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.

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.

Vienna Austria: The Best Chocolate Cake in the World

Austria… a place known for its incredible opera, for its rich history and most importantly, for its incredibly rich chocolate cake: the Sacher Torte.

Kalina and I took the train from Prague to Vienna and arrived in the afternoon. After meeting our friend Caro who was kind enough to let us stay with her and dropping our bags at her place, we rushed off to see if we could get tickets to the opera that night. The Vienna Opera house, Wiener Staatsoper, is only a five minutes walk from Caro’s place. The streets were strung with lights for the holidays, with each main street leading away from the main circle having its own set of lights. My favorite were the huge chandeliers that hung every block illuminating the cold stone and cozy shops.

When we got to the opera, the man at the ticket window scoffed at us tourists asking for standing tickets so close to show time. People line up at three o’clock for a seven showing just for the standing room seats. We left his window and went around the back of the opera house to ask another window and saw a huge line of people. We decided to just get in the line (though we weren’t even sure it was for the tickets or what exactly we were standing in line for), and it worked out perfectly! Within five minutes of waiting while the snow fell delicately in the street lights, the line began to move steadily and we made it to the door where we bought standing room tickets for 3 Euro each– an incredible deal since the guys dressed in costume on the streets were trying to sell us “student discounted tickets” for 40 Euro. Kalina and I couldn’t believe we were actually being given the opportunity to go, and rushed inside to see the theatre and try and find a good view from the standing section.

The inside of the opera house seemed like a museum. I definitely felt underdressed in jeans and sweater when ladies with heels and men in ties passed me on the stairs. We found our section and ended up picking the last row in the very center of the theater— I guess you could say we were the exact point farthest away from the stage, yet we could see everything.

Kalina and I were in such a rush to get tickets and were happy just to be able to see the opera that we didn’t even realize what specific one we were going to see.  We didn’t realize how fortunate we were to be seeing Fledermaus. A local older man next to us, who had seen this specific one over thirty times, said it is only shown during the new year and is only performed four times a year at the famous Wiener Staatsoper. Lucky us!

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The performance was amazing and incredibly funny. It was a comical story of revenge. We had little screens where we could read the English translation, but it was a little bit delayed. So the audience would laugh at something and then Kalina and I would laugh a couple of seconds later. Sometimes, the screen would skip a couple of lines because they were talking so fast and therefore we would miss the joke all together.

After standing (with a few breaks sitting in intermission) for three and a half hours without eating dinner, we were starving. Kalina and I practically ran out of the opera house at 10:30 when the curtain closed and went straight to a food stand on the corner that sold hot dogs and Asian noodles. I have never seen such a strange stand, even in New York. We bought a carton of hot fresh greasy noodles and hot dog about a foot long. I decided spur of the moment to order the cheese hot dog instead of the regular– which we learned later is one of Vienna’s specialty street foods!– and it was delicious. It came in a long baguette with a hole instead of a hot dog bun and the cheese melted from the inside of the dog out with each bite.

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Also conveniently located right across from the opera is Hotel Sacher where the famous Sacher Tortes are sold. Kalina and I had read about this special cake and made sure to stop by after our deliciously nutritious street food dinner that we devoured in about five minutes. The Sacher Torte recipe was invented by Franz Scher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich. There are now a couple of places that compete for the best Torte in Austria, but this specific hotel was voted the best (or at least that is what the internet told us). I think I might agree with the world– these cakes were the best I have ever tasted. Maybe it was still the lingering hunger from waiting so long to eat dinner. The cake was dark in flavor and light in texture with a perfect layer of chocolate on the outside. It was rich, but not unnecessarily though and I savored every single crumb and was left still wanting more.

The perfect end to a crazy, hectic, wonderful day.

Goodnight Vienna. And that’s an un-wrap.

Imagine all the People: John Lennon and his songs inspired students to stand up to the communist government and dream of a better world, helping encourage the Velvet revolution

Imagine all the Chocolate… In Prague

As the snow slightly taps my train window and I stare out at the colorful houses, dark trees and dirty tracks, I try and take in everything that just happened in the past two or three days in Prague. It all happened so fast—a whirl of flights and trains and walking and beautiful cobblestone streets. A mixture of coffee and no sleep, of dancing and soaking in the young history of a city I knew nothing about. Kalina and I just left Prague and I can’t believe that my first city has already come and gone.

