The way we travel.

A screen shot from my personal travel blog, Miss LaQuist.

A screen shot from my personal travel blog, Miss LaQuist.

Travel blogging—an idea unique to the last quarter-century; a platform that has shaped the way people share and research travel experiences, an activity that is in my opinion the dream job.

Travel blogging as a whole is hard to define, ranging from small series of posts targeted to independent travelers’ friends and family to mainstream sights teeming with practical information for the vacationing masses.  Some people have turned traditional forms of social media like Facebook and Instagram into a version of travel blogging.  Others use photography-centered sites like Flickr and Tumblr as their own form of a travel blog.  Platforms like WordPress and Blogger have made personal travel blogs more of a possibility than ever before.

Although the depth and range of travel blogs is highly subjective, one thing that is certain is that travel blogging in all its forms is growing.  Membership and page views to sites like Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor are increasing, attendance at blogging conferences has more than doubled in the past year alone, travel related tags and keywords are among the most popular on sites big and small.

Each form of travel blogging seems to have its own benefits and specific practicality.  Facebook, for example, has the greatest influence over the vacation choices of 25-34 year-olds.  TripAdvisor has the greatest impact on female booking habits.  Social networking sites as a whole have a large influence on hotel choices, travel methods, and dining options.

Personally, I find a different value in each of travel blogging’s different forms.  Mainstream sites like Lonely Planet are typically the dominant factor in my decisions on which cities to visit.  Small, independent travel blogs are my next step in investigating specific information on how to make the most of those cites.  Social media shapes my travels in a more abstract sense, influencing my attitude and approach to travel in general.

As broad is the range of value readers find in travel blogs, similarly is the range of value travel bloggers find in their content creation and aggregation.  Whether it’s a way to make money, to share experience with loved ones, to offer insight to the masses, to promote certain places and excursions, etc. every travel blogger and site has its own intended purpose. Personally, my travel blog Miss LaQuist is a type of public travel journal where my intended purpose is centered on documenting and finding personal value in my travel experiences.

At the end of the day, I believe that the future of travel blogging is bright.  This prediction is subjective, and would vary depending on how one defines travel blogging and its success.  For me, however, the steady increase in travel related blogs, readership, and interest are a positive sign in making my future dream job a reality.


(Dis)proving German Stereotypes, by a German

As a German student staying abroad for a long term and being recognized by my German appearance and accent, for the first time I really felt confronted with being a German and all its consequences as still rather negative stereotypes coming along…

1. Germans are humorless


angitop 10

Judging us by our politicians is just not fair…

The US sitcom “South Park” nominates the Germans as the most humorless nation of the world-but is it really true?

Some statistics show that there is the strong belief in Germany that only wealthy people can afford cynicism and sarcasm and carnival as well as comedy shows (especially American comedies including a lot of sexual innuendos are seen as dull and tasteless) are the last artificial and senseless attempt of Germans trying to be funny.

I believe that this opinion is rather represented by the huge part of either old or serious intellectuals of the population because I did not find any person in my age not laughing about RTL (the most famous tv channel in Germany) shows like “Bauer sucht Frau”, “Dschungelcamp” or “TV-total”

Even if you are belonging to the highly intellectual, there is something for you! Just take a look at the german version of the “Today Show”, the “Heute Show”, “Neulich im Bundestag” (political satire) or the music group “Monsters of Liedermaching-Salamandervorhautdiät” they are more or less meaningful.

2.   Germans are hard-working


Sure we are, that’s our success story! Achievement and success are at first rank for many germans but it seems like they start recognizing more and more other important values in life as the time for hobbies and relaxation as well as parties and friends is increasing and today about 84% of the Germans see themselves as open and sociable.

3.       Germans drink a lot of beer

It’s hard to deny that one. Having a beer after work (or even before) is a traditional german thing. A German drinks on average 125 liter beer each year. One reason might be that 16-years-olds are given the responsibility to continue with this tradition, and this legal age is often not even being followed.

On the contrary, the consumption of beer, especially of older people, has actually diminished! In 2005 about 55 percent of the male beer drinkers drank a beer several times during a week, shrinking to a number of 48 percent in 2010.

4.       Germans wear “Lederhosen & Dirndl”

 chinese oktoberfest

Traditional clothes like this are only necessary for Oktoberfest and in very rural areas of Bavaria.When I was in Munich during the Oktoberfest time, I had the feeling that there were more Asian girls with Dirndls in the city than Germans. (By the way, 19 percent of Oktoberfest visitors come from abroad, 14 percent of them from the US). In my opinion the Oktoberfest is only bearable completely drunk, and completely drunk usually means that you are bankrupt afterwards as a beer costs you almost 10 euros… But well that’s the price for the Germans’ liquid gold.

5.       Germans are disciplined

What might be true regarding the work attitude is definitely not true regarding the free-time behavior.


