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A Sweet Break in Paris: The Gourmet Chocolate Museum Choco-story

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Tree Hugger: Because no other tree brings so much joy to my life.

Paris: the city of love, and all things decadent. A person could spend all day gazing at antiquity at the Louvre (or getting left there), shopping at designer boutiques, or gawking at window displays of towering macaroons. But one thing you shouldn’t miss is another decadent experience, one that you and your spouse won’t fight about: Chocolate.

The Gourmet Chocolate Museum in Paris otherwise known as the Choco-story Museum should be on every tourist’s list. It was on 1000 Fights and we are glad we took the time to go there. Sometimes you can feel a little museumed-out in Paris. There is a museum for everything. But take heed. No other museum will leave you wanting to hug a Cacao tree or tasting the best hot chocolate tasting in the world.

The Choco-story: Gourmet Chocolate Museum is relatively new on the museum scene; it opened in 2010.  But that doesn’t mean that it’s any less impressive than some of the century old cousins.

We rode the metro to Bonne Nouvelle and walked a few steps. It was clear this wasn’t a major tourist area. The street leading up the museum was lined with food trucks, with crepes, ice cream, and other delightful sweets at half the price of the area around the Louvre and Eiffel Tower. The visit was starting off right! But I only had one thing in mind: chocolate.

Just one of hundreds of examples of antiquity surrounding chocolate. This particular relic has a cacao bean front and center.

Just one of hundreds of examples of antiquity surrounding chocolate. This particular relic has a cacao bean front and center. Perhaps for fertility?

The entrance price to get into the museum is 9 Euros and 3 Euros for hot chocolate at the end of the tour. I thought the price of the hot chocolate was a little high, but after having it, I would have gladly paid double.

As we entered, I tried not to get distracted as a wall of chocolate at the gift shop beckoned me to taste. But I kept trekking. The first floor of the museum is dedicated to the history of cacao and chocolate. It begins with the basic beginning of chocolate; the cacao bean and how long it’s been worshiped, literally.

Chocolate isn’t older than dirt, but close. Visitors are able to transport themselves back in time and walk through 4000 years of history from the Mayans to the Aztecs to Columbus. No Paris museum would be complete without historical artifacts and the Chocolate Museum is no different. I was surprised the extent of the collection of Mayan and Aztec relics. It painted a picture of how much the cacao influenced the culture. There was even a section on the cacao bean used as currency and as an offering to the God Quetzalcoatl.

Rabbit anyone? It will cost you 10 cacao beans. Aztecs used cacao beans as cash. It was that valuable!

Rabbit anyone? It will cost you 10 cacao beans. Aztecs used cacao beans as cash. It was that valuable!

The second floor of the museum is more modern: the last 500 years, essentially beginning with Columbus’ first taste of the drink Tchocatl (he didn’t like it) to modern Europe. There are cases full of chocolate cups/mugs and chocolate services. You can tell a chocolate cup versus a tea cup because the mouth of the cup is much larger. A chocolate pot will have an opening in the top to froth. There is also a delightful section of antique chocolate boxes.

I discovered to my delight, that a ceramic figurine of a woman I inherited is really a chocolate box from the early 1900s. Chocolate boxes used to be quite ornate and are now collectible After oohing and awing over the chocolate services vs. tea services, we headed downstairs to the basement.

Note the openings for the wooden frothers.

Note the openings on the top of the pot for the wooden frothers.

Just some of the many antique chocolate boxes on display.

Examples of the many antique chocolate boxes on display.

The basement of the museum is dedicated modern chocolate. There are fun games for kids to play.  One of my faves was a computer adapted test to show you which kind of chocolate you like the most and why. I like white (it’s the fat of the cocoa bean) and milk (more sugar). But the best way to end the tour is with a demonstration on how modern chocolate is made. The museum uses commercial grade chocolate from Belgium for its samples and gift shop called Belcolade. It’s worth an airline ticket just to taste it. It’s the second largest chocolate producer in Belgium and they use 100 percent cocoa butter. When

you taste the chocolate, you can tell it’s the real deal.

During the demonstration, a docent shows how a praline filled chocolate is made. The docent had Belcolade chocolate made and then showed how commercial molds and machines help set the chocolate. The sample was amazing, but not as amazing as the hot chocolate. As we exited, we got to choose from six types of chocolate including Aztec, Spanish, speculoos (gingerbread), hazelnut, milk and dark. The hot chocolate isn’t powdered, prepackaged, grossness. It’s a literal chunk of chocolate on a stick that is set in the steaming hot milk to melt and enjoy. When the Chocolate Museum says hot chocolate, they literally mean hot chocolate.

The tour took about two and half hours. You could do the museum in less than hour, but it wouldn’t take more than three. Unlike some museums where I felt tired and overloaded, I left the Chocolate Museum on a sugar high and ready for some more adventure. With all that Paris has to offer, it’s a sweet break not to be missed.

4

Painted Ladies: A San Francisco Walk About

Its time to fall in love with some painted Ladies in San Francisco.  The Fighting Couple has been on lots of tours and by tours we mean, academic, informative, open-ended questions, catered to a small group, kind of tours. We don’t follow umbrellas. We learn so much on “good” tours that we like to go on tours even when it’s a city we have been to many times.

There are three types of Victorian homes: Italiantes, Queen Anne and Stick.

There are three types of Victorian homes: Italianate, Queen Anne and Stick.

