Spain’s Best Feature

Before I arrived in Spain, I had heard that Churros dipped in Chocolate were a good dessert to try while traveling there. What I failed to realize, is that Churros and Chocolate are everywhere, can be eaten at anytime (not just dessert), are made different ways, and are possibly the best invention ever.

Churros in Barcelona: The first churros I tried were in Barcelona at a place called Petritxol-Xocoa Café. Quentin and walked along the small streets of El Born to small little street called Calle Petritxol where we found a cute little shop with tons of sweets in the window. It was 10:30 in the morning and we were the only customers in the shop. I ordered the “churros con cioccolata” (my breakfast!) and we waited patiently, because they had not arrived from the bakery that morning. The door opened five minutes later and a man came in with a home-made fresh batch of churros. They were served to us warm with the the thickest hot chocolate I had ever tasted. If you have the real, original cioccolata, it is ten times thicker than hot chocolate in the United States. It tastes like melted chocolate with a little bit of milk mixed in and is deliciously filling. The hot chocolate went perfectly with the warm sugar coated churros. Our first encounter with churros was a tasty one.

IMG_6614Churros in Granada: The next place that we visited in Spain was Granada. I really enjoyed this southern city because you can feel and see the moorish influence even today. Granada was the last Islamic town on the Iberian Peninsula to be conquered by “Los Reyes Catolicos” during the reconquista. After defeating the last Muslim ruler, Emir Muhammad XII, the Catholic rulers Ferdinand II and Isabella II had complete control of Spain. Although Granada was conquered, a lot of the beautiful buildings were still left standing, including the huge moorish palace, the Alhambra. While wandering through Granada, Quentin and I stumbled upon one of the oldest plaza’s, Plaza de Bib-Rambla . While looking at the fountain in the middle of the square, we saw a sign for Churros at a café and decided to stop for a midday snack. At the bar, we ordered from a friendly waitress who delivered hot churros minutes later. These churros were much bigger and longer. They were delicious, but you could taste the oil in every bite.IMG_6489

Churros in Seville: After Granada, Quentin and I took the bus to Seville. The air B&B we stayed in was close to a square called Alameda with tons of cafes and restaurants where you could sit outside in the sun. In the middle of the square where kids were passing a soccer ball back and forth, there was a food stand that made fresh churros. We watched the lady pull a lever on a machine that squeezed dough into boiling oil. The oil fried the dough and she scooped the hot churros out and rolled them in sugar before handing them to use in paper funnels. Even though the churros were delicious, and it was fun to watch her make them, the hot chocolate that I dipped mine in was less thick. I think it used water instead of milk. Regardless, it was another successful churro stop.

IMG_6627 IMG_6630Churros in Madrid: My final taste of churros was at St. Gines Chocolatería in Madrid. Unfotrunately, Quentin had to head back to the United States after we visited Seville, so for the last leg of my trip, I was by myself. Traveling by yourself is a unique experience because you are forced to be outgoing and meet more people. When I was in Madrid, I went to St. Gines for Churros two times (it really is that good). The first time I went was with a guy I met at a museum who was finishing Law School in Madrid. The second time I went was my last day abroad and in town with a group of friends from Italy, France, Australia, Austria and Spain. I would go into detail about how amazing it is to meet people from all over, but the topic here is churros so instead I am going to focus on St. Gines. This particular Chocolatería is in the heart of Madrid and is open 24 hours a day. It is a popular tourist attraction, but you also find tons of locals inside too which means that the place truly is delicious. The churros are cut from long circular spirals and the hot chocolate is rich and thick. My last day in Madrid, we ordered churros and sat outside under heatlamps. I could not have asked for a better way to end my choco-trip—new friends, crowded place, and savoring the best dessert Spain has to offer. As I slowly licked the last drops of chocolate from my spoon that night, I knew it had been a successful journey.

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Churros and Chocolate may be one of Spain’s best features. It was fun (and tasty) to try the different kinds and explore the different way cities and cafe’s offered them.

