Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The Onsen at the End of the Earth

Ryokan windows (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The onsen smelled of wood smoke and wet, salty heat. Our shoes we’d taken off inside the door, and they’d been quickly, quietly whisked away before we even realized they were gone. We let them go without much thought, mesmerized by the heavy stillness and dusky smoke. A man in a striped yukata walked past, skin shiny and red, a towel slung around his shoulders.

Hoshi Onsen sits in the midst of mountainous Gunma prefecture about two hours to the north of Tokyo. We’d been almost too cavalier with the directions, not realizing how lucky we were to have caught an earlier Tokyo-bound Shinkansen out of Kyoto until we were standing at an empty end-of-the-line bus stop in the middle of a sleepy mountain town where the Kanji-only schedule informed us that the next bus to Hoshi was the last bus of the day. It was 3:00 p.m.

To reach Hoshi, you take a Shinkansen north to the Jomo-Kogen station, a long and lonely building with just a few tracks, even fewer travelers, the ubiquitous convenience store, and a tiny, fluorescent-lit shop selling bowls of unadorned, yet excellent udon soup (which I know, because we ate some on the way out). From Jomo-Kogen, you catch an old white 30-seater bus that takes you up winding mountain roads, past small hamlets and mostly dense, dark trees, and then a wide slate-colored lake with a row of fluttering fish flags strung majestically across it from end to end. Half an hour gets you to the end of the line at Sarugakyo, and from there, you take an even smaller bus twenty minutes to the last stop on its line: Hoshi.

Hoshi Onsen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Ferns in Minakami (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Tempura vegetables (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Broth with foraged greens (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Wildflowers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Trees in full bloom (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The Hoshi grounds (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Somehow, we’d expected something more modern and gleaming, since our online search back in Berlin for an onsen near Tokyo had been limited to tattoo-friendly establishments. » Continue reading this post...

Three Meals in Lisbon: Chickpea Salad with Bacalhau & Hard-Boiled Eggs

Chickpea salad with bacalhau (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I. Prado

We have not made a reservation. Two other restaurants will not have us, because they are full, so Prado is just a place that I read about that someone else really liked and it’s nearby and we’re not famished just yet. They don’t have a table available, but do we mind waiting? We can order a drink at the bar. And since we are not famished just yet, and there are lots of plants inside the lofty space and because we like plants, we say, okay, and order the kombucha that’s on tap. We’ve taken perhaps one, perhaps two sips of the slightly sour and tingly drink before our table is ready. And maybe it’s because service in Germany is so far removed from this level of consideration, but I fall a little bit in love with the kindness of the waitstaff, their friendliness and clear knowledge about the menu and what to order, their patience and solicitude, the way they make us feel like we are at home, like there is no right or wrong way to be or eat.

So it is a wonderful thing when the food is remarkable. We order cockles – because – cockles! They’re minuscule and translucent and poised within a sweet, creamy broth tempered by the mineral dampness of spinach. We soak up every last bit of sauce with the bread, honey-brown and crusty, served with both a whipped, garlicky lard and a smoky goat’s milk butter. It is a good tartar, because it comes from a good and confident cut of beef. There are beautiful ceps with swaths of creamy pimiento and sprinkles of crunchy buckwheat and a lovely fish. And then there is the mushroom ice cream, which we have to order – because – mushroom ice cream! And oh, it is earthy and cold and just sweet enough, and there is the rustic chew of pearl barley and a swirl of balm-like caramel. » Continue reading this post...

Belgrade In Media Res

Typical Belgrade building (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have never seen the particular appeal of Soviet architecture. In Berlin, the rundown prewar buildings wilt, but the Communist-era bastions endure with grim and solid fortitude. They are the housing projects on the outskirts of the city with a bad reputation for neo-Nazis, they’re the anonymous gray lengths of Frankfurter Allee or the blocky rows of balconies made of prickled concrete that only ever seem to be decorated with dying red geraniums.

In Belgrade, these buildings of a bygone time are almost whimsical. The ones capping corners curve, leaning in at odd angles. They feature functional-looking, yet utterly superfluous girding or iron-work, and even when they’re geometric, there’s something just slightly off about them – they’re too long or too squat, every apartment has a different set of windows, or there’s a sudden shock of glass in a surprising location. Plenty of these buildings are deserted – many don’t look architecturally sound – and there’s something eerie about the alien-looking metals and alloys butted up against gracefully swirling slabs of concrete that house nothing on the inside.

It was mesmerizing to walk around Belgrade’s crumbling streets and stumble upon these concrete treasures wedged between the small, 19th century Neoclassical buildings in the city center and the newer facades going up all over the place. It seems that all of Belgrade is under construction – whole streets are being ripped out, clusters of girders yawn to the sky wherever you look, and the skyline itself is marred by endless rows of cranes. Nowhere is the divide between this new construction and the old Belgrade more visually striking than along the waterfront, where a bird’s eye view shows the surreal discrepancy.

