Gift giving has always been a tricky business. In the 1930s, when future Hollywood star David Niven was an impoverished young actor, he spent the holidays merrily regifting stuff he’d received — until one day he accidentally sent someone back the leather wallet that he’d sent to Niven … engraved with Niven’s initials. Oops! A few years later, when Niven was involved in the early stages of a romance, he presented the lady with a set of beautifully embroidered handkerchiefs, and she gave him a car. Awkward!
The equation gets considerably more complicated these days, when many of us are attempting to be more careful and conscious consumers. I’m in total agreement with the principle, but let’s face it, finding nothing under the tree but long-lasting lightbulbs and biodegradable composting bags isn’t going to make the day feel very jolly. So how do we shop responsibly and festively?
Many years ago Rich and I realized that while we love the tradition of opening packages on December 25th, the presents themselves didn’t need to be fancy or expensive. So we agreed that when buying for each other, we’d stick to a modest fixed budget, and buy or make seven small gifts to put under the tree. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to lower the bar on gift-giving and just settle in for a little silly fun.
Like what? Well, last year I gave Rich a singing flamingo I found a discount store. (In the video below, it’s shown with a couple of flamingo hats left over from a previous holiday season. They seemed to enjoy the singing, too.)
When friends arrived for our holiday feast, everyone fell in love with that singing flamingo. All afternoon I kept noticing various guests wandering about with it tucked under one arm, sitting with it in their laps, or nestling cozily with it on the sofa, as if it was pet, or an honored guest. As I suppose it was.
Rich’s best ever gift to me was a couple of snails. It all started six years ago, when I was walking past an old woman selling wild asparagus and live snails, one of which had managed to escape. It was proceeding down the sidewalk with all the determination and speed of which a small gastropod is capable. I mentally cheered it on, and barely remembered to mention the incident to Rich. A month later I found a small package under the tree labeled, “What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!” Utterly mystified, I opened the box to find a pair of confused snails staring up at me.
“You can release them back into the wild,” Rich explained. “It’s like the pardoning of the turkeys at Thanksgiving. How many people get to save a life at the holidays?”
Word of this unique gift got around, and pretty soon some friends gave us a family of snails made by their kids from play-dough, launching a tradition of snail-themed gifts that eventually led me to establish my Snail Museum (the only one like it in the world!). Each year Rich crafts something new for the collection.
Perhaps a true minimalist would object to my snail collection as not having any practical value. But I say bringing a little more joy and laughter into the world is always worthy of us.
In addition to buying less, I try to buy smarter. I cast a suspicious eye on all products, including — perhaps especially — those that claim to be “ecofriendly.” Take the ad I just saw for a bamboo toothbrush subscription that involves sending you a new bamboo toothbrush every month. The manufacturer encourages you to toss the bamboo handle into the compost, advising you not to worry about the non-biodegradable nylon bristles because you simply pull them out with pliers. Like that’s going to happen. Show of hands: how many of you out there actively compost your waste? That would be 16% of you. How many of you would take time to find the pliers and extract the bristles every month? Anyone?
Actually, it’s the “every month” part that really bothers me. We don’t need new toothbrushes every 30 days. The American Dental Association and manufacturers such as Oral-B, who desperately want you to buy more of their products, only recommend replacing toothbrushes every three to four months, and I suspect it’s a lot longer than that for many of us. There’s nothing wrong with a bamboo toothbrush; clearly it’s better for the planet than a plastic one. But these so-called “ecofriendly” manufacturers are trying to convince us to look at toothbrushes as disposable items to be tossed out while they’re still perfectly serviceable, only a quarter of the way to retirement age.
No doubt they got the idea from the clothing industry. As you may have heard, there’s such a glut of cheap clothing around the world that 85% of all unwanted garments end up in a landfill — yes, including most of those you donate to charity and many new items that have been returned unworn.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy reasonably priced clothes; on my holiday budget, it’s all I can afford for Rich, who luckily likes anything made from plaid flannel and never looks at labels. But if your family has a tradition, say, of giving each other joke gifts of hideous holiday sweaters every year, with the virtuous intention of donating them to charities afterwards, it might be time to come up with an alternative. For instance, you could circulate photos of the most ghastly holiday clothes online and make snarky remarks about them. Here are a few of my faves. You can provide your own snarky remarks in the comments section below this post.
I’ve read the tradition of gift giving at the winter holidays didn’t reach the USA until the nineteenth century, and that in those days, the gifts tended to be gimcrack — cheap and cheerful little knickknacks. I say let’s bring back gimcrack! We can stop filling corporate coffers and municipal landfills — and still have the fun of pardoning snails, singing along with flamingos, and spending more time and less money celebrating with people we love. And I believe our lives will be the richer for it.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
Only 66% of millennials believe the earth is round, according to one poll*, which (for those of us who still place our faith in math) means 34% of young Americans suspect or "know" our home planet is flat. In 2017 rapper and conspiracy theorist B.o.B. tweeted he was crowdfunding his own satellites to go up in space and prove his flat-earth theories. NBA star Kyrie Irving said, “This is not even a conspiracy theory. The Earth is flat. It’s right in front of our faces. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.” (I’m not even going to get into the irony of incorporating the phrases “This is not even a conspiracy theory” and “They lie to us” in the same rant.) Photos of the earth from space are dismissed as fakes, part of a government plot to fool us all.
Apparently the flat-earthers haven’t caught up on the news from 500 years ago. In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan assembled a fleet of five ships and set off from Seville, Spain. The fleet headed steadily west for four years until eventually, with Magellan and most of his crew dead, three ships lost and one deserted, the sole remaining ship limped into Seville’s port — proving (sorry B.o.B. and Kyrie Irving) that the earth is round. The story of this extraordinary voyage is the subject of a marvelous new exhibition on display in Seville’s Archives of the Indies — a must-see for anyone (and especially you, flat-earthers!) coming to town between now and February 23, 2020.
Magellan was a spectacular navigator and an abominable diplomat. He quarreled with his own ruler, King Manuel I of Portugal, and had to resort to petitioning Portugal’s archrival, the King of Spain, who grudgingly financed the voyage in hopes of putting one over on the Portuguese by finding a better route to lands rich in expensive spices. Magellan’s Spanish crew hated him for being Portuguese, for being kind of a jerk, and for withholding key information about the voyage. Magellan had a big secret: earlier explorers had told him about a passageway cutting through the tip of South America.
