B-e-a-utiful Barcelona

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The first stop on my whirlwind three-cities-in-three-countries-in-ten-days adventure that was spring break was Barcelona. I've wanted to go there for years and years, since I first read The Shadow of the Wind. Almost a decade after devouring the novel for the first time the opportunity arose. At the end of April I packed my carry-on bag and bid farewell to the chilly weather of France to welcome the warmth of Spain.

I stayed in the Generator hostel in an all-female dorm and I can honestly say that was one of the best decisions I made when planning my trip. The hostel was in a really nice part of the city, right off of Catalunya and less than five minutes away from the nearest metro station. I was surprised at how well I got along with the girls that were in my dorm when I arrived -- we got on so well that four of us ended up wandering the city in search of dinner together that night.

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We ended up at Barravas for tapas at the recommendation of a local. If you are ever in Barcelona, it is a must-do in my book. Every plate was very reasonably priced (the most expensive plates were 8€!) and every bite of food was to-die-for amazing. The four of us ended up splitting every tapas selected and it's probably easier to list the few items we didn't order off of the menu instead of listing everything we did. My favorites included the mushroom croquettes which are pictured above, the sweet tuna, and a single piece of beef that was cooked perfectly. Mind you, I usually don't like beef at all but I am so glad I tried it here.

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You can see the destruction we wreaked on the plates.

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The next morning I got breakfast with two of the girls I had gone to dinner with the night before at Prasoa, where I had a café con leche (I'm pretty sure it was a cappuccino, but either way it was delicious.)

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After breakfast I broke off from the two girls at the Sagrada Familia -- they went to tour the inside and I attempted to not be trampled by tourists and take a photo of the outside before wandering the city. Part of me does wish that I had paid to go inside but I'm also happy that I didn't have to experience the 2+ hour queue.

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I'm a store in Barcelona as well!

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I was extremely taken with the architecture of Barcelona, how statues were everywhere and sometimes on top of buildings like this one.

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One of my favorite places in Barcelona was Plaça de Catalunya. It was filled with people enjoying the warm weather, buying ice cream and balloons from vendors, going to work or to eat lunch.

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For lunch I picked up a sandwich that consisted solely of a brioche roll filled with prosciutto. The brioche tasted different from anything I've had while in France, but the sandwich was delicious. I sat in the Plaça while eating and did a fair bit of people-watching.

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While wandering I saw a few different alcoves like this around the city. People would fill up water bottles from the spouts, or wash their hands. In one instance I saw someone put their face under the spout to drink the water directly!

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There were a few street performers as well as I got lost in the side-streets of Barcelona, each with their own crowd of dedicated observers. In the afternoon I went back to the hostel for a café, which came with the small pastry to my surprise, and to give my feet a little rest.

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After my mini-siesta (that wasn't really a siesta at all) I took the metro a few stops to tackle La Boqueria. It was insane. The market was so crowded I could hardly take a step without accidentally running into someone, vendors were yelling out their wares and specials, and if you saw something you liked or wanted to try you had to buy it on the spot because who knew if you would be able to find your way back to that specific booth!

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It was so bizarre to see dragon fruit halved and ready to eat when in America grocery stores hardly stock it and if you're eating one it's a novel sight.

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I wasn't brave enough to try the fruit, so I had some dragon fruit and coconut juice instead. It was delicious and has made me more ready to try the actual fruit next time.

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I am not sure how this was a burrito, but I did buy one (because why not?!) and I can say that it was quite delicious.

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There was also quite a bit of street art in Barcelona, but mostly on the metal doors to shops as opposed to on the buildings themselves.

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For dinner I ended up at Maitea Taberna with one of the girls from my hostel. It was a tapas restaurant where instead of ordering plates, you take a plate from the giant stack and put whatever tapas you want from the cases on it and eat that. Then, to determine your bill, the waiters count up how many toothpicks you have. It's another place that I would highly recommend if you are ever in the city!

While I didn't experience many, if any, of the "things you're supposed to do" when in Barcelona I am extremely satisfied with my day and a half there. My goal is to go back for a week or so, to experience the Spanish culture again and just have some more time to get to know the city instead of just dropping in.

Twelve Hours in Nantes

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On Friday one of my friends and I boarded a train at 6:18 in the morning, leaving the familiar city of Angers behind to venture to the unknown Nantes. Our weeks had been crazy and stressful with the last weeks of school quickly approaching and a day trip where we left all of that behind was just what the doctor ordered. We arrived in Nantes before the sun had broken over the horizon, our first explorations of the city occurring in the dark blue of the French pre-dawn sky.

