Thursday, June 30, 2011

Paso de Dobles

Seville, Spain

April 2006

"Julia, izquierda!" As the pace of the music increased, I tried to not let the words of Dona Lola, my profesora de baile, which were currently being heard in my head, mess up my dancing. All semester long at my bi-weekly Sevillanas dance class (Sevillanas being a flamenco-style dance in Spain), I was constantly being admonished by Profesora Lola for the starting the dance with the incorrect foot (izquierda is the word for left in Spanish). Although I never thought of myself as someone with bad coordination (I had after all taken ballet for six years), apparently when I put away my ballet shoes, my coordination got put away too.

The funny thing about Profesora Lola was that she really wasn't an intimidating person, either in look or demeanor. In fact, her reprimands were more comical than anything else, due to her especially pronounced Andalusian accent. She didn't patrol the dance floor like a Russian ballet madam during class. Rather, she always kindly and gently corrected an out of place arm or leg. My problem was that when she corrected people, it was always in front of the whole class, and it was almost always me being the one corrected.

When I had gone about selecting my courses the previous semester, I thought (at the time) that learning a regional folk dance and earning a college credit for it would be fantastic. Although the first class had gone well enough, since the steps we were taught were very basic and invovled a lot of repeating, as the weeks progressed, they became more elaborate and advanced.

The night before the official start of the Feria holiday (an elaborate fair held annually in Seville two weeks after Easter Holy Week), the center where I was studying hosted a fiesta for its students and their intercambios (language exchange partners). Although I normally skipped the fiestas, I decided to go. It seemed that most of the students were going, namely because many of us were traveling somewhere for the holiday. While in Spain I had two weeks of vacation, one for Easter week, the other for Feria. I myself would be headed to Madrid the following day, where I would then fly to Italy for the week.

At the start of the party, I stayed more on the sidelines, preferring to snack on some of the tapas that had been laid out along with a customary glass of Manzanilla, a type of fine sherry. Although people began dancing right away, I remained rooted to my seat for fear of embarrassing myself out on the courtyard's dance floor.

When Nick, my ever fun loving and gregarious amigo, offered his hand, and said "Julia, vamos," yo fui (I went). If there was one person I needn't have been embarrassed with, it was Nick. He and I were also in the same dance class so we had danced together (or I had attempted to) on many occassions before. As the music began, I stood anxiously waiting for the vocals to start, which would signal the start of the dancing (and scary footwork).

Although of course there were some goof ups (mostly on my part) and I still felt that my dance moves were greatly inferior to those of some of my companeros, I had fun that night, some of the most fun I would have the entire semester. I came to the realization while stomping my feet and twirling my legs, that dancing is a lot like language learning. Both can be difficult but both can be extremely rewarding if you stop caring about possibly messing up and just enjoy yourself. Fluidity will come when speaking a foreign language or dancing an exotic dance if you stop being inhibited and simply just be. And the best reward of all was when, on my way out of the center that night after the party, I even garnered a "bien hecho" (well done) from Profesora Lola herself.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wine shopping-a vicarious form of traveling

It may seem a bit lame, but I enjoy going to the wine store for no other reason than to admire all the wines from around the world that line the shelves-California, Spain, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand. Although I've sampled cognac in France, Jameson Whiskey and Guinness beer in Ireland, sherry in Spain, I've only ever toured one vineyard and that happened just recently (the Biltmore Winery in Asheville, North Carolina). It's probably due to the fact that unlike breweries, vineyards are generally located more in the countryside and while I've globe trotted around the world, I've for the most part always stuck with the mega metropolises. But that doesn't mean I don't hope to visit the
 Simonsig Vineyard in Stellenbosch, South Africa

Image courtesy of allvineyards.com

or the Achaval-Ferrer vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina. Aren't the Andes utterly striking?



But for now my recent purchases from the local wine store:
Spain

Chile

Italy

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hotel Review-Residence Inn Old Town Alexandria, Virginia

Marriott Residence Inn-Old Town
Alexandria, Virginia
Date of stay: April 2009

For signing up for the Marriott Rewards Visa credit card, I received numerous bonuses. One earned me a free night at any qualifying hotels in their level 1-4 categories. Another gave me 20,000 free points for my first transaction using the card. So when planning a trip to Washington D.C. for my husband and me, the Residence Inn in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia was perfect, as our two nights would be completely covered. 

I hadn't been to Alexandria in many years but I remembered its colonial ambience in the city's old town section and its convenient location to downtown D.C. Although I looked into staying in D.C., between parking double what it cost outside of the city and points needed for redeeming a free night's stay that much higher, it made all the more sense to stay in Alexandria. It wasn't a bad thing since there are a lot of neat sites and shops along with some wonderful dining options. 

At the time we stayed there, the Residence Inn was only a year or so old. Although some newer hotels, while still looking shiny in the public areas, tend to show their age in guest rooms, our guest room looked as sparkling as the lobby and breakfast nook area. The room (a studio) was extremely spacious and featured a kitchenette, perfect for those doggie bag leftovers. 

There is a parking garage on-site, although if you drive a sports utility vehicle, be sure to check with the hotel regarding height restrictions before you go. (We had borrowed my father-in-law's SUV and were extremely concerned for a minute that it wouldn't fit). Parking was fifteen dollars a day with in and out privileges. 

It's an eight to ten minute walk to the King Street metro station from the hotel, which is wonderful since D.C.'s metro is terrific in terms of convenience, safety, and cleanliness. We solely used the metro since it will take you just about anywhere you want to go to in the metropolitan area. 

Breakfast is included with the price of your room and features the standard Marriott options found at other Residence Inns and Springhill Suites-eggs, sausage, waffle station, fruit, various breads, cereal, and oatmeal, along with a juice machine, coffee, and tea. 

While it's certainly nice to stay in D.C., I almost prefer staying in Alexandria. The benefits of doing so outweigh the cons, especially since Alexandria is a tourist destination too. 

Residence Inn Old Town Alexandria
1456 Duke Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Happy 10th Anniversary

This past Saturday I celebrated the tenth anniversary of my first ever experience abroad. It was on June 25 that I got on a plane at Newark Airport and got off in an entirely different mundo. I spent a month in Mexico living as an exchange student with a host family, taking classes in the Spanish language and culture. It was an experience that most 16 year old teenagers can't say they've ever had. Only a few years later I would spent multiple semesters abroad, making my 30 days seem like a walk in the park, and yet when you've never traveled anywhere foreign before and you're completely without family and friends, 30 days is a huge deal.  In reflection I thought back to all the things that have changed since that day I boarded a flight to Mexico City:

  • Seeing the beautiful Twin Towers upon my return descent into the New York area. Unimaginable that barely two months later they would be gone.
  • Speaking Spanish fluently. I went to Mexico with two years of American high school Spanish and had a difficult time of things while there. Since Mexico I would spend  semesters abroad in Costa Rica and Spain, in addition to returning to Mexico to work as a volunteer following my graduation from college. When I think back on the slightly shy girl who was apprehensive about rolling her rrr's, my fluency now just amazes me.
  • As time goes on, Mexico and its people continue to get a bad rap. But I know firsthand the people's incredible generosity and kindness, and my feelings and thoughts of them will never be swayed by what's reported in the news or people's misconceptions. Negatives sell news, never the positives.
  • I've traveled to every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
  • I have an insatiable need more than ever to travel to both old and new places. 
  • I've actually followed through with something outside of a work and school context (posting regularly on this blog). 
Although I'll always have a lot of travel anniversaries, none will ever mean as much to me as the commemoration of my first ever international sojourn. And now I'll leave you with some photos of beautiful Queretaro:


   









Saturday, June 25, 2011

Food travels-Biltmore

I've only had it for two weeks but I am absolutely in love with my Biltmore cookbook. The recipes while of an elegant nature, are neither laborious nor intimidating (points guilty finger at Madam Julia Childs). And the pictures are just stunning. Since this past Tuesday marked the first day of summer, I decided to try out some recipes from the cookbook's summer section. As I mentioned in a previous post, the recipes in the cookbook are divided into the four seasons of the year, so I bid adieu to spring and rang in the summer solstice with:

Tomato Vidalia Gratin (tomatoes on the very bottom followed with a generous
 heaping of Vidalia onions and basil only to be topped with a mixture of mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, mayonnaise, and bacon). 



Shrimp Chowder-delicious if I may say so myself and still as good with having used more skim milk than heavy cream!


And for a wonderfully sweet finish, strawberry pie! The epitome of summer cuisine in my opinion:


It smelled so good I had some as a mid-afternoon snack!

And in case you're thinking this, I did go a little pie crust crazy this cooking time. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Glen of Two Lakes

I had come to Ireland to see green and green is what I found at Glendalough. Site of an early medieval monastic settlement founded in the sixth century by St. Kevin, a hermit priest, a thousand years later it retained its hermit like origins.

Having spent the last couple of days touring the fair city of Dublin, my fiance and I were anxious to leave behind its crowds and congestion. It was too far to make a sojourn to the Dingle Peninsula or the Ring of Kerry in the span of just one day, but Glendalough, only forty miles south of the capital, was completely doable.

The further we drove from Dublin's city center, the greener the landscape became. Delving deep into the heart of the Wicklow Mountains, the terrain hilly and barren for as far as the eye could see, the landscape appeared as if it hadn't changed in centuries. I could see why Hollywood directors so often film historic battle scenes there ("Braveheart" and "Excalibur").

Viewing mile after mile of gorgeous scenery complete with flocks of grazing sheep, Johann Sebastian Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze" appearing in my head, (a song I had learned early on in my piano lesson days), we arrived at the entrance to Glendalough.

Simply put, it was eerily beautiful. Although there were other tourists in addition to our small group, it was quiet. Gone were the sounds of traffic, the mobs of visitors rushing off to the Guinness Storehouse, and in place, another world which appeared as if it hadn't changed at all since the days when St. Kevin walked the land in his humble apparel.

When I first caught sight of the Upper Lake (Glendalough in Gaelic means "Glen of Two Lakes"), I was entranced. Even the tour guide asked, "Wouldn't you give the world to be able to wake up to a sight like this every morning?" Yes, I would.

The guide explained how the valley at Glendalough was formed during the last ice age by a glacier which left a moraine across the valley mouth. The Poulanass River, which plunges into the valley from the south, created a delta and divided the original lake into two (hence the Upper Lake and the Lower Lake).

Although it started to rain lightly, that only added to the serene beauty of the setting. I at first opened my umbrella to shield myself from the precipitation, but shortly after I closed it for I felt by having it open, a "modern" invention and all, I was closing myself off from how Glendalough originally looked and felt, centuries ago.

I experienced the biggest thrill when I saw my first ever Celtic cross. Its size was intimidating, its look mightily impressive. I would discover that legend says anyone who can wrap their arms around the cross will receive their wish. I abstained from doing this, for while I didn't mind the light rain, I drew the line at embracing it on an ancient statue.

The settlement comprised a variety of buildings, some dating from the time that they were first constructed, others having been rebuilt over the years. As is the case for so much of Ireland's history, Glendalough was destroyed by English troops in 1398. It was hard to imagine a site as peaceful and serene as this being ravaged and decimated and yet it was. Troops with their horses and weapons would even destroy a den like Eden.

Before long, it was time to leave our temporary peaceful existence, for we were to journey farther south to the city of Kilkenny. I loved all the time I spent in Ireland, but those couple of hours walking in the footsteps of St. Kevin and his early followers were among my favorites.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I'm the blogger of the day!

This morning I woke up to discover that I had been named blogger of the day by Paperblog. In case you're not familiar, Paperblog is an online magazine comprised of articles from a multitude of blogs around the world. Back in April I received an invitation to feature my blog and have been a part of the Paperblog community ever since. There are a variety of magazines (culture, family, environment, tech, etc), my articles you can guess go mostly in the travel category. Although I'm a part of the English Paperblog version, it's also available in French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Check out the link to Paperblog here! And I don't want to brag, but my latest post also made the front page (or homepage in Internet magazine speak).

Because I'm so excited about this, I'll be posting this week's narrative tomorrow so be sure to check back in!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Does traveling to a country with an oppressive regime give it legitimacy?

Over Christmas I discovered a fascinating read entitled Finding George Orwell in Burma. Written by Emma Larkin, a pseudonym for an American journalist born and raised in Asia, who fascinatingly studied the Burmese language at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Before George Orwell became the famous 20th century author most people are familiar with, he was known simply as Eric Arthur Blair and in his younger years spent half a decade working in Burma (what was then part the British Empire in India) as an Indian Imperial Policeman. In her book, Larkin retraces Orwell's path through the modern nation as a means of examining the country today, its culture, and its people. Larkin uses a pseudonym simply because she would be barred from ever reentering the country and possibly even arrested by the nation's oppressive ruling military junta due to telling the truth about what goes on in the country in regards to human rights violations, poverty, and similar other injustices.

