Getting out of the comfort zone

I’ll never understand those who travel only to spend their time and energy looking for the familiar. I recall when living in Heidelberg, Germany, another American student girl complaining how difficult it was to, and I quote, “find a good burger”. I was 21 and thought to myself “seriously? Is that why you are here?”

I get it, we were young and it was some of our first experiences outside of our comfort zones (age 21, but already on my 5th year away from home, so perhaps this is why I was so annoyed) and perhaps a burger satisfied a kind of home sickness. And we weren’t exactly traveling; we were living there for our studies. I always ate in the student cafeteria, the kind where you shuffled along in line, pushing a metal partitioned tray along the food line while you pointed to the selections you wished the large person behind the counter to ladle into a specific rectangle. I can’t recall what these dishes were, which might be for the best, because I do remember that they were not exactly delicious and I always left feeling heavy. But it was very cheap, I think we even paid with tickets that came from somewhere (the school?), and all the university students in town frequented this place for lunch and sometimes dinner. So perhaps this fellow student had her reasons and maybe I’m being too harsh – but I do remember being annoyed.

So a more appropriate and actually travel related example is: A few months ago, while dining with my BF in a funky French/Spanish/Asian restaurant (it’s called Ménage a Trois in reference to the strange mix of 3 cuisines), next to us was a table full of a visiting Italian family. Mom, dad, older daughter, teenage sons. Perhaps a random aunt. The waiter spoke to them in Italian because they couldn’t manage a word of Spanish. I eavesdropped, bewildered, as the man asked the waiter if the restaurant could make a pasta dish, as there were none on the menu – which you would likely expect in a French/Thai/Spanish fusion restaurant. None of the three are renown for their farfalle or tagliatelle dishes (though the Catalans do have a paella like dish with tiny short noodles instead of rice called Fideuà).

So why, whyyyyy, would you travel however many miles to visit a place only to eat the exact same thing you eat every day of your life at home? I wanted to lean over and say to him, sotto voce: “You’re doing it wrong”.

I’ll give you one more annoying example that, unfortunately, is not uncommon as I am witness to varying degrees of it all the time. But this one particularly stands out. The setting is one of the few American cuisine restaurants here in Barcelona that are not trying to be some kind of 50s diner. A nice place with kind of hipster food and great decor in a trendy part of town. I am actually sitting at the same table as some Irish visitors, who are friends of friends. As they receive their orders of burger and fries, one lass of approximately 35 years of age, calls the waiter over to question what was wrong with the ‘chips’. When the waiter informs her that they are thick cut potato fries, as indicated on the menu, she loudly whines that she wants (and this is a direct quote) “normal chips”.

The confused waiter wanders off after being tongue lashed for a while, and I bear witness to this miserable girl moaning over the appearance and size of her ‘chips’ throughout the entire meal. Is that all you can focus on in this beautiful city at a table full of friends? Your effing ‘chips’ that, by the way, weren’t even on the menu? I can understand if he served you fried chicken feet instead, but these where cut and cooked potatoes that happened to be a different SIZE than you were used too. Girl, please.

Part of traveling is being open to new experiences, especially culinary experiences. If the lass can only consume chips that are identical to those she gets in her chip shop in Hackney, then perhaps she should have told her host she preferred to dine in one of the many, many British pubs in the center of town. Italian Joe maybe should have chosen one of the many, many Italian restaurants all over Barcelona if his pasta levels were running dangerously low. Kudos for getting out of your country to see the world, but try to experience the culinary side of it a little bit too.

 

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New Year resolution check-in part one

At the beginning of the year, I stated that I intended to spend all my earnings on travel this year. So far, the spending all my earnings part is right on track, but while much of it has been on travel, much of it has also been on dentistry and dog surgery and tedious (and expensive) travel to the US for said things above, plus fun tasks like renewing passports and collecting tax documents.

But the trips for enjoyment and improvement have been numerous and yes, enjoyable and improving. So far this year, outside of two trips to the US for the above listed reasons, I’ve made some trips. Let’s start with…

Madrid, where I essentially ate my way through the city until the final day when we rented bikes from our hotel and rode through the fabulous and giant park that goes along the Manzanares river. This is the first thing we should have done, and I will return with a proper mountain bike and spend at least two full days exploring the awesome expanse that is the Casa del Campo on a bike that does not weigh 75 pounds.

Fried octopus and calamari in Mercado Sant Miguel. Where I ate a lot of food.

Fried octopus and calamari in Mercado Sant Miguel. Where I ate a lot of food.

My favorite dish: Tapa of tiny, pickled green eggplant.

My favorite dish: Tapa of tiny, pickled green eggplant. Discovered in a 150 year old bar.

GP offroading the hotel bike.

GP taking the hotel bike on an excursion.

Barolo, Rivarolo Canavese, Agliè and Oropa (Italy) to see various stages of the Giro d’Italia. Impressive and I’ll do it again next year. We saw the time trial stage between Baresco and Barolo, the end of stage 13 in Rivarolo Canavese, and the start AND finish of stage 14 which was from Agliè to Oropa. We rode our bikes between the towns via a ‘shortcut’ that took us 5 hours through the backyards of tiny hillside farms, roads so steep that deep cuts in the pavement were needed for vehicle traction, and up hills where even the triathletes of the group (there were three of them) had to push their bikes.

Somewhere in Northern Italy

This is steeper than it looks. And full of holes.

Riders cheering on the real racers at stage 12. It had hailed–hard–40 minutes before the stage passed through.

We also spent a day spectating an off road team endurance race–for scooters. I have some video of this here. This was not quite as spectacular as the Giro, but it was possibly more entertaining.

Offroad scooter endurance racing.

Off road scooter endurance racing.

France: Paris and Cannes (Disclaimer: Cannes was not my idea). I met up with a dear friend for a repeat trip we did last year. She flew from California to Paris and I from Barcelona. We planned to meet in the CDG airport as I would be arriving 20 minutes after her. Of course, phones did not work so we spent 2 hours trying to find each other until I got smart and bought 15 minutes of internet and called her through Skype. We stayed in a tiny (what else?) hotel in the 10th arrondissement and had a fabulous time, as always. I love that city and would live there if it were near the sea. Forget about the old reputation of rude Parisians – people are lovely there: friendly, helpful, playful and engaging. Quite the opposite of how the locals treat non-locals where I live…that’s another topic though. We went to a classical concert the first night in a beautiful cathedral. It was fabulous- except for the dang nuns blocking my view. We crashed a fancy party next door afterwards. I have no idea what it was for.IMG_0588We used the awesome shared bike program Velib and road all the way to and through the Bois de Boulogne where we saw hookers on their lunch break. Then we rode through “Little Africa” and along the river and damn near everywhere in Paris.

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Velib steed in the park. Shh, don’t disturb the hookers.

We ate good food our few days there, spent a lot of time walking around Le Marais and then went South to Nice and over to Cannes where it was really boring. I did find us some bikes and we rode up to the old town which was the only cool thing about Cannes other than some great food and spending time with my friend. Oh and all the old men smiling at us, I guess.

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Old village on the hill above Cannes. The bikes were partially electric so really, we cheated on the climb part.

Riding to the top of the old town hill, a workman flirted with up asking if we were training for the Tour de France.I answered that yes, in fact, I was (in a sense).

Next up: A weekend riding motos in Aragon and our Tour de France bike adventure.