My well-traveled friend Alena of The Trip Architect has included me in her torch hand-off of this travel blogging relay! In the spirit of one of my favorite travel mottoes, “Always choose adventure over not adventure”, I have accepted the torch. She asked me to answer her 11 questions (below) and in turn I will pose 11 of my own questions to other travel bloggers and to YOU! Feel free to respond in the comments to the new questions I pose and/or to the same ones I answered. Enjoy!
- What is one truly hidden travel gem that you’re willing to share?
When I think of a hidden travel gem, I don’t think of places that no one has ever heard of, but I think of places that were not the main attraction, places that I accidentally stumbled upon while coming/going from somewhere else, and/or places that really surprised me, of which there are so many. The first random ones that come to mind are the impromptu nighttime sing-along parties on the steps of Sacré Coeur in Paris, the church of San Clemente in Rome, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and pretty much everywhere in the entire region of Puglia in Italy.
- What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about yourself while traveling?
I will eat anything. Considering I have been a vegetarian and an often proclaimed “picky eater” most of my life, this is a serious statement. The more I travel (and the more I eat), the more I realize that I am actually an “opportunitarian” – a designation I invented to describe one who will eat anything given the proper opportunity. Not just any opportunity, mind you, but the proper one. In my daily life (especially in the US) I still gravitate toward the veggies and rice categories, but when I am in Beijing, sure, I’ll have some Peking duck and in Chengdu I’ll try the lethally spicy, totally unidentifiable meat dish. Not to mention the “deer penis wine” I drank in Shanghai…And of course, in France I’ll eat (or at least try) any damn thing they put in front of me – foie gras, pigeon, tripe, you name it. And then there are all the porcine delicacies of Italy…well, “when in Rome”…
- Of all the cities or countries you’ve visited, which was the most disappointing?
Cancun is pretty disappointing if you are confined to your resort and that horrible touristy area. However, the beaches are beautiful and there are many fabulous places to explore outside of the spring break club strip. And, since Cancun is a relatively cheap and easy getaway from the east coast I have been a few times. If you are going to go, I recommend you rent a car, that way you can go into the actual city of Cancun to wander and eat at the local places, visit Akumal to snorkel among turtles, and of course go to the nearby ruins of Tulum and Cobá and even all the way to Chichen Itza if you are so inclined. You can also stay south of Cancun in nearby Playa del Carmen (or anywhere along the Riviera Maya, really), which is a bit more charming than Cancun – it is frequented by more Europeans and fewer spring breakers.
- What is your dream “themed” tour?
Mine would definitely be food related, of course. Since my current infatuation is with France, I would have to say a Julia Child culinary tour of France. This would of course include all the Parisian restaurants and cafes she speaks about in her memoir My Life in France as well as a tour of her alma mater Le Cordon Bleu.
- Describe the craziest night you’ve ever had while traveling.
As clichéd as it may sound, my craziest night while traveling was the final night on my last trip to Las Vegas. I was there alone to complete a certification course for work and planned to spend the whole time in conference rooms (and the pool if time allowed), but luckily I made friends and we decided to celebrate at the end of the week with a fancy dinner and, ahem, a few drinks at Caesar’s Palace. Of course, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but you can be sure that our experience at that hotel (and what happened after we left it…in a limo…) was the kind of stuff The Hangover movies were made of.
- Have you ever pretended to be someone that you’re not while traveling?
Um, yes. I plead the Vegas fifth…
- Have you ever visited a country and seriously considered moving there?
Absolutely! Being of Italian descent, I was fascinated by the country even as a child and knew I wanted to spend time there. My instincts were confirmed by my first trip there as a child with family when I was about 10 years old. By my second trip while in high school, I started dreaming about relocating. I ended up studying abroad in Orvieto, a small Umbrian hill town, while in college and then moving to Perugia, the capital city of Umbria, to continue my studies after I graduated. Now I spend eight months of the year living in Italy. I was also deeply in love with both Hong Kong and Paris right away and would move to either city in a heartbeat given the chance.
- In your opinion, what type of landscape is the most beautiful?
