Tag Archives: chocolate

European Vacation – Bruges, Belgium

The next stop on our trip was Bruges, Belgium. We stayed at the Hotel de Goezeput, the only hotel typical hotel we used while in Europe.

This was the most laid-back and relaxing leg of our vacation – not because we didn’t do anything, but because nothing was really planned ahead of time.

We started with our traditional McDonald’s meal.

The best part of Belgium in my opinion was Chez Albert. We ended up grabbing snacks from this shop many times and got to know the owner, Sabine.

I particularly liked this statue. It might be called “The Lovers” or some variation on that, but I couldn’t find definitive information on the Internet.

We did some wandering around the city, including some exploration of windmills.

Here’s a closer look at my friends. It looks like they were up to something.

There was a hill near one of the windmills that gem couldn’t help but roll down! I might have done so too 🙂

When we got back to the hotel, we got ready for bed. gem and Anela played Papers, Please on my laptop while I showered. Glad they enjoyed it!

We started the next day with more Chez Albert. I told you Sabine would get to know us.

Chocolate is a must in Belgium, so we did some shopping. I really liked a shop called Chocolates & Happiness, which put cute quotes on their boxes of chocolates. I bought a few boxes to take home.

Next up was the “In Bruges” walking tour by “Can You Handle It? Tours” with our tour guide, Steve. It was a fun a little tour, and the highlight was probably the beer museum. I enjoyed Arthur’s Legacy (Limited Edition), Kriek Boon (a delicious cherry beer – my favorite), and Rosso Red Fruit beer. The tour also took us to Chocolaterie de Burg, a chocolate shop that came recommended to us.

Sometimes we have to take a quick break for a photo!

Here we all are with a canal behind us.

This is the Madonna and Child, sculpted by Michelangelo, in the Church of Our Lady.

And this is a touristy photo in front of it. Honestly, it was a bit lackluster to me, but I’m glad I got to see it.

Here’s another nice shot of us together.

We found a shop with a chocolate fountain and bought some sweets mostly so we could use the fountain. I dropped some of my chocolates though. Sad times.

Oh no! We were running low on sweets! Sabine could save us though.

We had dinner at ‘t Vagevuur because it offered a discount to people from the walking tour. The discount applied to a limited menu, and I wasn’t that impressed. However, we did run into Stevie again. For those of you not keeping track, we met her on a train in the Netherlands a few days earlier. How awesome is that?

After dinner we got some drinks at a bar and then stuffed ourselves with fries covered in various toppings from a little stand before heading back to the hotel.

The next morning we got some delicious bagel sandwiches from Sanseveria on our way out of Bruges. We met a couple from Atlanta who had breakfast with us. They were in Belgium for a conference. One of them worked for the CDC and was a public health professor at a university – pretty cool. After our tasty breakfast, we took a train to Kortrijk. We were supposed to continue by train to Paris, but that’ll be a story for next time.

Bay Area vacation and the Lithium Network Conference 2015

Bay Area friendsLast week I was attending a conference in the Bay Area, so I went a few days early to visit friends! I stayed with Katie and Matt, hung out with Marc as well, coincidentally saw some Southern California friends, and attended the Lithium Network Conference. I had a great time!

Lithium is all about social: they’re the providers of Toshiba’s forum as well as Lithium Social Web, the web application that I use that pulls the forum, Facebook, and Twitter into one screen.

Friday

I flew in Friday night after some delays. Matt and Katie picked me up from San Francisco International, and we headed back to their place in Fremont after a quick stop for some tasty In-N-Out. It was late, so we mostly talked, and Matt and I played games.

Saturday

Saturday was the action-packed day! Marc came over, and then we visited Matt’s university, San Jose State University, where we failed to return library books and failed to see a flight simulator. We tried at least. Luckily, San Jose is also filled with delicious foods.

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At SmokeEaters I ate some delicious wings, onion rings, fries, and a beer. This was the start of a bad day for my stomach.

