Traditions

December 21, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Europe, Video

In early November, I had the opportunity to get to know the city of Copenhagen, Denmark with a slew of other travel bloggers. As a part of the journey, another blogger and I hit the streets to make a video about the city. In doing so, we discovered that that very day happened to be the annual launch of the country’s famous Christmas beer. Filled with curiosity (wouldn’t you be?), we set out to learn more about the famous celebration. One by one, we grilled the Danish folk on the streets, and got to the bottom of the beer-filled day (burp). Here’s the final, albeit slightly rusty, product!



With that, I leave you all for the holidays. I’m spending mine in the rainy San Francisco Bay Area. I look forward to sharing more adventures with you in 2011. Happy holidays!

*A special thanks to Viktorija Prak for being my partner in crime on this project!

November 17, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Traditions

Growing up we all had our version of normal and I’m pretty sure we thought the world worked just the same way that we did. Everything was just fine and dandy until we traveled abroad and suddenly realized that normal looks completely different somewhere else – maybe the cars drive on the opposite side of the street, or perhaps dinner isn’t served at 7:00pm but instead at 10:00pm. In many cases, these differences might be somewhat expected, but every once and awhile we’ve surely come across something that has just made us go “what the…??” I had a moment like this in Vietnam when at first the I-carry-my-world-on-my-motorbike concept seemed ridiculous, but then, upon closer consideration, it indeed made sense. With that in mind, it made me think – don’t we all have cultural quirks that make others do a double take? Since I surely can’t travel the world to discover all of these idiosyncrasies on my own, I thought who better to pose such a curiosity than to the Lonely Planet BlogSherpas? So, that’s what I did and here’s what they had to say:

“I admit, we, Filipinos, love to sing,” admits Claire over at First Time Travel. But she’s not just talking about in the shower and along with the radio in the car. According to Claire, “do not be surprised to find karaoke and videoke machines along the seaside or by the narrow streets in a remote town.” Before you become too charmed by the Filipinos’ passion for belting out their favorite tunes, you best read more about their hospitality, or else you should expect to be singing right along with them.

Do you remember your thermos? I do. Do you remember the last time that you used it? Probably not. This apparently long forgotten product seems to, however, have been given new life in Peru according to Jason of AlpacaSuitcase. Jason, who now looks at the “lowly termo (thermos) in exalted light,” tells how the undrinkable water in the country has resulted in a thermos resurrection of sorts that will have you singing its praises all the live long day. Read more about why you should consider starting a new love affair with your thermos.

Amy over at The Q Family Adventures Travel Blog brings new meaning to the family road-trip. Gone are the days of traveling across your country and stopping on the side of the roadway for some fresh-from-the-farm fruit while the kiddies romp around in the back seat. Oh no, not when you’re road-tripping it through Thailand!! While driving through the country, Amy recalls,“From a far, we saw several bags hung from the pole. As we got closer we noticed that those bags held something that moved.” It turns out that a few of these roadside stands boasted live lizards, buckets of frogs, and toad skewers for purchase.Take a virtual road-trip through Thailand’s array of unique roadside goodies. You know you’re hungry.

Who’s tired of tame and safe cultural gatherings? I think I am. Good thing Todd at Todd’s Wanderings has pulled together some of the gnarliest matsuris (festivals) that take place in Japan. And let me tell you, these gatherings aren’t for the weak. One of them seems to take on some parade-like characteristics, but don’t be fooled, this isn’t Disneyland. Todd explains, “When other floats are encountered each side spins their one ton float in a show of strength culminating in a mad dash at top speed into each other in a bone crunching crash. Teams battle for dominance until one float has pinned the other to the ground.” Fabulous! Who’s up for a trip to Japan? OK, maybe let’s just pretend – read more here.

