Four days in Spain

In the midst of a few weeks in England with N’s family, we tucked in a quick trip to Madrid. N and I have both been to other parts of Spain before – Barcelona, the Balearics, Valencia, Seville and Granada – but neither of us had visited Madrid, and we absolutely adored this city. Just look at this architecture!






See the small black dots in the lower center? They’re turtles! In a train station!








Interlude: We like big boats

…and we cannot lie. For this travel interlude, we thought we might revisit our seagoing years. N and I worked on a wide variety of different boats all over the world for nearly a decade, he as dive instructor and deckhand and me as chef. More often than not, people think we worked on cruise ships. This is understandable, because people know what a cruise ship is, and many of the boats we worked on have – quite frankly – no relevance to the real world whatsoever. Welcome to our former life!

T Lady

Far and away the best yacht we ever worked on…may we present the legendary and much-missed M/Y Triumphant Lady.

Boats’ status and other relevant information is generally conveyed by the name’s prefix. Triumphant Lady is a motor yacht, so she bears M/Y before her name. Sailing yachts are labeled S/Y (though they almost always still have engines), research vessels R/V, motor vessels (such as dive boats) M/V, and fishing vessels F/V. This allows you to tell at a glance a boat’s primary purpose, though the prefix is typically only used in formal settings and not when referring to the boat casually in conversation. Our crew uniforms, for example, almost never carried the prefix – just the boat’s name and image.


There is no place in the world quite like Monaco’s harbor.

N and I worked on boats both together and separately. We started aboard scuba diving liveaboards and sailboats in Australia and the Caribbean, then progressed to the “white boats,” as private yachts (in a blend of derision and envy) are known. The snide label exists because there are so many crew constantly cleaning the boat, polishing its hull to a perfect gleaming white; the rough-and-tumble dive boats we worked on were a bit untidy, to say the least. Seawater and diesel exhaust leave a boat’s hull rather grimy, but a proud motor yacht would never arrive in port looking shabby. Depending on sea conditions, the deckhands would start scrubbing the hull with long-handled brushes on the way into port.

Charisma and Blind Date

M/Y Charisma (right) at the dock in Viareggio, Italy.

Our last yachting season was spent in the Mediterranean on Charisma. Our first charter guests, a young hedge fund manager and his wife, chartered both Charisma and Blind Date (above) simultaneously for their family group because each yacht could only accommodate twelve guests. At the time, each chartered for about $350,000 per week. The two yachts traveled in tandem for the week of the charter.

During our final season aboard Charisma we crossed from Florida to Europe (stopping at Bermuda, the Azores, Gibraltar and Palma en route) in April and returned to Florida in September. Traditionally, boats spend the winter in the Caribbean and the summer in the Med – the route ideally hopes to avoid hurricanes – but obviously yachts can go pretty much anywhere they want. Even the boat’s draw (or draft), which indicates how much of the boat is under the hull line and determines where it can enter, doesn’t matter much because fast tenders can ferry guests, crew and supplies to and from shore as needed.

Staniel Cay

Staniel Cay, Bahamas. Oddly, this island is famous for its swimming pigs.

Between the dive boats and the private yachts we’ve worked on, we’ve spent a lot of time in the Bahamas and the Caribbean (despite popular belief, the Bahamas aren’t technically part of the Caribbean because they’re not located in the Caribbean Sea). Definitely some of the best diving in the world, but as a chef it is exceptionally tricky (and shockingly expensive) to find fresh produce and other provisions. Some day, ask me about the time I spent well over $1,000 of the boat’s money on just a few basic groceries in St. Lucia.

Charlotte Amalie.jpg

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI, taken from the bow of Sea Fox.

Notice that there is a cruise ship in the background, but we worked on private yachts similar to those in the foreground. It was always common to have cruise ship passengers strolling the docks, asking the deckhands which celebrity owned the yacht. Interestingly, most private yachts are owned by people you’ve probably never heard of, rather than the super-famous.


Rybovich Shipyard, West Palm Beach, Florida.

