Tasting Life Twice

Archive for the category “Traveling”

Some Pointers for Peru

So you are headed to Peru?  How exciting! You’ll be stepping back in time and sightseeing at the crossroad of two great cultures.  Reflecting on the Spanish arrival in the Americas, Bartolome de Las Casas concluded that what happened 500 years ago is a story of “events so amazing that they overshadow all other famous deeds in history.”

Ahead of going, I’d highly recommend reading two fairly recent books, The Last Day of the Incas and Turn Right at Machu Picchu.  Both of them are very well written and engaging accounts of the history that surrounds your trip.

When you are in Lima, I’d recommend dinner (and pisco sours) at La Rosa Nautica on the waterfront.  The food is great and the view is exceptional.  And did I mention the pisco sours?  If possible, plan your dining for dinnertime so you can watch the surfers and also watch the sun disappear into the western horizon.  Or do what we did and dine there more than once!

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In Lima, there are some beautiful parks on the bluff tops that look out on the Pacific Ocean. They are great for an evening stroll. 

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Be sure and check out the Lima Cathedral, the catacombs there and the burial site of Spanish Conquistador, Francisco Pizarro. 

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When in Cusco, you’ll be in the heart of the former Incan Empire.  You’ll see The Convent of Santo Domingo, once one of the oldest Christian churches in Latin America, built right on top of Coricancha, the Incan Temple to the Sun God.  In Cusco, you’ll also see the incredible stone masonry of the Incans.  The stonework is so masterfully done that you can’t slide a credit card between the blocks.Peru 143

The historic square is filled with great shops and restaurants, some of which feature live music and salsa dancing.  We ate at a second floor restaurant on the Plaza de Armas that looks out on the beautifully illuminated Cusco cathedral. 

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While in Cusco, be sure and check out The International Center for the Study for Machu Picchu and Incan Culture.  For many years, Peru and the Peabody Museum at Yale University were in a dispute over rights to the antiquities taken from Machu Picchu.  Hiram Bingham, the famed explorer of Machu Picchu took many artifacts to New Haven, CT and in the last few years, Yale University has returned them.  Many of them are now housed in this new center in Cusco.  Your children will be interested to know that Yale Professor Hiram Bingham was an inspiration for the Indiana Jones character.  Bingham’s own story is riveting and that will help you get ready for visiting Machu Picchu.  Your children will enjoy seeing the first photographs taken from his National Geographic Expedition there in 1912 and published in April 1913.

After you’ve acclimated to the altitude in Cusco, you’ll make your way to Machu Picchu, which is indescribable.  It was recently designated one of the seven new wonders of the world and it is a mesmerizing place.  We spent two days there and I’m grateful we did.  One day was cloudy and misty and the mountain citadel was shrouded in mystery.  The next day was filled with glorious sun breaks on the peaks of the Andean mountains. 

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You’ll love the town of Aguas Calientes as the base of Machu Picchu. There are a lot of great food restaurant choices but one we really liked was The Café Inkaterra which has some stunning views of the Urubamba River. 

Enjoy the trip! I’ll look forward to hearing about it upon your return.  As I’ll be returning there again in the near future, I expect you to update me on other good places to eat and important things to see. 

Bon voyage!

p.s.  When you are in Peru, your family needs to try the guinea pigs.  It’s one of their delicacies, you know.  You might want to wash it down with a chicha beer or a pisco sour or two!  Did I mention the pisco sours, already?

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A Father and Son Go on Their Last Oddysey Together

I’m pulled in by the allure of road trip stories, be they from classical lit or the age of exploration or the Beat Writers or more recent ones from friends and students.  Here is another really good one from NPR’s weekend edition.


A few years ago, author, critic, and translator Daniel Mendelsohn was teaching the epic Greek poem The Odyssey when his father decided to take his class.

Jay Mendelsohn, a retired research scientist, wanted to understand his son better, and understand his life’s work. When Daniel decided he wanted to retrace one of the most epic journeys of Greek literature, Jay became his travel partner.

Daniel, a professor at Bard College in New York, wrote about the trip for the April 2012 issue of Travel and Leisure Magazine. His father did not like the character of Odysseus in the first place, Daniel tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz.

