Tag Archives: wanderlust

A Paella Experience

As many of you may have seen if you follow me on social media, I was recently on holiday in Spain. I embarked on this Spanish adventure to see the beautiful and iconic sites, engage with the vibrant people and culture, and of course, I went to eat and drink A LOT. I enjoyed a truly unfathomable amount of sangria and indulged in Spain’s national dish, paella. Now, I will not recount every single meal I ate nor review every single restaurant that I dined in; if I did that, I would be on my way to publishing a travel guide. I will, however, share a wonderful experience I had; my Paella Cooking Class through Airbnb Experience.

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I highly recommend Barcelona.

If you live under a rock and are unfamiliar with Airbnb, read about it here. For the rest of you who know Airbnb already, you might be surprised and delighted to learn that Airbnb now offers “Experiences” in which locals host an event, tour, or class of some kind that gives participants a taste of their city and community. Airbnb users visiting that city or community sign up and attend to join in the “experience” offered; it could be a hike through scenic hills followed by a picnic, a pub crawl, an art tour, or really anything that a host feels would be a good way to experience their homeland. The concept is unique and fantastic, offering travelers a chance to not only learn something new and/or do something fun under the guide of a local, but also the chance to meet up with other travelers! I think you should check it out.

Anyway, while I was in Barcelona, I noticed that Airbnb Experience was advertising a Paella Cooking Class. Upon further inspection, I learned that for just $30 I could attend this cooking class, instructed by a local cook, hosted in a professional kitchen, and learn to make sangria, paella, and a Catalan cream dessert, which I would then get to eat and enjoy. Sign me up and take my money! I was in.

The class was led by Eladi, a Catalonia-Spain native with a passion for cooking and drive to share traditional Spanish and Catalan cooking techniques with others. He believes in cooking with quality ingredients and infusing the food you cook with love and good energy; my kind of guy!

Paella 17

The class took place in the kitchen of a bakery which we were allowed to use for our cooking purposes. With it being a professional kitchen, we had plenty of space for our class (and bonus, the bakery happened to be a 1 minute walk from my Airbnb!) And so, under Eladi’s instruction, our group of nine Airbnb travelers gathered around a big center island in the kitchen and set out to learn!

Eladi taught us first to make the traditional, and dearly beloved, Spanish drink that we all know and love, Sangria. He gave us a little background on its origins and then divvied out tasks for a few of us to do: squeezing oranges, cutting apples, etc. I myself had never made Sangria and so I really enjoyed learning the basic measurements and techniques for making it because I would like to make and drink more Sangria on a normal basis (you know, for health reasons). Anyway, we mixed everything in a big pitcher and stored it away in the fridge to emulsify for the next couple of hours, with the promise of our being able to drink the sangria when it and dinner was ready!

See Eladi’s original recipe for traditional Sangria here: Sangria Recipe

Below, I have rewritten the recipe to be in the British-American recipe format and using American measurements.

Sangria

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 4 cups red wine
  • 1 large apple, large cubed
  • 1 large orange, sliced
  • 1 large orange, juiced
  • 1 large lemon, sliced
  • 1 large lemon juiced
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 cups soda water
  • Ice

Directions:

Pour the wine in a pitcher. Add the juices of the orange and lemon. Add the cubes of apple, slices of orange and lemon, and the cinnamon sticks. Add the sugar and stir. Allow to chill for minimum 2 hours to maximum 24 hours. To serve, add ice and soda water, serve, and pour.

Pro-Tip: Sangria really should be made with Spanish wine and if you are in the States, Trader Joe’s has this good, inexpensive choice! See below!

Spanish Paella

Paella 12

Next, we moved onto making the Catalan Cream for dessert, a very popular and traditional dessert in Spain’s region of Catalonia. It is essentially a custard made from milk, sugar, egg yolks, cinnamon, and lemon which is chilled in individual dishes, topped with sugar, then torched to create a sugar-glass crust. Think of a cross between flan and crème Brule, flavored with lemon and cinnamon; that’s Catalan Cream. Similarly, Eladi asked for volunteers to execute tasks like beating egg yolks and sugar together and so on. I am not a huge dessert eater or creator, so I really enjoyed adding this dish to my repertoire!

See the original recipe here: Catalan Cream Recipe

Again, below I have rewritten the recipe to be in the British-American recipe format with American measurements.

