Monday, April 22, 2013

Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown

Writing this blog over the last three years or so has been fun (I can't believe it's been that long!). As you may already know, it's pretty much just a place to write about my experiences and the blog format is a convenient way to share it with family and friends. What I never expected was to get attention from folks that I didn't already know. But I've been fortunate to get to know a bunch of different people through it and even make some good friends.

Most times I hear from people they're looking for information regarding something that I've written about or to request permission to use a photo or two. It's nice to hear from folks who found me through a google search and even better when they say they like my writing and/or photos enough to use them for some other purpose.

It was through something like this when I was recently contacted by a producer of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown. The new CNN travel-food-adventure show airs on Sunday and he's already gone to Myanmar (on my list of places to visit) and Los Angeles (already lived there). The upcoming show is about Colombia and why they contacted me.

When I first heard from them back in the beginning of December, I was, of course, hoping to get to hang out with Anthony on one of his adventures but it didn't happen (maybe next time, right?). The producers wanted to ask me about some of my experiences living and traveling in Colombia. They were particularly interested in the Air Colombia trip when we went to Puerto Inirida a couple of years ago. Since then, I've watched the first two episodes and have seen Bourdain posing in front of the same Air Colombia DC3 that we took.

More recently, CNN's contacted me about using some of my photos on their website (and hopefully during the show too). I sent them a bunch including ones about coffee carts, the Colombia coffee zone, and the Medellin Metrocable. I've always been happy with a lot of my photos and getting to post them on the blog but hearing that they liked them made me particularly proud!

So, if you get a chance at 9pm on Sunday (Note: time is Eastern Standard Time), watch his experience doing what I got to do and, if I'm lucky, to see some of my photos. You can also watch later online (here).

I should also mention that I've been told by my cousin and also by a friend that they think of me whenever they watch a Bourdain show. Who knows, maybe one day I'll have my own show like his. Do you think CNN would go for a show about a regular guy who's gotten to travel a whole bunch???

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Hotel España

I don't think that I've ever written specifically about a hotel before especially one that I haven't stayed at but this one's worth its own story. Diana invited and treated me and few friends to lunch and a tour at the Hotel España in Barcelona last Friday afternoon.

Why would anyone want to tour a hotel you might ask? Well, this one just happens to be a pretty amazing example of the city's famed Modernist architecture (think Gaudi).

In classic Spain style, our lunch started around 2:30pm or so in the hotel's worthy-of-being-a-museum restaurant, La Fonda:

After a yummy meal and, more importantly, a couple of bottles of wine (remember: Spanish-style lunch!!!), we started our guided tour of the hotel, which you have to pay for but it's worth the couple of euros. The tour starts in the reception area and continues in the adjoining Arnau Bar. One of the highlights of the tour and of the hotel is this stone fireplace, which for some crazy reason was once painted! Why someone would paint something like this is beyond me but I guess preservation wasn't always as cool as it is now.

Vincent checking out the fireplace:

The hotel's in one of Barcelona's more "diverse" (and cooler) neighborhoods, which just so happens to be about a four-minute walk from where we used to live. If you go out the front door of the hotel and make a left, the same direction we used live, you go through the Raval neighborhood, which has (one of?) Barcelona's red-light district, where you can "make a friend"and buy "something to make you feel better/different/whatever".

According to our guide, the hotel used to be more of a backpacker-type place, which probably fits what the now "up-and-coming" neighborhood is today (why do they always say up-and-coming when they probably mean "still-a-bit sketchy"?). The reality is the hotel is right near La Rambla and the Liceu Theater (which I can't believe that I've never written about). I miss living in nearby Poble Sec because of all the awesome and cheap restaurants and the fact that the metro's right there.

Anyway, the hotel was built in the mid-1800s and was most recently renovated a couple of years ago. It's definitely not pack-packer style now. Just look at the stairwell below to see the detail this place has. There's relief-style wall decoration, marble stairs, wrought-iron railings, and display-case-type windows that expose what's left of the mosaic floor. The Sistine Chapel it's not, but it is surprisingly nice for a hotel.