So on a recent couple’s trip to San Francisco;I jumped at the chance to go on a Victorian Home Walk.  Enter our guide, Jay.  Jay gave one of the best tours I’ve ever been on.  I’ve always had a fascination with Victorian homes. I find them beautiful and after going on the walk with Jay, I adore them even more.

Painted Ladies Tour

I met Jay with a few other folks at Union Square. As an introduction to what we would be seeing, he explained how the area once was full of single family housing prior to the 1906 earthquake.  Standing there looking at a crowed shopping center and the sea of humanity milling around, it’s hard to imagine the now commercialized area was once home to thousands before the fire associated with the earthquake leveled the wooden homes. Jay was very knowledgeable about the housing patterns before and after the earthquake and fire changed the city.  I have a mid-blog post confession.  I am curious. (Mike would say nosey!)  You know when you are on a “good” tour when the tour guide can actually answer your questions!

Pacific Heights

Our exploration of the antique homes took us to the Pacific Heights area. Going on the Victorian Home Walk is just that: a walking tour.   Our first stop was the gorgeous Queen Anne Hotel. How I want to stay there! Before we went inside, Jay trained us to spot the three types of Victorian homes: Italianate, Queen Anne, and Stick. Then we ventured inside the splendid hotel and had free rein to look around. It’s gorgeous! The former girl’s school is a Victorian’s dream hotel. Its plush interior and ornate furnishings represent classic Victorian style, and like Jay said, “No one could stuff a room like a Victorian.”

Gorgeous example of craftsmanship, but the paint is far from authentic.

Gorgeous example of craftsmanship, but the paint is far from authentic.

As we walked down Pine Street to Webster and over to Broadway, Jay pointed out how Victorian homes changed over time. As technology improved, the outside of homes became more decorative. But then it wasn’t hip anymore to look ostentatious. For instance, during the 30s and 40s any ornate fixtures on the outside of the homes were replaced to make it look more modern or in my humble opinion: plain. The exteriors were painted stucco or replaced with dull siding. The first floor gardens of the Italianates were removed to make room for the automobile. The boxed shaped livery stables are now condos.

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My favorite home on the tour. It’s so delicate.

One of my biggest fascinations was the change in color of Victorian homes. Painted Lady, anyone? No, that’s not a Yuppie drink at your favorite bar. It’s the term originated in San Francisco for Victorians painted with three or more colors. Most Victorian homes weren’t painted that way to begin with; in fact, painting your restored Victorian multiple colors to accent the trim and gingerbread didn’t become popular until the 1960s. Originally, Victorians were painted with three colors: the window trim was painted black or very dark green, highlights were white and the overall house color was one color, usually an earth tone that would not fade or show the dirt like brown or dark green. If you see a beautiful home today with a rainbow of colors (yellow, green, blue, red), it’s fun and makes the house pop, but it’s following the pop culture of 40 years ago, not the original color schemes.

Another classic Italianate style Victorian.

Another classic Italianate style Victorian. Note how there is now a garage where a garden once grew.

The pace of the tour was steady, but not like a race. I never felt at any time that I was rushed. It was also casual enough that there was appropriate downtime to quiz our guide on the things we were seeing. “Why does this house have three doors?  Why does this house have a bay window but the one next door doesn’t?  When was this built?” You get the gist. I’m sure Jay was glad when I stopped asking questions!  This tour tops our things to do in San Francisco list.

Did you know that you can “Ask the Fighting Couple Anything?”

Celebrity Mansions

The tour lasted roughly two and a half hours. We ended the tour in the she-she-la-la area of celebrity mansions overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Jay pointed out Jessica McClintock mansion-painted all white like her designer wedding gowns. We saw the house from Mrs. Doubtfire and the house a few doors down where Robin Williams lived. Jay was full of celebrity gossip from those who live or lived in the area. But you’ll have to go on the tour; I won’t dish any here.

What struck me most about this tour was Jay’s unique knowledge about the individual homes we saw. It’s wasn’t the kind of stuff you could find in a history book. It was the type of information he personally gathered from living in the city and doing tours for 20 years.  Most of all, I never felt like I was on parade. In fact, I felt like a local being shown around by a local. I wasn’t on tour bus with a bored driver reading an approved script over a microphone.  I was shown a local side of San Francisco, a place where people live.  

Jay the Victorian home fountain of knowledge.

Jay the Victorian home fountain of knowledge.

And just like a local, when we ended the tour at the Union Street Shops, Jay showed us which restaurants to the get the best sandwich, the best pasta and the best seafood. I treated myself to a to a pumpkin spice cream puff at Pacific Puffs.

The next time you are in San Francisco; don’t miss the  Victorian Home Walk. It will be the best $25 you spend in the city.

A special thank you goes out to our friends at Victorian Home Walk who provided this experience.  Check some gorgeous painted ladies out next time you are in San Francisco.

17

Two Turkish Delights

One of the great under-discovered locations we have visited is Turkey.   We want to take you to two of the most interesting places to visit on your holiday in Turkey.

girl hot springs Pamukkale-The Cotton Castle

Have you ever wanted to walk on clouds?  A visit to Pamukkale will give you that chance.  Located in central Turkey is one of the world’s geological wonders.  Pamukkale in Turkish or Cotton Castle in English was formed by the 17 hot springs in the area.  Water coming from the springs ranges from  95 °F (35 °C ) to  212 °F  (100 °C)!  The water carries calcium carbonate that creates white deposits called travertine.  The creation is so striking.  As we drove into the area the stark white cliffs took our breath away.  The entire side of the cliffs are made up of small pools that drip down to the next.  It almost looks like the entire side of the mountain is covered in snow.

What to do?

view of hot springsHow does soaking in natural hot springs and swimming around the ruins of a Greek Temple of Hierapolis sound?  Drive up the back side of the mountain to the large parking area.  There you have two options.  You can head for yourself and go from pool to pool along the cliff.  The water is not “hot” but the pools are lukewarm.  They are not very deep, not even close for any kind of swimming, but more suited for sitting and soaking.  This is an extremely popular place for both Turks and visitors from abroad. This has been the case for the past 2000+ years!  The best part of taking in the pools is the view of the valley in the distance.  Beautiful!

The second option is to take in the Pamukkale resort.  It is a facility that surrounds the pools with the Greek ruins.  There is a nominal charge to go swimming.  There are facilities for food, clothing change as well as lounging and people watching.

Pamukkle hot springs

In addition to enjoying the hot springs, the Pamukkale area is surrounded by archaeological and cultural historic sites.  One of the seven churches of Revelation is located a short distance away.  Check out our recent post on visiting all seven of the locations.

 The Best of Bodrum

Our next stop on our Turkish adventure is the beach resort city of Bodrum.  If you’re looking for a Turkish escape that will stir your senses, a holiday to Bodrum will be perfect for you. This picture perfect resort hums with the hustle and bustle of locals and holiday makers alike enjoying the sunshine in the beautiful Bodrum bay.

Situated on the south western side of Turkey, Bodrum commands a stunning coastline that marries with the Aegean Sea. Enjoy long, lazy days relaxing on Bodrum’s golden beaches, not forgetting to dabble in some fun water sports to ensure you have a holiday to remember. Bodrum is perfect for families with small children, thanks to the warm, shallow waters that gently lap the soft sands – perfect for paddling and building sandcastles with the kids! There’s a lot for the grownups to enjoy too, such as a romantic sunset stroll along the shore sinking your toes into the soft sand.  Highly recommended!

Romantic Bodrum

If you fancy exploring on holiday, you won’t be disappointed with the sights and sounds of this picture perfect location. The breathtaking Bodrum Castle is a must see, as well as the cosmopolitan marina dotted with colorful boats creating a contrast of the traditional and modern. The castle hosts several fabulous festivals every year, creating a party atmosphere not to be missed – it’s definitely worth trying to tie your holiday date in with one of these events if you love to dance the night away. Take a stroll through the old town, barter with the locals for fine handmade goods or get lost in a bustling bazaar for an hour or two. There’s no shortage of new sights to discover in Bodrum, so you’re guaranteed a new experience every day of your holiday.

One of the best ways to visit this wonderful corner of the world is to join a tour operator. You can book Thomas Cook packages to Bodrum at any time of year, as the Mediterranean climate ensures hot, sunny, summer days and mild, balmy winters.

Add these two wonderful Turkish destinations to your travel plans.

 

2

Tell us your Mistletoe Moment and Win $150

We are looking for the best Mistletoe Moment from 2012!  The lovely winner will be awarded a $150 Visa gift card!  Wow!  Finally it is OK to Kiss and Tell!

Christmas kissSo what exactly is a Mistletoe Moment you ask?

Simply put, it’s a moment in time when you and your special someone get taken in by your surroundings, the sights, and smells but most of all, each other!  You could be with 10,000 tourists in St. Mark’s Square in Venice or in the middle of the Amazon where you are surrounded by 10,000 bugs!  It could be anywhere/anyone?/anytime but it MUST be magical!

The holidays are a wonderful time to remind us the importance of one another.  Here at 1000Fights we believe that the greatest gift we give is each other.   We celebrate all of you couples, especially those of you that get out and explore the world together.

 

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The Kahles our 2011 Winners

To get your creative juices going, here is the winner from 2011 :

The Kahle’s from Wanderlivin

“A wedding can mean many different things to different people. To the bride it’s the most important day of her life. That’s why when I was told my hairdresser canceled on me the day before the wedding I tried to shake it off. When half of my family couldn’t come because of Hurricane Irene I tried to shake it off. When my photographer didn’t show up – I couldn’t shake it off. Walking down the aisle in distress I saw my husband and the way he looked at me as I walked down the aisle. When I reached him I pulled his face down for a kiss before the minister could even start as the waves of Monterrey Bay crashed around us and bridesmaids giggled at the ministers disapproval.”

You can read the other great entries from last year HERE.

 

How to enter?  Just two easy steps:

1) In 50-ish words or less, tell us about your “Mistletoe Moment” in the comments section below.  We want all the details: when, where and why.

2) Give us a “like” 1000Fights on Facebook here.  Then leave a comment,: “I had a Mistletoe Moment!” Here.

Stay tuned we will soon announce our celebrity Judges.

 

The Fine Print    (sorry, but it’s really not that bad.)

1) Mistletoe Moment must have taken place in 2012.

2) Entries will be accepted till midnight December 24th, 2012.

3) Final selections will be made by our awesome panel of judges. (To be announced soon!)

4) We will announce the winner on our webpage on December 26th, 2012.

5) This contest is not valid where prohibited. (What a terrible place to be!)

6) Please keep Mistletoe Moments rated (PG-13 or PG, no G’s allowed!)

7) Prize will be delivered via Paypal, or another agreeable method.

8) The last one we promise…remember its OK to Kiss and tell!

 

Please share our little contest with your friends!!!  Just click below to share on Facebook or Twitter.  (Thank you!)