Catalan Cream

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Ingredients:

  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Peel of 1 whole lemon
  • 1 ½ tablespoons corn starch
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar

Directions:

Place 3 cups of the milk, the cinnamon sticks, and the lemon peel in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boil is reached, turn off the heat and allow flavors to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks and lemon peel after this time.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the remaining 1 cup of milk, egg yolks, sugar, and starch until well mixed.

Add the egg mix to the sauce pan with the milk. Bring back to a boil over medium heat, continuing to whisk until the mixture starts to thicken, about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk 1 more minute.

Pour the mix into individual clay pots or ramekins and chill for 2-24 hours. When ready to serve, top each surface with an even layer of sugar, about a tablespoon, and using a blow torch, burn the sugar until a crust is formed. Serve and enjoy!

Paella 2

Finally, we embarked on cooking the main course, the highlight; traditional Spanish Paella! Here again, even with how big of a cook I am, I had never tried to cook paella, though I’d always wanted to. In this setting with Eladi as my guide, I was able to not only learn the techniques and basic measurements for paella, but also the culture around it. Here were some of the takeaways pertaining to paella:

  1. Paella is not always made with shellfish or seafood – Contrary to what you see online or television, Spanish families use whatever protein is available for when they would like a pan of paella, and that does not always involve expensive seafood. Similarly, paella can be made with different types of vegetables depending on the season, and paella can be completely vegetable based as well if you would prefer not to have animal protein. We had a chicken-only paella.
  2. Paella is a dish that is built in stages from the center out – Oil is heated at the center of the pan. Salt and garlic are added to the oil to season said oil which will in turn season and flavor the rest of the dish. Proteins are added and cooked at the center, then they are pushed out in a circle and vegetables are added to the center. This process continues until all the larger ingredients are cooked, after which the rice is added and cooked for a short time before it is drowned in broth and the remaining herbs and spices are added, at which point the paella is pretty much left alone until the rice absorbs the liquids.
  3. Paella is a communal dish – This was the most important takeaway I found. Paella is not traditionally something that the main cook in the family makes in private then serves to everyone else in the family when it is ready. Rather, the act of cooking paella is a group effort. Spanish families make an afternoon of paella, gathering in the kitchen, each person fulfilling a role in the cooking process. Much like in our cooking class, steps are divided out; someone cuts vegetables, someone grates tomatoes, someone prepares the herbs, someone mans the pan, etc. Everyone is involved in the preparation of this traditional dish and when it is finished cooking, everyone enjoys it all together, usually out of the same pan!

 

We each did our part in the cooking as we learned, we chatted and laughed, and after about an hour of all of this, the paella was finally ready. We poured ourselves glasses of our previously concocted sangria which was incredibly, beautifully smooth, and we were then ready to eat.

Eladi placed the giant paella pan in the middle of the kitchen island and handed out big wooden spoons that paella is commonly enjoyed with in Spanish households. Then, as is traditional, he drew lines in the paella to create pizza slice-like sections. We all chose our own section and dove in. Truly, that first bite of our communally cooked paella was divine. The flavor salty, slightly smoky, and very savory, the texture delightful to the tongue, the chicken juicy and rich. I had had paella a couple of other times while in Spain at this point, but this homemade paella definitely won out as the best paella I had on my entire Spanish adventure.

Paella Selfie.jpg

Furthermore, our group indulgence in this dish that we had all played a part in creating, our sharing in the dish all out of the same pan, made our eating more than just eating; it made it a special and memorable experience, as well as a delicious one.

See the recipe for Eladi’s Paella here: Paella Recipe

Once again, I have rewritten this recipe in a British-American recipe format with American measurements.

(You can take this recipe and get creative with your meats and veggies, as long as you have the basic measurements and techniques down.)

Paella

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Big pinch of salt
  • 4-6 garlic cloves
  • 1 ½ pounds chicken (whatever pieces you like, cut up)
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups green beans, cut in half
  • 2 large tomatoes, grated
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • Rice
  • 12 strands saffron, soaked in 3 tablespoons of warm water
  • 2 bunches rosemary
  • 2 ½ cups Bomba Rice
  • 6 cups chicken stock, warmed

Directions:

With the paella pan over low heat add the salt over the whole surface. Pour in the oil and allow to heat a minute. Add the garlic to the center of the pan and cook 1 minute. Add the chicken to the center and cook until browned, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Move the chicken away from the center. Add the green beans to the center and cook 2 minutes. Move the green beans away from the center. Add the grated tomato to the center and stir 1 minute. Add the paprika and mix everything in the pan together.

