Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Last week I attended a conference in Ourense, Spain. I actually had never heard of the city before the conference, but it's a pleasant place in a beautiful region of Spain. The conference was very well organized, even if the program was quite full -- I usually only had about 10 or 20 minutes a day of free time in between talks, group lunches and dinners, excursion, receptions, etc.
After the conference, I spent a day visiting Santiago de Compostela, an hour away, and location of the airport. While I myself didn't walk any of the Camino de Santiago, I saw plenty of pilgrims there. I did attend the pilgrim's mass in the cathedral, mostly in order to see the botafumeiro being swung at the end. It's quite the spectacle for a liturgical celebration. The city itself is small and cozy, and there's a lot of life in the evenings when the local student population comes out. I stayed in the very nice Hotel Pombal, having been moved there since the original hotel I had reserved was overbooked.
Getting home was a bit of a challenge, but I was quite lucky. Due to the volcanic ash cloud, most flights in Europe have been canceled and airports closed, as I'm sure you've heard. I was booked on a flight to Bologna via Madrid on Sunday. When I found out Saturday evening that Bologna would also be closed on Sunday, I immediately called Iberia. After about an hour on hold, having the call dropped, and having to call their German call center since no one in the Spanish call center spoke English, I was finally able to change my destination to Rome, which was still projected to be open. I did make it to Rome, where a large crowd of people were trying to make arrangements to travel to their home countries -- Germany, England, the Netherlands, etc. I managed to get a train to Florence a few hours later, so I had better luck than the many people who were affected by the announcements that all trains from Italy to Northern Europe were fully booked until Friday! I was extremely glad to be back home, even if it was a few hours later than planned.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Fried Chickpeas with Chorizo and Spinach

We've made this recipe twice now and it's tasty, fast, and the spinach even makes it sort of healthy. I don't think it's necessary to add the breadcrumbs and put it under the broiler -- just combine everything at the end and serve. Kristen makes a vegetarian version with seitan chunks instead of chorizo.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


For the Easter holidays this year, we wanted to go someplace warm, relatively cheap, and preferably not all too Catholic (so that the holidays wouldn't interfere with the vacation). So when we found a good fare to Cairo, we took advantage. It would also be my birthday, so we'd be celebrating in Egypt.
In the end, we spent a week traveling through the country (that's the absolute minimum of time, in my opinion), stopping in Luxor, Aswan as well as Cairo. Luxor surely had the most monuments: as the site of ancient Thebes, there were many temples, including the famous Luxor, Karnak, and Hatshepsut temples, as well as pharaonic tombs in the Valley of the Kings, among others. In Aswan, we visited Philae temple as well as the old quarries, took a felucca ride on the Nile and took a quick trip to Abu Simbel on the morning of my birthday. Finally, we took in the crazy and crowded city of Cairo in two days, seeing the Egyptian museum and the Islamic monuments of the old town, as well as seeing a multitude of pyramids -- the famous ones at Giza of course, but also the older ones at Saqqara and Dahshur. In Dahshur, we even got to climb down into the Red Pyramid, which was an Indiana Jones style adventure, and ensured that our legs were sore for a few days afterwards.
All in all we had a great time, even if traveling in Egypt can be frustrating at times: as a tourist, you're of course prey for all the touts trying to sell you camel rides, felucca rides, taxis, and any kind of souvenir. Then there's the haggling, which is necessary for almost anything -- certainly for taxis and at the souq. In Cairo, we were tired enough of this that we specifically sought out metered taxis, and a fixed-price fair trade shop, and I'm convinced that we saved money in this way. Finally, there are constant demands for baksheesh from most anyone, and I'm sure there are a few corners of the monuments that we avoided seeing because there was a guard there who we were sure would try to point out some obvious things ("face... cow...") and then ask for some baksheesh. Nevertheless, the beauty of the country and its sights more than balance out these inconveniences, and we're happy to have had the opportunity of going there.