Chicago Food: Bombobar

Of all of the food places in Chicago, this is the place that is probably the most well publicized of any “boutique style” desserts. Located in Chicago’s West Loop, and annexed to the ever-popular Bar Siena, is the home of numerous Buzzfeed and Tasty videos on the Hotter/Colder Chocolate, bombolini, and “white girls” from around the world tagging their friends in the videos and commenting “omg, we have to go!!”

Come on, tell me I’m wrong.

All joking aside, Bombobar is worth the hype. Where else are you going to find gelato and hot chocolate that looks as beautiful as it tastes?

Pro tip: If you have time to spare, stop inside Bar Siena and sit down to eat there. We learned that not only do they serve Bombo’s desserts inside, but they come in much more aesthetic-looking glass mugs (or ceramic dishes, depending on the dessert). Not to say that the standard paper mug isn’t adorable, but there’s something to be said about the sophistication of such a whimsical dessert.

Truly, the only criticism of Bombobar I have is that their Hotter Chocolate is extremely rich…and this is coming from the queen of dessert foods. In the s’mores hot chocolate (above, left) the whipped cream is actually marshmallow fluff, which is DELICIOUS but also too much. In the funfetti (above, right) they use actual whipped cream, so it’s more doable. Their actual hot chocolate base is more than enough for those who don’t care for the frills of the regular Hotter Chocolate, and is also served on their menu.

Recommendations:

For those traveling far for a taste of Bombobar, I would definitely recommend getting their Hotter/Colder Chocolate. It’s become an instagram staple, and is worth trying if you don’t frequent the city often.

For those such as myself, who are downtown frequently and have already tried one of these, I definitely recommend trying their s’mores gelato. As far as gelato goes, they have some of the best in the city, but the s’mores flavor is not something that you can find everywhere. I usually get it with sprinkles (simply for aesthetic purposes), and a bombolini, which is worth the $1 upcharge. Their bombolini come warm, and are utterly delicious and a fun side to enjoy with your gelato.

A full menu can be found at Bombobar.com

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Chicago Food: Summer House, Santa Monica

*All images my own unless stated*

Everyone across the United States has heard of the perils of a true Chicago winter: several feet of snow on the ground, blistering cold temperatures in the negative digits, and the overall inability to enjoy yourself outside when your face hurts from the biting, cold wind. Luckily for us, there’s a place where we can escape for a few hours, and feel like we’re sitting on a beach in California, instead of a slush-covered street in our dear Chicago.

Welcome to Summer House Santa Monica.

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Located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, entering this restaurant immediately feels like you’ve transported yourself a couple hundred miles away to the actual shores of Santa Monica. This boutique restaurant is one of two of its’ kind, the other located in Maryland.

With summery music playing in the background, and daylight streaming in from the glass roof (which becomes open air in the summer!) you instantly get a mood boost as you walk in the door.

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Although their brunch menu is rated one of the best in Chicago, the lunch menu was already being served by 11am during the week. At first glance, their lunch menu appears to be relatively small and limited in choices, but many substitutions and add-ons are allowed, making the menu more of a suggestion than something to stick to.

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Most of the food was reasonably priced, but you are definitely getting a small up-charge to normal prices. But with a view this good, do I really have room to complain?

For my friends (& me, for now) who are still in the under-21 club, they offer “zero-proof cocktails”  -a twist on several of the beverages that they offer, which are unique in their own right. Where else could you possibly go for watermelon and cucumber coolers?

Recommendations:

To drink, I opted for something classy, but simple: a latte. Not only did this fuel my caffeine addiction, but it was one of the smoothest lattes I’ve ever had. Not too bitter, not grainy from espresso grounds, not too much milk. Coffee connoisseurs, beware.

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For lunch: Stacked Turkey Sandwich ($12.95)

Not your typical turkey sandwich. With avocado showing the Cali roots of the restaurant, followed by the pungent taste of a (homemade?) mustard, this gourmet turkey sandwich is worth the price.

Another surprising twist: the french fries. These weren’t your sub-par, fast food quality fries. These were french fries that even the French would be proud to call their own.

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A full list of menus and meals can be found at http://summerhousesm.com/chicago/menu/.

Chicago Food: Hashbrowns

Since beginning school at UIC in August, I’ve had the opportunity to truly embrace my foodie side, and visit restaurants that are not only well publicized, but also the ones that are overlooked to the out of town traveler. I begin a new portion of my blog with a review of my new weekly staple, Hashbrowns.