Add the rice all over the surface and stir with all the other ingredients for 1 minute. Add the hot chicken broth. Move the meat and vegetables to be arranged evenly throughout the pan. Distribute the saffron threads evenly throughout the broth. Add the rosemary bunches.

Raise the heat to medium-high until the broth boils. Then lower to the lowest possible heat while still continuing the boil, usually a medium-low. Watch the paella and when rice grains appear on the surface of the liquid, lower the heat to low. Cook until the rice is firm, but tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover with lid, and let stand 5 minutes.

Serve right out of the pan with wooden spoons!

Notes:

It is important to choose a quality paella pan and make sure that the pan can be placed somewhere where heat can be distributed evenly.

Needless to say, I greatly enjoyed our Paella Cooking Class through Airbnb Experience. It offered a chance for my friend Kayleigh and I to make new friends in our fellow travelers and also in Eladi. It allowed us to learn new dishes we had always been interested in cooking. And of course, it gave us a space to have fun and to have a delicious meal. Now home from Spain, I am very much inspired to purchase a Paella pan and have a “Paella Party” with all my friends, giving us all a chance to enjoy the communal and tasteful experience that the Spanish have created around Paella.

If you are traveling to Barcelona and are interested in taking this class with Eladi, please visit the following to see when and how you can join!

http://paella.experientz.com/

https://www.airbnb.es/experiences/51311

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187497-d12246113-Reviews-Paella_Experientz_Barcelona-Barcelona_Catalonia.html

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

It’s been a minute since Johnny La Pasta shared a pasta recipe with you. And so, today I am sharing one of my all-time favorite recipes that I learned in the motherland (Italy): Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

In 2014, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, traveling all around the Italian peninsula with a whole party of new and now very dear friends. We visited the historical and iconographic sites, we took in the naturally dramatic and beautiful landscapes, we immersed ourselves in the warm and vibrant culture, and we DRANK A LOT OF WINE and we ATE A LOT OF PASTA.  It was bliss.

Eating pasta in Italy is true living. Beyond the soul joy of devouring bowls of authentic pasta dishes, for a cook like me, these indulgences were also inspirations for my own kitchen back home. Whilst in Rome, we had a lot of Pasta alla Carbonara as this is Rome’s signature dish. My Italian family did not immigrate to America from Rome, they came from Calabria in the south, and so no authentic recipe for carbonara came over with them. Pasta alla Carbonara was not a dish I normally had growing up, so having the opportunity to taste authentic incarnations of it in Rome was new and exciting for me.

Of course, I had had Pasta alla Carbonara dishes here in the states; but they were always incredibly cream based, white and gooey, made with a rue like an Alfredo sauce. I could never really detect the use of egg and therefore could not appreciate it in these dishes, which is unfortunate as egg is supposed to be a main feature of any carbonara.

So I was pleasantly surprised by the Roman’s carbonara dishes: silky, smooth, salty, decadent, very simple, yet absurdly divine. The use of egg is pronounced in these dishes as the yolks provide a beautiful yellow gold color for the sauce and create a silken consistency, making the dish creamy and luxurious but in a different way than probably most American eaters are used to. I was hooked on the stuff, and I had to know how to make it at home.

I spoke with several natively Italian cooks about carbonara at length because I am me and obsessed with food. I explained to them what most Americans thought carbonara was: a cream sauce made from flour, butter, and milk or cream cooked down with cheese melted into it and then an egg beaten in for good measure, often served with peas and mushrooms. The Italians were absolutely, deeply, and profoundly horrified to hear this. They told me that, “If that is how Americans are making carbonara, they should be ashamed of themselves.”

They then proceeded to BLESS me with the proper, authentic technique for Pasta alla Carbonara in the hopes that I could bring it back home to the USA and bring the American people closer to God by showing them how to make and eat carbonara right!

The secret to this carbonara is that it is super simple: eggs, parmesan and pecorino cheese, pancetta or bacon, black pepper, and pasta. That is all. No fancy rue sauce, no added cream, no mushrooms, no peas.

