Archive for the ‘Culinary & Wine’Category

Free Madrid!

Check out Plaza Mayor in Madrid! Photo by Author.


Free Madrid!

And I don’t mean it in a “Save the Whales” kind of way. I actually want to tell you about free stuff to do in Madrid.

Madrid’s architecture is an eclectic blend of various centuries and influences, the art scene is both progressive and nostalgic, and the historical sights are extravagant and carefully preserved. The city of Madrid is an essential stop on any European vacation.

Madrid is the last extended stop on my year-long adventure, I’m pinching centimos as this point…  Whether you’re on a tight budget or simply looking to check out some of the city’s best, this is a guide for getting the most out of your Madrid vacation without overspending! (Please Note: This article was written on 7/28/12. Prices and hours of availability may change.)

  • El Museo del Prado for Free European Art: Housing Las Meninas, a famous work of Velázquez, El Prado is regarded as one of the most important museums in the world. Tickets are always free for kids and students (with proof), but there are certain times that adults can check it out for free too! El Museo del Prado is free for adults on Monday-Saturday from 6-8pm, on Sundays, and on holidays from  5-7pm.
  • Museo Reina Sofia for Free Modern Art:This super-funky modern art museum has a lot of new exhibitions from contemporary artists but also displays the works Dali and Picasso’s Guernica. If you want to visit for free, the museum is free of charge on Monday-Friday between 7-9pm, on Saturday from 2:30-9pm, and on Sunday from 10am-7pm.
  • El Tigre for Free Tapas: The once local secret, El Tigre, is now packed out with people who heard the news. At El Tigre, any drink purchase earns you a plate of free tapas. I repeat, FREE TAPAS. While the tapas are occasionally just a greasy plate of patatas bravas, you can also get jamón serrano and tortilla española amongst other Spanish favorites. You might want to seek out tapas elsewhere if money is not an issue, but if you want a sangria and some snacks, you really can’t beat the price at El Tigre.
  • Madrid Free for Free Current Activities: Madrid Free is a website that delivers exactly what you would expect… listings of free things to do in Madrid. The site advertises everything from art expositions to film festivals to outdoor concerts to hiking trails. Whatever you want to do, Madrid Free probably has something for you. *While the site does have an “English” option, it filters out the majority of current listings. Translate the page or try to read in Spanish for the most info.
  • El Sol for Free Going Out: Madrid stays up LATE. If you’re interested in free drinks or free admission into any of the hundreds of bars and clubs near the city’s heart, head out before midnight. Promoters hang out near El Sol metro station, and with a flyer, you can get anything from free chupitos to mojitos depending on the night.
  • Around Town for Free Sights: The outdoor wonderland of former royal families, Parque de El Retiro (Retiro Park) is always a free place to hang out, play, or picnic. Another must see in Madrid is the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace) although you’ll only get to check out the outside free of charge. You can always hit El Rastro on Sunday to scour through secondhand wares, or just go for a stroll and check out the scene. Furthermore, the Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and GranVía are all outdoor marvels that won’t cost you a dime.

Have you ever visited Madrid? What recommendations do you have for other travelers about free or inexpensive things to do in the city? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook!

Budget Travel Tips: Saving Money on Food

Author & Friends Cooking Shrimp Chile Rellenos from Scratch in Mexico. Photo by Steve Hoberg.

As a recent college grad on a big trip, I’ve become a budget travel aficionado more out of necessity than desire. Now that you know How to Save Money on Flights and How to Save Money at the Airport, its time to start saving money while you’re actually on vacation. Even if you’re not traveling on a tight budget, read on. Sometimes it can be fun to try out a local place or cook your own meals while abroad! Here are a couple of ways to cut back your spending on food while traveling abroad.

Eat Where the Locals Eat: Almost anywhere in the world, you will find that you get a serious discount by avoiding the popular tourist restaurants and eating where the locals eat. Avoid the main road and find a little pub or noodle shop on a side street. Then you’ll finally understand how much local food should cost!

