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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

I think America’s love affair with the automobile has less do to with the romance of the open road and everything to do with the grossness of the shared travel experience.

In your car, you’re the master of your destiny. Sure, getting stuck in traffic can mess up a schedule. But you can control your departure time. No need to plan around catching the 10:03 train out of Penn Station. And you have complete control over who rides with you. Your seat mates are hand-picked. You know, before you invite someone into your car, if they have suspicious hygiene habits. You might even appreciate your passenger’s annoying quirks and because you’re friends (or family) you can tell them to “cut it out” if they become too much.

You’re not locked in a hurtling tin missile full of cell phone chatting, coughing, seat hogs who can’t spell etiquette let along display the graciousness required for group harmony.

You can probably tell that I’m bitter because I’m car-less.

Yes, I’m a mass transit user. I take at least one plane trip each month. I ride the subway and I’ve taken a few MegaBus trips. In the last several weeks, I’ve jumped on Amtrak for several round trips. I’ve had lots of experience. I’ve had hours to endure and lots of time to think.

My last Amtrak trip was especially hideous. I fought my baser instincts (as I always do) and didn’t try to protect the empty seat next to me. As much as I’d like a buffer, everyone has a right to a seat and they shouldn’t have to work hard to get one. I don’t need the conductor announcement asking riders to be courteous. I am the picture of courtesy. So when a Converse clad hipster asked if the seat next to me was taken, I beamed, “It’s all yours!”

It was a beautiful moment. He was polite, I was polite. The possibilities stretched before us. Maybe we’d strike up a conversation about the latest must-have plaid shirt or about which Brooklyn restaurants are curing artisanal bacon in their basements.

And then it hit me. The smell. His smell.  He had a dank and stale dirty hair, over-worn clothes smell.

Between his foul odor and his gurgling – yes, he had a rumbling, wet cough, I felt as if he’d unzipped his chest, plucked out a lung and pulled it down over my head. The train ride was four hours long.

Maybe Amtrak could increase ridership over night if they took a page from Soul Cycle’s book. Soul Cycle, a popular spin class, felt the need to put a list of rules up in their gyms reminding riders that nobody wants to share their odor. Check out #3.

Soul Etiquette SoulCycle 1024x695 Soulcycle brands spinning and spirituality

Maybe we’re all a bit bonkers and need to be told to leave our phone out of an exercise class and to be kind. Maybe odor control isn’t just an automatic, well-of-course-I-don’t-want-to-stink kind of thing. Soul Cycle is on to something (and I’m deeply sorry I giggled at the list and I swear, that will never happen again).  It seems we need rules. We do better when we have standards to live up to and guidelines to follow.

And so here I am with… drum roll please …  margagogo’s Official Rules for Harmonious Travel.

The first few apply to all Transit Options (Trains, Planes, Subways, Buses and even Taxis)

Be clean. This includes hair, teeth, clothes – everything on or about you should be spiffy. Once, on a plane trip back from Istanbul, I sat next to a young man who smelled so bad that every time he shifted enough to accidentally air out his pits, I nearly suffocated. When he lifted his arm to take his drink from the flight attendant, I feared I’d faint. I think he was an exchange student off on his first big adventure. I wanted to tell him that the hero, the guy who gets the girl (or the guy), is never smelly. If you think of it from a purely selfish point of view, you never know who you’re going to sit next to – your future spouse, your future boss … or the person who doesn’t speak to you and hates you because they have to share your air.

Smiles Everyone, Smiles! Though it’s a risk, it’s possible to say “hello” without being obligated to chat for the duration of the trip. And I’ve heard (I’m sure I should quote a study here) that being nice in general is not only a good thing for other people but it makes you feel happier. So, when we’re all in it together, being nice is a win/win.

Make an Effort! Make an effort to keep your germs to yourself. Even if you believe that coughing into your elbow doesn’t make a bit of difference, everyone appreciates the effort. Same goes with crying babies. Effort gets you sympathy. Apathy, even due to complete exhaustion, earns ire.

