Tuesday, June 19, 2012

7 Things To Know About Eating & Traveling in Argentina

I like to research the heck out of a place before arriving in a new destination. At the same time, you can't know everything beforehand. You've just got to experience it. That's how I felt about some of the situations we experienced in Argentina, so I thought I'd share them with you.

1. Internal flights can be expensive - If you are a non-Argentine, finding cheap flights in Argentina is downright difficult. When buying a domestic airline ticket online from outside of Argentina, the prices are different than for locals. That includes buying them within the country. To get a reduced rate, you either need a DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad/National Identification Document) number or need a credit card issued from an Argentinian bank, which......requires a DNI number. One of the main reasons for expensive flights is that there is no competition between airlines for domestic air travel. There are really only two to choose from, Aerolineas Argentinas and LAN. I hear that the high-end buses are amazing and relatively affordable. If you choose traveling by bus, know that Argentina is a vast country, and there are long distances between major areas.

2. You may need to send up smoke signals to get your waiter's attention. Sometimes I get a little miffed when wait staff here in New York City drop the check on your table and say "Whenever you're ready...." while I'm still eating dessert. In Argentina, I felt like I had to send up flares to get the wait staff to notice us, especially at the end of the meal. People lounge over food or even a very small cup of coffee, so don't be in a rush per se (you're supposed to be relaxing anyway). We weren't necessarily in a rush at all of our meals, but sometimes we did want to actually get back to our hotel.

El Cabildo in downtown Buenos Aires

3. Vegetarians, be wary - Argentine cuisine isn't exactly known for its meat-free options and vegetable cookery. Even if you say you don't eat meat at a restaurant, wait staff might just think you don't eat RED meat. I would suggest asking for things specifically without carne (meat as in red meat), pollo (chicken), etc. Spell it out, if you must. Because of the strong influence of early 20th century Italian migrants, Argentina really has great Italian cuisine. Pizza and pasta are always good bets. Buenos Aires also has a Koreatown and a Chinatown, which may have great veggie options (didn't get to check them out). In Patagonia, it was harder to find good vegetarian fare, although I do recommend Pura Vida in El Calafate. Vegans, I don't know what to tell you because everything had cheese on it. Buena suerte (Good luck!). :(

I enjoyed taste testing empanadas wherever we went in Argentina. Every place has their own recipe and style. Vegetarians, try the spinach ones!

4. Watch your money - I mean literally examine it closely. Counterfeit money is a real issue in Argentina, and it is very much a part of the monetary system. You may get some fake funds from unlikely places: shops, restaurants and maybe even your hotel (although most places like this take great pains to weed out bad money). I have heard that taxi drivers can be some of the biggest culprits, but I'm not going to throw shade on a whole profession. Here's a good link to know if you've got the right money.

5. You may know Spanish, but the Argentine usages are different - I've heard lots of jokes about bringing together Spanish speakers from different countries in one room, and many of them not being able to understand each other because of regional word usage. Argentina uses some words that I haven't heard before for common nouns. Sanitario = bathroom, coletivo = bus are a few that come to mind. You can still use the Spanish vocabulary you know, but just know that Argentines occasionally call things by a different name.

U.N. Plaza, Buenos Aires

6.  You can get by without Spanish, but it sure does help. In most destinations around the world, making a feeble attempt at the local language is going to get you far with local staff. Both Buenos Aires and El Calafate (where we were based for our time in Patagonia), were major tourist centers, so many people spoke English.  Yet they weren't always totally fluent, and sometimes it was easier for me and for them if I just spoke Spanish. I think I'm trying to give myself props, but at times I think we also got better service because of it. Ok fine, I'm probably just dreaming, but I believe my knowledge of Spanish helped us. If you can use some basic phrases or learn even a few key vocabulary words before your trip, it might help.

An iceberg in Lago Argentino in Patagonia

7. Argentine men are flirty (at least with me) - I got quite a few (okay, many) winks and even a few catcalls. I wasn't exactly expecting that.  I suspect it's because I'm a little exotic looking there? (Unlike its neighbor, Brazil, Argentina has almost no Black people) Actually, I think it's just an Argentinian man thing and probably nothing to do with me. :) In case you're wondering, Argentines are pretty good looking.

