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The painful, wonderful joy of Spain's best tapas bars

As a poor college student backpacking through Europe, one of the more painful ordeals I experienced was exercising enough self-restraint at Spain's delicious tapas bars to not eat myself into even worse poverty.

The temptation was nearly irresistible. Let me set the stage for you: after a full day of walking for miles and taking in the sights, I'd find myself in an aged and weathered pub in the early evening, hunched over the bar and staring at dozens of small plates loaded up with the most tantalizing, bite-sized morsels--each of which pleaded seductively for me to wolf it down.

These compact, culinary masterpieces were dollops of perfection bursting with rich and addictive flavors that threatened to bleed my money belt dry. And, at a couple of bucks a pop, this was a very likely scenario considering that it would have taken a few dozen to satiate my appetite.

I'm looking forward to returning to Spain one day now that I have a real job and with it, the freedom to eat as many damn tapas as I please. In the meantime, I'm going to file away a wonderful Travel & Leisure article I recently came across featuring 36 of the very best tapas bars in San Sebastián, Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid. And then one day, I'm going to eat my way through Spain.

Eco-Travel Toolkit

Now that green is hip and cool, eco-friendly travel has appropriately transformed itself from hippy yurt farms to eco-luxury resorts that help save the planet while also coddling guests with comfort and style.

But that's not all. Sustainable travel now encompasses the entire travel industry. This is hardly a surprise; those that express an interest in seeing the greater world, tend to also possess the desire to help protect it.

One of the better resources I've come across recently to help conscientious travelers seek out the greenest and healthiest travel alternatives is the Eco-Travel Toolkit published in Plenty Magazine (tagline: It's easy being green).

The Eco-Travel Toolkit breaks green travel down into six categories; Where to Stay, Green Getaways, Up & Coming Destinations, Where NOT to Go, Getting There, and Seals of Approval. Each category is loaded with a bevy of links pointing green travelers in the right "Al Gore" direction--such as towards the very "first five-star green lodge" near Petra, Jordan (due to open in 2009).

While green travel isn't for everyone, there will come the day that travelers may accidentally find themselves staying in a green lodge without actually knowing it. In the meantime, you may want to check out the Eco-Travel Toolkit and help edge things along.

The three-day Caribbean vacation

Most people wouldn't consider the Caribbean for a three-day weekend, but surprisingly, it's entirely possible--providing, of course, you can get there on a nonstop flight.

Nonstop Caribbean: Fly Right to the Beach, is a great Budget Travel article which, you guessed it, highlights those sunny tropical destinations that can be reached on a short(ish) flight from either Canada or the U.S. that doesn't involve a grueling, vacation-ruining stop-over in someplace like Florida.

The article lists those Caribbean destinations which meet the criteria and then succinctly sums up the "must-do's" and "places to stay."

With winter in full force in North America, it's very tempting to pick a nice, warm island, call in sick on Friday and disappear for three days. My only problem is that I live on the West coast where nonstop flights to the Caribbean do exist, they're just too long for a three day weekend.

Now Mexico, on the other hand....

Photo of the Day (1/11/08)

Wow, you can really feel the sense of cold in this photograph taken in Tynemouth, England by OurManWhere. I'm not sure how he coaxed his lady friend into standing right next to the crashing surf, but sometimes art is painful; her resulting bout of pneumonia was certainly worth the shot.

I also love the mottled texture of the pier itself as the elements slowly eat away at it, even as the subject of the photo stares pensively out across the water. Very cool!

If you'd like one of your shots considered for Photo of the Day, jump on over to our Gadling Flickr Pool and upload away.

Food and travel writer website

I think I just might hate Joe Ray.

It's a professional hatred, of course, bred out of jealousy. That's because Joe is a food and travel writer based in Paris. Wow. I can't imagine a more perfect combination of careers in a more perfect location.

And yet, that's what Joe does. He pens wonderful articles accompanied by fantastic photographs while soaking in all the gloriousness of Paris.

I bring Joe to your attention today because I recently spent some time browsing his website and reading a bevy of tantalizing articles such as, Tasting Welsh Tea in Argentina, A Sicilian gelato tour, Pigs' ears, horse-sandwiches 'n fritters: Italian street-food, and Whale carpaccio, reindeer filet: Greenland's contemporary cuisine. Yum!

Joe does a marvelous job of combining a passion of travel with a love for local foods in a way that gnaws at my stomach and gets the travel bug biting. If you have a few moments, check out Joe's website and travel with him around the world; you'll soon be just as jealous as I am. And just as hungry.

