Travel

‘GPSmyCity’ – A new way to get piping hot travel tips

‘GPSmyCity’ have converted one of my articles onto their exciting new travel app. Try it out by:
1) Downloading the free app from iTunes here.
2) Searching for my ‘Top 3 Brunch Cafés in Russafa’ article
3) ‘Upgrading’ it for free (normally $1.99)! Available for 7 days.
How do you get your travel recommendations?
Some people use guidebooks, some people use the internet and some prefer good old fashion word-of-mouth.
Whatever your stance, smartphones have undoubtedly shifted the culture of travelling with access to thousands of recommendations in the palm of your hands. However, finding these recommendations can be time-consuming and accessing data on the move can rack up a hefty roaming bill.
What is ‘GPSmyCity’?
A new app called ‘GPSmyCity’ solves the data problem. It has a huge database of restaurant recommendations, walking tours and significant landmarks from over 600 cities. ‘Upgrading’ these  recommendations then automatically enters the GPS co-ordinates onto your phone’s map. You can create and follow your own virtual walking tour without needing internet connection.
Definitely worth a checking out.
Food & Drink, Travel

An Argentine asado, a Brazilian banquet and a side order of meat-guilt…

Is it time to reconsider how we eat meat not just at home, but abroad as well?

Are environmentalists waging war on culinary traditions?

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I love meat. I’m a sucker for an all-you-can-eat BBQ, I’m part of a new ‘Burger Thursdays’ tradition and my great South America meat-binge tour is fresh in my memory. However, last week Leonardo Di Caprio told me that the carbon footprint of an individual hamburger leaves the same carbon footprint as leaving your air conditioning on for 24 hours. A feeling of meat-guilt rekindled within me. It has been clear for a long time now that high meat consumption contributes significantly to global warming. Is it now time to reconsider how we eat meat not just at home, but abroad as well?

For many people, food and drink is one of the primary reasons why they travel – to learn about a culture and to immerse themselves in a different way of life. Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement, claims that ‘food history is as important as a baroque church’ and that ‘governments should recognize cultural heritage and protect traditional food.’ Can this be true even if a country’s culinary habits are toxic for the environment? To what extent should culinary habits be protected in the name of culture?

‘Food history is as important as a baroque church.’ – Carlo Petrini

Unfortunately for Earth, meat is delicious. And meat sandwiches are delicious. I’m fascinated by cities that have tied a particular sandwich to their identity: the Philly Cheese Steak is described as a ‘civic icon’ and ‘cultural obsession’ by the Philipelphia’s official tourism website; Porto has the heart-attack-on-a-plate monstrosity that is the Francesinha’; and the Municipal Market of São Paulo is teeming with people gobbling down ‘mortadella’ sandwiches. Hundreds of eateries benefit from the reputation of these indulgences as tourists strive to live and eat like locals.

These sandwiches add to the charm of a city, keep culinary traditions alive and help fuel local economies, but at what point does this meat consumption become excessive? Two of the biggest consumers of red meat in the world are Argentina and Brazil. Argentina is famous for its thick, juicy steak and asado tradition. Brazilian all-you-can-eat rodizio  restaurants are heaven for meat-lovers; you watch as much as twenty different types of steak are sliced onto your plate fresh from the grill.

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Beef eating and the asado are deeply engraved into Argentina’s culture. The gaucho (cowboy) way of life, the rearing and trading of cattle, has been in existence for hundreds of years and is romanticised across the country. Beef formed the basis of the gaucho diet and the asado evolved into a Sunday family tradition. I don’t envy the environmentalists who seek to change this. Argentines will possibly feel that their history, culture, economy and way of life are under attack.

Whilst it’s possible to defend the asado as a cultural tradition, the danger is that meat obsession can spiral out of control. It’s harder to argue that Argentina’s fast food industry is anything but excessive. Whilst Burger King’s new ‘Stacker Cuádruple‘ equates to 96 hours of air conditioning use, it has nothing on the ‘Mega Torre Extrema’ available for a mere £8.

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A restaurant I stumbled across in Mendoza, Argentina.

The ‘Mega Torre Extrema’ would be right at home on ‘Man v Food’ whose food challenges certainly do not promote responsible meat consumption in the US (4th in the table of red meat consumption). Such challenges have seen a surge in popularity since the show first aired. Charlie Brooker writes that presenter Rickman ‘may as well lie down, open his gob and let a herd [of cattle] stampede directly into his stomach.’ Interestingly, the show is categorised as a travel show – the producers clearly feel that food challenges are a fun way of exploring local American culture (the catalogue of ‘pig out joints’ can be found here). The unfortunate truth is that this isn’t a sustainable attitude at a time where red meat consumption needs to drop.

The somewhat obvious conclusion is that moderation and balance are needed.

