Archive for ‘Travel Tales’

October 27, 2010

Travel Tales: Bill Clinton Ate Here

The New York Times Travel Magazine posted an article on Monday called “Restaurants’ Best Press: ‘Bill Clinton Ate Here’,” and I giggled. I know this strategy all too well. I have fallen prey to this marketing tactic. Two summers ago, Family Summer 2008, my family and I went on a culinary trek through Holland in honor of Bill Clinton. We were in search of Bill Clinton’s poffertjes.

A few members of my extended family had gathered in Holland before we all headed off to Belgium for my cousin’s wedding. My Aunt Jane had lived in Amsterdam some forty years ago and was really in the mood for some poffertjes.

Poffertjes are balls of fried pancake dough, and they’re amazing. Fluffy and warm and crispy and buttery, they’re served with your basic breakfast food condiments — Nutella, jam, more butter, powdered sugar, syrup, fruit and cream. My mom said that we would be road tripping to a small town called Delft to find a cafe rumored to have the best pofferjtes in the land. “How do you know?” I asked. “Because Bill Clinton ate there!” Ah, of course.

So it wasn’t that much of a trek, more like an hour in the car. Delft is a beautiful little town. If they hadn’t been able to get the permits to film in Bruges, you can be pretty sure Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes would have had their shoot-out in this canal. A fairy tale town.

The cafe, in the middle of the town square, was not shy about their Bill Clinton affiliation. There was a photo in the window, almost the size of a life-size cutout. The wall outside the bathrooms was dedicated to him. Newspaper clippings, framed photographs, a signed napkin. Hillary would pop up here and there but for the most part, it was Bill-only. It is the most concentrated amount of Bill Clinton I’ve ever experienced. And he ate here in 1997. I’m actually surprised their awning wasn’t just a picture of Bill’s face, throwing everyone a thumbs up, “Best pofferjtes in the land!” The menu featured the picture from the window, Bill arm-in-arm with the owner, next to “The Bill Clinton Special” — strawberries and cream. That’s what I ordered, and that’s what I’ll order again. Simple but classic. Thanks, Bill!

Walking through the square, feeling thoroughly satisfied and pleased with the former President, we passed three other poffertjes places that advertised the exact same thing with the photographic evidence to back it up. So much for brand loyalty.

October 18, 2010

Travel Tales: Airlines Hate Us


Last month, Budget Travel posted a list of 8 things an airline can do but would never actually tell you. It’s the kind of article you want to print and whip out the next time you’re at the airport and the nice lady behind the counter is charging you an overweight luggage fee. You want to go, “Hoooold it,” look at her over the top of your reading glasses and ask if she’s so sure about that. You’re no chump! Or at least that’s what I’m going to do.

To be fair to the airlines, I understand number four — an airline won’t tell passengers right away if there’s an emergency. My mother used to be a flight attendant and she explained that it’s basically like yelling, “Fire!” in a movie house. (Though, oddly, you could yell “Movie!” in a fire house without consequence. That’s what I’ve heard, anyway.) If there’s nothing the passengers can do to help anyway, better not to give them something that’ll frighten them. There’s enough to be afraid of already. has a special knack for making traveling mishaps simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. I read their article “7 True Stories That Prove the Airlines Hate Us” a year ago and haven’t been able to forget it. I’ve used the story of the time United Airlines set a woman’s luggage on fire and then kind of just, whatever, shrugged about it, as a conversation piece on several occasion. Their earlier article “The 7 Dumbest Things Ever Done By Airport Security,” as retold by me, has also gotten some laughs. If anything, Cracked makes me a funnier person to be around. But every silver lining has its cloud, and in this case, that cloud would be the gnawing paranoia I now unwillingly pack whenever I head to the airport. (For a very brief moment I was terrified of what would happen if “Sarah Schneider” made it onto the no-fly list. There are a million Sarah Schneiders! My boyfriend even has a cousin named Sarah Schneider. Isn’t it entirely possible that one of them is an international arms dealer not allowed to travel internationally anymore? The paranoia!)

It’s not all Cracked’s fault, though. The Journey Home Christmas 2009 plays a major supporting role. I won’t go into too much detail, but to give an overview: My flight plan was Boston — New York — Chicago — Shanghai. I almost missed my connection in New York, but then was lucky enough to sit next to a very chatty drunk guy. So lucky. Before take-off, he told me how he’s an aspiring actor, and how much it sucks that he has to shoot a movie in New Orleans because “there’s nothing down there. Well, anymore,” and how he wished he were in Texas with his best friend Brett, who shoots guns and drives a Lamborghini, possibly at the same time. I think then he drunk-dialed his grandma? Anyway. After my nine-hour layover in Chicago, we boarded the plane and I fell asleep. I woke up two hours later to discover we hadn’t taken off yet, and instead they’d asked us to disembark. Our plane was defective and we needed to sit tight for eight hours until the good plane got to O’Hare. I missed Christmas Eve, but my family had another one in my honor.

I know that’s not actual proof that the airlines hate us (they gave everyone a coupon for the airport; that was nice, and they did possibly save us from crashing what with giving us a plane that flies and all), but it’s travel stories like the ones on Budget Travel and Cracked, and even my own, that instill travel cynicism that’s pretty hard to shake. Luckily, it hasn’t done any permanent damage yet, but it has added a kind of thrill to it all. The gamble of whether this trip’s going to go smoothly, or if it’ll be a story we’ll still be telling next Christmas.

