1. Visit the local market. I am a huge advocate of walking around a city and getting to know the streets, but I also believe the market is one of the best ways to get a quick overview on a country or city's culture. You see the local specialties, and you can converse with the locals who put their sweat, blood, and tears into their home. The people watching is usually fantastic (you'll see I'm a big people watcher) and you can purchase small momentos for family and friends at very reasonable prices.
This is a photo of the fish market in Tokyo. I remember my friend Ali and I woke up before dawn, sleepy eyed, following the men in galoshes from the subway to what looked like a giant warehouse. We were almost run over by zooming carts before we reached the vast variety of fish. It was incredible. From giant tuna (seen here), to bloody eels, I saw an amazing and almost sick display of seafood that I had never had the chance to witness before.
And, related to #3 in this blog entry, the fish market had the most tasty, fresh cut, buttery textured sushi I have ever had in my life. Photo of me next to the menu, extremely puffy eyed and sleepy for a very early morning. But so, so, so worth it!
2. Relax at a beach. The beach is my haven. The sound of the waves, the warmth of the sun, and the peaceful breeze relax me more than hours at a spa ever could. Beach culture always varies from country to country, from the secluded black sand beaches in Mexico to the busy, bustling beaches in Brazil with vendors and unique beach treats.
My favorite beach I found in Brazil, on the island of Ilha Grande. The beach was called Lopes Mendes, and even on a cloudy day, after hiking seven miles to find it, it was breath taking. I think it was the combination of shallow waters over soft, packed sand, gigantic waves, and jungle / rock setting that amazed me. We sat and had a picnic, as it softly rained, and I couldn't even be sad that my chips were soggy. I even jumped in the water, shivering and shaking in the cold winds. It was beautiful.
3. Enjoy a meal. I am a huge fan of food. Usually I go for simple dishes, with lots of seafood, and I love to try local specialties. But, I am also amazed at how a favorite dish of mine in the states can take on a life of it's own with some local spices and love from a local chef.
One of my favorite meals was discovered in Brazil, also in Ilha Grande. The first time the steaming black pot of fish, coconut milk, spices, and rice was placed in front of me, I knew it was love at first site. I believe I ordered the meal three times in a week, each time slurping up every last drop and rolling myself down the small dirt roads home. (In the photo is my travel companion, Cesar, who couldn't touch the stuff!) I dream of one day finding a man who can make this for me here in the midwest, but it's unique blend is almost impossible to recreate without the knowledge of skilled island chefs.
So what will it be... Will I write about the markets I venture into, and the food and crafts I find there? Will I write about the peaceful beaches I find all over the world? Or, will I recount each and every meal, making others salivate over the delicious details?
Can I choose all three?