In Tight With the Locals

By Lisa Milbrand
April 6, 2006

You learn a lot about a place based on what the people drink, and how they drink it. BT assistant editor (and former bartender) David LaHuta eagerly volunteered for a round of taste tests. How does each go down? David's face says it all.

Italy: Sambuca

Made with: Licorice and elderberries, along with a mix of herbs--anise in particular Best served: After dinner, in a small glass with three coffee beans--called con mosca ("with flies")--that symbolize health, wealth, and happiness. The anise aids digestion Tippling style: Sip it or drink it in one gulp Say cheers! Salute (sah-loo-tay)

Brazil: Cachaça

Made with: Fermented sugarcane juice Best served: With sugar and muddled lime in a tangy caipirinha, Brazil's unofficial national cocktail. Alternatively, aged cachaça, which tastes somewhat like a high-quality white rum, makes a nice aperitif Tippling style: An aged cachaça should be enjoyed slowly at room temperature Say cheers! Saúde (sow-ooh-juh)

Russia: Vodka

Made with: Wheat, rye, or barley malt; most Russian vodkas no longer use potatoes Best served: In shot glasses, poured from a bottle shared by friends (or strangers) Tippling style: Down it in a gulp. If you're with a group, everyone should toss it back at the same time. Say "choot-choot" ("just a little") for smaller portions Say cheers! Za vas (zah vahs)

Greece: Ouzo

Made with: Pressed grapes mixed with star anise, cloves, coriander, and other spices Best served: As an aperitif, with Greek-style tapas such as fried fish, cheese, and stewed vegetables Tippling style: Savor slowly in between bites and conversation. To lessen the drink's bite and potency, add water until the mixture turns milky white Say cheers! Gia'sou (yah-shu)

Ireland: Whiskey

Made with: Malted and unmalted barley, and yeast Best served: As a pre- or post-meal cocktail, the old-fashioned way: straight, at room temperature. Adding half a teaspoon of water helps release the honey-like flavor Tippling style: Sip and savor from a snifter or nosing glass Say cheers! Sláinte (slahn-cha)

Japan: Sake

Made with: Rice, yeast, and a mold called koji-kin Best served: With food that's not all that spicy. There's an unofficial rule about not serving sake with rice (it's rather redundant), though sushi of all kinds is fine Tippling style: Sip like wine. Tradition holds that glasses are to be refilled (by someone else) the moment they're empty Say cheers! Kampai (kahm-pie)

Scandinavia: Aquavit

Made with: Potato or grains, flavored with caraway, dill, cumin, citrus, and fennel Best served: Chilled, with smorgasbord Tippling style: It's usually served in a tiny, stemmed glass, and you can down the whole thing in one gulp or take your time. Have a beer handy as a chaser, to complement aquavit's strong, sharp, and sweet flavor Say cheers! Skål (skahl)

Mexico: Tequila

Made with: The fermented juice of blue agave plants Best served: Completo, meaning alongside sangrita, a spicy tomato-orange chaser. As for "lick it, slam it, and suck it" with salt and a lime? Leave that for spring breakers Tippling style: Wash around in the mouth and savor, like a good cognac Say cheers! Salud (sahl-ood)

France: Absinthe

Made with: Wormwood, anise, herbs, and flowers Best served: In a slotted spoon on top of a glass of absinthe, place a cube of sugar and pour water until the sugar's dissolved Tippling style: Take your time. Modern versions of the once-taboo drink are not hallucinogenic, but many still sport triple-digit proofs Say cheers! À votre santé (ah vote sahn-tay)

Iceland: Brennivín

Made with: Potatoes and cumin Best served: When you feel the need to prove you can drink (and eat) anything. The fiery liqueur, nicknamed Black Death, is traditionally served with hákarl, or fermented shark meat. Together they constitute the Icelandic "shark shooter" Tippling style: Polish it off in one gulp, and cross it off your list Say cheers! Skál (skahl)

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On the Road Again, and Again

During long journeys across the country, the authors of two new memoirs searched (respectively) for down-home grub and a free ride. We asked them to give advice to anyone hoping to walk--or eat--in their footsteps. In Two for the Road (, $24), authors Jane and Michael Stern reminisce about rodeos, state fairs, cheap motels, and more than 70,000 meals they ate while penning their bestseller, Roadfood. What do they look for? Restaurants open only for breakfast and lunch, because these are places where the locals come to chat 'n' chew. Old menus with gravy stains or barbecue-sauce fingerprints, because they've been used by the multitudes. Statues of cows, pigs, roosters, or crabs on the roof, because they're irresistible (and the food's usually terrific). A jukebox with Hank Williams songs, because the menu probably hasn't been modernized either, and you can count on country-comfort food. Based on his experience thumbing rides all over the world, including a recent cross-country hitchhiking adventure described in Riding With Strangers (, $23), Elijah Wald advises would-be hitchers to: Smile and appear clean, like you're trying to get somewhere rather than wandering. Display a sign when appropriate; no ride is too short works particularly well. Choose your spots carefully, where you can be seen as far off as possible and drivers have plenty of space to pull over. Let the driver set the mood. Be quiet if the driver's not talkative. Pass on drivers who seem drunk or who spook you out for any reason. Another ride will come along.

Confessions Of... An Amusement Park Employee

Melissa Mayntz worked at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, during five summers between 1996 and 2003. Keeping it clean I had several different jobs at the park, but my favorite was one most employees hated: the sweep. Sweeps are always walking; my record was 22 miles--and yes, I had a pedometer that day. As a sweep, you're the one called to clean up vomit puddles and spilled sodas. But I loved the exercise, the freedom to roam the park, and the fact that I never knew what I'd find: discarded socks, kids' retainers, and one time, an unopened can of corn. The job does have its hazards--namely, cigarette butts. Sweeps gather hundreds of them, and smoldering cigarettes often rub up against napkins in the dustpan. While doing the "dustpan jig" to stomp out the flames, I set myself on fire more times than I care to mention. It shouldn't have to be said, but if you smoke, please use the ashtrays. It's not like they're hard to find--there's one near the entrance to every ride, shop, and restaurant. Lines, long and short Most guests assume the wait for rides is shorter early and late in the season, but that's not entirely true. While lines tend to be long in summer, that's also when staff levels are highest. A fully staffed coaster runs efficiently, with up to four employees checking harnesses, an operator at the entrance to measure guests' heights, and a quick turnover of riders. In spring or early fall, however, rides may have only two employees checking harnesses and no one at the entrance. The extra seconds that it takes the smaller staff to do its jobs add up. In terms of shortest wait time, your best bet is weekdays in early June, when there are plenty of college students already at work, but grammar and high schools are still in session. Standing tall Ride operators have a love-hate relationship with the candy cane, the striped pipe Cedar Point uses for height measurements. Guests try to circumvent the system, and we've seen it all: stuffed shoes, 8-year-olds with platform heels, ponytails rising four inches above the scalp. It's unwise to try to fool the candy canes. Parents with children who just make the cut should visit the operations office at Cedar Point for a height measurement. Kids who qualify will be given a wristband to save them from hassles at ride entrances. Shutdowns Most ride delays are the result of computer "setups," in which the ride must reset after a stoppage. Setups usually last less than 10 minutes, and operators don't typically bother offering explanations. When an operator doles out vague statements such as "We're temporarily closed for mechanical reasons," and "We don't know how long we'll be closed, but we'll reopen as soon as possible," you might want to move on. It's our summer, too Working at an amusement park isn't at all like an extended vacation. I clocked 60-70 hours a week, sometimes with seven days in a row on the job. Roller coasters, while exciting at first, lose their novelty after you've served four open-to-close shifts back-to-back. Still, we employees made our own fun. One summer, while I was cleaning the boats at a ride, a water fight broke out with hoses and buckets. Another season, we created a Fourth of July scavenger hunt, with prizes for spotting the most American flag swimsuits, guests with boiled-lobster sunburns, and identically dressed families.

True Stories

New Prize: $2,000 gift certificate to New England inns!If your True Stories submission is the best one we receive before June 30, 2006, you'll win a $2,000 gift certificate good at more than 300 inns, resorts, and B&Bs throughout New England, courtesy of the New England Inns & Resorts Association. The gift certificate can be used at any member property, including for services charged to the room (such as meals and spa treatments). The prize is valid from September 1, 2006, to August 31, 2007. Subject to availability; nontransferable; nonnegotiable. No blackout dates apply. For more information on the New England Inns & Resorts Association: 603/964-6689, How to enter or True Stories, Budget Travel, 530 Seventh Ave., 2nd Fl., New York, NY 10018. We can't return photos. Read the full guidelines. This month's winner This month's winner is Pam Anderson, of Sussex, Wis. Her prize is a pair of Aussie AirPasses, courtesy of Qantas. While in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, my husband, Scott, and I arranged a day trip to Tabacón Hot Springs. After a quick hike, we hurried back for our mineral mud bath. The other guests were already coated in mud and baking in the sun. When we entered the adobe hut for our turn, two Costa Rican men motioned Scott to leave while they studiously painted me from head to toe. Leaving no skin uncovered, they followed very close around my bikini. When I emerged, the other people in our group asked how I got my mud on so perfectly--theirs was streaky and uneven. I said that was how the two Costa Rican men applied it. "What Costa Rican men?" they said. "We were all told to put it on ourselves!" Scott and I never did see those two men again. First You Accept Candy From Strangers, And Now This A friendly gentleman approached me while I was touring Paracas, Peru, with my mother. He was selling candy on the beach, and as I was making my selections, he invited me to his home to meet the family pet--a penguin. A little hesitant, but naturally curious, I followed him down the street, around the corner, and through several alleys. Upon entering his home I was warmly greeted by each member of the family and introduced to their pride and joy, a pet penguin! Christy Bowie, Jacksonville, Fla. She's Never Seen His Jump Shot My coworker Craig, who is 6' 11'', got lots of attention while we were traveling through China. He actually appeared to believe he was some sort of royalty. We were having fun with his newfound celebrity status, allowing the locals to join us in pictures, until we ran into a middle-aged woman who was clearly not impressed. In broken English, she asked Craig who he was and what he did for a living. He claimed to be a famous basketball player. She shook her head and waved him away, clearly disgusted. He asked why she didn't believe him. "You no basketball playah," she said. "You fat like Buddha." Susan Waters, Milan, Mich. Don't Go Chasing Skirts If You Can't Handle The Consequences Studying abroad in London, a few girlfriends and I came across a group of big, burly rugby players in a pub. They were all wearing kilts and partying quite wildly. My friend bet me that they didn't wear underwear--then she went right over and asked them. The entire team flashed us simultaneously. We definitely got our answer. Laurie Johns, Reno, Nev. There's A Rugby Player In London Who Could Use Them On our last day in Vienna, before going to Rome, my husband, daughter, and I were almost out of clean clothes. We had just enough time to run into a Laundromat, where a nice elderly man helped us figure out the machines. Against our protests, he even took his laundry out of the dryer early, so we wouldn't have to wait. We tossed our clean laundry into a suitcase, told the good man we wouldn't forget his kindness, and dashed for the train station. Once we'd settled into our compartment, we started sorting our clean clothes and realized we had something else to remember him by: a pair of his underpants. Maria Goodavage, San Francisco, Calif. You can find more True Stories in the May 2006 issue of Budget Travel magazine.

Trips for Families With Kids Ages 7 and 9

Any advice columnist would have said my family really needed a vacation. Over the past year, we spent far too much time at The Home Depot and U-Haul storage centers (we were renovating a house), as well as hospital rooms (too many reasons to explain). My children, Arjun and Araxi, are 9 and 7 years old--beyond the sandbox but not yet concerned about the fine line between cool and not cool. While trying to imagine what they'd most enjoy, I thought back to lessons learned from previous vacations, including the fact that spectacular scenery is for grownups. My kids love fun, hands-on activities and time to hang out together, and absolutely hate waiting in lines. For their sake and to preserve my sanity, I wished for all of these things, too. A farm with cute animals and a place to swim seemed like the perfect simple solution. The idea apparently appealed to another generation, as my parents wound up joining us. Through the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association I found Weatherbury Farm, a B&B and working farm where guests help with the animals (1061 Sugar Run Rd., Avella, 724/587-3763,, $138 for a family of four). Owners Dale and Marcy Tudor decided after staying in various European pensions with their son Nigel that they wanted to run a B&B. While many B&Bs are filled with antiques and seek rich couples rather than families for guests, the Tudors decided they'd rather open an establishment that would appeal to children. They opened Weatherbury Farm, with a pool and six guest rooms, in 1992. Our quarters, Mother's Sewing Room, had a black-and-gold foot-pedaled Singer machine as part of the decor, drawing Arjun and Araxi's attention for hours. They also inspected the steamer trunk, which stored extra bedding, and admired the claw-foot bathtub. I swear they never noticed the room had no TV. After a delicious breakfast of apple pancakes and a bacon-and-egg casserole, Farmer Dale--everyone calls him that--guided us through the morning chores. We started by priming the hand pump. Anyone under 50 pounds had to put his or her entire body into this job. Araxi dangled from the handle a few times, and we managed to pump enough to give the animals their water. As we lugged buckets to the barn, my kids started talking about how hard farmers work. Geese, ducks, and guinea hens hung around in the background, and cats and kittens were everywhere. Farmer Dale showed us how to unroll a hay bale, and we fed the sheep and goats. The sheep ate out of our hands, which tickled. Arjun and Araxi used a baby bottle to give milk to a kid--the goat kind, with tiny hoofs and cute little teeth. It drained the bottle in less than a minute, and my kids were beyond thrilled. Up at the henhouse, Farmer Dale opened the bird-size door, and chickens paraded out. We walked in the people-size door to deliver feed and water, and to gather beautiful pastel blue and green eggs. We didn't hang around long. "It smells worse than Yellowstone Park in there," Arjun said. Once each morning's chores were finished, we had nothing in particular scheduled, though the children were given a packet of farm-related games and puzzles. We were free to explore the farm, which was always full of important lessons: On our way to the cow pasture, Farmer Marcy cheerily called out, "Remember, everything that's brown isn't dirt." I also learned that as long as there were enough kittens to go around, everyone was happy. My kids found the side porch where more than a dozen cats and kittens gathered on drizzly days. They fell in love with Frankie, a six-week-old tabby with blue eyes who was small enough to curl up in their hands. The hard part was getting my kids to leave the farm--and particularly, the porch with all the cats--for lunch and dinner. Pretty much every activity that took us off the farm, including a trip to an old-fashioned soda fountain, ended with the kids begging to go back. At the end of our stay, Arjun and Araxi were given certificates that declared them Official Weatherbury Farm Kids. My parents were delighted with all the time they spent with their grandchildren. I was so relaxed I felt like I'd been to a spa. When school started, Araxi had to do a report about what she had done over the summer. She drew a map of Pennsylvania decorated with kittens, along with an X in the southwest corner marking the farm. At the bottom of the page, she wrote: "We got to do chores!" Finding farmstays The farm associations of Pennsylvania (888/856-6622, and Vermont (866/348-3276, make it especially easy to locate farmstays. Other states maintain agritourism and California's, among others--where you can find farms that rent rooms, as well as ones that only welcome day visitors (for tours, tractor rides, and so on). Some farmstays are more geared to kids than others, so always ask about age-appropriate activities.