Category: Travel


Guest Blog Post at “The Daily Conundrum”

Hi! My husband and I just got back from a 9-day trip in Eastern North America. I can’t wait to post some fun stuff from our journey.

In the meantime, it’s been more than a week since it went up, but I did a guest blog at The Daily Conundrum called “(Return?) Trip.” When given the opportunity to write a post on my brother’s would-you-rather blog, I just had to do something about traveling, of course. 🙂 Go weigh in … or be stumped like me!

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National Geographic Traveler–a seriously great magazine–has an awesome blog, which I read very regularly. I’ve mentioned as much before and even before that. (I even participated in their first Peeps photo contest! My photo did not stand a chance against the fabulous competition. ‘Twas only a slightly tragic defeat.)

A few weeks ago, they launched a new magazine feature, “Ask a Park Ranger,” and invited questions on the blog.

Because (1) my husband and I had just eked out some time in September to finally have a real “summer” vacation, and because (2) Acadia National Park in Mount Desert, Maine was first on our planned route, and because (3) I love getting advice from experts, locals, and all-manner of opinionated souls, I shot off a question about a two-day itinerary.

And, today, Park Ranger Wanda Moran answered me.

Which is perfect, because we leave on Sunday. (So, we won’t be there for her suggested Night Sky Festival, but will stick that on the “sometime in the future” radar.) And, to express a worry that’s on my mind presently, I hope that Hurricane Earl won’t cause us (or them, mostly!) any trouble.

I am thrilled to have had my question answered. Thrilled to have such great and knowledgeable advice. And thrilled to get to see the first National Park east of the Mississippi!

Having my question answered on their official blog might just have been the added boost I needed to get my real work done, then get my camping preparations in gear. Yes, I think it was. 🙂

Expect to hear more about this and the other e-x-c-i-t-i-n-g stops on our trip.

Here’s a hint: There might be some of this beauty in our post-Acadia/pre-return future!

Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!

Peeking into a shop filled with spices in the Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

Although I like to think of myself as unique and, therefore, exceedingly special person, I am glad to be part of a much larger trend in this case:

Americans have become exponentially more adventurous eaters since the 1970s. As I was born in 1980, I certainly must be part of that trend. I should write more about this another time, how my family fostered flavor-curiosity, sampled different ethnic cuisines whenever we could, and–basically–didn’t accept “I don’t like that” as an answer.

THIS July 30, 2010 story from NPR (always better heard than read, by the way) talks about the various ways in which Americans have become more diverse, both demographically and in all things culinary. One way in which this is manifest is we buy more and more varieties of spices.

All of the talk of spices in the radio story made me think of the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul; hence the opening blog-post-picture. I really must go back, mustn’t I? But until I do, it’s good that my palate can wander right here at home.

Right before I went to Germany for two months, I was chatting with a professor of mine. She mentioned that one of her favorite places in Berlin was Einstein Café on the broad thoroughfare Unter den Linden, and she recommended the Apple Strudel. I tucked away that advice and, although I don’t typically pick apple desserts when given other options (like chocolate-anything), I planned to get the stereotypically Austrian/German sweet pastry.

Apfelstrudel in Vanilla sauce (from Einstein)

Thus began my love affair with Apfelstrudeln (apple strudels). A particular German song, which I happen to love, seems apt:

“Lass Mich Nie Mehr Los” by Sportfreunde Stiller

[Note: Below are only two verses and the chorus, the song continues further.]

Wie New York ohne Sinatra
Wie Wien ohne den Prater
Wie ein Herzschlag ohne Blut
Wie Lindenberg ohne Hut
Wie ’ne Eiszeit ohne Schnee
England ohne Tee
So als ob bei Steve McQueen die ganze Coolheit fehlt

Jeder Boxer braucht ’ne Linke,
Kiss braucht viermal Schminke
Tonic braucht Gin.
Wie wär ein Leben ohne Sinn?
Wie ein leeres Paket
Wie ein Rad das sich nicht dreht
So als ob anstatt ’nem Sturm nur ein leichter Wind weht,

So bin ich ohne dich
Du hältst mich; mir fehlt nichts.
Lass mich nie mehr los.
Lass mich, lass mich nie mehr los
Lass mich nie mehr los.
Lass mich, lass mich nie mehr los

English Translation by Kara (it rhymes nicely in the German, not in my translation, though):

Like New York without Sinatra, Like Vienna without the Prater, Like a heartbeat without blood, Like Lindenberg without a hat, Like an Ice Age without snow, England without tea, Like if Steve McQueen existed but without any coolness …

Every boxer needs a left, Kiss needs four times the makeup, Tonic needs gin, How’d life be without meaning? Like an empty package, A bike you don’t pedal, Like if there was a storm but only a faint wind blew …

Chorus – That’s how I am without you. When you hold me, nothing’s missing. Never let me go. Never, never let me go. Never let me go. Never, never let me go.

