Road Trip: South West England

A Road Trip through South West England

To be honest, our road trip through South West England was a bit of a whirlwind. There was so much we wanted to see and do, but less than a week to fit it all in. In retrospect, we bit off more than we could chew, and felt more rushed than we like to be. Even so, we were able to experience enough of a sampling of what South West England has to offer to know without a doubt that we’d love to return for more. Letters on the map above are places we stopped, most of which are mentioned in the post below. Red tags indicate the places we stopped and spent the night.

Road Trip

Yes, it was chilly, but our little blue Skoda served us well through wind and rain and sheep and farm equipment.

How to Get There

We opted to rent a car, and this choice definitely helped us see as much as possible. When renting a car in England there are several things to keep in mind.

  1. If you’re not comfortable driving on the left side of the road, rural England, with its narrow lanes lined with stone walls and multitude of roundabouts may not be the perfect place to get your practice in.
  2. A manual (stick-shift) car is much cheaper than an automatic. There will also be more options for car types if you choose manual. If you are used to driving a stick, this is the way to go.
  3. If you’re coming from the US, petrol will be quite a bit more expensive. We were paying about £1.15 per liter, the equivalent to nearly $7 per gallon. Keep that in mind when planning long distance routes.
  4. Be aware of traffic rules, parking signs, and availability of parking at your lodging. If there’s no dedicated parking at your hotel or B&B you can end up spending quite a bit of time looking for valid parking on the street.

It’s also possible to visit South West England via train.

Our Aimless Route

We set off without any real idea of where we were going. We’d talked to friends and gotten plenty of recommendations, but those were all just dots on the map. Being used to driving long distances in the US, it looked perfectly manageable. That vision changed drastically the first day of our road trip. Whether it’s urban traffic in London, or sheep at a rural crossroads, a hundred miles on English roadways suddenly seems MUCH further than you might expect.

south west England road trip

Yup, that’s Stonehenge itself out on the ridge.

Day 1: London to Amesbury (Stonehenge)

We set out from London on the M3, which goes on to become the A303. These are motorways with multiple lanes and two-way traffic, easy to navigate and with plenty of signage. By late afternoon, we were approaching Wiltshire County, where Stonehenge is located. We went back and forth about whether Stonehenge might be over-saturated with tourists, whether we’d be able to get close enough, and whether we should consider a less-visited stone circle, like Avebury, not far away. Ultimately, there was no way we were going to come within 10 miles of Stonehenge and not visit, so we booked tickets online for first thing the next day. We’re very glad we made the effort to see Stonehenge.

To rest for the evening, we chose the George Hotel in Amesbury, just a few miles down the road from Stonehenge. The hotel was originally the Pilgrims’ Hostelry of Amesbury Abbey, welcoming travelers since the 13th century! The outside of the building still looks much like it has for hundreds of years. Renovation to the inside has maintained many original features like exposed oak beams. It’s not luxurious in the least, and probably due for an update, but it was a comfortable and affordable place to spend a night.

SW England Roads (2)

Day 2: Stonehenge to Plymouth

The roads heading south through Wiltshire (the country in which Stonhenge is located) get smaller and more rural. Speed limits were much slower, and we had to slow down even more to pass through tiny towns along the way. Sometimes, we took detours to do just that on purpose. Each town had its own special character, and it was tempting to stop in each one to look around and snap some photos. Towns like Ilminster have been mentioned in documents as far back as the 700s, and maintain a history-rich, quaint, rural vibe.

Ilminster church

The Minster: Church of St. Mary in Ilminster

Exeter was the next city of any size we reached, and it’s a crossroads. The A30 will go around to the north of Dartmoor National Park, while the A38 goes around to the south. We chose option three: to drive through the middle of the park along the tiny B3212.

