Solo Travel Blues

So, I have never been one that got homesick or be one to wish that my friends were along side me. Well, that was me… it would appear no longer to be the case.

I’ve been doing a lot of solo travel these past few months and I’ve been exploring a lot. There have been a few moments where I just wanted to give everything up and go back home to Québec. When I realized that wasn’t an option, I wanted to buy a ticket for each and every one of them and bring them here so they could travel with me. And then when I realized that wasn’t possible, I was just done with the whole doing it yourself.

Over the past few months, I’ve been to a bunch of different cities and they’ve all been great. I’ve done and seen a great number of things, all of which were great. From the beer travels in Copenhagen to the waffles and chocolate in Brussles, with the canals of Amsterdam to the cathedral of Cologne, I’ve seen and had lots of fun. And I’ve still got Warsaw, Paris, and London coming up as well.

But, it can be exceedingly lonely to do it all by yourself. But at the same time, it can be much easier. There are no schedules to keep, no one to placate, and everything you do is all you – all the success and failures. One of my problems is that I don’t wander outside of my comfort zone when it comes to food, but I’ll have to learn. Because I had no one to accompany me, I got to wander around the streets of De Wallen for hours exploring. Taking a stroll from the bus stop to my hostel Brussels was fine, no one complained about it (even though I should’ve taken a cab, bus, or something else).

Of course it’s hard to not miss the people you care about, even if they’re easily reachable thanks to the information age. I post a lot of photos to Facebook and Skype my people a lot to make sure that I stay connected to the ones that I care about.

There was an interesting post on some random blog somewhere that I found interesting (https://aliciapc.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/beating-the-blues-of-solo-travel/). I didn’t agree with everything, as I’m not immediately outgoing when I’m not comfortable, so the whole making friends with strangers isn’t always something that I would do.

However, the post, on a whole, hits it right on the head. You need to go outside your comfort zone a bit and do thing you wouldn’t normally do. Self-reflection is probably something that is easier when you’re not distracted by everything else.

Canadian’s guide to Malmö

So having lived in Malmö for a while now, I think that it’s important to share my thoughts and observations about the place.

Public Transportation

The public transportation here is pretty good. The one thing that I like the most is that there is a digital display at every single bus stop. This means that you can see the schedule displayed live for you, and the arrival time is updated in real time. This is very helpful, especially if you’re not really sure when the next bus will arrive.

However, it can also be a bit confusing. The one thing that you have to know is that you cannot buy a ticket on the bus or train. You must purchase it beforehand, and it’s usually a machine or using your smartphone. Make sure that you have a smartphone or a Jojo card purchased and loaded up before you start traveling.

Money

The money used here is the Swedish Kroner (crown in English). Its a bit difficult, because it’s not always an easy conversion to do in your head. It’s about a 6 to a 6.5 to 1. I tend just to go for a 6-to-1 ratio, its just easier. The most important thing to know is that if you use cash, people will immediately know that you’re a foreigner. Everyone uses card here, pretty much exclusively. I’ve never really had a problem using cash, just weird looks.

The People

The people here are polite, but not necessarily what you’d call friendly. They aren’t the most welcoming people, but that’s only because they are quite reserved. Bu from what I know, this seems to be a theme in Scandinavia. You don’t talk to people randomly, and they really like their personal bubble.

One thing that is really cool is that EVERYONE speaks English. There has only been one person that I encountered in three months that didn’t speak English, and that was a cab driver. I don’t want to stereotype or anything, but he was an immigrant. The reason I know this, is that it’s (as far as I’ve been told) impossible to get through the Swedish education system without being able to speak English. And nobody will care that you don’t speak Swedish, even off the beaten path.

Cost

I would say that generally everything is pretty much on par with Canada (once you take into consideration the conversion rate). There are a few things that are simply much more expensive. Anything that you’d find a “sin” tax on at home is more expensive (i.e. Beer, Wine, Cigarettes).
A Big Mac at McDonald’s is 67 Kr (Kronor or SEK) which translates to around $10. Any eating out will be in this range. You should expect to pay 65-100 Kr, with 100 being a nicer meal.
Food in the grocery store is cheaper, you can buy Apple/Orange juice for around 38-42 Kr, Chocolate bars for 6 Kr, Canada Dry for 12 Kr (this is expensive for pop). The fresh stuff seems to be a bit more expensive, but marginally so. Packaged stuff seems to be cheaper for certain goods.