Charisma, at 150 feet, is second from the right in the photo above. As you can see from the yacht to the far right, that’s still little! Seawater really isn’t kind to machinery, so boats spend a lot of time in the shipyard for various reasons. Most yachts are in the yard for at least a few days at the end of every season; this may be to refresh the boat before upcoming charters, or it may be for something major, like a hull extension or a total refit, which often happens when a boat changed hands.

T Lady varnish

A rare photo of N (foreground) applying one of fifteen eventual coats of varnish on Triumphant Lady‘s caprail.

Stereotypical gender roles are mostly alive and well on the private yachts; with few exceptions, men work outside as deckhands, mates and captains, whereas women are traditionally responsible for the interior as stewardesses. Chefs tend to be both male and female, and most often there is only one. Unless there is a second chef, which is unusual on yachts under 180 feet, chefs cook three meals a day for both guests and crew, plus snacks and specialty requests as needed. The chef is also responsible for ordering and stocking all edible provisions as well as doing dishes and cleaning the galley.


Triumphant Lady‘s tender on the beach, Bahamas.

Having a private yacht means you can go places other people can’t. On charter, the chef will pack a picnic lunch for the guests and the deckhands will organize water toys, JetSkis, snorkeling gear and any other equipment the guests might want to use. Depending on water depth, the yachts could anchor just off stunning deserted beaches.


The harbor of Portofino, Italy.

Some owners and guests want to see and be seen, and the Med is known for many glamorous ports. Portofino is certainly one; others include Monaco, St. Tropez, Capri, Cannes, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat, Antibes and many more. Celebrities and other high-profile guests who actually don’t want to be seen will avoid these places like the proverbial plague – or stay on anchor full-time.


Charisma on anchor at sunset near Sardinia, Italy.

As a rule, crew would rather be at the dock than at anchor – it is so much easier to get guests and supplies on and off the boat by walking down the gangplank rather than using the tender(s). Depending on location, though, a space at the dock might not be available, or the marina might be too small for the boat. In high season in the popular places, like St. Tropez and Monaco and definitely Cannes during the film festival, captains are known to carry envelopes full of cash to bribe dockmasters for premium placement.

T Lady Polish

Another rare shot of N polishing Triumphant Lady‘s extensive stainless.

There is always – always – something to clean aboard a yacht. Notice his crew shirt bears a line drawing of the yacht on the back; this is traditional of the vast majority of yacht crew uniforms. T-shirts are just for work days; when owners or guests are on board, crew wear polo shirts and pressed khakis during the day and “blacks” (epaulettes and black trousers) at night, depending on the boat’s level of formality. The chef, of course, is always in a chef jacket.

T Lady bow waves

Working on a boat isn’t always smooth sailing. This bow shot was taken on Triumphant Lady during an especially rough crossing from Fort Lauderdale to Tortola, BVI.

If we needed to move the boat over long distances, owners would most often fly in to meet us. Crossings can be really rough and are challenging for crew and hard on the boat. Since the boat is always underway during a long crossing, crew rotate on two-man four-hour watches. The chef is typically exempt from watch duty because they still need to cook for the crew. It’s imperative that the chef doesn’t get seasick, though on rough crossings the rest of the crew might well be.

Red Dragon

S/Y Red Dragon, St. Tropez, France.

The majority of the most impressive private yachts are motor yachts, but there are a few gorgeous luxury sailing yachts too. People who haven’t sailed before often don’t realize that when under sail the entire boat might be on a severe heel, meaning that it’s leaning pretty far over to one side and nothing can be set on a flat surface. This can often be uncomfortable for guests unless they’re accustomed to it, and the boat (including the artwork, the furniture, and the wine storage) have to be specially designed for it.

T Lady Cabin 01

Our beloved cabin aboard Triumphant Lady. 

One reason N and I could love a month in a tiny campervan? Because we spent years living together in cabins like this. Keeping things shipshape really does have relevance when two people live in a tiny space. Also, captains are well within their rights to inspect quarters at any time, so the cabin had better be neat and tidy.

