Friday, March 28, 2014

Cologne: Smaller Towns Make for Bigger... Smiles!

Ready for the night after my (delayed)
Ryanair flight from Malaga.
In searching for a cheap route to Berlin for one of the world's largest tourism conferences – I decided to fly to Cologne since (evil) RyanAir offered an irresistible price (and I've never been). Of course, the flight was delayed 2 hours, cutting my time in the city to just about 9 hours in total. Still, I ventured out in the dark around this big-small town and found (gay) fun on a Friday night.

My first stop after exiting the central train station - and taking in the incredible views of the Dom - (naturally) was for a beer. I confirmed that, yes, I could legally traverse the city with my open bottle – of course, it's Germany! In Europe, beer is like a soft drink - as it should be. I set out with my Reissdorf Kölsch towards the gay area around Rudolfplatz and the main bar street, Schaafenstrasse.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Dublin: Drinkin' and Duckin' inside from the Damp

My Certificate!
"Black pool" or "Silt-pit" - an appropriate Irish translation for of this dark, medieval city. Despite the weather - Ireland has loads of exciting history from the great authors (& the most famous gay one, Oscar Wilde) to the many failed fights for independence. I look to the fighting Irish to write more great history – if we can just do something about the somber, damp climate. Of course, compared to New York or Washington (and really anywhere from my homeland, the Midwest) it's warmer in the winter; the sea keeps Dublin above freezing, though barely breaking 70 in the summer. Never fear – its always warm, friendly and fun in the pubs – and the gay scene competes with most medium-sized cities!

Adding to the fun, the city is full of latinos – from Brazilians to Spaniards to Mexicans – looking to learn English. Maybe it’s similar to learning Spanish in Andalucía; if you can understand Irish-English, you can understand it all! Each told me they miss the sunny & warm climates at home - but this usually = poor economic conditions. Ireland continues to turn around economically - and remains flexible with work and study visa programs; the Irish are generally welcoming to immigrants.

View from the top of the Guinness Storehouse!
What's to do?

Tourist sites abound – but you can’t go wrong to do a Free Tour – and swing by the major sites, at least. The Guinness Storehouse is obligatory of course, you can’t come all the way to Dublin without feeling the foam tickle your upper lip from this key export – and for the commercialized “museum” it does just fine, providing you with adequate Guinness – and the only major viewpoint to see entire city! Visit an hour or so before sunset so you can make your way to the top for a pint & perfect end to the evening.

Hit up the pubs!

Start your evening with drinks at the Front Lounge – the front part is for lesbians – the back-door states "Back Lounge" for the gay boys but it’s the same, open-floor broad bar-space. Quite a happening place – and especially the night I arrived, when England-Ireland just competed in Rugby (Ireland lost but the mood was not somber!). Lesbians were out in force – joined by dozens of gay boys without a clue why they were outnumbered.
Brazilians abound in Ireland!

After some pints – or just regular cocktails (yes, they exist here too) – head to the "linchpin of Ireland LGBT life," The George for an incredible night of dancing and consorting with gays of all stripes! The walkways, stages & bars seem to never end. On Thursdays & Fridays (especially) you can also hit up The Dragon, another bar & club – just a short walk further south on S George Street. Some told me (online) Brazilians had overtaken the club, but I'm not sure why this is a problem:  hot Brazilian, friendly, fun guys who want to learn English; yes please! Plus you get to see them all excited when the DJ caters to the crowd and plays a few Brazilian songs, before returning to tried and true hit pop singles.

Afterwards, late-night food options abound – but directly across from The George is Charlie’s (four) Malaysian & Chinese Cafe (apparently the 4th in Dublin!). Get your black-bean chicken with "chips" (or just rice). If you prefer a burger to soak up the alcohol, Rick's is also on the corner. I didn’t go to Dublin for the cuisine – but the greasy stuff in this city is best for late night food!

Everyone has to go at least once!
During the week you can drop by C. U. Next Tuesday, a mixed dance party – it appears everyone’s a little bit gay in Dublin (the guys I met seemed a bit flexible). Still, this is definitely not an all-gay party – it's for young post-modern gays with girlfriends and “straight” or maybe even really straight guy friends. You can sign up online (look for the latest Facebook event) – and arrive before 12:30 if you want to avoid cover.

And if you miss the weekend in Dublin, never fear, you can always drink & dance until 4 am at Copper Face Jack’sbut be careful! This infamous bar & disco is one of the most profitable bars in the world - recording nearly 7 million in profits last year!

Legend in the making

Proud to be on Team Panti!
One last perfect pub making waves internationally – is Panti Bar run by new gay-icon Miss Panti Bliss. With popcorn "tea-dance" Sunday, 80s-night Thursday and drag nights with Queen Panti Bliss herself (Rory O'Neill), you can never go wrong. This friendly neighborhood bar is in the news of late because Panti accused Ireland's anti-marriage equality groups of homophobia ("well duh!" you say?). After the on-air comments were made, defamation lawsuits were filed against the public TV station. Consequently, claiming they had no other choice, the public station ended up paying a settlement of 85,000 to homophobic, anti-equality Iona Foundation and Irish Times columnist John Waters.

In response, Panti spoke out eloquently about being gay, garnering international acclaim (and half a million web hits) and has fully expanded and focused attention on LGBT rights in Dublin. The Dublin community (gay & straight) has build up a social media campaign that has taken off around the country and world - and made it back to the TV station. On Twitter and around town #TeamPanti is often seen in restaurants and venues gay & straight. Even the Pet Shop Boys are joining the cause, including her incredible speech in their most recent CD.

Kick back with a Guinness and take in this incredible speech!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Gibraltar: Choice Chunk of Beautiful Spain, In The British Suburbs

Stunning views back at Spain - from the top of "The Rock"
The first person I met told me point-blank, Gibraltar may be a country – but it’s really just a town. A place where everyone knows your business, people are generally friendly… but strange as well because it’s also bilingual – where you often hear Spanglish! Yet don't be fooled that this equates to sophistication – it’s just a way of life. However, what Gibraltar lacks in high culture, it makes up in sheer natural beauty: from the daring seclusion of the Mediterranean Steps to incredible vistas from the top of "the Rock" a trip here is worth at least 24 hours! Furthermore, what’s convenient is you can comfortably walk around the entire country in one day - just remember, this is a different country, you need your passport!

While views from the top of "the Rock" provide the best photo-ops, the “look at me mom” moment comes first when you walk across a working runway to enter the country! Whether you drive in, take the bus or walk, as I did, you’ll have to cross Gibraltar International's runway! Flights cut off traffic in and out of the “country” for about 15 minutes anytime a plane lands; it's only place in the world where you’ll get to cross paths with planes!

Gibraltar's runway separates the
country from Spain
Up in the clouds, you can take in the entire runway on one end and Morocco on the other, all within an hours walk. I don’t recommend anyone to take the cable car (unless you are physically challenged in some way). The best way to see the mountain and all its beautiful views is by foot – it takes less than an hour to go up, if you don’t stop at the sights (which you will). Enjoy fascinating history of the Great Siege tunnels (firing canon inside a mountain sounds dangerous!), photograph the quaint Moorish Castle, and of course, get harassed by Europe's only population of monkeys– some of whom will now be deported! really hates on Gibraltar in their post, as if you would come here just to visit animals! The monkeys act only as a fun distraction from the true beauty of the location. Plus, they are cunning! As I updated Instagram with my latest self-pic – one clever monkey grabbed & rifled through my bag. I grabbed it back – but not before he knew an avocado lie inside! Afterwards, I only later realized, he lay in wait at the top of the only exit to the viewpoint. Unknowingly, I took pictures of the cute guy from afar – not knowing he only waited to steal from me!

Cunning mono waits at the exit to take my food!
Finally, after taking enough photos – (the best views are certainly not from the very top) departed the top of the peak. I took another picture of the monkey sitting atop the stairwell and swung my bag behind me. As if taking a cue, as I descended the stairs, the monkey joined me, jumped onto my bag, and pulled out the bag with avocado. I struggled and ripped it out of his hands – this cunning monkey would not be rewarded for his guile! Later, I ate that avocado. Perhaps he needed it more – but I refuse to reward those who only steal…

Then again – maybe I should have offered it as a reward for all those fun photo-ops – but I felt more harassed than be-friended by these kinda-cute but pretty-disgusting animals. Let’s face it – I’m not exactly Ace Ventura.


Saturday evening my new (gay) friend – who works as a virtual BlackJack dealer, at an online gambling casino – took me out to  Casemates Square, where veryone who wants to be social joins together weekend (and weekday) nights. At the "best bar"we found a “hen” party. I’ll go ahead and express how strange this British-English term is to me – but the term is nothing like the horror I felt at witnessing this mess of drunken, 35 + women. Nonetheless they clearly had the time of their lives, singing karaoke to anything – including Christmas carols. My friend had starred in Gibraltar’s version of American Idol – Gibraltar’s Got Talent (he's in the center of this cover pic) – so he wanted to show off his singing skills. Eventually he got his chance – and did well when he wasn’t being harassed by the chavs!

Gayographer finds a place to set the self-timer...
Literally next door to the “grown-up” bar kids between the ages of 8 to 17 hung around outside next door – like an adult playground with kids socializing and carrying on. I’ve never seen so many kids hanging around together at once not playing a game or, individually, video games! I’m pretty sure I related better to this group than drunken adults!

There is one true gay-bar - Charlie's Hole in the Wall - perhaps this article gives his place justice, but according to my friend, it's only really open when a cruise ship stops through. Of course, social media “opportunities” abound – but certainly not great ones. Generally, if you’re between the ages of 18-30 it's likely you've left for more excitement elsewhere. Except - not surprisingly in a location with a great clash of cultures - Gibraltar has done well recently in beauty, Maroua Kharbouch came close to winning Miss World and Miss Universe! Residents may leave, but likely return yearly - especially in the winter - to enjoy the sun and take in the beautiful views.

*Get free advice from when you Share on Facebook  - post the link in your request box!