And that’s an un-wrap!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Dessert: The Cathedral that is Never Finished, and the Dessert that Always is

One of the must-see sites when you travel to Barcelona is the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. The construction of this huge looming cathedral began in 1882 and is still not quite completed today. Most of the design and the plans for the cathedral were developed by the famous catalan architect Antoni Guadí. Quentin and I were encouraged to visit around two or three in the afternoon so that the light would be at it’s best through the stain glass windows, and we were definitely not misguided by this advise. The church itself is an overwhelming beauty from the outside with different facades that look like dripping wax and have great significance in the bible, but the inside was my favorite part.IMG_6341

There are tall pillars that shoot up and arch out into the ceiling as if they were trees. Entering the church felt like entering a huge secret forbidden clearing in a dense forest. Colored light reflected from the stained glass and filled the air. Each stained glass window had a different vibrant color and represented different parts of nature. I loved the way Gaudí designed the cathedral to mix spiritual aspects with nature. Quentin and I took a small crowded elevator to one of the church towers and looked out over Barcelona before climbing down tiny spiral stairs which spun round and round for what felt like forever. It was an amazing experience… out of all the church’s I have seen traveling through Europe I might venture to say this one was my favorite.IMG_0262_2

After exploring the church, my sweet tooth kicked in again. Quentin and I met up with Will who took us into old town where we found a cute little shop called Chöck. The boys said we had to go in because they like to call me by my nickname “Chuck” and thought it was a sign the shop name was so close to my nickname. The shop had so many sweets to choose from but we decided on an oreo cronut and a chocolate nut donut type-pastry. They were both so delicious that Will and I had to stop in the middle of the street to let the chocolate overwhelm our taste-buds. I think one thing I have learned while traveling is to slow down and take everything in—even if it is the flavor of a cronut, let it overwhelm your senses and completely envelope your thoughts even for just a second. I want to try and live more in the moment when I return home and appreciate the big things like amazing cathedrals and the little things, like a chocolate donut.

IMG_0216_2Holy Dessert. And that’s an un-wrap.

Brunch and Cake “Taking the Cake” in Barcelona

I think it is impossible not to laugh when you meet up with someone familiar in a strange new place. The comfort of being with a friend mixes with the adventure and excitement of being somewhere you have never been before resulting in a big smile, a giggle, and, as cheesy as it sounds, the realization of how incredible life is in that moment.

When I first got to Barcelona, I wandered down Las Ramblas, a touristy main street, past the big stone cathedral and into a neighborhood called El Born with narrow streets and lots of people. For once, I was able to find the Air B & B where we were staying without getting lost. It was a tall building with a gated door and I rang the bell and spoke in Spanish (!!) to the owner who buzzed me in. I pushed open the big metal gate-door and walked up four flights of musty stairs (because in Spain the first level is usually level zero) into an apartment where my new travel buddy, Quentin, was waiting for me. This is where the laugh/giggle/chuckle comes in. I was so nervous that I was going to get lost on the way to the apartment or that we wouldn’t find each other because cell phones don’t work without wi-fi, that when I saw him I couldn’t help but smile and laugh with relief and amazement that we finally made it to Barcelona, the number one place on my list of cities I wanted to visit.

I felt a surge of this same strange mixture of feelings when we met up with our friend Will, who is teaching English in Barcelona, for dinner. We were sitting outside at a Café eating and watching skateboarders stick and fail to stick their tricks, when a familiar smile made it’s way into my line of site. The small giggle/laugh inserted itself again here with the combination of the the old friend and the new place.

Luckily, Will shares my obsession for chocolate and sweets, and knows all of the good places to go in Barcelona. To start, the next day he took us on a tour of the city on bikes. We rode up to montjuïc and had a beautiful view of the city. Our bike tour ended at one of the best food places I have been to so far. Although, Quentin pointed out to me that I think every place we go is the best place we have been. I realized that everytime I eat while traveling I usually think it is the best meal I have ever eaten… each new treat is the best one. However, this new best meal was at a place called “Brunch and Cake”. I had a sweet waffle covered in cheese and bacon with lettuce on top. It was something I would never think to make on my own and was the ideal combination of sweet, savory flavors with crunchy, thick textures. After devouring the waffle, Will and I split a huge slice of Oreo Cake. While cake is usually the last thing on my dessert list, behind ice cream, cookies and regular chocolate bars, this cake definitely “took the cake” for the day and satisfied my sweet tooth after our bike ride with the dense sweet flavor of what seemed like a million oreos crushed into one bite.