Golden Boy II

Golden Boy II in moody weather, Essex, Connecticut.

We spent one season traveling the East Coast of the U.S., from West Palm Beach to New Hampshire. The seas can be tricky here and this itinerary is typically only done in summer, but ports like Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are worth the effort. The superyachts are too big to enter these smaller, older harbors and have to anchor offshore and tender in.

Tobago Cays

Aboard Sea Fox, Tobago Cays.

Both the Bahamas and the Caribbean are full of tiny islands to explore, but the big motor yachts always have to watch out for the small sailboats, especially in the avid sailing areas like the British Virgin Islands.

St Thomas

St. Thomas, USVI. The relative size difference between cruise ships (left) and private yachts (right) is a little easier to understand from this photo.

Working on boats was an amazing, incredible life, and we’re thankful to have had the experiences we did. But we wouldn’t go back to it again, and we’re looking forward to finding Quiet Farm more than ever.

Lost in translation, vol. 2

What’s more fun when traveling than searching out funny signs? (As always, this is gentle humor – no disrespect or mockery is intended.)


Dear New Zealand: this could perhaps be rephrased.


Maybe try it in a fourth language?


If only they came together in one handy product.


A helpful tip on a menu in India. Don’t talk to strangers, ever.

IMG_20170321_165018105 (1)

Those crazy tourists in Vietnam! They always want to recycle!


And right next to the recycling bins shown above, you’ll find this.

(As with India, this is what Vietnam actually looks like. Pretty sure it’s not just the tourists’ fault.)




Notice #9…this sign was in a temple. So definitely watch out for muggers there. Muggers love temples.


Again, temples are very dangerous places.

Funniest thing about these two signs? We were actually very politely mugged in a temple in Vietnam. A “monk” approached us and escorted us on a “secret” tour to a “hidden” altar not open to “regular” tourists (all in broken English, obviously). We were given an “honored blessing,” at which point he demanded 200,000 Vietnamese dong, or about $9. We handed him 100,000 and scampered, fully aware that we really didn’t have to pay him anything. But he was one of the few people in Vietnam who was actually (fake) nice to us, and isn’t it bad karma to skip out on a blessing? So really, please watch out for muggers in temples. We’re pretty sure he wasn’t even a monk.


Having trouble with a caption on this one.

Farewell, India

To wrap up our nearly five weeks in India, we offer you a few more of our favorite photos. There is no way we could sum up our time here in merely a handful of images; we’ll be processing our experiences in this country for a long time to come. Thank you, India: you were beautiful and difficult and amazing and maddening and always, always memorable.


Elephants for riding at Jaipur, a practice we abhor. (Related post on animal tourism coming soon.)


The bride’s palms and soles of the feet are traditionally painted with henna for a Hindu wedding ceremony.


This gorgeous shade of blue appears all over Indian temples and palaces.


What’s more manipulative than including photos of cute baby animals?


Even the simplest street scenes here are filled with color.


The Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Goa.


Chamundeshwari Temple near Mysore.


Only in India can you see an actual bull in an actual china shop.


Monks at worship in a Buddhist temple in Madikeri. Buddhism is not at all common in India; only about 10 million people (less than 1% of the population) identify as Buddhist.


A wedding celebration in Jaipur; the parade goes through the streets so everyone can join in.


View from the top of Hanuman Temple in Hampi.


Fishing in the Arabian Sea.


City Palace, Udaipur.


Kochi’s central square.


The white-breasted kingfisher, very common in central India.





Some honesty

We’ve shared lots of striking images of India, and in this brief post we want to share a few more. Unfortunately, these are striking for all the wrong reasons.


For everything that we read about India before our visit there – to dress conservatively, to travel in groups, to keep our passports and money close by, to watch our luggage at all times – we never read about this. We had no idea just how unbelievably filthy India actually would be.


