Thursday, September 29, 2011

lost local nosh

I'll never forget baking Christmas cookies last year for hours on end....multiple days....multiple types of cookies....and being absolutely miserable about it...

I was about to pass out from dehydration in a massive Santiago Chile.
Chileans don't bake cookies and if you do find a cookie, think non chewy, bad quality bleuh!

Baking cookies isn't exactly a known Holiday custom in Chile for a's summer!
The last thing you are supposed to do is slave away in front of an oven....other reasons?   Ovens don't have an actual temperature gauge on them and most of them have to be lit from the inside with your head stuck inside with a lit match while it's filling with gas. (To my own astonishment at my own idiocy, I did this a lot!  There's no other way!)

You know what Chileans love to eat for Christmas?  FRUIT CAKE!  The entire month of December!
No kidding...massive quantities of the stuff...the joke product most Americans won't touch with a ten foot pole runs out of stock at grocery stores all over Chile come Christmas!  (I still can't really stand it, but I tried)

This is a mere example of the oddness which can occur trying to mix one cultures food with another.  A lot of foods in so many places are popular for certain holidays, festivals, seasons, for one major's locally grown, it's cheap, it's EASY!  These facts combined lead to a certain food becoming a tradition passed down by generations and next thing you know, some pour girl is slaving away over little rounds of dough on the 20th floor of a Santiago sky scraper!

My favorite of all parts of travel is discovering new foods in new places and eating what the locals eat!   Without these local traditions with special local ingredients...I would have no reason to want to travel!
a toothpaste tube of caviar and chocolate milk in Norway, the only things we could afford in the grocery store!
 Now being back in the States, I'm always looking for those new and exciting flavors I discovered else where as well...and when I do find them, I'm thrilled!  But it comes at a price.   I'm the odd one walking into asian grocery stores hunting down lemon grass, galanga leaves and receiving funny glares and stares.  I remember days in the lunch room at my old work with looks of "you are really eating that?" as I slurp down my homemade muss'man curry with Thai eggplants and chunks of bamboo shoot.  Things that are popular in one region of the world aren't so much in others for a reason....they aren't grown locally!

All of the Spanierds we know here in the States dream about legs of jamon (ham) knowing it's almost impossible to find here.  Chileans talk about lemon pie and pisco sours in a whisper, as both pisco and lemons are pricey here.  I know I would have sold plasma for just a crumb of aged Wisconsin Extra Sharp ten year cheddar while traveling....something I can find now as free tasting samples twice a week at the farmers market!

chewing on some fresh cane sugar plant on the border of Malawi and Zambia...given to me by a local who laughed at my inability to shuck/chew/spit my cane as I should have and had to help and show me how, to the great entertainment of onlookers

That's the drive that forced me to sweat thru batches of cookies in the middle of a hot day...longing for that certain taste and flavor that brings back such beautiful memories of places and people that have made me so happy!  It's amazing how food can transport you from one time and place to another and what we'll do and pay to recreate that experience! 

Do you have a certain food you long for from some other part of the world?
Do you have a favorite meal from your home town you tried to make somewhere else?
How'd that go for ya?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

10 Beautiful Places (1)

There are so many beautiful places in the world. It is hard to say which ones are better than which other ones. So, this list is not necessarily The Most Beautiful places, only ten beautiful places in the world that I have been (excluding the US this time, because I could name 10 in this country alone!) I have more than this already, so there will definitely be a sequel. Also, I don't plan on quitting travel any time soon, so I am sure there will be even more someday! When you are done with this one, if you want another great list, you can also check out my 10 Great Experiences In The World to Try.

Here they are, in no particular order. 

1. Lençóis MaranhensesThese sand dunes in Brazil are constantly changing. In the wet months, their low points fill with water and the combination of the rippling white sand with the blue, blue water is just breathtaking. You can swim in the pools between dunes. If you go at sunset, you will get great views (if it isn't cloudy and rainy like it was when we were there). 

2. Gjirokastër:  Built in the 1300s, this city is all built from stone (even the shingles on the roofs). It was under Ottoman rule for hundreds of years and is one of Albania's biggest Greek communities today.It is like being in a vampire movie, but not in a bad way.

3.Queenstown: This New Zealand town probably appeals to me becuase it reminds me of where I grew up. Nonetheless, it is a beauty. I was there in the summer time, but in the winter, the above peaks are covered in snow and this town is a skiers mecca. 