“He said, ‘How can this guy be a hero? You know, he lies, he tricks people, he cheats on his wife, he cries’ — my father didn’t like that at all,” Daniel remembers – “How can you make this guy the center of a poem,'” Daniel remembers.

But Jay did love Homer’s first poem, The Iliad, and he wanted to learn more about Homer and Ancient Greece. So, they partnered up and began cruising the Mediterranean, starting in the ancient city of Troy in modern Turkey – the city where Odysseus’ journey begins.

“One certainly gets a sense of the cultural power and authority of the Homeric poems, both The Iliad and The Odyssey,” he says, “from the fact that already in antiquity, it was a tourist destination to go to Troy.” Even Alexander The Great visited the city as a tourist, he says.

Of course, Daniel and Jay didn’t stop there. They visited places throughout Greece and the Mediterranean associated with locations in Homer’s The Odyssey. There’s a lot of speculation, however, about whether these sites are truly the places mentioned in these epic poems.

“A lot of these sites,” Daniel says, “like Calypso’s cave on Malta, one definitely feels like they were sort of invented — or at least hyped.” Jay got a big kick out of each location anyway, Daniel says, even the phoniest ones.

The two companions traveled the ancient world on a cruise ship, which offered lectures by academics and archeologists. It was a small cruise ship, with about 80 passengers on board, but that didn’t stop them from having unlikely encounters.

The Odyssey is, of course, about funny encounters and unexpected coincidences and meetings that are too good to be true,” Daniel says. “We got to talking with a couple that we had seen a couple times, and it turns out he had been the CEO of my dad’s company,” he says.

Some of the people they met even had an uncanny resemblance to characters from The Odyssey.

For example: There’s one key moment in The Odyssey when Odysseus returns to his palace in Ithaca — in disguise, to slay all the suitors who had been courting his wife while he was away. Once at the palace, however, he’s recognized by a scar on his leg from a childhood wound.

Coincidentally, Daniel was sunbathing on the deck when he noticed a Dutch man with a scar on his leg and an extraordinary story.

During World War II, this man was a starving teenager. He was weak and malnourished and ended up injuring himself while chopping firewood, swinging the axe into his own leg. This wound almost cost him his life.

“A family friend, who was a classicist, helped him get through this illness in part by reading The Odyssey to him,” Mendelsohn says. “Even though he was not a classic student, he recited to me, on the deck of this ship as an elderly man, lines from The Odyssey in Greek,” he says.

The man told Daniel he was on the cruise because he had vowed to see what Odysseus saw before he died.

All in all, it was a good trip for both father and son — and an especially poignant one. On April 6, 2012, Jay Mendelsohn passed away.

“I can’t travel with him anymore,” Daniel says, “but in a lot of ways, he will stay with me during the remaining trips that I am making and the readings I am making of these texts,” he says. “That just became a different kind of odyssey.”

The Adventures of Travel: Foreign Cuisine

Paul Bowles, adventurous traveler and novelist, used to say that whenever he traveled he wanted the place and experience to be unlike anything he had ever seen or experienced before.  Bowles craved the exotic and even felt slightly amused if he was swindled overseas.  He thought it was all part of the exchange of leaving the familiar and venturing into the land of the strange. 

Before we travel, I talk to the students about training their eye to notice what is different and what is similar.  Here’s a story of what can happen when you travel.

After a long day, our bus rolls into Caen, France and we head for the medieval district for dinner.  We look at the menus of the many fantastic restaurants that are nearby.  We finally settle on one that has heated, outdoor patio seating and Italian cuisine.

Upon ordering our food, we discover that the waiter doesn’t speak English (or at least to us).  So we use improvisational sign language.  We tell him we want separate checks for each of us.  We then point to what we want on the menu.  And then we select our food. I order a pizza with some kind of meat.  Or so I think I do. 

When my pizza comes, it looks like this:


When I get my pizza with meat on it, there is a yellow, runny thing in the middle.  Wondering what it is, I ask our resident French scholar, Olivia Koselansky, “what the heck is this thing in the middle of my pizza?”

“That”, she tells me, “is ouef.”

“But”, I tell her, “I didn’t order ouef.”