We talked a lot about whether we should share photos like this, and obviously we ultimately decided yes. If everything on the Internet is fake, then we want this site not to be. And when we remember India, some of the most vivid memories we have are of amazing experiences like visiting tea plantations and spice gardens and eating dinner in a Sikh temple with five hundred strangers, but they’re also of the nearly incomprehensible piles of rubbish (and human and animal waste) we stepped around and through and over just about every single place we went.


To be fair, some parts of India are cleaner than others. We covered nearly 3,000 kilometers in the country over a month, so we do feel as though we’ve visited enough places to form a reasonably educated opinion. Mumbai was lovely, and so was Mysore. But Agra (home of India’s most-visited tourist attraction!) was filthy, and Bundi was – quite frankly – disgusting. What you don’t see in most of the India photos elsewhere on the blog is how frequently N had to crop images or frame things differently to avoid photographing all of the trash.


There are a lot of things about India that are difficult for Western travelers to comprehend; culture shock was a very real thing for us. More people in India have mobile phones than have access to clean drinking water or toilets; this is an especially dangerous problem for women and girls. The rails of India’s train system have to be replaced, on average, after two years rather than the expected thirty years because the human waste dumped on the tracks corrodes the rails entirely. And in many places, you can’t just throw your trash “away” because there is no “away.” There is no one to come collect it and nowhere to put it even if they did. And if there is a place to dispose of it, people still live there, too. So it most often stays on the streets, and the animals eat it, and the rats come, and it spirals from there.


Please don’t misinterpret this – we loved our time in India, and we’re so glad we went. And we’re not in any way claiming that solving India’s immensely complex social and cultural issues will be easy, or quick. But travel blogs are full of carefully curated, spectacularly gorgeous photos – and most of the time, ours is, too. This post is designed to provide an honest counterpoint to all that beauty, and to remind ourselves that even in our First World countries, throwing something away isn’t really away, because it doesn’t disappear – it just disappears from our sight. And it’s not typically in a huge pile on the street with animals and people both fighting over it and living in it.

India by train

In an average day, about 23 million people ride on Indian Railways, the fourth-largest railway system in the world. This is about the same as the entire population of Australia!


Victoria Railway Station, Mumbai.

We took a lot of trains during our four-plus weeks in India; it’s a big country. We rode on sleepers and day trains and subways and coal-fired trains from the 1800s. Like our experience on trains in Vietnam, we believe this is one of the best ways to see a place. From big cities to tiny villages to rural agriculture, we loved experiencing India this way.






It’s common to see dozens of people sleeping in the train stations.


A metro station in Delhi.


Keep your wits about you; the crowds are intense.


A six-berth sleeper carriage.


The locomotive of Darjeeling’s “toy train.”


A carriage of the toy train.

One of the primary tourist attractions in Darjeeling – in addition to tea plantations – is the “toy train,” a narrow-gauge railroad built by the British in the late 1800s that runs for about 78 kilometers through West Bengal. The train was revolutionary when it was first constructed, since it both traveled at altitude (Darjeeling is at about 7,000 feet) and navigated treacherously steep mountainsides.


Emptying spent coal from the train’s furnace.

Nowadays it’s rather quaint (and slow), with piercingly loud horns and clouds of pollution from the coal, but it remains one of Darjeeling’s most popular tourist attractions.


Despite its crowded cities, much of India is still almost entirely agricultural; this was often the view from the trains.



It was always a little disconcerting for our group of Westerners to conspicuously walk into a lounge labeled as “upper class.”




Chaiwallahs offer hot, sweet tea throughout the train carriages.


I’m not sure what the plan is if the hammer isn’t there.

Just like everything else in India, the trains are hot, crowded and noisy, but they’re a quintessentially Indian experience. Can you travel India more efficiently? Of course. But the greatest gift the trains offer is time; they force travelers to slow down and experience a country at its own pace. We’re so glad we saw India by train.

