Let Your Taste Buds Take You Back

Just this past week, one of our good friends in Italy commented to me that he felt one of the best ways to get to know a culture or a people is through their cuisine. I couldn't agree more. In fact, when we travel, I make it a point to eat local delicacies... a full-blown parilla in Buenos Aires, tiritas in Zihuatanejo or geschnitzel mit roesti in Zurich. Mmmm... geshnitzel.

OK... my mind and taste buds are wandering. Anyway, he made a very good point. In fact, not only can you enjoy local cuisine while on a trip, you can bring that local cuisine home with you. For example, during our July trip to Zihuatanejo, I made it a point to pick up a 750 gr bag of sea salt for a mere 30 pesos. You read that right... 1 1/2 pounds of sea salt for about $3.00. While in Paris, we saw 1 kilo bags of fleur de sel French sea salt for under 2 Euros. To me, using food products from another country make it easy to relive memories from a trip over and over. Just this week, we started a meal by cracking open a jar of locally grown olives we purchased in Milos, Greece. Tonight, I seasoned a batch of broccolini with a bit of fleur de sel de Camargue purchased in France.

You get the picture... so, here are some of the culinary items we've purchased during some of our trips to spark some ideas on what to pick up on your next trip:

  • A jar of chimichurri herbs in Buenos Aires
  • Wine in Italy, Greece, Spain, Argentina and, yes, even Canada.
  • Local spirits like Nocino or Amaro d'Abruzzese in Italy and local rum in Gran Canaria
  • Chocolates in Switzerland, Belgium and in Bariloche, Argentina
  • Parmigiano in Italy
  • Shrimp seasoning in New Orleans
  • Maple syrup in Quebec
  • Lizano salsa in Costa Rica
  • Rosa mosqueta in Bariloche, Argentina
  • Oils in Italy and Spain
  • Red salsa mojo in Gran Canaria
  • Delicacies in the food halls at Harrod's in London
  • Bricks of Lavazza espresso coffee in Italy
Seek out a local grocery store, take a look at various local products, particularly those that don't look familiar and pick out a few to take home. Just make sure you're not bringing back anything that might get you on the wrong side of customs. Soft cheeses, packages of prosciutto, foie gras, etc... a quick look a the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol page will shed some light on what can't be brought back.


Buenos Aires - Dirt Cheap Days are Long Gone...

I love coming across new blogs written by expats living in Argentina. While not "new" per se (they've been there for ten weeks or so), Discover Argentina is fun to read... all about a couple from New York City who moved into a furnished apartment in Palermo. My favorite entries are their "Random Observation" entries... picking up on the little odds and ends of Argentina. Some are about the food...

Empanadas are everywhere! They have empanada speciality stores; they’re delivered by the pizza places; sold in diners, grocery stores, pasta stores, etc. I’ve eaten more empanadas in my time here, than throughout the rest of my life. I initially thought all empanadas were the same, and bought them from the supermarket at least once a week, but then last week we had empanadas from Gourmet Empanada and I realized what I’ve been missing. I know now that I will never be able to eat a supermarket empanada again.

While others are about things we noticed and found particularly funny, as well...

As you walk down the street here, you might notice some cars that have jugs half-filled with some type of liquid sitting on top of the roof. We’ve seen this many times and have finally figured out what it means. (Well, ok, we didn’t actually figure it out, we asked our Spanish tutor, Marco, what it meant.) Ready? It means that the car is for sale. Yep, that’s it. I guess a sign in the window is just too simple. The benefit of the jug though is that it is much more visible than a sign when walking or driving by.

So, that sounds kind of odd but we started spotting those, too, and had to ask a taxi driver what that was all about. This was a car we saw for sale in Palermo Viejo:

Now, while the dollar keeps making big gains against the Euro, the Pound, the Argentine Peso and other currencies, things aren't as cheap as they used to be. More people are starting to notice, too. Inflation in Argentina has been quite heady - causing prices to shoot up. While cheaper that most major cities in the world, the dirt cheap prices of just a few years ago are starting to disappear. In 2006, our favorite BsAs hotel, the Bobo Hotel, used to charge $90/night for their smaller rooms. Today, those rooms will set you back $165/night. Popularity comes with a price, I suppose. The political situation hasn't been stable either - witness my earlier posts on the mess earlier in 2008. Now Cristina has her eyes set on raiding private pensions. Fun stuff... can't say it tempers my enthusiasm to go back but some of the shine has rubbed off.


Chestnuts roasting on a Roman fire

One of my most vivid memories of my childhood in Italy is the smell of vendors selling warm chestnuts during wintertime. I guess the old song about chestnuts roasting on an open fire still rings true in Italy. To this day, you can wander the chilly winter streets of cities like Rome and buy a rolled up paper cone of warm chestnuts - a great little snack on a wintry day. Here is a picture of my cousin getting his fill on a cold November day in 2005...


"Are you going to South San Fraaanciscooo..."

When you don't have any vacations planned, even a simple business trip can be refreshing. Today, I find myself in South San Francisco... that's the city of South San Francisco, located within spitting distance of San Francisco International Airport.

South San Francisco isn't know for much from a tourist standpoint. It bills itself as the birthplace of the biotech industry and is home to biotech giant Genentech. Otherwise, I can't tell you what there is to do in this town. I'm located in a business area, not really next to downtown South San Francisco. I did, however, take a jog from my hotel over to the Oyster Point Marina. From there, I connected to the Bay Trail and where it goes from the marina to Point San Bruno. I really only went as far as the Oyster Point Pier where a handful of fisherman were basking in the sun. To the left, you could see San Francisco in the distance. To the right, planes taking off and landing at SFO. The weather was perfect so it was nice to just get away from the hotel and explore.

Below are a couple more photos taken during my little jaunt...

Oyster Point Marina
Oyster Point Pier

Heading West...

Sitting in a President's Club, while far far better than sitting in a general waiting area, can get old when you do it for a couple of hours. I'm connecting through McCarran Intl in Las Vegas on my way to San Francisco. I'm about to have my first experience with Ted, the airline that one fellow passenger on Continental referred to as the airline that almost brought down United.

McCarran is a very nice airport - everything seems shiny and brand new, probably paid by some pretty stout gaming taxes. That's my guess anyway. Plenty of shops and a handful of restaurants abound... and more Starbucks than I've seen in one terminal. Of course, there are the ubiquitous slot machines... no shocker there. Rather than dropping a few quarters in a slot machine, I decided to temporarily pause my mid-week Starbucks diet and get a latte. Ahhh...

Next up... South San Francisco


Staying in Athens

Our time in Athens was awfully limited... essentially only two nights, one when we first arrived and one when we were on our way out. We wish we'd had a chance to see more of Athens - particularly in the daytime - but that wasn't on the agenda for this trip. I would imagine that our next trip to Greece might involve some extra time in Athens. At the same time, I think to myself... who am I kidding? The thing to do is get to the islands as quickly as possible .

Well, whether you're limited on time or you will be in Athens for quite some time and want to be in the thick of things, we would recommend a hotel like the Athens Gate Hotel. The hotel is usually ranked in the top 5 on TripAdvisor. It is stylish, reasonably priced for a 4-star hotel in a major European city and, simply put... it has location location location. On one side, you have the temple of Olympian Zeus. On the other side, the Plaka and an unbelievable view of the Acropolis. Really... what an ideal spot.

We paid a bit more to get a Double Executive Room - we thought that might give us more space but that didn't quite seem to be the case. The room was relatively small but not out of the ordinary for a European hotel. The piece de resitastance was the marvelous terrace view.

Service was excellent and the full breakfast was more than enough to keep us happy. It was great to relax on the terrace while looking up at the Acropolis. Unfortunately, by 9:30, we had to bolt from the hotel and head to the airport to catch our flight to Milos. Unfortunately... what am I talking about? We were heading to Milos.

Anyway, you get the point - great hotel, stylish decor, outstanding location, reasonable price and a great breakfast. If you do stay there, let us know what the park is like by the hotel - looks like a great area to explore. For us... next time!


Nerdy Hurricane Heads to Los Cabos

Anyone seen the latest tropical update? It appears Hurricane Nortbert is heading towards Baja... read that right? Norbert! Sweet... what kind of a name is Nortbert? You get the feeling that when Norbert was just a young tropical depression, he used to get picked on by Ike. And Katrina? Yeah... she wouldn't be caught dead in public with Norbert. His only friend was Gustav, a foreign exchange storm.

Oh well, I guess Norbert had an inferiority complex so he's now a powerful category 4. Let's hope for the best in Baja.

Assuming Los Cabos rides out the storm without a problem, let me make a small suggestion. If you happen to be heading to Los Cabos, my suggestion would be to either stay in the hotel corridor, where many beautiful hotels are located (our favorite is the Melia Los Cabos, now the Dreams Los Cabos, or near San Jose Del Cabo. San Jose Del Cabo is the original colonial town whereas Cabo San Lucas is the touristy, less authentic town. I'd rather opt for a more authentic experience than a party town known more for Carlos n Charlies, Cabo Wabo and "The Office". That's just me... that's what I look for.

When we stayed by San Jose Del Cabo, we stayed at the Royal Solaris, an all-inclusive hotel. It was nice but not where we would normally stay. BUT... it was free which made it wonderful. The only problem... being there in February. I guess that's OK if you're from Jersey and you're used to cold Februaries but, those of us from the Gulf Coast like a little warmth with our beach experience.

Assuming Norbert doesn't go all postal on Los Cabos, here are some places to check out while there...

Wandering the side streets of San Jose Del Cabo

Snorkeling in Santa Maria Bay

Horseback riding on Las Mananitas beach

Visiting the Main Square in Los Cabos


Visiting Kleftiko in Milos

Yup... the power is back but all this gloom and doom about the economy makes one think about great past vacations. Greece is still fresh on my mind, clearly. Once things pick back up, Milos will definitely be back on my target list.

One absolute must to visit in Milos is Kleftiko. Located in the southwest corner of Milos, Kleftiko is a protected cove of stark white rocks, cliffs and arches that was once used by pirates to raid ships sailing past Milos. The only way to reach Kleftiko is via private boat, sea kayak or a chartered day trip. It's hard to describe the place without visiting in person.

We took a full-day trip with the Mama Maria, a sailboat we found in the port town of Adamas. Our group consisted of 20 or so tourists (mostly Greek, Italian and French) and a crew of 4 - Giovanni, Kostas and their friends. The tour took us from the port all the way around the northwest and southwest of the island down (with a stop inbetween) to Kleftiko. We enjoyed nearly five hours day, just lounging, swimming, taking a dingy into the various caves and snorkeling into the caves around the area. It was nice and quiet - maybe four boats, at most. No one was playing loud music or getting hammered - just taking in the peace and quiet of a truly stunning area. The tour was 50 EUR per person and included snacks, coffee, drinks and the by far the tastiest Greek salad we tasted in Greece.

Here are a few more pictures of the experience...