Romantic black & white photo of APFELSTRUDEL (notice the edge blur? Oh yeah!)

I propose a new lyric that I think would fit perfectly in my food experience: “Wie Deutschland ohne Apfelstrudeln” (“Like Germany without apple strudels”). Germany without my beloved strudel? It’s inconceivable. Such an idea goes against all that is good, right, and real in the world. It cannot be! Like the band Kiss requires makeup and a heartbeat intrinsically requires blood, that’s how German food would feel to me without the sweet Nachspeise of Apfelstrudel. It’s totally love-song-worthy.

(Isn’t that sweet German love song? You’ve got to hear it. So lovely.)

Einstein menu

That's me, all by my lonesome, at Einstein in Berlin

I had a lovely first taste of the dessert at the recommended locale: Einstein Café on the wide boulevard that leads to the Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden. I sat outside, enjoying the sun (like a good German would, I’ve observed). The prices were pushing my budget, for sure. But this is a famous café and, after all my wanderings in Berlin, finding a table gave my feet a chance to relax.

Einstein menu

I had a “Braune” coffee, which meant that along with my dark coffee, I was served a small, warm pitcher of steamed milk to mix as I saw fit.

Kaffee

And I had a piece of Apfelstrudel in vanilla sauce.

My table at Einstein

Mmmm. I ate it slowly to savor the perfectly cooked apples in the crisp, yet buttery, pastry. The creamy sauce added to the sweetness. Heavenly.

The next time I had Apfelstrudel was as a dessert at a dinner in celebration of a fellow student’s birthday. We’d gathered at a somewhat grungy pub, Tiergarten-Quelle, located directly under the Tiergarten S-Bahn station.

Tiergarten-Quelle entrance

The dinner was delicious and I insisted that I couldn’t eat another bite. Until a friend suggested splitting an Apfelstrudel with me. Why not twist my arm a little? Of course, I said yes. And I’m so glad I did.

THE BEST Apfelstrudel (... at least that I tasted)

Tiergarten-Quelle has the best Apfelstrudel I’ve ever stuffed in my mouth. It was piping hot, topped with ice cream and whipped cream, dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

Oh gracious! If I hadn’t been so full, I might have resorted to wicked tricks to steal the other half from my friend. But I knew this dessert was not just a line Maria von Trapp/Julie Andrews sings from “My Favorite Things.” This was one of my favorite things!

Charlie's enthusiasm is rightly invested in this dessert

As it turns out, once my husband met up with me in Berlin, this was the first (and then third) Apfelstrudel he tasted. It was, thus, my second, third, and fifth.

So, from whence came the elusive fourth (or Charlie’s second) Apfelstrudel? Where else but in Wien (Vienna, Austria), its purported birthplace!

We had visited a strangely wonderful architectural experiment called Hundertwasser in Wien.

The colorful architecture of Hundertwasser Village

But we were getting hungry and cranky. Charlie was hungry and saw several eating establishments that could easily fit the bill. But we didn’t have much time in Vienna and I didn’t want to waste a dinner at any ol’ place. We noticed a café at the entrance to the village and walked up the stairs to get there. I am so glad we did.

Cafe in Hundertwasser Village

What we had for dinner has since left my memory. But we had, on our last night in Wien, a trinity of strudels as our shared dessert splurge. I can’t remember with precision their contents, but …

The three strudels

I know one was apple (that is, Apfel).

Apfelstrudel

One was custardy.

Filled with a custard of sorts

And one involved berries of some sort.

Berry?

It was all kinds of YUM. And quite fun to try different breeds within the Strudel species.

Variety is the strudel of life

So, in conclusion, here is my Ode to the Strudel:

Ach, Du schöne Apfelstrudel,

Viel besser als einige Nudel,

Wieviel süßer, und leckerer,

Und schneller gegessen.

