An interview about drinking & traveling

caipirinhaWhen I’m not writing about drinking, I’m often writing about traveling. The daughter of two Europeans, I was taken along with my brother wherever our parents went–from France and Jamaica to Israel and Venezuela. I didn’t realize how lucky I was at the time, and as a result of all those journeys, I was bit by the travel bug at an early age. Experiencing different and foreign places, seeking adventures and exploring cultures are what I like to write about most.

At a recent adventure travel conference, I had the pleausre of spending time with a talented travel journalist and blogger, Ellen Barone, who invited me to do a Q+A for her blog about two of my favorite pastimes: drinking and traveling.

Of all the countries you’ve traveled to, who  are the heaviest drinkers and who are the lightest? 

The Brazilians love to party. I’m not sure if it has to do with the consumption of those potent, simultaneously sweet and tart Caipirinhas—touted everywhere as the Brazilian national cocktail—but after a couple, I had no trouble dancing the samba late into the night. The lightest would probably be in Israel. Israelis are not exactly known for their drinking prowess.

What’s your favorite country to drink in? 

While France first comes to mind, I’d have to say that Italy offers me a more diverse selection of drinks I like. An evening that begins with a glass of Prosecco, a Campari and soda, or a Negroni is bound to be a good one. I enjoy Italian wine, and then of course, what is better than a true Italian-made cappuccino?

If you’re a non-drinker, where’s the worst place to visit?

That’s a tough one. I can’t think of a place that I’ve been to where alcohol is not rooted in the culture—from Ouzo in Greece to Arak in Jordan. By the same token, many countries serve delicious, alcohol-free drinks with locally grown fruits. It’s easy to get hooked on passion-fruit smoothies in chicha moradaThailand and on Chicha Morada (made with purple corn, fruit, cinnamon and cloves) in Peru.

Is there a travel story in your book, Drinking Diaries?

There is a wonderful essay in our book, “Veni, Vidi, Bibi (I Came, I Saw, I Drank”), which is essentially the writer’s quest to find information about an Italian peasant woman whose image adorns the bottle of a liquor called Amaro Lucano and who may be the author’s ancestor. The writer, Helene Stapinski, travels back to her family’s southern Italian town of Pisticci, to get answers. The way she describes her encounters with the locals—all of whom attempt to serve her Amaro Lucano—is very colorful.

To read the complete interview on Travel Updates by Ellen Barone, please click here.

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Travel for a Taste of Local Libations

images-3One of the most fascinating elements of traveling to a new place is learning, exploring, and tasting what is indigenous to a particular culture. As a passionate traveler, I have had the good fortune of tasting Prosecco in Italy, tequila in Mexico, sherry in Spain, cachaca in Brazil, slivovitz (plum brandy) in Romania, and locally-made rose wine in Morocco. Just to name a few.

So it was with great interest that I read Daisann McLane’s recent piece in National Geographic Traveler, “’Cheers!’ to Local Libations,” in which she describes the taste experience and how connections deepen when drinks–both alcoholic and not–are shared in certain cultures.


A few years ago, my husband and I were sitting in a small trattoria in Cortona, Italy, and the waiter served us—and every other table in the tiny restaurant—a green alcoholic drink that was fragrant and earthy at the same time. My husband, an avid gardener and son of a former liquor storeowner, racked his brain to come up with the main ingredient of the liquid served in the narrow, clear glass. After nearly a dozen guesses, the waiter/restaurant proprietor finally revealed that it was a basil liqueur—a secret, family recipe. A homebrew made with pride.

Another sangria please!.JPGWe still talk about that evening, and the homemade liqueur that we have since never seen. I’d be interested to know if any of you have come across interesting libations during any of your travels—either home or abroad…

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The Friendly Skies—With Wine

airline tray with wineI love to travel. I’m the person that gets a pit of excitement in my stomach, knowing I’m hours away from getting on an airplane. Once in the air, I’m happy to pass the hours, reading, watching a movie, or just looking at the clouds below.

While I’ve never associated the two, I also love wine, but understand that the wine served tens of thousands of feet above the ground–in coach class, that is–in those mini twist-off bottles is simply drinkable, at best, and nothing more. I’ll rarely spring the 5 bucks for a mediocre, miniature bottle of wine.

Part of the investment for first and business-class passengers must be the wine, because they are drinking a whole different calibre of beverage (full disclosure: I’ve been one of those passengers on two occasions. It’s really nice up there.) Chosen from a selection of several reds and whites, business class wine is poured from a traditional 750 ml bottle. No twist offs for those folks.

As a matter of fact, the wine chosen for business class passengers has become such big business that there are awards for the category–the Wines on the Wing Airline Wine Competition. According to Global Traveler, a magazine for business and luxury travelers, in the most recent competition, 26 airlines submitted 46 white wines, 49 red wines, and 23 champagne or sparkling wines currently on their international Business Class and North American premium class wine lists for a blind taste test. Global Traveler is the only U.S.-based publication to conduct such a survey in the United States (see 2011 competition results here).

But things are looking up for domestic-flying wine drinkers in economy class. Airlines have recently begun offering more interesting selections, as listed on the Bottlenotes blog. And if you’re really particular about your vineyard and vintage, bring your own on board. You’ll cruise right through security with your own 50 ml (1.7 oz) bottles from the TastingRoom’s wine samplers.

Cheers. And safe travels.

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Flying to Mexico–Water? Coca? Tequila?

On a recent Aeromexico flight from New York to Mexico City, I sat cozily in my window seat, devouring my newspaper, magazines and book, respectively. The Mexican man to my left sported a navy Red Sox cap, Aeropostale blue jeans and some very shiny black patent leather shoes. He talked to no one, read nothing, watched nothing, and listened to nothing. And then, suddenly, I heard him speak when the flight attendant approached with her cart full of beverages.

While I replied to her beverage inquiry with my best “agua con gaz,” she then asked my Mexican neighbor what he’d like. “Agua? Coca? Tequila?” she asked. “Tequila,” he answered. She then gave him a list of choices for how he can have it, which I understood to be straight up, on ice, or with Coke or Sprite.

I kept my eyes on her as she traveled to the next row and then the next, watching that tall, thin Cuervo bottle lifted and poured more than any other beverage. No money changed hands.

Wondering about the time I looked at my watch. Yep, just as I’d thought, it was 12:00 in the afternoon and these imbibers comfortably sipped their Tequila way above the clouds. If this were a U.S. airline, they’d have to pay at least five bucks, would receive a teeny little twist-off bottle, and would probably get some funky looks from nosy neighbors–like me.

On the way back home from Mexico, again on Aeromexico, I sat next to a middle aged Mexican couple. The woman, directly to my left, seemed a nervous flier, gripping her husband’s hand during take off and closing her eyes through the flight listening to the music of a latin singer named Diego Verdaguer (I only know this because his crooning figure kept on showing up on her Ipad). When the post-meal beverage cart arrived and she asked for her tequila on ice, it was old hat for me.

I turned back to my book and thought: Viva La Diferencia!


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