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Travel Spain : Favorite Spanish City

By Elizabeth Gregory

I've been lucky enough to travel to Spain 5 different times. Each time, I've been to a different city. Over the course of my travels, I have found that nightlife in Spain is great anywhere, it is usually super easy to get around, and the people are great. Although I must admit just like in many places, things tend to move a little slower down south. When asked what my favorite place in Spain is, I honestly cannot give one. I like them all in different ways for different reasons. I plan to hit Northern Spain on my next trip since that is really the one part of the country I haven't yet had an opportunity to explore. Below is a synopsis of why each of these places I've been to is my favorite city in Spain.

Madrid is big city living although you can still find spots that allow you to forget the huge metropolis you are in. That's what makes it my favorite city in Spain. Two of my favorite spots are the Plaza Mayor (where you can sit and relax at a café) and Parque Retiro where you can have a nice picnic lunch in the grass, or stroll around admiring fountains, gardens, and sidewalk chalk artists.

Barcelona is my favorite city because it's on the waterfront. I also enjoy Las Ramblas (a pedestrian zone) loaded with street performers. It's a great walking city and has quite a different feel to it than Madrid does.

Granada is my favorite city in Spain because of the Alhambra and the proximity to the beach and mountains (1 hour to each – take your pick). Although, I must admit my first trip to a Mediterranean beach was in Almuñecar and I had visions in my head of white sand beaches, not gravel. The water, however, was so clear that we took a paddle boat out and were able to see down to the bottom in about 50 foot deep water. Amazing!!

Salamanca and Avila are my favorite cities in Spain because of their medieval feel and narrow alley ways filled with restaurants and shops. Cobblestone streets are another reason why I love Avila. (Something about cobblestones in Spain seem more charming than the ones here in Philadelphia). They're also within a 2-3 hour ride from Madrid so when you get that hankering for big city life, it's easy to get to.

Sevilla is my favorite city in Spain because it's Southern Spain at its best. The Moorish architecture is amazing, and the people are very friendly.

Ernest Hemmingway, as most of you know, is a great writer who captured many images of Spain in his writings. I highly recommend reading some of his works if a trip to Spain is not in your immediate future (or budget).

Guatemala Travel : Guatemala Buses

By Sue Lavene

In the beginning of my recent trip to Guatemala, I was amazed to see so many yellow school buses around Antigua. This instantly brought me right back to my childhood days as I wondered whether there was that many schoolchildren in and around Antigua needing to be transported somewhere. When I looked more closely inside the bus, though, I realized that there were mostly adults in them. What I soon found out was that these buses are used there for inter-city transportation and do not serve the purpose – as I was accustomed – to take school children to and from school.

Called "buses" or "camionetas" by Guatemalans and "chicken buses" by others, these brightly painted, recycled school buses were adorned with religious embellishments hanging around the front of the bus near the driver with lively music playing in the not-so-distant background. The drivers have an assistant who you will find either periodically collecting money from passengers or hanging out the open door, ready to jump out at any moment to "recruit" more bus business. The buses stop every now and then on the side of the road of little villages to pick up and drop off passengers – at that point, I still couldn't figure out how you informed the driver that you wanted to get off.

On one particular day, it was after several stops that the bus began filling up to the point of absolute – and inconceivable (in my mind) – fullness. Imagine squeezing 3 adults into one school bus seat. This was the norm on those buses – because they were so inexpensive for passengers – with many others standing in the aisles due to lack of seating or better yet, in the empty space of the small aisle, those desperate to take the load off, "sat" in the air wedged shoulder-to-shoulder between the person in the seats immediately to their right as well as to their left. They must have exchanged the normal sized school bus seats for longer ones because the aisles were even smaller than I remember from my childhood school days, however, my larger body may account for the difference in perspective. While it filled up more and more with each subsequent stop, I was laughing and thinking to myself, "now, how the heck am I supposed to get off?!?"

