Blogs > Millennial Traveler

New and traditional ways of exploring the globe, and your own backyard.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Another one goes to the big Twinkie in the Sky

Is it just me, or have there been a lot of celebrity deaths? No, scratch that, *talented* celebrity deaths.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was still in his acting prime. He was only in his mid-40s and had already made a huge name for himself. One of his first acting roles was right in Troy with Scent of a Woman and he was originally from Fairport, NY - just a few hours away.

We all will probably remember the day Shirley Temple died (like, actually died - since I thought she was already deceased). That day, Feb. 10, I heard "On the Good Ship Lollipop" about a hundred times. But, for me, it actually didn't get old.

(photo from IMDB of Ramis)

And, now, Harold Ramis. At 69, he was not a spring chicken anymore but it was hard to think of him as elderly given his youthful roles, writing, and directing. Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Animal House, Groundshog Day, Analyze This, Meatballs, Stripes....the list goes on.

I'm not a huge movie buff but I know what I like - and I loved the work of each of these individuals.


Brunch and Mimosas: Carmen's Cafe in Troy

For the past couple of years, when anyone has asked me for a recommendation for a good place to get brunch my immediate response is always Carmen's Cafe.

There was a time when it was much harder to visit the First Street establishment because of its limited hours. But, no more - er, no mas.

The Cuban-style restaurant, opened in 2004, now has extended hours and a larger menu.

New Hours: Wed. and Thurs. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Fri. from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sat. and Sun. from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Before, it was only open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays)

Co-owners Carmen Gonzalez and Jim Lewis will still have Tapas Night on Fridays (usually with live music), with a full weekend menu available during the week. Lunches will focus on sandwiches, salads, and soups with a Cuban-Spanish-Moroccan zest. Dinners will be light, including stews and tapas.

Delivery will also now be available for a minimum $15 order.

On one of my last visits, before their new hours that started this month, my boyfriend and I - we only live down the street from Carmen's - had the Lucy omelette (three egg omlette with mushrooms, spinach and cheese served with home fries and toast) and the Ranch eggs (two eggs, mashed beans, chili sauce, Texas toast with chorizo or veggie hash), respectively.

Both dishes were huge, delicious and appropriately-priced, which is why I love this place.

Some of their new dishes will include: Carne Guisada, a Spanish beef stew popular in Cuba; Caldo Gallego, a beans and greens dish; and Cuban meatloaf. There are also new authentic Cuban bread and tapas choices.

Oh, and did I mention they cure their own bacon? It's expensive but very good. I also highly recommend their mimosas.

If you go -
Address: 198 First St., Troy
Phone: 326-2064
Hours: Wed. and Thurs. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Fri. from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sat. and Sun. from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bonds Fostered Through My German/American Exchange Still Intact

Fifteen years ago this spring, I did a German-American exchange program in a small town outside of Stuttgart. The month-long experience (which was only $1,000 thanks to our frugal high school German teacher) widened my eyes to the world, in general, and has most definitely had a lasting impact on who I am today.

I'm currently in the process of applying for a similar program which focuses on U.S./German relations and news. I was curious to gain some input from my German friends - most of whom I met either in 1998 when I went over there or in 1999 when a group came here.

I had not spoken to most of these (now) men and women in years but, thanks to Facebook, getting in contact is just a message, a poke, or a wall post away. I messaged four of them on Facebook last night and I emailed my first exchange partner (since she has told me she thinks FB is mainly used to find bfs/gfs and isn't a fan of the site).

I heard from two of the four almost immediately and got another FB message and an email from my former exchange partner this morning.

(The coat of arms of the town where I stayed. I'll be searching for photos of my friends today)

For those curious - according to thosefriends - the hot topic in U.S. news currently in Germany is regarding the NSA, not too different from our current news in the U.S. as well. I have a few other follow up questions I'll be emailing/messaging today.

I still remember taking the time as a high school student to write letters to many of these people following the exchange. I met up with my two exchange partners - one who I stayed with, and one who stayed with me - for a Fruhlingsfest in 2004. One eventually came to the U.S. to practice her English here and her French in Quebec several years later. Now, communicating across the Atlantic is much simpler than it was back in high school.

My German has since, unfortunately, gone mostly unused except for the occasional familiar word in a movie or TV show. But I'm incredibly happy that these bonds - even across 4,000 miles - remain intact.

Sadly, the German language program at my old school has since been discontinued due to funding. I'm uncertain of the fate of the exchange program.

