Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

04 May 2008

Eating as a Second Language

Every once in a while, we like to write about the food we encounter on our trips. Here’s one such adventure. It brings new meaning to the phrase “the truth is in the pudding,” or whatever you call that slop. —MB & JS
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German beer halls are internationally renown for their fermented beverages, and rightfully so. German beer ranks as mankind’s second greatest achievement, and it was first until the invention of sliced bread. Even the most loyal drinker, however, needs the other three main food groups, but if you’ve been drinking German “Bier,” chances are you won’t be able to stand, let alone change venues.

Therein lies the dilemma. At least it did for us.

Our German didn’t travel much farther than “zwei Bier bitte” (two beers, please), so we had a little trouble navigating the menu. It didn’t help that seeing double suddenly required half the effort. We’d been in Germany long enough to tire of Würste (sausages) and we were just drunk enough to want to try something new. After all, we thought, the right beer can wash down anything.

When the waitress arrived to take our order, we hesitated, scanning the menu like we were studying a map of Paraguay. She just stood there, staring at her order pad, as if she didn’t know Concepción from Asunción. She didn’t look at us, didn’t tap her pencil, didn’t do anything waitresses normally do.

A long way from home, we felt like goodwill ambassadors for our country. We wanted to do the right thing. The waitress’s unwavering presence forced us to act. An item on the menu caught our eyes. It sounded like cold cuts.

“Kaldaunen,” we blurted out, holding up two fingers.

The waitress returned to life. She jerked her head in our direction. We closed the menu and looked up at her hopefully. Her eyes locked onto ours, but we couldn’t read her, as if her expression were also in German. She left without writing down our orders. We didn’t know what just happened, but we felt sure we’d left an impression.

The meal arrived quickly, and we decided it was probably cold cuts after all . . . until the waitress placed the plates in front of us. It was cold, all right, cold and sort of squishy. Like uncooked flotsam from the wrong side of the flush. We looked up at the waitress, our eyes begging the wordless international question: “What the hell did we do to deserve this?”

“Kaldaunen,” she replied coldly and left us to it.

We poked at the fleshy goo with a fork. It gurgled back at us. Even another liter of beer didn’t imbibe us with enough courage to try it. We were hungry, but we couldn’t force ourselves to taste the shapeless mess that had somehow made it onto the menu.

That’s when inspiration hit us. Beer’s a food, right? It has yeast and carbs and sugar. That’s most of the major food groups all in one. “Excuse me, waitress. Zwei Bier bitte.”

At that moment, an old German man, obviously drunk, staggered over to our table. “Amerikaner?” he slurred at us. After we nodded, he pointed to our plates. “Schmeckt nicht?” When he saw our uncomprehending faces, he translated, licking his lips and taking a deep breath to steady himself: “You gonna eat zat?”

Every country (even the US) boasts “delicacies” that your palate might not, um, accept. When in doubt, ask someone. You might find a sympathetic local. You might find a practical joker. Either way, you’ll have someone to blame besides yourself.

Lessons Learned: Weeks later, we discovered what we had ordered. It was something we never would have ordered in an English-speaking restaurant—something so vile, we were glad we didn’t actually eat it. We had ordered tripe. If you don’t know what it is, look it up, but do it well after you’ve already eaten.
How We Saw It:
Blight-Seeing: 1
Communication Breakdown: 5
Customer Dis-service: 3
Discomfort Level: 3
Grunge Factor: 2
Inactivity Guide: 3
Rent-Attainment: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 2
Fun Fraction: 3/5
Vibe-Rating: 2

If You Won’t Listen to Us:
Nearest Airport: Frankfurt Airport
Native Population: 670,000
Normal Attractions: Cathedrals, Alte Oper (the opera house), Europe’s tallest building (Commerzbank Tower), shopping, museums, music, and fine dining . . . in German, of course.
Final Point of Interest: Founded in the 1st century, Frankfurt is now a modern German city, with skyscrapers, public transportation, and a booming sex trade (second only to Hamburg).

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