Hofbräuhaus & Beer

by Karen

Hofbräu (HB) is one of six local breweries remaining in Munich today. They had the distinction of being the official royal brewery of the old dukes of Bavaria.
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HB Haus is the former site of their brewery, now turned into a beer hall, and is the most famous in all of Munich. Beer is served in 1-liter mugs–and that’s just for one person!
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When we went there, it felt like we were stepping into a giant banquet hall you’d typically see in medieval-type movies, with customers shouting, singing, dancing, eating bratwursts, and chugging beer. The atmosphere was incredibly festive, with a live polka band playing traditional Bavarian music (even some of the locals sang along). Sure, it was very touristy, but everyone was having a good time, so we decided to have out Christmas dinner there. It’s definitely one of those places where you don’t really come for the food, but you stay for the atmosphere. We ended up getting a Bavarian meatloaf (it’s like eating a giant slice of Vienna sausages from a can) and Alpine Ox Goulash (ehhhhhh).
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Some random facts we learned about beer from out tour guide (hope they are true):

In the past, beer was brewed by either monks or women. Women would add random stuff into the beer, like vegetables, herbs, etc. in order to make the beer taste more palatable. One day, opium was added to the beer, causing death by consumption. As a result, Bavaria passed the Beer Purity Law, which states that beer can only be made of three ingredients: barley, hops, and water (later, wheat and yeast were added to the list). The law is still in effect to this day.

Germany is the #3 consumer of beer in the world, after Czech Republic and Ireland (Czechs drink 180 liters of beer per person per year). However, if you take the whole state of Bavaria, and remove it from Germany, then Germany would fall down to #27, whereas Bavaria would become #1. On average, Bavarians drink 270 liters of beer per person per year.

Munich’s population is around 1.7 million. During Oktoberfest, the population grows to 7 million–and a majority of them are Australians (there is even a specific weekend of the festival allocated for them).

When the Swedish army invaded Bavaria, they held Munich for a ransom of 300,000 pieces of gold. Citizens only managed to cough up 180,000 pieces. The rest of it was paid in beer (“liquid gold”).

Bavarians really do love their beer! (Unfortunately I can’t stand it and don’t drink it, but apple soda is a great alternative for me!)
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Florence Photo Dump

via our Facebook page:

Florence Photo Dump

Lots of great art, and some of the best food in Italy

@ http://www.facebook.com/pages/p/190184244496819

Gelato in Rome

by Karen
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So after eating gelato every single day for the past 14 days at various places across the city, here are our top 3 choices for best gelato in Rome.

Note that we only ordered small cones in all stores (“piccolo coni“), which is actually more than enough! Small cones always include 2 scoops (mix-&-match, or one flavor), and optional whipped cream, sometimes homemade (just ask for “con panna“).


GROM

Location: corner of Piazza Navona
Open til: 11pm
Number of times visited: 3 (in one day!)
Price: 2.50€
Flavors tried: Meringata al Pistachio, Ricotta e Fichi, Pere, Zabaione, Crema di Grom

Best pistachio ice cream I’ve ever had anywhere, period. If you combine it with the ricotta & fig flavor, EVEN BETTER.

Note that I’m only judging this place on the basis of that (perfect) flavor combo. The other flavors were ok, I didn’t like their Zabaione, which is wine-flavored (Mark loved it), but I did enjoy their Pear, which tasted and felt like pear puree in gelato form.

Also, how can you not like the name? GROM. Sounds like a gelato place that Conan the Barbarian would open after retiring from…doing barbarian things.

It is an Italian chain, though it seems to be pretty popular amongst the locals. (Fortunately for us, there is also a branch in Florence!)
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Come il Latte

Location: Via Spaventa 26 (near Repubblica Metro A stop)
Open: Til 11pm
Number of times visited: 3
Price: 2.20€
Flavors tried: too many to remember

This is Mark’s favorite, and I’m a big fan of it as well, and I think it’s the best value out of all the gelato places we’ve tried. It’s also the only one on this list that isn’t a chain.

For 2.20€, you get:
– a small cone with 3 scoops (can be all different flavors, and they are definitely not small!)
– white or dark chocolate fondue
– a wafer
– your choice of regular or vanilla homemade whipped cream
– more chocolate drizzle

Come il Latte is a few blocks from the Santa Maria della Vittoria church, which houses the famous Ecstacy of Saint Teresa sculpture by Bernini. It’s a bit off the tourist path (at least in the winter), hidden amongst small side streets in a quiet corner. They are open late, which is great if you’re traveling from across town just to get there.

