Blow the Horn: Essentials

Dear Reader,

Blowing or honking the horn turns out to be a whole new experience in India. Encouraging signs are everywhere.

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For some essential on how, when, where, why, whose and what horn to blow in India, don’t miss them on my upcoming feature post!

 

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The UK has good food and here is why

Dear Reader,

Traveling always gives me ideas and myths to break. Today I am going to break the British Bad Food myth.

I went back on an exploration to my second favourite country in Europe, the UK, my home for few years. A trip down memory lane, basically, and as such an important culinary destination as well.

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At breakfast in Piccadilly I found delicious coffee in these delicious mugs.

We all know that the United Kingdom is rightfully recognised for many contributions throughout history (did you know, for example, that printed press was invented in England in the 1534?) and for some obscure reason food has never been one of them. I remember friends complaining about the excessive amount of meat and specifically lamb in most menus, or the plain taste of fish and chips spots all around London. Often the subject of ridicule, even the locals sometimes seem to not appreciate their cuisine.

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Fish and Chips on Notting Hill street.

I’ve heard similar opinions on Canadian food and even the US, and while I might actually agree there, I prefer to stop and focus on the UK first.

I started thinking of what the reasons could be. Is it because Britain’s cuisine scene is saturated with a myriad cultures settling in and highlighting their flavours? Maybe because the most iconic dishes don’t have an understandable name that give an idea to an outsider or seem unfussy? Take the Yorkshire Pudding, Shepherd’s Pie. And my new favourite, the Guinness Pie. Unless you enquire about the recipe, you can’t know what they’re made of. The pressing presence of international cuisines does not mean that British simple sauces dishes should be overlooked, let alone mocked.

Why do people believe food in the UK is bad?

After done some research and asking around, the answer is: History, of course.

England’s monarchs were all different in tastes and dislikes. Kings. Often Queens. Britain saw an enormous change and addition to its fashion style and culinary creativity in the 16th century given the alliances built with European powers and eagerness to explore. In England this is particularly true and documented in many letters found at the hand of reform seekers. French sauces and the growing saffron in England became an inspiration.

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The famous English Breakfast kept me energised the entire day. This one I had at Cafe 1 in Bethnal Green.

Then we come to the Victorian age. While famous for bringing all sort of innovations and entertainment in the country, the Victorian age somehow threw a disapproving eye on exciting food especially if inspired from abroad. The traditional English Breakfast is in fact a Victorian invention mostly prepared and served in the upper and upper-middle classes, such as bankers.

Then the WW II came. Food rationing persisted for many years after the war’s end, giving the Brits an almost permanent greasy-pastry menu of dishes. Under the rationing period, many ingredients were unavailable and so substitutes of inferior quality and canned food took over and became wildly used.

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Canned peas.

The 1990s saw the emergence of reinventing things. Many chefs looked around and revitalised old recipes with new ingredients in an effort to bring in some culinary excitement and leave behind the old plain days. Plus low cost airlines made it easy for British people to eat better quality dishes and realised they could demand better quality from their home-country kitchens. More on the cuisine reinvention is found here.

I think that was the right move. The New British food, if prepared with the adequate ingredients and passion, is actually quite amazing.

Canneto di Caronia: a Poltergeist town

Dear Reader,
Remember Sicilians and superstitions saga on this blog?
Well, mystery and curiosity struck again and Stanito & staff are right there on spot.

It all happened one day, when I receive this piece of news via e-mail:

The mystery of Caronia’s fires, a 10 year long-lasting nightmare. 
A trip to Canneto di Caronia, in the province of Messina, through people and houses burnt down by mysterious fires that have stricken the area since 2004. 
TVs, fridges, washing machines and even couches and sofas catch fire seemingly without an explanation… 

And then the video:

As part of my Sicily plan, Canneto di Caronia was set towards the end of the trip.

What Happened?

First incidents are dated back to 2004 so it’s been going on for about 13 years now. This bizarre phenomenon revolves around spontaneous combustion of mattresses, beds, cars, and devices like fridges and mobile phones, even when these are switched off. Quite obviously, the events couldn’t but attract the attention of physicists, geologist who gave all sort of explanations. Villagers were not convinced though…

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Theories:

Grounded theories vary. It could have been simply arson or old devices and poor electrical cables simply gave up.
Well, arson was ruled out when the devices that caught fire were unplugged. Then something happened: in 2007 an Italian newspaper published a leaked report from Civil Protection, concluding that aliens were the only plausible explanation as the result of the two investigation led to ” 15 gigawatts high power electromagnetic emissions that were not man-made”. Investigation remained open attributing the causes to simply “unknown electromagnetic radiation”.

And then something even more incredible happened! The Vatican’s chief exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, backed the villagers true fears by saying the following: “these fires are caused by the Devil. I have seen incidents like these before. Demons occupy houses and appear in electrical devices”. The interview in Italian is right here.

Another report also detailed a possible UFO landing close to the village, citing “burnt
imprints which have not been explained were found in a field.”

What’s Canneto di Caronia like today?

Years have gone by and eventually the town emptied considerably. Don’t forget that this is the region where superstitions have a big role in people’s lives (read my post on Sicilian superstitions for more on the subject). The episodes have attracted the attention of geologists, physicists and volcanologists, NASA experts without providing an accurate scientific explanation so far or a logical real conclusion to the case. Naturally, the villagers are blaming supernatural entities like UFOs, poltergeists, or other demonic forces, prompting them to evacuate the town.

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Some of the villagers came back but the town still remain in ghost state…

 

 

How to get A free coffee: the Pending Espresso

Dear Reader,

Italians are masters of many noble inventions and deeds, most of them taken from unnoticed customs in other countries where they did not receive much attention evidently. Truth to be told, we did not invent pizza, pasta, coffee but we certainly invented the way the rest of the world conceives, serves and drinks coffee, starting from the linguistics of it (espressocappuccino, latte macchiato, etc) to the steam-driven espresso machine (first pioneered by Angelo Moriondo in 1884), to the more stylish brands (Illy and Lavazza, my favourite). If coffee has a spiritual home, this is it. Italy.

Today 🙂 let me delight you with some Italian coffee culture.

“Work is that annoying thing that we do between one coffee break and another” – by Maurizio Crozza

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The Espresso-macchiato:  an espresso literally “stained” with a light amount of steamed milk. This is my friend Riccio‘s favourite although she might have transitioned to the more tasteful marocchino, another great invention from north of Italy, which carries a mix of espresso, cocoa powder and milk froth.

In Italy having coffee is a form of art: is a ritual that may be practiced more times in a day depending on the need, before a meal, after lunch, a work break, etc. Come to a bar and live the full coffee experience. A bar, normally very crowded and noisy coffee house, is where people gather to have coffee and meet friends, discuss politics and sports. It’s where they start their day and, at times, where it ends along with an aperitivo.

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This is a typical bar in Rome, more specifically in Ostia Antica, my home town. Normally crowded, this bar is located right outside the train station.

The barista, the man or woman behind the bar who prepares the coffee is key element to this tradition. He joins random conversations, debates, he or she is normally friends with the regular customers. Coffee gives us morning boost, helps digest our food, avoid nappy desire and open the evening together with aperitivos. In few words: coffee rules our lives.

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Cappuccino, my absolute favourite: 50% hot milk, 50% espresso with foam to the top usually had for breakfast. Traditional Italians would curse me if they knew I have cappuccino also after meals, even if I ate fish. I don’t care because it’s just too good.

But let’s go deeper into Italian culture and tradition and explore a very unknown term to most foreigners: a pending espresso, or caffé sospeso or caffé pagato (paid coffee).

The caffé sospeso is a concept mostly unknown to rest of the world, a very old Italian tradition that enchants many because of its romantic simplicity: gifting an espresso to somebody.

