You Had Us At Chocolate

We love food tours.  Giving our tastebuds a bit of employment while exploring an area is a pretty fantastic adventure.  And, Great Food Tours delivers a wonderful chocolate adventure in Beverly Hills, California.  Learning tidbits of history in this famous city while sampling delicious chocolates is a win-win situation.

Our guide, Lyndia, started our tour outside Sprinkles Cupcakes. This small shop is home to the Cupcake ATM.  Yep, cupcake ATM.  We did not order a cupcake from the machine, but we love that anytime of the day or night, we can get our cupcake fix.  According to our guide, the ATM cupcake came about when the owner, Candice Nelson, was pregnant and wished she could get a late night cupcake.  Good news, if you’re in Las Vegas, New York (Upper East Side), Dallas, Chicago or Atlanta, you too can partake in the Cupcake ATM experience, or you’ll just have to visit Beverly Hills.

Cupcake ATM full view

You won’t get money from this ATM machine.

Their cupcakes were tasty, but then we had their ice cream and realized we found a winner.  Directly next door to Sprinkles Cupcakes is Sprinkles ice cream and cookies.  Our sample included a scoop of triple chocolate ice cream.  Serious yum.

Sprinkles ice cream store front.  It is modest to look at, but their ice cream rocks!

Sprinkles ice cream store front. It is modest                to look at, but their ice cream rocks!

The interior of the ice cream shop.

The interior of the ice cream shop.

Double chocolate ice cream heaven.

Triple chocolate ice cream heaven.

We continued our journey to another sugary stop called Sugarfina.  What a find.  The ambience of Sugarfina made us feel like royalty.  We had a few minutes to select our samples, but not really enough time to drool and inspect all the choices available.  So after the tour, we came back for round two.  An interesting tid bit about this stop is the owners traveled the world sampling candies from around the world – and Sugarfina was born.

Sugarfina adorned with a Beverly Hills palm tree

Sugarfina adorned with a Beverly Hills palm tree

Fancy-pants without being over the top

Fancy-pants decor but not over the top

Our samples

Our samples – Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Seeds and Dark Chocolate Orange Peel – sugar at its finest.

Sugarfina samples - labeled

After we flipped out over all the great flavors and cute gift ideas, Lyndia took us to our next stop: Edelweiss Chocolate Factory.

Edelweiss is a gem and one with quite the history.  Starting in 1942, Edelweiss has been frequented by many celebrities since its opening and continues to have its frequent fliers.  Their chocolate stands on its own, but perhaps one of the coolest pieces of history is that Edelweiss is the cause for the adorably famous I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel get jobs on the factory line at a candy company.  According to our guide, after Lucille Ball was exposed to the conveyor belt in the back of the candy shop, it inspired her to conceive of a comedy skit involving making candy.  She wanted to learn how to make the candy so she worked onsite for three weeks.  Being able to tour their facility made this tour worth the money.

The famous conveyor belt

The famous conveyor belt

A tribute to a piece of history in the making - the famous I Love Lucy episode

A tribute to a piece of history – the famous I Love Lucy episode

One might think the tour would end at Edelweiss, but it didn’t.  We motored on to another fancy-pants chocolatier, Vosges Haut-Chocolat.  This place blew our mind.  We enjoyed endless samples of chocolate in a chocolate palace with decor inspired by  Katrina Markoff’s travels and culinary expertise.  And, man, this place does not disappoint.  Clearly, her concept of “Travel the World through Chocolate” is one that is nurtured by the fusion of ingredients that deliver not only a tasty experience but a sensory one as well.

A sign inside the shop

A sign inside the shop – pretty much sums it up.

Gorgeous decor

Gorgeous decor

Vosges Haut-Chocolat sample

A wonderful piece of chocolate

Incredibly different chocolate experience

Incredibly different chocolate experience

We thought the tour was over.  But, nope….one more stop: Beverly Hills Brownie Company.  Holy brownie – our head was spinning with all the different choices.  We sampled the classic chocolate brownie, which was decadent and a slice of happiness. A brownie lover could keep their tastebuds busy for days without repeating a flavor.  Wow, just wow.

