Let’s be serious… the important question is: Why do the continental Europeans not have more crisp flavours?

I have missed the British variety of crisps. Chips to some of you speaking your own version of English. Ultimately I am a huge – literally – fan of potent flavoured crisps. I have missed them a lot more than I should have.

I binged during my 2-week hiatus in the UK during December 2017. I am sure my Monster munchnumber 1 favourite should come as no surprise to most British – pickled onion Monster Munch. Thankfully a friend visiting me in Lisbon last month indulged my request.  I promptly took the top layer of cells from my tongue following the quick consumption of 2 packets.  For those that do not know, the flavour is intense, a distinct vinegar taste rather than onion.  It mellows after each bite.

national obsession

 

Other favourite flavours are spicy Space Raiders, plastic cheese Wotsits, super vinegary Squares and melt in the mouth Skips. I’ve not forgotten bacon Frazzles, BBQ Pringles, Steak crinkle cut or deep ridged, sweet chilli Walkers Temptations and, well you get the picture. So the food in Britain is full of additives, I’ve just given you much evidence of my addiction.  This is not only me, it is a UK national obsession.

In continental Europe, I have struggled to find strong flavours. Especially hearty meat or ultimate spicy options. I did purchase a packet that assured me of ‘packing a punch’ from the bag picture and name but I was as deflated as the packet when these crisps clearly had missed part of the taste production line in the factory.

The crisp section in the majority of shops is 2 or 3 small shelves of sharer packets, a larger packet than I really need. Maybe 6 flavours in the shop selection, at a push: original salted, lightly salted, dodgy cheese, paprika, tomato or sour cream & dill. I should be happy to find such a shelf. For the most part, it is salted or paprika. Then I munch on my snacks trying to eke out some flavour, they must save a lot of cost by only wafting the E numbers and flavouring near the potato.

Why the fascination of these unhealthy but delicious fried potato or maize snacks in the UK?

They have become a staple in our Brit ‘diet’ if you have any doubt of what I’m saying crisp aisle 2then visit the crisp aisle in a Sainsbury’s or Tesco supermarket extra. The UK consumes an estimated 6 billion packs of crisps and that’s in addition to 4.4 billion other savoury snacks A YEAR. Around 150 packets a person which really means one little old lady is eating 25 packets a year and a fanatic like me will be gorging on 275+ a year. Worrying.

The typical British would see this phenomenon as quintessentially ‘ours’ but of course, it isn’t. We are akin to the seagulls in Finding Nemo; “mine, mine, mine”. Not 100% documented but the crisp was allegedly created in Cary Moon’s Lake House restaurant in Saratoga Spring, New York. August 1853.

The story goes that George Crum got fed up with a customer (who may, or may not, have been rail magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt) sending back his fried potatoes because they were too thick. Following a third or fourth time, Crum, sliced the offending potato into wafer-thin slivers, deep-fried them and over-salted the result. Sending the dish out hoping the guy would choke on it. But Vanderbilt (if it was him) loved them. Of course, he did – starch, fat and salt – who wouldn’t?

Also a recipe for “fried potato shavings” was reportedly printed in America as early as 1832, in a book based on an even earlier collection of recipes from England. Woohoo maybe it was a British creation, however, a confirmed sighting of native British crisps was reported in 1913, made in London by a man called Carter, who had supposedly stumbled across them in France.  The origin really is a mystery.

The UK has Mr and Mrs Smith to thank for the beginnings of an empire. In 1920, Smith’s Potato Crisps Company Ltd was formed in Cricklewood, north London, with Mrs Smith peeling, slicing and frying the potatoes in the garage and Mr Smith packing them into greaseproof bags (later with a pinch of salt in a twist of blue paper inside – for Brits of a certain age, we remember the little blue packet of salt in modern-day packets, “salt ‘n shake”). The firm was so successful it had moved to new premises and hired 12 full-time staff before its first year was out. The rest, they say, is history.

It’s not clear who created the first flavoured crisps (ask any crisp company of sufficiently lengthy years and they’ll say, ‘It was us’) but thank you to the multiple genius inventors. Flavoured crisps entered the marketplace in the 60’s and the crisp sales doubled. Technologists embraced the challenge for new foods as did the public. Even creating the British Society of Flavourists in the 1970s. The fad and craze for new flavours began slowly but by the 80’s, the UK public wanted fast food combined with experimental tastes based on continental dishes or oriental spices. The dawn of the ‘prawn cocktail’.

