Who Is a Traveller?

Travel is an amazing thing – it opens your eyes to the wonders of the world in all its glorious complexity. Travel teaches you to view the world in a more pragmatic way and to know your small, if not entirely insiginifigant, place in the grand scheme of the human race.

Travellers are not vacationers. They are not people who take two weeks off work a year to lay on a beach, or travel Contiki-style across 17 countries in 3 days.

No. Travellers are those stung by wanderlust.

Travellers are the people who never truly go home, even though at times in their life they find themselves in the place they are meant to call ‘home’. They are the people with the sparkle in their eye when they think about all the places they are yet to discover. They are the ones taking interest in the political, cultural and social events shaping countries never mentioned on the local news.

Travellers have a deep need to broaden their knowledge. To learn another language; to understand the history of another culture and to delve deep into the stories that have come together to shape what the world is today.

Travellers desire equality for all people. They know deep in their hearts that all humans should be treated equally regardless of birthplace. Travellers desire to strip the world of borders and restrictions and to give every person the same opportunity to discover the world as they have done.

Travellers are stripped of the biases placed on them during their childhood. They accept all people as they are. They wash away the fear of difference and see every person – regardless of race, religion, colour or language – as a potential friend.

Travellers are lonely souls, but have a network of friendships that can spread across the globe. Travellers understand this trait in others and reach out to strangers to form bonds of shared experience. Because travellers need those people around them. They need friendships with people who understand and support their passion for discovery. They require the acceptance of their chosen lifestyle; which many find impossible to gain from relationships with those left behind at home.

But most of all travellers are nomads. They are wanderers who deeply understand the value of things. They do not fear the future. They do not think of retirement plans and mortgages. They feel burdened by possessions and place the highest value on the things that cannot be measured in monetary terms – relationships and experiences.

Because travellers have figured it out. The meaning of life. They know in their hearts that everything will always work out in the end. That humans only need a few simple things to live. That memories are priceless, and that wanderlust is achievable.

A Toast to Champagne and Sparkling Wines

In December, we travel across the ocean to discuss one of nature’s gifts, Champagne! Champagne is a wine region in France, so only wines from this area may be properly called Champagne. Any “champagne” produced outside this region in France should be referred to as Sparkling Wine.

No other beverage in the world symbolizes a celebration better than Champagne/Sparkling wine. These beverages help usher in the New Year as well as weddings, birthdays, promotions and any other special occasions. This time of year is when approximately 80 percent of this beverage is consumed. At holiday parties, my catering company likes to set up a sparkling station near the front door, greeting guests with a festive glass of bubbly.

Wine speak

The Champagne region in France is located about 90 miles northeast of Paris. In the late 17th century, French Champagnes were formally recognized as a new style of wine. Champagne’s unique effervescence came about due to the cooler climate of northern France. Grapes from this region generally had not fully ripened nor totally fermented in the Fall when wines are traditionally placed in barrels. Over the winter, the champagne was dormant, then began fermenting once again in the Spring. This led to a fizzy beverage that was cloudy, due to the spent yeast floating in the barrels. At the time, this was considered an inferior product.

The French in the Champagne region created a new process to clarify their beverage. Instead of traditional barrel aging and storage, champagne was the first wine to be stored and aged in individual bottles with corks. This new process, Methode Champenois, (still in use today) involves inverting the bottles in racks and gently turning the bottles (riddling), to help the yeast collect in the neck of the bottle.

Next, the neck of the bottle is submerged in a brine solution that freezes the yeast section. The bottle is popped to expel the plug of yeast (disgorgement), resulting in a clear beverage. The champagne is then topped off with still (non-fermented) wine held in reserve for this purpose. A small amount of yeast and sugar are added to the bottle, then corked. This starts the second fermentation process. As the yeast consumes the sugar, a small amount of alcohol is created, as well as carbon dioxide. This allows the bottle to regain its fizz.

Today there are about 100 Champagne Houses in the Champagne region that are supplied with grapes or grape juice from over 15,000 local growers. Given the cooler climate, faster ripening grape varietals are used exclusively in this region; Chardonnay (used exclusively in Blanc de Blancs), Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (used with Chardonnay in Blanc de Noirs and Roses). There are three different methods to produce Champagne; the traditional Methode Champenois where wines ferment in individual bottles, the Charmat Process where wines are fermented in large steel vats and, third, the Artificial Carbonation process where wine is injected with carbon dioxide – which is the most inexpensive approach (and can lead to headaches). Quality Champagnes cost more due to the winery’s use of higher quality grapes, the blending of aged, still wines and the cost of storing the bottled Champagne for years before release.