Old Belgrade/New Belgrade (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Tower building, Belgrade (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Belgrade architecture (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Unfinished concrete structures, Belgrade (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Long and lonely streets, Belgrade (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Daniel and I had just finished a fifteen-mile walk down the Danube – from our hotel near the city center through the Bloks of New Belgrade and nearly all the way to Zemun. » Continue reading this post...

Trolltunga

Yoga in Norway (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s this picture of me that I love. I’m seventeen years old and holding a battered copy of Les Misérables in my hand. It’s battered because I’ve been throwing it around the backseat of a van, kneading its pages with sweaty, road-trip-snack-stained fingers when I read, and also because at some point, I’ve dropped it into the toilet. I’m fresh out of the shower, my hair is stringy and wet, parted severely down the middle. I’m wearing brown stretch flares, a Twister graphic tee, and a maroon zip-up hoodie so worn-out it’s lost its shape. Leaned up against a cabin doorframe, I look every bit an ill-dressed, awkward teenager, unsure of how to move inside her own body. But the expression on my face, half-turned away from the camera, is dreamy. I’m somewhere else, but perfectly at peace. My eyes look to the horizon. All around me are massive mountains, glacier-scarred rock whorled with strange shapes that seem to come alive when you stare long enough. It’s like looking at a Magic Eye print. Below, green-tinged water surges over rocks, in a canyon it carved out over ages. I am in Norway, and the look on my face is the one I always seem to wear when I’m here.

The purple flowers of Norway (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Brown cheese and red wine (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Waffles and coffee (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Along the road in Hardangervidda (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Norway is my soul’s happy place. There’s something about the briskness of the chill air carrying that tinge of salt, the soft, mossy ground, the mountains of bald stone bursting above the dark green tree line, the fjords that turn Colgate-colored when they churn and glint like raw malachite where they are impassive and deep. This landscape was made long before me. It will be here long after I am gone. I am insignificant beside it, and that is a comfort to me.

Voringfossen, Norway (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Red house, Hardangervidda (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A walk on the Hardangervidda (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Voringfossen minor (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Two years ago, when we hiked the Preikestolen, Elli and I kept saying we’d have to come back for Trolltunga, which is how, not long ago, we found ourselves living in a small white house right on the Sørfjorden, where we woke to the sounds of waves lapping up against the dock and almost-midnight-sun streaming in through the curtains. » Continue reading this post...

A Golden Roman Holiday

Pizza, Rome (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Rome, Italy (Photo courtesy of Counter Service)

Our worst meal in Italy was also one of the best, if only because by the time we finished eating it, our bellies were so sore from laughing, we hardly noticed how sore they were from the rocklike bundle of pasta settling heavier than a sinking wreck. It was the last night Josh and I had together in Rome after a week in Tuscany, and we wanted to find something special for dinner. We’d started the evening off with an aperitivo, then wandered Rome’s warm, golden streets in the direction of this little place we’d read about tucked away off the beaten path. We meandered, wriggling through the tourists clustered in front of the Trevi Fountain, past the shop windows full of bottles of limoncello and multi-colored pasta, past pin-up priest calendars and aprons of David’s torso, through any small alley that caught our fancy, spurred onwards by sprays of pink bougainvillea over doorways and enticing archways of crumbling stone.

Mopeds in Rome, Italy (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Tiber River at sunset, Rome (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Gathering storm in Rome (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Aperol spritz, Italy (Photo courtesy of Counter Service)

At 9:30 p.m., stomachs growling, we arrived at the restaurant to find it shuttered. Far from everything else, but not to be dismayed, we set back off on weary foot to another option we’d starred. It, too, was closed. By now, it was 10 p.m., and we were grumpy and frustrated and slightly delirious. We began to trudge back towards our hotel, resigned to stopping at the next open restaurant without a plastic menu board of pictures out front, when we passed a bright, cozy window framing a packed house, a large wood-fired oven, and blistered crusts of hot pizza. We took a table.

The obvious rule that we did not follow – perhaps because of that hungry delirium – was to never order pasta at a pizza place. But we’d had pizza for lunch. We so desperately wanted a nice, last gluteny Italian plate before heading back home. » Continue reading this post...

Walking is the Only Way – San Francisco

Burritos in the Mission, San Francisco (Eat Me. Drink Me.) - Photo courtesy of Amy Lee

La Palma burritos, Mission, San Francisco (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The moment I stepped off the train at Mission and 24th Street and everything smelled like tacos, I knew I was going to like this place. San Francisco hooked me quickly, and hard. Walking down the street that first afternoon, I felt like I was back in the Brooklyn of my memory with its riot of Mexican eateries, its music and colors and windows full of cheap baked goods. Here a hipster bagel spot, there a brewery in stainless steel, and the sidewalks full of people out and about for who knows what reason on a Thursday afternoon, all clutching iced coffees despite the cool spring air not quite dispelled in even the sunniest sidewalk patches.

