Train (then bus (followed by jetfoil)) To Busan

'Do you expect me to walk?' 'No, Mr Bond, I expect you to GET A TAXI!'April 26th - 29th, 2019

When was the last time you picked up a leaflet from a tourist information office that read like a taunt from a James Bond villain?

I'm guessing you can spot the subtle subtext in the typography here. Even when you've just come from Japan, a country notorious for the impenetrability of its address system, Korea turns out to be operating on a whole other level. It's difficult enough finding out Korean addresses in English, but then you find that Google Maps is incapable of calculating walking routes - you'll either be told one doesn't exist, or made to take a three-mile detour along a motorway and back just to get across the road.

That's why, as we enter the Korean section of this year's holiday, you can expect to see lots of GPS co-ordinates shown for all the places we visited. Slap them into your phone mapping application of choice - is still my personal favourite on my vintage Blackberry - and you may be in with a chance of retracing our steps. Cool? Cool.

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Rising Monkey 2019: Sayonara Heisei

Ah, bilingual puns, my only weakness.April 19th - 26th, 2019

It's the end of an era. Literally. At the age of 85, Japanese emperor Akihito has made the unusual decision to retire and have some fun during the last years of his life, rather than work himself into a not-so-early grave. The Japanese measure their calendar by imperial reigns, so we know in advance that Akihito's era, known as Heisei, will come to an end on April 30th. As seasoned Japanophiles, you'd imagine The Belated Birthday Girl and I would want to be there for the changeover.

Unfortunately, planes and hotel prices for that week have inevitably skyrocketed, so we're going the week before instead. Sorry about that. We have other plans for the changeover week, though, and you'll get to hear about those. Eventually.

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BrewDogging #64: Le Marais

C'est juste une merde hipster WetherspoonsAs of Friday June 14th, 2019, The Belated Birthday Girl and I have been doing that thing we do for eighteen years. That thing has, over time, come to involve beer and travel in large quantities, so inevitably our anniversary celebrations would involve those too. And thanks to a pure fluke of timing, we could combine them all in one fell swoop.

Did you know that there's a Paris Beer Week? I know, it's a set of words that refuse to sound right together, like London Fashion Week or something. But it exists, it happens during the middle of June every year, and this year it coincided perfectly with the weekend of our anniversary. Which is handy, because we've had other Parisian beer business on our schedule for a while now.

And before you ask: yes, I know these are still appearing out of order. BrewDogging #63 is coming soon, it's just going to require a bit of a run-up to get to it.

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Nadolig Llawen Eich Anifeiliaid Fochaidd

You'll have to trust me on this one, but that's Cardiff Castle in the dark over there on the right.One of the advantages of starting a new job in late November is this: all those Christmas parties in December give you plenty of opportunities to meet up with your new colleagues. This, inevitably, leads to a number of conversations along these lines.

"Doing anything nice for Christmas this year?"

Yes, we're spending it in Cardiff.

"You've got relatives there, have you?"

Well, no, actually. We're going up there to visit the BrewDog bar. We've been to 58 of them so far, you know.

"...that's rather a lot. So it'll be your first visit to this bar, will it?"

No, we originally went there back in 2015. This time we're going to get our Beer Visas stamped. There's this little booklet they put out last year, let me show you -

"Oh, are those mince pies over there?"

...well, I'm sure they'll get used to it eventually.

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Portugal 2018: Porto (The Sandeman Can)

Yes, I know, the timeline for these Portugal 2018 posts has become so ridiculously convoluted it could be a season of Westworld.

Let's take it slowly. Towards the end of July, The Belated Birthday Girl and I set out from London on an epic train journey to Lisbon, which took about 72 hours and included stopovers in Barcelona and Madrid. That journey's covered in the first half of Nobody Expects The Spanish Expedition. Once we got to Lisbon, we spent six days there, and they're documented in Free As In Jazz Or Free As In Beer. There's then an awkward gap, and after that there's another epic three-day journey from Porto back to London, via Vigo, Hendaye and Hondarribia: that latter journey is the second half of Spanish Expedition.

So this final part of the trilogy will address that gap in the middle - the three days we spent in Porto. Compared with Lisbon, there's a lot less cultural enrichment, and a lot more travelling around between nice places to eat and drink. You only get the one video this time - that one at the top there - but it shows you one of the best bits of travelling we did in those three days.

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Get To Da Choppah

I can tell you exactly where this all started: it was in Hong Kong, in 2005. The Belated Birthday Girl and I had checked into the Excelsior Hotel and bought ourselves a room upgrade, because we were feeling a bit fancy and because I didn't realise I was going to lose my job five months later. I mentioned at the time that our premium highness allowed us a great overhead view of the Noon Day Gun, but it also gave us a view of something else – a nearby helipad, from which we could see helicopters taking off and landing every few minutes. This delighted The BBG no end.

