Category Archives: Travel

Traveling on a budget: Tips for the frugal foodie

With exotic destinations comes incredible food — but also exorbitant prices. Europe is notorious for its expensive restaurants, and to the cost-conscious traveler, that currency exchange rate doesn’t help much. Only having $20 a day to spend on meals has been a challenge for this self-professed foodie, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. Here are some of my tips:

Drink your own water. Many restaurants only offer bottled water even if the local tap is safe to drink. Sure, a water bottle is just a dollar or two, but that money could be better spent on another round of gelato. Fill up an eco-friendly bottle at the hotel before taking on the day.

Opt for food with a view. Take advantage of Europe’s gorgeous parks and riverside views by packing as many picnics as possible. Don’t have a way to prepare food of your own? Many cafés offer their sandwiches and pastries at lower prices if you’re getting carry-out instead of dining in.

Eat lunch out and dinner in. Lunch is always more affordable than dinner. If you have a kitchenette in your hotel or hostel, pick a few nights to make your own meals.

Check out the market at closing time. When it comes to cheap eats, open-air markets are a no-brainer. If you’re looking to get a real steal, head to the market around closing time as vendors drop their prices. Bonus: They can sometimes offer up the tastiest, most authentic food around.

Do your research. When you’re petered out and starving after a long day of sightseeing, the last thing you want to do is sacrifice taste and affordability for an overpriced eatery teeming with tourists just because it’s what’s nearby. Check out reviews online ahead of time for no unpleasant surprises. Know when to splurge and when to save.

In England, broken bones all for the sake of cheese

Aside from his electric blue hair, there are few parts of Dave Munro’s body that aren’t covered in mud. The entire back of his jeans is caked with an unfortunate hue of brown, and his hands look as if they had been tilling a field for days. A gash slowly seeps blood from his left arm, which cradles a bottle of Stella Artois cider that will soon nurse the pain.

Actually and rather remarkably, Munro, who hails from Perth, Scotland, isn’t all that bent out of sorts, but you should see the other guys.

The hill he stands on, a nearly vertical, 600-foot tall behemoth, is littered with dozens of thrill-seeking masochists who are strung out in all sorts of shapes.

Camera crews crowd around a man with his teeth furiously sunk into a cloth as a few men  call them Sherpas this side of Mt. Everest  escort him down after he breaks his leg.

There are murmurs that someone might be unconscious.

A little while earlier a woman was carried off for a broken neck after doing a somersault, after somersault, after somersault, after …

It’s May 26, a bank holiday in the United Kingdom, and I’m in Gloucestershire, England for the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake, a sleepy-town tradition dating back to the 19th century.

Today, just as in the past couple of hundreds of years, dozens of competitors play a game of chance roulette in which they will take an adrenaline-fueled plummet down one of the steepest hills southwestern England has to offer  and there’s no pretty or delicate way to do it.

Some run, some slide, some tumble, but no matter their technique of choice, all face imminent doom. Everyone will be bounced around just like the ball of the game they have signed over their fates to.

What will they incur? Some bruises? A good head-bang? An obliterated pelvis?

Luck isn’t exactly on their side. Though the number of injuries has fallen in the past few years, the stakes are still high. 1997 had the most injuries, 33.

If it’s not broken or dislocated, something will get bruised.

But you see, there’s this cheese. And while most children dream of becoming the next Wimbledon champ or Manchester United’s next superstar, hopes of snagging that coveted roll of homegrown savory Double Gloucester are just as valid in this town.

(There’s a whole crop of boys and girls under the age of 14 who compete in uphill races in preparation for perhaps one day taking on the downhill competition.)

Sure, the payoff isn’t that great and the reasoning behind competing isn’t always the most well thought out, yet tradition persists.

“I was drunk one night, and I saw it on the internet,” Munro said. “I can’t lie.”

To the curious outsider, the event doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

“I was drunk one night, and I saw it on the internet. I can’t lie.”

Competitors risk snapping their limbs and necks in two as they make a disorderly attempt to catch  and win  an elusive roll of cheese that isn’t in the best shape after its bumpy, muddy descent.

Even to locals, the whole thing is head-scratching, but that doesn’t stop them from watching. They turn up in droves every year for reasons even they have difficulty explaining.

Just ask Paul Templeman, a resident of Brockworth, why he’s been dozens of times since he was a child. He can only offer up this sentiment: “It’s local. It’s just a bit of fun.”

As for why he has never competed once despite all the times he’s been, Templeman’s answer is much clearer. “‘Cause I’m not that stupid,” he says with a playful huff.

But after all, if there were no competitors, there’d be nothing worth watching.

An estimated 5,000 people attended this year’s event, leaving me to wonder where exactly all the locals were hiding when I arrived the day prior.

A fortuitously bleak sky greeted me upon my arrival at Gloucester’s bus station in the central part of the village that Sunday.

My 45-minute trek on foot to my hotel was not the most scenic of routes. With its abandoned business parks and parking lots overrun by weeds, Gloucestershire initially struck me as the sort of area where the local kids are forced to make their own fun.

Aside from Storage King and a BP service station, where I combed my way through aisles of soggy quiche and oily hummus that I lived off of for three days, my hotel was in the middle of nowhere.

The village of Gloucester has a few bragging rights. Scenes of the first, second and sixth Harry Potter movies were filmed in Gloucester Cathedral. One of its churches, St. Oswald’s Priory, dates back to the 880s or 890s. Other than that, it isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind when you think of England. 

But for one reason or another, the cheese-rolling competition has given the city an international pull, with some people traveling as far as Australia wishing for a taste of victory.

Taste of victory
A spectator poses with one of the event’s famous rolls of Double Gloucester cheese.

All the recent attention has local authorities cracking down on the tradition.

What once was an official town event until 2010 has recently been viewed as reckless debauchery that caters to outlaws   or freedom fighters, depending on how you look at them.

Police have even warned local cheese-makers who provide the dairy for the race that they might be liable for any injuries that occur.

Competitors and spectators have their unique reasons for skirting around the road closures, jumping the fences, ignoring the warning signs and enduring a long hike up several other hills before Cooper’s Hill.

But one thing remains clear: There’s no love for the establishment here.

“(I do it for) tradition, fun and a disregard for our government who says kids can’t play conkers anymore,” says hometown competitor Leighton Grealis, referring to the popular but increasingly banned British school-yard game that involves whacking chestnuts tied to string against one another.

At one point during the competition, police helicopters began to fly overhead, temporarily disrupting the festivities. Whether the spectators knew the helicopter belonged to the police or mistook it for that of a TV station, everyone began to wave to it as a soared above, a cheeky British salute as if to say “catch us if you can.”

Just 7 minutes prior to the event’s kick-off at noon, it began to drizzle in true English fashion, softening the rugged land just slightly for the bums about to go down it.

The event consists of five main races: three downhill men’s races, a downhill women’s race, a free-for-all downhill race. There are also three uphill races, two of which are for children.

Shortly after a loud proclamation made on the megaphone, a tiny blur of white can be seen falling down the hill. It’s the 8-pound cheese striped with red and blue and a reminder to the competitors about how much more they have left to go.

Then a couple dozen men come barrelling down after it. Each bump they encounter on the hill is met with an uproar of laughter from the crowd. There goes a man dressed as Axl Rose. Did I just see Super Mario? There’s no web that can save Spider-Man here. Once you’re in the race, you’re in it until the rocky end.

Spider-Man
Spider-Man makes an appearance at Cooper’s Hill, but isn’t so graceful without his webs.

Any techniques? “No, no. Just run like hell,” Munro says. “Run like hell.”

Munro joked after the race that he had been tossing miniature rolls of Babybel cheese down his home’s staircase to practice the week prior. At the end of the day’s festivities, he kindly handed me one.

But in order to win the race, you must finish it. While it’s impossible to look graceful, those who fare well have a more calculated approach: Pick up speed when you can, slack where needed.

It’s certainly a talent the hometown competitors have picked up on. All but one of the races was won by a competitor from Gloucestershire.

People on the sidelines almost seem to be suffering sympathy pains for those they watch. With each blow a competitor takes comes a collective gasp from the audience.

“You throw yourself down and hope for the best.”

As a means of self-preservation, some competitors won’t allow themselves to process what is happening during the race.

“I was trying not to think, to be fair,” Grealis says. “You throw yourself down and hope for the best.”

Maybe we think too much before we do things. Maybe the best traditions are the ones that don’t make any sense at all.

As for blue-haired Munro, would he do it again? “Of course.”

He still needs to catch that cheese.