There is an unfortunate similarity between the robes certain Latin countries wear during their Holy Week processions and those that are worn by the KKK. Yes, that KKK. The tragic infamy of the cone-shaped hood was most definitely not lost on a couple of Lonely Planet Bloggers. Abigail, from Inside the Travel Lab, who witnessed the processions in Sevilla, Spain, reflects, “It’s a shame that the outfits, a tradition that dates back to the 14th century,…now trigger images of the Ku Klux Klan, lynching, fire and fear to those of us more familiar with stories from America than Andalucía.” Here, Abigail brings to life images of Spain’s most famous Holy Week processions in hopes of creating new and more positive memories of the historic and controversial costume.

Meanwhile, Tanya of Are we there yet? World Travels with Three Kids recounts her experience witnessing similar processions in a Brazilian town. Here, she tells how she battled with whether to purchase her children the keepsake puppets (with demonically lit-up red eyes) and also sheds light on the tradition and where it comes from. She explains, “It turns out that the symbolism…is actually quite sinister. They, after all, are the bad guys in the story as they are the ones hunting down Jesus to crucify him. This background helps to explain a bit this unique custom.”

Captured in photos, the duo over at Photito’s Blog take you on a journey into the watery wonderland of Venice. Through their words and pictures, it becomes evident that Venice is more than just the canal-filled city that we may all know it to be, but rather a city that lives with water in so many more ways than we can imagine. “People have adopted a way of coping with the ever present water ways which means that they all own a pair of hard core, waist high wellington boots. They all know what it means when the tidal alarm sounds…,” tells Vibeke. See for yourself a side of Venice that you may not have yet discovered.

I don’t know about you, but my parents have never called ME “mom” or “dad,” but perhaps if I were Lebanese, they might just have. According to Georgia of Ginger Beirut, “Lebanese dads call their kids ‘daddy’ and mums call their kids ‘mummy.'” This is only but one of the strange yet humorous quirks that she has encountered during her year living in Lebanon. Read more about why you should get rid of your credit cards and start investing in couture gowns here.

Bird hunting, deer hunting, head hunting – those are all so yesterday. It’s time to get on board with mushroom hunting like those in Catalunya, Spain. “Most Catalans wake up early on the weekend morning and drive to forests with baskets in tow to collect mushrooms,” comments Jennifer of Orange Polka Dot. She goes on to tell about her “master mushroom hunter” gardner and even her own attempt at tracking down the potentially deadly delicacy. Indulge your curiosity for fungi by reading more about this peculiar Catalan tradition here.

Finally, if you’ve been tuned into my blog, then you already know that last week I introduced you to another one of Spain’s unique customs, which just so happens to come in the form of an extra trashy tip for finding good Spanish food.

With that, I leave you to your own comfortable surroundings, unique customs and whatever oddly normal tradition it is that you have in your corner of the world. Considering that I’m in Spain, I’m going to go to my local tapas bar and throw some dirty napkins and cigarette butts on the ground just so that I can feel right at home. What makes your part of the planet strangely special?

To read up on other LonelyPlanet BlogSherpa carnivals, you can visit the previous one hosted by Travel with Den Den, in which the BlogSherpas shared memorable moments from their travels. Meanwhile, stay tuned for the next carnival on regrettable trips, which will be hosted by The Turkish Life.

November 11, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Madrid, Spain, Traditions

So you’re visiting Madrid, exhausted from dodging the thousands of people haphazardly wandering the streets, your ears are slightly ringing from the honking horns and booming Spanish voices, and all you want is something decent to eat in a respectable establishment. But every time you peek into one of the tons of tapas bars in Madrid, you see trash on the ground. Yes, trash. If you’ve been to Spain, then you know this is an entirely feasible scenario.

I know what you’re thinking – sure, sensory overload, exhaustion, hunger, but trash on the floors of restaurants? The pot has left you, Tortuga Viajera (a Spanish way of saying you’ve lost your mind). Now imagine if I told you those are actually the respectable establishments that you indeed want to stop at! Again, no joke – I still have my pot. Welcome to one of Spain’s very, VERY unique customs.