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Carlos Petrini wants you to be responsible

Returning to Carlos Petrini, he argues that ‘if you love food but aren’t environmentally aware, you’re at best naïve, and at worst, stupid.’ His argument, which surely everyone can get behind, is that celebrating gastronomic traditions and being environmentally responsible and are not mutually exclusive – that, whilst its hardly rock and roll, we can continue to travel and experience other cultures so long as we do it responsibly.

Food & Drink, Travel

Things to do in Valencia: Top 3 Brunch Cafés in Russafa

This article has recently been converted into an app on ‘GPSmyCity’! Check it out here.

In hipster district Russafa, the ever-shifting concept of brunch is producing some weird and wonderful results

It’s Saturday morning in Valencia. Get your beanie hats on, tie up your top-knots, prune your beards and bring your Apple Mac chargers: it’s time to visit three of the best brunch cafés in Russafa.

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An early reference to brunch from an 1896 edition of Punch magazine. Even the prude Victorians enjoyed a lie in.

A Quick History of Brunch

Brunch as a concept has been through quite some journey. It’s believed to have originated around 1885 as a Sunday morning hangover cure for English hunters. It then adopted Mimosas and Bloody Marys in Chicago through the prohibition era of the roaring 1920s before experimentation flourished in the 90s within gentrified areas of New York.

The gradual anglicisation of European cities has perhaps triggered this fourth wave of brunch popularity. In a district teeming with cafés and restaurants, this breakfast-lunch hybrid is serious business. High competition has led to ridiculously good value with increasingly creative and unusual twists.

Option #1 – Bluebelldsc03569-4

Selling points: quirky flavours, beautiful interior, artisan coffee

Bluebell serves up some of the most bizarre flavour combinations you’ll ever see. Whilst not ideal for fragile stomachs, the beautifully constructed main dishes are always impressive. Previous examples have included: chicken waffles in mint sauce; salmon pancakes; fish pudding; and poached egg in curry sauce.

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A coffee-lover’s Mekkah, Bluebell specialises in artisan coffee brewed using on site ‘micro toasters’
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Chicken waffles served with mint sauce
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Chocolate parfait

Brunch includes:

  • Parfait
  • Lemonade/ Mimosa/ Bloody Mary
  • Dish of the day
  • Coffee/ tea
  • Guaranteed bearded man on Apple Mac
  • Expats/ students trying to impress parents with ‘off the beaten track’ locations

 

Option #2 – Guayoyo

dsc03658-2Selling points: fresh juices, art exhibitions, yoga, dog-friendly, vegetarian/ vegan friendly

Guayoyo’s brunch menu is based on fresh, clean, locally sourced ingredients. Unlike other cafes, the ‘DIY’ system offers you a much wider choice whilst still representing incredible value for money. Healthy eating is key to their philosophy whilst still acknowledging that everyone needs a bit of cake in their life.

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Salmon and avocado tostada served with chia seeds & lemon juice
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Guayoyo’s ‘Do It Yourself’ brunch allows you to select: a fresh juice combination, fruit & chia seed yogurt, main course (tostada/ sandwich), coffee/ tea and a slice of cake

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Option #3 – Dulce de Leche

Selling points: wide menu, massive portions of cake, terrace, great service, value for money

Located dangerously close to the local gym, Duche de Leche is quickly developing a cult following among locals and international students due to its wide selection of quality cake. Despite the onslaught of caffeine/ sugar deprived Valencians, the service is surprisingly slick. Their brunch sticks to much safer, popular combinations than Bluebell & Guayoyo but it’s a winning combination none-the-less. Catch them on a week they’re serving bacon for a magnificent, bacony hangover cure.

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Tomato, goats cheese, aubergine & spinach tostada
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Typical brunch includes: fruit yogurt, fresh orange juice, tosada/ sandwich, mini-croissant, coffee/ tea

In New York and London, brunch has received much criticism for its association with white, middle class gentrification. It inspired columnist Shawn Micallef to write a book called ‘The Trouble with Brunch’ and was somewhat hyperbolically labeled by The Guardian as ‘a potent symbol of urban cultural decline.’ Luckily these arguments do not apply here.

Brunch suits the Spanish late start to the day as well as its sociable café culture. It’s therefore no surprise that these cafés attract a diverse range of citizens (of all ages) from across the city. Russafa has evolved into the gastronomical capital of Valencia and its establishments seem more than happy to embrace the  tried-and-tested yet experimental traditions of brunch.

Happy brunching!

 

Education, Travel

Coping with the highs and lows of learning a language

How a visit to a bizarre Welsh town in Argentina encapsulated the peaks and troughs of studying Spanish

About half way down the coast of Argentina there’s a town called Gaiman where people speak fluent Welsh. It turns out that Welsh immigrants moved to the area about 150 years ago to escape religious persecution. They also wanted somewhere remote to preserve their language from the increasing influence of English.

Despite the 1 hour 30 min journey (on two separate buses) the locals insisted that going to this typical Welsh town – along with its afternoon tea house – was well worth the visit. I think the concept of afternoon tea is considered to be a bit exotic here.  It turns out that Princess Dianna went there in 1995 so with a shrug we decided to give it a shot.