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Old faces, new places. Brunch and Cake took the cake. And that’s an un-wrap.

Geneva: Chocolate in Transition and Chocolate with Tradition

Our last stop in Switzerland, Geneva, was just as beautiful as the rest of the places we visited. Once again, the combination of the mountains against the water was enough to make you want to walk out on a bridge to stop and stare all day. I grew up in the mountains and can appreciate their grand appearance, but never had I seen them next to such a large body of water. Geneva definitely confirmed why Switzerland is one of the most touristy countries.IMG_6204

Mom and I decided to tour the city starting with the Old Town and the looming St. Peter’s Cathedral, and finished at the Revolution Wall. While wandering around Old Town, we heard yelling and chanting from around a corner and backed to the side just in time for a huge crowd of protesters to come marching up the street. We couldn’t understand what they were saying, but one of them gave me a flyer and a Branch Chocolate bar as they passed. We watched as parents with kids on their shoulders, teens, college students and business women and men walked past us with signs or with nothing at all. Towards the end of the line, I asked a girl what was happening and in broken English she explained it was a protest for the rights of teachers and public figures who were getting a pay cut. They had sacks and sacks of Branche Chocolate, a bar unique to Switzerland, but sold all over in grocery stores instead of just specialty stores. This one had cornflakes in it and tasted like thick fudge sprinkled with crunchy texture. Handing out chocolate means business—this chocolate was urgently requesting change.IMG_6165

The next day, Mom and I took these cute little yellow boats across the river and saw the Red Cross Museum. It was a moving experience that makes you want to find a way to give back to the world, or at the very least treat everyone better in daily life. After museum, we got back on the tiny, heated yellow boats and drove by the iconic water spout of Geneva, the Jet d’Eau. On our way home, we stopped in a chocolatier that had been around since 1818, Martel, and tried the traditional “Pavé de Genéve”, or Geneva’s Pavement. It is a small dark square truffle that melts in your mouth. The recipe was originally crafted by a man named Mr. Stankovitch who kept the recipe a secret. Now, all chocolate stores in Switzerland try and mimic the recipe, but only the little shop, Chocolats Rohr, has the original recipe.

Geneva: a place with chocolate making history and a place with chocolate lasting through history. And that’s an un-wrap.

 

 

 

Say Cheese, Again!

Mom and I took the train from Zurich to Lucerne, one of my favorite cities of Switzerland. It is situated right on Lake Lucerne and surrounded by Mount Pilatis and part of the Swiss Alps, making it a breathtakingly beautiful city. The main part of town is built right along the edge of the water and there are multiple bridges crossing back and forth including the most iconic bridge of Switzerland, the Kapellbrücke or the Chapel Bridge. When Mom and I did a tour of the city with a cute and smiling blonde lady, we learned that this famous bridge and tower used to be a form of fortification, torchure chamber and place to store treasuer for the city in the 14th century. It burnt down when a careless tourist dropped a cigar into a boat tied beneath it and you can see where they rebuilt it because the wood is still different colors.IMG_6111

I highly suggest taking walking tours of the city you visit, because there is so much history hidden behind the shops and chocolaterias. For example, we learned that most of Lucerne was changed or constructed specifically for tourism. The Chapel Bridge used to lead straight into a Chapel on one side of the river, but they cut it shorter and added a whole sidewalk to the other side of the riverbank so that tourists could enjoy a nice stroll and beautiful view, and use the bridge even if they weren’t going to the chapel. We learned that there are over 225 fountains sprinkled throughout Lucerne that serve as decoration but also places where people can fill up their water bottles with water directly from mountain springs. We also learned about the many animated paintings across the town on buildings and signs that served to help the people of Lucerne when the majority of them could not read.

After trying to soak up so much information that my brain hurt, it was time for dinner. Mom and I went to a restaurant on the river that someone suggested to us. We were seated at a small table carved right into the wall of the restaurant with a window looking out into the street. I loved the environment of the place right away with large wood walls and purple seat cushions. There were flags of each Canton of Switzerland hanging from the walls and a large group of women at a table next to us. They must have been having a girls night, and I was happy because when you end up at a restaurant with locals, you know that you have found a good place. We ordered a traditional dish of Switzerland, the Raclette, without knowing what it really was. We were expecting a fondue type dish with meat (which there is a raclette with meat, but not the one we ordered), but instead, the waiter came out with a little tray with a burner underneath it, a basket of potatoes, pickles and onions, and a huge plate of cheese. The plate must have had at least forty slices on it. Our waiter showed us that you take a slice of cheese and put it on the metal burner, let it melt, and then scrape it off onto your plate to eat with everything. The ladies next to us laughed at how bug the plate of cheese was and watched as we tried to learn to use the burner. It was really quite delicious, but we ate so much cheese AGAIN.

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I ate more cheese in the time we had in Switzerland than I had in my last two years of college… or at least that is what it felt like! Say Cheese, Again, mom!
And that’s an un-wrap.

Confiserie Sprüngli

This mini-post will be dedicated to Confiserie Sprüngli, an extravagant chocolate shop in Zurich. It was founded in 1836 and is known for it’s handmade macaroons that parade in pyramids in the window.

Mom and I walked into the first Sprüngli shop we ran into (there are some scattered about in Zurich and even one at the train station so you can’t miss it as you leave the city), and walked in circles around the store staring into each and every one of the glass windows displaying sweet after sweet. There were tons of colorful macaroons, shelf after shelf of cakes, pastries and small sandwiches, and then a long display dedicated to small hand-crafted truffles.IMG_6008

After much deliberation, Mom and I decided on a small traingular cake with a chocolate layer on the outside and hazelnut filling on the inside. Needless to say, it was one of the best slices of cake I had ever tasted. The hard chocolate on the outside contrasted perfectly with the fluffy mousse on the inside, while the tast of dark chocolate and sweet hazelnut combined to create the ideal level of sweetness on the taste buds.

Sprüngli, just like the idea Swiss Chocolate, has a good reputation and a lot of hype, but it does not disappoint.

And that’s an un-wrap.

Rome: A Layered City

Rome is a layered city. There is new and old everywhere you look. I heard it once decsribed as a lasagna because new buildings are built on top of the old. Construction takes forever here, because as soon as they dig down to build a parking garage or fix a pipe, they discover a lost building or artifact. For this post, I am going to honor the layers of Rome by writing about an old site we visited, and a new tradition we started.

When in Rome, you must see the Vatican (and the Colosseum and the Pantheon and the Spanish steps and so many other things, but I am going to focus on the Vatican, here or else it would be quite a long and boring read). And you must use the saying, “When in Rome” as much as you can J Our first day in the city, Savannah had organized a guided tour of the Vatican. We walked to the Vatican city and were blown away by the beauty of it. Did you know that the Vatican is it’s own country? I think my favorite part of our visit was seeing the Sistine Chapel. I had studied it in school, but seeing slide show photos of it or reading about it in a textbook does no justice to the actual work itself. Our guide gave us a ton of information before we entered, because there is no talking and no photos allowed inside the chapel. He told us how Michelangelo did not want to paint the ceiling and the Pope, with so much power, convince/forced him to do so. Michelangelo, who specialized in sculptures, had to learn how to paint a fresco which is not an easy task. The process includes putting plaster on the ceiling and then applying paint at the perfect time; not too early because it will soak in too much, and not too late because it will crumble off shortly after the plaster dries. Painting a fresco is extremely difficult and requires not only efficiency, but great skill.

After Michelangelo learned how to paint frescoes, he locked himself into the Sistine Chapel and put a sheet below so that if anyone got in they would not be able to see what he was working on. After two** grueling years, arguments with the pope, and lasting back problems from standing and arching backwards to paint, Michelangelo had completed a masterpiece.

Masterpiece has so many definitions and is sometimes applied to too many works of art or literature. But the Sistine Chapel with this amazing ceiling, The Last Judgment painted on the wall and other paintings throughout by other renowned artists, such as Perugino and Bottecelli, is definitely a masterpiece and inspires silence even if the room didn’t require it.

After seeing visiting the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica, something old and full of tradition, Savannah and I visited a gelato place called La Romana to start our own new tradition. Just like the new buildings that stand on top of the old, we, inevitably made our own new mark on a place where millions of others had for thousands of years before us. This time, our mark was in Gelato. The hostal we stayed at recommended La Romana and we decided to check it out. I am so happy that we did, because it was the best gelato I have ever tasted. It was fluffy and sweet, creamy like ice cream but light like gelato and they topped it with homemade airy and decadent whip cream. After our first night, Sav and I revisited the place every single night—one of the workers even began to recognize us. My favorite flavors were the dark chocolate, the biscotti and the yogurt with honey and walnut topped with chocolate whip cream shown in this picture. When in Rome, go to La Romana.IMG_5769

Old and New. New and Old. And Gelato that would never get old. And that’s an un-wrap.

No Chocolate for David

Savannah immediately liked Florence with it’s wide, clean streets and old, yet elegant, buildings. I liked it too because it reminded me of New York in some ways, just not as tall or crowded. On our first night, we slowly meandered the streets to get a feel for the city and we walked right into a Piazza with a huge fake statue of Michelangelo’s David in the place the original statue stood when it was first created.

The next morning, Savannah and I woke early and bought croissants (and Sav tried her first cappuccino, which I don’t think she will be getting another anytime soon) at a small bakery before heading to the Galleria Dell’academia—a museum designed specifically to hold the original sculpture of the David. Although we had seen a version of it the night before, it was truly overwhelming to see the real thing. I was surprised at his size. The musuem had a huge dome with the statue in the middle so you could walk around it and see it from all angles. Even though there were other pieces of art in the museum, the David definitely demanded your attention—it was so large that his hand was bigger than my head. In my art history course I learned Michelangelo believed he was merely uncovering a statue or form already in the rock, and that he carved his statues from one large slab instead of placing multiple pieces together like other sculptures sometimes did. I have no idea how anyone could carve such a large form with life-like precision out of just one piece of stone. It was incredible. The look in his eyes was intense, his muscular features were enhanced, and you could even see the veins in his hands. He was “chiseled”, literally and figuratively, and represents an extremely strong David. He must not have eaten much chocolate because his body looked pristine.

IMG_5671Copies of the David are scattered throughout the city like a scavenger hunt. We saw one the first night, we saw the real one in the museum, and we found another one our last morning at the Piazza de Michelangelo: a hill that looks out over all of Florence. In fact, the whole city seemed like one giant treasure chest containing the better known ornate jewelry on the surface as well as hidden gems burried beneath. There are over 70 museums, of which we only had time to dedicate to two, the Galleria dell’accademia and the Uffizi. But there is also art, new and old, everywhere you look. For example, my favorite secret gem of art appeared in the form of small little men. There were stickers of them on the street signs and graffiti of them on some of the walls. Every time I saw one of these little guys, I couldn’t help but smile.IMG_5685

 

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In between admiring the David’s, the little men, and all of the other old and modern treasures of art we came across, Sav and I uncovered my favorite chocolate of the trip so far. We were walking through a street market when we found a huge warehouse with little stands selling everything from fresh cheese and meats to olive oils and wine. As we strolled through, I made a last minute decision to purchase two square chocolates. The little squares were thick and covered with chocolate cocao nibs on the outside, a layer of dark chocolate, with a center of rich dark chocolate on the inside. The taste lingered in my mouth for the rest of the day. I hope I can find them on Amazon or in an international chocolate shop when I get home.

And that’s an un-wrap.

Sleeping Beauty’s Sweet Spot

Even though my travel buddy had to head back to school, the adventures continued on. I visited the 1972 Olympic Park and saw Nymphenburg Palace at sunset with all of it’s beautiful parks. I wandered through the Englischer Gartens where two people asked me for directions, mistaking my face for a german one. I visited two churches, St. Peter’s and Asam’s, and lit a candle in one for my family and just as a point of reflection on how fortunate I am to be alive and well. I watched the infamous Glockenspiel as part of a free guided tour. Through this tour, I saw so much of the city and learned myths and facts that I wouldn’t have uncovered by myself. Did you know that over 80 percent of Munich is reconstructed? Before the war, Hitler commanded the Natzi’s to take photos, draw sketches and collect the blueprints of the historical city and all of it’s buildings to store in a bunker so they could rebuild when the war was over.

I had to buy a hot dog, sausage, pork or some kind of meat while in Germany; besides, meat is everywhere. So when I visited the Viktualienmarkt, a daily outdoor market right outside the main center, I purchased a long smoked hot dog for dinner. The market is a great place to walk around a people watch, as long as you don’t pick a seat next to the strong smelling cheese stands. Near the market is a huge chocolate store for a popular brand in Europe, Milka Welt. I spent way too much time perusing the stacks and stacks of chocolate, watching a documentary on the factory, trying on traditional german clothing and deciding which bars to purchase. I settled finally with a chocolate bar with chips ahoy cookies and one with toffee..IMG_5332

One of my favorite parts of exploring Germany on my own was when I took the train to Neuschwastein Castle. The castle was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria, but was hardly lived in and opened to the public shortly after his death. It was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. I followed the flow of tourists up a short 15 minute walk to a bridge that overlooks the castle for a great photo opportunity. After staring for a couple of minutes, I walked off the otherside of the bridge to get out of the way of other people’s pictures end realized there was a trail. I began to follow the trail, unsure of where it went, and found that I was unable to stop. I wanted to see where it went. I hiked and hiked for about an hour up the steep mountain side and ended up breathless with a view over the whole castle, valley and everything behind it to the horizon. It was quite a different view from the tourist depot below

After hiking down the mountain, across the bridge, and back into the small town, I had a time to spare before the next train. I stumbled through town and found a store with the most strange and delicious treat; something I had never seen before and therefore had to try. It was like a bunch of cookies all wrapped into a ball. The traditional ones are dusted in confectioners suger, while some wilder ones have nougat and chocolate and coconut. The lady called them Schneeballs, or snowballs. They were perfect after a long hike. IMG_5410

I had found Sleeping Beauty’s hidden sweetspot. And that’s an un-wrap.

 

 

 

 

Munching in München

After arriving to the Dubrovnik airport at 4:20am before the sun had risen (and before the airport was even open) and landing in Munich that night after the sun had set because of canceled flights and connections, Kalina and I were exhausted. Even so, we decided to drop our bags off and head straight to the Hofbräuhaus, one of the most well-known beirgartens in Munich. The place was huge with multiple floors of table after table. Kalina and I chose an empty table near the traditional german band and sat down. I felt myself melt into the warm atmosphere, the laughter, the smell of beer and the music after such a long day, and knew immediately that I already liked Munich.

Shortly after we sat down, a server came and Kalina ordered a liter of the lighter beer and I ordered a Radley, half beer half lemonade. It was amazing—extremely sweet, but perfect to sip on with casual conversation. Eventually, a woman wearing a drindl (traditional german outfit) walked by carrying a basket of pretzels bigger than my face. We bought one and as we were taking a picture with it, the man at the table behind us invited us over to drink with his family. He and his wife were dropping their son, a junior in college, off in Copenhagen for the semester. It was an unexpected group, but all the same a really easy-going and enjoyable one. In fact, we closed the place down together.

The next morning was Kalina’s last few hours on the trip, so we woke up early and took the train to Dachau together. No words I write will ever be able to fully convey the experience of seeing a concentration camp. All I can say is that I felt shocked something so horrible could have happened. I felt sad for those who suffered and still suffer. I felt angry that any single human being could treat another so poorly. I wonder if there is stuff like that going on today around the world that I don’t know about. I made excuses that they were brainwashed because the only way my brain could fathom the mistreatment and abuse and murder. But these are just excuses to help make what happened easier to swallow, when the plane truth is nothing like this should ever be swallowed and forgotten, but always remembered so it never happens again.

We left so Kalina could get to the airport on time, stopping first in a local supermarket to buy gummies and chocolate to munch on while we went our separate ways.IMG_5136 In fact, I stumbled upon one of my favorite chocolate treats so far: Dinkelchen. I expected them to be some kind of chocolate covered fruit from the package, but they were crispy coffee tasting pieces covered in dark chocolate. They helped with the sadness of losing my great travel buddy.

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And that’s an un-wrap.