Austin Eats at #ACL

Austin Eats header text

Hey, sorry for falling behind for a couple of days! We had some houseguests and related excitement, and since I’m trying to blog for #31days by the seat of my pants, I got a bit behind. The comeback starts now.

On Saturday we went the Austin City Limits music festival and overall we had a great day. One of the fun things about ACL is always the food. There’s an Austin Eats food court where all the vendors are locals–some are brick-and-mortar sites and some are food trucks. This year is the first time I’ve had to be super-careful about which foods to eat, and fortunately the festival organizers did a great job of noting which menu items were gluten-free. I’m not sure how the GF designation was made, but it turned out that there were other dishes not marked GF that were just fine and super delicious. My only complaint, and I know it’s a festival, is that the prices were so high relative to either the quality or the portion size. The best thing I put in my mouth all day was a sample of the Salt Potatoes from The Best Wurst. We only got one and devoured it, but when I tried to get some for dinner the line was so long I just didn’t have the patience. Which was the wurst decision I made all day. The small Yukon Gold potatoes are boiled in a salt brine and then slathered with butter and a sprinkling of green onions. It’s a veritable mouth party.

Austin Eats Highlights:

Daily Juice
Daily Juice had three different beverages on offer, including my favorite: watermelon. I love watermelon juice more than just about any other beverage and it took restraint to get only two servings throughout the day.

Daily Juice edited

The Peached Tortilla
The PT has several food trucks and they do a lot of catering, too. Their food is a bit of fusion with an Asian twist. Chinese, Japanese, and Thai flavors inform many of the dishes. Their GF offering at ACL was a Thai Summer Salad. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting in terms of flavors, but for $7 I was expecting a larger portion. The salad base was shredded cabbage and other vegetables topped with what seemed to be a peanut sauce dressing, with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and maybe a few bits of peanut. I’m not a huge fan of peanut anything, so I probably should have asked when I ordered. Overall it was pretty tasty, but the size : price ratio was disappointing.

Hat Creek Burger Co.
Hat Creek is a local chain with a location just down the street from me. I’ve never eaten there because they serve burgers and I don’t really eat beef. So I was pleased to see that they had non-beef gluten-free options on the ACL menu. I had the Chicken Flashers (which sound kind of dirty–is it just me?) and the sweet potato fries. Great portion size, and though the fries were pretty standard, the chicken nuggets were quite good. I almost got over the fact that I couldn’t have a Mighty Cone.

The ice cream sandwiches from Coolhaus melted too quickly to get a photo, but the gluten-free coconut-almond cookie was a perfect base for the salted chocolate ice cream. The cookie was similar to a macaroon (a real one, not those weird Manischewitz rocks) and I’m insanely grateful that Coolhaus had such a fantastic gluten-free option.

My dinner choice was incredibly disappointing, so much so I’m not even going to share it here. I wouldn’t patronize the vendor again, either at a festival or in the real world. But I did very happily snarf down another watermelon juice.

In case you were wondering how the omnivore husband did at ACL, he happily inhaled a bratwurst with all the fixings from The Best Wurst and some of my Hat Creek fries followed by a chocolate chip/salted chocolate Coolhaus ice cream sandwich. And for dinner he had a Chopped Beef Sandwich from The Salt Lick.

I know I should be writing about the music. We liked Haim, enjoyed Lissie and The Joy Formidable, had a nice hangout while jamming to Wilco, enjoyed our dinner to the sounds of The Mavericks, and relived our high school romantic angst to The Cure.

Sadly, our tickets were for the rained out weekend, which is having a terrible impact on the food vendors. There may be some pop-up events, but a full day’s prep for 75,000 expected attendees is potentially going to waste. If you’re in Austin and any of these food mentions tickle your fancy, consider visiting these vendors at their trucks or restaurants as they try to make up the losses from this weekend.