Bellever Tor in south west England

Bellever Tor, Dartmoor National Park

Dartmoor National Park

The dramatic landscapes of the park were enhanced by the gray, overcast day. Towering granite tors (rock outcroppings), heather-covered moors, wooded valleys and clear, rushing streams provide an amazing natural landscape for hikers and cyclists. We did several shorter, circular hikes within the park, leaving the car at a couple of central points. On a future visit, we’d love to stay at one of the country manors or B&B’s to be able to really get deeper into the park. We missed out on spotting any of the famous Dartmoor Ponies that roam the moors. We were hoping to see some, since we’d read that hoofprints found on an archaeological dig show ponies have been here at least 3,500 years!  Dartmoor’s Bronze Age history is well-worth investigating further as well. Our favorite pitstops, though, were to check out some of the massive granite tors that seem to pop up out of nowhere. After leaving the park, it’s a short drive to the town of Plymouth, where we spent the night. Being from New England, I was struck by how many towns in south west England had lent their names to places near where I’d grown up: Truro, Barnstaple, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Weymouth, Taunton, Dartmouth, Falmouth . . . the list goes on.

Plymouth

Day 3: Plymouth to St. Agnes

We stayed in a guesthouse called Sea Breezes, in a super-comfortable room on the top floor. The host, Anne, is very welcoming and helpful, and breakfast was a delight. The location right on the Grand Parade is perfect for exploring, but far enough removed from downtown to feel nice and quiet. Plymouth’s Harbor is picturesque and historical. Plymouth was the beginning of the Pilgrim’s crossing, commemorated with the famous Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Remembering class trips to Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims ended their voyage, it was extra special to stand above the Mayflower Steps, commemorating the spot where the voyage began. We wandered along the cobble-stoned streets of the Barbican before returning through the Plymouth Hoe, a sprawling park by the sea, compete with lawns, monuments and a red and white striped lighthouse. The eastern end houses a 17th century citadel that still acts as a military base. From the hill here be sure to look out over the 1930’s lido pool area set among the rocks and the sea.

St. Michael's Mount

View of St. Michael’s Mount from the mainland at low tide, when the stone walkway is exposed

St. Michael’s Mount

The church and priory of the castle that dominates St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall were built by monks from the similarly named Mt. St. Michel in France. At the time of the Norman conquest in 1066, the island was already in their possession. Signs of settlement on this unique piece of earth go back to the Bronze Age however. We were lucky enough to catch the tide at the perfect time, and walk right across to the “island,” totally separated from the mainland when the tide is high. The main route to the island is a pilgrim’s path, discovered in the 1950s. It has suffered quite a bit of damage from storms in past years, and is currently undergoing a major reconstruction. The castle is open for visits, though our timing unfortunately wasn’t right for that. We love unique places like St. Michaels. What would it be like to live on the island, having to time your errands based on the tides?

Driftwood Spars

Days 4-6: St. Agnes

The rugged landscapes of the southernmost regions of Cornwall are hard to beat. Much of the route is designated as “Heritage Coast.” This was one stretch that really made us feel it was time to slow down a bit in order to take it all in. We booked a few nights at the Driftwood Spars in St. Agnes. Located just above picturesque Trevaunance Cove below the tiny town of St. Agnes, the ground floor is taken up by a traditional, Cornish coastal pub. Supplied with local produce, the food is a big step up from standard pub fare, and we ate in several times. The bar was always crowded with locals after work. Some rooms of the 4-star B&B overlook the cove, and all have, right outside the door, access to the many walking trails that criss-cross the region. And that’s how we spent our days: hiking the trails, losing the trails and generally wandering the coast and farmlands. One of our favorite parts of traveling is the people we meet along the way in the most random places. It was precisely when we most lost that we ran into a local man and his dog. We spent almost an hour throwing a stick for his beautiful pup and chatting about nothing and everything, one of those brief meetings you end up remembering long after.

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Driftwood was our favorite B&B of the trip. The massive exposed beams (from which it gets it’s name) were salvaged from shipwrecks along the coast and were used to build the building in the 1650s. We love places with history, and Driftwood Spars fits the bill, having served over the years as a tin mining warehouse, chandlery, sail-making loft and fish cellar, before being converted into a hotel and pub in the early 1900s. The region around St. Agnes is steeped in history as well, designated as a World Heritage Site for its mining history. Ruins of old mines dot the coast, and they were an additional highlight of several of our walks.