Stay Somewhere with a Communal Kitchen: Cooking is almost always cheaper than going out to eat for every meal. If you’re settling down in one location for more than a week, look into short term rentals with a kitchen so that you can prepare a couple of simple meals during the day rather than heading out to eat because you don’t have options. Many hostels also offer a communal kitchen for young travelers. Not only will this help you save a bit of money, but it can be a fun vacation activity to stage cooking contests and trade off cooking responsibilities during your trip.

Buy Snacks at Grocery or Convenience Stores: At theme parks, historical sites and world monuments, there are many people waiting to capitalize on your desperate thirst and hunger. The idea is that once they’ve got you cornered, you’ll probably overpay… willingly. However, if you come equipped with a couple of snacks, you’ll not only be eating what you want, but you’ll be getting it for a fair price.

Drink Less Beer: If traveling on a budget, you’ll start to realize that your alcohol tabs run up dinner bills significantly. “But I’m on vacation!!” I know. BUT If you’re looking to spend an evening out within your budget, why not have dinner first and order drinks only after you’ve finished eating. This option will provide a couple of extra hours of entertainment at no additional cost to you. If you’re trying to be really classy (I wish there was a sarcasm font), you can also buy drinks at a convenience store or grocery store and drink them in your room before heading out.

Skip Meals: I’m not advocating anything crazy, but I do know that the three-square-meals-a-day folk need some persuasion on this issue. If you sleep in or get off to a slow start, it IS ok to skip breakfast and go for an early lunch! If your day trip runs long, eat around 4pm and snack for dinner that night. Going with the flow regarding meal times and snacking in between can help you accidentally save a bit of money.

Whats the most terrible thing you ever ate because you were on a tight budget, at home or abroad? My roommate’s spaghetti with ketchup and green beans tops my list. Tell me about it on Facebook or in the comments section below! (Click here if you can’t see Facebook comments below: Budget Travel Tips: Saving Money on Food)


08 2012

Buenos Diaaaaaaas, Barcelona: Best Things to Do in Barcelona

View of Barcelona from Park Güell

Big bonny boulevards bend around Gaudí’s grand Güell and grandstanding Gothic genius. Museums, Monserrat, Modernisme and mosaics create a Catalonian cloud nine.

Now I’m no poet, but Barcelona just lends itself to alliteration.

It’s a city engrossed by the sea, settled along the hills, filled with history and bustling with modernity. To put it simply, Barcelona is almost perfect. Whether you’ve got a couple of days or a couple of weeks to explore this Catalonian capital city, there are more than a few things that you shouldn’t miss. Here are the 6 best things to do in Barcelona:

  1. Experience Gaudí: Two of  the most famous works of Antoni Gaudí, Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia, are among the most impressive sights in Barcelona. Their grandeur alone demands a visit, but their appeal extends past their size alone; the works of Gaudí are not only innovative and quirky, but quintessentially Barcelona.
  2. La Boqueria at La Rambla: Though it is deemed the main tourist drag, Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria is a comprehensive–albeit a bit inauthentic–way to experience the cuisine of Barcelona. La Boqueria serves up a visual smorgasbord of fresh fish, gourmet tapas, dried fruits, cured meats, aged cheeses, and other Mediterranean favorites.
  3. Montserrat: The mountaintop monastery at Montserrat, just outside the city, is a fascinating way to spend a day. Save your breath by making your ascent by bus or cable car, and lose it again as you look out across the sprawling city of Barcelona. For the views alone, this day trip is well worth the trek.
  4. Tapas y Bebidas: As a food lover and wannabe Sangria connoisseur, tapas are probably my very favorite part of Spanish culture. Eating these bite sized appetizers–typically composed of a toasted piece of bread and some configuration of cured meats, fish, cheeses, and tomatoes– is probably one of the most delicious (eh… important) activities for any traveler in Spain. Check online ahead of time for special promotions like 1€ tapas on certain nights of the week!
  5. Visit a Museum: You didn’t think  I was going to let you leave Barcelona without visiting an art museum, did you? Museu Picasso is the most popular museum in Barcelona and houses many of Picasso’s early works. If Picasso’s sketches are not your style, there are plenty of other museums for every interest like el Museu del Futbol Club Barcelona for “soccer” enthusiasts or el Museu de la Música for instrumentalists and music lovers.
  6. Hit the Beach: Perfect sand, perfect waters… no further explanation required. Go.

