A Journey into the Young and Old Dubai(s)

*We asked our friend Chelsea the other day if she would be interested in writing a guest post for us.  She is an amazing photographer and we are so happy that she chose to share her experiences and photos of her recent trip to Dubai.  Head on over to Chelsea’s blog after this to read on about her life as an expat in Rome*

 

I’m not sure how to gauge distance from the air, but I feel certain I first saw Dubai from some several hundred miles away. The hosts had begun circulating, waking me up from my comfy slumber stretched out across an entire row of seats. While they ensured that seat backs and folding trays were in their full upright position, I fastened my seatbelt and pressed my drowsy face against the window. An asymmetrical string of lights seemed suspended above the city. I tilted my head back and forth, wondering if it was a trick of the light.

 

I’d first heard of Dubai when I was still living in the US. People would whisper about the construction of the Burj Khalifa as if it were the end of the world. “Is this the start of a new cold war?!” “Didn’t someone once compare it to the Tower of Babel?” Something in the American consciousness fears the day in which we can no longer lay claim to the biggest and best.

Suz and I being awkwardly adorable at the Museum of Dubai.
Suz and I being awkwardly adorable at the Museum of Dubai.

 

I landed in Dubai with all the joy that comes from an airport embrace with a good friend you haven’t seen in a long time. In this case, my friend Suz, who I met working in our university‘s media lab, a fellow photographer and spectacular video-maker. Though seeing her was the highlight of my trip, she’d also promised me the best kind of fun you can only have with someone else who appreciates the glory of a good shot – she’d already been planning locations that she knew I’d like to photograph.

 

Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai looks like a mirage, mirrored teal buildings grasping at the sky. There were moments that I felt I’d stumbled across the world’s first settlement on Mars, a utopian vision still under construction. In Dubai there are none of the signs of decay, discontent, that mar the visage of older cities, no homelessness, graffiti, or even garbage – nothing to smudge the city’s shiny image.

 

Downtown Dubai as seen by my phone from a moving car on the highway.
Downtown Dubai as seen by my phone from a moving car on the highway.

 

In almost every building, the air conditioning hits you like a wall when you enter. It felt like the walk-in freezer where we kept towers of burger patties at the McDonalds where I worked at age 16. Inside the shopping malls, Suz and I floated over lethargic sharks in a glass-bottomed boat at the Dubai Aquarium, and peeked into the mind-blowing weird that is Ski Dubai. Even though I knew it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (and sandy) outside, it still felt like I was inside a ski lodge peering out at a winter wonderland. We also explored the area surrounding the towering Burj Khalifa beside the world’s largest choreographed fountains.

 

The tallest building in the world as seen from the Souk al Bahar.
The tallest building in the world as seen from the Souk al Bahar.

 

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

We arrived at the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi as the last rays of sunshine bathed its 80 enormous domes, which squat in the sky like symmetrical clouds. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is large enough to hold 40,000 people for worship, has four minarets, and a 180,000 square foot courtyard. The structure takes inspiration from the wide range of Islamic art and architecture worldwide. As we wandered, we were sweating excessively in the thick polyester abayas loaned us by the mosque. The sound of birds fillED the air, though there wasn’t a single feathered creature to be seen. Flowers seemed to creep everywhere inside, etched onto the surface with carvings and paintings.

 

_photo-4_mosque

 

Old Dubai

In search of the lesser-known Dubai, what Suz termed “old stuff”, the taxi dropped us off in front of a row of rickety-looking boats on the edge of the river. While Suz negotiated with the boatmen I wiped steam off of my sunglasses. After deciding that the costly and precarious boat trip wasn’t for us, we explored the old covered Souq, where man after man tried to entice us with placations that their identical camel statues, sheikh bobble-heads, and woman-wearing-abaya lighters were somehow better than those in other shops. Suz led in the negotiations, demanding “cheap stuff” from the men, one of whom misunderstood her demand to be “chips” and arranged for us to be brought french fries from some unknown nearby shop.

 

_photo-5_souk-souq-dubai

 

After the Souq was the Dubai Museum, located in the Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest building in Dubai, built in 1787. The small museum provides a glimpse into life when Dubai was a village, before the discovery of oil in the sixties, when most money came from the difficult and dangerous work of pearl diving. In the museum you can see pearling boats, traditional homes (complete with a sort of early A/C – a tower made with burlap sacks to funnel wind inside), musical instruments and weaponry. The highlight, though, was the video which showed the evolution (and scale of construction) of Dubai up until the modern day.

 

Jazirat al-Hamra Ghost Town

We spent my last day in Dubai exploring the Jazirat al-Hamra Ghost Town near Ras al-Khamah, once a bustling epicenter of seaside trade. Under the blazing heat of the sun, we scrambled over collapsed adobe walls filled with coral and seashells. The white rock crumbled on our black clothes, leaving white streaks.