The design is a bit unusual in that the rooms open into a central space that looks like something out of the 70s. Not in an avocado-colored-oven-and-fridge way. Just that the style/decoration's not what we'd see today. The openness is incorporated in the underwater theme they've got going on down in the Sirens' restaurant below. The gold lamps are supposed to be bubbles rising from the sea floor.

One interesting note is that those six-sided gold boxes house ventilation fans for the space below. Apparently, they're non-functional now and locked up because, as our guide mentioned, "little kids might get [have gotten] into them"...

The Sirens-restaurant's theme is like being underwater or, maybe, in a fish bowl (sort of like Casa Batllo, I guess). The underwater theme (and the hotel's modernist design) was created during the early 1900s renovation done by local Catalan architect Luis Domenech i Montaner. He also did the also-amazing-modernist-style Casa Fuster on nearby Passeig de Gracia, which is also now a hotel.

Below the giant, naked-chick wall art is a series of white, round ceramic disks that each have a symbol from the different regions of Spain. Some of the disks have the No8Do symbol that's representative of Sevilla but, if you look hard enough, you'll find one that seems to have been created by a dyslexic craftsman.

The tour lasted about an hour and included going up to see the hotel's rooftop bar and pool. We ran out of time or we would have gotten drinks and hung out. The only bummer about the tour is that there's no "behind-the-scenes" included. I think it would have been interesting to see the kitchen in the adjoining building that used to be a bakery or perhaps seeing the basement or something. Oh well. No biggie.

Thanks to Diana for treating us to lunch and the tour as well as to our friends Victor, Vincent, and Vladimir for joining us. Wait, I just realized that our names make up some sort of odd full house - DDVVV! Let's do it again soon. Maybe a picnic inside the Sagrada Familia?

Friday, April 12, 2013


There are certain holidays and holiday traditions that are down-right confusing. Take for example Caga Tio or Caganers in Spain during the Christmas season. How do these things get started? Yeah, I know, I could look on Wikipedia or something for the history but, on the surface, they're strange. Another one that gets me is the tradition surrounding Easter eggs in the United States. Actually, the whole Easter deal is a little strange but don't get me started.

Each year just before Easter, parents buy their kids some eggs, hard boil them, and then the kids color them using water-based dyes. Everyone does it and no one knows why, including me. Of course, egg imagery (fertility?), decorating them (celebrating death and rebirth?), and the whole spring-solstice timing (again, seasonal rebirth?) tells me that it's an old Pagan tradition of some kind but who knows...and who cares. It's fun.

My sister's kids doing their best to have permanently-green fingers:

So, from there, the tradition holds that the Easter Bunny, which is a huge, human-sized rabbit, comes while the kids are sleeping like a springtime Santa, and hides the eggs around the house for the kids to "hunt" on Easter morning. Funny aside, if you find a "missing" egg a few months later (yes, it happens), it's just an empty shell. Where does the inside part go???

My brother rockin' out dyeing eggs with his kids:

Sorry that I don't have any photos of the kids looking for their eggs on Easter morning because I like to sleep in and have some coffee before I get going.

I can't remember the last time I was in Philadelphia for Easter but it's probably been 20 years. For my entire life we've gone over to my Aunt Linda and Uncle Bob's house for a big, whole-family, dinner. Every year dinner's the same and is some combination of ham, hot macaroni salad, baked beans, corn, and some other stuff I can't remember right now. Outside of the ham, I'm not sure that any of those foods have any significance but Easter dinner's easily third after Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for deliciousness.

Aunt Linda prepping her family-famous macaroni salad:

What's left of our Easter dinner after the first wave of eaters came through:

I'm thinking of starting my own formerly-Pagan holiday tradition. Maybe something in fall as the weather's usually good and there's lots of yummy seasonal food. It'll definitely involve pumpkins or even egg nog and possibly burning witches or something. The kids will love it!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

What's Colombian Food Like? (Part 2)

For some reason while thinking about writing this story yesterday, my friend Armando in Germany popped into my head and I could hear his voice saying "Your blog's mostly about food, right?" I'd like to think not but, in his honor, and as a way to thank Diana's mom and dad for all the great food we ate together in Colombia, here's Part 2 of my ode to Colombian food! (And, if you're interested, you can read the first one I wrote a little while ago.)

Note that these food photos aren't in any particular order...