To book activities or guided tours of Barcelona, check us out at Gray Line Barcelona.

Do you agree with my list or is something important missing? Share your insider tips with us on Facebook or in the comments section below! (Click here if you can’t see comments: Buenos Diaaaaaaas, Barcelona: Best Things to Do in Barcelona)

Taos Pueblo Powwow

Summertime always makes me nostalgic for my hometown of Taos, NM.  Taos is one of those places that lingers, sticks to you, gets under your skin. They don’t call New Mexico “The Land of Enchantment” for nothing. There’s something about the never ending blue skies, the smell of chamisos (sagebrush) and the protective gaze of Taos Mountain that seduces the senses. There really isn’t a bad time to visit Taos, but if you’re looking for a cultural experience like none other, time your visit during the Taos Pueblo Powwow.

Taos Pueblo is the oldest still inhabited Native American community and is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a National Historic Landmark. The Red Willow people of Taos Pueblo have been living there for over 1,000 years. To say this site is historically rich is an understatement.

This weekend from July 13th – 15th you can experience the culture of Taos Pueblo while being introduced to the music and dance of different Native people from all over the nation.  There will also be booths from which you can purchase jewelry, pottery and many other mediums of arts and crafts. While there, be sure to eat some fry bread and red chile for me – seriously, you will never find red chile like this anywhere else. It is the best! Yes I said it, the best!

While you may not want to leave the Pueblo grounds, take some time to walk around Taos. You may just happen across the many murals that were done by the father of yours truly . . . here is a hint.

Have you seen this mural? Where is it located?

For more details on the Taos Pueblo Powwow, click here.

Marketable Skills: On Farmer’s Markets and Exploring New Cities

There are as many different travel styles as there are travelers. Some like to fly by the seat of their pants entirely, some need a to-the-minute itinerary planned and paid for months in advance. Some need every second scheduled, some might want to strangle their over-planning travel partner–I definitely fall into the role of the laid back (or, some may say, disorganized) traveler.

A leisurely Saturday morning in a new or rarely visited city spent exploring streets, neighborhood shops, restaurants and candy stores–and people-watching–is my idea of a dream vacation. This is why I’d argue that for travelers who share my point of view, the absolute best place to get to know a city is by attending their local farmer’s markets. You get to learn about what seasonal and regional produce is available, the culture of the vendors (are they peddling organic wares? trendy small-batch food fads? homemade cookware from local materials?), and get a feel for the city’s residents. Not to mention the samples!

What’s your favorite farmer’s market? Let us know in the comments or on facebook!


07 2012

Top 10 Middle Eastern Foods: Eating as the Jordanians Do

My Favorite Bar is the Olive Bar. Photo by Author.

I arrived from India into Jordan without any idea of what to expect. I had long desired to travel to the Middle East but now that I was finally here, I recognized I really had no plan.

No plan, no problem. I would start with what I know how to do in any country.

Step 1. Get my bag and get out of the airport in the cheapest way possible. Step 2. Drop my bags off at my hotel. Step 3. Ask the front desk where the best local food is.

As a lifelong lover of hummus and falafel, I was eager to toss aside Indian masalas and find the best food in Jordan. Pricey organic versions of Middle Eastern food had long invaded my home, and I was ready for the real Arab food.