Ich ess’ Dich am besten.

Speaking of quickly eaten ... Charlie and I must have been racing!

Warning: I’m sure poetry in honor of food should never be written by a non-native speaker, if at all. But here’s my translation:

Oh, you pretty Apple Strudel,

So much better than any noodle,

How much more tasty and sweetened,

And more quickly eaten,

You’re my very favorite to eat.

Sticking with the East Berlin theme of my previous post – which hearkens back to a city very near and dear to my heart, where I spent 2 months in the summer of 2009 – I have fond, nostalgic feelings for a particular restaurant that provided me my first tastes of Southern German or, more particularly, Swabian cuisine (Schwäbische Küche).

Schwarzwaldstuben - Mitte, Berlin

Fond nostalgia is the feel Schwarzwaldstuben (translation: Black Forest Lounge) is going for anyway. They have kitschy-cool décor and the food is German-ala-nostalgia in many ways.

A look toward the bar at Schwarzwaldstuben

My German teacher at the Goethe Institut, Detlef, was the one who recommended this place as his favorite for German specialties in Berlin. He seemed to waffle on whether it was truly Schwäbisch or had some other regional loyalties (due to a Fußball jersey he saw hanging there). I, however, have found several online sites calling it either Swabian (the Anglicized name of the German region) or Southern German. So, there you go. I’ll just play the “dumb American” card if I get called on an inaccuracy here.

Menus

Schwarzwaldstuben is quite hip and if you go at the right/wrong times, there can be a wait. There are tables, a bar, and even a nice sofa and stuffed chair section.

Comfy seating available

The place and menu is such that you could order a little pot of coffee (their coffee is quite tasty) and sit and read for awhile (although probably not at dinner time when space is at a premium). But if you’re going there, though, why not make a meal of it?

Meine Kaffee mit Milch

The first time I went, I had Maultaschen (Pronounced: MOWL-tah-shin), large German-raviolis of sorts. The Maultaschen were served with an amazing German potato salad (if I recall correctly) and the flavors were a perfect match.

Maultaschen with potatoes and a great salad

The meal was a-m-a-z-i-n-g! You can’t get Maultaschen just anywhere, so I highly recommend this place. Charlie had them at another restaurant and they were quite different (more fried, I’d say).

Bionade (a naturally carbonated beverage)

I also had Bionade (Pronounced: BEE-oh-nada) to drink, which I recommend for the non-beer inclined (but the beer is reportedly a draw there, too, it’s Rothaus … as the signs outside make abundantly clear).

Schwarzwaldstuben from the outside (the beer-type is advertized more than the restaurant's name!)

I went with a group from my class at lunchtime. There was space for us, but I believe Detlef had called ahead. We sat at a big ol’ booth by the mural. I must report that not all nationalities find Schwäbische Küche as tasty as I did!

Zhishu waves hello

The next (and last – so far) time I went, I decided to try another delectable Southern German dish, Käsespätzle (translation: Cheese Spätzle). Now, I think it cannot be disputed that I like cheese. I really do! This cheese-centric dish was really, really tasty, but almost too greasy even for the most wicked of caloric sinners. The cheeses were of good quality, but there was so much, I lost the Spätzle in the mix.

Käsespätzle (and a listing of what was showing in Berlin outdoor theaters I was flipping through)

For those who are unfamiliar with this classic German side dish (although when combined with cheese, for instance, it can become a centerpiece), Spätzle (Pronounced: SHHPETS-leh) consists of miniature dumplings. Or, like what would happen if a dumpling and a pasta noodle had a baby. They are irregular in shape.

Closer up on the Käsespätzle. The bonus was that it was a big enough serving to make two filling meals.

Another valid reason to visit this restaurant if you’re ever in Berlin is the surrounding neighborhood. It’s in Mitte (City Center), but the streets immediately around Schwarzwaldstuben are very cool and have a different feel from those as you get closer to Museuminsel (Museum Island) further downtown. If you want a walk past some historic locales (and want to peek into a few picturesque Hinterhöfe [courtyards common to Berliner architecture]), take a walk down Auguststraße, for example, which is just a few blocks from the corner of Linienstraße and Tucholskystraße, where Schwarzwaldstuben is located.

A view of the corner

Okay, I’m working on another post of a different European cuisine for which I’m nostalgic.

In the meantime, here’s a photo quiz for you:

You’re crossing the street. You see this …

Hmmm, where could this be?

Where are you?

Maybe, instead, you see this and you pause (choosing not to get run down) …

Don't walk!

Any idea where you are now?

Be as specific as you can. Post your guesses in the comments section. I’m predicting it won’t take long for someone to guess correctly.


The Church of St. Elizabeth, or the "Blue Church" in Bratislava

My husband and I spent less than 24 hours in Bratislava, Slovakia. At least 5 of those hours it was pouring. At least 7 of those hours I was sleeping.

So, my experience in the country and its capital is not broad. But I really, really want to go back. And you should want to, too.

Me on the train between Wien and Bratislava

Why, you ask?

Lots of reasons are good ones:

1) It’s an easy and cheap train ride from Vienna.

2) It seems way more “Eastern European” than Austria, for sure, and even more than the Czech Republic, both of which it borders.

A narrow alleyway in old Bratislava

3) It still has a tinge of the Soviet/Eastern Bloc/Old Communist feel to it, which is intriguing.

Bratislava cityscape

4) The old city of Bratislava is enchanting with stone streets (that glisten in the rain).

Nighttime in Bratislava's main square

5) Prices are cheaper than in many of its neighboring countries.

A gelato shop in old Bratislava

But the reason I most want to go back and the reason you need to go at least once is this:

Halušky.

Three Halušky varieties from U Remeselnika

Specifically, the most popular national dish, Bryndzové halušky, which consists of small gnocchi-type dumplings covered in a sharp sheep cheese with bacon on top. Oh. my. goodness.

It’s warm and creamy. The cheese has just enough sour bite to make the bacon a perfect salty complement. The gnocchi are small and firm (sort of like Spätzle, maybe). We had the halušky with other toppings (one was cheese with some sauerkraut-like topping), but the bryndzové is the best we tried.

If there’s a place I can get this in a three-state radius of me, it might tide me over. Otherwise, I’m booking my plane ticket direct to Slovakia the next chance I get. That halušky was some good stuff.

I’d had a tiny sample of it when I was in Prague. Further, my guidebook highly recommended it. So, we had it for lunch as soon as we arrived in Bratislava.

A view into the courtyard of U Remeselnika

That was the best we had, I think. Halušky #1:

Charlie and I shared a trio of Halušky at a folk-craft-center cafe, U Remeselnika

Then I had halušky that night for a late dinner at a great restaurant in a downtown basement. (And Charlie wished he’d ordered it, too!)

We winded down narrow Bratislava streets to reach Prasna Basta, where we had dinner

(We did also try an amazing smoked trout appetizer.) But the star of the meal was Bryndzové Halušky #2:

Lots of traditional Slovak food on the menu at Prasna Basta

Prasna Basta was busy, maybe because of a glowing endorsement of its “charm” in the Lonely Planet guide.

From our table at Prasna Basta

And their halušky was really good, too! But it was too dark to get a clear picture of it.

Then, when we got to the train station an hour early for our departure the next day, we had an early lunch of halušky at the next door eating and drinking establishment.

It sure wasn't fancy, kind of "other side of the tracks"

It wasn’t much to look at, but their Bryndzové Halušky was still great! Bryndzové Halušky #3:

Bryndzové Halušky from the Antic Caffe, next to the train station

It’s just that good. (And the breakfast at our boat-hotel, aka Botel, was just so bad that we were quite famished at 11 a.m.)

Even though seeing all the cheese and bacon drippings I’m no longer wondering how I gained 5 pounds on my trip, I am still begging you: Please tell me where I can get Bryndzové Halušky in these ol’ United States!

The best-seller listed above, The Help, was recommended to me by my friend Kristina. It’s pretty popular presently. I think it’s a bit unfairly reviewed here, but the review provides enough information for you to get a sense of the story, if you don’t have the time or interest in reading it. I think, however, that you should read it. It took me a few chapters to get over the affected writing in the “voices” of the characters, but it turned out to be the characters that won me over.

