A Chocolate Lover’s Paradise

Milka, Tolberone, Lindt, Caffarel, Nutella.  Not to mention the chocolate climbing walls, laptops, alcohols, shot glasses.  Every sense was bombarded as my roommates and I made my way through the winding streets crowded with other chocolate lovers.  Not even the constant pushing could impede my happiness as I made my way from one stand to the next, sampling everything available at Europe’s largest chocolate festival located in Perguia, Italy.

“I want some drinking chocolate!” Tierney called over the din created by a multitude of languages.

“What about those chocolate posts that look like kebabs?” I pointed at the interesting structure that combine white, milk, and dark chocolate, carefully shaved off into different tasty treats.

“Oh, I need a chocolate covered banana,” Juliette chimed in.

We wandered through the endless twisting Italian avenues, continuously accosted by new variations of chocolate.  How were we ever going to decide?  I had never seen so many forms of chocolate, especially not in one place.

No one could decide where to go next, what item to buy.

At each stand we asked in broken Italian for a description of the sumptuous chocolates available.  Neither their broken English nor the Italian words we understood seemed to be able to do it justice.  We stopped trying to make informed decisions and gave into our baser instincts.  I spent all my money, buying whatever caught my eye and anything that mixed chocolate with coconut.

My bags filled with truffles, brownies, and plain old chocolate bars, I needed one more piece of chocolate to eat on my way out.  We passed the same stands, each still as appealing as when we first arrived.  Every table provided descriptions of their special chocolate, in Italian and English, all equally alluring.

Eating our delicious Nutella Quesadillas!

And then I saw it: Nutella quesadillas.  Mexican food combined with chocolate; how can a Texan girl resist?  My decision made I rushed toward the stand.  My friends followed, equally intrigued.  We watched intently from our spot at the back of the line as the chocolatiers poured warmed Nutella over flat round bread, a little thicker than your average tortilla.  Folded over once, they plopped the concoction onto a grill, flipping it back and forth until it had an attractive dark gold complexion.    Finally reaching the front of a long line, I pulled out the last of my Euros and with an obviously American accent, I ordered.

“Un Nutella quesadilla, por favor!”

Having a Home Base

It’s five in the afternoon on June 26.  Any other day, Celebration Park would be sparsely populated, with just a few kids playing in the water garden while their parents consider joining them.  Even though it is approaching evening, it’s just too hot.

But today is June 26, the Saturday before Independence Day, and the park’s name seems more fitting.  You can barely see the perfectly groomed emerald grass for all the blankets spread across the field that has suddenly become a concert venue.  On the stage that was constructed this morning in the shelter of darkness, a seventies cover band, La Freak, sings songs that are barely recognizable to anyone under forty.

At the edge of the crowd, where the blankets thin out enough to provide a walking path, the makings of a carnival begin.  Bounce houses and mini rides have appeared overnight. Right along side them are massive signs for corn dogs, ice cream and corn on the cob.  It is like a taste of the state fair just popped up in the middle of town.

We have at least two hours to kill before the headlining band makes an appearance.  From our blanket near the center of the red, white, and blue sporting patriots, my best friend Laura, her sister Alyssa, and I entertain ourselves by observing everyone’s ‘interesting’ outfits.  Designer clad, bleach blonde, Polo wearing families intermingle with overweight women in bikinis showing off for their pot bellied husbands.  It is the perfect mix of red neck hicks and east coast WASPs.

“I want cotton candy,” Alyssa declares.  The children on the next blanket are wrestling a little to close to my feet for comfort, so I quickly agree that leaving is the best idea.  Hoping my napping mother won’t wake before we return, we wipe the sweat of every exposed body part and attempt to navigate the maze that has built up around us.

Away from the cozy family blankets we are suddenly surrounded by the teenagers that  overrun the city on a daily basis.  Only usually it isn’t this obvious.  They are at every turn.  Girls in short shorts and tight tops with too much make up on eyeing the jerseyed football players who are trying to look as if they don’t enjoy being at such a family friendly event. Nearly all of them are mainstream, decked out in American Eagle or Abercrombie and Fitch, carrying Coach purses, or wearing Allen Eagles t-shirts.  There are a few rebels, wearing black despite the heat, with neon colored hair and facial piercings. But they are so few and far between they too get lost in the crowd.

Waiting for Fire Works by Sheri Vasinda

And without fail, every few feet we recognize someone.

“She goes to my church,” Laura points out a girl I’ve never seen before.

“Oh, that girl is in my history class,” Alyssa comments.

And then as always, Laura or I inevitably mutter, “He was in band,” since one fifth of the high school made up our six hundred person marching band.  This seems like the only town event the band doesn’t participate in.  Which is probably good because there would be no where for them to stand.

After waiting in a line of at least twenty people for a four dollar bag of cotton candy, we all decide the romping children are more desirable than an outdoor replica of the high school halls we thought we had escaped.  The sun is dipping close to the roofs of the houses that line the park as we weave back to our spot, losing Alyssa along the way to the teenagers.

Just as we settle back onto our picnic blankets, The Comadores take the stage and my mom hops up, clapping and jumping in place.  Pumping her arms, motioning for us to join her, she breaks into song with the band as we just stare.  We shake our heads and grin.  Laura and I are not here for the band.  We are here for the fireworks.