Oh, the choices.

Oh, the choices.

And, that our friends, is how you enjoy some chocolate – in style.

-Peace out,
The Franci

Riley’s Farm – Go Back In Time

Riley’s Farm – Go Back In Time

Riley’s Farm in Oak Glen, California is a property with many layers and definitely worth checking out.  We scored a Groupon to check out Hawk’s Head Publick House Tavern and cashed it in this past weekend. We had a great lunch with good friends while reliving a bygone era. The food was good, but the setting was wonderful.

Hawk's Head Sign

Hawk's Head Building

The Colonial style building housing the Hawk’s Head Publick House Tavern.

From the moment we walked into the eatery, all of us felt we’d been transported to another era.  The Tavern’s menu is limited but offers something for everyone.

Here are some interior shots:

Hawk's Head Publick House

Interior of tavern

Another interior shot

Another interior shot

A coat rack

A coat rack

The wait staff wear period piece costumes and much of the food features apples.




(Left) Stilton Cheese, bread and green apple platter, (Right) Apples and Sausage


(Left) Chicken Pot Pie, (Middle) Shepherd's Pie, (Right) roast beef sandwich

(Left) Chicken Pot Pie, (Middle) Shepherd’s Pie, (Right) Roast Beef sandwich

…and for dessert – something with a little apple.

Apple Dessert Menu

What we chose….

A little slice of apple heaven.

A little slice of apple heaven – Crumb Crust Apple Pie.

Love the costume

Love the costume of our waitress

Riley’s Farm is not open everyday, but they seem to always have something going on.  Schools visit to witness reenactments of  history such as the Civil War, weddings take place on the property, they have a working farm where you can pick-your-own-fruit, enjoy dinner theatre, or simply do as we did – show up for a meal and take in the serenity of the surroundings.

Riley's Farm Map

Hope you get a chance to check out this gem.


Searching For Aurora Borealis

Searching For Aurora Borealis

Ready.  Set.  Go.

Day 1

After arriving at the Keflavík International Airport around 6am, we took a bus into Reykjavik and ended up at our hotel, Icelandair Hotel Natura , around 7am. We were pleasantly surprised when they checked us into our room.

Wacky and extremely lovable art in the lobby.

Wacky and extremely lovable art in the lobby.

Despite being exhausted, we opted to explore the city instead of crashing. While waiting to take a free bus into town, we discovered it ran sometime around noon. So, we bundled up, wrapping our scarfs around our necks and ears and set off toward the heart of it all. The first half of our walk into town confirmed our assumption that the ground would be slick, so we treaded with care.  Thankfully, neither of us munched it.

Our first notable experience in Reykjavik was gazing upon the outside of the Hallgrimskirkja church.

Hallgrimskirkja church

Hallgrimskirkja church

Thankfully, the wide open door invited us inside from the cold.

A serene moment - and one interesting door.

A serene moment – and one interesting church door.

A simplistic, serene, yet extremely thought-provoking décor met us inside the church. Hallmarks of a church existed, but not in a conventional way. We had a bit of good fortune when the organist played to an audience of four… us and one other couple.

Inside the Hallgrimskirkja church.

Inside the Hallgrimskirkja church.

Another shot of the interior.

Another shot of the interior.

On The Streets of Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is a sleepy town during the winter.  Most places opened between noon and 2pm, if at all.

(If you want to see any of the photos larger, just click on them.)


A few shops were open, and The Little Christmas Shop @Laugavegi 8, 101 Reykjavik earned some dollars from us. There we learned about the thirteen Yule Lads of Christmas. Our favorite is the Spoon Licker. What attracts us to these 13 Santa-types is (a) the inherent Icelandic folklore, (b) the Yule Lads put rewards or punishments into shoes placed by children in window sills during the last thirteen nights before Christmas Eve, (c) gifts or rotting potatoes might be left depending on the child’s behavior throughout the year, and (d) the ever-so-adorable fact that Yule Lads are trolls.

spoon licker

Meet Spoon Licker.  On December 15th, he sneaks into houses and licks the wooden spoon used to scrape pots. (Image from Internet)

Pretty much everywhere you go in Iceland, you see ads for this clothing line. Gotta say, their clothing line looks cozy and warm.

Pretty much everywhere you go in Iceland, you see ads for the 66 Degrees North clothing line. Gotta say, their clothing line looks cozy and warm. (Image from Internet)


One of our favorite aspects of Iceland is the Icelandic sweater pattern. Good news: there is no shortage of this print in Reykjavik. If it weren’t for the fact that everything in this pattern involved being made out of wool, my least favorite textile, I would have added a piece to my wardrobe.

I found a t-shirt with the pattern on it, but it was $45  with no extra personality.  We came home without it.

I found a t-shirt with the pattern on it, but it was $45 and had no extra personality outside a traditional t-shirt. We came home without it. (Image from Internet)

Architecture in Reykjavik

Buildings in Reykjavik oozed simplistic and colorful palettes of architecture.

(If you’d like to see them enlarged, simply click on them.)

Along The Shore of Reykjavik

One side of the shore sports typical industrial landscapes such as shipyards, but the other side delivers the promise of nature with heaps of snow embracing mountaintops.

Reykjavik's shoreline

Reykjavik’s shoreline

After enjoying a full day exploring Reykjavik, we grabbed some food from the local grocer and headed to our hotel.  (We often make our own meals on the road.)  The crunchy onions were to die for…yum.

Our meal for the evening

Our meal for the evening

Day 2

In the middle of the night, I started to feel funky. By 2am I knew why. Let’s just say that the toilet became my best friend for the next several hours. When I have the displeasure of barfing my guts out, the blood vessels near my eyes burst and after a while it looks pretty scary. Around 5am I cringed because (1) we had an 11:30am domestic fight scheduled from Reykjavik to Akureyri and I didn’t know if I physically was up to flying, (2) the blood vessels in my face were a dark reddish purple as if someone had smeared pomegranate juice around my eyes, and (3) I forgot to pack my foundation…uh oh.

Iceland crazy face

Iceland crazy sick face – this is nearly 36 hours after the fact.  I didn’t have enough energy to take a photo earlier, so it’s a slight bit lighter.

Uh oh...I look scary.

Uh oh…I look scary.

While I shivered and moaned in bed, praying for my relationship with the porcelain God to end, John had to go to breakfast alone. Thankfully, my relationship with the porcelain God ended about one hour before we flew. I wasn’t entirely sure I was okay because nausea remained.

John stayed by my side. When it was time to go to the airport, I wore my sunglasses hoping that the clerk at the check-in counter wouldn’t have too many questions. Turns out that Iceland domestic travel is definitely NOT like the USA – they didn’t even ask for photo identification at the check-in counter. Oh, and no security screening took place either, and, thank goodness, no questions were asked about me wearing sunglasses the entire time.

A 45-minutes flight to Akureyri proved to be exhausting, but I made it.  Stepping away from the plane, I almost fainted from the sheer beauty of Iceland.

A beautiful late morning.

A beautiful late morning.


A shuttle bus took us to our hotel, the Icelandair Hotel Akureyri. I continued to be incredibly weak, but I didn’t want to miss the northern lights tour scheduled at 10pm, so I told John to enjoy the city while I slept. He stayed by my side as I slept the remainder of the day.

At 9:30PM, I rose from the dead.  Thirty minutes later, we climbed aboard the northern lights tour bus and set out in search for aurora borealis.

Sadly, no northern lights were seen. John and I had already resolved that if we didn’t see them, we’d try again when in Reykjavik…just call us the Northern Lights hunters. 🙂  But, then the tour guide made an announcement that if we were going be in town the next evening, we could try again for free. Seriously?  Saga Travel equals coolest company ever!

Day 3

Still feeling incredibly weak, yet feeling the need for some food, we walked into town. We bought some pastries for dinner, but enjoyed RUB 23 – a fish/sushi restaurant – for lunch. Serious yum! Akureyri is a town worth exploring, but since I had little energy to take on more activities, we simply walked the entire town.

What?  A real snowflake?  WOW!

What? A real snowflake? WOW!

On the Streets of Akureyri

Rub 23


Rub 23 – a delicious stop.


Arctic char - yum.  Sushi too.

Arctic char – yum. Sushi too.

The view from our dining table at Rub 23.

The view from our dining table at Rub 23.

No need for a refrigerator in the room. Outside our hotel room window, we shoved our Pepsi Max into the snow.

Nature's icebox.

Nature’s icebox.

Once again, the northern lights tour bus picked us up at 10pm, and we headed out on our quest to find aurora borealis.  This time we had a storm rolling in, which left the visibility of the sky spotty, and the possibility of seeing the lights a meek one.  The spotty sky opened up and for a short time showed us aurora borealis.  At first, I didn’t see anything…and then the sky began to move – a green swirl shifted in the sky.  I gasped with joy.

Having never photographed the northern lights before, I hoped for the best.  However, before departing for Iceland, I studied manual mode settings for photographing these lights, and here’s how I captured a few of them: (1) Tripod (not negotiable) – and it was somewhat amusing watching others in the group trying to capture these lights with no tripod and a flash, (2) ISO 800/f2.8 for 30 seconds – turn noises reduction & white balance to auto, and (3) ISO 1600/f1.4 for 30 seconds.  I passed the test.

Iceland Northern Lights 1

Iceland Northern Lights2

Iceland Northern Lights 3

After 15 minutes, maybe 20, in the cold dark night, I couldn’t take the weather. I began to feel faint, so I headed inside with Icelandic hot cocoa in hand. John, in his element, remained outside until the allotted time was up.  The tour guide came aboard the bus and chatted it up with other wimps like me.  When the guide came closer to my section of the bus, he asked me if I captured the northern lights. I said “Yes.” As he continued walking closer to my seat, he began to share a story of a time long ago when he saw the lights for the first time. Eventually, he grew close enough to see me in the light. When I came into view with my non-repairable purple face patches, he stumbled backward and his train of thought broke. Trying sooooo hard to not make me uncomfortable, he picked up his story stammering as he remembered where he broke off and acted as if I looked normal. He was a good man to not scream and go running the other way.

Day 4

We headed back to Reykjavik. The plane ride back felt normal, so I knew I was on the mend.

Once back at the city centre, we checked out the Volcano House and found some lunch. The lunch stop turned out to be cooler than the Volcano House.  However, the hot dog stand is a local legend.

We found "the hot dog" stand.  It is a legend in Reykjavik.

We found “the hot dog” stand. It is a legend in Reykjavik.

Bill Clinton enjoyed a dog at this little gem. The dog is known for being the best hot dog in town, hell, even in Europe.

Above, John’s about to place our order. You can see the same woman who served Clinton about serve us. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to eat more than two bites, but John had my back.

Hot dogs gone right

Hot dogs gone right.  Seriously, it’s a kind of magic.

Day 5

Time to leave Iceland.  With an appetite, a long flight ahead of us, and a bunch of Icelandic Krona in our pocket, we ate a hearty lunch.  The packed airport shocked us – seeing that it was Thanksgiving Day.  For such a busy airport, our plane turned out to be a bit empty, which meant we were able to stretch our legs.  Love when that happens.

The Scoop

1. We seriously, seriously, seriously, considered taking a horseback riding tour in the cold weather.  We love to take horses out on our travels and the sheer thought of taking Iceland’s purebred out for a jaunt made us giddy. But after I became ill, it was off the table.

2. Everyone we heard talking, that is, every tourist, talked about their AMAZING Blue Lagoon experience. We considered it, but opted out. Maybe next time we’re in Iceland.

3. Bucket list item #62 – see the northern lights.  Check.

Peace out,









Ireland Bling: Waterford Crystal

Ireland Bling: Waterford Crystal

Before we became travelers, we only knew Waterford Crystal from our wedding registry.  We came upon some in Macy’s and noted that it was some expensive “glass”.

After having visited Ireland, we have to admit, the Ireland bling known as Waterford Crystal is hypnotic and more than just fancy glass.

We were thrilled when we learned we’d be taking a tour of the Waterford Crystal plant/showroom.

Before arriving to the factory, our tour guide, Evelyn, shared that in June 2009 the Waterford factory closed leaving tourists out of luck in seeing the famous Waterford Crystal, and many locals out of a job.  But, thankfully, in 2010, a new group took over and brought the factory back with a new improved showroom and tour experience.

Since it was our first experience, ignorance was bliss.  We thoroughly enjoyed the factory tour.  We can say that without taking the tour, we wouldn’t have really known how much work goes into one piece of crystal or just how cool these crystal pieces are.

Step one: the molding process

Step one: the molding process

Right out of the gate, we were surprised to learn that the molding process began with wood.  As you can imagine, wood molds do burn, and, so eventually the mold will be out of commission.


The next 9 pictures are a series of photos taken in order of the journey that a piece of crystal undergoes.

The molding area

1. The Blowing Department


Molding in action

2. Molding in action


Cooling the mold

3. Blowing crystal into shape


Step 3: Shaping

4. Smoothing out and finessing


Step 4: Sanding

5. Quality inspection department smooths out the crystal

We found the Quality Inspection Department to be quite impressive.  One of the most impressive aspects about this process is if the crystal piece has any imperfections, it is destroyed and sent to be re-melted.

Marking station

6. Hand Marking Station


Demonstration of marking for the cutting room

7. Demonstration of hand marking waiting for the cutting department



8. The Cutting Department at work


A cutting artist

9.  Another cutting artist at work

The artists in the cutting department were quite friendly and more than willing to share their expertise with us.  One artist, not photographed, shared his knowledge of his station’s technique with us and gave us a glimpse into his life and the journey he traveled to become such an expert craftsman.  He had been with the company for 42 years.

Waterford Crystal Showroom

Waterford Crystal Showroom

Until visiting the factory, we never noticed that the logo of the seahorse had a clover in the tail.


The delight of walking the showroom – luxurious, sexy, and creative – just a few words to describe the imagery dancing before our eyes.

Inside the showroom

One look inside the Waterford showroom


Display inside the showroom

Another display inside the Waterford showroom


Inside the showroom

A gorgeous setup inside the Waterford showroom

Our purchase

Our purchase: Waterford shot glasses

Fun tidbit:  As we brought King Bombo out for a picture, another guest – not part of our group – made a beeline for where we were standing.  She was fascinated by King Bombo and thought he was part of the Waterford shot set…unfortunately, we had to break the bad news to her, but she chuckled and carried on.

If ever in Waterford, visit the factory – even if you plan to buy nothing.

Peace out,

The Franci

Titanic Experience via Ireland

Titanic Experience via Ireland

In the past four years, we have taken in two Titanic experiences in the United States: (1) Las Vegas’ Titanic Exhibit and (2) Orlando’s Titanic Experience. These two exhibits display a variety of artifacts from the wreckage and each do a nice job of delivering a well-rounded learning experience and provide a glimpse into what it was like during a time and place left behind.

This past March and April, we had the opportunity to take in three more Titanic experiences in Ireland that provided a deeper glimpse into the heart of the ship and its people.  Our exceptional, and completely unplanned, timing to the city meant we were in Belfast on the 1-year anniversary of the Titanic Belfast center.

Titanic entrance

A close-up of the Titanic entrance.


The full-framed Titanic Belfast center.

The back side of the Titanic Experience building.

The back side of the Titanic Belfast center.

Walking into the Titanic Belfast building took our breath away.  HUGE!  MODERN!  EXHILARATING!  And, quite clever.  The experience took us from the bygone era when Belfast became a bustling city and gave us the opportunity to view the plans for the ship, posters advertising the journey as well as discovering how the ship was built, and giving an understanding of the vastness of the Titanic.  After the first hour of our tour, we were so enwrapped in the making of the ship, we, for a moment, forgot this beautiful ship sank.  Unlike any other exhibit, it gave us a clear understanding of the hard work put into such a project.

Inside the Titanic Belfast - from the top level.

Inside the Titanic Belfast – from the top level.

We made a point to arrive at the time of opening and it paid off because we ended up having the place to ourselves for the first hour, which is always nice when you’re trying to take in an exhibit at your own pace.

An exhibit at the starting point of the tour.

An exhibit at the starting point of the tour.

Imagery to help connect to a bygone era.

Imagery to help connect to a bygone era.

White Star looping video discussion.

White Star video discussion.

A room dedicated to poster used to advertise the Titanic and White Star Line.

A room dedicated to posters used to advertise the Titanic and White Star Line.


First class accommodations display inside Titanic Belfast.

First class accommodations display inside Titanic Belfast.

A view of Belfast from the Titanic Belfast building.  Gorgeous.

A view of Belfast from the Titanic Belfast building. Gorgeous.


The Titanic Belfast statue

The Titanic Belfast statue

After we completed the entire tour, which is seriously impressive, we were surprised at the lack of artifacts.  We presumed that since this was the largest Titanic experience, we would leave dizzy with information.  We were impressed, but not dizzy.  This experience would be absolutely off the charts if it merged the Titanic artifacts experienced in Vegas or Orlando.  We still recommend this experience, but would encourage an interested Titanic traveler to seek out one of the US experiences too.

Titanic Belfast is not the only experience to be taken in Belfast; the Titanic’s Dock & Pump House is a must-see as well.
Titanic Pump Room

Not knowing exactly what we were getting ourselves into when we visited the Dock and Pump House, we were overwhelmed by this location and learning of time in 1912 when the Titanic rested in this dock as it was groomed for its first, and only, sailing.  Descending 44 feet below the surface allowed us to take in just how big the Titanic was.

Titanic Dock Above

Looking down into the dock.

Our guide taking us on a journey into early 20th century times.

Our guide taking us on a journey into early 20th century times.

At the Titanic Dock and Pump House. This photo is from the bottom of the dock where Titanic got her screws (propellers) and was painted. Her hull sat on the metal and wood stands seen down the center.

At the Titanic Dock and Pump House. This photo is from the bottom of the dock where Titanic got her screws (propellers) and was painted. Her hull sat on the metal and wood stands seen down the center.

We were surprised to learn this dock continued to be used up until just a few years ago.

According to our guide, the few cardboard men in the dock were left behind because tourists liked to take photos with them.

According to our guide, the few cardboard men in the dock were left behind because tourists liked to take photos with them.

The pump house educates visitors on how the water pump worked and while it may be unimpressive to some, we found it quite informational and rewarding. The Titanic’s Dock and Pump House is worth every penny.

Our final Titanic experience took place at the City Hall where we had the rare opportunity to see artifacts up for auction.  One of the items on display, and not being auctioned, was the violin belonging to Wallace Hartley.  Wallace Hartley was known for playing his violin, along with other band members, to calm passengers on the Titanic as the ship sank.  As we walked the auction floor exploring the memorabilia and tales of the Titanic, a history buff chatted with us.  “The first person to see the violin was a woman who lives three miles away,” said the man watching over the display who appreciated it being shown to the public and starting in Belfast. He also talked about the local pride that is still tied to the ship. “We built it. It was fine when it left here.”

The violin on display at Belfast's City Hall.

The violin on display at Belfast’s City Hall.

Just one of many tales from the ship.

Just one of many tales from the ship.

Other amazing pieces included a letter Hartley wrote on White Star stationery after the Titanic left port and a letter from his parents that Hartley had on him when his body was pulled from the sea.  The Titanic was certainly not a joyful event, but being able to memorialize the lives lost allow them to live on.

Peace out,
The Franci