Mt Blanc Expedition

The Travellers Two are on the road again. This summer we were planning to drive from the UK to Rome to shoot an interview with an amazing photographer, and as we looked at the route we saw that we had to drive through the Alps. And the idea emerged to climb Mt Blanc on the way. We reserved 2 days in Chamonix to go up and down the mountain and then we would be on our way to sunny Italy. But as we started doing our research we realised that it’s not as easy as we initially imagined. Training, diet, altitude preparation, equipment, weather, refuge booking and finding a guide were among the things we needed to consider, research and execute.

http://give.caremin.com/MissionMalnutrition

After four months of preparation we are on the outskirts of Chamonix in the beautiful and quiet town of Le Tour. We arrived here on Saturday the 23rd and met with people from Peak Powder, who organised guides for us. At 2 am on Sunday we woke up at the back of our Defender and drove to Geneva airport and flew to Rome where we spent 36 hours, interviewing Milton Gendel, eating pizza, pasta and gelato.

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Milton Gendel’s guest book

We came back to Le Tour at 3am, and after few hours of sleep we were on our way up our first mountain. It was not a great success as we left too late and we got caught in a storm at two and a half thousand metres above sea level, so we had to come back down. Le Buet conquered us, but despite the fact that we didn’t reach the top we did some good training in the snow with crampons.

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View of Mt Blanc from Aiguille du Midi

The next day we went up Aiguille du Midi at 3810m to get a taste of the high altitude. Walking up and down the stairs wasn’t as easy as at sea level, but we did a little bit of training there.

The following morning we met our guide Benji and headed to the Italian side of the Alps. That morning we got to the refuge in the foothills of Gran Paradiso. After a short nap we did some more crampon training, using our ice axes, ropes and harnesses, and organised our pack leaving all but the absolutely essential. At 3:20am we were the first out of the refuge heading up the mountain. After 4 hours and 25 minutes of walking on rocks and snow we got to the top. Four other teams passed us on the way but we still made it in a good time.

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Coming down from Gran Paradiso

There were moments when breathing was very tough and the thoughts of doubt came through our minds. “Why are we doing it? It’s not fun at all. It’s just walking, but really hard and up the hill in not so friendly conditions.” But we kept going, with our toes and fingers starting to get numb we reached the summit, took a photo, which we need to get from Benji, as Louise dropped her phone on the top, and headed down as quickly as possible. Slowly we started taking layers off as the morning sun warmed us up and we were getting lower and lower. I asked Benji “Why do people do it?” and he replied “I don’t know if it’s for the climb itself or the feeling after” but as we came down to the refuge by the parking lot and had lunch, he said “I think this is why people do it.”

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Breakfast at the L’Olimpique

As for today, we needed to get some rest before Mt Blanc so we decided to get a room for a couple of nights at l’Olimpique hotel in Le Tour, which was build for the Olympic Games in 1924. At breakfast we got the message that the weather forecast had changed and we have to move our ascent back by a day. So now we have a couple of days of rest, sending emails and recharging batteries for Mt Blanc. We’ll be leaving at dawn on Monday morning hoping to get to the top by sunrise on Tuesday.

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Admiring the view from Aiguille du Midi

As we started telling people about this idea a couple of months ago it was just a blurry thought without a clear vision, but as we started getting closer to the date we thought of doing it for a cause, something that will keep us going when we feel like stopping. We both work for an organisation that helps the extremely poor in the Philippines get themselves out of their current conditions. ICM focuses on education so the participants can “take the fishing rod themselves and fish, rather than feeding them once.” But as ICM trainers go to the poor communities they find many children that are malnourished. And this is the part that we felt that we wanted to highlight through our expedition. ICM gets tons of free anti-malnutrition food from a few organisations in the US but they have to pay for the shipping to the Philippines. We’ve set quite a steep goal but we’re hoping to raise enough funds to deliver half a million meals to the homes of malnourished children. You can partner with us by donating here, and if you would like to find out more about ICM please check out their website.

Of course we are aware that we could have donated the money that we invested in the expedition directly to ICM, stay at home and make videos of very slim children, with heartbreaking violin music in the background, but that’s what we do outside of our holidays anyway.

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Mario’s Pizza and the Tulsa Food Tour

For as long as I have known Michal, he has told me about his favourite pizza. In fact one of our very first conversations was about the so called Best Pizza in the World – Mario’s Pizza in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I didn’t really think much about it then, but as I have heard the story over and over, people’s reactions are always the same: “What?! The best pizza in the world is in Tulsa?!”

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And Michal is crazy enough about that pizza that he would make a huge detour and drive for hundreds of miles to eat it, as well as to confirm that it’s still the best pizza in the world after ten years.

So, as we drove up from Arkansas, we set our GPS to ‘51st and Harvard, Tulsa, OK’ i.e. Mario’s Pizza. We arrived just in time for lunch, to order the XL White Pizza.

And the pizza is still as good as it was years ago. The Best Pizza in the World!

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We couldn’t leave without saying something. So we started chatting with the owner, Sally, telling her that Michal is one of their biggest fans and travelled across the world to eat there.

Although she wouldn’t tell us all of her secrets, she said the key is to keep consistency in her suppliers. She has had the same suppliers with the best ingredients since she started.

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“I don’t do any of those weird things, like putting a pizza on top of a pizza! I just stick with what works. Sometimes I add a new topping here of there, but I’m not trying to invent something new.

“If it works, just keep doing it!”

Sally and her husband were born in the same hospital in New York, just north of the Hudson river.

“A lot of people say that’s upstate, but it’s still New York City. Martio’s was my favourite pizza place growing up – it was right where we lived – you don’t have to go to Manhattan for good pizza!”

Sally and her husband moved to Oklahoma in 1973, and there were no good pizza places!

They met Mario, who was born in Italy, moved to NYC, and then came out to Oklahoma. He worked in several of the Tulsa pizzerias, but no-one made it the real Italian New York way.

So when Mario met Sally and her husband, Mario’s pizza was born!

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Today, Sally runs the place alone; they bought Mario’s share of the business years ago, and sadly her husband recently died. But Sally’s staff share her passion for that perfect slice, and continue to make their famous New York style pizza.

Eric, one of the pizza chefs at Marios, says that they get a lot of New Yorkers  coming in to try their pizza, and that they’re always impressed.  “When I went to New York City, I couldn’t find the slice that was better than ours!”

He says the ‘cheese warm, not too hot’ (i.e. the standard cheese pizza slice) is the best way to judge if someone is doing their pizza right. “If you get that right, then anything you put on top will be good.”

After finishing the whole 22” pie, (a lot of pizza!) Michal’s praise for the pizza carried on. And Sally didn’t let us leave empty handed, giving us two Mario’s Pizza t-shirts.

The day before, a lady had come from a newspaper to interview Sally and feature her as Tulsa’s top pizzeria. So if you’re a pizza lover, Michal is sending out the challenge to come to Tulsa and give Mario’s a try.

For four years, Michal went to University in Tulsa, and so the food tour had to continue. The second stop on the tour was a visit to his friend Margeret, who owns Margeret’s German Restaurant.

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Their menu is filled with German delicacies; schnitzel, sausages, and spaetzle, but since Margeret  is originally from Poland, she always has some Polish specialties that aren’t on the menu.

We had Goulash with Spaetzle and a dessert sampler; it was amazing to eat European food and catch up with an old friend.

The next day we had cravings for Chinese food since we had been out of Hong Kong for over two months. So Michal took me to one of his old favourites; Hot Wok on Louis Ave, right next to his old university.

We ordered Szechuan dishes… not as hot as the authentic Szechuan but they are still definitely worth a try!

That evening we were invited to dinner by our friends Mark and Susan, who we knew from Hong Kong. They wanted to take us out, and we ended up at an Irish Pub on Cherry St. Of course Guinness was a must, to go with the Guinness Pie!

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On Monday morning went to visit Michal’s old school and reconnected with his professors. We said that we might be coming through Tulsa on our way back to New York, (for another slice of Marios), and since the school year would have already started, Michal could come back and share with the multimedia students – so we have another great incentive to come to Tulsa.

The food tour continued, and later we visited another friend Renata. As hard as it is for Michal to admit, Renata makes better Pierogis than his grandma!

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But as it was a surprise visit, she didn’t have any Pierogis in the freezer, so she made us a fantastic home cooked Polish meal. We could hardly leave the table we were so full!

After a long day, we arrived back at Mark and Susan’s home; and to our surprise, they had cooked amazing seafood Creole! Originally from New Orleans, Mark who is a pastor by day turns into a chef by night, and cooked us come delicious authentic dishes.

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It was great to have that true Creole food, since when we were in New Orleans having lunch with a friend, we got so caught up in conversation that we didn’t even order proper Creole dishes!

Our Tulsa visit was filled with food and friends; the two seem to go together. As we were driving south on our way to Texas, it got hotter and hotter, and so for the final visit on the Tulsa Food Tour, we stopped for ice cream at Braums.

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You can only find Braums in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas; a double-dip of butter pecan is Michal’s choice every time!

Food in the Big Apple

When you come through New York City and if you enjoy food, you probably already know you’re in the right place. Especially if you like comfort food. In New York you can find any food you desire; pizza, hot dogs and pretzels are on almost every corner, and that’s why it’s so hard to find one favourite. Usually when we travel, I try to find a good pizza in a new city, but since there are so many to choose from, I didn’t even bother with it here. Although I do have to mention that I came across Artichoke Pizza and their signature artichoke slice which is amazing.

But the reason I’m writing it is to share my new discovery. To many it’s old news, but if you’re planning to visit the Big Apple, you have to try The Halal Guys food.

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“It all started in 1990, when the founding partners opened a hot dog cart on West 53rd & 6th Avenue, New York, NY. The saw a huge demand among the Muslim cab drivers needing to have a halal Muslim meal. They quickly exchanged their cart and began servicing halal food, which became a huge success. They focused on the enhancement of their products to make it different and enjoyable. From that time, they pledged to use the best halal products to serve the public. During that time, they created their special magic white sauce and fiery hot sauce, which our public loves.”

Excerpt from http://thehalalguys.com

_MG_4155I had the chance to try their food a couple of years ago, but it was a leftovers from take out that I found in our friend’s fridge, without knowing where it was from. When we came through the city this time I decided to find out who makes this incredible chicken and gyro meat over yellow rice. As it turned out it was not that hard. Their carts are still there whey they started 25 years ago, plus they opened bunch of other shops that you can find on their websites. The choice is simple: chicken, gyro or mix. It is so good that even as we were driving from Westport, Connecticut to Atlantic City, we had to take a detour and pick up some goodness for the road.

So next time you’re in town, don’t forget to treat yourself to The Halal Guys.

MSJ