Meeting with the King by Shivang Patel

After I had finished eating Osteria Francescana's signature dish, Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in Different Textures and Temperatures, I was floored by how the dish was able to showcase all the different tastes and depths of this Italian national treasure. While waiting for the next course, I had decided that I had to go meet the "King of Cheeses."

Most people don't know how Parmigiano Reggiano is produced, so here is a crash course of its production at the 4 Madonne Caseifcio dell'Emilia dairy, where I had a tour this morning. I apologize in advance for any errors as I am recalling this from memory.

After the cows are milked (either in the evening or early in the morning), the clock starts ticking. Within two hours the milk must be transported to the dairy where it is placed in these copper vats. I believe the tour guide said it takes 6,000 liters of milk to produce a kilogram of cheese. These vats actually go a few meters into the ground and are conical. After the non-pasteurized and non-homogenized milk rests in these vats for 12 hours, the curds and whey separate with the help of rennet. The whey is used to feed pigs, used in cosmetics and food products, and this diary uses it along with water as a cleaning product due to it's acidity. The curds are then cut up and put in linen, which allows gravity to drain out even more whey.

Then the curds are placed are placed into the cylindric shaped of a cheese wheel with weights on top to press out even more whey. The exterior of this cylinder is a strip of plastic belt with grooves that engrave markings to denote that this is authentic Parmigiano Reggiano. This cheese has a protected designation of origin, meaning that it can only be called Parmigiano Reggiano if produced in only certain and specified locations of the Emilia-Romagna region. Everything else is a fake. For a couple of days, the wheels are flipped every few hours to ensure the moisture leaves the curds evenly. 

Next the wheels have the plastic belts removed, and are placed into these giant pools of brine where they stay for 20 or so days. The salt not only heightens the flavor of the cheese, but it also preserves it, protecting it from all unwanted bacteria and mold.

Then the wheels are placed in a hot room that sweats out extra water and salt. After this, the cheese ages for 12 months, in which it loses even more moisture. After 12 months, officials from the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium come test each wheel. These musicians, using only a hammer, tap on the wheels and listen for any air bubbles or other defects. If a wheel passes the test, it is fire-branded with a seal of approval. From here the creamy, young cheese can be either sold or placed back on wooden shelves for further aging. Any wheel that doesn't pass has it's markings scratched out (since it is now second-grade, but still edible, cheese), remedied of it's imperfections, and cut up to sold. But not as Parmigiano Reggiano.

These wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano are aged for an additional 12 to 36 months. Dairies generally don't age cheese past 4-5 years. With each year, the wheel loses about a kilogram of moisture, allowing the flavors to become more intense. The texture also is firmer the older cheese is, and more granular due to amino acid chemistry. Additionally a machine cleans each wheel, removes the moisture that sweated out of the cheese, and flips it.

And this is how Parmigiano Reggiano is made. 

Most Parmigiano Reggiano is made from Friesian cows, i.e. the iconic black and white ones, because of the sheer volume of milk they produce. This dairy and some small family productions also produce a special kind of Parmigiano Reggiano made from Vacca Rossa, a red colored breed that was the historical source for this cheese. The cheese made from this red cow tastes a bit different and is more creamy than Parmigiano Reggiano made from Friesian cows, even if it is a 48 month-old. This special Parmigiano Reggiano also goes through an additional set of testing and approval.

Parmigiano Reggiano is king for a reason. The taste of this cheese is so intense it's almost overwhelming, but one can detect all five tastes in a bite of Parmigiano Reggiano. Salty, sweet, bitter, sour, umami—it's all there in this single perfect food. Indeed there is no equal.


If you would like to visit a dairy in Emilia-Romagna that produces Parmigiano Reggiano, you can find a list of dairies on the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium's website.

Osteria Francescana by Shivang Patel

Always reading about everything food, I had heard about Osteria Francescana a few years back when it was fifth on the list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants. I didn't really pay much attention to it despite it being the only Italian restaurant on the list (my favorite cuisine). I mean it had to be absolutely terrific to be on this prestigious list, but nonetheless it flew under my radar. It wasn't until I watched Netflix's documentary series, Chef's Table, last year (in 2015) that I fell I really discovered this three Michelin star restaurant.

