We have super exciting news! For the last few months we have been working on a surprise and we are finally ready to share it with you. We have built a brand spanking new website and it was launched yesterday! We are so excited for this new stage of our blog and cannot wait to share it with you.
Now for the fun logistics. If you are following our blog already then you have nothing to worry about. We have already switched all of our followers over to our new blog so you will continue to receive updates. If you haven’t followed us yet well now is the time. Head on over to our new page and subscribe!
We look forward to sharing this new chapter of our blog with you and cannot wait to share our six year trip as well!
As Ashley and I are slowly gearing up for our trip, I am starting to plan what food and drink I know I can’t miss on the road. My mind is focused on the land of Ice and fire and all of the wonders of Iceland so for this new Sunday Wine Down (on Monday because we had too much fun on Sunday) I am going to focus on a singular drink that has caught my interest. So sit back, grab a glass of wine and maybe a plate of fermented shark because we are here to talk about a notorious drink with the ominous name of black death.
Brennivin is the actual name of this drink but it’s commonly referred to as black death. Now I have yet to try this mysterious unsweetened schnapps, so I will not be able to give a first hand account of the stuff. It is on top of my list to drink though when we finally land in Iceland. Brennivin translates in english as burning wine and all the rumors I have heard suggest that name suits this drink. Brennivin got the name Black Death during Iceland’s prohibition on alcohol; the bottles had skull and cross bones put on the bottle by the the Icelandic government so people began to refer to it as Black Death when ordering. Note: the Icelandic Prohibition lasted from 1915-1922 but it was far more lenient than the prohibition in the States.
The national drink is made from fermenting grains or potato mash and is typically bottled at 80 proof. The flavoring has strong herbal flavors and the common flavoring used are caraway seeds. There is a long tradition in Scandinavian countries to steep herbs in alcohol to create schnapps.
So how are we supposed to enjoy this unsweetened schnapps? The experts say that you drink it cold in a shot glass or a tumbler. So keeping a bottle of it in your freezer is a common practice. You can serve it over ice or drink it neat. Drinking the Black Death is an acquired taste I have read and most critics say it is not worth trying this strong flavor of the drink. What do you pair with a drink whose flavor scares people away with? Fermented shark, of course. You read that correctly, rotting shark. The dish goes by the name of Hkarl and has just as big of a reputation in regards to its smell and unique flavor… It is a traditional dish that Anthony Bourdain quotes as the worst thing he ever tried. Nothing like a strong drink and some rotting shark to wake you up in the morning. Now if you are not like me and don’t want to try this paring feel free to pair Brennivin with lamb or strong fish.
I have not stopped talking about this national drink since we decided Iceland will be our first international destination on our trip around the world. I am a traditionalist at heart so why would I not want to try and learn to love this traditional drink of Iceland. I think I am more excited for the pairing of Black Death and fermented shark. Now I know Icelandic cuisine has moved away from this traditional pairing but hey, everybody has a past and what a fun thing to learn about.
I hope you enjoyed this latest Sunday wine down. If you have experienced Brennivin please comment below and share your story. I would love to hear it!
Everyone knows that there are amazing sites in Romeand many are world renowned but there are equally important and interesting sites that are a lot smaller, hidden and well worth seeking out. Perhaps my favorite hidden archaeological site in Rome is the Basilica di San Clemente. The Basilica di San Clemente represents one of the reasons I find Rome so fascinating. Every turn in this city reveals its past and its layers of history.
The Basilica di San Clemente is located off Via Labicana and is just steps away from the Roman Coliseum. It may look like just another small church in Rome but it holds a secret underneath the the intricate cosamati floor. When you enter into the church you are greeted by a hodgepodge of artistic styles. There are medieval frescos over the altar, a baroque ceiling and the cosamati floor composed of marble from ancient roman ruins. However, perhaps the most interesting part of this mishmash of art and architecture is the remains of the 4th century church on the right hand side of the church.
While the remains on the right hand side of the church may not look like a big deal they actually are part of the walls of the 4th century church which is below the 12th century church that you entered. And now we get into why this church is one of my favorites. UNDERNEATH the 12th century church there are 3 other levels of buildings going all the way back to the 1st century and you can GO DOWN AND VISIT ALL THREE LEVELS! Let the nerdy archaeologist in me freak out for a bit :)
When you head down the stairs to the 4th century it is amazing to think that you are going back almost 800 years. There are few other cities in the world where you can literally step back in time. Perhaps the most interesting part of the 4th century church, other than being the original basilica, are the mosaics dating from the 900s where you can find the one of the earliest examples of written Italian.
Just to the left of the altar in the central nave of the 4th century church is a mosaic depicted St. Clemente and the Roman senator, Sisinnius. Sisinnius suspects his wife of cheating and so he follows her but instead of cheating on him she is a secret Catholic. When Sisinnius realizes that she is a secret Catholic and is attending mass he threatens to arrest them all. St. Clemente, who is leading the mass, strikes him blind so that he cannot arrest them and all the Catholics escape.
The next day St. Clemente, being Pope, feels bad about striking Sisinnius blind and goes to his house to ask forgiveness. Sisinnius, hearing St. Clemente’s voice, orders him to be arrested immediately. Obviously, St. Clemente did not want to be arrested so instead he caused everyone to be confused. I like to think he waved his hand and said, “I am not the pope you are looking for”. Instead of arresting him they tried to arrest a column. You can see this in the mosaic with the writing of “Fili de le pute, traite!” which translated means that Sisinnius was screaming at his soldiers “Come on you sons of bitches, pull!”. So there you have it, the first written Italian. To be fair, it is not shocking that the first written Italian is swearing. Italian was basically a slang offshoot of Latin. What is interesting is that you see it written in Italian as Italian at this time was not normally written down as it was not an official language. Writing Italian down shows that the language was developing more and was becoming more than slang.
There are also several other mosaics and frescoes decorating the walls of the 4th century church. Perhaps my favorite is the fresco of Christ in Limbo which is located in the first nave after you descend the stairs. The fresco is from the 11th century and shows Christ’s descent into limbo because he actually he died for 3 days. While he is in limbo he gathers up all the souls who can now enter heaven. One of the souls who has been in limbo since the dawn of freaking time is Adam. Can you imagine being Adam and having to wait ALL THAT TIME to go to heaven? I am assuming he is stoked to leave limbo however, the demon who has been torturing him for the past few thousand millennium is not keen to let him go. Thank god Christ is there though because the fresco shows him stomping on the demon.
As you descend down another level you head back to the 2nd century and this level is quite interesting because it houses the cult of Mithras. It is not unusual for churches to have been built on top of ancient roman pagan temples. You can see this throughout the city and some of the names of churches reflect this phenomenon likeSanta Maria Sopra Minerva (St. Mary above Minerva) near the Pantheon. What makes this cult different is that Mithra was a god from Persia and he was considered one of the ancient mystery religions. There is not a whole lot known about Mithra since he was worshiped in secret however we know he was very popular with the military and ex slaves and was a men’s only cult. Soldiers identified with the Mithraic cult because there were seven levels of initiation which mirrored ones ascension through the military ranks and for ex slaves it mirrored their progression through society.
Mithra was born from a rock in a cave on the 25th of December. It is thought that Jesus’ birthday was moved from the springtime to the middle of December partly because of the popularity of the Mithraic cult (and other factors including the winter equinox). The central ceremony of the cult took place in the Mithraic triclinium which is just to your left as you descend the stairs to the 2nd century. The triclinium was the dining room where they held the feast dedicated to Mithra. You can see the original altar here and the ceiling of the dining room is supposed to look like the cave where Mithra was born. In the ceiling there are holes and it is thought that the feast would take place during certain alignments of the sky with the triclinium.
As you begin to head down to the 1st century you actually cross an ancient alley. That is right you get to cross an ancient street! Pretty freaking cool, right? In the 1st and 2nd centuries you would be outside at this point. It is crazy to think about this. This is due to the fact that the Tiber river had a nasty habit of flooding alllllllll the time and so it would slowly cover the city with sediment and bury the older buildings. Instead of digging it out constantly the romans decided to build on top of it over time and use older buildings as foundations. Smart cookies.
At the bottom of the stairs you can tell you are supposed to be outside because the outer walls are covered in Tufa, which is a volcanic stone you find all over Rome even in the building of the Coliseum. It is unknown that this 1st century building is but it is thought that it may possibly have been the roman mint, a granary or even a public home. While it is unknown what the building may have been it is thanks to this level that all of this was discovered. As you descend lower and lower you can hear running water and this constantly running water was enough to drive Father Joseph Mulooly crazy; enough that he hired an archaeologist to find the source of the water. Eventually they made their way down to the 1st century and discovered that the source was an ancient roman pipe that was still active. The water still flows through the building today and it is amazing to see that these ancient roman pipes still work today 2000 years after they were built. I just wouldn’t drink the water as this could result in severe lead poisoning.
There is so much to explore at the Basilica di San Clemente and it is so much more than just a beautiful church. If you find yourself around the Coliseum with some time to spare I would certain suggest a stop at this incredible site.
“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” – Margaret Mead
Why travel? Why pick such an uncertain way of living? Why do we want to be vagabonds and go against the social norm of being settled? My feet keeping moving me forward and forever changing the paths I take in life. Over the last few months I have been pondering why I travel, what do I want to take from it and what I want to give to this world. With technology we have made the world a smaller place to live in, yet our understanding of each other has never seemed further away. We, unfortunately like generations before us, live in a time of turmoil and unrest. Our media has turned into a circus act and seems to only wants to give us cheap thrills rather than actual information we can use. They provide us violence, fear, and hatred twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. According to the media the world has become more dangerous and more corrupt than ever. The media does not want us to travel; they do not want us to visit and learn about the world. They want us to live in fear of the world; we should sit on our couches so they can force feed us negativity and leave us with the feeling of hopelessness about the world we live in.
I believe there has been no greater crime in mankind than the propaganda that keeps people hiding in their little boxes afraid of the big bad world. I am sorry, but it’s bullshit and I’m angry about it. To hell with the 24 hour news cycle, to hell with people who do nothing but bring fear and violence into our homes, to hell with them all! The world we live in is great, we should not be forced to fear an idea of impending doom but should be given the idea of hope and for all of us to dream and work for a better tomorrow. Yes, this world isn’t perfect and we can’t fix all it’s problems but that won’t stop us from trying.
This world is no more dangerous now than it was in the past; we just happen to be more aware of it. The world is a dangerous place; there will always be danger and we have to accept that. This danger however, should not stop us from seeing the world. The amount of information we have access to can help us be aware of the places we are going. We can take preemptive action to help protect ourselves as we go out and travel. The world is too beautiful and too grand not to go out and explore. We should celebrate the world and the differences between us because that is what makes us beautiful and so fascinating.
So what am I going to do? First I am not going to allow the news to influence what I believe about this world. Ashley and I are going to go out into this world and show people how important it is for us to travel. It is important for all of us to learn and come to understanding with other cultures. I want to interact with people and learn about their culture and the way they live their life and I hope they will want to, in return, learn about my way of life and culture. I want to give the world hope; I want to fight back against this blanket of negativity that has been brought upon this world. We need to be outside with our hands raised in joyous celebration for being so blessed to live in a world that is so diverse. I want to explore and understand all this diversity. I do not believe that it is enough to connect through just media, it is more important to go out to visit and talk to people in person. Get up and interact with a new culture in person, make a personal connection.
Travel and the people who travel can change this world for the better. Instead of spreading hatred and fear, us travelers can spread peace and understanding. We can show people that diversity should not be the cause of conflict but should be the cause celebration.
Every time I step foot into a new place I’m overwhelmed with questions for every person I meet. During our 6 year trip I want to learn and understand the world and then share the stories of other people. I believe most travelers have this same drive. As travelers we belong to our own culture and I believe it is this culture that it is important to saving this world. What we acquire as we travel are stories of the world and these stories come with a responsibility when you are a travel blogger. Our responsibility is to nurture these stories and spread them around like a wildfire and bring understanding and acceptance to this world. Exploration is in our nature as humans; throughout history there were always souls that lust for travel and adventure. We are the next generation of travelers for the history books and it is our job to bring understanding and that is why we are traveling the world. The need to learn is what drives us and we are willing to go to the end of the world. This world is beautiful and it deserves to be explored and to have stories passed face to face not just through the web.
I can proudly stand up a say that the world is not doomed and I believe that mankind has not come close to show how wonderful our earth and its people can be. As bloggers, it is our jobs to go out and fight for this world and our right to walk among new cultures without fear but with the yearning for knowledge. We can change this world and we have the power to go out and show people the world is not a bad place but a place that should be loved. This is our world and I’m not ready to give up on us just yet. So go and learn and fight for understanding and peace. Go out and talk to people and show people that there is still good in this world. I sure know that is what I am going to be doing.
This may sound crazy but over the next six years this is what we want to prove; the world and its people are good and not only that but they are also welcoming, helpful and curious. We want to travel the world, meet new people and learn about their culture. No one culture is the same but in the end we believe that everyone wants to live a happy and fulfilled life. Our six year round the world trip is to share how wonderful the world is. No one should live in fear because this world is wonderful and has so much to offer.
We’re going to Iceland!!!!!!!!! On May 20th we’re hoping on a plane and heading to the northernmost capital in the world, Reykjavik. Ash and I thought we should start our around the world trip with a country that neither of us have been to and what a country and a city to start with! I grew up camping, hiking and just enjoying nature and Iceland’s wilderness has inspired generations of people to explore and write about the world. As lovers of travel and writing, how could we miss such a country that reinvigorates one’s soul?
We will be renting a car for seven days and road tripping around this beautiful landscape. We want to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. Hike volcanoes, camp in the forest, eat hot dogs on the side of the road, and relax in geothermal spas. I personally cannot wait to eat and gorge myself with the hardy food of this land. A huge part of their diet is game and fish and has kept the people fueled to battle the harsh elements. Preservation techniques like pickling in fermented whey or brine and drying or smoking has allowed the Icelanders to survive over time. The traditional methods have died out over the generations but I know I can still find and enjoy the flavors of fermented fish or meat. The smells and taste are funky but hey, that is part of the fun. I also know lamb is a huge part of their diet and I love lamb. I am sure this will be mostly what I consume.
It is a little difficult to explain why we crave Iceland. A couple episodes of Anthony Bourdain is what sparked our initial interest and then a few searches on google is what really got us hooked. The breathtaking landscape is hard to pass up and if I had to choose the reason we are craving Iceland that landscape has to be it. Ash and I are determine to experience things that we normally would not and go out there and push our boundaries as people, travelers, photographers and writers. Who knows, we might even make some friends along the way.
We are craving Iceland. We think this northern territory is the perfect jumping off point to push us even further in our upcoming adventures!
Have you been to Iceland? What was your favorite part of this crazy beautiful country?
After a few weeks of being on hiatus we are back with Sunday Wine Down. I have created a new schedule for this feature. Instead of posting every week we are going to start doing one every other week. I have come to realize that the research for these post takes a long time and I do not want have to rush these post. So do not worry these post are not going anywhere. Enough with the update lets us get back down to business. So grab a glass of wine and relax. Let us finish our last installment of Ancient wines with the Greeks and Romans.
I am going to start off with the Greeks because they were indeed an earlier civilization and a lot of our modern wine culture does in fact derive from them. Viticulture has been in Greece since the neolithic period however, due to the the Greeks expansive city states they were able to spread the growing of vines and the making of wine to their furthest reaches. We can not forget though that it was the Phoenicians and the Egyptians that helped influence ancient Greece. Especially the Phoenicians who encouraged the Greeks to spread grapes and wine throughout their settlements. The Greek settlers brought vines with them throughout the Mediterranean. They were also very big in cultivating wild native vines and using them as well. Sicily, one of the earliest colonies, was mostly covered in vines and for this reason they called the island Oenotria (the land of vines). They also had settlements in Massalia which is in the south of France, along the shores of the Black Sea and there are also rumors that they were able to spread vines to Spain and Portugal. This fact is argued but it is thought that the Phoenicians most likely beat them to the punch. Whether or not the Phoenicians beat them to Spain first, wine became a big commodity for the Greeks. They, like the Phoenicians before them, turned it into profit and wine became an important part of everyday life. So much so that even Greek currency starting depicting grape clusters.
Greeks were proud of their vineyard practices and wine making, so much so that they started sharing their way of making wine with other cultures. Amphorae bearing their design and seal showed the different city states that these wines were coming from. Athens became a lucrative trading place for all the Greek wines and even shipped wines into Gaul through Massalia numbering at least 10 million liters of wine each year. Archeologists found a sunken ship off the coast of southern France that had 10,000 amphorae filled with wine which comes out to be about 300,000 liters worth of wine. The reach of Greek influence carried throughout the Aegean Islands where archeologists have found millions of pieces of wine amphora.
Wine was soon ingrained into the culture of the ancient Greeks through religious ceremony, celebration, and medicinal use. The way the Greeks looked at the land where the grapes came from was an important process in their ability to produce quality wine using early viticulture techniques. They studied soils and used a technique of cutting off bunches of grapes early on in the growth cycle to control the yield which is a widely used practice still today. Wine regions started becoming popular as ancient writers would write about their favorite wines. Two of the more acclaimed grapes for the time were Bibline and Pramnian. Bibline was thought to originate from an area called Thrace near Thessaloniki and was thought to be made like an old Phoenician wine style from Byblos. Pramnian was well known and grew in several regions and was thought to be an age worthy wine.
The God of wine for the Greeks was Dionysus and many festivals were celebrated in his honor. They had a celebration in February by the name of Anthesteria which celebrated the opening of wine jars from the past harvest. In Athens they would hold wine drinking contests and had procession of people walking down the streets with open wine jars. Plays were also a big part of these celebrations, which were dedicated to the God of wine. They also played a fun game where they would throw lees (dead yeast cells) from their cups at targets that they called out. I like to think of this as early day beer pong.
The Greeks really helped take wine making, the growing of vines, the culture of drinking and trading to a whole new level. They enjoyed wine and enjoyed sharing their findings and knowledge. We could not be where we are today without the greeks. Yet we are still missing one important piece to the puzzle and that is the Romans. The Greeks helped to keep the wine movement through ancient time rolling but it was the Romans that made wine immortal throughout their ancient empire and into modern day Europe.
As many of us know, the Roman Empire was the most expansive Empire of Classical Antiquity; their reach was vast and because of this wine was able to grow legs and run. Obviously a lot of practices and knowledge about wine came from the Greeks. The Greeks had used parts of the Italian peninsula to grow wine and this culture passed easily into the Roman culture. Romans considered wine to be a very important thing of everyday life. It was considered a necessity and even a democratic drink, which everyone was encouraged to enjoy. Wine was available to slaves, peasants, women, and aristocrats alike. Rome used its power and influence to spread wine across it’s empire. As the Roman empire grew so did the production of wine. Wine was a way to romanize the local populations (along with art and religion) as everyone could consume it just like the roman citizens and by bringing vines with them they were able to ensure the comforts of Rome even far away from home. To ensure that enough wine was being produced they would bring vines with them and plant them as they conquered. Their influence had a large effect in today’s modern wine making regions of France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal.
Through ancient Roman writers we are able to learn about the importance of wine in Roman culture. Roman wine even had a Golden age. In the beginning, roman wine was not even considered to be in the same class of the Greeks until the 2nd century. This is when the Romans began to place an importance on quality; it may have been a drink for everyone but the emperors demanded the best. Pliny the Elder, a famous naturalist and roman writer, talked a lot about roman first growths or the roman cru vineyards. These vineyards became highly prized and from them came the famous vintage from 121 BC, which was a year of great yield and high quality grapes that led to fantastic wine that was enjoyed even a century after making it. Roman was on the forefront of making wine and it was all due to the fact that wine was important to them and they cared deeply about making and enjoying great wine.
The Romans did help advance the process of wine making but in my opinion the most important thing that the Roman empire did for wine was the spreading of viticulture. I mentioned above the Romans spread wine through the furthest reaches of their empire which expanded the original reach of the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, and the Greeks. Through trade, military campaigns, and settlements the Romans were able to grow their wine production. Roman wine merchants would trade with ally and enemy alike and the ancient Romans were able to bring a taste of wine and the ability grow vines where ever they conquered. The spread of the wine making culture throughout Europe was one of their greatest legacies with the foundation of vineyards in some of the most world renowned regions in modern day. With the dissolution of the Roman Empire in the 5th century CE, one of the lasting ties the burgeoning European nations had to the ancient Romans was the culture of wine making. Wine took on an incredibly important role in the Christian faith and survived through the Dark Ages through the politics of the time (the Church) just as the Romans had.
So now that we have had our GRAND REVEAL aka announced that we will be going on a 6 YEAR ROUND THE WORLD TRIP (can you tell I’m excited?) I thought we would introduce the destinations we are most excited about seeing this year. While we still have a few more months to enjoy Wine Country living, we are already making lists of places we want to see and all the things we want to do. This means I get to nerd out, read a bunch of guidebooks and embrace my love of lists and spreadsheets. I am obviously the planner and cannot wait to start planning this trip. So here are the top five destinations I am most excited about visiting this year!
Let’s start with Iceland because well, its FREAKING ICELAND. I cannot convey how utterly excited we are to visit Iceland. I mean I guess I could by writing in all caps but we all know how obnoxious that can be. Iceland has always been this mystical place and I thought I had to have buckets of money to visit it but all that is changing. Yes, it is still a relatively expensive place to visit but there are ways around it. Beers & Beans has some great advice for how to travel Iceland on the cheap and we are definitely taking it to heart. Don’t want to blow our whole budget on our first international stop after all :)
We lucked out and were able to get cheap flights to Iceland from New York and we are going to be spending 12 days there. We are hoping to snorkel Silfra (the continental plates), visit the Golden Circle and spend at least 5 days road tripping around the country. I am also excited for the obscene amount of hot dogs I will be eating as Alex eats all the weird food like fermented shark….
After Iceland we are heading to Scotland! We are so excited for Scotland, the land of haggis and Scotch! But most importantly we are super excited to meet up with our friends who we haven’t seen since we moved from Rome! We plan on spending a significant amount of time in Ayr bugging our friends and then of course we will be traveling around the country. We don’t have any firm plans at the moment but the Outlander fan in me is looking forward to seeing Inverness, the Highlands and Edinburgh. Scotland has some of the most beautiful landscapes as well so expect a deluge of photos!
New Orleans is a place I always talked about visiting in college for Mardi Gras and now that we are going I am actually glad we are not going during the chaos of Mardi Gras. This city has been speaking to us. Coffee, beignets, blues and booze; what more could we ask for? We just want to wander the streets and do whatever takes our fancy. I also know that Alex will be stuffing his face with crawfish.
Both Alex and I have been to Spain before and while we thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in Valencia for Las Fallas, we would love to explore the culture of Spain more. We are planning on renting an apartment in Barcelona for at least 2 weeks if not longer so we can really get into the Spanish lifestyle. We also want to travel all over Spain. I have been to Madrid and the Costa del Sol but Alex has not so I really want to show him the different parts of the country. I know Alex for sure wants to surf in San Sebastian and I am totally open to learning. There is so much we want to see and do in Spain we may just have to stay for several months! Plus we love tapas!
I am finally making it to Africa! Yes Alex has already been to Morocco and Ghana but we don’t count him. We are still trying to figure out visas but most likely we will be popping in and out of Europe and the plan right now is to spend Christmas in Morocco. I have never spent a Christmas away from my family so I am guessing I will probably be homesick. So the solution is to be somewhere as different from home as possible. I also am a lover of Casablanca so I could not give up a chance to explore this famous city. We have detailed out any plans yet for Morocco but it will definitely be happening in 2015. I am thinking tea, shisha, markets, tagines, and exploring the blue city of Chefchaouen.
So these are the top five destinations we are most excited about! Although to be honest we are pretty excited about everything right now. We are in the “freaking out about the fact that we are leaving for six years” phase right now.
Have you been to any of these destinations? Do you have any suggestions or tips? Also as we get closer and our itinerary shapes up we would love to meet up with you! The whole point of this journey is to share the world with people!