5

3 tips for Sun Seeking in the South of Spain

The Spanish do a lot of things very well: revolution, paella and SUNSHINE!  With its sun soaked beaches, lofty climbs, and vibrant cities, Spain continues to invite sun seekers from near and far.   We want to take you along to visit three of our favorite locations for the perfect holiday in Spain.  Don’t forget the sunscreen.

Gaudi BarcelonaThe Terraces of Barcelona

Let’s start our sun seeking tour at the heart of Southern Spain, Barcelona.  Barcelona’s mix of style, art, and warmth beckons sun seekers.  One of the central figures of the city is the renowned master architect Gaudi.  His thumbprint is all over the cityscape.  Barcelona is home to one of his masterpieces which is a sun seekers dream: Park Güell.  For the “un-Spanished” the word Güell is pronounced “Gwell”.   The park is actually an abandoned upscale housing development envisioned by Gaudi which included villas, an elaborate water collection system, shops and the highlight, the gardens.  Gaudi’s talent was injecting animals and nature themes into his designs.   The park is filled with little touches that create interesting finds at every turn.  The focus of the park is its outlining benches.  The tile benches surround the city facing portion of the park.  Gaudi elected to use a snake like theme, which creates these small intimate bends and nooks for sitting with your loved one enjoying the sun.

Getting to Park Guell is a little bit of a chore.  By Metro, Take the green line to the stop “Lesseps”.  From there follow the signs that lead to the entrance of the park.  It is a roughly a 20 minute walk.  It is located at the top of a steep hill.  The effort is well worth it!

Montserrat

TramThe next stop on our Southern Spain sun tour is the mountaintop location, Santa Maria de Montserrat.  This wonderful Benedictine abbey is located 30 miles west of Barcelona.  It is perfect for a daytrip outside the city.  From this wonderful perch you can take in one of the most amazing views in all of Catalonia.  There are a number of small hikes that you can take from the abbey.  This is going to sound a little crazy, but the food at the cafeteria of the abbey is actually really good.   There is not an entrance fee to the Montserrat Monastery but if you wish to visit the museum the entrance fee costs €6.50 for adults.  Of course, you are there for the sun.  Pack a picnic and take a walk across the smooth stones of the mountain top and take in the glorious sunshine.

Getting to Montserrat is half the fun.  Shrug off the easy way and forgo the cram packed tour bus.  Simply catch the Line R5 train headed toward Manresa at the Espanya rail station.  Tickets are very affordable.  I don’t think we paid over $20.  It takes about an hour to get from the Espanya station to the Montserrat stop.  Once there, enter the ticket office and purchase your tram ticket.  Pick a spot to stand near the windows and make sure your camera is set, because the ride up to the top is simply amazing!

Did you know that you can ask the Fighting Couple Anything?  Yes!  “Ask us Anything!”

Costa Brava

The grand finale in our sun seeking adventure is heading up the coastline to wonderful Costa Brava or “Wild Coast”.  The Costa Brava stretches from Barcelona all the way to the border of France.  If you are into sun, sand, and seclusion this is your place.  Unlike its twin sister Nice, France further up the coast, Costa Brava continues to be one of the great under-discovered locations.

Some of the best beaches on the Costa Brava are near Palamos.  The Platja de Castell with it’s warm sand and relative seclusion is one of the areas finest.  The sapphire colored water is so inviting!  You can also follow the old smugglers trail to a wonderful ocean viewpoint on the east end of the beach.  Bring or rent a sand chair, open a good book, and soak up as much sun as you like.

There are a number of different accommodations levels, everything from wonderful resorts like the Rehana Royal Beach Resort to more rustic abodes.  Access to the beach is the key.  We highly recommend you have a car for traveling the Costa Brava region.  Public transport is scare and unreliable.

So these are our recommendations for sun seeking in the South of Spain.  Tell us, what is your favorite places to seek the sun?  Island destinations?  Swanky resorts?  Leave us a comment below.  See you in Barcelona!

6

Our Day of Decadence in SFO

Move over wine, there is a new industry in the Northern California: one that is creamier, cheaper, and won’t get your fired if you keep it in your desk drawer and partake all day.

Chocolate.

Sure, San Francisco is known for Ghirardelli; A chocolate so popular there is an entire city square named after it. But if you think Ghirardelli is the only chocolate maker in town, you will be missing out on the city’s emerging industry. Just Google artisan chocolate in San Francisco and you’ll get more than 200,000 hits!

The Bay area is quickly becoming the United States gourmet chocolate heart. Fueled by technology moguls who have given up buying vineyards and making wine with their millions (that’s so 1993), many of these dotcom wonders are turning to creating the next best thing: chocolate.

Chocolate San Francisco1000 Fights got an up close and personal tour of the city’s best chocolate stores and chocolatiers. As part of Gourmet Walks Chocolate Tour we got the 411 on the city’s best chocolate while learning about how chocolate is made and why you should eat it (not a problem for us). As part of an intimate tour, the group only had seven people. Now the Fighting Couple are very particular about tours. We don’t like big tours and we expect someone who knows their stuff. We got just the right kind of experience with the Gourmet Chocolate Tour. It was a small tour and Beth knew a lot about chocolate, but more about San Francisco. That’s the benefit of a tour, you get the chance to interact with locals, asking your questions and get a different perspective.

