Tag Archives: food

Thank You, Christopher Columbus

No, not this Christopher Columbus... though Gremlins, The Goonies, and Home Alone? Maybe we should have a holiday for him...

No, not this Christopher Columbus… although Gremlins, The Goonies, and Home Alone? Maybe we should have a holiday for him…

It’s Columbus Day here in the states and I actually have the day off… paid! The advantages to working for a giant, multinational financial institution are starting to pay off. I’ve decided to celebrate this most worthless of holidays by planting Spanish flags in random objects possessed by strangers, yelling at them to show me where their gold is, and spreading diseases to them that I brought over from Europe. Before I head out though, I feel like I need to sit on my balcony, have some coffee, and take a moment to remember all that Christopher Columbus has done for me.

Here’s a little known historical fact: Columbus came to America because he hated how close everything was. (Warning: historical facts may not be facts… or historical.) Can you blame him? I mean who would honestly want to live close by everything you could possibly want or need? Columbus set sail because honestly, he just needed some fucking space! This attitude has thankfully been implemented into suburban American culture. After having to endure walking to any of the small shops dotting the Parisian landscape and having a relaxing dinner outside with friends, now I get to drive through traffic to a chain restaurant and sit inside while deciding which one of the fifteen televisions I want to watch. Plus, there’s the obvious advantage of already knowing what’s on the menu. Now instead of wasting all that time exploring the menu for new food options, I can spend that time on my phone while waiting for my bloomin’ onion to come.

Another historical fact: Columbus hated water, fresh air, and non-processed food. Since he was born in Genoa, Columbus had grown up with a cool breeze blowing off the Mediterranean every morning, the smells of freshly baked bread he had purchased from the local bakery, and the taste of that bread paired with a locally-produced olive oil and a bottle of red wine from the vineyards nearby. He hated that life so much that he said, “Fuck this shit! I don’t care where I go, but I can’t deal this anymore. I’m just going to sail in the opposite direction until I run into any sort of landmass.” Unfortunately for Columbus, he died long before he could have discovered Cedar Rapids, where I currently reside. Thankfully, I can honor his memory by enjoying the genetically enhanced food at and endless number of supermarkets, all conveniently located outside of walking distance. Instead of the smells of that god-forsaken, award-winning local bakery, I get to enjoy the smells of a massive cereal processing plant that actually set off my carbon monoxide detector last week because my windows were open.

Columbus is having a really tough time of it lately. Some people would say that Columbus didn’t discover America, or that he was a miserable human being who should never be celebrated. However, I just really I just wanted to thank you, Christopher Columbus. If it wasn’t for you, my family might have never traveled to this country. I could have been born in some dump like London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Prague, Barcelona, Stockholm, Florence, or Vienna. I really dodged a bullet there!

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Creation in a World of Consumption

After two extremely long days of walking and seeing the Parisian sights, my body informed me it needed a break this morning by making me feel as though I’d been involved in a car accident that I could not remember. That was fine with my brain, which was exhausted from seeing a veritable treasure trove of art and artifacts at The Louvre yesterday. So I creaked out of bed and wandered into the kitchen to make a cup of tea and enjoy one of the delicious croissants I’d bought yesterday, then decided to settle in and see what was going on in the world.

First stop, Facebook, to make sure all of my friends are doing ok and that the Internet is not short on cat memes. I can assure you all is well on both fronts. Next up, Twitter, seeing if any of my favorite writers have a new story I’d like to read or if someone found a new way to make 140 characters humorous. Again, I went two for two. A check of some of my typical news sites (BBC, Yahoo!, and Slate) followed by a visit to Grantland, my favorite sports and entertainment site and I felt reconnected to the world. All this of course while listening to Spotify (I’ve been quite obsessed with The Oh Hello’s recently.)

I decided to pop in the shower and wander around the neighborhood for a nice sandwich and an espresso, which isn’t exactly difficult in Paris. I came home more than satisfied and thought about what to do next. I could read a book that had been suggested to me, watch Flight, which I had downloaded a few days before, listen to a podcast, or write a little and listen to some music. I settled on watching Flight while I downloaded the book and wasn’t disappointed. Denzel Washington is a powerhouse as always and I found myself completely captivated by his character. Add some solid help from John Goodman (who was great in Argo as well), Don Cheadle, and Melissa Leo and some solid directing from Robert Zemeckis and it was a thoroughly entertaining film.

It wasn’t until I was deciding whether to read or listen to a podcast until I started realizing how incredible it all was. Here I am in another country with a backpack and a messenger bag and I can read practically any book or article I want, watch almost any movie or TV show, or listen to nearly any song. Can you really blame people for being more lazy or apathetic than in previous generations? No matter what entertains you (sports, food, science, redneck families who hunt ducks or send their children to beauty pageants), there is a product out there for you to consume.

I personally get the most enjoyment not out of consuming, but creating. There’s a certain level of personal pride that comes from creation that cannot be experienced from consumption. I enjoy writing for myself; it is a form a therapy for me. It means more when I know others read what I write and enjoy it or relate with it. I love to cook, but it’s so much more rewarding to cook something great for another person. The look on someone’s face when they really enjoy something you’ve created is much more rewarding to me than anything that can be consumed. This is by no means a lecture, I just felt like creating something on a relaxing day in Paris. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to consume a good book and some more tea.

The View from Barcelona

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After about twelve hours of sleep after getting in from Dublin and another ten hours last night, I finally feel rested. I have not been out in the morning to see what the city has to offer, but as I’ve already learned, Barcelona is a night city. Dinner here starts around nine at night and there are many bars that stay open until sunrise. Needless to say, I gave one of them a run last night… first though, let me show you where I’m staying.