“Oh, but you did”, she replies with a bilingual smile.

The yellow thing in the middle of my pizza is an egg.  Heck, had I known that the cook was going to feed me a breakfast supper, I would have at least had him scramble the eggs.

I don’t go ugly American on him.  I didn’t use the only sign language I really know. And I did feign a smile while eating the running egg pizza.

He brings the check but it is all on one ticket.  We use our improvised sign language to ask him to break up the check into separate orders.  He doesn’t understand.  So we do the math on our own.  It gets complicated.  We have to remember the French names of our menu items: “Ok, who had the pates avec de la viande et oeuf?”  

“I don’t know.  What is it?” someone says.

“I don’t know.  That’s just what it says.”

After what felt like hours of advanced computational exercises, we figure it out.  We explain to our waiter what we’re doing.  He doesn’t understand.  He motions, “one minute” and goes to get the hostess.  She comes to our table.  She doesn’t understand.  She motions, “one minute” and goes to get the manager.  He comes to our table, shakes his head that he understands, “oui, oui”. 

The whole experience reminded me of this very funny prank that was on the Jimmie Kennedy Show a few years ago about a woman trying to order food at a cajun restaurant in New Orleans.


In our case, we begin to process payment.  My card doesn’t work.  I worry that I’ve broken the bank back home.  I try a second card.  It doesn’t work.  He doesn’t speak English but shows me the receipt with a French note that roughly translates to, “you’re up the creek without a paddle”.  This process continues for fifteen minutes.  None of our cards work on his portable credit card machine.  So, he does the upper-level international sign language for “alright, you idiots.  There is a bank ATM machine down the street four blocks south and then another two blocks to the left in between Henri’s bakery and Marie’s floral shop.  You can get Euros from there and come back and pay in cash.”

And so we do.  We got to the Bank in small groups, leaving a few at the table to make a good showing of honesty.  We don’t want the French police looking after us, thinking we are doing the “dine and dash”. 

By the time we Americans pay the French restaurant owner for our Italian meal, we are late for the bus. 

That is the adventure of traveling!

Woods Around the World

Here is a slide show I made to highlight recent trips we have made at William Woods University.  In recent years, we have travelled the map, journeying to Peru, the American south, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy and Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  Next up: France and a return trip to Pine Ridge. 

Scenes from the Reservation

Last week a group of us worked on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  We were hosted by Re-member who organizes a service outreach to the Lakota Nation.  For fourteen years, Re-member has been hosting groups in an intensive cultural immersion program.  We learned the stories of the Lakota people and did various work projects throughout the week.  We built bunk beds and outhouses and skirted a trailer with plywood.  Here are some pictures from that trip and some stories of our experience.

Images from Italy

In March a group of us traveled to Italy where we toured Rome, Assisi, Florence, Bologna and Venice.  Here are some pics from the mother land. 

Going Places

I love hearing stories of people going places, seeing the world, leaving behind their comfort zone, vagabonding. 

At an afternoon Easter party yesterday, I met a man from Dallas, Texas.  He was in his mid to late seventies and visiting his son and family.  He had worked for Texas Instruments for a number of years before retiring ten years ago.  I asked him if he had gone into his retirement with hobbies or if he had to find some.  He said it took him about a year and a half to get adjusted to the life of a retiree but he eventually he did.  He got serious about cycling.

He went decades without riding a bike and then when he was 50, he bought a Huffy bicycle at Target for $69.  He rode it three miles and he thought he was going to fall over and faint.  A quarter of a century later, and with a much better bike, he now rides three thousand miles a year. 

He has made two long trips.  He once cycled from Lawrence, Kansas to Omaha, Nebraska, east across Iowa, south to St. Louis, before returning west across Missouri.  And a few years ago, he rode his bike from Prague, Czech Republic to Budapest, Hungary.  Pretty impressive for a man in his seventies.  And get this – he’s not done.  As if wanting to be out of earshot of his son and daughter-in-law, he quietly told me he has two more trips he wants to make.  He wants to ride from the Twin Cities in Minnesota along the Mississippi River down to New Orleans.  And then, if his health holds up, he wants to make a coast-to-coast trip in America. 