October 7, 2010

Travel Tales: Paris Signage

It shouldn’t be that much of a shock to find out that I’m a little bit in love with Paris. Kind of like everyone else in the world. Even a recent first-time viewing of Taken starring the incredible Liam Neeson didn’t convince me otherwise. But it did make me pretty suspicious of overly nice guys at airports named Peter. Sidenote: That movie, much to the chagrin of my parents, came out right around when I went on my chaperone-less Eurotrip. Can’t tell you how relieved I am that I only watched it two nights ago. But Paris!

Possibly the best way to get to know a city, and I will argue this in court, is to simply walk around. My junior year of high school, our French teacher took our class to Paris, and that’s what we did. We walked around. A lot. I had been to Paris before with my parents, but I’d never walked around like that. When I sit in a cafe, reading a book or a magazine, having coffee and people watching, I picture I’m in Paris. It feels like that nonchalant cafe chic ambiance is translated throughout the whole city, which makes it so easy to aimlessly wander the streets and never be lost. So maybe you can imagine how much I loved this post on Imprint on Paris signage.

The typography, although not flashy, is characteristic of Paris — cool and distinct, manicured but minimal and casual. With amazing eclairs.

September 30, 2010

Travel Tales: Advertising

There’s an article in October’s National Geographic Traveler magazine called “Read All About It” by Daisann McLane. She writes, “As I read local newspapers, I realize they’re in the same category as public squares: the heartbeat of any great place.” You can tell a lot about a place by its heartbeat. I haven’t gotten in the habit of reading local newspapers yet, unless I’m looking for listings or event details, but if reading the paper is anything like McLane describes it, I ought to try it immediately: “Reading the local paper is like roaming backstreets without a plan…It’s a wonderful way to get lost in the place.” Alright, you’ve talked me into it.

I’ve always found an effective, if somewhat lazy and uninspired, way of getting to know a place’s character is through the commercials on TV. Every time I go back to Germany, I look forward to seeing the new ads. I know in the day and age we live in it’s hard to avoid advertising, but it’s actually gotten to the point where I find it refreshing to be around completely new and unfamiliar advertisements. I know that’s a little depressing. Don’t get me wrong, I find nothing more revitalizing than turning off my phone and computer, but the commercials in a new place can also give you a peak into what’s going on in that city or country.

Commercials are like mini movies only nobody’s subtle about the product placement. I’m pretty susceptible to advertising. That Google one from this year’s Super Bowl made me cry. Then I went out and bought five Googles.

This one aired in 2004 in Europe. It didn’t make me cry, but it made me feel conflicted about my family.

There’d be a big divide between me and my Dutch cousins if I knew there were ads like this on regular rotation in Germany. It’s a good thing I don’t own a TV. Or live in Germany.

September 29, 2010

Travel Tales: Red Eye

I’m a big fan of Christoph Niemann’s Abstract City Blog, and although I’m a little disappointed that he hasn’t posted in a while, it’s some consolation that his last entry was Red Eye. (You should also check out his other posts, Haunted Household and I Lego NY.)

Niemann’s Red Eye documents the journey from New York to Berlin, with a stop over in London. Specific locations are irrelevant, though, as he could be illustrating any international flight, I would argue, regardless of duration.

I actually prefer red eyes or very early morning flights. The airport is usually quieter, there’s less of a hassle to get there because you often don’t need to factor in traffic, and it’s a wonderful feeling knowing that you could be going to sleep that night and wake up in another country. Travelers Notebook has also compiled a list of reasons why red eye flights might be better.

The truth is I don’t like flying. Or, really, I don’t like airplanes. I love airports, and I’ve never been afraid of flying, but I just don’t like planes (and not only because they make my hair flat, but it does have something to do with that). Christoph Niemann was absolutely accurate in his flight depiction, especially with the peanuts. I’m a firm believer in checking the obviously empty bag a few times because I honestly could have sworn there was at least one more. But there never is. Maybe that’s why I don’t like flights. I lose all depth perception and sense of time. I’m always surprised when I wake up from a satisfying nap and find out we still have six hours to go. Naturally, I can’t get back to sleep after I’ve made this discovery. And then there’s that airplane smell.

Airports, on the other hand, are a dream. Aside from allowing for fantastic people watching, I never get as much reading done as I do in airports. I look forward to fairly long layovers, four or five hours should do it, where I can set up camp and just relax without having to rush to my gate. Singapore Changi Airport is hands down my favorite, and was also voted 2010’s World’s Best Airport by the World Airport Awards (they’re somewhat of an authority on the world’s airports). Of the 10 Best, I’ve been to nine, unfortunately I haven’t made it to Incheon yet. I don’t think I could vividly recount my experience at each of them, as the trips were all family vacations when I was the between the ages of five and 17.

I don’t know why I’m being so tough on flights, maybe only for the sake of argument. If it hadn’t been for a return flight from Boston to Shanghai via San Francisco, I never would have flown over Alaska and taken this picture:Thanks for saving me a trip to Alaska, United Airlines!