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We wandered through a closed down carnival, through sleepy streets full of students and businessmen hurrying towards their schools or offices.

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Boulangeries were open, spontaneous meccas of light and the scents of freshly baked baguettes and pastries spilling out onto the streets.

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Statues of Charles de Gaulle are everywhere in France, but only in Nantes have I seen one where the locals gave him a bottle of beer to hold while overseeing one of the town squares.

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In our explorations we stumbled upon Nantes' market, which apparently occurs on a daily basis as opposed to the twice-weekly market in Angers. Outside were stalls of beautiful produce, blooming flowers, and freshly pressed juice. There was an indoor part as well that was full of stalls selling meat, cheese, seafood, pastries, bread, juice; really anything you could think of, someone was selling it. The market reminded me of Pike Place Market in Seattle, which immediately made me feel right at home.

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I still have no words for how beautiful spring is here in France. Everyone needs to experience it at least once in their lives.

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I found this dandelion that took three deep breaths to disperse all of the seeds. I wished for a wonderful day in Nantes and I am happy to report that my wish was granted!

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We also found some interesting French graffiti while exploring. Both of us would have missed this piece if we hadn't looked down at the sidewalk.

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One of Nantes' many charming squares as the city began to awake.

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Both of us had eaten breakfast before leaving, but with a few hours between that meal and when we wanted to eat lunch we decided to stop at a café and have second breakfast. We ended up at Stratto, where I had an espresso and a pain au chocolat and my friend had a beignet framboise.

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After fueling up and resting our feet a little we decided to head out exploring again. This time we followed the tram tracks and city bicycle maps to find Les Machines de L'île, where we had learned a giant mechanical elephant lived.

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This sculpture also reminded me a lot of Seattle and the work at the Seattle Art Museum.

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While the elephant wasn't open for riding for a few hours, we decided it was an opportune time to take some photographs. My sweater is from Pimkie, my jeans are from Target, and my boots are Steve Madden. Not photographed here, but in later pictures, is my new favorite jacket which is from H&M.

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One thing I've really learned while traveling around Europe this semester is that looking at every city with wide eyes on a daily basis is astoundingly rewarding. Every nook and cranny has been put to use and it's amazing to see the beauty in all of these cities.

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Next on our list, while waiting for Les Machines de L'île to open, was finding the Jardin des Plantes. It ended up being the complete opposite direction of where we were in Nantes at the time and once we finally found it, after getting lost a few times, the first thing we did was collapse on a bench and chug water. After we felt sufficiently restored, we saw that straight ahead of us was a pen full of adult and baby goats. We walked in, pet all of the goats and were able to pick up this sweet little kid and cuddle it. It was the happiest baby goat I've ever seen, content to just be held and pet while it tried to eat my bag strap, my jacket, my sweater, and my hand.

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After about fifteen straight minutes cuddling baby goats, we began our explorations of the rest of the garden. There was a large number of ducks and a lot of them were just chilling on the grass like these.

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By the café in the garden there was a giant playground, which my friend and I immediately took to. We spent about fifteen minutes amusing ourselves on a giant see-saw, and took turns swinging on this swing. Sometimes being a kid again is the most refreshing thing in the world.

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I loved seeing how the gardens were kept in a way that allowed for rows of benches to exist in private-seeming alcoves like this on the edges. Many of the benches were full of people eating their lunch and talking. Hey, if I lived in Nantes, I'd be eating my lunch in the botanical garden every day too!

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After the Jardin des Plantes, we decided it was time for lunch. Because of Lent my friend can't eat meat on Fridays so we agreed to look for some really good cheese paninis. It was a happy accident when we found La Tartinerie and bought the best three cheese paninis that we've had while in France. I can't tell you what types of cheese were inside, but I can tell you that a) they were delicious, b) there was a garlic spread inside as well, and c) the paninis came with tomatoes. Absolute heaven. We also had the pleasure of eating our lunch right in front of the local chateau and watching hordes of school children enter and exit on what we assumed were field trips.

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The bench where we ate is right behind this statue, but it was the cutest thing when the old couple on the left sat down and began to sketch the statue. It made me yearn for my sketchbook and to explore a city and capture it through drawings instead of photographs.

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This chateau was different than any other I've seen while in France thus far because it actually had water in the moat!

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While looking for Les Machines de L'île again we got terribly lost, and ended up by a skate park. But it had this structure right next to it and we were surprised at the contrast between the ancient architecture and the more modern mural on the inside.

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Finally, it was time to ride the elephant! My friend and I excitedly paid for our tickets and waited in line before climbing aboard, going first to the very top and then exploring the lower level. The elephant walked very slowly and it also blew water out of its trunk. The journey was about 45 minutes in total, and it doesn't go terribly far, but it was worth every minute.

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After riding the elephant we spent the next few hours just wandering around some more, getting lost and finding our way back to the main road.

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With less than two hours left until our train back to Angers, we found the carnival we had passed through earlier that morning, but all lit up and running.

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There were dozens of these claw machines, each with different prizes, but this was by far my favorite. Especially since the dolls would sing Gangnam Style (apparently)!

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We had planned on getting crêpes while in Nantes, as Nantes is the birthplace of the delicious culinary delight, but after hours and hours of walking around in the sun some ice cream seemed like a more enticing decision. I ended up getting vanilla while my friend got strawberry.

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We ended up riding one ride while we were at the carnival before having to head back to the train and begin the journey to Angers. My piece of advice: do NOT ride The Shaker. No matter what you do. Ride a crazy rollercoaster instead, you'll be much happier.

All photographs were taken by me with the exception of the ones which I am in, which were all taken by my friend.

Explorations in Santorini

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The last leg of my time in Greece was mostly spent in transit, wandering from one village to another and trying to soak up as much of the culture as I could before leaving. My friend and I moved to our second lodging in Kamari, a beachside town that was mostly shut down. It was incredibly quiet and peaceful, and the few places that were open couldn't compare to the Black Beach that Kamari is famous for.

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I was so thankful to be able to experience it without the swarm of tourists, to just see black sand and blue waves stretching uninterrupted into eternity. We arrived at the beach around dusk and the setting sun cast such a pure blue light over everything, amplifying the already vivid blue of the ocean.

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Exploring Kamari with such a blue light was magical in its own right, and it seemed to be reminiscent of a movie or television set to me -- how everything was composed, how the light made the mundane infinitely mysterious.

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There were a couple of little super markets in Kamari, but this one was different because it seemed to have a restaurant above.

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I also spent a fair bit of time in Thira, which is the capitol of Santorini. It was by far the busiest, most alive village in the island, and took my breath away yet again. In Thira is where I had my first, and sadly my only, gyro in Greece -- did you know they put french fries inside? I was not expecting that, but it was quite delicious.

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While wandering I came across this store with my name as its own and I wish it had been open so I could see just what Indigo sold.

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On the main street there was a café with benches just outside of it and I would sit 0n them, with this guy as my view and companion, to steal the free wifi and call my parents and gush about Greece.

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On my last day in Greece I ended back in Oia, paid one last visit to Atlantis Books and took in the oceanic views. Looking at these photographs makes me want to jump on a plane and go back, just for one more day.

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I Left My Heart in Oia

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The latter half of my time in Greece was spent in Santorini, and it breaks my heart that I'm gone. My friend and I split our time between two of Santorini's villages, starting with the famously-photographed Oia. And boy, did it blow us away. From Athens we took a seven hour ferry to the island, which was a quaint journey in its own right -- riding the metro before 7am, almost spilling coffee while walking back to my seat because I had forgotten how to walk on a boat, seeing the blue water spreading out in every direction. After arriving on the island, we took a taxi up to Oia. The road winds sharply through the cliffs of Santorini, always going higher and higher and it was only a bit nerve-wracking to experience.

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Once safely in Oia we found our airbnb that my friend had booked for us, and it was beautiful. Classic Greek architecture, complete with the white walls and accented with blue. Our apartment was HUGE -- there was a bedroom through the door in the middle, and a very spacious kitchen off to the right. We also had a spacious patio all to ourselves, as well as a bathroom in a standalone room outside.

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After getting settled we head out to explore, stopping every two seconds to take a photograph of something. Oia, and Santorini in general, is a labyrinth of stairs and winding walkways, with uneven paths to walk on. My legs were feeling it after only an hour or so, and I'm pretty sure exploring and wandering in Santorini was one of the most intense work-outs I've had since arriving in France.

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Our second day in Oia was gray, rainy, and so windy we could hardly walk outside at all. After fruitlessly trying to find somewhere that was open to shop, we ended up staying at the only open restaurant for a few hours, sipping heavenly cappuccinos and gushing about freshly made tzatziki, and learned from the waitress that day was a national holiday, which explained a lot. We went back to the apartment after, I read and my friend slept, before we ended up at the same restaurant for dinner.

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It was nice to be in Oia during an odd time in the year, which meant that there was a drastically smaller number of tourists than if I had gone in the summer, but I feel like there would have been more open a bit later in the year. Everywhere in Santorini only a fraction of shops, cafes, and restaurants were open, while the others were having repairs done and prepping for the tourist season in the spring and summer.