Gap year resources

If the new year has come around and hit you in the gut with the reality of facing another 12 months chained to a cubicle, you might want to explore your gap year options.

A "gap year" is nothing more than a gap in your career where you bugger off and travel the world, live abroad, or otherwise engage yourself in experiences far more worthwhile and rewarding than simply working for the man.

Gap years, which have become quite popular in England, are slowly gaining ground in America where I live--although most professionals I know would still consider taking a year off as nothing short of career suicide.

There are others, however, (and you know who you are) that sit around and daydream of the possibilities, mulling over what they'd do and where they'd go if they were to ever summon up the courage to take that first step out the door.

As a public service to those of our readers trapped in this purgatory of travel lust, we'd like to provide you with some motivation in the form of a very detailed Telegraph article, A comprehensive A-Z of gap year options from Arizona to Africa.

Photo of the Day (1/10/08)

We've all seen so many countless photos of the Great Wall that it really doesn't seem all that great any more.

There's something about this shot, however, that really injects that magic back into this ancient Chinese icon. Perhaps it's the light dusting of snow, or the snake like curves at the front of the photograph. I don't know. But what I do know, is that this is perhaps the finest photograph I've seen of the Great Wall.

Congrats go out to petetamproductions for reinvigorating this ancient landmark and giving it back the mystery and allure which has been so sorely missing for many years now.

First human powered circumnavigation of the globe

What is it about crazy Brits and their desire to circumnavigate the globe on their own power?

Over the last few years, we've been sharing with you the adventures of Karl Bushby who is attempting to walk around the world. But for whatever reason, we've just learned about a fellow countryman of Bushby's who has spent the last 13 years circling the globe using a combination of bicycles and peddle boats. Wow.

Jason Lewis started his journey at the Prime Meridian in Greenwich in 1994 after realizing that his greatest fear in life was "of mediocrity and of a slow, unremarkable acquiescence to society." This epiphany led him on a 46,405 mile journey that is believed to the first "human powered circumnavigation of the globe."

He traveled by bicycle and foot through 37 countries and across all major continents except Antarctica, as well as spending 111 days in a paddle boat crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

I'm not sure this is the best way to spend one's 30s, but you have to admit, Lewis certainly hasn't acquiesced to society in the traditional manner. Now that he's home and probably looking for a job, however, we can welcome him back to a life of mediocrity.

Google Earth: Zooming in on the forbidden sites of North Korea

It sure is tough to be a hermit kingdom these days with Google Earth constantly peering into your business.

Take North Korea, for example. Just a few years ago, it was impossible for Americans to visit this reclusive country and Kim Jong Il was happy. Now, a few hundred Americans are let in each summer to view a small sliver of the country. It thought I was pretty special being one of them. It turns out, however, that armchair travelers can sit at their computers and do a much better job of zooming into all those secret airfields, bases, and palaces which our guides kept hidden from us on the ground.

One of the most outstanding things I've ever seen on Google Earth is an extraordinarily exhaustive mashup detailing countless military installations, concentration camps, monuments, palaces, government buildings, and other "off limit" sites throughout North Korea. I've just spent most of the evening zeroing in on all the places I visited in Pyongyang and then backing up the view to check out the surrounding areas we were prohibited from seeing.

Most unnerving are the rows and rows of work camp barracks located in the north of the country (above) that are clearly visible. All the cleanliness and order of Pyongyang almost makes one forget such atrocities exist in North Korea.

If you've got some time, spend a few minutes surfing through these enthralling yet bizarre satellite images of North Korea; because when things look off from outer space, you just know they're far worse at ground level.

The 10 most common foreign cities in which Americans are arrested

Tijuana rarely makes the top of any list for any reason--unless, of course, the list happens to rank the most common places for Americans to be arrested abroad. In that case, Tijuana proudly stands as number one.

Police in the sprawling border town arrested 520 Americans in 2006, more so than any other city on the planet. In fact, according to statistics released by the American State Department and published by the LA Times, Mexico claims four of the top five cities in which the most Americans were taken into custody. Only London, at number 4 on the list with 274 arrests stood in the way of Mexican penal domination.

Of course, the statistics are a little skewed since the arrest numbers do not take into consideration the overall number of tourists. If only 700 Americans visited Mexico, for example, and 520 were arrested, I'd certainly be concerned about those odds. Thousands of Americans visit Mexico on an annual basis, however, thus turning those 520 arrests into a very small percentage indeed. Nonetheless, it's always wise to carry a $20 bill with you just in case...

The top 10 cities you're most likely to get arrested in are...

(Source: LA Times)

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