This passage, now knows as the Strait of Magellan, would not only make the journey shorter, it would avoid one of the most violent and hazardous seas on the planet, running between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula.
How bad was it? I’m not sure, but here’s what they knew to expect crossing the Atlantic.
I know, right? Who would be crazy enough even to think of spending months crossing water like this in a ship 20 meters long?
With everyone’s life constantly in jeopardy, it’s not surprising the story of this voyage is full of conflict, mutinies, heads being cut off, people left to die on desert islands, cannibalism, starvation, desertion, and Magellan’s death in a ridiculous show of bravado to impress a Filipino chief. There was plenty of macho idiocy to go around, but there was also a steely core of courage that I couldn’t help but admire.
History books refer to those days as the Age of Exploration, but never doubt that humans are still boldly going where no one has gone before. Two years ago I heard NASA scientist Amaya Davis talk about the Mars expedition planned for the 2030s. Young men and women are already in training and vying for seats on the first voyage to the Red Planet — even knowing that it is a one-way ticket. The amount of hardware and fuel they will use up to reach Mars is enormous, and they simply can’t carry enough extra to make the return journey feasible.
“Why would anyone do that?” I asked Amaya.
“They want a place in history.”
As with Magellan and his crew, I’m in awe of the courage of these future astronauts, even while thinking they have to be more than halfway nuts. Rich and I have definitely decided not to sign up for that trip. But I’m glad so many brave people have chosen to go into space, if only to be able to properly debunk the flat-earthers.
While the NASA crews are all volunteers, many of Magellan’s sailors were shanghaied, kidnapped on the streets of various ports and thrown aboard to replace crew members lost to scurvy, suicide, accidents, execution, or worse.
The kidnapped sailors had to find unexpected depths of valor to face a life-or-death struggle they never signed on for, in the most daunting circumstances imaginable.
I suspect Greta Thunberg feels much the same way. She had no hand in creating the climate crisis, everyone's existence is at stake, and we're dealing with a deck stacked in favor of failure. I can only imagine the bravery it took for her to begin her first, solitary protest vigil outside the Swedish parliament. “It is still not too late to act [to combat climate change],” she said in April. “It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce, fierce determination.”
We know Greta has that kind of courage and determination, but do we? I guess we'll find out. Nobody wants to cope with climate change, but it turns out that we are the generation that, like the shanghaied sailors, woke up to find ourselves on a ship floundering in uncharted waters, headed for a future over which we have slim control and no guarantees of survival.
So where does a die-hard optimist like myself find room for hope? I’m heartened by the knowledge that humans have a pretty good track record of finding inner strength when they need it most. During one of Britain’s darkest hours Winston Churchill said, “It is not enough that we do our best. Sometimes we must do what is required.” A lot of people had the courage to step up then and do what was required. I believe the majority of us have the fortitude to stand up and do our bit now.
One thing inspiring Londoners in the Blitz, sailors of yore, and astronauts of the future is the clear certainty that our survival depends on working together. Our ancestors survived on the African savannas — surrounded by creatures that were bigger, fiercer, and better equipped with teeth and claws — because humans learned to cooperate with one another. And they refused to give up. Like the early explorers, like the Mars mission team, like Greta Thunberg, we know that when there is no going back, we must find a way to move forward together. And I believe we will.
*Scientific American took a hard look at the original data compiled by YouGov and found statistical discrepancies that cast doubt on the claim that only "66% of millennials believe the earth is round." In addition to inflating the percentage, the term "millennial," normally defined as those born 1981 to 1996, here refers to 18- to 24-year-olds. So there are plenty of questions about the YouGov statistic suggests. Whatever the true numbers, the fact that anybody believes the earth is flat remains deeply worrying.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
“Hey, this is the Dragonpit!” exclaimed my sister Kate. “The actual Dragonpit from Game of Thrones.”
“Yep,” I said. “Although sadly, it doesn’t have any actual dragons in it at this time.”
We were in the ancient Roman city of Italica, just six miles northwest of Seville, visiting the remains of the massive amphitheater built to enable 25,000 bloodthirsty spectators to watch gladiators fight to the death. In much the same spirit, 10 million Game of Thrones fans found themselves riveted to other epic clashes filmed on this spot, including this meeting between the psychopathic queen Cersei Lannister and Daenerys “Mother of Dragons” Targaryen, a woman who really knew how to make an entrance.
Italica was a great place to visit even before it was discovered by Hollywood location scouts; I’ve been taking visitors there for 15 years and they always love it. The city, founded in 206 BC to house veterans returning victorious from the battlefield, was home to two emperors and thrived under their patronage; at one point it was the second largest city in the Roman Empire. Today the most important artifacts have been safely removed to the Archeological Museum of Seville, but the 128-acre site is still impressive, with paved streets, gorgeous mosaic floors, and of course, the amphitheater. Or as we know it today, the Dragonpit.
“There’s not a single sign or flyer about it being the Dragonpit,” Kate marveled, looking around at the ancient stone walls. “No mention anywhere of Game of Thrones.” Having grown up in California, in a family with several Hollywood actors, we both found it astonishing that nobody had thought to capitalize on the fame of the site.
But that’s Seville for you; it likes to act cool and nonchalant whenever Hollywood comes to town. During the filming, a friend was walking through my neighborhood when a long, black car pulled up at the curb and she saw Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister) and Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth) emerge and go into Bar Alfalfa, one of my favorite places to grab a coffee. Did anyone take a picture and post it on the wall? Get them to sign menus or napkins? Apparently not. I have been in this café dozens of times since then, including yesterday with my sister and brother-in-law, and there’s nothing to show the actors were ever there.
To round out my sister’s impromptu Game of Thrones tour, we went to Seville’s Royal Alcázar. This spectacular palace was built in the fourteenth century by Pedro the Cruel on the ruins of an old Moorish fort where, it’s said, they used the skulls of their enemies for flower pots. Somebody persuaded Pedro to get rid of the skulls, and I think we can all agree that was a good call. Today, the palace is home to the Spanish royal family when they’re in town and a favorite with visitors from around the world. It includes a breathtaking mix of every architectural style in vogue for the past 700 years. My favorite part? The elaborate pleasure garden, which Game of Thrones fans will recognize as the Water Gardens of Dorn.