First up is a photo that I used in the story about visiting Tierra Caliente near Bogota a couple of months ago. Diana's friend Angelica's in-laws own a small second home out there and they served us up this Sancocho stew (on the right), which has yucca, plantain (non-sweet banana), and corn all grown in their garden along with (cow) meat, pork, potato, and cilantro. The other plate has rice, avocado (also grown in their garden), and gallo (rooster) leg and thigh meat. The small bowl is filled with home-made aji (Colombian salsa), which was delish! Oh, and this was just my serving of lunch!

For desert that day, they served Jalea de Guayaba (guava sauce) along with a serving of soft, homemade (farmer) cheese. It's a strange (for me) combination even if I've had it before many times but it makes for a great dessert.

Probably my favorite Colombian food, other the Bandeja Paisa, is Ajiaco (ahh-hee-ahh-koh), which is a potato-based soup that has corn, chicken, and avocados in it. Ajiaco is a local-Bogota specialty and this version, which Diana's mom made, also has cream poured in it and is topped with capers. Just looking at this photo makes my mouth water!

While we were out in Chiquinquira with my dad, we stopped at a nearby Piqueteadero restaurant, which we had gone to before with Diana's folks. Piquetear basically means "chopped" and all the food is served chopped into small pieces that are often eaten with a toothpick. It's always some combination of carne asada, sausages including Morcilla (Spanish blood sausage), potatoes, arepas, and sometimes some other ingredients mixed in. It's not the healthiest of meals, I'm told, but who cares! It's definitely one of the best meals in Colombia.

Thank you but aren't you going to order something for yourself???

Diana's mom makes a homemade picada that uses only ingredients from the neighborhood markets. She often fries up chorizo, which is doubly evil. I think she'd cook this every day if I wanted since she knows that I love it but I'm sure that I'd weigh 400 pounds within six months and my blood would look something like poutine...

When we drive out to the farm in Chiquinquira, we sometimes stop for breakfast in a small town called Ubate and eat in the main plaza. They have a bunch of independently-owned stall restaurants each with picnic-style tables and chairs. To a foreigner (like me), they're a bit sketchy looking and they make you wonder if it's okay to eat there. But, just like in most places in the world, the street food's often the best.

One of the stands sells a corn-based Mute stew that's to die for. We took my dad there when he was in town and he was a bit apprehensive due to the setting but I think he enjoyed the flavor. This Mute is made with "cold country" corn (not that I'd know the difference but it's supposedly not as good as "warm country" corn - whatever) and is made with cow's foot (yes, cow's foot - damn good!), peas, carrots, and potatoes. It's definitely one of my favorite Colombian foods. When we go, I usually order TWO bowls!

I have to admit that, when we go out to a restaurant, I usually order a Bandeja Paisa since it's so addictive. But one day Diana pushed me to order something different so I asked the waiter what he recommended and he said the Costilla de Cerdo (pork ribs). This one was awesome! It had pork-rib meat that was super tender and it was covered with Hogado sauce, which is sorta' like a Mexican-style chunky salsa that's served warm, along with rice, peas, corn, yucca, avocado, and platano.

(Diana just looked over my shoulder at the photo below and asked me how I could show her photos of this delicious food around dinner time. Funny!)

That's it for my overview of Colombian food as I left Bogota last week. Again, just like last time, a big thank you to Diana's entire family for taking care of my every need while I was there (even ones I didn't know I had). Diana's mom and dad were awesome and made it super difficult to leave.

Fidu - I'll miss your company, your amazing food, and your eternal patience with my laughable Spanish. Juaco - I'll miss our walks around the neighborhood and our daily coffee klatch. To Diana's 152 brothers and sisters, you guys are awesome even if I haven't learned all your names yet! (That's a joke by the way.) Thanks for looking after me and making sure that I'm happy!

I'll leave this post and my most recent trip to Colombia with this photo of us buying Aromaticas in the street a couple of months ago. Aromaticas are a fruit-based drink that have different spices added. They're sorta' like a sweet version of mulled spice wine but without the wine, if that makes sense. I remember this day being particularly nice and that we had a fun time.

Ciao Fidu, Juaco, y toda la familia! Muchas, muchas gracias y nos vemos pronto! Les voy a extrañar!