No visit to Zürich would be complete without a visit to its most famous chocolate shop, the Sprüngli. And Mark and Susi would never let my visit go incomplete: so naturally, this afternoon we popped in to the establishment, for an experience of true and utter decadence. The highlight of the visit was the Luxemburgerli: divine little "buttons" of chocolate, best eaten fresh (i.e. within 24 hours of them being made), and filled with all manner of artery-clogging richness. Also incredible were the Truffles: each of these balls of chocolate comes in a variety from milky-white to dark brown, and is variously filled with rum, cream and liquid chocolate. The truffles kept me nourished for well over a week after.
There may not be many other reasons to visit Catania: but this alone should make the city a "must" for anyone in the area. While passing through Catania this morning, I stopped at a very upmarket cafe on the city's seashore promenade, that proudly advertises letting you choose from 32 different types of chocolate, to be used in making you a hot choc. I was sold in two seconds flat. I walked in, closed my eyes, picked a number, and ordered no. 17. I really doubt that it would have mattered which number I'd chosen, though: I'd say they were all just as divine as each other. I also ordered a truly decadent, cream-filled cannoli pastry — all this was about double the price of the average morning coffee stop; but hey, sometimes you just gotta live life, and love life.
Cioccolata calda is Italian for hot chocolate; and if there's one thing I've learned lately, it's that hot chocolate is indisputably Italian. Nobody makes a hot choccy like the Italians do. It's thick, it's sumptuous, and it satisfies every time. You can't get one at every coffee bar — sometimes you have to subsist on cappuccino — but since I'm not such a coffee man, I try and go hot choccy whenever it's available. It's becoming a tradition, during my Sicilian cycle trip: every day, for morning tea, find a cup of the stuff.
Home-made chocolates are a famous regional speciality of Bariloche. Although Argentina in general is not known for having great chocolate, this part of the country is an exception. This afternoon, I treated myself to two boxes of the stuff from Mamuschka, one of the finest chocolate boutiques in town. I managed to preserve one box, but the other one was devoured by the Patanuk crew for dessert this evening.
I tried some of these delicious gourmet Ica chocolates on this morning's wine and pisco tour. They were so good, I just had to buy some! Got a few gift packages, to send home — to whom, I'm not yet sure. But boy, do they melt in your mouth. Clearly, Ica is the place to go, if you want all things nice and tasty from Peru.
Went on a little morning tour today — briefly leaving our oasis paradise of Huacachina — to some of Ica's famous wineries and pisco-making places, as well as to the city's much-adored chocolate factory. Can't really say we left paradise, because it was a pretty daym pleasant tour we had: it's a hard life when you have to spend all morning sampling gourmet chocolates, rich red wines, and perfectly-distilled piscos.
Myself, Chris, and a Norweigian couple got driven off in a private car — with our own driver — from Casa de Arena to start the tour. First stop was the "Helena" chocolate factory, where we saw the delicious cacao delights being made in the factory window, and where we had a chance to go into the very quaint old shop at the front, and where I made a purchase or two. They have a cash register there that's over 100 years old!
Who can take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun and make a strawberry lemon pie? The candy man... the candy man can!
That cash register must be worth more than the money inside it.
Then we went to two different places where they make wine and pisco: one place that makes more of the dark red wine and the mixed-grape pisco, which is less traditional, but which sells better on the export market; and another place that specialises in traditional Ica wine (not so dark, more sweet), and in pisco puro (pure distilled pisco — pretty similar to vodka or to tequila). We got taken around, and shown various aspects of the distillation process for these alcoholic beverages — it's all fairly advanced here, since Ica makes the best (and, as far as I know, the only decent) wine and pisco in Peru.
Big golden vats for processing the pisco.
Lots of storage barrels.
Chris and I prefer the big barrels.
Traditional storage containers for the pisco, used since Inca times.
This is where they press-a the grapes (takes 10 people over 12 hours to press them, constantly stamping all over this pit). Just don't you a-press on-a my wife!
Once we were done with all the obligatory tour-of-the-winery stuff, it was on to the real deal: wine and pisco tasting! Had some great samplings of fine dark red wines, sweet red wines, fruity white wines, lethal pisco puros, refreshing mixed-grape piscos, nice semi-prepared Pisco Sour mixes, and even a bit of creamy Bailey's-like pisco. Not bad, for one morning! As Chris said, at least it cured the hangover from the night before :P. I also decided to purchase one of the bottles of semi-prepared Pisco Sour — might send it back home as a souvenir.
Nice white wine of Ica.
Shot of creamy Pisco.
Bottles of Pisco.
There's me, being a knobhead with a bottle of Pisco.
Great tour, and very tasty beverages that we sampled. Also made our subsequent restaurant-quality hamburger lunch all the more palatable. Oh, what a hard day it's been!