Basically, the eggs and cheeses are beaten together in the bottom of a pasta bowl to make a thick cream. Once the pasta is done cooking, it is removed from the water, and the bowl with the egg-cream is placed on the pot with the hot pasta water still in it. The heat from the water underneath the bowl starts to cook the egg-cream mixture. The pasta is added, with more cheese, and the heat from the pasta 1. finishes cooking the egg-cream sauce so that it is safe to eat and 2. melts the cheese and eggs into a thick, silky sauce the coats the noodles completely. Bacon or pancetta is added and the dish is served. That is all and it’s truly one of the greatest pasta dishes ever. I typically make this dish with Spaghetti as the long noodles are perfect to be coated and twirled in this rich sauce.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara has since become a staple dish in my kitchen. I turn to it again and again for its ease and affordability, its authenticity and its decadence, and for its ability to transport me right back to the streets of Rome with each and every bite. I hope you enjoy Spaghetti alla Carbonara! Buon Appetito!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • ¾ lb-1 lb spaghetti
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 full egg
  • ½ cup grated pecorino romano cheese
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 5 slices bacon or wheels pancetta
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper

Directions:

Cook bacon your favorite way. You can chop the bacon up into bits, cook until browned and crispy in a pan, and set aside to drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Or, you could cook bacon my way! Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet, lay the bacon pieces across the rack, and bake in the oven at 400F till crispy, about 20 minutes. Remove, allow to cool, and cut into pieces.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook till al dente, about 8-9 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the eggs, black pepper, and ¾ of the pecorino and parmesan cheeses in a large glass bowl. Whip until completely combined; it should be very thick.

Without draining the pasta water, remove the spaghetti to a separate bowl. Turn off the heat. Place the bowl with the egg-cream mixture atop the pot of hot water. Whip the mixture quickly for 30 seconds. Add the pasta to the bowl and remaining cheese to the bowl. Work quickly and toss for 1 ½ minutes until the sauce completely coats the noodles.

Serve equal amounts into bowls and top with the bacon/pancetta. Garnish with additional cheese and if you’d like, a small chopping of parsley. Serve and enjoy!

Adventure to Paris and Munich 2015

Bonjour my friends! I have returned from my adventure to Paris and Munich which I embarked on September 20th through September 29th. It is astronomically difficult for me to answer the question, “How was your trip?” I think a few words I have used in response have been phenomenal, incredible, and wonderful. Truly, this venture was one that I will always remember for the rest of my days as it was enriching and of course, fun!

I now sit in my apartment, recovering from jetlag; I find it a real challenge to summarize such a wonderful travel experience. What to write about? What stories to tell? If I go documenting every day of my journey with every single sight I saw and meal I had, well, we’d have half a travel book on our hands. Instead, I think I will touch on a few different topics from my travels that made my vacation so spectacular.

Paris

Eiffel Tower Selfie

Paris is where I spent the majority of my time. Like everyone, I have grown up looking at images of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc du Triumph, I have been to people’s homes and restaurants where all of the décor is “Parisian”, and I have watched countless travel shows about how wonderful a city Paris is. All of these factors made Paris a top destination for me, a bucket list city to hit. I finally decided to book my trip and visit this iconic city, and it did not disappoint.

Paris really is a wonder. Every corner café, every bridge over the Seine, every historic building is a real life painting. Paris pulses with energy; artistic, historic, excitable, and relaxed all at once. There is much to see and do in this famous city. I gave myself a good amount of time in Paris so that I could find a balance of sightseeing as well as dwelling like a local and wandering about. All the sights, I saw: the tower, the arc, the Opera, the Louvre, Versailles; I am very happy that I have now experienced those unique places.

Equally exciting, in my opinion, is the fact that I was also able to wander through local neighborhoods and in and out of cafes, restaurants, and markets. I stayed at an Airbnb in a mostly non-toursity neighborhood, the St. Martin Canal District, and was therefore able to rise and have my morning pastries and coffee amongst local Parisians during their normal morning routines. I explored other neighborhoods and was able to wander the streets, see where people lived, see where they ate and drank – and eat and drink there myself too – and shop where they shop. In this way, I feel like I got a good sense of what it is like to be Parisian and live in such a city. I saw the tourist side of Paris which is wonderful, but I think I saw that real side too and that is often what I love the most.

