Monday, December 7, 2015

There, I Said It: Feel Free to Be a Tourist

Much has been said and written on the subject of being, I quote, "a traveller, not a tourist". Tourists, purportedly, beat the beaten paths to death, take selfies with the Big Ben, eat on Las Ramblas, probably speak only one language and in general don't know shit about life.

Whereas, you know, true Travellers go only where the locals go. Travellers don't book tours or use travel agents. Travellers speak twenty languages, find the best latte without uttering a word of English, and would never, ever, EVER set foot in a McDonald's lest they be considered tourists. That's, like, so gross!

What a load of bullshit.

It has always rubbed me the wrong way how people would recoil from doing things by themselves. Going to movies alone? Horror. Travelling by themselves? Unthinkable. I'd like to claim that I never understood why, but I do. Solitude, for the unaccustomed and little self-aware, can be uncomfortable and scary. Solitude is a skill, and so is solo travel, which I am absolutely in love with. I prefer travelling solo, and I also have a strong aversion to others telling me what to do and how to do it when I travel.

This crude, cruel and unnecessary distinction between tourists and travellers illustrates the same idea: that somehow one way of doing things is better than the other, is better than another. That you absolutely need to defy the mainstream to get the most out of your trip or vacation. That if you stick to the well-known, conventional even, you are automatically a lesser individual - less adventurous, less resourceful, less open.

And let me tell you to screw that. Do what you feel like, be it when travelling and otherwise. (Don't litter though.) I just can't stress it enough: please do what you truly, really want to do when you are on a trip. You don't have to go to that major art gallery just because the guidebook told you it was "a must-see". You don't have to go out of your way to find a quirky place for lunch when you're next to a wide avenue full of places that don't shutter mid-day. You are under no obligation to visit any museum, any sight, any park. You really aren't.

Yet, when we get ready to travel, that's what we are conditioned to do. Make a list of places according to what everyone else said we should do, and go see them. This isn't to say we don't enjoy what we end up seeing. But I have a feeling that too many people on the road feel pressured to do certain things instead of undertaking some activity that they could quite possibly enjoy way more.

What is the point of riding the tourist bus if you are more inclined to go sketch the sea on the beach while getting drunk on beer at one o'clock in the afternoon?

What is the point of touring trendy cafes when you'd rather just have a big steak and chill in your hotel after dinner?

Who has the right to tell you to go visit that church, no matter how splendid its Neo-Gothic apses may be, when you enjoy shopping at local markets and haggle for cheap vintage posters instead?

How have we become so complacent to let anyone, ANYONE, tell us what to occupy ourselves with when we travel? How have we let others, who know so very little of our habits, passions and preferences, to decide what is fashionable and what is not for us to do when we go away on a plane? Why, why would we listen without consulting our own ideas first?

Here is a sweeping generalization of the day: there are no tourists nor travellers. There are people who either decide to go at their own pace and discover things that matter to them most or those who are lured, lulled, tricked into following someone else's path. That's the difference. The pre-defined path may be hipster or Lonely Planet, it really matters not. The pre-defined path is the one that may not be as awesome as the one you may choose to take if you just pause to listen and ask yourself what you, in all earnest, would like to do on your trip.

Please sleep in till noon if you want to. Please go on a pub crawl if you feel like it. Please drop everything else and visit art museums for hours and days. Please eat lobster for breakfast and sandwiches for dinner if that's what you're into. Forget convention and forget trends. Do. What. The. Fuck. You. Want.

And here's hoping that every travel will be an unforgettable one for you this way.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Lunch in Valencia

I had an extraordinary lunch in Valencia today. So extraordinary, in fact, that it warrants its own blog post, not a handful of tweets (no matter how much I love Twitter).

I also love Foursquare, and those who have known me long enough are aware of how fanatical I can get about my check-ins and how furious I was when the app was split into two. This, however, is not the time to rant about Swarm (which did improve a lot since its release). Foursquare got worse in my opinion - it's slow, buggy and clunky, but I still use it because we've got history, the app and I. I'm a Superuser Level 2 (humblebrag). Four and a half years worth of check-ins, ratings and tips are in there. I like making lists. And whenever I am in a new place and hungry, I use the app to find nice places to eat.