PHOTO GALLERY: 

Photo Gallery: From London, with love

With views like these, London is one tough city to leave. Love you forever, miss you always, London. Now it’s onto Edinburgh, but I’ll be back in a week. Expect a post about Gloucester’s cheese-rolling races in the next couple of days! I’ve got a 9-hour bus ride ahead of me, and tons of thoughts to put to paper err, blog.

#YesAllWomen endure sexism abroad, at home

Saturday marked my fifth day in London, and it was bound to be a pleasant one. I was ecstatic to have a familiar face, my friend Chelsea, accompany me for a few days of my 110-day journey through Europe, during which I will mostly be by myself.

We spent the afternoon at Tower Bridge, and as cliché as it might be, it is one of my favorite spots to head to on a warm day. But the tourist hangout also brings with it one of my least favorite parts about the city: the rude, pushy men dressed in costumes who try to get you take pictures with them and then demand payment.

While living here, you develop a certain skill set in avoiding these men. Put on a stone cold face, don’t make eye contact, become intensely aware of the whereabouts of your belongings and ignore, ignore, ignore. If they get too close, tell them to back off.

I’m very familiar of the game, but what one performer did to me Saturday was beyond anything I could have prepared myself for.

As Chelsea and I headed over to the Tower of London, a man in black and white face paint, who was masquerading as Charlie Chaplin took his prop cane and lewdly smacked it across my backside and smirked at me while he did so.

By the time I was able to process what had happened in order to speak up, he was gone, but I was left to deal with the humiliation that comes with being sexually harassed.

When I told others of the opportunity I landed to travel this summer, I was greeted with excited faces. But when adding that I, a woman, would be doing it alone, eyebrows would raise skeptically.

I’ve heard the question “Are you really going to do this?” more times than I can count. Upon arriving in London, a woman who noticed my backpack approached me on the Tube, and warned me to “watch my back.” Some friends have called me brave for what I’m doing.

Most mean well when they say these things, but I don’t like to be called brave for being a female solo-traveler. It only reinforces the notion that traveling alone as a woman is — and should remain — the exception, not the rule.

Women can read maps just as easily as men. Men find themselves lost as often as women. When we’re abroad, we all fumble over the same messy pronunciations of words our tongues just don’t seem to be built for.

I know there are tons of women who would love to be in my position, and if I didn’t receive this scholarship, I would only be daydreaming, too. But I fear that even if all women were offered this same opportunity, many would still turn it down due to the threat of violence against our gender that pervades our consciousness every single day.

And though it did require a bit of bravery to get on that plane, I do live in fear here. All these “pinch me, I’m dreaming” moments come along with the terrifying reality that I might be harassed or assaulted while I’m just pursuing what I love.

I’ve greatly enjoyed and appreciated my time here — but to the fullest? I don’t know if I ever will be able to due to the fear I feel as a female solo-traveler, but I try my hardest. While travel brings with it certain anxieties about lost passports and missed trains, the daily fear of being raped or killed shouldn’t be one of them.

I want to be able to take a late-night stroll alongside Westminster Pier by myself.

I’d like to not have to worry about whether I’ll be the only woman staying in my 12-person hostel room.

And when a friendly man asked me out on a date after a warm 45-minute conversation, I wish I had felt comfortable enough to say yes and trust that his intentions were innocent.

But here’s the thing: Though I’ve become hypervigilant of my safety as a woman in unfamiliar Europe, I still live in fear about sexual violence when I’m back home in the United States.

We tend to blame rape on “the other.” We conjure up these images of rapists being strange men who don’t speak the same language as us and lure us into an alleyway of a foreign city.

But if it’s other countries with the gender-based violence problems, talk to me about how the United States has the highest rate of spousal homicide of any developed nation.

Tell me why consent doesn’t even become a talking point in educational programs until college.

How do you explain a man could go on a killing rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., leaving six people dead because “girls have never been attracted to (him)” and he felt he should punish them for it?

We’re good at pointing out what we find to be misogynistic in other cultures, but we rarely recognize our own failures. We flippantly dismiss the use of headscarves among Muslim women as blatant oppression, but we’re dumbfounded as to how alcohol-facilitated sexual assault could get so out of control on our hallowed college campuses, as if our culture doesn’t have anything to do with it.

Statistics demonstrate a small percentage of men are repeat perpetrators of gender-based violence. So, most men are good people, but the bottom line is that men are most often the perpetrators of sexual assault, and this type of violence occurs all the time and to so many women.

Just as a female survivor of sexual violence is somebody’s sister, daughter or mother, a male perpetrator of violence is somebody’s brother, son or father. These men live among us, speaking the same language, strolling along the same familiar streets of our hometowns. We bear the responsibility of teaching them about decency, respect and equality.

It’s time we stop dismissing gender-based violence as someone else’s issue. How many other terrible events need to occur before we recognize it is a problem and it is ours?

Ending the violence starts with us, no matter where we’re located on the map. And when women do travel by themselves, we shouldn’t be questioning them but instead questioning those who hurt them and — perhaps, most importantly — ourselves for giving rise to a culture that makes it OK for gender-based violence to exist in the first place.

For the love of weirdness

I believe love is a choice. We actively decide who we keep in our lives and who we let go. Though we don’t have control over every circumstance life throws our way, we have a choice to love what we’re doing or stop doing it, a choice to love the place we’re in or leave it.

It’s a beautiful yet terrifying notion, choice. It demands we be uncomfortable. We’re uncomfortable while reckoning with the fears of what could go wrong. Then we’re perhaps unsettled when something does go wrong on the rare occasion. With this lack of comfort comes weirdness.

We don’t just shy away from weirdness, we vehemently avoid it. We’re told to. How else would we have survived our middle school hallways?

When we try to avoid being weird, we lose ourselves in translation. Recently, I’ve wondered what would happen if we were to always actively pursue the weird.

This summer, I’ve made the choice to go on international quest for weirdness. Thanks to a travel scholarship from UNC, a pipe dream of mine is actually happening.

I will be traveling to about a dozen countries to attend some of Europe’s craziest and most unusual festivals and to ask people about what is on their bucket lists.

While in Spain, I can be found at Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, Buñol’s La Tomatina and Castrillo de Murcia’s El Colacho, a festival in which men dressed as the devil jump over mattresses filled with babies in the hopes of purifying their souls.

Later, I’ll be in the Netherlands, which became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 1999, as others celebrate love simply being love at Amsterdam’s gay pride festival.

But first, come Monday, I’ll be in Gloucester, England for Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake at which competitors chase an 8-pound roll of cheese down a 600-foot hill.

I don’t know much about these people who wake up in the morning and say without pause, “Hey, I think I’m going to go chase some cheese or be chased by a bull today.” But I think I’ll be in good company.

You see, love and weirdness aren’t mutually exclusive.

When we connect with someone, our synapses spark and make us subconsciously say, “Hey, I like this human.” We call them friends even though they have knobby knees and pronounce certain words weirdly and fart about 14 times a day, statistics show. (Except you, right? Because you personally don’t fart.)

The same can be said about places. How else do we fall in love with cities without first embracing them for their weird, messy worth? I don’t really think we can truly love without first getting a little weird.

How appropriate that I kick off this quest for silliness in the city I first learned to love when studying abroad here last spring.

London is a city that is dreadfully rain-prone but also where I learned to embrace umbrella-less walks to class, drenched shoes, frozen fingers and all.

This is the city where people gather to hear weird people talk about weird things at Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner every Sunday.

As I learned while visiting the Museum of London Wednesday, London is also the place where pious citizens once believed the Great Fire of 1666 must have been caused by sinful gluttony because the fire ironically started at Pudding Lane and allegedly went out at Pye (or Pie) Corner.

A bunch of people erected a statue of a “prodigiously fat” boy warning of such gluttony, and it is known as The Golden Boy of Pye Corner. Naturally, I spent a greater portion of my Wednesday afternoon being the strange, lost woman in London searching for this pudgy little guy.

The Golden Boy at Pye Corner
The Pye Corner statue recognizes one of most catastrophic events to ever occur in the city.

Basically, I think if the statue were created with today’s obesity rate in mind, he’d be a lot fatter because his belly looked my post-dinner food baby after it’s had a couple of hours to settle. Oh well.

I love this city.

Here’s to hoping I fall in love with more cities. Here’s to believing that fortune favors the weird. (And I’m going to need a lot of fortune because I don’t really know how to get around most of these cities or how to speak any language including my own or how to not trip on any of Europe’s old staircases.)

Let’s get weird,
Katie