With each decade the greater consumption of sandwiches and beer has a direct positive impact on the sale of crisps. The ideal accompaniment for the latest UK food obsession of store-bought pre-packaged sandwiches at lunch.

I read on the European Association Snacks website – yes, I did – that consumers in the Netherlands, Norway and Spain purchase more chips/crisps, savoury snacks and snack nuts (per capita) than UK consumers. Well, blow me down. They are the last countries I’d have guessed, they have many other foods in these countries to snack on such as stroopwafel, liquorice, potato pancakes and olives.

By chance, I’ve yet to travel through any of these countries. I’m heading to the Netherlands in 11 days so I’ll be checking out the supermarket aisles.

Peanut puffsFor the countries such as Greece, Italy, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic I know for sure they do not have the wonder of Monster Munch. I did try the equivalent of a peanut Wotsit – a puffed crisp. Absolutely the devil’s food, this was wrong for me on a lot of levels.

Ali Payne, Vice President of global snacks innovation at PepsiCo. explains in a National Geographic article with Hannah Steinberg that cultural cravings affect seasonings. Emerging flavour trends and local cuisines are tastes that resonate the most. The restaurant trends transfer to the crisp world.

Travellers are being exposed to ingredients from other countries and this is desired as snack flavours in the US and UK but not in such great demand for continental Europe.

Looking at general diets within each country, I think there is a more traditional palate in some countries. It is still possible to venture into more wonderfully obscure flavours such as goulash in Hungary, Pierogi in Poland and salted cod in Portugal but I have the feeling it is too frivolous and no guarantee of sales for the producer.

I believe the sharer packet makes a difference in taste choice, the bigger packet of crisps is for the family or a group of people [so I’m told]. The buyer’s choice is to please the masses rather than satisfy an individual yearning for an unusual flavour. I am inclined to try a newly released flavour when in a smaller, cheaper packet.

I believe the habit of eating a larger hot lunch in many continental European countries results in less demand for the savoury snacks. The opposite to the UK and US lunch routines.

In my research to find how many weird and wacky flavours we Brits have access too, I book cover pagefound 2 funny and informative websites about crisps.

www.chipsandcrisps.com/europe

www.crispnation.com/the-crisp-list

We all know how to consume information about any topic from the internet as well as actual tangible food! You can even purchase the book – A Brief History of Crisps, by Steve Berry and Phil Norman.

I couldn’t find a definitive number of flavours however the Chips and Crisps website lists 56 UK producers, let us estimate each producer has 30 flavours. I know this will be overestimated for some and massively underestimated for the larger names. My ‘back of a napkin’ sums = 1,680 different options.

They already share over 1300 reviews of crisps from far and wide so it is safe to say the crisp/potato chip is here to stay.

From the lists and reviews, I am planning to search out the following crisps.  Whilst I am now being careful what I eat on my travels, everything in moderation is ok 🙂  Hopefully, I will find a little more adventure in the European crisp aisle at some point in the future.

In the Netherlands, I will search out Patatje Joppie (Joppiesaus is a regional mayonnaise-style sauce that is usually put on chips…erm french fries), and Indonesian Grilled Pork, or Babi Pangang, as it is called.  In Belgium they have a brand called Croky and a bolognese flavour – I never knew this was a Belgium dish?  Hmmm.  I will let you know if I succeed.

If you are from continental Europe and love wacky favours – please tell me what and where I can find them!

In the words of Stevie…Superstition ain’t the way

If you believe in it or not, country superstitions are ancient myth and legend that has lasted. The specific root and source of every idea are unknown but somehow the tales have been kept true by generations.

You could say most continental Europeans believe nothing is an accident, however, personally, I don’t think it’s good to rule your life with superstition.

It can be said religion is related to the next life, superstition is related to the now and in opposition to the divine. Broadly defined, superstition is a belief in the existence of forces and entities that do not conform to the laws of nature or scientific understanding. In essence – the supernatural.