Of course, GoT location scouts weren’t the first to discover that Seville is always ready for a close-up. Generations of filmmakers have fallen in love the grand sweeping arc of the Plaza de España, a 1928 architectural fantasy with turrets, colonnades, and a moat crossed by a series of lovely arching bridges. In 1968 it stood in for the Cairo British officers’ club in the scene from Lawrence of Arabia where Peter O’Toole scandalizes everyone by storming in dressed as a Bedouin and demanding a lemonade.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Plaza de España took on the role of a city on Planet Naboo for the underwhelming 2002 prequel Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. The backdrop is gorgeous; the actors are young and handsome; the dialog is excruciatingly wooden. Don’t feel obliged to watch all of this short clip; fast forward to the end where the setting morphs into the real Plaza de España, which is genuinely worth a look.
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones was far from the worst film ever made in Seville; I personally award that distinction to Knight and Day, shot here in 2009. When word got out that Tom Cruise and Cameron Diez were coming to town to film a romantic action movie, and that they were calling for people to sign up as extras, half the city went down to the casting office to see if they could get in on the fun. Sadly, Rich and I were turned away because at that time our residency visas didn’t allow us to take paying jobs in Spain. Many of our friends did get hired, and Rich and I suffered through one hour and forty-nine minutes of idiotic dialog and hammy acting to see spectacular shots of Seville with nanosecond-long glimpses of our amigos in the background. I happened to walk by while stuntmen were filming this scene, so it’s one of my — well, not favorites, that would be going too far, but I guess I can say it’s the part of the movie I dislike the least.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, I didn’t realize Seville has the running of the bulls!” We don’t. That takes place elsewhere, most notably in Pamplona, as immortalized by Ernest Hemmingway in The Sun Also Rises. Evidently the filmmakers figured nobody would know — or care — about the inaccuracy, and perhaps American audiences didn't, but here in Seville everyone roared with derisive laughter.
As luck would have it, Rich and I did have one brush with stardom while Knight and Day was being filmed. One evening, as we were having tapas in the (now defunct) Aguador de Sevilla, Cameron Diaz came in with some friends and asked for a table. The manager glanced around, shrugged, and informed her they were full. She walked out looking stunned; I don’t imagine that has happened to her since she got her big break in The Mask in 1994.
Did the manager recognize her? Probably. The film was the talk of the town that spring, and quite likely some of his friends, family, and/or customers were working as extras. But as I said, Seville likes to play it cool. The city was founded by Hercules, sent two emperors to Rome, gave Christopher Columbus his send-off to the Americas and his final resting place in the cathedral. It takes a lot to impress a Sevillano. Now, if someone showed up on an actual dragon, then the city just might sit up and take notice.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
“And whatever you do,” said the technico who had just installed my gleaming new self-cleaning oven, “don’t use the self-cleaning feature.”
“It raises the oven temperature to 6000 degrees, to convert grease to ash. I had to really jam the stove under your countertop — which is narrower than standard, by the way — so the plug is right up against the oven. You use the self-cleaning feature, you melt the plug. And then…”
He didn’t need to go on. My fantasies of maintaining a spotless oven had just gone up in smoke.
I started to laugh because it was such a supremely Spanish moment. In making an effort to upgrade, I’d moved two steps forward (a slightly roomier and much less temperamental oven) and taken one giant leap toward burning down the entire apartment building.
In its own weird way, it was rather comforting. Seville has changed so much lately, it was good to know the city hadn’t lost its quirky, unpredictable character, its innate ability to infuse even the most ordinary act with mystery and high drama.
I’ll admit that I’ve been experiencing a bit of post-trip culture-lag following my five month Mediterranean Food Tour. Returning to a city you love after a long absence is always difficult; the tiny, incremental changes that took place over time hit you all at once. Just when you long to wrap a familiar place around you like a favorite old coat, it feels alien, awkward, and ill-fitting, as if it had shrunk several sizes, grown an extra sleeve, and lost all its buttons.
Speaking of ill-fitting clothes, the city just lost one of its emblematic old shops that had provided generations of Sevillanos with cheap house dresses and men’s shirts. It was called El Mato, and the clothes were so inexpensive it gave rise to the saying, “Tan barato como El Mato,” as cheap as El Mato. This would crop up in exchanges like, “How was your hotel in Morocco?” “Not very nice, but I will say it was as cheap as El Mato.” Rich once bought a short-sleeved collared shirt there, and it was actually fairly decent except that the short sleeves were extremely short, no doubt to save on fabric costs. He wore it for years, and I assured him it didn’t look odd at all. I’m sorry to report that El Mato closed its doors last month and the site is now a bright, modern Mr. Cake bakery.
It’s a bit sad to lose an old-fashioned shop like El Mato (and the dozens of others that have disappeared lately), but the real challenge is adapting to the tourist boom that’s rocking the city. Arriving back in late September, I found crowds jamming the downtown streets like something out of a dystopian movie (the teaming hoards in Soylent Green and the zombie stampede in World War Z come to mind). From 2014 to 2018 (the year Lonely Planet declared Seville the world’s top destination) tourism rose almost 35%, and when the 2019 statistics come out, I’m guessing it will prove to be another record-breaking year. I’ve heard 32 hotels are being built in the city, and new restaurants seem to pop up every day. Some are wonderful, but all too many are cookie-cutter corporate chains offering burgers, pizza, and chicken Caesar salads. Bars now sell drinks with umbrellas and pineapple in them, to underscore the theme: you are on vacation does it really matter where?
“It’s all your fault,” a friend told me. “If you’d just stop saying nice things about the city on your blog, we might have a chance of stemming the tide.”
I don’t actually believe that I’m the prime mover here, but I felt I should meet him halfway. “How about I start a rumor that the Great Plague is back?”
In the middle of the seventeenth century, this grisly disease claimed the lives of a quarter of the population the city, when the national average was 5%. Why? Because the Sevillanos of the day — those old scofflaws — ignored, evaded, and refused to enforce the efforts to maintain quarantine.
“The Great Plague?” he said. “Yes, that should do nicely.”
I promised to mention it on my blog at the earliest opportunity, and now I have. Feel free to help me spread the rumor far and wide.
But for the most part, I’m trying to adapt to the new reality, not fight it. As Rich keeps pointing out, all cities change constantly; it’s what keeps them vital and alive. I’ve occasionally visited towns — Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for instance, or Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic — where they’ve worked so hard to preserve the town as it was during a single moment in its history that the place has become a theme park, a plasticized, Disneyland version of itself.
