Quirky Tour Option: The Flying Outback Pub Crawl

lake eyre If you’re interested in exploring South Australia‘s Outback in an unusual way, now is your chance. Goin’ Off Safaris is offering a Flying Outback Pub Crawl where visitors will fly around the Outback in a turbo prop plane stopping at local pubs.

The quirky pub crawl leaves out of Adelaide, and takes you through many different areas of the Outback. Along with drinking Cooper’s Ale, you’ll also explore Australia’s first official mosque in Marree, learn about Australia‘s historical Cooper Creek, canoe in Innamincka, take a walking tour of the famous Birdsville and more.

As of now, scheduled pub crawl dates include:

Price per person for the excursion is $3,130, all inclusive. For more information, click here.

Lalibela: Ethiopia’s ancient jewel

For an agnostic I’ve certainly been to a lot of holy places.

I’ve always been skeptical of received wisdom, and fascinated that so many people dedicate their lives to a deity they can’t see, can’t prove exists, and who has left them in the lurch on more than one occasion. I’m also fascinated that this strange behavior called religion often makes people better people, and just as often is used to justify appalling crimes. Nor am I impressed by atheists who claim to “know” there is nothing higher, since that’s unprovable too.

So when I travel I always end up at the holy places–camping among the 70 million pilgrims at Kumbh Mela, or sitting with sadhus at the burning ghats in Benares, or discussing Islam in the shady courtyard of a mosque in Isfahan, or climbing up a dubious-looking rope to reach the clifftop monastery of Debre Damo.

One of my friends, a devout Catholic who likes to debate theology as we go on pub crawls, is convinced my interest in religion means I’m going to convert. I could tell him that devoting his academic life to studying the works of Samuel Beckett means he’s going to become a nihilist, but that hardly seems sporting.

I wish he’d been along for my visit to Lalibela, because not only is the town a monument to Ethiopia’s faith in God, but it also brews the country’s best tej. We would have had a hell of a metaphysical boozer.

Lalibela is off the main highway and reached after many miles bouncing along ass-punishing dirt roads. It is here, starting in the 12th century, that a series of churches were dug out the bedrock. This construction-in-reverse was the brainchild of Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, a king of the Zagwe dynasty. The eleven churches he dug here were meant to be a New Jerusalem, in response to the Muslims capturing Jerusalem and making it difficult for Christian pilgrims to visit. The river flowing through Lalibela is called the River Jordan and a pilgrim can visit the Ethiopian version of Bethleham, Golgotha, and the Holy Sepulchre.

The most grand is Biet Medhane Alem, the largest rock-hewn church in the world. It’s a massive block of stone with 72 towering pillars symbolizing the 72 disciples of Christ. A stone passage leads to Biet Mariam, possibly the first to be built and easily my favorite. As our eyes adjust to the dim interior we see 800 year-old frescoes decorating the walls and ceiling. They show scenes from the Bible and their rich colors blend with the shadows to create a soothing, otherworldly effect.

%Gallery-90277%The most famous of the churches, the one seen in all the tourist brochures, is Biet Giyorgis. It blends with the surrounding stone even while standing out and dazzling the eye. It’s retained the same color as the surrounding rock–none of the churches are painted on the outside–and the builders cleverly left the roof pitching at the same angle as the rest of the slope, making the church seem like a natural part of the ground. At twelve meters high, it is the highest (or I should say deepest) of Lalibela’s churches.

At each of the churches a priest will come out on cue, bearing an elaborate medieval silver cross and wearing his colorful raiment. While this makes for great photos, I feel it cheapens the place somewhat, a bit like the monks trotting out illuminated manuscripts at the monasteries on Lake Tana. Still, it’s their choice how they respond to tourism, and tourist money helps maintain the churches and monastic libraries.

Lalibela is one of the most touristy places in Ethiopia. Touts and self-appointed guides abound. While this is nowhere near as annoying as the situation at the Pyramids or the Taj Mahal, it can still be hard to find a decent guide. If you already have a driver, like we hired from Abey Roads, he can find you a reliable local guide. We went with Taye Abebe, who was knowledgeable, spoke good English, and took me to extra places for no additional charge simply because he knew I was interested. He can be contacted at taye_lalibela@ yahoo.co.uk.