A Day in the Life

Della Mae members Courtney Hartman and Kimber Ludiker make a new friend in Khiva. (U.S. Embassy photo)

Frequently people ask me what it was like to be a public diplomacy officer in the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State. “Hard,” is my off-the-cuff answer. My job as Information Officer, colloquially known as press attaché, included a number of key responsibilities:

  • Daily press briefings with the Ambassador and senior staff
  • Drafting press guidance and talking points on a variety of issues
  • Managing the Embassy’s social media strategy, important in a country with press restrictions
  • Identifying speakers for weekly outreach programs
  • Working with libraries and librarians to fund English-language materials
  • Traveling with the Ambassador on site visits throughout the country
  • Coordinating press events such as monthly press conferences and exclusive interviews with the Secretary of State
  • Creating media plans to promote educational and cultural programs in a country with press restrictions
  • Monitoring the on-the-ground situation for working journalists
  • Promoting information about the services of the Embassy’s consular section, including American Citizen Services and visa services for local citizens

There’s definitely more to the job, but that’s a pretty good start. As you can imagine, on any given day I might have other things come up, such as unconfirmed reports that the President of the country had a massive heart attack!



When I think back on my favorite aspects of the job, they definitely relate to promoting the cultural programs we worked so hard to present for the Uzbek public. During my time in Uzbekistan we had photographers, poets, basketball players, musicians, and dancers come to Tashkent and other cities for master classes, performances, competitions, and more. I had an amazing time traveling with our cultural envoys and coming up with interesting ways to share their work with the citizens of Uzbekistan.


The talented students of the Urgench arts kolej perform for arts envoy and photographer Frank Ward.


One of my most memorable experiences was the tour of bluegrass group Della Mae, an all-female bluegrass band that spent about a week in Uzbekistan. Della Mae came to Uzbekistan as part of the American Music Abroad program which is “designed to communicate America’s rich musical contributions to the global music scene as it fosters cross-cultural communication and people-to-people connection to global audiences.” Their openness to working with local musicians led to the spontaneous creation of a bluegrass/Uzbek folk fusion that we started calling “Blue-Uz-Grass.” They sang, gave master classes, jammed with local musicians, and performed a fantastic sold-out concert at one of Tashkent’s premier music halls. I had the pleasure of traveling with the group to the great Silk Road city of Khiva and to nearby Urgench where there’s an incredible performing arts high school, known locally as a kolej.




My role with Della Mae’s visit was to coordinate social and traditional media coverage, put together a press conference and press preview performance, and to travel with the group to the kolej in Urgench where we’d had successful arts envoy programs in the past. We did a number of things to promote Della Mae on social media, from tweeting to posting tons of photos on Facebook, and sharing videos such as the one above through YouTube and the local video sharing site The video you see above was posted to the Embassy’s YouTube channel–and it’s received over 400 views, despite the fact that YouTube is banned in Uzbekistan.

We live tweeted the event in three languages: English, Uzbek, and Russian:


We had a great team at the Embassy supporting this visit: the cultural affairs officer and cultural assistant did all the advanced planning to set up the program and supported the band while in country; our multi-tasking staff ran around with cameras to multiple sites to document all the fun (and work!); our  press assistants worked on media releases, interviews, and the press event; and our social media team collaborated to keep our Facebook and twitter communities involved in real time. All along the way we had a staffer from American Music Abroad offering even more social media amplification of the visit.

It was an exhausting week, but worth it in so many ways. I’ll leave you with one of the several Facebook albums we created to share Della Mae’s tour with a larger audience. Our roving photographers followed the band throughout their tour, capturing behind-the-scenes shots of the band working with other musicians, with students, and performing in master classes. This is just a snapshot of what they saw. You can see more if you “like” the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page!


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Travel Tips: Solid vs. Liquid Products

Lush products that are great for travel. Or are they?

Lush products are great for travel. Or are they? Photos by Lush.


Over the last two years we’ve traveled a lot. But on most trips we’ve been forced to check our luggage due to highly restrictive carry-on requirements imposed by our long-time air carrier of choice: Uzbekistan Airways. I mean choice with a bit of wink and nudge, mostly because Uz Air was just about the only carrier we could fly internationally while we were posted in Tashkent, and they had a very serious 8kg carry-on restriction. As a result, even our smallest carry-on suitcase had to be checked, despite the fact that most flights were less than 50 percent full and there was a ton of available space in the overhead bins. While it wasn’t always convenient to wait for luggage after a flight (Tashkent International Airport, I’m looking at you), it was nice to be able to pack a sufficient amount of toiletries for a two-to-three week trip.