Located just off the corner of Maxwell and Halsted, (With a second location in the North Side!) Hashbrowns is fairly invisible and easy to walk past. It’s located just two storefronts down from the corner, with the UIC staple on the end (Bar Louie) and a Mexican restaurant between that I’ve been told to avoid.

I’ve been to Hashbrowns enough times to be on a first name basis and shared life stories with my favorite waiter, and I have yet to try a single thing off the menu that I didn’t like. From breakfast foods (served with none other than hashbrowns- regular or sweet potato) to grilled chicken, to cheeseburgers (too many to decide from!) there’s something there to please everyone, from gluten free to vegetarian options.

And better yet, it’s cheap. Like broke and underfed college student cheap. Most entrees are around $11, but you could definitely go cheaper or spend more if you’d like!

Granted, I like to splurge a bit on myself when I sit down to eat, but even on the cheaper end, the portion sizes are more than enough to keep you comfortably full for a long time.

Recommendations: 

For Breakfast: Cinnamon Blueberry French Toast ($11), Loaded French Toast ($13)Hashbrownz

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For Lunch: Grilled Chicken Breast & Avocado ($11), The Taylor Street Burger ($11)

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A full menu can be found at http://www.hashbrownscafe.com/

 

Things You Deal With as a Transfer Student

After graduating from my respective community college with honors (see me above with the overly decorated cap!) and changing my final decision on where to transfer (University of Illinois-Chicago!), I found myself immersed in the transfer process, which was much more of a pain in the butt than anticipated. Thus, I am taking a transition from my travel blog to laugh in frustration at how tricky the transfer process can be.

 

1. Learning How to Navigate a Second Campus

You mean I have to find out where the best bathrooms, the quietest study areas, and where my classrooms are all over again?!

2. Having to Make a New Group of Friends

Sure, college has already brought me tons of new best friends who I love hanging out with, but when we’re all transferring to completely different schools, it leaves me no other choice but to find new people who accept my weirdness as much as my old friends did.

3. Trying (And Failing!) to Get Transcripts Processed

It took me 2 months before all of my classes finalized well enough for me to schedule the next classes in sequence and take placement tests. Not to mention when your transfer school doesn’t accept your credits because you have too many or they aren’t equivalent classes! This is honestly the most frustrating step since it make or breaks your schedule as well.

4. Going Through Orientation, Convocation, etc. All Over Again!

Honestly just more attempts at getting me to socialize with people I’ll never see again since our major plans are COMPLETELY different from one another. There’s free food though!?

5. Dealing With a Changed Commute

No longer can I roll out of bed at 9am, just an hour before class, pick up some coffee, and be on time. School isn’t just half an hour away anymore, now it’s an hour and a half. Cheers to 530am Metra train rides to get to my 830am class on time!

6. New School, New Spiritwear

Honestly I have less money in my bank account than I did in 8th grade, but I NEED that new college shirt….and sweatshirt…and car decal…and water bottle. Drop any new sororities/frats/organizations in there, and BOOM! A financial nightmare.

7. New School = New Slang Terms and Abbreviations

How was I supposed to know SSB and SCE meant Student Services Building and Student Center East in every email my college sends me? Why is there 6 dorms with different acronyms? What is this new regional slang people are saying?

8. Introducing Yourself in EVERY Class…Again

As a transfer junior, this can be more rare since people think you’ve already been on campus for two years. But then, you’ll find yourself in that classroom where the teacher asks each transfer student to introduce themselves along with where you’ve transferred from.

9. Adjusting to a New Learning Management System

My old school used Canvas, now I have to teach myself Blackboard AND hope I’m turning in all my assignments correctly. Why can’t we all just use the same one??

10. Pushing Through, Despite it All

Though frustrating, transferring to a new school is super exciting. So hang in there, fellow transfer students, we’ll figure out the ropes soon enough!

-C

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Two Days in the City of Love; What You Need to Know and Do

Of all the places I’ve traveled, Paris has to be that one city where I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to be able to see everything I wanted to in such a short period of time. Thankfully, I was able to get through most of the things I wanted to see, largely due to good preplanning, and extra time that I had built into my days.