This documentary, which I highly recommend you watch, showcases Massimo's journey. And by having him—the chef and the person—rather than the restaurant itself be the focal point of the 54 minutes, one can feel the love and passion Massimo has for food, art, and all of the intersections of the two. He and his wife, Lara, have turned this passion into the masterpiece that is Osteria Francescana. This documentary helps one truly understand why this modern Italian restaurant is deserving of the title as the world's best.

At the time Osteria Francescana was only the second best restaurant in the world but I fell in love with Massimo, Lara, and the restaurant, and decided that I had to go. 

Fast-forward one year to April 1, 2016. I woke up at 4 AM eastern time and cemented my idea by making a reservation for July 19. And today was that long-awaited day.


osteriafrancescana

Unlike other restaurants, the door to Osteria Francscana is locked even when it's open, and one must ring a doorbell to enter. Upon entering, you are greeted by a hostess, a security guard, and several members of the wait staff, who lead you to your table once your reservation is confirmed. Through a narrow passage, I was led to one of the four rooms in the restaurant. Each one has only 3 tables, which means that everyday (except Mondays) only 24 tables are served. I felt very exclusive and equally grateful. 

The carpets are light grey. The walls, with the exception of a couple of fine art pieces in each room, are light grey. Each table is only covered with a white tablecloth and a vase. There is a single light that shines down on each table. The menu is simple yet beautiful with its thin sans serif font and watercolor paintings. Everything in the restaurant is neat, precise, and simple, allowing the focus to be only be on the food itself.

One can order a la carte, but I came for the 12-course tasting menu. After I had ordered the 12 course meal, a waitress poured me a glass of San Pellegrino water. Throughout my meal, she made sure to fill my glass every time the water level dipped below a third. Like everything in this restaurant, it was precise, purposeful, consistent. After I was finished with every plate all the silverware (literally silver) was changed out and replaced with new silverware appropriate for the next dish. Every move any of the staff made was, again, precise, purposeful, and consistent.

While waiting for my meal to start, I was given a variety of breads and grissini to nibble on. Even the bread was impressive. It was soft and chewy on the inside and crusty on the outside. In addition to the bread, I was given four small appetizers that were almost too beautiful to eat. This picture of their take on fish and chips showcases the beautiful plates in which the food is served. I noticed that each plate or bowl was specially suited for that particular dish.


Onto the 12-course meal

TributetoNormandy

Tribute to Normandy

Marinated lamb, served inside an oyster shell over a sauce of oyster, green apple granita, mint, seaweeds, sea and aromatic herbs.

Lentilsarebetterthancaviar

Lentils are Better than Caviar

Beluga lentils in eel broth, served with red beet and Tropea onion borscht and dill creme fraiche.

Riso Levante

Rice cooked in fish broth, agrumi, olive oil, served on a base of slightly smoked lake fish carpaccio, orange peel and fennel seeds.

Mediterranean en Papillote

Sole fillet cooked sous-vide, covered with muniére sauce and lemon oil on a base of confit tomatoes sauce, black olives cream, capers and candied lemon cream. The fillet is then covered with a foil of dried sea water.

Autumn in New York

Dried mushrooms, rue, abrotanum and seasonal vegetables in a vinegar infusion broth. Imagine to walk among the Central Market of New York and feel the colors, the flavor and the scent of the products sold in the stands. Chef Bottura tried to recreate this outstanding experience with our best seasonal products. Despite of its structure, this plate maintains the same name as a tribute to Billie Holiday’s song, one of Chef’s favorite.

Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in Different Textures and Temperatures

One of their most iconic course, served as a “section” of Modena's history and landscapes. In details, it is a 24-month cream, a 30-month demi-soufflee, a 36 month-foam, a 50-month air and a 40-month cracker.

The intoxicating smell of Parmigiano Reggiano is the first thing that you notice when this plate is put in front of you. And then as you slowly eat each part of this creation, you start to taste the distinctions in aging. The warm cream has a very definitive taste of Parmigiano Reggiano, but it is light and sweet. As you progress to the demi-souflee, foam, air, and cracker, the cheese's taste gets more concentrated and intense. It was truly wonderful. Finally, the texture adds further to this already complex dish. Each aspect makes you slow down and really, truly appreciate what that particular stage in the aging process has to offer.

