Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Around the World in… As Many Days as it Takes

Jordi on the streets of Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

An Interview with Jordi Garcia Rodriguez, founder of No Solo Travel Chronicles

I’ve met so many interesting people in Berlin whose projects I admire and whose creativity inspires me. My friend Jordi is one of them. We met a little over two years ago, probably at the Späti, right when David and I first started dating. That summer, every weekend began at the Späti. It’s nothing special – a convenience store, a bodega selling drinks and candy and tobacco. There’s a Späti on every other corner in Berlin. But this one captured our attention, perhaps because it was centrally located on Maybachufer, close to bars where we could dance. Perhaps because there was a small wooden table outside where we could sit or a bathroom inside to use. For whatever reason, those summer weekends always started at the Späti with cold bottles of Tyskie and the dusky smell of hand-rolled cigarettes.

We were a diverse and international crew. Usually there were at least three languages bouncing back and forth across the table, and everybody’s interests were varied. But that kept things exciting.

Jordi’s project was to travel around the world on his motorcycle. He’d just made it official: No Solo Travel Chronicles, a type of personalized, interactive journalism. You could ask him to find something from another country for you or document an experience you’d love to have but couldn’t for whatever reason. Along the way, he’d film his travels and write about the people he met and experiences he had, creating an interconnected global network.

The summer ended, as all things do, and Jordi left for Turkey, the first stop on his around-the-world journey. Even the next summer, we didn’t go back to the Späti again, as if its whole magic had been used up in those months.

When Jordi came back to Berlin to earn some more money before starting the next leg of his journey, we met in different places and started talking about collaborating on joint projects. » Continue reading this post…

Bite the Piranha, Eat the Amazon

Green parrot (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s a time and a place to drink gallingly black instant coffee from a plastic cup, and it’s here and now, at the Marasha Reserve, sitting on a wooden dock and looking out across the lake. The sun is just glimpsing over the tops of the tall, green trees, the breeze is still cool and causing the water to ripple like the skin of an octogenarian’s hand. Sharp, squawking parrots cut the morning’s silence, while fat red birds with pompous blue crests on their heads warble from branch to branch.

Carlos, our guide, has just speared a fish, and he holds it out for us to see. The prongs slit cleanly through its silvery side, and its useless, flapping gills are panting. Inside is ruffling the most gorgeous red. Soon, it will be deep fried and eaten for breakfast with crisp arepas, scrambled eggs and milky hot chocolate.

Anchors away! (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

No smoking in the boat (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Life jackets (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For weeks before my trip, people had been telling me how dangerous the Amazon was, and I’d been properly worried. There’d be mosquitoes carrying yellow fever and dengue, malarial and parasitic water, deadly frogs and spiders, poisonous trees and fruits, snakes that swallow you whole and alligators prepped to pounce.

Parrots (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A walkway in the Amazon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fried pirarucu with platanos, beans and rice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But the longer we spent in the Amazon, the less likely it seemed to kill me. In Leticia, Colombia’s main outpost before the wild, the city droned with beat-up motorcycles, a soothing hum in the relaxed, tropical atmosphere. The pastel streets were full of open storefronts selling neon plastic junk, beachwear, and souvenirs, and men and women manning little metal carts with kebabs and hot dogs, sweet fresh juices and fried empanadas for sale. Stray dogs lounged on every corner, and though they were mangy and beat-up-looking, they didn’t give a second glace as you stepped over or around them.

Stray dogs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Drying laundry (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As in much of Colombia, the restaurants all offered a daily plate lunch: Fried fish or grilled meat served with platanos, rice, beans, and yucca, and always accompanied by freshly pressed natural juice and a soup made with yesterday’s leftovers. » Continue reading this post…

Tuscan Summer

Italian gelato (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Back when I used to lead backpacking trips, we had this saying: Finish with style. It meant ending the hike with as much aplomb as you had when you started. It meant neatly packing your bag on your last morning and calmly, strongly walking into the valley rather than slopping down the slope to civilization and a warm blueberry pie.