Adapting to carry-on only travel has been a bit challenging. On our first domestic US flight we were held up at the TSA checkpoint in Houston because Paul packed his Leatherman tool in his carry-on. Um, no, that’s not allowed through security, my friends. His excuse for the oversight? That he’d been packing it in his small suitcase on every trip for the last two years, so he just did what came naturally. He also forgot to pack his dopp kit on that trip, but that’s a story for another day. Figuring out how to get all the lotions and potions into containers less than 100ml that all fit in a quart-sized bag should be second nature after more than a decade of such restrictions, but somehow the magic still eludes.

So of course I was thrilled to read about Lush’s solid shampoos, conditioners, and soaps as I was looking for product alternatives for our nearly three-week jaunt across Mexico. I’ve enjoyed a variety of Lush products over the years, especially their bath bombs (most of them, anyway. One day ask me about the one that left seaweed sludge all over the tub. Ick.). A few days before our trip Paul, my sister Cheryl, and I headed to the only Lush outlet in Houston, located at the Macy’s in the Galleria. Like most Lush shops, the space was small, but packed with the usual wonderful variety of products and scents.

We honed in on the solid products and spent a good ten minutes with one of the associates who explained the various options for shampoo, soap, lotion, conditioner, and toothpaste. We sniffed and rubbed and washed and lotioned and finally settled on the quintet of products you see in the photo collage. I’ll leave you to check out Lush’s site for specific ingredient details, but here’s a quick and dirty (ha!) review of the stuff we’re traveling with.

From top left:
Peace Massage Bar ($13.95 for 2.3 oz.): This lotion bar smells divine, and it was tough for us to choose which of the massage and lotion bars to take. I loved the fragrance mix, but Paul found it a bit overpowering. It melts beautifully into the skin, leaving a soft sheen once it’s rubbed in. However, it isn’t long-lasting at all, and in less than a week we’d used more than half of it. I’ve been conserving it and bought a small pot of Nivea at the local supermarket. For the price, I wouldn’t buy this product again to use as a lotion since it runs down so quickly.

Dirty Toothy Tabs ($4.95 for 20): These have been a fantastic surprise. Two boxes of these tablets take up about as much space as a travel-sized tube of toothpaste and don’t count against your quart-sized baggie of liquids and gels. While I don’t think that this variety tastes like mint, as advertised, the tabs do foam up nicely and clean the teeth well with a mixture of baking soda and neroli oil. They lack fluoride, which is okay for relatively short-term travel. The taste takes some getting used to, but I would absolutely buy these again for travel.

Trichomania Shampoo Bar ($9.95 for 3.5 oz.): This shampoo bar is for coconut lovers! Paul and I both tend to have slightly dry hair, so we asked for the most moisturizing shampoo in their shop. The coconut scent is sweet but not overwhelming, and the lather is rich and creamy. I’ve actually used the lather as body soap on the days I wash my hair because there’s a lot of it and it doesn’t seem to make my skin dry. This is the longest-lasting bath product we purchased, and our chunk of the bar is still going strong after two weeks. It’s also worked well for quick clothes-washing, just a quick swipe over the garment to be washed. With all that we’ve used about 1/4 to 1/3 of it. I won’t need to buy more before our next travel, but if I did, I would definitely buy this again.

Honey I Washed the Kids Soap Bar ($7.95 for 3.5 oz): This soap has a sweet, subtle honey scent, and comes complete with a little edge of beeswax straight from the hive. As much as I love the scent of this soap, we used it up very quickly (hence I’m washing with the Trichomania). It’s not a very dense product, and despite carefully conserving the bar in a soapdish that closes, it just doesn’t have much staying power. I would not buy this again (despite the heavenly scent) and I’d opt for a bar of Dove or Caress in the future.