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I miss the view of the ocean so much already, and the sound of the waves at all hours of the day and night.

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One of the things that I really loved about Oia was the use of color -- with the majority of the buildings being white, color was used sparingly and meaningfully, but usually with a bit of playfulness. Plants offered a lot of color, while doors were also used to break up all of the white.

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My absolute favorite place in Oia is Atlantis Books, a beautiful, tiny bookstore with books in multiple languages that cover everything from fiction to poetry to mythology to travel guides. In my journal I wrote: "This is one of the most amazing bookstores I've ever been in! It's tiny and every surface is put to use, the walls are covered with shelves and quotes and it's being run by a guy who is working there this winter while the owners work at one of his bookstores in NYC. He lives there and it's all so goshdarn delightful."

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I picked up two books while I was there, on two different occasions, but information on those will be coming in a later post. Safe to say, however, that I couldn't be happier with what I ended up with!

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Every view from every point in Oia took my breath away. Looking at these photographs again makes me yearn to be surrounded by blue water. (The rivers in France are more of a murky brown than this gorgeous blue.)

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We did see the sunset in Oia and it was magical, breath-stealing, and magnificent. This was my favorite shot of it though, not the ones where you could actually see the sun. There was something magical as well about seeing the light change and play off of the buildings.

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One place I really wanted to go was Lolita's, but unfortunately it was closed the entire time I was in Santorini. It will just have to happen next visit, then!

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Adventures in Athens

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Last week was my winter break at school, and what better way to spend it than in Greece?! One of the girls in my study abroad program and I flew over last Thursday and didn't get back until Friday (hence the radio silence here). We decided to split our time between Athens and Santorini, starting with the land-locked city.

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Pretty much all I knew about Athens before going was that it housed the Acropolis and it was one of three cities in Greece I knew the name of. So the three days that we were there were filled with exploring and discovering this metropolis. When I was on the phone with my dad at one point he said it was like the New York City of Greece and I completely agree -- there's a hustle and bustle to the city that is reminiscent of NYC, a pulse of life that sweeps you into it from the first moment you're there.

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We ended up in a hotel that was minutes away from the square of the Acropolis on foot, and we could see the Acropolis from our balcony. The first hotel we were supposed to stay at was creepy, in a not-so-good part of town, and a 20 minute metro ride away from anything we would want to do. So we trusted our guts and booked at a different hotel, which was a much better experience. I'm glad that we paid for the first night and were able to move, be in a place that was exponentially better for our experience and peace of minds.

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When we weren't busy falling head over heels in love with Greek cuisine (which I miss sorely right now -- why can't I just walk out of my apartment and be able to get a gyro for 2€?) we tried to visit as many of the ancient sites as possible. The first one we explored was the ancient Agora, which we actually found on accident while looking for the entrance to the Acropolis.

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We found our way to the Acropolis next, and I know I've said it before here but having the opportunity to be in the presence of such rich history is insane. I will never get over just being able to walk into the Acropolis, stand less than 10 feet from the Pantheon and the old Temple of Athena.

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Unfortunately it was really rainy the day we went, and I was wearing my black ballet flats, which meant the climb was slow and anxiety-ridden -- any misstep could cause a colossal fall. But getting up to the Acropolis? More than worth it. It was breath-taking and one of the most humbling experiences of my life.

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There was graffiti EVERYWHERE in Athens, and most of it gorgeous, but these two pieces were my absolute favorites of all that I saw during my stay.

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We also visited the Arch of Hadrien, after getting profoundly lost, and I promise it's more impressive in person. Same with the Panathenaic Stadium. I was showing these photos to my mom over FaceTime and I had to explain to her that the scale of the Stadium is far greater than my camera could capture or convey.

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Yes, in the rain, I climbed all the way up to the top of the Stadium. Which is made of marble. How I did it without falling or slipping I will never know.

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This tunnel lead to a gallery of all the previous posters and torches of every Olympic Games. The entire thing reminded me of The Hunger Games, to be perfectly honest, of when Katniss is describing how previous years' arenas become resorts and tourist spots. How when the Games happened in Athens it was most likely a bit more bloody than they are nowadays.

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Of course I got first place -- in what? It doesn't matter. But there was strength in that podium that I try to remember every day I feel small.

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One of the highlights of Athens was definitely this over the top, decadent hot chocolate. Melted dark and white chocolate, with milk chocolate whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. What more could a girl ask for?