(Haggis, neeps and tatties enjoyed in Scotland.) Reflecting on my adventure so far, I’ve found that some of the most interesting cultural differences are seen by food, people, scenery (and cows!). Here are my observations on what makes the heart of a country from a few of the places where I spent the most time since January:
Food – Fruit smoothies lead the way. I think I had one every day. After all the years of trying to find the right blender (yay Ninja!) and then the right book to figure out the right proportion of fruit + yogurt + other interesting taste, funny that I should fall in love with a smoothie made of fruit + water. I came home and made more for myself – I put some fruit, and some water, into my Ninja. I blend it. Done. So simple, so delicious, I can now throw out half my cookbooks, lol!
You can eat the most amazing meals for $5 in the local SODA. They are HUGE dishes – you get vegetables, salad, rice and a meat or fish of your choice. All the food groups covered, more food than you’ll ever be able to eat, done!
Alcohol – who needs it? You’re already in heaven. However, interesting that Costa Rica isn’t really known for alcohols. They do have a cane liquor and a national beer, but to me, alcohol is not part of its heart.
People – Everyone in Costa Rica seems delighted and happy with their life and who they are and how they are. I miss the “Con mucho gusto” that would be said every time I said thank you for something. Life is life (pura vida!) and happiness is all that matters.
Scenery – Everywhere you look, you see life being led simply, houses sometimes even look like they might fall over! 😮 But people are amazingly happy, fresh food is unbelievably cheap and animals are out in the wild instead of in zoos, an amazing sight! Nature is everywhere. In fact, unlike in other places that just have nature confined to a park, nature leads in all things. I had a very special connection with both the water – beaches are beautiful like the one pictured here – and the jungle feeling when you’re deep into it. And who doesn’t love a sloth? They are amazing creatures, should be one of the top things to see before you die.
Cows – since they brought them in from India, most of the cows are the white ones you’ll see there.
Food – Fish and pork lead the menu – it’s amazing how well they cook both. Even if you might get sick of eating them after a while, they are deliciously prepared! And I’m talking whole fish, where you take out the bones. I’m not usually a fan, but in Portugal I sure was. Sides are simple – usually fries, and it’s almost impossible to start a meal without olives! Note – restaurants will automatically serve you bread, olives, and possibly a 3rd item. You’ll think it’s complimentary, but it’s always for a fee. (Like $2 or $3). If you don’t want it, be sure to send it back before you start your meal.
Alcohol – Port! It’s amazing and it’s a lot cheaper in Portugal – a little too easy to polish off a bottle with friends in a few hours, but delightful! And, I had no idea it came in so many different types – try them all! Definitely something the country is known for.
People – The population is overwhelmingly aging, especially outside large cities. Unlike other places, where younger couples might move to the suburbs and away from the big cities, it seems like in Portugal, mostly older people are in small towns, and younger people are more present in the large cities. Older women wear clothes that seem to be from another time in the past. The stores don’t have much up-to-date styles.
When you pass by people, they often wear a scowl on their face, but when you say hello (“Bon dia” or “Butarde”) they light up and are very helpful. Even if I didn’t speak Portuguese, I was so touched by how many times a Portuguese person made it clear they were trying to help me (like get around a big rock on the street I was stuck behind with my car, use WiFi at a cafe after it closed,…), and did, and bent over backwards to be helpful.
Scenery – you can tell that Portugal is poorer than it’s European neighbors by the houses. Many are crumbling or have been demolished and are for sale. Most buildings seem to have the same color stones and roofs which sometimes makes each town seem similar. When you get to the mountains, it’s stunning. A lot of mountains have different trees and grass and plants and flowers growing so that, from a distance, it’s as if the landscape has different textures, something I’ve never seen before. Nature comes together as rough rocks on mountains and trees and wildlife, and the hiking is fantastic. One weird thing you’ll notice is the number of trees with the branches cut down. Because of the heat, Portugal has suffered some fires. So, to avoid these fires, they cut the tree branches, in the summer. This unfortunately kills the trees, so I’m not sure it’s helping, but it’s a sad sight.
Credit cards are almost never accepted, only debit cards or cash. Prices are sometimes so low it’s hard to believe. I’m curious what the future will bring.
Cows – russet red colors and majestic horns that curve and almost meet at the top. Sometimes they really did seem like divine bovines. A bit intimidating, but beautiful.
Food – haggis, salmon and steak. Hearty, and some of the most amazing freshness I’ve ever tasted! Apparently seafood is the best there because of their water. It’s no joke – their seafood is unbelievably good!. Haggis is delicious. It may sound disgusting but it tastes great! And, the locals will joke with tourists that haggis is a wild animal with one leg shorter than the other that roams the hills.
Alcohol – whisky! Specifically SCOTCH – goes wonderfully with the mist and the rain, and the cool weather on any day. The distilleries throughout the country are wonderful to visit and learn about the making of Scotch and the difference between a single malt and blended. What’s also truly delectable is the Whisky Cream Liquor! Not to be missed, and excellent in coffee. 🙂 Note that I left the “e” off “whisky” – yup, apparently in Scotland that’s how they spell it.
People – Everyone I met was amazing helpful. I mean, like ask a question, and not just answer it, but even help me go deeper for more information. Service was amazing in restaurants and in inexpensive B&Bs alike – just wonderful people willing to go way out of their way to be helpful. They also have some amazing history with inventions and creativity which are fascinating – they even claim to have invented ice hockey! Oh, and for the “Outlander” fans out there – yes, I asked. Many Scottish people are happy about the books because, souvenir sales apart, the story is historically accurate and has increased tourism to Scotland!
Scenery – The scenery is rolling green mountains as far as the eye can see. It inspires peace, happiness, and serenity. Sometimes I felt as if heaven had painted parts of Scotland, it was just so perfect. Even this photo reminds me of that feeling – it’s like the clouds are a hand holding a paintbrush that perfectly casts shadows and highlights on the mountains below and a reflective mist on the water….just amazing! The islands are simple and beautiful, though a wee bit windy. Of course Heather covers the ground so I felt right at home walking through myself. Ha! The fascinating thing to me is that whether the day was clear, or misty, every day was beautiful with the lush surroundings.
Cows – Hairy Highland cows, I love them! They captured my heart. Horns that curve up, and they are hairy like a dog, and though quite powerul, you really just want to pet all of them. Even the bulls seem friendly like the one pictured here. I certainly tried to pet as many as I could. 🙂 I love all cows, but something about their beautiful eyes and hair in the face made these seem almost human to me.