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Food and Drink, Italy, STUNTS

Trolling for Fishies on the Amalfi Coast

Thefish_80days

The following post is dedicated to James Hathaway, genius marketer, loyal blog-reader, and nice guy.

James Hathaway is the Communications and Conservation Manager at the Orvis Company, which makes fly-fishing rods. As some of you may remember, I brought 6/7ths of an Orvis fly-fishing rod with me to Mongolia. My plan was to bring all seven sevenths of the rod, but something went greivously wrong during the packing phase of the trip and the end result was that I found myself standing on the bank of a Mongolian River with an incomplete-and useless-fishing rod.

Continue reading "Trolling for Fishies on the Amalfi Coast" »

Italy, STUNTS

More on horny folk music

Paul Cilwa:  Wrong on both counts:  I'm Canadian and I've long been a fan of sexually suggestive folk music. I even have a suggestion to make: "Red Staggerwing," which is on All the Roadrunning, the album by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris that came out last year. It's not quite as blunt as "La Cilentana," but it's playful in  the best way. I consider this album a must-have.  In fact, I've listened to it at least once in every country I have visited on this trip.

Thanks for all your messages, by the way.

Food and Drink, Italy, STUNTS

In Praise of Bawdy Italian Folk Songs

Mynewitalianfamily_80day
My new Italian family

My Slow Day in Italy didn't begin nearly as slowly as I'd imagined. Tilde woke me up at 7:30, I had a quick shower, a quicker breakfast, and then it was into Tilde's car. The three of us--Tilde, myself, and her daughter, Wanda--were headed into the mountains and I wasn't quite sure why. Tilde said something about a crazy man named Ali and sausage. That's all I knew, but it seemed like as good a reason as any.

Like all the hills in Italy, the ones around Cilento have a pretty look to them. The road climbed over hillocks and wound left and right in an upwardly direction, past increasingly thick woods of oak and chestnut. Occasionally, we would pass an old man or woman walking along the side of the road who appeared to be on their way to an Italian peasant contest.

Continue reading "In Praise of Bawdy Italian Folk Songs" »

Food and Drink, Italy, STUNTS

Recipe: Tilde's Fresh Fusilli

Fusillidinner_80days Ingredients
Flour - 500 grams (100 grams per person, 80 percent soft flour and 20 percent hard flour)
Eggs - 3 (possible more or fewer, depending on "feel")
Water

Weigh and mix the flour. Pour it in a tall pile on a pastry board, and form a crater in the center with hands. Crack the eggs into the crater and beat well. Fold the flour into the eggs and when they are absorbed add water. Knead the dough with hands, adding water, until it has reached a desired consistency.

Flattening the hands, roll the dough into a long thin line, about a quarter of an inch thick. Cut it into 3/4-inch lengths. Take each length individually and lay on pastry board. Insert a round metal rod--a kebab spear will do, so long as it is round--into a section of dough running lengthwise, so that the dough hugs the mid-section of the rod. Using the palm of both hands, roll the rod back and forth, spreading the dough out towards the ends until it reaches a length of several inches. Remove fusilli and lay on cookie tray covered with dishtowels. Repeat until there is no more dough.

Boil in salted water. Add sauce. Eat.

Continue reading "Recipe: Tilde's Fresh Fusilli" »

Food and Drink, Italy, STUNTS

Fusilli and Bistecca...Delizioso!

Tilderolling_80days
Tilde rolls fusilli

Sometime after lunch, we hopped into Tilde's Alpha Romeo and paid a visit to the butcher, Luigi, to get some Podolica bisteccas.

Podolica is one of the "autochthonous" breeds of Italian cattle. Italians are very proud of their cattle. They even have a magazine, called Taurus, that talks about nothing else but Italian cattle breeds. (I am a subscriber.) The most famous is Chiannina--the lumbering alabaster-white cow of Tuscany. Podolica is from the south. It's raised both for its milk and for its meat, and like so much from Italy's south, northerners tend to sneer at it. They rave about Chiannina, Marchigniana, and Maramma beef, but no one says a thing about the lowly, grey-faced Podolica. I wanted to have a taste for myself.

Continue reading "Fusilli and Bistecca...Delizioso! " »

Food and Drink, Italy, STUNTS

I Like Italy

Welcometoitaly_80days
Welcome to Italy

I like Italy. I have liked Italy from the first moment I stepped foot on Italian soil, which was in the winter of 1987 when, for the first time in my life, I was greeted by a taxi driver with the word, "Pronto." There is only one other country in Europe that can match the history, cuisine, and beauty of Italy--I think you know which one I am talking about--but Italy has one thing that country does not have: friendly people.

Continue reading "I Like Italy" »

Greece, Preparation, STUNTS

A Word About Travel Specialists

gvmelissa:  Good question. A lot of people don't like spending money on a guide, but nothing can heighten the experience of a foreign place like a cultural--not to mention linguistic--interpreter. The best way to find a guide is to go through a travel specialist that you trust--I tend to find travel specialists in the pages of Conde Nast Traveler. When you find someone, call them. Ask them as many difficult questions as you can think of. If they can't--or don't want to--answer you questions, hang up and call someone else. In the case of northern Greece and Papingo, I used Hellenic Adventures. A full list of travel specialists will be appearing in the August issue of Conde Nast Traveler.  In the meantime you can review the magazine's interactive travel specialist finder as well as their FAQ on which type of trip requires a specialist's help, and which doesn't.

Greece, STUNTS

Trolling the Docks of Igoumenitsa

Waitingforferry_80days
Still waiting for their ship to come in

When it comes to long drives, Greece would seem to be a country of happy endings. Like the drive to Papingo, the drive to the port town of Igoumenitsa climaxes with a soul-stirring views. This is due to the fact that Igoumenitsa is a port town, which is exactly the reason that most Greek people will tell you not to visit the place. If you tell them there's no time to visit Iouannina because you have to make a ferry in Igoumenitsa, they will say, "You must come back, then." If you ask them if Igoumenitsa is a nice town, they will say no. If you ask them why, you'll get the following answer: "It's a port town."

Continue reading "Trolling the Docks of Igoumenitsa" »

Greece, STUNTS

The Grand Canyon of Greece

Roofsofpapingo_80days
The roofs of Papingo, Greece

We shall now turn our attention to the matter of roofs.

Roofs say a lot about a place. I'm not sure exactly what it is they say, because the quality and beauty of roofs, which tend to go hand-in-hand, as it happens, turns out to be almost impossible to predict. But roofs say a lot.

Take the USA as an example. The USA is considered by many to be the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world, and yet most of the time the roofs are made out of tar shingles. Tar shingles are ugly, bad for the environment, and they don't last long. But they are cheap. Now take China. The roofs in China are made from fired clay tiles. They are beautiful to look at and their lifespan is measured in decades. David Spindler finds intact clay roof tiles on the Great Wall that are hundreds of years old. Water's Head village, which has a median income of $40/month and is among the poorer villages you're likely to find in China, has nicer and better roofs than New Jersey. Go figure.

Continue reading "The Grand Canyon of Greece" »

Greece, STUNTS, Turkey

Train to Greece

Traintogreece_80days Can't sleep. It is two in the morning and I am on a train lying a bed that is three inches shorter than I would like it to be. We are somewhere between Istanbul and Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, where, in a few hours, I will be setting off on a five-hour drive across mountains. The air smells of sewage and rotten fish. I hope it is the fecund aroma of the sea and not actual sewage and rotten fish. I drank too much coffee today. I had grown too used to the mild stimulation of tea-drinking culture. The coffee is hitting me hard.

STUNTS, Turkey

How I Dropped a Wad of Cash in Istanbul

Water_pipe
The author settles down after a harrowing
experience with his credit card

The trip to Istanbul aboard the Yuzhnaya Palmyra costs something along the lines of $650 and is worth every penny, not because of the disco, the food or the magician--which I value collectively at $23--but thanks to a body of water called the Bosphorus. The Bosphorus is a narrow channel connecting the Black Sea with the Mediterranean Ocean, and when it comes to epic nautical moments, few can match the experience of sailing into the Bosphorus. It looks at first like shore--hilly, far-off shore. You stand on deck and see that your ship seems to have joined a fleet of container ships all headed, apparently, towards that same stretch of hilly, far-off shore. In the distance, your eyes come to make out an opening in the land. A town appears on your right, plunked ever so cutely on the rising shore, and you see a lighthouse that looks like it's been there a very long time. In front of you, the Bosphorus opens before you as though the earth had been torn in two just last week. It is not a river but a channel of true ocean, riven through the hills. On one side, Asia. On the other, Europe. A mighty bridge presents itself, then another, and it dawns on you that you've traveled into the throbbing, beeping heart of an enormous city, one that spans two continents, and all by boat.

Continue reading "How I Dropped a Wad of Cash in Istanbul" »

About the journey, STUNTS

How Much This Trip Will Cost

Some of you have asked about how much this whole thing is costing Conde Nast Traveler.

As much as I'd like to tell you, the first in line to receive that weighty bit of news is my editor. And I was hoping to soften him up with two or three--or twelve--gin and tonics before dropping the figure on him. Im also considering converting it into a stronger currency to make the final tally seem less big. Is anything trading higher than the pound these days?

STUNTS, Turkey, Ukraine

Crossing the Black Sea to a Disco Beat

Ferry_80days

If you're at all like me and one day, in the midst of plotting your path around the world, you stumble across the problem of the Black Sea and learn that there is a ferry that travels from the Ukrainian port of Odessa to the great city of Istanbul, then like me, you become misty-eyed at the thought of the journey. You imagine Jason and his Argonauts rowing its dark waters to claim the golden fleece, you read a Wikipedia article that states certain scholars believe the Black Sea is the setting for Noah's flood, and you then fire up Google Earth, zoom in on the Black Sea and, with the aid of this heady combination of satellite photography and broadband, become lost in thoughts of its ancientness. The idea of crossing the Black Sea in no time seems very romantic.

Continue reading "Crossing the Black Sea to a Disco Beat" »

Food and Drink, Russia, STUNTS

Vodka and Caviar ('natch)

Thecaviar_80days

Day 39: At dinner I did a stupid thing. I ordered caviar. I had just finished reading a book about caviar called Caviar, by Inga Saffron, which was mainly about how terribly and alarmingly abused sturgeon stocks in Russia have become since the fall of communism and that this ancient and fascinating creature with the most delicious roe of any fish in the world may soon become extinct in the Caspian Sea. It is a sad and painful subject to read about, but the descriptions of all that caviar left me in quite a state.

Continue reading "Vodka and Caviar ('natch)" »

Russia, STUNTS

Trend Spotting in Red Square

Meinfrontofstbasil_80dDay 39: Moscow's fairytale, onion-domed masterpiece is called St. Basil's Cathedral, and contrary to popular opinion it is not Vladimir Putin's house. (Though if he were to suddenly claim it as such, no one would be too surprised.) Few other structures inspire as much awe or appear so vivid in real life as St. Basil's. If Disney's Magic Kingdom rates a 12, it rates a 94. It was built by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of the Khanate of Kazan; an event that took place in the 16th century. I don't know where Khanate of Kazan is, but I imagine it didn't meet a good end because "the Terrible" wasn't a reference to Ivan's tennis serve.

Continue reading "Trend Spotting in Red Square" »

Russia, STUNTS

Trapped Inside a Russian Existential Play

Stationatnight_80daysDays 38 to 39: The Trans-Mongolian Railway is not a train journey. It is a Russian existential play, and the fact that it commences in Ulaan Bataar and finishes in Moscow is what's known as audience participation.

The curtain lifts on the dining car, which is so filled with smoke that it's difficult to read the No Smoking sign hanging above the doorway. A table at the far end is occupied by three men who listen to Russian pop on a portable stereo made by Hyundai. These three men are smoking at all times. Occasionally they break into a game of dominoes, but nothing interrupts the smoking.

The first man looks like Vladimir Putin and is well dressed. We will call him Vladimir. Vladimir will occasionally get up to do something, but this is very rare and almost all of his time is spent sitting at the table with the second man. This second man smokes even more than the others and does not wear a shirt. We will call him Shirtless Igor. When one of his friends gets up to do something, Shirtless Igor beckons him to sit back down by gesturing with his hands in a way that says "be reasonable," all the while blowing smoke out of his nostrils. Very occasionally, Shirtless Igor will roust himself out of the booth and walk down into the next carriage to use the bathroom, a trip that takes him past The Travel Writer's Room. As he walks, he issues wet, gurgling coughs. The Travel Writer wonders who Shirtless Igor is and how it is that he knows the staff on the train so well. The Travel Writer figures that he must make the journey often, perhaps for work reasons, and that the staff have, over time, all become his friends.

Continue reading "Trapped Inside a Russian Existential Play" »

Russia, STUNTS

Lake Baikal's Babushkas and Their Tasty Smoked Fish

Salmon_lake_baikal_80days
A little smoked fish caught in Siberia's Lake Baikal

Day 37: I haven't sampled all the world's railway station public address systems, but I think the PA in the Siberian town of Ulan Ude stands a very good chance of being the most annoying. Announcements begin with the first melodic refrain of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," a tune whose merriness is debatable in the first place. They come fast and often--at least two a minute--and at six in the morning, the thought that runs through my head is that the woman making all these announcements had no idea what she was in for when she applied for the job. She is busier than Jack Welch.

Continue reading "Lake Baikal's Babushkas and Their Tasty Smoked Fish" »

Mongolia, Russia, STUNTS

Battling Cabin Crashers on the Trans-Mongolian Railway

Meandtransmongolian_80day
The Trans-Mongolian Railway.  Home for the next four days

Day 36: Mechanically speaking, the Russian train is superior to the UVZ. Mechanically speaking. Comfort is another matter. The UVZ was an '05, so it still had some of that new-car freshness. The train, I am guessing, is a '55, and its new-train freshness has been long since depleted. This isn't all bad. In between the cars, the vestibule spaces, where passengers wait to unload, have an extreme industrial theme, with a pervasive gun-metal grey color scheme and sharp corners that give a strong Soviet flavor. The cabins themselves have seen better times and the upholstery has swallowed its fill of dead skin and dust. Sitting down, I begin to fantasize about a long and intensive fumigation--three days of marination in chemicals and steam. But I'm not sure that would quite do it.

Continue reading "Battling Cabin Crashers on the Trans-Mongolian Railway" »

Mongolia, STUNTS

Big Yak Attack

At this point, you're not doubt wondering whether or not I steer wrestled the yak, as I vowed to do during an uncharacteristic fit of emotion back in Hong Kong. So we saw a yak. We were driving out to the ger camp when I noticed a cow in the next field charging towards the UVZ. Why is that cow charging the car, I wondered. I asked Byambaa who said, "It's not a cow, it's a yak."

The yak, clearly, had read my blog. It was behind us now, but I stuck my head out the window and shouted a streak of trash talk that hasn't been heard round these parts since Genghis Kahn. The yak stood on its hind legs, pointed at his sharp horns, then at me, then drew his hoof across his throat, making the international sign of "you're a dead man." I told the yak to meet me here in four days, when we'd be on our way back. Four days later, no sign of the yak. He wimped out.

Mongolia, STUNTS

Broken-Down Russian Minivans; Wild Mongolian Horses

Problemswithuvz_80days_2
"Get your motor runnin'..."

Day 35: The UVZ, I'm sad to say, started showing signs of its price today. We headed out from camp, and I took a turn behind the wheel and freaking loved it. It's like driving a cross between a tractor and a minivan. The dashboard is punched out of a single sheet of metal. I have a strong sense that the UVZ factory hasn't changed much since the 1960s.

Continue reading "Broken-Down Russian Minivans; Wild Mongolian Horses" »

China, STUNTS, Video

Video: More from the Great Wall

Editor's Note:  More scenes from Mark's journey last week to the Great Wall.

Food and Drink, Russia, STUNTS

Moscow Restaurant Suggestions

I'm close to wrapping up my trip here in Mongolia.  The next stop will be Moscow where I will spend four days.  If you have any suggestions on where to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, please let me know.  Something old school, preferably--I can get fusion and minimalistic and all that stuff back home.  I'm looking for borscht and blinys and caviar. 

Gear, Mongolia, STUNTS

My Sorry Attempt at Fly Fishing in Mongolia

Horsesfrolicking_80days_2
Any of you horses fly fish?

I have a regretful episode to tell you about that took place on my honeymoon. It was a 10-day tour of Tuscany, and we were staying at a remote and once-abandoned Tuscan village that had been renovated into a charming little resort. Since it was autumn, the place was abandoned again, and we had it all to ourselves. One afternoon, Laura and I took a walk down into the valley. As we sauntered under hardwood canopies, holding hands, finding new adjective-laden ways to describe our love--something my wife can do for hours--I regretted not having a truffle-sniffing pig or dog along.

Continue reading "My Sorry Attempt at Fly Fishing in Mongolia" »

Gear, STUNTS

Boxers vs. Briefs

Roseanne:  Finally, a good a question. Thank you for asking. I wear boxers. 100% cotton. I had a silk pair once, but the dryer was hard on them, and at that point in my life I lacked the maturity to hang dry. I packed eight pairs, all told. Twelve would have been better. Believe me. As far as Mongolians, heres what my guide tells me: Mainly boxers.

Food and Drink, Mongolia, STUNTS

Grace

Theknife_80days

Day 33:  To ride on horseback across the Mongolian steppe is to be reminded of the cycle of life...and probably more often than you'd like.  The dun-colored expanse may vanish in great magnificence on the distant horizon, but underfoot it is just dirt, tufts of overgrazed grass, and animal droppings blackened by the sun. Horses, cows, sheep, goats, and yaks leave their marks everywhere, and when there aren't droppings, there are bones (skulls, femurs, shoulder blades, vertebrae, a horn) all scattered about, sun bleached, and sunken into the dirt.

Continue reading "Grace " »

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