Foursquare can be a hit and miss for restaurant recommendations, since it's based on other people's opinions of them, and opinions are subjective as hell. But the hivemind works sometimes: when Foursquare is a hit, it's platinum.

That was a long winded way to say that I discovered an amazing place for lunch using the app today. I checked into my hotel in Valencia and, running out of time before places started shuttering post-lunch, picked two promising restaurants that were right next to each other on a nearby street. The first place looked too expensive even for me in the holiday-goddamit-I'll-have-what-I-want mood, so I settled for the second one.

Their lunch menu deal was a tasting menu. Imagine that? For 13.50€ plus drinks. No choosing dishes; they only gave me the menu to ensure I was okay with eating what they were offering. I just said yes and was subsequently presented with the following:

  • cream of something soup
  • tiny veal kebabs with tzatziki that was fresh fresh fresh
  • a squid and vegetables taco in the softest bread shell
  • the absolutely damn unexpected rice with green peas, egg and sashimi
  • apple purée with cookie ice-cream and yogurt mousse. In a jar.

Never had anything like it in a seemingly Mediterranean restaurant, which it wasn't, turns out. Fusion? Asian? No labels necessary. I asked the restaurant manager, Catina, to reserve a table for me tomorrow night. I actually have a rule that I don't eat in the same place twice when travelling, unless I'm in some remote location that has no other options (like a few towns in Priorat, for example). I fully intend to break this rule tomorrow night, because if this was lunch, I want, no, I NEED to try their dinner.

No food pictures to illustrate the post. Was too busy eating.

El Delicat
Carrer del Comte d'Almodóvar, 4, 46003 València
963 92 33 57

Monday, May 11, 2015

Opinions Good. Reviews Bad.

Writing about food is hard, and whoever said it wasn't is pretentious or lying. Writing about food is hard, because it's an attempt to describe something that's indescribable. (You're better off snapping a picture and posting it to Instagram. Maybe.) If you write about food in a restaurant review, you also present your writing as a solid and objective look at something that can only be subjective. I have a big problem with that. It feels like opinions are being shoved down my throat, and this is not the feeling I want to associate with food.

What are being passed off as restaurant reviews are opinions - glorified and authoritative sometimes, but opinions. Of course, the same can be said about pretty much any other review - wine, film, music album, a poem, a novel, your friend's new haircut.

Are opinions wrong? No. But when it comes to entertainment and hospitality, opinions sometimes count for too much while offering very little. People who share them elevate their experiences and thoughts to the level of universal usefulness and applicability, but these experiences can never be truly universal - there are 7 billion people on the planet, after all. And restaurant reviews are the worst offenders, because there is nothing more subjective than sensory experience of food. It is dependent so much on everything else besides the food itself, that the experience may not even be applicable to the next time you, the reviewer, visit that eatery, let alone to someone else's visit.

Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, yada yada. I agree. Everyone is. What irks me is the belief that opinions and experiences transfer. The belief that subjective can ever become objective if imparted by someone smart, someone older, someone with 10 thousand Twitter followers. A trusted source is a better source when it comes to facts, but food experience can never be a fact. Wine experience can never be a fact. Even experience of weather can differ a whole lot.

The jist of the post is not "Don't read restaurant reviews". Read whatever you want to read, but take it with a grain of salt and don't let it limit you. Don't feel bad if you hear a bad opinion disguised as a review of a place you like. Please don't think that you shouldn't drink a certain wine if someone said it wasn't good. You can drink anything you damn well please (if you are of legal drinking age). Ain't no such thing as a bad wine or a bad dish - if you like it.

If I post something about a restaurant I went to, just remember that everything I say about the food or drinks specifically is just my opinion and you can safely ignore it if you feel like it. Better yet - share your own opinion with me, and we can have a discussion.

Opinions are great and interesting and open doors to interesting debates. Opinions aren't great when they shove something down the public's throat - no matter how subtly. Just share tips on when to beat the line at Uncle Tetsu's Cheesecake in Toronto or recommend a place to eat if you want soft jazz music and table candles. Don't tell me if eggs benedict are too buttery - maybe I like them just this way.

(I'm aware that these are not eggs benedict. It was a delicious potato salad from Cañota, Barcelona.)