trips

The Truth About Third World Travel

I recently discovered the site Wait But Why and am hooked.

For each post, Tim Urban, the site’s sole writer and illustrator, delves into a topic—like How to Pick Your Life Partner, or Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy—in such a hilarious, honest, intelligent and insightful way. I’ll find myself reading and laughing out loud and exclaiming, “That’s awesome—and so true!!!”

Take, for example, this post, “Traveling to the Third World Is Great and Also It Sucks.”

As Urban describes it:

You know that upsetting person who posts pictures on Facebook of themselves doing some delicious- or beautiful- or wild-looking activity in somewhere like Tanzania or India or Peru? And even though they’re posting for their own purposes as part of a skillful weave of Image Crafting and Jealousy Inducing, it makes you yearn anyway as you sit there in whatever shitty life you’ve chosen for yourself?

The thing you need to remember is that they did some careful cropping on the photo—they cropped out the misery. Misery is a government requirement when you visit a country like Tanzania or India or Peru and your body is totally unaccustomed to the ecosystem, but that’s easy to forget when you’re not there.

So it’s not that your upsetting friend isn’t having a great time—they are—but beneath their shit-eating open-jaw delighted smile and upward-extended arms grasping into the succulent mist of a waterfall, just a couple feet down are aching, blistered feet, malaria-ridden-mosquito bitten legs, and some gurgling diarrhea nightmare.

He then goes into detail about why third world trips are so amazing but also so miserable—in a very logical way.

I have to agree 100%!

Most of my favorite trips have been to third world countries. And while they were life-changing and pretty fabulous overall, there was a fair share of misery involved.

Like:

  • Peeing all over my jeans because I wasn’t accustomed to using a drop toilet. (China)
  • Staying in a hotel that lacked heat and hot water in winter, in the middle of a dessert. I was so frozen I didn’t even want to wash my hands after going to the bathroom. (Bolivia)
  • Having to use the buddy system to walk home after dark due to the risk of violent crime. (Guatemala)
  • Getting so tossed around in rough water while snorkeling that I actually threw up. (Nicaragua)
  • Taking icy showers with no water pressure in poorly heated hotels/homes. (Almost every third world country)
  • Not being able to flush toilet paper. (Almost every third world country)

I almost feel like an ass writing all those out, because it shows just how lucky we are. You don’t often think of flushing toilet paper as an amazing luxury. Or browsing in a shop without being an easy target for persistent store owners.

salesman-1 salesman-2

So yes, third world trips are fantastic. But I don’t believe anyone who says there’s not discomfort and misery involved!

(Images by Tim Urban via Wait But Why)

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A Long Weekend in New Orleans

I try to take an end-of-year trip each time I find myself with a few unused vacation days in November or December.

In 2013, I put my last two days towards a trip to London. At the end of 2014, Evan and I spent a long weekend in New Orleans, right before the holidays.

I had high hopes for a Christmassy trip, with warm, humid weather in the low 70s. Unfortunately, it was chilly, rainy and cloudy for our entire trip.

Still, we had a great time—it’s hard not to, in NOLA! The city is unlike anywhere else: gorgeous architecture, a European vibe, great music and lots and lots of amazing food!

Evan and I flew in on Thursday night. We checked into our B and B, the Green House Inn, on Magazine Street…

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

…and settled into our room.

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

We were starving, but since it was after 10 p.m., most restaurants were closed. So we headed right to Bourbon Street. Our first stop was Killer Poboys, a little shop run out of the divey Erin Rose Bar. We both inhaled shrimp poboys (which were prepared banh mi style, with shredded carrots, cilantro and Sriracha aioli) and Abitas.

Killer Poboys, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Afterwards, we poured the rest of my beer into a to-go cup, and walked down Bourbon Street. (Another reason I love NOLA—it’s kind of nice to walk down the street with your drink!) We ducked into a few bars, and Evan got one of those infamous hand grenade drinks.

Of course, we couldn’t leave the French Quarter without getting beignets. We topped off our night with a few, plus cafe au laits, at Cafe Du Monde.

Cafe DuMonde, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Beignets | nycexpeditionist.com The next morning was chilly and gloomy. We walked down Magazine Street to Mother’s, a NOLA institution that opened in 1938. The restaurant is super-casual, and known for its ham.

Mothers, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

You walk in, grab a menu, and wait on line to give your order at the counter. Afterwards, you take your number, find a table and wait for someone to bring you your food.

