Summer Sauna Sweat

When you find a property at €10 a night with a pool, espresso machine, and sauna, you take it, for these are the unicorns of the travel world.

The Hammock at La Despani

The Hammock at La Despani

After staying at La Despani in Brașov, Romania for one night with a good friend from university, I decided to return and enjoy some good ol’ fashion R&R. BONUS: The owners said they would be running the smoke-run sauna on Sunday if I came back.

As I peeled off my backpacks at 6 pm when I arrived at La Despani for the second time, one of the owners told me the sauna would be ready around 8. So would I!

TSZZZZZZZZZZ

TSZZZZZZZZZZ

Going into the 100 °C sauna, (that’s 212 °F, folks) I immediately began to sweat. My pores opened up, drinking in the mint and sage steam that rose from the rocks; that sizzling “TSZZZZZZZZ” sound gushed forth as the owner splashed water on them. After about ten minutes, I started to feel like a turkey basting on Thanksgiving, so I exited the sauna and jumped in the pool. Dead skin cells practically jumped off my body and my legs felt like dolphin skin.

This seemed to me a good circuit: sweat it out in the sauna, then shock your body with a splash in the pool. Only one thing was missing. I needed hydration for my throat as well as my skin. My newly revised circuit became: sauna, pool, beer (Repeat).

Fuel

Fuel

Needless to say, I felt every sort of wonderful after completing this circuit a few times. Once I figured there were no more dead skin cells on my body, the owner invited us into his man cave/bar to try some homemade cognac. I obliged, and was joined by an Estonian (remember the lovely Estonian couple from last week?) and a French couple, in addition to the Romanian owner.

As often happens when you travel, and 100% of the time with people from various countries, we attempted to solve the world’s problems with spirited discussion. A couple of glasses of cognac in, we defended and decried French laicism. “Would that work in other countries?” Only more cognac would tell.

Anytime you’re wondering how to pass a relaxing evening followed by world changing revelations, just follow this recipe:
1. Sweat in a sauna.
2. Jump in a pool.
3. Drink some ____ (beer for me).
4. Discuss critical world issues with a posse of peeps from across the world.
5. Add homemade liquor for maximum effectiveness.
6. The world most definitely becomes a better place.

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Why I Never Pack a Guidebook When I Travel

I was writing in my journal when two German girls walked into the dormitory where I was staying in Bangkok. They were speaking in German, naturally, as one girl flipped through a Rough Guides: Thailand tome, most likely reading aloud things to do the next day. Two days later, I found myself climbing temples and taking selfies with them in Ayutthaya, an island-city a couple hours north of Bangkok. But my first thought when I saw her guidebook was, “Why did she bring that with her on a journey round-the-world when she only has so much precious weight and space in her backpack?” I have always been skeptical of the guidebook.

I should mention that I have never read an entire guidebook, so perhaps you shouldn’t completely trust my advice. But I have read many articles within, and I prefer Wikipedia. I concede: Wikipedia is probably not better than a guidebook for discovering the best street food in town, or what hostels have pee-stained beds, but I can find out that information from other sources. If I packed guidebooks, I would only use them to research the basic history of a country/culture, and other relevant information about places I wanted to see. Wikipedia and Google thoroughly and interestingly accomplish that task for me, and all from a lightweight smartphone and/or tablet.

Now I can hear people interjecting, “But what about when the internet isn’t accessible?” Good question. But more often than not, I can save a page for reading offline, and copy necessary details into my pocket-size travel journal. I want to stress that I’m not the techiest of travelers. The only electronics I travel with include a smartphone, iPod, and tablet laptop, and I don’t even use them every day. I like reading books where turning the page involves grabbing grubby paper, sliding a finger beneath, and flipping it over, especially while traveling (I use hostel book exchanges). I have, to my endless frustration, even attempted to travel with a fountain pen.* But for me, the romance of non-tech travel ends with the guidebook.

Finnish Bar

Such good drinking advice for Helsinki…have YOU ever been to a bar with a swing?

As much as I grow nostalgic for a dusty room overflowing with books (and one of those cool library ladders that glide along the shelves), I won’t be packing a guidebook anytime soon. In fact, my favorite way to glean information about a travel destination is by talking to other travelers and locals. For instance, over some beers at my hostel in Bangkok, I mentioned I would be in Helsinki for one night, and wondered what to do. A Finnish guy gave me a whole list of bars to go to and shots to try (I didn’t get to them all…). I never would have known about Bar Llamas, a bar with a swing (!), if he hadn’t told me. And I can’t say how many times hostel workers or Couchsurfing hosts have told me places to go, or stories about their city that blew my mind. No Lonely Planet or Rough Guide has the space for all these personal stories, and that is why, ultimately, a person outstrips a guidebook.

A guidebook is so heavily impractical, quickly irrelevant, and contains both too little and too much information. For these reasons, and because I don’t completely trust the opinions of those who write for guidebooks (though they usually do a decent job on this account), I never pack a guidebook when I travel. There is, however, an exception, and a genius one if I do say so myself (which I do, again). Many public libraries offer e-guidebooks with your free membership, which are easy to download and bring with you on your computer or smartphone. And you can pull them up offline for easy access! You might think I’m cheating, but I think it’s practically genius. 🙂

So the next time you sit down to plan your trip pack list, consider ditching the guidebook. It’s just too heavy, and you can find the information you’re seeking from better, cheaper sources (i.e. real people and online). If you’re worried about being unprepared, do some research before you leave, and copy pages of the guidebook that you find particularly useful. You might even be able to have the actual guidebook on your computer or phone on location. As you blaze down the Chao Phraya, wind whisking your hair into a frenzy, you’ll gaze up at the temples, never once thinking, “I wish I had my guidebook…”.

Ayutthaya Figurines

Gotta love figurines!

*Has anyone traveled with a fountain pen? Do disposable ink cartridges leak while traveling? And can you find the correct size cartridges for your pen in every country?

I’ll Have What She’s Having

The best ribs in the world are in Brussels.

I figured it might be better to just say that at the beginning in case no one reads anything after the first sentence. At least now you know what city to go to if you like ribs. For the restaurant’s name, however, you’ll have to read a bit more 🙂

Like everything hipster, being a foodie has become cool, and so everyone claims to be a foodie without having any idea what that means. Google seems to think it’s “a person with a particular interest in food”, which is silly, because anyone who wants to stay alive has a particular interest in food. Foodie or not, I enjoy eating products that taste like they were grown in soil, then prepared by a human. Fortunately, traveling provides many opportunities to try food that fits my rigorous requirements. I have tasted some truly decadent meals, and while I won’t be giving out superlatives, I will share with you my magical secrets.

The best meal I ate in Prague came from Lokál, a cafeteria/restaurant with Czech specialties and endless beer. I drank a beer, then ate goulash with bread dumplings (and beer), and because it was so good, I ordered a lentil soup (with more beer). Somehow, I was still hungry after that, so I went to Aldolce to eat what was easily the best dessert I have had in years. I ordered a lemon ginger mousse with grapefruit juice. I then became so happy with myself and life in general, that I proceeded to enter La Perla and try on 250 euro bras. I almost bought one*, but then realized I didn’t actually have 250 euros in my bra budget. Ahhh, well, next time!

In Bangkok, I happened to be staying right near what locals deem the area’s best Pad Thai, served at a restaurant named Tip Samai. If you don’t believe me, google “best Pad Thai in Bangkok”, and see what the first few entries are. I ate it five times in five days.

In Reykjavik, I ate at Sushi Samba, which offers Japanese-meets-South American cuisine. I ordered sushi and a “Pornstar Mojito”. The passion fruit, lime, mint, and rum mixed together so beautifully that I think no drink will ever perform as well as the “Pornstar”.

Sushi Samba

Sushi Samba, home of the Pornstar Mojito. A pornstar never tasted so good 😀

And now, for the ribs. One night while I was walking around Brussels with a friend, we saw a queue of people waiting outside a restaurant with a full size taxidermy cow. Obviously, we ate there. Practically everyone ordered the same thing: ribs à volonté. All. You. Can. Eat. Amadeo’s ribs are marinated in a tangy-sweet barbecue sauce that ended up in my stomach and all over my face. The ribs were ridiculously delicious, and if you go to Brussels (and eat meat), you must go there.

Amadeo

The ribs. ORDER THE RIBS!

I have eaten so many good meals while traveling in Europe and Asia, but this is just the beginning. Next stop? Fermented yak milk in Mongolia!

*La Perla may be expensive, but their bras make you look and feel like a goddess.