Eastern Macedonia and Thrace is a region still home to the mix of ethnicities and religions that have settled on these lush, mountainous lands.
The lush mountainous terrain of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace make driving difficult. It’s not the well-maintained roads; it’s the distractions. I wanted to constantly pull the car over, get out and take yet another photo of scenes that I know the Greats of the ancient world witnessed. Every few miles another sign pointed to a sanctuary of the pantheon, sacred cave or ancient theater.
A hundred years! A hundred years are gone
Of Grecian mornings and of Grecian sunsets!
Make them a coffin wide, O carpenter,
And bury them, the hapless dead, in silence!
(Kostas Palamas 1859-1943)
By the dawn of the 20th century the three major regional kingdoms bordering what would become the First World War’s Macedonian Front (Greece, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) were players in a grand game of thrones. Britain, France and Germany would dictate the script. The chess pieces in this first round of what would be an ever more deadly 20th century spiral would be a generation of young men.
Please read more of the most difficult to write and heart wrenching article I’ve ever been assigned…
What may seem an oxymoron, an agnostic recognizing the sacredness of Mt. Athos, is perfectly normal to me. I do not believe in a divine being, but freely accept the holiness of humanity and creation, whatever caused the big bang. I accept holiness because it’s impossible to deny visceral emotions when immersed in surroundings that dwarf ordinary human expression.
There are certainly impressive mountains that tower over 2,033 meter/6,670 foot Mt. Athos, even in Greece. It’s not about size. It’s all about perception.
Read more about my experiences on Mount Athos in the Hellenic News of America…
Nowhere in the southern Balkans has a region been so coveted by empires than Croatia with over 1,100 miles of photogenic Adriatic coastline. Although the ethnic Croats were themselves 7th century northern invaders, they could not stop a historical process that would come to an end only in late 20th century. The Romans, Venetians, Hungarians, Austrians, Ottomans, Mussolini’s Italy and Serbs all lusted over this beautiful and strategic land akin to the biblical neighbor’s wife.
Today Croatia is invaded not by empires but by golden hordes of tourists…
Read more on my travels to Croatia in the Hellenic News of America
“Welcome to Morocco,” was the greeting not just from the front desk reception at hotels but from shopkeepers, people on the street, vendors in the Medina and waiters at cafes.
A simple statement, yet time taken out of their day to make one feel less of an outsider had a major impact. It made one think why these ordinary gestures were important. Hospitality was not learned in university courses; it was embedded into a nomadic culture in a land of rugged beauty that preceded the Prophet Mohamed’s reinforcement of the concept.
We’ve all been there – that small panic when utterly lost, a sudden illness in a strange land or after 17 hours of hot, dusty travel an unexpected kindness makes clear why we call ourselves members of the human race.
If you’re a travel journalist, you’ve been in unexpected difficulties numerous times in some of Earth’s iconic locations. If you’re an active traveler, exploring and taking risks, getting out of one’s comfort zone is taken for granted. Getting back in often requires help – unexpected kindness.
“The eagerness of destroying books and libraries has been executed by judges, lawyers, literate and uneducated people, rich and poor and priests of all gods. The peculiar book hatred has been growing in parallel with the desire for knowledge.” (The introduction to the disturbing exhibition on book burning at Casa de Sefarad, Cordoba, Spain.)
In 1817 Heinrich Heine witnessed young German nationalist students burn books in Wartburg and later wrote, “It was only the prelude, where they burn books, at the end they will also burn people.” In 1933 his books were among the thousands destroyed in the infamous Nazi book burning, which was the prelude to the Holocaust. Yet Adolph Hitler was far from the first leader to inspire biblioclasm – the pathological urge to destroy the written word and erase collective memory.
It’s appropriate that the small but exquisite Casa de Sefarad in Cordoba should mount such a disturbing exhibition. From the 8th through the 13th century Cordoba had been Western Europe’s most enlightened and advanced city. As the capital of an Al-Andalus Moorish kingdom it excelled in urban technology, the sciences, arts and religious tolerance.