No Fourth of July celebration is complete without fireworks.  So each year, the Saturday before the Fourth, Allen sets off the largest fireworks display in North Texas.  As soon as The Comadores finish singing Brick House, we are given five minutes to get where we want to be.  Five minutes before all lights are turned out and we are plunged into complete darkness.

A few little screams erupt when the darkness hits, even though we were warned multiple times.  As our eyes attempt to adjust we are just as suddenly blinded.  The boom crack that fills the air every night during the beginning of July is accompanied by bright colors and little drops of fire filling the air.

The dramatics of it all sends a chill down my spine.  Laura laughs at my shiver, seeing as it is completely dark and still ninety degrees outside.  We gaze back up at the sky, intermittently ohhing and ahhing over the fantastic somehow made into an ordinary by the city of Allen.

Largest Fire Works Show in North Texas by Julia Vasinda

The Wonders of Waco

Mark Being an Eagle
Photo by Julia Vasinda

People always think of travel as going somewhere exotic.  But as I wake up before my alarm, again, I push aside my inability to sleep as I remember today I’m going on a trip.  I don’t struggle long with the decision to just go ahead and get up or lie here for a few more minutes.  I force my feet onto the floor and head downstairs to rummage up something for breakfast.

Even though I woke before my alarm, I barely have time to pull on my workout clothes before Laura, my best friend of 15 years, pulls into the driveway to take me to Zumba.  I love Zumba.  But today I hope it goes quickly so I can put distance between me and the drudgery of every day life.

We’re late to Zumba, not that that is a surprise.  And it is not our normal teacher.  This woman is much more stiff than our fluid salsa stepping instructor who always makes us giggle with her super sexy moves.  This woman causes class to drag, or maybe it is the anticipation.  Although I’m sweating like a pig (as usual) by the time we leave, I almost wish I skipped the strained class.

“I’ll see you in an hour,” I call over my shoulder as I step out of Laura’s car.

“Some of us need longer to do our hair!” she responds as I slam the door and shrug before hurrying up to the shower.  We have to leave in an hour if we want to get to Waco before two, even though one-thirty was the original meeting time.

A thrill of excitement shivers down my spine.  I love going new places.  Well, I’ve been to Waco before, but just stopped there to eat on my way to places like Austin and San Antonio.

Was it really only less than three years, and countless countries, ago that travel really caught my attention?  It seems like it’s always been part of my life.  It almost feels like oxygen.  A need.  That first trip to Spain was like meeting your soul mate, or finding your calling.  It made the world stop and accelerate at the same time.

I don’t remember half the things we did.  But I recall the attempts to walk down cobblestoned streets in heels after my first run in with alcohol.  Climbing in turrets of actual castles, wondering if I was ever going to see anything besides the butt of the person in front of me ever again.  Going to a club that used to be an actual palace.  Oh, and I guess learning absolutely everything there is to know about every place possible.

Hook, line, and sinker.  I was done for.  Next thing you know, I’m signing up for three semesters of study abroad.  After just one week!  Talk about life decisions.

It is like I suddenly saw this whole new world.  There aren’t just other continents to explore, although I’m certainly set on that, there are so many things I’ve never seen miles from home!

Enter Waco.  A city consisting of Baylor University and to the unknowing eye, not much else.  Since it is the closest thing to a halfway point we could find between Dallas and Austin and where Laura and I would be meeting up with my college buddy, Mark, we were determined to find more to do.  Because who wants to drive two hours to go to a mall.  And on top of that, who wants to go to a mall when there are way cooler places just waiting to be discovered.

Although the Dr Pepper Museum is not exactly the Palacio de Oriente and Cameron Park Zoo not the same experience as the Toledo’s countryside, the now familiar excitement fills my stomach.

The $3.00 student discounted entry fee gets us into the Dr Pepper Museum, where we quickly discover a scavenger hunt that leads us room to room.  Mark loudly shouts the answers, and we continually seem to be in every families’ way. Conversation flows between my group and the others around us in line as we pay almost as much for a Dr Pepper mixed right before our eyes as we did to get in the museum.

Still sipping our drinks we get back in our cars to head to the Cameron Park Zoo.  None of us had even been aware this oasis existed, surrounded by a normal neighborhood.  After forking over a significant amount for what we assumed would be a quick trip with glimpses at a few local animals in caged habitats, we hurried down the path leading towards those cages.

As the first few animals come into view, we break into a trot, and lean excitedly over the wooden fence separating us from the cage.  Mark immediately starts to mimic the birds, in sound and stance, and I pull out my camera.  We spend the next few hours running excitedly between the exhibits, received by disapproving looks from the parents who usher their children away from us.

Exhausted from the hours in the beaming Texas sun Laura, Mark and I decide it is only right to enjoy a hearty dinner at Texas Roadhouse.  I relax into the faux leather seats, feeling them pull at my sweat sticky skin and take pleasure in the relief of scratching my travel itch.

But by the time I being driving home, the itch is back.  My eyes gaze longingly at each exit sign we pass, though they should be gazing at the road.  As we come up on the exit for Italy, TX, a smile spreads across my face.

“Let’s do an ‘around the world’ trip in Texas….”

Laura just laughs and rolls her eyes.