The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna

Recalls the memory of Chef Bottura’s childhood, struggling with his siblings to achieve the most tasty part of a lasagna: its seared border, stuffed with cream - represented by Parmigiano Reggiano béchamel - and covered with ragout.

At the Dinner of Trimalchione: Fowl in the Ancient Roman Style

Guinea hen cooked sous vide and stuffed with partridge with dates, apricots and foie gras. The plate is served with indivia cooked with sugar and vinegar, and sweet sauces of capers and anchovies.

Croccantino of Foie Gras

Foie gras terrine shaped as an industrial ice cream bar with a heart of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena. One of the most elegant and “posh” dishes in the world dressed as an icon of pop culture.

Caesar Salad in Bloom

Aromatic herbs and season flowers served inside a lettuce leaf. An explosion of flavors in the core of a simple and green leaf. Ofter the best things are not in the surface, and to enjoy them at best we must go deeper.

Gazpacho as a Pre-desert

Blended fruits and vegetables gazpacho on a lambrusco wine ice cream, marinated pickled vegetables and seasonal aromatic herbs, served over an almond cream.

Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart

The representation of imperfection which becomes unexpected perfection. The story behind this plate is about Sous-Chef Takahiko Kondo - pastry chef that time - who accidentally dropped a classic lemon tart just before serving it to an important Food critic and Gourmet. Chef Bottura and him looked at that mess and decided to serve a new kind of dessert: this time voluntarily broken and smashed on the plate.


In addition to being incredibly delicious, each dish I had was very creative and even more intentional. There were multiple colors, tastes, textures, and smells on each plate. I had no idea one could incorporate so many different tastes and textures in a single dish. This was not a meal you could just inhale in order to get on with your day. Each bite had to be taken with as much purpose, if not more, than with which it was made in order to truly appreciate the ingredients and creativity. Each bite displayed Massimo's genius. Each bite highlighted Lara's focus. Each bite showed why Osteria Francescana is the number one restaurant in the world.

In addition to being overjoyed while eating I was immensely inspired. When I finish this four-month adventure and go back to my kitchen, I cannot wait to experiment and challenge myself. Art galleries and museums can invoke lots of inspiration and ideas. Osteria Francescana was my art gallery. Every plate was an art piece. This was truly the best dining experience of my life, right down to every single detail.

Obviously I understand this is not for everyone, whether that be lack of interest or lack of funds. But for anyone who is deeply passionate about food, such an experience is worth all your time and money.

Words could never do justice to this experience, but I hope you get the essence of it with this post.

Culture, Race, and Identity: Growing up as an Indian-American by Shivang Patel

Preface: I recognize and understand the privileges I have/have had growing up in a comfortable upper middle-class home in suburban America. I recognize the privilege I have being a male. My parents’ sacrifices have allowed me to grow up free of concerns that many fellow Americans and many people around the world have to face on a daily basis. I am fortunate enough to have received a world-class education at no cost to myself. I have had many opportunities and experiences that have allowed me the chance to reach my full potential every step of the way, and for those I am tremendously grateful. Even though I am a minority, I recognize that my “race” and ethnicity have afforded me certain privileges.


Growing up in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, life was safe, easy, and usually delightful. I always had more than enough food to eat, went to great schools, and had most comforts I would need/want. There was not much to complain about in my town of West Chester, Ohio. Although my life at home was heavily influenced by the culture my immigrant parents brought with them, outside of my house I felt like any other child even if I was only one of a handful of non-white kids at school. I dressed the same, I acted the same, I liked the same TV shows as any other kid. In my head, I saw no differences between me and everyone else.

It wasn’t until second grade that I began noticing the concept of race that society forces upon us. One day I was looking at a poster that had all the American Presidents’ names and portraits, and I asked my teacher why everyone on the poster was white and a man. She didn’t have a real response for me, and just said she didn’t know why and that’s how it was. I can’t blame her for her response as I was only a 7-year-old. That same year was when 9/11 happened. I don’t actually remember 9/11 when it happened, but I definitely felt it as it changed the discourse in the U.S, impacting many aspects of life.

After 9/11 there was a lot of fear in the country, rightfully so. But this fear along with ignorance and misinformation led to discrimination and hate. I first felt this discrimination as a kid when I was called a terrorist by peers. I remember when it first happened, and then again and then again. I remember the kids who said it. I remember other kids laughing. I remember teachers not doing anything about it. I didn’t know what to say then, and I don’t think I realized the full extent of what they were saying or why. But clearly it was because I had brown skin, and clearly this mentality was taught. No one is born a racist; it’s taught.

Since then and throughout my life I have faced racism and discrimination. There are several incident I don’t like to repeat or write about because they still sting. I have never told my parents about any of them because as much as they’ve hurt me I know they would devastate them. They came to the land of opportunity not for themselves but for their offspring to have a better life and upbringing than they did back in India. Knowing that this country where you in theory are free to be whoever you want has been nasty to their son just because of just his skin color would kill them.

Individuals have been racist toward me, but Indian-Americans rarely face violence or institutional racism in the US like members of the black and Latino communities do. The institutional racism that many young, black men in this country face is abhorring and shameful, as highlighted by current events. In no way am I saying that my experience as an Indian-American is worse or even comparable to the average black or Latino experience in America that the media portrays. Asians in American did have it bad in the past. Between 1880 and 1965, Asians were by law excluded from the country. It wasn’t until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that Asians were even allowed in the country. Times are different now though. I know that I can walk or drive down the street without being questioned or inspected by the authorities. As thankful as I am for this privilege, I know that wherever there is privilege, there has to be discrimination. They’re two sides of the same coin. My American-ness, however, does get questioned.

There have been many times when others think I am not American (or American enough) because of my skin color. No white or black person in the US will ever get his or her American-ness questioned because of his or her skin color. An example of this is when people have asked where I am from, and then after not being satisfied of my answer of “Ohio,” they proceed to ask where I am really from. This is very annoying, and happened rather often when I worked at a country club. No white or black person in the US will ever get asked where they are really from, even if they themselves are immigrants.

Outside of my home I was not/am not American enough. Inside of my home I was not Indian enough. Growing up, we had Indian food nearly everyday, primarily spoke Gujarati, and I lived in a multi-generational home like Indians do (or did). My parents made sure to instill within me the culture in which they were raised. It made sense that they wanted to preserve their culture. I, however, remember my parents sometimes telling me not to “act too American” whenever they deemed that something I was doing or a way I was behaving was not “proper.” My parents and I were often at odds with each other because of this. It felt like I was living two lives, balancing my American-ness and Indian-ness.

It wasn’t until I went to India as a 15-year-old that I realized how American I am. For the first time in my life I was not a racial minority, but even then I was still so different from everyone around me. My skin color was the same, but I dressed differently, I behaved differently, I spoke differently. It was definitely an enlightening experience.

I do take pride in my Indian heritage. There is so much richness in that culture. The older I get the more I appreciate it. When I was younger I was not fond of it, and that began with my name. Other kids would always make fun of it and bully me about it while in elementary school. I dreaded substitute teachers because they would somehow find a new variation on my name’s pronunciation, and then the entire class would be in an uproar using it to tease me until this newly found mispronunciation was beaten into the ground. Eventually, I had learned that I had to say my name before the substitute did (when he or she did roll call) in order to minimize the teasing.

I would go through it all again though because my name allows me to have a connection to my heritage and to my ancestors. Naturally I am more assimilated to the general American culture than my parents are, and I know my kids will be even more so. I don’t know how effectively I will be able to pass on this Indian heritage to my progeny, if at all, so I know want them to have Indian names because I hope it will also serve as a bridge to their roots as it did for me.

Traveling these last couple of months, I have seen many different peoples and cultures. It has been really interesting to observe, and it has forced me to reflect upon myself. It has also made me appreciate the fact that I have grown up in two cultures because it has afforded me so many experiences and given me a unique perspective. Balancing these two facets of my identity has been (and is) challenging and complex, but I know now that I would never change it.

Thank you for reading!


There are many other aspects of being Indian-American (and Asian-American in general) that can be addressed like being the “model minority,” not having role models who are in the public light, affirmative action, being grouped together as one people by the government/ society. Those are topics for another discussion. The Atlantic recently published a couple of pieces on the topics of the model minority and affirmative action that are interesting to read.

 

TED—the Catalyst for Growth by Shivang Patel

Over the month (and since my last blogpost), I have spent time in more than a dozen cities. Currently, I am enjoying the bright sun and blue waters of the Aegean.

Over these weeks while sitting on beaches, on top of mountains, and everywhere in between I have had lots of time to reflect on this journey, the last few formative years of my life, and life in general. As expected, this trip has allowed me to be very introspective. 


Throughout my time in college, I was very involved with the TED and TEDx community. It was indeed a keystone of not only my time at Ohio State, but also in my growth and development as a person. The process of organizing a TEDx event is taxing and can seem endless especially if you are a part of a team for multiple years. As TEDx organizers we look at the impact and influence our talks and events can have on our communities and those individuals that are a part of it, but often don’t consider how TED/TEDx has affected us. I didn’t (and think many don’t) build in time for reflection, more than just how to improve the event/experience the next time around. Through lots of introspection and also conversation with fellow TEDx organizers I have met up with on this trip, I have realized that because of TED/TEDx my life is on a completely different trajectory than I thought it would be going (and for the better). In many aspects of my life I cannot think of what it would be like without TEDx, but the most impactful has been in terms of relationships. There are many experiences during college that help shape a person during these formative years, and for me TED/TEDx was indeed THE catalyst for my personal growth.

As a child I wasn’t the greatest at making friends, to which my mother could probably attest. I had wonderful and long-lasting friendships as a child, but there were only a handful. I was not anti-social, but I think I was bad at expressing my emotions and just felt out of place at times. I’ve always been energetic, but when it came to non-familial relationships I would clam up. Throughout the subsequent years I did get better with building relationships naturally as one does with age and did create many friendships, but I still did not allow myself to really be open and vulnerable. Being vulnerable is a skill I have learned during college; one that has allowed me to be the very social and extroverted person I think I am now.

At the beginning of my sophomore year at Ohio State University, I was attending a mandatory information session for a new program called STEP that was intended to enrich sophomores’ academic careers. To be honest, I had signed up for the program because it offered $2,000 to be used in basically any way I wanted. In this particular session, which was about leadership, the program had brought in a panel of student leaders, staff, and professors to discuss different aspects of leadership. One of those panelists was Dr. Amy Barnes, a professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology, who teaches undergraduate and graduate students about leadership studies. The moderator of this panel had mentioned that Amy was the faculty advisor for TEDx at Ohio State, and as someone who loved watching TED Talks this piqued my interest. After the event, I uncharacteristically went up to Amy to ask how to get involved with TEDxOhioStateUniversity. At the time I did not know how significant that one conversation would be, or how Amy would be the most influential staff member I met at Ohio State. That day, and TED, started a chain of dominos that is continuing to this day.

Over the next several months I became increasingly involved with TEDxOhioStateUniversity, and really loved the work I was doing as well as the people with whom I was working. I had felt that I had found my home, my niche, at this university of 60,000 students. TEDx helped me find a purpose at Ohio State outside of academia, and it continued being a part of my growth as a student and as a young adult. In the second half of my sophomore year, I was surprisingly given the opportunity to go to the TEDActive 2014 in the beautiful British Columbia. I had no idea what to expect but was excited. 

Throughout that week I had terrific experiences and watched amazing TED Talks, but the most profound aspect of going to TEDActive that year (and then again the following year) was the relationships I had been able to make and the ability to make them. TED created an environment that allowed one to flourish and meet so many interesting and genuine people from all over the US and the world. At TEDActive one could go up to a random person from the other side of the world and have a two-hour long conversation about each other’s deepest thoughts and feelings. I had never been in such an open and kind environment where every individual was willing to share and be vulnerable. TED allowed me to create relationships with inspirational people from all over the world at that conference. Many of these are still intact to this day.


An example of this is when I went to Stockholm a few weeks ago. I had met Dick Lundgren of TEDxStockholm for a brief 10 minutes on the last day of TEDActive 2014, and decided to hit him up while I was in his city not knowing what to expect. Not only did he meet up with me, but he also gave me a personal tour of Stockholm in his car, took me out to dinner, and introduced me to another TEDx organizer. It was so unexpected, but so delightful. And to top it off, he gave me a small but super neat gift from his design company, Men at Work.

Another example of the how great TEDx relationships have been was when I was visiting Vienna. After posting on Instagram about how excited I was to explore the city, TEDxVilnus organizer and general badass Ruta Kruliauskaite put me in touch with her sister, Eglė. Although I had never met her, Eglė invited me to hang out with her friends and I had a wonderful evening and felt like I was out with friends I had known for years. That is the power of the global TEDx community.

TED has allowed me to not only grow the number of relationships I have with people all over the country and the world, but also the ability to build relationships very quickly. It gave me the confidence to strike up conversation and build relationships with a complete stranger and not feel hesitant. An example of this was when I was in Budapest. I happened to be at book signing for Canadian astronaut and former ISS commander, Chris Hadfield. While waiting in line, I struck up conversation with this Croat who was living in Budapest. After conversing for a while I found out he was super passionate about olive oil and owned a shop in the city. He invited me to come do a tasting, so the next day I did just that. For an hour, this super passionate and complete stranger let me taste a dozen distinct and delicious extra virgin olive oils, taught me about how it's produced, and he even gave me the contact info of a producer whose farm I'm going to visit when in Croatia next month.


TED has immensely changed my life, and I would never look back. I owe much gratitude to TED, to my TEDx friends all over the world, to Amy Barnes, and to all those with whom I created relationships at Ohio State. I truly feel like I have come into myself as an individual over the past couple years with TED being the catalyst.

If you made it this far reading this post, thank you for reading and allowing me to share my thoughts on something about which I am very passionate. 

Copenhagen: City of the Old and New by Shivang Patel

Copenhagen was founded as a small harbor city a millennium ago. The city's name in Danish is København roughly translating to "Merchant's Harbor." Through the ages it has grown and developed in various ways, becoming an important cultural, economical, and political city for not only Denmark, but also for Scandinavia. Because of Copenhagen's long, long history one can see traces of said history throughout the city—something I as an American found slightly enchanting because the relative infantile history of the United States doesn't showcase remnants of centuries past throughout our cities.

frederikskirke

Copenhagen is now a very cosmopolitan city in addition to being a metropolis. I knew it was a large city with much history, but until I walked around I didn't realize how diverse it is. There are people of every color and creed throughout Copenhagen and it’s neighborhoods. Whenever there is an influx of immigrants in an area, they tend to bring their respective cultures with them. And food is a huge part of culture. I’ve always said that you can get to know a people through their food. All over Copenhagen, one can find different cuisine—Thai, Moroccan, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Italian, German, etc. This magnitude of diversity is similar to what I’ve seen in New York City. 

Speaking of food, the Nordic countries aren’t particularly known globally for their cuisine, but Danish food, and more generally Nordic food, has been really stepping it up. One can attribute this to the New Nordic food movement and specifically René Redzepi’s world-famous Noma. There has been a trend to eat more local and real food throughout much of the Western world, and that and restaurants like Noma, I think, are a couple of reasons why Nordic food is being elevated in Copenhagen. This is not only true of Michelin star restaurants, but also of street food. A great example of this is Copenhagen Street Food—a warehouse on Papirøen (Paper Island) that has been transformed to a market with dozens of street food vendors. Located close to the aforementioned Noma and the popular tourist area, Nyhavn, Copenhagen Street Food provides one with a taste of not only delicious Danish foods like smørrebrød, but also local craft beer and tastes from all over the world due to the rich diversity of the city. One can grab some food, a pint of beer, sit by the harbor, and listen to live music with friends. This place was definitely my favorite in the city.

Balancing the old and the new, and successfully, is the anthem of Copenhagen. This is not only seen with food, but also with other aspects of culture, specifically music. There are lots of clubs and underground venues where one can go and listen to the latest European electronic music like deep house. Copenhagen, being a major European city, also has a vibrant classical music scene with more historic art forms like opera. Right by Copenhagen Street Food and across the water from Amalienborg, a Danish royal palace, is The Copenhagen Opera House (Operaen). The Operaen allows this older art form to thrive nowadays, but the building itself is actually of modern architecture—an interesting example of Copenhagen’s balancing act in terms of its architecture.

Operaen

Throughout the city, there a balanced combination of new and old architecture. Much of the modern architecture is seen along the harbors as there is more land there that can be developed, but modern and post-modern architecture can be seen throughout the city. There is also lots of historical architecture all over the city. One can see examples of Gothic, Baroque, Rocco, and Neoclassical buildings, which feels like stepping back into time. The important thing is that Copenhagen has been able to balance the old and new and have them co-exist beautifully, unlike other European cities I’ve seen thus far e.g. Malmö.

My final note on Copenhagen’s balancing act is in terms of health. Personal and environmental. All over the city, there are many efforts to be as green as possible. Whether that be the extensive recycling or the many electricity-generating windmills along the harbors. Danes also bike quite a bit, reducing pollution. But these super-fashionable bunch make up for their reduction in automobile emissions by smoking out the wazoo. Practically everywhere one will people smoking cigarettes. And it’s not just the older generations who grew up seeing the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel, but it is also younger people. I saw my peers, 20-somethings, and even younger people smoking. One could tell by the way that some of the kids popped a cigarette in between their lips and let it droop that smoking was the “cool thing to do.” Smoking, I don't think, is banned public places like how it is back home. For being so green (especially in Christiania) and progressive, Danes really do love their cigarettes. 

Other notes: transportation in Copenhagen is great. A third of the residents commute to work via bicycle, so there are bikes everywhere. The city has done a good job of making sure there are separate automobile, bicycle, and pedestrian lanes throughout much of the city. One can also rent bicycles easily. I used Bycyklen, and it was easy to sign up. I also used their great bus/metro system. It’s the best and most convenient way to get around the entire greater Copenhagen area. I was able to get a 72-hour unlimited-use pass at the airport (you can get it at many of the metro stations) for 200 Danish kroner (~$30 USD).

Overall, I absolutely loved Copenhagen. Like the rest of Scandinavia the prices for things are slightly inflated than one sees in the United States, but the city has so, so much to offer for whatever kind of adventure one is seeking. Copenhagen is a dynamic cosmopolitan, and I’m excited to see how it has grown and evolved the next time I have the opportunity to visit.

copenhagen_skyline

Inspired by Iceland by Shivang Patel

Of the eight days I spent in Iceland, five were spent driving around the entire island. While driving through the Icelandic wilderness, I thought I had been transported to a new planet. Everything looked slightly out of this world. The plants were different; the animals were different. The ground itself looked Martian. There was constantly a cold Atlantic breeze nearly everywhere you went, and in this wind there was a slight yet unmistakable smell of sulfur.

Rolling hills and valleys are common in much of the world, but throughout much of Iceland one can see an undulating ground on an otherwise flat area. It wasn't until I drove around areas in which there was no grass but only grey moss that I realized that this undulating ground were lava fields that throughout the centuries had become the perfect bed on which small mosses and grasses grew. It literally looked like there were ripples on the ground. Driving around the island is truly the best way to see this awe-inspiring country. Doing it with a friend or two would have been a blast, but since I am traveling on my own exploring Iceland by myself allowed me to really slow down and take in the sights and sounds nature had to offer. While traversing this vast volcanic island, I saw so many diverse vistas and topographies. Each day felt like I was transplanted to another part of the world.

One the first day I saw amazing sceneries as I trekked around the popular Golden Circle visiting sites like Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss, and Haukadalur, where there were geysers, hotsprings, and fumaroles. On the second day I saw the beautiful black sand beaches on the very southern coast of Iceland. Then while driving to southeast Iceland I stopped by Jökulsárlón, a glacier lake, for a couple of hours and the sight of beautiful blue and white glaciers took my breath away. It is truly a site everyone should visit if in Iceland. Luckily for me I caught the curiosity of seals while walking along the lake, and was able to capture them on my camera.  Day three consisted of traversing through the twisting and turing roads of eastern Iceland trailed with incredible gorgeous fjord after fjord. Hidden in each fjord were a couple of small towns. The fourth day was spent traveling through northeastern Iceland where I saw volcanic fields, trekked to the base of snow-capped mountains, and drove through the clouds before stopping in the Capital of North Iceland—Akureyri. My last day, I drove through west Iceland where in addition to seeing more incredible nature and the billionth (but still impressive) waterfall, I climbed the caldera of an extinct volcano—something I never thought I would do. Goal for next time in Iceland is to get close to an active volcano.

After being in the Icelandic wilderness for what like an eternity I returned to Reykjavík, where I started my time in Iceland. Reykjavík is a vibrant city that is expanding to keep up with it's growing economy and the explosion of tourists one can see flooding the streets. There any many museums, activities, and restaurants throughout the city—enough to accommodate all 120,000 residents and the 1,000,000 tourists that go through Reykjavík every year. Reykjavík also has quite a bit of construction. All the new buildings incorporate glass and have very modern architecture, contrasting most of the other buildings in city that are made out of concrete, have sharp lines and bright colors. All the geometric houses sharply contract the grey and green roundness of the earth one sees in the rest of Iceland. Maybe symbolizing man's will against the constancy of mother nature.

In Iceland, I felt like I had seen and experienced the heart of nature—a feeling "Father of the National Parks" John Muir expressed. Muir said, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world," and after seeing the beauty of Iceland I truly believe that. I have never really been an outdoors-y person, and have always loved the hustle and bustle of cities. This small adventure into the Icelandic wilderness, however, has changed my perception on nature and the outdoors. As much as we value our great cosmopolitan cities, there should be equal reverence of our great outdoors. Inspired by Iceland, I want to visit the vast beauty that the U.S. National Park Service has to offer. I think a new life goal of mine is to visit all 59 national parks before I'm 50.

Traveling Cheaply by Shivang Patel

A few months ago I decided that I wanted to see the world and travel after I finished my undergraduate studies. I have a few friends who have done something similar, and know many more who have told me that traveling is something I will never regret. The more and more I thought about it, the more certain I became that I wanted to travel. Never in my life will I have several months where I can travel without any cares.

This is my tentative travel itinerary: 

Now that I had made up my mind, the big question looming around was being able to afford traveling for so long. Traveling for four months is not a cheap affair. Firstly, I had a job with which I was able to save up quite a bit of money. For anyone who is in college wanting to travel afterwards, having a job and saving that money is a must in my opinion.

Secondly, whenever I have spent my money I have used it very conscientiously—making it work for me. This began with using the right credit cards at the right time. Why use a credit card or debit card if it's not rewarding you for using it. That's why I seldom use cash. I've had a credit cards since I was 18 (something I recommend, but you have to pay off your statement in full each month),  so I was able to get a premium credit card—the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

With this card, if you spend $4,000 in three months you can earn 50,000 points worth $625. This is a very large amount, but I was able to get the 50,000 bonus points because I paid utilities at my apartment, used my card to pay rent and all my other expenses, and was able to get my parents to use the card for their expenses and pay me back. This way $4,000 over the course of three months was a very plausible goal. With this card, I can earn 2X the points on all food and travel purchases.

A couple months later, I got Chase's Freedom card, which allowed me to earn 5X points on various categories that change every quarter. 

In addition to using these two cards, I used Chase's "Shop through Chase" service. By using this service instead of going to a store to make the same purchase I would have made anyway, I was able to earn 2X-25X points. An example of when I used this service was when I needed to buy a travel bag. I went with the Osprey Porter 46, but instead of buying it from REI or even Osprey's store, I found that I earned 8X points if I bought the same bag through Chase via backcountry.com.

Through meticulous shopping, spending, and saving, I was able to accumulate a massive amount of points that have allowed to pay for a huge portion of my trip for free.

Other methods of saving money: staying in hostels (Hostelworld is great), couch-surfing, and using discount airlines such as RyanAir and EasyJet.

I am also fortunate to have parents who are chipping in. In total my trip is costing me approximately $4,500 USD—money that I am sure will be well spent.