Ever since then, we've joked on and off about how doing a helicopter ride together would be a fun thing, but never quite got around to arranging it. Until last Christmas, when I finally cracked and bought her an experience package that would allow us to do just that. The story that follows spans a period of eleven months – and if you've been paying attention, you'll know some of it already. Does it have a happy ending? Well, don't watch that video over there if you want to avoid spoilers.

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Portugal 2018: Lisbon (Free As In Jazz Or Free As In Beer)

As I've mentioned before, I first visited Lisbon back in 2009. I brought back a souvenir for The Belated Birthday Girl - a t-shirt featuring a whimsical illustration of how the city's trams work. Which is odd, because I don't think I encountered a single tram while I was over there: I've looked at the route between the airport and the industrial estate I was trapped on for two days, and I wouldn't have crossed a tram line at any point on that journey. I'm guessing I saw the t-shirt at the airport and thought it was fun.

Nine years later, we finally got to ride on one. They don't have a plug on the end at all! This is just one of the many discoveries we made during our six days in Lisbon in late July. Here are a few more.

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Portugal 2018: Nobody Expects The Spanish Expedition

Not a bad little bar to end up in on a Saturday night: NaparBCN, in BCNPortugal! Home of Cristiano Ronaldo, custard tarts and [find third Portuguese thing starting with C before this goes online]. The Belated Birthday Girl hadn't been there before: I'd only spent two days in Lisbon a decade ago, or more accurately in an industrial estate to the west of the city centre. But in July of this year, we travelled to the nicer bits of Portugal and hit them like they owed us money. (Which, of course, was the exact opposite of how it ultimately worked out financially.)

So why are you about to read four thousand words about Spain?

Because, inevitably, we did this year's big holiday by train. We could have just flown to Lisbon and made our way down the road to Porto, but that would have been too easy. No, we took a rail-only route that went London-Lyon-Barcelona-Madrid-Lisbon-Porto-Vigo-Hendaye-Paris-London, adding another five days to what was technically a nine-day stint in Portugal.

Rest assured, the Portugal section of the trip will have plenty of space dedicated to it here, and soon. But for now, let's look at the Spanish bits either side of that, which neatly break down into four different cities.

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Monoglot Movie Club: Gogol. Bored? Hello!

Just try looking at that statue without making a loud 'whoosh' noise with your mouth. I dare you.Now, you see, at the start of this year it didn't seem like such a big deal. "Fancy working for a week in Moscow?" they asked me in January. "It won't be for a couple of months yet, we'll need to sort out visas and everything." It'd be my first time visiting Russia, so how could I possibly turn down that opportunity?

It took nearly three months to complete all the paperwork, by which time we'd had that whole awkward business where the Russians allegedly tried to whack a couple of their own people in the Salisbury branch of Zizzi. Diplomatic relations between Britain and Russia were at a post-Cold War low. Arsenal had just beaten CSKA Moscow 4-1 in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-final. And I was going to be in Moscow the same week that the city was hosting the second leg.

Spoiler alert: I got out alive. Arsenal, meanwhile, won 6-3 on aggregate, only to bottle it in the semis.

So, while we're on the subject of football... If any of you are going to be in Russia for the World Cup over the next month - hey, look, an actual excuse for publishing this two months after the fact - here are some travel tips for you, along with two of my inevitable reviews of unsubtitled local films I didn't have a hope in hell of understanding.

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BrewDogging #52: Tallinn (Nordic Expedition II part 4)

Two of the most prominent features of BrewDog Tallinn are a merchandise wall and a Stargate.[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton, Berlin, Warsaw, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo]

March 30th - April 2nd 2018

Having started in Denmark, trekked through Sweden and made our way across the water to Finland, there's one more country to go before this Nordic Expedition is complete. To be honest, up until recently my mental image of Estonia has been shaped by two things: the old Film Unlimited trope of the Estonian Butler Movie as the archetype of esoteric cinema, and the former sumo wrestler Baruto. (A couple of years ago, I managed to combine the two for an April Fool's gag.) But last time we were in Finland, we heard that the city of Tallinn had become a new hub for craft beer brewing: there were even Finnish brewers who'd moved over there for the tax breaks.

That isn't as dramatic a move as it sounds, as Tallinn is ridiculously close to Helsinki: just half an hour by plane, or two hours by boat. We take the latter option to travel to Estonia, using the Tallink Megastar ferry. It's Good Friday morning, so the West Harbour Terminal in Helsinki is full of Finns making the same journey for the Easter weekend, all being addressed over the PA as ‘dear darling passengers’. Our window seat on the Megastar turns out to be a good choice, despite the fantastically rude kids who barge in front of us every so often for a look: the voyage isn't as spectacular as our one into Finland, but approaching Tallinn through a layer of ice is still pretty impressive.

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