On the second day of our visit, Taye takes me to a predawn mass. I leave my wife asleep in the hotel, skip breakfast, and go with him through the darkened town to Beit Gabriel. It’s Gabriel’s holy day today. Because of the steep incline of the original slope one wall of the church seems to soar to the sky. The Ethiopians call it the “Stairway to Heaven”. We cross a narrow stone bridge, with a sheer drop several meters down on either side, and enter the packed interior.

Inside, the rough stone walls are aglow with the light of candles, and resonate with the sound of chanting. Everyone is wearing white, from the aged priests leading the service to the village women leaning wearily against the pillars, exhausted from having spent the night in prayer. We stand next to a religious class of sleepy-eyed kids who take turns reading aloud from a holy book written in Ge’ez. None of them take the slightest notice of me, the only foreigner in the room. Instead they concentrate on puzzling through the ancient liturgical language.

The head priest comes out of the holy of holies bearing an elegant silver cross. One by one the faithful go up to him and kiss it, and he rubs it along their bodies to give them a blessing. We stay and watch as the sun rises and beams its first golden light into the interior. At last we go, but the priests and townsfolk and pilgrims stay. They’ve been praying all night, and they’ll pray all day too.

For the rest of the day I wander around more of Lalibela’s churches, amazed that people can be so sure of something they can’t prove that they’d dig out more than a dozen buildings from solid rock. I’ve met atheists who sneer at such feats, saying it’s a means of social control, a waste of money and effort to worship something that doesn’t exist. But that’s missing the point. People need these festivals and rituals and grand monuments. It takes them out of their day-to-day life and shows them something higher. Even a religion hater like atheist author Sam Harris says spirituality is an important part of life. And that’s what these places provide, even for a cynic like me. Because every now and then, you need to feel that rarest of emotions–awe.

And you don’t have to believe in God to figure that out.

Next time: Addis Ababa: Ethiopia’s New Flower.

Check out the rest of my travel articles about Ethiopia.

15 more great cities for drinking beer

Last month, the writers at Gadling spent a lot of time at the pub, creating this list of The 24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer. We had so much fun and got so many great comments, we decided we couldn’t stop: we headed back to the bar and asked for another round. Here’s 15 more of our favorite cities in the world for drinking great beer. Did we include your favorite? Take a look.

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Edinburgh locals proudly boast to have the highest concentration of pubs of any city in Europe. Nightly pub crawls of all varieties and themes weave an intoxicated web through both the New and Old towns, dutifully infiltrating once-sleepy pubs and leaving empty pint glasses littered in their wake. If you want to get closer to the source, head over to the Caledonian Brewery, a place where beer is proudly “brewed by men, not machines.”

Wellington, New Zealand
This funky little capital city at the base of New Zealand’s North Island is teeming with Kiwis who are keen for their beer. While nationally popular Monteith’s is brewed on the South Island in the sleepy town of Greymouth, Wellington Brewery still has beers ending up in the hopping bars and nightclubs lining the infamous Cuba Street. No stranger to hosting events, Wellington will open its doors in 2010 to the New Zealand Beer Festival, only serving to further the raucous bar scene this city churns out nightly.Prague, Czech Republic
Beer drinking visitors agree: there’s nothing quite like a tall stein of pivo in Praha, the traditional home of Pilsner and arguably the world’s best beer. Allegedly consuming 156 liters of beer per capita each year–the most of any nation–beer is a simple life necessity for the Czechs. Long a staple city on the European beer circuit, the glory of Czech beer is highlighted nowhere more than at the annual Czech Beer Festival, held in Prague each May.

Homer, Alaska
While not exactly what many would consider a city, Homer is one of those “drinking villages with a fishing problem” that exudes nothing but good-natured charm. All of the action in town is centered around the Homer Spit, a flat outcropping of land that holds all of the town’s bars, most notably the world-famous Salty Dawg Saloon. After hauling in a 300-pound halibut, most fishermen head out to the Spit to celebrate with one of the many flavors of the Homer Brewing Company, or perhaps even an “import” from the Alaskan Brewing Company in the far away capital of Juneau.