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I was kind of excited to see a banner for Fanime. I don’t know. I’m sorry.

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After our unhealthy lunch, we stopped at Psycho Donuts. Just look how good they look! Yes, yes, yes!

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We walked past a place called Iguanas just because I wanted to take a picture of their sign. Burritozilla! I want to eat Burritozilla!

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When we got back to Katie and Matt’s, we tried some of the donuts. Another bad stomach decision, but a great decision for my taste buds. The top-left one was the Cookie Monster donut. Reminds me of Afters Ice Cream! 🙂

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We made some White Russians, watched some YouTube videos, listened to Spotify, and talked. The White Russians were the final bad decision for my stomach, haha.

Matt found this playlist on Spotify – 2000’s Rock by Scott Sweatman. It’s… kind of great. It caused a lot of nostalgia, but at the same time, I can tell why I don’t listen to this music anymore. It was pretty perfect.

This might sound uneventful, but it was a pretty important evening. I had a lot of fun with them. Marc’s friend even came over as well.

Sunday

gem was in te Bay Area to go rafting with a group of friends, which included one other person I knew – Vivian. Marc came over again, and then he drove us to Berkeley to meet with them.

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We decided to meet at Sather Tower, a bell and clock tower, commonly called The Campanile.

You could hear the music from a pretty good distance.

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I liked the bears at the base.

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After realizing you could go up the tower for a nominal fee, we had to check it out.

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I wish this photo offered a better sense of scale. The bells could totally crush a person.

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gem, Katie, and Matt!

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Here’s where the musician sits to play the carillon, which is the bell system.

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Here’s the view.

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And here’s a group of photos of a lot of us.

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Here’s gem, Marc, Katie, Matt, and myself. I was trying to spread the Half Past Two, So Cal ska love to the Bay Area.

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We stopped at Sheng Kee Bakery, where I tried some of Vivian’s tea eggs – basically eggs boiled in tea rather than water. Delicious! Then it was off to Sliver Pizzeria. Each day of the week they feature a different pizza, but that’s it. That means that each day they only have a single kind of pizza. On Sunday, it was roasted potatoes, roasted onions, mozzarella, jalapeño jack cheese, Italian parsley, oregano, thyme, and olive oil. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. It was great! I’m going to need to try to make something like this some time.

Over lunch, someone I had just met that day asked me what I did for a living. I said, “I work for Toshiba…”

He replied with “hey, that’s my line!”

I’m paraphrasing, but he works for Toshiba as well, although he works for a different Toshiba company. Small world! And speaking of small worlds, another person was going to take the BART back to Fremont, so Marc just gave him a ride too.

It was cool seeing the university as well as the city. The city was pretty interesting. I can understand how it gets the reputation it has, because the people clearly cared a lot more about the environment and helping each other than I’m used to seeing in Orange County.

Once we got home, we had a quiet evening mostly of watching TV and chatting. I got some work done as well, and we watched American Ninja Warrior. It’s a cool show pitting athletes against insane obstacle courses that require a great deal of strength, agility, and balance.

Katie made an amazing fish dinner that made my stomach feel much better. It was super good!

Monday

I started Monday morning by working before Matt drove me to the BART station.

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When I got into San Francisco, I took a picture of the building outside the Powell Street station like I always do.

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This was the view from my hotel room. Not amazing, but I like that Scalzi always posts photos of his view, so I like doing it too. I stayed at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis, which was right next to Saint Patrick’s Chuch, where Patrick and Caroline got married. Pretty cool!

Anela gave me some recommendations of things to do. Some of them I’d done previously, and some, like hike recommendations, just didn’t fit with my schedule. But some things had to be done!

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Did you know that at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory you can watch people make fortune cookies? Well, she did, and now I do, and now you do.

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They start out round, while they’re still hot, she shapes them into fortune cookies. I got to try some nice hot ones that were still round, and I bought a bag of normal and chocolate fortune cookies.