I strongly doubt that will be Seville’s fate. This city is too quirky and unruly ever to line up behind any single idea, even one with such obvious benefits as fighting the Great Plague. Twenty years ago, I was gobsmacked to discover that the many city maps of Seville were all drawn differently — some, for instance, enlarged alleys that were useful shortcuts, while others fudged the angles of streets to suggest they all converged on an important landmark. I finally realized each cartographer was being helpful, drawing attention to navigational elements that might be overlooked on a more accurate rendering.
That attitude certainly hasn’t changed. Does a self-cleaning oven really heat up to 6000 degrees? Of course not. The maximum is 471 Celsius (880 Fharenheit). Our technico was merely exercising his God-given right to convey information with sufficient drama to ensure we’d be too terrified ever to consider using the self-cleaning feature. He wasn’t just installing an oven, he was saving our lives. And he was serving as a timely reminder that in the midst of constant upheaval, Seville’s kind heart and quirky spirit remain as strong as ever.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
“And this is the Virgin of the Napkin.” My Spanish friends beamed fondly at the painting, hung in its own exquisitely lit niche in Seville’s Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum). Sometimes both talking at once, each one jumping in with colorful details, my friends explained that the famous seventeenth century artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo had painted this incredible work on the back of a napkin one night after dinner. He'd been dining with some monks here in the city, and afterwards they’d asked him to paint a little something for them as a memento of the evening. Murillo, who apparently had brought along his painting gear, picked up a napkin (presumably not the one he’d been wiping his lips with during dinner), stretched it like a canvas, and began this work.
“Increíble!” I exclaimed, as I was clearly meant to do. “Casi un milagro.” Incredible. Practically a miracle. My friends glowed with pride and pleasure.
That was fifteen years ago. And while I naturally had my doubts about this story — for a start, even a painter as gifted as Murillo couldn’t dash off a work that detailed in a single evening — it was still a shock to arrive at the museum ten days ago and discover that the painting had been thoroughly debunked. Yes, the work was indeed painted by Murillo, but the legend involving napkins and monks originated in the nineteenth century and soon went viral thanks to British travel writer Isabel Romer, who loved digging up colorful, offbeat stories for her readers. (A woman after my own heart.) The painting has been moved to a lesser position next to some of Murillo’s larger works; clearly it’s now a mere footnote in the great man’s story.
Having a cherished legend debunked is one thing; it’s considerably more disconcerting to discover wild inaccuracies in our very concept of what our planet looks like. Remember the world map that hung on the wall in your grammar school classroom? It’s all wrong.
That image of world geography got its start in 1579, when Gerardus Mercator cleverly represented the world as a grid that navigators could follow using straight compass lines, eliminating the need for constant, tricky course corrections. Fast forward nearly 400 years to when my husband was in the navy, and the Mercator projection was still the gold standard, used on his ship to navigate the route between Norfolk, Virginia and Gibraltar. The Mercador projection may be great for sailors, but it has the unfortunate side effect of distorting the size of land masses, enlarging those further from the equator until Greenland (836,330 square miles) looks bigger than South America (6,890,000 square miles) or even Africa (11,730,000 square miles).
Today there’s growing support for the Gall-Peters projection, which attempts to correct the geographic distortion of Mercator’s approach. Naturally, this new work is surrounded by its own controversies, with some cartographers sneering at James Gall (a 19th century clergyman) and Arno Peters (a 20th century German filmmaker) as unqualified hacks. The Controversy section on the Wikipedia page reads like a Facebook rant. Nevertheless, the Gall-Peters projection is gaining traction; it’s now being promoted by UNESCO and has been adopted by a growing number of British and American schools, where it’s viewed as a more accurate and equitable representation of the planet’s geography.
Ours is a world full of controversy and dissension, and just about the only thing we can all agree on is that we live in an age of disinformation. Sometimes it helps to remind ourselves that there’s nothing new about distorting information and disseminating it far and wide. Just this morning at breakfast Rich was talking about the party line telephones of his childhood. For younger readers, this was back in the dark ages before everyone had their own phone, and houses in a neighborhood would often save money by sharing a single land line. When the phone rang, everyone would run pick up, and when it was for you, the neighbors were supposed to hang up — but of course they secretly stayed on the line, listened in, and then proceeded to share all your news and gossip with everyone within their orbit. Rich calls it “the forerunner of Facebook.”
With disinformation ramping up online, I find it comforting to spend time in countries that haven’t (yet) been overwhelmed with bot-fueled globalized thought manipulation. One night in May, I was on the Greek island of Ikaria, famous for the remarkable health and longevity of its residents. An election was coming up, and a meeting had been called in the village of Evdilos; chairs were set out under the trees near the wharf, and what appeared to be the entire population of the village gathered at twilight to sit and listen to the candidates. Here, politics was still a face-to-face business that didn’t rely on sound bites and social media. In its own small way, it was breathtaking.
It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of globalization and mass disinformation. But standing at the back of that crowd on Ikaria, I was reminded that we still live in human communities. It is our nature to talk among ourselves, sharing information, weighing facts, exploring ideas, arguing, attempting to winkle out the truth of a subject. We do it with friends and family at home and, if we’re lucky, with those we meet during our journeys.
“The antidote to misinformation is exchange: to send truth-tellers around the world," said former U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Bleich. “Truth-tellers—mathematicians, scientists, musicians—return from places and can tell people objectively what they saw and experienced and learned, and restore critical and analytical minds.”
Being a truth-teller is important work, and every traveler can do it. When we have the good fortune to spend time talking with people of other cultures, we bring home fresh perspective not only on their culture but our own.
“Travel,” says globetrotting author Rick Steves, “challenges truths we were raised thinking were self-evident and God-given.” And that’s a wonderful thing. Because it shows we don’t have to live in a “post-truth” world, as some in the media would have us believe. Yes, there are plenty of people around who are careless, callous, and conniving with the truth. But there are still millions of us who persist in caring about the nature of reality, verifiable facts, and the precise shape of our world. And that’s truth worth knowing.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
As a blogger, I occasionally keep tabs on my posts by glancing at the metrics provided by Google and my website builder. But for a really accurate reading, I’ve learned it pays to tally my spam.
