Fernweh Follies 2020 Countdown: #GOALS

This New Year’s Eve I was fighting a cold and was in bed by 10:00 PM, so I didn’t officially ring in the new decade with a New Year’s Eve countdown– unless catching Z’s qualifies?

I’ve decided to use my five 2020 goals for Fernweh Follies as my official new year kickoff. Call these five goals a resolution if you like, but for me they are more motivational guidelines. My true resolution for the year is to be proud in any small steps I make towards my personal goals– to see the tiny achievements as significant instead of inconsequential.

I found this quote New Year’s Day and I think it sums up what I’m trying to say perfectly:

reach your goal

And, to be completely frank, I’m already excited and proud of what this year has in store. For the first time in a long time, my personal visions are 20/20– and I’ve been waiting all year to make that pun.

Let the countdown begin:


FIVE. Do one Chicago activity for every month of the the year

IMG_2026
Photo by Erica Nolan

From comedy shows to exploring eccentric local parks, I have twelve great adventures under my sleeve for this year. Some are free and some are worth every penny.

A few are standard touristy affairs and others are pure local magic. Every last one of them breathes a bit of life into the city of Chicago and I’m so excited to share them with all of you.

 

FOUR. Try eight restaurants I’ve never been to in Chicago

IMG_1566
Photo by Alison Thvedt

I have the eight places all plotted out and my mouth is already watering in anticipation. I’ve picked Chicago institutions and lesser known places that have caught my eye on my daily route.

I’ve divided the restaurants up 50/50 on the price scale so some are a bit more high class while others are mom and pop shops that are the backbone of the city. By the end of the year, you’ll be sure to know of at least one delicious CHI spot that fits your taste and budget.

 

THREE. Dive in to world news twice a month

reading with cup of coffee
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

There are so many things going on in the world right now that this will be more than easy to accomplish. If I can help at least one stranger learn about the current events happening on this planet, I’ll feel like I’ve achieved something this year.

If you’re in need of news now, go check out what’s going on at The Skimm–my favorite source for quick, comprehensible, and tight news copy.

 

TWO. Go on two solo trips in 2020

woman sitting on ground
Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim on Pexels.com

My first trip will be my annual Saint Patrick’s Day trip. This year I’m headed to NYC! Amazingly enough, I’ve never been to the city that most people think is the center of my birth state (fun fact: it’s not). I decided that this year is THE year to set the record straight and finally visit the city that never sleeps.

My second trip will be in July to Colorado. The exact details are TBD but I’m hoping to see the friend that inspired this blog on the trip. Very full-circle, I know.

 

ONE. Publish every week this year

you got this lighted signage
Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

As my longtime followers know, this is a tough one for me. I’m an easily distracted individual and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I manage to make this happen.

To try and combat my natural procrastinator habits, I’ve made a year-long calendar mapping out everything I’ll write about this year so I won’t fall into a Writer’s Block rut.

Send all the good vibes and support you can, please and thank you.


 

Happy New Year, everyone! Tell me your New Year goals, travel-based or otherwise, in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Have a Merry Christmas in an Airport in 5 Easy Steps

This year, my Christmas Day was spent primarily in an airport. With the holiday smack dab in the middle of the week I had to be back in Chicago on the 26th while all of my family celebrations were continuing on in Upstate New York.

Heading to NY earlier than normal and flying back Christmas Day was my solution to a not-ideal situation. Going physically home on Christmas wasn’t great, but I decided to turn this holiday egg into eggnog and made it the best experience I could.

So, here are the five ways I came up with to turn an airport Christmas merry:

Wear festive clothing

IMG_3545

I figured that if I was going to be traveling on Christmas Day I should at least be in full holiday spirit. I purchased an ugly Christmas sweater covered in tinsel, sparkly pompoms, and candy cane-striped sleeves. It was gaudy as hell but it made me happy and a little extra brightness is never a bad thing.

The best part? The Southwest staff members in the Albany airport were also decked out in holiday attire, proving that a fun sweater can always make someone’s day a bit better.

Have a holiday-themed soundtrack on at all times

As Buddy the Elf once said, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

I’m no singer, but I figured listening to holiday music would have the same effect. The Bing Crosby Spotify playlist was the perfect accompaniment to my three-hour layover in Baltimore. It gave a more positive spin to my Subway-catered Christmas dinner at the very least.

Take advantage of the airlines drink menu

img_3540-3.jpg

Yes folks, I’m telling you to drink on a plane. I luckily had drink coupons curtesy of Southwest due to frequent flyer miles and enjoyed some Bailey’s and hot chocolate on both of my flights.

On the second flight, the flight attendant handed me my coupon back and said, “It’s Christmas, this one is on us.” Props to Southwest for giving me some free alcoholic spirits in the name of Christmas spirit.

Bring a favorite– easily transportable– activity

img_3538.jpg

For me, that’s a book. Some other suggestions could be a crossword puzzle, coloring book, sudoku, or even a handheld video game console (one of my seat mates for this trip had a video game set up I’ve never seen before. I don’t have a picture out of respect for their privacy, but it was pretty epic).

For this trip, I started Malcom Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers. Seemed fitting seeing as I was surrounded by strangers all day, wondering where they were all headed for the holidays.

Call your loved ones if you have a layover

This is a productive and heartwarming way to pass the time. I talked to an aunt, a cousin, my parents, and my brother and could hear the organized chaos of my grandparent’s house in the background. While it was only for a few minutes while I ate my dinner, having that moment of feeling connected with my family even though we were separated by states made all the difference.

BONUS TIP: People-watch

img_3542.jpg

I don’t know why, but people watching always brings me a level of peace when I’m in a crowded space. Maybe it’s the imaginary sense of connection that develops as I make up their story in my head. I’m not sure; but people watching while I was alone in the airport on Christmas Day really helped.

I wasn’t sure what the clientele of an airport would be like on a major holiday, but it turns out that a lot of families travel on Christmas. Most of them, it seemed, were headed to Florida for the iconic, “Merry Christmas, kids! We’re going to Disneyland and we’re leaving today!” kind of celebrations.

It was a fun reminder of the child-like magic that surrounds Christmas. I knew that some of my fellow travelers were in the same boat as me, heading back to their day-to-day lives, but it was nice to see that the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with spending time with your loved ones during the holiday season can transcend the TSA checkpoint.

International Update: Leaked Documents Expose Chinese Prison Camps

I’m taking a new approach to my International Updates. I want to dive deeper into one particular news story that is catching international attention.

This week, I’m writing about the recently leaked government files from China that reveal how over the last three years, China has opened mass detention centers for Muslims in the west region of the country.

The first article– the one that sparked my interest in the story– is from the New York Times, the second is from the Associated Press, and the third is from Cable News Network.

If you’re interested in getting more news, quicker, clearer, and more up-to-date, consider subscribing to The Skimm. It’s a great source of news–both international and stateside– and its the first thing I read every morning. They are essentially #goals for this news-loving girl. Check them out. Seriously.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the articles used in this post and have provided links to them below.  A bit of additional research has gone into this post, but a majority of this is my own personal interpretation, opinions, and rants.


New York Times: How did this happen?

Article Title: ‘Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims

Here’s the gist: This article from the New York Times (NYT), published on November 16th, was what originally sparked my interest in this story. According to the NYT, the Chinese government’s interest in controlling the Muslim minorities in the western region Xinjiang, were sparked roughly a decade ago in 2009. Ethnic riots broke out around this time in the region’s capital.

Other attacks committed in the region in 2014 drove the Chinese government to tighten their hold on the community and inspired them to start coming up with ways to proactively prevent terrorist activity in China.

The focus was centered around the Muslim minorities in the region, more specifically the ethnic groups known as the Kazakhs and the Uighurs. The Uighurs are a Muslim Turkic minority with their own culture, language, and traditions found in Xinjiang. It was stated in the documents that–to prevent Islamic extremism– the government needed to make, “[…] an effort to rewire the region’s Muslim minorities.”

In August 2016, China made Chen Quanguo, a hard-liner originally stationed in Tibet, the government leader of Xinjiang. This is when the expansion of the country’s detention camps started to truly explode.

The individuals sent to the camps were found through technologically advanced means such as facial recognition, genetic testing, and big data. It is clear that the camps were met with some resistance from local officials in Xinjang, however the leaked documents have proven that officials that resisted were met with punishment and public prosecution.

To read the full NYT article, go here.


Associated Press: A Glimpse on the Inside

Article Title: Secret documents reveal how China mass detention camps work

Here’s the gist: The second article that caught my attention was posted by the Associated Press (AP) on November 25th. This article goes into details about the gathering of individuals put into captivity in the detention camps and how the captives are treated. 

As mentioned above in the NYT summary, the Chinese government implemented their directive to lock up Muslim minorities through the use of surveillance technology. AP goes further by explaining what behaviors were being targeted as extreme that may result in a person being sent to the detention camps:

  • Going abroad
  • Asking others to pray
  • Using cell phone apps that cannot be monitored by the government
  • Obtaining foreign passports or visas

The Chinese government claims that the detention centers are actually vocational centers for the poor and uneducated, currently hold less than a million individuals, and follow all necessary freedoms in place by Chinese law.

However, detainees include party officials and university students, researchers have estimated that 1.8 million have been detained at some point, and the facilities resemble– for lack of a better term– high-tech concentration camps with, “police stations at the front gates, high guard towers, one-button alarms, and video surveillance with no blind spots.”

“Students” in the camps are expected to speak Mandarin, have lessons in ideology, discipline, and hygiene. Tests are given weekly, monthly, and seasonally with increasing levels of difficulty. Individuals that do well are allowed family visits and can even “graduate,” but are closely monitored once they have been released.

“Students” are permitted weekly phone calls and monthly video chats with family– all of which are monitored.

The Chinese Embassy has announced that this information–all found through the leaked documents, personal testimonies from released “students,” and journalistic visits– is fake news, and is “purely China’s internal affairs.”

To read more of the AP article, go here.  


Cable News Network: The World Reacts

Article Title: TicTok beauty video with a hidden anti-China message has gone viral

Here’s the gist: The third and final article that sparked my interest on this topic was publish by Cable News Network (CNN) on November 27th. The article focuses on the viral video published by American 17-year-old, Feroza Aziz.

Her video starts off as a basic eyelash curling video but quickly becomes a 40-second criticism of the religious discrimination and political injustices occurring in China.

According to CNN, the video has attracted millions of views on Facebook and Twitter as well as on TikTok–a Chinese-owned social media app that has rising popularity in the United States.

Aziz insists that she has experience discrimination from TicTok since the publication of her video on their app. CNN states that the clip was down for near an hour on the 20th and Aziz experienced a temporary  suspension for her TikTok account.

ByteDance, the Bejing-based company that owns TikTok, states that the suspension was on an older account of Aziz due to posts including images of Osama bin Laden. Aziz stated that these posts were piece of satire addressing personal discrimination she has faced in the United States as a Muslim American.

The company has since reactivated her old account. To read the full article, go here.


Why We Should Care

As I’ve spent the last few weeks collecting articles and learning more about the discriminatory and inhumane treatment of the Muslim communities in China, I’ve noticed that the articles about the leaked Chinese documents and the Chinese detention centers have all but disappeared from my newsfeeds.

When I first started researching these stories, my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds were flooded with different takes on this story. This lasted for maybe a week. If anything this has strengthened my belief that our instantaneous sources of media and news have desensitized us to stories that should shock and disgust us.

Did you know that a Dutch woman named Asiye Abdulaheb recently admitted to being the leak of the very documents I’m discussing in this post? (Read about that here). Unless you have been following this story as closely as I have for the last three weeks, probably not.

I know that this news is sadly not unique: the Holocaust during World War II, the internment of  Japanese Americans during the same war, and the Rwandan genocide in the 1990’s are just a few examples of horrific forms of minority discrimination that come to mind.

We should not let the fact that history repeats itself make us complacent towards terrifying situations like this one. With this knowledge of both the past and present, we should be driven to action. It should make us more vigilant of international wrongdoings and it should make us want to help.

You might be thinking, “Yeah, Erica, that’s all fine and dandy and overly optimistic of you, but what can I really do to help these people over an ocean away?”

Easy. I’ve done some more research for you (which I’m sure you’ve realized I like doing) and have found three things you can do without even getting off your computer/phone:

  • Be the next Feroza Aziz and tell people what’s going on through social media. It’s pretty evident that the Chinese government does not want the world talking about their “training centers,” so let’s talk about them. Share this article or one of the articles I’ve linked so people can know what’s going on. (If you’re lucky enough, you might just get kicked off of TikTok.)
  • Contact your state representatives. At this point, simply to thank them and tell them to keep up the good work. The house of representatives recently approved a bill that requires President Trump condemn China’s abuses against Muslims and the closure of the detention camps in Xinjang. (Only time will tell what this holds for our trade deals with China.)
  • Send an email to the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission through Amnesty International. The email writing campaign can be found here.

 

If you have any suggestions on what news I should look into next or where I should go in Chicago this upcoming week, comment below!

 

 

15 Gifts Every Globetrotter Wants this Holiday Season

Who can believe that Cyber Monday is only three days away? Where has the month of November gone? And do you have all of your Christmas shopping done, because I sure don’t. We all know that the travelers in our lives want gifts in size business-class window-seat, but I’ve got you covered in case your budget doesn’t fit the cost of an all-expenses-paid vacation.

These 15 gifts can all be found on Etsy and are under $50.00 (before tax). Please note that the items are featured by price* from lowest to highest. If you decided to purchase one of the items, be sure to read through the seller’s instructions for optimal ordering happiness!

For more inspiration, feel free to check out my 2017 and 2018 lists as well. Happy wandering!

*tax and shipping costs not included in listed prices; prices and availability of items subject to change at any time.


See the World Sticker

$2.99

This sticker is a great stocking stuffer that can be used to decorate a laptop, water bottle, planner, notebook, or anything you choose. What a wonderful reminder for your favorite traveler! Purchase your sticker now!

Image provided by Etsy shop, GladjeDesigns

 

 

World Map Traveling Poster

$9.51-$38.75 (depending on size)

This colorful and modern piece of artwork perfectly illustrates the many wonders of the world and is a perfect centerpiece for any globetrotter’s wall of photography documenting their many adventures.

This square print comes in nine different sizes, starting at 8 x 8 and going all the way up to 51 x 51. Purchase yours here.

Image provided by Etsy shop, Decords TM

 

 

Travel Pill Box

$12.55

When you’re traveling the world, you’re often open to trying new things– but believe me, sometimes when you have a pounding headache, it’s nice to have an Advil on hand instead of searching through a foreign pharmacy for its international equivalent.

In comes the travel pill box. This pill box has three compartments to help differentiate between your pills of choice; or maybe use it as a jewelry box if you so choose. Pick any world destination to personalize the front. Purchase yours here!