They have a wide variety of flavors, and we can only assume that they are all good. My go-to flavor was the Mascarpone e Gentili, and their Chestnut is pretty damn good. Once you choose your flavor, you get a choice of having your cone showered in white or dark chocolate. This is awesome, because the chocolate will sit inside your cone as you eat your gelato. Once you start eating your cone, chocolate just starts spilling out–the best part is that it’s still warm!
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Gelarmony

Location: Via Marcantonio Colonna, 34 (near Lepanto Metro A stop)
Open: Til 11pm
Number of times visited: 4
Price: 1.80€
Flavors tried: Ricotta & eclair, strawberry, pistachio, lemon cake, etc.

If you are near the Vatican or visiting the VIGAMUS Video Game Museum, this gelato place is worth visiting. I fell in love with their strawberry and the ricotta & eclair (which somehow tastes like a cinnamon gingerbread cookie, but I can overlook this misnomer). Also, this is one of the cheaper gelato places we’ve seen. I was actually surprised to find out that this was a global chain, with branches in Hawaii, Vancouver, Beijing, and San Diego(!!).
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For the record, here is a list of other places we’ve tried. They were good, but not as memorable as the ones we’ve mentioned earlier.

– Frigidarium (Trastevere)
– Dei Gracchi (Vatican-area, near Lepanto Metro A stop)
– Cremi (Trastevere)
– Salaria (a bit out of the way, take a tram from Villa Borghese or Policlinico Metro B stop)
– San Crispino (near Pantheon)
– Il Gelatone (near Vittorio Emmanuel II Monument)
– Fatamorgana (Trastevere)

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Ourika Valley, High Atlas Mountains

by Karen
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Ourika Valley is nestled within the heart of the High Atlas Mountains, about 45 mins east-ish of Marrakech. Most people usually visit as a day trip, then return to the city. It’s mostly hiking trails, beautiful (lush!) scenery, picturesque villages, and waterfalls that draw tourists to the area.
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We pretty much spent our 1.5 days hiking up mountains and enjoying the scenery. The afternoon we arrived at our hotel, we decided to check out the waterfall. It was a bit underwhelming (and overcrowded), having already seen magnificent waterfalls in Iceland.
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The hiking was strenuous, but good, it was about a 3hr hike roundtrip. Our guide from the hotel, Ahmed, didn’t speak any English at all, but we managed to be able to understand each other.
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To get to the trail, we had to catch a local “bus”, which was essentially a van with as many people squeezed in as possible. It was a fun adventurous ride, albeit watching your driver take sharp turns along cliffsides and driving onto oncoming traffic can cause quite an adrenaline rush.
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At the bottom of these cliffs was a large riverbed, which at the moment is quite dry. The river usually fills up during the winter rains. But for now, the dry river provides for nice cafe seating.
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Our second day was the big hike. The hotel owner recommended us to take this trail, which would give us excellent views of the valley, and allow us to visit a Berber village. He was right; despite the altitude sickness and heat, the valley was gorgeous, and not something we’d expected to see in Morocco, land of deserts and dried-up rivers.

It took us approximately 4 hours to reach the village. We took many breaks along the way, and I was quite embarrassed about how out of shape I was (our guide was 60, and he was running up the mountain!)
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The owner of the hotel had even arranged a cooking lesson for me from one of his chefs, since I mentioned that I loved to cook. I was able to eat the result, a tasty tagine of kefta meatballs.
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In all, we enjoyed our stay in Ourika Valley. It was a nice mixture of relaxation and hiking, and wish we could’ve stayed an extra day.
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Tagines

by Karen

Tagines are a traditional Moroccan dish, named after the vessel they are cooked in. It’s pretty much the Moroccan equivalent of a crock pot. They are sold everywhere in markets, but I’ll have to settle for a $10 crock pot when I get back, because tagines are heavy and huge! It looks like a giant cone-shaped vessel, and typically made out of clay. The lid is a dome that seals in the moisture while your food cooks, and when served, the contents are still sizzling. Meat & veggie tagines are commonly served at Moroccan restaurants. However, it takes a while to cook these dishes, so expect to have a long dinner when ordering one of these.
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The owner of our B&B in Ourika Valley was kind enough to hook me up with a cooking lesson from one of his chefs on how to make a tagine dinner. He showed me (roughly) how to make a Kefta Tagine, which is like a seasoned meatball dish.

Ingredients
– 1 tsp cumin powder
– 1 tsp salt
– 1/2 tsp pepper
– 1/2 tsp ginger powder
– 1 tsp tumeric powder
– 1/2 “teacup” olive oil
– 1 onion, minced
– 2 tomatoes, peeled & diced
– 1 bunch of parsley, chopped
– 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
– 1 sprig of rosemary (optional)
– ground beef, rolled into balls
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The chef used a small spoon (looked like a teaspoon) when measuring out the spices, so I don’t have the exact measurements (the ones above are estimates). He also used a heaping spoonful for most spices, so I assume it’s to taste. Also for olive oil he eyeballed it, but he said about “1/2 of a teacup”, so make of that what you will.

Directions

Dump the chopped onions & spices & oil into the tagine and heat it on high. You can just put the tagine on an open flame (gas stove) or use an electric stove. Mix it all up, then dump the parsley & cilantro in. Wait a few mins, then dump the tomatoes in.

Stir, and let cook for about 10 mins with the lid on. Keep stirring every so often.
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Take your rolled-up ground beef and carefully place it into the stew. Cover and let cook for about 10 mins, then reduce the heat to medium-low and let sit for about 45 mins.

You can add a sprig of rosemary for flavor.

Voila! Kefta tagine!

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Essaouira – A Quiet Little Seaside Town

by Karen

I’ll be honest, Marrakech was wonderful in all its sights and smells, people, foods, and activities, but it was somewhat mentally stressful. Yes, we had culture shock, and we always had our guard up. We’d been pickpocketed (thankfully for us, both attempts were unsuccessful), chased after by “local guides”, and harrassed by market vendors. Getting lost in a labyrinth of neverending dark alleyways with no street signs, landmarks, lights, or noises can be very scary. We could never truly relax. And on that note, we were off to the next place on our itinerary, Essaouira!

(The bus from Marrakech to Essaouira is 140DH, runs 8x/day, and is a 3hr ride, with pit stop. You’ll also need to buy a separate ticket for your luggage, 5DH per bag.)
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Essaouira is a complete breath of fresh air, both literally and figuratively. It sits right on the Atlantic coast, with great views of the ocean and sunset. It used to be a fortified city in the 18th century, and the town itself is still surrounded by remnants of its walls and towers. On the pier, surrounded by brightly-painted blue rowboats and fishing vessels, is what remains of the Essaouira Ramparts, with beautiful views of the town itself, and providing soldiers a tactical vantage point to fire upon enemies invading its waters.
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Essaouira is also refreshingly small. At least the town within the city walls. Whereas Marrakech was a jumble of streets, Essaouira only has two major streets, both completely parallel to each other, with the smaller side streets in a gridlike pattern (more or less). You could get lost, but it would be very easy to find your way again. You could also easily walk the whole town within two hours.
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Because of its small size, there really aren’t many attractions in the area. This is a place to unwind, relax, catch some sun, and enjoy the ocean breeze. There is a very big beach that gets crowded in the summer. The Ramparts are the only main attraction here. There are a lot of tourists in town, but the atmosphere here is very chill, relaxed, and calm. The street vendors are not aggressive. We felt extremely lazy here, and we were totally ok with it.
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On the pier, there is are several fish stalls where you can order a plate of fish, and they grill it right in front of you. All the stall prices are fixed, so there’s no danger of being cheated. The fish is also fresh, as the fishing boats come back to harbor around noon with the day’s catch (so it’s best to go at lunchtime!). The sardines are probably some of the best I’ve ever had. On the flip side, we will probably stay away from street food for the rest of our stay in Morocco, as the aftermath of the experience is not something we’d want to try again!
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We stayed at Riad Chakir Mogador, conveniently located next to one of the main streets. It was nice when we’d buy stuff and think “Oh, let’s just go drop this off at our room,” or if there was an emergency, “Oh, let’s go back to our room and use the bathroom.” It’s probably bigger than the riad we stayed at in Marrakech, but a lot cozier and homey.
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Some people stay in Essaouira for a few days, others stay for weeks. We’re only here for 2 nights, but wish we could’ve stayed a 3rd, just to unwind a bit more. 🙂
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Shameless plug: Our YouTube Channel

http://www.youtube.com/sohflo

We’ve been doing a bad job of filming videos during our trip, and when we do, we’ve been doing an equally worse job of uploading them! On top of that, we’ve been adding repetitive YouTube-approved background music to each video! 😀

Anyways, if you haven’t noticed the links in our sidebar, we DO have a YouTube channel, and we try to update it whenever we can obtain a fast wi-fi connection. Please visit and enjoy! 🙂

http://www.youtube.com/sohflo