Like most people, I started small. Five years ago, the odd post would receive a random comment such as: “Your post is very insightful. To make your day even better, buy Viagra here!” Then a couple of years ago, my spammers became fixated on one particular post: Yoga for Travelers, published on May 12, 2016. First it was a comment or two every month, then every week, and recently it’s soared to several a day, sharing offers for medical marijuana and heavy industrial equipment (preferably not to be used at the same time). I’m getting exhausted just tapping the “Spam - Delete” button.
I will say the comments are getting livelier. Last week I got this from Kajal Das in Bollywood: “Flames Web Series is an oh so sweet story that manages to reach that quiet place lurking within our hearts, even in the cacophony of today’s times. It’s that all encompassing feeling that sweeps us off our feet as we watch the story unfold on screen. And as Rajat and Ishita slowly get drawn towards each other, we find ourselves drawn into the story, until we’re totally into it, hook, line and sinker ! We start rooting for this syrupy love story, wishing with all our hearts for the misunderstandings between Rajat and Ishita to clear up, and for them to get back together.”
Will Rajat and Ishita finally clear up their misunderstandings and find true love? If so, they’re going to have to do it without the assistance of my original Yoga for Travelers. I’ll soon be removing that particular post altogether, in hopes of freeing up my schedule from the boring chore of endless spam deletion. Besides, I have plenty of new thoughts to share on the subject.
I’ve been doing yoga a long time — off and on since I was a senior in high school; that's when I signed up for an optional yoga class because I thought it would be hipper than doing actual athletics during the period assigned to PE (physical exercise). Since then, I’ve come to appreciate other benefits besides the coolness factor. The older I get, the more I rely on yoga to keep me strong and flexible and, when I’m on the road, to offset the effects of long bus rides, hard mattresses, and suitcases that require constant hoisting and hauling. Travel may keep our synapses young, but it can take a toll on our bodies, and Rich and I decided from the outset that during our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour we would work to minimize our aches and pains by spending regular time on the mat.
And when I say “on the mat” I am, of course, speaking metaphorically. One of the challenges of doing yoga on the road is that I don’t carry a mat with me. Yes, I know there are folding mats available, but as a minimalist packer, I don’t have even that modest amount of space and weight to spare. Instead, when I’m on the road, my yoga practice takes place on whatever rugs and/or towels I can find in our lodgings, and when confronted with an impossibly hard or grubby floor, I stick with standing postures and avoid floor work altogether.
When I'm away from my regular classes, I practice with yoga videos. Maybe it’s a total lack of willpower on my part, but I find it’s a lot easier to keep going when someone is telling me what to do, how to do it, and why it’s helping. There are, at last count, some 549 million yoga videos online; as you can imagine, quality varies wildly. Yoga with Adriene is one of my favorites; she’s got an engaging personality, a dog that wanders on screen from time to time, and more than 500 videos ranging from a few minutes to an hour. On my recent trip, when confronted with dubious floors I often used her Hands-Free Yoga Workout for standing stretches. But that’s just 15 minutes long, and I usually prefer half an hour, so I also practiced with Maris Aylward’s 30 Minute Wrist Free Hands Free Yoga Flow. To mix things up, I selected other teachers’ videos more or less at random.
Of course, yoga isn’t the only way to keep fit on the road. Rich calculates that we walked 735 miles on the trip, and personally, I think we should get extra points for all the crazy staircases we climbed, especially when dragging our bags up with us.
Thanks to the walking, the stairs, and our yoga pracitce, we managed to eat our way through ten countries without gaining any weight at all.
Swimming wasn't part of the program on this trip, but Rich likes to research public pools around the world via SwimmersGuide.com so he can keep up with his laps when circumstances permit. For those who like to work out with weights and machines, there’s been some buzz lately about the free smartphone app Zeamo that helps you find gyms anywhere; I haven't tried it, so if you do, let me know how well it works. Unfortunately the yoga world hasn’t yet organized itself properly with worldwide apps or websites, so your best bet is still good old Google. According to the International Yoga Federation, there are 300 million people worldwide practicing yoga, so there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be able to find a studio just about anywhere you go.
Apparently the abundance of yoga practitioners creates an irresistible target for the world’s spammers. And no doubt before long they will notice this post and begin sending me comments about miracle weight loss pills and cheap hair transplants. But there may be some redeeming moments, too. Now that Bollywood has come out with season two of Flames, we can all look forward to finding out if Rajat and Ishita have finally managed to patch up their differences, realize they’re in love, and locate a really great yoga class in a studio near them. Stay tuned for updates.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
Don't miss a single loony adventure, travel tip, video, or recipe.
Send me your email and I'll keep you updated.
“So I need to come up with a topic for this week’s post,” I said to Rich, as I pushed open the door to a cerveceria (beer house) on the outskirts of Seville. The usual Sunday lunch crowd was gathering: parents with adult kids and grandchildren, long-married couples, a cluster of single men in the corner by the TV, watching the game.
The chef’s wife shouted a welcome over the hubbub, and we called back greetings as we threaded our way to one of the plain wooden tables at the back. The waiter hurried over with a white paper tablecloth, and Rich picked up the napkin dispenser while I lifted the menus. After putting the table in order, our waiter leaned forward confidentially, flipped open one of menus, and pointed to the words pollo al campo.
“The country chicken is really good today,” he said, as he always did. “From our place in the country. Delicious. Also the wild boar.”
When the waiter left to fetch our drinks, Rich and I considered our options and agreed, as we usually did, that the pollo al campo really was too delicious to pass up. I began again, “So about this week’s post…” A great shout went up from the futbol corner as someone — judging by the joy, someone on the home team — scored a goal. Behind us, a chair fell over with a crash, and a small boy hurried past, trying to look innocent. Our waiter returned with ice cold beers, a bowl of olives, and a basket of bread. I gave up any attempt at conversation and just sat back to enjoy the atmosphere that locals call Sevilla profunda (profound Seville).
There is something wonderful about a solidly unpretentious eatery, with serviceable furniture, regular customers, and nothing that even pretends to be “décor.” In a place like this, you can relax knowing you’ll find the same hearty, delicious dishes that have been satisfying locals for generations. You need never worry that the chef will suddenly become inspired to force-feed his neighbors the kind of small-portioned, trendy fare that comes from studying molecular gastronomy in Paris.