Image provided by Etsy shop, LocationInspirations

 

 

European Travel Poster Wine Charms

$18.00 for a set of six

What’s better than drinking wine and sharing travel stories? Nothing, that’s what. What better way to spark conversation than having travel-themed wine charms for your international-loving friends?

Pair this gift with a bottle of your favorite wine from abroad and you’ll be sure to make your adventurer smile. Choose six charms out of 24 options (more choices are available upon request). Buy your charms today!

Image provided by Etsy shop, Convertible Girl Shop

 

 

Wake Me for Meals Sleep Mask

$19.95-$23.95 (based on band type)

This sleep mask is the perfect edition to any travel survival pack. Imagine, you’re trying to get in some Z’s but don’t want to miss dinner on your eight hour flight. There’s no better form of communication than having it written out across your face while you sleep.

Grab one of these sleep masks here. You can choose from a one-size-fits-most or adjustable band. I can assure you, you’ll be helping your favorite wander avoid hanger with this gift while they’re in the air.

Image provided by Etsy shop, Goia Boutique

 

 

Adventure Mug

$20.50-$21.50 (based on mug style)

This quote by Susan Sontag has taken the internet by storm as an iconic travel quote and is honestly one of my favorites. Combined with the black and white detailing, this is the perfect mug for your caffeine-fulled adventurer.

You can have the black trim and handle added to your mug for a $1.00 more, or you can keep the mug classically white with the quote and mountain range scene. Buy the mug here!

Image provided by Etsy shop, Livi’s Love Boutique

 

 

TSA-Approved Shampoo and Conditioner Labelled Bottles

$23.99-$26.39 (based on font color)

As I mentioned in my sustainable traveler article a few weeks back, one of the best ways to be nicer to our environment as travelers is by using reusable packing. Labelled bottles for all of your toiletry needs are definitely the answer! These are the perfect size to bring on planes and you won’t forget what’s in each bottle.

The bottles are a classic brown plastic with your choice of either white, black, gold, silver, or copper for the font. For roughly $2.00 more, you can have your font in rose gold. You know you need these now.

You can either get five bottles with the following labels: shampoo, conditioner, body, face, lotion or you can have your five bottles customized.

Image provided by Etsy shop, Heartland Lettering

 

Home State Necklace

$24.00-$33.00 (based on size and metal) 

There’s no place like home and these state necklaces are perfect reminds of just that. They’re also great gifts for anyone you know that has a state they’ve visited that has made a mark on their heart.

The necklaces come in mini or standard sized versions of the outlines and can be made in silver or gold. A heart charm can be added for no additional cost. The necklaces can be found here.

Image provided by Etsy shop, The Folk

Hoodie Neck Pillow

$24.19

This is a dream addition to all your traveling needs. It’s a pillow and and hoodie all in one. It’ll keep your wanderer toasty and comfortable while they try to nap anywhere; wether it’s on a train, plane, or automobile.

This fun twist on the neck pillow comes in grey or black. Order one now!

Image provided by Etsy Shop, Cool Console Covers

 

 

Our Latest Adventure Photo Frame

$25.95-$28.95 (based on size)

Do you and your travel buddy have way too many pictures to count and you want to give them a way to display your favorite one? This is the perfect picture frame for you!

The coolest part of this picture frame is the clip feature. It makes it easy to change out the picture on display, so your travel buddy can update the image any time you go on another trip together!

The frame comes in two sizes: 8 x 10 or 8 x 12. There are 32 color/pattern options available, but my personal favorites are the map patterns as seen in the picture below. Grab one here!

Image provided by Etsy Shop, Dandelion Wishes Design

 

Wrist Wallet

$25.60

This is such a great way to hide away the contents of your wallet while you travel. The arm cuff design is unassuming and comes in so many different patterns that you’re sure to find one that fits your globetrotter’s personal style perfectly. I’ve picked a brown leather to show off a more unisex option.

This is perfect for a backpacking adventure, festival weekend, or anything in between. Purchase your wrist wallet either on Etsy or the seller’s main website.

Image provided by SoFreeCreations.com

 

Compass Watch

$29.30

The wrap-style of this watch is truly breathtaking, plus it makes sure your traveler always knows they’re headed in the right direction.

The watch’s wristband can come in either black, white, grey, fuschia, purple, blue, or teal. There’s only one left in stock, so get it before it’s gone!

Image provided by Etsy shop, New Jewellery Story

 

World Map Bow Tie

$29.50

Do you have a travel companion that you know would love to rock their love of the world at their next black tie event or just when they feel like dressing up their everyday look with a bowtie?

This map-patterned bowtie is quirky in the best way and comes in either a self tie or pre-tied option. Buy one here.

World Map Bow TieMens Self Tie Bow TieAnniversary image 0
Image provided by Etsy shop, HoBo Ties

 

 

Travel-Themed Chocolates

$30.88-$40.30 (based on choice of set)

These hand-painted chocolates are great for anyone that loves something artfully crafted and edible. There are five different set options available, including different combinations of these six hand-painted sweets: a world map, a plane, a backpack (in blue or black) a hitchhiker’s thumb, and a backpacker.

Your have our choice of either white, milk, or dark chocolates. Satisfy your sweet tooth here.

Image provided by Etsy shop, Lindy Pop Chocs

 

 

Travel Christmas Ornament

$31.99-43.99 (based on signs in ornament)

Is there a more wonderful way to remember a year-full of adventures than an ornament? This extremely personalized piece can have up to 10 arrows with your choice of locations listed on them. You can have either a beachy or snowy style ornament for your Christmas tree memorabilia.

Create your ornament here.

Image provided by Etsy shop, Rusty Old Barn Company

 

Stay tuned next week for a new International Update. If you’re in need of new news sooner, I highly suggest checking out The Skimm. Their quick, colloquial take on the media is literally #goals in this modern age of journalism.  It’s my daily dose of info, both international and domestic and I highly suggest you give it a try too.

Happy holidays!

Chicago Cocoa Quest: The Best Hot Chocolate in CHI Town

Chicago. It’s a city that, on the right day,  has the scent of chocolate wafting through the air –curtesy of Bloomer Chocolate Company– and often has a windchill that can cut you straight to the bone. Combine those two variables and my brain instantly wants hot chocolate.

I had a gut feeling that Chicago had to be a hot cocoa mecca, and after a swift Google search I found I was right. I easily found six articles published in the last three years by reliable food and travel sources that listed the best places to get hot chocolate in Chi Town.

Timeout, Zagat, Urban Matter, Culture Trip, Chicago Tribune, and Eater collectively found 37 locations around the city that quote unquote have the “best hot chocolate”.  I have no doubt that even more hot cocoa huts exist throughout the city, but only five out of these 37 places mentioned made it onto four or more of the six coveted lists.

Thus my Cocoa Quest of 2019 was born. I took it upon myself to try these five hot chocolates and figured out which Chicago cocoa reigns supreme. I mentally compared each cocoa by their cost, drinkability, overall consistency from start to finish, and presentation.

Honorable mentions– locations that made it onto at least two of the lists– include: Vol. 39 (Loop: 39 S. LaSalle), Bar Cargo (River North: 605 N. Wells St.), Caffe Umbria (two locations; Logan Square: 2545 W. Armitage), Baptiste & Bottle (Streeterville: 101 E. Erie), Cocoa + Co. (Old Town: 1651 N. Wells), Intelligentsia Coffee (many locations; Millennium Park: 53 E. Randolph), and Milagro El Taqueria (many locations; Pilsen: 3050 W. 26th)


 

Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (Wicker Park: 1747 N. Damen)

Is that the White Chirstmas soundtrack playing in the background or is that just me? Photo taken by Erica Nolan.

Cost: $11.00 (five other non-traditional cocoas available for $8.00)

Pros: A cup of nostalgia topped with a homemade mallow

Cons: Too pricey and a little too sweet


Ask anyone in Chicago and they will tell you Mindy’s has “the best hot chocolate” hands down. I needed to see if the Chicago masses were right. Mindy’s has six hot chocolates on their menu, five of which are $8.00 and one of which– The Old Fashioned– is $11.00. I had to get the Old Fashioned because why mess with something deemed classic?

This cocoa is a Hallmark Movie in a cup. It might honestly be a little too sweet and wholesome but, for some reason, you can’t stop going back for more. It wraps you in a hug of nostalgia while also containing a complexity that can’t be ignored.

Each sip is a little different. It is the creamiest cocoa and managed to keep its liquid integrity even as it cooled. Topped with a dollop of ganache whipped topping and a homemade marshmallow, you get pangs of intense sweetness and tart bitterness within the first few sips. When you’re in the middle of the cocoa, its that wistful sugary flavor you remember from snow days as a kid. The bottom of the cup has bites of dark chocolate, assumedly because the chocolate has settled near the bottom.

I can see why so many consider this the best hot chocolate in the city, however I personally would have preferred a more consistent flavor all the way through the experience. Part of me was also put off by the fact that the hot chocolate was $5.00 more than every other classic cocoa I tried. The supply and demand for the beverage is the only explanation I find suitable for the cost, and really that’s not quite enough to justify it for me.


XOCO (River North: 449 N. Clark)

No fuss. No toppings. Just chocolate. Photo taken by Erica Nolan.

Cost: $3.75

Pros: Traditionally made and a bang for your buck

Cons: Inconsistent consistency


XOCO is a very unexpected location for hot chocolate to be a star item on the menu. A Mexican fast food-style restaurant– not in quality, just in speed– they have an entire section of their menu dedicated to bean-to-cup chocolate.

What does that mean, you might ask? XOCO literally makes everything that goes into their cocoa from scratch– even the chocolate bar used in the hot chocolate is made on-site. There are five cocoas to choose from, from the Authentic to the Mexico City Thick, and all are under $4.00. I didn’t think a decent and cheap cup of cocoa was possible in Chicago and especially not in River North, but since XOCO cuts out the middleman by making their own chocolate, it makes sense.

I went with XOCO’s Classic, a combination of XOCO’s fresh-ground chocolate, whole milk, and sugar. When the waiter brings you your cocoa, they’ll have an empty white mug in one hand and a small silver pitcher in the other. They set down the mug and slowly pour the cocoa for you. They say enjoy and leave you to your liquid chocolate. Simple.

There are no artisan marshmallows, whipped toppings, or powders to distract you from what’s in front of you and I think that’s ballsy and beautiful. It shows sureness in the drink they’ve placed in front of you and for that, I applaud them.

The cocoa tastes like a liquified dark chocolate bar and is probably the most bitter of the cocoas on this list. I can’t say this is a bad thing seeing as a cloyingly sweet cup of cocoa is near to impossible to finish.

As the cocoa beings to cool, you realize how serious they are when they say fresh-ground chocolate.  The cocoa becomes sludgier and almost ganache-like in consistency. There’s a graininess too that likely comes from the mixing of the sugar with the milk and chocolate.

This was not the best cup of cocoa– I’ll tell you this now– but it was solid, traditional, and confident. I would likely go back due to the affordability, proximity to my job, and my curiosity in experiencing the Mexico City Thick.


 

Bittersweet Pastry Shop (Lakeview: 1114 W. Belmont)

IMG_3374
This little pitcher holds almost two cups of frothy chocolate goodness. Photo taken by Erica Nolan.

Cost: $6.00 

Pros: You get almost two full cups of high-end cocoa for only $6.00

Cons: It’s more of a decadent dessert than a hot chocolate. It’s very rich, so much so that one order can easily be split between two people.


If you are looking for decadent, opulent, and seductive hot chocolate, Bittersweet Pastry Shop is where you’ll find it. This hot chocolate has Audrey Hepburn-like class. Presented to you in a white ceramic pitcher with a dusting of cocoa powder on top, it looks almost too good to drink.

A slight hint of cinnamon floats up from the cocoa as you pour it into your sturdy paper-brown ceramic cup–again on a class level I didn’t know cocoa possessed. The subtle scent of spice is followed by aromas of dark chocolate that almost smell like coffee. As the cocoa pours you know it’s made of frothed cream, similar to the milk poured on top of cappuccinos but much thicker.

Drinking this hot cocoa is like drinking a hot chocolate mousse. It has the same luscious velvety texture that coats your mouth in chocoholic bliss. As the dusting of cocoa mixes with the hot chocolate it becomes reminiscent of the little bits of crystallized cocoa that don’t fully dissolve  when you make a packet of instant Swiss Miss with warm milk. It’s a nice nod to childhood memories and adds some bitterness to the sweet creamy cocoa.

When you get closer to the bottom of the pitcher there seems to be an orange citrus note. I’m pretty convinced there is actual orange zest in the cocoa after running into a few bits near the bottom. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the addition of orange, but the acidity does help cleanse your pallet ever so slightly after all of the richness.

While this was a cocoa experience I won’t soon forget, I have to say the serving is too much for one person. Since the cocoa is a thicker consistency than a standard cup of hot chocolate, it cools down faster than you would like. Combined the level of indulgence with the lukewarm temperature and the second cup becomes a bit lackluster.


 

BomboBar (Old Town: 1529 N. Wells)

img_3375-1
Donuts and hot chocolate. Win-win-win. Photo taken by Erica Nolan.

Cost: $5.00 ($6.00 with a donut topper)

Pros: A perfectly balanced hot chocolate that I could drink by the bucket-load

Cons: The Instagram-able Chocoholic and Funfetti Hotter Chocolates overshadow the real star


When you search BomboBar’s hot chocolate online, the Chocoholic and Funfetti Hotter Chocolates are the first things that pop up. These cocoas are $11.00 and covered in insane toppings like Rice Krispie treats, Pop Tarts, sour rainbow belts, and waffle cones. They’re a little kid’s dream and a parent’s nightmare all in one.

I was skeptical before walking through BomboBar’s door because these two crazy cocoas made it feel like an Instagram trap. You know the restaurants: they take a dish and deck it out to the extreme just to blow customer’s minds, but the actual food hidden underneath is subpar.

Thankfully, BomboBar serves a Classic Hotter Chocolate for $5.00; $6.00 if you want to add one of their bombolonis (a small hole-less donut). The classic cocoa is served in a brown paper cup and topped with whipped cream, chilled chocolate chips, and served with a red straw. I added the donut to see if the decorative sweets decking out their other cocoas were worth the hype.

I appreciate that BomboBar still served their hot chocolate in a paper cup even though I wasn’t taking the hot chocolate to go. It gave it a more approachable vibe than some of the classier presentations I experienced on this adventure.

Everything about this hot chocolate is perfect. It’s so flawlessly balanced that you can keep drinking it without feeling like you’ll go into diabetic shock or explode from a dairy overload. The fact that the chocolate chips are chilled on top is essential. As you take a sip through the straw, there’s a perfect balance of warmth, creamy, bitter, and sweet. You get a cool hit of the classic whipped cream and then cold hard chocolate. It adds texture without taking away from the cocoa’s integrity. The donut definitely wasn’t necessary– I’m not sure donuts ever are– but it was light and airy and covered with sugar so there were no complaints from me.

I walked in convinced this would be a lipstick on a pig situation. If you want the wow factor go for the crazier Hotter Chocolates, but please know that hidden underneath all of the Hotter Chocolate glam is a naturally beautiful cup of hot chocolate that should put away the FaceTune and rock her badass self.


 

Katherine Anne Confections (Logan Square: 2745 W. Armitage)

If Victor Frankenstein was a chocolatier, this would be his mad science lab. Photo taken by Erica Nolan.

Cost: $5.00 (for 7 oz.)

Pros: Textural epic-ness

Cons: Smallest cup of cocoa


Katherine Anne Confections is first and foremost a chocolate shop. The whimsy that naturally comes with making candy translates into their hot chocolate– or drinking chocolate as they call it on their menu.

There are twelve different cocoa flavors to choose from and five different marshmallow flavors too. You get to be a hot chocolate mad scientist when you order here and that alone is fun.

I ordered the milk drinking chocolate and topped it with the Vanilla Bean marshmallow. I was intrigued by the Earl Grey marshmallow but wanted to make this cup as classic as I could. There are two cocoa sizes you can choose from at Katherine Anne’s, either the 7 oz. or 13 oz.; you get to add two marshmallows if you go with the larger size. I went with the smaller size seeing as I was there to try the hot chocolate and not indulge in it.

Small chocolate crisps are added alongside the marshmallow to top off the cocoa. They’re reminiscent of the crispy bits inside of a Crunch Bar and give a nice textural element, but seem to add a saltiness to the hot chocolate that’s unfortunately unpleasant after a few sips.

The cocoa itself is velvety and has a hint of cinnamon, but is slightly too rich and thickens as it cools. There’s also not enough cocoa in the 7 oz. to balance out the marshmallow. The hot chocolate becomes a half-melted gooey mess before you’re even finished.

While there’s a lot of personal and creative freedom when you order at Katherine Anne’s, I’m not sure I’d go back unless I was going for the decadent chocolate confections.


 

And the winner is…

BomboBar’s Classic Hotter Chocolate!

2nd: Mindy’s Old Fashioned Hot Chocolate

3rd: XOCO’s Classic

4th: Bittersweet’s Hot Chocolate

5th: Katherine Anne’s Milk Drinking Chocolate

 

Seriously, I walked into BomboBar thinking it would be at the bottom of my ranking. I walked out wanting to go back for another cup instantly.

It’s reasonably priced, perfectly balanced, and just makes you happy while you’re drinking it. Way to go BomboBar; your cocoa has become a lifelong favorite of mine.

Don’t agree with my choice or have another place you think should have made the cut for the Cocoa Quest? Add a comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 EASY Ways to Be A More Sustainable Traveler

As anyone that has ever tried to follow one of my blogs knows, consistency is not my strong suit. After spending a hiatus focusing on adulthood–which included a job change–I’m back.

While I haven’t summed up all of the international news I have read over the last nine months, the efforts of young Greta Thunberg is a story from this year that has consistently caught my attention.

Greta’s infuriated pleas with the United Nations got me wondering how I could help the environment and the world because –let’s be real– if a 16-year-old can make waves, I can at least try to make splashes. Then I remembered I had the perfect source to find out easy ways to help the environment–Emily.

Emily is a dear friend of mine from undergrad who now has a Masters of Science in Environmental Conservation from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I gave her a call a few weeks back and we spent a couple hours talking about ways everyone can help keep this gorgeous, awe-inspiring planet of ours around.

I’ve given Emily’s suggestions a travel-spin, but these tips are things we can easily do day-to-day as well. So, without further ado, here are 10 easy–seriously, they’re simple–ways to be more sustainable.


1. Eat less meat and dairy

One of the best ways to become more sustainable in your life is by going vegan. My mind instantly went to my foodie-based travels when Emily said this: gelato, steak frites, Irish stew. Let’s face it, meat and cheese are at the heart of a food-loving traveler’s lifestyle.

Emily quickly mentioned that she, and almost every conservationist out there, knows this is the suggestion that gets the most backlash. Her tip is to try and eat vegetarian at least three days a week to help cut back.

Here are five delicious dishes from around the world  that fit the requirements of no meat OR cheese (shout out to Culture Trip and Insider for some flavorful inspiration):

Kushari, Egypt– This is the national dish of Egypt! It’s a combination of macaroni noodles, rice, and lentils topped with a spicy tomato sauce. Garbanzo beans and fried onions are usually used as toppings.

Kushari
Photo by mttsndrs on CreativeCommons.org

Caldo Verde, Portugal– A Portuguese stew served primarily in the north, it is a combination of cabbage, potatoes, onions, and olive oil (sometimes tomatoes). *BEWARE! Some variations may include meat for flavor*

Marlene's Christmas Soup (Caldo Verde)
Photo by Leandroid on CreativeCommons.org

Tortilla de Patatas, Spain– This Spanish classic is literally to die for. A friend that was studying in Ireland the same semester as me made this for an international potluck. I never knew something so simple could taste so good. The dish consists of perfectly seasoned potatoes, eggs, onions, and occasionally tomatoes or peppers. It’s fluffy and luscious, and now I want some.

Tortilla  Gijonuda del Gota a Gota
Photo by Esquetodos on CreativeCommons.org

Gado-Gado, Indonesia– When translated to English, this Indonesian classic means mix-mix. The main ingredients are potatoes, long beans, bean sprouts, spinach, corn, cabbage, tofu, temph, and hard boiled eggs. All the the ingredients are then mixed (hence the name) with peanut sauce.

File:2016 0421 Gado gado NL.jpg
Photo by Takeaway on CreativeCommons.org

Frijoles Negros, Mexico– This Mexican dish is a spicy black bean stew cooked with onions, garlic, and peppers. It is often topped with sliced avocado.

Cucharada Mexicana
Photo by GuilleDes on CreativeCommons.org

 

2. Use public transport and walk more

This is such a simple thing to do as a traveler. It’ll save you money (no car rental insurance needed), ends with better stories (I watched an Irish brawl breakout in the street while on a public bus my first day studying abroad– no joke), and is just better for your health.

Living in a larger city now, I use public transportation and walk EVERYWHERE…seriously, ask my friends and family, I’m like a modern-day Elizabeth Bennet when it comes to getting around Chicago.

photo of woman in brown coat crossing the street
Photo by Анна Галашева on Pexels.com

Walking gives you the opportunity to truly take in everything around you and find places you probably wouldn’t if you were in a car.

A ton of cities, especially in Europe, have free walking tours that will guarantee you hit up all of the iconic monuments on your bucket list. So ditch the car keys, stretch your legs, and get a pass for the public train/bus system.

 

3. Be more mindful of your refrigerant management

What is refrigerant management you might ask? The heating and cooling of anything really. From your refrigerator to your air conditioning unit, being mindful of how you use refrigerant on the day-to-day could help save the planet.

woman wearing pink knit top opening refrigerator
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

The best and easiest way to do this is by being mindful of the heating and cooling of your home. It takes more energy to make your house warm during the winter and cool during the summer, so the closer you can keep the inside of your house to the temperature outside, the better.

For example, say you typically like to keep the house at 70 degrees Fahrenheit on a hot day. Consider going with 76 instead.

And when you travel, make the temperatures even closer to the outdoors– you’re not going to be home anyways, so it’ll help keep your bills lower and the environment happier.

 

4. Shop secondhand

This was such a wonderful idea suggested by Emily while we talked. Start shopping at secondhand shops for your clothing. You’ll save money and you might find classic and nostalgic pieces along the way.

woman wearing white long sleeved shirt with scarf standing near clothes
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

Not only should you shop secondhand, but donate to secondhand shops as well– even while you travel. Pack as much as you want before you leave for your trip and don’t feel guilty about it. The day before you head home, go through the clothing you’ve packed and pull out things you know you really don’t use that often or need. This way, you can contribute to the secondhand shop cycle and will open up some room in your suitcase.

It’s a great and eco-friendly way to make more room for souvenirs, so win-win!

 

5. Use more reusable products

Here are four ways you can use more reusable products while you travel:

  • Invest in refillable travel-sized containers for shampoo, conditioner, and lotions. This way you can take from your stash of products at home, fill up your reusable containers, and have everything you need for your adventure.
  • Buy a reusable water bottle. I’d suggest investing in two– one for water and one for coffee– but if you don’t have a serious caffeine addiction like I do, just pack one. And if you’re looking for a water bottle that’s travel-friendly, check out que Bottle. They’re collapsible, leak-proof, dishwasher safe, and can hold hot and cold liquids. This article’s not sponsored, I just think they’re super cool.
assorted plastic bottles
Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com
  • Buy a travel set of utensils. This way you’ll always have a knife, fork, and spoon at your fingertips and you won’t end up grabbing plastic utensils every time you grab some quick grub. People have to eat, no matter where they are, but they don’t have to use one-use plastic to do it.
  • Ladies, this one is for you. Invest in reusable feminine products. They’re a must-have when traveling because you never know when or where Aunt Flow is going to show up. Having the peace of mind that you always have an easily accessible and reusable product like the Diva Cup (or her off-brand sisters) is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

 

6. Turn your search engine into an eco-friendly, world-saving machine!

This one is probably the easiest addition you can make to your day-to-day life, weather you’re traveling or sitting on your couch at home. Add Ecosia to your web browser to help plant trees around the world while you surf the web.

Here’s how it works: every time you use your search engine, search ads generate revenue. This revenue goes to Ecosia and the income that generate from your search ads go to planting trees across the globe.

black hanging bridge surrounded by green forest trees
Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

Ecosia’s founder, Christian Kroll, saw how globalization and climate change were interconnected. He also realized that planting trees could neutralize CO2 emissions on a grand scale. So, he took to the internet– coincidentally a huge contributor to globalization–as his source of revenue to help fund global planting and restoration projects. The company has helped plant over 73 million trees in the last decade since its inception in 2009.

So, before you book your next flight, hotel room, or simply log on to Facebook, download Ecosia (they have a mobile app too). You’ll be saving the world without even realizing it.

 

7. Buy carbon offsets for your air travels

Call me naive or ill-informed, but this is something I didn’t even know existed until Emily told me about it during our talk. You can make monetary donations based on the carbon footprint created by your time in the air. Did you realize that tourism creates 8% of the globe’s carbon emissions? That’s a pretty decent chunk. If we can help combat that somehow, we probably should.

jet cloud landing aircraft
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are many carbon offset programs out there, but the three that seemed the most legit to me were CarbonChoice–United Airline’s collaboration with Conservation International, Cool Effect— a nonprofit dedicated to putting the best carbon projects from around the world all onto one platform, and Sustainable Travel International— a nonprofit using travel and tourism to create an international impact, both socially and environmentally.

 

8. Reduce your food waste

This is another easy way you can help the planet and win as a traveler. How do you reduce your food waste you might ask? By being conscious of how much food you consume and how much you throw away.

When buying food at home, track how much you actually consume and throw away for a week. Trust me, once you realize how much money you’re throwing away with your expired or old food you’ll be glad you’re being more proactive about cutting back your food waste. Consider how much of that money could be going towards your travel fund!

Actually eating the leftovers in your fridge. Buy two or three standalone pieces of fruit instead of an entire bag. Take expiration dates as guidelines and not set-in-stone rules. Again, easy.

woman wearing striped shirt holding ice cream
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

While you’re traveling, you’ll probably be eating out a lot more than normal so you don’t have as much control over the food waste created by the restaurants you visit. The one way you can contribute is by eating EVERYTHING on your plate. I know, it sounds silly almost saying that– it’s clearly such a struggle to finish every last crumb of your international delicacies, but–as a close friend of mine once told me, “Don’t let the food win.”

If you’re the type that knows their eyes are always bigger than their stomach, order consciously. Some nights, get dessert for dinner if you know you really want that tarte tatin but won’t finish it if you have an entree beforehand. It’s okay to indulge and treat yourself while you travel–just be aware of what you might be leaving behind.  

 

9. Go to more national parks and conservation sites

Our world is a beyond beautiful place–that’s why we travelers like exploring it. National parks and conservation sites around the world are great places to visit when you need to be reminded we live in a wonderful world that needs protecting. Here are six pictures  of national parks proving just that:

Galapagos National Park, Ecuador

galapagos-islands-2419239_1920
Photo by pen_ash on Pixabay.com

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

tanzania-278367_1920
Photo by Mariamichelle on Pixabay.com

Banff National Park, Canada

banff-4331689_1920
Photo by jr_jurassic on Pixabay.com

Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

new-zealand-3021090_1920
Photo by Julius_Silver on Pixabay.com

Connemara National Park, Ireland

ireland-2299410_960_720
Photo by larahcv on Pixabay.com

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Japan

mt-fuji-1898348_1920
Photo by sayama on Pixabay.com

 

10. Talk to locals while you travel

Just like Emily and I talked on the phone, talking to other people about ways they stay sustainable in their daily life can help give you ideas of what you might be able to implement into your routine.

freedom-2768515_1920.jpg
Photo by rawpixel on Pixabay.com

Different cultures have different views on the world and how to protect it, so you never know what suggestions you might get while talking to the locals, or even fellow travelers. It might result in some great tips for you to share when you get home.


 

Emily, thank you again for educating me and showing me there are so many attainable ways to be sustainable.

I hope everyone finds this post helpful and use some of these tips in your upcoming travels or even just your everyday life. What are some ways you implement sustainability into your routine? Share them in the comments below! Until next time!

Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Photography

When I can’t sleep, I often find myself on Google typing random things like, “Free Museums in Chicago” into the search bar. So, if you ever wonder where I find my random sources of inspiration, thank Google.

I stumbled upon the Museum of Contemporary Photography when I typed in the exact phrase mentioned above. The MoCP is attached to Columbia College Chicago, just off the Harrison stop on the Red Line. It’s a modern building with large windows and completely a part of Columbia’s campus.

I’m not big on fate, but the museum is featuring the exhibit, Stateless: Views of Global Migration from January 24 to March 31. I discovered the museum February 15, smack dab in the middle of those dates. As an advocate for staying up-to-date on current events with an extreme interest in global migration, this sure felt like fate slapping me across the face.

The museum consists of three floors which came to this exhibit’s advantage. As someone invested in and passionate about this topic, the layout fascinated me. It starts out with the struggles of the United States on the first floor, moves to the Syria Lebanon conflict on the second, and then works up to African refugees crossing the Mediterranean on the third. I found this structure intentionally symbolic of an American understanding of global migration.

The first floor focuses on the DACA and Mexican migration into the United States. Putting this part of the exhibit on the first floor was ingenious. The DACA and Mexican migration hits closest to home here in the States so it will suck people in. While this situation is extremely important and impactful on our day-to-day lives, I think it makes sense to qualify it as surface level when it comes to global migration.

The artwork on the first floor is primarily created by Fidencio Fifield-Perez. Born in Oaxaca, Mexico in 1990, Fifield-Perez was smuggled into the United States at the age of seven. He received his DACA papers in 2012 and has been presenting his work ever since.

My favorite piece by him was entitled El Hielo . Made of acrylic, ink, maps, and map pins, it’s as if the artwork is made of spider webs.  When you look closely you can see that the webs are actually intricately cut out roads from a map. It seems fitting that someone so connected to migration would use maps as a way to express himself.

The second floor was completely dedicated to the Syrian crisis. This example of global migration has had a decent amount of coverage in American news, probably because of its overall impact on the United States as a whole. In my brain, they placed this on the second floor because it’s a form of global migration that hasn’t gone over our heads here in the US. It’s still making an impact on us here, so, if you’ve been paying attention, you know what’s going on.

The images on this floor were shots from Omar Imam’s Live, Love, Refugee series that came out in 2015. Imam was a Syrian refugee that spent time volunteering at a refugee camp in Lebanon’s Begaa Valley in 2012. There was an eerie lightheartedness to the images, all in black and white.  The true pain was found in the quotes from each photograph’s muse often, written underneath the picture.

One quote struck me; hit me so hard in the gut that I felt hallow for the rest of my time on the second floor. It was simple, but seemed to echo in my brain after reading it. It said,

“The gap between me and my memories from Syria becomes bigger; I’m afraid of the blank.”

The third floor was completely dedicated to African migration into Europe, primarily through the Mediterranean Sea. This floor, and particular example of current global migration, is more out of reach than the other two. Out of sight, maybe? I’ve written about the stresses and tragedies that are currently striking the coasts of Africa in a few of my International Updates, but the articles I’ve found on this subject were never American sources.

Most of the work on the third floor was by photographer Daniel Castro Garcia. For me, his most impactful image was Muhammad Ali Bah, Rome, Italy, February 2017.

It’s a lone man in a white and black hoodie, black leather trenchcoat, and black acid washed jeans. He’s looking straight ahead at the camera. The corners of his lips are slightly upturned as if he knows he should smile but a hardness has prevented him from fully committing to it. There’s no smile in his eyes. An outline of a dinosaur’s skeleton is painted on the brick wall behind him. Everything in the image has grey undertones.

The man is Muhammad Ali Bah, who met Garcia in 2015 while living at the C.A.R.A. di Mineo Reception Centre– one of the largest migrant/refugee centres in Italy. It is currently under investigation for fraud, embezzlement, and other illegal Mafia operations.

When you first enter the third floor, you are struck with Garcia’s photos, but as you prepare to leave you will be sucked in by Leila Alaoui’s 6-minute video entitled Crossings as it’s projected onto the staircase’s wall. I highly suggest you watch her depiction of the Sub-Saharan African struggle before you leave.

Leila Alaoui died in 2016, at the age of 33, from injuries sustained from a terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. She was working on a project for Amnesty International’s women’s right campaign, My Body My Rights.

While I’ve written a lot, the cliché still rings true: a picture is worth a thousand words (I missed that count by thirty). Stateless will be on display at the MoCP until March 31st. It’s a compact museum, so if you’re in Chicago any time this month, I highly suggest dedicating an hour of your time to this project.

 

 

 

Chicago: Kopi Cafe

Kopi was a Chicago must-see I almost forgot about. Every once in a while I would remember there was a traveler’s cafe I wanted to visit, but couldn’t remember the name, and then it would slip my mind again into the ether of adulthood.

Then, a few Saturdays back, I was having an uneventful night. One of my roommates was on a date and the other had just gotten home. I asked her if she had any plans. She said she was going to a cafe to write and asked if I wanted to join. It sounded like a fantastic way to spend a relaxed Saturday, so I asked what cafe she had in mind.

That was when the stars aligned and she said Kopi. The name clicked and I agreed to join her. We arrived around 7:30 PM and it was cozily busy. There were tables available around us, but I could tell this place was a favorite of many.

Outside of a typical cafe menu, Kopi also has a drink menu that enticed both myself and my roommate. While flipping through the drinks, I stumbled upon their “We Might Recommend…” section. They had fun spin-offs of classics like the Mayan Jig– a twist on an Irish coffee made with Mexican Hot Chocolate instead of its caffeinated cousin.

IMG_1960

Then I saw it. Tea and Whiskey. It was so simply unassuming. So easy to overlook. In my gut, I feel like most people would flit right past it. But there’s a line from blues artist Tom Waits that has stuck with me for most of my life that made me realize I needed to order this drink right now.

In Waits’s song, Black Market Baby he says the line, “she’s whiskey in a teacup.” I’ve always found that so relatable. On the outside I feel like I come off as a fairly put-together, quiet, and often self-deprecating person. Once I open up more I find that my fire and drive become more noticeable, like whiskey in a teacup.

This was every inch and essence of me put on a drink menu.

You have your choice of a smokey Oolong or a Jasmine loose leaf (I tried the smokey Oolong), served with a shot of bourbon on the side. And God, is it presented in the best way possible. You get your own personal teapot that holds about two cups of tea and the bourbon is served in a steel syrup server, like the ones you find at classic American diners when you order a plate of pancakes. An empty teacup awaits for you to mix your tea and whiskey however you choose.

I tasted the tea on its own first to get an idea of the flavor profile. Honestly, I was shocked by the amount of smoke in the tea’s flavor. It was very similar to the smokiness found in scotch, so I had a feeling the sweetness of the bourbon would mellow out the flavor and create a perfect blend. Luckily, I was right.

My roommate went with a craft of white wine, her beverage doppelgänger. As we enjoyed our drinks and wrote, I took in Kopi’s ascetic. We were surrounded by an army of memories hidden away in trinkets any traveler might collect on an adventure to the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. The walls were painted a mustard gold with the top forth a rustier red.

There was a globe that was transformed into a light fixture. The music as eclectic as the decor, jumped from the Beatles to Italian street music. Our table was right next to a wall with five clocks on it. The times were set for Moscow, Goa, Yogyakarta, Rotorua, and Kyoto. The wall was also home to bookshelves filled with travel books. A majority of them were Lonely Planet books which made them ten times harder not to touch.

The back corner of the shop was a small boutique filled with quirky gifts you could get any eccentric traveler. The many baked goods in their bakery case ranged from gluten-free vegan decadencies to a chocolate-dipped macaroon I forced myself not to buy.

Part of me thinks I have found my personal Central Perk; a cafe I can call home with my regular order of tea and whiskey, sitting and writing my next poem or blog post, either by myself or with a friend. This feels like a place meant for retelling or recording stories. A safe haven for the inner or actual travel in all of us.

I love this place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago: American Writers Museum

This post is going to be a throwback to 2018 because the start of 2019 has been a little hectic.

You might be thinking, yo Erica, that month-long plus hiatus, what was that?! What can I say? I’ve been living my life offline a little more and I’m liking it.

This year, I plan on living it up so I have more awesome stories to tell you about the epic city of Chicago (and hopefully some far-off places too). This means I probably won’t post every week, but that’s life.

I hope you like the things I find, but in the end, I’m going to write these stories no matter what. So, keep living a life worth writing about friends 🙂 


It was the Friday before Christmas, and Chicago was still–off the Granville stop anyways. Everyone seemed to be leaving the city instead of staying in it. On Thursday evening, more people were taking the 95th instead of the Howard at 5:00 PM. Ubers and Lyfts were all heading to Midway or O’Hare. Yet, there I was, alone in my three-bedroom apartment. I still had two days until my flight left Midway and I could start my Christmas vacation.

With my job, I have Fridays all to myself, and seeing as half the city had disappeared into the cold December air, I was going to make December 21st a day to remember. I turned to my ever trusty friend, Google, and dove into the wonderful rabbit hole of Chicago’s quirky museums.

I grew up with parents that liked to fill their kids’ heads with perpetual nonsense and trivia by taking them to museums, so finding a good museum always gives me a sense of comfort.

When I discovered the American Writers Museum, I knew I had found a personal safe haven in Chicago.

Taking up the entire second floor of 180 N. Michigan, the American Writers Museum is sandwiched between floors of corporate offices, like a flower pressed inside of a book. The museum’s location is so hidden in plain sight that I walked past the building twice before noticing the brass sign for the museum.

The first gallery I entered was one of the temporary exhibits called Bob Dylan: Electric. I had forgotten that Dylan received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, and while I personally find gifting a writer of lyrics an award for writers of literature a bit of a stretch, I was still intrigued.

IMG_1783

My favorite piece in the exhibit was Dylan’s marked up copy of Catcher in the Rye. Next to the copy was a quote from Dylan saying, “a lonely kid…who ran away and decided everyone else was phony. I must have identified with him.”

This silly beaten-up copy of a classic covered in Dylan’s scratchy penmanship reminded me of literature’s universal nature. A rock and roll star can take away the same message and feel the same connection as an introverted high schooler reading a book for class. There’s a camaraderie in that connection that makes the world feel a little bit closer.

I worked my way next into the Children’s Literature Gallery. This room gave me the same sense of joy and nostalgia I always get when I walk into the kid’s department at Barnes and Noble. It was bright and covered in characters from iconic stories like the Wizard of Oz and Charlotte’s Web.

Each display was interactive and focused on a specific children’s classic. The playful nature of the gallery helped kids understand the importance of the books they were learning about. The best one in my opinion was the “Which Little Woman are You?” display. I will always and forever be Jo.

As you work your way further into the museum you’re sucked into an extensive and–again– interactive timeline of American writers. I stumbled upon the poet Anne Bradstreet while looking at this exhibit. I hadn’t read her work since a very in-depth project I did my junior year of high school, but it reminded me how much I actually enjoyed her work as I re-read her poem, “My Dear and Loving Husband” at the museum.

Write-ups about Abigail Adams, Edgar Allen Poe, and even the jazz era kept me engrossed until I found myself in the Mind of a Writer Gallery. This section of the museum was byfar my favorite.

When you first walk into the gallery, you are met by twenty or so typewriters waiting for the inspired to type away on their keys. Half finished stories were on each, ready for the next eager mind to contribute. Next is the Writer Routine display which digitally pairs you with different writers based on certain  daily habits.

According to my answers, I have the late night writing habits of poet Charles Bukowski, a shared interest in baking with poet Emily Dickinson, an interest in a six-toed cat companion like Ernest Hemingway, and the same snack tastes as HP Lovecraft (Lovecraft was a stretch. I was just curious who fueled themselves with doughnuts and a hunk of cheese on the daily).

If all of the exhibits I mentioned before hadn’t inspired the writer in me enough, the Chicago Gallery did me in. Banners with the faces of the poets, journalists, and playwrights of this city stood in front of me like an army:

Sherwood Anderson

Ann Landers

Mike Royko

I’m live in a city known for its writers; generations of dreamers that use paper and pen as their weapon of choice. As a writer myself, what a humbling and awesome thing to realize.

If this museum sounds like a place you don’t want to miss, consider buying your ticket through the American Writers Museum website. Tickets are typically $12.00, but if you go through their website and sign up for the monthly newsletter, you get 20% off your purchase.

If you have a love for books, or are a writer yourself, please check this place out. While compact and unassuming, The American Writers Museum is worth every minute and penny you spend there.

 

 

 

Chicago: Christkindlmarket

I was raised by a family that believes November is for Thanksgiving and December is for Christmas. We have none of this “Christmas music on November 1st” nonsense or tree decorating before Black Friday. I don’t want to sound like a Grinch, but I find it a sacred practice not to celebrate Christmas early and I planned on following this rule until the day I died.

Then I moved to Chicago.

My roommate had warned me about the Christmas overload that would come my way when I first moved in. She also warned me that I would fall in love with all of it. I wasn’t completely convinced but didn’t think much of it until the holiday shift started to happen.

November hit, and Christmas was beginning to creep into every aspect of my daily life. The street lamps in Edgewater were being decked out with LED snowflakes and wreaths. Trains on the CTA were even being covered in lights, tinsel, and Santa sleigh cars.

I’m going to be honest, a small part of me wanted to reject all of it like a bad transplant. But as the weather started to change and the feelings of the season really started to set in, there was something magical about the Christmas evolution happening around me.

Throughout October, I had heard mentions of the Christkindlmarket from co-workers and friends. From what they said, it was one of Chicago’s biggest Christmas traditions that couldn’t be passed up. So I decided that I would try to combat my personal vendetta against early Christmas celebration by going on opening night, November 16th.

Christmas markets like the one held in Chicago are a German custom that date back to the 1300s. Traditionally, they feature holiday gifts created by tradesmen like nativity scenes, nutcrackers, and ornaments. Classic treats like gingerbread, candied nuts, bratwurst, and the iconic gluhwein (mulled wine) are eaten around the open air markets while everyone enjoys the festivities put on by performers.

Christkindlmarket 2Planted in the center of the Chicago Loop at Daley Plaza, there’s something heartwarming about seeing something purely European sandwiched into the bustling streets of Chicago. When I walked into the plaza, I was instantly taken aback by the smells. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, taking in the all-too-familiar scent of potato pancakes. I was instantly transported back to an open air market my friends and I visited while in the Czech Republic. Other treats like pretzels, doner kebab, and chocolates were placed strategically throughout the stands.

I continued to roam and admire the work of the many vendors featured at the market. Most of the items for sale are actually shipped in from different parts of the world. Each stall has the city of origin featured on their sign so you know exactly how far it’s come to make it to the Christkindlmarket.

 

 

There were quite a few stands featuring ornaments made out of china and glass. A personal favorite was a glass ornament made to look like a slice of pizza (surprisingly, it wasn’t deep-dish). There was a vendor completely dedicated to steins, another featured wooden figurines, and another featured adorable winter hats that looked like different animals.

My main goal at the market was to give gluhwein a try. I visited Europe right after the Christmas season, so I never got the chance to actually try the real deal. I managed to sneak myself into the line for mulled wine which, not surprisingly, was one of the longest lines in the market.

I gave the cheerful woman working the stand my $8.00 and was presented with a commemorative heart-shaped mug filled to the brim with a warm concoction of red wine and spices.Christkindlmarket 4

I walked around the market until my cup was empty, taking in the people and the spectacle around me. I arrived to the market around 6:00 PM and by the time 6:30 rolled around, it was almost impossible to move. You would think that after about five months in a major city, I would be use to the crowds, but part of me still can’t accept them, so I left and headed over to the Chicago Christmas Tree. The official tree lighting had happened that evening, around the time I got to the market, so I didn’t see the tree go from standard pine tree to Christmas spectacular, but it was still breathtaking all the same.

If you end up in Chicago before December 25th, go check out the Chirstkindlmarket. Get some gluhwein, buy an ornament, and eat a potato pancake. I promise it’ll put you into the holiday spirit. My evening there even solidified my acceptance that celebrating the holidays a little early never hurt anybody.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: