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Breakfast is served

Skip your normal routine. One way to find out about the culture of another region or country is to eat breakfast like a local.

The breakfast that I chuckle over the most is the one that I had on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland. It seems that on my free day to explore the picturesque town on my own, I still got up early at my usual time - I tried to force myself to stay in bed - and was one of the first in the breakfast room. I chose the porridge and the friendly lady who served me suggested that I try it with "Irish mist." Not being entirely sure of what she meant, I asked for an explanation. "A little smidgen of Irish whiskey is poured over the warmed oatmeal to give it a lift and start the day off on a happy note." Well, it worked with me, and I traipsed down the hill whistling with my umbrella up - in the mist, off course - to shop and wander to my heart's content.

In the United States, breakfast starts early in the morning at hotels and motels for businesspeople and tourists are anxious to speed on their way. That's not the case, though, in other countries. In Ireland for example, breakfast begins at eight o'clock; however, you rarely see more than Americans partaking then. Brunch is more the appropriate time for Europeans considering they ate such a late dinner the evening prior. On occasion, there is a hardy pair of Brits or Germans surrounding you keyed up to get on their bikes for the day's hike. They hover over their maps and plan their routes, and you can't help but feed off their enthusiasm.

Once when I was in Scotland and made a valiant attempt with blood pudding and haggis, I couldn't get over how the toast came out in a holder at least five to ten minutes before my eggs or porridge were served. I discovered from a Brit that they prefer their toast cold, and it sits upright in the table center waiting for its accompanying meal.

If you stay in guest houses or smaller hotels, breakfast is a full sitdown meal with a starter of a variety of fruits, yogurt, cereals and juices. The main - as it is referred - consists of pancakes, eggs or waffles with assorted meats and breads. You are fueled for a long day and a later lunch.

This past winter in Central America I noticed that even the wait staff was sleepy in the morning and barely ready to serve North Americans who expect coffee refills and quick attention. The "eat and run" mentality is a hard habit to break. The best part of breakfast was the atmosphere of the outdoor courtyards - an abundance of floral plants and exotic birds - willing you to slow down and catch the vibes of a different geography while the snow was swirling fierecely at home in the Northeast. The tropical fruits and huevos with salsa, beans and rice, of course, were worth the wait.

In Asian countries, the breakfast buffet is an unusual combination of smoked fish, sushi, rice, miso soup - a staple - and other foods that you experience with chopsticks - or with utensils if you prefer. The Japanese are polite, and are excellent hosts. Tea choices are available, and I found satisfaction with small cups of green teas from different regions. I'm not a tea consisseur by any means, and I dare say I couldn't pick one from another. Although most hotels attempt to please tourists with eggs and bacon, too, cooks never quite get it right to our palates.

At a Marriott near the Johannesburg, South Africa, airport I experiemented with refreshing combinations of vegetable and fruit drinks -locally sourced - for breakfast from the buffet. They were re-hydrating and a delightful change after a 17-hour flight inhaling airline carbs.

American motels and hotels cater to a variety of eaters, and certain chains stand out from the others. It all depends upon the price range level for your stay.

I'll never forget the exact location of my breakfast table at a Super 8 motel in Torrey, Utah, the morning of September 11th with the television monitor streaming in live coverage of our country under seige. I have no clue as to what I ate, and more importantly, my husband and I wondered if we would even have the rest of our vacation, or shouldn't we be thinking about such a frivilous notion when people were in life-threatening situations.

I've breakfasted on the most delicious smoked salmon and scrambled eggs dish blended smoothly together in a high-end restaurant in Ireland. Then again, I 've had a quick cup of coffee in a stryofoam cup, a bowl of raisin bran and a yogurt in an airport motel at 4 am in the morning with my attention on another adventure.

A typical breakfast (for me) in Central America.

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