Casa de Sefarad is the Jewish cultural center in Cordoba preserving the legacy of what was once a thriving Sephardic community protected by the Moorish state. Today the former Jewish Quarter is the heart of Cordoba’s UNESCO World Heritage District abutting the magnificent Mezquita Mosque. Islamic Al-Andalus generally tolerated all beliefs as long as they did not openly denounce Islam although individual rulers interpreted tolerance differently.
All that changed when Cordoba, and eventually all Al-Andalus kingdoms, fell to the feudal Christian lords from what is today the northern Spanish provinces between the 13th and 15th centuries. Fueled by doctrinal certainty, an ethnic cleansing of both people and thought commenced for the next three centuries. Eventually most of Spain’s Jews and Muslims were murdered, expelled from the country, migrated to the New World or granted protection in Morocco and the Ottoman Empire.
Yet intellectual and ethnic persecution has a long history, and Casa de Sefarad presents highlights in a chilling timeline within the walls of this former Jewish merchant family townhouse.
416 BC Athens: The great Greek philosopher and mathematician, Protagoras was condemned by the city of Athens. His book, “On the Gods,” and his belief that “Man is the measure of all things,” prompted his persecution. In 416 his works were burnt and he fled, unfortunately dying on his way to Sicily.
213 BC China: Li Si, Prime Minister for the Qin Dynasty, ordered the burning of all books by Confucius on the grounds that the philosopher favored individual thought preeminent over obeying the State.
170 BC: The Seleucid King Antiochus IV forbade the practice of Judaism. He commanded the destruction of all books in Jerusalem. This act motivated the Maccabean rebellion against the Hellenistic Syrian Kingdom (the festivity of Hanukah)
260 AD Athens: The Goths invaded Athens. One of their generals prevented the burning of the city’s libraries claiming that, “As long as the Greeks are slaves to reading they won’t be good at fighting.” Later the libraries were destroyed.
637 Syria: The library of Ctesiphon in present day Syria was burnt destroying thousands of ancient scientific works by Persians, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Babylonians.
1233 Montpellier, France: The orthodox Jewish community reported the works of Maimonides to the Roman Inquisition. All the works of Maimonides, the towering intellect of Jewish Cordoba, were burnt in the main square of the city.
1530 Tetzcoco, Mexico: thousands of scholarly, literary and religious Aztec books were burned on the orders of Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga – founder of the University of Mexico.
1553 Rome: The Talmud was condemned as blasphemous. Thousands of Jewish books were burnt in the Campo dei Fiori.
1600 Rome: the intellectual Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori. Giordano Bruno was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and cosmological theorist who conceptually extended the then novel Copernican model.
1826 St. Petersburg: Tsar Nicholas I decreed the Law of Censorship consisting of 220 categories of banned topics.
1873 Washington DC: Congress past the Comstock Law defining obscene literature. Banned books included the Arabian Nights, the Decameron, Canterbury Tales, Lysistrata, and Moll Flanders.
1909 Rome: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) writer, poet and playwright was a promoter of the Futurist Movement. In his 1909 “Futurist Manifesto” he affirmed industrialization and technology as the engine of creativity and that, “we have to tear down the museums and libraries.” Marinetti became a favorite of Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
10 May 1933 Nazi Book Burning, Berlin: Three days after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, any book containing “inaccurate information” (aka “fake news”) was forbidden in Germany. With the assistance of the German Students Association and professors of the University of Berlin over 25,000 books were burned including the works of Andre Gide, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Voltaire, Einstein, Jack London, Marcel Proust, Maxim Gorky and Ernest Hemingway.
When Sigmund Freud heard that his books had been burned in the OpernPlatz his reaction was, “How has the world advanced! In the Middle Ages they would have burnt me instead.” Freud fled Austria in 1938 after that country’s union with Germany and died in London the following year escaping the Holocaust.
