Zotter: Chocolate with a Conscience

Have you ever opened a Wonka Bar and hoped that just maybe the Golden Ticket inside would be real and you had actually won admittance to a chocolate factory? If you answered yes, today is the day your dream comes true. But either way, who wouldn’t want to tour a chocolate factory? During my semester abroad, one of the classes I taught went on a field trip to the Zotter Chocolate Factory. It is any chocolate lover’s paradise.

Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur is located an hour east of Graz near Riegersburg in Austria’s beautiful southeastern state of Styria. Zotter is a family business that was started by Josef Zotter and his wife. They opened a confectionary in Graz selling unique creations in 1987.   It wasn’t until 1999 that the Zotter’s opened their factory in the barn of Josef’s parents’ farm.

 

Zotter is unique in that all of the cocoa beans used in their products are organic and Fairtrade quality. Fairtrade is a progressive social movement whose mission is to alleviate poverty and create sustainability for small farmers and plantation workers in developing countries. It allows the small farmers to sell their products at fair prices, creates better salaries for workers, improves working conditions, and invests in opportunities such as education, health and environmental projects. Zotter is a permanent license member of FAIRTRADE Austria, which is a non-partisan, non-denominational, non-profit association to promote free trade. It is an organization that attempts to meet the demand of Austrian manufacturers for quality products from developing countries. Their products are completely organic, which means there are no preservatives or artificial flavors. Some of their organic ingredients in their chocolate products include wine, fruits, and nuts. There is even some uncommon pairings including chili and ketchup. Zotter makes their products to meet dietary needs. They make chocolate for those who need gluten and lactose free, as well as vegan chocolate.

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The factory is open for tours, along with its Edible Zoo directly behind the factory. Visitors can see the entire process of how cocoa beans are transformed into chocolate and learn more about the cocoa farmers that Zotter buys their beans from in India, Latin America and Africa. You can taste the cocoa beans in their different stages of production from raw to final product. As you are walking through the factory, you can sample as much chocolate as you can possibly eat and or drink.

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It’s no secret that I have a giant sweet tooth, so walking through the factory was amazing. They have all of their products out for sampling on every floor and in every stairway. They even have a floor that has a drink bar where you are given a warm glass of milk to mix in their drinking chocolate. There is flavor and type of chocolate to meet everyone’s taste. The hand-scooped filled chocolate bars have layers piled on the inside of a delicious filling that include cognac and coffee, bacon bits, pumpkin seeds with marzipan or sacramental wine and frankincense that is coated in chocolate. Labooko is a pure solid chocolate bar that comes in a variety of types including milk, dark, fruit, nut and coffee chocolate.  You can find the rest of Zotter’s products in their online Choco-Shop.

It takes real creativity to combine sustainability, Fairtrade, and organic products with decadent chocolate.  Zotter shares this with you when you visit the factory, they truly have the innovative edge in chocolate.

 

“The World’s Happiness Report”

My parents always told me that success is measured by happiness. I do believe this is true and a good value to live by. No matter what you do in life it’s almost impossible to be successful if you’re unhappy. Happiness is something I am striving to find more of and as I have gotten older, I have come to the realization that life is hard and people focus on the negative more than the positive. I recently learned in my Intimate Relationships class this semester that it take 5 positives to outweigh 1 negative in a relationship or any aspect of life.

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My mom, dad and I when I was a senior in high school (2012)

I was interested in finding out which countries in the world were the happiest (and saddest) and why. So I did some research. I was lucky to find some really up-to-date statistics posted on April 23, 2015 on a website called MindBodyGreen.com. The post is by Emi Boscamp, an associate editor at MindBodyGreen.com who graduated from Cornell.

The study was done by a group of international and national economists, neuroscientists and statisticians. They call their study “The World Happiness Report” and this is their third time performing the study. Based on their research, as a team, they came to the conclusion that the Swiss are the world’s happiest people. They based their data and rankings off of what they call “four main factors”. According to MindBodyGreen.com, these factors are “Sustained positive emotion, Recovery from Negative Emotion, Pro-Social behavior and generosity, and Mind wandering, mindfulness and ‘affective stickiness’ or emotion captured attention.”

This time around the research team was able to change their study by breaking down their data based on gender, age and region and they found “surprisingly big differences between these demographics” than ever before.

A happy Switz couple. Fiat 500 Geburtstagsfeier - "Happy People" in Switzerland http://www.askjeff.com/en/work/29.html#sub63

A happy Swiss couple. Fiat 500 Geburtstagsfeier – “Happy People” in Switzerland http://www.askjeff.com/en/work/29.html#sub63

 

So…… according to MindBodyGreen.com here is the 2015 list of the top 20 happiest countries in the world:

1. Switzerland     2. Iceland    3. Denmark   4. Norway    5. Canada   6. Finland

7. Netherlands   8. Sweden   9. New Zealand   10. Australia    11. Israel   12. Costa Rica

13. Austria   14.Mexico   15. United States   16. Brazil   17. Luxembourg   18. Ireland

19. Belgium  20. United Arab Emirates

 

Unfortunately, MindBodyGreen.com did not include WHY these countries were ranked the happiest in the world, so I looked at previous years of the world’s happiest countries on Forbes.com because their website gave a more detailed evaluation.

I chose three countries from the top 20 list of the “World’s Happiest Countries” to explain why they were ranked.

According to Forbes.com… I chose…

Switzerland because it is ranked #1 on the list.  This is due to their country being “number 1 in governance, 2nd in health and economy and sticking with the Franc rather than going Euro has helped make Switzerland a bastion of stability in shaky Europe right now.”

