The Toast of Travel

Back when I was in graduate school, I can recall one lazy day in London when a friend and I were talking about our indulgences — the one “thing” we can’t say no to — for her it is food and for me it’s drinks. Even if she’s not hungry and food is there, she’ll eat it. Me on other hand? I can easily say no to food, but a drink? Now that’s a different story. And lest you think I’m a lush, it doesn’t have to be the alcoholic variety, any beverage will do.

So today’s prompt is, pretty much, right up my alley.

Day 20: Drink

Just as the cuisine of a place reveals clues about its culture and history, so does its signature local drink. What’s the best drink you had on the road, and did the drink have any connection to the place where you drank it or the people you drank with?

Being such a bevy-a-phile, it’s hard to pick just one “best drink on the road” — so I’m going to opt instead for my top 5:

1) Café con leche in Marbella – the first day of our backpacking adventure, Zuri and I hit up the local cafe and she introduced me to café con leche. She had been in Marbella for a week, visiting her uncle and knew the best spot in town. It was my first cuppa joe overseas. As the two porcelain cups and saucers were placed before us, Zuri reached for a long, slender packet of raw sugar. As she flicked her hand back and forth, she eyed me suspiciously as I picked up my cup. “Uh, you’re not going to drink that plain are you?” As a black coffee drinker, it seemed foreign to add sugar. I shook my head yes. “You might not want to do that…” her voice trailed off as I took a gulp. The unadulterated shock of acrid, bitter coffee hit my tongue and I felt the hair on the back of my head stand on end and promptly curl. I reached for a sugar packet and the rest is history.

2) Sangria on Las Ramblas in Barcelona – same trip a week or two down the road, Zuri and I spent an entire afternoon having conversations about love and life, people watching, writing in our respective journals and smoking countless cigarettes (back when I knew better, but still did it anyway). It was the first time I had encountered the chilled red wine and fruit cocktail. It was pleasantly refreshing, and made me feel oh so grown-up. To this day, I remember the waiters walking with their trays across the street to reach the island of tables and chairs. It was a perfect moment, the future laid out in front of us, we had no responsibility, no plans other than exploration.

3. Cheap, awful wine on the Spanish steps in Roma – this one involves my buddies Marc and Oleg during our European adventure (in fact, I even gave the cheap wine and the Spanish steps a shout out). One night in Rome, we decided to hang out on the Spanish Steps, with a few bottles of wine. Considering we were the epitome of traveling through Europe on a shoestring, the ideal bottle of wine was a cheap one. It was quite possibly the worst bottle of wine I’ve ever had. It was reminiscent of vinegar and produced a pretty gnarly hangover.

4. Absinthe at the Globe bookstore in Prague – visiting this English-language bookstore we discovered its menu included absinthe, the notorious spirit that I think they say van Gogh was drinking when he cut his ear off. Its fluorescent green hue and anise scent was slightly off-putting (for a girl like me who abhors licorice). We each brought the tumblers to our lips, but the alcoholic fumes hit us before we could even take a sip. Our waiter explained how absinthe was meant to be drunk: take a teaspoon of sugar, steep it in the absinthe for a second or two, take a lighter to your absinthe-soaked sugar until it turns to a liquid goo. Stir your drink until all the sugary syrup is dissolved and then drink. It burned something fierce, but had a pleasant taste. It felt so artistic and other-worldly to be sitting in Prague, drinking a forbidden spirit. We celebrated by going to a club and dancing the night away.

5. Imperial beer in Tamarindo – the week I spent in Costa Rica was one of pure relaxation and in pursuit of la pura vida. Every day was spent surfing in the Pacific, soaking up the sun and relaxing. At the end of each day was an ice-cold Imperial. Everyone would gather on the patio, totally beached and encrusted with sand and salt water, smiling from ear to ear while we relived the days rides. Maybe it was the fact the beer was less than $2 a bottle or the iconic label its with signature eagle, resplendent in red and yellow. Either way, it was the quintessential way to end a day in Tamarindo.

Of course, there have been countless others: afternoon tea in England, champagne in business class (always a fave), the Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel, just to name a few. Knowing there are countless countries still for me to explore, it opens up an entirely new world of beverage choices. I’ll raise a glass to that!

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