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I tried one chocolate one from the bag, and my fortune was “Your luck will soon be at a high point.” That seems good, but what if it just means my luck is going to be terrible for a long time after that? Uh oh.

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I took some other random photos too.

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Building art.

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Yummy not-quite-a-fortune-cookie!

I had to stop at a bakery too, so I got a pineapple BBQ pork bun from The AA Bakery & Cafe. I love pork buns!

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Anela also recommended I get pastries in Little Italy, so off I went. I often say I don’t really like looking up recommendations because it’s more fun to find stuff on your own, but I wasn’t sure about Italian pastries, so I turned to reviews and found Stella Pasty and Cafe. Everyone seemed to recommend their Sacripantina.

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According to their site, it contains “vanilla sponge cake, zabaione (a delicate custard made with egg yolks, sweet butter, marsala and sherry wine) cream, and rum.” It was light yet rich. I could only eat about half of the piece actually.

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I knew I wanted pizza while I was there too, and I felt like looking around to see what caught my eye. Spoiler alert – it wa Golden Boy Pizza. I just liked the feeling and look of the place. Foursquare recommended the garlic clam pizza, so I went with that.

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It was a thick slice, and I put red pepper on it. It was good, although I didn’t find it amazing. Still, I liked the place enough that I might try to go back and get a different kind if I can. It was small on the inside but was covered with stickers and similar art.

I also want to mention Victoria Pastry Company. I didn’t eat there, but I got detoured as I followed the amazing smell. I just wasn’t hungry enough.

My final goal was Ghirardelli Square. Anela recommended this as well, although I’d actually been there already. However, I just love chocolate. On the way, I stopped at Dennis Rae Fine Art. They had an exhibit on the art of Theodor Seuss Geisel – Dr. Seuss. It was neat.

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I bought a few things to take home at Ghirardelli before purchasing a hot fudge sundae to eat! The fudge was just so awesome. I kinda sorta maybe love hot fudge.

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Even so, I couldn’t do it. There were just too many things to eat that day and not enough room in my stomach.

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Here’s a nice view from the Fisherman’s Wharf area near the San Francisco National Historic Park (or maybe it’s part of it).

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Look, a ship.

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This was a really heroic ship, but I heard it killed its family once.

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I liked the view from the end of the pier.

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Hey, it’s me!

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On my way back to the hotel, I happened to walk past Lombard Street at it’s famously twisted block. This was actually another recommendation from Anela, although I wasn’t aiming to see it this time since I’d already seen it. I just happened to walk past it, so I took a picture because of how beautiful it looked.

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I just thought this door was cool.

The welcome event for the Lithium Network Conference was held at Jillian’s. There was a variety of food and an open bar. I know what you’re thinking, but actually I only had a small glass of wine. Too exhausted, so I didn’t stay long. After a detour at Target to buy water, I went back to my room for the night.

Tuesday

Tuesday was the first actual day of the conference. After a quick breakfast, I was off to the weird introduction!

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That woman was a bunch of bananas.

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And that woman was the whole city!

The opening was about three and half hours, and it mostly talked about what customers expect from social engagement. Blah, blah, blah. You don’t care about that.

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But then there was lunch and time to socialize! Yes, some of that was through texts to home, but I also talked with some cool people at the conference.

After lunch, I went to a session on “Self service content publishing” and another on “How to get content in the right place at the right time” that were both interesting. They were more about developing applications and custom modifications to the Lithium platform, which isn’t something I have the power to go implement, but I like seeing new ways to think about the process.

The conference ended for the day with two pretty great speakers. The first was Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy is a free online tool for education. It originally sprang from him tutoring his cousin on the phone, then tutoring many of his cousins, then making custom tutoring software to help him tutor them, and then creating videos to help as well. I can’t really do it justice. He discussed how school goes at a certain pace for the whole class and then judges them rather than helping them master something before continuing. He wants to bring this free education to everyone in the world. It’s a beautiful idea, and a couple parts of his talk made me tear up. Shh, don’t tell anyone.