Activities

If you ask anyone who is from Malmö what to do, they’ll tell you “Go to Copenhagen.” This is true, and it’s a nice activity, but what about the stuff to do in the city. Well, of course, you can go to IKEA and eat some Köttbullar (Swedish meatballs). There is also the Malmö castle, which has 3 different museums in it and gives you access to Tesniska museet (Science/technology museum) which is really cool. There is also wandering around the city and discovering the different food available to you.

Overall

Malmö is not a bustling metropolitan, which is one of it’s strong suits. It’s a very beautiful city with lots of different food options for those who like to eat out. People are polite and helpful, and English is no problem. They probably speak better English than you do, even if it’s your first language.

DIY Stir Plate

A while back I began work on a diy stir plate. The reason being is that 1) I’m cheap and 2) Why not do it myself? Most stir plates that I’ve seen cost $100 or more, and building one myself only costs around $20 (if you don’t screw anything up). I won’t claim that I know very much about electronics engineering, but I think I know enough to be able to accomplish simple projects. And plus, any mistakes that I made along the way clearly add to my knowledge, so it’s win win for me.

The most important part of this, the parts list;
1) Power supply (I used a AC to DC adapter, 12v 1 amp)
2) On off switch
3) Potentiometer/Rheostat
4) Computer fan
5) Case (I used a cigar box)
6) Rare earth magnet(s)

In the end, the build is pretty simple. I spliced the power supply so that I had my positive and negative wires. Connected the positive to the first pole in my switch (my switch has three poles because it also has a built in LED). Then I connected one of the other poles to the negative wire of the power supply (after trial and error I discovered which was which). The other remaining pole I connected to one of the two outer poles of the potentionmeter. After this, I connected the middle pole of the potentionmeter to the positive wire of the computer fan. I made sure that the magnet was glued to the proper side of the fan, and mounted it inside the box. And voila! I have myself a working stir plate.

Now, the mistakes that I made was that I tried two different power supplies, first at 9v and then at 12v. The problem was I didn’t pay attention to the amps that it was capable of outputting. Both of these power supplies worked fine, and provided enough power to get everything going, but there was one simple problem. The vortex was puny, and that’s being nice. Once I used a 12v adapter with proper amperage, everything worked nicely.

Additionally, I didn’t really know how everything was supposed to work. After some research, it was easy to understand that stir plates are really there to keep the yeast in suspension. Of course, this is done by stirring everything with the magnet stir bar. When you test your stir plate, toss some water into your flask and then some pepper to show you the movement generated by the whole setup. Once I did this, and saw everything working, I got a little giddy.

A word about sourcing everything; Everything is available pretty easily at your local electronics store, and nothing should be too difficult to obtain. The rare earth magnets might be the more difficult ones if you want free, because you can get these from a hard drive. They are pretty simple in the end and all it takes is a hex head screw driver (or bit) and an old/obsolete hard drive. Once you have the bracket containing the magnet free (and this should be quite easy to identify, the magnets are strong) you bend the bracket gently and the magnet should come out easily (they are usually held in place by some sort of epoxy/glue).

L’Ange

Conversion Efficency Calculator

For those of you who’d like to figure out if you’re doing anything close to what you should be with your all-grain brew, calculating conversion efficiency is important. There is a great calcukator available onlibe here; Brew house Efficiency Calculator

First (Successful) All-Grain Brew

After being intimated by the though of doing an all grain brew, I decided to give it a try. Take a look at my post about the building of my MLT.

I was finally able to pull off my first all-grain brew. The first time I had tried, I’m pretty sure that nothing went right. Went I tested the O.G. for my first brew, it was only 1.015 for the first runnings (the first liquid you take out of your mash tun after your mash is complete). This is probably because I was using a blender to mill my grains for all of my extract brews. It wasn’t until I used a proper grain mill that I was able to mill everything propely.

After doing some research online about calculations, I decided to simple purchase Beer Smith on Android and I’m glad I did. While I didn’t strictly adhere to everything they told me to do, I did most of it and ended up with some pretty good results.