I recently had to choose and describe my favorite landscape in a French class, so my ready answer is the landscape of Italian wine country. I spent a lot of time amongst the rolling hills (mostly cycling up and down them) of the Chianti region of Tuscany and it is absolutely breathtaking. It also never gets old as it varies so much with the seasons – bright red poppies in spring, radiant yellow sunflowers in summer, and of course the lush bunches of grapes (ready for the tasting!) in the fall.
- Describe the best meal you’ve had abroad.
For someone like me who can wax poetically (and accurately) about meals they ate abroad over 15 years ago, it is nearly impossible for me to pick just one! And of course, there are so many factors – the quality and presentation of the food is of utmost importance, but so is the company and timing. Not to mention I now take people on vacation in Europe for a living, so I am lucky enough to constantly be eating fantastic meals abroad.
The first meals that come to mind, however, are some of the epic marathon meals I have eaten in Italy. One of the best in this category would be a lunch at an intimate, family-run agriturismo near Locorotondo in Puglia. I have been lucky enough to east this meal numerous times during the tours I lead.
The meal is prepared as a cooking demo in an outdoor kitchen between the garden and the family home. We start with crusty tomato focaccia, still hot from the oven, and fried dough balls rolled in a dusting of Parmigiano. Then follows course after course of vibrant, mostly vegetarian fare, including stuffed eggplant, flash fried peppers with fava bean puree, and a handmade wholegrain orecchiete pasta with an always luscious sauce that changes with the season – my favorite being one made with fresh tomatoes, tiny green beans and pecorino cheese. Of course the meal is rounded out with seasonal fruit from the neighboring trees—cherries in April, figs in August, persimmon in October. Finally there are homemade cookies stuffed with cherry jam and walnuts and lastly the requisite espresso.
- Name a city that you’ve never been to, but it feels like everyone else in the world has.
Up until November of 2013 I would have said Paris. As for European cities, Paris has been replaced by Prague, which is on my near term bucket list. In the United States it would have to be San Diego. I am a warm weather, beach, outdoorsy and avocado-loving person and everyone says San Diego is the place for me. It sounds too good to be true!
- Partying hard while traveling: yay or nay?
I think my “opportunitatrian” approach to food while traveling also applies to partying while traveling. I am certainly not fit to party on a nightly basis while traveling (or while not traveling, for that matter). However, if the right opportunity should arise, I will likely indulge because it is usually worth the few hours of daylight I end up missing and the inevitable hangover—nothing that can’t be cured by a little fresh air and a real sugar Coca-Cola (now there is hidden travel gem for you—drink it basically anywhere outside the US). Watching the sunrise over the Adriatic Sea after skinny dipping and dancing all night in the sand at a beachfront party in southern Italy? Check. Singing karaoke for hours in St. Mark’s Place in NYC followed by indulging on a late night/early morning jumbo slice next to one of the Bush twins and her security detail? Yep. Partying with native Romans to get loose enough to sneak into the Forum at midnight and climbing all over every inch of marble with no one but ourselves and a group of friendly hedgehogs? Absolutely. A little partying can go a long way when traveling and it always, always makes for a good story.
Now it’s your turn to respond! I am officially passing the torch to Lisa of This Curious Life, McKynlee of This is It, Mindy of My Kazakhstan Adventure, Shayna of Via Dei Cappellari and the fabulous sisters Collier Lumpkin and Kate Lumpkin.
- Do you have any travel mottoes?
- What was or will be your first trip of 2014?
- What is your earliest travel memory?
- What is your most versatile item of clothing for travel?
- Describe the best/craziest/most memorable road trip you have ever taken.
- Do you make a conscious effort to “stay healthy” while traveling? If so, what are your best tips?
- What technological tools, gadgets and/or apps do you find the most useful for traveling?
- What is your preference: planes, trains or automobiles?
- What is your experience with non-traditional forms of travel lodging? Airbnb? Couchsurfing? Barter for lodging (in exchange for work, etc.)?
- How do you choose what and where to eat when traveling? Yelp? Guidebooks? Word of mouth?
- In the spirit of upcoming Valentines Day, what is the most romantic destination you have ever been to or most romantic trip you have ever taken?