We were lucky—since it was a rainy weekday, there was only a short line. But on weekends, it can span all the way out the door and down the block.

Evan and I shared a crawfish etouffee omelet, a biscuit and a side of Mother’s famous ham. That omelet was one of the best things we ate on the trip. The etouffee was rich and went perfectly with the eggs.

By the time we finished eating, a steady, chilly rain was falling.

Mothers, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Wandering through the neighborhoods to check out the architecture wasn’t an option. So we decided to ride the streetcar through the Garden District and scope out the grand homes adorned for Christmas.

Unfortunately, I walked us past the streetcar stop a few times. I hadn’t realized that not all stops are obvious—like at Saint Charles and Poydras, if there’s no streetcar coming, regular cars drive right in that lane! After we found the stop, we waited nearly a half hour for a streetcar to arrive. By the time it did, we were soaked.

Still, we tried to take in as much as we could, through the wet, foggy windows.

Garden district home, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

We rode the car to the end of the Saint Charles line, and back. At that point, we were hungry for lunch. We opted for Peche, the latest restaurant from renowned NOLA chef Donald Link. True to its name, it specialized in seafood.

It was the perfect meal for a soaked, chilled couple. Everything we ate was fabulous and fresh—Gulf oysters, gumbo, catfish and greens in chili broth, shrimp over pasta in an Asian-style bolognese.

Oysters at Peche, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com And chocolate banana cream pie! I would go back to NOLA just for a slice of that.

Afterwards, we walked back to the Green House Inn. We were tired and cold from being in the rain all day. Luckily, the inn had a (clothing-optional!) pool and hot tub in the backyard, surrounded by plants.

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

That night, we weren’t too hungry because we’d been eating all day. But we felt we couldn’t miss out on a NOLA dinner. We cabbed it to Jacques Imo’s. I loved the place, from the moment we walked in. The main dining room felt like you were at a friend’s house. Strings of Christmas lights hung from the walls and the table cloths had funky patterns. The overall vibe was warm and cozy.

I wish I could go back and re-eat everything we had that night—when I wasn’t drained and slightly stuffed. Because it was all outstanding. We started with a piece of cornbread, followed by their house salad—a bed of baby spinach with one fried oyster on top. I have to say, it was the best fried oyster I’ve ever eaten.

For our entrees, I had shrimp etouffee—which was completely different from the etouffee we had that morning. It was lighter in a tomato-based sauce. Evan had stuffed catfish. Somehow, we finished everything.

Jacques Imo's, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

The next day, we left the city to go swamp kayaking. The rain had stopped, though it was still cloudy and chilly. We booked a trip through New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours, and drove 40 minutes to Pearl River.

Driving to Pearl River | nycexpeditionist.com We met our kayaking group at a rest stop off the highway. Talk about swamp country! The rest stop looked exactly how you’d imagine one in the Louisiana boonies. Our group leader, who had grown up right on that swamp, helped load us into kayaks. Evan and I shared one, he in the back, me in the front.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Since it was December, the swamp was mostly bare and grey. It had a quiet beauty, though.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

We paddled among cypresses and tupelos.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Occasionally, we came across abandoned boats and river shacks.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Unfortunately, we didn’t see any alligators.

Except in sausage form.

After kayaking back to the rest stop, our guide told us that the gas station there actually serves great alligator sausages. We had to try one—and she was right! It was delicious.

Later that evening, we went to Bacchanal, a place two of my co-workers had visited on separate trips and raved about. It’s located on a corner in the Bywater, an area I find romantic and mysterious. I was hoping to walk around and check out the architecture, but that didn’t happen this trip. Still, I was glad we spent the evening there. Because Bacchanal is truly a special place. It’s a wine and cheese shop in the front, where you can sample wines and buy a glass. You can also pick out cheeses that they’ll plate for you. You then enjoy both, plus other food from their kitchen, and live music, in the backyard. Cheese plate at Bacchanal, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com On the night we were there, a band was playing NOLA-style Christmas music. (And you know how much I love Christmas.) A drummer, tuba player and violinist played jazzy, melancholy takes on the classics.

Bacchanal, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Evan and I lingered for a while, just enjoying the sounds, food and overall atmosphere. I’d been wanting to experience a bit of Christmas in New Orleans, and I found it at Bacchanal.

We left when the band was winding down, but headed right to Cafe Du Monde. We couldn’t leave NOLA without another round of beignets. 

