It’s amazing how much good a solid night of sleep can do. After contracting a pretty nasty stomach bug and getting twelve or thirteen hours of sleep so deep that corpses were probably jealous, I awoke on my first morning in Lumbini, Nepal feeling approximately eight million times better. I was positively bursting with verve and vigor, a huge contract from the previous day, when I thought I was going to pass out from walking across the border to Nepal. (Forgot to mention that in my last post. At Sunauli, you make the land crossing from India to Nepal on food. So I can now technically say that I walked from one country to another!)
Unfortunately, my stomach issues were (spoiler alert) not completely over, but at the time, I was back on my feet and thrilled about it. Lumbini is a village famed for being the birthplace of the Sakyamuni Buddha, and I basically just bounced around the giant temple complex. Part of my energy came from my stomach no longer threatening to erupt, but the larger component of my excitement came from the fact that Lumbini is one of the coolest places I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.
Sorry to lure you here under false pretenses, but this post is not nearly as romantic or sentimental as the title would make it seem. Fair warning: bodily distress of the “oh god, I am going to throw up” kind discussed in this post.
Sometimes I get a bit cocky when traveling. Despite having been to more than twenty countries and eating some pretty suspect food, I’ve only been drastically ill once. (And it wasn’t pretty, but at least I was back on my feet in a day or so.) My immune system is pretty robust. After a week in India and not a single instance of intestinal distress, I thought I’d escaped the dreaded “Delhi Belly” experience that nearly every traveler encounters. One by one, other members of the group had confessed to feeling under the weather, but I’d stayed energetic and upright. Aside from my stomach being unused to the immense amount of spices I was dumping into it, I wasn’t experiencing any major problems. Between the general catch-all stomach tablets that I was preventatively popping every morning and the UV water filter that I was using, I felt on top of the world. “My stomach is made of iron!” I thought to myself. “I am unstoppable. Come at me, India, I can take whatever you throw at me!”
Seeing as the demon residing in my nasal cavities is still putting up quite a fight, despite me throwing hefty doses of Nyquil, Dayquil, and cursing its way, this Throwback Thursday post is technically just one long photoessay. Such is what the laziness of being sick brings.
In a city that belongs to architect Antoni Gaudí, Parc Güell is probably the most expansive of his accomplishments. Half garden, half architectural playground, Parc Güell is an essential part of any visit to Barcelona. (And it’s free, too!) However, it’s definitely not a “get in, walk around for five minutes, get out” sort of place. No, you need the better part of an entire day to get through the whole thing.
All’s been quiet on the blogging front these past few weeks. Blame it on end-of-term craziness, blame it on the three-day junior high English camp that ran me into the ground, blame it on sheer laziness/lethargy, or blame it on the massive head cold that has my nasal cavities producing approximately two gallons of mucus a day…whatever the case, I’ve been slacking immensely in regards to writing posts lately. I’ve still got loads of posts about the latter half of my India/Nepal trip, but before I forge ahead into Nepalese territory, I thought I’d insert a brief interlude about my trip up to the northern island of Hokkaido in early February.
The annual 雪祭り (Yuki Matsuri, snow festival) in Sapporo is without a doubt one of the most famous annual events in all of Japan. When it comes to winter festivals, it undoubtedly takes the top spot. Every year, thousand of visitors, Japanese and foreign alike, flock to Sapporo to marvel at the huge snow sculptures that take over the narrow stretch of Ōdōri Park for a week in early February.
Given the proximity of Aomori to Sapporo, I was determined to make it up to the snow festival at least once while living here. Yet every year when the time came around to book hotel and train tickets, one thing or another would cause me to balk and reason, “I’ll just go next year.” This year, finally, I made it up for the festival and enjoyed two days of beautiful snow sculptures, delicious food, and temperatures so cold that I rocked the “ninja-lite” look the entire weekend.
As is the case with the vast majority of tourists who come to Japan, my first taste of the Land of the Rising Sun was Tokyo. It’s a dizzying city that’s full of enticing ramen shops, soaring skyscrapers, and gaudily vibrant neon lights, depending on which metro station you pop out of. After a few days in the big city, the second impression I got of Japan during my first trip here was of 寒川 (Samukawa), a small town in Kanagawa Prefecture, which neighbors Tokyo. The few days I spent in Samukawa were the homestay portion of a two-week Washington & Jefferson study abroad course mentioned in these posts, and it was a welcome contrast to the other guided parts of our trip, as well as an awesome chance to experience Coming of Age Day, a Japanese holiday that’s held on the second Monday every January.
Before I went to India, one of my friends remarked that he didn’t like the Subcontinent’s cuisine because, to paraphrase him, “it’s basically just a bunch of vegetables and lentils boiled down to texture-less mush.” I’d disagreed with him then, and after eating my way across Rajasthan for a week, that feeling intensified by about a thousand. I know that I only tasted the barest fraction of the delicious food the region had to offer, but what I did eat was some of the best food I’ve encountered anywhere in the world. And I ate as much of it as I could. About halfway through our trip, one of my friends had remarked, “I think we’ve all learned at this point that you’re willing to try anything. ‘Well haven’t had a bite of that one yet…’”
As I’m never one to skip an opportunity to making a ranked list, here are the eleven best foods I ate while in India, in no particular order. Don’t read this while you’re hungry.
1.) Navratan Korma – It’s not exactly a secret that India is home to some truly bangin’ curry, and I did my best to taste as many delicious varieties as I could. Of all of those, navratan korma was probably my favorite. In Hindi, it translates to “nine jewels,” which refers to the variety of vegetables, nuts, and fruits used in the dish. Mine had cashews, paneer, carrots, green beans, carrots, and potatoes in it, to name just a few ingredients. There was hardly any oil in it, unlike a lot of the other curries I’d eaten, and the cashews added a huge amount of creaminess. The thing that made navratan korma stick out to me was the inclusion of pineapple. It made for a surprising note of sweetness in what would have otherwise been a pretty mild (and even bland) curry.
My first love may be the mountains, but I’ll never turn down a bit of sea air when I’ve got the chance…especially if I can breathe it in Saint-Malo, the small walled city that I tacked on as a short day trip after visiting Mont Saint Michel. In the past, Saint-Malo was the base of corsairs, and its walls were constructed against the threat of British attacks. Nowadays, Saint-Malo is a beautiful seaside locale…the perfect place to work up an appetite by walking along the beach and then eat a dozen (or two) fresh oysters, still briny from the sea, washed down with a glass (or two) of cider.