There are three different styles of Champagne or Sparkling wines, ranging from light to medium to full body (based on the amount of time the yeast is left in contact with the wine). Also, sparkling wine’s sweetness levels ranges from Brut (dry) to Extra Dry (semi-sweet) to Doux (sweet).

Food and wine pairings

As discussed, the holidays are when the majority of Sparkling wines are consumed. They tend to be food friendly due to their higher acidity levels. This refreshing beverage is an ideal aperitif (lighter style is best) or can be used throughout a meal (heavier, more yeasty styles). They tend to match well with spicy and salty dishes. When served as an aperitif, my catering company tends to pair the lighter style Sparklings with sushi, smoked salmon canap├ęs, garlicky shrimp crostini, spicy chicken sate and grilled ahi tuna skewers with a wasabi aioli. They also pair well with goat cheese and semi-soft white cheeses that offer mild flavors.

Sparkling wines have been a house favorite for years. Personal favorites from California that I recommend include Schramsberg and Domaine Carneros, which we just visited this past October. On the French side, a smaller House that is receiving great accolades is Charles Ellner, whose Brut Champagne Seduction ($65) and Brut Reserve ($40) offer tremendous value for the money. Included in the following are suggestions from local merchants of Champagnes and Sparkling wines and their retail prices, which may vary:

Picks

$10 range

Pierre Delize Non-Vintage (NV) Blanc de Blancs – France – $7

Domaine Ste. Michelle (NV) Brut Columbia Valley – Washington State – $12

Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Nature – Spanish Sparkler – $10

Rotari Brut – Italian Sparkling (not from the Asti region) – $12

Daniel Pardiac Brut Blanc de Blancs – France – $12

$25 – 40 ranges

Roederer Estate (NV) Brut – Anderson Valley, CA – $22

Domaine Carneros Brut Carneros – Napa Valley, CA – $25

Schramsberg Brut Blanc de Noir – Napa/Sonoma Counties, CA – $30

Joseph Perrier Brut – France – $26

Bollinger NV Brut – France – $40

Charles Ellner Brut Reserve – France – $40

Bob Kovacs of The Wine Seller in Geneva reminded me of Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “Champagne, in defeat you need it – in victory you deserve it!”

Happy Holidays and Cheers!

Travel Journals – Take Your Imagination on Vacation

Travel journals are supposed to be fun. We use them to capture our travel experiences on paper, so we never forget our journeys to places around the globe.

Are you and your travel journal getting along? Are you bored with it? Perhaps when you got home after a long trip, you fell out of love with your faithful companion. Now facing another trip, you are tempted to leave the trip diary at home.

This is a simple case of writer’s block. Writers experience boredom all the time. It is so common, that there are hundreds thousands of books and exercises that writers use to get themselves back on track.

If you are looking for ways to spice up your travel journal, here are some ideas.

Get a new trip journal. Select one that feels good. Does it bring you pleasure? Is the cover pleasing? Run your fingers along the pages. Do they have the right texture and weight? Does the journal fit you?

Pack your favorite pen. Write in your journal before you leave home to make sure the pen feels good on the pages. Bring a spare pen.

Show, don’t tell. It’s perfectly fine to say, “Today I saw the Eiffel Tower.” If you want to spice it up a bit, try something like this, “A sparkling blue sky shined through the lattice of the Eiffel Tower.”

Use your senses. We tend to write what we see, such as “saw the Washington Monument.” What we hear is the next most frequently used sense. If you were kept awake by a barking dog or a clanging elevator, write that down. Food is a big part of travel, so describe new taste sensations.

Touch and smell are often overlooked. When you held a local craft, what did it feel like? What did the air smell like? Smell is especially important because our memories are easily triggered by odor-even if we are just remembering the scent.

Describe your feelings. The world is filled with amazing sites. When you see something, how does it make you feel? Jot down your emotions. Record them even if you are disappointed. Perhaps you were looking forward to seeing the Liberty Bell, but someone stepped on your foot.

Play with words. Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway wrote a story using only six words: “For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” Although there is no proof that this notion came from Hemmingway, the six-word memoir is now popular. Try writing a six-word memoir every day you travel or one summarizing the entire trip.

Try stream of consciousness. This is when you write down anything that pops into your head. Do not censor anything as this clogs the process. Imagine looking at the Statue of Liberty. Write down anything that comes to mind, for instance, “green, big, windy, postcard, people from all over the world.” Without writing a complete sentence, you can capture the moment.

Make a gratitude list. If you are not sure about what to write, keep a gratitude list in your travel journal. By listing those things for which you are thankful, you focus on the highlights of the trip. Moreover, gratitude helps us maintain our perspective.

Travel journals are more than precious keepsakes. They add depth to our journeys and help us to see the world with new eyes. Have fun with your trip diary. Once the creative juices are flowing again, it is like falling in love.