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misadventures

Food is one of those rare and unique artforms which also serves a purpose. It draws people together, warms them up, and keeps them satisfied. Sharing a great meal can be a magical, transporting experience.

chewy-chocolate-chip-cookies

That said, I haven’t been one to make or share magical, transporting meals lately. Between 18 units of classes, an internship, my dog and a fledgling social life, cooking is one thing which falls by the wayside. The fact that I live in an “efficiency studio” (i.e., share a kitchen with everyone else in my building) doesn’t exactly encourage culinary artistry either.

In the few months that I’ve lived here, however, I have learned a thing or two about working with what you have, and creating something delicious out of nearly nothing, in almost no time – all with the help of the microwave. It may not be the artisanal, home-made goat cheese and peasant bread which Amy and I made last year, but it’s a heck of a lot better than ramen:

Single-serving cookie in a jar:

Ingredients:

1 T butter/butter substitute
2 T brown sugar
Vanilla
Salt
Cinnamon
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup flour
Chocolate chips

Melt the butter in a cup, bowl or jar from which you will eat, and mix in the brown sugar, vanilla, salt and cinnamon. Personally, I like my sweets a little saltier, so I am rather generous with the salt. Mix in the egg yolk and flour, a pinch (and I mean a tiny pinch!) of baking soda if you want some volume, and the chocolate chips. The original recipe I saw called for a mere 2 T of chocolate chips, but I am quite generous with them.

Once all ingredients are combined, pop back in the microwave and heat for another 30-60 seconds. Mine is usually perfect at around 50 seconds since I like the chocolate chips to be gooey. Remove from the microwave, and enjoy!

63318_door_closed_lg

I haven’t lived in an apartment very long. I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in a house, and from there I moved on to dorms, the occasional hostel, and back home. I’ve been living in this apartment  since June and, safe to say, have had my fair share of hiccups already. My place is perfect for my needs – a 350 sq. foot studio with a deck for myself and my 10-lb chihuahua. I’m totally happy with it, except for one small problem: it’s brand new.

Why is a brand new apartment building a problem? Hiccups. There was that time, or four, when the fire alarm went off in the wee hours of the morning, with no actual fire. Then there was that other time when the carbon monoxide alarm went off while I was in the shower, and I almost ran downstairs in a towel.

Recently, however, I had quite the amusing incident. Amusing, embarrassing… a little bit of both. The other night I was making some tea. I have an electric kettle, and I happened to also be running my fan and have the lights on, which appeared to be too much for the meagre electrical capabilities of my unit; my fuse blew. This is nothing new for me – over the summer I blew the fuse an average of twice per week. So I did what I always do – went down to room 101, where the fuse box is, and opened the door. This time, however, instead of finding an empty unit… the lights were on. There was a pot on the stove. While my brain registered that someone had clearly moved into this unit, which used to be empty, my body couldn’t stop opening the door, and I found myself face-to-face with the brand new resident of unit 101, who had apparently forgotten to lock his door. I doubt he’ll ever make that mistake again, and while he was both gracious and understanding, I’m fairly certain my face had turned the vague shade of a tomato.

Lesson learned? Knock on doors before entering. Also, don’t make tea after dark or when running the fan.

All trips have high points and low points. This much is inevitable. Usually my lowpoints are days of low energy or moodiness – those moments while being a tourist when the only fix is food, caffeine or alcohol. My last week in Lebanon, however, marked the most definable low points in traveling that I have ever experienced. To be fair, they were coupled with equally memorable highs. Regardless, week 12 of my travels will be unforgettable.

We began the week with a trip up to Harissa, a religious monument to Our Lady of Lebanon in the mountains with a stunning view of the coast. You take the teleferique, a ‘gondola lift,’ from the coast to the mountains, which covers a fair expanse of mountain and highway alike. We had the unpleasant experience of hopping on board just before the power cut (which happens for a couple hours every day), and were left, swinging precariously, directly over the highway. After a few panicked minutes, the generators kicked in and we continued to our destination.