1961 Munich: The German state of Bavaria banned the broadcast of Aristophanes “Lysistrata” citing that its subject matter – wives withholding sex in order to force their men to stop war – “offends the moral sensibility of the population.” (Hitler started his rise to power in Bavaria).
1978 Buenos Aires: One million books printed by Argentina’s Latin American Publishing Center were burned by the military dictatorship.
Mid-1960s through early1970s China: the Cultural Revolution under Mao Tse-Tung saw the destruction of many libraries and institutions housing the priceless patrimony of over 5,000 years. As a young man Mao had worked as a librarian.
1992 Sarajevo: Literature professor Nicola Koljevic, Vice President of the short lived Republic of Srpska during the former Yugoslav civil war, ordered the fire bombing that destroyed the National and University Library of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The following day a Serbian sniper murdered Aida, a young librarian trying to save books that remained. The library has since been rebuilt but countless works by scholars from antiquity through the Ottoman Empire were lost.
2002 Ramallah: The Israeli Army inflicted massive damage on the library of Al-Bireh Ramla destroying thousands of Palestinian works of art, science and literature. It has since been rebuilt.
And yet not all was horror. There were windows of hope in this timeline.
1775 Leipzig: Goethe’s novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” was banned in Saxony for obscenity. It became an instant, and German literature’s first, bestseller.
1985 Cairo: A Lebanese edition of “The Arabian Nights” was declared obscene – 3,500 copies are burned. The ban was lifted a year later.
2012 Tumbuktu, Mali: Then biblioclasm comes full circle. An Islamic extremist militia attempted to find the collection of thousands of manuscripts on the history of Al-Andalus written by Moorish, Jewish and Christian scholars known as the Kati Collection. They failed since supporters had hid the collection.
How did this exhibit affect me? I lost it when I came upon the fate of Michael Servetus Villeneuve. Heinrich Heine had made a historical error in his comment; authors had already been burned for their writing. In Geneva, 1553, Free Thinker philosopher Michael Servetus Villeneuve was condemned by both Catholic and Protestant leaders including John Calvin. He was burnt to death on a pyre made from his own books.
The curator noticed my reaction and any attempt on my part to explain failed. I left Casa de Sefarad in a fruitless effort to compose myself. Returning I engaged in an emotional conversation with the curator on why, as a writer, I’ll live with this image the rest of my life. Censorship, the attempt to erase collective cultural memory, is the eighth deadly sin.
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:
With the current penchant for luxury travel flooding the blogosphere promoting budget hotels may seem incongruous. Yet during a life of travel this writer has always budgeted for both memories and things. Not to discount fine luxury properties worldwide, especially in Mexico’s Puerto Vallarta, but one does not have to compromise.
The walls of this travel journalist’s residences became filled with visual reminders of lasting memories through acquiring top quality local art and antiques. The double effect has been to patronize and promote local artists and antique shops while satisfying a desire to glimpse the soul of a destination through its creativity. Not being a wealthy individual it’s difficult to achieve both goals spending in the high hundreds of dollars for accommodations.
For the sake of full disclosure many sponsored trips including luxury accommodations are part of the business of a travel writer. Among those Puerto Vallarta’s superb Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel is close to ideal for this writer – and will not require one to take out a loan – but both professional and private travels have included modest hotels worldwide. Based on three trips to Puerto Vallarta over the past year, Travel with Pen and Palate reviews four price friendly hotels starting with its least favorite.
Hotel Posada de Roger – ★
In the heart of the rapidly gentrifying Romantic Zone of Puerto Vallarta, the Hotel Posada de Roger is top rated on Trip Advisor. (“Why” should become another article on the questionable merits of rating agencies.) From both the exterior and interior court, the hotel looks every inch a throw back to the lazy days of Margaritaville.
That doesn’t have to be an issue; it could be romantic. Unfortunately the song of that name was written in 1977, and the hotel does not seem to have been renovated anytime before or since. The beautiful jungle of the potted plant courtyard and gardens on the upper floors hide the hotel’s flaws.