 

_photo-6_ghost-town1

 

All abandoned places seem to have two stories – one, the believable, practical, and two, the far more interesting. Some say the locals left in search of better economic opportunities, others after a disagreement with the rulers in Ras al-Khaimah. However, the more interesting claim is that the city is haunted by Jinni. The “genies” of the western world originate from stories of these supernatural creatures in Islamic mythology, though they don’t have much in common. Though Jazirat al-Hamra is best known as a ghost town, it’s also one of the best examples of an untouched, un-reconstructed traditional city in the area, its squat brown walls a far cry from Downtown Dubai’s azure skyscrapers and the snow white domes of the Grand Mosque.

 

The old and the new

Dubai is a fascinating city, a blend of young and old cultures. Emiratis wearing traditional clothing wander western-style shopping malls, where women wearing abayas carry the hot pink bags of Victoria’s Secret. The city’s many inhabitants, coming from cities across the world, speak mainly English in shops and out with friends. One of my favorite parts of my trip was the Punch Poetry Night at Book Munch, where people delivered poems about their love lives and wars ravaging their home countries.

 

_photo-7_burj-al-arab1

 

Like any, this city has its dark side. Restrictions on free press and speech, and the human rights violations of immigrant workers are well documented.  Dubai has a tendency towards building shiny new buildings, or covering up cracks with restoration, which gives it an air of the artificial, the “inauthentic”. But Dubai is not only the blend of old and young cultures, a mixture of history and modernity, it’s the start of something new. What that will be remains to be seen in the years to come.

 

Biography

Chelsea Graham works in communications and advocacy by day, and runs her blog, the Unofficial Guide to Rome by night. She has a degree in sociology from the London School of Economics and likes metal music, lifting heavy weights, cult TV, and photography.

Do You Like Rabbit?

Cappella
God I love The South!

The station was packed with people moving, passing each other with grace and speed. Mario stood next to me giving me some tips on how to navigate through this crowd without getting my pocket picked.  Mario was my guide to Naples, and this city is notorious for  thieves, a city where the Mafia still thrives. Naples is a city with attitude and this was my first visit; the visit that made me fall in love with this beautiful city.

We got on the bus and bought a couple of tickets. We sat down and he handed me a pen and told me to write the date where the machine would  leave a stamp. It was a trick that the locals used to scam a couple extra rides.. Mario, was taking me to a small town right outside of the city along the coast called Cappella. It is a cute little Italian town with not much to it. It has a local market, a school, and a bit of a downtown area by the water. Cappella though is not built for tourist but local residents.

Cappella, Napoli
Just Beautiful

I was lucky enough to have a friend like Mario to invite me into his family’s home for the weekend. Now I don’t know how many of you have spent time with Italians but if you ever get a chance take them up on their hospitality. Italians know how to take care of their guests and you will leave with a full stomach of amazing homemade food and wine.

We were picked up at the bus stop by Mario’s uncle. I hoped in the back of his tiny car and we were off. Mario and his Uncle  went straight to catching up in Neapolitan which is a dialect of Italian. If you have never heard someone from Naples speak Italian then there is one thing you need to know. I don’t care how much Italian you took in school, you would not understand one thing they say. It is hard to explain on paper but trust me it is a whole different language. Now I was too busy staring out the window to care what they were saying and before I knew it we were in front of the house.

House in Napoli
The Ceiling Was Low

The house was nothing special but had a quaint seaside feel to it. The first room you enter into is  more like a large walk in pantry/garage. The ceiling was low and I, being the tallest had to keep my head bent low just so I would not hit it. I grazed it a few times though despite my efforts. I was then introduced to all of Mario’s family: his uncle, aunt, cousins, and grandparents.

House in Napoli
Where The Magic Happened

His Grandmother was less interested in greetings, choosing instead to make sure that we were fed. She dragged us in to the kitchen and sat us down. She asked me a few questions. I looked at Mario in confusion and he just told me to say yes. So I promptly said Si and she looked pleased with my answer. I was given a plate of pasta, a  cup and two large carafes of white and red wine to choose from. Nobody else was eating and it was a little awkward but Mario explained to me that it was customary that the guest should be fed upon arrival.

Italian Cuisine
Simple but Delicious
Italian Cuisine
Octopus!!!!
Italian Cuisne
Never Say No!

Mario’s grandmother was Southern Italian and I could tell she wore it with a badge of pride. When she asked me a question like, “ Would you like some more?” I knew that it was a rhetorical question; your answer was always yes and never no. She was the boss of this house and she had final say. Now I fell in love with Mario’s Grandmother. She was hilarious and loved to mess with people. She knew when to be stern and when to joke. She is unbelievably giving and kind. Even though I stood above her by a foot I knew that I would do whatever she said. After being fatten up like Hansel and Gretel she put us to work.

Mario's Grandmother
Mario’s Grandmother

We headed up to the second house up the street to gather what we needed for what I thought was dinner on Grandma’s orders. At the back of the house we were greeted with a large wooden shed, the shed was filled with large jugs and barrels of homemade wine. Mario’s cousins siphoned the wine through a plastic tube and into plastic bottles. This was what I had been drinking earlier and we were gathering more for dinner. His Grandmother grabbed me and pulled me off to the side.

Italian Wine
Homemade Wine
Italian Cusine
Sorry Thumper!
Italian Cuisine
Good Eats

She motioned me to follow; I quickly obeyed and followed her into another section surrounded by a fence. The area was filled with large cages  with rabbits, a table and a large space in the middle. In the middle suspended in the air was a rabbit attached to a chain hanging from its hind legs. She walks up to it and grabs it by its ears and asked what I assume was the question, “Do you like rabbit?” I shook my head yes and without flinching she sliced the throat of the rabbit and then striped it of its fur in a couple more motions with a knife.  She pointed at me with her knife and asked if I still like rabbit.  I shook my head yes. She something I did not catch but she laughed as she made a motion with knife of crossing her neck. I took what I missed as “You better still like rabbit because if you don’t you will end up like this rabbit”.  I laughed and followed her outside back to the shed. They had finished up with the wine and we headed back down to the other house.

Italian Cuisine
Gnocchi
Italian Cuisine
Finished Product

Back at Mario’s house we played the Italian card game of skopa with his cousins and uncles as we drank beer and talked. Then after a quick nap were went back down to the main house. Mario’s grandmother was in the kitchen making us  home gnocchi; her hands were quick as she formed the little balls of dough. I was told that this was just one of the dishes for tomorrow. Everything that we had done that day was not for dinner but actually for tomorrow’s lunch. I could not wait till the next day as we spent the rest of the night eating pizza and playing skopa while watching calcio(football/soccer).

The next day came soon enough and now it was time for lunch. It was a feast, just one course after another of food: pasta, rabbit, cake, mozzarella. When I say mozzarella I mean giant fresh balls of Buffalo Mozzarella that we bit into like apples. We had giant meatballs that were the best I have ever had. We ate until we were stuffed and then finished the rest of the food so not to offend Mario’s grandmother. The wine flowed just as freely as we went through bottle after bottle of wine.

Italian Cuisine
Baked Pasta!!!
Italian Cuisine
Rabbit Was Fantastic
Italian Cuisine
Meatballs

The table was filled with constant conversation. Now if you are not use to it and you just came into the scene you might think they were in a fight but in reality that is just how they conversed. Italians are loud and have attitude and that is part their charm. I was in heaven and was wishing that I was Italian. I could live like this for the rest of my life. It was this lunch that I fully understood the southern Italian way of life. I was in love.

Italian Cuisine
I Was Stuffed
Italian Cuisine
Don’t Forget The Desert

I was fortunate to go back one more time and it was the same as the first and I just fell in love all over again. It has been a few years since I have seen Mario and his family but I hope that sometime soon in the future I will be back at that table with all his family enjoying each others company. Mario’s family and this experience is the reason why I root for Napoli in Serie A and when I think of Italy, I think of the south. I may have lived in Rome but I will always love Southern Italy.  They know the secret of life and it is to enjoy it all. It has been awhile since I have said it but I want to thank Mario and his family again for being such wonderful hosts.

Napoli
Thanks Mario!

 

The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul’s History Expressed in One Building

Visiting the Hagia Sophia was so incredibly high on my list of things to see of things to see in Istanbul that as soon as I arrived it was the first thing we went to see and has obviously made it on to my top reasons to visit Istanbul.  The building was something that had always fascinated me because of its rich history and the buildings survival throughout different periods of history, rulers and religions.  It is a building that, while cliche, completely encompasses the mix of east and west you expect to find in Istanbul.  The Hagia Sophia is a building that is Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Turkish and has so much history and architecture.

Hagia Sophia from the Outside

The first Hagia Sophia was built in 360AD and was named after Holy Wisdom.  The church took on true importance during the reign of Justinian I when he decided to redesign the church to be larger and more awe inspiring than the previous incarnations of the church.  The church was built out of materials from all over the Byzantine Empire including purple porphyry marble from Egypt, hellenistic columns from Ephesus and black stone from the Bosphorus and it was completed in under six years.  The church is considered to have changed the history of architecture and it was the largest cathedral until the Seville Cathedral was built in 1520.

The Hagia Sophia has a somewhat understated entrance but then it opens up into the opulent central nave
The Hagia Sophia has a somewhat understated entrance but then it opens up into the opulent central nave
The domes of Hagia Sophia are one of the architectural achievements of the Byzantine age
The domes of Hagia Sophia are one of the architectural achievements of the Byzantine age

The Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia was the gem of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the mosaics are considered some of the best examples we have from that period.
The Hagia Sophia was the gem of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the mosaics are considered some of the best examples we have from that period.  This mosaic is found as you exit the Hagia Sophia, you have to make sure you look back to see them and they depict the Virgin Mary and Child flanked by Justinian I and Constantine I
This mosaic shows Emperor Constantine IX and his wife Empress Zoe with Jesus in the center
This mosaic shows Emperor Constantine IX and his wife Empress Zoe with Jesus in the center

The Hagia Sophia was the focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church until the Ottomans conquered Istanbul in 1453 by Sultan Mehmed II.  Sultan Mehmed then, instead of razing it to the ground (which was kind of him), converted the church into a mosque.  The christian elements of the church were removed or plastered over, in terms of the mosaics, and replaced with Islamic features.  While it was quite nice of him to leave the building standing he was not so kind to the citizens who had taken refuge in the church with them either being enslaved, raped or murdered.

Islamic Medallions

 

The Mosque was known as the Aya Sofya and the chandeliers and medallions are features of the Islamic architecture
The Mosque was known as the Aya Sofya and the chandeliers and medallions are features of the Islamic architecture

Side View of the Hagia Sophia

In 1935 the Republic of Turkey converted the mosque into the museum that it is today.  The carpets were removed and the mosaics and frescoes were uncovered.  Today there is a small area for Christian and Muslim worship but the building itself is no longer a religious building.  Today the Hagia Sophia is considered the best example of Byzantine architecture and honestly it is one of the most inspiring buildings I have ever seen.  The mix of Christian and Muslim elements and the history behind this building is what makes the Hagia Sophia such a unique site to visit.  There are so few buildings in this world that capture the way certain places have changed throughout time and the Hagia Sophia is one of them.  You can literally trace the history of Istanbul in this building, from its humble Roman beginnings, to the center of the Eastern Orthodox Church, to the Ottoman Empire and the Muslim faith, and then to modern day Turkey.

Hagia Sophia Detail

The Hagia Sophia has been an integral part of Istanbul's history and still dominates the skyline today
The Hagia Sophia has been an integral part of Istanbul’s history and still dominates the skyline today

48 Hours Eating Our Way Through Portland

Portland is such an amazing city and when we visited back in May during our Pacific Northwest road trip we knew we would only have a short time here. We really did not have plans at all but we knew we wanted to take advantage of the city’s great food and cafe scene and that is basically all we did. It was AMAZING! The diversity of the food available in Portland runs the gamut from fine dining to their awesome food trucks and we tried to sample as much as we could.

Here is what we ate in 48 hours in Portland:

48 Hour Food Guide to Portland

May 6th:

We rolled into Northeast Portland around 7pm and were greeted by our AirBnB hosts. Upon arriving we had absolutely no idea where we were and our hosts were more than happy to direct us towards some local restaurants because per usual we were starving. They mentioned this tapas place and we were sold.

Toro Bravo has been open since 2007 and is basically credited (from the magazine article I read) with revitalizing Portland’s Spanish tapas scene. It is honestly one of the best Spanish tapas restaurants I have been to. It does not specialize in any one regional Spanish cuisine, unlike Bar Barlata in Oakland (my other favorite tapas restaurant which specializes in Catalan tapas), but instead focuses on cuisine throughout Spain. We browsed the menu for a bit before settling on perhaps waaaayyy too much food. We have a tendency to do that.

Scallop Obsession at Toro Bravo

To accompany our insane amount of food we decided to get a bottle of a Spanish rioja and then we tasted our way through Spain. We tried the seared scallops with romesco (I cannot turn down scallops), house cured chorizo with manchego cheese, tortilla espanola and of course the ubiquitous patatas bravas. All the food was absolutely delicious (although Alex and I both agree that we probably do not need to order patatas bravas again as there are so many other things we like more) and the atmosphere was lively and fun. We sat at the low bar right in front of the open kitchen and thoroughly enjoyed watching the movement of the chefs in such a small kitchen. Also the evening was perfectly capped by molten chocolate cake and some sherry.

Molten Chocolate Cake!
*Note: We got insanely lucky by just walking in without a reservation. If you really want to go here make reservations.

May 7th:

The next morning was a slow morning, as most are for me, but we finally got up and moving to explore downtown Portland. My parents had suggested we explore the Pearl District and while I was browsing the internet for breakfast places we stumbled upon Tilt.

Tilt is located in the Pearl and is famous for their Blue Collar Biscuit Sandwiches. This was the perfect place for us to hit up as we got to indulge in a little brunch action, it being around 1pm after all. Tilt is located in a large industrial building and is huge with seating both inside and out. When you enter you order at the counter and then you can head around to find your seating. We found ourselves seats at the bar, shocking I know, and promptly ordered two bloody marys. They were pretty damn delicious, although my favorite bloody marys are still from The Abbey.

Bloody Marys at Tilt

As we waited for our food we partook in some casual people watching. Even though we were indoors they had the huge garage doors open to connect with their outdoor patio and it was a gorgeous day. Then our food arrived and it was HUGE. Alex got one of their famous Blue Collar Biscuits and his had bacon, eggs and cheese on it and I order the BBQ Chicken Ranchers Salad. They were both awesome although I almost wish I had ordered a burger here because they looked so good. Overall Tilt was great and had an awesome vibe. It would have been great to come back for a drink later but we had many more places to visit.

Blue Collar Biscuits

BBQ Chicken Salad at Tilt in Portland
It may be a salad but look at all that BACON!

After we brunched at Tilt we then proceeded to wander the streets of Portland and compare it to Portlandia until it was time for a coffee break. We were in Portland it was basically a requirement that we stop for coffee. So we headed towards the Ace Hotel, perhaps the most delightfully hipster place I have ever been, and grabbed a coffee at Stumptown. Now I like good coffee; you cannot live in Italy for years without becoming a slight snob about espresso but I have to say while Stumptown makes a good cappuccino I do not like the flavor of their espresso. The blasphemy, I know, but there it is. The cappuccino was good but the espresso flavor completely overpowered the rest of the drink but regardless I was glad we stopped at this iconic coffee shop and of course drank it in the hipster lobby of the hipster Ace Hotel. I almost broke out my flannel :)

Stumptown Coffee

The Ace Hotel is delightfully hipster.
The Ace Hotel is delightfully hipster.

Once we were properly caffeinated we set out to meet my friend Matt at his work and he just so happens to work for the Portland Timbers. Being a soccer fan I was disappointed there was not a game while we were in town but Matt was able to show us around the field. Did you know that they saw off a piece of a giant log (the word seems a little inadequate for how large the “log” is) every time they win a game? It was nice being back in a town where people appreciate soccer :)

Portland Timbers

We had some time to kill before meeting up with Matt’s girlfriend so we took a walk down to Pioneer Square and then moseyed over to Bailey’s Taproom. I feel like this is a Portland staple but that could be only because multiple people told me to go there; maybe they just know me. Bailey’s Taproom is a great spot where they focus on Oregon beers and are constantly switching them up. They also have this fancy system where they mark how much is in each keg that way if you have a favorite you know how quickly you need to drink it to make sure you get the last of it or at least that is how I took it.

After a brief detour to drop our bags off at Matt’s house we headed back to the Pearl to eat at Andina,a novoperuvian restaurant. If there is one cuisine I love eating and miss that we do not have in Healdsburg it is Peruvian food so naturally I was INCREDIBLY excited to eat at this restaurant. The restaurant is huge and has a great vibe; it almost feels like you have entered Peru (or so I am baselessly assuming) as you can dine on three different levels feeling very much like a peruvian home. Once again we ordered wwwaaayyyy too much food per usual. Perhaps one of my favorite dishes was the Palta Rellena de Cangrejo, which was an avocado stuffed with crab and topped with a prawn; yum!

Scallops in CHEESE at Andina in PortlandWe also ordered the Conchas a la Parmesana, scallops baked with parmesan cheese and lime. It reminded me of the scallop mac and cheese at Willi’s, one of our favorite restaurants in Healdsburg. Also if you have never tried causas before you are missing out. The whipped purple potatoes with shredded chicken make up the Causa Morada and I needed to order that because well its a causa made out of purple potatoes. Accompanying all this food were fantastic cocktails including the traditional Pisco Sour and the spicy Sacsayhuaman with habanero pepper vodka and a passion fruit puree.

Causas

After the delicious Peruvian food was devoured we decided that we needed an after dinner drink and Matt and Carly wanted to take us to one of their favorite bars, The Rookery Bar. The Rookery Bar is somewhat of a hidden gem mainly because there is no sign for it and it is located above the Raven and Rose, a British style gastro pub located in the historic Ladd Carriage House. The bar has all the charm you would expect from a hidden bar in a historic building; dim lighting, the leather chairs, the band playing in the corner and of course the drinks. The drinks were superb at the Rookery. I had two fancy gin cocktails, I believe one was called Bonny Wee Lass, Alex and Matt had Manhattans and Carly had an Irish Coffee. I don’t know how I ended up leaving without an Irish Coffee, they are probably one of my favorite cocktails.

May 8th:
Our final morning in Portland and we just had to keep on eating. I swear we gained a gazillion pounds in this 48 hour period. Before heading to Portland and watching too much Food Network the main thing I knew about the city was it had crazy doughnuts so we had to search out Voodoo Doughnuts. Voodoo Doughnuts are famous for their crazy doughnut concoctions and they certainly lived up to the hype. The doughnut combinations are ridiculous and some would argue ridiculously good.

Just look at the Voodoo doll doughnuts, delicious!
Just look at the Voodoo doll doughnuts, delicious!

I am not really a doughnut person but we decided to had to order the Voodoo Dozen which is a random assortment of their doughnuts. We had the Marshall Mathers, Dirt Doughnut, The Loop and so many more. We also tried their famous maple bacon doughnut. That one was probably my favorite but the others were decidedly too sweet for me but I am glad we had a dozen and were able to bring them to my family. The doughnuts were fun to pose with as we ate them in our car as well. Yay we are normal….

Maple Bacon Doughnut posing
Maple Bacon Doughnut posing
Not totally sold on the whole doughnut thing....
Not totally sold on the whole doughnut thing….
Cereal on a doughnuts!  What is this world coming to?
Cereal on a doughnuts! What is this world coming to?

We knew the last thing we needed to do in Portland before we hit the road again was to explore some of their extensive food trucks food carts. We hit up one of the squares with a wide variety of cuisine on SW 9th Street and Adler and made a decision not to make a decision about what we wanted until we had seen all the carts. Holy mother of all things delicious there were a lot of options! I was absolutely floored by all the different options and types of food they had in just a small radius. We finally narrowed our decision down to three food carts: Kargi Gogo, EuroDish and A Little Bit of Smoke.

Lobani from Kogi Gogo
Lobani from Kargi Gogo

Kargi Gogo is Georgian cuisine and we chose it because we have never had Georgian food. We sampled a few different dishes including the Lobani, a stuffed bean and sauted onion bread, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I normally associate anything stuffed with beans to be Mexican but this was a revelation and now I cannot wait to go to Georgia and EAT! (Granted that is pretty much what we do when we travel). We then moved over to EuroDish for pierogis. I was first introduced to pierogis when Trader Joes started carrying them in the frozen aisle and they became my favorite after school snack so I had to order some. We ordered the sampler of three different types of pierogis; ground beef, cabbage and cheese. They were soft pillowly balls of dough smothered in sour cream and stuffed with deliciousness. Seriously, what is better?

Pierogi heaven
Pierogi heaven

Perhaps our third stop. By this time we couldn’t eat anymore though considering we were still digesting the doughnuts but we couldn’t resist ordering anyways. But we were smart; we got it to go! A Little Bit of Smoke is a Carolina BBQ food truck. I ordered the pulled chicken sandwich and Alex ordered the classic pulled pork. We ended up not eating these sandwiches until we pulled into Seattle hours later but even cold they were awesome.

A Little Bit of Smoke-Carolina BBQ

To be honest all the food we had in Portland was awesome and I would head back in heartbeat! There are so many food carts we did not get to try; FoodCartsPortland.com lists all the options and I am getting hungry just looking at all of them. Portland is the best city for overindulging in fantastic food and drinks and if we could eat all this in just 48 hours just imagine what we could eat in a whole week there!

Brain, Guts, Glory!

Brains, Guts, GloryMarrakesh, a city that is exotic and filled with spice and I was lucky enough to eat my way through this city. Moroccan cuisine has a fabulous way to wet my appetite; the spices, the strong smells and flavors were all soaked up with the fresh made bread. Morocco excited me to no end. I was finally going to North Africa and Marrakesh was my introduction. I had finally made it right before my 19th birthday. I was ecstatic as I settled into my Riad. I did not want to stay inside long; I wanted to be out and exploring the markets. I wanted to dig into a bowl of spiced snails or take a big chunk out of some sheep brain and intestines with a little camel lung on the side. I then wanted to wash it all down with a local apple soda and man what a meal.

IMG_0311I entered the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square and was overwhelmed with the beautiful colors that jumped out at you. The square was busy and noisy and tourist and locals alike skirted from point A to point B.  Local vendors screamed out deals as they watched people pass their shops, giving smiles to vendors as they tried to convince me to go into their shops. I was in no mood for shopping. My stomach was growling and I was looking for good ol’ street food.

Now I love food and I love all kinds of food; I can dine with the finest and I can slum it with the best. I love and crave new and exotic flavors bouncing around my palate. Street food is my favorite because I can always find the bizarre food that needs an acquired taste to enjoy. This kind of food is intimidating but the excitement of conquering the bizarre is what draws me in. I want to understand all the flavors that food can offer.