The thing with all-gain brewing is, you have absolute control over everything. While I don’t quite understand everything yet, its pretty much put your selected grains into a MLT for an hour at a specific temp. After an hour sparge (wash your grains), and everything goes into our brew kettle. After that, its the same as extract brewing.

The only thing you need for all-grain brewing is a grain mill and a MLT. Total cost for both of these should definitely be less than $250 (depending on whether or not you will build you MLT yourself or not. So if you’re thinking about getting into all-gain, do it! Save some heat loss, I had a grand ol’ time. Its entirely possible that my brew won’t turn out at all, but you learn more from failure than you do from success.

DIY Mash Tun

After being intimated by the though of doing an all grain brew, I decided to give it a try. So, because I am doing small scale, I required my own custom mash tun. That took several trips to Home Depot, and some additional research on my side. Originally, my plans for the MLT came from One Man’s Beer, and it was 99% functional. However, there was one problem with my mash tun when everything was assembled; It leaked.

Because it leaked, I had to figure out some way to stop it. I couldn’t find any washers that were the right size, and cutting larger ones didn’t work. So, after some research on the internet I decided to use glue to seal everything up. Now, because we are dealing with a container that we’ll use to create a consumable item, we need to be safe about our choice. As far as I understand, aquarium glue is actually higher safety than food grade. So, I was able to find some aquarium safe glue at a different store (Home Depot didn’t have anything, or at least they didn’t have any one to help me).

After using the glue, everything was functional and ready to be used. Next step; Brewing My First All-Gain

Nikola Teslale

Nikola-Teslale

Nikola Tesla is the unknown father of the modern age. Responsible for the A/C motor, remote control, and the modern electric motor to name a few. He held somewhere around 300 patents, in 26 different countries. In 1907, Nikola Tesla saved the Westinghouse Electric company single handedly simply by being awesome.
For more information about Nikola Tesla, check out this comic from The Oatmeal

American Pale Ale

Of British origin, this style is now popular worldwide and the use of local ingredients, or imported, produces variances in character from region to region. Generally, expect a good balance of malt and hops. Fruity esters and diacetyl can vary from none to moderate, and bitterness can range from lightly floral to pungent.

American versions tend to be cleaner and hoppier, while British tend to be more malty, buttery, aromatic and balanced.

(Description from Beer Advocate)

Some useful Homebrewing sites

If you need to calculate your ABV, use this handy link;

http://www.brewersfriend.com/abv-calculator/

For those of you using refractometers, this site allows you to adjust the readings appropriately;

http://www.northernbrewer.com/refractometer-calculator/

Small Scale Homebrew

Small scale homebrewing is, in my humble opinion, is the only way to do homebrew with one exception; If you want to do the same beer for a large amount of people (such as a specific event). Otherwise, why wouldn’t you want to hone your craft and be able to experiment (and potentially produce a batch of not so good beer)? Homebrew shops/people seem to be a bit snobbish, in my experience, when they hear that you are doing 1 gallon batches. Why wouldn’t you want to do large batches, it takes the same amount of time… well thats just not true, the boil might be the same, but the cooling time, the time it takes to heat the water, the time that it takes to crush all your grains, the cleaning, etc. – that’s all less.

In one month’s time, I been able to brew four different batches of beer (three completely different styles). Presently, I have 3 different beers in primary fermentation. I did a brew on a Friday evening, another on a Saturday afternoon (after running errands all morning), another on a Thursday evening, and they all took only about 2 hours each from the time I got up to do it, until I pitched the yeast. And I don’t need to find a huge amount of space for four 5 gallon carboys to store. I’ve got four 1 gallon carboys sitting atop a dresser, and I could probably fit two or three more there.

Finding recipes wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t all that hard. I did some simple math and was able to figure out a 1 gallon batch, and it worked just fine. I also didn’t need to spend a ton of money on malt extract for any of my batches, and it usually costs less than a buck a bottle for my beer (and will be cheaper once I go all grain).

And, the biggest part, there is absolutely no worry that my beer won’t be completely drank until 6 months from now. I make a batch, and for those who got a bottle, they feel hugely privileged because they got one of only 10-12 bottles.

Best part is, I get to brew all of the time, because it is so much fun to do. Pretty soon, I’ll be going all grain and it will cost me pennies to make beer then (pretty close anyways).