Austin, Texas
If good beer has partners in crime, it would be good music and eager twenty-somethings ready to let it all hang out. Fortunately for anyone visiting Austin, there is absolutely no shortage of either. Host to two of the largest music festivals in the nation, Austin City Limits and South by Southwest, Austin frequently swells from the University of Texas all the way down to 6th Street with beer-battered locals and music lovers alike. A number of microbreweries are scattered around town, and with top acts and loads of talent moving through the city, the opportunity to imbibe is never far away.

Phnomh Penh, Cambodia

Phnomh Penh comes in on this list for one reason alone: $.25 beers on tap. Not only is a draft beer only a quarter, but the Cambodian national brew, Angkor Beer, is one of the finest lagers in all of Asia. Aside from the cheap price and the smooth taste, modern-day Phnomh Penh is lined with French cafes overlooking the mighty Mekong River, all serving obscenely cheap Angkor on draft. For those wanting to take the Angkor deep into the night, the city boasts an impressive nightclub scene, and for anyone really wanting to get creative with their drinking, every evening there are mass public aerobic sessions in the many parks across the city.

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada

You know any beer served this close to the Arctic is going to be cold. A rugged outpost town that is known for its rough mining history and plentiful outdoor adventure opportunities, hardy souls have been putting back the beers in Whitehorse since the gold miners and prospectors first came to town. These days, the Yukon Brewing Company keeps everyone in town from going thirsty, and their Yukon Red was just recently awarded the Canadian Brewing Awards 2009 Canadian Beer of the Year.

Sydney, Australia
Few cultures are as receptive to a good time as are the Aussies, and the wide beaches and deep discos of Sydney provide the perfect venue for such carefree merriment. Frowning upon their Melbourne neighbors who would rather swill Victoria Bitter, Sydney locals will proudly partake in the locally-brewed Toohey’s, most likely beach-side at Bondi between the bikinis and the BBQ.

— The above was written by Kyle Ellison, Seed contributor


Lewes, Delaware
Don’t tell anyone, but this sleepy former whaling village may or may not be the oldest town in America – the Lewes town sign proclaims it “the first town in the first state”. Lewes is home to the stellar Dogfish Head brewery, which makes a particularly good early summer beer called Aprihop. For those who typically ignore fruit-tinged beer, this brew carries enough dried-hop bite and pleasant fragrance to remind us of that time of year when the air is warm but the ground is still cold. Look west and the bay bends in a way that the sun actually sets into a watery horizon. That alone is worth the trip.

Ensenada, Mexico
Ensenada’s colonial past creeps just below the city’s surface: Spanish architecture and design are evident everywhere, and the town is sprinkled with old missions glowing under shiny terracotta tile roofs. There’s a bar in town called Hussong’s which seems to creak and moan like an ancient sailing vessel, and whose bar is packed with taps for German beers. The place was founded by a German prospector who followed rumors of gold to Mexico in the late 1800’s and never left. This is also the place to savor a Schloss Eggenberg Urbock 23 – if you don’t know what that is, maybe it’s time to strap that old waxy shortboard to the roof and drive south for a couple hours.

Toronto, Canada
Toronto is a city best viewed from on high, the ideal spot being the CN Tower, which attracts 2 million visitors annually. It’s the kind of view that can make the bottom of your feet tingle, and by the time you return to solid ground, you’ll be ready for a cold one. If you’ve only had Canadian beers in green bottles, you’ve missed the rich variety our northern neighbors have to offer: Unibroue Brewing makes beer called Maudite which has a deep copper color and a pert aroma of wild spices and floral hop notes. It’s a complex brew, deep and intoxicating in taste and smell. They also make a white ale, Blanche de Chambly, which sounds like something Austin Powers would say, but satiates thirsty travelers in a way that no beer with a “moose on the label” ever could.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
This desert town that has become synonymous with Pale Ale is a beer drinker’s delight. Hot, dry, and handsome, the town teems with artistry, old hippie money and raw desert beauty. Few experiences stimulate the senses like watching the sun rise across the desert floor while the light paints a mural of reds blues and oranges. Best to see it after staying up all night drinking Santa Fe State Pen Porter, a smoky and mysterious experience that compliments the desert night air.