But, I'm crossing my fingers that I'll get to see my old friends soon.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Coca-Cola: An International Company

As someone with a travel/international-friendly blog, I felt the need to respond to the Coke Super Bowl ad controversy.
It all goes back to the melting pot vs salad bowl of culture. I like to believe everyone's foods, movies, music, languages can all exist. Where would the Oscar's have been a couple years ago without "Slumdog Millionaire"? Where would Lark Street in Albany be without choices of Chinese, Thai, Mexican, and Indian all within a few blocks of each other?

People get frustrated and angry at things they don't understand. Language can be a barrier. But sometimes you have to let your guard down and appreciate all human life, whether you fully understand it or not.
Coke, while based in the U.S. (Atlanta to be exact) and touted as a very American drink, has had an international presence for a long time. They serve dozens of countries and the commercial depicted that diversity well.

I thought it was a beautiful commercial. I'm sure my grandparents who immigrated from Italy would have thought so, too.

Know what the whole world should be annoyed about? The fact that the U.S. can be so ethnocentric that we consider single nation competitions like the Super Bowl a "world championship".
I'll get off my Global-Studies-minor soapbox now. I do love the U.S. and I love being from NY (especially Troy, NY). I just think that sometimes our nation of 313 million people forgets that there are 5.7 billion non-Americans out there, too.

How Westernized Should the Olympics Be?

I've never been to the Olympics. Friends of mine and I talked about going to the 2012 summer games in London but something about paying over £100 for a swimming event didn't sit well with me (and then the most expensive tickets to the Opening Ceremonies were £2012. No, thank you).

The closest I've been to an Olympic event (aside from my childhood annual visits to Lake Placid - winter host in 1932 and 1980) was when I visited Athens, Greece in June 2004 following my study abroad program. It was two months before the games were set to start and - from the current reports - it appears they were more prepared for the Olympics then than Sochi is now, just a couple days out before the Opening Ceremony.
(Greek Olympic venue, 2004)

Reporters on Twitter are doing a great job and reporting what they're experiencing which has included yellow water, no flooring in their hotel, a lack of a lobby so they had to "check in" at the property's landlord, and some of the toilets are such that they cannot flush toilet paper.

I think my boyfriend's succinct thoughts go a long way: "It's Russia. What do you expect?"

While I do not fully agree, he has a point. What did people expect?

From my part, I would expect a safe city with adequate infrastructure to sustain the thousands of tourists expected for the games that will spur the local economy. So, yes, floors, a fully-assembled Olympic hub, and finished hotels would be nice. The rest is technically not necessary for anyone not used to American standards - and, unlike the Super Bowl/World Championship and World Series, it's the Olympics so it's not just about the U.S.

 (a Turkish toilet - which, I'm told is what to expect to much of Asia/ and a toilet in St. Thomas that doesn't allow TP)

I've been in countries both in this hemisphere, but especially Asia (where Russia is located), where the plumbing just cannot sustain flushing toilet paper, and where drinking water needs to be purchased in bottles instead of consumed from the tap (heck, we're wary about the water in our South Troy apartment). Though, water being unsafe to bathe in is pretty sketchy. And many countries - even first world countries - have issues with stray cats and dogs.

(From the Twitterfeed of Stacy St. Clair, Chicago Tribune Reporter)

To clarify, I am *not* in favor of "disposing" of these poor animals as has been reported. The situation reminded me of my trip to Greece nearly a decade ago. While touring the nearby Greek Islands, our tour guide said that officials in Athens were displacing the strays to nearby islands so the streets in the city would look clean for the influx of visitors. Unfortunately, I'm sure they did worse things to the dogs and cats that year.

(from my 2004 trip, showing some stray cats - sorry about the quality. It was before I used digital cameras)

Back then, the stray animal issue was not covered as much as the animal rights issue in Sochi today. I can't help but think this has something - maybe everything - to do with the increase over the years in social media. Facebook was just in its infancy back then. Nowadays, if residents or tourists see something suspicious they can easily post it to Twitter or Facebook and then see if others are noticing the same.

I truly appreciate the Twitter posts in recent days that have resulted in shared experiences of #SochiProblems. To the journalists covering the Olympics, while I feel for you, this is all about perspective. I think the Olympics, at its root, is about learning about new cultures, not seeing how well they conform to western standards.

Stay Calm, Report on the Olympics, and Have a Vodka. And at least I'm not the only one who thinks the tweets should be put into perspective.

All this said, I don't know if I agree with Russia hosting the games, given the above issues, the noted gay controversy in the country, and the possible terrorism. I think, at this point, all we can do is hope for safe events and competitions for the athletes, the tourists and the reporters.