Travel

Eat like an Eastern European: Traditional fare in Croatia receives a modern twist

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Walking through a farmers’ market in any town on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast is an exercise in surprise. Every few days there’s something new to tempt one’s taste buds. Blink, and you’ll miss cherry season. Take an extended break from grocery shopping and you’ll have missed out on luscious figs the size of limes or rich, aromatic truffle cheeses.

As in Canada, the farmers’ markets of Croatia are community hubs, and customers range from tourists looking for souvenirs to professional chefs stocking up on their day’s supplies. One reason, says Croatian-born Ivana Orešić, a chef and author of the cookbook My Dalmatia: Tastes, Savours, Colors, is that the prices of many items, from eggs to cheese, are markedly different from those found at a traditional grocery store. “For Croatians, everything is expensive,” says Orešić. Plus, at a market one can get specific quantities, minimizing the waste of both food and money. Another reason, says Orešić, is that most of the locals eat at home. “People here think that they’re the best cooks. I know my parents would always say, ‘At home is better. You never know what is happening in the background, or what they have in the kitchen. At home is the best.’”

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Travel

Travel agents haven’t been replaced by the Internet — in fact they’re more in demand than ever

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Part of the joy of watching the television show The Americans, which is set in the early 1980s, is marvelling at the fashion, design and accoutrement that now are, if not defunct, then at least retro (and not in a chic way). Big hair, shoulder pads, station wagons. The two main characters even own a travel agency — how retro is that?

Except, despite what pop culture and the Internet might have one think, travel agencies and the agents who work in them are alive and well. In fact, we may be in a midst of a shortage. “For a good 15 years, when the Internet came into play, a lot of people chose to bypass this as an option for a career,” says Claire Newell, owner of Travel Best Bets, an agency based in Vancouver. “We’ve seen less people going into travel school to be part of the industry.”

With the advent of the sharing economy, and the apps that go along with it — enabling people to order an Uber ride to take them to their Airbnb apartment, flight aggregators like Skyscanner and Google Flights allowing travellers to view all manner of options based on price, layovers and flight duration (even private jets can be chartered online much the same way a pizza can be ordered) and apps like I Know The Chef, Table 8 and Open Table making restaurant reservations bookable with the tap of a thumb — it may be surprising to learn that travel agents are still, nay, increasingly in demand. More surprising is who is doing the demanding.

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Travel

There are few tourists to crowd your vacation photos of Egypt, making now a great time to go

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With a population of 84 million, Egypt is crawling with people. They are everywhere — walking along the sides of highways to catch shared minivans into Cairo; moving bulky suitcases across railway tracks between trains to avoid the stairs required to change tracks; setting off fireworks because they’re celebrating a wedding, or birthday, or Friday.

There are a few places to catch one’s breath and find some solitude, however — namely the country’s famed tourist sites. Egypt may be crawling with people, but currently tourists are not among them, which means this is a great time to do some sightseeing here. You may not want to do it in the almost unbearable August heat, which is when I visited, but if the pyramids, pharaohs and hieroglyphics have long been on your must-see list, there’s never been a better time to cross them off.

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Travel

A trip to Veneto — Prosecco’s home — shows why the fizzy drink is an easy favourite

Veneto, Italy

Acqua di Vita is the name of a grappa in Bottega distillery’s product line, but it could — nay, should — be another name for its Prosecco, or for Prosecco in general. The bubbly is a lifeline for vineyards in the Veneto region of northeast Italy, hectares of steep hillsides blooming with glera grapes every fall, and for locals who drink it like water. Two signs of such were offered during a late-morning stop at Pieve di San Pietro, an 11th-century church perched on the hills of the tiny municipality of Feletto with views of the pre-Alps of Belluno, some 50 kilometres away.

The first: five frescoes cover the church’s exterior, one of which is Cristo della Domenica, or Christ Sunday. It depicts Jesus bleeding from several injuries. The cause of the wounds surround him: tools used by local workers. The iconographic painting was a reminder to the community to lay down their tools for the day of rest. One of the icons is a wine barrel. Even in late medieval times Prosecco was a big deal here.

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If you like piña coladas … Two Puerto Rican bars lay claim to the drink’s creation

Pina Colada at Caribe HIlton

Courtesy Caribe HIlton

When I landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, it was a hot Saturday afternoon. The sort of sticky weather that makes people happy and lethargic. After a few hours spent on the beach trying to shake off a tepid Toronto spring, I wandered up from my waterfront hotel in Santurce to the Plaza del Mercado, a small square in front of an indoor farmers’ market that’s surrounded by bars and restaurants, and stumbled upon a community happy hour. Kids chased each other around the square as their parents and grandparents gathered around tables, ordering pitchers of drinks from the surrounding bar stalls, and basking in weekend leisure time.

Everything being poured looked chilled and refreshing, so I followed suit. Despite my Spanish being no bueno, I strung together enough words to order a lime soda, then sat on the steps of the square and enjoyed both the scene and the drink. But if I’d known then what I know now, I would’ve ordered a piña colada.

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Which way to the beach? The quieter side of Cabo

San Jose del Cabo

Los Cabos, the small collection of towns at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, is known for its scene, where the party-seeking population of North America’s western provinces and states goes to see sun, surf and celebrities. It took approximately two minutes of waiting to go through immigration at the Los Cabos airport to be reminded of this: Behind me in line, a group of twentysomething women, having just arrived from Calgary, discussed very seriously which celebrities they were most hoping to see — among them Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz, Gwyneth Paltrow. These same celebrities also happened to be these ladies’ kindred spirits or celebrity spirit animals or something.

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Take a walk on Puerto Rico’s hipster side

Puerto Rico Santurce

New York City has several neighbourhoods that could be classified as Little Puerto Rico, many located in Brooklyn, so it’s only fair that San Juan, Puerto Rico, has a few areas that could be called Little Brooklyn, most of which are located in Santurce.

The barrio has 44 neighbourhoods inside it and is home to 90,000 Puerto ricans. In the 1940s and ’50s it was hopping, a hub of cultural vibrancy and home to, among other things, the city’s salsa community. In the ’70s and ’80s, people started vacating for the suburbs, and vacancies and crime went up. but the 2000s have seen reinvestment in the area, with leadership and financing coming from multiple levels of government. A priority was placed on mixed-income housing, cultural reinvestment and neighbourhood initiatives, which could only mean one thing: Hipsters moved in.

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