St Agnes

Day 7: St. Agnes to Bath

Refreshed an renewed, we continued our Devon and Cornwall road trip. From St. Agnes, it was a slow, slow journey up the coast. We stopped numerous times in seaside towns like Newquay and Tintagel, longing to stop and explore.  We did take the time to stop in the unique, cliff-side town of Clovelly. This little village has been owned by one family for the last 800 years!  Built upon the steep, rocky coast the vehicle of choice in the village was always the donkey. Since the donkeys have mostly been retired, the residents use wooden sleds to slide everything from food stuffs to refuse up and down the extremely steep, cobblestone streets. We couldn’t imagine having something heavy to go back up the hill! We could hardly get ourselves back up.

Clovelly

Covelly’s Cobblestone street leading to the harbor

It was tough to resist turning off as we skirted around Exmoor National Park, so that area is high on the list for a future visit. It was evening by the time we checked into the Dorian House B&B, high on the hill just outside downtown Bath. We scored a lucky, last minute deal on a great room on the top floor with a view of the Royal Crescent. Our visit to historic Bath started early the next morning. With the requisite stops at the Roman Baths and the Bath Abbey, the free walking tour led by volunteers from Mayor’s Corps of Honorary Guides was a highlight. Taking in the city’s well-preserved Georgian architecture and landmarks like the Circus and the Royal Crescent, the tour provides a great orientation as well as a taste of both history and personal anecdotes from longtime residents.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Day 8: Return to London

Bath to London is a relatively easy drive, and we handled in in a few hours. It felt like a breeze being back on a bigger highway, though we already missed the low stone walls and rolling hills of our Devon and Cornwall road trip.

Street Art: Berlin’s East Side Gallery

Street Art Berlin

“Diagonale Lösung des Problems” (Diagonal Solution to Problems) by Michail Serebrjakow. A raised thumb chained to a wrist . . . what does “Yes” mean when “No” is not an option?

 

The East Side Gallery should be on everyone’s to do list when visiting Berlin. The gallery is a section of the original Berlin Wall spanning nearly a mile on Mühlenstraße along the river Spree (the border at the time). Shortly after the Wall came down in 1989, 105 art pieces were commissioned and painted along this section. Since they were originally installed, there has been some erosion of the concrete as well as quite a bit of graffiti and random people signing the wall. While we ended up feeling like those two additions take something away from the art, the pieces are still amazing. Visiting early in the morning, or around sundown, you can avoid the big tour buses and groups crowding the most famous pieces. A walk taking in most of the pieces will take a couple of hours if you stop frequently to reflect. The Gallery is also easily explored by bike. Enjoy some of our favorites from the area.

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If you like this post, please check out these other great street art cities.

 

Amor in Getsemani Graffiti

Cartagena, Colombia

Mural on Calle 26, Bogota

Bogota, Colombia

Graffiti of Dali

Medellin, Colombia

The Golden Muse

Cincinnatio, Ohio

Philadelphia Murals

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

More Money Saving Tips: Online Shopping Portals

online shopping portalsOnline Shopping Portals

We’ve written before about ways to save money for travel, but our methods work no matter what you’re saving for. We’re always searching for new money-saving methods and tricks. Companies don’t always make it easy to take advantage of all of their programs and promotions, but a little leg work can add up to big savings. Once you’re all set up, there’s very little extra effort required to start seeing savings pile up.

Did you know that a simple click means you can get money back on the vast majority of purchases you make online? If you’ve bought anything online from electronics at BestBuy to booking a hotel room on Hotels.com and haven’t clicked through a shopping portal first, you’ve missed out on some serious potential savings. We tend to shop locally for necessary items while we travel, but traveling all the time also means that we do a lot of shopping via the internet. When we shop for gifts, for example, we can have items shipped to the recipient on time no matter where we happen to be. Our jobs in mobile marketing also mean that we spend a fair amount of someone else’s money. We figured, why not earn cash back on those purchases as well?

Shopping Portals / Cashback Sites

There are a handful of main players competing for your loyalty in the online shopping portal game. With most, including all those we’ve tried out, sign-up is completely free. The companies make their money from advertisers, not members.  It’s like sharing the commission they get for providing the incentive to shop with certain vendors. Most of these programs work in generally the same way. You log into your account, find the vendor you’re looking for, and click over to their website to make your purchase.

Since most of our online purchases are travel-related, it’s good to note that clicking through a shopping portal does not affect your ability to earn hotel points or frequent flyer miles. Stack your savings!

Our Experience with Ebates and Mainstreet Shares

MainStreetSHARES

The first program we joined was called BigCrumbs. I did a lot of research before deciding what company’s philosophy I liked best, in addition to how the cashback options worked. BigCrumbs has rebranded recently as MainStreetSHARES. According to their website, the idea is to be a partner rather than just a member. They say,  “Our members earn money each month by shopping at top online stores. They also receive a percentage of company revenueearn commissions when their referrals shop, and receive a payout when MainStreetSHARES is acquired.” Well, who knows if MainSteetSHARES will ever be acquired, but I like the idea of earning shares on top of cash back. MainStreetSHARES also seems to have higher percentages overall. On the other hand, the total number of vendors they work with is smaller. MainSteetSHARES pays out monthly. It’s easiest to link your PayPal account and get that money automatically. Amazon purchases were not eligible for Mainstreet Shares, so we decided to look into Ebates as well.

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

Ebates cashback program is one of the most popular out there. Their site is very user-friendly and straightforward too. We’ve earned about $500 so far this year in cashback credits. We’ve used the Ebates site mostly for hotel reservations and car rental. Ebates pays out once per quarter, and we’ve found it’s easiest to link our PayPal account and have the money go straight there. There are also options to have a physical check sent, or to have a check sent to a designated charity!

There was a bit of a catch to the Amazon affiliation in that Ebates only credits certain types of purchases. It seems to be items in a certain department like Fashion, Amazon Local or Sports. It also looks like you have to go through Ebates for each individual purchase, but we honestly haven’t tested that out yet. It always pays to read the fine print, but we figure it’s all gravy anyway. We’ve found Ebates to have some good special promotions though, so keep an eye out for those.

Comparison Shopping: Tips and Advice

Before logging into your shopping portal account, it’s best to comparison shop. Some portals seem to have their own pricing with different partners, so you are at an advantage if you have an idea of the cost of what you’re looking for. For example, we’ve found hotels using Hotels.com or Agoda, only to log in to Ebates and have said hotel not appear in the results.

You should also compare the cashback rates for shopping portals you’re signed up with. There’s often a difference in cashback rates, so see which one is the most advantageous when you’re ready to make a purchase, and use the one that’s convenient and profitable for you at that time. Keep an eye out for limited-time promotions as well. Sites like Cashbackholic are great for this purpose. Oh, and speaking of stacking, if you’re using a cashback credit card to make these purchases, you’re potentially earning even more.

Disclaimer

While we wrote this post purely to share our experiences with these tow online shopping portals and help you get some money back on online purchases, the links included are personal referrals. While this doesn’t affect your sign-up in any way, it does mean we will potentially receive a bonus if you do decide to register and use the service. Neither of these sites are going to make you rich by any means, but every little bit helps, right?

Immerse Yourself in Historic Bath

Roman Relic Found Buried Under Modern Day Bath

Roman Relic Found Buried Under Modern Day Bath

Confession: we almost skipped historic Bath, worried that the famous spa town might be too touristy. Popular for so long with fashionable society, we pictured the streets of Bath crowded with well-to-do weekenders carrying bags from high-end shops, taking breaks from hours of pampering and massage. You can certainly find these things, but there are many other ways to experience Bath. We focused our short stop on history and architecture, and had a great day and a half exploring this UNESCO designated World Heritage site. We began with a thorough orientation via a wonderful, free walking tour led by the Mayor of Bath Honorary Guides. The walks start outside the Pump Room of the Roman Baths in Abbey Church Yard, at the sign reading ‘Free Walking Tours Here’. The tour lasts about 2.5 hours, and includes all the main points of historical and architectural interest, as well as fascinating anecdotes and personal stories from the guide.

The Royal Cresent

The Royal Cresent

Historic Bath

No one knows for sure how long the hot springs at Bath have been a destination. It’s certain that they were known when the Romans built their temple here around 50 AD. At the same time, public baths were built on these natural springs, whose waters rise at 46C (about 115F). The remains of the Roman settlement and buildings were lost as Roman civilization declined. Bath remained as a relatively market town through the middle ages and through the 17th Century. People were still drawn here for the curative properties of the spring, and Bath water has been bottled and sold since the 1661! In the 18th Century, Bath became more fashionable. Richard “Beau” Nash was Master of Ceremonies, and the minority lived the high life under his supervision. It was also during this time that many of the architecturally significant buildings were constructed. These include the magnificent Georgian Circus and Royal Crescent as well as Queen Square and Pulteney Bridge, among others. We learned an interesting tidbit about the Circus and the Royal Crescent representing the Sun and the Moon. In addition to their general shapes, the Circus has elements such as an acorn motif, an important symbol of the Druids.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

While waiting for the walking tour to begin, we spent some time in Bath Abbey. There has been some form of Christian worship on the site for over a thousand years. First, there was an Anglo-Saxon monastery. This was torn down by Norman conquerors, who built a grand Norman cathedral. That building ended up in ruins by late 15th century. Work on the present Abbey Church began around 1499, but it has undergone various transformations. The abbey today displays great examples of fan vaulting, ornamental pinnacles and ‘battlemented’ parapets and turrets. The stained glass is pretty amazing, too. The big, stained glass window at the East End depicts 56 scenes in the life of Jesus Christ. One interesting fact we learned about the outside of the church is about the ladders of angels who appear to be ascending into heaven. This vision is from a dream of the once-Bishop of Bath, Oliver King. The ladders stop above the level of the doors of the church, showing people that they needed to enter the church as a means to make it to heaven. You can’t just climb the ladder on your own.

Inside Bath Abbey

Inside Bath Abbey

Roman Bath

Roman Baths

The Roman Baths are some of the best preserved, and even though they have been extensively explored and restored, there’s plenty still being discovered. The entrance fee includes an audio guide that you can either borrow and return, or simply download on your smartphone (as we did). There’s a ton of information to absorb, so it’s nice to have your own guide to pick and choose the sections you want to hear about in more depth. Interestingly, the Roman temple at Bath was dedicated to both a Celtic god (Sul) and to the Roman god of healing, Minerva. The sacred areas of the temple were separate from the public bathing areas. The complex is sprawling, and constitutes an amazing feat of engineering focused on aqueducts and arches. Water had to be piped for miles, with methods for keeping it flowing, and at different temperatures. A visit to the Baths might include a cold bath (in the frigidarium), a warm bath (in the tepidarium) and a hot bath (in the caldarium). There would have been a swimming pool, exercise area, and spaces for massage and other body cleansing rituals.

The Source

The Source

The King's Spring in the Pump Room

The King’s Spring in the Pump Room

Taking the Waters

When visiting historic Bath, it’s customary to “take the waters.” Back in the 17th century, medical practices of the day encouraged the drinking of spa water for its curative properties. The Pump Room in Bath was opened in 1706 for this purpose, and it was here that we got a glass of the sulfuric-smelling, metallic-tasting elixir to try for ourselves. It was warm and a bit smelly, but I for one was sure to drink down to the last drop. You never know what miracles it might work. There are said to be 43 minerals in the waters of Bath. Calcuim and sulphate are the main ingredients, along with sodium, chloride and many others. In medieval times the waters were said to cure everything from paralysis to gout.

Jane Austen

Jane Austen made Bath her home from 1801 to 1806 and set two of her six published novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) here. Running along the backside of the Circus, not far from the Royal Crescent, is a quiet lane, known as a sort of Lover’s Lane in Austen’s time. This Gravel Walk was the setting for a touching scene between Anne Elliot and her Captain Wentworth. You can visit the Jane Austen Centre (located at 40 Gay Street) to learn more about Bath during the Regency period of British history and about the society, music and fashion that Jane Austen would have experienced when she lived here. For true fans, there is a free audio tour you can download and listen to as you walk around town. The tour guides you around interesting spots in city and includes extracts from Jane Austen’s novels and letters, along with a map to follow.

Our room at the Dorian House.

Our room at the Dorian House.

Where to Stay

There is a wide range of accommodation options in and around Bath: funky boutique hotels, cozy B&Bs, rural farmstays and inns. We opted for the lovely Dorian House, a Victorian mansion with a luxury feel, but still accessible within our limited budget. Located a short, 10-minute walk from the center of town, Dorian House is in a quiet neighborhood. Our top-floor room had a view of the Royal Crescent in the distance, lovely. The bed was beyond comfy, and the marble shower a true pleasure after a long day walking the town. The included breakfast starts the day right with fruit, granola, freshly baked items, and coffee . . . followed by a Full English. We sampled a lot of these during our time in England, but Dorian’s stood out for its quality ingredients. As for dining out, we can recommend a good Nepalese meal at Yak Yeti Yak downtown.

Food for Thought with Uncornered Market

Through our ongoing series, Food for Thought, we explore the complex relationship between food and culture, as seen through the eyes of travelers. As we travel, our minds are opened, and our understanding of how peoples’ relationship with food shapes their (and our) perspectives deepens. With each new interview, we feel more connected to a community of travelers who seek to explore the world more profoundly. Though there are certainly many ways to experience culture, eating traditional dishes, sharing a meal with local friends and shopping in the market have become some of our favorite ways to start the exploration. We have been following the adventures of Dan and Audrey at Uncornered Market for years, almost since we started traveling together. We count on their blog for real, useful information wrapped in beautiful storytelling, and illustrated with amazing photography. As a couple we truly admire, we’re honored to have them share their perspectives. If for some crazy reason, you hadn’t discovered Uncornered Market yet, we’re happy you’ve found them here!

Food for ThoughtMeet Daniel and Audrey

Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott are the husband-and-wife storytelling team behind Uncornered Market.  At the end of 2006, they left their office jobs for what was meant to be a 12-18 month creative sabbatical to travel the world. Over 90 countries and eight years later, they are still going…and still married.

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Food for Thought

The underlying idea of the “Food for Thought” series is that to truly experience a culture you must taste it. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

People whose interests and hot buttons are other living cultural dimensions (e.g., religion, music, etc.) might disagree.  For me, however, food is among the most effective experience dimensions and conduits to a culture because of the range of senses it engages. Playing devil’s culinary advocate, however, you could go to the market and get a sense of the way a culture interacts, does business, relates to food — all without ever having tasted anything. So it’s not only about the taste of the food, but also the backstory of the culture’s relationship with it, from ingredients to table. Perhaps most importantly, food is one of the best ways to connect to local people – everyone needs to eat and we find that local people love talking about and sharing their cuisine.

"Steamed Dumplings (Momos) - Bakhtapur, Nepal"

“Steamed Dumplings (Momos) – Bakhtapur, Nepal”

 

What food do you identify with “home?” Does it reflect something about your own culture or upbringing?  Do you crave it while you’re away?

I suppose pizza, but that’s a little too easy.  American food, if there is such a thing, is difficult to characterize because it’s such a melting pot and clearinghouse of cuisines.  I arrived at adulthood just as the U.S. began its multicultural food thing and began to come out of the dark ages in terms of beer and wine.  There’s no food I really crave while away, particularly now that you can get just about anything, anywhere. What I might crave from the United States, if I don’t have it, is variety. Having said all that, the American meal I tend to consistently enjoy most is Thanksgiving, not only for the terrific flavors, but also for the notion of a holiday that’s not about buying gifts but about getting friends and family together to eat and be thankful.

How has travel affected the way you think about food?

Travel has affected the way I think about food as much as food has affected the way I think about travel. I point back to my first answer, that it’s a key experience dimension and a conduit to understanding a culture.  Travel can open the mind, so it makes sense that the more one travels, the more evolved their thinking is regarding food and how fundamental a culture’s relationship to food is to the core of who they are.

As for my background, even before I began writing about travel, I had an instinctual feeling for the importance of food. This is due in great part to how I grew up. Generally, my family was pretty thoughtful regarding food choices, I was exposed to vegetarians, my mother spoke of her time growing up on a farm, my father recently launched a community supported agriculture project. Stuff like that helps.  The places I lived just out of university — Washington DC and San Francisco — were also important in framing and developing my understanding of food and world cuisine.

Nasi Campur-Uncornered Market

“Plate of Nasi Campur – Sanur, Bali”

 

Do you have a technique to try and understand local cuisine? (ie: Attending cooking classes or food tours? Hunting the best street food?)

Get in there.  Follow your curiosity and ask questions.  Lean in with an open mind and without judgement. When you show genuine interest you’ll not only make inroads to understanding the local cuisine, you’ll also often make some friends. When we ask locals for recommendations, we ask them specifically for a place where they would eat.  Otherwise, some people will recommend places they think tourists want to eat.

We are big fans of using street food as a tool for exploration.  A street food adventure will often take you to places outside the normal tourist zones and you’ll be up close to the action – the cooking and eating with locals on tiny plastic chairs.

Cooking classes, especially those that include a market visit and are very hands on, can be really useful in demystifying seemingly complex cuisines and providing great background to the cultural context of certain dishes. The cooking class we took in Bali, for example, really opened our eyes to the wonders of traditional Balinese cuisine (compared to what was often served in restaurants).

Cooking Lessons, Varanasi Style

Cooking Lessons, Varanasi Style

 

Tell us about a memorable meal that was so special it is forever ingrained in your memory. Where was it and what set it apart? What was served, and who shared it with you?

I think there are several hundred.  Here’s one (OK, two) that scores on context.  Back in 2008, Audrey and I traveled through India.  Along the way, we got a message from one of the programmers who helped me with an especially technical bit with the first incarnation of Uncornered Market.  He asked (on Facebook, if I remember correctly) whether we had planned to visit his hometown, Chandigarh.  We really didn’t, but who were we to say no.

Anyhow, we showed up in town, saw the office space he shared with his business partner.  For lunch, they took us back to their apartment.  Pretty sparse bachelor pad, they asked their live-in cook to make malai kofte, a classic northern Indian Punjabi dish with paneer and vegetable dumplings in a cream gravy.  It was terrific — and kind of unbelievable that we’d brought the story full circle.

Earlier that morning, we’d had some of the world’s best channa batura (masala spiced chickpeas with a puri-like fried, puffed flatbread) at a sweets shop below our hotel.  I’d poked my nose into the kitchen and began photographing.  One thing led to another.  This is my answer to #4 in action.

What food have you tried in your travels that some might find shocking or surprising? Would you eat it again?

Here’s one from a recent trip:  Lyonnais andouillette.  It’s just a sausage made entirely of visible chunks of offal.  Even locals in Lyon will tell you it’s hard to take.  I found the smell profound, especially after it had been warmed in red wine.  I’m glad I tried it, but I don’t think I need to do it again.  That is, unless I’m invited to a farm or a restaurant where, under the circumstances, it must be tried again.

Cretan Snails-Uncornered Market

Traditional Cretan Meal of Snails

And just for fun, if you had to choose one country’s cuisine to eat for the rest of your life what would it be?

I go back and forth on this one.  Italy, Thailand, and Japan are all contenders. But in the end, probably India.  The variety is astounding and even in my fairly wide-ranging travels of the country, I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface.