Twelve Hours in New York City

12 hours in new york city
A few out our window

New York City has never been high on my list of travel destinations. But I finally got out of the airport for a look around after years of putting it off and just using it for connecting flights.

The family flew into Newark on a cloudy Saturday, landing at about 2 p.m. We managed to cram a lot into the past 36 hours or so. Let me give you a quick rundown of just the first 12, with more to come in future posts.

First, we checked into the Millennium Hilton right near Ground Zero. We were quickly back out the door determined to hit Chinatown; we figured that would be a great place to find a late lunch. Sure enough, we ran across a few Vietnamese places. I was hoping to find either cha ca la vong or bun cha ha noi, two of my favorite items from nearly three weeks in Vietnam. Given how much New Yorkers love to talk about what a great food city they call home, I figured it wouldn’t be a tall order. Not a single one had either dish, but New Xe Lua looked promising. Sure enough, it had a great salmon caramel hot pot, plus a really nice com dish with pork chops, shredded BBQ pork and one of those egg/pork things that look like a slice of quiche. They also did a decent ca fe sua da. Anneka couldn’t decide what she liked best.

12 hours in new york city
Checking out some Vietnamese food

Then, we decided to march toward a few of the well-known local beer spots. Along the way, we discovered that New York City has some fine parks for the little people. Anneka had herself a blast – she hit the slides, did some stair-stepping and made a few new friends (even older kids seem to love her).

From there, we ventured toward the beer. But the Proletariat was too tiny and frankly, it’s selection too underwhelming. We reset our course toward the Blind Tiger (running across Seek & Destroy, mentioned a few paragraphs later). Also not super impressive, and not a good place to hang out with a toddler and an Ironman stroller. We set course to walk back toward our hotel and hope for the best.

12 hours in new york city
Anneka makes a new friend.

I can tell you at this point that New York City is not a craft beer city. Contrast that to my home city, whose shortcomings I love hanging in the wind – in downtown Scottsdale, I can walk from the outstanding Craft 64 to Sip Coffee & Beer House to Goldwater Brewing Co. to Brat Haüs to the Cornish Pasty Co, none of which is more than 5 minutes from the other. At any single one of those, visitors will have no problems finding outstanding regional, national and world craft beer (in the case of Craft 64, all the beers are from Arizona). I hear Brooklyn is somewhat better on this count, but I can’t confirm that yet.

New York City seek & destroy
A terrific vintage shop in New York City

So, we walked back south. As we strolled, we came across a very fun place called Seek & Destroy Vintage Clothing Story. My description, if Seek & Destroy hired me to write their advertising copy, would be "Seek & Destroy Vintage Clothing/Bondage Gear/Halloween/Military Surplus Store." I could spend hours there, and probably drop some decent money. This place would be great around Halloween time.

We continued our march, with Sarah noticing a place called Rice Cream Shoppe. I figured this was probably some sort of vegan/rice ice cream sort of place. But no! It’s a rice pudding shop, which is far better! They had at least 20 varieties of rice pudding and various toppings (including carob chips, which I’m nuts about). It was a great dessert that wasn’t too cold for a chilly night, and made neither of us feel like pigs.

Rice Cream Shoppe New York City
The Rice Cream Shoppe in New York City

From there, we continued to the hotel. I made a quick stop at a nearby Whole Foods hoping to take advantage of its beer selection. I had a quick chat with an employee, explaining that I’m from out of town, and would like suggestions for single bottles from regional breweries. He was friendly and helpful, but Whole Foods had few good choices. His first and most definite selection was Flower Power, a nice IPA from Ithaca Beer Co. I’m enjoying that right now, and I mean "enjoy." It’s a fine beer with an aftertaste of pear. I’d bet there’s Cascade and Simcoe hops in it. He also sent me home with Brooklyn Brewing’s Sorachi Ace. I’ll let you know about that one in a moment.

Five Minutes Later

Meh. Tastes kind of bubblegummy, but not in that Belgian yeast sort of way. Probably a characteristic of the Sorachi Ace hop. Not badly brewed or anything -- no off flavors that would indicate that the brewers don’t know their stuff. Just not a recipe I dig that much. Oh, well.
So, that’s 2 p.m. to midnight, first day in New York City. Not bad!

48 Hours in Utah

In the mountains near Logan, Utah.

Believe it or not, I did not cause a single person to spontaneously combust during my visit to Utah. I understand why this might be a concern – after all, I am a long-haired, heavy metal, craft beer character. And Utah. Well, take those three things, and spin them 180 degrees.

Still, I enjoyed my visit. Here are a few completely random observations about a two-day stay in Utah, which took us from Salt Lake City to spend two night in Logan before returning to Salt Lake City for the flight home. We were there for Sarah to run her first post-baby marathon, which was the excellent, well-run, super-scenic Top of Utah Marathon.

Driving a Prius Kind of Sucks

This is less about Utah and more a general observation. We both loved the Prius gas mileage. The steering, breaking and acceleration, however, were absolutely porcine. Possibly even bovine. If Subaru dials its hybrid XV Crosstrek in for better gas mileage (and a halfway decent name), it will have people like us volitionally selling our current Subarus and getting into hybrids.

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Ogden – a weird little Utah town.

Ogden is a Weird Little Town

I don’t know quite what to make of Ogden. The first person I saw there was a shambling homeless dude who was not firing on all cylinders. The town seems to have a homeless problem, which for us culminated in a dude stinking up the entire first floor of the Grounds For Coffee. This coffee shop, by the way, has some weirdness of its own. One day, the barista cranked out some quality cappuccinos for us (attention, espresso snobs – they only offer one size). Two days later, the barista did a pretty half-assed job -- possibly because she had a crowd of local hipsters clamoring for her attention. I dunno. Personally, I’d poke my nose in and see how big the crowd is. If there are more than two people in line, I’d cross the street to the friendly Pearl Milk Tea Club.

Ogden, though, has some cool old buildings that have been gentrified silly. They are home to trendy, spendy shops. Nothin’ wrong with that. I also have a place called The Barrelhouse that I need to mock: On a chalkboard listing its craft beers, it listed Stella Artois. People, this is Europe’s Budweiser. It is made by the tanker ship load. It is not in any way “craft.” That’s like saying Justin Bieber is kvlt.

How could we NOT pose for this photo?

The Mountains are Cool

The drive to Logan (Utah) is dotted by some moderate-sized mountains. They look brown and dry, which reminds me of The Remarkables, those beautiful, stark, cinematic mountains you may have seen in Lord of the Rings -- or lining the adventure sports capitol of Queenstown, New Zealand.

Logan is Exceedingly Pleasant

On the surface, Logan is a 21st century Mayberry – a walkable city center, little farmer’s markets, awesome old-school brick houses. Ahhhh, Americana. Yet you can find a yoga class (not on weekends, as easily) and a decent coffeehouse in the form of Ibis.

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A bike shop got creative with its old tires.

It has trees. It has rivers. It has a beautiful park or three. And even a place where you can acquire freshly harvested bull semen. OK, maybe that’s not so Mayberry -- or is it, Otis?

But Logan Have Three Problems (As Borat Might Say)

Food, blight and a – ahem, how shall I put this? – fermented beverages.

First the food. Here’s the honest truth: For the better part of 24 hours I didn’t want to eat anything. My prime suspect is HuHot Mongolian Grill. I woke the morning after it, and my stomach wanted nothing. Every food commercial on TV and every smell made my stomach feel like it was full of live frogs. I only got better after a handy purchase from the pharmacy, which led me to Jack’s Wood Fired Oven. There, a pepperoni pizza with smoked cheddar cheese led me back toward normalcy. Sarah didn’t exactly give rave reviews to an Indian place she tried, even though Anneka approved enough to attempt snagging a platter of naan from a nearby table (cute babies can get away with nearly anything).