German boys are definitely approximating towards an “Italian behavior”. An exchange student for example told me that she was shocked in the beginning how German boys „kommen zum Punkt“ so fast. This means that they are fast flirters as they (in contrast to the picture on top) often enter the clubs, dance for a short time even with unknown girls, kiss them after a couple of minutes and take them home… So: be aware of German boys!

All in all I have to say that there actually are some german stereotypes which I’m proud of like our punctuality, ambition or reliability (even though I cannot really include me).                                                                                           

Stereotypes can be helpful in understanding another culture better. So if Germans don’t greet you as much as you are used to from Columbia, don’t be disappointed, it’s nothing personal, it’s just not a part of their culture as the contrary is here.                                 

I personally think that the biggest problem for Germans themselves is being concerned about our image. We often tend to see mainly what we consider as our weaknesses like being pessimistic which a lot of other countries do not even see. Americans for example regard us as very generous, Chinese think that we are slow and people from Costa Rica even consider us as open and very accessible!           

We need to be more self-confident and less self-pitying, which hopefully will make us appear happier and funnier!

How the Russian media cover Ukraine 2

U.S. media attention on the Ukrainian Revolution focused mostly protesters, and how President Barack Obama would react to the crisis. In Russia the crisis hits a little closer to home with Russia bordering the former Soviet republic of Ukraine.

Russian media coverage of the crisis has been mixed. Coverage of Ukrain dominates web pages of most major media outlets. Though most coverage is objective, some state media coverage is skewed to show Russia in a favorable light.

Here are stories about the Ukrainian Revolution from three different Russian media outlets. One is independently owned. The other is state run. The final outlet is a tabloid newspaper that is the most read newspaper in Russia.

Articles from each of the outlets were selected randomly based on how their prominence on the front page of each website. The dates this study was conducted were randomly selected on March 10, 12 and 19. On each of these days I read one article from each outlet. Summaries of the articles and links to them are included below. Stories I read were translated into English from Russian by Google Chrome. Please comment on this article and keep the conversation going about how the Russian media covers this story.

The Kommersant is independently owned by Alisher Usmanov, Russia’s richest man and the 4oth wealthiest person in the world. The Kommersant prides itself on independent journalism and tries hard to separate itself from when it was a state-run Soviet newspaper. It has a national circulation of 130,000 readers.

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This article ran on Monday, March 12.

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This article is a short article that summarizes what Serge Askenov, The Autonomous Republic of Crimea’s pro-Russian Prime Minister, says will happen to Crimean Tartars if the referendum to join Russia is passed. In the article he says that he wants to increase funding for Crimea’s native people if they have to resettle because of the vote. The article also explains that losing Crimea is not a huge loss for either Moscow or Ukraine.

Early on March 10 morning this article was featured front and center on the Kommersant’s home page. Later in the day more was added to this story. I looked at it just after Midnight CST on March 12, as the speech was happening. For this article we will just look at page 2; which is all that was published at the time of my viewing of the story.

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This article was a live stream of what happened as former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych spoke to reporters for just the second time since he fled Ukraine. It fairly and accurately reports what Yanukovych said during the speech. At the bottom it includes summaries and links to the Kommersant’s previous reporting about this issue.


Rossiyskaya Gazeta

The Rossiyskaya Gazetta is a state owned newspaper. It’s print edition runs in 41 cities. Under Russian law the Rossiyskaya Gazetta has the right to publish official state documents. Once published, these documents are essentially official Russian documents.

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This article explains that a Ukrainian portable air defense system was stolen and what may happen in the upcoming elections for a new prime minister of Ukraine.

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The article clearly shows a bias in favor of Russia. It uses strong language like ” denied the reality “. The English translation also contained several references to the Nazis and the “Fuhrer” This sentence talking about the upcoming race perhaps shows how biased the article is: “The potential presidency Yarosha today – is tomorrow’s headache his situational allies type Vitali Klitschko, Arseniy Yatseniuk Oleg Tyagniboka, Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, glorified and financially supported the radical nationalists.”

Russian pilots were not allowed to rest in Ukraine

The headline of this article tries to invoke sympathy for the pilots. It’s a loaded headline.

The lede also reads: “Rosaviaciya intends shortly to inform the aviation authorities of Ukraine to prevent violations of international law in respect of crew members Russian airlines.”

This article tries to invoke emotions that Ukraine’s people are being rude to Russian soldiers and the Russian people need to do something about it. The article references an incident on March 9 when commercial airline pilots did not allow pilots were not allowed into Ukraine. The incident is fairly covered in this article, but the loaded headline, loaded lede and loaded language in the article turns this into a propaganda piece.

This article published on March 19 sat front and center on the home page of the Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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It’s a classic example of burying the lede. The lede of this story sets up a story about Ukrainian filmmakers disliking the appointment of Philip Ilienko to the Ukraine state movie agency.  The important stories are what’s buried under subheads several hundred words into the story. A group of militants surrounded the Ukranian parliament building. Because of this and the threat of war with Russia, Ukraine is mobilizing its national guard.

The most important information may be at the very bottom of the article. Paul Gubarev, is dying after brutal beating from Russian commandos. Gubarev was beaten into a coma after his arrest on March 6 for what Rossiyskaya Gazeta describes as a charge of  “separatism”.



Kosmoloaskya Pravada 

The Kosmoloaskya Pravada is a tabloid newspaper and with a circulation of 660,000 Russia’s best selling daily newspaper. According to the BBC the newspaper is owned by energy group YeSN.

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 This article from March 10 is told very well with photos and little text. It explains that Ukrainian soldiers now realize that the Crimean Penninsula will become part of Russia. The writer explores in his commentary what will happen next to them. This paper does a lot of good journalism, but it’s known as a tabloid newspaper. This article is a tabloid style of story featuring commentary, little text and many photos. Still, the story is told fairly and from an objective standpoint.

This article was midway down the front page of the Kosmolaskya Pravada on March 12.  The headline of this story screams tabloid paper:

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 1.25.03 PMIt’s a catchy title and photo that attracts attention to the story. In the story Michail Bocharv explains that congressional sanctions that could slap trade restrictions on Russia and stop Russia from hosting the 2018 World Cup.  Under a subhead the article fairly counters that Europe will suffer the most if trade restrictions are put on Russia. This is a fair point that has been reported by other media outlets. Overall, the article is a short article reporting from a perspective inside a country that may be hit by U.S. sanctions.

 This article was admittedly hard to understand because of the translation from Russian to English. So, I looked at this article from March 17 about Russian President Vladimir Putin accepting Crimea into Russia.

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The article fairly reports that Crimea will become part of Russia immediately. It also says that out of over 48,000 people sociologists interviewed the vast majority want the country to become part of Russia. It also explains how U.S. president Obama reacted to the news

German Cooking for the American Woman: Schnitzel



2 Large Eggs


Plain Freadcrumbs

Thin Cut Pork

Salt and Pepper



First wash the thin cut pork.


Then take serran wrap and fold it over the pork.


Take a meat tenderizer and pound the meat.


Once the meat is tenderized take the flour and put some in a bowl, take the 2 eggs and put them in another bowl, and then put the plain bread crumbs and salt and pepper in another bowl.


Drop the pork into the flour and put a nice even coating on both sides.


Drop the flour covered pork and drop it in the egg.


Now take the flour and egg covered pork and drop it into the bowl of plain bread crumbs


This is what the pork should look like after this process.


Keep the pork covered in the fridge until it is ready to fry.


Now it’s time to fry the schnitzel! What you want to do is set the heat on 350 degrees and fry it for about 6-7 minutes.


I hope learning how to make the German Schnitzel was easy for you! For german sides to go with the schnitzel click here.

Here is  a german song to go with you delicious schnitzel!
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, “Schnitzel Boogie

Big Sky, Bright Lights Constellate a Country

Things were gettin’ funky overhead in the Northern United Kingdom, and everyone and their smart phones stopped to notice.

Seeing the night sky light up in a thousand different colors a la the Northern Lights isn’t something that happens every evening, even in the northern most parts of the UK.
Everyone took note, including avid instagrammers

avid astronomers

Astronomer/Blogger Will Gater managed to snap this photo of the Northern Lights.

Astronomer/Blogger Will Gater managed to snap this photo of the Northern Lights.


avid photographers

Photographer Mark Hume traveled great distances and fared the bitter cold for weeks, only to have his best work come from his very own backyard in Blyth.

Photographer Mark Hume traveled great distances and fared the bitter cold for weeks, only to have his best work come from his very own backyard in Blyth.


and avid journalists.

What is more or less as amazing as the lights themselves is the deep, interconnected web that the lights brought together across the UK. Astronomers gave the web an early warning that some crazy cool stuff  was about to go down overhead, and why.

Photographers, as well as iPhone users were then all set up to capture this phenomenon. These photos fueled thousands of news articles and blog posts (including the one you are reading at this moment). The very nature of the Northern Lights fed into this mass aggregation practices. Since they vary so much, each and every photo has something different to show.

Its almost as if the Northern Lights were made for this digital age… although solar flares have likely been going on since the sun was born, so maybe not. But perhaps their trek down the British countryside is their way of taking advantage of their hay day.

Country Hopping, the Airbnb Way.

Before studying abroad in Manchester, England in the Spring of 2013, I had never even heard of Airbnb. But once I did, oh, I did.

Credit: lipqtiq

Credit: lipqtiq

Airbnb is a website where customers can rent out different people’s abodes – actual houses, guest houses, apartments, or single/multiple rooms within. I’ve even seen an “American style” van in someone’s backyard up for grabs. Options people, options!

With 300,000 current listings in over 34,000 cities in 192 countries, and 4 millions guests having already booked, Airbnb, and other sites like it – Flipkey, Roomorama, Wimdu, etc  – seems to have somewhat revolutionized how people do vacationing.

And with good reason, too. As Heike Kauffhold writes on her blog, “Um es vorweg zu nehmen: meine Airbnb Unterkunft entpuppte sich am Ende als absolut perfekt. Die Lage war super, es war sauber, gemütlich und mein Host total unkompliziert und flexibel. UND meine Übernachtungen waren wirklich günstig.” Translation: ” To make it short : my Airbnb accommodation turned out to end up being absolutely perfect. The location was great , it was clean , cozy and my host totally uncomplicated and flexible. AND my nights were really cheap.”

I myself have stayed in three different European cities – Berlin, Paris, and Amsterdam – using Airbnb, and I will personally contest that each time was absolutely fantastic. Not only do you get to stay in someone’s actual home, with an actual kitchen (and sometimes even a washing machine!), you get to see the city you’re visiting in a way you never would be able to if staying at a hotel: through someone else’s eyes. You walk the streets that they walk, see the sights that they see, and all of the sounds, smells and other sensory items that come along with.

Credit: fastcompany

Credit: fastcompany

What’s more, if the people hosting you are around, they are more likely than not going to be willing to, if not physically take you to some of their favorite places, at least jot a few places down for you. When I visited Amsterdam, I ended up arriving a good 18 hours before my travel buddy, thanks to the many, many delays of the small, local trains he was taking,  and was slightly panicked over what exactly I was supposed to do for an entire day and night all by my lonesome. I had nothing to worry about, however, once I met up with my host, Bo. Upon hearing of my less than desirable situation, she attached me to herself like her new best friend and showed me all around the town, even offering to somehow wrangle me tickets to some crazy concert she was going to the next day if my companion’s many train delays put him even further behind schedule. Although this didn’t end up being necessary – his train arrived at around 10 AM the next morning – it was so cornily heart-warming to know that this random girl I had met by some chance apartment renting was so ready to make sure that I had a good time whilst visiting the city she called home. It was great.

Credit: collarcitybrownstone

Credit: collarcitybrownstone

Along with the nice personal touch you get, the logistics of it fair pretty well, too. The website is extremely easy to use, detailed with lots of pictures and drop-down filter lists for just about anything you could want to filter: how many bedrooms, bathrooms, beds, which neighborhoods, what amenities, what type of property, what language the host speaks. And if anything doesn’t fit within these categories, there’s a search bar at the bottom where you can type in anything that fits your fancy – oceanside, relaxing, near public transportation, etc. You can get as minimalistic or as lavish as you want, the price varying from $10 a night to $1,000 a night – you know, just so no one feels left out.When I rented out someone’s entire apartment in Mitte in Berlin for 3 nights the total only came out to be $87 (and yes, I do mean dollars), which is ridiculously cheap when compared to the prices of even a single hotel room in a not so great hotel.

Credit: airbnb-blog

Credit: airbnb-blog

One thing that  some of the many people I have ranted and raved about Airbnb to have been concerned with is safety. Oddly enough, it was not necessarily the customer’s safety (although this did cross at least one person’s mind: “What if they come in and kidnap you in the middle of the night? They do have a key, it is their house you know.” …Yea, maybe Airbnb isn’t really right for you all who have these same thoughts…) that people were concerned about, but rather, the hosts’.

Questions involving the stealing or breaking of personal items, and general disrespect of the home are valid enough, but thanks to Airbnb’s review system, this isn’t really an issue. To use Airbnb, you must create an account, and on that account, you can review the people that you stay with, and they you. That way, if you show up to the described accommodation you paid for and it is actually just a cot under a bridge, not only will Airbnb hear about it, and hopefully help you get the hell out of there, the other customer’s will hear about it as well. The same thing goes for if you are an obnoxiously loud or otherwise disrespectful guest: the host will write a review and your chances of renting from other people that have read the reviews on you go way down. Obviously, if you are a perfect angel of a guest, hosts will hear of this as well, and will be more willing to take you into their home. It’s a give and take relationship, one built on mutual trust, and one that tends to bring out the goodness in people, as opposed to the other way around.

So, if you’re ever travelling (in one of the 192 countries that its offered), and looking for a unique way to stay, give Airbnb a try, and discover what makes it such a great idea for yourself.

Jews in a Box at Berlin Museum

Boxcar Carrying Jews

Jews being deported to death camps in boxcars.

1. How many Jewish people are still living in Germany today?

2. What is it like to be Jewish person living in Germany?

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The answer that you might be thinking is, “Who knows?” Although, in our day and age I guess “Google!” could also be an acceptable rhetorical answer to these questions.

Nevertheless, the Jewish Museum in Berlin opened an exhibit in March of 2013 to help answer these questions. It was called „Die ganze Wahrheit … was Sie schon immer über Juden wissen wollten“ or “The Whole Truth…Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Jews.” One display of the exhibit is a three sided glass box, and yes you guessed it, housed inside this box for two hours a day was a Jewish person.

Leeor Engländer, a columnist for Die Welt and participant of the exhibit said,

“Because there are so few Jews in Germany—Engländer puts the number at around two hundred thousand—most Germans are deeply unfamiliar with Jewish culture.”

With Germany’s population of over 82 million that roughly equates to a Jewish population of .2 percent. Because of this, many Jewish stereotypes still exist in Germany. Though many, like Engländer, feel this exhibit is “fantastic,” and a perfect way to bust stereotypes, many criticize against it and find it extremely controversial despite its popularity.


Adolf Eichmann (Huntington Theatre Company/Flickr)

Stephan Kramer, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the box reminded him of the glass booth that housed Adolf Eichmann (high-ranking SS officer who was responsible for deporting Jews to death camps during WWII.) during his 1961 war crimes trial in Israel that led to his execution.”Why don’t they give him a banana and a glass of water, turn up the heat and make the Jew feel really cozy in his glass box?” Kramer told the Associated Press after the exhibit opened in the spring.

A Jewish American blogger stated that the exhibit was “SO FREAKING WEIRD.” She goes on to say, There is something deeply unsettling to me about this exhibit – this stark presentation of “us” and “them”; a venue where people are literally put in boxes.”

The people who find the exhibit to be controversial feel it is demeaning to put a person on display, but I feel that this exhibit did what it was intended to do. It gave German visitors a real life person to speak to about Judaism, and broke

(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber; via Huffington Post)

(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber; via Huffington Post)

down many stereotypes about Jews. It also helped people to move past defining Jewish people solely with the Holocaust. For many Germans who still feel guilty about the Holocaust, the exhibit gave them a place to ask questions without having to visit a Synagogue or Jewish center. Unfortunately though, for those who might want to visit this exhibit, it was only up through September of 2013 and is no longer on display at the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

The Most Sociable of all Culinary Occassions

Paella is a well-known Spanish dish that has made it’s way around the globe. While it originated in Valencia, Spain and is still unique to the area, variations of the recipe are now created all over the world.  Since I will be traveling to Spain in 2 short months, I decided to learn how to prepare my own paella.

I started by reading several different recipes for the dish on various sites, both formal and informal. What I found was there is no definitive recipe for paella. Not only do the majority of the protein-rich ingredients depend on personal preference, but every style of preparation seems to vary from another.

I found Spanish blogs (in English), such as Taste of Sundays, proudly sharing detailed, personal family recipes. I found vague descriptions of variations of the traditional paella recipe on blogs such as this. I even found how-to video tutorials by Spanish chef’s specializing in paella, like the one seen below.


Large paella's are commonly served during Spanish fiestas. Photo credit: Chris Gray

Large paella’s are commonly served during Spanish fiestas. Photo credit: Chris Gray

I did come to find a few staple ingredients that continually make their way into the authentic dish. Paella rice -which I found out the hard way is not labeled in the local grocery store, as paella rice at all- is one of the staples to any variation of the recipe. Bomba and Arborio are the most commonly used rices. Saffron is another necessity when preparing anything close to the authentic styled paella.

Saffron offers a unique, valuable flavor to paella. Photo credit: Aidan Brooks

Saffron offers a unique, valuable flavor to paella.
Photo credit: Aidan Brooks


Paella was originally a farmers’ and farm laborers’ food. The workers cooked the dish over an open fire using rice and whatever ingredients were at hand around the fields and countryside. Tomatoes, onions, snails and beans were some common original ingredients. Since Valencia is on the coast, it’s no surprise that various kinds of seafood made their way into later recipes. “To this day a “true” Paella Valenciana has no seafood but a mixture of chicken, rabbit and snails with green and white beans” (The Paella Company). Visit The Paella Company’s site to learn more about the origins and developments of this dish. 


As shocking as it may seem, snail was not one of the ingredients I was ready to try so I figured I’d take a more common and widely spread approach to the recipe. Aside from a few modifications, I followed this recipe.

Here are the ingredients and measurements I decided to go with:

2 full chicken breasts
1/3 lb shrimp
4 large scallops cut in fourths

½ cup tomato sauce
4 cloves chopped garlic
1/3 chopped red onion
1 red bell pepper
½ cup green beans cut in 1” sections
½ tsp saffron
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups paella rice
1 ½ cup chicken broth

I started by sautéing the chicken in olive oil until it was mostly cooked. Then I added tomato sauce, bell pepper, onion and garlic to the pan. After about 4-5 minutes, I added the rice, saffron, green beans and cayenne pepper. Once the combination started to boil, I tossed in the shrimp, scallops and broth. I let the ingredients simmer for roughly 15 minutes; stirring frequently to ensure the rice was evenly cooked. I garnished the completed dish with additional peppers and lemon wedges. True to Spanish tradition, it was served family style, in the center of the table for my roommates to gather around.

Here’s a glimpse at my first attempt:

process copy


While there was definitely room for improvement and we had nothing to compare it to, my house was pretty impressed with the results!

Today, paella is commonly prepared as the centerpiece for many fiestas. It is a social dish, meant for sharing and often associated with celebration.  It is known for being eaten right out of the pan rather than on plates. describes the typical style of eating the dish in Spain. “Each guest starts at the perimeter of the Paella and works toward the center.” Visit their site to view different variations of the dish. 

FreshLiving Magazine recently tweeted a variation of the recipe, using chicken, bacon, chorizo, mussels and prawns. Head over to their twitter page @Fresh_Living for more interesting recipe variations.


I’m looking forward to tasting the real deal during my summer abroad in Spain. Maybe I’ll learn a thing or two before my next attempt at preparation.

(Sorta) Free Spanish Villages

Ever want to go away to your own countryside village? Well, if you have the money, you can do just that.

In Spain, hundreds of abandoned villages cover rural areas of the country. With the dawn of industrialization, people migrated to urban centers to seek out work. Oftentimes, the ownership records of the villages were lost.

a barca

A Barca ruins parallel Spain’s economy

The Spanish government is giving away A Barca–an abandoned village in northeast Spain comprised of a dozen stone buildings–for free, provided that you agree to restore the buildings. These restorations can cost about a million Euros (approx. 1.3 million USD). The government hopes the restoration projects will stimulate the country’s struggling economy.  

In addition to the employment that restorations require, the government sees these villages as a chance for cultural tourism.


workers restoring Armejún, a project of

One blogger believes that the restoration of rural towns could offer a look at a way of life throughout regions of Spain that marks an attempt to return to a sustainable lifestyle away from the urban centers. Another blog allows you to track the progress of the restorations of these dilapidated villages.


If you’re not in the mood to commit a million bucks, specialty real estate companies sell smaller villages (usually 3-5 buildings) for under $100,000. These getaways don’t require any restorations.

I think this attempt to help the economy is an interesting and exciting way to get people’s attention. The history behind these villages needs new life, as well as Spain’s economy.

Samsonite VERSUS the World-1

Samsonite VERSUS the World

With a comedic angle, Saatchi & Saatchi Brussels put their client’s luggage to the test. Their campaign “Samsonite VERSUS The World” was a three-piece TV series that aired this last February.

According to Saatchi & Saatchi Brussels the agency created this campaign “to showcase that Samsonite luggage truly is a force to be reckoned with.”

Other blogs are just as impressed with the campaign as the agency behind the magic. Between “Samsonite VERSUS Monsoon,” “Samsonite VERSUS Chicken,” and “Samsonite VERSUS” it is clear that all of these videos “reinforce these [suitcases’] merits in a clever and comical way,” says a writer on LBBOnline.

So, take a look at these videos and see for yourself, and hold tight because Saatchi & Saatchi Brussels says to expect additions to this campaign later this year.

Samsonite VERSUS the World-1

“Samsonite VS Monsoon” demonstrates the water resilience of their luggage line by dumping water on a mannequin traveler with his Samsonite luggage. This downpour destroys and soaks everything but the bag, and the contents are completely dry.

Samsonite VERSUS the World-3

“Samsonite VS Chicken” displays how lightweight Samsonite luggage can be. The chicken eating throws the scale out of balance and the bag is then lighter than the Chicken.

Samsonite VERSUS the World-1

“Samsonite VS Gravity” showcases the durability of the Samsonite hard-case luggage. This commercial literally drops a heavy metal item on top of the bag. proving that the extreme will not damage your bag.

All of these situations take normal things that could happen to your luggage and exemplify the effects, thus proving beyond reasonable doubt that this luggage line will protect your belongings, no matter what travel catastrophes that might happen along the way.

After checking this campaign out, I’d say that they definitely proved that Samsonite luggage is all it is cut out to be for travelers worldwide.

Pope Drops F-Bomb in Weekly Sermon

If you clicked on this post, then you most definitely fell for a trick of the trade. Let me explain … It’s called getting hits. One of the easiest ways to accomplish that is using a rather catchy headline that doesn’t always tell the whole story.

When it comes to this topic, I certainly wasn’t alone in trying to grab viewer’s attention. The Independent ran this headline:

“He said what?! Pope Francis lets slip the F-word during Vatican address”

 The Week went this route, suggesting there’s a video to accompany the outrageous topic.

“Watch Pope Francis say the F-word (in Italian)”

Headlines and Global News even mentions the reactions others had in its headline.

“Pope Francis Utters the F-Word in Weekly Sermon, Baffles People”

Turns out the story isn’t as crazy as these headlines make it out to seem. Pope Francis apparently made a pretty common mistake. He mispronounced the Italian word for “case” (caso) with the much more explicit cazzo. In Italian that word literally means male genitalia. It’s used with the same context American’s use when they say the F-word. Clearly, those headlines made you think it was all on purpose.

Check it out for yourself.

The Pope is the last person you would expect to hear a curse word from. As posed as possible, you can see in the video how quickly he corrects his mistake. In all honesty it’s not hard to see why the Pope slipped up. The words are fairly similar, especially for someone who isn’t as familiar with the language.

The video has certainly made its way across social media. Most have forgiven the Pope for being human. Some, though, did point out the ironic nature of the Pope saying the f-word.


Looks like accidents really do happen, even by those who we’d least expect. Also, a case where the media can twist things in just a way that keeps viewers on their feet.

Europe’s Jihadists

The conflict in Syria is now in its third year. It can be characterized by the heavy influx of foreign fighters – up to 11,000 as of December – as well as the sustained use of social media, particularly Twitter and YouTube, by rebel groups.

To set the stage for readers who are unfamiliar with the Syrian conflict, here is a VERY superficial, and entirely insufficient summary of the situation. Bashar al-Assad has been the president of Syria for 14 years, following his father who ruled for 30 years prior. Assad is the leader of the Ba’ath party, which promotes a pan-Arab state and is ideologically tied to Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party in Iraq, as well as an Alawite. Alawis are a branch of Shia Islam, generally ideologically opposed to the vast majority of Muslims – Sunnis.

In the general upheaval of the Arab Spring, Syrians protested for better living conditions and political representation and were met with harsh retribution by state forces. Soon, the protests evolved into outright civil war which has devastated most of the country. There have been accusations of chemical weapons and other extrajudicial killings by both the Syrian regime and rebel factions. Both sides receive heavy support from external actors – generally aligned with their respective religious ideologies. For a really good breakdown of these groups, see this series of Reddit posts: One, Two, Three, Four.

Of particular interest (and concern to some) is the increasing number of foreign fighters coming from Europe and North America. Germany, this blog’s focus, has contributed about 270 jihadists.

One of these Germans, a rapper named Deso Dogg, made headlines inside and out of the social media community after he converted to Islam, moved to Syria as a jihadist and was reportedly killed, then confirmed to be alive. He now goes by the name Abu Talha al-Almani and outspokenly encourages German-Muslims to leave Germany and participate in jihad.

Though Germany is Europe’s most populous country, many European jihadists have come from smaller nations like the Netherlands and Belgium, although that trend seems to be changing. They increasingly use social media to document their lives as jihadists; one Dutch fighter posts regularly on his Tumblr (WARNING MAY BE GRAPHIC), mixing images of dead fighters and children with AK-47s and even posts titled “cats of the mujahideen” (NOT GRAPHIC, JUST KITTIES). He even has an account set up to answer questions that his followers might have. While many foreign nationals join existing factions, there is at least one faction that is comprised entirely of foreign fighters, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Supporters) who you can follow on Twitter here.

Opposition groups have always used social media to promote their message; they often post videos of successful missile attacks or hard fighting to improve their image. Just as often they post ultimatums, decrees, or threats towards other groups. The Syrian conflict’s fighting has spread to the internet. Journalists (and regular people) have jumped at the chance to follow every detail of the conflict via primary sources. The entrance of western voices into this mix is a way for Syrian groups to reach out to western audiences who are mostly disinterested and possibly gain support.

For more information on the Syrian conflict, check out which is a great example of citizen-journalism, essentially collating the thousands of social media posts into a more coherent picture.

From Compton to the Kremlin: hip hop’s presence in Russia

Ever since my cousin introduced me to Mos Def when I was 13, I’ve had an obsession for hip hop.  I listen to all the greats from the 80’s and 90’s, some from the 00’s, and remain on the lookout for new talent coming around today.  Although I love the genre, my perspective has always been limited to American rappers, because I never believed that anyone could do hip hop justice outside the U.S. of A.  Little did I know, there exists a thriving hip hop subculture in a place where I least expected, the vast expanse that is Russia.

Dino MC 47

The Russian Hip Hop group Dino MC 47, infamous for denouncing the Russian government after two suicide bombers killed 40 in Moscow in 2010

Now, just because you exist does not necessarily mean you’re out there throwing down fresh rhymes, and that goes for all rappers everywhere.  So admittedly I was skeptical of these Russian upstarts.  After all, my favorite rappers usually hail from the deadly streets of Compton, CA or the run down projects of Brooklyn, NY.  Could Russian rappers ever hope to channel the same level of swagger, angst, and danger that MC’s like Biggie Smalls did?