The rooms are air-conditioned but gaps in the ill-fitting windows and doors, whose lock offers little security, requires leaving the air on high and using the ceiling fan as well – Puerto Vallarta is a hot, humid, albeit beautiful, Pacific Ocean city. A charity thrift store appears to have been the source of the small room’s furnishings with a hard bed, musty coverings and, considering the room’s size, an incongruous sofa jammed against an old chest of drawers – the only place to store clothing.
Access to the adequate bathroom required opening the door to the bath before one could step up an 8” rise – remember that at night or bring a night light. Wifi was hit or miss. Breakfast was not included.
The Hotel Posada de Roger has a well-known restaurant for breakfast and lunch that’s popular with tourists. Between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. the restaurant staff begin their daily set-up and that is when you will awaken – no need to set an alarm if you’re an early riser. Given the design of the restaurant the noise level reverberating off the masonry walls and stone courtyard was unacceptable.
The hotel does have a swimming pool. The water was strangely green. That should have raised a flag for this writer, but it was hot. Regrets the following day from ingesting said water while swimming were not pleasant. That was the only personal incidence of illness in the three trips to Puerto Vallarta.
Hotel Belmar Galeria – ★★
The Hotel Belmar, also in the Romantic Zone, should qualify for three stars, but after two seperate stays in two different rooms inconsistencies prevent given it more than two. The lobby and walls of the hotel are lined with top contemporary works by Puerto Vallarta artists. It’s a smart look for modest accommodations. Yet the quality of the rooms vary, and they’re location will dictate the quality of wifi reception from okay to non-existent.
Both rooms had exterior balconies which sounds romantic if one is not bothered by street noise starting early in the morning. Both beds were adequately comfortable and the second room had a desk. But to turn the air on one had to stand on the mattress and throw the circuit breaker switch.
Breakfast was not provided at the Hotel Belmar but coffee and store-bought cookies were available in the lobby. Even with its shortcomings, if being in the center of the Romantic Zone on a budget is important than inspecting rooms ahead of time is advised and, for sound proofing, choosing an interior room may be a good option.
Catedral Vallarta Boutique Hotel – ★★★
For full disclosure the Catedral Vallarta Boutique Hotel was one of the sponsoring hotels during the second trip to Puerto Vallarta in November to cover the 22nd Festival Gourmet International. It is located in the Centro District a few minutes walk from the Romantic Zone across the Rio Cuele and the “Jungle” – the green oasis and artisan center of Isla del Rio Cuele. It’s central location puts it within blocks of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and, like all four hotels, of the beach and the Malecon.
Noise level in Puerto Vallarta Centro is radically improved over the Romantic Zone – unless you’re there during Mexican Independence Day when a school marching band decided to practice at 6:00 a.m. The Catedral Hotel offers a wide variety of rooms including the spacious suite provided to this writer. Although the hotel is not 21st century modern, the furnishings were in top shape, the bed comfortable, the kitchen – had this culinary travel writer time to cook – was modern and well equipped and the expansive balcony was a pleasant spot to people watch.
Both modern and traditional original works of art lined the walls of the hotel and the rooms. Like the Belmar, the hotel was constructed around a large interior courtyard, but it was quiet. Wifi was not available in the suite or in some other rooms according to guests, but was strong in the courtyard, which had several sitting areas. Breakfast was not provided but coffee, tea and cookies were available in a room off the courtyard.
Hotel Porto Allegro – ★★★★
Hopefully word will not get out too quickly that the Hotel Porto Allegro is a bargain for fear management will raise the rates. Just across the street from the Catedral, this modern cut stone and glass hotel is a hidden gem. Sleek cool stone and marble tile in light grays immediately soften the bright hot sun of beautiful Porto Vallarta. Modern gym facilities are just off the lobby, and an elevator – rare among budget hotels – will carry you and your luggage upwards.