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Some hard-partying Logan residents were here. Jones Soda – scandalous! But at least it’s not caffeinated.

So, blight. I mentioned all the awesome, cozy-looking houses earlier. But walk away from the nicer areas, and there are some areas that just look flat-out abandoned. Some businesses seemed more closed permanently than closed for the day. Lots of empty buildings, and more than a few boarded up.

And onto fermented beverages. OK, I get it – this is a very Mormon city in a very Mormon state. But the archaic beer laws got repealed years ago. And if not beer, let’s talk about all that honey that makes everyone around here swell with pride like a tick gourging on a moose’s rump. Turn some of that into mead! If Superstition Meadery in Prescott is proving anything, it’s that people will love mead once they try it. What’s not to love about wine made out of honey? And if the local honey is that awesome, do those hard-working bees some justice!

That wraps up my ramblings of Utah. I’d like to stay a little longer – but some mead or craft beers would make my return far more likely. As-is, I think Colorado is a better bet for a guy like me.

Hey! I have other stories about being in Utah. Check ’em out!

 

Destinations for Adventurous Eaters

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to eat something completely off-the-wall. Some foreign destinations make that easy thanks to immigrant populations that influence local cuisine, unusual flora and fauna and historical necessity. Here are some great places in Australia, New Zealand and Iceland where I’ve used my tastebuds as crash-test dummies – and I know other adventurous eaters will have fun at any one of these.

Australia for Adventurous Eaters

Being close to Asia gives Australia some wonderfully spicy treats. Though you can get many Asian flavors in any major U.S. city, it’s still worth diving into any Indian, Thai or Indonesian restaurants you can find.

ADVENTUROUS EATERS
One of the many delights waiting for adventurous eaters in Australia is the black sapote, aka chocolate pudding fruit.

But it’s Australia’s abundant wildlife, one odd import and its fruit that will interest adventurous eaters. It’s not at all unusual to see salt-water crocodile, emu and kangaroo on the menu. At the Australian Heritage Hotel in Sydney, I found all three as pizza toppings. Less common is camel, which I found turned into schnitzel at the Wharf Precinct in the Northern Territory outpost of Darwin.

Let’s say you’re a vegetarian. There’s still plenty for you in Australia. See, the country’s really not all desert. The province of Queensland is incredibly lush. There, you’ll find the Cape Trib Exotic Fruitfarm a few hours north of Cairns. The Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm hosts tastings, where you’ll learn about and sample a pretty overwhelming array of unusual fruits – takes notes and photos if you want to remember them. On my tasting list was black sapote, dragonfruit, jackfruit, sapodilla star fruit, mangosteen and soursop. And I’m leaving out many.

Can Adventurous Eaters Bear Finland?

The food in Finland is pretty agreeable stuff that won’t challenge adventurous eaters. You’ll see more game meat on the menu than in the United States, and there are kitschy places offering “viking” style foods. As you might imagine, good seafood isn’t hard to find.

There’s one place that might interest adventurous eaters, though: On the island of Suomenlinna, I found a place called Panimo serving bear sausage. They also had some decent craft beer there – I remember the IPA being particularly good.

Exotic Options in New Zealand

Travel writers have slammed the culinary efforts in New Zealand. That amazes me. It’s home to some great local lamb and outstanding seafood. And it’s certainly a great place to find unusual flavors. Like Australia, Asian immigrants have brought the spice. But even aside from that, adventurous eaters will find plenty of fun.

adventurous eaters
Look for Aggys Shack a few steps away from Lake Wakatipu.

During a bus ride from Nelson to Franz Josef Glacier, our driver told us all about the possum pie at the Sandfly Cafe in Pukekura. Despite his assurances that it’s “easy to eat,” I was the only one to get a personal-size pie stuffed with stringy bits of possum. It’s not great nor revolting – but it’s fun to say you’ve eaten possum.

On the South Island, whitebait is another local favorite – and possibly a test of a traveler’s willingness to try anything. They’re recently hatched freshwater fish, usually mixed in with egg. Whitebait is fairly pricey, probably because it’s fairly labor-intensive to catch them.

Finally, Queenstown is a great stop to try unusual bites. There, I discovered that Aggys Shack, Fish & Chips is the only place I’ve ever seen where you can order a whole smoked eel. Skip the fish & chips (even thought they’re also tasty) and pick the eel and a nice order of fresh green-lipped mussels. Sitting on the shore of Lake Wakatipu while eating mussels and eel from Aggys Shack is a great eating experience.

Iceland for Wild Eaters

Talk about a harsh, barren place: According to Wikipedia’s statistics, less than one percent of Iceland’s land area is arable. The rest is lava flows and glaciers. That makes for some gastronomic ingenuity.

Take hakarl (pronounced “howker” – and be sure to check out the link so you can see video of me eating hakarl, and find out what I did with the leftovers). Early settlers in Iceland were so pressed for food that they had to discover ways to make the toxic flesh of the Greenland shark fit for eating.

Here’s what they did – gut the shark, bury it for a few months, exhume it, cut it into strips, let it hang a few months more, and enjoy. The result is rubbery and smells like cat urine. This is an ultimate “been there, eaten that” food for adventurous eaters.

adventurous eaters
Some Greenland shark putrefying Icelandic style.

Then there’s the excellent smoked trout available just about everywhere in Iceland. What makes it unusual? Well, it’s smoked over fires produced by burning dried lamb dung.

There are also certain places where Icelanders eat pickled rams testicles and entire sheep heads with the eyes still planted in the skull.

Larva and More in South Korea

People who are not adventurous eaters are really frightened of kimchi, the famous, spicy fermented cabbage that seems to be South Korea’s best-known food. I even know people who can’t stomach bi bim bap, that delicious bend of marinated meat, vegetables and rice.

I’d hate to see what happened if they ever tried boiled silkworm larva. This little delicacy is available from sidewalk vendors all over Seoul. I bought a cup to share with my very lucky wife. The taste was a combination of leather and liver. But the worst part was that the larvae absorbed the water they were cooked in.

Each sizable larva exploded when I bit down, squirting larva just in my mouth with an audible “plup” sound. We only ate half our bowl, but it was still fun doing it. I’d prefer them fried, like in the photo above.

So, what about you? What are your favorite places to dig into weird foods? Have you tried anything I’ve mentioned?

An earlier version of this story appeared on the now-defunct Yahoo! Voices site.

A Look at Beliefs About the French

I don’t highlight passages in books. I just don’t. First off, it makes a mess on my Kindle screen. And usually, I don’t know -- the spirit just doesn’t move me.

But a passage in They Eat Horses, Don’t They? by Piu Marie Eatwell had me scrambling for a highlighter. Unfortunately, a pen was the best I could do – anyway, the section I highlighted on page 53 made me laugh loud and hard; I won’t spoil the surprise for you, but I will say it involved a  McDonald’s franchise in France, bricks, angry French farmers and Roquefort cheese.

Eatwell’s book is subtitled The Truth About the French. She takes beliefs about the French and dissects them based on her research and experience living in France. She gives a conclusion about whether the belief is true or false.

Beliefs about the FrenchI’ve heard many of these beliefs about the French before, but Eatwell has a access to a few unfamiliar to me -- probably because she’s English.

The myths range from France’s ranking as garlic and cheese consumers, to the alleged style sense of French women. And oh, yes – there is a section on sex. These are all pretty commonly known beliefs.

The beliefs that were unfamiliar to were the "archetypal Frenchman wears a beret and striped shirt and rides a bicycle festooned with onions." That, and the view that France is a very egalitarian society. I’d never once heard that before, and it was something that even my good French friend of more than two decades has never hurled at me in claiming Gaelic superiority. When I think of egalitarian, I think of the Scandi-Nordic countries. Oh, and the belief that the French eat horses – news to me, as well.

Eatwell digs into these many beliefs about the French over about 300 pages; she has a distinct English flavor to her writing -- there’s a bit of almost ironic formality sauced with smirky humor. I really enjoyed her style, and she seems like she’d be an extraordinarily amusing dinner guest.

beliefs about the French
You might feel like eating a chunk of Roquefort cheese after reading this book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Francophile visiting my home earlier this year read some of the book, and agreed with some parts while disagreeing with others. I found many of the objections, though, typical of the over-romanticizing of the French. Americans indulge themselves in this bad habit about a great many foreign countries, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in that. Eatwell has the advantage of research of the most valuable type: time in-country. Lots of it.

Here’s the best measure of whether Eatwell succeeds with They Eat Horses, Don’t They?: She made me – a traveler who really doesn’t care about visiting France and is content to leave it to the unadventurous – laugh often. I read it straight through with no cheating interludes with other books.

My Recipe for Travel Advice

travel advice
I eat the possum pie – or anything else weird that someone puts in front of me. That’s my travel advice.

A few days ago, I saw a “10 Travel Rules to Live By” list on Huffington Post. Or to be fair to the author’s original headline, “10 Principles to Make Your Travel Memorable.”

I don’t recommend reading it. It’s full of the usual generic gooey travel advice – you know, embrace, awe, interact, hippie blah blah. There is nothing original in this list. Reading it gave me just one “a-ha” moment: that travelers tell other people how to travel way too much. That’s a steaming load of fly-covered assumption, and we all need to knock it off.

But we all like travel advice, right? OK. I can do that. I’m going to tell you a few things about how I travel. Accept or ignore as it applies to you. And have fun however you roll, even if it’s completely counter to what I write. Let’s go:

travel advice
When I travel, I move fast. But it’s OK to be a slow roller, too.

I roll at my own speed

If the Huffington Post bit is anything to go by, I travel all sorts of wrong (Sloooow it down, it says). I rarely spend three days in any one place. I like the physical challenge, planning the logistics, hopping flights and whizzing around on a high-speed rail line – obviously not in the United States. You may vary. And that’s OK. Stick your toes in the sand, walk everywhere you go, get to know all the locals by name. If it’s what you like, it’s the right way to travel.

I seek no deep meaning – just a good time

I once met a couple that gave me attitude about going to Australia. They’d just been to Thailand, and told me they don’t travel anywhere that English is the official language. I asked how much Thai they learned. They looked uncomfortable -- and admitted they only spoke English during their trip. To me, they try to turn travel into a intellectual statement that they try to wield like a blunt instrument. They want travel to make them feel superior and intelligent. And look, it’d be a lie if I said my travel experiences don’t make me feel a step ahead of non-travelers. But that’s not the point: I want to have fun, and let the socio-political-artistic-intellectual observations come unbidden, not according to what I expect.

I never talk about a “bucket list”

God, I hate this phrase so much. Aside from its crap movie origins, I hate it because: It turns travel into a checklist; and it focuses on running against the clock. Instead of a “bucket list,” I keep a mental “up next” list. It becomes a Hunger Games roster of destinations competing each other to be my next adventure. Losers get recycled into the next list. I like that approach a lot better.

I eat everything in sight

Some of my best stories come from eating strange stuff – rotten shark meat, boiled silkworm larvae, camel schnitzel, possum pie … the list goes on. Locals always love it when I dive face-first into their food (nobody likes persnickety tourists who won’t try anything odd). The actual taste isn’t the point – it’s all about the experience. Though sometimes, I taste some pretty delicious bits from my “eat all that is edible” policy.

Homebrewing with Brooklyn Brew Shop’s 1-Gallon Recipes

Homebrewing can take up some space, as you see in transferring a 5-gallon batch from the primary fermenter into the secondary.

I know, I know. This is a travel blog. I’m supposed to write about travel and adventurous stuff.

But homebrewing counts as an adventure. I’ve been into it for about seven years now. I’ve brewed everything from a delicious chocolate-coconut stout to a clone of Dogfish Head‘s Midas Touch that turned out … bad. Like “dead lobster floating in the fermenter” horrible. On the plus side, it was perfect for making seafood stews.

Anyway, I was just walking around at Whole Foods when I spotted a bagful of grain. It had the intriguing label “Maple Porter” on it. I’ve had a yen to make a maple stout, and I figured I’d pick up these grains to modify a 5-gallon batch of cream stout I have planned. I also noticed a book … The Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Beer Making Book. It had lots of cool-sounding recipes, so I said “yes, please!”

When I got home, I realized the bag of grains also had packets of yeast and hops in it. That is was a kit from The Brooklyn Brew Shop – the same people who did the book. And it was sized for a tiny one-gallon batch. Hmm, time for a deeper look.

I cracked the homebrewing book open and got the background. Turns out Brooklyn Brew Shop is the work of Stephen and Erica, a DIY-lovin’ couple. The New York Times has a nice account of their story. I like the friendly vibe of their book, which tells how – while low on space and money but high on flavor and adventurous spirit- they started brewing tiny batches.

Happiness is a bunch of big brew-it-yourself bottles.

I like ’em, I do. The people and the picobatches. I’m writing this the night after I brewed a batch (which I tweaked with some honey and toasted shredded coconut added to the boil). To frame this, I’ve lost count of the number of batches I’ve brewed, all have which have been partial mashes recipes. I modify every recipe with some sort of offbeat adjunct. So here’s my overview:

  • It’s a nice, compact way to get into homebrewing. Perfect for people worried about space. You can get their entire kit for $40 with a recipe, ingredients and some essential gear. I do believe you’ll need a brew kettle, though.
  • Homebrewing journeymen like me who have been reluctant to go all-grain will get a nice intro. For some reason, Brooklyn Brew Shop’s approach demystified the process. I’ve seen many other videos about all-grain brewing. But this … well, it made everything seem approachable.
  • The recipes are kick-ass. I have two hulking rosemary bushes in my yard. I pondered using them in a beer. Sure enough, the book has a nice recipe for me. There’s also a spruce beer recipe. The book is a Finnish sahti recipe away from being perfect. Hint, hint!
  • Tiny batches are cool. You can brew them as gifts for friends. Or to experiment with crazy flavors. Experienced brewers can lure buddies who have hemmed and hawed about homebrewing for years.
  • All-grain homebrewing produces a massive amount of spent grains. Think about making some spent-grain cookies – for humans or canines (dogs, to the layperson).

So the blow-off tube is venting CO2 like a fully automatic BB gun. A sign of a nice, active fermentation. I’ll post again after I have a  taste to test the carbonation. I’ll be sure to post again once the batch ages awhile.

Bottom line – Stephen and Erica have opened the hatch to invite more people into homebrewing. If you’re looking for a friendly entrance into the club but have been scared away by the bouncers of space and expense, Brooklyn Brew Shop has the answer.

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Iceland’s Coffee Culture a Cure for the Common Starbucks

suffistinn
Sufistinn Kaffihus - tasty coffee, amazing desserts near Reykjavik, Iceland.

Three Great Coffeehouses in Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik, the capitol of Iceland, is absolutely bristling with inviting coffeehouses. Kaffitar, Cafe Rot and Sufistinn Kaffihus are three of its best.
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Eating Hákarl in Iceland

Fermented shark, hákarl, is an example of a cu...
Fermented shark, hákarl, is an example of a culinary tradition that has continued from the settlement of Iceland in the 9th century to this day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the reasons I went to Iceland was to try the country’s “delicacy” (just in case the quotes don’t make it clear enough, this is using the term very loosely) known as hákarl. This translates simply into “shark.” You pronounce it as “HOW-ker.”

But it’s more than that: It’s a shark that’s spent months decomposing underground to begin draining it of toxins. These toxins, according to National Geographic, act as antifreeze so it can live in cold waters around Iceland and Greenland. The curing process makes it safe for humans to eat. After being buried, it’s then exhumed, hung up for a few months, sliced and eaten raw.

I couldn’t wait to give it a go. Watch the video to see what happens, and be sure to read my conclusion at the bottom of this post.

 

Okay, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. I’d eat hákarl before I’d eat gefilte fish, for sure. It’s far cooler. But after the video was shot, my wife looked pretty grossed out, and I half-expected her to abandon me in the south of Iceland if I didn’t dispose of the shark immediately.

So I carried the remained out into the streets looking for a trash can. The two bins I found appeared to be for recycling only. Then I saw a large red bin, which usually means a big truck comes, picks it up and dumps the contents into its garbage-holding area. So I flung the bag up over the walls.

Or so I thought.

The “trash bin” was a storage shed, and it was too big for me to get on top and recover the bag from its roof. So some grocery store storage shed now has a bag of hákarl aging on top of it. Oof. Sorry to my friends in Iceland. I promise I was trying to do the right thing!

 

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Belize – The Right Destination for You?

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Exiting the plane old school-style in Belize.

The cool thing about Central America is that just because you’ve seen one of its countries, you haven’t seen them all. It might be natural to assume that Belize would be like Costa Rica, but with more Mayan ruins. It would also be completely wrong.

So is Belize worth visiting? That depends on you, traveling friends, and what you want out of your journey. No matter what, Phillip SW Goldson Airport will be Belize’s first chance to make an impression. This is a Mos Eisley Cantina of an airport – hot, stuffy and far more chaotic than an airport of its Lilliputian proportions should be. Plus points – no jetways! You get to kick it Old School by descending a moving staircase (unfortunately, it’s not attached to a truck like Michael Bluth’s ride in Arrested Development). You’ll also see large commercial aircraft lined up with three-person Cessnas from local airlines. That ups the Indiana Jones factor.

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Can You Survive These 5 Foods?

When I travel, I make it a point to find something weird to eat. I’d prefer it not be something I can get just anywhere – I scoured Web sites for a way to get a fresh black sapote fruit here in Arizona, but no dice: I had to chase that all the way to Cape Tribulation in Queensland, Australia.

But I encounter the weirdest purely by accident. Here are a few wild foods that can delight or disgust, depending on your palette.

Dangerous Delectables from Down Under

As you might guess, they’ll eat just about anything in New Zealand – especially it’s #1 pest,

Have a bite of possum pie, mate!
Have a bite of possum pie, mate!

the imported possum. While exploring the South Island of New Zealand, be sure to stop in Pukekura at the Sandfly Cafe. There, you can sample a personal-sized possum pie. Yeah, it’s a big ol’ ratlike marsupial. But, as Naked Bus driver Renee says, “It’s easy to eat!” It really doesn’t taste that different from beef. But you know it’s possum, and that makes it fun.

Australia gets two entries on my list of must-try whacky foods. If you’ve just arrived in Sydney, check out the Australian Heritage Hotel and its excellent restaurant. If you’re up for a liberal and exotic interpretation of a pizza, pick from emu, kangaroo or salt-water crocodile toppings. I chose the croc, and got a chicken-like texture with a briny hint of billabong. I hope your plans take you to Darwin in the Top End – it’s the starting point for awesome adventures into the Kakadu. It’s also home to the Wharf Precinct, where you can pick up a tasty camel schniztel. I expected it to be tough and stringy, but was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t far different from veal – but I still get lots of “ewwwww” factor when I tell people about it.