After a long, uncomfortable journey we jumped pe5avjj2zimgznbwwk8yoff the bus and began following a huge sign which read ‘Casa De Te Galés -260m’. Despite the area only having 14.8mm of rain per month, the experience was made all the more realistic with some truly Welsh, persistent drizzle. After a 30 minute walk through muddy paths fighting off farmyard animals it became clear that the tea house was not 260m away. Growing more and more frustrated (and wet), with the help of a lumberjack, we eventually found our way to the front door and rang the bell.

A poe-faced Professor McGonagall lookalike poked her head around the door and glared into our souls. The question, ‘Esta arriba?’  (it is up?), asked by my girlfriend, helped set the tone for the ensuing confusion. Those who have attempted to learn a language will be forgiving of the mistake as – if they’re anything like me – the ability to speak fluently deteriorates when feeling flustered/ stressed in any way. After failing to understand most of what she was saying, we did grasp that they weren’t open until two. She proceeded to shut the door in our face thus leaving us to wait in the cold and rain in the full knowledge that we were in the middle of nowhere – I’m guessing Princess Di didn’t get this treatment.jjplhnn77vwhqcx2oclv

It’s at times like this I curse myself for not having the language or quick thinking to sort the situation. Why had this role play not been covered by our Spanish teacher? Even when they eventually took pity and served us early we couldn’t understand a word the waitress was saying. I found it difficult to appreciate dainty little Welsh cakes when feeling damp, embarrassed and frustrated. Even when I asked how to get back to the bus station she looked at me like I was a maniac.

At this point everything changed. A couple next to us overheard we were going back to Puerto Madryn and offered us a lift back. The prospect of an awkward, hour long car journey with our fleeting Spanish initially put us off. However being spared a taxi ride and two buses was far too tempting. The couple – both from a rural area of the Santa Fe district – spoke to us slowly, clearly and we exchanged pleasant small talk for the entire journey back.

This was a timely reminder about why learning a language was great. We were able to discuss sport, travel and culture, however basic it may have been, with a rugby-loving sheep farmer and his wife from the other side of the world. I was indebted to the couple not only for their altruism, but for teaching me that persistence pays off; don’t fret when you hit a trough because you never know when a peak might be around the corner.

Travel

“Aquíííííííííííííííííííííííííííí!!!” scream the selfish Valencian children

King’s Day, bigger and better than Christmas, seen through the eyes of a teacher

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The greedy masses anxiously await their delivery of caramelos

As an overly-cautious teacher – still very much fearing my first full-on student uprising – I distribute sugar-based snacks to adolescents very rarely. When I do, it is preceded by a thorough reminder of the conditions: eat after the lesson has finished, don’t snatch, say thank you, and put all wrappers in the bin. As the swarm of children began to descend upon Plaza Ayuntamiento for the annual Cabalgata de Reyes Magos (King’s Day Parade), I braced myself for a complete and utter disregard for my guidelines.

On the 5th of January every year, the Three Kings (whose Biblical gift choices called into question their perception of target audience) are paraded through the streets of Valencia, hurling sweets into the screaming faces of children and the bewildered faces of pensioners. As Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior are wheeled along the street they are treated like rock stars. Each had their own unique football-style chant sang at them as they progressed with Balthazar seeming to be the most popular for some reason (was he the one that brought gold rather than the notably worse ones?).

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Pic credit: visitvalencia.com

The entrance of the Kings was preceded by a bizarre range of rituals: the booing of the Roman soldiers; the shouting of ‘guapa’ by middle-aged fathers towards scantily-clad dancers; the parading of a giant, ginger naked baby; and the solving of the puzzle ‘which racial stereotype is this float trying to convey?’ However my favourite float was the man dressed as a giant tube of toothpaste, wielding an impractically large toothbrush at the crowd. His well-intended message was not received by all as a desperate-to-please mother barged me out of the way whilst lurching for a stray caramelo by my feet.

So what lessons did the children of Valencia take away from the event?

  • Territory is key – the weak children in the parade were unable to throw their sweets far enough, thus greatly benefiting the first two rows.
  • Strangers are Gods if they dress up and throw free stuff in your general direction.
  • Ignore and possibly scorn those who offer nothing – the elaborate jellyfish costume is impressive but meaningless without gifts. Force them to make apologetic gestures as they potter along.
  • Throwing surplus sweets at less-fortunate children at the back is a fun demonstration of power.

The parade confirmed for me what I already suspected was true: that Spain’s dream of a socialist utopia is indeed buried under a sea of plastic wrappers. Cabalgata de Reyes Magos is an ‘every child for himself’ environment. Resources are greedily hoarded with the weak going home empty handed. Some may say this is a great bit of fun, tradition and Spanish culture. However, as an educator who witnesses the development of these young people on a daily basis, it’s clear that events such as these are rotting away the gums of society that the toothpaste man tries so valiantly to protect.