10 Questions For (9): Erica Johansson of Travel Blissful

Happy to present Erica Johansson to you. It took me some time to figure out which portrait to use. I decided to use her Facebook avatar, as she is a bit elusive…or simply shy 🙂 (However, see also the update below.)

1) Who Are you?
My name is Erica Johansson, I’m 23-years-old, was born in Halmstad on the Swedish west coast and grew up in Sweden.

Work wise I’m the founder and editor of Travel Blissful, a freelance writer and photographer.

Personality wise I’m always an optimist.

2) What do you like about what you do?
Everything. That I’m being able to travel in my job, meet new people (both those I interview and fellow bloggers I “meet” online), the writing of course. I love the independence and flexibility that comes with the work. I can choose when to write, where to work (inside, a local coffee shop, the library etc.), what to write about.

3) What don’t you like about what you do?
If there’s something I don’t like, I either accept it or change or improve the situation – rather than complaining. So I can’t say there’s anything I don’t like.

4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it.
Travel Blissful is a place to be inspired to see more of the world – whether you’re on the road, at home or just returned from your latest trip. I like variety and write about both luxury and budget travel, the outdoors and city life, Europe and far-flung destinations. It covers the positive aspects of traveling, with travel news, tips, videos, information, thoughts and interviews. Recently I interviewed David Stanley, the author of A South Pacific Travel Blog. Later this fall I will do an interview with travel writer Rolf Potts.

Until I’ve created a portfolio based site, it also serves as an outlet where potential publishers can see samples of my writing.

I launched Travel Blissful in August 15, 2008, after having blogged at blissfultravel.wordpress.com for more than a year. I wanted to have my own domain and the freedom to work with plug-ins, the design, and sponsorship.

I have an idea of what I want Travel Blissful to be in the future. I believe showing is better than telling though.

5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
My first time in London – This was in 2005; I went there by myself over a long weekend. As soon as I stepped out from the train station, I thought “I feel at home here, I want to live here.” I had a great time discovering all the neighborhoods – especially liked Notting Hill. A couple of months later I moved there.


London: Canary Riverside

Paris – For the same reason as London. I loved every minute of it and felt immediately “at home” in the city. The view from Sacré Coeur an early morning, window-shopping in Triangle d´Or, strolling along the Seine, visiting Notre-Dame Cathedral, taking a break at a café in Saint German, a walk through Bois de Bologne, the view from the Eiffel Tower at night. How is it possible to not love Paris?


Cedar Point

Third I’d have to say Cedar Point, where we spent my 19th birthday, because I love amusement parks. And riding Millennium Force – one of the fastest and tallest rollercoasters in the world – was incredibly fun. If they weren’t about to close for the day, I’d have gone at least two more times.

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
Blakes, London – I stayed in The Corfu Suite, the most beautiful suite I have ever seen, inspired by designer Anouska Hempel’s travels in Provence. I especially liked the romantic four-poster king-sized bed and the extremely tall ceilings. And the suite felt really, really peaceful. If I could afford it, I’d probably live there for a month.


Corfu Suite

Della, Parga, Greece – Della is a family owned budget hotel located a bit outside the center of Parga. Loved everything about this place and didn’t mind at all it had sparsely furnished rooms, no pool and no restaurant. The owner was super friendly and gave us good recommendations on what to do in the area, every morning we ate breakfast in the hotel’s gorgeous private garden, only had 800 metres to the nearest beach, and no crowds to be seen. It was perfect.

Milford Plaza, New York – My travel companion and I had lived in different hostels during almost two weeks and wanted something more luxurious. We found a good deal on Milford Plaza – only one block from Times Square – through Expedia.com. Even though our booked room was on the tenth floor my friend managed to convince the receptionist to offer us a room on a higher floor. We ended up on the second highest floor and got an incredible view over Manhattan. I must have stood by the window looking out for at least 15 minutes.

7) Your top 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?
Hiltl, Zurich – The first vegetarian restaurant in Europe. I went there when working in Zurich a few years ago and tasted Indian food for the first time, could barely get enough of it. Besides terrific food, Hiltl serves the most delicious brownies in town.

The Conservatory, London – Had an outstanding three-course dinner there while researching an article on vegetarian food experiences in London. The main course, lemon ricotta gnocchi’s with asparagus, rocket, and parmesan, was like nothing I’ve ever tasted.


Lemon Ricotta Gnocchi at the Coservatory in London

Bistro 190, The Gore, London – The dinner I had there was excellent, the breakfast even better. The spinach and goat’s cheese omelette I ordered made my day.

8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
Destination: I can’t think about any destination, but I do remember one travel experience that was far below expectations. A train ride from Zurich to Vienna, via Innsbruck and Salzburg. We were really looking forward to see the beautiful Austrian countryside, but because of the extremely foggy weather I could only see a mix of grey and white when looking out the window. I remember I tried to imagine what the landscape might look like, underneath all the fog.

Accommodation: A hostel in Bayswater, London. I don’t remember the name of the hostel, just that I shared a 12-bed dorm room with 12 other people including someone who stole my USB memory and one guy who snored really loud all night.

Food experience: My first charter trip to Grand Canary at age 12; in the evening we went to this restaurant in a shopping mall in Puerto Rico to have dinner. I have no idea why we chose that particular place because we were the only guests, they handed us a plastic menu with pictures of the food (most people know that’s usually a sign of low quality and/or over priced food). After ordering, they returned with our food in about ten minutes – as if they had just brought everything from the freezer and put it in the micro oven. All of us agreed that was the most tasteless food we had ever eaten.

9) Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accommodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?

Linköping in southern Sweden has about 140,000 inhabitants.

If you enjoy theater I would recommend The Östgöta Theater on Platensgatan 12, there they have regular performances throughout the year.

Ågatan – the street with more restaurants, bars and clubs than any other street in the city. A perfect place for all foodies, night owls, or movie lovers (the city’s only cinema can be found here as well).

Sol och Ris – The best Asian restaurant in the city, located opposite Linköping City Library. Friendly staff, reasonable prices, a cosy minimalist interior, and excellent selection for vegetarians.

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?

Nope. Your questions were great.

Thank you, Erica. Hope to see you in London next month!

Update: Just after publishing this post, I received an e-mail from Erica asking me to rephrase her first answer. She promised to send me a new portrait, although I like the one I found:-).

10 Questions For (8): Desert Mama, one of four Traveling Mamas

Happy to present Desert Mama: one of the four ladies who run Traveling Mamas.


Desert Mama

1) Who are you?

I am Beth Blair. I’m 33 and reside in Tucson, Arizona. I have lived in 11 cities / towns in 7 states across the United States. In my former life I worked as a flight attendant and loved every minute of it. Jumping on a plane and going somewhere always seemed natural for me and fulfilled a childhood dream.
When my first child was born, the company I worked for was (ironically) offering all employees an early retirement for even those of us in our twenties. As hard as it was, I knew this opportunity would allow me to pursue a career as a freelance writer (I was already lugging my laptop on overnight trips) and still be there for my son.
Today, I write for various print magazines and online publications such as USATourist.com. I am a new “Outsiders” correspondent for AdventureUs.com and blog regularly with my three friends at TravelingMamas.com where I am known by my regional name, “DesertMama”.

2) What do you like about what you do?
I feel so lucky that I have found my passion. I wake everyday knowing I have a day ahead of me combining two things I enjoy immensely: traveling and writing. And, I’m still able to have a happy home with a supportive husband and two energetic and curious kids (who love to travel).

3) What don’t you like about what you do?
My only complaint is wishing I had more time at the destinations I visit. If I don’t get the chance to experience the town as a local might and learn people’s names, I feel I’m missing something.

Desert and Mudslide Mamas and Families
Desert and Mudslide Mamas and Families

4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it.
We launched Traveling Mamas in January 2008. We have ten kids among us. (I have two preschoolers and two teenage step-sons.) Our mission is to inspire moms to get out there, travel and explore our world, whether a weekend away with the husband, a getaway with the girls, or a summer road trip with the family. We feel that just because you become a mom it isn’t a reason to stop traveling. We want women to get out there and LIVE. My “LIVE” stands for Laugh Inspire Vacation Explore – and I do love to laugh.


Desert Mama Family in San Francisco

5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
My top three destinations are constantly evolving.

1. Mendocino Coast, California – This summer, my husband and I took the children on a road trip up almost the entire California shore. We stayed three or four days on the Mendocino Coast. The drive through the rolling vineyards and patches of towering redwoods was incredible and the rocky coastal views were spectacular.
2. Kauai, Hawaii – Earlier in the summer the four of us Traveling Mamas went to Maui then dispersed to different islands. I scored Kauai and am so glad I did. The island is serene and the people are very kind and gracious to visitors. I also discovered I did like poi!
3. Santo Domingo – Dominican Republic – I’m not sure if was the plantains, the pina coladas, the calm ocean or the terrific sense of humor of the people I met. I asked a young man if he was a “local” and he thought I was asking if he was “loco” – His laugh still echoes in my mind as if that conversation occurred yesterday.

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
I have stayed at so many lovely properties, but the ones coming to mind are the places I’ve stayed most recently. I’ll try and narrow it down to three.

1. Solvang, California – Hadsten House Inn
During our recent California road trip we stayed at the Hadsten House Inn and Spa in the Danish town of Solvang. I fell in love with it. The outside is reminiscent of a motel, because formerly it was. The rooms have been refurbished with top-of-the-line upgrades, such as wooden floors, marble countertops, and faux fireplaces (the beds are luxurious).
2. San Diego Omni – This summer’s road trip is obviously fresh in my mind.
In San Diego we stayed at the Omni and it was terrific. The staff was extremely personable and the location was perfect for us. I blogged about it here.
3. Carmel, California – Highland’s Inn
My favorite of all time is the Highland’s Inn. My husband and I honeymooned there six years ago. It was luxury at its finest. The staff was outstanding and our room’s view was spectacular. Every morning we enjoyed breakfast on the outdoor patio overlooking the cliffs. I would go back there in a heartbeat.

7) Your top 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?
1. Lexington, Kentucky: Holly Hill Inn
Last spring when I was in Lexington, Kentucky, I spent an evening at Holly Hill Inn, a charming restaurant listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building dates to 1845. We started the evening on the inn’s front porch drinking bourbon cocktails (of course), watching the sun set as yellow butterflies flittered around. The Chef Ouita Michel uses only the freshest ingredients making every meal delectable. It was a perfect Kentucky evening.
2. Louisiana: Any crawfish boil
I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and I think everyone should experience a true Cajun crawfish boil, complete with corn on the cob, whole sweet onions, potatoes, and a cold beer from the keg.
3. Anonymous
When my husband and I were on our honeymoon we decided to spend our last evening in Carmel at a fancy-schmancy restaurant. The portion sizes were the size of the minuscule plastic food my daughter serves with her play tea set. I mistook the dessert cookies for Cinnamon Toast cereal. But, I will admit while it was the most expensive meal we have ever had and tiniest, it was the most delicious meal we have ever experienced to date just don’t ask me the name of the restaurant. We ended up returning to our suite, starving, and digging into dinner leftovers from the night before and popped the cork of a chardonnay from the case we bought at Chateau Julien Winery earlier in the day.

8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation/food experiences to date and why?
I’ve been pretty lucky not to have any extremely miserable experiences, that or they were so bad I’ve pushed them out of my memory. Uh-oh, wait, they’re coming back to me!.

1. Many years ago I was on a road trip alone and stopped in a brand new hotel (the name escapes me, but it was off of I-10 in Texas). Exhausted, I went right to sleep only to wake in the morning to find I had slept in a filthy bed, embedded with hair that was not mine. The sheets had never been changed from the previous (who knows how many) guests. I learned my lesson to always check the sheets before diving in. Ugh! I’m still so grossed out.
2. Another hotel I stayed at in Sacramento was infested with ants. My bathroom and tub were literally covered in thousands of dead ants. The hotel refused to give me a new room because the entire area was sold out due to a city-wide convention and they told me “the other rooms have ants, too.” They said they had just sprayed so if the ants weren’t dead they would be soon. Yes, I woke up covered in ant bites.
3. As for poor restaurant experiences, the worst have been chain restaurants. I honestly avoid them at all costs, even in my own town.


Kauai Sunrise

9) Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accommodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
Tucson is a wonderful city with stunning sunsets. My first advice is to seek out authentic Mexican restaurants; one of my favorites, Maria’s, lacks distinctive ambience, but has some terrific dishes. As for accommodations, Tucson is a spa and golf mecca and almost every resort offers both. I enjoy rustic Westward Look Resort. One of my favorite things to do on a weekend is to take a hike in the Santa Catalina Mountains (which you can do from Westward Look). The Sonoran Desert is stunning and you never know what type of wildlife you might stumble upon (so bring your camera).

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?
No!
Thanks, Guido! I hope to meet you in person one of these days.

Thank You Beth! Yes, I also would love to meet with you and with all questioned persons I haven’t not met yet IRL (chat word for In Real Life). Sorry I was a tad late with publishing this as you so graciously returned my request immediately! That Kauai Sunrise is a killer photo!
As an aside: I’m still wondering why there are traveling mamas and traveling moms. What is the difference? However, I do admire mamas or moms who take the effort to travel around despite kids. I believe your blog is a great source of inspiration for the mamas and maybe also for the traveling aspiring mamas:-)

10 Questions for (7): Esme Vos of Mapplr

Happy to present Esme. Actually we have never met, but we “know” of each other over 6 years. Esme was the first whom I asked to be questioned last month, but before I could get my act (questions) together she traveled and traveled..a real Globetrotter!


Esme Vos

1) Who Are you?
I am the founder of Muniwireless.com, the portal for news and information about citywide wireless broadband.

I am also the founder of Mapplr.com, a blog dedicated to selecting the best boutique hotels, cool restaurants and cafes around the world.

I live in Amsterdam and San Francisco, but travel frequently as well to other cities.

I am originally from the Philippines.

2) What do you like about what you do?
– Independence and not working in a traditional office
– Meeting interesting people who are at the forefront of technology and media

3) What don’t you like about what you do?
– At times, the isolation can be overwhelming and the travel can be very tiring.

4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it.

I made Mapplr into a blog because I wanted to create a site where people can find hotels, restaurants and cafes that have been carefully selected by an editor who values quality, design, style, service.

I also wanted to provide lists of good hotels, restaurants and cafés in cities around the world, not just the US or Europe, because I travel a lot and I know the problems travelers have: where do I find good food in a city I’ve never visited? where’s a good boutique hotel that does charge an outrageous amount of money? how can I avoid staying in a chain hotel? where can I find a café that serves good espresso and has free Wi-Fi?

I am not convinced that user generated content sites such as Yelp and Trip Advisor work very well in pointing out to you the best places to eat or sleep. Yelp is very popular in SF for restaurant reviews, but it’s flawed. Many restaurant owners complain that Yelp puts pressure on them to advertise on the site by burying negative comments only if they advertise. It compromises the reliability and independence of Yelp. In addition, how can you trust the restaurant reviews on Yelp? Recently, I saw that Subway, a sandwich chain that serves horrible food, got better marks than Local, a fabulous restaurant-wine bar in my neighborhood. The people posting restaurant reviews often have no taste and focus only on portion size (this is America after all, land of the Super Sized Sandwich).

I rely on a trusted network of friends who have good taste in places I don’t visit regularly. They tell me what’s good in their city.

5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
– Paris: style, design, history, architecture all rolled into one cosmopolitan area with lots of incredibly good food
– Cusco, Peru: the physical beauty of the area, a city high up in the Andes very close to Inca Ruins; I use it as a starting point for treks to Macchu Picchu
– San Francisco: a city in one of the most beautiful natural surroundings — you can have an urban lifestyle, great Asian food, yet indulge in outdoor sports such as hiking, cycling, running.

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
– Verne Dreaming (Gent): Shanghai 1930s red bordello style B&B with giant golden Buddha in the room, very kitschy in a stylish way
– Can Marti (Ibiza): agriturismo that is totally eco — they rely on solar power, collect water and purify it, and they have an organic farm too but they do not sacrifice style and comfort
– Chambre Avec Vue (Saigon in the Provence, France) – stylish B&B run by an artist set in a tiny village in the Provence; artistic installations in the garden, quiet location away from all the tourists

7) Your top 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?
– Ceviche in Lima: the real thing, with real aji peppers (very spicy) and fresh seafood; beats any ceviche I’ve eaten outside Peru
– Ramen noodle soups in Japan: the broth is rich, vegetables are fresh, noodles very savoury for under 8 EUR per bowl
– Boudin noir at Afaria, a restaurant in Paris: never thought boudin noir could taste like this

8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
My worst travel experiences are not related to a particular destination, rather, it’s the manner of travel and transit. By far the worst experiences are with US airlines which now charge you for sandwiches even in business class (United) and even drinks and blankets. The airplanes are ancient. US airports are also a disaster. They are decrepit and sad, and the security personnel are always screaming and yelling at passengers.

What we used to call “Third World” airlines, for example, LAN (Chile) and TACA (El Salvador), have new planes and very good flight attendants. Their airports – San Salvador and Lima – are also brand new and civilized. Airports in Asia such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong are modern and distinctly un-Third World. So are the Asian airlines.

Worst café experience: Starbucks, which serves muddy water with coffee grinds mixed in

9) Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accommodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
I am currently in San Francisco so here are my tips:
– avoid Fisherman’s Wharf which has bad food, lots of tourists; go instead to the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. It has artisanal cheese shops, good restaurants (Boulette’s Larder is my favorite) and good vegetarian Japanese food (Delica)
– take a stroll or a run in the Presidio which is beautiful, filled with trees, very quiet, and ends at Golden Gate Bridge
– hang out in the Mission / Valencia St. area near Dolores Park for good coffee and a younger crowd

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?
Favorite places in SF? Ozumo, Olea, Okina Sushi, Lahore Karahi, South Food and Wine Bar, Mitchell’s Ice cream, Bi-Rite creamery ice cream, Blue Bottle Coffee
Favorite places in Amsterdam? Quattro Gatti, Terang Boelan (Indonesian takeaway in the Jordaan), Pompadour (chocolates and pastries)

Favorite adventure destination? trekking to Macchu Picchu for several days and spending time in Cusco, Peru

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, Esme. I take it you don’t want to link to your other blogs here. and: For a connoisseur like you it is about time to check out The Hague properly:-)

10 Questions For (6): Miss Expatria

Happy to introduce Miss Expatria to you.

Who is Miss Expatria?
Who is Miss Expatria?

1) Who Are you?
Why, I’m Miss Expatria, the Internet’s leading enabler of travel addiction! But my real name is Christine, and I grew up on the Jersey Shore. I spent a couple years of my childhood traveling around the U.S. with two national touring companies of Annie, and was a union card-carrying actor and singer until my early twenties.

I moved to New York at 17, and graduated from NYU. Various jobs followed: Running an experimental school project in the South Bronx; being the leather and suede expert for a Famous American Designer; and working at an ad agency, where I kept track of the money and logistics necessary to mail half a billion credit card offers a year. (Yes, that was me. Sorry!)

In late 1999, I took a trip to Rome and decided I had to live there. I came home, convinced my bosses to let me do my job virtually, and moved to Rome in 2002. In 2004 I met Paris-born, Jersey-raised Bartolomew (“Cal” on my blog), where he lives in Montpellier, France; now I kind of live here, too. We are both freelance writers.

I say I  kind of live here because I spend a significant portion of each year living my œrea life in Rome; I hope to return there permanently, soon, with Bart. Or maybe we’ll move somewhere else. Who knows?


Rome is Home

I’m obsessed with travel, being near the sea, fabulous hotels, delicious food, wine, writing and language in any combination, and preferably all at once.

2) What do you like about what you do?

I like getting enough sleep. I like not having to commute, sit through meetings or witness stunning acts of injustice in the name of office policy. I like that I am solely responsible for what I produce.

But my favorite thing is being paid for doing what I love. I’ve had a lot of fascinating jobs in my life, but I was meant to write.

3) What don’t you like about what you do?

I don’t like the inconsistent income. I’m much better at budgeting and long-term planning when I know the money situation well in advance. Another thing I don’t like – although I hope one day this will change – is that taking an “unplugged” vacation is not an option. Lastly, writer’s block is very real and very, very annoying.


Writer’s block

4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it.

From a business perspective, I can show Miss Expatria to prospective clients who want me to write about Europe. But on a personal level, writing as Miss Expatria gives me the chance to explore what it means for me to live the way I do, and what it is in others that makes them want to pack a bag and go – whether i’s for a week or a lifetime. I’m obsessed with discovering the root of that desire.

Technically, I have a lot of work to do on my blog – I’ve linked my Miss Expatria to my Tumblr, my Tumblr to my Twitter, and my Twitter to my Facebook and everything to my Flickr account – but I have to get a domain name, monetize it, seek sponsorship. I’m such an Internet dilettante!

My ultimate career goal, of which the Miss Expatria blog is an integral part, is to make a living writing about travel from my own perspective in a way that inspires others to follow their dreams to the arrivals gate at their favorite destination.

5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?

Venice. It’s like a city from my childhood dreams. If New York is my first love and Rome is my soul mate, Venice is the crush tha’s way out of my league. I’s almost too perfect for me.

Barcelona. Once I leave Las Ramblas, the city comes alive for me. I feel devastatingly hip and fabulous every moment I’m in Barcelona. I love the architecture, the people, the food, the wine, the vibe, and being in a major city that has a beach at the end of the street.

The Disney Institute. My grandparents won a fair sum in the lottery and took the whole family on a vacation to the Disney Institute, where we each did exactly and only what we wanted. My mom, cousin and I took classes at the Institute, which were fascinating. I also had an excellent massage, and an entire pool to myself one afternoon while everyone else went to the park. It was while floating in that pool that I decided to do whatever I could to make my life be more like a vacation.

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?

La Casa sul Mare, Procida, Italy. A wonderful hotel on an underrated island. Each room has its own terrace with deck chairs, eating space and an amazing view. Room service breakfast is enormous, delicious and costs a euro. The bathroom was immaculate and featured a large shower with great water pressure. There was nothing about this hotel I didn’t like.

Bellevue Stratford, Philadelphia. Sadly, this hotel no longer exists. It was a grand dame of a place. Room service was served with linen and silver and domed covers that the staff removed with a flourish. And, I met the real Santa Claus in the lobby. But, that’s a story for another time.

Point Village, Negril, Jamaica. It wasn’t a particularly luxurious place, but it was very low-key for an all-inclusive resort – there were no mandatory kumbaya activities or sloppy-drunk spring breakers. I lived in a bathing suit, ate nothing but fresh fish and fruit, read about 47 books and never had to carry a purse. The rooms were simple, cleaned to within an inch of their lives – but with the sun, sea and swim-up bar awaiting me, I didn’t spend much time in the room.


La Casa sul Mare

7) Your top 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?

New Year’s Eve 1993, The Quilted Giraffe, New York. (Old school New York foodies, holla!) In our early 20s, a dear friend and I went through most of New York Zagat’s Top 50 list on his dime. We had been to the QG several times before; but on this evening it was the last dinner service, as the space was being converted to what is now Sony Wonder. We toured the kitchen, and Mr. Wine let us eat the last of his famous caviar begga’s purses after midnight! We received a beautiful Tiffany plate commemorating the Last Supper, and Mrs. Wine treated us with respect even though it was obvious we really had no business being there. We felt like Truman Capote and Babe Paley. It was the most glamorous dinner I’ve ever attended.

August 2004, Procida, Italy. I don’t remember the name of the place. In fact, I don’t know if it even has a name, and I think we were their only customers. We had one of the most delicious meals of my entire life – giant bruschette with different toppings, and ridiculously buttery mussels over perfectly al dente linguine. We went back the next night and ordered the same meal, but with more wine, and it was awesome all over again.

May 2004, Tapas hopping in San Sebastian, Spain. We were five foodies who flew in from three countries. We pooled our money and set out to tapas-hop until we dropped. We had a lengthy succession of the tiniest, most perfect foods I’ve ever known. They were even better than the three-star Michelin dinner we had the next night. That city loves them some food, and it shows.

8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?

You know, the experiences that come to mind in response to this question I wouldn’t categorize as the worst, or even particularly bad; I would say instead that they were disappointing to me personally.

Although I had an amazing time during a much-needed vacation at a five-star beachfront resort, I was confused and disappointed by what seems to have become of Marbella, Spain. As an expat, I got a kick out of eating American food and speaking in English; but I couldn’t understand the appeal for the Americans, and I certainly can’t say I experienced Marbella. I could’ve been anywhere.

I was very uncomfortable with the assumption that guests should ignore the living conditions outside our compound’s walls in Negril while embracing the tourist-friendly aspects of the culture inside. As I said above, I had a great time; but seeing unimaginable poverty after having been a tan, well-fed, well-rested guest in their country, it felt like a lie.

When I lived in New York I once went to a Korean restaurant with a large group of friends, where I paid a hefty sum to cook my own food, one piece at a time, on a small grill. I failed to see the charm.

9) Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accommodations / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?

I don’t love Montpellier, but don’t let that stop you. It’s a great place to visit if you want a convenient base from which to travel around Southern France, and it’s four hours by train from Nice, Paris and Barcelona. The city’s sights are well documented, so I’ll just give you personal favorites:

1. Go to the beach! Rent a chaise longue and have people bring you frosty beverages all day; feast on fresh seafood all night. In Palavas-les-Flots is a bar that serves six oysters and a glass of chilled white wine for 5 euros for an aperitif. I highly recommend it.

2. Reserve an entire day for taking your very own achingly winsome photos of the painted shutters and tree-lined roads of Southern France.

3. Sip a cafe in the Place de la Comedie and watch the world go by for an afternoon. It’s the Frenchest thing to do ever, except go on strike.


Achingly Winsome Photo

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?

Nope! Thanks for asking me to play!

10 Questions For (5): Karen Bryan of the Europe A La Carte Blog

Ehm Sorry for this. I just upgraded this blog to WordPress 2.1.6 and because I didn’t know exactly how to handle the interface, accidentally deleted this post and probably the comments as well. I reposted as soon as possible. The lay out may differ a bit now.

Happy to introduce Karen to you.


Karen Bryan practicing Meet the Blogger when I showed her The Hague

1) Who Are you?
I’m the founder and editor of the UK based Europe a la Carte, which focuses on authentic travel in Europe on a modest budget. I started the site in 2002 in response to the growing number of travellers putting together their own trips by booking low cost airlines and their own accommodation online.
In October 2006 I started the Europe a la Carte blog and in June 2008 I took on a team of bloggers to transform Europe a la Carte to a multi author blog.

In July 2008 I created the Euravelers travel social network so members could exchange tips and advice to revel in their travels discovering the real Europe.

But that’s only part of who I am. i work part time as a freelance social research interviewer. I met my beloved husband more than 30 years ago and we have 21 year old twin sons. I’m a Scot living in Berwick upon Tweed in the north east of England.

2) What do you like about what you do?
I love travelling in Europe, especially to places that are not so well know to tourists, so running site on this topic is so interesting for me. Of course there’s never enough time and money to see all of Europe. Running a travel site and blog may sound glamourous but the vast majority of my time is spent sitting at the computer.

I’ve made friends and contacts from all the world that I would have never been able to meet without the internet like the Happy Hotelier whom I’ve met twice, firstly at the Travel Bloggers Summit at the ITB in Berlin in March 2008 and more recently at the citizemM launch in Amsterdam in June 2008.


Two Great Bloggers: Karen (R) and me (L)

3) What don’t you like about what you do?
I’m a non techie person, fortunately one of our sons in a computing student so he’s my IT consultant. It’s very frustrating not being able to do all things techie yourself or taking ages to do a simple thing.
I’m hopeless at proof reading and never notice my own errors, even after reading a piece several times. It’s very hard to get noticed as an independent travel blog. It’s always said that if you have good, unique content you’ll succeed but that’s really isn’t enough. This was highlighted to me when I started writing for Wandalust which is part of the Creative Weblogging network of more than 130 blogs, so it has 130 links before any content is added. It’s similar story for travel blogs which are an extension of a newspaper or print magazine which already has an established readership. I also think part of the problem lies with the blog label, which I believe alienates many potential readers, sometimes I think that I should rename the blog an “interactive online travel magazine.

Europe a la Carte takes up so much of my time, that I don’t have enough time for family and friends.

4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it
I started the Europe a la Carte blog after receiving an email from a Tourism student writing her dissertation about travel business blogs. I was intrigued by the notion of a business blog as until then, I’d thought of blogs as online personal diaries. I did some reading and it was all so positive that I thought I’d start a blog on my site. Well it was the right decision as the blog now accounts for more than 80% of site traffic. Blogs are great from bringing traffic even if you’re not a Search Engine Optimisation expert.

As I want my blog to be the best resource for travelling off the beaten track in Europe I made the decision in June 2008 to transform it to a multi author blog and recruited a team of bloggers. I realized that I couldn’t write a wide enough variety and volume of content myself.  In some ways it was hard to relinquish control of the blog. But it was more than that, I thought that the blog might become impersonal and lacking in coherence having several writers. However so far it’s all gone very well and I’m not feeling put out that some of the content from the blogging team outshines my own efforts.  I’ve never really considered myself as a travel writer. Although it sounds very mundane, in some ways, I think of myself more of a collator of travel information rather than a travel writer.

5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
We had a three week family holiday to California in 2001. It was pretty hard to find a destination which we’d all enjoy as our sons were 14 at the time. We spent one week in San Francisco and we all loved it. One of our sons was into to skateboarding, so he was in skateboard heaven. I was a big fan of “The Streets of San Francisco” starring Michael Douglas as a youngster and it was great to finally make it to the city, there I was riding a cable car and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought that the the variety and quality of the food in restaurants in San Francisco was amazing, great Mexican, Chinese and Vegetarian restaurants. The whole Bay area was very beautiful.

We spent our 20th wedding anniversary in Rome.  I call Rome a living museum that because wherever you turn there are amphitheatres, temples, medieval streets, squares and Renaissance palaces. Rome is one of these evocative places I’d pictured in my mind whilst reading about the Roman Empire during history lessons and seen in various films. I was totally overawed by Rome.

I have to say that I’ve only truly appreciated parts of my own country, Scotland, whilst doing research for Scottish destination guides for my site. There were areas that I thought I knew but realised that I didn’t when I spent more time there. A couple of years ago I decided that I was neglecting Scotland, partly blinded by my love of Italy. I also believed that more UK residents would take holidays on home shores due to concerns about the environment and the hassle and expense of flying abroad so it would be a good thing for the site to have more content about the UK.


The view from The Knock, Crieff, Perthshire. Scotland

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
The Masseria San Domenico in Puglia, Italy has to be the most beautiful hotel in which I’ve ever stayed. The Masseria has been restored and extended. The outdoor pool is filled with filtered sea water is large and alluring, our room was low key but beautifully furnished and there was a terrace outside. I love Lake Iseo in Lombardy in northern Italy. I’ve stayed in a few different hotels and apartments there but overall for location by the lakeside with wonderful views and value for money I’d nominate the four star Ulivi
Hotel
in Paratico on the south western shore of Lake Iseo. There is a good selection of restaurants and cafes within easy walking distance.  Double rooms cost as little as 60 euro including an excellent buffet breakfast.


Hotel Ulivi pool with views of Lake Iseo

I often stay in Travelodges in the UK and if you book at least 21 days in advance you can find family rooms for as little as £19. Not all Travelodges are at service stations in the middle of nowhere, there are some in city centres.

7) Your top 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?
We spent three nights on half board at the Wide Mouthed Frog, a seafood restaurant with rooms near Oban in the north west of Scotland. The fresh seafood was so good.

The Grange Restaurant in North Berwick, east of Edinburgh has freshly prepared dishes using local produce.  The three course lunch menu costs £9.95. Then you can have a walk along the beach and enjoy views over to the Bass Rock.


North Berwick beach with a view to the Bass Rock

When I’m in France and Spain I”ll generally have the “Menu of the Day” which costs around 15 euros for three courses and I don’t think I’ve ever had an awful meal.

8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
The Hotel Villa Maya near Pisa in Italy which I christened the Boot Camp because of all the rules, regulations and extra charges.  What upset me is that it was the most expensive overnight stay on our one week tour of Tuscany and Umbria in May 2008 and I choose it because of it’s alleged charm and atmosphere

The Lodge Hotel in Hunstanton in Norfolk, the reviews were good and the hotel looks very attractive on the exterior. It is a listed building, a former Dower House which has retained some period features. However when we entered our room it was as though we were in a different building. Our room was small, totally lacking in charm or character, with bland white furniture, a ripped sheet and patches of mould growing on the shower tiles. The breakfast was not great, no fresh fruit, warm fruit juice and rubbery fried eggs. It cost £65 a night and the £15 Travelodge room in which we stayed on our way home was far superior.

My worst experience was on the overnight ferry returning from Netherlands to Newcastle during very rough weather.  I was so sea sick and it was awful to know that I was stuck on the boat for the whole night.

9) Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accommodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
I’ve lived in the town of Berwick upon Tweed in the far north eastern corner of England for two years. It is rather confusing as there’s a North Berwick on the east coast of Scotland, around 45 miles north of Berwick upon Tweed.   Berwick upon Tweed lies three miles from the border with Scotland, on the estuary of the River Tweed. It’s a beautiful town with intact Elizabethan town walls and a beach at Spittal.

The best things to do in Berwick are the walks:

a – You can walk around the town walls and along the pier encountering very little traffic.


Berwick upon Tweed pier

b – Walk along the riverside and spot many birds such as herons, cormorants and the large colony of mute swans. Sometimes the seals come quite far up the river.

c- Walk along Spittal Beach with views of Bamburgh Castle and Holy Island to the south.

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?

Happy Hotelier I think I’ve been interrogated sufficiently.

Thanks a lot, Karen. This must be the longest post I’ve ever seen you writing. I do believe the multi author policy is rocketing your Blog!

Last edited by Happy Hotelier on Thursday, October 15, 2009