A few of my recent trips have given me a better taste of the South than I believe I had previously. I was enchanted by New Orleans’s French Quarter while there for a conference this past November. To get to my 50th U.S. state before I turned 30, Charlie and I traveled down to Charleston, South Carolina for Easter weekend. Boy, the South sure can be grand. But I felt myself conflicted while appreciating the glory and architectural splendor of the South, all the while remembering the history of slavery that brought that kind of affluence, as well as the ongoing struggle to end the disparity between black and white. I didn’t live through the Civil War or the Civil Rights movement, but why did it still haunt me as I visited the pretty parts of southern cities with a long, checkered past?

(I don’t mean to sound ignorant of the great human evils inflicted in any geographical region, North or South or West or Midwest, Stateside or otherwise. A look at the history of any place is a look at triumphs mingled with errors and horrors.)

This book took a long stroll through the kind of questions I had: How might a white person have experienced the tumult of the Civil Rights Movement in the South? How might a black person have? Was there ever good mixed in with the pain?

As I read the book, I thought of Jestine’s Kitchen. It’s an extremely popular (and rightfully so) restaurant in Charleston, famous for its Southern cooking. The restaurant is named after Jestine Matthews, the long-time household cook of the restaurant owner (and the previous generation of that family).

The reflective front window of Jestine's Kitchen

You see, as the story goes, Jestine helped with at least two generations of the family, as she lived to be 112. The restaurant’s Facebook page has a summary of her story. And the food is so good. The fried green tomatoes, the sweet tea, the fried chicken … all delicious. We loved the desserts we tried, Pineapple Bread Pudding and the Coca-Cola Chocolate Cake.

Jestine's famous Coca-Cola Chocolate Cake

But when I learned about Jestine herself and about the apparent love and loyalty between her and her long-time employers, I just couldn’t figure out how a relationship of “unequals” in many ways, socio-economically and in the power structure of employer-employee, could seem (to a total outsider of course) to have been so loving and appreciative.

Of course, I’ll never know about Jestine, but the book The Help gives a variety of examples of the potential both for wickedness and for love, compassion, and bravery that humans possess.

Daily Radar: 07.15.10 – Intelligent Travel Blog.

See a predominant brand?

Lonely Planet is the guide I trust for travel. They’re not always right in their praise or nay-saying, but they’re good at finding what’s really worth seeing in a place, and ignoring what turns out to be only touristy hype.

My stack of travel guides in the photo to the left demonstrates that they’ve won my allegiance. I don’t know where my guides for Great Britain, Turkey, Austria, and the Czech and Slovak Republics are … but those are all Lonely Planet too! Quite the stash!

So, when I found out from the linked blog post above that Lonely Planet is posting suggested U.S. Road Trips to their Facebook page, I said, “Yes, please!”

(It’s item #2 of the Intelligent Travel Blog’s Daily Radar. I’ve found great things–like the International Food Festival in Prague, for instance–by subscribing to National Geographic Travel’s blog presence.)

I already looked through the New Jersey Diners road tripping guide and it makes me want to try some of them out. I mean, I’m a bit put out that they entirely scooted by MY AREA of New Jersey (Central Jersey) and just went for North Jersey and the Shore … but it’s also even more helpful that way, since I already know about most of the good diners around here. And if you want to know good diners in Central Jersey, you can just ask me. 🙂 A win for us and a win for Lonely Planet again, eh?

Cafe Central (Wien/Vienna) - excluded from the running in this post

The Coolest 1 Coffee Shops 2 in the World 3 so far

I love footnoting, so every superscripted number here points to a caveat at the bottom of the post. They’re very important for understanding my rationale in choosing the places I did.

1) The Flying M Coffee Garage – 1314 2nd Street South, Nampa, Idaho

The picture below shows only one of the distinct areas of this roomy Firestone-garage-turned-coffee-shop-heaven. There’s an eccentric gift store area. There’s a couch and tables, more traditional “coffee shop” area, with huge windows all around. There’s a space for bands to perform. There is an area for bigger groups sitting around tables. And, finally, it has a balcony (pictured below) with work stations, complete with plugs. The one time I had the opportunity to use it, I found it incredibly easy to write there.

Flying M - The Study Loft area (in the garage), which is part of why I love it so much.

The space aside, the Flying M Coffee Garage has excellent coffee drinks, competitively priced, and the most consistently good baked goods I’ve ever experienced in a coffee house. It’s constantly alive with activity and draws an eclectic crowd in this mid-sized Idaho town.

