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“Spain is a Third World Shithole”

21 Nov

I received the title text from my brother a few days ago and it got me thinking about the ins and outs of travel. He has to travel for work, which he extremely dislikes. A flight we were on as children essentially attempted to land in a hurricane, and instead was forced to make an emergency ascent straight up back into the air (*this can cause an explosion).

While it was a pivotal moment for me and the start to my thrill seeking young life, it was the beginning of my brother’s desire to play it safe; both of which we still do.  But it is not only the safety issue, and the annoyance of being crammed into a steel box literally like a can of sardines, but his desire to stick with the familiar that keeps him from enjoying some of the nuances of travel, and from becoming a Traveler.

And he is not alone. I’ve had multiple friends who think they deserve biscuits and gravy for breakfast every morning in England, can’t understand why no one has iced coffee in France, demands a working air conditioner and WiFi in Greece, and are uncomfortable with all the kissing and real live human contact in Spain.

Like feral children raised by wolves, to me they have missed some vital piece of social development that can never be  attained, because it cannot be appreciated later in life.  We just get used to being too comfortable.  They missed the garbage-bag-suitcases-stay-in-hostels-with-bedbugs-share-liters-of-Cruz Campo-in-a-park-in-Barcelona-with-homeless-people phase of life, and now they have no patience for the beautiful essence of travel; inconvenience.

My last few flights have been cancelled out of Nashville (FUCK YOU UNITED/AMERICAN AIRLINES), I’ve missed multiple flights in a day while at the airport in France, spent the night on a bus station floor in Spain, used a payphone that I’m pretty sure had been smeared with excrement at some time in New Mexico, dove for dumpster donuts in Philly, get chased by an 8 foot moray eel in Cozumel, lost my keys in a boat that was falling apart and filled with can lids and something horrible (this one I’ve actually blocked out) in Portugal, “reheated” pizza on top of a radiator in Prague, get sucked into a riot after the War in Iraq began (no a la guerra, ortro mundo es possible!), thrown up into a castle moat in Scotland, bleed all over the steps of Valle de Los Caidos because I didn’t have a tampon and toilet paper in Spain is more like tracing paper, and who knows how many stitches and tetanus shots are from someone who doesn’t speak the same language as me – but I’ll be damned if those aren’t the memories I can still smell, touch and feel they are so vivid.

I’ll take the blood and guts any day.

 

10 Tapas to Try (Other Than Jamón) in Spain

14 Jul

As an American, I am dying to get my hands on the banned Jamón Ibérico (ham from black Iberian pigs that have been acorn fed) and Jamón Serrano (a dry, cured ham from the mountains) each time I visit Spain.

The thinly sliced ham is more than a cultural institution, it’s a way of life.  When you hold it up to the light, it’s as beautiful as looking through stained glass in the massive, imposing cathedral where you should be praying and hiding out from the inquisition. The jamón was a life saver of sorts at one time, as the one true way to prove your conversion was by eating pork…

BUT – there’s more to life than ham (probably).  Here are ten other tapas that are worthy of sharing the spotlight with jamón:

1. Aceitunas – Starting simply, aceitunas are olives.  Here in America, we are taught to praise Italy for their olive oil but little known fact is that most “Italian” olive oil comes from Spanish olives.  They are really the best in the world.  Many tapas bars will marinate them to be more savory, or stuff them with anchovies, as if they need more flavor.

2. Patatas Bravas – These fried potatoes are served differently at every bar you go to, but the one consistent thing is the spicy tomato based sauce covering the potatoes.  Spaniards love mayo, so it is not uncommon to also see these with a mixture of mayo and the spicy tomato sauce.

3. Pimientos de Padron – These peppers come from La Coruña and come skillet fried in oil.  Most are mild, but every once in a while you will find a spicy one.  It’s the best kind of gambling.

4. Chorizo – Spicy Spanish pork sausage that is usually pan fried in olive oil. The sausage itself is seasoned with smoked paprika and other herbs. It goes exceptionally well with a nice white wine, or vino blanco.

5. Queso Manchego – This is a sheep’s milk cheese that is firm and salty.  It has pretty serious regional restrictions, and only cheese made inside certain areas in La Mancha can be called Manchego.  Often, you will find it sliced, soaking in olive oil.  It will then be served on top of a slice of bread.

6. Tortilla – This is my absolute favorite and the only similarity it shares with a Mexian tortilla is that both are round.  Tortilla Española is made with first drenching potatoes in oil and frying them until they are soft.  Once the potatoes are soft, eggs are added and then flipped to make a frittata or quiche-like “pie.” It often also contains heavy amounts of onions and garlic and often even last night’s leftover vegetables.

7. Croquetas – Ask an Expat Spaniard what they miss most about home and 100% of them will mention food.  Some will say jamón, others will say tortilla, but most will say croquetas.  Croquetas are quite time consuming to make, which is why indulging on them at the bar is perfect.  They are made with a bechamel-like filling that is refrigerated and then breaded, mixed with jamón and then fried.  The result are little pockets of heaven.

8. Bacalao – cold, breaded cod served on bread.  I grew up land-locked and still don’t really trust fish.  Bacalao however, isn’t fishy and even at the diviest tapas bar, it will be fresh.  I only wish I could have more of it.

9. Albondigas – Meatballs.  As nontraditional as meatballs sound for Spanish cuisine, they have actually quite a history.  Spain was conquered for around 700 years by the Moors from Africa, and with them, they brought many new foods and additions to the old Spanish language. Al-bunduq (literally hazlenut, then used for things that are round) were spiced meatballs thought to be of Berber origin, then introduced to Spain during occupation.  They are typically soaking in a tomato sauce, and then served with a piece of bread as tapas.

10.  Boquerones – Anchovies.  I personally do not care for anchovies but the Spanish are wild for them.  You will see them everywhere, and tapas bars are the best place to try them out.  These are not your typical American grocery store tin of anchovies. These are larger, and always fresh.  They come fried and served with bread.

 

 

Link

Between Heaven and Hell

2 Jul

Waiting on a time traveling machine…

I don’t spend too much time wishing I could revisit any past, but I am making an exception in this case.  At the turn of the 20th century on the Boulevard de Chilchy (near the Moulin Rouge), there was an incredible Cabaret called, L’Enfer (meaning “hell).  You would enter through the mouth of the devil, essentially selling your soul for a coffee or perhaps something more ‘sinister.’

The decor is like the wet dream of every metal child (i.e. me) who grew up in the 90’s and worked diligently after school on their drip  candle altar to piss their parents off.  In a kind of ‘Melty-Baroque’ style, the facade, ceilings, bar and stage all swirl with devils and demons that  Hieronymus Bosch or Matthias Grunewald would have been proud of.

The wait staff dressed as satan and had shows featuring ‘devilish attractions, torment of the damned, round of the damned, the boiler, metamorphoses of the damned.’  Next door was it’s sister Cabaret ‘Le Ciel’ (heaven), but being that this was the red light district of Paris, it was admittedly less popular than it’s sexier, rebellious brother.

 

 

The word of the day is…

2 Apr

The word of the day is...

When English is lacking in a word to describe something, thank god we have German to pick up that slack.

What are some of your favorite words to describe something that has no direct English equivalent?

Top 7 Free (Tested and Verified) Travel Apps for 2014

3 Feb

I have used the following free apps in the U.S. and internationally and have truly found them indispensable.  As long as you have a data plan or are on wifi, you can access these apps without a problem (many international cities have free wifi hotspots in parks, and you can always get free wifi at McDonald’s if you’re in a pinch).

Pro-Tip: If you think you will not have wifi or data service, make sure to take a picture or screenshot on your phone while you have wifi so you can reference the map offline later.

1.  Google Maps I know this may seem obvious, but after going in and out of service on back roads in Boone, NC to finding that perfect Christmas market in Prague, I have found that I really can rely on Google Maps.  It not only has visual maps but you can also plug in your headphones and hear step by step walking, bike and transit directions.