Boulder, Colorado
Boulder, Colorado has a reputation as the “church of the outdoors” – when people aren’t hiking, they’re skiiing. And they’re young: the median age is 29, a time when your body is best suited to burning off those extra beer carbs. Boulder is home to the state’s first microbrewery, Boulder Beer Company, whose products include a dry-hopped ale called Hazed and infused for it’s multiple hop aromas that result from introducing the hops late in the brewing process. The bar also sports a “Magical Mystery Tap” which seems to exist solely to tempt the thrill-seeker within each of us.

Portsmouth New Hampshire
If you like seafood, but have never eaten at a northeastern lobster shack, you haven’t had the full experience. Along the coasts of Maine and new Hampshire, there are smallish, greying buildings that serve pots of steamed seafood right from on the dock. Portsmouth in particular has a number which carry the local brewer Smuttynose. Known for their Big Beer Series, few epicurean experiences compare with the steamy smell of lobster and clams alongside a big mug of Farmhouse Ale.

North Hollywood, California
A place where weird is normal and the absurd is commonplace, you’re as likely to see Flea bouncing a basketball down Otsega toward the park as you are to see a homeless guy wearing a red dress. It’s happy hour all day long here, and the neighborhood moniker “NoHo Arts district” seems to have multiple levels of meanings. As in Europe, a cold beer isn’t usually frowned on at lunch, and it’s easy to slip into that hazy way of thinking, maybe after three of Mendocino Brewing Company’s Red Seal Ales, continuing the charade that is North Hollywood is still a good idea.

— The above was written by Eric Hunsaker, Seed contributor

Related:
* The 24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer
* The 25 greatest cities in the world for drinking wine
* The 20 greatest cities in the world for foodies

Before you go, be sure to check out Travel Talk, in which the guys visit the spiciest restaurant in NYC — try to slake their thirst with beer.

Snuggie Pub Crawl


Okay. So, the Snuggie is a super-informercialicious fleece blanket. The hook? It has sleeves. As you can see in the video above, the Snuggie allows you to stay warm, but still have the use of your hands. It’s sort of like putting on a robe backwards — oh wait. No, it’s exactly like putting on a robe backwards.

In any case, here’s a reason you might actually want one: Chicago is hosting the first-ever Snuggie Pub Crawl! On Saturday, April 18, 2009, Snuggie enthusiasts from all over the world will gather in the windy city to drink beer in wearable blankets with arms. Snuggie Pub Crawl is donating its proceeds to the AC-Orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania, which rescues orphans whose parents have TB and HIV. Doesn’t that make you feel warm and fuzzy? Well, just wait till you get your Snuggie!

Sign up now, and purchase your Snuggie by February 28th to ensure it will arrive in time for this charmingly ridiculous event.

Around the world in 60 pubs: month-long party or month-long hangover?

As a traveler who — nonchalantly, with no prior intention! — tends to end up in heated dance-offs and other bizarre late-night situations, I’m not sure that a tour centered on drinking would be good for me. I tend to stumble upon party places without even trying. But if you’re the type of traveler who prefers pub crawls to walking tours and local beer to local cuisine, and you have an indestructible liver, an Australian tour operator has created what may be the perfect trip for you. The Around the World in 60 Pubs trip is a month-long, alcohol-drenched tour of the world’s hottest party places. Destinations include Munich, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; the Thai island of Phuket; and Cancun, Mexico.

The tour’s operator, Thirsty Swagman, specializes in “thirsty tours;” besides the round-the-world venture, the company also offers a 10-day “Euro Hard ‘n’ Fast” power pub crawl as well as one Australian trip named the “Slammer.”

Although the website claims the “Around the World in 60 Pubs” is “one tour you’ll never forget,” I have a suspicion that it might be one that many of its participants barely remember.