What I learned: You think you know hummus, but you have no idea.

Hummus in Amman. Photo by Author.

Middle Eastern food brings together the freshest, smoothest, brightest, crispest, tartest flavors into a simply perfect ingredient or an actual culinary masterpiece. If you find yourself anywhere in the Mediterranean, here is a list of the 10 Best Middle Eastern Foods for you to enjoy!

  1. Hummus: This classic Mediterranean appetizer is mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. Eat a freshly prepared batch with parsley and pita to have your life changed dramatically.
  2. Shawarma: This fast food option is the enticing meat block you’ve probably seen twirling around on a vertical spit. Shavings are wrapped up in a pita with anything from tahini to tabbouleh.
  3. Falafel: Falafel is the vegetarian fast food option that is equally as delicious and equally as unhealthy as Shawarma.  Falafel is chickpea balls mashed with spices and onions, then fried and served as a snack or sandwich option just about everywhere.
  4. Olives & Pickles: Practice has made perfect for pickled goods in the Middle East. An abundance of pickles and olives are readily available, and shouldn’t be overlooked as an afternoon snack.
  5. Mansef: This dish is more of an authentic home experience than a meal. A flavorful rice mixture with goat and nuts is served over a thin bread with a prepared yogurt and served on a communal platter. Be prepared to get your hands dirty for this one.
  6. Tabouleh: Tabouleh is salad of fresh parsley, bulghur wheat, tomatoes, and lemon juice that holds its own against a table full of entrees. It is tart and fresh, and probably one of the best simple salads on the international scene.
  7. Kofta: Kofta is essentially a skewered meatloaf mixed with onion and parsley, then grilled to deliciousness.
  8. Baba Ghannouj: If you’re not burned out on appetizers, baba ghannouj is a hummus look alike made with eggplant that is equally appetizing.
  9. Kibbeh: Kibbeh is a tasty football-shaped spiced meat pie that is either fried brown or served in a soup in most Midle Eastern countries.
  10. Tea & Turkish Coffee : While these don’t technically classify as a food, I would say that they are the most significant of all. Whether you start your day or finish your meal with a cup, coffee and tea are at the epicenter of Middle Eastern dining.

Got a Middle Eastern favorite that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook!


07 2012

International McXperiences: Eating at McDonalds in Asia

Photo of Author Wai-ing with Ronald at a Thailand McDonalds.

I have always had a shameful fascination with American fast food chains abroad. I don’t even remember the last time I ate a Big Mac at home, but put me in a new country, and I’ll be scarfing down a super sized fries the minute I can’t handle another bite of pad thai.

McDonalds is probably the ultimate in globalization and product adaptation case studies, so this is not really a bad habit… just research. So in the name of educating people everywhere, here is the run down on a few Asian countries’ McDonalds:

  1. McDonalds Indonesia: The standout quirk at this McDonalds was neither the McFlurry nor the Mac, but instead the unusual side order. Not feeling fries? Dive into a white rice patty–not to be confused with a rice paddy–with your burger. I don’t get why anyone would make that substitution, but hey! The Indonesians were lovin’ it.
  2. McDonalds Thailand: Thailand has managed to Westernize faster than its SE Asian neighbors, so I suppose it was no surprise to me that the McDonalds menu was pretty much the same. Besides the wai-ing Ronald at the door and an entree option of spicy pork and basil, this McDonalds was not so shocking after all!
  3. McDonalds India: Devoid of clown imagery, the Indian McDonalds was just as different as everything else is in India. From a beef free menu of Maharaja Mac and Spicy Paneer Sandwiches, I selected a simple chicken sandwich. However, as not to be overshadowed by its Indian brothers, this sandwich came with a Puri Puri Spice Mix and a Shake Shake Bag for mixing it all together. The unique culinary experience at this McDonalds might be as distinct as they come.

Have you had any interesting observations at a McDonalds or other fast food joint abroad? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook!


