Sunday, May 22, 2011

I moved!

Come visit me on my new website (no more Blogger for me!)

I just updated with a new blog post on my recent trip to Italy and what I learned during a day in a true Italian kitchen.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Why I Love Being Home

This time last year I had already logged in a couple dozen flight segments and was well on my way to Premier Executive Gold status.  This year, now that I'm in a different job, my travel schedule slowed down quite a bit.  And I have to say I'm kind of liking it.

I often day dream about becoming a global nomad, spending my days wandering from place to place.  But it's an idea that for me is better in theory than reality.  And it boils down to a few things:

  • I love my bed.  
  • It's virtually impossible to have any sort of social or dating life when you're constantly on the road.
  • I like having a routine.
  • Home is uniquely mine.

Growing up, whenever we went on vacations, the last thing my mother would always do was clean the bathroom.  My brothers and I would literally be sitting in the car waiting to leave while my mother scrubbed the toilet.  It became a running joke.  But now as an adult I understand it.  Home is a solid foundation.  It's comfort and constance.  It's a refuge that is all mine.  And while often mundane, it is a special place to be valued.

Home allows you to understand a change in perspective.  When experiences are outside of your 'norm' you view them in a different way.  Home allows us to experience the world more deeply because it paints a frame for us to view the world within.  Experiences can often become disconnected without having a basis to compare.  The Andes Mountains were so magnificent in part because they are so vastly different from the flatness of home sweet home Ohio.

My mother appreciates what home is.  That's why she made sure it was a welcoming place (with a clean bathroom and all!) to return to.  And while the travel bug kicks in more often than not, and my list of must see places grows and grows, I can't imagine not having the foundation of home to come back to.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Yummy Eats: Panna Cotta

To me, traveling and eating go hand in hand.  I can't think of a better way to get to know a place then by experiencing its food.  My brain has recently been on Italy and my upcoming trip with my mom.  But with that months away, I thought why not bring Italy to me?  And more specifically, bring Italy to my kitchen.  

Thus you have Yummy Eats - posts about how you can bring a place to you through food.  Pick a place, pick a recipe, turn on some music to get you inspired and cook away.

First chapter: Italy.  What I love about Italian cooking is that you can take a few simple ingredients and turn them in to amazingly yummy deliciousness.  Case in point: Panna Cotta.  Cream plus sugar, vanilla and gelatin.... yummers!  It's so simple to make (and pretty hard to mess up).  Mangia!

Panna Cotta made to the soundtrack of Turnadot
Makes eight servings
4 cups (1l) heavy cream (or half-and-half)
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)
6 tablespoons (90ml) cold water
  1. Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan or microwave. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.  (If using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the bean into the cream and add the bean pod. Cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the bean then rewarm the mixture before continuing.)
  2. Lightly oil eight custard cups with a neutral-tasting oil.
  3. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Pour the very warm Panna Cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
  5. Divide the Panna Cotta mixture into the prepared cups, then chill them until firm, which will take at least two hours but I let them stand at least four hours. 
You can make this recipe up to 2 days ahead. Keep well-covered and chilled.  

Thank you David Lebovitz for this amazingly simple and delicious recipe.  

Monday, February 21, 2011

Advice For Travel Disappointments

This weekend was like a comedy of travel errors.  It took three attempts at the local market to get the Belgian waffle my nephew was craving.  Parking issues, crowds and shop closings all stood in the way - yet we tried and tried again (and again).  The Jurassic Journey exhibit at the fair grounds was a complete bust.  The exhibit was amateur and the playground was riddled with sick kids so my nephews couldn't play.  Forty minutes in and 50 bucks in the hole we cut our losses and bolted.  And then the airplane movie at the science museum was a total disappointment.  Yet with all of the errors, I had a great weekend spending time with my family.