The rooms are simple but well appointed with excellent beds, a desk, ceiling fan and a split air-conditioning system so efficient it needed to be kept low. A spacious closet system stored all belongings and the bathroom was ultra modern. Best of all for this travel journalist the wifi was excellent!
On the rooftop of the Porto Allegro was a large hot tub and the outdoor lounge area from which to survey a vista of Puerto Vallarta, the Catedral and the Bay of Benderas. A glass walled breakfast room served a superb buffet, included in the room rate, of Mexican and American foods that tantalized this chef who desires more than anything non-traditional breakfast items. Eggs and sausages were certainly available but so were spicy sauces to liven them up as well as copious amounts of fresh fruit, waffles with dulce de leche, savory stewed dishes of poultry and/or pork to ladle over rice, fresh squeezed juices, a variety of Mexican sweet breads and excellent coffee.
It is possible to have it all: comfort, memories and fine things that will recall those experiences. The budget does not have to be sacrificed if that is a concern. When that same budget gives you Puerto Vallarta, then, like PV Tourism proudly exclaims, welcome to paradise.
Additional Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:
Nothing significant about the number 100 just a human penchant for symmetry. Although I continued to write for publications for which I had deadlines, since February I took time away from my own website to reorganize a significant facet of life – to be settled or wander. Necessity for the change was partly dictated by the end of a long relationship – isn’t that the truth in literature.
But as a life-long traveler – I was barely 20 years old when I went off on a solo year in Europe – the decision I made did not cause much loss of sleep. Okay, a little. Perhaps it was loosing the relationship that caused more sleepless nights, but that’s more for a romance novel than a travel web site, and besides, it ended amicably.
Being a full-time culinary and cultural travel writer since 2009 after a long and varied career as a chef, educator and historian, relocating – having a permanent address – in any number of suitable American locations appeared an oxymoron. (I’m doing my best not to bring politics into this.)
Except for frequent transportation connections – aka waiting – I freely admit being turned-on by the road. Why have an apartment when I don’t have to clean a hotel room? Why cook for myself when as a culinary writer it’s the cuisine of others that I seek? Why agonize over choosing among Earth’s beautiful locations when passport in hand I can be on a beach, hiking in a mountain or rambling through a vibrant urban space.
That doesn’t mean I seek the life of a wandering gypsy. I do have commitments to publications, fine public relations firms and tourism boards that work with me and my own interests that have already helped shape life for the foreseeable future.
One month ago, after considerable research and several invitations, I embarked on an ambitious seven month schedule that has already taken me to Mexico, France, the Pyrenees Mountain Principality of Andorra and, after several days in Barcelona, currently a long train ride through the beautiful Spanish countryside for a return visit to the ancient Roman/Visigoth/Moorish/Spanish city of Cordoba – a personal favorite.
By mid-June I’ll make a long-anticipated visit to Morocco. Having extensive life experiences with Spanish and Latino cultures and cuisine, Morocco – the wellspring of Moorish civilization – is essential in understanding the interplay of cultures that has so influenced the Western Mediterranean, Central and South America.
From Morocco I’ll fly east to the Balkans and a third return to beloved Greece. My smart sponsors for two months in Greece – September and October – not only admire my writing on Greek culture and cuisine, but also recognize my keen interest in history. I’ve always taken a holistic view that the life experiences of people in any region help determine its fascination as a travel destination.
1917 was the turning point for the Balkans and Greece during the First World War. Thessaloniki in particular is honoring this pivotal year that saw Macedonia and Thrace reunited with southern Greece after centuries of separation during Ottoman rule. Besides continuing culinary and cultural explorations in the north and Halkidiki – including Mount Athos – the Corinthian coast in the south will be a new region that’ll only add to my Greek experience.
Prior to my Greek return in September there are the months of July and August which will be filled with culinary and 1917 experiences in the heart of the Balkans including first time visits to Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and the city that sparked the world changing conflagration, the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital of Sarajevo.