2) RIM Café – 1172 S 9th St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My husband and I stumbled upon this coffee shop when we were looking for a late-night place to wait out a friend’s delayed plane. Most coffee shops were closed between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., which happened to be when we needed them. A Yelp! search alerted me to RIM, so we drove there. It’s in the Italian Market part of town, right down the block from the incredibly famous and popular dueling Cheesesteak franchises, Geno’s and Pat’s (Pat’s is better).

Rene, working his magic.

As my husband said, “You’ll never pay more for a latte, but you’ll never have a better one.” It’s a small, dimly lit shop, run by Rene, a man from Nice in the south of France. He’s the artist of the coffee mixes, and the charismatic heart of the shop. Patrons watch as he mixes drinks, shaves exotic chocolates into the mix, spins the concoctions around while drizzling syrups on them, and turns out potable masterpieces. All the while, he’s shouting, “I’ma gonna make it hap-pen!” and “Oh my God!” (We were quite taken aback the first time we went in, since we had no idea what to expect!) Drinks cost between $7-12, I’d say (I’ll have to check to be more precise). But it’s more of a gourmet dessert experience than a simple latte. His peanut butter hot chocolate (the Nutty Volcano) is, I can assure you, divine.

3) Tea Drops 4 – 4111 Pennsylvania Avenue, Westport, Kansas City, Missouri

I’m pretty sure you can’t get any coffee here. But the shop design, menu, and tea/tea-brewing merchandise is pretty fabulous. I’ve had bubble tea elsewhere, but it’s never as good. Of course, I like the milky versions better than the plain teas, but it’s the black tapioca bubbles that are my favorites. I love the look of surprise on a newbie’s face when their large straw shoots a chewy bubble into his or her mouth. Ha!

I cannot find a photo of Tea Drops in all my pictures, even though I’ve been there at least a dozen times. I can find pictures of me grinning with friends in the premises, but they show our faces … not the coolness of the shop.

4) South Street Café – 105 South Street, Bennington, Vermont

This is one of the places I’ve stopped while passing through and I thought, “Oh, I wish we had this. I’d read here all the time. As strangers to town, we walked in and felt comfortable. I moved it so high up the list because it seemingly had something for everyone, and used space really well. The coffee was affordable, with free refills (with their on-site mugs), and good!

The front door of the South Street Cafe - Bennington, Vermont

We stopped here on a frigidly cold day in February on our way back from a weekend in Woodstock, Vermont. We needed lunch – and I usually don’t like coffee shops standard panini or pre-made sandwich lunches. We saw on their chalkboard menu that their soup of the day was African and inquired what that meant. The barista highly recommended it, so we said “sure.” It was a steaming crock of root vegetables and legumes in a thick, richly-spiced broth. It warmed us up wonderfully, along with some tasty bread on the side. We ordered, also, a spinach and feta pastry (I believe). Together they were almost too filling.

5) Caras Gourmet Coffee – Neue Schönhauser Straße 9, Mitte, Berlin, Germany

Berlin has a lot of great cafes and they all serve really stellar coffee. Many are designed beautifully. But many serve lots and lots of different things in the category of food and alcoholic beverages. Caras is a more “American-style” coffee shop. And, because much of their menu was in English, I suspected that it wasn’t not actually German, but I think from their website that it is. Germans do that sort of thing and this was along a popular shopping street, very close to the very-touristy Hackescher Markt area.

Charlie trying out Caras Gourmet Coffee, which was near my school in Berlin.

This shop had a front seating area, as you can see above, with wide windows looking onto the bustling street. There is also a long, more narrow seating area further back where I had success finishing up my daily homework. The most popular place to sit, as I observed in nearly all German cafes, is outside. There were many, street-facing seats where people would come to sip their coffees, smoke, talk, read, and people-watch. Sehr Deutsch.

6)  [The Original] Starbucks – Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington

There’s nothing special about this Starbucks (at least when I last visited), excepting the large gold post in the shop marking it as the flagship store for the worldwide franchise. But if you like Starbucks (and I do) and if you like pilgrimages (and I do) and if you like city markets like the one in which the shop is found (and I so do), then you’ll like visiting the first Starbucks.