Madrid is filled with these tapas bars and “cafeterias,” which are basically a cross between a restaurant and a bar. They are the go-to spot for a coffee, snack, drink or basic Spanish meal. The bar usually features a selection of snacks out on display, tins of useless paper-thin napkins, and a smattering of ashtrays (not as of January 2nd when smoking in public places becomes illegal in Spain! Woohoo!!). Perched on barstools are often my favorite Spaniards, the grandpas, who are usually busy perusing a newspaper or just chatting it up with their buddies.

What you notice next is that when someone uses one of those completely ineffective napkins, they just go on and throw it on the floor. Then Gramps finishes his cigarette and drops it on the ground right below him like it’s no big deal. All right, so maybe it sounds a little gross and seems to have no justification whatsoever – but wait, it does! Because, logically, the best cafeterias should have the biggest crowds, and therefore the largest amount of trash on the ground. So this seemingly lazy Spanish tradition has just made it easier for you, the tired and hungry traveler, to find some good grub!!! Surely this is exactly the reason that the natives don’t simply just throw their dirty napkins in the garbage. Silly Spaniards, you thought you had us fooled when really you were just being thoughtful! (Ok, so maybe it’s really just an old, useless tradition, but I prefer to charm it up a bit, don’t you agree?)

So there you have it, the trash mystery is solved and now it’s possible for you to spot the best places to grab a quick drink and bite to eat in Spain (well, unless it’s right after lunch and they’ve already cleaned up, in which case, flip a coin!). I should mention, it was no small task trying to take pictures of trashy floors. You can imagine the looks I received when entering bars, only to frantically inspect their floors and then take pictures. I wish I could have gotten more, but the dirty looks (ha! Get it? Dirty!) were getting a little old.

Aside from my enthusiasm in giving you such a tip, I’m posting this blog as a part of the next Lonely Planet BlogSherpa Carnival, which will be hosted by yours truly! Tune in next week for a round up of unique customs around the world.

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November 1, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Spain

As we walked Sevilla’s labyrinth of streets, my friend snapped pictures of the yellow and white buildings, the cathedral and the lush, green patios. Meanwhile, my camera remained nestled all lonely in my purse. It was my third trip to the city and I wasn’t as inspired by the usual sites.

But then, suddenly, I spotted a humble statue of the Virgin Mary wedged up above into the corner of one of Sevilla’s quaint little buildings. I grabbed my camera and captured a quick shot. Walking another 100 feet, I reached for my camera again – above me yet another Mary, but this one colorful, made of tiles, and flanked by two lanterns. Every few blocks or so, I would spot her thoughtfully displayed on the yellow-trimmed facades. With each one I grew more bewildered and hypnotized by her sorrowful gaze and how she was almost always showered in radiant colors of blue, gold and red. I was becoming engulfed in my own little scavenger hunt, scanning the city walls to see where I might find her next.

I suppose during my several visits to Sevilla it had never occurred to me the excess of Marys around the city. Living in Spain has gotten me quite used to the abundance of Catholic images, street names and, well, people names. (The names “Inmaculada” or “Concepción” no longer perplex me – that said, I don’t think they are on my short list of future baby names.) While I’m not a particularly religious person (I’ll go with the very cliched “I’m spiritual”), I find myself fascinated by these symbols, such as Mary, as much for their beauty as for what they say about the culture. And who wouldn’t be curious about the image of this stunning lady, plastered throughout one of Spain’s most famous cities?

So then, you may ask – why so many Marys, Sevilla? Well, it turns out that the city is an especially Catholic one, not to mention that it happens to be famed for hosting Spain’s most famous processions during Holy Week. When this religious week arrives, people flock to Sevilla to witness float-like structures (often of the Virgin Mary) hauled solemnly across the city. Onlookers watch in admiration, clamoring to get near it, as though it were the Pope himself. Needless to say, Mary is quite a famous lady in this country, but even more so in Sevilla.


Beyond just the Marys, Sevilla seems to represent everything that one might imagine Spain to be – hot and sticky summers, yellow and white buildings with flower-filled window boxes, soulful flamenco wherever you turn, and a passion for bullfighting. It’s a city to get lost in (whether you like it or not, really) given its jumble of twisting and turning narrow streets, in which you’ll find yourself dodging cars like a torero dodges bulls. I’d already fallen in love with the city for these reasons, however – this time my fascination was a bit more Mary-related.

As our two days in Sevilla came to a close, it became abundantly clear to me that my search was not over. So the morning before we headed home, I rose early with my no-longer-lonely camera in hand, and set out to go Mary hunting on my own. The air was crisp and the city still seemed to be yawning and stretching as I got lost in its quiet streets with my eyes glued to the building walls. Coming upon my new favorite gal, a big grin would spread across my face (a possible fist pump may have been involved a few times too) and I would start clicking away, drawing strange looks from the few people that passed by. I couldn’t help it, though, there was just something about Mary.

*To see all the pictures of Mary that your heart could ever desire, and more, visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

October 24, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Spain, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Spain

I scarf down one, two, who knows maybe ten pinchos, and think to myself, what’s this you say about running of the bulls? Ah, right, Pamplona is known for that yearly week of runs in which hulligans from around the world try their hand at playing one-sided tag with angry bulls. But golly, with my own town’s fabulous and exhilarating running of the bulls, who needs Pamplona? Well, I do now, but not because of those silly bulls.

Back to the pinchos and my unrelenting appetite for Spanish cuisine. Pinchos, or pintxos as they are spelled in Basque, aren’t just a type of food, but a whole new eating experience. Similar to going out for tapas, going out for pinchos requires one to hop from bar to bar, sampling the food and a glass of wine or beer along the way. Pinchos are a Basque concept, and while Pamplona is in the region of Navarra, not Basque Country, there is a lot of overlap. Many areas of Navarra (particularly the northwest) are predominantly Basque-speaking and have a great deal of Basque influence, while other parts of the region are a mixture, and then the rest is more or less entirely “Spanish” (which I put in quotes given the Basque vs. Spain controversy – yet again, a subject requiring a different blog).

The pinchos themselves are appetizer-sized portions, almost always served on or with a small slice of bread. At a pinchos bar, one doesn’t sit down, crack open a menu and call the waiter over, however. Oh no, it is nothing as glamorous as this. Remember the last time you went to a crowded bar and had to shimmy your way up past the barricade of people in order to capture the bartender’s attention? (I realize this may be a more distant memory for some of us. Love you Grandma!) Well, if you’re in a good pinchos bar, then it indeed resembles this experience, although with better lighting, fewer inebriated 20-year-olds, and a much better payoff – both a drink and something to satiate your growing hunger! If you are lucky enough to secure a spot at the bar (a feat accomplished by carefully analyzing which bar-dwellers are closest to departing), you will be able to peruse the vast display of delicacies sprawled out in front of you and just start ordering away. After trying a couple, it’s time to pop over to the next spot where you can once again release your passion for pinchos by elbowing your way to the bar. If you fancy a trip to Pamplona (for the pinchos, of course – who cares about those bulls), my best advice to you when pinchos hopping is to start at Bar Gaucho (our favorite) and then just keep skipping around from bar to bar looking for those that are the busiest, and therefore most likely to have the best pinchos!

Don’t get me wrong, there is more to this city than just pinchos and bulls. The occasionally hilly city streets are filled with colorful homes that, surprise, remind me of San Francisco! Pamplona is also quite well known for one of its very famous American visitors, Ernest Hemingway, who made many trips to the city, immersing himself in Spanish culture. His legacy there is an important one as he essentially helped to raise the city’s fame to an international level, particularly with his first successful novel The Sun Also Rises (which I admittedly have yet to tackle!). Tributes to him are evident throughout the city, including where we stayed, Hotel La Perla, a hotel once host to the Nobel Prize-winning author.

I realize I’ve been quite cruel with all this talk of Pamplona and pinchos, so in an effort to tease you just that much more, I’ve posted a boatload of pincho pictures (among others) on the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page. Once again I take you on a calorie-less journey through Spanish cuisine! You can thank me later ;).