Now, here are a few of my favorite sites and activities that I did:

  • Sacre Coeur – a Cathedral on a hill that is the highest point in Paris and overlooks the entire city. The Cathedral itself is breathtaking, and the view from it even more so. I went here both at sunrise and at sunset and was floored. I was watching the sunrise/sunset over Paris, France. Both times were wonderful, humbling experiences. I suggest you take the time to climb the Duomo of the Cathedral as well for the truly highest view in the city.
  • River Cruise on the Seine – a great way to see the city from the water of the famous Seine. You pass many of the major sights and it gives you a unique viewpoint of the city.
  • Picnics in Monceau Park and the Luxembourg Gardens – it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of Paris, whizzing from sight to sight to make sure you get everything in. However, they say that Paris is best enjoyed slowly. Take your time with your coffee and your wine, leisurely stroll the streets, and sit and enjoy what’s around you. I loved sitting in Monceau Park and the Luxembourg Gardens, 2 hours at each on separate days, and eating French delicacies and reading my book. It is so peaceful and romantic to lounge, to read, and to eat in the gardens of Paris.
  • The Latin Quarter – there are lots of different neighborhoods in Paris, each with their own flavor, and the Latin Quarter was my favorite. Though it is quite touristy, the energy in this neighborhood is lively and spicy. Many of the street corners in this area are what you picture Paris looking like in your head; lots of cafes packed with people from all over the world, apartments with flower boxes hanging outside the window, crepes being served from carts off the street. It’s a very fun area with a lot of great food and tiny streets to stroll down. If I were to live in Paris, it would be in this neighborhood.
  • The Markets – I love going to local markets wherever I travel; you get to see what the people there buy and sell, what they eat, and how they operate. I love French and Italian markets because there are no giant grocery stores; you go to the cheese shop, the bakery, the meat shop, and the produce shop – all separately. Each shop is dedicated to one grocery category and this seems to ensure better quality. I loved buying cheese from the Fromagerie, baguettes from the Patisserie, and local produce from the little fruit and vegetable shop. It was fun to shop among locals picking up food for home and really enjoy the products that France has to offer.

Now, I am Johnny La Pasta, and as you know I am ALL about good food. France is one of the gastronomic countries in the world, and so when you travel there it is obligatory to eat your way around with reckless abandon. The food was one of the biggest reasons I was thrilled to visit Paris: the pastries, the bread, the crepes, the cheese, the delicate and refined sauces, I wanted it all and I did indeed get it all. Here were some of my favorites!