Don’t get me wrong; I love and respect Parisian cuisine. And it continues to set an ever-higher bar for world gastronomy, offering breathtakingly original versions of beef curry udon, deconstructed paella, and amusingly reimagined Mexican enchiladas. But visiting the City of Lights last month, I kept feeling something was missing. Finally one night, while sipping excellent sangria in a trendy boîte with a carefully cultivated dive bar theme, I figured it out.
“Every meal has been great,” I said to Rich. “But where’s all the French food?”
The answer is: disappearing fast. Having watched this phenomena take place in Seville, I shouldn’t have been surprised to encounter it in Paris as well. It’s called culinary displacement, and it’s what happens when trendy new eateries burst on the scene, followed by thinly disguised corporate chains with low-priced pizza and hamburgers; the glut of options leaves traditional restaurants marginalized if not outright defunct. Lucky for me, Sevillanos have a long history of stubbornly clinging to their traditions, so there will always be classic neighborhood cervezerias around, although they’re getting harder to find in the tourist-filled city center. In Paris, according to food writer Alexander Lobrano, the situation is more dire. “Today, rather than being the ballast of the Paris restaurant landscape, ‘real’ bistros are now marketed as nostalgic curiosities where you often pay a steep price for the privilege of eating ‘real’ French food.” Mon Dieu, say it ain’t so!
The disappearance of bistros is appalling news for travelers — not only because we’re losing the opportunity to enjoy coq au vin and bœuf bourguignon in their native habitat, but because we'll have fewer opportunities to connect with what it means to be French. Part of the fun of visiting foreign lands is immersing yourself in the atmosphere, enjoying the spectacle of everyday life playing out in a way that’s profoundly characteristic of that particular place. It offers us illuminating glimpses of their culture and often teaches us something about our own.
That’s not going to be happening so often in Paris these days, but I can assure you that large swaths of Europe remain untouched by culinary displacement. In Dijon, for instance, restaurant hours are as inflexible as Old Testament commandments. Stay open past 1:30 for lunch? Are you mad? The fact that hungry tourists are standing at the door waving fistfuls of euros doesn’t make anyone budge by so much as a nanosecond. Is this attitude annoying? Intensely. But it’s also very, very French.
Americans and les Français have long lived in a state of mutual incomprehension. “In Paris,” said Mark Twain, “they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.” Is Paris a better place now, when we’ve convinced it to bow to economic necessity and offer us food we recognize, menus in English, and opening hours that suit our schedule?
Spain is under considerable pressure to adapt to standard hours set by the European Union, and many northern cities have dispensed with the long mid-day break that allows time for lunch at home followed by a siesta, with work lasting later in the evening to compensate. Seville is stubbornly refusing to change, at least for now. Most businesses and shops still close for three hours at lunchtime and all day on Sunday, giving families and friends time to gather at home or meet up in neighborhood places like our favorite cerveceria.
When our pollo al campo emerged from the oven, the chef himself carried it to our table and carved the bird for us. It was a true country chicken, sturdy rather than artificially plump, the dark meat a deep brown color, the skin glistening and crisp. It was served in an old-fashioned black pan, atop a mound of fried potatoes, the whole thing swimming in a sauce of chicken fat, wine, and salt. No doubt it was served in precisely the same way in the chef’s grandmother’s time. Rich raised his glass. “To Sevilla profunda,” he said.
“About that topic for this week’s post,” I said. “I think I have an idea.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
Keep in touch by signing up for my mailing list!
Don't miss a single loony adventure or mouthwatering recipe.
Of all the phrases you don’t want to utter, “Wait, stop, I didn’t get my passport back!” is fairly high on the list. Not quite up there with “OK, I’ll throw myself on the grenade” but well above “The next round’s on me.” The realization that this essential travel document has disappeared is especially unwelcome when you’re jammed in a sweltering bus in the no-man’s-land between the border-control stations of Albania and Montenegro, and you’re fairly sure the guy who collected the passports doesn’t speak English.
Selfishly, I could rejoice in the fact that the missing passport wasn’t mine or Rich’s, but I couldn’t help worrying for the young Dutch student who’d lost it. We’d been chatting with him and his girlfriend since our departure from Shkodër, Albania, swapping travel tales, learning about their studies in Amsterdam, explaining we were currently halfway through our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour. As on other border crossings in the Balkans, the bus attendant collected all the passports and disappeared into the guard station while we waited on the bus. He eventually reappeared, handing the stack to the nearest passenger, who was supposed extract their own and pass the others along. As the Dutch couple, Rich, and I were sitting in the very back row, I was only too aware this provided ample opportunity for anyone on the bus to thumb through our personal travel information and/or pocket one of our passports.
When the last of the passports had been claimed and our seatmate’s wasn’t anywhere to be found, he alerted the bus attendant in a voice that was surprising free from hysteria and calmly ambled forward to sort out the problem. His insouciance became all the more remarkable when I learned later, after the passport had been found in the Albanian border station, that this would have been the third time he’d lost one. He told us that according to Dutch law, three lost passports means you won’t be issued another for five years — a life-changing possibility that he just shrugged off with a grin. “Didn’t happen. Why should I worry?”
“This is what I love about traveling with young people,” Rich said as we waved goodbye to the Dutch couple in Podgorica. “They’re so adaptable.” Over dinner that night he returned to the subject. “You know, when you get older, you don’t always think as fast, so it’s natural to try and make your life as predictable as possible. You want to control everything around you. And you can’t. In fact, you can’t really control much of anything. The Buddhists know that, and so do most young people. Somehow we forget that truth as we age.”
The subject of age came up a lot during the five months of our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour. Six weeks into the trip Rich turned 75, and my 68th birthday came around the day after we returned home to Seville. We’ve finally accepted the fact we’re no longer spring or even summer chickens; we’re winter chickens. It’s a sobering thought, and one that seems easier to accept gracefully when we’re on the road.
Life has a beautiful simplicity when you’re traveling. The fuss and clamor of everyday activities subsides. You don’t have to worry about going to meetings or fixing that leak in the roof or getting your cholesterol checked. The concerns and projects that propel our days go into hibernation for the duration. “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me,” wrote Jack Kerouak, “as is ever so on the road.”
Of course, journeys bring their own challenges, including the kind of mind-stretching problem-solving exercises that keep our synapses firing. Forget Sudoku and Lumosity. Try figuring out the controls of a Greek washing machine, that streamlined Italian shower, or the Turkish coffee maker. Wrap your brain around the Cyrillic азбука (alphabet) or grapple with the fact your bus to Montenegro is marked Mali i Zi, the Albanian name for that country. Even the relatively simple task of fitting your life into a new Airbnb apartment gives your brain a brisk workout.