Our tour guide Beth began with some chocolate education by showing us what chocolate comes from: the cacao bean. We got to touch, smell and worship the bean. Beth explained the entire chocolate miracle: from the bean to production. We even got to taste the cacao nibs, which are cacao beans that have been roasted. It’s the rawest form of edible chocolate. We also learned why 1000 Fights loves white chocolate. It’s the fat of the bean. Yes, white chocolate is the cacao butter and unfortunately, doesn’t have the same health benefits as milk and dark chocolate. However, it won’t stop us from eating it.

How to eat ChocolateOur walking tour started at Justin Herman’s Plaza and moved into the bustling Ferry Building Market Place. We started at the self-proclaimed chocolate mecca, Scharffen Berger, where we got a first of many tastes as part of the Gourmet Walks. Just like fine wine, we were told to enjoy the chocolate experience. Instead of popping and chomping on the chocolate immediately, look at it, feel it, smell it and enjoy it. Let the taste sink into your palate and close your eyes. Absorb the chocolate and decipher the flavor. Does it taste of fruit, woods, milk or cream? Remember, wine and chocolate are some of the world’s finest substances, savor them.

The tour continued to Recchiuti’s, local chocolatier where we enjoyed spring Jasmine Tea Chocolate: Jasmine blossoms and green team infusion blended with pure dark chocolate and Burnt Caramel Chocolate: smoky burnt caramel infused in fresh cream with 70 percent dark chocolate paired with spring water. Recchiuti’s is gourmet chocolate on steroids. Just walking into the shop, makes you feel swanky. Even the walls are covered with its descriptions of chocolate heaven-including Lavender Vanilla Chocolates and my personal favorite, Lemon Verbena with organic local lemon verbena steeped into whole cream and blended into decadent chocolate ganache.

Next we continued through the Ferry Building to LaCocina, a local company which specializing in giving local food entrepreneurs a leg up. We had the opportunity to eat the up and coming NeoCocoa truffles including Salted Caramel Milk Chocolate Truffle with Hawaiian black lava sea salt and the seasonal Pumpkin Spice Truffle. If you go to San Francisco, check out the Ferry Building Marketplace. There aren’t just chocolates there. While we were on the tour, we found  ourselves wishing we had more time to come back and take it in a bit more.

ChocolateAs Beth led us out of the Ferry Building, we started towards Fog City News. In true San Francisco style, we saw a protest. Free Tibet! Locals will say if you don’t see a protest or someone scantily clad or less, you haven’t seen the true San Francisco. As we snaked along the city, we stopped in on Fog City News. The news stand and chocolate shop carries any magazine from any country you want and the chocolate to go with it. The staff personally tries every chocolate offered and I interrogated them, “What does this taste like, do you recommend it, what else would you buy?” The staff knew the answers! You can get chocolate from the world at Fog City News as well as local Northern California favorites. I bought Maison Bouche’s Fleur de Pecher (that’s a peach blossom chocolate for those of you in Lake Woebegone) and Ginger Elizabeth’s Vanilla Been Toffee Almond Desert Bar.

LeonidasAt every stop on the tour, we tasted the incredible offerings, including hot chocolate (at Leonidas) and the opportunity to buy chocolate. The tour even offered a discount card. It made a dent into the $80 worth of chocolate I bought along the way. Beth told us to pace ourselves with the chocolate. I did well until the sixth stop and by then I couldn’t fit anymore chocolate in my stomach. Luckily, we could take it in our “to go bag,” that included Swiss Chocolate maker Teuscher’s famous champagne truffles, obsessed by celebrities including Oprah.  One of the biggest takeaways from the tour is that unlike wine, fine chocolate won’t run you hundreds of dollars. The most expensive chocolate in the world is a fraction of the price of the world’s most expensive wine. For a couple of dollars, you can get a piece of chocolate flown in from the capitals of Europe or better yet, Northern California!

White ChocolateThe three hour tour ended at the Piece de Resistance: CocoaBella Chocolates in the Westfield San Francisco Center for even more tasting and explanations of the chocolate industry. CocoaBella carries designer chocolates from around the world. If it’s not beautiful and tastes amazing, CocoaBella doesn’t carry it. I couldn’t resist buying the Vanilla Cupcake Chocolate made with sweet cream and vanilla frosting ganache mixed with tiny cake pieces from Norman Love, a chocolatier in Florida or Turin Italy’s Guido Gobino’s Peppermint Infused White Chocolate. I bought the most chocolate here, including CocoaBella’s Hazelnut Toffee with Alaea Hawaiian Salt. Luckily, I have hid it where no one in my family can find it.

There’s no better way to spend an afternoon in San Francisco than walking around the iconic city and tasting the mind blowing, marriage altering, moan inducing chocolate of the town. We highly recommend Gourmet Walks. We can’t wait to go back and check out their other tours. After all we, left our heart and more chocolate we’d like to taste in San Francisco.

 

A special thank you goes out to our friends at Gourmet Walks who provided this experience.  Check them out next time you are in San Francisco.

2

Finding London’s Famous Faces

Coming from a very young country, visiting London is a journey back in history.  One of the most exciting things about a trip to London is discovering the famous people who have been there before you. Dotted throughout the historic cities of Europe are these round or oval blue colored plaques.

The London blue plaques are a great way of exploring the city’s rich scientific, political, and literary heritage. They allow the lives, births, deaths and achievements of the great and influential to be mapped out across the entire cityscape.  It is a great way to spend a day, or better yet, map out the locations between stops during your exploration of London!

It’s easy to underestimate just how many famous people have graced London’s historic roads and buildings. Here is a look at some of the iconic destinations in the London city center and a guide to the famous faces who have helped make them so recognizable.

St Paul’s Cathedral

St Pauls

St Pauls (Photo credit: dicktay2000)

The iconic dome and spires of St Paul’s Cathedral are some of the most recognizable architectural delights of the entire city. With its origins dating back to 604 AD, this important Church of England cathedral has had its fair share of powerful and important people grace its halls. Stand where the powerful and influential stood!

Some of the important services that have taken place in St Paul’s include the funerals for the politician Sir Winston Churchill and the battle leaders Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. The wedding of Charles and Lady Diana Spencer also took place in St Paul’s, as did the 80th Birthday and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

 

Lloyds of London

Lloyds of LondonFor any self-respecting insurance practitioner, a visit to London would not be complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal of assurance: Lloyds.  What originally started in the humble beginnings of Lloyds coffee house, has become the leading insurance marketplace in the world.  Today you can stand in the lobby where just above you nearly $50 Billion worth of insurance will be traded.  Look for your blue plaque on Lombard street highlighting the once located coffee house.

While you may not recognize many of the names that acted as brokers or traders on the floor of Lloyd’s. You will certainly appreciate some of the names that have been insured here.  Let’s start with legs and move up.  Betty Grables, Brooke Shields, and of course Tina Turner’s legs were all insured here.    The bosoms of both Tempest Storm and Holly Madison were well endowed with coverage.  Jimmy Durante’s nose was covered for $1 million.  And to top it off, NFL star Troy Polamalu’s thick mane of hair is insured for $1 million.

 

Westminster Abbey

Westminster AbbyWestminster is on the top of every visitor’s must-see list. However, it’s easy to underestimate just how many famous people have graced its magnificent halls.

The Gothic style church has had its fair share of history, from the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066 through to the royal wedding of Catherine Middleton and Prince William in 2011.  Walk down the aisle with your own Prince Charming!

Finally, famous burials in the Abbey have included Isaac Newton, William Wilberforce and Charles Darwin.

If you really want to immerse yourself in the history of our capital then why not spend some time staying within the city limits? If you’re looking for affordable accommodation when visiting these iconic spots, Tower Bridge Hotel is just one of many affordable, comfortable and stylish options which are available.

Enjoy your tour of London!  Please send up you pics with your favorite blue plaque!

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Putting the Boom! in Boomer Travel

We are excited to introduce you to the next traveling couple in our 7 Questions series.  Meet the traveling “Baby Boomers” Wayne and Pat of Unhook now.  Wayne and Pat truly but the “Boom!” in Boomer travel.  So here’s their story:  after owning a business, teaching at the university level, they rented out their home and are spending two years visiting 100 countries!  They invite you come along and see the world through their eyes!  Candidly, Luci and want to be like them when we grow up.

 

baby boomer travelHow to follow these two:

Blog:  www.UnhookNow.com
Facebook www.Facebook.com/PlanYourEscapeNow
Twitter:  @wdunlap

Lets get to the questions:

1) Over 100 countries visited? Wow! How has travel brought you together as a couple?

Wayne said: “Travel has greatly improved our lives together with a renewed outlook on life. Traveling with only a suitcase has shown us that we do not need stuff to be happy. Now we find much more important the people, friends, and new experiences in our lives. Our travel experience has changed our life. Together we love to have more adventures, romance, learning, having fun, laughing, and waking up excited about the day.”

Pat Said: “Choosing to run away with my husband and best friend has been the most rewarding lifestyle change one can make. Life without routines is inspiring and renews your playful spirit and love of life. It’s brought us closer together.”

1000Fights: You two are incredible! 

 

Riding elephant2) If you had to travel with someone else besides your travel partner, who would it be? (this person can be living, historical or mythical)

Wayne Said: “Marco Polo – He was amazing traveling to an unknown world returning 24 years later. He met Kublai Khan and inspired Christopher Columbus and others. As a travel writer, I am impressed that his book about his journeys became one of the most popular books in medieval Europe and had great impact.”

Pat Said: “Besides my husband, hum… I guess it would be my long time friend, Diane, who is a great artist and sees the beauty everywhere we go. She is so much fun and we laugh.”

 

3) What has been your favorite destination in your wanderings? Why?

Wayne said: “We do a lot of research before we take off so we have been pretty lucky in having most places have something special. With so many wonderful places in the world with such diversity of customs, food, history, beliefs, and architecture, it is difficult to pick just one favorite. So here are some favorites – Italy with its amazing culture, beautiful cities, history, cuisine, and diverse scenery; the Greek Islands for the people, astounding beauty of the ocean and white architecture, winding stone streets of the old towns, trellis-covered tavernas, and food; New Zealand with the amazing beauty and laid-back people; and Thailand for its warm people of Buddhist faith, amazing food, and architecture.”

Pat said: “I also loved China’s canal city of Suzhou and the very modern city of Shanghai in China blow us away. Uruguay is wonderful for its natural beauty.”

 

Hiking glacier4) If you had to eat one last meal, what/where would you eat?

Wayne said: “With the large diversity of great food around the world, best is hard to pick. Here are favorites that come to mind: food and cheese in France, free-range beef in Buenos Aires, fish head curry and chili crab in Singapore, sukiyaki and okonomiyaki in Japan, and the authentic version of fish and chips wrapped in newspaper in an English pub.”