Are there any details you wish you had known prior to your last trip to a new place? 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Jama Masjid - Sight of the Week

Jama Masjid was the first major site that I saw with Team Ozzie and Pancham.  Located in the extremely bustling Old Delhi, it is the largest mosque in India and can hold 25,000 people. It was commissioned by Shah Jahan, the same ruler who commissioned the Taj Mahal.  Shah Jahan and I can be friends because I like large, grandiose buildings, too.

Team Ozzie, Pancham and me climbing up the steps towards the East entrance

A few things about seeing Jama Masjid and other major Indian tourists sites:

1. If you're a foreigner, you're going to pay a higher entrance fee - With the exception of the Taj Mahal, most places to visit are 300 rupees or less. Many are free. While I was there, the exchange rate was a little over 50 rupees to the U.S. dollar (It's now 55 rupees!), so that means no more than $6USD. Also I didn't care that I was charged more because I think it's important that these beautiful sights be accessible to all Indians.

2. Even if it may be free to enter, you may have to pay a fee to bring in your camera and take pictures.

3. Ladies, bring a scarf with you just in case. You never know when it's best to have your head covered.  

For Jama Masjid, women are required to be covered, preferably wearing long loose clothing that covers shoulders and legs. I was already very conservatively dressed for the day (I am going to write about dressing in India at some point), but the men at the entrance will require women to wear these unflatteringly large robe-like things to cover up. They will tell you that you need to pay them money. Like Nancy Reagan says, "JUST SAY NO" and walk on through. 

Here I am in all of my glory.....

That's my travel bag peeking out. 

I think Ms. J of Team Ozzie got a worse looking one than me, so I don't feel so bad. 

As with most mosques, Jama Masjid requires you to take off your shoes when entering. The problem here is that Jama Masjid is open-air meaning that there's lots of bird poop to avoid. Be careful! I was wishing for some socks at different moments . 

Jama Masjid is an impressive place, and I am sure an inspiring setting for Muslim worshippers to pray and to attend services on Fridays. 
The courtyard and main prayer hall of Jama Masjid

One of the gates 

Pool in the middle of the courtyard

With many mosques and Islamic architecture in general, it's all about the details. When you get close, you really see the craftsmanship. 

After taking in the courtyard, we entered the main prayer hall. 
A man at the mihrab, the central prayer area facing Mecca

I had to remind myself that mosques aren't open just for prayer and worship, but also as a place where people can gather to talk and relax. This man was definitely relaxing (more like sleeping, but that's cool). 

We spied the tower, which requires paying an extra fee for access. We'd heard that the walk to the top was worth it. 

What we didn't realize was that it was a long, long way up! There's barely any room for more than two people on the stair case, and it's dark and winding. I was starting to get pretty dizzy, and it seemed like the stairs could go on forever.  

Unfortunately, all of these stairs didn't help because all of a sudden my right leg started to cramp like you wouldn't believe. I'm a fairly active person, so I wasn't hurting from the climbing. Team Ozzie and I realized that I was suffering from dehydration. That make sense because I'd had a rough first day in Delhi two days before where I barely drank water for hours (That wasn't on purpose; I'm a water fiend). I was determined to make it to the top, and I did.

I have to say that the view of Old Delhi and beyond was worth the trek up to the top. Delhi really doesn't have a skyline to speak of, so you can really see much of the city from Jama Masjid's tower.

Was Jama Masjid worth the attempted shakedown for extra money, dodging bird poop barefoot, and steep climb up its tower? I'd say yes.

