Travel

irelandlIt's no secret that my best friend, Missy and I love to travel. We met 25 years ago in the parking lot of a Winn Dixie grocery store in Valdosta, Georgia. I was in college there and she was home on Spring Break from Pepperdine in Malibu, CA. I thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen and never imagined that we'd grow up together and travel the world.

She put a damper on that for a few years when she got married and had 3 boys back to back. But I think we've pretty much made up for that in the last 6 months as we have been to Italy, Tuscany, Rome, the island of Capri, Spain, the South of France, Nice and Monaco. Tunisia is in Northern Africa. I hated it, she loved it. We spent a week in Paris in December, with 5 of our best girlfriends in a rented apartment on the Seine.

As many places as Missy and I have traveled to, we both have such a huge love for Ireland. Come Spring and Fall, we both feel a need to go there, to have some fish and chips and a pint of Guinness. Her middle child was doing his class project on Ireland and my 18 year old nephew, his Grandma's favorite child (my only nephew) is about to graduate from high school.

I talked my nephew into telling his grandma that he wanted nothing more than a trip to Ireland with his favorite aunt and Missy talked her son into telling his Dad that it would mean the world to him to go with his mom and me (his Godmother) to Ireland to complete his school project.

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edvardmunchstrand.jpgMunch's summer house was not far from my family's summer home, in Åsgårdstrand. He spent every summer there between 1889 and 1905, fell in love with the pretty town and with a married woman, Milly Thaulow (Mrs Heiberg).

The Shore of Love (Kjaerlighhetens Strand) is the 2010 summer exhibition at Haugar museum in Tonsberg. It's a rare treat and one of the biggest Munch exhibits ever held outside of Oslo or Bergen.  The images are familiar to Munch fans – the lovers, the girls on the beach, the big Norwegian moon spreading light across the water.

Andy Warhol was a great fan of Munch.  He first saw the work at a gallery in New York in 1982.  Both men lost a parent at a very young age, and both, it seems were obsessed with death.  His paintings and silkscreens are inspired by Munch's The Scream, Madonna and Self-portrait with Skeleton Arm.

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miss-lee.jpgWe couldn’t have picked a better day to immerse ourselves in Korean tea shops than a day filled with brisk temperatures and a slight chilly rain. It made our check ins of tea houses much more cozy even though we were on a seriously ambitious mission to sip and sit in a combination of traditional and modern establishments.

We started at Miss Lee, a colorful and playful tea house washed in bright colors and natural woods. If I was looking for a quiet austere place for tea this sure wasn’t it! We arrived for an early lunch of bento boxes with a variety of teas. There’s something to know about the world of Korean tea:  it’s not necessarily always based on traditional tea plants and their leaves. It’s a world that encompasses fruits, seeds, twigs, roots and leaves, not to mention some grains and barley and rice.

The flavors of a rainbow are all here, from sour and astringent to candy-like and sweet. One of my favorites was Omijacha, made from the dried berries of the Schisandra chinensis and called the Five Flavors tea because it has sweet, salty, bitter, sour and pungent notes. Served either hot or cold, Korean teas are consumed for health and vitality but to me some are just plain fun: give me a cup of Yujacha (citron) any day for dessert and I’d be a happy man.

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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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joshua_main.jpgDo you remember Mrs. Gooch’s health food stores? Opened in West Los  Angeles in 1977, Sandy Gooch’s markets served Southern California hazard-free food until Whole Foods acquired it in 1993. If you remember it fondly, you’re ripe for the picking. And let’s face it, if you’re reading this you know its time for an escape. Religious experience or not, the desert is dialing your exhausted and stressed number. Life can take its toll, especially for those who spend a great portion of their day trudging through traffic under the constant sun of Los Angeles, California. It’s only human to reconnect with nature by departing the idiosyncratic superficialities that surround you: billboards demanding you lose weight, drink specific liquor, or watch the latest blockbuster that diminishes your intelligence. Let a Midwesterner tell you weeks of nothing but vitamin D infused blue skies can cause disenchantment!

The cure? Hop in a Prius for a three hour, fifteen dollar trip to California’s most nouveaux-riche desert ala Joshua Tree. Exodus from your car in Palm Springs for the best smoothie this side of the Mojave. Hadley’s Date Shake, infamous for its delectable dates has an ample selection of nuts, dried fruit, gifts, and photos of your favorite celebs that have tasted Hadley’s desert nectar. Dates+bananas+ice cream = dessert oasis.

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