Pat said: “I would add lobster from U.S.’s New England and lobster pizza in Bequia in the Caribbean Grenadines, real pasta in Italy, Greek food in the Greek Islands, and padang curry in Thailand. This has made me hungry.”

1000Fights:  Ok…we are hungry!

 

5) Looks like you have taken a number of cruises. What appeals to you both about cruises? Is there a line that you prefer?

Pat said: “As soon as I step on a cruise ship I get a sense of immediately being on vacation and leaving worries and routines at home. The experience is a playground for adults and a fantasy. Cruises can take you to many interesting places, you can do as little or as much as you like, and there is no need to move luggage around, wait in airports, or worry about finding accommodations and transportation. We like Holland American Line for its value-price cruises, good destination itineraries, and great service and food.”

Wayne said: “What surprises many people is that cruising can be an economical way to travel. Especially during less popular weeks, many cruises can be a bargain when you consider they are all inclusive including lodging, transportation, great food (and more food), entertainment, shows, movies, lectures, shopping, activities, dancing, swimming, work out and other recreational facilities, and a relaxing enjoyable travel experience.

We include cruises on our travel adventures for many reasons. First, we like to have some downtime to relax and plan our future travel. Also, we will take a cruise that goes to a unique area we are not sure we would be interested in spending a lot of time exploring. On one of our trips through Asia, we included a cruise out of Singapore to see some of Indonesia and Malaysia. Sometimes a cruise to a unique area will entice us to go back. Our passion for the Greek Islands was sparked by a cruise (on our honeymoon).”

 

Thailand girls6) If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?

Wayne said: “We try not to live with regret or dislike. When it comes to world travel, we wish our government and news media would make less use of fear of the world when attempting to control people and sell media. You do need to use common sense and always be aware of your security but we learned that the world and the people you meet can be wonderful, generous, and lovely.”

Pat said: “I keep thinking about world peace. Everywhere we go people are kind, generous, and have the same problems we have. If people travel more, they will see that people around the world have more similarities than differences and hatred and war is not necessary.”

 

7) You knew it was coming… What has been your greatest travel fight/disagreement?

Pat said: “My intuitive sense of danger comes up once in a while that at first annoyed Wayne. We have never had any safety issues after traveling 100 countries together and he now appreciates the early warning system.”

 1000Fights:  Pat, you can travel with us anytime!  We need your talent!

Wayne said: “Spending all your time together for weeks can at times be overwhelming. I used to get disturbed when we would go to another shopping opportunity. So, we now occasionally split up and go your separate ways for a few hours or a whole day. This is great advice for couples. One might want to be active and explore while the other needs a rest and wants to read a book. One partner may want to go shopping while the other explores another museum or has a drink with friends. You can meet up later at lunch or dinner and will find your conversations lively as you share your adventures with each other.”

1000Fights:  Wayne, you and Mike are cut from the same cloth.

 

Wayne and Pat Dunlap are travel TV hosts (Plan Your Escape™) on the CW network and travel columnist for the Huffington Post. They have been fortunate to live their dreams and are members of the exclusive Travelers’ Century Club. In total, they have visited 100 countries and island groups on 6 continents as well as 44 U.S. states.

Thanks again to Wayne and Pat for sharing.  Please check out their blog at www.unhooknow.com.

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The Traveling Innkeepers

They welcome the world’s travelers and then travel the world themselves: Meet the Traveling Innkeepers: Dan and Becky.

Dan and Becky are the proud owners of Prince Edward Island’s cozy Kindred Spirit Inn. 1000Fights has already previewed the Inn’s amazing culinary breakfast, now we’d like to introduce you to the owners of this comfortable and Anne-like property. With a name like Kindred Spirits, you imagine just how friendly the Inn really is! The Fighting Couple instantly felt a kindred spirit with Dan and Becky. They are the younger, more successful and attractive version of Mike and Luci!

Cordoba  Spain

Dan and Becky visiting Cordoba, Spain

Dan and Becky are true Islanders who both grew up on Prince Edward Island.  Dan’s grew up at Kindred Spirits after his parents ditched their desk jobs and bought the property and remodeled it.  Cavendish, PEI, the home of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s famous novel Anne of Green Gables, is visited by thousands of people a year.

Dan’s family lived in the Inn, but when tourist season hit from May to October, he moved out and his room became someone else’s! “I grew up with people from all over the world. I was constantly exposed to new people and new ideas.”

Growing up in PEI is a kid’s dream. It’s as idyllic as Anne describes it. “My range was only limited by geography. I could go to the beach myself and bike as far as I wanted; I just had to be back for supper — that was the rule,” Dan reminisces.

Becky and Dan married and bought the property from Dan’s folks. Becky has a knack for organization and started working at Kindred Spirits when she was in high school. Running the Inn, is a 24 hour, 7 day a week job.  And when something needs to be done, Dan and Becky fill in for every role of their 20 employees from security to house keeper, to cook to maintenance man.

But when the tourists leave, Dan and Becky do too. They take the winter and spring to tour the world.

No matter where they have traveled and they have traveled all over: New Zealand, Argentina, Thailand, Costa Rica, just to name a few, people make the difference. From the time a stranger helped them through the chaos of 100 people yelling and screaming in the Panama Airport or to the hotel clerk who helped Dan find his wallet that he left in a cab in Krabi, Thailand, the kindness of others when Dan and Becky travel, make them committed to ensuring that those who stay at Kindred Spirits have an impeccable experience.