06 2012

I Want Food from a Truck, or no Food at All

Food trucks have become enormously popular in cities across America in the past few years. A trend that began primarily on the west coast (LA, Portland, Seattle) is now working its way across the country, serving the masses who love a good snack but don’t love the inconvenience of having to actually duck into a restaurant to get one. Tacos, waffles, Thai food, pie, cupcakes, burritos, whatever you want–there’s pretty much going to be a food truck with an ironic name to serve it up to you.

As of right now, however, hungry Chicagoans have to get their food truck food second-hand. The city has a law in place that tasty treats can’t actually be cooked on the truck. They have to be cooked at a certified, licensed, approved-as-a-okay establishment by the city of Chicago, transferred to a truck, and served from there. Have no fear, midwesterners with the munchies, there are whisperings that Chicago’s city council is considering doing away with this rule.

Atta way, Chi-city. Now I sort of want a taco.

What’s your favorite food truck snack? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook!


06 2012

The (Hot) Dog Days of Summer

In honor of all the backyard barbecues and baseball games so many of you will be attending this summer, it seemed appropriate to dip a toe into the wide and wonderful world of hot dog toppings. Thrilling, right? Being of the boring old ketchup and mustard persuasion myself, these exotic toppings all sound fascinating–and actually, delicious. Hopefully you’re as inspired as I am to walk on the wild side this summer!

Chicago: Probably the most iconic, and from what I hear, the one that inspires the most pride in its supporters. Mustard, onion, sweet pickle relish, tomato, sport peppers and celery salt. Ketchup’s a bad idea, guys.

Michigan: All-meat chili, chopped onions and possibly a little stripe of mustard top the Coney Dog. Michiganders can also get quite ardent about who exactly makes the best Coney.

Hawaii: The Puka Dog, covered in spicy sauce, tropical relishes (think mango, pineapple) and mustard. Hmmm…form your own thoughts on that one.

Argentina: Called Super Panchos, these all-beef dogs feature thin, crispy potato chips on top. Double-salty, and probably double-delicious.

Chile: The Completo is completely crazy with mayo, avocado, tomato, mustard, ketchup, relish and (if you dare) some HOT HOT HOT sauce.

New Zealand: Battered Dogs – no, not broken and bruised – think a corndog minus the stick. Count me in.

What’s your topping of choice? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook!


06 2012

The Best Souvenir is the Souvenir You Can Eat

Just for fun, today we’ll be starting out with an absurd, broad generalization. Travelers fall into two categories: those who cram their carry-on luggage with souvenirs, and those who would rather not be bothered. The types of souvenirs cannot be generalized, however. Some people gravitate toward screenprinted Hanes t-shirts sold five for $10 from tents under tourist attractions, while others may haggle for hours to spend thousands on a Turkish rug or a handcrafted leather bag from South America. Let no man (or woman) cast judgment on another’s preferred tchotchke, but here’s a thought for those of us who fall between the two extremes:  food.

Think about it–everyone eats. You eat, your travel companion eats, the family and friends you’re buying souvenirs for also eat, hopefully. Also, if you get hungry at any time during your trip, voila–dinner. All you have to do is pick up a replacement if you eat your way through the first one. Just in case any of you happen to be out and about, or just really want to feed this blogger, here are a few sundries I’d appreciate in a care package:

1) CHEESE. Because, well, it’s cheese…specifically, Gouda from Holland. I know, you thought I was going to go French with that one, but I totally went Dutch.

2) Chocolate. Also, no explanation necessary – Belgian? I hear they do chocolate quite well.

3) Coffee Beans. Costa Rican, preferably – rich, dark, fragrant…they kind of make you want to roll around in them like you’re in an amusement park ball pit.

Check out this (far more sophisticated) list for more ideas.

What’s your favorite food souvenir? Let us know in the comments, or tell us on Facebook!



06 2012