Norway because my great, great grandfather, Gustav Vigeland has his own park in Oslo, Norway, full of his sculptures. He was also the designer of the Nobel Peace Prize medal. Additionally, my Mormor (grandmother) immigrated to the U.S. from Norway as well. Norway is ranked #4 on the list because according to Forbes.com “with a per capita GDP of $54,000 Norway is among the richest in the world and ranks first in social capital and second in safety and security”.

A photo of Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway.  Slawonir http://www.panoramio.com/photo/80107330

A photo of Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway.
Slawonir
http://www.panoramio.com/photo/80107330

The United States because it is my home country. According to Forbes.com it makes the top 20 list of happiness because it is “an excellent place to start a business, the U.S. also ranks no. 1 in health, a function of high immunizations, clean water and the highest levels of gov’t spending on healthcare”.

Happy Americans. "Crowd Holding American Flags" http://www.corbisimages.com/stock-photo/royalty-free/42-20942474/crowd-holding-american-flags

Happy Americans.
“Crowd Holding American Flags”
http://www.corbisimages.com/stock-photo/royalty-free/42-20942474/crowd-holding-american-flags

Maybe one day I will be fortunate enough to travel to all of these countries so I can experience happiness of all different cultures and forms.

Although I’m choosing not to blog about the top 20 saddest countries in the world, because I do not want to dwell on the negative… I have included the list below in case anyone is interested.

1. Togo   2. Burundi   3.Syria   4.Benin   5.Rwanda   6.Afghanistan   7.Burkina Faso

8.Ivory Coast  9.Guinea   10.Chad   11. Central African Republic   12.Madagascar

13. Tanzania   14.Cambodia  15.Niger 16.Gabon   17.Senegal   18.Uganda

19.Comoros   20.Congo (Brazzaville)

Thanks Nature Café: The World’s First Sheep Café

photo: http://seoulstateofmind.com/tag/thanks-nature-cafe-in-hongdae/

photo: http://seoulstateofmind.com/tag/thanks-nature-cafe-in-hongdae/

As a person who has been in desperate need for animal affection ever since leaving her dog behind at home to move to university, I am green with envy over Asia’s variety of animal cafés. These animal cafés are not simply pet friendly, where you can bring in your pet for socialization and a nice treat. These animal cafés come equipped with the animals, ready for some seriously cute petting time with a fee or purchase of any of the café’s goodies.

Woolies Elsa and Anna  from the shop's Fall/Winter 2014-2015 cycle. photo: https://www.facebook.com/TNcafe/

Woolies Elsa and Anna from Thanks Nature Cafe’s Fall/Winter 2014-2015 cycle.
photo: https://www.facebook.com/TNcafe/

The animal café phenomenon seemed to have stemmed from the growing popularity of cat cafés in Japan, which filled the void of many Japanese people who were not allowed pets in their small apartments. The trend then expanded (unsurprisingly) to dog cafés, which often put dogs up for adoption. Shop owners saw the gimmick as a good way to reel in customers who find peace and happiness in the company of the animals (like myself). Now, many other, rather unusual animals are being featured in cafés such as sheep.

Thanks Nature Cafe is one of the many cafés in Asia that uses an animal to stand out from other cafés in the area. It is one of the many animal cafés located in the Hongdae district in Seoul, South Korea, but the world’s first and only café where the customer can order their coffee and also receive the delightful company of two fluffy sheep opened in 2011 by Lee Kwang-Ho. CCTW News reported that Lee opened the café with the intention to “bring nature into South Korea’s busy and crowded capital city.”

Photo: https://www.facebook.com/TNcafe/

Photo: https://www.facebook.com/TNcafe/

When entering the café, a customer will see a cozy setup with sheep paintings hung up on the walls and all sorts of foliage to give off some sort of “nature” vibe. Further away into the shop is outdoor seating where the sheep reside in a wooden pen, where customers can come say hello or feed the sheep some hay. According to Ken Lum Lee, blogger of Seoul State of Mind, the owner often lets the sheep our of their pen twice every hour to roam around and interact with the customers.

Lee Kwang-Ho with a herd of sheep at the sheep ranch.  photo: https://www.facebook.com/TNcafe/

Lee Kwang-Ho with a herd of sheep at the sheep ranch.
photo: https://www.facebook.com/TNcafe/

The sheep are all taken care of by owner Lee, who personally cleans the sheep’s space and takes them out on walks to remain healthy. To ensure their health, the sheep do not stay in the shop forever. They only remain under the café’s roof during the cooler, winter and fall months due to their thick coats. According to Rocket News 24, Lee brings them back to the sheep ranch and brings a new pair of sheep to the café once fall comes along. Despite the lack of sheep during the warmer months, Thanks Nature Café continues to reel in customers. The Visit Korea website, hosted by the Korea Tourism Organization, explained that it was the café’s quality coffee beans from Terarosa (a famous café in Korea) and delicious food that help ensure the customer’s return.

Waffles and coffee at Thanks Nature Cafe photo: http://seoulstateofmind.com/tag/thanks-nature-cafe-in-hongdae/

Waffles and coffee at Thanks Nature Cafe
photo: http://seoulstateofmind.com/tag/thanks-nature-cafe-in-hongdae/

8,000 Feet Above Sea Level

I always thought flying in an airplane was the closest thing to being up in the clouds. I was wrong. I traveled to Peru in December of 2013 with my dad and my sister, Olivia. I did not know much about Peru – I really did not know why my dad wanted to travel there, so I did some research and soon realized what the hype was all about. Two words: Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu, also known as “The Lost City of the Incas” is located at an altitude of 7,972 feet above sea level. Machu Picchu is believed to have been a sacred and religious site for Inca leaders up until the 16th century when Spanish invaders swept out all civilization. For hundreds of years, no one knew that Machu Picchu existed until an archaeologist named Hiram Bingham discovered this beautiful, historical site in 1911. In 2007, Machu Picchu was designated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Since then, hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world hike up one of the world’s most famous manmade wonders.

My family and I took a three-hour train ride from Cusco, Peru to Machu Picchu, and as we learned, this is the most common way to arrive at the base of Machu Picchu. Before our big day of hiking, we made sure to hydrate ourselves with mate de coca, also known as coca tea. We were advised not to drink alcohol or eat meat when we first landed to prevent altitude sickness. Peruvians believe coca tea, a herbal tea made from the leaves of a coca plant, is the best remedy to cure the sickness. When we finally arrived at the base of Machu Picchu, we were escorted to our hotel, Inkaterra Pueblo Hotel. Inkaterra is located in the cloud forest below the Incan ruins, so everything about this hotel was beautiful. Eager to start our hike the next morning, we nestled into our cottage and went to sleep.

Wake-up call was 4:30am, which provided us enough time to see the sunrise. Not very well-rested, we put on our hiking clothes, lathered on sunscreen (later we learned we did not put enough on), we set out to stand in line at the bus stop; the only way to get up to Machu Picchu. After a few minutes of waiting outside, we all crammed into a bus that took us up to the top, which surprisingly took longer than I anticipated – roughly forty-five minutes. By this time, it was close to 7:00am, and we did not want to waste any time. After standing in a line to get into the gates of Machu Picchu, we finally arrived! A tour guide assisted us, which is recommended because they explain everything from the history of Machu Picchu to the limestone that the Incans used to build their territorial grounds.

The first stop is Temple of the Sun. From this point, tourists can continue to hike up the hill or walk back down. Keep in mind we walked past hundreds of people hiking Machu Picchu. Along the way, we were lucky enough to see a man propose to his girlfriend, now fiancé, on top of Machu Picchu (gentlemen, take note). We encountered about fifteen alpaca that were free to leisurely walk around this main area. We learned that the Incans would carry hundreds of pounds of limestone over twenty miles just to create the barriers to protect Machu Picchu. The tour guide had a smile on his face the entire time he was with us. After three hours with him, we were certain he told us everything we needed to know about Machu Picchu.

After our tour was over, my sister and I insisted on hiking further up to see Inti Punku, more commonly known as, Sun Gate. My dad decided he had enough hiking and sun for the day so he opted out and went back to our hotel. From Temple of the Sun, Sun Gate is about an hour and a half hike uphill and it is not meant for everyone. It is a very strenuous walk, and I bashfully admit that I had to stop numerous times to catch my breath. No matter how long it takes you to get to the top of Inti Punku, you will be sure that it was well worth the hike. Reaching the top of Sun Gate was like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I could not tell if I was sweating profusely down my face or crying tears of joy once we finally made it to the top. The view was jaw dropping and hands down the most phenomenal view in the world. After catching our breaths, Olivia and I took a couple dozen of pictures to prove that we made it to Sun Gate. We realized that the hour and a half hike up the hill also meant hiking an hour and a half down the hill. Machu Picchu does not allow anyone to bring any food or drinks into the park, so we were becoming very dehydrated, especially from the high altitude! Once we made our way back down Sun Gate to the Temple of the Sun, we were exhausted. By 3:30pm, we decided that we did more than enough hiking at Machu Picchu and made our way back to Inkaterra.

Being the most popular hike in South America, I am extremely lucky to have been able to experience Machu Picchu. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I would say yes in a heartbeat. If I had more days visiting Machu Picchu, I would have done things a little differently. First, I would have allowed my body to become acclimated to the high altitude. High altitude sickness involves anything from a headache to vomiting and is only treated with time. I also would have tried out different restaurants at the base of Machu Picchu. We were pressed for time, so we only ate at Inkaterra and on the train while visiting. I also would have taken another day or two to hike up Wayna Picchu, or Huayna Picchu. This is a very steep mountain towering the south end of Machu Picchu. According to our tour guide, this is where high Incan priests would reside. The path uphill is even more strenuous than Sun Gate. That being said, Wayna Picchu is restricted to four hundred visitors per day and tickets must be purchased in advance. Maybe one day I will get to go back and discover the beauty at Wayna Picchu.

Until then, I will drink my coca tea and reminisce through the pictures I was able to take during my time at Machu Picchu. I can now cross off my bucket list that I went to one of the Seven Wonders of the World and only hope that I can continue to travel the world to discover more phenomenal manmade wonders.

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The Children of a South African Village

I traveled to the beautiful country of South Africa about 6 and a half years ago. Since the moment I departed the country to come back to America I have never been able to stop thinking of the time I spent there. The things and places I have seen will never escape my memory and I hope to be fortunate enough to take my family there one day, like my parents took me.

The differences between South Africa and America are endless. Cape Town and Cape of Good Hope were two of the most breathtaking places I have ever seen, however the poverty I witnessed will forever haunt me. Waking up before the sun for two weeks, I saw lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, and monkeys etc. in their natural habitat. This was something my mind couldn’t even fathom, until day after day these animals kept reappearing right before my eyes. It was a weird concept to me, that the animals I grew up only seeing in movies like The Lion King actually existed and roamed free in South Africa. Of course I knew these animals ACTUALLY existed, but in the U.S. it’s not like we are accustomed to seeing elephants casually stroll down the streets of our neighborhoods.

However, the memory that sticks with me most, is of the children I spent time with in South Africa. I was a freshman in high school and currently teaching my first year of ski school at Waterville Valley Ski Resort in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Even at the young age of 14, I was clearly able to decipher the behavioral differences of children in the United States verses the children of a small South African village.

These children were babies, three or four years old, tops, coincidentally, the same age as the kids I was teaching how to ski in N.H. I was astonished to find that even though these two groups of children were the same age, they acted so differently. The South African children were so well-behaved and civilized, like tiny adults.

I remember being mind-blown by how they served themselves their own food at lunch-time and cleared their own plates from the table immediately, taking them to the sink to hand-wash and dry their bowls and plates. At the ski school I worked for in America, the children were served their food, made giant messes and somebody was always uncooperative during meals.

The children in the village did not have many toys, certainly nothing that lit-up or made sounds. I noticed  the less toys they had, the more they took care of what they did have, and the more joy their toys brought to them. I reflected back to how it was at the ski school. The American children had more toys than they could possibly play with in a day, they were rough with the toys, threw them around the playroom and fought over them constantly.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many “sharing” conversations I had, or how many times kids dumped giant boxes of figurines over just for the fun of making a mess.

The conditions of the South African village day-care were very poor. The outside where they played was a pit of rocky sand and I remember finding nails and dangerous objects within the sand. Nevertheless, the children were so happy and played as if they had the world’s largest jungle gym at their feet. I have never seen children be so gracious, kind and happy and I remember thinking that despite their living conditions they were truly the lucky ones to wear the smiles on their faces that they did each day.

At the end of the day I am an American and I love the the children of my country. However, when I saw babies that napped and played in card board boxes in South Africa that seemed genuinely happier, had less complaints, and rarely cried when they had almost nothing, I felt a greater appreciation for everything I had been given in my life. Those children will forever touch my heart.

 

Korean 1000: Soju, the Best Way to Enjoy Korean Culture.

somaek_koreana news

Have you ever drank Soju with Korean guys? Many Koreans loves drinking and dancing called Um-Joo-Ga-Mu(음주가무) in Korean word as old traditional saying since Korean ancestors enjoyed poem and music thousand-hundred year ago; moreover, Korean’s unique drinking cultures stand to tie Korean people together for fun and social relationship.

Some people from outside of Korea might say that drinking soju in Korean culture looks ritual or something like religious ceremony because Korean people have so many rules and ways for drinking Soju. In other words, if you know how to drink Soju in Korean way, it means you are already admitted to get into Korean culture. Soju is Korean traditional hard-liquor like Russian’s Vodka and Japanese’s Sake, but it is very cheap, costing approximately around $1 to $3 per bottle in Korea, so Soju is Korean’s best favorite alcohol, which gives perfect taste especially when you eat Korean BBQ. In the U.S. Soju price goes up high as an imported goods, but Korean people can’t get over from drinking Soju even in the U.S. (You can buy Soju (Jinro) in Columbia, Missouri at HyVee!)
Do you know why Korean people is addicted to drink Soju? Drinking culture is an important component in Korea society to have good relationship with people or to get close with new people, based on Confusion ideas. Korea has the unique tradition that young people should respect seniors or their parents by using specially designed honorific words and manners. This way of social code is shown in the drinking culture as well, which builds strong relationship. If you follow ways from below linked video or general instruction I wrote, I swear to god that all Korean people around you would like you so much immediately! This is basic step as an essential rule, respecting people older than you by using proper ways of drinking soju, showing them respects.

Here is general instruction:
1. Use both hands to hold a Soju glass to receive a shot from old people. (Using one hand in Korea looks rude)
2. Always check all glasses to not be empty. (Empty means you do not care so much)
3. Do not pour your shot. If you’re not youngest person among a group of people, your glass would not be dried up like Step 2. (Koreans do not drink Soju alone or pour soju for his/her self)
4. Do not refill other’s glasses until they finish their shot (Refilling unfinished glass is only allowed for dead people;;;)
5. Drinking starts by suggesting toast. Do not drink your shot before toast.
6. First shot must be “One Shot” (Finish the first shot at once, highly recommend)
7. If you’re younger than others, others will pay your bill. (It’s Korean culture~! Lucky!)
Moreover, Korean’s social values, such as hard-working and collectivism, play as active role for powerful social-drive, so drinking soju with many people is a usual scene after sunset or work. Drinking culture is very fun and active as social value does. “Work hard, play hard” is so true, applying for all around Korea peninsula.

Soju is strong liquor, containing 25% alcohol per bottle (Regular size: 360ml = 12oz) and should be stored in a refrigerator as cold as possible before drinking. This makes for smooth and happy drinking. If you go to Korea, you’ll see frozen Sojus and glasses in refrigerators.

icy cold soju
Because Soju is sometimes too strong to drink, Korean people also love to drink So-Maek, which is made up by mixing Soju + Maek-Joo (=beer). Putting a soju glass into a beer glass is a popular way to make So-Maek(소맥). For entertaining purpose, various ways to make So-Maek are used for better taste and fun.

Best So-Maek receipt
1. Prepare icy cold larger beer and Soju
2. Mix 1/3 amount of Soju based on Soju glass and ½ amount of beer based on beer glass
3. Stir So-Maek followed by your own way (This step is important part! If you have no idea, watch posted videos)
If you like to know Korean culture or plan to go to Korea or Korean town,
all you need to do is starting to drink “SOJU” and “So-Maek”!

Don’t forget Drink responsibly and legally (21+)!
Thank you for reading my posting.

Waltzing through the Night at a Viennese Ball

 

Hofburg Palace, Photo: viennaconcerts.com

ONE, two three, ONE, two, three, ONE, two, three is repeated over and over in my mind as I twirled around the ballroom. The orchestra played waltz after waltz at the Ball of the Vienna University of Technology (TU Ball). Even though I have never taken ballroom dance in all my years of dance training, learning to waltz really was not hard at all… I was more worried about getting my feet stepped on and twirling into another pair on a dance floor with hundreds of people crammed onto it. The most exciting part about that night was just experiencing first hand the traditions of the Viennese ball culture.

Viennese balls date back to the 18th century where they were reserved for the elite and nobility. Emperor Joseph II opened up rooms in the beautiful Hofburg palace to enable everyone to participate in the pomp and circumstance of the extravagant balls. Today, the balls still include features like very strict dress codes, a grand opening with debutants, a midnight quadrille and the Damenspende (gifts for the women). Another tradition is if a lady is asked to dance, it is considered very rude to decline… but don’t worry ladies, if there’s someone you want to dance with, there is an hour in the night that is considered “ladies choice.”

19th Century Damenspende, Photo: Andreas Praefcke

My Damenspende

My Damenspende

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the title of my post, it says through the Night. I quite literally mean through the night. The Viennese Balls don’t start (opening fanfare, entrance of debutants, and open dance floor) until about 20/20:30 and they last until 5am. The quadrille is an exciting feature that takes place at midnight; The ball that I attended also had one at 3am. The quadrilles are just as much fun to watch as they are to participate in. It’s a bit easier to watch a quadrille, than try to explain what it is. Enjoy!

 

Midnight Quadrille at the 2014 Vienna Opera Ball

As you can see, everyone crowds into the main ballroom with a partner (yes, there is more than one room open for dancing and each room features a different style of music) and joins the “organized” chaos of the dance. There’s a caller on stage with the orchestra giving out commands to very fast paced gallop and everyone is frantically trying to keep up as the line eventually snakes its way around the room. It is a nice jolt of energy at different intervals in the night to keep the celebration going and to keep everyone awake.

The other ballrooms at the ball I attended featured a band playing jazz music, and a band/DJ that played more Latin music and some popular music in which we called “the disko.” Now, if you thought the quadrille was a sight to see, imagine these bewildering (from the perspective of an American) images: 1. Couples trying to ballroom dance to Gangnam Style and 2. An elderly Austrian gentleman actually trying to do the dance to Gangnam Style. My first though watching this was “How???” I mean, you could clearly tell who the Americans were because they were the ones doing the actual party dance. Looking back, it is interesting to see how generations and styles mix, and how the old traditions of Viennese balls have evolved over time to include some modern day flair.

Winters in Vienna are host to around 400 balls and are organized around just about every professional group there is. There is the Zuckerbäckerball for confectioners, the Kaffeesiedler Ball for coffee brewers, the Juristenball for lawyers and the Jägerball where instead of wearing the formal long gowns and tuxedoes, the mandatory dress is traditional dirndl and lederhosen. The most well known and highest in placement on the social calendar of Vienna are the Philharmoniker Ball, hosted by the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverein, and the Wiener Opernball, at the Staatsoper (State Opera House).

Debutants waltzing at the 2015 Vienna Opera Ball, Photo: EPA

There is an array of balls to choose from to celebrate and join in with the locals and international guests. Sadly, this year’s ball season has come to an end with Fasching (Carnival) and the beginning of the Lenten season. Find your dancing shoes and start practicing your waltzing in preparation for next year’s ball season.

Nirvana!

Zadar: The Mediterranean as it Once Was!

Nirvana!

Pure Nirvana

I ended up in Zadar purely by chance, and if anyone had asked me, before I went, if it was a place I would ever visit, the answer would have been no. I never even really had intentions of visiting Croatia, but when push came to shove it was the cheapest of three destinations chosen by friends and I. Therefore, we booked our flights on Ryan Air, and found a cozy looking hostel to call home.

Zadar is a small coastal city in Croatia, on the east side of the Adriatic Sea. Zagreb and Split are popular tourist destinations in Croatia, but if you want to take a step back in history while enjoying the sea, then Zadar is the place you should go. One can experience many different types of architecture in Zadar including Roman, medieval (Romanesque, Gothic), and Renaissance.

Places to Stay

Room at the Old Town Hostel

There are many places to stay in Zadar, but hostels are my preferred method while traveling through Europe. I stayed in the Old Town Hostel, which was a bit difficult to find in the narrow streets and alleys, but it was still a very welcoming spot. When we arrived we had to travel up a questionable staircase with rickety railings, and a long drop down. In the lobby, we had to wake up a girl sleeping on the couch to find out who to check in with. Turns out she was the front desk girl, and she had come to work straight from the previous nights events. May sound sketchy to some, but the Old Town is a very chill location and the employees are very helpful.

Food

Pizza is never hard to find in Zadar.

Pizza is never hard to find in Zadar.

There is no shortage of places to find great food. Most of the restaurants offer a variety of sea-foods and other dishes, so finding something to satisfy is no problem. Also, if you find yourself out late at night or looking for a cheap meal, there are many small pizza shops and stands scattered throughout the city. We had a couple of nice sit down meals, but for the most part we cooked in the hostel’s kitchen or ate street stand food. If you enjoy people watching, then one of the many outdoor cafes is a great place to relax and watch the bustling crowds. We ate our fancy final meal at Pet Bunara. The dishes were a little more on the expensive side, but it was well worth the price. Along with the pizzerias and cafes, there is a great market place near the grocery store to get fresh produce and other goods. You have to go in the morning though, because they shut down around mid-day.

Nightlife

There are many bars located on the peninsula of Zadar, but if you go mid-week as we did, there might not be many people out to enjoy the night with. The University of Zadar is also located out on the peninsula, so on a typical weekend there are many people out and about. Some of the better bars recommended to us were Arkada, Caffe Bar Hippy, Brazil, and Zara.

Attractions

Sea Organ

Sea Organ

There are many unique things to see in Zadar. There are many spectacular churches to visit, like St. Donatus’ Church. It is located not far from People’s Square and the Roman Forum, where one can walk through the ruins of the past. The Citadel is also a neat place to visit. Built in 1409, it remains the same to this day. There is even a super posh bar located within that has an underground section. There are four gates around the Citadel and the Land Gate was most stunning to me. Outside of the monuments of the past, Zadar also has some intriguing modern sights. One of the main attractions in this category is the Sea Organ. As the waves lap against the sea wall, air is pushed through metal tubes located under marble stairs and exit through holes that play the music of the sea. Right next to the Sea Organ is the Sun Salutation. The Sun Salutation is a circular panel of solar powered lights. At sunset the lights switch on and light up the waterfront. Unfortunately it wasn’t working when we were there, but it looks quite spectacular in pictures.

Excursion

If you want to travel outside of the city to enjoy other splendid sights, then there are many choices. The best of these are to go for a swim at a beach (if the water is warm enough), go kayaking through the many small islands along the coast, or you can take a trip to Plitvice Lakes. The lakes are located two hours away from Zadar in the mountains. The lakes are extremely clear and look green due to minerals and microbes. Also, there are many waterfalls at the park, and some are quite spectacular. For a nice hike through nature this is the place to go. It offers stunning views of the landscape, and adventurous trails that are sometimes closed due to the water level. That didn’t stop us from venturing out though. We ended up wading at times, and since it was March in the mountains of Croatia, this turned out to be a “chilling” experience. For more pictures check out the photo gallery at the bottom.

If you ever have the chance to travel to Croatia then it is something you should most definitely do. Zagreb and Split offer their own sources of beauty and nightlife, but Zadar holds its own. If flying there, you can take RyanAir, German Wings, and other cheap airlines to Zadar Airport located about 20 minutes outside of the city. Be prepared to exchange money though, because Croatia does not have the Euro. The conversion rate is a little over 5.50 Kuna per American Dollar, or 7.60 per Euro. They speak Croatian (Hrvatski), but most know how to speak English so no problem there. Zadar is a beautiful and wonderful place. I hope to return one day so I can spend more time there, and the decision to travel there was one that I will never regret. Check out the pictures below of my travels in Zadar and Plitvicé!

 

Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest!

Mayor of Stuttgart Fritz Kuhn opens Frühlingsfest by tapping the keg!

Mayor of Stuttgart Fritz Kuhn opens Frühlingsfest by tapping the keg! Flickr/Landeshauptstadt Stuttgart

When I traveled to Germany last year, I was a bit disappointed that my semester was in the Spring and not the Fall. How could I ever become an extreme tourist in Germany without going to Oktoberfest? Well if any of you plan to do a semester in Germany during the Spring there is yet hope. The Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest (Spring Festival) is Europe’s largest spring festival, and lasts 23 days long. This year it began on April 19th and went through May 11th. It is located at the fairgrounds in the Bad Cannstatt district of Stuttgart. It is not quite Oktoberfest, but that is alright because it still offers the same attractions. Also, since it is not as big as Oktoberfest, instead of waiting in 8 hour long lines for the beer gardens, you might only have to wait 4 hours. If you go early enough in the day though you might not have to wait in line at all. I went to the festival twice last year, but unfortunately since I was more focused on the cultural experiences in the beer garden, I didn’t take many pictures. The internet has me covered on this one though.

One might think that beer fests are all about the beer, but it is actually a fair on steroids with beer gardens.

One might think that beer fests are all about the beer, but it is actually a fair on steroids with beer gardens. Flickr/Orkomedix

It is custom to wear traditional clothing like Dirndls and Lederhosen even on the roller-coasters.

It is custom to wear traditional clothing like Dirndls and Lederhosen even on the roller-coasters. Flickr/Rob124

Also, what would a beerfest be without other gut wrenching fair rides? I would suggest that if you want to enjoy the rides, you should do it before the beer garden.

Also, what would a beerfest be without other gut wrenching fair rides? I would suggest that if you want to enjoy the rides, you should do it before the beer garden. Flickr/baba_1967

 

If you get a bit peckish while going from ride to ride, there are many vendors that offer beer and food from around the world!

If you get a bit peckish while going from ride to ride, there are many vendors that offer beer and food from around the world! Flickr/Ken Hawkins

Ok! Now you have rode every ride that you could possibly stomach, so where better to go than the Biergarten! The wonderful place bursting with food, polka, more expensive beer than you could ever consume, and of course other drinkers!

A view from inside one of the many beer gardens. Stuttgarter Hofbrau Biergarten is the largest one at the festival.