After missing the first two buses at the airport—they are extremely efficient and don’t wait for two tourists running towards them with backpacks— we made it into old town and walked through the streets not knowing which way to look. Up was beautiful statues resting nonchalantly on the corner of buildings or red roofs and colored walls ranging from yellow to purple to green. Down was cobblestone carefully laid together like a puzzle. To the left were shops and the right were more. I felt like we walked into a place that seemed familiar and strange all at the same time. We wandered around the outdoor markets and through the famous Christmas Market which had a huge christmas tree with a wooden manger and a guy that was charging money for pictures with doves on your head or hands. We bought a cinnamon role type thing that was made of dough roled out and strung around a pole that rested over a cole fire. The dough was taken off and dipped in butter and cinnamon and sugar and tasted of heaven. The outside was hard and the inside was gooey, a combination enough to make my mouth water right now as I write this. We eventually found our way to old town square where there is a huge astronomical clock—one of the biggest tourist attractions of Prague—as well as a grand church and another outdoor market. This one had my favorite christmas tree of all with huge branches strung with lights that looked like they were dripping.

At the clock, we were told to look for people in yellow jackets offering free walking tours, and we were not let down. Our tour guide’s name was Givi and he introduced himself to us and forty other ignorant people like us with a redbull in hand. I liked the way he walked, always moving his hands as if he was humming in his head and was in no hurry while the rest of us clueless tourists tried to keep up with him. The tour lasted over two hours and he taught us so much, though I am not sure how much of it is true or not. First we stopped at the Astronomical clock and learned about the puppets around the edge and the faces of the clock. There is a small sun and the moon on each of the hands, and they move back and forth throughout the year to represent the season. The background of the clock had different shades of blue to represent the time of day. Because we were visiting in January, the sun was on the far end of the hand so that it would be in the dark background of the clock the most. Givi also told us a myth about the clock maker. Apparently, the man who designed the clock was a genius and soon after it was erected it became a huge attraction for people to travel and visit all over Europe. Hence, it became a huge form of revenue for the town. The town rulers invited the clock maker to a party where they fed him drinks and then dragged him into a back room where they sliced his eyes and cut out his tongue. They wanted to make sure he would never be able to replicate the clock he made so that the one in Old Town would always be famous. For revenge, the clock maker had his two best pupils lead him up the tower and push him down into the clock workings so that his dead body stopped the clock and broke it. The clock was so complex that it could not be fixed for another forty years.

We also learned about the 30 years war and Kafka. We walked through the Old Jewish district where hitler was keeping a lot of Jews and conserving the place to keep as a museum of a past race. Kalina and I soaked in the sights and the history.

After the tour, we asked a lady to help guide us to a restaurant where the locals go and ended up at a place that started with a U and were content because we couldn’t read the menu which meant that it was not designed for Americans. The waiter helped us order and we got the countries ethnic dish of beef gulas and then a dish of roast beef. The beef was probably my favorite of the two. It came in a deep velvet brown sauce and was tender. It also had slices of what seemed like bread and tasted like motza balls and a creamy spinach in the middle like an island surrounded by the murky sauce. One bite with everything piled on was the perfect combination of chewy, salty, and squishy. The roast beef was good too, and came out looking extremely similar but with a lighter colored less dense sauce. The denseness was made up in the side that wasn’t bready, but rather seemed like slices of mashed potatoes pushed tightly together into bread form. Kalina had a beer, the most common in Prague, Plinksey*. I thought it tasted stronger than keystone light, it was better too, but I still wasn’t a huge fan.

