Monday, May 9, 2011

Back to Samara Part 2

In general, sequels are terrible. Don't you remember Cutting Edge 2? Dirty Dancing 2? X-Men's Wolverine gig? The first of the Star Wars series? I don't remember them because I didn't even watch them. But I could imagine that they were pretty terrible (considering my taste, of course).

Despite my generalizations about sequels, I'm less than two weeks away from my part two in Samara. Please keep your fingers crossed for me that all goes well (i.e. my visa is approved and arrives on time, no terrorist tries to blast me, I don't catch tuberculosis, my Transaero flight doesn't fall apart mid-air, etc.). I would be quite upset if any of the above happened.

It's that time of year again. We've finished our final exams, it's warm enough to sit outside, and we can celebrate at 3pm with two-for-one specials. What does that mean? Summer.

The Albany winter was brutal--I can say that even after experiencing a Russian winter. Actually, if you compare the temperatures, it's already warmer in Samara than in Albany. So I know that as soon as spring is over, there will be heat. It's the kind of heat that would drive me into the questionable waters of the Volga. More importantly, there will be mosquitoes. (cue dramatic, horror-like background music)

I learned a few things from my first trip to Russia that could make Part Two bearable. The "SCORE" products you see from above are over-priced, locally-made soap and body lotion that are infused with lemongrass oil. Lemongrass repels mosquitoes. If I'm correct, I should smell like a citronella candle. My mother and some friends tell me that it may repel people, too. That's a chance I'll have to risk if you understand the level of discomfort that mosquitoes cause me. I'm also bringing a mosquito net to hang above my bed. You can laugh, giggle, or roll your eyes back as far as you'd like, but I am serious. This is an old post about my war on mosquitoes.

Let the countdown begin.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


I missed the 2010 Snowmageddon in DC last year. I was too busy trekking through the mountains of snow the Russians called a "regular winter day". Life continued, even when it was -38 and visibility was close to 0 due to the blowing snow. It's not an exaggeration when I say that I decided to experience a Russian winter to prime my body for Albany's winter. I never expected that Albany's temperatures and snowfall would nearly match Samara's winter.

Last week, we had Snowpocalyse 2011 sweep the midwest and northeastern regions of the US. I'm in NY and no longer in Russia; I was entitled to have a snow day...or four.

While the rest of Albany was paralyzed, the trusty, mostly-reliable US Postal Servicepeople continue with their work.

Shannon and I took a hike to the local post office to send a letter the old-fashioned way. No e-mail, no driving to the post office, just walking on our own two legs.

Some parts of the sidewalk were knee deep and other parts were waist deep.

We came across this on our journey. It was a bit frightening.

There are rumors that the world will end in December 2012. I'll be hiding in my snow cave if you need me.

Wanderhunger: An exclusive interview with myself

Do I travel to satiate a wanderlust?
No, I travel because I'm hungry. It's not that I don't have anything to eat here, but trying new food is a good excuse for me to travel. Everything else I do when I travel is just a cover to make it seem like I am being productive. In reality, I try learning new languages to communicate in a restaurant and asking locals for recipes.

Do I enjoy cooking?
I cook a lot, even when I am alone. I like to eat well (in every sense of the word). In order to eat well, it requires me to cook. I also like eating with other people, so I sometimes cook for my friends.

What have my travels taught me about food?
Never waste food unless it goes bad. Try not to let your food go bad and eat it first. If you're not hungry, store food appropriately. I used to be a selective eater when I was young, but I had shed that habit throughout the years. I believe that if you don't give a dish a chance, you're missing out. I also believe that every person has a choice, so if you don't want it, I'll eat it. I am grateful for every (carefully portioned) bite I take.

I learn how to prepare ingredients differently when I travel, so I hardly ever get bored in the kitchen. Since I'm only one small person, I can't eat everything at the same time, so it's always new and exciting when I rediscover dishes.

What amazing deliciousness did I have to eat this past week?
Russian vinaigrette salad. I learned how to eat and cook beets last winter. This is Sofie's recipe. Boil beets, carrots, and potatoes and cut into cubes. Combine with peas, garlic, chopped onions, and dill. Toss with lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil.

Marscapone cheese and zucchini pizza. Diego brought me to an Italian restaurant where he used to work. I fell in love with this pizza and have eaten it at least once a week since I've been back from Spain. To make it, I layered a pre-made pizza crust with marscapone cheese, homemade pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and thin slices of zucchini.

I have a few more tricks up my sleeve that I'm willing to share. I'm not saying that I'm amazing cook because I'm definitely not, but I sometimes impress myself with my skills.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

We're just a click away

Forget jumping the fence or hopping on the next banana boat over. If you want to come to the US illegally, check out this website first. Don't leave home without it!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rocking out in Requena

In less than 2 hours from Albany, you can drive to a lovely, picturesque town called Chester. You can leave the overbearing, Gotham-like skyline for a refreshing Vermont landscape with windy roads through magical mountains. This time of year, that part of Vermont looks like a snowy scene on a Christmas card. Houses were far apart, stone cottages were blanketed in fluffy snow, and there was a comforting aroma of a wood burning stove.

I didn't take any pictures. (I only saw the landscape from the car and I was in a bar the rest of the time because it was cold outside.)

