Category Archives: Passport Required

Words with Friends.

It’s taken me some time to write about this next phase of my trip to Nicaragua — the two days in Ometepe — because it lacks a story. Sure, things happened. We couldn’t stay at the farm we’d read about, so we had a perfectly lovely time at the place next door. Dinner took too long at a restaurant, causing us to walk back to our cabin in the dark. We’d forgotten to stock up on cash before arriving on the island, so we ended up paying for our swanky volcano-side lodging with PayPal. All those things are somewhat interesting, but none were defining moments. And, frankly, as I tried to go into detail about them, I bored myself.

In the two days we spent exploring Ometepe, an island made of two (one live, one not) volcanoes in Lake Nicaragua (Lake Colcibolca), my favorite moment was the one pictured above. Bethany and I eschewed dinner in favor of two large Toñas while watching the sun set behind (live) Concepción volcano on the front porch of our cabin. To explain why I enjoyed this experience over all others would strip it from its simplicity. Let’s just say this: sometimes it takes two plane flights, as well as a bus ride, ferry ride and two cab rides to get to a place that facilitates conversation—without interruption, without distraction, without Words with Friends. Actual words. With friends.

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A Taste of Granada.

Soy vegetariana. I am vegetarian.

Bethany and I arrived in Nicaragua armed with a tiny Spanish dictionary and 40 or 50 handmade flash cards with useful phrases, provided by Spanish-speaking friends of ours. My fluency in the language is questionable at best, and all-reliant upon my memories of my C+ average Spanish classes in 1995 and 1996. For the most part, the cuisine of Nicaragua seemed to be free of meat. Despite this, and despite the notecard and the fact that vegetariana is one letter away from the English version of the word, I messed up the phrase without fail, talking around it whenever possible.

Mi amiga no me gusta carne, I’d explain while pointing at Bethany with her fancy eating habits. Directly translated, My friend, I don’t like meat. Not confusing at all.

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Friday Five: Postcards from Nicaragua.

When considering a week-long trip south of these United States, Nicaragua wasn’t the first country to come to mind. Brazil had that honor, but its $1200 airfare pushed it far out of the eight-day destination category. (My equation isn’t exact, but if the airfare tops $1000, the destination deserves at least ten days, if not two or more weeks.) The lower price tag of Nicaragua (most flights from CMH were closer to $600) and the quick flight (less than three hours from ATL), combined with a friend’s lavish praises piqued my interest. Simply put, it was personal economics that landed me in the poorest — and safest — country in Central America. I’d go back in a second.

Today’s Friday Five is a quick peek of our fleeting visit to three areas in the Southwest region of Nicaragua.

1. Granada’s Market.

With only half a day to experience the famous Spanish colonial city of Granada, we placed a visit to the market on top. Piles of produce (some recognizable, some not), clothing and countless street food temptations sang to us as we wandered the streets of the sixteenth century city.

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Eight Ways To Die.

You may have noticed that IF-OH has been silent of late. That’s because I’ve been preparing for a new trip: Nicaragua and Costa Rica. I’ve developed a method for my travels that truly honors the “itinerant” part of Itinerant Foodies. This method heavily involves the use of Google Docs and wikitravel. Basically, I write a middle school report on the country I’m visiting. My many anxieties are somewhat quelled when I fight them with knowledge. So I research every possible thing there is to know about a place in hopes that a) I don’t miss something good while I’m there, b) I don’t get stuck someplace awful and c) I don’t die. Vacations with Jill are so fun!

Bethany (of Tanzania and Philippines fame) will be joining me on this new adventure, and I’m hoping that her complete understanding of “island time” will balance out my we-need-to-be-there-four-days-early-to-catch-the-bus mentality. We’ve been working for months on the trip, interviewing friends who have been before, scouring the backpacking message boards and trying to learn some last-minute Spanish. (Thanks to two years of Spanish in 1995 and 1996, the burden of language is on my shoulders for this trip. In the past, I’ve had the luxury of Bethany pre-learning the local dialect prior to my arrival. There will be a lot of grunting and pointing, I fear.)

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London In A Day.

Most of what I see in travel guides and destination magazines is not for me. I know this. While looking at the photos from The World’s Most Exclusive Spas or Ten Autumn Getaways might give me a spark to get through the next week, the only way I’ll end up at a resort is by accident. (Though my two-night stay at Daluyan in Sabang was well worth the splurge. I’m not saying I don’t like these things; I’m just being realistic.) There is a category of travel writing that captures my attention, the short stay stories. The In Three Days series, published through the New York Times, is one that always catches my eye. Chances are, if I’m somewhere fabulous, I can’t afford to be there long. (I’ve spent a single day in both Seoul and Bangkok, and while the latter left me with limitations due to civil unrest, I wish I’d had a quick go-to to, well, go to.)

This is my own version of that travel guide. London in a day. Several leisurely leave-the-flat-at-eleven days preempted this flurry of activity, spawned by the realization that we were running out of time to see the things that Ben and I both wanted to see. With maps in hand, and joined by Elen we left Shoreditch before breakfast to see how many things we could see in London.

Stop One: Kensington.

We grabbed caffè Americanos to go and headed away from the sunrise, determined to witness Time and Relative Dimension in Space, otherwise known as the TARDIS of Doctor Who fame.

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Bacon Under Fire.

My first cultural food shock came in the form of fish sauce. Cambodian cuisine and I were already on shaky grounds (based on the dubious absence of cheese) when I passed a fish sauce factory. My olfactory senses singed for hours; one simple, clear and well-reasoned thought resonated: There is no possible way that anyone in their right mind would eat the stuff.

It didn’t take long for me to adapt to the cuisine and its beloved fish sauce (which tastes infinitely better than it smells). By the end of the trip, I’d almost forgotten about dairy products. Almost.

While it’s acceptable to (temporarily) question other cuisines, my own American-bred eating habits have never come under fire. Until my recent trip to England, when my choice of ordering bacon, of all things, proved to be somewhat of a cultural snafu.

It’s not like I was in Israel or something. I was in Patisserie Valerie in Leeds. They had bacon on the menu. It turns out that it wasn’t the ordering of a side of bacon that gave my server pause. It was that I ordered it to accompany a scone. Sweet and savory. “Are you sure?” she asked in amazement. In my years of eating (and ordering way too much), I’ve never actually caused the waitstaff to openly question my choices. Both the server and I were equally confused. “Yes, I want the bacon and the scone.” She shrugged and processed my weirdo order.

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Breathing Room.

After ten minutes sandwiched between all of London and her tourists in Camden Market, I realized that in at least one way, living in the Midwest is a luxury. Space. We spent an afternoon getting caught in the current of foot traffic, wandering the stalls without stopping to look closely at anything designed to attract our attention along the way. To stop would mean to be run over, or to lose a member of our party. We’d gone to Camden to meet up with Sarah, Ben’s childhood friend, and we’d brought Elen, our London hostess along with us. With only a cup of coffee as our nourishment for the day, we were starving. While the food stalls in the market were tempting, we let Sarah talk us into visiting her favorite nearby pizza place. (The crowds helped persuade us, as did the underlying fear that any food near a tourist site was likely to be crap.)

In what was to become a tradition in our London dining experience, our initial goal (in this case, pizza) was just out of reach. (This happened several times during the trip; we’d get to a bistro that a friend recommended and find that the kitchen had closed seconds prior to our arrival, or we’d arrive at our destination restaurant to learn that they could only seat us at their second location, thirty minutes away.) Camden Bar and Kitchen had changed menus and its beloved stone-baked pizzas weren’t available for brunch on Sundays. Our server—who did not approve of this very recent change in operations—tried to talk the kitchen into serving us pizzas, to no avail. Brunch it would be.

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It’s Them, Not Me.

You can’t go home. That sounds so final, so bitter. Sometimes, you can’t go home. Or, to be more on point, sometimes home changes to a point where you don’t even recognize it. In this case, home isn’t even home. It is, instead, the place I spent most of my time in my temporary home of London, during the summer of 2000: Mezzo. A restaurant. I’ve written about it before. I’ve waxed poetically about the place to anyone who will listen, and if Facebook could somehow chronicle a Timeline for my mind (a terrifying concept), many Life Events would be connected to the place.

I knew that in the eleven years since I’d worked at the Soho restaurant, things had changed. For one, Mezzo had become Meza, and the place had changed ownership. Despite this knowledge, I couldn’t not visit it in my recent trip to London. On the first night in the city, I showed up on the doorstep of the restaurant, sans reservations and sans club attire. My super-duper fancy dining establishment had turned from the place that introduced me to mis en place and fruits de mer to what was essentially a club, a place that as a civilian, I would never enter. Instead, I was a woman on a mission: to touch base, at least emotionally, with twenty-one year-old me.

Once we walked in and looked at the menu, I had to have a stern conversation with myself: absolutely nothing would be the same and I could either enjoy my dining experience or lament the changes. The former would be way more interesting for my dining companions, so I tried to keep my commentary to a minimum. (This, of course, did not stop me from informing my first-day-on-the-job server that I once was in her shoes, but that on my first day, the building was on fire.) (True story.) (I’m sure that she didn’t care.) (I’ve turned into one of those people, the ones who show you pictures of their pets or grandchildren or announce that in this very building, eleven years ago, I ate a bowl of crème bruûlée in a stall in the server’s restroom so that the security guards wouldn’t see me stealing from the company.)

I seem to be doing it again. Right here.

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Snapshots of Cambridge.

Take a moment from your not-quite-last-minute Christmas shopping to peruse some pictures from my day in Cambridge. And if you find yourself wondering what you can give your favorite food blog (oh please, let it be us!) for Christmas, a suggested list is below.

Cambridge had their Christmas decorations up in October. (In comparison, the Newark airport was just putting up their pink and green Christmas balloons sixteen days ago.) It seems that the British are serious about the holiday.

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Old Friends.

When Ben and I planned our itinerary for the England trip this fall, most of our destinations had to do with the people we’d see. London had Elen, Sam and Sarah; Leeds was home to his sister Maria and Cambridge had Ben’s college roommate, Nate. The entire trip was a perfect vehicle to catch up with folks we hadn’t seen in ages.

While seeing Nate was the purpose of our one-day visit to Cambridge, we found ourselves wishing we’d scheduled more time to see the city, itself. It was pure joy to see history coinciding with every day life. Just one walk through made me want to spend days exploring every college, every path along the canal and, of course, every restaurant on its stone streets. (Stay tuned for a picture-only post of the sights of Cambridge.)

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