2.  Hop Stop While Google Maps is great, Hop Stop is essential if you will be using major public transportation.  Not only does it have excellent transit directions in most major U.S. cities, but it also works internationally in Paris, Montreal, Sydney, Moscow, Berlin, Jerusalem and more.  With this app you can pre- set how many transfers are acceptable (like when choosing a flight), if you want bus only, metro only or a combination of both, and you can be sure that you are getting the best directions in English.  Like Google Maps, it offers step by step instructions, but also shows maps in chunks of directions so you can focus on one part at a time.

3.  WeChat – If you’ve traveled overseas and are good at making friends, you will soon realize that you need some way to communicate with people in the town.  If you are on a tight budget, this can be difficult because turning on your cell phone data can rack up astronomical charges.

WeChat is an instant messaging app that supports languages in English, Spanish, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, Italian, Hindi and Turkish.  It is the 5th most used app in the world so many of your new friends may already have the app on their phones.  There is a setting where you can ping people close to you in distance so it is easy to find people without remembering your 10,000th user name.

*Pro-tip: You should know that as long as you and the other person you are communicating with have iPhones and wifi, then you can send each other iMessages.  I have found that especially in Central and Eastern Europe, people do not have quite the same cultish devotion to their iPhones as Americans so WeChat is a great way to keep in touch with local people without having to buy a phone card and use a payphone (So the year 2000).

4.  WC Finder  I’m pretty sure it’s common knowledge that Starbucks is “the bathroom of New York,” but what about everywhere else?  When Nature calls and you are traveling, you need this app.  It is user supported so all of the bathrooms have been used by travelers like yourself or people with insider knowledge of the town.  There is also another cool option where you can download maps of Paris and London for offline access when you don’t have wifi.  You can also view details and reviews of the bathrooms, such as price/free or dirty/clean.

5.  Global Tipping Have you ever heard that it’s rude to tip in Japan?  Or that it’s ok to just leave small change in Paris?  These things and more you can find in the Global Tipping app.  It does not calculate it for you,  but it does have some incredibly useful notes on customs, and details on where you do/do not tip (Salon, Waiter, Cab Driver, etc.).  While they have many countries around the world, they are not in alphabetical order so you may have to hunt for the place you are looking for.

6.  XE Currency Bad at Math? Me too.  As long as I have the XE Currency App, which is updated constantly with new currency equivalents (which can often change daily), then I can be more confident in going to markets, especially when haggling is the custom.

7.  Google Translate I use this all the time in my daily life even.  Sometimes I just get curious about what a word would be in another language or I forget a word I used to know in a foreign language so I look it up.  You can speak or type and convert to/from any language.  It will also repeat the translated version back to you so if you’re really in a bind and no one speaks English they can talk and you can use this app to translate back and forth.

Wilson County Fair

16 Sep

A haiku to immortalize the end of summer:

Monkeys riding dogs

Screams from the blurry, neon lights

Deep fried snickers bars

The Wilson County Fair (thirty miles outside Nashville) wins awards each year for being one of the best fairs in the Country.  If the Texas State Fair is THE State Fair, then the Wilson County Fair is THE fair.

Just some of my favorite things are the pig races (where some lucky lady will get herself declared “Pig Queen” for the winning pig – I’m Miss Piggy 2008), chocolate covered bacon on a stick, prize winning biscuits, blue ribbon chickens, outrageously large gourds and pumpkins, Fiddler’s Grove Historical Village (complete with a spectacular dioramas of a funeral and jail), bluegrass bands, rodeos, and a tractor pull.

It’s the perfect outdoor adventure for every honky tonk angel…

The Cumberland Plateau

14 Sep

Few places make me feel settled.  As someone with a bit of a wanderlust addiction, it’s hard for me to stop moving because there’s always something else out there, something else to experience.  One place that calms the wanderer in me is Cummins Falls, near Cookeville, TN.  It used to be private property with a series of ropes tied to trees that you had to hold onto if you wanted to live.  Well, some didn’t and the property owners gave the land to the State, where in 2012 it opened as a State Park.  It no longer has the ropes and you don’t have to use a pulley system to get your cooler down but it is still just as beautiful as the first time I saw it summers ago.

Summer iphone  pics 2013 873

Rachel Louise Martin, Ph.D.

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