Air Travel:

– If you’re sitting in Row 28, don’t put your luggage in the overhead at Row 5. That just messes everyone up and causes a giant traffic jam when the person in Row 5 has to fight against the tide to get the stuff they had to store in the space above your seat.

– Board as your row is called. As tempting as it is to try to board first, you just gum up the works.

– Please leave your beer soaked rabbit and cabbage curry hot pepper surprise at home. Nobody cares that it was your dear Grandmother’s special recipe. They just care how it smells.

Subway Travel:

– There is a special place in heaven for the subway rider who willingly gives up their position in the car to step out when it isn’t their stop so they can clear the path for people getting off. Please do this.

– Don’t lean on the pole. People need something to hold on to when standing on a moving train. Nobody wants that thing to be your belt loop or any part of you.

– Please take your backpack off. Believe me, you have no idea how big that thing is.

Bus & Train Travel:

– Shhhhhh. I might want to know what you’re having for dinner so if you stand up and make a general announcement, something like, “If anyone wants to swap recipes, meet me in the café car in 10,” I might join you. But, I don’t want to hear a lengthy cell phone discussion about peas, or roast beef or what your Aunt Jane did at dinner the night before.

And finally, always share. I’m not woman enough to tackle the age-old problem of who gets the arm rest. But, I do know that you shouldn’t try to save the seat next to you for an imaginary friend. Share the aisle space. Don’t hang out in the bathroom, tuck stuff under the seat in front of you if it will fit. Put it on your lap if your ride is short. When you get your private plane or train or bus, you can do whatever you want. (And when you do get that private ride, please invite me along. I’m an excellent passenger.)

See, isn’t everyone feeling happy now? (Did I leave anything out? Feel free to share – sharing’s good!)

If you want to feel happier – or even happiest (and at this point you’re not afraid of a subway ride) go check out the new bar on 121 West 10th street, NYC called The Happiest Hour.  They smile, they’re kind and the only odor I detected was from the free french fries they kept bringing out and setting on the bar. Yes, I said free french fries – could they get any more friendly?

The vibe is tropical retreat meets old school diner meets high-end cocktail bar. Picture getting a grilled cheese in Havana. And you should get the grilled cheese – it was warm, buttery, cheesy goodness and it came with tomato soup. The fries were bottomless. The margarita was excellent.

The Happiest Hour was worth the trip. There was harmony. The Happiest Hour lives up to its name … and they haven’t even published a list of rules.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Shit is about to happen”  –  an Ode to unstructured time. It’s not exactly a lyric poem but epic stuff can happen when you least expect.

Margagogo.com’s Marketing Director met his wife (the margagogo West Coast Correspondent) in a bar on a random night. Of all the saloons in all the world, they both walked into that one.

Years ago, just before a long weekend in Maine with my family, my then boyfriend and I broke up. So instead of entertaining him while my family looked him over, my mother and I went out looking at houses. I bought one.

Life isn’t a Jane Austin novel so every story can’t end with secured real estate and a wedding. Sometimes the prize is more subtle; it’s the adventure itself and the memories you tuck away with the experience.

A few weeks ago on a very raw and rainy Saturday, my friends (and margagogo correspondents) left the warmth of the wood stove and central heating to see what we could see. We braved the drippy sky and dropping temperatures and were rewarded with ocean views. That tends to happen when you’re on the coast but the view wasn’t just “ocean” – it was awesome, rocky cliff, churning ocean! And we found color. Bright red and green popping up to give the finger to the oppressive grey sky.

And then my Brooklyn Correspondent needed a bathroom. A great view can have that effect.

If you’re going to stop into a restaurant to use the facilities, you should probably get a drink. It’s only polite. And if we’re anything other than polite, we’re thirsty. So hitting Cook’s Lobster House was a win/win.

In all the years I’ve hung out in this part of Maine, I’ve never crossed the threshold of Cook’s. I decided it’s too touristy. My New York-living, Maine-visiting self is not a tourist unless there’s a festival, fair, parade, strong man contest, pancake breakfast, national landmark, museum or maybe leaf peeping involved. Cook’s has lobster and it has crowds. Big, giant bus loads of people looking for seafood and salt air. No pie eating contest, no biggest ball of twine, no reason for me to go. Until now.

Stepping into the bar is like taking a trip to 1958 on a WayBack Machine (without Peabody and his pet boy.) It’s the kind of place where hanging out is encouraged and I bet Cook’s has it’s share of friends who sit and stay a while. On this icky November Saturday the crowds were gone. It was just us and some locals who were probably wondering why we were there and wishing we’d go anyplace else. (Tourists!) The thing is, one of them was wearing a t-shirt that said “The drinking will continue until morale improves.” I think that makes us kindred spirits so like us or not, he’s our people.

Cook’s has a Bloody Mary with a lobster tail and bourbon with Maine blueberry and of course, they made me a margarita. As the bartender was mixing our drinks, a string of Christmas lights jumped off the wall (where it surely hangs year-round) and swung into his face. He looked at the lights and looked at us and said. “Shit is about to happen.”

Well, yes indeed it is.

Drinks at Cook's Lobster House. Check out the lobster tail hanging off the drink at the end!

Drinks at Cook’s Lobster House. Check out the lobster tail hanging off the drink at the end!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are a billion reasons to travel.

I won’t list all billion here because my blog is not the cause of anyone’s eyestrain! I want you to use your eyes for very important things – like booking a trip to Iceland. Pronto!

Really.

Iceland is the kind of place that imagination and research can’t do justice. When I read up on Iceland, I learned the Gulf Stream moderates the temperature so the island’s northern location doesn’t mean sub-zero misery. But I had no clue what it was like to spend an afternoon in a sun-hail-rain-snow-sun-storm. I didn’t know that going up a few feet, really just a few feet, could change the world from dry to snow-covered and stormy. Without making the trip, I wouldn’t have learned that the weather is changeable and brutal and beautiful and works to form not only the character of the landscape but of the people.  As we walked the streets of Reykjavik, sun smiling on our faces and hail biting our cheeks, our guide told us that “… Iceland doesn’t have weather, it has examples of weather.”  He also told us that there isn’t any bad weather, just bad clothing. (My damp, loose weave wool mittens that begged the wind and rain to turn my hands blue proved his point.)

These people can really roll with change … except when they can’t.

If you live in Iceland, 50% of the calories you consume are imported.  That must take some planning. While the geo-thermal power is impressive and gives heat and electricity to the majority of the country, it doesn’t make it cheaper or easier to buy a car or a camera or any of the other goods and services that come cheap and easy to someone living someplace other than Iceland. Lots more planning!

So go to Iceland! Expect the people to be lovely and happy to see you. And expect a quick “No” if you ask for something that strays outside the norm. (In our case, it was a late-night bottle of wine in the hotel bar and the need for a detour around a snow-closed road that caused a reflexive “No” but we worked it out.)

And when you’re there, order a margarita (or two). You’ll enjoy them because the food and cocktail scene in Reykjavik is alive and well.  Eat a lot of lamb and fish and absolutely have dinner at Dill and Grill Market (both in Reykjavik). Dill has a tasting menu with wine paring and is an experience you’ll never forget. Grill Market has amazing food served in a very cool space. I had “Red Fish.” It was described as a very ugly, angry fish that can make you sick if you come in contact with it while it’s alive. But they promised me that when they cook it, they get the ugly out and it’s delicious. And it was.

If only we had another few nights in Iceland I feel sure we’d have seen the one thing we missed: Northern Lights. For now, I have to settle for pictures on the Internet. But I feel pretty sure I’ll be back someday so I have another chance.

Thanks for reading – If you go, you should also expect to be blown away by the landscape. I hope you enjoy my pictures!

 

I think what I liked best is that the people seem to have their priorities straight!

And they have a sense of humor! Reykjavik is full of street and public art.

And the landscape is like nothing you’ve ever seen.

And finally, one of my favorite signs ever!

Do you think Iceland is used to dealing with silly tourists?

Do you think Iceland is used to dealing with silly tourists?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The history of Guacamole is both short and long.

The Aztecs invented it.

History lesson over.

And since the Aztecs were happily living and eating guacamole in Mexico long before the Spanish swooped in on them in the 1500’s, Guacamole’s been around a long, long time.

