Travel

barcelonaduckWe’d been at the Barcelona Cathedral, the old one, not the Gaudi one that’s never finished, extraordinary gothic architecture graced with gargoyles and an adjacent museum with jewel encrusted crosses, too many carats to count. The cathedral is the resting place of Santa Eulalia. Almost like a film credit, she is the co-patron saint of Barcelona and the cathedral is guarded by thirteen white geese as she was thirteen when she died. (I know this is true because I counted them.)

We were on a cruise and the ship was leaving at five. It was three o’clock and we hadn’t eaten. In the spirit of adventure, (risky, as this is sometimes not my husband’s favorite thing), I followed a native (read: person walking dog) through the back streets of Barcelona to a residential neighborhood only to discover the most amazing charcuterie I’d ever seen. In the back of a shop, a white tableclothed restaurant with wine and cheese pairings and other delights. Reservations only.

The sommelier was intractable even though there was an empty table. He insisted we come back in an hour and a half. I tried to explain to him our ship would be gone by then. In desperation, it was almost four o’clock by then and like I said, we hadn’t eaten. My family can attest to the fact that I do not do well without food.

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CR-WeatherMost of my travel is food focused. I’m headed somewhere to meet people who make interesting food tied to a place and to taste that food. Over the past decade I find that the line between vacation, educational junket and personal exploration has blurred. If I travel with food friends then we tend to be like dogs searching for the same tasty bone to turn up. It can get weirdly competitive or punishingly about the next bite even when enough bites have been had by all.

When I started traveling as a kid I wandered. Often I traveled alone, free to choose this road at that speed to stop and see this thing, sink into the culture of that place and eat those dishes. They were my decisions at my pace. No “have to” or “can’t miss”, just wandering and discovery. I miss those days. Of course time tends to be an impediment. I don’t have an extra five or six weeks to spare anymore, so focus is to often at the root of today’s travel.

But, recently a friend (who loves to cook, but is not a foodie) took possession of a long sought shack on the beach in the Pacific Northwest of Costa Rica. She was taking the first trip back to see how the beginnings of rebuilding the shack were going and to install her 21 yr old son for a two-month stay as “remodeling supervisor”. Would I come along?

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honolulu-hawaii.jpgNew Year's eve has got to be the most over-rated holiday of the year. I'm all about celebrating any holiday, even the ones I have never heard of but I always dread New Year's eve. Something about being forced to stay up late, wearing a sparkly, tacky hat and tooting a horn, trying to be cheerful and chatty when I am actually dog tired from the Christmas holidays. Otherwise the option is to stay home and feel depressed that everyone else is out having a good time except for me.

I discovered several years ago that the answer to all of my New Year's eve trauma was to go to work. Since I work for a major airline and the 'Senior Mamas" (our semi-affectionate term for the stews who have been flying for 35+ years) don't want to work on any holiday, I can pretty much pick up any trip I want. I debated on a 5 day trip to Prague or Stockholm but decided it was too cold. I looked at long layovers in Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires but decided I wasn't in the mood to always be looking over my shoulder. Bingo, 50 hours in Honolulu popped up on my computer and I took it immediately.

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jadis335.jpgAlas it was time for my vacation in France to end with the new year in full bloom and my duties back in New York City calling. I had a farewell dinner with my father at a little bistro run by a very young chef. My father is a voracious reader of all the Parisian publications and came upon a review of the burgeoning restaurant Jadis. Various newspapers have lauded it as the best of its kind in the fifteenth and possibly the city. The meal was very good in a classic bistro fare sort of way though I feel it is a stretch to call it one of the best in Paris let alone the very best. The food offered was mostly updated classics and reinvented French conventions. The cuisine could be called new wave French I suppose, archetypal though innovative.

The food was mostly game oriented and incorporated every part of the animal from kidneys and entrails, to feet and brain. My father ended up being the bolder of the two of us, ordering two dishes that I loved tasting but would rarely order myself. He began with the pied d’agneau or lamb trotter. The round white bowl that appeared contained a strange looking soupy ragout with chunks of lamb foot meat, snails, button mushrooms, and sliced cardoons. It sounds more like a bizarre sorcerer’s potion but those were in fact the ingredients and they worked surprisingly well. The lamb trotter tasted like fatty pieces of roast leg of lamb and the saltiness of the sautéed snails matched well with the texture of the mushrooms. My father was overjoyed with the dish; naturally a big fan of organ meats given his French heritage. I tried two or three bites and would have gladly accepted my own serving.

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vermont.jpg Most people go to Vermont to watch the leaves change colors in the fall but I like it in the spring when the leaves on the trees are green, 67 colors of green, so that the bonnets of the trees look like a jigsaw puzzle and the tulips are in bloom and the geraniums and the cherry blossom trees – there’s nothing fancy about Vermont, it’s all straight up plain flowers plainly blooming everywhere, as if the earth is starting fresh again after winter and toward the end of May it hits an optimum equilibrium even if it does rain every other day which if you’re only there for a day and a half isn’t very good odds, at least not of skipping the rain.  But people in Vermont don’t mind, they just take out their umbrellas and keep on truckin’….   

“And why are we going to Vermont in May, Mom?  I don’t get it.  Why are we going to Vermont, at all???”

“You’ll see, Anna.”

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