The second speaker was Orny Adams, a comedian. “Let’s talk about what we really wanna talk about. We hate our customers. Because they’re stupid.” He was joking, I swear. Yeah, he didn’t really care about crossing any lines as he also made fun of people who avoid gluten or are scared of germs (uh oh) and even had to end with some differences between men and women. He was pretty hilarious.

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That night’s party was held at City View on the fourth floor of The Metreon.

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There were a lot of people inside and out. I talked to some cool people, including a long conversation with a Greek woman who compared Greek family members with me! She’s actually a contact at Lithium I hadn’t met, so that was very cool. I also had a great conversation with a man from Zürich.

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The view was nice!

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There were oh so many desserts. Combined with all the normal food I had that night, it added up to another terrible health night.

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Oh, and then after all that I discovered more food.

Wednesday

I didn’t really take many photos this day, but I did attend sessions on “Master social lead generation” and “15 tips for new community managers.” I don’t really need sales leads, and I’m not a new community manager, but I like looking at new ways of thinking.

Later I had a meeting with my coworker, the VP of Global Strategic Accounts & Value Engineering at Lithium, the Chief Revenue Officer of Lithium, and a woman in charge of Customer Success at Lithium.

Dr. Michael Wu, Chief Scientist at Lithium, did a talk about how customers perceive brands, customer expectations, and a lot more. He wears a distinctive hat and glasses, so the conference gave a hat and glasses to everyone in attendance!

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I didn’t take the glasses since I already wear glasses, but a free hat? Sure.

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I also took an accidental selfie on the way to the BART.

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And the last photo I took in the city was this. It reminded me of the RISK! podcast.

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It was a great trip, but by the end I was exhausted and happy to get home. If only I didn’t have two work days left in the week.

Thanks for the wonderful time, Bay Area.

And the best part? I didn’t really gain much weight!

There are more photos in my Flickr album.

Pork chops for dinner

Pork chops

Delicious. Pork chops, potato, and Brussels sprout. The pork chops were super cheap too. I usually stick with beef because I don’t have to worry about undercooking it, but this worked wonderfully.

Baked banana with chocolate peanut butter candies

You can’t forget dessert. I put milk chocolate peanut butter bears (essentially peanut butter cups) in the sliced banana before baking it. I had some Albertsons butter pecan ice cream with it too.

John Dies at the End Vegan Chocolate Soy Sauce Cupcakes

John Dies at the End Vegan Chocolate Soy Sauce Cupcakes

Before I do anything else, maybe I should explain the title of this post. John Dies at the End is a great comedic horror novel written by David Wong, a pseudonym for Jason Pargin. It got more attention when it became a movie, although the general public probably isn’t aware of it. You should be though, because it’s really fun. (And really, the novel is so much better. Go read it!)

On October 14, the John Dies at the End Facebook page linked to this recipe for Vegan Chocolate Soy Sauce Cupcakes inspired by the book/movie. In the novel, there’s a street drug that’s called Soy Sauce because it’s black like soy sauce. It kills most people who come into contact with it, but it also gives some “lucky” individuals the ability to see things that most can only see out of the corners of their eyes – shadow men, monsters, etc.

The recipe does actually use a bit of soy sauce, but I suspect the tiny amount was really just an excuse to tie the cupcakes to John Dies at the End. That’s okay with me.

John Dies at the End Vegan Chocolate Soy Sauce Cupcakes

Sorry for the terrible iPhone photography. I’d never really baked besides ruining some pies with a friend back in high school, so I decided to take a try at it. There’s chocolate on top of the cupcake, but you can’t really see it under the delicious raspberry sauce. They turned out really well. They weren’t necessarily amazing, but I was very happy with them, and they were fun to make.

John Dies at the End Vegan Chocolate Soy Sauce Cupcakes

This also reminded me that the sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It, was released slightly over a year ago. Why had I never read it if I loved the original so much? I don’t know, so I bought it and read it. I prefer the first, but the second was great as well. I hope we see a film adaptation of this as well as more novels in the future.