But coming from Berlin’s last wet, winter thrust, even the feeble sunshine felt like a blanket, open and spread out on the lawn, bedecked with a picnic lunch and maybe even a bottle or two of wine.

Dolores Park, San Francisco (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here’s what I didn’t do in San Francisco: I didn’t ride the cable cars, I didn’t see the painted ladies or walk down Lombard Street. I didn’t go to Fisherman’s Wharf. I didn’t have oysters.

What I did do in San Francisco was walk. I had been told, upon arrival, that public transportation was inefficient and probably wouldn’t take me anywhere I wanted to go. Maybe it was the jet lag, but I didn’t question the edict, and by the time I found out that there are, in fact, opportunities for getting around that don’t involve blistered feet or ordering a car, it was too late, the damage had been done. In my mind, San Francisco was a city of walking only.

At the SF MoMa (Eat Me. Drink Me.) - Photo courtesy of Amy Lee
Croissants from Tartine, San Francisco (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

On my very first day, I walked sixteen miles from the Mission nearly all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. I meandered, watching the city change from neighborhood to neighborhood without ever really knowing where I was and with nothing more to guide me than a vague pull north. » Continue reading this post...

Weekend in Shoreditch + Pop-Up Dinner at Violet

The streets of Shoreditch (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For a while, Josh and I started all our sentences with: “When I move to Shoreditch…” Like, “When I move to Shoreditch, I’m going to floor-to-ceiling stuff my flat with all these gorgeous plants from Columbia Road,” or “When I move to Shoreditch, I’m going to have breakfast at St. John every day – at the very least regularly pop in for fresh jelly donuts,” or “When I move to Shoreditch, I’m going to finally buy myself a decent black coat and nice shoes.” This was just me, though, because Josh always looked good.

To cap off our month of working together, Josh and I flew to London, where we met with DeVonn Francis of Yardy to put on a pop-up dinner at Violet, a lovely little bakery in Dalston. The dinner was the culmination of a crisscrossed web of collaborations. DeVonn had guest-edited the latest issue of Counter Service (#12 Guts), and Josh had taken the editorial break to spend the month in Berlin putting on a writing workshop with me. Josh and I had, independently of each other, recently discovered Shoreditch and were both hankering to go back and lay down roots of some sort (after all, when we move to Shoreditch, we’d like to be known) – and so it seemed like the right place to go.

Pilgrimage to St. John (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I landed a few hours earlier than Josh, and had some time to wander through my new home on my own. Shoreditch seemed so very clean, so quaint, compared to Berlin, and everyone in it so very put-together. There were little pubs on every corner with austerely painted wooden detailing on their facades and shops with five artfully arranged things in them and soft yellow lighting. The buildings all seemed politely small, just like the tube – and as a less tall person, it made me feel a little like Goldilocks finding her proverbial just right. » Continue reading this post...

Keep the Conversation Going – An Interview with Josh Hamlet

Photo credit: Gabriela Herman

Josh Hamlet is electric. He’s the kind of person who infuses whatever space he’s in with that brand of humming energy usually reserved for Friday night football games or the long, clanking trip to the top of the roller coaster before the drop. His mind is always working and seems to be in a hundred places at once. He’s organizing a dinner in New York, working through the details of a travel itinerary in Iceland, nagging writers about deadlines, and brainstorming about an event half a year away – all at the same time. And it’s infectious.

Josh and I have known each other since college. He’s the person who taught me how to move like no one was watching on the dance floor – and how to make a great grilled Portobello. Together, we’ve demolished a trash bag full of taco salad while whitewater canoeing down the French Broad and eaten real shrimp and grits in Savannah.

This October, Josh and I worked on a series of collaborative projects together in Berlin. The timing felt perfect. Josh’s online publication about food on the edges, Counter Service, is taking off in a big way, and I’ve been looking for ways to take Eat Me. Drink Me. out into the community. We spent the month writing and eating our way across the city, hosting a writing workshop, putting on events, reminiscing about the past, thinking about the future, and just basically having a damn good time.

We sat down one morning for breakfast at a very squeaky table to talk about New York, travel, hidden talents, and all things Counter Service.

LYZ PFISTER: I’m just going to dive right in. So tell me, why did you decide to start Counter Service?

JOSH HAMLET: Having worked in the New York food industry for six years, and having worked in food and around food since I was fourteen – I don’t know if that’s legal or not  –

* we laugh *

JH: …I saw so much passion and creativity and talent that was so untapped, because these days, the food industry requires all of your attention. » Continue reading this post...