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A Rainy Day in Munich

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Traveling isn't always sunshine and sparkles and rainbows. Sometimes you're sick. Sometimes you're tired. Sometimes the weather sucks. And sometimes those three things combined make you just want to spend all day lying in bed at home.

For me, Munich is one of those places that needs a second chance. While I had been looking forward to my trip to Bavaria all year long, unfortunately I picked the worst possible time to go. I was just getting over mono, I had just gotten home from a whirlwind trip to Prague and Vienna, and the weather was making Seattle look like paradise. On top of that, I unknowingly booked my tickets during Frühlingsfest, Munich's mini Oktoberfest held in the spring. Sounds fun, right? Sadly, not only was I thoroughly exhausted and running on empty, but I also have Celiac disease. (In other words, no Frühlingsfest beer for Courtney.) I felt like the definition of lame.

A maypole in Viktualienmarkt

The silver lining? Munich was absolutely stunning. It was the perfect town to leisurely stroll through without an agenda. The architecture was delightfully picturesque, sprawling green parks were scattered throughout the city, and the (impeccably clean) streets were filled with colorful flowers and smiling locals. Cozy beer gardens abounded while lederhosen-clad festival goers traipsed through town, pretzels and umbrellas in tow. 

The Frühlingsfest carnival
It's not München unless there's beer, lederhosen and dancing on tables 

We spent our day admiring the buildings of Marienplatz, wandering through the Viktualienmarkt farmer's market, observing the chaos of Frühlingsfest, exploring the lush parks and getting lost in the maze of rainy streets. We stopped by Hofbräuhaus for dinner, where we indulged on savory German treats while listening to a traditional Bavarian band. Now one of Munich's oldest and most famous breweries, Hofbräuhaus used to be where the Nazi party held many meetings and functions. It's also said that Mozart used to frequent this famed beer hall, and even wrote one of his operas fueled by its tasty libations.

Fresh blooms at Viktualienmarkt

Needless to say, I'd love to experience Munich again under different circumstances. I fell in love with the beautiful buildings and friendly Bavarian culture, but I wish I'd had more energy to fully enjoy it all. Not to mention, day-tripping to Füssen to see Neuschwanstein Castle had me dying to explore more quaint Bavarian villages. And who knows? Maybe in 10 years they'll be serving gluten free beer at Oktoberfest. (A girl can dream.)

I'll be back for you again someday, my lovely Munich. 

My Munich Picks:
Best Views: New City Hall
Best People-Watching: Viktualienmarkt
Must-Try Dishes: Weisswurst, pretzels and spätzle (and beer, obviously.)
Favorite Day Trip: Neuschwanstein Castle
Best Place to Relax: Englischer Garten


Northwest is Best

Friday, September 19, 2014
Hola from Madrid! I've made it back to España safely, but only after the most epic final weekend at home. One of my best friends came into town from Orange County, so naturally we wreaked havoc upon Seattle as I bid my fair city adieu. Between boating on Lake Washington, brunching at Portage Bay, visiting our old UW stomping grounds, gorging ourselves on Thai food and watching the Huskies crush Illinois in our beautiful new stadium, my last weekend at home was truly unbeatable. I couldn't have asked for a better send off.

Portage Bay Café, thank you so much for existing.
Friends who brunch together stay together.
Mimosas + boating + Husky Stadium views
My happy place. Go Dawgs!

I love you forever, Seattle. Until next time!

Madrid Bound

Monday, September 15, 2014
These past two months at home have absolutely flown by. It hardly seems possible that in a handful of hours, I'll be on a plane back to Madrid. If you had asked me a month ago, I would have said, "Of course I'm ready to go back to Spain!" But staying that second month here in the USA has made me all the more attached. I'm feeling all of the feels right about now.

But who am I to complain, because I chose this lifestyle - and all the perks & drawbacks that come with it. Is it worth it in the end? I think so. I love Madrid. I miss Madrid. But I know I'll inevitably miss home too. Right about now I'm wishing I could have the best of both worlds.

So rather than dwelling on the negative, I'm trying to focus on all of the things I'm looking forward to in España. I've missed so much about Madrid this summer, and I can't wait to see my friends and visit my favorite places upon my arrival! These are just a few things I can't wait to get back to:

Picnics on my balcony

Jamón! Olive oil chips! Cheese! Wine! So many noms to be had.

Teaching these darling kiddos

I missed my students so much this summer! Working with kids has its challenges (like when they forget that they're children, not wild animals), but overall, teaching has been the most fulfilling job I've ever had. I can't wait to return to my adorable niños!

The colorful streets

As comfortable as suburbia has been these past two months, I'm ready to get back to the vibrant colors and stunning architecture of Madrid.

The city's magic

Madrid never ceases to take my breath away. There's always something to do, and beauty can be found everywhere. This city constantly inspires me, and I'm looking forward to feeling that magic again.

And I almost forgot...

I'm thrilled to announce that I'll be working as a social media intern at Madrid Food Tour this year!
Now I'll have a legitimate excuse to Instagram all of my favorite Spanish dishes. So much for trying to kick my huevos rotos addiction...

Bring it on, Year Two!

Santorini One Sip at a Time: An Afternoon with SAFOWI

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
"The wine here is more than just chemistry, it's alchemy. It's an elixir"
- Phenix Gilbert, creator of SAFOWI Santorini Food and Wine Tours

On the Greek island of Santorini, there's a lot of talk about wine. Where ancient wineries abound, wine tours appear to be a dime a dozen. However, there is one tour that seems to stand out from the rest. American expat Phenix Gilbert shares her infectious passion for the island of Santorini through her food and wine tour company SAFOWI. Phenix has spent the past 18 years living in Santorini, and was one of the first to pioneer the wine tasting trend that has recently swept across the island.

As we winded through the scenic backroads of Santorini, she explained, "Some tour guides come straight off the boat from Athens, not knowing a thing about Santorini. But I fell in love with this island 25 years ago, and I want to share that with others." Phenix's enthusiasm for the wine and gastronomy of Santorini is indeed contagious, for we found ourselves mesmerized by how the history of the island has shaped its culture of wine.

Examining the amber hues of a 12-year-old Vinsanto at Estate Argyros

But what makes the wine of Santorini so special? Undoubtedly, it's the distinct assyrtiko grape. This indigenous grape has essentially defied all odds by flourishing in a notably harsh environment. It has an explicit bite to it though; assyrtiko wines won't taste like any other whites you've tried. Its high minerality and sharp acidity set it apart from other Greek wines. Much like the island of Santorini, it has a unique personality ."It's a very special grape in a very special place", Phenix reveals.

Tasting a crisp assyrtiko blend

The first stop on our tour was a local vineyard, where Phenix explained how archaic techniques are still used to cultivate the grapes. The growing and cultivation methods may be complex and time-consuming, but tradition is decidedly the foundation of the island's winemaking. As demand for Santorini's wine increases, these family-owned wineries will most likely continue to utilize their antiquated processing methods. According to Phenix, Santorini's high-integrity winemakers refuse to sacrifice quality for quantity.

After our cultivation crash course in the vineyard, we were taken to three different wineries scattered across the island. While there are an abundance of wineries in Santorini, Phenix hand-picked the best ones for us to visit. We chatted with the winery owners and learned about their histories and vinification processes while we sipped on their award-winning wines. At our final winery, we were treated to mouthwatering plates of meze, or Greek appetizers.

Assyrtiko whites weren't the only shining stars of our wine tour. We also tasted another ancient Santorini specialty, Vinsanto. This decadent "holy" wine was traditionally used in orthodox churches around the world. At our first winery, we even saw 100-year-old barrels that were used to ship Vinsanto to Russia! Although Vinsanto tastes like a rich, velvety dessert wine, surprisingly there are no sugars added. Vinsanto is made from late harvested grapes (predominately assyrtiko) that are dried in the sun for two weeks and then crushed - sometimes by foot! - before being fermented and aged in oak barrels.

Our Semi-Private Wine Road tour lasted four hours, and private transportation was included to all three wineries and back. If we hadn't taken this tour, we wouldn't have been able to visit these particular wineries on our own. Not only were all three wineries spread out across the island, but taxis on Santorini are sparse and we wouldn't have been able to drive ourselves with the amount of wine we consumed. Taking a private tour is the easiest and most enjoyable way to sample the island's best wines, and I couldn't recommend this one enough.

Overall, our tour gave us a comprehensive overview of the island's winemaking past and present. The extensive knowledge of our guide helped us to appreciate the complexity of Santorini's wines and enjoy the many flavors it has to offer. If you're interested in going beyond the typical tourist experience in Santorini, then wine tasting with SAFOWI is a must.

Phenix from SAFOWI graciously invited us on her tour, but all opinions expressed are my own. 
You can find out more about SAFOWI and their unique food and wine tours here.

Have you ever tried the wines of Santorini? What did you think?
Where's the most interesting place you've been wine tasting?

Lemon Coconut Sour Recipe

Friday, September 5, 2014

Greetings from Arizona! I'm currently in Phoenix visiting my mom & stepdad, and my vacation thus far has consisted of sipping cocktails in the pool and trying not to melt. I can't complain.

My mom moved to the desert only 9 months ago, but she hasn't wasted any time in creating refreshing cocktail recipes. I've been drinking her signature Lemon Coconut Sours almost every day since I've arrived! This cocktail hack is inspired by the PF Chang's original, minus all of the sugar and extra calories.

This cocktail is the perfect way to extend your summer and avoid the imminent arrival of fall. It's also shockingly easy to make. And it's got coconut water, so it's healthy... right?

Mix together:

Serve over ice and enjoy!

Recipe by the fabulous Linda Hendrickson