7) Coffee & Co. – Laurinská 135/5, Bratislava, Slovakia

We stumbled onto Coffee & Co. in the old city of Bratislava, picturesque, cobblestoned, and very Eastern European looking. Whether we should have been or not, we were surprised at how modern it was. It was very affordable and had all sorts of fun coffee drinks (iced and hot). The bright space was equipped with varied seating areas, including booths, sofas, and chairs.

Coffee & Co. - Bratislava - So good, we went here twice in 24 hours.

I can also state for the record that our Slovakian language skills were very, very poor, but the workers were quite patient and nice to dumb tourists like us. If I recall correctly, we twice heard Lady Gaga playing in the store.

8 ) Claire de Lune – 2906 University Avenue, North Park, San Diego, California

The North Park area is a fun neighborhood in San Diego; and on our recent visit to San Diego, Charlie introduced me to the long University Avenue that runs through quite diverse parts of town. My friend Rob met us at Claire de Lune – his suggestion – and we had some time waiting for him beforehand. We tried a dessert, which was delicious, but I can’t remember what it was. The brewed coffee was quite strong and not bitter — a good sign.

I wish I had better photos of Claire de Lune.

The place had a wonderful ambiance, and its balcony reminded me a little of my favorite coffee shop (Flying M, above). I can see myself sitting in one of these chairs for hours, reading and nursing a mug of hot coffee.

9) Kudu Coffee House – 4 Vanderhorst St, Charleston, South Carolina

Kude Coffee House - I really liked the lion! There was a beautiful courtyard, too.

This coffee house seemed to have a funky crowd. The group sitting in the back corner were, I think, discussing how to use grant money they’d won. There was discussion while we were there about the set-up for a concert that would be held in the evening. We watched groups of friends talking in the courtyard, and even a dog seemed to concur that it was a great place to spend a Spring afternoon.

10) Cupcake 5 – 36 Zionskirchstrasse, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, Germany

As the name suggests, this little German shop specialized in cupcakes (of the American sort, which differ from German-style cakes both in density and sweetness). It can be found in the cutest side-street in Prenzlauer Berg (northeast of Berlin’s city center), right across the street from Zionskirche, where Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught Confirmation for a time.

This photo cost me at Cupcake in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin!

The coffee was good, too, although I thought things were overpriced. * Please read the related caveats below. I want to emphasize: this place was amazingly cute, but I hope their staff has changed.

Honorable Mention: Small World Coffee – 14 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton's most popular coffee shop (Photo taken in the breathtaking Spring)

Caveats:

1 Okay, my taste for coffee has been strongly shaped by Starbucks. So, I often prefer the taste of Starbucks to other coffees. But by saying “coolest” and not “best-tasting,” I’m expanding the category and making up for the fact that the Corporate Beast has won my loyalty.

2 This includes the genre of coffee shop where various coffees and pastries are the main focus of the shop (which excludes places where warm drinks may be central, but along with full meals, alcohol, etc.). Specifically, I’m excluding the grandeur of Vienna’s “coffee houses,” many of which also serve gourmet $50 meals. I’ve only been to one of those and it was great, but it’s kind of a genre of its own. That would be an unfair comparison.

3 … the world as I’ve experienced it, that is, what do I know of coffee shops in South Africa or Ukraine? Nothing. And, so, I’m just basing my absolute statements about what I absolutely know and don’t know.

4 Okay, it’s not coffee, but it’s so good that I’m including it. What do you wanna do ‘bout it? I can break my own rules. Bubble Tea makes me giddy with delight. Giddy. My favorite is a Red Bean Bubble Freeze.

5 I hope against hope that they have better staff now than when I was there. Their cupcakes and décor make a visit worthwhile even if the Evil-Photo-Scrooge 6 is still employed.

Cupcake (in Berlin) strikes me as what it would look like if Anthropologie had a cupcake/coffee shop.

6 I wanted to say Evil-Photo-Nazi. That would work in the U.S. But when speaking of Germans (although she may not have been a German; she refused to speak to me in German, even though I was pretty good at this point in my stay … See one of the reasons why I was annoyed?!), it’s best to avoid the use of such a historically-real term, even though Americans use it just to be derogatory. She made me pay 20 Euro-cents to take a single lousy photo. After I took it. What a punk. It wasn’t even a good picture. Outside pictures were free.

Charlie's iced caramel latte from Rim Cafe

In summary: I love coffee.