Born in Naples during Second World War, this habit came to symbolise solidarity in a very critic moment in Italian history. Those who could afford an espresso at the bar normally would pay for a second coffee to pay for a coffee many times they would pay for another one which would be left pending. This pending coffee would later be given to anyone who wished to have it (normally it would be someone poor or homeless).

In that very moment of our history, coffee became a sympathetic and philanthropic gesture made by any happy person entering a bar.

Precisely because a person was happy, he or she would decide to have an espresso at the bar and pay for an additional one to be assigned to anyone. In few words, an espresso was offered to a stranger, any stranger coming into the bar later on.

This person, aware of the tradition, would go to bartender and ask if there were any pending coffees.

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Nino Manfredi on the most classic Lavazza Caffé ad of 1986.

The Witchy Sonora Market

Dear Reader,

Are you superstitious? Do you think you are followed by bad luck? Do you suspect your neighbour is trying to poison you? Harbouring revenge over your cheating wife or husband?
Then this is the right place for you then: travel with me to one of the creepiest sides of Mexico.

Remember how I went on about Sicilian superstitions? This time it is not that amusing but rather a more serious deal. Just walk with me as I take you to the colourful and creepy Mercado de Sonora.

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It was about 3 pm in Mexico City, just after lunch. The travel team had already covered the must-see places and things in this gigantic metropolis so I was very keen on looking for the kind of things I like: the strange things. I was told about the obscure Mercado de Sonora, filled with occult things and cures for anything that ails you…

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Local 313 is known as Santa (saint), dedicated to spiritual cleansing, love binding, banishments and tarot reading.

It look like a very big market place focused on esoteric items, the ideal place for those interested in mysticism, occultism and hidden wisdom (a term cherished by many).

It was creepy, for sure, but also very interesting and certainly a nice detour from the regular city attractions.

Vendors were friendly and invited us in easily, though they preferred to remain hidden in front of my camera. See photo below.

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Store specialised in spiritual cleansing.

 

As we walked by the aisles, vendors asked us questions and offered us all kinds of solutions to our daily life’s troubles. Things like herbs, claws of garlic, water and essences spray, soaps, saints, skulls, ritual pamphlets, anything you can imagine, including the illegal trade of animals.

The Mercado Sonora is home to many religions other than Catholicism. Here I found a wide range of vernacular religions, sorcery practices and other bizarre faiths and convictions. Voodoo is no stranger here either, with all its incredible imagery and rituals.

It got more and more interesting as I walked through it. Aisled are stuffed with witchcraft items, potions, dolls and amulets.

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Amulets of all kinds.

This creepy market offers a wide range of items that serve to fulfil any macabre wish people harbour. The rich variety of products and shamanistic items will feed your imagination. There are stands with skulls, skeleton representations and dubious containers among other items.

People who believe they are being cursed or ill-wished come to Mercado Sonora to have a spiritual cleansing known as limpia. It is a very common practice and not only in Mexico. It’s a process which normally involves the use of incense, singing prayers and herbal items, either ingested or brushed upon the affected person.

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This is just one of the precious occult jewels of Mexico City. And there are more on my list to come soon 🙂

 

Be a Local, not a Tourist

Dear Reader,

if you enjoy my adventures and follow my blog, it is probably because you and I share the same travel style. We don’t behave like common “tourists” but rather like “travellers” who walk a lot and enjoy a place like locals do. For this post I’m using the photos I took in Iran as it depicts what an off the beaten track destination is.

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Being a tourist is perfectly fine when you are a person who is more comfortable around other foreigners and want to document every sight and corners with your camera but, even then, with very little effort you can make of your journey something special if you pack accordingly and merely use your guidebook as a generic reference and no more. When you travel, curiosity will always be your best friend. Off the beaten tracks are always so much better than the regular trails because they’re cheaper, more interesting, and most likely you will not feel oppressed by sellers and beggars.

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Stanito in Abyaneh, sleepy town in central Iran

Look around you. What are locals doing? Where are they eating, drinking and shopping? The more observant you are the more real the experience will be.

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This is kashko badem-jan, the best eggplant dish I have ever had…

Start by finding locals who speak English and ask for advice on what untapped sights you should see.

Eat what locals eat. It sounds obvious but it bears repeating. If you want to feel like a local eat and drink like one. Ask around what are the local typical dishes, the ones that are low key and far from being posh. In case you can’t find anybody to ask, have a look around  markets and bazaars and look for those spots where you see locals lining up for food.

Walk on foot as much as you can and use local transportation to get to really know a town like locals do. This is how you find about the best places, personal experience speaking here 🙂

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A lovely evening with Qashqa’i nomad friends near Chemarhahijn

Unless you go to sporty countries, conflicted places or nations that are hard to access, I suggest forget about bus or guided tours.

Try to immerse yourself in the local culture rather than standing out everywhere.

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The nomad tent used for supper and entertaining the guests.

Explore the less-beaten areas and explore locations where tourism simply doesn’t drive the economy and people. You’ll interact with locals. This way your objective will turn into learning and experiencing new things, rather than to take a relaxing break from everyday life filled with selfies. A traveler may consider a trip a journey rather than a vacation.

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If you already consider yourself a traveler, it’s likely that you are already surrounding yourself with locals. And even then, you can still improve your trip 🙂 try getting more involved with them.

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Find a spot in town where locals seem to gather, like a town square or popular restaurant, and spend the day there. Strike up conversations with people of all ages. Ask questions about the local culture and talk about common interests; at the very least, you’ll leave with a broadened worldview. Don’t turn your nose up at tourists, and don’t avoid popular attractions simply because they’re packed with foreigners. This because ok, the Colosseo is constantly packed with tourists, but then, how can you go to Rome and not see this wonder?

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Stanito in Esfahan, Iran, photo taken by Alicia Venegas.

 

 Do you want explore in depth what off the beaten track destinations really are? Check these other two amazing blogs: The Velvet Rocket and The Unusual Traveler.

Capsule Hotel in Tokyo

Dear reader,

we all know that if one is not careful with money, any place can be expensive.
So if you consider yourself a budget traveler like Stanito, why not choosing to enjoy Tokyo in a stylish and unique way without filing for bankrupcy?

There are great hotels in Tokyo, business hotels with all the amenities, but if you want to experience Japan in a much more special way, I suggest you skip all the regular steril hotels and instead go for the strangest accomodation you can imagine.

Welcome to the Capsule Hotel!

Stanito capsule hotel adventure Tokyo© Stanito, 2013

So, what is a Capsule Hotel?
The Capsule Hotels are a fantastic idea of how to sleep well, perfect temperature, enjoy traditional super clean Japanese shared bathrooms, and the uniqueness of a place that is big enough to fit you and small TV. The one I stayed in is Asakusa Wasou.

Where did this fantastic idea come from?
It all happened on one rainy night. A Japanese business man was leaving late from the office and joined some colleagues in a cheap bar to relax and happy hour. The Japanese business man though got so drunk and felt so embarrassed that he didn’t want to go home like this to his wife. So he started wondering around the crowds of Tokyo looking for a cheap place where he could spend the night. No expensive hotels, no seedy motels either, until at some point he found a little place with several beds in a row. He spent just a few hundred yens and the place will later turn into the now known Capsule hotel for the joy of all those who are either drunk or miss the last train home.

I agree that they look like coffins but they’re cute and stacked on top of each other so that one room can have about 20 of them.

Stanito capsule hotel spot© Stanito, 2013

Privacy is provided by the little curtain that closes the space

Stanito capsule hotel space© Stanito, 2013

I could fit perfectly well all my necessary stuff, plus I even had a TV

Stanito capsule hotel© Stanito, 2013

The capsule comes with everything in: Wi-fi, a kimono-looking-like-pijama, bottled water, toothbrush, shampoo, conditioner, body soap, and even slippers. I had a Panasonic alarm inside as well and buttons to regulate light. In short, I had everything.

Walls are thin so be glad if your neighbors are quiete 🙂