Exploring the Cinque Terre

Preparing to take off over seas exactly two weeks from today, I’ve found myself buried in research of the most exciting adventures to be had in Europe. I’ll be making my way from Amsterdam, over to Budapest, down Italy and around to Spain, but I’ve found some of the most intriguing attractions to be beyond the obvious. I am counting down the days until my arrival in the Cinque Terre, Italy.

Manorola. Photo by World in Focus (Flickr)

Manorola. Photo by World in Focus (Flickr)

The Cinque Terre are five towns along a section of northern Italy’s Mediterranean coastline with incredibly scenic mule trails connecting them. The trails range from fairly easy to challenging. Whether you’re an experienced hiker, or leisurely walker, there is a trail for you. While there are several free trekking paths, trail #2 is by far the most popular, making the admission fee acceptable for most tourists. This trail is miles long, leading from the northern town of Monterosso to the southern Riomaggiore. Check out this map for a closer look at the various paths. The Via dell’Amore, also known as Lover’s Lane, is a spacious, flat and smooth section of trail #2. “It’s famous for its kissing statue and tunnel covered in declarations of love,” according to Elena Ciprietti’s article on www.walksofitaly.com.

Via dell'Amore. Photo by Twice25 and Rinina25 (WikiCommons)

Via dell’Amore. Photo by Twice25 and Rinina25 (WikiCommons)

The path from Corniglia to Vernazza is more challenging. This path takes climbers to the highest point in the Cinque Terre and back down. Among olive groves, exotic flowers and plants you’ll find a stunning view worth the extra effort exerted to get there.

top

Peak of the Cinque Terre. Photo from Elena Cipriette on walksofitaly.com

There are also several free challenging path options for more experienced hikers. Regardless of what path you take, you are guaranteed a beautiful view and it seems pretty difficult to actually get lost. This is great news to someone with a poor sense of direction such as myself! The Cinque Terre can be hiked in a day or leisurely spread out across a few days, giving visitors plenty of time to enjoy the towns and food they have to offer. For a personal look into the experience of bloggers who’ve hiked the paths visit Of Elephants and Castles blog or Italy Beyond the Obvious here.

The Haunting Allure of Europe’s Abandoned Places

The powerful stories of many European buildings can be seen in the cracks and dust left behind in these abandoned wonders scattered across the continent. After centuries of strength and poise, these buildings can still be found intact and full of empty, fascinating mystery. Although most of the following buildings are rarely on the list of ‘must-sees’ for world travelers, they might actually be worth the trip to indulge in some good, old-fashion history.

I found it especially interesting to know that I’m not alone when it comes to curiosity about abandoned places. In fact, many bloggers dedicate entire blogs to abandoned buildings and sites around the world. I’ve linked to several of them, as well as broader blogs that touch on the topic every once in a while. Bloggers from all over the world seem to have an interest in these historical findings and the stories that got these sites to their present state. Here’s a look at some of the many run-down sites and buildings that once stood extraordinarily tall.

 Beelitz Heilstatten:

This complex started as a military hospital during WWII and was continually used by Russians until its abandonment in the 1990s. For more photos and info, click here.

1

Photo by Sara at FindingBerlin.com

3

Photo by Sara at FindingBerlin.com

2

Photo by Sara at FindingBerlin.com

4

Photo by Sara at FindingBerlin.com


Castle of Mesen:

Dating way back to the 1500s, this small town Castle was rebuilt and remodeled until the middle of the 20th century. For more photos and info on the Castle of Mesen, click here.

5

Photo by Niek Beck

photo at abandoned-places.com

photo at abandoned-places.com

Photo at abandoned-places.com

photo at abandoned-places.com

9The Medieval Village of Craco, Italy:

Over time, this village lost residents due to the plague, French occupation and civil unrest. It’s final abandonment took place in the early 1990s when locals fled to America to escape the poor agricultural conditions. For more photos and info on Craco, Italy, visit this blog.

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

 

Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture:

This Paris railway came long before the Paris Metro. The main source for Paris transportation in the 19th century fell to it’s decline in the mid 1900s. For more photos and info on this railway, visit this blog.

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

 

Hafodunos Hall:

This deserted mansion in Wales was built in the 1860s for the wealthy, Sandbach family. Since the house sold in the 1930s, it has been used as a girls’ school and then an old peoples home until it was shut down in 1993. To learn more about Hafodunos Hall, visit this blog.

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogs

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

 

These are just a few of the many buildings and towns across the European continent that once prevailed and are now deemed useless. I find it incredible how intact many buildings still are. I can’t imagine letting a spectacular castle waste away to nothing. It will be interesting to see if any abandoned wonders one day make a comeback and are remodeled to flourish on their old grounds that remain filled with memories and stories of time passed.

To read about abandonment of full European towns, check out this blog.

Europe’s Most Welcoming City

With Budapest being further east than most tourist-flocking cities in Europe, many travelers don’t take the time to venture all the way over to the land of hot baths and home of the ruin pubs. However, word of mouth is quickly bringing this Hungarian city to the top of many young travelers’ lists. I’m not just talking American travelers; I’m talking young travelers from all around the world.

 

Budapest Panorama by Mark Mervai

Budapest Panorama by Mark Mervai

In a 2013 survey, Budapest was officially named Europe’s Most Welcoming City. The survey, conducted by HouseTrip.com, “analyzed over 130,000 customer reviews and the city most often given a five-star rating by travelers was Budapest,” according to VisitBudapest.

Planning a trip to Europe myself, I found this survey intriguing. I decided to further research what all the hype is about, in case I’d find it necessary to venture eastward during my time abroad.

Raving at Rudas- photo by Stuart Wadsworth

Raving at Rudas- photo by Stuart Wadsworth

So, what is it that makes this city such a hit? I’m thinking those historic baths have something to do with it. The baths play a vital role in social interactions between Budapestites and travelers alike. In an interview by Stuart Wadsworth, he found that people come to the baths for all reasons. Whether it’s to relax, do business deals, discuss politics, socialize or meet members of the opposite sex- the bath houses are the place to be. They vary in styles from large and casual, relaxing baths like the Szechenyi to crazy, rave baths like Rudas. There’s a bath house for everyone.

 

Inside Instant, a ruin pub. Photo by Nomadic Matt

Inside Instant, a ruin pub. Photo by Nomadic Matt

Then there are the ruin pubs. These underground bars have been a hit ever since they came about, roughly 10 years ago. While they each have their own unique styles, you can expect a few similarities. Unlike most popular bars, these pubs don’t have flashy signs and lights marking their locations. Instead, they look like old rundown houses and could easily be passed up without a second glance. According to Nomadic Matt, the ruin pubs feel eclectic, almost like a thrift store. No matter which ruin pubs you make it to, they will not disappoint.

 

Finally, the compact neighborhoods and attractions make Budapest a great walking city. Unlike many cities where you’re constantly taking the train, metro or bus from place to place, Budapest has many worthy sites and architecture that can be reached on foot. This is great news to me, being that I’m heading across the world with quite the budget. Another post on VisitBudapest suggests, “the main sights in Buda are located in and around Castle District and most of the attractions in Pest can be found between the Danube and the Grand Boulevard.” Check out some of the best walking tours here.

Needless to say, I’m sold. You can bet I’ll be checking out those walking tours as soon as I arrive.

The Most Sociable of all Culinary Occassions

Paella is a well-known Spanish dish that has made it’s way around the globe. While it originated in Valencia, Spain and is still unique to the area, variations of the recipe are now created all over the world.  Since I will be traveling to Spain in 2 short months, I decided to learn how to prepare my own paella.

I started by reading several different recipes for the dish on various sites, both formal and informal. What I found was there is no definitive recipe for paella. Not only do the majority of the protein-rich ingredients depend on personal preference, but every style of preparation seems to vary from another.

I found Spanish blogs (in English), such as Taste of Sundays, proudly sharing detailed, personal family recipes. I found vague descriptions of variations of the traditional paella recipe on blogs such as this. I even found how-to video tutorials by Spanish chef’s specializing in paella, like the one seen below.

 

Large paella's are commonly served during Spanish fiestas. Photo credit: Chris Gray

Large paella’s are commonly served during Spanish fiestas. Photo credit: Chris Gray

I did come to find a few staple ingredients that continually make their way into the authentic dish. Paella rice -which I found out the hard way is not labeled in the local grocery store, as paella rice at all- is one of the staples to any variation of the recipe. Bomba and Arborio are the most commonly used rices. Saffron is another necessity when preparing anything close to the authentic styled paella.

Saffron offers a unique, valuable flavor to paella. Photo credit: Aidan Brooks

Saffron offers a unique, valuable flavor to paella.
Photo credit: Aidan Brooks

 

Paella was originally a farmers’ and farm laborers’ food. The workers cooked the dish over an open fire using rice and whatever ingredients were at hand around the fields and countryside. Tomatoes, onions, snails and beans were some common original ingredients. Since Valencia is on the coast, it’s no surprise that various kinds of seafood made their way into later recipes. “To this day a “true” Paella Valenciana has no seafood but a mixture of chicken, rabbit and snails with green and white beans” (The Paella Company). Visit The Paella Company’s site to learn more about the origins and developments of this dish. 

 

As shocking as it may seem, snail was not one of the ingredients I was ready to try so I figured I’d take a more common and widely spread approach to the recipe. Aside from a few modifications, I followed this recipe.

Here are the ingredients and measurements I decided to go with:

2 full chicken breasts
1/3 lb shrimp
4 large scallops cut in fourths

½ cup tomato sauce
4 cloves chopped garlic
1/3 chopped red onion
1 red bell pepper
½ cup green beans cut in 1” sections
½ tsp saffron
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups paella rice
1 ½ cup chicken broth

I started by sautéing the chicken in olive oil until it was mostly cooked. Then I added tomato sauce, bell pepper, onion and garlic to the pan. After about 4-5 minutes, I added the rice, saffron, green beans and cayenne pepper. Once the combination started to boil, I tossed in the shrimp, scallops and broth. I let the ingredients simmer for roughly 15 minutes; stirring frequently to ensure the rice was evenly cooked. I garnished the completed dish with additional peppers and lemon wedges. True to Spanish tradition, it was served family style, in the center of the table for my roommates to gather around.

Here’s a glimpse at my first attempt:

process copy

IMG_3548

While there was definitely room for improvement and we had nothing to compare it to, my house was pretty impressed with the results!

Today, paella is commonly prepared as the centerpiece for many fiestas. It is a social dish, meant for sharing and often associated with celebration.  It is known for being eaten right out of the pan rather than on plates. Kitchenproject.com describes the typical style of eating the dish in Spain. “Each guest starts at the perimeter of the Paella and works toward the center.” Visit their site to view different variations of the dish. 

FreshLiving Magazine recently tweeted a variation of the recipe, using chicken, bacon, chorizo, mussels and prawns. Head over to their twitter page @Fresh_Living for more interesting recipe variations.

twt

I’m looking forward to tasting the real deal during my summer abroad in Spain. Maybe I’ll learn a thing or two before my next attempt at preparation.

Long Live the Doppelbock

Photo by saveonbrew.com

The Paulaner Salvator- the original doppelbock. Photo by saveonbrew.com

As the lingering snow begins to melt and faint signs of spring draw near, the people of Munich observe Starkbierzeit or “strong beer season.” The two-week beer fest is wrapped around St. Joseph’s Day, March 19. The Paulaner monks unknowingly started the nearly four-century-long tradition back in 1627. At the time, according to ecclesiastic doctrine, only liquids were to be consumed during Lent. The friars typically followed the medieval Benedictine recipe to brew up a strong, malty beer of which they called Sankt-Vater-Bier or “Holy Father Beer.” Later, the original name evolved into Salvator. They found that the stronger they made the beer, the more nourishing it was and the friars were therefore able to abstain from breaking the Lenten fast. Naturally, they began doubling the recipe, thus giving birth to the Doppelbock.

The citizens of Munich soon began to follow suit and are still to this day, going ‘strong.’ Come Ash Wednesday, true to monastic tradition, the Munich community puts aside the solid bread to make room for liquid bread – the Doppelbock. And so, strong beer season begins.

Photo from William R. Snyder

Photo from William R. Snyder

The Paulaner Brewery, home of the Salvator, is especially appealing to both locals and tourists during the Lenten season. According to Emily, a  Munich and Bavarian blogger, the potent scent of the Paulaner Brewery can be smelled from quite a distance, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to locate! 

However, while the Salvator is still very present in Strong Beer Season festivities, many Bavarian breweries create their own versions of a Doppelbock for the festival. The beers tend to be rich in flavor and weigh in at 7+% ABV. They often have hints of caramel, molasses, bread and dried fruits. Breweries usually label their variation with a name ending in “ator,” in respect to the original. To read about a foreign student’s first-hand experience celebrating Starkbierzeit last spring, visit her blog.

doppelbocks

A variety of doppelbock options offered in Munich during beer season.

Once the Salvator keg is tapped, a new Bavarian beer year officially begins. Celebrations of all kinds can then be seen across Munich beer halls, with only one common necessity among them: strong beer. For exact dates and locations of upcoming Starkbierzeit events, visit the Insiders Munich blog here.

To learn more about the Starkbierzeit tradition and its origin, click here.

The Irony of the French Café

In America and many other countries around the world, the bold, fancy and flavorful coffee demand has skyrocketed. The creation of the latte, macchiato, americano, cappuccino and frappaccino has only given us more reasons to love the coffee bean. What better way to spend your Sunday afternoon than sipping from a freshly brewed cup of jo in a local café?

coffee

Doesn’t it seem ironic that France has been known for its traditional cafés for centuries, yet few actually serve coffee? Even the places where coffee can be found, supply a mediocre bean resulting in a bitter bite unappealing to a regular coffee drinker. That is, a regular coffee drinker, from just about anywhere outside the French border. So, how exactly did the word café come to double as the french translation of the american essential: coffee? In a recent article, Anna Brones says “Mention the word coffee to anyone that likes caffeine and has spent time in France and you’ll get an immediate eye roll. It simply is not a French strong suit.” To the locals, a café is a place for getting a beer or a glass of wine.

A more recent flood of new craft roasters has allowed a few ambitious café owners to step outside the box. However, many French are sensitive to change and conflicting opinions have come with the new agenda. While some welcome the new roasters with open arms, others seem to be critical and less accepting of the essentially foreign product. Nico Alary, co-owner of Holybelly, a café that opened last year in the Canal Saint Martin neighborhood, shed some light on the topic. “It’s that French people have this 20, 25 years heritage of terrible coffee, and their palate is used to it. That means that changing the coffee culture isn’t going to happen overnight, and it requires doing it one Parisian at a time,” he says.

hollybell

Holybelly café. Photo by Anna Brones

In the midst of the battle for change, I couldn’t help but notice a particular French café that has made it’s long standing success based off just that: change.  Café Le Procope, the first and oldest French café was opened in 1661 by two Armenian brothers. While it has grown from a traditional café to a small restaurant, Le Procope is still known for it’s ice cream and excellent coffee. The coffee, however, is still made for French taste. So whether the average coffee-drinking American would also enjoy it is questionable. Le Procope’s reliable reputation could make it one of the best contenders for introducing these new roasters to their customers.

Le Procope

Café Le Procope. Photo by Wallg via Bryan Newman.

Surely, it will take more than a few optimistic owners to make a real change in the café scene. But, someone has to get the ball rolling, right? It will be interesting to see how the traditional minds adapt to the idea of changes within the cafés. Will France remain known for it’s café culture or will it slowly develop a universal coffee culture? Only time will tell.