Let me tell you how our vacation ended, and you can tell me how much style we finished with: For lunch, we passed a yogurt bucket full of cold cooked chicken in tomato sauce around the car and piled it on Saltines with our fingers. The car was cramped, and at least one of us always had to sit in the so-called “dungeon” back seat, named for the lack of leg room and the pile of luggage towering up the left side. We were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for hours as the Alps softly unfolded outside the windows, and a drizzly rain sent slim sheets of mist through the crags. The dog, fur filled with nubby burrs, sent white and black hair tufting through the car.

http://ellenkaufman.wordpress.com

And here’s how we started the week: A rose and peach sun set over dusty olive trees and yellow sunflowers, heads heavy with seeds. The red sand city of Arezzo shimmering beyond the hills. Behind us, the villa cool and impassive; stones worn by 14th century nobles and servants scurrying with firewood and food, and later, the soft pad of praying nuns. For dinner that night, we walked down the gravel path to the nearby hilltop restaurant, where the only thing to think about was how many the grill platter should serve and when to uncork the wine already sitting on the table.

There was very little waiting to begin, as the waitress brought out platters of food. » Continue reading this post…

On the Beaches of Barcelona

Raw oysters (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The best part of Vilassar de Mar was the blue. In the mornings, we woke to the bright glare of the ocean pinching sunlight from the sky and pitching it in through our window. The early hours were cool and dry, lulled by the soft crash of waves and shattered by the Renfe searing down the tracks with a load of commuters headed for the city center. In Barcelona, the merchants in La Boqueria would already be unrolling the shutters from their stands to reveal hanging hocks of jamón and stacked fruit, and the bleary-eyed tourists would be marching down Las Ramblas with bulky black Canons strapped to their chests. But in Vilassar de Mar, there was only ocean, a multi-hued blue dotted with sailboats and solitary paddle boarders cutting the surf.

Balcony, Villasar de Mar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What we couldn’t figure out in Vilassar de Mar was when things were open. On the day that we arrived, just after lunchtime, the little town was shuttered. We wandered uphill from the shore, the only direction to wander, and passed cafés and shops, all closed. Even the grocery store participated in the afternoon siesta hours, only opening again late in the evening. We were still hesitant of ourselves, the only tourists on the deserted streets, slow in our Spanish, when what we should really have been speaking was Catalan.

Fresh mussels (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Choosing somewhere to eat is hard when you’re so fresh to a new place, when you want so badly to make the best decision, but are too hungry to decide. At least there weren’t that many options. Halfway up the hill, we found a small bakery that was still open. One lazy couple sat beneath a yellow umbrella, slowly picking at fish bones. The tables were covered in clean white cloths and inside the windows, glazed pastries billowed beneath the glass. » Continue reading this post…

Berlin to Burladingen, and Back

Opa (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The weather was unseasonably warm on the Alb. While Berlin’s skies were overcast and gray, raindrops dripping from every balcony and eave, Stuttgart’s sun was shining. A filmy blue sky unrolled over deeply green hills as we drove away from the city and into the rural landscape of the Schwäbische Alb. It’s called the Swabian Jura in English, but that feels so wrong to say, I just won’t.

I forget how pretty the Alb is when I’m not there, especially in late spring and early summer, when the trees have bloomed and the fields sprout full of wild daisies, dandelions and purple wildflowers. I love the unreal color of green coating the grass, the way the landscape looks freshly dipped in dew.

Flowers on the Alb (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My brother and I are on our way to our grandfather’s house. My uncle is driving, we’re chatting about the upcoming world cup and which nations are the happiest on Earth. He outlines our program for the weekend. When you only fly south for a long weekend, your hours are tightly regulated. My aunt and uncle are coming for dinner, the next day, if the weather holds, we’ll go grilling on the Eichland. There’s talk of Eurovision.

Burladingen is all talk, it’s always all talk. By which I mean, we start a constant stream of visiting and chatting and catching up from the moment we set foot in my grandfather’s house to the moment we leave. And in the Southern Germany I know, there’s no talking without something tasty to go with it – creamy mushrooms wrapped up in crepes, Danishes and coffee, homemade pizza finished with a round of my grandfather’s bootleg raspberry liqueur, dark bread for breakfast with butter and jam, cake and cake and cake. “It’s not my fault if you go home hungry,” my grandfather says. » Continue reading this post…

City of Memory

In the Louvre (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

“Paris is a great blind love, we are all hopelessly in love, but there is something green, a kind of mist, I don’t know.”