That got me thinking about the times where my travels didn't go exactly as planned or even worse, did go as planned but were utter disappointments.  For starters:

  1. The Mona Lisa.  You go to Paris, you need to go to The Louvre.  You go to the Louvre, you need to see the Mona Lisa.  And the Mona Lisa, well.... it was... OK.  Yeah, just OK.
  2. The Washington Monument.  Truth be told, I've never been to the top so can't judge it. But that's just it.  I lived in Washington, DC for 4 years and never went to the top.  And then this past Fall I made a trip to DC - mostly to take a peek from the top of that mysterious obelisk.  But when I arrived tickets were sold out all weekend.  (Who knew there were tickets?)
  3. Las Vegas.  Yeah, pretty much all of it.  I'm not a gambler.  I'm not big on 'cheese'.  And as far as Vegas goes, the bang for the buck is small.  So other than some great restaurants (and my friend Tara), I'm not a fan.

Despite these disappointments, I still managed to enjoy myself on each of these trips.  That's because disappointments don't have to mean travel disaster.  And I don't know about you, but I'd rather be disappointed from seeing something than regret never seeing it at all.  (That's talking to you Mona Lisa.)

So here's my best advice when travels go awry:

Bring your guidebook for backup.  Turn lemons in to lemonade and find another nearby site to visit.  There are lots of small museums and attractions that often get overlooked by the big ones.  Or use the maps to wander the streets and take in the architecture of the city.

When all else fails, eat.  Find the nearest cafe, bar or restaurant.   Grab a drink or bite to eat and regroup.  Devour a local temptation and people watch.

Justify, justify, justify.  I must say I'm pretty brilliant at this one.  I have a closet full of shoes and handbags all of which I can justify ten times over.  So if something goes bust, find one good, simple thing to focus on and make you feel better.

Keep positive.  A sense of humor goes a long way.  And being angry and annoyed takes more energy than putting on a smile, having a laugh and moving on to the next thing.

Remember nothing beats planning.  If something is so special and important that it will ruin your trip if you don't see it, make sure you do your homework.  Research hours of operation, how to get tickets and dress code to avoid being turned away or finding yourself face-to-face with a closed sign.

How do you turn disappointing travel experiences around?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

5 WAYS: To Experience Your Own City

When most people refer to traveling they usually mean going to a place that isn't home.  With no big trip planned in the very near future, I started to think about the city I live in and how much of it I haven't experienced in my 3 years here.  I haven't been to the art museum.  I haven't spent an afternoon people watching on the Ohio State Oval.  I haven't hiked Hocking Hills.  So why haven't I 'traveled' my city?

When I travel I love to eat, wander and watch.  Sounds kind of boring.  But with all of that eating, wandering and watching I'm actually taking a place in, pretending like I'm a local.  So here's the hitch. I don't experience my own city because I'm too busy.  I'm running errands, I'm thinking about work.  I've got places to go, people to see.  Blah, blah, blah.  Plus it's all too familiar.

What I came to realize is that in order to experience my home city, I need to break from my normal routine.  Thinking about what makes a culture interesting (its people, history, food, music and events), I came up with this short list.  Now I realize my ideas  for getting to know your own city better are pretty much no-brainers.  But for some reason, when Saturday morning rolls around and I think about what I'm going to do, I always seem to overlook them.  Maybe you do too.

5 WAYS: To experience your own city

  1. People watch.  One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to sit in a cafe and people watch.  But when I'm home I never seem to make time to do it.  Pick a part of town you don't normally visit (if you live in small town visit one nearby), find a bar or cafe and take an afternoon to watch life pass by.
  2. Local landmarks.  Take a drive or go for a walk and pick a landmark, building, park or monument that you're drawn to and get to know its history.  Taking a tour is a start (make sure to ask lots of questions), but also read books on local history, research it online or talk with local historians.  
  3. Local eating.  Skip the grocery store and go shopping at a farmers market.  Instead of eating at a chain restaurant pick a locally-owned one (look for ones that use local foods in their menus).  Eating local foods keeps you connected to your community and will open your eyes to how rich it is.
  4. Local music.  Big music acts don't become big overnight.  They start in local music scenes.  Check out local radio station websites for upcoming events.  Pop in to a music shop (yes they still exist) and ask the staff about up and coming local bands.  Try something different.  If alternative music is your thing, look for concerts for local choirs or acapella groups.
  5. Community events.  Pumpkin festivals, chili cook-offs, pancake breakfasts, bingo.  These are all great ways to experience and support your community.  Search for local events online and add them to your personal calendar as a reminder.  Your newspaper, city magazine or community website will have event ads and listings.  Libraries and coffee shops often have community boards with event postings too.   
BONUS WAY (5 +1):  More local eating.  If you're new to a city, I can't think of a better way to get to know it than trying the local favorite dish.  Philly Cheese steaks, cheese curds, hot dish.... gooey duck.  Try it.  You might like it.

If you're looking to challenge yourself to get to know your home city better, is hosting a weekly Travel Your Own City contest.  Every Thursday they will post a new idea to explore your city and encourage you to add photos and comments.  And of course feel free to share your ideas here.  The more the merrier.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Inspiring Travel Quotes

  • "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."  - Saint Augustine
  • “Experience, travel - these are as education in themselves." - Euripides
  • “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes
  • “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” - Henry Miller  
  • “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard
  • "Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled."  - Mohammed
  • “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” - G. K. Chesterton
  • “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, January 30, 2011

5 WAYS: To Experience a Resort

Not every trip we take needs to be filled with one of a kind, local experiences.  Sometimes when we travel we just need to unwind, relax and stay put in a place that isn't home.  I recently took a much needed long weekend at an all-inclusive resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico.  This was my first vacation at an all-inclusive, and quite frankly I avoid them for their over-the-top cheesiness and mediocre food.  But this trip was a little different.

Maybe it was timing.  Maybe it was stress.  Maybe it was just because I needed to get away.  But on this trip I embraced everything I dislike about resorts and came to see it as a sub-culture filled with unique qualities (albeit at times toned down for the masses), not as a superficial Disneyfied place.

That's right.  Even at an all-inclusive I got a flavor for the local culture and broke out of my comfort zone.  So don't discount them when dreaming up your next vacation.  And arrive with an open mind ready to relax, have fun and even learn a thing or two.

So here's the first edition of what I hope to be a recurring post called 5 WAYS.

5 WAYS for you to get local at a resort:

  1. Make friends with the staff.  I recommend starting with the bartender.  Ask for restaurant, sightseeing and nightlife recommendations. Let him/her know you're interested in a less touristy locale (or the best tourist spots if that's what you're looking for).  Nine times out of 10 you'll get great advice.
  2. Eat the regional menu options.  Even in an all-inclusive you'll find local foods in the buffet and specialty cocktails at the bar.  There will surely be hamburgers and fries aplenty, but make an effort to taste test local fruits, veggies, entrees and drinks.
  3. Turn on local TV or radio.  Rainy day and stuck inside?  Or maybe you just need some background noise while getting ready for a night out?  Turn on the radio or TV and tune in to a channel you normally wouldn't.  And if you are traveling internationally, TV novellas are incredibly entertaining in any language.  
  4. Embrace resort entertainment.  Sure it can be cheesy, but you'll often learn something - whether it be about people from another country or the local culture.  In my case, the local entertainment included weddings.  I spent a half hour being an uninvited guest to a beach wedding and it was a beautiful and memorable experience.  The resort disco was also an interesting time filled with local music and a diverse crowd.
  5. Learn the language.  Again, the hotel staff is great for this.  Learn a few phrases or words that you think will be helpful during your stay (please, thank you and beer come top of mind).  While most staff at resorts usually speak English, you can definitely earn a few brownie points by speaking the native language - even if it's a word or two.
BONUS WAY (5+1): Meet people.  Resorts (especially those in warm locales) tend to attract an international guest list.  Brits, Germans, Italians, Aussies and even local Mexicans were all staying at my resort.  I think meeting new people is one of the best things about traveling and resorts often become little melting pots of people from all over the world.  So make a new friend and learn a bit about where he/she is from.