Have you ever had to go above and beyond to truly enjoy a visit to a major sight? 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

(Why) I'm Not Too Proud for Group Tour, Part II

While I've already talked about the basics of my tour with Intrepid Travel in India, I never really talked about WHY I decided to do a group tour to India. Some of them are probably obvious, but I thought I'd talk about them a little:

I don't think I would have gone to several places on our itinerary. It's very easy when traveling in India to keep on the tourist trail in part because it's often hard to veer off of it. What I loved most about our tour was the fact that we stayed and experienced both large cities with major sites AND got a chance to see small, rural towns. Honestly, those experiences in more "off the beaten" path locations were really some of my favorite moments on the trip. Over the coming weeks, I'll share those experiences with you, but I know that I wouldn't have even thought of going to many of them. One place we visited wasn't even mentioned in my guidebook and barely comes up in a Google search.

Doing the washing in the town of Tal Waz (I think that's the name of the town. I'm not sure about the spelling.)

I knew being a woman traveling alone in India was not always going to be easy. I'm not trying to scare anyone, but I knew going in that my time in India was not always going to be hassle-free. I read a lot about the experiences of solo women travelers, and they were all a mixed bag. Mostly the answer was, "You'll be fine as a solo woman traveler, but....". Solo women travelers were a rarity (Black female solo travelers non-existent) in my three weeks in India. Our group did encounter or see a few women traveling alone, and there were moments where I felt like a little bit of a punk. Maybe I should have done this all alone? Maybe I can't hack travel like I think I can (I thought I'd overcome that insecurity with my solo trip to Brazil, but maybe not)?

On the streets of Jaipur within the Pink City walls

Can a woman travel alone in India safely? Totally! Would I want to travel solo in India as a Black woman for an extended period of time? I'm not so sure (I'll get into why in many posts). Also I did have 8 days of solo travel during the trip, so it's not like I didn't have the solo experience. I have to admit to you, though, that there were moments when I liked knowing that the men of Team Ozzie and our guide, Pancham, had my back.  I felt there were instances when I was alone that people (okay, fine, men, especially vendors) felt it was okay to a be a bit more aggressive than if I was walking with the male members of our group or Pancham. Although I'll have to tell you about the time I almost got into a fight in Darjeeling, but, that, my friends, is another story.

While we were on camels, our guide, Pancham, used another route. :)

Sometimes I needed to talk it out with someone. What I mean by this is that India can sometimes rattle you. I'd seen extreme poverty while traveling before. I've stood out as a traveler before, but India affected me differently than many places I've been. I call my time there "in your face, full frontal" travel. I think that's why I liked it so much. When I saw or experienced something, it was nice to have someone right there to say, "Hey, did you just see what I just saw?" I was processing so much between my travel journal (the first one I've kept in a long time) and writing e-mails to family and friends, but having someone who was experiencing the same things at the same time who could discuss it really helped me. I know that Team Ozzie and I may not have agreed about everything, but at least we could talk about it all together.

Me during a boat ride on Lake Pichola in Udaipur

For those who've been on group tours what were your reasons? Safety? Ease? A need for company? When would you NOT consider a group tour?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dinner at Castle Hill Inn - A 40th Anniversary Celebration

On Friday, I mentioned on Facebook (Hey, are you following me on Facebook?) that this past weekend was going to be a special one for Husband J's side of the family. This weekend we celebrated my mother and father-in-law's 40th wedding anniversary at Castle Hill Inn in Newport, Rhode Island. I have to say that 40 years is a rare and beautiful thing in 2012. Congratulations to them!

I've actually written a little about a previous experience at Castle Hill Inn. This hotel and restaurant are perched on a great spot in Newport. Many people don't even bother to stay or eat here. They just come for the views of the water and cocktails.

The Castle Hill Inn Lawn 

Boats pass right by Castle Hill Inn's gorgeous lawn. It's a nice place for boat watching. 

By the way, I think it's time for my once per year "Please allow me to show you that I actually have some sense of style" picture.

Husband J cleans up well, too. Yes, I am taller than him in wedge heels.

While it was fun being waterside, we also came to get our grub on; and we sure did. The Castle Hill Inn has three types of menus: a three course, five course or eight course tasting with the possibility of wine pairings for each course. We kept it simple with the three course. 

By the way, I have to shout out to my family for always asking, "Hey, Terri. Did you get your picture?" before eating. They are too sweet. Plus, my sister-in-law J ( Sis-L J), I think gave some people the side eye when they remarked about me taking pics of food. It's good when the family helps out the cause. :)

We received an amuse bouche to start. 

Can I say that I didn't get the entire description that the waiter gave, so just trust me. I wasn't sure how I felt about this amuse bouche. It's actually a watermelon gelee, but it was a little rubbery. You don't really get the full watermelon flavor. I did like the parmesan.

We each ordered very different appetizers.

Pan-Seared Foie Gras 
 Pinto Noir cake, green grapes, foie gras ice cream, vincotto

Someone ((ahem!) got foie gras, but it was primarily because of the ice cream, which was really did taste like sweet foie gras. I would never think of cake and foie gras going together either, but it was really nice for all of the different textures and tastes in this dish (sweet, tart, and savory). Do you see the pop rocks underneath the ice cream? That was a super cool surprise. Many times I just let them pop on my tongue.

Confit of Wild Boar
 applewood smoked, yakitori glaze, candied citrus fruit, shaved radish

The small taste I got of this was awesome. What made it really special was the play between the smokiness and the sweetness of the glaze. Plus, the boar was really just buttery tender. 

Cheese Plate
with fruit jam, Marcona almonds, honey, and grilled bread

I can't believe this was supposed to be for one person. We all chipped in to help out Sis-L J.  

Three of us ended up with the same main course. We were in Newport where the fish is fresh. 

Pan seared Native Fluke
with a bouillabaisse, lobster "sausage", confit potato, and braised leeks 

I had to try the lobster sausage. It had a sweet finish. While not a traditional bouillabaisee, it was still nice to have the soup-like broth that was comforting for a cool, early evening on the water. 

Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Lamb
with Merguez sausage, falafel, spring bean ragout, Lucques olives

Duck Rohan 
roasted with gooseberries, foie gras and quinoa

I snagged a small piece of Husband J's duck, and it was cooked beautifully.

Since we were celebrating, we had to have dessert. 

Tres Leches Cake 
caramel corn, toasted marshmallows, popcorn ice cream

What you're not seeing are the pop rocks (again!). They were underneath the smaller pieces of cake, which had been drenched with thick dulce del leche-like cream. I even thought the little pieces of parsley actually added to the dish giving it an earthy edge. 

Belgian Chocolate Terrine
Cocoa nib coulis, caramelized white chocolate creme, feuilletine

Creme Brulee
Vanilla & Meyer lemon custard on top with poppyseed cake on the bottom, blueberry coulis

Not a bad way to celebrate....

I asked my mother-in-law the secret to staying happily married for a long time. In her opinion, she told me that she thought there were two things that have helped her and my father-in-law all these years:

1. Have a sense of humor - Be able to laugh with one another and at one another. I definitely have no problems laughing at Husband J. :)

2. Grow together, not apart - Over the course of time, we all change. Taking into account each other's best interests through the years and staying connected is important.

Great advice, no? 

Happy Anniversary to them!

Castle Hill Inn
590 Ocean Avenue
Newport, Rhode Island 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Food Porn Friday - Super Linda

When I go out to eat, I often indulge even if just a little. I know I should eat healthier most times, but I often save that for eating at home. I was out to lunch with a former work colleague after not seeing him for over a year, and I suggested Super Linda in TriBeCa for a quick lunch.

My choice for that day's lunch was the tuna burger. 

Tuna Burger cooked medium, with pineapple, pickled onion and chipotle aioli with cole slaw on the side

While the burger could have been seasoned a little more, pineapple will make almost anything taste better. I loved that I got a much needed infusion of vegetables from the cole slaw. There was a little too much dressing, but I was happy to have cabbage, carrots, fennel and other crispy veggies to munch on. 

I felt pretty good that this time I'd made the right (read: healthy) choice.

Do you indulge when you eat out, or are you good about eating healthy all of the time? 

Super Linda
109 West Broadway 
New York, NY 

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Blogging While Brown 2012 - 5 Reasons I'm Happy I Went

This past weekend I went to a blogging conference called Blogging While Brown. I have to say that I couldn't have had a better experience for my first blogging conference.

I should mention some background. While I've got a lot of "blogging friends" or "internet friends" (as Husband J says), most of my real life friends have no interest in social media (outside of Facebook), don't understand Twitter and think my blogging is my cute little activity. :) I have to admit that I was looking forward to the conference because I'd be surrounded by people who understand what it's like being an internet content creator (it ain't easy!).

While I've been able to meet a variety of great bloggers, in my past blogging life I've often felt like the only one or one of very few Black or Latino bloggers writing about certain topics (like travel!).  That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but I believe in the fact that a variety of perspectives and visual representations of diverse people should be present in all forms of media including emerging media like blogs. My choice to go to Blogging While Brown ("BWB") was not only about learning more about blogging in general but also to get inspired about my role as a blogger of color in an online world that often sidelines us (just my opinion, of course).

Since I often think in lists, here are 5 reasons why I'm glad I went to Blogging While Brown:

1. I met a really nice down to earth, friendly, diverse group of bloggers.
I've not always heard the best things about blogging conferences. I've often heard from some people that the atmosphere can be cliquey, impersonal or just downright unwelcoming. I have to say that I was able to meet so many cool people this past weekend. The conference was small enough that I could have multiple conversations with people throughout the weekend but large enough that I still didn't meet everyone. Bloggers came from all over the country (shout out to my new Jacksonville, Florida  friends!) and wrote about everything from relationships and beauty to health and politics. Some folks had been blogging or writing professionally for years, and others were new to blogging. It was nice to get perspectives from all levels of experience.

Me with Erika Kendall of A Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss, a great blog about health, exercise, body image, food justice, weight loss and more. Girlfriend has over 72,000 Facebook followers! Talk about reach!!

2. Many of the well-known and successful bloggers openly shared themselves and their experiences. 
I've often heard that when some bloggers hit "the big time", they are not so friendly at conferences like these. Yet at Blogging While Brown, many of the the most successful bloggers with well-known sites were very friendly and accessible. Case in point, one of my favorite bloggers, Patrice Grell Yursik, of the blog Afrobella.

I was such a fan girl when I met Patrice. I'm very happy that she posed with me. 

I started reading Patrice's blog years ago when looking for resources for my wedding blog for Black women with natural hair (i.e., not chemically straightened). While not the first natural hair blogger, she's really the first in that niche to translate her blogging into bigger opportunities. She has partnered with M.A.C. to produce her own shade of lipgloss and has also live tweeted from the red carpet at the Oscars. She's really taken her blogging to another level. She was so nice to me, super down-to-earth and really honest about her experiences during her panel (I missed it, but followed the tweets on the BWB conference hashtag).

3. I learned new things that will help move me forward as a blogger (and even some things I didn't think I needed).
I thought I knew a little about SEO, but I learned a ton about it from Luvvie Ajayi's SEO 101 panel. The panel on blogging and brands was probably the most helpful for the future, and I really liked the honesty of the panelists representing advertising and public relations firms (Big shout out to Jennifer Polk, VP at Edelman Digital, for our nice talk during the conference). Moral of the story for that branding panel: be genuine, honest, and ethical when dealing with public relations agencies and brands. I'll probably never want to publish a book (just being honest), but I thought many of the issues discussed during that panel were important in understanding how to export your blog to another medium. I would have loved a TV panel that talked about more than television news because I think many bloggers can become more than guest talking heads (TV hosts maybe?).
The "Your Personal Brand: It actually IS all about You" panelists from left to right: Adria Richards, Scott Hanselman, and Luvvie Ajayi 

4. The conference paid attention to important social justice issues. While many conferences focus on monetization, branding and content creation, I really did appreciate the fact that the conference emphasized the importance of blogging in moving forward social issues and alternative narratives. From addressing AIDS to community organizing, the conference tackled subjects that are affecting communities of color. I'm working on an online project that has nothing to do with travel or food, and this inspired me to move it forward because the conference reinforced to me the need for vital socially conscious and relevant information online.

5. I never knew what to expect from the engaging speakers and my fellow attendees.
From the hysterical presentation by Scott Hanselman and Luvvue Ajayi, which had me rolling on the floor to the Twitter haterade and in person interrogation of the founder of Media Takeout, Fred Mwangaguhunga, there were definitely parts of the conference that kept you on your toes and laughing in your seat.

Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas. I check out this site from time to time and enjoy the insight. I LURVED his T-shirt. :)

While the conference was great, here are some things I would change:

1. It's not cheap. Although the conference was valuable, it was not cheap ($250 before late registration). Most blog conferences aren't though, so I can't say that BWB was out there in terms of costs. They did include breakfast and lunch both days though. Speaking of food....

2. I'd love more healthy food options for breakfast and lunch. A crudite plate wouldn't be so bad. Some fruit? Help a sister out. ;)

3. I would have liked to know what speakers were going to discuss in the panels beforehand. While I didn't need a full outline, sometimes knowing what was going to be discussed would have helped me make a decision about breakout sessions beforehand.

I have a feeling the conference will be farther away next year, and I hope that I'll be able to attend again some time in the future. I was definitely re-inspired and felt energized about blogging in a way that I haven't been in a long time. At the very least, the conference made me understand my little voice here is important, even if I don't have the hits, Facebook likes and Twitter followers that others say I should to feel important and valued as a blogger.

A big thanks to my fellow conference attendees and to the conference organizers for a stimulating and fun weekend.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Weekend in Reykjavik - The Highlights

My crazy spring of travel finally ended a little over a week ago. Husband J and I headed to Iceland for a long weekend.

Now before you think I've gone a little crazy, let me tell you that Iceland isn't as far away as you think, especially for those of you living in the Northeast United States and Europe. A little over 5 hours going west from New York City, and you're in Los Angeles or San Francisco. You go 5 hours in the opposite direction, and you're in Reykjavik, Iceland. :) This was Husband J's idea and not mine. When HE says, "Hey, let's go somewhere!", what am I supposed to say? No? BWWAHAHAHA. Not happening.

I know he really enjoyed our trip there, and I think a little peek at Iceland made me realize that I miss traveling in Europe. HOWEVER, it also made me realize that I don't miss the EXPENSE of traveling in Europe. Since it's a far from tropical island nation of about 320,000 people, Iceland imports many goods, and food prices are not cheap.

That being said, I will say that Iceland is a beautiful place and a really pleasant travel destination. Its great roads, natural beauty, art scene (which I didn't really take advantage of), geothermal spas, nightlife (we old folks missed that, too), and wonderful food offerings really make for a cool place for a quick visit. Plus, with a language that I was going to butcher anyway (and most times didn't even both to try to pronounce), many, many people I came into contact with spoke accent-less English. I found out most kids there learn four languages simultaneously.
You could easily spend over a week making a circle around the country (the interior is pretty desolate), but even 4 days will give you a nice introduction to it. Here's a little of our experience in Reykjavik and the parts of the countryside close by that we visited. No Bjork sightings though (Actually she lives a few minutes away from us in Brooklyn).

The interior of Hallgrimskirkja Church in downtown Reykjavik. The exterior is even cooler. 

A Baejarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog. One of the most famous restaurants in Iceland is a hot dog stand. I'm not even kidding. 

Iceland is literally a hotbed of geothermal energy (no pun intended). One of the hot springs at Geysir

Hiking Esja, 15 minutes from downtown Reykjavik. It's a long way up, but the views are worth it. 

A statue of Ingolfur Arnarson, Iceland's first resident, in downtown Reykjavik 

Icelandic food is about fresh seafood (and lamb). Cod and grilled lobster from Sjavargrillid (Seafood Grill)

Husband J says to me last night, "No more trips for awhile, right?" I'll have to think about it, dear. :) Just kidding...well, not really.

Any Iceland lovers out there? If you were to go to Iceland, what would you want to see or do? Glaciers, wildlife, shopping, going out 'til dawn.....? 


Try Anything Once All rights reserved © 2010
I am a HowJoyful Design