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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.