Cafe Du Monde, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Cafe Du Monde, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

La Casa de las Chimeneas: Our Picos de Europa Inn

We didn’t have an easy time finding lodging in the Picos de Europa—both before or during the trip!

We wanted to stay in one of the mountain villages, not too far from a good trail. Our ideal place was an independent inn that was both rustic and nice. Guidebooks offered few recommendations. Online searches lead us down a rabbit hole of useless links.

After spending way too many hours evaluating every inn in the Picos, Mal finally came across La Casa de las Chimeneas, via Rough Guides. The inn is located in Tudes, a village that appeared close to Potes, a town that seemed to be a jumping off point for exploring the Picos. Plus: They had cats all over their website!

Needless to say, we were sold.

The route from the caves of Monte Castillo to Tudes was long and winding. As the sun set, we drove through tiny villages at the base of the mountains—some comprised of just a few houses! Tudes, where we were headed, was up a long, mountainous road. By the time we reached it, the sun was long gone and we arrived in total darkness.

La Casa de las Chimeneas was at the entrance of the village. Tony, a Brit who owns the place with his wife, Lucia (from Santander), showed us to our apartment.

Las Estaciones, La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

It turns out that he lived in that house, with his family, until a few years ago, when they moved upstairs from the pub they opened on premise.

The bedrooms were cute and cheery, with a rustic-meets-Ikea aesthetic.

Bedroom at La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

Bedroom at La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

You could definitely tell that the building was built a while back. The floors creaked. Rooms and staircases were quite narrow. (I felt like I was going to wipe out every time I set foot on the stairs!) Still, it was comfy and cozy.

Staircase at La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

The next day, we were able to get a much better look at Tudes and Chimeneas. The inn is actually comprised of several buildings: the one we were staying in, the adjoining bar, a few more across the road.

La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

I loved the wooden trim and stonework, both outside our house…

The porch at Las Estaciones, La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

…and in…

Inside apartment 8, La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

…as well as on the historic church, across the road.

Stone church, Tudes, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We also learned that Tudes has all of 30 inhabitants!

…though that’s not too surprising, when you see it from above.

Tudes, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Tudes won Cantabria’s Village of the Year award in 2010, which came with grant money to restore some of the buildings.

And as for that pub on the premise? I have to admit, we were grateful it was there! There were no other bars or restaurants in town. We ended up dining there two nights in a row.

The pub at La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

On the evening we arrived, we were so tired from driving and being out all day, that we had wine and dinner there. The food was basic (spaghetti, salads, omelettes), but hearty and comforting. And the next day, after hiking in the Picos, we were way too tired to go anywhere else! Photos from that (awesome) hike to come, next. 🙂

A Few Hours in Bilbao, Spain

Though we stayed three days in the Bilbao area, we spent very little time in the actual city. Friends who’d visited Bilbao before were neutral on it. The city hadn’t wowed anyone, but they all felt it’s worth exploring for a day or so.

And that’s about all the time we had for it—the afternoon following our visit to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. (And that impromptu dinner on our first night in Spain.)

Bilbao’s biggest claim to fame is the Guggenheim. My mom and E actually wanted to go into the museum. Mal, Peter and I were eager to check out the Frank Gehry architecture and outdoor sculptures, but not necessarily the galleries. (I’m not a huge museum fan. If I only have a short time in a city, I’d rather wander around outside, unless there’s an exhibit I’m dying to see.)

The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

I have mixed feelings about Jeff Koons’ art—some of it feels a little too earnest or overdone. But I loved Puppy, which stands guard right outside the Guggenheim.

Puppy, by Jeff Koons; The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

I couldn’t stop talking pictures of it.

Puppy, by Jeff Koons; The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Puppy, by Jeff Koons; The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

It’s funny. Koons’ Split-Rocker was outside Rockefeller Center (where I work!) all summer, and I barely looked at it. Yet, this freaking dog captivated me.

Puppy, by Jeff Koons; The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

As did the Guggenheim’s metallic exterior.

The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

While my parents went inside, Mal, Peter and I walked around town.

Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The streets near the museum seemed to be a big shopping area, with lots of clothing and shoe stores. (Both international retailers like H&M and Hugo Boss, as well as local chains.) We ducked into a few, got coffee, then wandered back to the Guggenheim.

By that point, we were hungry and tired from a long day in the sun. (Hence, the lack of photos!)