“There’s just some things you can only see while riding a bicycle.  You know, you drive a car around all the time and you miss so much of what is going on.”

I asked him if he was probably in better shape now than when he was in his fifties and he said, “Oh, yes.  I ride primarily for two reasons.  I ride for myself, to take care of my health.  But I also ride for my grandchildren.  I want to live to see them grow up.”


imageHis “bucket list” bravado reminded me of another such story.  A few weeks ago, the news told of an 85 year old man who, since childhood, had wanted to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a raft.  Years later, the man made the trip.  He had received a settlement from a car accident and with the money he decided to construct a raft out of pipe.  He posted an advertisement and found other volunteer crew members to make the voyage with him.  His fellow sailors were also in their golden years.  Together, they journeyed for two months, from the Canary Islands to a Caribbean island in a trip that spanned 2,800 miles at sea.

I love this quote:

“Some people say it was mad,” Anthony Smith told the Associated Press. “But it wasn’t mad. What else do you do when you get on in years?”


And then there was this travel story.  A guy paid a New York cabbie $5,000 for a taxi ride from New York to Los Angeles.  The trip lasted six days and covered 3,000 miles.  Why did the passenger want to  do it?Well, the man wanted to pay tribute to his father who had been a cab driver.  And he also wanted to see the territory and, perhaps, market his story to Hollywood. 


Jumping Out of Your Comfort Zone

Yesterday I had an interesting chat with an Army paratrooper from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  The 26 year old soldier from Baltimore, Maryland was setting up a target on the street for his crew members who would be making the jump at the Memorial Day parade.  In order to make a jump into a tight place, you have to log 500 jumps.  He had 317 and was hoping to be at 500 by this time next year.  He said it took about 250 jumps before he was no longer nervous.  The highest he has dropped is from 17,100 feet, a fall that takes about 87 seconds.  The most jumps he has made in a day is around 30.  We talked about comfort zones, threshold anxiety and the mental preparations required for combat (he has served one year tours in Afghanistan and Iraq) and jumping out of a plane. 


Some Benefits of Travel

image Actor Andrew McCarthy doubles as a travel writer and in a recent CNN interview with Campbell Brown he talks about the value of travel.

Campbell Brown: You write that you think traveling makes you a better person, that you are more at home sometimes.

Andrew McCarthy: I find myself feeling more of at home in myself the farther away from home I am. …I think I find myself in a real good way when I’m traveling and when I’m sort of broken out of my normal routine and dependant on the kindness of strangers. I think I’m a better version of myself. I’m think most people are.

Then, when asked why don’t more Americans travel, McCarthy responded:

28 percent of Americans have passports and half of those use them. I think America would be a vastly different place if we traveled. I think we’re very fearful. I think we’d be a lot less fearful if we saw…if we made ourselves vulnerable to other people and their cultures.

Here’s a video of the interview:


Mark Twain and Mardi Gras

With the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl and this, the centennial of Twain’s death, here is a description of the time when Sam Clemens first set foot in the “Big Easy”:

When the Crescent City docked at the New Orleans levee in late May 1857, Clemens was exhausted. But he had more than two weeks to practice something he was already quite good at – sightseeing. Two things particularly fascinated him, the market and the cemeteries. The bright colors, the variety of tropical fruits, the plethora of every kind of produce from the kitchen, the farm, and the sea, sent his senses reeling with delight. The market was as much a display of people as of products, their multi-toned voices, their variety of skin tones, their diversity of languages: ‘groups of Italians, French, Dutch, Irish, Spaniards, Indians, Chinese, Americans, English, and the Lord knows how many more different kinds of people.’ To him the variety was an asset, the differences desirable, the community both tactilely sensual and raucously harmonious, his first experience with the American marketplace as a polyglot, multi-ethnic epitome of the national culture. His sheer pleasure in New Orleans was a step toward his gradual transcendence of Missouri slave culture provincialism and his increasing discomfort with xenophobia” (The Singular Mark Twain: A Biography, Fred Kaplan).

Twain would write to his sister Pam: “It has been said that a Scotchman has not seen the world until he has seen Edinburgh; and I think that I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi-Gras in New Orleans.”


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