 Jemaa el-Fnaa square, Marrakesh
Jemaa el-Fnaa square, Marrakesh
Spice stand in Morocco
Have I mentioned the spices!

The food stands were in the middle of the square all tightly packed together. I could smell the baking of fresh round bread and hear the clanking of saucepans and pots as cooks screamed out for my attention. I walked through them with my eyes wide open just absorbing everything I was looking at. I ignored the calls from the food vendors and patiently waded through until I got a whiff of something interesting and I saw a place serving bowls of snails. They call this Ghoulal and it is a staple in Moroccan street food.

I walked up to the stand and pulled up a seat. I pointed to the snails and the man gave me a big scoop of them in a bowl. He poured the spice broth on and handed me the bowl. The steam of the broth hit my face and a bouquet of cumin, tarragon, thyme, peppermint, mint and ginger filled my senses.  I took a little wooden pick and plucked the succulent little buggers out of their shells and plopped them into my mouth. The tender pieces of meat seemed to melt and filled my mouth with a savory spice. I was lost in bliss and could not wait for my next bite. I finished up and slurped down the broth and moved on to the next stand.

Food stall in the  Jemaa el-Fnaa square
I’ll Take One of Everything Please

I saw a stand grilling some mystery meat that smelled decent. I asked the man what he was cooking up and he smiled at me and in broken English told me sheep’s brain, camel lung, and intestines. I was not sure at first if he was telling the truth or just messing with a tourist but he was actually cooking that. He seemed friendly and sincere so I sat down and asked for a little bit of everything.IMG_0401

I told him to keep giving me stuff until I said stop. He gave me a big grin and started to fill up a plate.  He gave me bread to accompany the food and told me what was there. He again said sheep’s brain, camel lung, and intestines. Now I can’t really say that I fell in love with any of it, but my chewy meaty snacks were fascinating. I forced myself to enjoy new textures, and flavors. I love forcing myself to deal with it. The brain was very much like liver just without the flavor. The camel lung was chewy and the intestines  were spongy.  It was strange and I really have no idea if that was what I was eating but hey I felt the man to be honest and I thought it was worth a risk.

Mystery Meat!
Brain, Guts, Glory! Dig in!
Lamb Tajine
Lamb Tajine, enough said!

I had unbelievable food in the markets and at a few restaurants. I had lamb, all sort of tajines and they were all wonderful but the street food and the exotic is what intrigues me. I will always remember the voices of the vendors competing for customers and the fast movement of the crowds as you get bumped along. The noise was on high and it was exciting. Street food can be a gamble at times but we all need a little bit of risk in our life. I love food and will always love food.

The ability to take ingredients and pair them with each other to create such a wonderful and delicious dish is a true art. I am no cook and probably will never be one. I have few things I can put together but for the most part the preparation is not what draws my attention but the finished piece and to celebrate the work of art by ingesting it. Morocco was an experience and we  are already planning a trip back to the North African Country of Morocco for Christmas 2015. I cant wait to go back and explore more.

Moroccan Riad
Family Dinner at the Riad
Moroccan Dessert Dinner
Our Guide Through Morocco!
Sahara Desert!
I Can’t Wait For My Next Adventure in Morocco!

When Travel Becomes an Addiction

Travel Becomes an Addiction

I am addicted to travel.  Most people would say that is a good thing; I often say it is a good thing.  The problem with addiction is that it has withdrawals.  Alex and I have been in the same country since November and it is eating at my nerves.  No matter what we do: fun day trips to places we have never been, longer road trips to the Pacific Northwest, planning a round the world trip, it isn’t enough.  It doesn’t replace being on the road and having the freedom to do what you want.  All I want to do is recklessly drop everything and leave; be done and gone and start a life on the road.  A life where I can do what I want.

 

I know that kind of life won’t be easy.  I will have to rely on myself to fund my journey and stretch that dollar just a little bit farther to survive, but I know that I can do that; I have been through this before and ended up making a life for myself in Rome.  There will not be a steady income coming in (unless this whole blogging thing pays off), I won’t have a home to escape to when all I want to do is rant at the world; it will be tough and challenging.  But maybe that is what I miss.  I need something to challenge me.  Today the most difficult thing I did was take out the garbage at work and I was stressed over it!  That is absolutely ridiculous.  And I stressed over it because I didn’t want to be at work, I wanted to be on the road.

 Walking Along the Pacific Ocean

So of course those are the withdrawals kicking in.  I live in an amazing town, I have a fairly decent job where I feel useful about 70% of the time, and all I do in my spare time is go to awesome restaurants and drink a lot of wine for free (one of the benefits of being in the wine business I suppose), so what do I really have to complain about?  Well my answer is “It is because I am not in Paris” or “I haven’t been to Machu Picchu yet” or “So what if I can order Belgian beer here, I would rather be in Brussels”.  This sounds super whiney and it is.  I get that.

I am plainly indulging in being a spoiled little brat about travel right now.  I realize that I have been able to have opportunities that others have not.  I am lucky that I have parents who support me no matter what.  I also am incredibly thankful for the life I do have.  I have a good life but unfortunately I also have had the opportunity to travel and I am no longer content sitting still and being in one place.

Travel is an addiction and I am hooked.  It seems that I will never be able to settle down.  There is always somewhere else to see, somewhere new to go.  Travel caught me in her web and perhaps I will never be happy in one place.  Maybe I will never be able to settle down.  Sometimes that thought frightens me, maybe I am not meant to find a home, a place to settle down in.  I thought it was Rome but of course that two year mark hit and I needed change.

I needed change so much in Rome that I became depressed.  I developed severe back and shoulder pain and for the first time in my life I had panic attacks.  I couldn’t handle being stagnant and I was even traveling all the time while in Rome.  It is something I cannot explain.  I rebelled against the city; I couldn’t stand the noise, the traffic, the judgmental looks on the bus (you try wearing sandals before June 21st), and the stupidest little things that would crop up during the day.  It seems kind of ridiculous now when I look back on it but at the same time these little things are cropping up again.

The Hagia Sophia
I am becoming restless and unsettled.  Although this time around I know what is coming and I know how to fight the withdrawals a little better.  The circumstances are different as well.  When I realized that Rome was not working out, it was a dream crumbling around me.  Rome was always the end goal after I graduated college.  I saw myself living in Rome for the rest of my life.  This time around it is different.  Healdsburg was always a means to an end; it is a great town and has been a wonderful experience living here but the round the world trip is what is in our future.  Now I just need to concentrate on the fact that we are going to be leaving, this life is just temporary (and not a bad temporary at all) and soon we will be on the road.  

So what if travel is an addiction?  Hell I have been addicted for a while now.  The withdrawals can be trying but it will all be worth it in the end.  Travel is always worth it in the end and I will never regret the choices I have made to allow me to travel but there will always be a restlessness in me.  The curse of the wanderer I suppose.

A Few Hours with Gadhafi

"LA CATTEDRALE DI TRIPOLI 1960" by (?) - paolocason.it. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LA_CATTEDRALE_DI_TRIPOLI_1960.jpg#mediaviewer/File:LA_CATTEDRALE_DI_TRIPOLI_1960.jpg

Fiddling with my cigarette box I waited in the airport; my current location was  pre-revolution Tripoli, Libya. I was staring at the two military guards who stood with a dictatorship swagger as they held their automatic weapons with a nonchalance, yet also with a terrifying sense of authority.  Behind them was  a poster of a large portrait of Gadhafi staring down upon all of us. Wherever I went in the airport I felt as if I was being watched. Intimidation surrounded me and all I wanted was a gin and tonic as I’m not the most calm person in an airport in the first place. I don’t like flying and the added pressure of big brother did very little to help my stress level. Unfortunately gin and tonics are a rare sight in Libya.

I spotted a smoking area across the room.  I opened my box of camels and counted how many cigarettes I had left.  The room had no door separating the smoking from the non smoking area; it was packed and a steady stream of smoke was flowing out of the area where a door should be.  As I walked in all the men in the room stared up at me. Not in a judgmental way, just in a slight curiosity of why a 19 year old kid was in Tripoli.  One man scooted over and waved me over to sit. I squeezed into the space pulled out a cigarette and lit it up. The room was hot and smelled of body odor and sweet tobacco. I rubbed my eyes and looked over at my Italian compatriots taking photos with the soldiers. I thought they were crazy, posing and mimicking the Gadhafi poster with their aviators.   I just wanted to be in Ghana; I did not want to be in this airport.  I just wanted to be enjoying a star beer on the beach. I came out of my daydream and noticed a man staring at me from across the room. I pulled out another cigarette and lit it up trying not to make eye contact with the man.

I’ll be honest, I knew very little of Libya at the time. Being in this airport was nerve racking and not welcoming, I felt as if Gadhafi was one step behind me at all time. Nothing but suspicion and fear and there was nothing I could do but sit quietly and smoke my cigarette. I will never forget the feeling I had in that airport, it was not of security but a sense of hush intimidation. Libya is a country that I will visit one of these days. I will pass through those airport doors and explore the culture of the country. That experience put fear into me but with that fear came a flame of excitement and maybe next time I won’t have to destroy my lungs just to stay calm.