I'll admit that as a traveler I immediately wanted to book a plane ticket to Yangon (also known as Rangoon) and explore the hidden land of majestic pagodas and Buddhist temples, and a colonial past that once was the daily existence of Imperial Policeman Eric Blair. I became entrance with traveling there after discovering that the Orient-Express Company (the epitome of travel luxury in case you're not familiar with it) offers a four-night cruise on the Irrawaddy River (Ayeyarwady) on a ship appropriately named Road to Mandalay (the name of course from a line in a famous Rudyard Kipling poem and also the second largest city in Burma).

But the bigger picture does remain. Is it ethical for travelers to visit Burma, a country that has been brutally ruled by a military junta for almost half a century? A repressed country that used slave labor to develop a great deal of its tourism infrastructure? Are the dollars one spends actually going to help the Burmese people or are they instead going right into the pockets of already rich military generals? Since 1996, individuals and organizations around the world have called for the boycott of tourism to Burma in response to the military-endorsed "Visit-Myanmar Year" in 1996. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, winner of the General Election of 1990, the first multi-party elections held in Burma since 1960 when the country became a totalitarian state, participated in the boycott. She requested that tourists not visit Burma stating that" visiting is tantamount to condoning the regime."

Those in favor of visiting Burma claim that you can ethically visit as in there are places you can stay and eat at in which your tourist dollars will go to support those local workers and not the government. And yet, I don't know how much I truly believe this. Burma is a place in which one of its own citizens can be potentially thrown in jail if the government deems them as having said something "wrong" to a tourist. A place where the government would prefer to offer a selective form of tourism (selective in the sense that every move of yours is closely monitored and scrutinized from the moment you step foot in their country) instead of opening it up to the world, allowing other infrastructures to grow and develop, specifically that of healthcare. Those in support of visiting Burma also make the claim that there exist many other countries in which travel to there is not ethical (namely in the form of human rights violations) and yet the tourists continue flocking there, but with much less controversy than Burma. Zimbabwae (Victoria Falls), China, the Maldives-these are all places in which travelers go to experience spectacular sights. Yet horrific things occur there on a daily basis minus travelers' boycotts.

I don't know where I necessarily stand on the issue of whether or not one should travel to Burma. I see the worthiness of both sides. Aung San Suu Kyi's asked tourists to refrain from visiting, stating that Burma has been here for thousands of years and will continue to be in the future, one day in which its people are free again. I hope this indeed becomes the case and yet should the Road to Mandalay and the rest of Burma's exquisite treasures be forever off limits to tourists? Can I as a tourist not just visit a country without having to take a side on it? Can tourists no longer just be a neutral factor?

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Tuscan Childhood-book review

A Tuscan Childhood
Kinta Beevor

If there is one book I could truly attach the connotation of "adored," it would be A Tuscan Childhood. Beautifully written and fast moving, this is one of the few books I enjoy reading every time. Coincidentally, it was published around the same time as another Italy travel narrative, Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun. Although Mayes' work was much more popular and well known of the two, A Tuscan Childhood was in my opinion by far the better read.

Beevor had a childhood that I and probably most of you reading this can't even begin to imagine. Born to British bohemian parents near the turn of the last century, she grew up in a castle. Literally. The sixteenth-century Fortezza della Brunella and the village of Aulla where it was located, is where Beevor and her brother spent most of their childhood becoming wonderfully immersed in the Italian culture and intertwined with the Italian people. These relationships continued for more than half a century.

Never a British colony like India and Kenya were, Italy still was home to a sizeable British expatriate community. Even though her parents were bohemians, they still followed the practice of sending their children back to the "mother country" for proper schooling. Of course there was the matter of Beevor's lack of ability to read or write in her mother tongue:

"Unfortunately, my mother never realized that, owing to the useless governess she had chosen, I could hardly read or write English. The problem of sending a girl quite so unprepared to an English boarding-school never occurred to her."

