Ecclectic tales from an independent wanderer…

Spain

No Reservations

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Atop the Pindus Mountains, in the heart of Greece.


A term made famous by Mr. Anthony Bourdain, it’s my preferred method of travel.

But what exactly does it mean to say that you travel with “no reservations?”

That’s a question that can be a little be more difficult to answer, but more than anything I believe it’s a silent statement of traveling with both an open mind and an open heart.

For conversation sake & in more technical terms, here are my thoughts on the subject. Traveling with no reservations, specifically refers to these three things…

1) I truly do like to travel with no itinerary or hotel reservations. In many ways, I like to make my own way, go with the flow and let the journey engulf me in all its magic.
If I do opt for making travel arrangements, I usually limit them to the first and last nights of my journey. This can be extremely helpful if your luggage is lost as well, or if you know that jet-lag may be a reality for you after a long flight.
2) Always trusting my intuition, I NEVER turn down an invitation. A great example of this took place on my spring journey through Greece with Tripology Adventures last May. Following an incredible day of traversing mountain roads in a 4×4 caravan, a gentleman affiliated with the organization offered to talk me on a four-wheel-drive ride in a vintage Mercedes he had outfitted.
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The town of Karpenisi is located high in the Pindus Mountains and is recognized as having some of the cleanest air in all or Europe. Touted as being the Alps of Greece, this Colorado Girl can legitimately say that these peaks and valley’s made the Rocky Mountains look like Kansas. An avid off-roader (my first car was a Jeep Wrangler, Rio Grande addition complete with a front mounted winch & leopard print steering wheel cover) I absolutely jumped at the opportunity to do some real 4-wheeling in this picturesque landscape)
Outside of the hotel, I met my guide – Theodoros Gravanis & his retrofitted, army issue rock-crawler.
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Theo & His Rock-Crawling Machine

The vehicle had no seat-belts, no airbags, no top and was basically set-up to be an all around, trail tackling, mud-busting, mama’s worst nightmare death machine.
Thrilled, I jumped right in – thinking to myself that what Mama-Didn’t-Know, wouldn’t kill her.
The ride was crazy, exhilarating & adrenaline pumping fun with Theodoros dropping it into four-low, taking the vehicle nearly vertical down steep ravines and up blind hills. Surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery I had ever seen, I was in car junky heaven, all the while holding on for dear life.
Atop an incredible summit with 360 degree views, Theodoros even let me get behind the wheel and take it for a spin. Both of us swapping stories in broken English & Greek and each with shit eating grins of pure joy plastered on our faces.
My lack of “reservations” led to one of the most memorable experiences of the entire trip and in seriousness, an afternoon that I will never forget.
3) Don’t let yourself be reserved by habits, eating or otherwise that might possibly have you miss out on something spectacular. Food is another great example of this…
Once upon a time in Pacific Mexico, a family offered to host my travel companion & I for dinner in their generations old hacienda. On the menu, Lengua – Cow Tongue which very much maintains it’s look and tastebud texture.
Hesitant to try it, I closed my eyes, shoved it in and was amazed at the eruption of flavors that washed through my mouth! Incredible, delicious and again, something that I will never forget.
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Traditional Cuy – Rotisserie Guinea Pig at a Roadside Restaurant outside Riobamba, Ecuador

I can tell you so many similar stories – Like the time I ate the Guinea Pig or “Cuy” as they call it, at a road side restaurant in Ecuador. All the locals looked on as a tried my first bites, avoiding the toenails that were still attached and the leather thick skin from its open fire rotisserie for who knows how many hours. One nibble in particular didn’t taste or feel right and resulted in a silent, but very obvious gag. The on lookers all roared with laughter and in that brief moment, we bonded – my culinary right of passage.
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Roadside, Rotisserie Cuy Outside Riobamba, Ecuador

Just because it looks funny, smells different or is something you have never once pondered putting in your mouth, give it a go. Chances are, you won’t be sorry.

When did all this begin for me?
Although it is hard to say as my wanderlust set in at a very early age, I know that one specific trip ignited my current drive for adventure and changed my perspective as a young adult.
In 2003 following my first year of University study at the University of Colorado, my very non-adventurous mother and I took a trip to Spain.
A spanish major, I had done my research, spoken with many different people and developed an idea of what I thought the trip would be.
My mother and I departed Denver on a two and a half week journey without one single hotel reservation or plan in mind.
Upon arrival, we found the airport information desk and were given metro instructions and a tourist map. I’ll never forget the train arriving to the platform and the two of us staring at the doors as they refused to open. An attendant ran up to us and instructed us to “Push the Button.” Laughing and feeling a bit insecure, we jumped aboard, bags in tow.
We left the airport in Madrid on the Metro, headed for the Puerto Del Sol, an area of the city that my Basques, Spanish professor had insured me was spectacular. Happy to stay in a hostel, we were told at the airport information desk that we would find many there.
Emerging from the underground metro station, not only did we find ourselves in the middle of a holy parade, but we didn’t see a single Hostel. I asked a shopkeeper, showing her a map with the circled destination. She chuckle and in Spanish replied – “You’re simply not looking high enough…” and then with a grin gestured to the upper stories of the ancient buildings above us where sign after sign displayed “Hostel Aqui.”
The rest of our time, resulted in laughter, tears, adventures, debates about returning home early and ultimately stories that she & I still tell with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts.
Go. Travel. Open your heart and let the world fill it with endless treasures…

Girona: A Spanish City with Venetian Flair

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An hour away from Barcelona lies the Catalan province of Girona, a medieval city that has endured Roman rule, Moorish takeover & seize by Charlemagne. Its picturesque streets are backdropped by centuries of history, making this municipality an excellent escape from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona to the south.

Originally founded in 79 BC, the city has endured the test of time, changing with each rule, wearing the mark of each takeover. Declared a Spanish City in the 11th century, Girona is the second largest in Catalonia rivaled only by the Capital, Barcelona.

Walk through centuries of history as you explore the city center on foot. Begin at the Plaça de Catalunya along the banks of the Onyar River, a waterway who’s influence gives the hamlet a Venetian flair. Stroll north along the picturesque Rambla de la Llibertat, a bustling boulevard dotted with humming cafes and brightly colored boutiques. Stop by the stunning Teatre Municipal along the Plaça Vi, beautifully adorned in red velvet from its general seating to the three tiered Opera boxes. Continue along the Carrer Ciutadans to the Call, one of the best preserved Jewish ghettos in all of Europe.

Before being expelled form Spain in 1492, the Jewish cultured flourished in Girona. Within these tight atmospheric streets, unlock bits of history in either the Museu dels Jueus or the Museu d’Història de la Ciutat, while taking in beautiful sights in the Centre Bonastruc Ça Porta.

At the city’s heart is the Cathedral de Girona; a stunning representation of Catalan Gothic Architecture finished with a Baroque façade. Marvel at the well preserved 11th-century Tapestry of Creation while enjoying the guided audio tour available at the welcome desk.20140710-173934-63574366.jpg
The city’s other treasures include the Arabic-style baths, Banys Àrabs, dating back to the 12th-century and the Jardins de la Francesca that have several access points to the Passeig Arqueològic, a panoramic walkway that takes you across atop the old city walls for picturesque views of the city.

Before traveling on, stop at one of the city’s fantastic restaurants like Vinil located on the Carrer de Cort-Reial. Serving up traditional Catalan Cuisine, menus are prepared daily, utilizing fresh local ingredients that are brought together for delectable dishes. Rich & creamy Asparagus Risotto, or hand-rolled Pear & Ricotta Ravioli topped with savory Basil Pesto are just a few examples of the delectable offereings.
Complete the experience with a carafe of Rosado wine and of course, a traditional local dessert of Crema Catalan drizzled with Anise Sauce. For a leisurely dining experience, choose one of the outdoor bistro tables, tucked in the shade of the large stone arches and watch the passers-by as you nibble away on one culinary surprise after another.

Only an hour and fifteen minutes by either car or train out of Barcelona, this destination, rich in history is well worth the visit.20140710-174010-63610049.jpg


Instant Immersion

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There is nothing more exhilarating that traveling internationally. Especially when done on your own, you have the opportunity to learn so many things about yourself in a rapid, way.

Unlike any other form of anticipation, when first passing through customs in a foreign airport, you never know what to expect. Beyond the exit doors, you find a rainbow of culture. Men holding signs for inbound professionals, families eagerly awaiting their loved ones and tourists wide eyed and ready for adventure.

There a few places more romantic than this area of the airport, providing an excellent environment for observation and self reflection.

Never rush any part of your travel experience as indeed it is often more about the journey than the destination.

Small things, like the cloths people wear, bags of potato chips in cafes, the way children behave and are treated by their parents all add to the kaleidoscope of cultural immersion.

Grounded, my European adventure is about to begin…