Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Sep 04 2012

Good Air, Part 1, Addendum A

Published by under Argentina,Buenos Aires,Travel

OK, I am a total liar. This is why you don’t write about a trip a year after it happened. We did crash immediately upon arriving at our hostel, BUT…not for good. We napped and then rallied. Why?

Steak.

You should know two things:

  1. Argentina is known for having excellent steak.
  2. My husband loves many things, but especially, and in this order: the “specialty” food item of any place, the weirdest food on the menu (leading to an ongoing and unfortunate battle with Bangkok belly in Thailand), meat.


In fact, most of our trip-planning conversations leading up to our departure went something like this:

Brittany: Oh, I got a good recommendation for a steak restaurant in Buenos Aires.
Ben: AWESOME. Let’s go there.
Brittany: OK. Also, there’s a good market every Sunday in this neighborhood.
Ben: Cool. But do they have steak?
Brittany: Not sure. Oh and we should definitely [insert long and thoughtful list of fun stuff to do in Argentina].
Ben: …also STEAK.

So from the moment we stepped foot on Argentinian soil, Ben was counting down the seconds until we would eat at the renowned Parrilla La Cabrera. It was a day #1 priority. So although it would take an act of God to extract Ben from bed at home, and despite our overnight flight and all-day trek through BA, Ben set our alarm for 10:30pm that night to head out for a post-nap dinner.

We’d read that Argentinians eat late and that lines at La Cabrera can be long, but we figured showing up at 11:00 pm would ensure us a quick table.

Wrong. Upon our arrival (it was just a short walk from our hostel), we were informed that it would be at least an hour’s wait. However, to temper the inevitable inconvenience, La Cabrera sets out a tub of sweet white wine and champagne on ice on their stoop for all to enjoy while they wait. Restaurateurs take note: this is definitely a practice one should import.

IMG_1424B
OK, we’ll wait with wine!

As a quasi-tourist attraction, much of the waitstaff at La Cabrera speaks English, so the experience is easy. Once they called our name, we quickly found ourselves at a small table in the corner, and with surprising speed, had a bottle of red wine and an appetizer in front of us. Ben ordered the meat and a salad for the table, emphasizing that he wanted the steak cooked “medium rare,” or whatever the Spanish equivalent of that is.

The steak soon arrived on a wooden cutting board and I didn’t even have time to snap a picture before Ben attacked. You think I’m kidding:

IMG_1424g

I yelped and made him stop so I could take a photo. This was the best I got:

And this is where things sort of fell apart for Ben. The steak was overdone, and he spent a large portion of the meal bemoaning the fact that they would ruin such a nice cut of meat by overcooking it. Unfortunately, it was a trend in Argentina: they overcook their steaks (well, “overcook” by our standards). We ended up having only one steak in Argentina that was perfectly cooked and that was at the home of a cowboy in the countryside and only because, with the assistance of their live-in translator and guide, Ben emphasized the need for the cow to still be bleeding when he consumed it.

Bottom line: I thought La Cabrera was DELICIOUS. Ben was disappointed. While it’s not cheap, the prices are much less expensive than the nicest restaurants in our hometown. The wine was good, the bread was delicious, but learn an accurate Spanish translation of “medium rare” before you go.

Despite getting lost at 3am in a strange city on the way back to our hostel (a bit scary, that), we eventually made our way into bed for good. I’m not lying this time.

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Aug 29 2012

Good Air! (Buenos Aires, Part 1)

Published by under Argentina,Buenos Aires,Travel

One day, my husband Ben decided to go to law school. Then he decided he didn’t want to be a lawyer so he got a job instead.* The point of this saga being: Ben had a two and a half week period between end-of-law-school and start-of-new-job and I had as many vacation days, so in July 2011, we found ourselves in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It was the first time we’d traveled internationally since THE BIG TRIP (excepting a honeymoon at a Mexican resort, which doesn’t really count) and within two hours of landing in Buenos Aires we realized two things:

  1. We are rusty, and
  2. OH YEAH this is what I lived and felt for 8 months and oh my god I’ve missed it.

You see, being a “good” traveler takes practice. You need to develop a rhythm, a comfort with your surroundings, a general knowledge of how to do the essentials: get lodging, food, money. Ben and I had a rhythm on our Big Trip. It wasn’t ever spoken, but we got comfortable landing in a foreign place and knowing pretty well how to get sh*t done.

But we lost that rhythm. So when we took the overnight flight to BA from Miami, negotiated a taxi into the city from the airport and found ourselves standing in a nice but modest hostel in the Palermo neighborhood, we stood there blinking at each other. What now?

First order of business: money. Can’t buy food without money and we’re hungry. Where’s the bank? Ask the hostel proprietor. Between his broken English/our broken Spanish get a pretty good idea of bank location. Start walking. Get lost. Turn around. So hungry. Is that a bank? I don’t know. Definitely not a bank. Keep walking. Is that a bank? Yes! How do we get money? Our card won’t work in this ATM. We have to talk to people? Why is that security guard staring at me? OK, I think he’s laughing at us. Do we wait in line here? What’s the exchange rate? Do you know how to ask for that in Spanish?

…Surprisingly, we did eventually get money AND specifically requested small bills, as we’d read that in Argentina no one will cash large ones. Ben was proud of that maneuver.

We stopped in a small, busy cafe in the same neighborhood as our hostel (the only lodging we’d booked prior to the trip). The neighborhood, Palermo, has a hip but comfortable vibe. Boutiques and bars and art galleries cluster together amongst narrow, old homes. There were a lot of young folks, but it was quiet at night on the side streets. Very European.

I ordered the one sandwich I could reasonably translate off the chalkboard menu above the counter, and we sat down at a bistro table to try and formulate a plan for the day.

The problem with Palermo is that it isn’t close to the metro (subte in BA). It’s very accessible to the busline, but as any seasoned traveler will attest, while metros are relatively easy to navigate, public bus systems are very difficult for newbies. And, after traveling so far and long, we didn’t have the energy to figure it out. So, after lunch, we hiked about a mile to the closest subte to ride to the city center.

We managed to exit the subte near Plaza de Mayo. It was the first of many plazas we would encounter on this trip — it seems that any city in South America, no matter how small, has a plaza. If there’s three straw huts on a Bolivian mountain where the llamas outnumber the humans, they build a friggin’ “plaza.”

BA’s Plaza de Mayo is the city’s political center. This is mostly because it’s home to the Casa Rosada, the Argentine presidential mansion and office. What’s awesome is that “Casa Rosada” = “Pink House” which I think we can all agree is objectively better than our version of the same building, the White House. How dull.

Well, you think this is awesome until you realize that the reason it’s pink is because it was originally painted with a mixture including ox blood. Not awesome. But then it becomes awesome again at night when neon pink spotlights shine on the building making you and your husband, who’ve become really lost, mistake it for a casino that you resolve to come back and find the next day.

And now, A Play, in Three Acts:

Setting: The lawn in front of Casa Rosada
Cast: Unnamed hero
Circumstance: The first attempted activity of hero’s trip to Argentina

Fin.

I knew I only had a few good hours left in Ben, so I forced him to his feet so I could at least see a bit more of the city before he crashed for good. He’s a sleeper, that one.

There are several other important buildings in Plaza de Mayo, but I can’t remember them. There was a beautiful cathedral at the opposite end of the square from the Casa Rosada, but I only remember thinking (for the dozenth time in BA), “this could be in Rome.”

Given that I hadn’t researched too much about the city prior to arriving (surprise!), my single-minded mission for the day became to walk around until our legs were too exhausted to keep walking. I’ll ruin the ending for you now to say that I was successful in my mission, much to Ben’s chagrin.

As we started our death march through Buenos Aires, we rounded around the back of Plaza de Maya to discover a building with a sign in Spanish out front that we couldn’t read, and a long line of people waiting to get in the door. We decided to stand in this line to see what would happen. We were whisked through a metal detector (which strangely did not deter us) and found ourselves inside.

IMG_1407

We later discovered it was some sort of museum built in 2010 for the bicentennial of Argentina’s independence. At the time, we knew it was an exhibit of some sort in which all the signage exceeded Ben’s Spanish 201 abilities. However, this anecdote should be a revealing peak into the way Ben and I travel: we have no idea what we’re doing. And we are sheep.

BA is not a particularly beautiful city. It’s not un-beautiful, and it has lovely buildings and squares, but like any major and historical metropolis, it’s dirty and rough around the edges. We discovered this as we moseyed through city blocks for (what felt like) hours. Eventually, we landed in Puerto Madero, a waterfront neighborhood and BA’s historical port. It was easy to tell this area of the city, once a decaying warehouse district, has been reclaimed by yuppies. There are factories-turned-luxury condominiums, high rises, expensive waterfront restaurants. We stopped at cafe to rest our legs and ordered our first South American cafes con leche.

Puerto Madero

We took a final walk on the other side of the port, along the Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve. While it was too late to go into the reserve, we enjoyed strolling along the water, watching the roadside parrillos pop up to serve their standard Argentine steaks.

So many mayonnaises at the roadside steak stand!

I hadn’t slept in 36 hours; my leg muscles were screaming. Given my pitiful condition, BA’s legendary nightlife would have to wait. I knew Ben felt the same way when I suggested finding our way back to the hostel and he ran off towards a bus stop with a kind of energy I hadn’t seen from him all day. Well, the phrase running “toward the bus stop” gives the impression that the journey back to our hostel was easy. It was not. It was an hour and a half not-easy. When we (finally) found a bus stop, we had to determine if the stop was on the correct route and running in the right direction and which bus number went to Palermo and at which stop to disembark. It was a long process, and only successful thanks to the kindness of English-speaking strangers and a complete lack of pride on our part.

I don’t even remember how I managed to stumble from bus to bed, but I do remember curling up next to Ben (we’d splurged on our own room), and falling asleep to the happy chatter of young backpackers in the common area starting their night. I cursed their stamina before passing out until noon the following day. Ta da!

* If you ever need 1/3 of a lawyer, email us!

3 responses so far

May 27 2009

Lowcountry Love

Published by under Travel

“I need a vacation, please.” I demanded for the hundredth time that week.

“Mmm, yeah, that’d be fun.” Ben replied, distractedly.

“NO, you don’t understand.” I grabbed his shoulders and pivoted him away from the TV until he faced me squarely, our noses nearly touching. “Take. Me. On. Vacation.”

Maybe it’s because we haven’t gone much of anywhere all winter. Maybe it was the hint of crazy in my eyes. But somehow, a few weekends ago, I found myself whisked away to Charleston, S.C., for a long weekend.

Ben and I are born-and-bred Richmond, Virginians. As the former capital of the Confederate States, you’d think that Richmond would fiercely identify with its Southern heritage and everything that goes along with that title. And we do. Woo boy, do we ever. But truth be told, Richmond is a land divided. Flanked on one side by the small southern-traditional towns of Southeastern Virginia, and on the other by the D.C.-sprawl of bustling Northern Virginia, we’re torn between our Confederate heritage and our proximity to those damn Yankees that have been creeping their way down to warmer climates ever since the unfortunate conclusion to the War between the States.

But there’s no getting around it in South Carolina: you are in The American South. The rootin’-tootin’, chicken-fryin’, Bible-thumpin’ South. To wit: South Carolinians still spark debates over whether or not to fly a Confederate flag over the capitol building. South Carolina: the answer is no.

Any place where you can revel in balmy temperatures, thick, slow accents and loads of butter is a fine vacation to me.

Charleston has preserved its historic glory more than any place I’ve ever been, despite becoming a tourist hub. Once you step into the famous “below Broad” neighborhood, you are whisked away to the antebellum South: sitting on your porch swing, wearing a corset and sipping your mint juleps. We were walking through the historic district (the second-largest historic district in the world behind Rome!), when I stopped suddenly.

“It’s so..it’s so…quiet.” I said, incredulously. Not even the faint hum of traffic pierced the humid, honeysuckle-scented air.

Of course Ben didn’t respond. He was too distracted. By what, you ask? By this:
Charleston, South Carolina, historic district

Yep. Someone actually lives there. And in the house beside it that’s just as huge and gorgeous. And in the one beside THAT that’s even more huge and gorgeous. And on and on it goes.
Charleston

Of course, we did a little more than wander around the historic district and take carriage rides while in the heart of the Lowcountry. Okay, we did a lot more. And, let me tell you, it was DELICIOUS.

Oh, sweet, sweet, heavenly Charleston, how I long for thy tasty morsels.

Please, let me take you on a culinary tour of Charleston as I revel in the delicious memories. I’ll be brief.

Cornbread with honey and butter.
Shrimp po’boy.
Basket of pecan fried chicken.
Mac’n'cheese.
Fried okra.
Sweet potato pancakes (best pancakes OF MY LIFE. Get thee to Joseph’s, friend.)
Shrimp and grits.
Grits grits grits.
Fried green tomatoes.
Bacon bacon bacon.
Stuffed french toast.

STOP. I must end lest I drool on my keyboard.

"Charleston Receipts" Junior League cookbook

In the midst of this shameless weekend-long gluttonfest, while shopping in the open-air market near the waterfront, we ran across a copy of the famed Charleston Receipts for sale at one of the stands.

This ain’t no ordinary cookbook, y’all. This is the original Charleston Junior League cookbook, and the oldest of its kind in print.

It wasn’t until the six-hour car ride home that I got a chance to take a peak inside, and, wow, was I ever in for a treat.

I opened the book up to find an entire chapter devoted to grits (also known as hominy, and apparently, grist):

An entire chapter for grits

Please note the line of Gullah that precedes each chapter. Gullah is creole language still spoken by many descendants of slaves in the region. From what I understand, it’s the language that evolved from the combination of English and African dialects. In case you can’t read it:

“Man w’en ‘e hongry, ‘e teck sum egg or cheese an’ ting an’ eat till e’ full. But ‘ooman boun’ fuh meck wuck an’ trouble. ‘E duh cook!”

Translation? “When a man is hungry, he takes some eggs or cheese and things and eats until he is full, but a woman is bound to make work and trouble. She cooks!”

Duh.

WHY is there a whole chapter on grits? How many ways could you possible cook grits, you ask?
So many ways to enjoy Hominy
Boiled, baked, pressure cooked, fried… and when I turned the page, I discovered, amongst even more grits recipes, a recipe for “Hominy Surprise!”

Please note how all of the women identify themselves by their husband’s name. She’s Mrs. Louis T. Parker! And a proper married girl.

I then flipped to the “game” section. This is the only cookbook I own with a chapter called “Game” that includes yummy recipes like this:
squirrel
You can tell this book is from a different era. Excuse me? Brush with fat? What fat? Do they sell that at Kroger? How should I preheat my oven? Gravy? Where’s the recipe for the gravy?

It is also the only cookbook I own that gives me instruction on how to properly cook various wild meats. Squirrels, for instance, don’t need to soak, and skinning can wait until cooking.
possum

Possum on the other hand needs to be cleaned as soon as possible after shooting, and hung for 48 hours. Who knew?

Cooter Soup?
I was at first extremely confused by the first ingredient necessary for cooter soup: cooters? preferably female?

What. The. Hell.

I was even more disturbed by the first instruction: “Kill cooter by chopping off its head.”

It wasn’t until I turned to this page:
Cooter Pie!
That I understand that cooter=terrapin=turtle. Ha!

And, finally, who can leave South Carolina without a large dose of…
Everyone needs a little Scripture Cake

Alas, we returned to Richmond with heavy hearts and heavier bellies. Here, I don’t keep vats of bacon fat in my cupboard or skin freshly-caught game. Yet.

29 responses so far

Apr 16 2009

The elusive sea koala…

Published by under Travel,Virginia

If you’ve wandered by our site in recent weeks, you’ve probably noticed a strange “sticky” post and a picture of a weird koala-mermaid gracing our homepage. I’ll explain.

koala_ai.png

A few months ago, the Australian tourism office announced they were conducting a worldwide job search for an “Island Caretaker.” This person would live on the Great Barrier Reef islands for six months, keeping a blog and making videos to promote the islands.

After three people independently emailed me the link to the job, and after I learned that another three people had emailed Ben about it, I became convinced that this was fate. I mean, HELLO? The job involved traveling, sitting on beautiful beaches, and BLOGGING. If you’re not convinced we are the best candidates for such a job, please refer to: this entire website.

We took a risk and applied together, as a couple, rather than as individuals, thinking that our quirky interaction might add a funny element to the video, and might set us apart from the crowd. It could’ve also been what disqualified us, but we’ll never know. We didn’t get the job. BIG MISTAKE, QUEENSLAND. BIG MISTAKE.

So our dreams of making $100,000 for six months of lying on a beach were squelched, and we’re back to the annoying and archaic concept of actually earning our money. Blech.

For your viewing pleasure, I present our audition video. If I post this, I don’t want to hear any, “WTF, of COURSE you didn’t make it, that video is STUPID and terrible and you’re the DUMBEST people alive,” okay? We didn’t make it. No rubbing salt in the wound. Instead, once you watch this video, please comment with: “WOW, Australia really messed up by not hiring you! You’re HILARIOUS. And really attractive! And super smart to boot!”

K? Good.

PS: Shout out to my sister Lindsay for filming us! She was quite patient dealing with our demand for dozens of takes of each shot. Another shout out goes to Allison for her awesome artistic skillz.

11 responses so far

Feb 22 2009

The Short List

Published by under Random Musings,Travel

Do you know what Brittany and I do when we’re bored?

1. Eat
2. Talk about what we should eat next

But this lazy Sunday afternoon we were pretty full from lunch, and we already knew what we would be having for dinner…so we found ourselves in unusual and unsettling territory. Of course, there do exist rarely employed alternatives for just such emergencies:

3. Talk about the places from our trip that we miss
4. Fight to the death

Oddly, there are no other options. Because I’m afraid of Brittany’s unusual strength, I quickly started asking her which places from our trip she misses the most. Before long, she was beautifully and safely distracted at the computer, reading our old blog posts and breathing sighs of reminiscence. And instead of fighting to the death, we talked about which blog entries are our favorites, now that we have the benefit of hindsight. We each have our own peculiar favorites, but it wasn’t hard to agree on the ones that make us both smile. For those of you who prefer to walk on the CliffsNotes side of life, please enjoy the following short list…our own hand-selected “best of the best.”

In no particular order:

  1. Trekking in Thailand with Johnnie Walker
  2. An Unexpected Meeting in Cambodia
  3. Our Greek Music Video
  4. Top 5 Tips for Not Looking Like an American
  5. Brittany Gets a Tempting Marriage Proposal in Laos
  6. Ben Eludes the Policia in Seville
  7. Ben is Caught by the Policia in Barcelona
  8. A Photo Journey in Chiang Mai, Thailand
  9. Won’t You Take Me to Monkey Town?
  10. The Motorcycle Diaries in Vietnam

One response so far

Jun 23 2008

How DO you do laundry while traveling?

Published by under Travel,Virginia

Our first week abroad, we made a rookie mistake. We let our dirty laundry pile up. It wasn’t until we were officially out of underwear that the thought occurred to us that, oh yeah, I guess we have to do laundry here. So, naturally, we packed our dirty clothes in plastic bags and hiked over to a laundromat we’d seen in the busy new town of Chania. There, we made the unfortunate realization that the use of their washing machines cost eight euros (12 bucks) per kilo. On our budget, that was the price of about four meals. Yikes.

We were even more dismayed to find, upon our return, that to dry the clothes would cost an additional eight euros per kilo. To put this in perspective, say you wanted to wash and dry five pounds of clothes. It would cost you forty euros or about SIXTY DOLLARS.

Which is why, on one sunny afternoon, we found ourselves heaving bags of soaking wet laundry through Greek city streets, back to our room, where we hung them out to dry.

Obviously, going forward, we adopted the tried-and-true backpacker routine of manually washing our wardrobes. Eventually, we honed our hand-washing skillz to perfection. For the benefit of fellow travelers, I’ve decided to share the process, in ten steps.

Step 1: Pretend that the hostel’s bathroom is clean. Find a sink.

Step 2: Fill the sink (or bathtub or bowl) with water, some sort of soap (laundry detergent is a luxury; it’s far too heavy to cart around. Shampoo or body wash work just as well), and your dirty clothes. You’ll need some sort of sink stopper (you can get a universal stopper at a travel store, though they never work great). A dirty sock works just as well.

Step 3: Walk away. Entertain yourself for about 15 minutes while you let your clothes soak (more, depending on level of stinkiness [FYI, according to spell check, "stinkiness" is not actually a word]). Try not to forget about your clothes until the next morning when you wake up, walk into the bathroom, see your waterlogged wardrobe sitting in a puddle of stagnant water — actually, stagnant red water, thanks to one shirt — and then for the next six months have to wear clothes that all have a pinkish glow about them.

Step 4: Come back. Stare at the sink full of filthy clothes with loathing. Question, not for the last time, why you chose to travel far away from your comfortable home with washing machine.

doing laundryStep 5: Get your hands dirty. Swish around the clothes for a while. Scrub each item individually, concentrating on Problem Areas (i.e., armpits, stains). Apply additional soap as needed.

Step 6: Rinse! Run each item under the faucet (a shower head is particularly good for this) until the water runs out clean, and not soapy.

Step 7: Wring the excess water out of the item. Now, most proper hand-washers will tell you not to do this, as it stretches or misshapes your clothes. But seriously people, these clothes are going to be ruined by the end of your trip, no matter what you do. Embrace it.

You want to know why I’m pro-wringing? ‘Cause the most annoying part of doing laundry by hand is drying your clothes. That is, they don’t. It can take DAYS for soaked clothes to dry.

But never fear — Brittany’s come to the rescue once again! I have a little trick that hastens the drying process.

Step 8: Spread out a towel on the floor. Place the wet clothing item on top of the towel. Roll up the towel/clothes combo. Whack your boyfriend with it a couple of times. Very important.
doing laundry

Step 9: Wring, squish, squeeze, sit, stomp, have fun! Do whatever you can to that towel burrito to get as much water out of your clothes, and into the towel, as possible. Work out all your aggression! Sing while you do it. Sorry, it’s required.
doing laundry

Step 10: Hang up your clothes, wherever you can. Outside is always best. We brought a portable clothes line with us. If you hang clothes indoors, in a non-air-conditioned, unventilated room, they’ll pretty much never dry. If you can, time it so your clothes can hang out overnight. You’ll be wary of leaving your clothes outside overnight before you realize that no one wants to steal your dirty, hand-washed underwear anyway. Also, get used to wearing damp clothes.
this is how we dry our laundry... on the heater

If you’re clothes are still wet by the time you have to pack up and move on, for the love of God, pack them in a separate, plastic bag! They will stink to high heaven otherwise. Oh, borrowed hair dryers also work for emergency drying.

Ta da! You did it! Your clothes are (kind of) clean!

If ever you find yourself in a hostel, scrubbing your unmentionables in a small sink using hand soap instead of detergent, and hanging them to dry on the railing of your bunk bed in a room you share with eight people, you’re officially allowed to call yourself a backpacker. Be thankful that you don’t have to do your laundry in a river, like most rural residents of S.E. Asia.

Important Tips:

  • Do NOT, for your own sake, let your dirty clothes pile up. Every couple of days wash a few items. Trust me, it’s much, much better this way. Manually washing an entire load of laundry is not a fun way to spend an entire day.
  • Realize that pretty much no matter what you do, you’re going to stink. It’s cool. So does everyone else! Your definition of what’s “acceptable to wear” is far different while traveling than while living at home.
  • And as a “treat” to yourself, splurge once a month or so and let someone do your laundry for you in a proper machine, no matter what the cost. ‘Cause, trust me, you’re never going to feel truly clean wearing underwear you hand-washed in a sink.

And finally, two items a traveler should never, EVER be without:

  1. Tide stick
    Tide to go stick
  2. Febreze! For the uninitiated: Febreze is a miracle liquid that eliminates odors in fabrics. It pretty much allowed us to do laundry half as often. I know, disgusting.
    Febreze!

Sweet, sweet modern luxuries.

59 responses so far

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