Whenever I travel to a foreign country and have access to a television, I am always compelled to watch something so that I can soak up the local language and culture. I’ve done this in Mexico, Costa Rica, Hungary, Australia, Thailand, Japan, Spain and Portugal. When I visit countries which speak a language I can understand, I make an effort to listen and understand the language. For example, I can catch bits and pieces of Japanese when watching Japanese television, because I have had a lifelong exposure to Japanese programs. When in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Spain, I understood the majority of what I watched and heard on television, and I felt that it boosted my cultural understanding of the country I was visiting.
When I was in Hungary, I got a chance to watch Family Guy with Hungarian overdubs, which was truly bizarre but also quite fascinating. Then when I visited Spain, I caught a few episodes of the Spaniard version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, as well as another Spain-based game show, and was pretty surprised when I was able to follow the shows in their entirety without any struggle. My experience watching TV in Spain made me even more courageous about speaking Spanish while I explored Barcelona and Girona. Even in Sydney, Australia, I got a kick out of the language nuances and cultural differences which were revealed in the programs I watched.
Who else has a habit of catching television shows while traveling abroad?
Whenever I travel to a foreign country, I make an effort to visit a grocery store, because I always learn so much about the local culture, foods, language and currency by doing so. I first did this sort of by accident when I visited Budapest Hungary in September of 2014, simply because I needed to purchase drinking water. When I walked into the small market which was across the road from my hotel, I was fascinated by the different local foods which were on display. I also enjoyed observing other patrons as they conversed with the grocery store clerk.
I didn’t get a chance to visit a grocery store while abroad until 2020, when I traveled to Japan, but I managed to visit numerous grocery stores all over the country, so I was able to observe differences between prefectures. I also rather quickly noticed that bottles of sake were much cheaper than what I have seen in the States, while fresh produce was almost prohibitively expensive. As an example, I saw 4000 ml bottles of sake (that’s more than a gallon!) for 2199 yen, which is about $16.50 USD now. I also saw a baby watermelon at a market in Sendai which cost almost $12 USD (1580 Yen). Here are some fun images from my mini field trip to Ozeki Super Market.
I continued my exploration of foreign countries via visits to grocery stores when I traveled to Portugal and Thailand on separate trips in 2022. While in Portugal, I had to fend for myself for six days as a solo traveler, so I interspersed a few restaurant meals in Vila Nova de Gaia with some home-cooked meals which I prepared in the flat I rented. Once in Lisbon, however, I had to confine my grocery shopping to items which didn’t have to be cooked or heated up. I was fortunate enough to find an incredible garlic and herb goat cheese (queijo de cabra atabafado con alho y ervas) which was absolutely delicious, so I had several salads featuring arugula, cucumber, and olive oil with that magical cheese crumbled in.
I also found some delicious branzino fillets and gernika peppers which I prepared a couple of times in the flat, and also found a delightful vinho verde which was a perfect accompaniment to my meals. Though the trek to and from the grocery store was punctuated by a one mile uphill walk to the market, and a return walk encumbered by the heavy grocery bags in my hands and also in my backpack, I happily did it three times during my stay in Vila Nova de Gaia. I did struggle with the Portuguese language while at the checkstand, but somehow survived the experience and actually enjoyed the adventure.
Agua con gas (sparkling water), roasted gernika peppers, baked branzino, arugula and goat cheese salad
When I went to Thailand with my cousin in September of last year, we were intent on finding grocery stores both in Chiang Mai and on Koh Samui so that we could purchase wine and snacks for our hotel suites. We were able to find two very well stocked markets in both regions, but since we had no access to microwaves or stoves, we couldn’t purchase food items which had to be cooked. I did, however, come up with an emergency meal idea while shopping for food on Koh Samui, in case we found ourselves trapped in our suite for whatever reason. As it turned out, one day presented itself with a heavy downpour, so we were indeed trapped inside our hotel room for a portion of the day. I grabbed the emergency meal items and put them together for a healthy meal, pictured below.
Cold tofu with cucumbers, soy sauce, and chili pepper flakes
After my experiences shopping in grocery stores while traveling abroad, I am firmly convinced that one’s travel experience can be greatly enhanced by going grocery shopping. It’s a fantastic way to learn a great deal about a foreign country.
Thailand is one of only three countries which I have visited more than once, and I will always carry a fondness for its culture, its food, and its incredibly gracious people. I visited Thailand a second time in September of 2022, and ended up staying in the same regions as I had in 2018: Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, and Bangkok. While on Koh Samui, I had a strong desire to go to the beach, but my cousin and I had only three days to fully explore the island, so I wasn’t sure if we could squeeze in a beach day. In addition, there was a bit of rain which, pun intended, put a damper on our beach plans for the first two days.
Then on our third and final full day on Samui, the weather cleared up, and we decided to spend the day at Chaweng Noi Beach, the beach which was a stone’s throw from the resort at which we were staying. We ended up ordering lunch right on the beach, and also managed to polish off a couple of bottles of wine over the course of several hours. When we felt ourselves overheating, we decided to go into the Gulf of Thailand’s waters, and were rewarded with crystal clear water which was the temperature of a perfect bath. We had also discovered that some previous hotel patrons had left two pool floats there for other patrons to use, so we grabbed them and went back into the water, atop which we floated for a good hour or more.
Whenever I return to Thailand, and specifically find myself on Koh Samui, I plan to visit Chaweng Noi Beach to experience the same perfect beach day that I had been so fortunate to have experienced in 2022.
A nice sunset shot from my final evening in Porto, Portugal
During the spring of 2022, I traveled to Spain and Portugal on a bold solo trip which had its share of frustrations and glitches, but I was very proud of myself for enduring all the problems. Since I speak a decent amount of Spanish, Spain presented no language issues for me, but it was an entirely different story when I was in Portugal, because I only know a few Portuguese words. Nevertheless, I was bound and determined to enjoy my stay in Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto.
I stayed at a lovely AirBnB in Vila Nova de Gaia which had a beautiful view of the Douro River and the town of Porto across the river. For four days straight, I would explore the wine caves on Vila Nova de Gaia (VNdG) side, walk all over VNdG and Porto, visit the grocery store to get authentic Portuguese food items, and dine in various restaurants in VNdG. I was completely free to do whatever struck my fancy, and I loved the entire experience so much that it was hard to leave and move on to Lisbon, which I didn’t enjoy nearly as much.
On my final night in VNdG, I decided to stay out as late as possible so that I could absorb as much of the sensory stimuli as I could. That final night turned out to be extraordinary, punctuated by a fantastic meal at a riverside restaurant, some lovely vinho verde, and fun conversations with other travelers. The sun began to set around 8:20, which was incredibly late for that time of the year. Even after the sun had completely set around 8:50 pm, the sky was a very vivid cobalt blue.
Another beautiful image from that magical night…
Live music was playing at a couple of restaurants, the river water was glistening, the crisp air was refreshing, and my heart felt so full while taking it all in. That night, I honestly fell in love with VNdG and Porto, and resolved to visit again. At some point, I will definitely return to VNdG and Porto, hopefully with a romantic interest in tow, because the area is so replete with romantic energy.
One more image from one of my favorite evenings of my life…
If you are looking for an absolutely gorgeous place to visit which has plenty of fresh seafood, great wines, and interesting culture, consider visiting VNdG and Porto.
I traveled to Budapest, Hungary in September 2014 and spent a week taking in the sights, struggling with the Hungarian language, and consuming Hungarian cuisine. I was very fortunate to have connected with two photographers in Budapest shortly before I left the U.S., and I was able to schedule photo shoots with both. The first photographer was extremely hospitable and took me for a city tour of Budapest the day before our planned shoot. The next day, I got even more of a tour of the city since the photographer and his girlfriend were so enthusiastic about showing me certain parts of the city.
About midway through my stay in Budapest, I shot for an entire day with the second photographer, and though I became a bit fatigued after traveling and shooting all over Pest side, I looked forward to shooting on Buda side as well. We didn’t reach Buda side until early evening, and since the temperature was starting to drop, I quickly changed into my final look for the last set of the day, a black minidress with black heels. The photographer set up in such a way that Hungarian Parliament would be in the background of each image in the set. If you haven’t seen the Hungarian Parliament building, it is an architectural marvel, and it is especially dazzling at night because the entire building is illuminated.
The photographer asked me to stand near the Danube River so that he could check exposure and framing, so I walked over to the designated spot. As soon as I did so, a very fine rain mist started falling, and though I was in a sleeveless minidress, the drizzle and the air felt refreshing. We began shooting, and the church which the photographer was standing in front of chimed 7 times, marking the 7 o’clock hour. I will never forget the church chimes, the light rain, the crisp air, and the glow of the illuminated Hungarian Parliament building. It was a beautiful, magical moment.