  • Pastries – forget your American bacon and eggs or your yogi acai bowl; when you are in Paris your breakfast should be exclusively pastries! Every morning, I went to local Patisserie in the St. Martin Canal district and picked up at least 2 pastries for breakfast. The options extend far beyond croissants; every morning the Parisians produce fresh, warm pastries of all kinds for your enjoyment.I, of course, enjoyed their buttery, flaky croissants; they are just classic. However, I discovered some other really exciting pastries as well!
    • Escargot au Raisin – a wrapped pastry, similar to a cinnamon roll, but filled with raisins and a citrus sauce. They also come in a pistachio and chocolate version that is equally divine; I couldn’t get enough of my Escargot au Raisins!
    • Pain au Pommes –this translates to Apple Bread. It is very similar to banana bread, but much more moist and cake like with a distinct apple cinnamon flavor. This was one of the first pastries I ate in Paris and I could’ve cried at its delicious flavor and delectable composure.
    • Finally, my favorite of the pastries: Croissant aux Amandes – This is basically an almond bear claw with powdered sugar all over it. It is crunchy on the outside and soft and flaky on the inside with a pronounced almond flavor and the perfect amount of sweetness. This is one I could have every day, and in fact did have every day after I discovered its heavenly nature.
    • I suggest to you to try as many pastries as you can while you are in Paris because you will never find any like them here in the States or anywhere else in the world!
  • Street Crepes – If you don’t have crepes while you are in Paris, you are doing it wrong! Crepes in Paris are made quickly in your sight in a cart or stand, folded into a triangle, slid into a paper cone, and handed to you to eat casually as you stroll or sit and enjoy the sights around you. They are very affordable, quick, and good Lord are they ridiculously good! You can go sweet or savory. For a snack, yes – a snack – I had a cheese crepe that was an even dopier version of a grilled cheese if you can image. The real crepe winner, however, is the now classic Nutella Crepe. You can order this crepe with Nutella and bananas, Nutella and almonds, and so on and so forth; in any form it is all consuming good. Once I had had my first Nutella crepe, a crepe eating beast awoke within me and I had to have a Nutella crepe every day from that moment forward.
  • Classic French Dishes – I feel that when you are in Paris, or anywhere in France, that there are a few classic French dishes that you simply must have.
    • The first is Sole Meuniere – a lemon, butter fish dish that was the first dish Julia Child ate upon arriving in Paris and where her love of French cooking began. I had Sole Meuniere on my first night in the city and could have cried. The fish was flaky, buttery, tangy, and smooth; a truly masterful dish. Served with roasted fingerling potatoes drizzled in, you guessed it, more butter! Absolutely sensational.
    • Another must have, Beef Bourguignon, the classic peasant beef stew. It is savory, hearty, and warming on a chilly Parisian night. It is simple, but in the best possible way with those tender chunks of beef, delicately braised vegetables, and a comforting broth. Don’t skip out on this one!
    • French Onion Soup, though since you are in France it is simply known as Onion Soup, is another must. A savory and warming soup of onions, spices, and broth underneath floating crusty bread slices that are buried underneath a lawn of melted French cheese. Just wow! Though it is only soup, this dish is so incredibly satisfying and comforting.
    • Croque Monsieur is a perfectly classic French lunch that can be enjoyed from street vendors or at a small daytime café. Basically, Croque Monsieur is a dressed up version of grilled cheese with fresh bread, French cheese, and ham. The cheese is both inside the bread and on top of it as well. Warmed to the perfect temperature and with the bread at the perfect crunch level. Enjoy with a bit of green salad and a side of real Dijon mustard. Again, simple yet delightful!
    • Escargot – I finally tried it! They are actually delectable. They are like little clams with an herb, garlic, butter sauce all over them. It’s scary at first, but you’ll get over it after that first bite
  • Picnics with goods from the local markets – this was one of my favorite parts of my trip. All the food from the markets is so, so, so fresh! The bread is freshly baked, the cheese was made from local cows on grassy farms where the animals are treated well, the produce is organic and harvested by local farmers. It is a real treat to get a few of these items, sit in a park, and enjoy each of them. My favorite was sitting in Monceau Park with a fresh baguette, wedges of the purest bleu and brie cheeses, and fresh vegetables and figs. Every bite, though simple, was divine.

Basically, everything you eat will be incredible. They take a lot of care and pride in the raising, harvesting, and preparation of their food that we are often hard pressed to find here in the Sates. I suggest that you go with a big appetite and try everything; not only see Paris, but taste it too!

Now, I spent most of my time in Paris, but I also made it over to Munich, Germany as well! When originally booking the trip, I had planned to just stay in Paris with perhaps a day trip out into the countryside. Later, however, I discovered that one of my fellow yoga teacher friends who I trained with was heading to Oktoberfest in Munich while I would already be in Europe. She invited me to join and stay with her, her husband, and another couple of friends for THE ORIGINAL OKTOBERFEST. And how could I say no to that?

Munich

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After a train ride that allowed me to see the glorious French and German country sides with rolling hills, thick forests, and hill nestled towns, I made it to the insanely energetic city that is Munich during the Oktoberfest season. I had a bit of trouble getting in touch with my friends because of an inability to get onto WiFi to contact them, but once I finally found them I had a truly amazing time for the rest of my stay in Germany!

That first night, I got to experience the craziness of the original Hofbrauhaus beer garden as I wandered through the chaos of this famous establishment in search of my friends as people from all around the world, dressed in lederhosen, swayed to the German band playing from the center of the building, drank, cheered, and some of them even getting on top of tables. I finally met up with my friends at Augustiner, one of the most famous pubs in Munich and got to catch up with them and some new British friends who had sat with them. Everyone was in bright, warm spirits in the cozy Bavarian atmosphere. Of course, I had a liter – yes, a liter – of the absolutely phenomenal and all-to-smooth beer, and I had an incredible German Potato Dumpling dish that completely took me by surprise. I really didn’t expect the food to be anything special in Germany, but it was really, really good!

I got to explore the town a bit with my friends before turning in. The next day, we were at it bright and early to hit up the original Oktoberfest. I bought my lederhosen to match my friends, and actually fit in because everyone at Oktoberfest wears the stuff, and we got into the Augustiner tent at 9am. Oktoberfest is so famous now, that it is challenging to get a table in one of the tents if you don’t get there early. Luckily, we actually grabbed a table, and the iconicness of it made us so joyful: we were in lederhosen, in the Augustiner tent, with our own table, at the original Oktoberfest! And so, naturally, we celebrated with more liters of beer and giant, fresh, salty pretzels (this was essentially our breakfast). We stayed at the table for a couple hours swaying like so to the German band and chatting with people from around the world. It was just a very happy time.

After we had been in the tent for a while, we took to the Oktoberfest grounds to explore, to people watch, and to eat! Walking around Oktoberfest is kind of like walking around a county fair that Bavaria has thrown up all over; there are carnival rides and games, there are lots of carts and stands selling decadent food and fun trinkets, but everything has that old world German feel and everyone is dressed up! We, of course, continued to eat more from the stands; I had a traditional White Bratwurst, which I am not normally a huge fan of, but because the quality and craft are so much higher in Germany, this Bratwurst an absolute treat! We rode the Ferris Wheel, from which we were able to see just how many thousands of people had come out to party at Oktoberfest. We walked more and took it all in, the fact that we were at the Oktoberfest – a bucket list item for all of us – and then, just like that, we left. Oktoberfest was insanely fun and a truly wonderful experience that I will always cherish.

For the rest of the day, we explored downtown Munich, still in lederhosen, which has its own old world Bavarian charm. We had dinner at a great Bavarian pub that made me feel like I had taken a step back in time and into an old German fairytale setting, and finally we turned in. That was really the extent of my time in Munich as I headed out before sunrise the next day and caught the earliest train back to Paris. My time there was filled with laughter, smiles, and of course, beer. I really loved it, and am so grateful to my friend for inviting me to join her and co. and crash with them. This entire side trip was a blast.

The Best Part

As you can tell, I did and saw a lot in both Paris and Munich. Both the cities and everything in between were fantastical, the sites spectacular, and all the food was divine. The best part, however, was meeting new people and making new friends from all over. As I said, I was traveling alone, which there is a lot to be said for.

When you travel alone, you are forced to figure everything out for yourself. I had to use a paper map (with no phone like the olden days) and navigate my way around, I learned the bus and metro system, I made myself be alone at times and be okay with that, and I put myself in situations that made me uncomfortable but helped me to grow once I worked my own way through them.

More importantly, is that when you travel alone, you are bound to meet new people. When you are traveling alone: 1. You are more willing to talk to new people because, duh, you’re alone with no one to talk to, 2. People seem to want to talk to you because you are a lone solider 3. People who are traveling in general are more open to talking with strangers because they too are out of their element, more open to new experiences, and are not distracted by work and the stresses of normal daily life.

All of these factors above led to me meeting a lot of great people that I can now call friends. Wandering alone, I was the master of my own universe, not tied down to solid plans or having to answer to or consult with anyone else, I was free to say “Mind if I join?” when I met a couple other Americans at the Louvre and ended up spending half the day and a meal with them, and I was free to say “Yes!” when a group of Norwegians invited me to sit with them (and buy me a drink) when they saw me dining alone at Le Chat Noir Café, and I was available to make plans with a Chilean couple that I met at dinner and basically ended up having dinner with them in the Latin Quarter to walk around and get Nutella Crepes after we had finished our meals.

Alone and unrestrained, I was completely and utterly free and open to make connections with the people that God placed in my path; and this is what made this trip so rewarding and enriching. I walked away from it with friends from other places in America, Canada, England, France, Germany, Norway, Italy, Chile, and more. Though I may never see some of them again, I will always remember them because I shared moments of joy with them when I was alone in a foreign land. And it brings me such happiness to have been able to travel halfway across the world and be able to meet interesting people, connect with them, and call them friends.

(Not all the people I met I got pictures with, below are just a few.)

Conclusion

I could go on and on about my travels, but as I said, we’d have a book on our hands. In the end, I would say that my trip was a true life experience that I feel has helped me to learn and to grow, and the memories that I formed are ones that I will have me forever.