Tag Archive: Europe


OK. Several of  you have been asking me when I’m going to get to the chocolate! I can assure you … Barcelona is an important stop on any chocolate lover’s quest. I met an incredible chocolate maker who will be profiled in detail in my upcoming book, Chocolatour. (Stay tuned to this blog for more info on that.)

But what I would like to focus on for this final post on Barcelona is the amazing chocolate museum you will find in this city of senses. The Museu de la X0colata is a must for any chocolate lover. You will learn about the history of chocolate, see an extensive assortment of equipment used for chocolate making, and be enticed and entertained by a broad assortment of chocolate creations. And yes … you can taste, buy, and even learn how to make chocolate on site.

You can taste, buy, and create chocolate at the Chocolate Museum

Spain plays a very important role in the history of chocolate

I’ve been to several chocolate museums around the world. Each has its own personality, just as every culture — and its chocolate — has its own unique personality.  What’s special about Barcelona’s Chocolate Museum is that it showcases life-like, and in some cases, life-sized chocolate creations that really show you how chocolate masters are using our favourite confection to entertain, inspire, and entice us with chocolate-based art. Here’s a look at some of the examples you will see!

chocolate gaucho and bull

global pop culture in chocolate

We didn’t have time to take a class at the museum (they hold chocolate making classes, and also special chocolate tasting and celebratory functions here.) But if you plan your visit ahead, you can do just that. Spend some time perusing their website to learn more.

Indeed, Barcelona is a city that will satisfy every one of your senses. I learned that one of my favourite celebratory libations, Freixenet, is made in the Catalan region of Penedés, just south of Barcelona! What goes better with decadent dark chocolate truffles than a glass (or two!) of dry sparkling wine? And Freixenet is the world’s number one sparkling wine! Learn how to pronounce Freixenet here.

Enjoy all of the pleasures of Barcelona, and be sure to visit this blog again during the week of December 20th (leading up to Christmas) when we’ll continue our chocolate quest with a visit to Torino, Italy.

I’ve had the privilege of exploring many of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries. But I confess. My time in Barcelona was not spent in any art galleries or museums (other than the Chocolate Museum) and yet I enjoyed a tremendous amount of amazing art. How, you ask?

Just walking or driving around the streets of Barcelona exposes you to an awesome array of street art. Incredible sculptures, as well as architecture that, in itself, is a work of art. At every turn we happened upon a colourful, entertaining, outrageous or thought-provoking sculpture. Here’s a look at just a few!

this whimsical street art made me smile everytime we passed it

There’s even art at the beach! This sculpture called L’Estel Ferit in catalan (meaning “The Wounded Star,” ) is by Rebecca Horn and is an homage to Barcelneta Beach.

this beautiful sculpture is at the beach near the W Hotel

the streets of Barcelona are lined with contemporary art

And then there’s the architecture! Contemporary buildings are colourful and interesting for the most part. Historic buildings are adorned with beautiful traditional statues and sculptures. Some cities are famous for abundance of eye candy as you walk down the streets. Barcelona is definitely one of them. And the nice thing is that people are out there enjoying them. Walking down the two-level boardwalk along the beach is terrific for people watching, inhaling the fresh sea air, and being in awe of the fabulous sculptures and architecture you pass along the way.

how can you not enjoy a city like Barcelona?

And there’s the Gaudi influence. I’d grown up using the word “gaudy” for describing something excessively bright, showy, tasteless or over the top. BB (before Barcelona,) I had always equated the word gaudy with the architect, Gaudi, as I had it ingrained in my mind that Gaudi’s architecture was considered by many as being gaudy. It is only today as I am writing this blog and referred to my trusty Canadian Oxford dictionary, that I see the origin of the word gaudy is a late 15th century word with Latin origins, existing long before Antoni Gaudi y Cornet (1852-1926.)

Surprisingly, I didn’t find Gaudi’s work to be gaudy. It is unusual, striking, inventive, and yes … “over the top” in many ways, but certainly not distasteful. What really impressed me about Gaudi’s work is that he is the instrument behind the infamous Sagrada Familia, a magnificent church that has been under construction for well over 100 years (the first stone was laid in 1882 and it is expected to be completed by 2030) yet, some of his work is quite modernistic in appearance (the apartment complex, La Pedrera for example.) Here’s a look at Gaudi old and new. What do you think?

the main entrance to Sagrada Familia

Gaudi's Sagrada Familia has been under construction for nearly 130 years and is expected to take another 20 years to complete

La Pedrera , completed in 1910, is one of Gaudi’s masterpieces and houses a museum in his honour

Locals don’t know what you’re talking about when you  mention the W. They know this magnificent sail-shaped hotel as the Hotel Vela (vela means sail in Spanish.) But it’s not hard to get the message across. The hotel towers above Barcelona’s shoreline and can be seen sparkling in the sunlight from most points near the beach.

the magnificent W Barcelona (Hotel Vela)

I generally don’t write a blog post exclusively about a hotel property, but this one deserves a place in the sun. It is truly awesome, and had me repeatedly screaming, “I’m not leaving” as Virginia and I made our way back down the beach to the hotel after a night out celebrating with the locals. We’d been fortunate enough to have been in Barcelona for the Festes de la Mercè, a week-long celebration in honour of La Mercè, the female 17th century patron saint of Barcelona.

dancing in the streets of Barcelona during the Festes de la Merce

the decorated streets of Barcelona during the festival were awesome

The city was rocking! There was free entertainment everywhere in the streets! People dancing and singing, colourful decorations, and some of the best fireworks I have ever seen.

the fireworks were some of the best I have ever seen

How fortunate we were to have timed our visit to experience this excitement. I knew I’d love Barcelona, but being in the city during festival time and staying at the W Hotel made this three days among the most memorable of my life.

I’ll blog more about Barcelona in 2 weeks (look for it during the week of November 23rd.) But for now, here are a few images to entice you.

If you go to Barcelona, I’d highly recommend getting a copy of Eyewitness Travel’s Top 10 Barcelona, a handy guidebook that is comprehensive, yet light enough to throw in your purse or backpack. More on Barcelona can be found on the site of Barcelona Tourism.

view of Barcelona's Sant Sebastia Beach from the W Hotel

And if you want to have a truly amazing time in this must-see city, do give the W Barcelona a try (or at least drop in for a drink!) It will cost you a few Euros more than most upper-end hotels, but the view, the ambiance, the food, drinks, service and accommodations are well worth it. As Arnold says, “I’ll be back!”

Thanks to everyone who dropped in and commented about my first post on Amsterdam. Really appreciated the discussion. But before I move on to the next city along the Chocolatour, I’ve got to share a bit more about the city of 165+ canals with you.

We had a terrific 3-hour walking tour with Bobien van Aalst, a most knowledgeable guide who speaks 5 languages and was fun to be with. If you do find Amsterdam in your plans, I highly recommend getting in touch with her to arrange a customized tour. You may contact Bobien at: bobien.vanaalst@orange.nl.

Bobien is a terrific example of the cosmopolitan nature of the Dutch. Everyone learns English in the public school system, as it is part of the curriculum. And with 42% of Amsterdam’s residents originating from another country, you can really sense the multi-cultural layers of the city. Yet, English is widely spoken, making Amsterdam a traveller-friendly place for North Americans, Brits, Australians and residents of other English-speaking nations.

I mentioned the physical beauty and charm of the city, the abundance of bicycles, and the culinary delights in the last post. This week, I’d like to feature 2 things for which Amsterdam (and Holland) are widely known: the beauty and abundance of tulips and the worldclass airport that greets you upon entering the country by air.

I’m not much of a gardener. Having bad knees that prohibit me from kneeling or squatting for any length of time have me doing most of my gardening in raised planters and flower pots. But I couldn’t resist the abundance of tulip bulbs we saw in the amazing flower market — known as the Bloemenmarkt and located along the Singel Canal between Dam Square and Rembrandtplein.

tulip bulbs aplenty at the Amsterdam Flower Market

I’m told there are 600,000 bulb flowers planted in parks and public gardens throughout Amsterdam. It looked to me that there were as many bulbs in packages and baskets at the flower market! I’ve never seen so many flower bulbs (mostly different varieties of tulips.) It was enough to get any gardener excited and reaching for her wallet. The prices were reasonable. I got a bag of 10 bulbs for 4.5 euros. These are multi-coloured lily-style tulips, and with any luck, they’ll peek out of the ground next spring. Be sure to buy bulbs that are bagged specifically for export to North America or you may have problems with customs.

Our time in Amsterdam went far too quickly. We’ll have to return!

But after three days, it was time to head to Schiphol International Airport, where we would catch our flight to Barcelona. Schiphol is an amazing airport. It has been voted the best airport in Europe, and its duty free shopping is said to be among the best in the world. My kind of place! Plus, Schiphol has a terrific assortment of restaurants and bars in which to while away the hours waiting for your flight.

We chose the Bubbles Lounge, which had amazing sushi, a beautiful setting where you could watch the aircraft coming & going, and a convenient location right next to Café Chocolat, where you could buy an astounding assortment of chocolate creations. Great way to end our time in what is now one of my favourite cities.

Is Amsterdam one of your favourite cities? Or is there another part of Holland that has your heart? Having not been outside the city (other than the relatively short jaunt from the airport) I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.

Be sure to subscribe to this blog, or stop back the week of November 8th for my post on our next stop along the Chocolatour: Barcelona.

First of all, let me say thanks to British Airways (BA) for bumping us up to Business Class for our chocolate adventure. Having that extra bit of comfort really made a difference for us being able to hit the ground running — or should I say … tasting! Much appreciated, and I can say with all sincerity that BA really knows what customer service is all about. They remain my first choice for overseas travel to the UK and northern Europe.

Now, for what you’ve been waiting for. A report on Chocolatour II. I must say it was wonderful in every way. Hats off to my friend, travelling companion, researcher and navigator extraordinaire, Virginia Heffernan, for getting us on the right trains at the right time to the right place. For having the most refreshing and encouraging smile on the planet, and for being able to stuff more chocolate (and other edible items) in her cheeks to make even the most enterprising squirrel envious with wonder. I would not be able to attempt a project of this magnitude where it not for the assistance of dedicated colleagues. (Thanks again to Kathe Lieber for being my tasting sidekick on the maiden voyage of Chocolatour.)

Doreen & Virginia enjoying an amazing meal at Sucre

We were also blessed with wonderful weather. Blue skies and above average temperatures were prevalent throughout the two-week, three-country chocolate extravaganza.

We began our adventure in Amsterdam. Although the Dutch are known for making fine chocolate, I must admit I was not overly excited about visiting Amsterdam. Why? I don’t know.  What I do know is that the city blew me away! It is strikingly beautiful. I was awe-struck by the extensive canal system. And by the number of bicycles! I’ve never seen so many bikes in my life, and was amazed at how the Dutch have been able to embrace the bicycle as a mode of transportation. Not just a recreational vehicle as we seem to think of it here in North America. We can definitely learn from them. But watch out! They’re not just out for a Sunday drive. Those 600,000 bikes are burning rubber, and if you don’t keep a keen eye in every direction, you’re likely to get in the way of one! (Some sources say there are more than 1,000,000 bicycles in Amsterdam, so whether it’s 600,000 or 1 million, let’s just say the presence of bicycles is everywhere, and a signature characteristic of this fine city.)

there is no shortage of bicycles in Amsterdam

I was also impressed by the culinary talent of Amsterdam. We met several interesting chocolatiers (whom you will read about in the book), and also some amazing chefs. I was particularly impressed by the worldclass creative talent of chef, Peter Scholte, owner of Sucre, a restaurant specializing in — you guessed it — sweet things.

the amazing chocolate & eucalyptus platter at Sucre

But chef Scholte does not limit his talent to producing remarkable desserts. He wowed us with a six-course meal, each course matched with a superb wine specially selected by his sommelier-partner, Aline.