A view from inside one of the many beer gardens. Stuttgarter Hofbrau Biergarten is the largest one at the festival. Flickr/Ken Hawkins

What should you order you ask? Well a liter beer is the most popular request, also known as a Maß.

What should you order you ask? Well a liter beer is the most popular request, also known as a Maß.  Flickr/ Giesbert Damaschke

If you get hungry again, then order a whole half of a chicken (complete with Brot and hand wipes) or a Tellerschnitzel. You don't even have to leave your table.

If you get hungry again, then order a whole half of a chicken (complete with Brot and hand wipes) or a Tellerschnitzel. You don’t even have to leave your table. Flickr/Ken Hawkins

When you are done drinking (your body will tell you) find a safe way to stumble home!

When you are done drinking (your body will tell you) find a safe way to stumble home! Flickr/Ken Hawkins

If you do find yourself in Germany, but are not near Stuttgart, then life is still good. Frühlingsfest  happens across Germany, but Stuttgart offers the best experience in my opinion.

If you do find yourself in Germany, but are not near Stuttgart, then life is still good. Frühlingsfest happens across Germany, but Stuttgart offers the best experience in my opinion. Flickr/Karsten Hoffmann

Unfortunately Frühlingsfest has ended this year, but there is always next year. For those of you who would wish to experience Oktoberfest but can’t due to the season, then Frühlingsfest will save you. If you are there for a year even better! You can go to both, and continue your good choices of gluttony and over drinking. If you are an alcoholic you should probably fight the urge and not go. Also, be prepared to have your body hate you the following day. You have been warned. Viel Spaß!

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Where to Watch the World Cup

If you couldn’t already tell, Jeremy Hart and I are just a tad excited about our upcoming trip to Leipzig. It’s unreal to think we’ll already be in Germany this time next month – our flight is actually in less than a month!

We’ve been preparing for the trip, specifically researching the sights and sounds of the city of music. While there are endless places to explore, I’m honestly still wondering where to watch the World Cup. Yes, I will be studying abroad during the World Cup. What else could a tourist ask for?! I hear the bar scene is out of control… so I had to investigate the hot spots.

Lost In Leipzig says Gottschedstrasse, named after Johann Christoph Gottsched, was the area to be when the city hosted the World Cup at Red Bull Arena in 2006. Gottschedstrasse, located in Zentrum-West, contains countless bars and restaurants. And, since Lost In Leipzig’s full post was written less than a year ago, I would assume it’s still worth hitting up. Check out a few places on the street:

Luise Cafe am Gottschedstrasse courtesty of Lost In Leipzig

An Nam Restaurant am Gottschedstrasse courtesy Lost In Leipzig

More outside seating in the “theatre district” around Gottschedstrasse courtesy of Lost In Leipzig

ESPN and Spiegel offered additional suggestions for game-watching – and other fun places to see while in Leipzig. Apparently I’ll have to look into Auerbach’s Keller in Madlerpassage off Grimmaische Strasse for traditional, historical restaurant experience, while still find time to adventure through Augustusplatz.

Oh, you want to  find out actual information about the World Cup? Here, BBC Sport‘s got you covered. Viel Glück und viel Spass!

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.

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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.

Switzerland From Top to Bottom: A Day Above Zermatt

Nestled at the foot of Switzerland’s tallest peaks is the small mountain village of Zermatt, famous as a starting point for the adventurers and mountain climbers on their way to the iconic Matterhorn. Its appeal to hikers and skiiers alike has granted it special notice on the blogosphere, and while most focus on the infamous alpine skiing, there are some that take a look at the village in summer. Follow their advice and catch a train in summer (cars are banned) and village opens up to beautiful scenery, excellent hiking, and the added bonus of much smaller crowds than the rest of Europe. Whichever time of year you go, though, Zermatt is the perfect place for unique and unforgettable experiences, not the least of which is a day hike through the southern Swiss Alps under the shadow of the Matterhorn.

In Zermatt, I dedicated an entire day to hiking the Gornergrat ridge. A handy cograil takes you to the top of the mountain, though if you are made of the same steely stuff as the Swiss, you’re welcome to hike (or jog) your way up instead. Either way, panoramic views and St. Bernard rescue dogs (which do not, unfortunately, fit easily into suitcases) wait for you at the top.

Even in the heart of summer, the altitude makes sure a couple of feet of snow sticks around.

Once you’ve had your fill of the view (which is, admittedly, hard to do), it’s time to begin your descent. The cograil does offer a faster way down, but for the more adventurous traveler it’s hard to imagine a trip into Switzerland’s alps without any actual hiking involved.

Of course, there are a couple of things to consider: atop the peak of Gornergrat, over ten thousand feet in the air, keep in mind that there will be plenty of snow on the ground, even in the dog days of summer (we went in June, and the first part of our hike was through a good three feet of the stuff). Even more importantly, don’t forget your sunscreen unless you want to spend the rest of your trip roughly the same color as a lobster. Snow glare is an evil thing, and as much fun as peeling the underside of your chin sounds, it’s really not.

Past the snow, it’s an easy hike through some of the best scenery Switzerland has to offer.

As you begin your descent and drop below the high altitudes, it’s also important to remember that while you are not actually in Rohan (as that is, in fact, located in New Zealand), it is still more than acceptable to pretend that you are on the pursuit of an evil party of rampaging Uruk-hai.

Rest assured: rugged as it seems, it’s actually incredibly difficult to get lost up here.