Spice plantation

We spent a few days in Goa, a state in western India situated along the Arabian Sea. Up until 1961, Goa was a Portuguese colony; it’s a major tourist destination now and is famous for its beaches. It’s India’s wealthiest state, with a per-capita GDP nearly three times that of the rest of the country. While we’re not so much for beaches, Goa is also famous for its tropical flora and fauna, and we loved visiting one of its spice plantations.


spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark, berry, bud or vegetable substance primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. Spices are different from herbs, which are parts of leafy green plants used for flavoring or as a garnish. Modern cooks definitely do not appreciate our plentiful and inexpensive supply of spices and herbs, many formerly so valuable that they were used as currency. (Want to incorporate more fresh herbs into your cooking? Join me on June 10 at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Learn more here!)


A green cardamom plant, which will produce the familiar little seed pods.


Black cardamom, which in Indian cuisine is used only for flavoring and isn’t eaten, unlike the green cardamom pods.

The majority of the most common culinary spices are grown in tropical areas, roughly twenty-five degrees north and south of the equator. This is the same area of the world where coffee and cacao are grown, too.


Nutmeg on the tree.

Two of our most-loved baking spices, nutmeg and mace, both come from the same tree. Nutmeg is the seed and mace is the lacy covering of the seed. This is the only plant that produces two different commercially viable spices.


Peri peri chile peppers. Very small and very potent.


Arabica coffee beans.


This plant looks rather unassuming, but it’s actually the world’s second most expensive spice, after saffron. That vine will eventually produce vanilla pods.


Turmeric is the new trendy ingredient in everything from lattes to roasted cauliflower. Here, the root has just been harvested…


…and here it’s for sale in the market.


Unripe peppercorns.

Black, green and white peppercorns all come from the same plant – like tea, the variation lies in how they’re dried and processed. (Pink peppercorns come from an entirely different plant altogether.) These were once so valuable that a serf could buy his freedom with a pound of peppercorns.


Spice traders at work.






A gorgeous array of after-dinner refreshers, mostly based on fennel seed.

The next time you’re rummaging through your spice cabinet, remember that these seemingly innocuous plants changed the course of history! And while those of us in temperate zones can’t grow these spices without a greenhouse, you can easily grow lots of useful culinary herbs like basil, parsley, chives, mint and more in containers or a backyard garden.


And if anyone can tell us what tropical spice plant this is, we’d be most grateful…it’s the only one we didn’t make a note of!

Scenes from India, vol. 1

A collection of some of our favorite photos from India; more to come.


It’s very easy for Western tourists in India to blend in. Really, it’s tough to even find me in this photo.

One aspect of traveling in India that really surprised us was how many people wanted their photo taken with us. We were regularly asked to pose for photos with couples, families and children – sometimes babies would be shoved into our arms for pictures! In some of the more rural areas, we were apparently the first Westerners they had seen.


Sorry about the scaffolding; they’re giving the marble a mud bath treatment to remove the evidence of intense pollution.


Traditional Muslim architecture at an imambara in Lucknow.


Stepwells, used in ye olde times and still today to hold water for people and agriculture.


It’s possible that this tractor’s trailer is ever-so-slightly overloaded.


Mumbai’s most expensive home, valued at $1 billion. It has 600 rooms, but it still has views of slums, like the one below.


One of Mumbai’s many slums. 

While out on a day tour of Mumbai, we were offered the chance to visit one of its slum communities. Tours like this are challenging – many people will call them “poverty porn” – but poverty is an issue that confronts travelers everywhere in India. The Mumbai slum is truly one of the most remarkable places we’ve been; the people we saw were hard at work in a variety of industries, including textile manufacturing and recycling.


A “factory” in the slum.

Many of our Western luxury goods, such as branded handbags and clothing, are manufactured in places just like the one in the photo above. On the left, a roll of white fabric waits to be dyed; the red dye is bleeding out of the shop floor into the open sewer that runs along the buildings. The Dharavi slum, the second-largest in Asia, is thought to have a goods turnover of more than one billion dollars annually. While the ethics of visiting a place like this are debatable, there is no debate about the thriving economy that exists here.


Both Muslim and Hindu architecture feature prominently in India.


A statue of Lord Ganesha.