If you've ever been in this situation, you would know that it's hard enough for an average sized person to pass through to the front of the bus, let alone a "pleasingly plump" somebody, like me. The time came to descend so I had no choice but to make my mortified way to the front of the bus – praying to myself that I wouldn't, my worst nightmare yet, get STUCK between people unable to move – gently passing everyone, desperately sucking in my gut and – albeit ineffectively – attempting to elongate my body as if to make my pass more do-able, all the while saying in Spanish, "excuse me", "pardon me" and "I'm sorry" with a sheepish grin. I literally had no choice but to push past every person in the aisle seats as I squeeeeezed past.

On another ride, this time thinking myself wise to the calamity of my previous trip and satisfied with myself for coming up with a better solution for my future comfort, I decided that I would stay at the front of the bus to avoid any further incident. I didn't want to sit in any of the seats, I figured, because it would be just as difficult for me to squeeze out of the seat, past several people just to get into the aisle, so I remained standing.

This time as the bus filled up, I thought, "no problem". I was safely at the front where I could easily get off, how bad could it get?Wouldn't you know it – a couple of people all at once came pushing past me, plowing through to the back causing me to have to step out of the aisle and up onto the soft seat next to me which was filled with big straw bags of textiles. In other words, in case you didn't get it the first time around, I was forced to climb up onto the top of the seat to get out of their way. I have never before been in such a humiliating place as a woman of size.

Just so you know it wasn't just me to whom these uncomfortable situations occurred, a classmate of mine on one particular ride, tall and thin like Popeye's Olive Oyl, sitting in the seat in front of me, was squooshed between two full-grown adults, with her left cheek suspended off the seat, her body twisted around to the right.

Nevertheless, despite my "adventures" experienced on those buses, warmly thinking back on them never fails to make me smile!

Polish Cooking : Pierogies Recipe

By Beth Klemick

Of all Polish foods, by far the best known are pierogies. These culinary delights can be found ready made in almost any grocery store in the United States, offering quick and easy preparation by boiling them in water or, as an added bonus, sauté the boiled pierogies until golden brown.

For those who are more daring and wish to bring out the Polish chef in them here we have provided a homemade recipe for pierogies. For additional Polish delights, check out the Polana website The Polish Experience.

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons sour cream, buttermilk, or plain yogurt
1-cup water (more if required)
butter or oil
salt and pepper

1. Combine flour, half of the water, eggs, and the sour cream, buttermilk or yogurt in a large bowl. Stir vigorously to incorporate the eggs.
2. Slowly stir in the remaining water until dough begins to form. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead gently, lifting dough to stretch.
3. Continue lifting and stretching the dough until the dough is smooth and somewhat sticky inside, about 3 minutes or so. Do not overwork the dough – if it begins to become elastic, allow it to rest 5-10 minutes under an overturned bowl before working with it again.
4. When the dough has been kneaded enough, place in a storage bag in the refrigerator to rest 20 minutes, or leave on the counter under an overturned bowl 30 minutes, to allow any gluten which may have developed to rest.
While the dough is resting, you can prepare the filling.

3 medium or 2 very large waxy potatoes (baking)
3 T unsalted butter
1-2 T light olive oil (or schmaltz)
1 large onion, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cabbage, finely shredded
1 small leek, finely minced (optional)
2 T Parmesan or white cheddar cheese, grated

1. Cook the potatoes in their skins, in a covered heavy pot with barely enough water to cover them in slightly salted water (add about 2 tsp salt to the water). Simmer over low heat until potatoes are fork tender, then remove from heat. (If you can judge when they'll be done, remove from heat 10 minutes in advance and just allow to steam in the pot with the heat turned off).
2. Allow the potatoes to cool sufficiently to handle, and rub off the skins with a clean towel. Drain the pot you cooked them in, and return the potatoes to the pot and shake them around a bit to dry them.
3. Put the potatoes through a sieve or a potato ricer if you have one, otherwise, use a masher. Set them aside.
4. In a skillet, combine butter and oil or schmaltz over medium heat to melt. Sauté the garlic, onion, and leek for a few minutes until they begin to take on a translucent color.
5. Stir in the cabbage, turn the heat to high for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, reduce heat and allow cabbage to begin to brown, 6-8 minutes. Then add the potatoes, cheese, and season to taste. Remove from heat and go on to work with the dough again as the filling cools.

Putting the pierogies together
1. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and form it into balls 1 1/2 to 2" in diameter. Roll each out with a rolling pin into a 3-3 1/2" round approximately 1/8 inch in thickness. Cover the ones you've made with a damp paper towel as you work. If you prefer, you can use a Kitchen Aid pasta roller attachment (or other pasta machine) to roll out the dough circles. Be sure to flour both sides lightly first.
2. Hold the dough in one hand, and place a round ball of filling or spoonful into the center. Fold in half to enclose the filling, and pinch the edges securely together. Don't allow filling to touch the edges to avoid an imperfect seal. Be sure there are no openings along the edges, or the filling will boil out.
3. Boil a large pot of salted water as you continue to fill the remaining pierogi until all the ingredients run out. As you work, place a sheet of waxed paper dusted lightly with flour or corn meal over and between the pierogi layers until ready to boil.

Gently lower pierogies into rapidly boiling water 3-5 at a time and cook for a few minutes until they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and continue till all are cooked. Serve fresh with melted butter, or sauté in butter until lightly brown on outside.

* An alternative to cooking these in water is to boil them in the broth remaining from a boiled ham, or in chicken broth.

NOTE: If your pierogies are too doughy, you either rolled the dough circles so they were not thin enough, or if their thickness was correct, they may not have been evenly rolled or cooked sufficiently. The first attempt is not always perfect, but if you note where you could have done better, your next batch will be much improved

Cordoba Travel : Getting There

By Connie Marianacci
There are various options for traveling to Cordoba, and they all range in price and length.

By Plane
You can take a plane to Santiago de Chile and then directly to Cordoba from the same international airport or take a plane to Buenos Aires and then directly to Cordoba.

The difference between these two is that in the Buenos Aires option, you have to take a private bus from Ezeiza Airport (international airport where you arrive) to Aeroparque Airport (national airport) where the plane Buenos Aires – Cordoba departs.

It is actually quite easy to take the private bus from one airport to another, there are two companies available: Manuel Tienda Leon and "Transfer Express" which take about 1 hour to arrive to the Aeroparque airport.

Still, if you may choose, going through Santiago de Chile is more convenient.

By Bus
If you want to travel economically and save some money, you may go to Cordoba by Bus. There are buses leaving Retiro Station very often during the day and at night(service hours may range from 6:00 am until 12:00 am). To get to Retiro Station from the airport, you may also take the private busses mentioned above.

You can buy the ticket once you arrive to the station and you will not have a problem regarding availability unless you travel during a peak traveling date like Friday before Christmas or another holiday similar.

The buses are very comfortable; you could compare them to the first class seating at the airplane. My suggestion is to catch the bus at night so you can sleep all the way through to Cordoba. If you travel during the day it does get a little bit long.

Here is an article from the virtual tourist that gives a little bit more details that can help you:

Retiro & San Nicolas : Retiro Bus Terminal :
The Retiro Bus Terminal is the point of departure and arrival of all bus going to and from all town of Argentina! You will find there hundreds of bus companies (called "empresa") offering transportation to several destinations limited by a region or to the biggest towns of the country (Cordoba, Mendoza, etc). The tickets can be purchased in advance or the day itself (but not too late to be sure to have a seat) at the desks ("boletarias") on the first floor. They are classified by region…so go directly to the desks covering the region where you want to go. To go to the North of Argentina (Iguazu), I took "Express Singer", it was a very great company. There is also Express Tigre Iguazu. The long and night travels in a bus are very pleasant if you choose a cama or semi-cama seat. Don't worry for the food, the "cena" (evening meal with bread, cheese, ham, empanadas and a desert) and the breakfast (media luna with cafe) are included in the travel price of the ticket!!! According to the time, the bus and the company, the clean aspect of toilets on board can be different. It is better to take toilet paper with ;-) And also depending of the destination, you can received a cushion and a blanket. But what is sure, is that you will have the occasion to see minimum two films! Maybe you will not understand everything (sound is very low), but there are often subtitles (in Spanish) to help you… Finally, the bus is a really practical and cheap way to travel around in Argentina : a 1500 km travel costs between 80 and 100 pesos(20-25 euros)!!! Nearest Subte (metro-)station : Retiro than straight ahead… the bus terminal is after the train station.

from VirtualTourist.

World Fun Facts Part 2

Here are some more fun facts from Country Reports.

Portugal's natural resources include cork, tungsten, coal, iron, uranium, pyrite and marble.

The busiest subway system in the world is in Russia.

Spain's tradition of "el ratoncito Perez" is the character of a story for a young king who had fear of losing his baby teeth.

Switzerland is the country that eats the most chocolate on average per person a year.

The capital of Taiwan, Taipei, is built in a big, flat basin that used to be a lake.

In Thailand, the lotus is a Buddhist symbol of goodness, purity and intelligence.

Pearls have been harvested by Gulf fisheries for more than 5,000 years in the United Arab Emirates.

The United States is the top meat eating country in the world.

The name Venezuela means "Little Venice". Amerigo Vespucci noticed houses built on stilts in the water, which reminded him of Venice, Italy, where canals run through the city.

World Fun Facts

I recently came across Country Reports and their interesting facts about different countries throughout the world.

Here are some my favorites:

The highest mountain peak in the Americas is Mount Aconcagua in the Andes Mountains in Argentina.

Bolivia is named after Simón Bolivar, who led the struggle to free Bolivia and the rest of South America from Spanish colonial rule. He was also the author of Bolivia's first constitution.

The first European expedition to explore the length of the Amazon took place in 1541 in Brazil.

Canada is home to the world's largest mall. West Edmonton Mall occupies 5.3 million square feet and contains more than 800 stores and services.

China has the most pharmacists and doctors in the world.

The aboriginal name for the Dominican Republic is Quisqueya, which means in the Taino language, "Mother of all lands".

Abdalá Bucaram, former president of Ecuador, has performed as a pop singer and released albums of his music.

Tutankhamen of Egypt was only 10 years old when he became pharaoh. Unlike the majority of other pharaohs, tomb robbers never uncovered his tomb.

The name El Salvador means "the savior".

France is the top tourist country in the world with approximately 71.4 million visitors each year.

Nearly half of all citizens of Germany are fluent in English, but only 3 percent of Germans speak French fluently.

More than 7 million Greeks or persons of Greek origin live outside of Greece.

The national symbol of Guatemala is the quetzal, a bird that signifies freedom because it dies in captivity.

The most sugar consumed per person per year is in Israel.

The word Morocco was derived from Marrakesh, the capital city of the 11th and 12th centuries. Marrakesh means "a pass".

I'll update with more interesting facts next week.
Have a great weekend!

Travel Japan : Japanese Rail Travel

By Beth Klemick

If you ever have the opportunity to travel in Japan travel by rail, it is an experience not to be missed. Since Japan operates the world's most efficient rail service, travel by rail will allow you enjoy, sightsee and experience a lot of the country even on a limited schedule.

I recommend traveling on the high-speed Shinkansen system of bullet trains. Did you know that in almost 40 years since this transportation network first opened it has carried approximately 6 billion passengers without a single serious accident?! The bullet trains are most known for their speed traveling at 270-300 kilometers per hour (168-186 mph). Life does whiz by but you can still take in and enjoy the incredible sights like Mount Fuji. The bullet trains also run frequently, for example, there are 6 trains per hour that run between Osaka and Tokyo. That is 6 trains per hour not day! Japan is an amazing cultural experience, steeped in ancient traditions to electric cities and boast by far the most modern, clean and efficient public transportation.

International Cell Phones

By Connie Marianacci

It is very comfortable to take your cell phone everywhere you travel and for it to work.
There are actually a few options available:
1) You may check with your local provider to make your roaming available at the country you are traveling to.
2) You may buy a local SIM card when you arrive to the host country and have a local number.
3) You may rent a local cell phone.

Please note that the options may vary depending on the country you travel.

This option is the most expensive both for receiving and making calls either to your home country or localy at the host country. You would maintain your original phone number at all times including the country and state code.

Local SIM Card
This option is the cheapest option but not available in all the countries; please check if it is available in the country you are traveling to. To be able to do this there are a few requirements you would need to take into consideration.

1) Cell Phone Bandwith
The cell phone bandwith is "the capacity of a telecom line to carry signals. A greater bandwidth indicates the ability to transmit a greater amount of data over a given period of time." (Mobile Media).
There are four different types of bandwiths used throughout the world, 850, 900, 1800 and 1900 Mhz, and each country is set up to work with at least one of them. (Kropla)

Bandwiths divided by continent:
North America: 859 Mhz, 1900 Mhz
Europe: 900 Mhz, 1800 Mhz
South America: 1900 Mhz

Note: There are countries that are exceptions to these figures, please check bandwiths for specific countries at GSM World

2) Cell Phone Lock
When you buy a cellphone, it is "locked" by your telephone provider so you may only use it with that provider. Some cell phone models come with the option of buying them unlocked and the cost is quite different. You may unlock your cell phone at some stores that sell cell phones either at your home country or your host country. You may also find this service available on internet stores. This will allow you to use a SIM card from any provider in that phone.

3) Prepaid SIM Card
When traveling for a short period of time, you want to find a prepaid SIM Card which you buy at the host country. The charge per minute is normally more expensive than if you called form a Plan Set SIM Card but this is your only option if you do not have a permanent address at the host country.

This option might not be available in all the countries and the cost is normally very expensive.

All in all, please do a search online to see what you find on this matter since tecnology is quickly improoving and I have already seen other options that might be also interested but I have not tried myself.

Learn a Foreign Language : Language Resource

By Elizabeth Gregory

Every spring I teach a beginner Spanish night class for adults. It's not a formal college course or anything, just something offered by a local school district under their adult education evening classes. I mainly provide handouts for this course; however many times people ask for supplemental texts or reading materials to supplement their study at home. Although I do have 2 recommendations, I also have some advice for choosing self-study language learning materials:

  • Audio materials are great, but it is always good to have a book to supplement it. If the audio course does not come with one, pick out one separately.
  • Borders and Barnes and Noble usually have a decent foreign language section. Spanish is their biggest selection.
  • Take some time and leaf through the materials. Choose ones that match your goals. In other words, there are some books that are very drill heavy, others are more picture dictionary type of learning materials, others include grammar lessons, etc. Sometimes one of each may be appropriate. Two resources that are a must in my opinion are a bilingual dictionary (level appropriate) and a verb book. My personal favorite is 501 Spanish verbs (also made in other languages).
  • You may need to brush up on your English grammar to grasp/understand certain concepts in a foreign language. If this is the case, I highly recommend the book English Grammar for Students of Spanish. I know this book is also available for students of French, German, Italian, Russian and Japanese.
  • For a "pocket-sized" crash course book that includes lessons, exercises and more I recommend Spanish Coursebook by Living Language.
  • The bottom line is to get out there and look through the materials. It's difficult to make your decisions without deciding what your goals are and what materials are good for you. Don't be surprised if you find that some may seem confusing or poorly organized.

Happy language learning!