germany violated Luxembourg’s neutrality in route to their eventual standoff with the French. Everywhere I looked in Clervaux, there was history on a signpost.

Better yet, Clervaux proved just the place to indulge in a valedictory reverie. I went into a small grocery store, bought a crusty loaf, ham, cheese and two local Diekirch lager beers, and walked up to the castle. It houses a museum devoted to the Battle of the Bulge, and outside, a Sherman tank and artillery piece are on display.

I found a bench near these relics of violence and peacefully ate and drank my lunch. Dessert was in my shirt pocket, because I’d bought five small Cuban cigars at the Beriozka back in Leningrad. In terms of quality, they were purely average, but it’s the thought of three transformative months that really counts.

The hostel served supper. I showered, packed and slept. At last, it was time.

On Thursday morning, there was a bus to the airport. We passed a sign pointing the way to the American Cemetery and Memorial. General Patton, who died of injuries suffered in an automobile accident after war’s end, is buried there.

Back amid the jets, it was Icelandair again, to Chicago by way of Reykjavik. I retained my neophyte’s inchoate fear of flying, but oddly, there was a certain tranquility to the boarding process. As the plane began rolling toward liftoff and ascent, something absolutely strange happened.

I barely noticed it.

That’s because I was deep in thought. Not once in three months had I allowed myself the luxury of considering possible sequels. Now, with the wheels folding up into the plane’s belly, I knew for sure.

There was going to be a next time.

Next time: What did it all mean?



THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Euro ’85, Part 32 … Leaving Leningrad.

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Euro ’85, Part 31 … Leningrad in three vignettes.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 30 … Or, as it was called at the time, Leningrad.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 29 … Helsinki beneath my feet, but Leningrad on my mind.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 28 … A Finnish detour to Tampere for beer and sausages.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 27 … Stockholm's blonde ambition, with or without mead-balls.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 26 … The Hansa brewery tour, and a farewell to Norway.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 25 … Frantic pickled Norway.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 24 … An aspiring “beer hunter” amid Carlsberg’s considerable charms.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 23 … A fleeting first glimpse of Copenhagen.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 22 … It's how the tulips were relegated.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 21 … A long day in Normandy, though not "The Longest Day."

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 20 … War stories, from neutral Ireland to Omaha Beach.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 19 … Sligo, Knocknarea, Guinness and Freddie.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 18 … Irish history with a musical chaser.

The PC: Euro '85, Part 17 ... A first glimpse of Ireland.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 16 … Lizard King in the City of Light.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 15 … The traveler at 55, and a strange interlude.

The PC: We pause Euro '85 to remember the Mathäser Bierstadt in Munich.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 14 … Beers and breakfast in Munich.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 13 … Tears of overdue joy at Salzburg's Augustiner.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 12 … Stefan Zweig and his world of yesterday.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 11: My Franz Ferdinand obsession takes root.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 10: Habsburgs, history and sausages in Vienna.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 9 … Milan, Venice and a farewell to Northern Italy.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 8 … Pecetto idyll, with a Parisian chaser.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 7 … An eventful detour to Pecetto.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 6 … When in Rome, critical mass.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 5 … From Istanbul to Rome, with Greece in between.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 4 … With Hassan in Pithion.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 3 … Growing up in Greece.

The PC: Euro '85, Part 2 ... Hitting the ground crawling in Luxembourg.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 1 … Where it all began.