Elephant in Thailand

The Traveling Innkeepers in Chaing Mail, Thailand

“Service is never inauthentic,” says Dan. “Everyone who comes to visit PEI is on their vacation and 99 percent of them are having the best days of the year. That’s what makes our jobs great. If you are a lawyer or an accountant, you are dealing with people on their worst days of the year.”

“The tourists are the best part of the job. We meet our guests as they come through the door,” Becky added. “Our job isn’t to be right; our job is to make guests feel comfortable.”

They are so committed to making things as gracious as can be at Kindred Spirits, that Becky keeps a travel notebook when they travel to record the “Wow” moments to help replicate them at Prince Edward Island. Like the time, they were in Argentina and they stayed at a place that invited them to sit and have coffee. “The act of sitting and sharing coffee was very meaningful. They walked us to our room. It was different from being checked in behind a cold, sterile, desk,” Becky explained.

We personally experienced this with the Inn’s cookies and tea service in the evening. In fact, when we arrived there was an entire list of social activities that guests could do to mingle with other guests and the staff.

Being in the travel business has also made Dan and Becky more critical of what they see on the road. “We are ruined,” Becky says about going to other hotels to stay. “We can’t walk into a property without seeing what’s wrong and what’s right. It’s certainly allowed us to relate.”

Better yet, the two are also fighters!  One of their highlights: they didn’t realize they needed a Visa to get to Vietnam. “And that was the time we almost went to Vietnam,” Becky laughs. They didn’t have their Visa so when they got to the airport and the ticket agent asked to see it; they had to change their plans immediately! It’s a 1000 Fight Nightmare! The story did end well, they ended up going to Malaysia instead!

Want to learn more about Kindred Spirits?  Check our recent post!

 

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On the Road Less Traveled

We took turn after turn on dusty lonely dirt trails, passing thick plantations of tall lush trees and seemingly deserted shanty towns.  The setting sun was casting a red hue on the trees that matched the color of the road.  We finally reached our appointed destination, a small bed and breakfast located on a small rise overlooking forest and meadow.

flat African tree

Beautiful Swaziland

Our travel weariness must have been written on our faces.  The welcoming attendant at the front desk dispatched two young women to mind our luggage and settle us comfortably in our assigned abode.  The service offered by this small establishment rivaled any 5 star hotel.  The proprietors were a lovely Dutch couple and was completely staffed by young women.  Our short stay at this little outpost of hospitality has forever changed Luci and I.  Our hearts were struck by the hospitality, generosity and sheer beauty of the place.  The paradise we have described is Swaziland.

“You are going where??!!”  is usually the typically response we get when we tell friends and family about our next adventure destination.  “Why would you want to go to (insert remote location)?”  The answer is in the paragraph above.  Now the rest of the story from the portrait above.  Swaziland suffers from a number of challenges, poverty, hunger, disease epidemics and numerous social ills.  They don’t tend to put those on the glossy tourist websites. As a traveler, you can choose to let this scare you off, or you can dig deeper and find a treasure as we did in Swaziland.

In addition to Swaziland, we want to introduce you to some off the beaten travel destinations that might change your life.  Strap on your walking shoes, its time for adventure!

Bosnia

We are often asked which has been our favorite location out of the travels, Luci will always say Turkey (stay tuned!).  Mine would be Bosnia.  Bosnia is frankly one of the most beautiful, intriguing, and difficult places we have been.  Our trip, which wasn’t an extended one by any stretch, gave me a taste for a land filled with lush forests, dramatic waterfalls, towering mosques, and war hardened residents.  Bosnia offer travelers historical insights, out of door adventures including hiking, rafting and camping.

Greek coloumnsTurkey

As a kid, I always dreamt of being teleported back in time.  I wanted to live history.  I wanted to see, taste, smell, and interact with the scenes of great literature.  Turkey has made this boyhood dream a living reality.   The characters of the bible walked the same streets as I did.  We drank from the same springs.  I ate wonderful olives, savory meats from a roadside kabab, and partook of the most amazing Baklava!  Turkey brings history to life.

Read about our Open Love Letter to Istanbul.

Turkey was a surprise to both Luci and I.  We were discussing where we might want to go in Eastern Europe.  Turkey came up and we both said, yea….Turkey.  We started our in-depth research about the country, began our quest to learn everything we could about the history, culture and language.  Turkey offers great shopping in the Grand Bazaar, delicious cuisine, ultra friendly natives, and a window into history that has no rival.

Maldives

“Where exactly are the Maldives?” Ask most people, and they might have a challenge pointing the country out on a map.  The collection of roughly 1000 islands is located due south of India and west of the African Continent.  The island country is bathed in the Indian ocean. The temperature ranges from 75 to 90 degrees year round, making it a wonderful year round destination.  It offer travelers seclusion that rivaled by few places.

beach

Lovely Maldives

The most difficult choice is which island and resort to pick!  There are so many options for holidays to Maldives.   Lodging offerings range from Spartan shacks on the beach to five-star full service resorts.  The warm clear waters offer great snorkeling and diving.  Rent a boat and go island hopping.

A few words of warning about traveling off the beaten path.  First, be prepared.  Do your homework. Then be completely flexible.  Things including hotels, roads, and people that were to be there for you might not exist.  This is truly the beauty of traveling where few do.   One of our tricks to traveling well is humility and openness.  You must be willing to try new food, smell new smells?, and be completely removed from your comfort zone.  In return the dividends of off the beaten path travel will greatly enrich your life.

Tell us, where have you traveled off the beaten path?  What lessons have you learned?  Where would you like to go?

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