Get Teste With Me

Now, my own home state of Arizona boasts more than a few crazy treats - pit-cooked javelina (a wild pig) and fried rattlesnake, to name just two. But neither can compete with what you’ll eat at the Rock Springs Cafe monthly Hogs ‘n’ Heat BBQ and Nut Fry. You can play it safe with steaks and such, or dive into the namesake “nuts.” No, we’re not talking pecans and almonds here. This is all about Rocky Mountain oysters, bovine  gonads, bull bollocks. Dig in, cowboy!

Delicious on pizza ... but don't tell him yet.
Delicious on pizza ... but don't tell him yet.

A Fishy Treat for an Iron Stomach

I’ve saved the grossest for last, and we’re visiting Iceland for this diabolical delicacy: rotten shark meat! The Icelandic folks call it hakarl, and devouring it is a show of fortitude. Or, if reports are to be believed, a sign of completely non-functional tastebuds. I fully intend to eat this when I get to Iceland. After all, a few moments of gagging is fully worth telling people about this and watching them gag just from hearing about it. With its ammonia content, this stuff must taste like cat pee, but I can’t resist a challenge.  It doesn’t sound like you can just roll into any old grocery store and pick some up, but this blog post gives some clues.

Four Places in Tahoe to Go Grubbin’

From tahoe

You can only cram in so much skiing, especially when the slopes are icy. There comes a time each day when you’ll have to troop indoors for a bite. Or sometimes before you board the lift.
I can’t say North Tahoe cuisine titillates the tongue. It’s a lot of Mexican food, steaks and pizza. But there are a few neat little places tucked around, if you know where to look. Let me save you some time driving up and down the winding roads. In no particular order --

FiftyFifty Brewpub – There’s a lot to like about this spot in Truckee. And I’m not just talking about the oak-aged barleywine, which is a rare treat you shouldn’t miss. But you can also get some great entrees. I went for a BLT served with seared ahi tuna. And get this – FiftyFifty offers a side of black beans! Far healthier and tastier than fries or chips, no? I’d like to go back and try a pizza. The service was also excellent.

Tahoe House – Our hostess at the Firelite Lodge pointed this one out to us. We never would’ve found it otherwise, since it’s just off the junction that splits Tahoe City traffic to either Truckee or Homewood. If you head toward Homewood, Tahoe House is just a few hundred feet away. They brew really strong coffee by the cup (no sitting around and getting sour here) and have awesome baked goods. My coffee paired nicely with a smoked ham and gruyere croissant. I also stocked up on some goodies for the plane ride home: a rum ball, a slice of chocolate cappuccino coffee cake and a slab of pecan fudge – each tasted even better than it sounds. I was tempted to also grab some homemade smoked trout, but I would’ve endeared myself to none of the passengers. Load up on the desserts because they’re the best you’ll find around. The décor is also very homey Swiss style.

Jason’s – This became our favorite spot in King’s Beach. You could eat healthy with some decent veggie angel hair, or go for a burger or porterhouse. Jason’s also has a decent salad bar, a friendly vibe and a very good staff. The desserts are pretty good (though not as awesome as Tahoe House), as are the spiked hot cocoa drinks. Parking can be tough – be sure to look around the back of the building for more spaces if the front is crammed.

Gear and Grind Cafe – This is an awesome spot in Tahoe City. They brew seriously strong coffee, and it doesn’t sit around getting stale. You order it, they grind it, they pour hot water over the filter. BOOM! Serious coffee. And they make a great ham & egg croissant, too. If you’re lucky, Sierra the Calm but Friendly Shop Dog will appear to hang out with you. She is most excellent company. They also open early and can set you up with supplies you might need before you hit the slopes or trails. Lots of good reading material on-hand if you’re solo that day. A very friendly staff, in both the cafe and sports portions.

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