About halfway down the mountain, there’s a convenient rest stop if you need to rest your legs, check the map, or use the facilities. Don’t worry about getting lost; there are plenty of signs, marked paths, and other hikers, joggers, and tourists to help point you in the right direction. Just follow the narrow dirt road, pass under the treeline through a forest worthy of Thoreau’s Waldeinsamkeit, and Zermatt will open up before your feet before you know it.

All photos by Rachel Alvord

New Year’s in Budapest

This year, I spent New Year’s on a study abroad trip to Budapest, Hungary, through the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business. I was with a group of about 50 students and we visited a few local businesses and checked out the local museums before celebrating the New Year with Budapest’s locals.

One of Budapest's City Plazas set up for New Year's Celebrations!

One of Budapest’s City Plazas set up for New Year’s Celebrations!

New Year’s is the perfect time to visit Budapest. This is because the city mostly shuts down for Christmas, but as a huge driver of the economy is tourism, it opens back up right after Christmas, with loads of shopping, food, and festivities, not to mention the fact that their famous “Christmas Markets” are open through the first day or two of the new year.

A Christmas Market in front of St.Stephen's Basilica

A Christmas Market in front of St.Stephen’s Basilica

Budapest Christmas Markets consist of small log cabin-looking booths where people sell yummy chocolates, mulled wine (red wine that’s served hot, it’s a bit like hot cider, but better!), and amazingly delicious baked goods. There is also a skating rink and some more booths selling Christmas ornaments and knick knacks.

Hungary is famous for some of it’s New Year’s traditions and superstitions. Most cultures have a superstition about money and the New Year. For Hungary, that superstition is that if you eat lentils on the New Year, then you will have lots of money. Gabriela Manuli explains this on her blog as being because lentils are shaped similarly to coins.

In a travel blog post, Roberta Gyori outlines the bulk of the Budapest traditions. For example:

On New Year’s Eve it’s customary to make a lot of noise to scare off the demons and the evil spirits. Traditionally a bullwhip with a cracker was used to make a loud noise, but these days horns and other noisemakers are just as effective.

Fireworks shot from the massive Marriot Hotel in Budapest

Fireworks shot from the massive Marriot Hotel in Budapest

One thing I found interesting was that unlike some capitals and larger cities such as Paris, Washington D.C., New york, or Tokyo; Budapest does not appear to have a coordinated primary fireworks display. You can literally walk around the city between midnight and sunrise and there are fireworks ALL over the place. The important thing to note about this is that you have to pay attention as locals enjoy shooting off smaller fireworks, and they don’t really care if you’re caught in the cross fire.

On New Year’s Eve there are also many concerts across the the city that you can attend. Some feature DJs, some feature local bands, or pop artists, some are operas, but I chose a classical music concert. A friend and I scored tickets to see a string quartet playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at Saint Michael’s Cathedral.

While you’ve traveled half way around the world to  Budapest, you should spend a couple extra days there and enjoy the rest of what the city has to offer, regardless of the New Year. I found TripAdvisor to be the best way to find great activities with tons of user reviews. I will tell you about a couple of the things I enjoyed most.

The first, and this sounds sketchy but bare with me, is to wander around and sight see not just during the day, but at night. But please make sure that you do this while sober and with a group of friends, preferably with more than one of you being good with maps and the language. I say this because Budapest is an insanely picturesque city and everything worth seeing is beautifully lit at night.

One of Budapest's 7 Bridges with St. Stephen's Basilica behind

One of Budapest’s 7 Bridges with St. Stephen’s Basilica behind

The Buda Castle

The Buda Castle

The second big item that I recommend checking out is the Buda Castle, which houses the Hungarian National Gallery. Not only is the castle a world class museum, but the building itself is a true work of art and features some spectacular sculptures. When I was there, they happened to have assembled the most comprehensive exhibit of Marc Chagall’s work that will probably ever be put together, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Overall, the castle is quite large and houses so much art that seeing all of it could take up two or three days, depending on how long you wanted to ponder each piece of art.

Overall, Budapest is a great place to be on New Year’s. If you’re looking for someplace fun with a strong local vibe and a less commercial feeling than the likes of Paris or New York, Budapest is a great place to celebrate!

All of the photos in the post were taken by me. Feel free to share or use them, but please link back to this post!

 

Paleis Het Loo

Paleis Het Loo, located near Apeldoorn, “was the summer residence of the Royal Family of the Netherlands until 1975,” according to Trip Advisor.  The palace was first inhabited by King William III and Queen Mary II, and last inhabited by Queen Wilhelmina, states a Dutch travel blog and the official Palace website.

The palace grounds are huge, with multiple attractions to explore. Visitors can take the palace tour and walk through the current exhibit, or walk through the stables, or even venture onto the roof of the palace to get a better view of the gardens.

While visiting Paleis Het Loo I took a number of photographs to capture not only the palace itself, but the beautifully manicured gardens as well.

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Walking up to the palace.

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One of the palace’s crystal chandeliers.

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Dutch painters are known for their skilled artwork, I don’t know who this woman is, but she fascinated me while at the palace.

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Walking through the royal stables. I love patterns and found this one interesting.

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Queen Wilhelmina’s carriage.

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The Dutch flag from the roof of the palace.

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The manicured gardens consist of a variety of hedge gardens as seen from the ground.

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The manicured gardens consist of a variety of hedge gardens as seen from the roof.

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The details of one of the many fountains on the grounds.

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Within the gardens.

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Another artistic detail of the gardens.

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One of the most beautiful sculptural fountains on the outer side of the gardens.

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Far away view of this globe fountain centerpiece.

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Close-up view of this globe fountain centerpiece.

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The palace in the distance of the blooming garden.