Las Ramblas... this is about is quiet as I've seen it

Las Ramblas… this is about is quiet as I’ve seen it

The Columbus Monument

The Columbus Monument

I’m staying in a little apartment right off Las Ramblas, which is one of the main streets in Barcelona. It is very tourist heavy, but has tons of amazing shops and restaurants to take advantage of, though it can be a bit pricy. If you go around all of the side streets just off the main drag however, there are even more options for bars and restaurants that are less pricy and give you a little more of the local flavor.

The old customs house at Port Vell

The old customs house at Port Vell

The marina at Port Vell

The marina at Port Vell

At the bottom of Las Ramblas sits the beautiful Port Vell and the Columbus Monument, both of which are must see places. I highly recommend going up the Columbus Monument to get an amazing view of the port and city. Again, this is a very tourist heavy area, but absolutely worth checking out. Many lovely walkways line the port, along with restaurants, shops, and an aquarium.

Placa de Catalunya

Placa de Catalunya

The market off Las Ramblas. My favorite food in the city!

The market off Las Ramblas. My favorite food in the city!

Up at the top of Las Ramblas you’ll find the Placa de Catalunya, which has lovely sculptures and fountains, plus lots of shops all around. The amount of shops and restaurants in the area is definitely overwhelming. There are seemingly infinite choices of what and where to eat. I have not had a bad meal yet, but if I could recommend one place you have to eat, it would be La Boqueria. A large public market that offers everything under the sun, you can find anything from fruit smoothies for as little as a euro, to wonderful restaurants in the back serving the freshest food possible. Markets can be intimidating, especially if you don’t speak the language, but I’ve found that as long as you’re friendly, the people are typically quite lovely.

Breathtaking side streets are just par for the course

Breathtaking side streets are just par for the course

Casa Mila by Gaudi

Casa Mila by Gaudi

You have to make sure to look up when you’re wandering around Barcelona. There is fantastic architecture everywhere and you won’t want to miss any of it. Keep an eye out for any Antoni Gaudi buildings. These are unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed and are truly stunning. It can be a little overwhelming because there are seemingly endless amounts of side streets, each unique and worth walking down. It’s easy to forget how gorgeous everything is. I can see how people fall in love with Barcelona and never leave this city. I’m definitely considering staying here an extra week, but I’ll make my final decision soon. Next post I’ll talk about the people and culture here, but for now I’m just going to enjoy the view a bit more.

Where I wrote from today

Where I wrote from today

Layover in Dublin

After catching to red-eye from Chicago to Dublin I found myself with nearly a ten-hour layover in Ireland. Sidebar: fly Aer Lingus… one of the best flights I’ve ever been on. Blows our airlines stateside out of the water… not that it’s difficult. No point in spending it at the airport, even though it is an extremely good airport… time to wander!

Trinity College, home of the Book of Kells

Trinity College, home of the Book of Kells

I grabbed a bus out of the airport and made my way over to Trinity College, where they house The Book of Kells. This fantastically old manuscript, dated from around the beginning of the ninth century, has ornate illustration and Latin text and has to be seen. It is truly a work of art you can’t afford to miss. Christ Church Cathedral is also a good find. This nearly one thousand year old church was the first cathedral in Dublin and even features a stone bridge skyway of sorts.

The oldest cathedral in Dublin

The oldest cathedral in Dublin

Dublin truly is quite lovely. Even though it’s the middle of February and not exceptionally warm, everything is very green. Yes I know it’s Ireland and that’s kind of like saying Hawaii has really amazing rainbows, but until you see it for yourself, words don’t do it justice. For being their largest city, it’s still very quaint. I can only imagine what any other area would be like since I’m in one of the busiest spots in the country and it still feels intimate in a way.

As far as the downtown area, it feels like a cross between Main Street in small town Iowa and the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. If you know me at all, you’ll know I was instantly in love. I have only experienced the city for a few hours, but already I can get a sense of its soul. The population is very helpful and friendly. Everyone gathered in pairs at the small breakfast place I stopped at and they were all thoroughly enjoying the coffee, tea, and conversation.

I had been told that Anthony Bourdain did one of his Layover shows in Dublin, and I should watch it in preparation for my own. Unfortunately I only caught about half of the episode, but I did see a bar called Mulligan’s featured in the program. The bar was opened in 1782 and is supposed to be one of the most authentic pubs in Dublin. While wandering around downtown Dublin I happened upon it, right next door to where I ate breakfast. A gorgeous throwback, it was a favorite writing spot for James Joyce, where it’s rumored he wrote chunks of his classic, Ulysses.

From there I wandered towards O’Connell Street where numerous monuments and the Spire of Dublin form a median with shops and bars lining both sides of the street. While looking down I side street, I saw a pub named Brannigan’s. Anyone that knows me, or Futurama knows there was no chance I was going to pass up a pint there. After a pint and a friendly chat with the bartender of this rugby pub, I decided to have some lunch.

Bangers and mash with Guinness... healthy :)

Bangers and mash with Guinness… healthy 🙂

I decided on a British dish in Ireland, probably not the best move, but I was assured I wouldn’t be run out of the bar for doing so. Either way, it was fantastic pub grub that sparked up a conversation with an older couple seated next to me. We chatted about everything from the weather to reasons why people from the states don’t come over and visit various places in Europe. They were lovely people who wished me luck even though they had no idea what my name was.

Many people won’t be surprised to learn of how kind the Irish people can be, after all, it is quite well known. I found it to be true, and then some. Even their speech, while faster than ours, is filled with the same politeness you’d find from a Midwesterner or Southerner in the states. Ireland is quite similar to the Midwest, so if some of my Midwestern friends or family members have reservations about traveling to another country, I’d highly recommend giving Ireland a chance. The culture is different, but also somehow familiar. I’m quite confident you’ll feel at home.