Since it was around 6:30 and too early for dinner, we headed to Diputacion, a hopping street with bars, restaurants and lots of outdoor seating. We settled into El Globo, a cozy bar for pintxos and raciones. (Pintxos are small bites, just a tad larger than your standard canape or amuse bouche, eaten with drinks—usually the Basque wine txakoli—in bars. Raciones are larger plates.)

This was the first time I saw the cute little beer glasses that are served at pintxo bars, along with pintxos, themselves, looking all pretty, lined up on the bar. Those were some tasty bites!

Pintxos and beer at El Globo, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and just a preview of what was to come a week later, in San Sebastian, Spain’s pintxos capitol.

Hotel Ellauri: Zeanuri, Spain

We began our northern Spain trip in Basque Country. The autonomous region’s most well-known destinations include the coastal cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian, though we opted to start with neither.

As you might have gleaned from my previous entries, I was feeling a little burnt on city life—as was my family! We wanted to start our trip somewhere quaint and relaxing, away from tightly packed buildings and lots of people.

That’s how we ended up at Hotel Ellauri, in Zeanuri. The pretty little village is in the countryside, about 45 minutes outside Bilbao. It has all of 1,100 inhabitants.

Hotel Ellauri is up a narrow, winding road, on a hillside outside the town center.

Hotel Ellauri | nycexpeditionist.com

Mal, Peter and I arrived on a Thursday afternoon (a day before our parents) and were the only guests there! Not that we minded.

Ellauri is the kind of place I love patronizing. The owners, a lovely couple named Randa and Kepa, built the hotel five years ago. They’re Zeanuri natives, and I could feel the care that went into the place. Each element seemed to highlight the natural surroundings. My room was bright and airy; I especially loved the vaulted wood ceiling and lively green wall.

Hotel Ellauri room | nycexpeditionist.com

The fixtures and bedding were all high quality. And best of all, there were double doors that swung open…

Hotel Ellauri windows | nycexpeditionist.com

…to reveal this view!

Zeanuri, from Hotel Ellauri | nycexpeditionist.com

Just what I’d been waiting for.

Hotel Ellauri felt wonderfully away from it all.

And it was.

On our first night, we tried to have a quick dinner nearby. Randa had hinted that there were no real dining options in Zeanuri or Areatza, another medieval village, and that we’d be better off driving into Bilbao or Vitoria-Gasteiz, larger cities about 30-40 minutes from the hotel, in opposite directions.

But, we figured, how slim were the local pickings? A quiet dinner in the village sounded good to us!

We drove into Areatza to try one of its three bars. (An actual restaurant didn’t seem to be an option.) The hamlet was quiet, and the bars looked like empty townie sports bars. Not quite what we had in mind for our first meal in Spain.

So we headed into Bilbao with no specific restaurant in mind. In our sleep-deprived/jet-lagged/famished state, we spent an embarrassing amount of time circling Casco Viejo for parking. After an hour and a half, we finally realized we’d passed an underground garage multiple times. Once we’d parked, most restaurants were winding down service for the night. But we had a simple yet satisfying meal at La Deliciosa, on Calle Jardines. Though anything would have been deliciosa, at that point!

DSC_0757

The following evening, once my parents had arrived, we ate at Ellauri’s restaurant. Kepa and Randa prepared a fabulous meal of rice and cockles…

Rice and cockles

…and steak and peppers. It was one of the most delicious steaks I’ve ever eaten.

Peppers and steak

Ellauri proved to be in a prime spot. During our time there, we explored more of Bilbao and the Basque coast, as well as Gorbea Natural Park—whose mountains you could see from the hotel.

Hotel Ellauri | nycexpeditionist.com

…more on those places, in posts to come!

How Upcoming Vacations Make You Happier

tumblr_mqx3jd8S2L1qcr58zo1_500

This made me smile: a story in the NYT‘s travel section about how planning vacations makes you happier.

Sure, that’s pretty much stating the obvious. I’ve posted about how deciding to a trip boosted my mood when I was going through a difficult time, and how I usually beat my post-vacation blues by booking another trip. And I’d think that most people would agree that they just feel better when they have a getaway coming up.

But I’m all for anything that spreads the word of how travel is good for you!

According to the NYT piece, anticipating a trip makes you happier due to a number of reasons. (All are well-rooted in happiness psychology.):

  • Researching a destination can get you excited about what you’ll see/do/experience, as well as provide you with positive images to recall anytime you think about your trip.
  • By researching, you’re also learning lots of interesting, new things—thus shaking up your boring day-to-day routine.
  • Most people also talk about their upcoming trips with friends or family—the act of being social is a happiness booster, as is talking about experiences.