That’s probably not a fair comparison for anyone, but guys like Artyom Tatischevsky  out of the Samara region in Russia have caught my attention.  His beats are chill, he has a nice flow, and his poetry (as far as I can tell) comments on the struggle of being a rapper in Russia today.  He’s aware that he isn’t big, but he’s not afraid to take bold shots at the musical tastes of the pop music loving majority in his track “Titmice Sang”:


Timati, an international pop culture icon just following the trends.

MC’s like Artyom are undiscovered.  He does’t have his own website, but instead uses the Russian equivalent of Facebook, VKontakte to advertise his upcoming albums and performances.  He doesn’t get a lot of media attention, but he is honest about his roots and about his opinion of society, and for that he has my respect.

On the other hand, there are a whole slew of rappers in Russia who seem to be doing their best to emulate the direction which hip hop has been going in the U.S.  These guys are all about the money, women, cars, and clubs – they are widely known in Russia and abroad.  Timati has his own website and has done songs with several American rappers including Long Beach’s own Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion).  He appears in articles for popular networks such as MTV, and appears to be interested in branding himself as some sort of russified P. Diddy.

Hip hop is clearly still in its early stages of development in Russia, but Vladimir Putin himself publicly recognized its importance when he addressed a crowd of youths at a rap battle meant to discourage drug use:

“These youngsters who work at this art in our country – they bring unique Russian charm.  Street rap may be a little bit rough, but it contains social meaning, raising social problems.”

While this statement is probably more meant to rescue Putin’s approval ratings than to express his actual feelings about hip hop, I agree with the gist of what he is saying.  Hip hop began in America as a way for the underprivileged, the forgotten, and the angry to voice their perspective on life and produced what is some of the most visceral, meaningful poetry I’ve ever heard.  It could certainly come out that way in Russia if artists like Artyom Tatischevsky continue to rap about what’s in their soul, and don’t fall under the glamorous spell which American pop culture has cast on the genre.

Paczkis: Food For The Soul

Paczkis: Food For The Soul

I realize Paczki Day 2014 has passed, but who can completely block the sweet, sugary treat from their mind? I know I can’t, and I won’t try to either.

Paczki Day 2014 in Chicago, courtesy of Chicago Now

Paczki Day 2014 in Chicago, courtesy of Chicago Now – Show Me Chicago

I’m a Chicago-born girl who grew up in a very Polish family – I’m sure you can already tell where this is going. We celebrate Fat Tuesday like the Fourth of July or Christmas, and when it comes to my family, those events can get rowdy. If you don’t go to your local bakery or grocery store to buy paczkis, I would advise you to stay as far away from my family as you can that holiday.

Now, I assume not all of you are familiar with paczkis. What are they? How is that word even pronounced? Paczki is pronounced like “poonch-kee,” and they are essentially made up entirely of dough, sugar and fat. In fact, the word literally translates to “little doughnut” or “little package.” Great, right? Almost every news outlet puts out a story like this whenever Paczki Day rolls around, talking about recipes, how many calories are in the sweet treats and, of course, where to buy them.

Paczki Day 2013 in Chicago, courtesy of Huff Post and the AP

All for one and one for all on Paczki Day 2013 in Chicago, courtesy of Huff Post and the AP.

The article I linked to above is from International Business Times, and the author provides some history and recipes if you’re interested. Like this news article and others, blogs are posting similar stories. For example, a Chicago Now blogger shared where to find the perfect paczkis in Chicago during this year’s event. Even Polish bloggers flourish in sharing recipes. I don’t speak or read Polish – except “zimne piwo,” of course – but please, go for it if you can!

Although both writers’ information is relevant and will make you drool by the time you get through their articles, much of the history is missing.

Karnawal in Poland, courtesty of

Karnawal in Poland, courtesty of

Fat Tuesday fell on March 4, 2014, and as usual, Ash Wednesday followed the event. Paczki Day goes hand-in-hand with Lenten tradition, which I believe many people fail to realize. Fat Tuesday, Paczki Day or Mardi Gras all serve as the last day to indulge before Lent officially begins.

All the way back to the 16th century, people were forbidden to eat foods like fruit preserves, butter and eggs during this religious season, so cooks used the last week of Karnawal as a last gluttonous hurrah to get rid of all of these ingredients. Genius!

Karnawal begins on Fat Thursday, or Tłusty Czwartek, and then ends on Fat Tuesday, Sledziówka or Ostatki. And honestly, by the time this week of partying and eating is over, you will want to start fasting for Lent. Then, as mentioned, Roman-Catholics roll into church with jelly-filled bellies, receive the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads, and make a promise to God and themselves to better themselves during this time of Lent.

I really do love these traditions and how they’re all grouped within a week of each other. These beliefs and traditions bring cultures and people of faith together across the world, and that’s something quite special. It teaches through faith that you are allowed to have a little fun, but then still have to pay your dues to yourself, God and the church.