Anyone who’s ever seen Guacamole turn brown and crusty at a party has reason to be afraid of it.  And let’s face it; the Avocado in its full fruit form is standoffish, even scary. Bumpy, green and black on the outside, it’s the bad apple of the fruit basket.  Unripe, they’re hard and horrible.  Overripe, they are the stuff of science fiction with the pale green flesh blighted with brown spots and stringy and the skin easily dented.

If an Avocado was a 5th grader, it would be the reason the teacher fears turning his/her back to the class.

And because of their look, Avocados are slighted.  Have you ever seen an avocado image on a slot machine? Cherries, apples, lemons, sure.  Avocados?  Never.

Nobody is the avocado of your eye.  You’ll never say, “She’s an avocado!” as a compliment.

English: A seedless avocado, or cuke, growing ...

Location: San Pablo Huitzo, Oaxaca, Mexico. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in New York State so Avocados didn’t grow on trees, you know.  I knew about apples and pears. I understood strawberries and blueberries and berries of all persuasions.  I don’t remember when I first encountered the avocado but I know I was suspicious. Too wary to try it and I admit without any avocado knowledge, I was a hater.

Until a frostbite cold, stark and beautiful experience in Uyuni, Bolivia, brought me to the light.

Uyuni is possibly the ickiest city in Bolivia but also home to the largest salt flat in the world (Salar du Uyuni).  A salt lake covered much of Bolivia in Prehistoric times. Today, what remains is about 10,000 square kilometers of desolate, stunning salt desert.

Pre-warned about the ickiness of Uyuni, we booked a night bus from La Paz and planned a single day to see the flats, getting out-of-town that same night to head toward Tupiza (the town near where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are rumored to have met their maker).

I boarded the bus, my backpack deflated since I was wearing every possible layer.  Without heat on the bus  I was grateful when the combined body heat of the passengers warmed the air. The windows fogged but it didn’t matter since it was too dark to take in any view.

The trip lasted hours and hours and I was awake, sleep hard to latch on to, feeling the bus rumble on the road and feeling tortured by the sounds of snoring all around me.  Sleep eventually won out as the sun crept up on the horizon.  I drifted, only to jump up moments later when a drop of water fell on my forehead. Then another hit my nose and yet another dropped on my glasses and ran down the lens.

The windows were all closed and now streaked with water on the inside. The scent on the bus was Ode De Stale Locker Room and the ceiling was covered with droplets, waiting to pull away from the metal surface and fall on my face.

The breath we blew out during the night, transformed and collected on the ceiling was raining down on us.

I was trapped in a terrarium.

We weren’t even there yet and it was already icky. I was cold and worn through and really grossed out. And when we finally arrived, the driver parked and kept the bus doors locked with us inside. It wasn’t quite light and the streets were too dangerous to allow us to wander.

But it was all worth it.

Salar du Uyuni is isolated, unforgiving and beautiful. Just ask these guys:

It is also white crystals that run all the way up to the horizon.

We drove on it, walked on it and then ate it for lunch. Our guide, pulled white bread flour-dusted rolls from his pack, and with a jackknife, cut tomato and avocado into open rolls. Then he reached down, took a pinch of salt from the ground next to his boot, sprinkled it into the sandwich and handed it to me.

I ate two.

And I still remember that lunch as one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

The most spectacular moment of the day was sunset. The white of the salt bed held and reflected the colors of the sky and sometimes even seemed to be directing the show – as the bed turned pink, the sky followed.

I left Uyuni nourished, body and soul, by the experience and by the avocado.

I will never repeat the trip to Salar du Uyuni but I get to go back to the avocado over and over again.  I rarely slice it into a sandwich since my preferred avocado delivery system is Guacamole.

Aztecs believed Guacamole to be an aphrodisiac. I will leave you to test that theory on your own.  It clearly lights a pleasure center in my brain – I think if it as Guacrackole or Crackamole or I just think about it all the time.  Science today tells us the avocado is just plain good fat, good stuff, good for you.

Since Guacamole is avocado mixed with anything, recipes vary. I like the simple set up that lets the ingredients stand out.

