Where have all the beggars gone, long time missing? Maybe the way of the tourist trinket shops.
It’s a sadly unique time to be a tourist. The streets are empty in a way that one just would not have imagined. Normally, over 60 million tourists visit Italy. Due to the pandemic, not only the international, but also the intra-country tourists, are not here. Just the Romans.
I went to the Trevi Fountain and was one of three tourists. Not that there were no people there — there were. But they were working. I went to the Pantheon (well, to the square, as the Pantheon is closed), and finally got begged from. But only from two beggars. I also wonder where the pickpockets go during this time. I did not see any of them either.
At Piazza Navona (the big rectangular one with the three fountains), I finally saw more people. Once the tourists come back, I can imagine that this square will be wall to wall with people. As it was, there were only a few hawkers and they were not too aggressive. One greeted me with a phrase from the Lion King, which did catch my attention. But, in general, the hawkers seemed fairly listless, as they saw no reason to make much effort when there are no cash cows in town. Who knew that one would miss being milked?
During this time of quarantine, many of us are “artist in residence” or “banished from the realm” — all depending on how you want to phrase it. I have been in splendid isolation. Free to travel the worldwide web. Armchair traveling is actually one of my favorite forms of travel because it’s comfortable, cheap, not sweaty, and I don’t have to get on a plane. Deep in the outer galaxy of this blog, is my travel page where I list many of my favorite travel writers and quotes. I revisited my travel page and actually re-bought a paperback book of one of my favorite travelogues.
“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” –- Benjamin Disraeli
Much of the Internet, podcasts, YouTube videos, Instagram, Facebook, IGTV, etc. reminds me of that book, The Diary of a Nobody. Most of us are nobodies. Equal among other nobodies. Driveler among drivelers. So why not add my voice to the cacophony? On my media page (and here on Google Podcasts), there are links to the other platforms from where I’m catching the virtual cyber train. In preparation, I’ve been exploring, adventuring, and I found there are so many new places to visit, people to talk to, and things to eat. After my residence as “artiste in residence” is done (or “digital content creator” as is the new name on the street), I’ll be back out there.
On Facebook, there is a group called, “View from my window” and I’ve enjoyed it. Very positive people and it makes one realize how beautiful, and similar, this world is.
On Instagram, I’ve delighted in the mother-daughter E. and S. Minchilli (yes, that’s their last name!) cook, talk, answer questions, and adore Rome, and everything Italian.
On YouTube, I discovered that I could pay for programs and get really high definition videos (much higher definition than when I watched the original shows in the 1990s).
On Stitcher, I’ve been listening to The Fantastic History of Food (who can resist a title called, “Piracy, Witches and Hot Chocolate.“?) Plus, since I’ve learned so much about cacao from Amanda at El Cacaotal, I see/hear about cacao and want to learn more. Also, on Stitcher, it’s comforting to hear Christopher Kimball (from when I watched lots of PBS) on Milk Street.
As I’ve explored podcasts, I realized that this is basically radio, that old fashioned technology that like many technologies, can change the world, or bring comfort (like FDR’s Fireside Chats — check out the film of him giving a chat). I would call podcasts, “audio-blogging” and you are welcome to call it that too.
And as the quote above indicates, much of life is stranger than fiction so why not read, see, hear, more of it, without the hassle of airplanes (for now). Happy adventures from splendid isolation!
“Eat seafood at the fisherman’s harbor.” That sounds authentic, cheap, and quaint, no? I allowed myself and a friend to get taken there.
I had driven past this beach and harbor many times. The area is almost always a traffic choke point as the cars going to the Regattas club inch past the millions going to the public beach and Chorillos harbor. This time, we stopped.
Like in Thailand and Mancora, and other tourist traps, the restaurant ‘sharks’ were corralling anyone who came within the harbor area to eat at their restaurant. Laminated menus with English writing and tatty photos glittering like confetti.
We sat down on plastic chairs and a table covered in a sticky plastic plaid table cover. There were a few other foreigners, crispy pink from the sun, sitting around us as it was early (1 p.m.) but otherwise fairly empty. As we waited for our food, the ‘entertainment’ started. A troupe dressed in jungle costumes and a green yoda-like creature with a painted green body stocking… (note: this was a representation of a real mythical creature from the Amazon — a chuyachaqui) then a sad patriotic clown who set fire to his thick hair… then a guy dressed in a brown monkey mask and brown body fur… At the same time, trinket salesmen and women flogged their goods. At one point a man with the saddest face serenaded us in a gruel-thin reedy voice. At this point, I realized that WE were part of the entertainment. Along with the other customers. It was a hot day but the two ladies next to us were dressed in puff down coats and wool hats. By way of official entertainment, a young Venezuelan guy sang love ballads making the waitresses swoon. The vendors of everything were joined by beggars.
The only thing not offered (to us) was drugs or prostitutes.
My observations were interrupted when the waitress brought the nutcrackers.
For the crabs. My seafood rice was mounted by a half crab with a hard red claw. My fried seafood was topped by the other half (I think, although probably not because only the right claw is big, right?). My friend managed to crack hers sending a grenade of crab shell ricocheting across the table. I tried to crack the other claw. No way was this crab fresh. The claw had petrified.
I never felt in any danger at the harbor even when I went to the toilet. The staff in the toilet even wanted to help flush the toilet for me but I’m also used to the ‘water jug gravitational’ method of flushing. Odd thing was that the sink had running water even though the toilet did not.
Later, when I relayed this adventure to my upper class Peruvian friend, the tightness around her eyes told me that we should never have gone to such a place, but she realized that we gringos will do silly things. She would prefer to spare us this touristy experience.
The food was not that good and for three people it cost 132 soles. Not cheap. Not quaint. But I got a blog article out of it.
The friend who went through this with me said, “Is this for your blog? Or are you just trying to make sure that I see the full spectrum of restaurants in Lima?” Two days later, we ate at Kjolle, one mile but three or four worlds away.
I finally went to the place that started the craze for Peruvian rotisserie chicken, “pollo a la brasa” — La Granja Azul, out in Ate (over an hour outside Miraflores). In the Washington, DC, area, I had been to both El Pollo Rico and Edy’s Chicken (this one preferred by my Peruvian friends for the lucuma ice cream and fried yucca, and actually owned by a Thai lady), so it was fun to go to the source.
Granja Azul is a “country” restaurant, a type of restaurant that includes a play area for children and a gift shop. It’s a large rambling restaurant with heavy colonial style furniture and interiors. There is a courtyard that fits many extended family lunches. The menu includes the standard 80 sol all-you-can -eat menu of pullet/poulet (young chicken), fries, salad (iceberg in one bowl, tomatoes in another, and onions in a third), bread, butter, anticuchos (beef heart on a stick), chili sauce, and a small pitcher of mayonnaise (yes, you read that right). The picarones (Peruvian doughnuts) are not included in the menu.
The chickens are on long spits rotating in a large oven and the chicken turner is happy to pose the chickens for a photo op.
The fries are delicious. I think. I may have been influenced by the 1.5 hour drive and hunger. The chickens are crispy and dry. Who can eat more than one?
I went on a day looking for sun. There was none. But I did enjoy the gift shop. And going to the pollo a la brasa source! From Ate (what a fun name!) to the world!
For some it’s simply the name that makes them giggle. I was actually excited to see their blue feet. When I did see the birds, I was more delighted than I expected. They were adorable.
The Galapagos is a major tourist destination (and on many a bucket list) and I’d recommend it if you like birds and wildlife. It’s not a foodie destination. Some recommend going on a “land cruise” where one stays at a different hotel each night on a different island. I stayed on a “mid luxury” boat in a cabin with a window and private bathroom (about the size of a telephone box). It cost $1,500 for three nights and four days (first day getting there plus tortoises) and the last day seeing baby animals in the mangrove forest and then flying out by 10 a.m. With the flight from Quito (which stops in Guayaqil for an hour making the trip longer) costing about $500, you can see how much the trip cost. Also, there is a $100 and a $20 fee for the islands. But, the food is included on the boat. Tips for the crew and guide are extra.
We did see lots of birds plus sea turtles, sea lions, sea iguanas, land iguanas, more birds, giant tortoises, tortoise babies (we could have done with one less tortoise siting), and eagle rays, and sharks (white tipped and the black tipped). There was snorkeling so one could swim with the sea lions and the sharks… oh, and lots of birds.
It takes a certain kind of courage to travel the world alone with one’s guitar. I’m not one of those people but I like it when I see it. When traveling alone, one gets to talk to new people and study one’s surroundings. When traveling with others, there’s a shared experience. Both are interesting.
Mostly, just get out there if you can. Be brave. Take water.
Once in a while, I find myself in a situation both familiar and exotic. I went to visit family up in Alaska, out in the bush, on the mighty Yukon, and found myself invited to a “potlatch” dinner. The village I visited is primarily inhabited by one tribe of native Americans and the food was truly Alaskan. I didn’t expect to ever be in a “Bizarre Foods” episode but I guess that’s what it was to my Facebook audience.
Sitting at the dinner, being served by the youths, it was a heartwarming study in respect. There was way more than enough food but only the elders got the choice pieces of seal blubber, moose nose, and jarred silvers (pickled “silver” salmon). Everyone got ham slices the size of lumber, pasta salads in infinite variety, fish chowder, moose stew, moose soup, spaghetti, jerky, pudding with marshmallows, slaw, goose, and more pasta salad. It was considered rude to refuse any food so every place setting was outfitted with ziplock bags so that everyone would have food for the taking.
I was raised to “try everything once” and to be polite… the moose nose was very sticky and chewy a bit like pig ear (if you know what that tastes like). The fish ice cream was interesting and I could see how that would be the best treat on a cold winter day as it provides fat, creamy tartness. I imagine that when cold, it’s even better. The three flavors I tried were cranberry, salmon berry (I guess from the pink color), and “black” berry which is a small pearl-like berry, smaller than a blueberry and not of much flavor. The cranberry was the best because of the tartness. The ice cream is only slightly sweet and I totally get why it’s called ice cream.
Paradise. That’s what is conjured up by the word, “Hawaii.” I had no idea what to expect but I guess I didn’t expect to be surprised. I was happy to be surprised.
I got a “lei” at the hotel but it was not made of flowers. It was made of dried seeds.
I managed to catch a welcome hula show. I guess I had expected to see young Hollywood style dancers and I was surprised by the age “diversity” of the dancers. They were graceful, but not wearing grass skirts.
All these photos are from a show on Waikiki beach.
“What is that pain? Do you smell bacon?” I thought to myself as I stood atop Machu Picchu, one of the wonders of the world. It was high noon and I was in short pants. With bare feet. Standing at the oculus of the Incan empire. Getting fried like a piece of bacon on a grease fire.
Aside from the bacon sensation, I tried to focus on the spirituality of Machu Picchu. Without doubt, it’s beautiful. A bucket list place, done. Even in the harsh flattening light of mid-day and crawling with 2,000 tourists (or whatever the daily quota is these days), Machu Picchu is still awesome. Just like the bus ride up from Aguas Calientes was awesome. Even after endless ruins and crenellations razoring one valley after another, it was still impressive. Go there if you can. Maybe do the early morning tour.
So now I’ve seen it. The number one destination in South America. Yes, it was worth it. They even have an “accessible” (handicap) path for those in wheelchairs! I loved it. Me encanta!
It’s amazing to stand there on Machu Picchu, breathless from altitude and wonder. Imagine the sweat it took to build it.
Recently, some of my Bangladeshi friends visited the U.S… which made me think about iconic American foods to make them try while visiting D.C. The following are some of my recommendations.
1. Krispy Kreme: Who does not love a freshly fried yeast doughnut, hot and fresh from a sugar glaze waterfall?
2. Five Guys and Shake Shack: The last decade has seen the rise of the new hamburger restaurant which makes me happy. Freshly made with fresh French fries – it sounds simple but we, the consumers, put up with so much less for too long. Five Guys is a nationwide chain that started a few miles from D.C. and if you have peanut allergies, you must stay away…
3. All-American classic restaurants and bars: These are classic modern restaurants and bars in the “old boys’ club” style of dark wood, etc. — The Hamilton, The Lincoln, and also Old Ebbitt Grill, the Willard, and Ray’s the Steaks.
4. Ben’s Chili Bowl: Visitors like this historic place which has recently become a chain and it will soon be opening a branch at National Airport.
5. Honey Pig (noisy Korean BBQ restaurant), To Sok Jib (hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant), and Bon Chon Chicken: Annandale, Virginia is a well known Korea-town but Bon Chon has just opened a branch in Clarendon. There is also Lighthouse Tofu which serves more than tofu and Oegadgib which serves all-you-can-eat Korean including shabu-shabu (shabu-shabu are the words you should say to time how long you swish your meat in the broth to cook it.).
6. Pho soup: Eden Center is a little Vietnam in Falls Church, Virginia, where the restaurants serve pho and other Vietnamese food.
7. Ravi Kabob: It’s a northern South Asian/Pakistani place that is “hole-in-the-wall” and serves delicious food. The most famous local chain is Moby Dick’s.
8. Edy’s Chicken or El Pollo Rico: It’s Peruvian style rotisserie chicken. Anthony Bourdain went to El Pollo Rico but I like that Edy’s serves yucca fries. There are also several other Peruvian style restaurants in the area where you can explore some of this world famous cuisine, although I’m still waiting for the celebrity chef level restaurants to open.
9. Ramen shops: This is a fairly new trend in American food, thanks in part to David Chang of Momofuku, and I like the trend. Yummy, homemade soup. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is.
10. El Salvadorean food: Try a fresh pupusa as the El Salvadorean population begins to emerge on the culinary scene (there are not that many Mexican places in this area but Jugalita is authentic).
Of course there are also many Ethiopian restaurants to try and loads of food carts serving all manner of new American foods (Korean kalbi taco, anyone?). Every new group of immigrants contributes a new flavor to American cuisine.
When tourists visit the U.S., many want to try Chipotle and other famous restaurants. I recommend using Yelp to find the locations. Speaking of American foods, there is, of course, pie, lobster, grits, collard greens, chicken and waffles, barbecue, etc. to be had here in D.C., but, maybe I’ll write about that another time. And not to forget, I’ve done some research and it looks like there is only one Colombian restaurant in the area… y claro, por supuesto, voy a visitarlo.
Here is my list of 10 foods to taste in Bangladesh. I have not included biryani because, of course, you will try biryani while you are here! Right? Speaking of right, remember to use the right hand only when eating…
1. Fuchka (and chot-puti which is basically the same ingredients but chopped up): It’s a street food. Small dough balls which are stuffed with a chickpea (garbanzo) salad made with jalapenos. Can be spicy. It is served with a tangy tamarind vinaigrette. There is usually the option to have this served not spicy which means the addition of a yogurt sauce on top. Many vendors mix a special black salt into the yogurt sauce. See #10 for a similar aroma.
2. Bhorta: the biggest secret food. It’s a style of “mashup” foods and other small dishes like mezze/appetizers/tapas. Best restaurant is in Old Dhaka but try to eat it homemade.
3. Rumali: This is my personal favorite because I like yeasty stretchy dough with grilled meat. “Rumali” means handkerchief so the bread is as thin as a handkerchief.
4. Jhalmuri: It’s a street food. A savory puffed rice treat usually served in a recycled paper cone (as in, you can read someone’s homework on the paper) with a paper scooper as a utensil.
5. Sringara: A street food. Also, commonly served at parties. It’s a deep fried dough ball or triangle. Like a samosa.
6. Pithe: A biscuit with sculptured designs unique to the maker.
7. Hilsha: The national fish. April and Bengali New Year is the time to eat this bony fish. Bangladesh is a country of fish eaters.
8. Jallaby: Also a street food. It’s like a deep fried funnel cake cooled and soaked in sugar water.
9. Mishti doi: Sweetened fresh yogurt. The yogurt in Bangladesh is almost always fresh and made in clay pots which are tossed (ultimate earth to earth recycling). It’s funny because many expats will keep these clay dishes and the Bangladeshis don’t really understand why.
10. Bhorhani: It is a drink made from yogurt but it is mixed with “special black salt” which is sulfuric. This drink is often served at special events like weddings. The Bangladeshis say that the drink cuts through the fattiness of the biryani served at weddings. I didn’t like this drink but I do like lassi and most other yogurt based drinks. I’m just not a fan of the sulfur aroma.
When in Bangladesh, also try the lime soda, fresh juices, fresh mangoes, and coconuts. I liked the lime soda because it was always served with sugar syrup and fresh squeezed lime — a good way to keep scurvy at bay! Of course, there are many that I did not include on my list: “black berries” which look like olives and are bitter in flavor. Rice cakes. Unripe guava is often served and you will see vendors selling these pale green fruit cut up with some spice on them. And so on (I’m not Andrew Zimmern so I’m not including only “bizarre” foods, but, you may not like all of them. I personally liked the unripe guava but found the black berries to be too bitter for me). Also, try the Faluda. It’s a sort of milk shake dessert item with vermicelli noodles and super saccharine sweet syrup (see the photo of the pink milkshake?).
Lastly, I always get asked if I get sick when I eat street foods or anything in Bangladesh. Follow your gut… food that sits out and reaches that dangerous (is it 58 F?) point where bad bacteria fester, should be avoided. Right? I was lucky but I also calculated my risks and I didn’t take that many. Usually, I let my Bangladeshi friends guide me. They always kept me safe. Oh, and if you are lucky, you will get to try many of these foods at weddings, including the biryani. Enjoy!
Now that M’s Adventures, the blog, is almost three years old, I decided to try a different design. I’ve also added a few new pages, currently under construction, on food, travel, and bucket-less lists. Please take a look. I am trying to better organize the information I’ve written (more than 180 blog postings so far!), so I hope that this new layout helps. Yes?