Every Sunday evening, the Mysore Palace is illuminated with millions of old-fashioned lightbulbs.


The red sandstone mosque next to the Taj Mahal.


The world’s largest open-air laundry in Mumbai. There is a good chance your fancy hotel’s sheets were washed here.


The Pink Palace of Jaipur.


Almost every cargo truck we saw was brightly painted and often festooned with streamers and other decorations.


At a cultural dance performance in Rajasthani, this amazing woman danced while balancing these pots on her head.


Kochi’s Chinese fishing nets.


People leave offerings of fruit and other foods at temples, and now most temples have excessive populations of (sometimes aggressive) rhesus macaques and gray langurs.

Faces of India

India is an exceptionally diverse country. Its landmass is slightly more than one-third the size of the U.S. but contains four times the population, about 1.3 billion people. It is the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions. It has 22 official languages and about 1,600 “other” languages or dialects. It has four main castes and thousands of sub-castes. Amidst all that, it’s interesting to note that it has no official racial designations; after Independence, the government sought to do away with racial classifications. Therefore, everyone born in India is Indian, and here we share with you some of the people of this beautiful, diverse, complicated place.
























Pilgrimage to Varanasi

Varanasi is a city in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, located on the banks of the sacred Ganges (or Ganga) River. It is considered the spiritual center of India and one of the world’s holiest places; millions of people make pilgrimages here every year.


The view of the ceremony onshore.

Most of the pilgrims are Hindu; they come to worship, to bathe in the Ganges’ sacred waters, and to participate in funeral rites. Every morning and every evening, elaborate ceremonies take place along the river.


This boy is selling offerings, or diya, for placing in the Ganges.

Dozens of slender boats sit just offshore, giving occupants an exceptional view of the ceremonies. The people in boats may just be tourists – like us – or they may have come on their own pilgrimage.


Washing hands before making offerings.


The boats are crowded, so it might be necessary to stand to view the ceremony.


Dozens of boats, big and small, are rafted together just offshore.


Our boat captain, sitting proud.


The traditional diya, or offering: marigolds are placed in little dishes with a lit candle.


The diya are then set adrift in the Ganges.


A ceremonial cremation ghat; understandably, no closer photographs were permitted.

Varanasi, also called Benares, has close to one hundred ghats, or stepped entrances leading to the river. Many are for bathing or puja ceremonies, but some are dedicated exclusively to cremation; some ghats are even privately owned. Hindus believe that cremation frees a soul from the continuous cycle of death and rebirth; thus, cremating a body along the Ganges is very much in demand and only for the wealthy. The cremation ghats at Varanasi operate twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year.


Sunrise on the Ganges.


As always, Indian cities are quite an architectural free-for-all.

Varanasi is the oldest continuously inhabited city in India, and it’s sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. The city is a breathtaking mix of spiritual and secular, modern and ancient, calm and chaotic.


Many of the widows’ quarters seen on the shore are now fancy guesthouses.

Sati (or suttee) is a now-obsolete Hindu funeral custom where widows would ceremonially commit suicide by throwing themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres. Though it was officially banned by the British in 1829, women are still not allowed to take part in the cremation ceremonies. (Our guide told us it was because “women are too emotional.”) In much of India, widows are still expected to renounce all pleasure in life; in addition to being a spiritual center, Varanasi is known – and not in a complimentary way – as “The City of Widows.”


Monks performing a rite; wood for the cremation fires is seen on the left.


This man is applying his face paint after bathing in the Ganges.


Daily bathing in the river, and a closer look at one of the ghats.


sadhu worshiping on one of the ghats.

Holy men, or sadhus, are a common sight in Varanasi. In Hinduism and Jainism, a sadhu is any person who has renounced the worldly life in favor of religious asceticism. Most sadhus survive on food and clothing donated by the public and may travel great distances on their own spiritual pilgrimages.


It’s impossible not to be caught up in the spirituality of this place. Our visit to Varanasi, and our voyages on the Ganges both at sunset and sunrise, were one of our most memorable experiences during our trip to India.