Perhaps my favorite chapter in the book is the one entitled "Food and Farms at Poggio Gherado", this being the home of Beevor's maternal great-aunt. If you've ever thought that there's only pizza and pasta to Italian cooking, think again. Beevor's descriptions of dishes prepared at Poggio Gherado are enough to make your mouth water and book a stay at a Tuscan villa prontissimo:

"I particularly remember Agostino's involtini di vitello-little rolls of veal with thin slices of prosciutto or mortadella inside, speared with toothpicks."

"Agostino's dolci reduced everyone to silent ecstasy. They included nocciola, pounded hazelnuts with eggs and cream; biscuits made with amaretti, eggs and cream; chocolate mousses surrounded by boudoir biscuits dripped in brandy; and curled wafer biscuits filled with cream."


I think the reason why I enjoyed this book as much as I did was because it reads like Beevor is recounting her personal past to you, a book in the form of an oral history.  It was published in 1993, only two years before Beevor's death and so perhaps at the end of her life, she was looking back on her incredible years spent. She experienced Tuscany long before it was the "it" thing, from the waning days of the First World War, to the deep scars Beevor and her beloved Italy endured from the Second World War.

"But the most urgent need during the first months of peace was the resurrection of agriculture. At Poggio Gherado, shell bursts during the artillery duel across the Arno valley had destroyed thirty olive trees out of seven hundred."


Long before Frances Mayes was "under the Tuscan sun," Italy, specifically the region of Tuscany, was a charming and unspoiled spot. Although her glimpse into life then can never be recreated, it can be re-imagined by reading the book.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Food travels-India

This past weekend I brought out an Indian cookbook I had received for Christmas. I've become a big fan of Madhur Jaffrey as not only is she an author of numerous cookbooks but is also an acclaimed actress (the 1999 film Cotton Mary is a favorite of mine).


As the title of the cookbook notes, the recipes are extremely simply and none too terribly time consuming. The only thing is I would recommend visiting an Indian/Sub-Asian grocery store as there are some ingredients (mainly spices) that are probably not found at your standard supermarket. Luckily for me, there are two small Indian markets within five minutes of where I live.

For the vegetable dish I made Grilled Eggplant Slices with Yogurt Sauce. Here are the before and after pictures of cooking:



I adore eggplant and especially loved the marinade for this recipe, a mixture of cumin seeds, garlic, cilantro, tomatoes, Tabasco sauce, ginger,  Dijon mustard, and red wine vinegar (along with staples like sugar and salt).

For the main entree, I made Stir-Fried Chettinad Chicken which Jaffrey notes is a dish from the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu. It was a really quick stir-fry and contains spices used in the cooking of the Chettiyars-black pepper, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, and cinnamon. I served it atop Jasmine rice.


All in all, it was a really good meal and definitely put me in the mood for some India travels.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Julia cooking-DISASTER!

Ugh, just when I think I am actually doing well cooking Julia Child recipes , a disaster befalls me. For my birthday I had received her most famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, so this weekend I was anxious to try out some recipes. Long story short, time and money on ingredients completely wasted.

I'll blog more on this later as I'm too famished and annoyed to expound upon it more now. I'm typing this as I wait for my husband to return with Chinese food. Never a good sign when you have to resort to Chinese takeout for dinner.

Hope your Saturday night is going better.

Biltmore in pictures

An American "Versailles." Unfortunately interior photography is not permitted, but hopefully you'll still be impressed by outside shots of the house and its gorgeous gardens. For more about Biltmore, be sure to check out this week's narrative.









And there's even an award winning winery on site too. 


And no home from the Gilded Age would be complete without its famous 1913
 Stevens-Duryea C-Six seven-passenger touring car. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Gilded House Indeed

Asheville, North Carolina
May 2011

"I don't see the house."

"Of course you don't see it," I say to my husband. "Vanderbilt built a 250 room house atop the 125,000 acres of land he had purchased. Do you honestly think he was going to build something adjacent to the street and all the lowly masses?"

"Well, no. I just want to make sure we're going in the right direction."

When it comes to traveling, my husband never ceases worrying about things. In fact, his worrying at times is so bad that it rubs off on my nerves. But knowing a thing or two about the robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the ways in which they built their palaces, I knew we were headed straight to the estate (or at least to the parking lot where we'd leave our car).

As we continued to drive along the miles of lush, landscaped grounds, I thought how similar the setting was to where I attended college. Two destinations located in the midst of a city, yet far removed from the   chaotic frenzy that so often surrounds such a place.

After parking the car and walking in the direction the signs had indicated was towards the house, I stopped for a moment. Through the break of some of the trees, I saw the house off in the distance.

"What are you stopping for?"

Wanting to tell him to look through the trees but preferring him to be completely awe-struck by the sight of the house, I say nothing.

"Nothing. Just fixing my sandal."

As we take a few more steps, we leave behind the vast covering of trees and have a perfect image of the house and the sweeping front entranceway. The magnificent estate was posed against the backdrop of the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains. I could see why George Washington Vanderbilt II chose to build his Chateauesque gran palazzo here.

"Wow" my husband says.

"Wow indeed." I never fail to be mesmerized by the sight of something I had always seen in pictures but was now seeing in person.

When we finally arrive at the entrance of the house, I'm immediately struck by how much this particular area reminds me of a scene in the 2005 film adaption of Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle happen upon Pemberley, the estate of Mr. Darcy. They are completely fazed by the size and opulence of the house. I felt much as they did.

Although it's hard to visualize an era from a different time, especially when contending with rowdy groups of school age children and hordes of other visitors, I try to imagine the Vanderbilt family returning home from an outing in the nearby mountains. Mr. Vanderbilt emerging from the car in a riding coat and goggles, Mrs. Vanderbilt elegantly attired in a matching coat for a lady, a hat, and veil that was all the custom for women of her station at that time, immediately greeted by the butler and half a dozen other attendants. I stepped inside amongst other visitors and workers. They stepped inside when it was literally just home.

Each room is more spellbinding than the last, each more richly decorated than the previous one (if it's even possible). I am in love with the Winter Garden room. Sunken from the main floor and featuring a roof made of wood and glass, it is a stunning indoor garden, as elaborate as those that I have seen at botanical gardens. A striking hallway extends the full perimeter of the room, allowing visitors visibility to the garden from any direction. I am enchanted by it all-the feeling of openness while still inside, the natural lighting, the lovely flowers that would thrive in such a setting.

Although I have toured my share of historic mansions, never before has there been anything that remotely resembles that of the Banquet Hall at Biltmore. Featuring a table that when extended seats 64 and a ceiling that arched 72 feet into the air, I felt as if I had been transported to medieval Europe (the five magnificent sixteenth-century Flemish tapestries lining the walls only added to the ambience too). I become enamored of Mr. Vanderbilt when I find out that the elaborate wood and stone work on both sides of the room depict scenes from his favorite Wagner opera. As a history aficionada, I am in awe when I see the flags of the original 13 colonies hanging.

While the rest of the tour of the house resembles the mega mansions of J.P. Morgan and Henry Clay Frick in terms of the prized pieces of art, the opulent bedrooms, the turn of the 20th century kitchens that make you wonder how such elaborate meals were ever prepared with the limited cooking resources available at the time, there is no house in the history of houses that can top such a naturally stunning setting. When Vanderbilt started to make regular visits to the Asheville, North Carolina area in the 1880s,  it was said that the scenery and the climate were the prime reasons why he decided to create his summer estate there. In fact, what would start at his "little mountain escape" would become his permanent home with his wife and then their daughter. Although there is nothing little about Biltmore, whether it be the house, the grounds, or the sweeping views, it is indeed an escape of sorts, right in the heart of the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Travel Quotes

I love quotes. One of my favorites of all time is by famed Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca-

"The only thing that the United States has given the world are skyscrapers, jazz, and cocktails. That is all. And in Cuba, in our America, they make much better cocktails."


I especially love quotes about travel and thought I would share with you some of my favorites ones:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."-Mark Twain

History has shown that the individuals with the most prejudice and bigoted mentalities are often the same individuals who are the least traveled as in they have never stepped outside of their comfort zone, their home turf. Traveling can help in doing away with these poisonous mindsets.

"No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow."-Lin Yutang

This quote helps me to realize just how fleeting traveling really is, how in the blink of an eye, a trip you've been planning for months is over just like that. The "old, familiar pillow" is always a constant and yet walking along the Great Wall of China, seeing the Parthenon, they are not.

"A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you can control it."-John Steinbeck

So true. Before trips, I often put together a "tentative" itinerary. I say tentative because I know there will often be times in which something planned doesn't happen-I don't make it to a certain restaurant, I decide to visit another attraction. Sometimes in travel you just have to let stuff be because you will almost always have a better time when you let travel just flow and not try to rigidly control it.

"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home."-James Michener

I've come across plenty of people who for some reason don't subscribe to Michener's philosophy. They still travel and yet won't take nary a step outside of their provincial bubble while doing so. I still remember an American woman in Morocco who wouldn't try couscous at a tourist style restaurant much to the consternation of her husband. What's the point of traveling to a new place if you're not willing to experience the things that make it "new" to you?

"Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey."-Pat Conroy

I've been on enough journeys to know that indeed, they have never ended for me in my mind. I still think of my Mexican host family who I haven't seen in 10 years. Or the feeling of being at the Demilitarized Zone in Korea, site of the world's most tense border. Although some specific moments in my mind have faded from different trips over the years, the journey itself has not and never will. Traveling for me is one of the most tangible memories.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Preferred Mode of Travel

Over a period of just three days this past weekend, I spent a total of nearly 20 hours in the car driving. I'm not normally a fan of long car trips, but when there's a destination you want to visit and the nearest airport is still a two hour drive from it, I figure driving all the way is easier than the alternative of flying, then still having to get in the car and drive.

I like plane travel for the simple reason that you can go places that automobiles and trains cannot take you. But plane travel is wearing on me. It's not getting on my nerves enough to say "to hell with it, I'm never stepping foot in a plane again, it's too much of a hassle." No, I will never say that because the only person I'm hurting in the end is myself. The airlines will keep flying, the TSA (in the United States) will keep making sure that people's lipgloss and watches are not a threat to other travelers. If I gave up on air travel than that would mean I'd never get to go on a safari in Africa or cruise in a junk on Halong Bay in Vietnam. I'm proud but I'm not dumb. 

Traveling by car definitely has its advantages. For the last quarter of our journey from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, driving through the Cherokee National Forest was incredible and a visual masterpiece, comparable to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Living in an area that is just around sea level, the towering mountains were majestic, and were a sight I had truly never seen before. The great thing about traveling by car is that you get to see and experience sights you wouldn't necessarily from 30,000 feet in the air. You're rewarded with the joys of traveling simply by journeying to your destination. 

Traveling by any mode of transportation is not what it used to be (unless you're going on the Orient Express luxury train). One needs only to watch an episode of Sex and the City when the characters of Carrie and Samantha in season five find out just how outdated their views on train travel are when they step inside their cubicle size sleeping compartment and discover anything but fine dining in the train's restaurant. But I'll never forget the time when traveling to South Korea, images of nothing but floating glaciers when flying over Alaska, or my most recent memory of the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains. Traveling isn't glamorous, but it is what you make it. However, as I've found, there almost always exists a reward in store too, regardless of your mode of getting there. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Biltmore Cooking

A few weeks ago I traveled to Asheville, North Carolina, specifically for the purpose of visiting Biltmore, a Chateauesque-styled mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II in the 1890s. It is the largest privately-owned home in the United States and is visual masterpiece to see in person. A narrative will be coming in the near future about my visit there, but in the meantime, I wanted to share some "Biltmore cooking" I did.

For a birthday present, I picked out Biltmore-Our Table To Yours: Chef's Selection Cookbook. It's a beautiful cookbook, filled with mouth watering photos of the dishes as well as interesting anecdotes about the Vanderbilt family and the meals that were prepared there. I also like it because the recipes are grouped into the four seasons of the year.


And the recipes that I tried out for dinner last night: 

Shrimp-stuffed soft shells in Chardonnay Thyme Sauce

(pre-baking and pre-sauce application)


Roasted Fresh Green Beans with Hazelnut Butter


And the finished product


Bon appetit!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

My favorite Musee d'Orsay paintings

This week's story was on my first ever visit to the Musee d'Orsay and so I wanted to share some of the photos I took that day of my favorite paintings:











The inspiration for the story, Berthe Morisot's "The Cradle"





And yes, Renoir and Monet are probably two of my favorite painters in case you couldn't tell by the large number of photos I took of their works.