I like to refer to upcoming trips as “carrots”—like a carrot dangling in front of a horse to get him to move. Quick getaways are “baby carrots” and long trips are “big-ass carrots.” They’re the incentives that energize me anytime I think of them, simply by making my life feel richer and more exciting.

(Image by A Well Traveled Woman, via Bippity Boppity Boo)

Weekend Trip from NYC: New Hope, Pennsylvania

Two weekends ago, Evan and I decided it was time for another trip out of town. (Like me, he’s a native New Yorker who often needs a break from the city.) Due to a crazy period at work, I was unable to take time off, so we once again looked for a quick, one-night getaway that we could drive to in less than two hours.

We opted for New Hope, Pennsylvania. Though the town is right off the Delaware River, where we go tubing every year, I’d never been. (The Delaware divides New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and we’d always launched our tubes and gone out for dinner on the NJ side.)

New Hope seemed like the perfect spot for an early-spring overnight. The town looked cute, and our good friends, Karen and Steve, are getting married there this fall. Plus, Evan and I both have a penchant for farms, and knew there were many in the area. We booked a room at Ash Mill Farm, a few miles outside New Hope.

We arrived early on Saturday evening. A bar mitzvah was in full swing in a tent on the grounds, but the b&b, itself, was quiet.

entry to ash mills farm

Evan and I checked in with the innkeepers, a young couple named Matt and Noel, and headed upstairs to the 1790’s room. The farmhouse was built at that time, and it felt like it! Our room had wooden windows, doors and floors in-line with the period.

1790's room

I was happy that the view from our room was green grass and trees, instead of other apartment buildings!

view from 1790's room

I liked the red accents, and thought the room was cute, but we both felt the place needed a bit of…freshening up. Mostly, a new coat of paint, inside and out.

Evan and I walked around the farm before the sun set. The animals were all hiding, so we just strolled among the trees and steered clear of the bar mitzvah tent. (No need to crash a 13-year-old’s party!)

The next day, we sat down to breakfast in the dining room…

dining room

…and helped ourselves to fruit and pastries from the breakfast buffet. Noel and Matt also served us a good omelet, a waffle, and fruit and yogurt.

breakfast spread

When Evan and I checked out, we learned why the place felt like it was in a transitional state. Matt told us that last year, he and Noel were just a regular couple who had day jobs. While looking for a wedding venue, they came upon Ash Mill Farm and fell in love with it. They got married there during the summer. Around that time, they also learned that the innkeepers were looking to move on. A few days later, he and Noel took over the place.

That explained a lot! It’s a pretty big task for a newlywed couple to take over a farm and b&b and start to spruce it up.

Before leaving the farm, Evan and I spent some time on the grounds, again—and this time, the animals were out!

sheep grazing

We stopped into the barn to see the sheep and goats—who all clamored to the fence when they saw us.

hungry sheep

Evan indulged them with some food.

Cute, right?

sheep

…though I was just as excited when one of the barn cats arrived.

barn cat

Some of the sheep were oddly shorn. (If you happen to know why they were, let me know!)

sheep in the barn

We also walked through the part of the barn that can be used as an event space. I loved this all-wood room and the natural light that poured in. I could imagine how pretty and romantic a wedding dinner there would be.

event space

After leaving the farm, we headed into New Hope. Even though it was Easter Sunday, lots of people were out.

new hope street

We walked up and down the streets, passing the Bucks County Playhouse (love how it’s housed in a towering barn!)…

bucks county playhouse

…and checked out shops, like the Soap Opera Company.

the soap opera company

After a while, we got hungry.

The Creole menu at Marsha Brown looked good, and the restaurant is in a converted church. But they wouldn’t let us in without a reservation, since it was a holiday. At Nikolas, they were only serving dinner, even though it was 2 p.m.

Evan and I finally decided to eat at Hearth, and ended up happy with the decision. The restaurant was quiet, and we got a nice table in a sunny spot upstairs. We shared french onion and porter rarebit on pumpernickel toast, polenta and a veggie pot pie.

hearth

Despite feeling full afterward, we still stopped for ice cream (topped with chocolate-covered waffle bits!) at Nina’s Waffle’s

nina's

…and then walked around some more, just enjoying the warm weather before heading back to the city.

new hope street 2