4. Kotor, Montenegro: Everywhere that I went in Montenegro was beautiful (see also Durmitor). However, this idyllic bay setting was top notch. The city of Kotor itself is a walled city made from stone and fortified upon it's surrounding mountains. You should definitely go here instead of (or in addition to) going to Dubrovnik.

5.Himalayas: Hiking in the Himalayas for 3 weeks was one of the highlights of my trip around the world. I will go back there someday, as there are many, MANY more mountains I want to conquer!

6.Patagonia, Argentina: This photo is of Mt. Fitz Roy.The peaks were so steep and formidable and rocky; the lakes were so, so blue. The hiking was great. What more could you ask for!?

7. Patagonia, Chili: It looks like Yosemite, doesn't it? Well it's not; it's Torres del Paine. We spent nine days hiking up and down and around these peaks and it was wonderful. Each new turn showed us something different, a lake, a glacier or a new mountain.

8. Cartagena:  This city in Columbia was full of color and music and life. And fresh fruit juice. And a HUGE iguana. You could spend a couple days just wandering around it's neighborhoods.

9.Whitehaven Beach: Located in the Whitsunday Islands of Australia, this inlet, called the Hill inlet, like the Lençóis Maranhenses, changes each day when the wind moves the sands. This makes it have patterns of sand and water that are different each day. Also the beach nearby is a beauty, with white sand and clear warm water. Just watch out for Jellyfish!

10. Venice: Okay, I had to put one "classic" on here. Any city near or in this case ON the water is usually not bad, but Venice has the added bonus of having great architecture as well. I chose the photo above because everyone has already seen all the cliche gondola photos. This one caught my eye. How romantic, right?

Going over this list makes me want to revisit ALL these places! Sigh. Am starting a piggy bank now.

What is the most beautiful place YOU have been to? Let us know in the comments! 

Don't forget, we also want your travel stories. It can be a list of dos, don'ts or places; it can be something funny or scary or weird that happened to you; it can be a wishlist or a list of questions; it can be a horror story or a love story. If you have anything to say about travel and want to be a guest poster, let us know! Email us at travelspot06 at gmail dot comYou can check out THIS page for ideas.

Friday, September 16, 2011

where to next?

Do you look up at the sky when you hear an airplane and wonder where it's heading/wish you were on it?

I do!

My husband has it down to airline companies, times and directions...
"Delta....definitely Delta...on its way to Detroit" ....sigh....
He likes to fly, despite the annoyances of carry on sized shampoos, security check points and waiting around forever...he loves the romanticism of being in one place one moment and somewhere that looks completely different within hours.....and now he's gotten me addicted as well!

Flying Delta to Santiago...pure joy

I love to hear about where my friends are traveling to, what they eat, what they see, how they liked it....
and of course this makes me crave to hit the road again even more!

(If you catch the travel bug, it doesn't matter where you've want more!...there's never enough time to do it all, not even mentioning all the incredible places I'd like to return to!)

One place in particular has been on my mind for months, due to beautiful photos of hillsides and spicy foods and crazy looking fruits, stories of adventures and simply the look people have in their eyes when they speak of how much they love this particular makes me itch to buy a ticket right now!

The Nam (River) Ou in Northern Laos
Where to next?  Vietnam!
The North, the South and the in between.  We managed to get to Indonesia Malaysia, Thailand and Laos n Southeast Asia, but we ran out of time to reach Vietnam and Cambodia...there's never enough time!  My husband wants to go along of course, but for him, he's more excited to see Borneo, or perhaps parts of China, maybe even jump on the Trans Siberian in Russia ...let's just say he has a much longer list of required places to visit...he's a dreamer!

A juice stand in Thailand
I love to ask people where they'd like to travel to next if they could, because I can almost feel their spirits getting lighter and happier as they dream of their next crazy endeavor and share it with me.  Of course there are always the realities of jobs and leases, saving enough money and thinking responsibly to the future....but as my husband likes to say, "dreaming is free!"

Where would you like to go next?!?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Take It or Leave It

I have written a lot of posts about the things that I am glad to have with me on a long trip (see HERE and HERE) but Sarah’s post the other day prompted me to think about what I took with me that I wish I had left behind. Of course I already had a list started in my trusty Paperchase Notebook (HERE). Okay, so I am sorry, but I couldn’t help sneaking in one of the “can’t do without” items. 

In addition to Sarah’s back supporter and mini micro-fleece moldy travel towel (and her 50 granola bars and 20 pair of underwear), here are a few things that I could have done without: 

-       Socks: It depends on where you are going but usually you can do with very few pairs of socks. I brought three pairs – 2 pairs of ankle socks and one long pair for combo warmth and utility. If you are going to a warm place ONLY, I would say, bring one pair. Unless you are hiking, you don’t need very many and you can ALWAYS rinse them out and hang them up. (Also, buying these abroad is cheap if you absolutely need a new pair) However, I tend to bring a lot of underwear. If I have clean underwear, I feel “clean”. Right?

-       Unnecessary Electronics: 2 chargers, three USB cords, extra batteries… My electronics bag is probably one of the things that contributes most to the weight of my pack. However, unfortunately, until Apple, Sony and Amazon start getting along, you may have to carry at least two cords. I made the mistake of ALSO bringing a battery operated iPod charger, which was heavy since I also had extra batteries for it. I did not use it at all. I thought maybe I would be in a place with no power, but I rarely was. There are plugs in other countries! I would suggest investing in both a universal charger and a universal adapter and only taking these.

-       This brings me to a related subject and the other thing that weighs down my pack the most, Unnecessary Toiletries: I am not even really a very girly girl, so I didn’t have makeup or weird lotions or powders, but I still had A LOT of toiletries! Shampoo, Conditioner, Soap, Contact Lens Solution, Sunscreen, Fingernail Clippers, Floss, Toothpaste, A Year’s Supply of Tampons, etc. Unfortunately, you do NEED a lot of these things. And, some things, such as Tampons and Sunscreen, depending on where you are going, are scarce. However, I suggest taking small bottles and buying many things along the way (yes, they do have shampoo pretty much EVERYWHERE in the World!) Especially of Shampoo and Conditioner – get a combo and don’t wash your hair as often (gasp). Also, use things for more than one purpose. Shampoo can also be body wash or laundry detergent. Sunscreen can be your new body lotion. Tampons can be…no, just kidding.

-       Books: This is a hard one for me, as I don’t want to run out of reading material. When we started our trip, we had: (1) Lonely Planet Europe, (1) Lonely Planet Southern Africa, (1) Lonely Planet Africa, (3) Novels – me, (3) Novels – Mr. L. That is 9 books total, and that doesn't even count my journal, a couple of magazines and a mini notebook for my purse. The LP’s weigh about 45 lbs each*. If you don’t mind wreaking book havoc, I would say cut out the section of the LP that you need and only bring that. If you want to keep it, you will have to lug around quite a heavy book! Now there are also LP’s for iPad, iPhone etc. This may be the way to go, although I have not tried them to see how they look. They would be a lot lighter! As for Novels, there are always book swaps at hostels. Sometimes you have to pay a little fee to swap, but a dollar or two is worth saving your back! I admit, I did read some pretty horrible strange books while traveling, but there WERE always books in English! I would say carry one or two. Or get a Kindle! *small exaggeration. They may be about 5 lbs though!

-       Clothes: Clothes are HEAVY! Think carefully about what you will need, and pack accordingly. For me, we were not going to any nice places, so I could mostly pack hiking type stuff that could double as street wear. Get used to wearing things a few times a week, layering or mixing and matching few items. You may start out thinking fashion is important, but soon you will realize it all comes down to how much each thing weighs!

-       Food: We, and by we, mostly I mean my boyfriend, carried around a lot of food. Most of it we ate. However, there were some things (canned Pate from France) that we carried around for a long time before finally deciding to ditch. I guess it’s the survival instinct. It is hard to find non-perishable things that you can carry easily and eat quickly. They are mostly canned. And heavy. Just try to plan to go shopping more often and carry less items if you can. This one is difficult, as it is hard to have enough so if you have a 25 hour bus ride with no stops you don’t starve, but to not have to carry around 400 lbs of canned tuna.

-       Weighty Items in General: When picking out your backpack, tent, jacket or sleeping bag, it may be worth it to spend a couple (hundred) extra dollars to get the lightweight versions. I heard about a guy who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with only 7 lbs on his back. He hiked it twice in one year (normally one way takes about 5 or 6 months). Now, I am not suggesting you do that, but if your sleeping bag weighs one pound versus six, and your pack, tent and jacket are the same, you will save 5, 10 or 20 lbs just by paying a couple hundred more for your items. This is the same even if you are not camping. Check the weight of your items! 

Here are a few lists of things I DO like to have with me:

Are there things you have brought with you on a trip and not used? What is one thing you would leave behind? What is one thing you cannot live without when traveling?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

the first stop!

This photo was taken right after leaving baggage claims at our very fist stop of our year traveling in January 2010.  I was TERRIFIED as well as the most excited and pumped that I'd ever been in my entire life.  There is nothing like this feeling!  I was dead tired and about to fall over in a haze of exhaustion, but the adrenaline was unstoppable!

Looking back at this moment, this exact photo sort of defines how inadequately prepared I was for what we were doing....I was CLUELESS!

My hair - I ended up chopping it all off 2 weeks later after stubbing my toe on some coral because I couldn't see thru my bangs.

The pak - You can barely see a gigantic padded strap around my waste..these huge "back supporters" and the mini micro fleece travel towels that smelled of mildew for most of the trip, were the two major items I wish I hadn't brought with, just due to how much misery they caused!  Definite lessons learned.

By the time we reached our Ryokan in Tokyo a few hours later, we quickly realized we had made a grave mistake in packing....our paks were killing us and we were now on the other side of the planet. 

Perhaps we didn't need 50 granola bars and 20 pairs of underwear and socks?!?  (ok, that was just me) Luckily our paks got lighter with time and we had a pit stop in the States 5 months later where we reconstructed our exact needs and cut our pak weight by more then half, only traveling with a carry on bag for me and one large backpacker bag for my husband.  It made a huge difference...and a safe place to store electronics and essentials on a plane/train/bus/boat.

"It's dancey dance time" - I loved this shirt so much....but, I hadn't yet gotten the memo that although I was on holiday, the rest of the world wasn' got ditched somewhere in Indonesia sadly, I do miss it now.

The blue fleece jacket - I'm from Minnesota.  I love comfy-ness.  I love warmth.  I LOOOOVE fleece jackets.  This also got replaced once returning home for a North Face close fitting wind proof coat that didn't make me look homeless. In a lot of places, it makes a difference to look good while also feeling comfortable.  If you want strangers to speak to you and help you at midnight desperate for a good nights don't want to be wearing pajamas already!

I wish I could sit myself down in that airport and explain a few things to pre trip Sarah...and perhaps lead her to a trash can and dump out half of her unnecessary pak!  I wish I could tell her to calm down, stop worrying and enjoy the ride....would she listen?  Probably not!  and thanks to that first experience late at night I learned quickly soon after what felt right and what didn't. 

There's always next time!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Beef, It's What's For Dinner

I became a vegetarian the same year that the Blue Jays won the World Series. The reason I know that is because I remember Bobby, who was in my chemistry class, was a Blue Jays fan and Justin, who was a Braves fan, put a dead Blue Jay in his locker. 

I didn’t do it because I particularly felt sorry for animals; I didn’t do it because I didn’t like meat. I did it because of Mr. Gruner. Mr. Gruner was my high school chemistry teacher. He told us about red meat and the cholesterol and other bad things that go along with it. We probably had to work up some kind of equation from the periodical chart to figure it all out. After that, my friend E and I decided to try and see if we could go without eating red meat for a while, more as a challenge to ourselves than anything. 

That challenge lasted 15 years. 

In 2008, I went to South America, with stop number one being Argentina. All my friends were so excited to try “some of the best steaks in the world” and the very famous Argentine “asado” (BBQ). I, on the other hand, was interested in museums and neighborhoods, of mountains and lakes, of beaches and hiking and penguins. 

They wanted BEEF.  


So, the very first day we arrived in Buenos Aires, we went to dinner at a place called Las Cholas. If you ever go to BsAs, make sure you go here. It was delicious! No, I didn’t try the Parilla (grill) but my friends did and they loved it. I had a bottle of wine, a tasty rice dish and much, much more. Come to find out, Argentines don’t just eat meat! Plus, my entire meal cost me $8, which on a traveler’s budget was kind of on the high side, but for a meal anywhere else, it is a steal of a deal! 

The entire time we were there, we went out for meat almost every day, and I always found other things to eat. Did you know that there are a lot of Italians in Argentina? So, pizza was on the menu a lot, although the sauce they use was a little sweeter than I am used to. Did you know that there are tons of Germans in BsAs? So there were pastries aplenty! Did you know that the coffee in Argentina is better than the coffee in some of the countries in Europe? Well it is! They have espresso! Not the Nescafe stuff that many of the other South American countries call “café”! 

So, it wasn’t really very hard to be a vegetarian in a meat eating country.

One month after I got back from South America I was on a plane and they served me a breakfast of eggs, sausage and fruit. I ate the egg. I ate the fruit. And for some reason I had a craving for a salty piece of pork. So I ate it. And the challenge was over. 

I still don’t eat very much meat. However, I do wish that I would have just tried on of the “best steaks in the world” when I had the chance. Oh well, I guess I will just have to go back some day.

I will leave you with these random beef facts:

- Argentines are the 2nd biggest consumers of beef (Australia is 1st)
- Argentines eat 55 kg of beef a year per person – that is 121 lbs per year, or a third of a pound A DAY.
- Argentina is the 3rd largest exporter of beef – behind Brazil and Australia
- Generally, Argentine cattle were mostly grass-fed, but lately they have been using more feed lots, so are producing both leaner and fattier beef (did you know feed lot cattle are fed BEER to calm them down? Me neither)

How about you? Have you ever had trouble with your diet while traveling? How did you adapt?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

biker food

Now that I'm living back in the States, my husband and I were inspired to see if we could live our lives solely based on bicycle transportation our car died while we were traveling 

This has a lot of pros and cons to it financially and environmentally...
No worries about car insurance!
No way to buy a desk and get it home.
It saves money on gas!
It makes trips to visit the folks 5 hours away a little more complicated....
It's hard to say what's best!

Biking as my main form of transportation really has been a smooth transition in comparison to carrying my entire life on my back for the past all comes down to weight...particularly when it comes to buying food!

As far as purchasing power and grocery shopping, not much has changed from our days of deciding whether or not to purchase food based on its weight and temperature and how far we had to carry it!
*A major reason why my husband still won't let peanut butter or jelly enter our home is because it was the only thing I knew how to eat as an American that was light weight, cheap, easy and could be eaten at any time.  PB&J, the classic American treat will stay American....mmmm...a PB&J sounds kind of good right now!

This conundrum of space/weight/dietary and physical needs, has lead me to all kinds of critically odd purchasing decisions slightly different for a home then for a's ok to buy bulk when you know you'll be around for a week, but with no space to carry it, it's kind of weird!
  • Buying things like toilet do I get home 36 rolls on my bike?  Hmph....4 pak it is...
  • For a while we switched from milk to half and half, because it's smaller!
  • Wine or beer?   I'll admit I'm now a major fan of the Napa Valley!
  • 20 fancy napkins for $2 or 500 not fancy napkins for $2....I guess it's time for a tea party!
  • We literally shop and look at the 7 different brands of something like rice and decide now based on size!
I think this fact has actually helped us watch our waists!  Sugary beverages and chips are immediately off the list due to the fact of their weight and size.  Chips are light, but in a backpak, they are ridiculously huge and by the time I'd get them home, they would be mush! Coke comes in sizes of large and larger, which just doesn't work when I have almost enough space for a tub of yogurt and a little bag of almonds......I'm just a way to burn off some seems to be helping just in what I can physically carry home!

What's really funny about all of this is that our new refrigerator in our new permanent apartment is HUMONGOUS!  I hear it whining along with dollars flying out the window with it's inability to stay cool for very long, all for the benefit of a small portion hard salami, a tomato, 3 bottles of beer and a stick of just doesn't seem right.  This refrigerator was obviously meant for a resident who happened to own a hummer...not a Fuji 10 speed!

That all being said, having a refrigerator in and of itself is an incredible thing in comparison to always moving around and never getting to finish a bottle or a can of something, because you have to go on to the next town.  Traveling in Africa, we were able to cook in many of our hostels, so I began carrying with me an emergency cooking kit consisting of 1 bottle of vegetable oil, a small packet of salt, what I think was a whisky bottle of homemade chile sauce we bought on the street at an outdoor market and two plastic plates.  I'll admit the most used cooking tool we had was my husbands swiss army knife!

At least I don't have to bike with my kitchen on my back now, just grocery shop!  The supplies I have at my disposal nowadays would weigh down a larger sized elephant!

What's going to make this biking for food experience even more interesting?
These past few days have had a chill in the air!  I can't wait to find out how this works in a snow storm!