Every time your brain does these kinds of mental push-ups, it strengthens some of its synapses, those 100 trillion minuscule gaps across which chemical messengers travel, enabling the brain to function. “In the last twenty years,” wrote John B. Arden in Rewire Your Brain, “there has been an overwhelming amount of evidence that the synapses are not hardwired but are changing all the time.” This characteristic, known as neuroplasticity, means that “the brain changes its synapses when you remember something new.” That’s right, you’re boosting your brain power every time you recall how to get from your hotel to that great little bar around the corner and then root around in your memory for clues about whether the local word for beer is birrë, cerveza, or pivo.
We don’t have to go out of our way to find mental challenges on the road. Even if the Albanian customs officials don’t manage to misplace our passports, there are endless small hitches, glitches, and hiccoughs to contend with and a constant stream of new information to absorb. The good news is that every time you do remember route details, historical tidbits, or where you left the car keys in the new Airbnb, you can congratulate yourself on making your brain a little stronger and more youthful.
My brain will never again be as flexible as those of the twentysomethings from Amsterdam we met on that bus, but my memory … wait, what was I saying? Just kidding. My memory is at its best when I travel, when I think and write about my journeys, and as I plan future trips. I can only assume that’s because I’m doing something right by my 100 trillion synapses. I am counting on them to do right by me in return.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
Check out highlights of our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour in my new video!
Don't miss a single loony adventure, travel tip, video, or recipe. Send me your email and I'll keep you updated.
As you can imagine, returning home to Seville after five months on the road we’ve been bombarded with questions, including “Are you nuts?” and “Are you two going to stay put for a while?” (The answers are “Yes” and “Yes.”) But the two that always come up first are these:
After five months of gorging ourselves on the best comfort food Europe has to offer, the answer is — drumroll, please — we didn’t gain an ounce. Rich actually lost two pounds. As for me, I can’t provide hard numbers, because after a lifetime of slavishly tracking each tiny gain and loss, some years ago I decided to stop weighing myself altogether. My metric is whether I can button my skinniest jeans, and the answer to that is a definite yes.
Why didn’t all that good eating add to our avoirdupois? For one thing, we only ate heartily when we were on the trail of local comfort food; in between, we had salads, fish, and other light fare. We did twenty to thirty minutes of yoga most days. But mainly, we walked a lot. Rich calculates it was somewhere around 735 miles — the equivalent of strolling from New York to Nashville, or (for my European readers) doing the entire Camino de Santiago pilgrimage one and a half times.
How did our shoes hold up? Sadly, only one of the two pairs I brought survived the trip. Somewhere in northern Greece, I started noticing feelings of mild dizziness; by the time I got to Albania, these spells were getting more frequent, annoying, and disquieting. Finally I realized the culprit was my comfy old sneakers. The soles were worn so slick they didn’t maintain proper traction on city sidewalks, and I was slipping and sliding a tiny bit with every step. Apparently this upset the equilibrium of my inner ear just enough to create a recurring sensation of dizziness. No, I don’t have a medical professional’s diagnosis to corroborate this. But I can tell you that as soon as I bought a new pair of sneakers the problem cleared up. That’s proof enough for me.
My old sneakers weren’t the only things we jettisoned along the way. Rich had a new t-shirt that rubbed irritatingly against his neck, and as the hottest summer in Europe’s history wore on, I parted with two long-sleeved t-shirts to make room for one sundress and then another. As minimalist packers, we follow the rule that buying anything means removing an item of equal bulk and weight from the suitcase. We never throw clothes away; instead, we leave them somewhere they’ll be found — usually sitting on top of a dustbin or bagged and hanging on the back of a restroom door in a train station or dive bar. I like to think these once-beloved possessions are now leading exciting lives with their new humans.
My most dramatic discard involved a wardrobe malfunction in Kosovo. As regular readers will recall, Rich and I took a luggage-free side trip to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. I threw a nightgown and a few necessities into my purse, dressed in comfortable trousers and a fast-drying gauze blouse, and off we went on the overnight journey. We had a fabulous time, sampling mouthwatering Albanian tavë kosi, baked lamb in yogurt sauce, and watching people in tiny storefronts plying such old-school trades as sewing suits, resoling shoes, and repairing vacuum cleaners. That night I hand-washed my blouse and undergarments, and when I dressed the next morning, the bright light streaming in the hotel window made the gauze blouse look nearly translucent. When I remarked on this, Rich said, with true husbandly sympathy, “Nonsense. It’s fine.”
Half an hour later, as we strolled the city sidewalks in search coffee, he turned to me and said, “Karen, it’s not fine. In fact, I can see right through your blouse. And so can everyone else.” Yikes! Apparently the repeated washings had proved too much for the delicate gauze, which was disintegrating before my eyes and the eyes of interested passersby.
I dashed into the nearest store, where I began a nightmare shopping effort. Having seen hundreds, possibly thousands of attractive shirts in shop windows all through Greece and North Macedonia, those now confronting me were, without exception, hideously unacceptable. I’d have settled for an “I (heart) Kosovo” t-shirt had I found one, but I drew the line at a bare-midriff tank top sporting the “Hello, Kitty” logo. After visiting three or four equally discouraging shops, I finally purchased the ugliest turquoise t-shirt ever manufactured. But as Rich pointed out, at least I no longer risked creating an international incident by getting myself arrested for indecent exposure. As soon as we got back to North Macedonia and I was reunited with my other clothes, the gauze blouse and turquoise t-shirt were given their freedom.
Among the other casualties of the trip were my bedroom slippers, which gradually stretched to the point that during the final weeks I was having difficulty keeping them on my feet. Note to self: Comfortably worn footwear might serve well for a few weeks, even a month or two on the road, but it simply can’t stand up to the demands of long-term use. Newer footwear, broken in to the point of comfort but still in its prime, is what I’ll shoot for in the future.
Which brings me to the question about when we’re going to burn our trip clothes.
The answer is: we’re not.
In the past, we had “trip clothes” and “regular clothes,” but these days nearly everything we own is travel wear. With the exception of the stretched slippers, now earmarked for a charity shop, all the robust garments we carried home in our suitcases have resumed their rightful place in our everyday collection.
