Peace Photos from Europe

I’ve been back to Toronto for almost a month after my amazing two-month journey through Europe. Today I thought I’d share some signs of peace I found along the way — While I was in Geneva, there was a photo exhibit at the Palais des Nations showing people standing up for their basic human rights around the world. In some of the photos, it was obvious that people are longing for peace, especially in countries where human rights are not upheld (the captions are included are those that I found on the plaques underneath the photos).

These photos may not cheer you up — they may even make you a bit sad. I don’t want you to be sad, though :). I’m just trying to show what is out there in the world and give a voice to the voiceless through my writing and documentation. At the end of the post, you will see some happier peace photos.

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“Kurdish demonstrator in traditional outfit.” 

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“Demonstration for peace in Venezuela.” 

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“Global Day of Action against military expenditure.”

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“… two Palestinian mothers demanding the release of their sons and 4,750 other prisoners.”

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“Demonstration by Kurdish women who traveled from several European countries demanding their rights.”

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I met an awesome girl from Nice. She let me stay in her top-floor bachelor apartment in old Nice for a week. I walked in and saw this hanging from her low ceiling. 

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A Willy Wonka impersonator who ‘peaced me’ in Madrid. 

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This giant joker caught my attention – he was in Madrid – inside what looked like some kind of gambling place, I’m not sure. Nevertheless, he made me smile.  

 

Exploring France’s New Wine Museum via/ The Huffington Post

This article was originally published via The Huffington Post (click here to view it).

I luckily found myself in the France’s port city of Bordeaux this past week. I wanted to go there to taste and explore some of the area’s world-famous wines, like those from the Médoc and Graves regions, and also to visit the historical city centre. The day I arrived, I found out from a local that the country’s president, Franҫois Hollande, was also in the heavily-visited wine capital to celebrate the opening of the city’s new wine museum: La Cité du Vin. Taking three years to build, the mega museum is housed inside a remarkable gleaming and swirling bronze structure along the Garonne River.

Continue reading here.

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La Cite du Vin, Bordeaux, France 

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Scents galore inside La Cite du Vin 

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So much learning to be done at La Cite du Vin! Plan for at least 2 hours! 

Notes from a Food and Peace Travel Diary: Part IV

About a week ago I left France and headed to Spain with a BlaBlaCar – a ride share, a common way of getting around these days in Europe (I would love to see a similar structure take off in North America). The drive flew by as I crossed the Pyrenees from Bordeaux towards Madrid with a smiling driver, about my age, who kept turning around to offer the two of us in the backseat peanut M & M’s. How kind, so kind that I found myself slipping my hand into the family-sized bag, even though I would normally turn away from the rainbow-coloured balls of sugar.

I’ve always wanted to return to Spain – the last time I was here was in 2004 when I spent a few days in Barcelona while nannying in Germany. I remember loving how lively it was, how the people happily relaxed in the many parks, soaking up the strong sunshine and playing instruments. I remember the beautiful beaches and the narrow streets and the Gothic-like buildings with their wrought iron balconies brought to life by plants and flower pots. This time I headed to Madrid, the country’s capital, where I spent about four busy days before heading on to San Sebastian in the north, the Basque country.

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Palacio de Cibeles, Madrid, 2016

One of the things I loved about Madrid was all the street artists. I was there on a Sunday, so I headed to the “Rasto” (el Rasto), a giant flea market that runs every Sunday not far from the Plaza Mayor. It wasn’t long before my eyes met a charming Willy Wonka impersonator. As I stopped to take a photo, he peaced me (I’m inventing this word: he made a peace sign) before I dag in my purse looking for what coins I had. “Muchas gracias,” he said, keeping still, as I continued on my way.

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Plaza Mayor, Madrid, 2016

I told people in Madrid that I’d be going to San Sebastian before making my way to France – and often I was told how the coastal Basque city is known to have the best food in all of Spain. This got me quite excited and instantly set my culinary curiosity on fire. I arrived today and decided that I would go and try pintxos. According to Wikipedia, pintxos, or pinchos, are “a small snack, typically eaten in bars, traditional in northern Spain and especially popular in the Basque country and Navarre.”

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San Sebastian, 2016

Pintxos are everywhere in this city — maybe even more common than pastries in France. I found a traditional looking place, Casa Alcalde on Calle Mayor, and hungrily strolled inside, where my eyes were drawn to a wooden corner bar full of platters displaying colourful, carefully-prepared creations that I’ve never seen before. I told the girl behind the counter that I don’t eat meat, but fish would do (I break the vegetarian rules while traveling sometimes). Being in the land of cured ham — commonly known as Spanish ham — my pescatarian request instantly reduced my pintxos selection by about half. But with a choice of over ten, if not twenty, small snacks to choose from, I was still left with some hard decisions to make.

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Pintxos, San Sebastien, 2016

I filled my plate with four exotic creations and ordered a beer. The girl told me to keep my toothpicks (each pintxo was held together by one) and that when I was done eating and ready to pay I should bring them to the counter. That’s how they know how many pintxos each customer eats – and so they know what to charge.

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As I emptied the flavourful plate filled with textures of all kinds, I took a look around at the pictures on the wall — colourful pictures of red-lipped senoras with flowers in the hair and dainty embroidered shawls and paintings of bulls, Spain’s longstanding spirit animal. The ill-fated el torro. I looked up and saw about 20 Spanish hams hanging from the ceiling right above my table. The brown-coloured skin reminded me of mouldy food for some reason. I decided not to focus on it. As I bit into each of the four pintxo’s, I thought about how the decorated walls bared resemblance to Spain’s notorious, often overlooked food culture. It’s rich and vibrant, long-standing and, I would say, quite loud.

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Let the Clean 15 Be Your Guide

Is Organic Healthier? Better?

Lately there have been quite a few articles floating around the internet on the question of whether organic food is better for us. The question is not new by any means, but I’m still shocked at how many do not seem convinced that organic is the healthier option. Often the argument of “science” is used to back up the claim that organic is by no means healthier. It’s like someone being sick, but not believing it until a doctor tells them so.

I’ve always thought that research involving diet and health is difficult to undertake simply because it takes time. In today’s world, science experiments are quick — any study taking more than a month is most likely considered long-term. We have to admit that our culture does not look at things through a long-term lens. We want answers now — not tomorrow! Next week? And surely not in 10 years. Think about how long it took to find out that smoking was dangerous: over twenty years! This is because diseases and illnesses develop over time, not overnight!

The other thing about human health is that it is never black and white. There are so many factors impacting health — and so many unique combinations. Where does someone live? Do they breathe fresh air? Walk? Get exercise? Ok, they eat organic, but what kind of organic food do they eat? Eating organic junk food will likely remove any of the health benefits. Do they drink alcohol (something else we avoid: alcohol consumption has been linked to cancer).  Many factors impact our health, making studying human health even more difficult.

My personal opinion is that, like the unfortunate example of smoking shows, just because “science” has not proven something to be true, in no way means we shouldn’t believe something or trust our intuition. I always like to ask people this question: if someone were to hold two apples up in front of you and tell you that the one on the left had been sprayed with a myriad of chemicals by someone wearing a gas mask, and the one on the right had been grown the way nature intended, which one would you want to have? It’s that simple.

Something that I use to guide what I purchase organic is the “Dirty Dozen” list. Created by the U.S.-based Environmental Working Group, the list ranks pesticide contamination of 48 popular fruits and vegetables based on results of more than 35,000 samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

What does the 2016 list tell us? Well, strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches — a lot of fruit — celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes and sweet bell peppers (those big red hothouse ones) top the list for the produce containing the most pesticides. This means that we should buy these items organically when possible to avoid pesticide exposure. See the full list here.

The Group also has a list called the “Clean Fifteen” – produce containing the least amount of pesticide contamination. At the top of this list are avocados, corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions and asparagus. This means that if you don’t want to purchase all things organically, — or if you simply can’t, whatever the reason — filling your shopping bag with conventionally-grown items from the Clean Fifteen list is another way to avoid pesticide exposure.

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According to the Clean 15/ Dirty Dozen, strawberries have a lot more pesticide contamination compared to asparagus.

In  2000, Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development recommended that: 

the government develop an organic agriculture policy for the transition from pesticide-dependent farming to organic farming.  This policy should include tax incentives, an interim support program during the transition period, technical support for farmers, the development of post-secondary organic farming programs and enhanced funding for research and development (R&D) in organic agriculture.

While some of these recommendations have been accomplished in Canada over the past 16 years, many simply have not. We are waiting — but what for, I’m not sure. We do not always need to wait for science to show us the answers. We need to trust our intuition. Yes, technology in agriculture has allowed us to come along way (increase yields mainly), but we also need to be mindful of human health when it comes to food production. And I don’t always purchase organic — but if it were more available and affordable, I certainly would!

Through answering this question, I’ve been once again reminded of the age-old quote by Hippocrates: “Let food by thy medicine, and medicine thy food.”

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Notes from a Food and Peace Travel Diary: Part III

     I’ve been in Montpellier for almost a month and I’m very proud of myself for choosing to stay put here while I work an a biography for someone, among other things. Lately I’ve been staying in and have become a grateful hermit writer. But what can I say? I need to to finish the book. I understand why writers take off to cabins, sometimes it helps to get rid of all distractions at once. Sometimes I’m bored and lonely, I will admit, but that has given me time. The wonderful, relative and precious gift of time.

      Something quite neat about Montpellier is the architecture – I really enjoy setting my eyes on the classic and detailed iron balconies everywhere I look and the gothic cathedrals, especially the grand Cathedrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier. The castle-like cathedral is joined to the University of Montpellier’s Faculty of Medicine, which is said to have attracted Muslim and Jewish physicians in the 12th century as a place of peace. The Faculty of Medicine is one of the oldest in the entire world, and is (rightfully) situated right across from a large and beautiful botanical garden.

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     I’m sure those very early physicians understood the link between diet and health, perhaps even more so than we do today. I’d love to know what the curricula was like and how they viewed food and nutrition. Some reading for another day. But really: What they would think of our food today? Of our enormous grocery stores filled with endless colourful boxes and cans and wrapped packages and our just-as-colourful bottles of sprays and pesticides that we apply with gas masks and gloves? Perhaps they’d consider us lucky, perhaps they’d shake their head in worry.

Something I made myself for the very first time here is artichokes. I’ve always been quite curious about this mysterious vegetable, which, to me, resembles a prehistoric rose. I asked the lady I’m staying with how the French typically prepare them, and she graciously told me “avec une vinaigrette”. That’s easy, I couldn’t help but think. She pulled out a big pan and instructed me to boil them in water just like I would potatoes. Facing up, she said.

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     After cutting off the stems and leaves, I boiled them and made a simple vinaigrette with some chopped garlic (I’m not sure if this is typical, but I just love garlic), some olive oil and some balsamic vinaigrette. When the lovely buds were done, after about 20 minutes, I strained them and let them cool before slowly peeling back the petals one at a time and dipping it them in the tangy vinaigrette. The sweetness from the vinegar paired perfectly with the slightly grassy earthiness of each delicate petal.

     As I tore back the petals to get to the heart, I thought about how the artichoke teaches us patience and that we can’t have everything all at once. Good things come to those who wait. But  be careful, says the artichoke! If you aren’t paying attention to things around you, you could hurt yourself. The tops of the buds as pointy as a needle, make sure not to prick your finger or, even worse, end up swallowing them.

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Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • About 5 artichoke buds
  • Some olive oil
  • Some balsamic vinegar
  • Chopped garlic
  • Salt/ pepper
  • A dallop of mustard

How it’s done:

  1. Place the buds (stems removed) in a pan covered with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes, then strain and cool in the pan or on a plate.
  2. Prepare the vinaigrette by mixing the oil, balsamic vinegar, the chopped garlic, salt and pepper and mustard together in a bowl.
  3. Enjoy. Pull back a petal (as I call them) and swoop them into the sauce, just as you would swoop a paint brush into your favourite colour of paint.

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Enough Food For Everyone

Hi Friends,

Nothing too grandiose or full of prose tonight.  I just wanted to share this 2013 video about world hunger  that’s “really on to something”. The video was created for the Enough Food For Everyone Campaign in Britain, which resulted in governments and industry pledging millions for global hunger. A great success! Three years later, though, hunger is a still a problem that needs to be solved. Perhaps my next post will cover my thoughts on how to solve hunger!

 

Tips for Traveling on a Budget

Five Tips for Traveling on a Budget

People always ask me how I’m able to travel so often, so I thought I’d share my tips and tricks for making going afar cost almost the same as staying home.

1. Sleep Cheap

     This is perhaps the most important tip of all. I know hostels and Airbnb arrangements may not be as comfortable as hotels, but this is where you save a lot of money. Depending on where you are in the world, a hostel can even cost about 10% of the price of a hotel. I stayed at an amazing hostel on Isla Mujeres in Mexico for $13 a night with breakfast. I slept in a dorm bed, but did it really matter? The hostel was right on the ocean, about a five minute walk to the beautiful beach. The town was also close by. The site I use to book hostels is Hostelworld.com, I’ve used it for over ten years now and love it. You reserve through the site and pay Hostelworld a small fee, and you can compare different hostels before booking. People rate them too, so you can see how the hostels rank in terms of cleanliness, location, security, etc.

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     Airbnb has also opened up a new world of opportunities for the budget traveler. I’ve used it twice so far, and I’ve been really impressed. It’s great for short and long term arrangements. What’s nice about it is you get to know locals, people who can tell you about the nice things to see, pick you up at the station (in very friendly cases) and maybe even give you a bar of soap (I’ve had that happen). Usually hosts are open to their guests using their kitchen, which leads me to my next savings tip: eat cheap! But first, another thing I should mention here is that, if possible, renting out your home while you’re away is another way to save money.

2. Eat Cheap

     There are lots of dollars/-euros/ -pesos/ -dinero, (whatever you call it!), to be saved when it comes to food. Think about it: a meal can either cost you a few dollars or a few hundred dollars! You can either eat at a simple bakery or a Michelin-starred restaurant.

     When I look for places to stay, I usually look for places that offer breakfast, which cuts out one meal of the day. Next, I look for places that have kitchens so I can make my own food. If I’m busy sightseeing , I’ll buy food that doesn’t need to be cooked, like things to make salads or sandwiches. In France of late, I’ve been eating a lot of baguettes. It might sound so cliché, but they are about a Euro each and last for a few days (if they don’t dry out that is). They make the perfect base for a sandwich or jams in the morning. If you have a kitchen, you can make just about anything, saving you a lot at the end of the day. From time to time, of course, it’s great to go out to eat and get a taste for the culinary arts in a region, but, if you’re looking to stretch your traveling money, being aware of your food spending is key.

3. Plan Ahead

    I’m the type of traveler who likes to leave things open. But there’s a limit to that. I think some things should be planned ahead, and this planning will also save you money, especially when it comes to transportation: flights, bus trips, train tickets. These generally cost less if you get them in advance. I’ll give you an example: I needed to get from Paris to Munich and I was looking at options. I had about two weeks until the travel date. Train tickets were around 200 Euros (for the fast trains). I looked into buses and I found a night bus for 29 Euros. Had I waited until a few days before the travel date to book the bus, however, it would have cost me a lot more than 29 Euros. Another example: I arrived to Geneva and had plans to meet up and stay with a friend who lives there. I went to meet her, but she didn’t come. After waiting for an hour, I finally thought I better find a hotel. It was getting dark. There are hardly any hostels in Geneva, and according to Hostelworld.com, they were all full (on a Tuesday in April). On top of it all, I didn’t have the right adapter for Swiss outlets, and my laptop died. So rather than searching and comparing hotels online, I had to  zig zag from hotel to hotel looking for a place. After a great deal of stress, I finally found one, but boy did I pay for the last minute need! For transportation and accommodation, planning ahead can save you a lot.

4. Walk

     This is going to be a short, straightforward tip: Rather than taking taxis or metros, walk whenever possible. This may not make sense in all cites, especially the gigantic, spread out ones, but in many cities the main sites to see are in the center. If you need to take transit, check to see if a buying a daily/ 3-day/ week-long pass would make more sense than buying individual tickets.

5. Do free things!

     There are usually lots of things to see that don’t cost a ton of money — think ancient cathedrals or botanical gardens. Often there is no charge to enter these. People watching is another free activity. I’m not advising against museums or other historical/ cultural sites, (of course go!) but your time can easily be balanced out with site seeing that won’t cost you a penny!

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Have any other tips for traveling on a budget? Share your thoughts below!