By the 1st of December I’ll have made a full circle from where this adventure started returning to Mexico where I already signed a year-long lease on a beautiful apartment in Puerto Vallarta with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean – and weekly maid service (I still don’t have to clean!) It’s fortuitous that just as life was changing, invitations for two culinary press trips to Puerto Vallarta occupied a month of my life last Autumn. Not only did the city’s excellent cuisine and vibrant culture win me over but solidified my acceptance that being on the road is the life meant for me.
So a year in one city is not like being on the road? Not necessarily since exploring Central and South America has been part of my writing life since 2009 and Puerto Vallarta will become a hub.
After 2018…I don’t yet need to know. That’s the freedom of being on the road. The hundred days of silence are over, and a hundred articles are sure to follow.
“Thankfully, we’re starting to pull away from the idea that all Mexican food means burritos as big as your head.” Chef Rick Bayless 1
American Chef Rick Bayless has built his celebrity status on both introducing Mexican regional cuisine to the United States as well as creatively reinterpreting its concepts to a 21st century palate. Naturally the word fusion comes to many people’s mind. Yet fused from where and with what – other ingredients from the Americas?
If you accept that concept – other ingredients from the Americas – than it’s not a fusion (a joining of unknowns) it’s creativity with native sources that form a cuisine of the Americas. It’s estimated that over 50% of commonly eaten foods by North American descendants of European immigrants were unknown to their ancestors prior to 1492 including vanilla, tomatoes, bell peppers, catfish and ducks.
So if we can get beyond the self-imposed value judgment of authentic cuisine – aka a real Italian pizza is only made with (American) tomatoes…? – than perhaps we can revel in our human culinary diversity and sit down to an enjoyable meal full of terrific flavors.
When covering the recent 22nd Festival Gourmet International in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, more than one first time visitor to both Puerto Vallarta and the festival commented how they had “no idea” cuisine in Mexico was so varied? The names of several popular American corporate chains of Tex-Mex food were often cited. The festival’s hallmark was highlighting Mexico’s ever-evolving New World cuisine.
Chef Luis Noriega’s illustrious international career has taken him from Acapulco to European capitals and Chef/Professor at leading Mexican culinary collages. He is chef/owner of Restaurant La Gula in the south central Mexican Pacific coast city of Zihuatanejo. At the November festival Chef Noriega conducted an in-depth daytime cooking workshop and lunch at Puerto Vallarta’s Coco Tropical on the beautiful beachfront Malecon.
Grilled sesame crusted tuna steak on a bed of mint scented vermicelli may not sound Mexican, but more than half the ingredients are indigenous to the Western Hemisphere and the remainder were introduced through European domination more than 500 years ago. So the recipe is as “American as apple pie” – apples are indigenous of central Asia.
Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli
Ingredients for 4 servings:
500 gr. (16 oz) fresh tuna steaks
to taste fresh ground sea salt & black pepper
100 gr. (3 oz) sesame seeds
50 ml. (3½ tablespoons) olive oil
100 gr. (3 oz) rice vermicelli
50 gr. (1½ tablespoons) unsalted butter
10 each finely chopped leaves of fresh mint
2 each small ripe avocados
2 each green chili piquin – very small HOT chilis – finely minced – or substitute ½ to 1 teaspoon (hot) hot sauce
50 ml. (3½ tablespoons) sour cream
Cook the rice vermicelli according to package directions
Mash the avocados and blend in the chili and sour cream to make either a chunky or a creamy guacamole.
Place the sesame seeds in a bowl, season tuna with salt & pepper and coat the tuna steaks.
Heat (preferably) a cast iron pan, add the olive oil and sear the tuna steaks for a minute or 2 per side until browned but pink in the middle. Transfer to a cutting board.
Drain the rice vermicelli and toss with butter and the mint.
Divide the vermicelli among 4 plates, top with slices of tuna steak and decoratively add a generous garnish of guacamole.