Fortunately, I took pictures when I went to Requena, a small town outside of Valencia's city. I already thought Valencia was cool for having century-old watchtowers and churches. When they told me that there's a castle in the middle of Requena, I was speechless. Don't try and convince me otherwise--living next to a castle and on its ruins is pretty amazing, even if there are possible ghosts involved.

Welcome to Requena, where everything is within stepping distance.

From Valencia, it took about an hour and half to get to Requena on train. Leaving the city, we passed orange groves, vineyards, and views like this. It's times like this where I wish I were a photographer and I knew how to get a print of what my eyeballs see.

Just like a royal red carpet, this street connected us from the train station to the castle and the rest of the town. (Javi's photo)

At the end of that giant street, we were greeted with the fountain of ducks. They explained to me that this fountain is a very stupid tourist attraction. I concur. (Note: This photo was stolen off someone's website. This guy's website says that you don't need to travel to the other side of the world to discover things because their own country is awesome. Go figure.)

Weaving through the tiny, narrow streets was like getting lost in a corn maize. These homes were actually part of the castle and where knights used to live. Now, they are ghost-factories-turned-residences.

This is one of the churches near the castle. (Javi's photo)

Every church had an intricately carved facade. During their civil war, angry republicans chopped off some of the statue heads. I don't understand why people do this when they're angry. Angry people also cut off the heads of Buddha statues in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

Some Americans have impenetrable shelters for bioterrorism attacks or Y2K. In Requena, some people dug enormous holes/caves under their homes for various reasons. These caves, located under the main plaza, are centuries old and were used as wine cellars and silos throughout different civilizations. (Javi's photo)

People from Requena take their wine seriously (because they're Spanish). This mural is a couple in traditional clothing standing in front of a bull plaza/stadium. Note the man's smug smile and perfect hairstyle. (Javi's photo)

This monument, like the mural above, represents the importance of Vendimia in Requena. I found the sculpture particularly interesting because it had a USSR style and feeling. (Javi's photo)

Just like going to Vermont, you don't need to travel too far to find an exotic adventure. Where I'm from, we joke that we can get from Israel to Haiti in a 15 minute drive. This is 98% true. And yes, Vermont is an exotic place.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No money, no honey

Europe had a not-so-great fiscal year. Sorry. Spain is going through a tough economic crisis as well. What a shame. I think it's distasteful to make jokes, but it's what happens when America is cooler than Spain (see link).

This is one peseta. Pesetas are no longer in use. A Russian kopeek is probably worth more.

I will be bold enough to say that this Monopoly game (Madrid version, 1992) is worth more than a peseta.

Monopoly was played in pesetas. Although I lost all three games of Monopoly, I can proudly/shamefully say that I had more money during the game than I do in real life, even when accounting for the currency change--even when accounting that I was playing with worthless, colored paper.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Spot the Differences

Before I arrived in Spain, I expected it to be stuck in the 19th century (Europeans planted it in my head and I was gullible). This expectation quickly disappeared when I tried to turn on the TV and failed. I didn't have a problem with the language, I had a problem with the technology because it was the same digital cable trash that we have in the US. There was an extra user-unfriendly remote control and a million channels of non-sense. At this moment of frustration and helplessness, I heard modern Spain laughing at me and my learning experience began. Our worlds aren't as different as I had thought it would be.

Who's hot and who's not
Hollywood stars and fashionistas predict what the trends in the US, which eventually trickles down to the rest of the world. In Spain, soccer/football players dictate men's hairstyles. Rather, the football players' hairstylists dictate the country's hairstyle. These athletes have hairstylists (and probably pocket mirrors).

Take note of the 2010 World Cup winners and how they have perfectly-styled, spiky hair. Whoever introduced hair gel to Spain must be disgustingly rich now because even after a game, one can have pretty hair.

Mr. USA is less popular than Miss USA, but let's not compare that to Spain--Mr. Espana is very important.

In the US, we have dumpsters and separate receptacles for recycling. In some instances, if you don't recycle and are caught, you are given a fine and made to feel guilty.

I was floored when I saw that Spanish dumpsters have foot levers so that you don't have to lift heavy lids or anything. Incredible. You've seen small garbage cans with foot levels, but this is much larger. My friend explained that his people (Spanish people) are lazy and will use anything to make their lives easier. In Requena, a small town outside the city, there were trash cans that lead to a deep, underground collection receptacle for trucks to get to. Oh, technology! I was also surprised that they (more or less) recycle there. (NOTE: The photo above is not mine and I stole it. Apparently someone else found the dumpster amazing, too).

Stupid Movies
American movies, the good and the bad, are shown almost everywhere. People usually remember the stupid ones and create stereotypes based on that. Thank you, American Pie and EuroTrip-type movies for making it that much harder to explain what we're really like.

This was by far the worst movie I've ever seen. Ever ever ever. This is the Spanish equivalent of our stupid movie and it is just as bad. Yeah, I didn't catch some cultural jokes, but I understood the rest of the nonsense. I laughed so hard because it was such a terrible movie. I am not complaining that we spent 3.90 euros to see it or that I wasted some life watching it--I found the worst movie in the world.

It's just as silly there as it is in the US. No one is going to drive differently if they know there is a baby in the car. A bad driver is a bad driver (equally, a good driver is a good driver).