Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 121

The weekly roundup of internet awesomeness:

  1. This week in movie trailers: the second trailer for Gone Girl looks as awesome as the first, and, after reading the book, I can’t wait to see what they do with Wild.
  2. Random, but I love it: Capybaras That Look Like Rafael Nadal.
  3. It’s been a loooong time since the first time I watched Harry Potter, but this is on point: This Is What It’s Like to Watch Harry Potter for the First Time. And on another HP note: New JK Rowling Story Offers a Peek at Grown-Up Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
  4. Yes: Seinfeld Emoji Are on Their Way.
  5. Fascinating, in a “Why yes, I am a literary nerd” kind of way: New Jane Austen Waxwork Uses Forensic Science to Model the “Real Jane.” (Sidenote: as proof of my literary nerdom, yes, I did visit the Jane Austen Centre mentioned in the article when I went to Bath years ago).
  6. I note the irony of this article appearing in Elle, a magazine that I’m sure is guilty of its fair share of photoshopping, but I still like the message: Colbie Caillat Is Tired of Being Photoshopped. Here’s What She Did About It.
  7. Always love a good mash-up: Frozen Is the New Black.
  8. Clever: Humorous Urban Interventions on the Streets of France.
  9. I’ve only been to #4, #5, #14, and #15, so clearly I have a lot of work to do: 25 Bakeries Around the World You Have to See Before You Die.
  10. Heh: Eloise: An Update.

(Image via)

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 120

The weekly roundup of internet awesome:

  1. If you’re a foodie, you’ll love this article: Operation Surprise Wylie. Damn, to be at that meal.
  2. “I was traveling myself when I got my Fitbit, and because the tingle feels so good, not just as a sensation but also as a mark of accomplishment, I began pacing the airport rather than doing what I normally do, which is sit in the waiting area, wondering which of the many people around me will die first, and of what”: David Sedaris on Living the Fitbit Life.
  3. As if I needed more excuses to travel: How Studying or Working Abroad Makes You Smarter.
  4. Hah: Everything I Fucked Up While Trying to Eat Like Gwyneth for a Week.
  5. After Hobby Lobby, I love RBG even more. Case in point: 11 Photos Show Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hates Supreme Court Mansplaining as Much as You.
  6. Oh snap, Barack.
  7. Awww, this makes me happy: These Were Michael Vick’s Fighting Dogs. Where They Are Now Is Beautiful.
  8. Hah, some of these are amazing: 45 People from History Who Look Exactly Like Today’s Celebrities.
  9. This week in World Cup: Sweaty and Sweet: The World Cup’s Most Tender Man-Hugs. Also, this: Who Won the World Cup of Arm-Folding?
  10. And one more for good measure: Someone Changed the Wikipedia Entry for US Secretary of Defense to Tim Howard.
(Image via)

Berlin: A Culinary Journey from Currywurst to Cheesecake

During my semester in Europe, I took more than my fair share of food tours – and, based on my wholly unscientific observations, it seemed like I was not the only one. A quick scan of TripAdvisor shows food tours listed among the highest rated attractions for several cities, and on each tour I took, it seemed people invariably were there because they had taken similar tours in other European cities and loved them. Apparently, a whole subculture of traveling foodies has emerged in Europe, and I am proud to admit that I am among them.

While I can honestly say I enjoyed every food tour I took this semester, there are some that stick out as particularly wonderful. Indicative of this point is a conversation I had near the end of my time in Europe, while in Copenhagen, where I found myself taking – what else? – a food tour. One of the ladies in the group had just visited Berlin, where she had also taken a food tour. I said I had recently been in Berlin and taken one too.

“Did you take yours with Bastian?” she asked.

“Yes!” I exclaimed, and we laughed, realizing we had gone on the same tour and chatting about how much we had both enjoyed it. We agreed that it had been an excellent, memorable experience. And so, in a sea of Europe food walks, the Berlin Mitte Food Tour stands out as a particularly top-notch culinary experience. Our guide – the aforementioned Bastian – was excellent, we tasted a wide range of food and drinks, and as we walked through the Mitte neighborhood, we learned plenty of historical and cultural tidbits along the way. Plus, at under 40 euros, this tour was one of the cheapest ones I took in Europe – and, I got more food than I did on any other tour, making this a great value for the money.

