Monthly Archives: June 2010

West Side Market, Cleveland OH

It is a sad, sad place in the world that has absolutely nothing noteworthy about it.  Fortunately Cleveland has a few, and one of these is the West Side Market, which is a century old and without question one of the best markets I’ve ever been to.  Certainly the best in the USA where we unfortunately don’t have many around anymore!

Inside view from the upper balcony, usually occupied by people-watchers eating lunch.  Nearly all the places are family owned and lots of tasty ethnic eats- my favorites are the bratwurst stall, the crepes stall, and the gyro one.  Settled for a gyro this past weekend, and the ones at the stall are so delicious that word got out to the Travel Channel’s Man vs Food– a show on them will be aired June 23rd.

Anyway, lunch done, time to go look around and see what the market has to offer- in short, everything.  And somehow it’s so much more of an experience to go around peering through the cases to decide what exactly you want, people in the crowd exchanging tips with each other on where to get the best smokies or fresh-baked bread, smiles and banter from the stall owners trying to catch your eye, eventually making selections and handing over cash.  Funny how even the cash part seems novel to me, as most of the time you use plastic these days.  But what are you going to do when the dairy stall that cuts butter from a block and sour cream from a bucket wants two dollars and definitely has no credit card machine?

Mmmm cheese- the only place to ever stock up for a wine and cheese party, though the mice are optional. *wink* Lots of crazy-expensive imported ones too…

Surf ‘n turf as fresh as it gets in a landlocked city at least.  The fish place (across from the gyro stall!) has a sign promising to fillet your fish for free, and the pig is there to establish you can get pretty much any cut you want.  Seriously, I know many a happy forgeiner in Cleveland who gets excited because you can find liver and kidneys and all sorts of delicacies you never really find in the US because we don’t eat the insides of an animal.  Or go to butcher shops for that matter, I can’t think of one not at the West Side Market, where there’s several so you’ve gotta stand out (there’s a Hungarian butcher too actually, specializing in kolbasz and salami).

Speaking of ethnic delicacies…

Found on the shelves of a European and Middle Eastern importer.  One interesting thing about Cleveland is everyone came over with an ethnicity and still holds onto it hard and our market reflects that- Hungarian sausages, Italian pastas, French crepes, Syrian hummus, and in more recent years stalls run by Mexican and Cambodian families have opened.  So if I cannot travel the world, it’s nice to have all the food of the world come to you!

Last but not least, time to pick up the fresh produce!  Wandering around, checking prices, trying samples, finally stopping to ask an accented lady how much the raspberries are.

“For you, three dollar,” she says, but I shake my head.  We size each other up in a second when she realizes I’m the rarity of an American who knows how to bargain, or knows that you should in the first place.  We finally settle on a container of raspberries and two of blackberries for four dollars, which leaves us both happy.  And I won’t even get into the lady I negotiated blackberries and apricots with, mainly because I wasn’t planning on getting apricots in the first place!

Anyway, finally left the market and headed for the train stop with the wallet $40 lighter and canvas bag a great deal heavier with fruit, fresh mozerella and sour cream, pad thai, dumplings, sliced ham, corn salsa, tzatziki and pita bread, and half the gyro I started at lunch later (if anyone actually eats one of those gyros in a sitting I’ve yet to see it).  All in all enough to keep me fed for a week- no idea why you’d go to a supermarket with such a place nearby.

Photo: Allen Telescope Array

Taken June 11, 2008

The Allen Telescope Array in Hat Creek, California is about a four hour drive from San Francisco.  Lassen Peak, the snow-capped peak visible in the background, actually erupted violently in 1915 and was the last volcano on the continental United States to do so until Mt. St. Helens in 1980.  It’s now a national park, sort of a mini-Yellowstone because you still have some thermal activity and acid lakes and such.  Worth a visit if you find yourself in the area!

Anyway, the much more interesting radio telescopes in the foreground!  Paul Allen of Microsoft fame donated money for University of California-Berkeley and the SETI Institute to build a radio telescope array, which when I visited had 42 radio dishes but is supposed to have 350 when completed.  It’s a rather interesting design because you can look at a large field of view (think the size of a galaxy) yet focus on signals from specific stars you think have potential for extraterrestrial intelligence based on a few factors.  Thus the Berkeley people are happy because they can do radio astronomy in a rather unique way and the SETI folk are happy because they actually have a dedicated telescope to look for alien civilizations.

I was at the array two summers ago because I was lucky enough to snag a summer research position at the SETI Institute under Jill Tarter, the person who inspired the Ellie Arroway character in Contact and thus had a picture of her and Jodie Foster in her office I was mildly jealous of.  And no, we did not find aliens else you would’ve heard about it before me telling you now!  The public is actually free to visit the array as well so feel free to stop by during normal working hours if you want a tour, but be sure to turn off your cell phone and other gadgets upon arrival.  Radio telescopes are so sensitive that you can drown out important signals really easily, and that’d be awfully embarrassing if we missed E.T.’s call due to that!

Video: Zipline, Gibbon Experience, Laos

Not a photo today, but I would argue it’s way more awesome!  Last year while in Laos I went on The Gibbon Experience deep in the jungles of northern Laos, which basically involved hiking and ziplines and living in treehouses for a few days.  If you ever find yourself in that part of the world I highly recommend it!  You can read my full write-up of the Experience here, complete with the biggest accident I had on my rtw that somehow involved physics saving my life and my only experience with medical quackery.  Good times.

Photo of the Day: Cook Islands

Taken April 19, 2007

For Zee (and SFC!), who just recently commented that I oughta post something about sailing the Pacific or Caribbean Islands.  I wasn’t sailing when I took this picture but as close as I could accommodate! (And fyi I still think your plans for sailing sound awesome and I’d love to join if there’s room *wink*)

I was lucky enough to visit the Cook Islands during my semester abroad in New Zealand as part of my program, which I wrote a bit about here.  I’ve never been to Hawaii but it’s roughly the same latitude south from the equator as Hawaii is North, and is what I hear Hawaii was like 50 years ago… Fascinating culture, and this mural was near their branch of the University of the South Pacific where we went to listen to a few lectures to make our trip seem legit- such a beautiful piece of artwork for such a remote place.

“You Went Alone?” “Yes.” “REALLY?!” “Yes!”

Part 1 of a series of uncommon answers to common backpacker/ round the world questions

Solo traveler in Mostar, Bosnia- get used to asking someone to take the picture for you!

If I’m going to start going through all the questions people ask me about my travels, this is far and away the most common thing people are amazed by.  Lots of people travel solo long term and lots of travelers are women, but putting the two together?  It’s just not done by many, which is interesting because more women travel than men in the first place (just usually with a girlfriend, spouse, etc) and plenty travel alone for shorter stints.

Now to be fair I did meet a fair share of friends and family along the way, and wasn’t doing the rest of my time solo because of a huge urge to be antisocial or anything.  I did in fact invite more than a few people to come a-traveling but no one took me up on the offer for a myriad of reasons.  But what was I supposed to do, not go because no one else could come?  That would have made an awesome story for the grandkids someday!

The reason so few women travel solo is because it’s not considered safe- sounds obvious, but when I did a survey of my male counterparts they all pretty much agreed their questions focus more on the “don’t you get lonely?” angle than the safety one.  Which is a rather odd perception when you start to think about it- if you think it’s perfectly fine for me to live and wander alone in Cleveland like I do now then what’s the issue with the rest of the world?  An American city is far more dangerous than most places a traveler will ever go in the rest of the world, and I’m not in the habit of wandering down dark strange alleys at 2am.  Theft, by far the most common crime travelers experience, usually stems from a moment of opportunity that has next to nothing to do with gender- in fact the one time someone stole some money from me I was in a group of women, and someone from the group stole it!

Harassment is another thing people often worry about, particularly in some countries, though honestly most was from touts who just harass everybody anyway.  Unsavory comments can always be minimized by learning how the local girls dress and following through, but honestly the few I got anyway were so uneventful I’m having trouble remembering them.  In short, nothing I didn’t get used to being the only girl in my physics classes!  I never even had to make up a story about a fake boyfriend and I think the “fake wedding band” advice is a legend akin to that of Americans sewing Canadian flags on their backpacks as I never met anyone who did this (ie pretty darn rare).

Friends made in Queenstown, New Zealand on my first solo trip!

So if you’re a lady looking for an adventure and can round up your friends that’s cool, have a good time and send me a postcard!, but if not that shouldn’t mean the end of the journey.  The world isn’t half as scary as we make it out to be and you’ll meet a lot of awesome people you never would have otherwise, and your future grandkids will be glad they’re not subject to yarns that start out “and then a new Netflix DVD came in the mail…”

Photo of the Day: Leopard in Mala Mala, South Africa

Taken June 15, 2009

Because today is the long-anticipated start date of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and the mascot is a leopard, here is a real live one chowing down on the last remnants of a baboon at Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa.  Not to be confused with the other time we saw a leopard chowing down at night!

For anyone interested I plan to cheer for Team USA this year- I am usually unpatriotic and cheer for anyone-but-the-US in international sporting on the grounds that we throw so much money at sports it’s a much greater achievement if someone from a small country wins, but this is arguably the one competition where we are the underdog!  Either way best of luck to South Africa in hosting, though I’ve no doubts that one of my favorite countries on the planet is capable of pulling off a spectacular job.

Photo of the Day: San Marino

My favorite microstate, San Marino is 24 square miles (61 square km) but still has a standing army. Being perched atop a looming mountain probably helps sovereignty as well.