Monday was my first definable low – we had a relatively low-key day, baking and relaxing before returning  to Beirut for the rest of the week. After a while, I realized that my phone had been missing and found it in the soapy depths of the sink where it had been sitting for several minutes. Try as we might, there was no revival, which was mildly concerning considering the fact that I was to spend the rest of the week alone in the apartment in Beirut. That evening, we toured downtown Beirut, which was abuzz with Eid lights and celebrations.

Tuesday was one of the most incredible days of my entire summer; Hady picked me up early in the morning, and we headed to his favorite spearfishing beach, further north even than Byblos. We arrived at a completely deserted stretch of pure, turquoise Mediterranean. We spent the day snorkeling, sunning and sipping chilled rose, before returning to Beirut for dinner and drinks. Never before have I experienced a beach like this one – water so warm it was like swimming in a spa, and so clear you could see the pebbles on the bottom from the rock formations above.

Wednesday we wandered Beirut by day, spending time in some of the lesser-known areas with uncharacteristically low traffic and pollution, and architecture that could pass for Paris or Rome. Wednesday night was another lovely party in the mountains, where I reunited with three of my favorite Lebanese from Caux, Hady, Joy, and Eliane.

Temple of Bacchus, my favorite Roman deity

Thursday was a day of recovery and relaxation before heading inland for our final and most incredible adventure, Baalbek. When I planned my trip to Lebanon, Baalbek was the one must-see item on my list, and the one adventure that seemed to keep getting foiled. Cars to borrow and rent were in short supply – it seems that, with the influx of Syrians to Lebanon due to political upheaval, cars were being rented and not returned. After a week and a half of trying, we finally found out that we could take a bus, which was pleasantly cheap and convenient. I had been feeling relatively ill for the past few days and wasn’t exactly excited to sit in a small, smoke-filled bus for two hours, with no possible exit along the way, but once we were on the road, things started to improve.

Raja, if you look very closely, and the six remaining columns of Jupiter’s temple

After a mere hour and a half, two bus rides and a taxi later, we found ourselves agape at the threshold of Baalbek, the largest Roman temple of Jupiter, which was built on a site that has been continuously settled for as many as 9,000 years. Baalbek has been built upon and occupied and excavated by generations of empires, from pre-Romans, to the Romans, to the Mamlukes, to the Ottomans, and even the Germans, and was apparently a Hezbollah target in the 2000’s. Remarkably, the event that did the most damage to the ruins was an earthquake, which demolished the majority of the 54 columns of Jupiter’s temple, to the point that only six remain. Columns and mosaics were taken to the Hagia Sophia, but the grandeur remains, and I was just as amazed as I had hoped and expected. Our guide was incredible, regaling us with stories and history, explaining the symbolism of the architecture and details of the epic parties of the priests and vestial virgins in the Temple of Bacchus, and of course, professing his love for us. The tour was incredible, made more so by a know-it-all priest, the rare breeze, and the constant cacophony of a nearby military training ground. These sounds were initially highly unnerving – Baalbek is, after all, only 30 km from the Syrian boarder – but quickly faded into the background.

There are two kilometers of underground caves and passageways, currently filled with wine.

After we’d taken in our fill of the ruins and snacked on cri cri, my favorite Lebanese nut (peanuts roasted with a crunchy shell), we boarded yet another bus, heading west to Ksara, one of the biggest wineries in Lebanon. We tasted the wines and were given a tour of the caves, remnants of the labyrinthine passageways that the monks who previously inhabited the site had left behind. We began our return trip to Beirut, and after an hour or so of sleeping, I awoke feeling distinctly unwell. We made it back to the apartment before I became sick in earnest, but then spent the rest of the evening vomiting what was surely every bite that I had eaten in the country. My saint-like friend Raja stayed with me until I finally fell asleep, and I awoke a few restless hours later to the news that my grandmother had passed away. While I had made my peace with my grandmother’s inevitable death before I departed in June, the news, and the proximity to my return, were upsetting, and I have never been so happy to land on US soil as I was the evening of the the 26th.

While I will always remember my two weeks in Lebanon with fondness, I am overjoyed to be home, reunited with my friends, family, wine shop, and dog. As mind-blowing and amazing as this journey has been, I am happy to remain in California for the foreseeable future and make my time here as incredible and adventurous as my three months in Europe and the Middle East.

My journey so far has been marked not by horrific delays or awful oversights, but by small incidents that have reminded me that not even the most careful planning can prevent all problems.

My brief odyssey began the morning of Wednesday, June 6, when my shuttle picked me up at 3 am. A few dear friends had come over and stayed up with me, watching Harry Potter and baking pumpkin pasties so that my departure didn’t feel so lonely. I took my beginning to be an auspicious start– HP7p2 ended just as the shuttle pulled up, my bags were ready, and I arrived at the airport hours early, breezing through security. Unfortunately, that was the high point of the journey. My plane leaving Canada left three hours late, making me miss my connection in Frankfurt. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more grim layover– I was hot and exhausted,  having been sandwiched between a Marine and toddler-toting mother (I’d booked an aisle seat, but had given it up when a 10-year old was assigned a seat far from her family), and the Lufthansa counter at the airport was suspiciously empty. The line for re-assignments was horrifically long, and I began to worry that there weren’t any more flights to Gatwick, and that my bag was surely lost.

There were only four or five of us under the age of 50 in the line, and the two women working the counter conspicuously ignored us until we cornered them. In the meantime, I saw one woman sit down in a corner in exhaustion, and simply vomit on the floor; this was, apparently, the low point however, as Lufthansa had already re-assigned me, and I landed at Gatwick at exactly the predicted time. To top it off, the on-flight wine was lovely, and my bag arrived just as expected. My friend, Izzie, picked me up, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner with her family.

We spent most of our first full day relaxing, taking a short drive out to Downe, the town where Darwin lived, and had a proper English afternoon tea, complete with sandwiches, scones, cake, and, of course, tea. We finished the evening with an amazing Indian meal and turned in early.

On Saturday, we trekked out to Oxford Street, visiting TopShop and Selfridge’s, thoroughly exhausting the money that I’d planned for my trip. We visited Burough Market, a fantastic, open-air market, and met up with some of Izzie’s friends from university for dinner.  Sunday was a relaxed affair; we got up late and visited the V&A, a fashion and design museum, and carried on to Harod’s, which was incredible, and thoroughly overwhelming. 

Monday was rather different; although Izzie, her mother, and I had a lovely day at Hampton Court, there was severe rail trouble, and a journey that should have taken an hour lasted the better part of three. None of this would have even crossed my mind, of course, but for the fact that it is in the 50’s and damp here, and I only brought two light sweaters, booties and a leather jacket, and was thus thoroughly unprepared and freezing. I was reminded powerfully of my undergrad days of waiting in the Boston ice for the Wellesley Senate bus to make it’s rounds at 3 in the morning. We finally made it home, however, and were pleased to find out that England tied France in the Euro Cup.

It’s been a lovely, if chilly, start to the week, and I’m very much looking forward to next week, which includes two nights in Edinburg, a visit with my college roommate, Margaret, and Henry V at the Globe Theatre. While it has been cold, it’s been lovely to see London in all her patriotic, post-Diamond Jubilee/pre-Olympics glory.

My sister’s text said it all: “Memorial Day 2012: Mammoth, men, mountains.” Although we didn’t make it up to Mammoth (it snowed!! I am just as confused as you are), the rest of the text was entirely accurate.

My sister, her boyfriend, and myself packed up her station wagon and headed to Thousand Oaks on Saturday morning, where we were met by the other five members of the expedition, a 12-seater van, a breakfast of eggs and sausages, and six and a half pounds of raw beef to prepare. After much packing and maneuvering and eating and chopping of onions, we loaded ourselves into the van, and were off.

the party van

Destination: unknown, but we were prepared with a grill, a propane stove, a 12-person tent, and 50 beers. We were limited only by our meagre bladder capacity, and so stopped for lunch as soon as some of our party had to pee. At Los Olivos market we found out that there were campgrounds a mere 12 miles away, and so made that our destination.

After 30 minutes of windy, one-lane mountain road, we located Figueroa Campgrounds, a sheltered outcrop of manzanita and oak trees nestled in the rolling hills of Santa Barbara County. We felt lucky to have found a spot, and erected our 12-person tent and portable hammock. The wine, beer, and scary stories flowed as we feasted on what was supposed to be kabobs, but ended up resembling misshapen meatloaf. Although the night was frigid, we slept well and awoke to prepare for our main activity of Sunday, a hike. 

Although coffee took an hour to prepare over the propane stove, we were fed and caffeinated, and took off in search of a trailhead marked on our map. Our destination ended up being an hour away, but the hike itself was beautiful, and we lunched by (or, some of us, in) a creek.

Sweaty and smellier than before, we made our way back to civilization, to the town of Los Olivos, which, it turns out, is home to about 50 tasting rooms, and proceeded to wine taste.

We began at Qupe, a winery I was excited to see because their Marsanne did quite well at the store last year. We were immediately put off, however, as they saw the size of our group (and most likely, noted our appearance and scent) and tried to shunt us off to the back room. The tasting, however, was lovely, and we proceeded to Alta MariaDragonette Cellars, and finally, Stolpman. We had a great time up until our final destination; pourers were friendly and admired our attempt to combine camping and winetasting, giving us extra pours, offering advice.

Stolpman was an entirely different experience. It was apparent that the gentleman behind the counter was tired of pouring and that we had come way too close to the 5 pm closing time, and his impatience combined with the building rambunctiousness of our group had a disastrous effect. Instead of composing ourselves, completing the tasting and going home, several of our members let their instincts and personal needs take over, and before you knew it, board shorts became short shorts, an already deep v-neck was ripped into something that resembled Andy Samberg’s belly-button baring shirt, and planters became benches. All in all, we exited Los Olivos quickly but triumphantly, and returned to our campsite, pausing quickly to frolick in a field before settling in for our last night.

Bacon-wrapped hotdogs completely redeemed the cook, and we exhausted our stores of scary stories and marshmallows, turning in for one last, and much warmer, night. We packed up and left much faster than anticipated the following morning, and made it back to Los Olivos market for our first encounter with running water since Saturday morning, and a quick breakfast that lasted for several hours and included a couple bottles of champagne. The return trip to Thousand Oaks was not the fast drive of Saturday morning, and we managed to listen to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe at least 20 times. Although I was thankful that we made the trip without any serious incident (there are a few fears of poison oak, and quite a few scrapes and bruises), I already miss the party van, though the scent of campfire lingers on.

I’m not a particularly anxious person, in general. I tend to be even less of one while traveling, because I’ve found that things tend to work out pretty okay. In the past I’ve even been so unconcerned that I didn’t even make arrangements until the night before I was leaving or going somewhere, which lent a very creative mood to the trip, but also meant that you were always in danger of not having a hostel to stay in.

This year, however, not only have I planned my trip start-to-finish (with the exception of my train to Paris), but I have been wracked with anxious pre-travel dreams. A few weeks ago, I dreamt that I had arrived at LAX just in time for my flight, only to realize that I’d left my bag at home, an hours drive away. The dream was so realistic that I woke up in a cold sweat, and started searching for my bag. It took several minutes for my brain to register the fact that I had over a month before my departure date.

Then, more recently, I had another dream, but of a very different nature. This time, I found out that my childhood best friend wasn’t going to be able to come to my goodbye party. This was particularly bizarre because I wasn’t planning on having a goodbye party, but I woke up feeling sad and lonely nevertheless.

In my pseudo-psychological interpretations of these dreams I can only assume that the first means I’m worried that I am unprepared, and the second means I’m worried about missing the people here that I love. While I’m taking the increased anxiety as a sign of maturity, I sincerely hope these dreams will inspire preparation and thoughtful goodbyes, rather than endless worry.

I distinctly remember my first international trip. This is, perhaps, because it was only two years ago. However, those first few days will be imprinted on my memory, probably forever.

I’m pretty sure that my shouts of excitement upon being accepted as a Caux intern shook my house; I studied International Relations at Wellesley, yet had never actually done anything international (though any Californian who goes to college in Massachusetts might tell you that the east coast is basically a different world). This was my chance. This was it. It was the only internship that I’d applied to the Spring semester of my Junior year, and I still think it’s pretty cosmic that it worked out. The rest of that semester passed in a blaze of excitement and sunshine. As my start date loomed nearer, however, I began to develop nerves. I didn’t want to leave California for July and August! Why would I leave my family, my job lifeguarding, my friends who I only saw during the summers, to pursue some internship that sounded less and less legitimate the more I tried to research it? Seven weeks out of the country, and no promise that I’d have a friend?

My nerves had reached an all-time high the night before I was due to leave. What if I got lost? What if there wasn’t actually an internship waiting? What if I lost my bag?? What if it was some weird cult trying to abduct me?? I met a friend of a friend for a glass of wine my last night in California, and his insistence upon the glory of travel, the amazing sights I had in store, the wonders of Switzerland, Italy, and London quelled my anxiety. I took this as a good omen, and awoke the morning of my flight excited, exhilarated. I arrived at LAX hours early. The line for security did take an hour, but the good signs continued, as I made friends in line with two middle-aged women, one of which, it turns out, was actually an actress. Only in LA, I thought.

Everything was going to well; I got through security without being searched or interrogated, and arrived at my gate. The time for my flight came and went; apparently, the plane bound for Atlanta wasn’t leaving, after all. I was worried but not panicked, and Delta sent me to AirFrance. I exited security, walked all the way across LAX, and arrived at AirFrance, only to be told that they had just closed the door, and didn’t Delta know that you had to be on board at least an hour early for an international flight?

They sent me back to Delta. After an hour of talking to an idiotic customer service representative, and repeatedly bursting into tears, I came across a woman who finally got me on a flight to Geneva, via Paris. At this point, it was 4 in the afternoon. I’d been at LAX since 9 am, had been awake since 5, and my flight wasn’t due to leave until midnight. Midnight came and went, and there was no plane. Finally, at 1.30, never feeling so exhausted in my life, I boarded my flight to Atlanta. Since my first flight was late, every subsequent flight was late, and I ended up spending nearly three days and two nights in airports and on planes. I left on a Friday and was supposed to spend Saturday night in Geneva, arriving in Caux on Sunday. Instead, I barely made it to Caux by Sunday afternoon. My bag was lost, of course. I missed every single flight that had been booked, and was thankful that I’d remembered to pack a spare dress, pajamas and deodorant in my carry-on.

When I finally arrived in Switzerland, I thought I surely must be delirious from exhaustion. The train that took me from Geneva to Montreux, and then on to Caux, passed the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Alps reared almost directly from the lake, covered in terraced, mountain vineyards. Colors that I did not know occurred in nature surrounded me, the pure blue of the sky, the amazing teal of the lake, the bright green and purple of the Alps. And the buildings, the architecture — I felt like I was in Disneyland, but suddenly, I knew that I was seeing what all our architecture attempts to re-create, for these Swiss buildings had an air of authenticity that I hadn’t even noticed was missing in California. Flags of different countries waved out of windows and on balconies, showing support for the teams of the world cup.

The final train ride to Caux was probably the most exhilarating, and terrifying, of all. The tiny train, multi-colored and open-windowed, like one of those kiddy rollercoasters at Disneyland, snaked its way up the mountain, stopping at tiny villages, crossing wooded waterfalls, revealing the cow-dotted landscape that one sees on advertisements for cheese, milk, chocolate. In my exhaustion and jetlag, I thought the altitude would make me sick, turning my stomach, making me dizzy.

Finally, after three flights, one lakeside train ride, and twenty-two minutes of heart-stopping, stomach-churning mountain train, I arrived at my destination. Undoubtedly the exhaustion intensified the reception, but to this day, I am certain that Caux, Switzerland, is one of the most beautiful and magical places on this earth. As one of the coordinators showed me to my room (which, incidentally, was in an 8th floor tower, from which I could see two castles, Lake Geneva, and the mountains on the Evian label), I realized that I was living my dream. I’d finally gotten here. My luggage arrived the next day, and the rest of my travels that summer went off without a hitch. The horror of those first few days quickly wore off as the excitement of the adventures ahead took over.

Lessons learned: arrive well-rested, pack necessities in your carry-on, and always know the next address where you are staying!