When our stomachs were finally were satisfied, it was time to find the chocolate. We walked around for a little and went to this Chocolate store across from our place that had stacks of nicer (and more expensive chocolates) from around the world. I bought a dark chocolate made in Prague with pepper coated on the bottom. It was a risk, because Pepper and chocolate don’t seem to go well in my mind, but the lady recommended it and my goal is to try chocolates from all over Europe. We also went to a mini market, which I love the name of and they exist like gas stations all over Prague. Yet, this Mini Markets are filled with cookies and drinks with cannabis, though they claim on the back there is no THC included. They also have absinth and all sorts of junk food I have never seen before. We bought two more types of chocolate that were much cheaper and to be honest probably tasted better in the long run. We got a white chocolate wafer cookie type thing and an oreo cream filled chocolate bar that reminded me of the Willy Wonka factory. The Oreo was the best of the three probably because it had the most sugar and tasted like milk chocolate covered Oreos.

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The next morning, we made ourselves get on the time of Prague and got up at around 8:30 to go see the John Lennon Wall. We walked over the Charles Bridge which was beautiful in a different way during the day time and made our way to the wall which was colored in beautiful graffiti. The wall is one of the things that started the Velvet Revolution—a peaceful march started by students in 1989 that eventually lead to 500,000 people marching and the resignation of the Communist leaders. Lennon inspired students to want a better world. One thing I loved about the wall is that it was a piece of history that was recetn and inspiring. I think it was John Lennon who has the quote about how the job of art is to inspire people—well his music did. Kalina and I signed the wall, too. There were lots of umbrella’s on the wall for the Umbrella revolution happening right now in Hong Kong.

We then walked up for a while to the Prague Castle where we waited in line forever to get tickets. At noon, we watched the traditional change of the guards and then we walked throught the St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Palace Hall, and the Golden lane. Just like the walking tour, it is hard to soak in so much of the past when we are all stuck in the world we live in now. It was quite surreal seeing the details of the gothic church. I still can’t believe the architecure back then, but more than that, it is hard for me to understand the power of the religion. It inspired, it lead, it dominated and so many people dedicated and bent their life around it. The power of belief in something is amazing and hit me hard while we were walking around the cold stone church. Just like the belief we also saw resonating through the Lennon Wall.

After venturing to the Petrin tower and by a supermarket for dinner, we found our third chocolate bar to taste. It was a rich dark chocolate and we probably liked it because it was most similar to what we were used to. We made dinner and looked up some more of the history from the day and then went downstairs to have Gelato. I got the chocolate and every small spoonfull made me happy I came to Europe.

The action packed days and the history blow my mind, but what remains when I can’t process everything any further is the graffiti. It is everywhere and each time I see it I feel different. Sometimes I think it’s beautiful, like it adds personality to the city. A natural art form. Sometimes I think its ugly and reppelant. But that usually happened when I saw a cat with eyes crossed out or some other drawing that didn’t seem special.

I remember the hot wine. It was sold everywhere and was cheaper than tea. Or the Hot apple, which wasn’t apple cider but actual shredded apple heated up with water. I remember the buildings and the cobblestone streets that sometimes were wide and sometimes swirled to a small point at the end. And I remember the strange taste of smooth dark chocolate and pepper trying to find a balance on my taste buds.

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Good Bye Prague. And that’s an Un-wrap.

On my way…

I have successfully made it to Boston where I am meeting my best friend before we fly to Frankfort and then Prague tomorrow! Making it here seems like the easiest part of the trip, yet there have already been some obstacles. Yesterday, the day before take-off, I woke up with pink eye. Although an unfortunate thing to wake up to, I was able to get into the doctor before it closed for New Years Eve and picked up eye drops which have already cleared up my eye within a day. Thank goodness I got pink eye yesterday instead of today on my flight!

The next obstacle came when my mom was driving me to the airport and we got a call from my dad that the flight to Boston was canceled! Luckily, I got one of the last seats on a different airline. But the seat ended up being in the back of the plane where I sat next to a very nice lady… who happened to be sneezing and coughing all flight. And in front of a nice family… with a baby that did not seem too happy to be flying.

Regardless of the small setbacks, I made it to Boston and I am on my way! The trip has begun! I think that part of the journey will be learning to deal with these obstacles of traveling and living on my own. Good thing mom packed me with a chocolove bar for the plane flight!

 

And that’s an unwrap

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