Just last night, I went out to dinner in the sundress I bought one sweltering afternoon in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bright flowers on the sturdy fabric will always remind me of that city’s extraordinary beauty and the resilience that sustained its people through desperately tough times. No, I won’t be burning that dress. Nor will I destroy any of the other clothes that served me faithfully during our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour. They are reminders of grand adventures and have earned a place in my wardrobe. Unless of course, any of them become embarrassingly translucent, and then they’re history.
Do you have wardrobe malfunction stories, tips for reliable travel shoes or clothing, or other packing suggestions to share? Please pass them along in the comments below.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
Our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour
161 Days on the Road
Distance traveled: 5,234 miles / 8,423 kilometers
Countries visited: 10
Great meals: countless
Weight gained: none
Our current location: Home in Seville, Spain
Thanks for joining us on the journey.
“I like my gingerbread covered with pâté de foie gras, accompanied by a nice white wine.” As Philippe sighed with pleasure at the memory, I thought: “I will never get this town.”
Dijon was the 36th city we’d stayed in during the last five months. Our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour has taken us through Greece, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy, and now France. It’s been tremendous fun, but there have been challenges, too. I’ve had to learn to read bus schedules in the Cyrillic and Greek alphabets. We’ve stayed in so many places with hazardous stairs that it’s a wonder all our limbs are still intact. And while generally the food has ranged from good to fabulous, we’ve eaten a few dishes that we didn’t find easy, most especially the traditional raw horse meat served during race week in Asti, Italy.
None of that put me off my stride. But I have finally met my match in Dijon.
Everyone assured us we’d love the food here, and Rich and I were eager to find a congenial spot to sample such local specialties as boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and escargots de Bourgogne. On Day One, we set off at 12:30 in search of these culinary marvels, but every eatery we passed was either utterly lacking in charm or bore a hand-written sign informing us they were closed for vacation. After wandering around for more than an hour, we finally stumbled into a place that looked promising, but the staff reacted with stares of incomprehension, gallic shrugs, and shooing motions encouraging us to leave at once. This little scene was replicated in three other restaurants, leaving us as bewildered as we were famished.
It turns out that on weekdays in Dijon le déjeuner (lunch) is invariably served from 12:00 noon to 1:30 pm. Period. Who knew?
If it wasn’t for a large supermarket in a downtown department store and a really excellent all-hours kabob house around the corner, we would have starved to death.
When we weren’t out grubbing around for food, we tried to take in the sights, but a remarkable amount of our time in Dijon was spent staring at locked doors and signs reading fermé (closed). Take Saturday, for instance. Philippe, our guide on a very entertaining food tour, told us how lucky we were to be there during European Heritage Days to enjoy free admission to all the museums, palaces, and historic monuments — plus there was a second-hand market. What fun! However, by the time the tour was over and we’d stopped back at the apartment for a short rest, we returned to the city center only discover the market dismantled and every one of the museums, palaces, and monuments closed and locked.
Despite such setbacks, we’ve managed to visit quite a few of the city’s most famous landmarks and enjoyed the city itself, especially the half-timbered houses, churches, and magnificent palaces built while the Dukes of Burgundy reigned there from the 9th century until 1477.
On the food tour, Philippe introduced us to the city’s iconic mustard, its famous gingerbread, and the tradition of the 11:00 am aperitif, an alcoholic version of elevenses that included gougères (cheese puffs) and kir, a popular French cocktail of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) and white wine. At the colorful 19th century Les Halles Market, he showed us mouthwatering produce, cheese, meat, and poultry, including the famous blue-legged Bresse chickens sold with their heads still attached, a sign of quality intended to make it easier for you to fork over 28€ ($30) a kilo for what's said to be the most pricey chicken in Europe.
“Yes they are expensive. But if you eat this, you really taste chicken,” Philippe assured us.
The market’s central café, La Buvette, was jammed, yet Philippe somehow contrived to find us seats and produce platters of Beaufort cheese, salami, ham, bread, pickles, and a glass of delicious Macon chardonnay.
On the tour, we’d learned that in Dijon one sits down to dinner between 7:00 and 7:30 pm. Armed with a recommendation from Philipe, Rich and I presented ourselves at an eatery called Dr. Wine promptly at 7:00. All the tables were reserved, the headwaiter informed us, but we could eat in the garden if we promised to leave before a late booking got there at 9:00. Wait, what? You could eat at 9:00 in this town?
I have to admit, Dr. Wine’s food was very good indeed, served in small plates like the heartier kind of Spanish tapas. We started with escargots de Bourgogne, the famous Burgundy snails cooked with garlic, butter, and herbs. Our appetizer included six jumbo snails, a complicated metal grasping tool, and a delicate fork. It was all going well (by which I mean we hadn’t disgraced ourselves by sending any snails flying onto nearby tables) until I tried to eat my last escargot. I could see it, huddled in the inner depths of the shell, but the combined efforts of Rich, a passing waiter, and myself weren’t sufficient to winkle out the little critter.
“Maybe the hour for eating snails has expired,” Rich suggested. No doubt that was the case. I let it rest in peace.
Next we ate slivers of bread topped with two kinds of heavenly cheese, fresh apricots, and a bit of apricot preserve. This was followed by the famous boeuf bourguignon, a hearty beef stew simmered in the region’s trademark red wine. I’ve had this dish before, and Dr. Wine’s was by far the smoothest, richest version I’d ever tasted.
“OK, I'm finally beginning to warm to this town,” I told Rich.
“Don’t get attached,” he said. “We’re off to Paris in a few days.”
Yes, time is getting short. We’re now on the final leg of our long journey, and after a whirlwind visit to the City of Lights, we’ll head south to Spain by rail. Due to the fast pace of the days ahead, I'm posting this earlier in the week than usual. We arrive in Seville on Saturday, which happens to be the day before my birthday.
Whew! It’s been quite a ride.
Once we’re home, I’m planning some serious down time, so don’t expect another post next week, or possibly the week after. Rich and I want to thank all of you so very much for joining us on the journey. Knowing you’re out there enjoying the stories and the recipes has inspired us every step of the way.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
I'm an American writer living in Seville, Spain and traveling the world with my husband, Rich. We've recently completed a five-month Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour, exploring the world's favorite cuisine to discover more about European culture — and our own.
Send me your email and I'll send you more on the journey and what we learned about packing, comfort, and food.
Try the comfort food recipes I've collected in 10 countries.
OUR CURRENT LOCATION: