Six Things You Didn’t Know About Maple Syrup!

I guess the “when in Rome” expression would apply to maple syrup when in Northern Minnesota, right?

I think so!

I took that sentiment and ran with it this past weekend in Vergas, Minnesota where they were holding their annual maple syrup fest. I left with a saturated sweet-tooth to say the least, with over 30 syrupy sweet submissions for tasting. What I wasn’t expecting was to get my Nerd-Girl on, and leave with a super saturated noggin as well (yeah I said noggin and nerd-girl in a sentence… what of it hehe). Moving right along, I have to share with you what I found to be the most fascinating things I learned about maple syrup at the Vergas maple syrup fest, and through the live demonstrations at the Maplewood Sate Park.

 

1. It can take anywhere from 25 to 70 years for a maple tree to grow large enough to tap

Maple trees should be anywhere between 8-12 inches before they are tapped, and depending on the growing conditions, such as over-crowding and access to nutrients, it can take a very long time before trees are ready to give up the goodies. Next time you enjoy that sticky goodness, think about the fact that it came from a tree that just might be older than you!

 

2. Warm days and freezing nights are the recipe for syrup success

It isn’t simply cold weather that maples need to flourish, unbeknownst to me, they need cold nights combined with warm days. The best conditions for maple tapping are temperatures that get around 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and just below freezing at night. This narrow temperature window is what gets the sap “running”, basically the sap settles during the night and as the temperature rises, the sap moves through the warming tree. If the tree is tapped for sap collection, that the sap will more readily flow out of the tree… and eventually into our bellies.

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Lovely Graphic of the Maplewood State Forest 2016 Sap Collection

 

3. The original method for turning sap to syrup was boiling with heated rocks

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Original Method of Maple Sap Processing

One of the coolest things I got to see was the original method of processing maple sap into a finished product! When the Native Americans first discovered the deliciously sweet liquid that comes from the maple tree, they had to figure out not only how to process it into a consumable and transportable product, but they had to do so without the metal modern contraptions of the maple industry today. The water-like sap was collected into hand carved vessels most likely made from cottonwood trees. While the sap was collecting, stones were being heated on an open fire. Once the stones were burning hot they were moved into the vessels containing sap, and the stones heated the sap to a boil. As the stones cooled they were exchanged for freshly heated stones, and that cycle continued until it was thick as syrup. The original product didn’t stop there though, because native people had nothing to transport runny syrup in, they continued heating it until it solidified into sugar cakes. Those syrup cakes were the first finished maple products!

 

 

4. Native people used a maple product to flavor their meat

Those maple sugar cakes that native people created as a final transportable product from the sweet sap, were used as a flavoring element in cooking. When meats or other foods were boiled, a piece of the sugar cake would be broken off and added to the water.

 

5. Making candy from syrup can take hours

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Cooking Up Some Candy!

To my dismay, I discovered that making maple candy is a full day affair! When I arrived to the festival, this particular batch had been cooking for over an hour and it wasn’t even finished before I left the festival. It must be cooked very slow and consistently to prevent burning, until it reaches about 240 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

 

 

 

6. Syrup is DELICIOUS on freshly churned ice cream

Okay, okay… this one won’t come as a surprise to most of you, but if you haven’t had the pleasure of trying this decadent combination, DO IT. Like right now, do it!

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Hard at Work!

I had a blast at the maple syrup fest, and I hope you enjoyed all my fun facts! Now I want to hear from you. What is your favorite way to eat maple syrup? Comment below, and let me know.

 

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Road Trip Checklist: Top 5 Tasks

If you are currently planning a road trip, or even just daydreaming about one, then this post is for you! Organizing travel can sometimes feel a little daunting, but preparing for a road trip is a special kind of hectic. Take your travel plans, then add a car into the mix, and you quadruple the “what if” factor. It’s far from an impossible feat though, and it doesn’t even have to be that stressful. People say the key to success is preparation, and this holds so true for travel, especially of the road trip variety. Below I have laid out the bare-bones list for the absolutely necessary tasks to complete before the pedal hits the metal. This is just the start for many, but if you, like me, can get easily overwhelmed by an excessive amount of tasks… then just start here.

1- Get your car serviced

If you ask me, the scariest part of a road trip is that I have a giant unpredictable hunk of steel tagging along when I am used to it just being me and a pack. There are so many things you can’t control out

Ready, Set, GO!

there on the road, but you can at least ensure that your vehicle is as prepared as possible for whatever comes your way. This means getting any outstanding mechanical work done, possibly a tune up, checking all the fluids, getting an oil change, and stocking your car with an emergency kit. Some great things to keep in your trunk are a can of Fix-a-flat, extra windshield wiping fluids, flashlight with batteries, a blanket, and reflective tape are a few things I personally like to keep in my car. If you aren’t driving, then get that car rented ASAP to get the best prices.

 

2- Budget

Don’t get caught with all your eggs in one basket!

Once you have all the crucial work completed on your car, then you can take a look at what’s left in your piggy bank… or wherever the kids keep their pocket change these days. Budgets do not have to be as detailed as you might think, especially if you aren’t on a super tight budget. I always round my costs up because it’s way better to be under budget than to run out of money on the road. The typical criteria for my budget is a daily food allowance, lodging allowance (I almost always stay with friends), expected gas expenses, souvenir allowance, and account for any specific activities you already know you want to do like rafting or city tours for example.

 

The actual allocation of funds will be different for everyone, but those are the 5 core elements to budget for. Typically my lodging, activities, and souvenir budget is almost zero, as I like to bring back just postcards and photographs, but I will research ahead of time to find the best local watering holes. The last two important aspects of a road trip budget are always having access to either a credit card or a savings just in case of an emergency, and accounting for any bills that will be withdrawn while you are away. Be careful not to double spend your money in the bank.

NOW FOR THE FUN PART!

3- Pick Core Stops

Got Georgia on your mind?

There are as many ways to plan a road trip as there are to… (Is there another colloquial phrase aside from the “skin a cat” saying, because that just freaks me out). Anyway! I think its best to first decide if you will do a loop, or rent a car one way and fly back. Either way, you need to pick some core stops, which are the places where you will absolutely be stopping. I am sure some of you are saying part of what makes road trips great is the spontaneity, and I agree. I usually only pick a few stops in cities where I know someone and plan to spend the night. It is important to factor in how much driving per day you realistically can do, and often that defines where your stops will be. So pull out that handy map, or hit up The Google and get excited!

4- Research Weather

Not too shabby…

My favorite! I get so excited to look up the weather in all my stops, especially if I am heading south. This is important beyond picking which swimsuit to pack, knowing the weather forecast is critical for planning out time. Be sure to give yourself extra time if you see the weather will be particularly bad. If you check the weather often before you leave and see rainy days ahead, you should have enough time to reroute a few of your stops… if you happen to be chasing the sun like myself.

 

5- Copy and Share Vital Documents

Once I am pretty much all set with my itinerary, I do this final step, which is far from least. It is really important to share your potential schedule with someone at home, even if it is a loose outline. I like to email a copy of my route and potential stops to my mom (I knoooow, but she is my BFF), and it helps that my loud mouth is forever on social media. In addition to my itinerary, I also make copies of my driver’s license, and I keep in my glovebox and another copy in my bag. This is also a great time to double-check you have current copies of your insurance and registration in your car. Lastly, be sure to write down contact info for a few people close to you and keep that in your car. I know with cell phones hardly anyone memorizes phone numbers anymore, so in the off-chance you need to make a call without your phone handy… a pen and paper might just be what saves your behind!

5 Money Saving Travel Tips for Your EuroTrip

So you are off on a European holiday too? Ahhhh, living the life huh… 20 something trust-fund baby, with someone else’s credit card, floppy hat blowing in the wind, sipping a cafe latte on the balcony of a hotel on the French Riviera. Yeaaaaah, unfortunately… NOT my life story.

Not you either? OK then read on for some tricks I have learned along the way, so that I can persevere my limited European budget for the things that really matter in life, like… fantastic cheeses. Here are my TOP 5 MONEY SAVING TIPS that won’t leave you breaking the bank for whatever you are most excited about doing/seeing in Europe, be it trying a plethora of cheeses or that cafe latte on the bank of the French Riviera!

  • Use Public Transportation OR Walk

This one is an oldie but goodie. I know it is common knowledge to use public transportation while traveling to save money, yet so many of us cave and take a taxi to/from the airport (this adds up people). I find it is usually due to lack of planning, and my trick is to always look up the route to/from my lodging and the train terminal or the airport before I arrive. I also make sure I have exact change for the bus or metro, this takes a little extra planning. Maybe navigating a poorly created government website in some Eastern European language sounds terrifying to you as well, don’t worry the info is out there, typically just a quick search away on The Google.

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Prague has the longest escalator ever!! FYI

  • Book “Alternative” Accommodation

These days staying somewhere other than a hotel no longer means sleeping in funky, possibly infested, too small for even the average human- beds of a youth hostel. Times are changing and hostels have become the trendy alternative to hotels. Many hostels in Europe have private rooms in addition to the traditional dorms, and sometimes they even have free breakfast (rare). Yeah, sure you won’t get tiny shampoo, but you will save a few bucks on that bill. I say a few bucks because with their rise in popularity, and increase in standards, the prices are now more comparable to that of a crappy hotel and the price gap between hostel and hotel is narrowing. That said, if hanging with often rambunctious 18-30 year old strangers is not your thing, Air B&B is always an option. Air B&B, a site to find accommodation in someone else’s home, is now world wide. The prices vary widely, as does what you get. You can find everything from a couch in someone’s living room for $10 a night, to an entire 3 bedroom home for a week. Typically it can save you money, especially if you are traveling with another person or two, but it does require quite a bit of research and booking well in advance. The last option, also the cheapest, is Couch Surfing. Yup, it is what it sounds like… staying on a strangers couch, or sometimes floor, or sometimes even their guest bed room. The thing about it is, IT IS FREE. Yes, I said FREE. Although, it is the “booking” process that requires the most time and effort in order to do it safely, and to find reliable couches… to surf on. I will do an entire post, or two, dedicated just to explain what the hell this is, but in the simplest of terms its an online interface for finding free lodging with a local, in exchange for a type of ‘cultural exchange’… just for the love of travel and exploration.

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Disclaimer- NOT in Europe. This is from my trip to the Amazon of Peru, but it is by far the most alternative I have experienced for “accommodation”. Spent almost a week on this epic cargo ship trip down the Amazon.

  • Take the Bus When Possible OR Fly on Budget Airlines

If you plan to visit more than one European country, which I assume most people do. Getting from country to country can get pricey, but fear not there are plenty of ways to get around this. I know people talk a lot about the Euro-Rail, but that wasn’t even in my budget, it can still get quite expensive. The bus is really the cheapest way to go, but 12 hour bus rides are really not for everyone, I understand. If you can tolerate it, or if your cities are relatively close, I recommend OUIBus and FlixBus, they have been the cheapest so far. If the distance between your cities is short and a popular travel route, there is a ride-share site called “Blah Blah Car”. This is a site you have to register for, so you will know who your driver is and the other passengers, and gives you an interface to communicate (have not tried it myself yet). If you do need to fly, there are numerous budget airlines in Europe, the most popular being RyanAir. Careful with these airlines, they are only cheap if you are traveling light, they have fees out the wazoo! Be sure to look up the fees, they sometimes charge checked bags by kilo, add different fees for booking with card or not paying for your bag in advance… read those fine lines!

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Bus rides are perfect for daydreams!

  • Go on FREE Walking Tours

These are everywhere in Europe! I am typically not a fan of huge guided tours, I do not think they are the most intimate way to get to know a new city. That said, I have found a few amazing companies that offer free tours of both typical tourist sites, and behind the scenes places with real local flare. It is as simple as google searching “free tours” in the city of your choosing, check their reviews and ask how many people they limit it to. These tours run off of tips, so if you have fun then let them know! I am on a budget (which is why I am on a free tour in the first place), so I usually give 2-5 euros and let them know I will write a glowing review on tripadvisor… That is of course only if I enjoyed it, which I have every time. “SANDEMANs” and “Free Tours By Foot” can be found in many cities, if you are in Berlin look up “Alternative Berlin”. I took their free tour, and also paid (12 euros) for their “Anit-PubCrawl”, which takes you to local watering holes rather than the usual touristy pubs.

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My adorable Tour Guide in Prague!

  • EAT STREET FOOD

This is my absolute favorite money saving tip!! There are so many yummy places to eat in Europe, I very easily find myself going overboard… more cheese please. This tip keeps me in check. I see eating in a sit-down restaurant like a treat (or in really cheap countries save it only for dinner), but rest of the time I try new dishes on the street. Be it munching on ‘pommes with oorlog sauce’ in Amsterdam, eating ‘curryworst’ or ‘schnitzel’ in Berlin, or the most amazing creation… ‘trdelník’ in Prague. I know you can’t survive off of fried dough treats… but you are only a loser if you don’t try, right? Of course if you are staying somewhere with a kitchen, which if you are following tip #2 you are, you can cook for yourself. I personally cook all the time when I am home, and I see traveling as a chance to eat as many new things as humanly possible… then when I go home I try making them myself.

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Curryworst in Berlin!

I hope this helps you save some money as you gallivant through Europe! I like to always keep in mind though, these experiences can sometimes be once in a lifetime, and so it is always about priorities. Budget first, so that you don’t have to say no to something that will leave you with a memory you will think on later in life that will fill you with joy. Those are always the best souvenirs to take home from a trip!

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to Europe!

I am off again, galavanting. This time through Europe! It will be my first time solo traveling in Europe, and I plan to see somewhere around 8 countries. The thought of planning a 3 month trip through 8 different countries was frightening to say the least… but I did it! Here I am half way through my time in Europe, and starting to reflect. I put together a list of the 10 things I wish I knew while preparing for my trip. Getting ready for a big trip can be a mountain of a task, especially if it is a destination you have never been to. Hopefully this guide helps to point you in the right direction. Be warned some of them are totally embarrassing things, that I know good and well I should have known, but I am not here to be an expert. I am here to give you the honest truth, as I make my way on this journey. Giving it to you real: The Good, The Bad, and The ‘Wanderful’.

  • Seasons Don’t Change Slowly in Europe

This lesson was a hard one to learn myself! I did not look closely enough at typical weather patterns for all the countries I was visiting, and for this I froze my buns off for the first half of my trip. I started in London and the weather was fantastic, warm and sunny every day around 80 degrees fahrenheit (Side-note, I just realized I have no idea how to spell fahrenheit, I was spelling it so badly even autocorrect had no idea what the hell I was trying to say, and so I had to google it). I figured I would have at least 3 weeks of “transitional weather” before it got really cold… wrong-o. The temperature dropped 30 degrees from when I left London to when I got to Germany, which was within a week. Despite the fact that I was wearing almost every article of clothing in my bag at once, I was still under-dressed for the weather in Amsterdam and Germany especially. If you are traveling in a transitional season, bring warm winter clothes. Better yet don’t travel in a transitional season! Its a pain in the butt. Pick a season, and you will thank me when you don’t have to pack both your bikini and your parka.

  • Not Everywhere in Europe Uses the Euro

Ok yes, this one is a little embarrassing… I knew not EVERY country used the Euro, but I thought all the Schengen Countries I was visiting on this trip did. First of all, this is great info to know when budgeting, and planning when and where you will exchange your home currency. I never exchange all my money at once, especially if my trip will last over several months because the rate can always change (hopefully in my favor). Also if you are bussing into another country, and you arrive late at night, and only have Euros… and they don’t use Euros, no bueno for you… Trust me I know. So here is what I learned, it has nothing to do with Schengen countries, it is much easier to think about it in terms of the EU. All of the European Union countries use the Euro except: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the UK (I knew this one!).

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Don’t forget to spend some GBP on the London Eye, its worth it!

 

  • WiFi is NOT Readily Available All Over Europe

This came as a surprise to me, it really depends on the country but I think it is best to prepare with the thought that you may need to hunt for wifi. I especially found this to be true in Germany. I would say to be on the safe side insure your accommodation has wifi, that way you know you will be able to use the world wide web at least once a day (for research, chatting, or working purposes). Typical places that have wifi: cafes, “coffee shops” (in Amsterdam), some restaurants, and large malls.

  • Laundry Facilities are NOT Always Easy to Find

If you are traveling for more than 2 weeks, the only way to pack light is to do laundry along the way (I guess you could also commit to wearing dirty clothes over and over… but for the sake of making new friends I went with the less smelly option). When traveling in South America I found this very easy to do, there was a ‘Launderia’ around every corner. Not so much in Europe. Most Europeans have washers in their apartments and hang their clothes to dry, and so a laundry mat in the city has been hard to come by. When booking accommodation I would say every 2-3 weeks attempt to find a place near a laundry mat or ask if they offer laundry services at your hostel/hotel/airB&B/etc.

  • Your Travel Schedule WILL Change… At Least Once

I know it can feel mildly stressful for some not knowing where you will be next, but that is half the fun of this! Over the course of 2 weeks I have added and subtracted at least 2 destinations from my itinerary. I would say have an “outline” of what you want to see and about how long you want to stay in each place, but don’t book transition-travel right away. If there is somewhere expensive (or not continental) it could be beneficial to book a flight in advance. For example, I knew I wanted to go to Greece, and the only cheap way to get from there to Spain was to fly and stop in Malta, so I booked that about 1 month ahead. For all the other places between Germany and Greece where I knew I was going to take a bus, I budgeted for the average price, but waited to book the ticket. I have added Budapest and Vienna to my trip since I booked my Greece flight and getting cheap bus tickets 2 days in advance has been no issue.

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I stubbled upon the Signal Festival in Prague! You never really know what is going on until you get there!

  • Budget for Public Transportation

For some reason I did not factor into my budget getting around, once I got there… Silly me. Do not make my same mistake. While public transport is reasonable easy (depending on the country) and affordable, it still adds up! If you are going to be staying in a city for any more than 2 days, it might be worth looking up prices per trip for their metro system and making a per day budget for transportation. Even if it is just 5 euros a day, that is an extra 280 euros needed for a 2 month trip. Most cities have a 1/2/3 day pass, and some even week long passes geared towards tourists.

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Always worth it, even if you aren’t counting pennies. Public transport in Europe is an awesome experience!

Hope these help you while preparing for your big trip! Any tips you have for pre-trip planning? Let me know in the comments, or if you have specific questions about… anything, ask away!

With Love From PRAGUE,

Olivia

R&R at a B&B 

This past weekend I took an extra couple days off for some R&R at the BEST bed and breakfast in Virginia. OK I am slightly biased but very rightfully so. In Hillsboro, Virginia a quiet town of 88 residents there is a magnificent bed and breakfast, owned and operated by my great aunt. I grew up with it as a family home and it’s now been converted into this amazing Inn in an equally awesome location. Gourmet farm-to-table bistro’s and wineries producing bold flavors are beginning to pop up in towns surrounding Hillsboro. The tiny town of Hillsboro, and the surrounding countryside, are slowly but steadily becoming more commonly known as wine country for the socialites of the Washington area. For me to refer to this rural slice of Virginia as “wine country” says a lot coming from a girl living in the finger Lakes!

 

Fieldstone Farm

 

I’m just going to give you the highlights of the trip, but for you to get the whole picture, I first have to tell you about the B&B. To say the Fieldstone Farm bed and breakfast is luxurious would be an understatement, to say it’s inviting another understatement, and to call it inspiring yet again an understatement. My aunt’s property will always just be a family home to me, but it’s now equipped with all the modern amenities you would find in a hotel with even fancier soaps and an outdoor pool! Watching this family home evolve into this “resort like” country-get-away, has been such a fun journey. The grounds which I have had many a Easter-egg hunt on, are now home to magnificent flower, herb, and vegetable gardens, perfect places for reflection. One thing that hasn’t changed is my aunt’s love to decorate, every season gets its fair share! When I was just there, every room smelled like cinnamony-goodness and my aunt was ushering in Fall in the best ways. Despite all the modern amenities it can still feel like a trip through time to 1770, with fires blazing and antique furnishings. My Aunt has done a fabulous job keeping most of the decor to date, as this property is one of the premier historical homes in Virginia. This trip I brought my partner, and maybe if I haven’t done a sufficient job getting across how amazing this place is his words will do it best. According to him, Fieldstone Farm is an antique store mixed with a Hilton hotel… or what it would look like if a colonial museum had a baby with a luxury spa, so eloquent that man of mine!

 

Welcome Home

 

Tranquility Anyone?

 

Felt like summer for a day

My Aunt recommends the best places around to all of her guests, so we are always in good hands when we go out with her. This trip she took us to one of her favorites, Market Table Bistro. This is a place one would expect to find in NYC or DC, it is hip to the local farm-to-table food scene and delivers at the highest quality. The premise of the restaurant is comfort food in a gourmet fashion… I couldn’t ask for more! Considering myself a “global gourmand” I feel arbitrarily qualified to judge this eatery, and I give it an A+. The flavors are absolutely delivered as promised, highly evolved yet familiar. I am a huge fan of restaurants with the “fancy comfort food” philosophy, it creates a space where unique and complex flavors become available to those not so comfortable outside of their comfort zone.

 

Shrimp and Grits!

 

Quail and Kale… YUM

 

The potato flight (potatoes done 6 ways)

Visiting Fieldstone Farm and my Aunt Amy is always such a treat, and since I’m back on the writing wagon I wanted to share just a bit of that magic with you. Having the chance to relax in such a positive space played a huge role in me renewing my dedication to follow my dream of travel writing. If you are ever in the Northern Virginia area, my aunt would love to have you at the Inn, and maybe some of the magic of that place will inspire you as well!!