The funny, silly, and strange side of traveling

Oftentimes, I use my blog therapeutically.  It’s first and foremost a place to express myself, my observations, some of my deepest feelings.  It’s also a place to share and to give you insight into my world and how I see it.  And I often get inspirational comments from readers, which brings everything full circle and truly makes blogging a rewarding experience.  Thank you for being a part of it.

I’d like to use this blog to talk about some sillier or more mundane parts of travel.  Because that’s a part of my experience too.

Let’s start with “bris”.  Here in Spain, I see almost everywhere, in huge letters, the word “bris”.  Graffitied on walls, like street art or a gang sign.

But what you need to know, if you haven’t already caught why this is funny for me, is that “bris” is the Hebrew word for circumcision.  So everywhere I turn in southern Spain, I see beautifully graffitied, street-smart bold letters proclaiming “cut penis”.  It’s a joke lost on the entirely un-Jewish populace, but they say Spaniards have a lot of Jewish DNA from the forced conversions of the Inquisition.  So maybe even though they haven’t had a bris, once upon a time, their ancestors did. 🙂

Here’s a strange observation from Europe.  Europeans can have some pretty strong stereotypes about Americans.  Mostly based on Hollywood- often without ever having visited.

I often think in some ways Europeans are truly superior to Americans when it comes to certain policies.  Like healthcare.

One thing they are rather behind on is water.  Something you’ll never hear about in a foreign policy magazine 🙂 .  Almost everywhere you go in Europe, you have to buy bottled water.  In restaurants, tap water is usually not an option, even though it is almost always safe.  What a waste of plastic!

Now I’ll share a bit of a funny story.  In Israel, water, despite being a precious commodity in a desert country, has to be given to anyone in any establishment for free.  Even if you’re not patronizing it or buying anything.  It’s great.  America, while not quite on that level, is a big fan of tap water.

So I was quite surprised when I visited the Jewish Museum of Budapest.  I had paid to get some genealogical research done and while I was waiting, I went to fill up my water bottle at the cooler.

The researcher said: “you didn’t ask.”

I responded: “oh, OK…can I have some water?”

And her reply: “yes, in our country you ask first.”

Whew!  Next time you’re in Budapest, think twice before pressing the water tap!

Another funny thing.  In Brussels, you can ride public transit without buying a ticket- but at the risk a conductor will ask for it, and fine you accordingly.  The Belgians developed a rather clever app.  It lets you check online for the last time someone spotted an inspector on a particular route.  So when I got on the bus- unable to find a local ticket vending machine- my new Spanish-Jewish friend said: “don’t worry, they haven’t checked on this line for 20 minutes.”  I thought Israelis were lawless, but Belgians have their own little ways of rebelling 🙂

Slovenia is known for its dairy products.  I was staying in a suburb of Ljubljana, an outlying neighborhood.  I walked towards a mountain.

On the way, I spotted the most curious device.  It was a vending machine- the type you’d usually see filled with Kit Kats, Twix, and cookies.  But with fresh dairy products from the local farm- which you could see right next to it.

So, feeling thirsty, I bought some milk.  And feeling hungry, I got some yogurt.  B9, A12.

That’s how you do breakfast in Slovenia!

Speaking of vending machines, I’ve seen some interesting ones.  In several countries, including Spain, I’ve seen condom vending machines!  On the street.  Even some that sold lube.

The other day, walking around in Spain, I noticed the vending machine as I saw old women walking by.  Who, if they noticed it all, seemed to care far less about it than about the latest gossip in the neighborhood.

In a place where 50 years ago, the public schools were Catholic.  With crosses hanging in every room.

Belgium is known for a few things.  Chocolate, fries (don’t call them French!), and beer.  Mostly, carbohydrates.  But what you may not know is Belgium is the home to the best rugelach I’ve ever eaten.  Rugelach, for those who don’t know, is a Jewish pastry.  In Israel, the form it takes is kind of like a fluffy sweet croissant with some sort of filling- fruit, chocolate, etc.

In Belgium, I was in Antwerp, in the diamond district.  The Jewish part of town.  Even the shopping area is called “Meir”, a Jewish name.  Golda’s surname.

I was hungry and knew there was Jewish food.  Unlike in Eastern Europe where the food was quite familiar, but the dead Jews outnumbered the living ones, in Belgium, there is still a living community.  With amazing bakeries.

I bought three cinnamon rugelach.  On the outside, they look the same as they do in Israel.  But on the inside- it tasted like French Toast.  Gooey, sticky, delightful.  Warm, lip-smacking good.

So good that after four steps away from the shop, I made hard turn back and bought three more.

Belgium- home of waffles and delightful food that will clog your system for days.  Including the world’s best rugelach!  And a lot of cell phones whose ringtones are the Islamic call to prayer, where for a moment I felt time-warped back to Yaffo.

Romania.  Aaaaaaaah Romania Romania Romaaaaania Romania!  Romania is a silly place.  One of the things I love about Romania are the Gypsies (more properly termed, “Roma”).

Frankly, in Romania I kind of look like one.  I started to appreciate this highly stigmatized group after a cute Roma kid kept winking at me on a bus.  Romania’s public transit doesn’t seem to have improved much since communism- it mostly relies on really bumpy van rides that take twice as long as a car.  But are still shorter than the even slower train.  Romania is a good place for a scenic ride…

So this kid winking and smiling at me made my ride a bit better.  I started to learn that it was pretty easy to spot Roma.  Not just physically (although yes, both their skin color and facial features are a lot more like my Semitic ones than those of the typical Transylvanian).  Also, they wear the most interesting clothes.  As if they are out of a Western movie.

Roma men tend to wear cowboy boots and cowboy hats!  The women dress in colorful skirts.

I hardly expected to see men in Romania who reminded me of Chicanos in the Southwest, but that’s exactly what they look like.  Caramel skin, nice leather shoes.  And some of them I hear make great salsa.  I wish- I can’t say Mexican is my favorite food, but I miss a good quesadilla once in a while.

Which they make in San José, Spain, a seaside resort.  In a restaurant next to which lies a bakery.  From which I heard the word “Maramureș” shouted out loud.

Maramureș is a region of northern Romania.  And one of the cooks is from there.

Europe is a large, diverse place.  But it’s one where these days, you’re as likely to hear Romanian in Andalusia as you are in Bucharest.  A place where I had some of the best sushi of my life in Slovenia- with a chef straight from Osaka.  A place where I found my favorite Indonesian instant noodles in an Asian grocery store in the Flemish city of Antwerp.  Where right down the street, you can find the best rugelach in the world.

Europe- once a continent, now a global village.

To explore is to see things for yourself.

Author: Matt Adler - מטע אדלר

A compassionate multilingual Jewish explorer. Author of "More Than Just Hummus: A Gay Jew Discovers Israel in Arabic": & Join me on my journeys by reading my blog or following me on Facebook May you find some beauty in your day today. :)

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