During mediaeval times, before proof of scientific theories and confidence in science, witches.jpgwhen bad things happened this was magic.  Black magic; sinister, mysterious and demonic. The hunting and punishment of witches was extensive and successful in the 1500-1700s. Wikipedia tells me, Janet Horne, from Scotland, died in 1727, was the last person to be executed legally for witchcraft in the British Isles.

Lonely Planet and http://www.smithsonian.com report that a museum dedicated to Anna Goldi’s life and legacy was opened in Ennenda, Switzerland, last year. Hers was the last ever execution for witchcraft in continental Europe, 1782.

General ideas are the belief in good and bad omens; charms to encourage the former and rituals to combat the latter. Cosmic forces such as fortune-telling and astrology remain hugely popular in the modern world.

13One of the best-known superstitions of the western world is today!  The idea that Friday the 13th is the unluckiest of days – one very unlucky number. In some countries, hotels will not have rooms numbered with 13 or the 13th floor.

However, if you travel across the seas, different numbers are foreboding: China fear 4 as it closely resembles the word for death, in Japan 9 sounds like the word for torture and very odd but 0888 888 888 is said to be jinxed or cursed in Bulgaria after a number of high-profile people with the number all died.

The majority of people participate in occasional superstition behaviours. Informal belief when you think it would benefit you. You don’t agree?

touch woodI’m sure you have one or two superstitions that you do without realising. I regularly use ‘touch wood’ if I mention something good I want to happen and greatly desire. The idea that this action will ‘help’ my wishes come true is better than the uncertainty of it, or worse still that by talking about ‘it’ will have been a jinx – oh, have I a traditional belief in bad omens? No way, not actively and consciously, I do it out of habit and for fun. I think…

It’s scientifically proven that an individual’s expectations can be manipulated.  Studies point to the positive and negative results from the placebo effect caused by good and bad superstitions. I actively promote positive thinking so good superstitions will not necessarily do you harm unless you are convinced your good life is unfolding solely because of the superstition.

In the worst case scenarios, superstitions can impact a person’s life such as the compulsive gambler or the fearful and anxious phobic. To me, there is no such thing as magic forces however if I can encourage good things in my direction then hey, I’ll join in for the craic.

A number of the countries I have travelled felt more superstitious than the United Kingdom. Here are a few superstitions I heard and read to bring you good luck and those to avoid, just in case!

wine spill

In Portugal, it brings bad luck to walk backwards because it teaches the devil the way you’re walking. However, if you spill wine on the table, this will bring happiness to the whole house. I won’t feel so bad if I do now!

Bum tickle cartoonAccording to old Flemish belief, if you should sneeze during a conversation, this proved the truth of the remark.

You may know that if your ear is hot someone is talking about you, well in Belgium, if you bum tickles it means that you will soon eat pie!

Also, the Belgium men are discouraged to whistle as this may decrease their chances of good luck especially that of attracting a girlfriend.

First and foremost in Hungary, they do not toast with beers. This is said to bring bad luck from an old tradition to remember soldiers killed in the 1848 revolution, whereby it decreed no Hungarian would toast with beer for 150 years.

Something's watching...
To Ward-off the Evil Eye

The most commonly talked about Greek island superstition is the evil eye. This is a curse believed to be cast by a malevolent glare, usually given to an individual when they are unaware. Many cultures believe that receiving the evil eye will cause misfortune or injury.  The photo shows multiple nazars [an amulet or talisman], created to protect against the evil eye.

The pomegranate is a symbol of happy times, fertility and prosperity. In some parts of Greece, the natives will take the fruit to visit friends and family on New Year’s Eve and smash it on the threshold so the household will have good luck.

Car poopIn Russia, there is a belief that if birds defecate on you, your car, or your property it’s a sign of good luck and may bring you riches. The more birds involved, the richer you’ll be!

GOOD LUCK, hope a bird heads your way today!

Graffiti – art, statement or defiance?

I surprised myself. I was actually angry about it. I knew it is the result of a culmination of factors but this gawd damn graffiti pissed me right off.

Is it right to deface your public environment? Is it defacing? It certainly didn’t feel hip or edgy to me and I am clearly both of those things 😃 It looked dirty, inconsiderate, shabby and definitely not chic.

The more I absorbed it, the angrier it made me feel. Like ‘the people’ just don’t care and didn’t see it.

No surprises that ancient Greece is involved in the evolution of graffiti. Language is one of the many legacies of how the Greeks have hugely influenced the modern world. The Greek language has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Who knew but graffiti is the plural word! From the Italian word graffio (“a scratch”) and graffiato (“scratched”), originating from the Greek word γράφειν — graphein — meaning “to write”.

Additionally, evidence of the first known ‘modern’ graffiti survives in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus now modern-day Turkey. BUT is it graffiti? Local guides say it is promoting prostitution so is this not early proof of the ‘ad man’?

The current Oxford English Dictionary definition is:  NOUN – treated as singular or plural

Writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.

The public canvas. A very important factor. Does the person creating the graffiti consider this? A big white wall in the heart of a city must be an attractive proposition to paint but what if this wall is a hospital, a church, a restaurant? Is this art or vandalism?

Prague's Lennon wallWhat is art? The expression of creative imagination producing something in visual form to solely be appreciated for its beauty and the emotion it can convey. A branch of art is painting, therefore, graffiti ‘must’ be art. Or is it?  Do you like the Lennon Wall in Prague pictured?

Art is also considered to be a skill and a craft, is graffiti a skill? The biggest discussion relating to art is that it is subjective. What I like and appreciate may be completely nonsensical to you.

So, a modern definition then is that graffiti IS street art. If it were that simple.

Since the invention of the spray paint can, the individual would covertly tag walls in the night. Possibly to communicate a gang area or just to occupy a bored brain. For me, this is plain vandalism. No great art or skill to spray a circle or graphic text on the property of someone else’s business or home. No consideration of the consequences to the person who owns the wall now adorned. Public opinion on whether tagging is acceptable remains very divided.

In Athens, for me, the graffiti was everywhere. On the walls of the shops, cafes, empty derelict houses and the list continues. It was part of the fabric of the city but its the capital of the country, approximately 5 million tourists visit annually to delve into mythology and history to be greeted with more than half a city that’s neither pretty to wander nor atmospheric or in places, safe to wander. Generally, the residents don’t seem to see the issue.  It felt like they didn’t care enough about their own city then why are we, tourists, coming to explore, to spend our time there and even more so, our money.

I was completely ignorant of the history of a modern Greece and I do mean modern; 1950s onward. They have never had it easy. After reading up on the state of play for their last 60+ years, Greece has undergone many reasons to not care. Most of us are aware of the 2010 European sovereign debt crisis of which the country’s stability remains off kilter. The current population is still suffering from high inflation, unemployment, immigration and 7 years later it didn’t feel like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. In September 1999 and February 1981 the city was hit by devastating earthquakes, damaging housing and industry. The country was under a military dictatorship from 1967 to 1974.

I’ve listed just 4 human experiences from the last 6 decades that must have impacted greatly on the Greek individual. I can imagine that the urge to look after only yourself and your own becomes greater in time of crisis and strife.

I felt the people may have lost a connection to their community, their environment and the effect each has on their neighbour. One lady I worked with stated there is no sense of society. No great pride for environment. It feels like the pride for their history is also deteriorated too.

Maybe too much has happened for the locals to recognise how important the city was, it should never be forgotten that Athens was the birthplace of democracy, philosophy, theatre, medicine and science.

Others say Athens is a paradise for graffiti artists, however, I didn’t see much quality just the quantity. The usual spray can tagging is put down to high youth unemployment, a general sense of unrest, and authorities being stretched too thin to do much about it. Frankly, the police have bigger problems if they deigned to show they actually do want to uphold the laws of the land.

Whilst I was there, I also heard from the locals working at the hostel that the police do nothing hence there is little to no respect for authorities even if they did try to clamp down. Few walls were spared. If these ‘defiant artists’ are broke then why are they wasting their money on spray paint?

Now let’s look at street or urban art. Graffiti has evolved, murals are much more considered.

Banksy Pulp Fiction

I’d be surprised if you have not heard of Banksy, one of the UK’s most prolific street artists.  Now internationally renowned.Banksy Bristol

 

 

 

 

Plus Blek le Rat and Stik below – all said to be the Picassos of urban art. I don’t know if I’d go that far but the fact their works are in the public domain, they must have more visibility than a framed picture in a gallery.

I am a walking contradiction because I believe the urban murals to be colourful, provocative, accessible, stylistic and opinionated. I have to admit I like it and I do consider it to be art. Yet it is still a crime if the owner of the public canvas did not give consent. My simple reason for accepting it, at least it shows a talent and is almost always aesthetically pleasing.  The rubix cube from Budapest and the women’s face in Poland.

Potentially created to portray a message, a statement that can be connected to the location. I don’t mean it has to be frescoes of Athens, all twee olive trees and sunsets belying the real Athens life. It can still be gritty and aggressive. Graffiti art is a form of communication and self-expression. I believe the art adds dignity to the message.

Athens what nextThe photos above and below are two examples I saw hidden away in Athens.  I particularly like the one below as it communicates exactly how the artist and community are feeling – Zero cent-iment. 

0 centi-mentThis is what the city needed more of. I encourage and promote examples such as this. This can add character to a city location and not forget this can result in visitors and visitors bring money.

In a city as advanced as Athens then why not ask business owners to connect with street artists, why not permit large-scale public areas such as bridges or parks where people are allocated specific spaces for their creations – sounds far too organised and regulated for it to happen.

What do you think? Does it make a difference to you on holiday or at home? These are just a couple of impressive features I’ve seen on my travels – art or vandalism?

Bratislava street artSalzburg underpassLodz urban mural

Day 1 of month 11, can you believe it, no April fools’ joke. I lost blog focus but I am back and we need to talk

It started in beautiful Budapest, early December 2017, the lack of volunteering opportunities over the festive period was disheartening. This was my first obstacle, everything else had fallen in to place quite simply. I imagined the festive price peak and working for my bed negated the overinflated holiday price hike. I’d always wanted to visit Athens… it’s, THE Athens. Filled with millennia of mythology, philosophy, the Olympics and sun!  So when this opportunity came up I was chuffed but not necessarily as confident as previous placements. Transpires my gut was right.

Overlooking AthensTravelling always has its ups and downs but I felt like a fish out of water.  Too many loud unpredictable Mediterranean personalities. All too lawless for me. Exaggerated by my fellow hostel guests.  Not personally showing aggression to me but the city feels negative; citizens ready to break rules at any point with little thought of the consequences to others. I felt a bubbling mutiny and no, I don’t think this is new because of the current economic situation, but I am sure it has heightened it.

Only just a couple of days after I left protesting turned to rioting.  Anti-establishment protesters and the Greek police clashed outside the parliament house.  The tensions at the end of 2 marches ended in Molotov cocktails and Police using tear gas and stun grenades.  The clash between the people and the authorities is not new in this city.


This location was my lowest point.

I had committed to 4 weeks over Christmas and new year, I managed 3.  Giving a little notice was the polite, ever so British, thing to do.  I’ve known some ‘help exchangers’ give only 1-day notice because their experience was extreme.  Mine was only annoying.   I felt I couldn’t immediately leave my pre-agreed commitment to the host, even though she was part of the problem, it was Christmas and I didn’t like leaving her in the proverbial.

My greater challenge was to find an easy ‘next location’ as the only Greek island I’ve ever had on my wish list was Santorini.  Especially as islands are basically ‘closed’ season over Christmas and New Year.  I am surprised that the destination has not boomed like the Canary Islands for sun seekers in the winter but the Greeks have decided no – they need holiday time too.

I caught up with a lot of box sets, I know I could have travelled out into the country but I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’.  I only had to work 2 nights a week which I quite enjoyed except for clearing up their trash.  In the words of Christina Aguilera that hostel felt diiiirty.  The type of rebel without a cause guest hung out smelling of weed or unwashed bodies in the cold communal areas. Cooking up a storm then leaving a trail of curried fish, beer cans and cigarette tobacco & filters behind them

My annoyance about their lack of effort just made me, sadly, too quickly, join their ‘why bother’ brigade.  Accentuated by winter germs that got me twice. Two different colds in 3 weeks.  Sharing a dorm with different people has this risk. Plus their infuriating desire to breathe so-called fresh air.  The locals are used to open doors and windows but I’m not a fan when the temperature is only 10 degrees compared to the usual Greek 30+. Not the paradise I was hoping for.

There were other lovely guests and volunteers in the same boat as me, even the catching of colds, I was reassured I was not irrational.  I tried, with little success, to find warm places to work, the hilarious contradiction of being cold inside turned to frustration.  I was losing the battle to close the sources of cold draughts, I’m wearing a scarf and 2 jumpers in a building with lots of cold hard surfaces but this wasn’t obvious to others, I should have worn a sign around my neck.

Their summer lasts so much longer than winter so it seems they just grin and bear it. This was 3 weeks of 1st world grumbles and it wasn’t all bad but I’m not so good at positive thinking when cold.  I certainly couldn’t complain about the amount of free time I had yet I couldn’t get the sunny disposition of a character out of the films Mamma Mia or Shirley Valentine.  They were loving Greece, why wasn’t I?

Yes, ok, some of it was fun!

Talking to only 2 friends who have visited Athens, opinion is different.  Having 1 day, 3 days or 3 weeks in a city will obviously expand experiences and feelings.  Both friends liked Athens to varying degrees, I remember their enthusiasm encouraged me to go.  A tour guide I met, an Irish chap, moved to Athens for a girlfriend.  The girl long gone, he remains in Athens nearly 2 years on, because he loves it.  His words “I like that anything goes, there are few rules.  The people including the authorities just look the other way”.  I quite enjoy reminiscing through rose-coloured specs now but no way could I have stayed longer.

I highly recommend a whistle-stop 1 day or even a long weekend but that’s about it.

I fell into my duvet, acquired a second to create a den and continued with the Amazon prime box set addiction (Watch these: very good!  Please Like Me, Black-ish, and This is Us – you’ll need tissues for 2 of these).

The best type of procrastination is the rabbit hole of the internet, sightseeing, recovering from sightseeing or working to pay for the travel.  Not my blog though.   I recognised I didn’t want my blog to be a travel guide there are many to compete with.  But what had I initially thought it would be?

I had not achieved the volunteering in the true sense of the word, for each country.  This needed a lot more advance scheduling of destination and route than I wanted, getting answers from country government bodies is nye on impossible and with the language barrier too. Nightmare.

SnoopyIn December I had over 15 unfinished blogs to edit but I felt stuck: definitive writer’s block.  A creative dud.

Then the penny dropped. I absorb my world around me.  I have questions, observations and much opinion. I absolutely believe this is because I’m a solo traveller. In a couple or group then your focus is elsewhere or you may immediately debate and share right at the moment.

I left the ‘Aguilera’ hostel and moved to another for only 3 nights.  What a difference!  My shoulders relaxed knowing that the bedroom and front doors wouldn’t be wide open allowing Joe Public access if they were curious.  My nose wasn’t filled with stinky substances in the public areas.  I had my quiet space to recover from germs and I was warmer!

I decided in my little cubicle bed, like any product or service, I needed to ‘re-clarify my brand’.  I never really thought about who is reading before just that I make the text flow and enjoyable to read when I’m 70.  BUT NOW…I do want to know who’s reading and start a conversation, with you.  Conversation

I’ll consider and share my factoids and ponderings about place or people, more of the former no doubt.  What you’ll be pleased to read is – fewer words, more frequency. A print columnist delivers an average 800 words. I’ll be happy if I can keep under 1400.  I’m starting well with this adding up to around 1375 🙂

So here goes, it has still taken me time to get ahead of myself, to combat my travel procrastination but my revitalised blog starts today.  A big contribution to why I felt negatively of Athens and how it’s not a tourist destination for more than a cruise day trip or pre/post-island hop stop off – “Graffiti – art, statement or defiance?”.  Available online and in your inbox in exactly 45 minutes.

My request to you. Please contribute, please comment. Look forward to it.  Your opinion is as interesting and as valid as mine. Though for you trolls and spammers beware, don’t bother, you’ll just get deleted.  To the rest of you, loving our chat, it’s healthy to have an opinion. We can do fun, educated and eloquent, can’t we?  Hope to hear from you tomorrow!