Jungle Conditioner ($8.95, 2 oz.): Despite how short our hair is, Paul and I both like to use a bit of conditioner. This conditioner bar has a nice scent, though it’s a bit heavy on the sandalwood. Unfortunately, like the Honey I Washed the Kids soap, this bar disappeared pretty quickly. After reviewing the Lush site, it seems we may have been overusing it. It doesn’t make your hair slick the way liquid conditioner does. In fact, it’s quite hard to even sense that it’s on your hair while it’s wet, but it does work as advertised. I might buy this one again to see if more judicious use still gives a good result.

To protect all your goodies, Lush also sells aluminum containers sized for the products. They are lightweight and the product fits perfectly into them. It’s nice that they are made from a recyclable material, and even if you choose not to refill it with a Lush product, it makes a good travel accessory or mini container.

Overall I like the Lush solid products, but I’m not convinced that they are the perfect solution for travelers. However, just freeing up the space that shampoo and toothpaste take up makes a huge difference for me. Even though all of the products weren’t wins for travel, I did enjoy using all of them!

3 Unique Spas: Las Vegas, Khaolak, Istanbul


When vacation time is at a premium what better way to maximize relaxation than with a day at the spa? On hitting your destination, an aromatherapy massage can be just the thing to help ease the transition from our 24/7 connected lifestyle. Before you depart, a luxurious, pampering treatment might help pave the way back to civilization and leave you with a sense of well-being that lasts long after the vacation ends. The average spa treatment might not be all-powerful, but a well-timed spa visit often provides the oasis of calm we need from time to time. Here are three unique spas and treatments to soothe body, mind, and spirit.

Canyon Stone Massage at Canyon Ranch Las Vegas

The Canyon Ranch Spaclub is nestled between the Venetian and Palazzo hotels, but it’s a world away from the garishness that marks so much of Las Vegas. The large spa never feels crowded, and the public areas are soothing and calm. Cell phones and electronics are banned throughout the facility, even in the locker rooms. A salt grotto in the co-ed public area and the herbal laconium in the women’s spa are two unique offerings, complemented by the usual steam room, Finnish sauna, and hot tub. During the 80-minute stone massage the therapist uses heated, smooth river rocks to work into the muscles of the back, arms, and legs, and even gives a little attention to the tummy. Toward the end she places cool stones between the toes and finishes the treatment with a gentle face massage. With numerous attendants, plenty of relaxation areas, and high-quality toiletries, this spa excels on details, as well.

Thai Massage and Pedicure at Khaolak Bhandari Spa, Khaolak, Thailand

The beachside town of Khaolak has no shortage of lovely, affordable hotels with spas, and as in most Thai beach towns there are inexpensive massage huts and shops everywhere. Set deep in the Khaolak Bhandari Resort, the Bhandari Spa is surrounded by fountains and makes the most of its lush, tropical location. While many treatments are offered in private rooms, the main treatment area for Thai-style massage, pedicures, and foot massage is located in an open pavilion where several patrons receive their services at the same time. On arrival, after crossing the bridge over a lily pond, each guest is offered a refreshing iced tea and a cool towel. This ritual marks your entry into the serene beauty of the spa. Those receiving a treatment in the pavilion change into comfortable fisherman-style pants and a loose linen top and then take their place on a thick, cushioned mat. Afternoon treatments are often accompanied by a rainstorm, and the cool breeze and patter of raindrops enhances the deeply relaxing environment. While the Bhandari Spa doesn’t offer complimentary steam rooms or hot tubs, it offers an incredible environment and the legendary smiling Thai customer service. All services end with a steaming cup of ginger-honey tea, enjoyed on a deck overlooking the spa’s gardens and lily pond.

Zevk-i Sefa at Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam, Istanbul, Turkey

The Ayasofya Hamam boasts a magnificent location: directly between the Blue Mosque and the Ayasofya in the Old City of Istanbul. It’s in just the right place for an early evening treatment after a long day of sightseeing. Built in the 16th century by the renowned architect Sinan, this Turkish bathhouse boasts the traditional treatments with a modern twist, all offered in a beautifully restored marble bath with stunning domes overhead. The traditional Turkish bath involves bathing with hot water poured from golden bath bowls, resting on a heated marble slab for about 20 minutes, and the famous scrubbing using a rough silk mitt. It’s not for the demure, as your bath attendant gets up close and personal with everything. A rich bubble wash and gentle soap massage complete the experience. At Ayasofya you can add even more luxury, and the Zevk-i-Sefa also includes a full body clay mask (complete with another bubble wash), and a luxurious oil massage given in a private area near the top of the bathhouse dome. Watching the late afternoon light transition from light blue to deep navy through the pinholes glass in the dome is relaxing all on its own.

Photo: Hurrem Sultan Hammam, courtesy of Satayman, via Wikimedia Commons

La-la-la-la Labneh!

Spring is upon us here in Uzbekistan. The spring holiday Navruz (which translates to New Day) is nearly here, coming with the equinox. Next Monday Passover will be here, and then Easter. Spring is definitely springing!

For us, the arrival of Passover always means shifting the way we eat. It’s not just about forgoing bread and other leavened products, but it’s also about exchanging the heavier comfort foods of autumn and winter for the fresh, crisp spring produce appearing in the markets.

I started my seasonal change of eating last week, after our return from three weeks abroad. For me travel is never a time for dieting, and we ate very well everywhere we went. So well that I was feeling a bit overfull and sluggish once we returned, and I decided it was time to think about some fresh, healthy, and interesting meals.

One of the best meals we had on our trip was a late weekday breakfast at Ottolenghi, the brainchild of chef Yotam Ottolenghi. On our previous trips to London we’d missed going to the sitdown restaurant of this small local chain, despite the exhortations of our friend Linda and her daughter. They are both vegetarian, and while Ottolenghi has its fair share of meat on the menu, the chef’s creativity is really on show with the vegetarian dishes.

Ottolenghi salad

An array of salads at Ottolenghi.


We made it in just in time to still catch breakfast late on a Tuesday morning, and I spied my dish immediately: shakshuka. I could write reams about my adoration of shakshuka, which I first had deep in the Negev some seven or eight years ago. Shakshuka is an egg dish cooked over a slightly spicy tomato and pepper sauce. If you’ve ever had menemen in Turkey it’s very similar, but the eggs are sunny side up rather than scrambled into the sauce.

My dish arrived in the copper pan in which it had been cooked, and nestled on top of my eggs was a creamy dollop of labneh, the cheese made by straining the whey from yogurt. In Uzbekistan there is a very similar food known as suzma made from the strained local yogurt (which translates as “sour milk,” but it’s really quite delicious). I am never one to turn down cheese, or nearly any dairy product for that matter, and as I scooped my eggs and tomato sauce onto the generous slabs of toast, I added a little schmear of labneh, too. It was heavenly. Before we departed Ottolenghi we loaded up on goodies for our plane trip home that night, including a couple of vegetable salads and a little plum cake.



Delicious breakfast shakshuka. With labneh!


That meal was the perfect punctuation to our trip, and the perfect transition into spring. We came home to temps in the 70s, but were met with a snowstorm the next day. Ah, spring! But despite the snow my memories of all those crazy salads stuck with me, and I started hatching a plan. Now each week I’m making an interesting salad that goes beyond the basics. Last week I made black bean and corn salad (not the most unusual, but it took a little creativity!), and this week I made a salad with chickpeas, carrots, cucumber, red pepper, and fragrant cumin-scented dressing. I’m actually a little bit excited about lunch today!

Since my reacquaintance with labneh/suzma, I’ve been buying out the plain yogurt at our local store. Every day last week, in addition to my spicy salad, I brought a little serving of homemade suzma dressed with a drizzle of olive oil and some za’atar spice and enjoyed it with a couple slices of the local black bread, tomatoes, and cucumbers. My delicious lunch drew interest, and I gave a little lesson on the making of labneh/suzma with local products.

I’m quite looking forward to the next couple of weeks when all the spring produce will start flooding the local bazars and meal prep will become ever more interesting!

Try Ottolenghi’s divine-looking recipe for labneh with olives and pistachios, via The Guardian. I don’t have access to goat’s yogurt, so I just use plain yogurt. I also strain my yogurt in the refrigerator–haven’t gotten brave enough to leave it out and straining for a full day.

16 oz. goat’s yogurt
16 oz. natural yogurt
Coarse sea salt
20 black olives, pitted
1½ tbsp roughly chopped fresh oregano
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1/3 cup olive oil
3/4 oz. pistachios, lightly toasted
3/4 oz. pine nuts, lightly toasted
½ tsp flaked chilli
3 ripe tomatoes
½ a small red onion, thinly sliced

Line a deep bowl with cheesecloth or muslin. In another bowl, stir the two yogurts and half a teaspoon of salt, pour into the cloth, bring together the edges to form a tight bundle and tie securely with string. Hang the bundle over a bowl, or over the kitchen sink from the tap, and leave for 24-36 hours. After this time, much of the liquid should have drained out and the remaining yogurt will turn thick and quite dry; the centre may still be creamy.

Remove the labneh from the cloth and transfer to a serving platter. Spread it over the plate with the back of a spoon, creating a loose, wavy pattern about 2cm thick.

Next, roughly chop the olives and put them in a bowl with the oregano, parsley, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil (reserving two tablespoons of the oil for the tomatoes). Use a pestle and mortar to crush the nuts roughly, leaving some just broken and others finely crushed. Stir into the olive mix, then spoon this over the labneh, leaving a border of about 2cm around the edge (if you want your labneh a bit milder, don’t use the whole quantity), then sprinkle with chilli.

Finally, cut the tomatoes into thick wedges and mix with the sliced onion. Arrange on a side plate next to the labneh, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with the reserved olive oil. Serve the labneh and tomatoes with torn chunks of bread.

What about you? Do you change your eating and cooking with the seasons? Where do you draw inspiration?

Travel Blog Spotlight: Her Packing List

I haven’t quite gotten a blogroll or list of links I love together, but I thought I’d start a series spotlighting travel (and food) blogs I love. Today’s entry is Her Packing List. As the title indicates, it’s a website dedicated to helping female travelers pack their bags and get on the road. I have to admit that this blog won me over with post titles such as A Packing List for Girls with Ginormous Boobs. I promise this post will remain family friendly, despite that title :).

Her Packing List is such a well-organized site, offering readers easy-to-access information in a handful of categories: Packing Gear, Electronics, Clothing, Toiletries, Extra Bits, and Stories and Advice. While the blog does offer quite a number of product reviews by the contributors (who receive items free of charge for a fair and honest review), it also offers smart packing tips, how-tos, and ways to MacGyver your packing to keep it light and functional.

Resources for specific locales and itineraries. Great stuff!

One of the greatest features, though, is the “Ultimate Packing List for…” feature. Each list gives a destination, such as San Francisco, provides a brief overview of the destination and a list of suggested items to pack, from clothing to shoes and specialty items that might make life in that part of the world a little easier. There are packing lists for unusual trips, such as carnival in Brazil, and specialty lists and recommendations for vegan travelers, the aforementioned well-endowed chicks, and first aid items.

For those planning extensive travel and backpacking there is a fabulous collection of reviews of backpacks by their users. These are real reviews from the field on the features, benefits, and drawbacks of several commonly available backpack models. There are a handful of reviews of other luggage, bags, and packing resources.

Overall this site is easy to use and chock full of information. Even if you’re the greatest packer in the world, you’ll find a useful tip or idea on Her Packing List.

Favorite Stuff to Travel With

I’m not the lightest packer in the world, but I do OK. I have several gadgets I like to travel with, so I compensate by taking fewer clothes and shoes (and then usually buy something on the road, which is a baaaaad habit I should overcome!) to make room for the things that really matter. There are a few smaller items that I usually tuck in my suitcase or backpack because they almost always get used somewhere along the way, but some of these are the bulky bits that I rarely leave behind.

Morning reflection on the lake at Khao Sok, Thailand

Morning reflection on the lake at Khao Sok, Thailand

1. Canon Rebel T1i: For years we kept saying we were going to get a good camera and for years we kept putting it off. Around the fall of 2010 we started saving up Amazon giftcards to put toward the new camera, and by Christmas we had nearly 80% of the cost covered. This is the first dSLR we’ve owned, and it’s been a learning experience. But from the beginning I’ve been able to take some fairly decent photos, so it goes along on every trip, despite its bulk and heft. I’ve added a 50mm lens to the kit, as well.

2. iPad: A little secret? Somewhere along the way I transitioned from being a Mac girl to being a PC/Android girl. It happened after I poured coffee into my iBook at 5 a.m., but that’s another story. This summer I bought an iPad2 and I admit I’m still on a learning curve. I do hate that many sites don’t work too well on the iPad, and that I have frequent wifi connectivity problems, but the loads of free and low-cost apps that make travel easier make it worthwhile. I also use it as my primary reading device, having downloaded the nook and Kindle apps. And we’ve always got a few sitcoms loaded on it for downtime viewing.

3. Longchamp Le Pliage bag: These nylon bags fold up into little packets so you can tuck them into your bigger bag. They are also water-resistant, even on the bottom, so they are great on drizzly days. The medium-sized one is like a magic bag of holding–it seems much bigger on the inside than on the outside! I can get a camera, mini umbrella, wallet, iPad, and other bits and bobs in there. It’s a bit of a black hole sometimes, but overall a great bag. The drawback is that the corners fray after several months of use, which is frustrating because they aren’t exactly inexpensive.

4. Noise-cancelling headphones: I’ve had mine for going on 10 years, I think, and they are a bit worse for wear. They are also enormous and clunky and take up a ton of space. But they are invaluable on long flights, making music listening and movie watching far more enjoyable. Paired with some earplugs they also seriously cancel out the noise if you want to sleep. But they are bulky. Did I say they are bulky?

5. Unlocked cell phone: One of the great things about buying my cell phone overseas (a little Samsung Galaxy Gio) is that it’s already unlocked. When we travel I can just buy a new sim card with calling credit and data, and usually it’s activated right away. Easier to manage and smaller than the iPad, it’s just incredibly helpful when you’re in a new place. And it can help with translation when you’re stuck and need help expressing your needs with more than sign language.

I realize that this adds up to a hefty pricetag–all together it’s a couple thousand dollars worth of stuff. Bear in mind, I’ve acquired these items over the years and I’m a big fan of thinking in terms of cost-per-use. Apart from the headphones, I use everything on the list almost everyday. Which is probably why they are must-go essentials when I travel!

I travel with a few other “essentials,” so I’ll share more faves in the future. What are your go-to can’t-leave-the-house-without travel necessities?

Wondering Where to Wander

Although we’ve just returned from a trip, we find ourselves already thinking about the next one. Our suitcases aren’t totally unpacked yet and there are still piles of laundry to do, but instead we’re plotting and planning.

There are three places we’d like to hit before summer strikes: Rome, Barcelona, and Madrid. We’re trying to figure out if we can do it in 10 days without feeling too terribly pressed for time. Ideally we’d spend more time, but I think a week off work is all I’ll be able to manage. If we can work it out to include weekends and a weekday holiday then we might be in business!Continue reading

Taming the ‘Bul

The view from our room at the lovely Hotel Seraglio. Photo courtesy of the Seraglio’s website.

Back in January we took a much-needed long weekend trip to Istanbul. It’s a relatively short 5.5 hour flight from Tashkent on Turkish Airlines, and we gain time flying there, so it’s a very nice option. We found ourselves a bit light on the internet Continue reading

By Way of Introduction

Loi Krathong festival, Khao Lak, Thailand.

Loi Krathong festival, Khao Lak, Thailand.

My name is Lisa and I love to eat and to travel. I sort of found a way of making living overseas my job, and with that has come the opportunity to explore places near and far and mostly new to me. I especially enjoying trying new foods and visiting markets in new places, even when warned that my “gringa” palate might not be able to handle it! I hope you’ll follow me on my travels and enjoy exploring as I share my words and photos here.