Hopscotch, Julio Cortazar

I remember eating snails for the first time. I was fifteen, in a dim small bistrot in the Quartier Latin, and the waiter laughed to see the foreign teenager eager for garden pests. I remember scooping them out with a little fork and slurping the salty flesh, the dusky mouth feel of butter, garlic, and herbs. The bistrot was split over two levels, and I sat with my family on the upper level, looking down on the heads of the Parisians below. Young and golden-haired girls. I don’t know why that made such an impression on me. The table was darkly wooden, worn smooth by elbows and swipes of the kitchen rag and the whole place was dark. Deep red tapestries on the wall and strange, small knick-knacks powdered with dust on wooden ledges. Every now and then, the grit of sand between my teeth.

I feel beautiful in Paris. As if the cobblestones kiss my feet, and the wind blowing up the green Seine smell is a caress along my cheek.

I remember once, sitting in a café in Montmartre, before I went back later and it all seemed forced, sitting there with friends and a carafe of wine and a basket of pain, feeling very old. Paris was fresh, wrapping me up in its magic cloak, and of course the wine was bad and the checkered tablecloth covered in tannin spots and bread crumbs, but there beside our table were the artists with their thick trompe l’oeils of the Eiffel Tower, the Lautrec posters I bought by the ream to later hang in my college dorm room, the cafés the cafés the cafés with tiny tables and even tinier wickerwork chairs. » Continue reading this post…

Tradition Looks A Lot Like Chocolate Cake

Sachertorte (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I didn’t eat Wienerschnitzel in Vienna. Even though it’s where Wienerschnitzel was born. Even though it’s something you’re supposed to do. When you only have three days in Vienna, sometimes the schnitzel falls by the wayside. And though I shall live, I feel as if I’ve missed something important. A part of history, a tradition.

Tradition and tourism are two things that don’t often end well together. Rarely do locals hang out where the tourists do. I’ve been to Times Square numerous times – but never while I was living in New York. In Berlin, taking visitors to see the Brandenburger Tor is like being a tourist myself, since there’s really no other reason to be in that part of town.  Food for tourists is usually bad. Food for tourists is usually traditional (or Pan-Asian, why is that?). Ergo, traditional food is usually bad.

Aida (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Detail inside Paul's Church, Vienna (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

In Vienna, tradition and history infuse the city, from its tourism to its local life. Of course, tradition is a bit hard to avoid in a city where a marvelous monument or palace or church graces every other corner, where the buildings lining the streets sport corniced gables or hidden frescoes and other finely-wrought details. Vienna is a city that takes its past as a cultural capital seriously. Even today, there is music and art everywhere.

One lovely part of Viennese history is a tradition of elegant cafes and pastry shops serving afternoon coffee and cake. From outside, the cafes emit a honey glow, inviting the cold and the tired inside with the promise of whipped cream and jam, marzipan, macaroon, hazelnut – and of course, a strong cup of hot coffee with just a splash of chocolate liqueur. Inside, confections, cakes and sweets slumber in sticky-sweet stacks behind polished glass.

Cafe Drechsler (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Wiener Riesenrad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At Hotel Sacher, we tried one of Vienna’s most famous desserts, the eponymous Sachertorte. » Continue reading this post…

Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful: Dark & Stormy Cocktails

Dark & Stormy (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Please forgive me if I’ve already started humming Christmas carols… I get the feeling that in Berlin, the weather goes from summer to winter without even a nod to my favorite season. This is not a city that does chunky sweaters and burnt sienna trees. It’s a city that does all leaves/no leaves. Tank top/parka.

And you wonder why this isn’t a country that has apple or pumpkin pie. They don’t even have a season for it. What do you expect?

Not so long ago I was in Bermuda. Now there’s another night/day contrast we can talk about. A brilliant, beating sun, pink sand, water so blue it seemed unreal. A perpetual sunburn on my skin, cold drinks on the deck of a ship. Somebody please remind me why I left.

Beach in Bermuda (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

While you can’t always take the island sunshine with you, there are some tokens of the beach that fit in a small bag. Gosling Black Seal Rum and ginger beer for one.

Dark & Stormies are simple, highball cocktails made with ginger beer and Gosling’s rum. And apparently yes, to make real Dark & Stormies you do need Gosling’s, as the drink is trademarked by the company, whose base is in Bermuda. It stands to reason then, that along with the Rum Swizzle, the Dark & Stormy is Bermuda’s national drink.

A Dark & Stormy is a beautiful drink. Sparkling, golden ginger beer topped with a jigger of rum that floats above the soda like a storm cloud. » Continue reading this post…