I met up with my tour group near Hackescher Markt at VOM FASS, a specialty shop selling a range of oils, vinegars, wines, and spirits. I had visited a similar store in Edinburgh, and here, as there, I enjoyed browsing the shop’s many unique flavors. While I would have happily tried everything, we began our day with a sample of a pink grapefruit prosecco, which was light, refreshing, and a perfectly sweet way to start our tour.

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We continued on to Hackescher Markt, a Farmers Market open on Thursdays and Saturdays. There were many stands here that looked appealing, but our destination was the stall selling Turkish cuisine. Against a backdrop of colorful tapestries, the ladies served up what Bastian dubbed the perfect hangover food: kofte – Turkish meatballs – with bread and vegetables. This dish was so delicious that I wouldn’t need a hangover to find an excuse to eat it; I would happily partake anytime.

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While I often think “schnitzel and beer” when I think of German cuisine, this stand was a good reminder of Berlin’s status as a large, multicultural city. It’s certainly not all about traditional German cuisine in Berlin, and to seek only those dishes out would be to miss a lot of other delicious ones – Turkish kofte included.

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We headed next to Lindner, a nearby deli. Lindner is exactly the type of place that is great to visit on a food tour. Had I gone on my own, I would have been overwhelmed by all the varieties of meats, cheeses, and vegetables and would not have even known where to begin!

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In this case, where we began was with meatballs (which resembled hamburgers more than anything) dipped in German mustard. We tried two kinds of meatballs, and the surprise to me was that I preferred the vegetarian option more. It came filled with carrots and Emmental cheese and tasted a lot like Thanksgiving stuffing – always a winning flavor in my book.

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After our meatballs, we had miniature brownies made with Belgian chocolate. These were rich and delicious, and would have made an excellent topper to a meal – but, luckily for us, we still had many, many stops to come.

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We headed to Katjes Café Grün-Ohr in search of more sweets. Katjes, a competitor of Haribo, makes fruit gummies and licorice with all-natural products and without any artificial dyes. As it was the weekend before Easter when I visited Berlin, we sampled the bunny-shaped candies, and Bastian bought us each a whole bag to take home. I’m not normally a fan of gummy candies, but these were quite tasty (and made for a perfect snack on my flight back to Geneva).

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As we walked to our next stop, our guide mentioned that German cuisine is known for four things: beer, wurst, bread, and cakes. While we sampled all four of them in various forms during our day, the next stop, Hofpfisterei, was undoubtedly about the bread. Behind the counter, we saw loaves and loaves of delicious-smelling breads; we wound up sampling the rye (topped with turkey), but they all looked amazing! To go with our bread and turkey, we also had a glass of apple juice (which, generally, I dislike, but this was delicious!) and pieces of Leberkasë, or liver cheese (which were too bologna-esque for me to truly enjoy).

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Next, we began a run of several sweet stops in a row. While there wound up being a lot more sugary treats on this tour than I would have expected, I certainly could not complain – everything was quite good. At Albrechts Pâtisserie, we sampled truffles, and, in a moment of blogging negligence, I forgot to jot down the particular flavor of truffle we tried. You’ll just have to trust me on this one: it was good.

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Next, we headed on to Barcomi’s, where we sampled two flavors of cheesecake, one brownie and one blueberry. While I would not have ever associated cheesecake with Berlin, this cheesecake was damn good. In fact, here’s a literal translation of my iPhone notes:

“So so so so so good! The crust!!!!”

Yes, the cheesecakes were that good (and yes, the crust was amazing). While there were lots of spots on this tour that I would like to return to on future trips to Berlin, Barcomi’s in the place I know, without a doubt, that I would go back to.

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At Factory Girl!, we sampled the restaurant’s signature dessert concoction: Magnolias, which have a sort of pudding/tiramisu-like consistency. The one we sampled was cookies and cream flavored – and I ate it so quickly that I didn’t even have time to snap a photograph, which is a pretty good indication of its quality.

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As we made our way from Factory Girl! to our next stop, I began to sense a distinctly hipster ambiance. Indeed, Berlin at large gives off some strong hipster vibes; as I walked around the city, I often found myself thinking, “hey, this kinda feels like Brooklyn.” And the area we were in – with its high concentration of unique coffee shops – certainly fit that mold. In fact, being coffee connoisseurs – as the folks at Pro Macchina Da Caffè, our next destination, no doubt are – seems like a crucial page in the hipster playbook.

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At Pro Macchina, we explored the shop for a bit and heard from one of the shop’s coffee experts, who talked to us about the roasting process and explained the merits of various coffee beans. Then, it was time to try some for ourselves, so we grabbed tables outside and tried our small but strong cups of coffee. Our server mentioned that the coffee had fruit undertones, which I could taste, but the fruit was somewhat overpowered by the bitterness of the coffee. In all fairness, I seemed to be the only one in our group who wasn’t in love with this coffee; everyone else was a big fan. I was glad to have a tried it, but I offer this caution. If you’re a coffee snob, you would probably adore Pro Macchina. If, on the other hand, you find the coffee at Starbucks a bit strong for your tastes, then…you may have a difficult time with this stuff!

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After being jolted by the strength of my coffee, my palette was relieved that our next stop counteracted some of that coffee bitterness with a little straight-up sweetness. At Schneiders Schokoladen, which makes a variety of gourmet chocolates, we tried a chocolate with balsamic vinegar. As far as flavor combinations go, this felt pretty unexpected to me; I would never associate balsamic vinegar with chocolate! However, these guys know what they are doing, as the combination of the two flavors produced a tasty – and memorable – piece of chocolate.

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After all those sweets, it was time for some heartier fare. We headed to a market hall for some wurst (sausage) from TT-Spezialitäten. We tried a sausage whose name I didn’t catch – but, I do remember our guide explaining that it translated to something like “acre watcher” in English. Why “acre watcher”? Farmers kept it in their pockets while working out in the fields so they could have something to snack on. A pretty ingenious idea, if you ask me.

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We then headed to Vom Einfachen for some cheese and charcuterie, plus a little IPA to wash it all down. We tried a trappist cheese, liverwurst, and a super thinly sliced, dry aged ham. All three were good, but the ham was my favorite – absolute meaty perfection.

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While we munched on our food, Bastian slipped out of the deli and headed down the street to pick up another treat for us – macarons from Les Patisseries de Sebastien. This strawberry macaron was a tasty little morsel:

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Our next stop was both my most anticipated and most dreaded stop of the tour: currywurst at Curry 61. It was my most anticipated because trying currywurst is basically mandatory when in Berlin, so I knew I had to do it. However, I’m not a fan of curry generally, so I was a bit leery of trying sausages drenched in curry ketchup.

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As it turned out, I needn’t have worried – this currywurst was really good! While you can find currywurst stands all over Berlin, my sense is that they vary in quality dramatically. Curry 61, however, seems to be one of those spots where you know you’re going to get a good one.

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Our final stop of the tour was Brauhaus Lemke, a microbrewery near where we started our tour at Hackescher Markt. Bastian mentioned that craft beers are becoming a big thing in Berlin these days, and I can see why because even I, as a non-beer drinker, really enjoyed my beer!

As I left Brauhaus Lemke and headed back to my hotel to nap off my food coma, it occurred to me why I enjoyed this food tour – and all food tours – so much. To me, there’s something really amazing about encountering people who are passionate about things, and who have found their niches – however obscure or quirky they may be. The coffee connoisseur who intimately knows every imaginable variety of coffee bean, the chocolatier who dreams up wacky-but-wonderful flavor combinations, the baker who takes care to make sure each loaf of bread is baked to perfection: these are people who dedicate their lives to cultivating delicious things. It’s inspiring to witness their passion in action, it’s fascinating to pick up little pieces of their knowledge, and it’s a treat to taste the fruits of their labor.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 119

The weekly roundup of internet finds:

  1. Specifically, #5, #7, #8, #10, #13, and #18: 24 Things We Unexpectedly Become Obsessed with in Our Late Twenties.
  2. Good stuff: Powerful Ad Shows What a Little Girl Hears When You Tell Her She’s Pretty.
  3. It’s one of the best times of the year – aka, Wimbledon – so here’s this: Groovy Wimbledon Circa 1971.
  4. Hilarious: It’s Official, You’re More Likely to Be Bitten by Luis Suarez Than a Shark.
  5. The Bailey’s one is what sold me on this article: What Your Drink of Choice Says About You.
  6. The cynical part of me says she only did this because she knew she’d get great PR, but I still like it: Amy Adams Gives up Seat to Serviceman on Flight.
  7. This guy: Who Is Our New Favorite Jeopardy Loser?
  8. This gal: Breast Cancer Patient Dances Her Way into the Operating Room.
  9. Summer Sisters is one of my all-time favorite books, so you know I cannot wait for this: New Judy Blume Novel Announced for 2015.
  10. Holy cute: The Pugs of Westeros.

(Image via Entertainment Weekly)

Berlin: Under the Dome of the Reichstag

I tend to be well-prepared (bordering on over-prepared) when taking a trip, but every now and then, I drop the proverbial traveling ball on something. When I visited Berlin in 2011 with my sister, it was the Reichstag: we strolled up, ready to go inside and climb up the gigantic glass dome, only to find out that reservations were required to enter. Later that night at our hotel, I checked online and was disappointed to find that all the reservation slots were filled during our remaining days in Berlin. So, while we could view the Reichstag from the outside, we wouldn’t be getting a glimpse within.

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Needless to say, when I realized I would be making a return trip to Berlin, the first thing I did – after booking plane tickets and a hotel, of course – was to reserve a slot to tour the Reichstag (which you can do here). I ambitiously selected an entry time of 8:30am to force myself to get up early and make the most of my short time in Berlin, meaning I arrived at the Reichstag bright and early, albeit a little bleary-eyed, to take my long-awaited tour.

The Reichstag is the meeting place for Germany’s Parliament. It was originally constructed in 1894, damaged by fire in 1933, and reconstructed and reopened in 1999. While the front facade of the building, with its grand columns and famous inscription (Dem Deutschen Volke, or “to the German people”), is the more imposing and historical portion of the building, it was the more recently constructed dome I really came to see.

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The Reichstag’s giant glass dome sits right above the main hall of Parliament; in fact, you can peek down into the hall from the rooftop terrace. The dome also happens to have excellent 360 degree panoramic views of Berlin. An audioguide is provided with every tour, and as you climb the ramps of the dome, the guide tells you what buildings you are looking at.

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My audioguide indicated that “the transparency of the dome’s glass symbolizes the transparency of the German democratic state.” While that seemed a bit grandiose, I couldn’t deny that the dome’s architecture and viewpoints were striking, regardless of any symbolism. It may have taken me four years, but I was glad to finally see this iconic building up close and personal.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 118

The weekly roundup of internet wonderfulness:

  1. Meet my new favorite Instagram feed: Fashion Grandpas.
  2. As far as celebrities go, I think these guys are good ones: Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone Send Another Message to the Paparazzi.
  3. These are so well done: Literary City Guides.
  4. Hilarious: American Girl Dolls Re-Imagined for Today.
  5. Impressive: Members of the Washington Ballet Demonstrate Their Most Difficult Moves in Slow Motion.
  6. The Detroit Red Wings are awesome: Detroit’s Twitter Account Offers Solid Relationship Advice.
  7. Excellent idea: You Should Be Playing the Pac-Man World Cup Drinking Game.
  8. These are all pretty easy, but still: Guess These Classic Friends Quotes Told Through Emojis.
  9. My kind of exercise plans: 43 Workouts That Allow You to Watch an Ungodly Amount of Television.
  10. Guilty as charged: Sorry, Not Sorry – Why Women Need to Stop Apologizing for Everything.

(Image via)

Stockholm: On Not Quite Falling in Love

I’ve already written a bit about Stockholm, discussing my affinity for Gamla Stan and my amazing culinary experience with Food Tours Stockholm. One thing I haven’t covered, however, is this: on the whole, I didn’t love Stockholm as much as I expected I would.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I had a tough time connecting with the city during my weekend there. Stockholm was lovely, yes, but somehow I had expected to enjoy it more. I found myself depressed by how expensive everything was, a problem I didn’t expect to have considering I was living in Geneva, one of the world’s most expensive cities, for the semester. Yet Stockholm seemed way more expensive than Geneva, and I was stressed about the cost of everything, constantly doing mental krona to dollar conversions in my head and inevitably winding up disheartened by my calculations. Beyond the obvious price tag shock, though, there was something else bothering me.

I visited in early April, and over the course of the weekend, I began to suspect that Stockholm might simply be more enjoyable in the summertime. It wasn’t so much that the weather was bad (though it was chilly), but rather that the city still seemed like it was in hibernation mode. The streets were quiet, and a lot of the attractions I wanted to visit had reduced “winter” hours, making it difficult to see everything within the shortened days. Overall, the city seemed to only just be emerging from the winter doldrums, and it lacked the vibrancy I had hoped for.

Typical of this problem was Skansen, Stockholm’s open-air museum. Skansen is the sort of place that seems like it would be so much fun in the summer: it houses a zoo and a replica 19th-century village, complete with silversmiths, bakers, tanners, and glass-blowers. However, as I walked through the “village,” many of the exhibits were closed, as were all the restaurants inside the park. In the summer, I imagine that Skansen would have a lively, carnival-like atmosphere. In April, however, it was mostly just…quiet.

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One thing that did not disappointment me about Skansen was the glass-blower’s workshop. Seeing the glass-blowers at work was pretty cool, but my favorite part was ogling the finished products. I wound up taking a few small vases home with me, despite the fact that – as with everything in Stockholm – they were pretty damn expensive. Still, some things are worth a splurge:

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Not far from Skansen, I found Stockholm’s most kitschy attraction: the ABBA Museum. I have never considered myself a fan of ABBA, nor have I felt any burning desire to learn more about their musical trajectory. For whatever reason, however, I felt compelled to make a visit to the museum. Where else in the world, I reasoned, would I ever find a museum devoted entirely to ABBA? When there is a place that sounds this absurd, wouldn’t it be wrong not to visit?

Just as I expected, the ABBA Museum was a colorful, trippy overload. It was jam-packed with information on the band’s history, displays containing their colorful (and tacky) costumes, and more than a few spots for enthusiastic Swedes to stop and karaoke. Naturally, ABBA music blasted through the museum’s stereos, and by the end of the afternoon, I could not get Waterloo out of my head.

(Regarding the above photo – haven’t we all felt like the girl on the right at some point in our lives?)

The ABBA Museum was not the only quirky museum I visited while in Stockholm. There was also a trip to Fotografiska, the Swedish Museum of Photography. Fotografiska was filled with several interesting photography exhibits and more than a few modern art installations that elicited a firm “huh?!?” from me. I can’t say it will go down as one of my favorite museums, but it was an interesting change of pace from the more traditional art museums I typically frequent.

Fotografiska was located in Södermalm, a neighborhood I often heard described as the “hipster Brooklyn” of Stockholm. This classification seemed accurate to me but, in full disclosure, I barely scratched the surface of Södermalm during my time in the city (though, if I return to Stockholm, it’s the area I would want to explore most). The main reason I visited Södermalm this time around was sugar-related: I went in search of Pärlans Konfektyr, maker of some seriously gourmet caramels.

Pärlans Konfektyr is a tiny but memorable little shop. From the store’s interior, a large glass window allows you to peek into the workroom and watch the caramel makers in action. As for the caramels themselves, Pärlans has a large selection of unique flavors: think salt licorice, coconut & lime, and peppermint, to name only a few. My favorite of all, however, were the more traditional vanilla and sea salt caramels – delicious, sweet, chewy caramel perfection.

Outside of sweet treats, I had a harder time tracking down affordable yet delicious food to eat in Stockholm. I confess to having my share of super cheap falafel dinners, but one place where I did find a good, reasonably priced meal was Bakfickan, a tiny restaurant tucked behind the Opera House. Not only did I enjoy my food, but I also loved the overall atmosphere of the restaurant, which felt surprisingly open and fresh despite how small the space was.

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After eating at Bakfickan, I headed to the waterfront, an easy trip given that the restaurant is no more than a minute’s walk from the harbor. Walking along the water, whatever the time of day, quickly became one of my favorite Stockholm activities. No matter how I felt about other aspects of the city, I found it impossible to deny that Stockholm was extremely beautiful, and never more so than when its buildings were silhouetted against the sparkling waters of the harbor.

Ultimately, I left Stockholm with mixed emotions. There were many things I adored about the city, from waterfront sunsets to cobblestone streets to Swedish meatballs, but there were also more than a few things that simply didn’t “click” with me. Nevertheless, I’m keeping an open mind about Stockholm. It might not have wowed me this time around, but I have a feeling that, with a subsequent summertime visit, I might just become a fan.