My guacamole/guacrackole/crackamole recipe is:

  • 2 Avocados, mashed but chunky
  • 1 medium onion, white, chopped, about a cup
  • 1 medium tomato, juice and seeds removed, chopped
  • Cilantro to taste
  • Jalapeno to taste
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • Liberal dash of love

– Mix but don’t mush!

– Eat fast so you don’t have to share!

And of course, have a margarita!

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Blissful, beautiful – What could make this any better?

 

Maybe add one (or two) of these?

 

And definitely add lots of these:

Ah, Paradise!

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Peruvian cuisine is special and wonderful and if not underrated in the United States, at least hard to find. When I was in Peru, I was grateful for the amazing flavors and new experiences. I saw and ate my first purple potato and loved how proud the people are about the variety of potatoes grown in Peru.  So the food – Peruvian Corn,  Purple Potatoes  and  flavorful meat and fish are part of my experience and part of the magic of Peru.

Anticuchos are a traditional and popular Peruvian specialty – basically, marinated meat on a stick.  In Peru, they’re easy to find in restaurants and street carts. In New York, to try Anticuchos and everything else, you should go to Nuela, 43 W 24th St, NYC.

Anticuchos made with beef heart are the most popular variety.  Americanized versions steer clear of organ meat and at Nuela, they’re with Beef Lomo (Tenderloin).  But if you have the chance to try them, I suggest you don’t ask too many questions and just take a bite.

The night I went to Nuela, foodies of the highest order made up the Independent Panel of Judges  – a tricky group to please, and a panel member declared the Beef Lomo Anticuchos the …”best steak” she’s ever had. Peruvian Corn and Potatoes made the side and it was so good we ordered it twice.  They also served us Pandebono, a Columbian cheese bread that was hot, light, melty and so good I might even try to make it.  Luckily, I found this recipe online at mycolumbianrecipes.com. (Ok, confession time – I won’t make it – I’ll just go to Nuela and order it.)

They serve Pisco cocktails and the margarita?  It was good.  A little sweet but fresh.  But the food is the show stealer here.

So check out Nuela and fall in love with Peruvian cuisine.  And, NYC, it’s great for groups!

Margarita at Nuela

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I was lucky enough to be treated to a perfect Maine summer day in March, courtesy of global warming, and I made the best of it.

My luck started when the car rental company gave me a convertible. A brand new, fancy blue convertible. Then more luck when summer struck. It was 81 degrees, sunny and perfect.

I picked up a friend and we drove down Route 1, top down, sunscreen on, radio up. And we ended up at Robinson’s Wharf in Boothbay Harbor. Robinson’s is a bustling restaurant and fish market in high season but on this lucky warm March day, it was open, empty and catering to locals. We got a table and ordered margaritas.

Margaritas at Robinsons!

Who doesn’t love a margarita served in a pint glass? Really, I didn’t think the Pabst Blue Ribbon glass boded well for margarita quality. I was expecting mix abuse when I took my first draw on the straw. But the taste that hit my tongue wasn’t sickly sweet or too tart. It was refreshing. A great drink for this lucky faux summer day. I did blow the happy hour price by agreeing to Patron when the server suggested it. He was nice and I let him up sell me even though I’m not a believer in the power of Patron. But I am a believer in the power of a lucky sunny day in Maine.

There’s more in Boothbay than margaritas. If you go (and you should) try candlepin bowling at Romar Bowling Lanes. The pins are tall and willowy. The bowling ball is the size of a softball. And the lanes have been in this spot for more than fifty years. There is also great ice cream, a harbor, fishing trips, puffin tours and endless charm.

Maine perks way up in the summer. A lot of businesses are seasonal and even though the flowers were bursting and the sun shining, some of the best places weren’t open yet. A visit during the summer season promises more services but also more people. I guess you’ll just have to go more than once.

(I planned to review El Camino in Brunswick, Maine in this post but it was closed during my visit. It isn’t a seasonal business but it was closed on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Yes, a restaurant closed for a weekend. That’s Maine for you. Part of its charm is that Mainers manage their own time table and motivate to their own beat. So next time, El Camino!)

 

 

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