Aline & Peter of Sucre

If you plan to visit Sucre, do make a reservation. The restaurant is extremely popular with locals and is full most evenings. More at www.sucrerestaurant.nl.

We were hosted by the Kings Villa Hotel, a small revitalized property located on Vondelpark, a beautiful greenspace fully utilized and appreciated by local residents and their pooches. The dining room at the Kings Villa was particularly picturesque and served a lovely breakfast.

the beautiful dining room at the King's Villa Hotel

That’s it for this entry. Much more to come! More travel info on Holland is available from the Netherlands Board of Tourism.

If you’ve been to Amsterdam, let me know your thoughts. What impressed you most about the city?

Since I’d rather be tasting (chocolate, wine, great cuisine …) than typing while overseas — and can you blame me? … I’m posting the end of the month entry now, and will post again after October 5th, on my return.

Quite a few of you have asked for details about our itinerary. There are a few small details still being ironed out, but here are the confirmed stops we’re looking forward to:

September 20: Fly via British Airways from Toronto to London, and on to Amsterdam. We’ll be staying at the Hotel King’s Villa, a Hampshire Classic Hotel, from Sept 21 until the morning of September 24th. Check out the hotel at: http://www.kingsvillahotel.nl. We’ll be meeting plenty of chocolate makers and discovering the sweet side of this fair city.

September 24th, we fly via Iberia Airlines from Amsterdam to Barcelona. I’ve flown Iberia before and had no complaints. In fact, their business class is awesome! And a 2-hour flight beats 16 hours on the train when you have limited time to play with. Barcelona will be a real treat.  We’re staying at the amazing W Barcelona, one of Starwood’s chic new hotels.  It doesn’t get any better than this. http://www.w-barcelona.com/. A couple of days in Barcelona will give us time to check out the Chocolate Museum, meet a prominent chocolate maker and have some fun.

September 26 will be a day of transition, as we make our way from Spain to Turin, Italy, the birthplace of  hot chocolate and the Italian city that most strongly identifies itself with chocolate. Take a look here and tell me it doesn’t look inviting: http://www.turismotorino.org/interna.aspx?idA=47.

On Sept 29 we head south to Tuscany. We’ll be staying in and around Florence for a couple of days, and then head to Pisa for a chocolate festival called Dolcemente. Looking forward to discovering Pisa and enjoying the hospitality at the NH Cavalieri, an “NH Hotel.” I’m not familiar with this chain, but it certainly looks welcoming and well-situated, as it’s close to the train station and also the site of the festival . Take a look at: http://www.nh-hotels.com/nh/en/hotels/italy/pisa/nh-cavalieri.html?action=search&type. If the rest of Pisa’s residents are as friendly as those I’ve met so far via e-mail, I know it will be an amazing visit.

Then on to Rome on October 3rd for a quick day of discovery before flying home to Canada. We’re looking forward to the convenience of the Rome Airport Hilton as our flight leaves at 8 am the next day and it will be great to have a short walk to the terminal instead of trying to fight traffic getting to the airport. There’s no doubt we’ll be sharing a “Goodbye Europe” toast in the hotel’s bar shown on this page: http://www1.hilton.com/en_US/hi/hotel/ROMAPTW-Hilton-Rome-Airport-hotel/index.do.

Back to Toronto and on to Winnipeg on Oct 4th. We’ll be thinking about you, and wish that you could all be along with us as we take the next installment of the Chocolatour.

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