One of the biggest tips about Paris I can give you is to wear good walking shoes. I opted for style over comfort the first day (where most of my walking came in) and I largely regretted it the next day when my feet were aching. I’m not saying to toss aside your boots and throw on your running shoes in one of the most stylish European cities, but be prepared for all of the walking you will do, because it is much more than you think it will be. Bring shoes that are better for walking several miles in, or find shoe inserts that will make for much more comfortable walking.

Another must for transportation is to purchase the 2-day (in my case) tourist metro pass. It clocked in to be my most expensive purchase (36€) but I rode the metro at least that many times while I was in Paris, since I was doing all of the major sightseeing all over the city in such a short amount of time. I would highly recommend doing this over a 10-ride pass because those will simply turn out to be more expensive in the long run if you are staying in Paris for less than a few days. Be careful not to lose the metro pass. I cannot stress this enough, as Paris’ metro tickets are less than half the size of a credit card and very easy to misplace.

As for trying to pack all of the sights in two days, here is how I went about it:

Unfortunately since I was low both on time and money, I did not get to enter some of the sites I mention. Feel free to build time into your own travels.

Friday morning, I landed at Charles de Gaulle, and made it to my Airbnb in Pantin (best described as a “suburb” right outside of Paris) by 11am. After dropping off my luggage and greeting friends, we headed towards Notre-Dame Cathedral.

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After walking around it (and getting a few selfies, of course) I made my way along the Seine for quite a while towards the Louvre. If you would prefer to take the subway, I don’t doubt there are routes to take that are very quick, but the walk was fairly pleasant and a good way to see the city.

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Beware of pickpockets and people trying to sell things to you outside of the Louvre and Eiffel. These are presumably two of the biggest tourists destinations in Paris, so they will do anything to try to sell you the knick-knacks that they have. Otherwise it was a pleasant environment, and there aren’t so many people as to ruin any pictures you might want to take.

After the Louvre, we made our way Tuileries Garden and down Champs-Élysées (shopping destination, tourist central) to the Arc de Triomphe. There is a small median in the middle of the street here where you can stop for a quick second to take a picture head-on, but be careful and watch for reckless drivers. You quite literally are standing in the middle of the street, and the drivers in Paris are ruthless to say the least.

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Afterwards, I made a quick stop for a late lunch at a crêperie about a 10 minute walk away. There are several places you can get crepes nearby, but unless you are okay with paying higher prices for the same food that is along Champs-Élysées, I recommend walking to a place out of the way.

My next stop was to Printemps department store, also on Champs-Élysées. This may sound like a weird stop, but the view from the open-air cafe on the top floor explains it all:

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As I said before, there’s a small cafe up here that sells some cheap coffee and snacks. If you plan to sit up here for a bit (I did) it’s polite to purchase something.

After this we took the subway towards the 18th arr. to see The Love Wall of Paris. It’s not well known, and it’s in a secluded location right off the subway stop but it’s definitely a sight that was on my bucket list. On this wall, the phrase “I love you” is written in every documented language known.

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After this, I headed back to the Louvre to actually go inside (and pay a visit to Mona Lisa herself!) The Louvre is free on Fridays after 6pm for those under 25, so if that is you, I recommend going at this time. The price to enter isn’t hefty normally, but it’s extra money in my pocket.

Day 2

Today we started off bright and early at 8am to go see the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. It’s free to enter (all except climbing up to the top of the dome) so I highly recommend going as early as humanly possible. By the time we were leaving the crowds and lines to enter were extremely long, compared to basically just walking through the door at 830am. This is another location to be aware of scam artists, because they will block entire sidewalks so you have to talk to them. I even had one try to grab my arm in an attempt to stop me. The views both inside and outside the church are worth it though, but be prepared for a lot of stairs.

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After soaking up some sunshine, we headed to go see the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris.

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After a subway ride, we stopped in a small store and had a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower. There are several places to do so but we chose a secluded area on concrete near a pool of water.

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Afterwards, many of us split off to do our own things, but some of us decided to do one of the musts of Paris: shopping. After a half an hour walk past the right side of the Eiffel in the above pic and down a side street, we took the subway to Galeries Lafayette, a large, upscale shopping mall. Even if you’re not one for shopping, come to admire the ornate detailing on the ceiling and sides of the building, or snap a good picture on the bridge connecting one portion of the mall to the other.

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For dinner, we stopped in the Jewish Quarter for some falafel, and headed back to the Eiffel to see the lights show at night. Fun fact- it’s actually illegal to film this…but tell that to the several thousand people around the city doing just that at the top of each hour.

The light show is quite simple and lasts only 5 minutes at the top of each hour at night, but it’s definitely something to be seen.

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After talking to some girls I met from around the world in a hostel, they were quite surprised that I had been to Paris. They had heard it was dangerous, and they weren’t quite sure if they would go anytime soon or not.

To be fair, if you’re from the States, traveling abroad is another animal entirely from traveling in our own country. Here, we are more worried about violence and bad areas; there, they are more worried about petty theft. There aren’t many violent crimes, if any, that take place in Europe, but people will not hesitate to steal a loosely carried handbag or a stray phone. As long as you keep your wits about you and aren’t causing a scene, you’ll be safe. Just keep all of your belongings put away or out of sight of passersby.

Des voyages sûrs!

-C

We Were Staying in Paris (…and Dancing in the Streets of Barcelona)

If you’re able to shamelessly catch the songs in my blog title, this is me figuratively giving you a hug:

*hug*

All kidding aside, my blog has been fairly inactive for the last month (cue me getting asked by everyone about what is going down in my life):

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A few weeks ago, I got word that I am officially attending CUNY Hunter College in the fall to continue my BSN degree! I will be able to keep up a running blog in my time in NYC, and be able to give you the ins and outs of the city (Once I fully develop that on my own, of course!) Still unsure if I will be graduating with the class of 2019 or 2020, but as long as I finish my degree, that’s all that matters.

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I’m still single, no worries there.

ALSO I still love french toast so all is normal here.

Now for the REAL reason behind this post:

Tonight starts my spring break, where I’ll be heading off to Paris on a 630pm flight (yay!) to stay for a few days, then flying off to Barcelona for a view of the sights, sangria, and practicing my Spanish, of course. (fun fact: they speak Catalin, which is a combination of French and Spanish. So my muddled Spanish will only help me be able to ask questions in something closer to the native language.)

Honestly, I had no intention of going abroad for spring break, but since a few of my friends study in Paris and Barcelona, I figured now would be a better time than ever to make a trip there!

(Plus, now I suppose I can see if the rain in Spain truly does fall mainly on the plain.)

I don’t have a straight itinerary of everything I’m going to do, rather a list of things I want to see. If you have any more ideas for me, drop me a message and let me know!

Paris:

Eiffel Tower

Arc de Triomf

Louvre (1st arr.)-Free on Friday after 6pm, Mona Lisa!!

Le Palais Royal (1st arr.)

Notre Dame Cathedral

Sainte Chapelle

Rue Cler (7th arr.)-food shopping

Printemps Terrace (8th arr.)- good photo op, good cafe

Champs-Elysees (8th arr.)- SHOPPING

Wall of Love (18th arr.) (featured above)

Barcelona:

Sagrada Familia (pictured below)

Park de Guell (Park Guell Candy House)

Barceloneta & Bacoa Burger Bar

Camp Nou

Montjuic

Tibidabo

St Joseph la Boqueria- Food Market

Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic)

Mango/Primark- Shopping

Casa Batllo

Columbus Monument

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Pics to follow soon!

¡Adéu per ara!

-C

Why Miami Wasn’t Ideal For the Solo-Traveling Girl

When going on vacation, most people (At least here in the Midwest!) picture warm, sunny beaches, with the tide rolling along the coast, and the perfect sunny getaway from the normalities of everyday life.

We look, we search. With over 12,000 miles of coastline in the United States, we often are overwhelmed with options of where to go.

So we tend to settle for places we hear of before: San Francisco, Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, and possibly the largest of all- Miami.

Although I’ve been to Florida and the Keys more times than I could count as a kid, I had actually never been in Miami for longer than it took to pick up the rental car, grab some lunch, and drive down to Key West or such.

After hearing about some wild spring break trips and vacations from a few friends of mine, I decided to finally set my sights on Miami, and began to plan a summer trip there.

After my standard crazy-lady-obsessive research (find more about THAT hereI settled for about $100/night at Hotel Shelley, one of the many hotels owned by the South Beach Hotels Group.

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courtesy of Expedia

It’s Art Deco style fit right into the standard style in South Beach, and this hotel was perfect for the traveler who is looking for a cheap hotel room with a few extras included; Free transportation to and from Miami Airport, Free Happy Hour, and very well-kept hotel rooms, to name just a few.

With piece of mind and all of the minor details smoothed out of the trip, I felt extremely confident to be staying here, and had already looked into many things to do while I was down there (#1-Lay on the beach).

When I finally stepped off the plane, after a ride from Newark to Miami (I was previously in NYC), I instantly felt like I was out of place. Most of the people surrounding me spoke only Spanish, and even with 4 years and a planned Spanish Minor under my belt, it felt like I was alone in a whole new world.

Note to my readers, the middle of August was also not the most IDEAL time to visit Miami, unless you are in love with 90 degree, humid heat. The kind that makes you feel like you ran a marathon after walking a few blocks.

After finally getting to my hotel after an hour or two, I was confronted with not being able to check in until much, much later than check-in time, due to an overbooked hotel. I took this in stride and decided to walk down the street to Starbucks and grab a cup of coffee, to add a little normality to my life. But even THIS didn’t go smoothly, because I ended up getting harassed by an unreasonably angry older man who went around the store harassing people of minority groups (including myself as a woman, I suppose) and telling them to go back to where they came from, even after they asked him several times to leave. After leaving, coming back in, throwing his hat at me, and demanding someone thank him for his service in the Vietnam War, he finally left all of us alone. Needless to say, I was on my toes with that one, and I was afraid it would progress to something more violent.

After finally getting back to my hotel and receiving a room (RIGHT next to the concierge desk, which kept me up a good couple hours at night on the weekend), I finally set out for some time on the beach.

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Where my hotel was located, the walk towards the beach was only two streets over, and then through a short, grassy area on the outskirts of the beach. What should’ve been a reasonably pleasant, short walk (in modest clothing for the heat) turned into 10 minutes of harassment and being creeped on by guys I would pass by on side streets or that would walk behind me. Mind you, this isn’t late at night-it’s 5pm on a weekday.

Now, I do hail from the suburbs of Chicago. I’m used to the occasional stare, or the occasional beg for money, but this turned into full-scale, being followed down the street, catcalled walk in the middle of the day. Part of this is to do with the fact I am female, and the other part due to the fact I was alone, which I was prepared for.

I spent about an hour out there, grabbed myself some dinner at an Italian restaurant, and called it quits before the sun decided to set. My #1 rule of traveling alone is to be at least within a block of my hotel by sunset no matter where I go, because I would rather miss out on a bit of nightlife than end up harassed or worse by the sketchy people that do exist in the world.

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On the way there, I stopped at a CVS around the corner to grab some snacks and a case of water, and then walked back to the hotel.

Side note: Avoid buying sunscreen down here, if at all possible. They know tourists need it, so they up-charge it to about $8-$10 per bottle. Bring a few travel-sized containers on the flight with you if you are like me and refuse to check a bag.

It was already dark by this point, and I found myself harassed by a few more men, and haggled especially hard by one who needed money “to buy his baby food and diapers”. Mediocre haggling at best, honestly.

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Now, I’m not saying don’t travel to Miami EVER- please do, the Art Deco style of the 1920’s isn’t replicated as well anywhere else in the states. The beaches are gorgeous, the alcohol is DEFINITELY flowing for you partiers out there (I couldn’t believe the amount of times I was offered things even though I visibly do not look 21), and the culture and cuisine were good as well. This is a fairly cheap tourist attraction, in my opinion, and after the wake of the nightclub shooting, the LBGT community has beautifully banded together to create a welcoming and lovely environment there.

But definitely do NOT travel there alone, in my opinion. Even with all of the street-smarts and safety precautions I took, I felt more safe on the streets of NYC than I ever did in Miami, which is mildly concerning. Safety is #1, no matter where you travel. Because of the amount of tourists they get, many skeevy guys prey on girls from out of town, and vice versa.

Also be aware that in many restaurants down there, the 20% gratuity has already been added to the bill. A lot of the places now have the servers hold tablets that you use to receive the bill and pay for the meal, and in the panic of feeling “awkward”, you may end up accidentally choosing to add a tip to the already-tipped bill (Lesson learned the hard way, over an extra 20% tip on an already $50 meal). Many times you are able to catch it because it is clearly labeled as “gratuity”, but sometimes they are sneaky in hiding it in the receipt.

Restez en sécurité, mes amis!

-C

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