My Love Hate Relationship with Google Maps

I need to vent!  I am going to rant a bit before boarding a plane for Lyon about mapping. I travel, I plan, I like to stay organized, I like maps and I like maps with pretty colours and pictures. Is that too much to ask?

I often use Google maps as a map tool to chart out driving routes, walking trips, city escapes and everything in between but for some reason, despite all my mapping and input of content, I am never satisfied with my end result.

I admit, Google maps is good to map driving routes from a functional perspective and to have all of your addresses organized in a list, but if you want to get a bit creative and make your stops look a little nicer with some visual eye candy, you are out of luck.  The Google map’s point of interest graphics are limited, drawing lines in the program is annoying, and deleting lines and points are even more annoying.

My husband and I spent a couple hours putting the finishing touches on our honeymoon road map which kicks off today and we both were extremely frustrated by the map process.  Yes our stuff is in there, but it looks like crap.

All is not lost.  I know it is possible, someway, some how to make a nice Google map.  Cee Cee, behind the great Berlin weekly email newsletter has a terrific Google map with all the cool spots in Berlin.  Cee Cee, I need a lesson!! If you ever stumble upon this post and feel like making someone’s day, please, let me know how you created such a beautiful map of Berlin?  Kudos to your superior mapping skills and/or graphic design.

Photo Source: 1

Cee Cee seems to know what to do and how to navigate the design frustrations and limitations of Google maps  because their maps look amazing and are easy to read.  I even watched the Google map video help guide and still felt that the design oomph I desired was unclearly explained.   I am open to any or all tips, suggestions or learning points to alleviate the stress associated with future maps!


Modern Grocery Stores

What makes a grocery store a cool place to shop? Rephrased in another way, what are the components that need to be present in a retail store that would make me want to come back again and again to do my food shopping, a task that is repetitive, monotonous and sometimes outright annoying?

I was pondering these questions earlier this week when I noticed that the grocery store down the street changed (upgraded) the refrigeration units that hold the store’s meats.  It appears that the store installed a modern glass refrigeration section to enhances the look and experience of shopping for the rather unexcited and dull packaged (sometimes mystery) meat.

I wish more food retailers would ask and execute on the same questions to make food shopping a more pleasurable experience.  As a customer, you may be focused on your shopping list and grocery mission but it does not mean you can’t also enjoy the experience at the same time.  These two things are not mutually exclusive.

There is nothing I like more when I travel than to visit grocery and specialty stores and see how food is merchandised and sold in different cities around the world.  There is something special about discovering (and shopping in) a grocery store that has clearly worked with an interior designer or an architect to plan, design and execute its food retailing concept.  My favourite concept which I am sure will continue to evolve is the restaurant, market, retail store concept-

Here are some of my favourite modern grocery stores around the world.  Where do you like to shop?  What stands out for you in a store?  Any interesting food retailing concepts you would recommend?

Three Sixty (Hong Kong)- The Whole Foods of Hong Kong.  It offers lots of organic products spread out over two floors, spacious aisles, natural light and soft interiors. I enjoyed shopping there when I was living in Hong Kong.

Photo Source: 1, 2

Pimlico (Paris) Organic epicerie, local, specialty food shop.  Love the white walls with exposed bricks.

Photo Source: 1

Mpreis (South Tyrol, Austria) Super trendy, industrial, spacious, modern store which I hope to visit in two weeks when I go skiing in Austria.

Supermarket Chain

Photo Source: 1, 2

 Unpackaged (London) You bring the bags, containers and cartons.  It reminds me of a hipper farmer’s market meets, Bulk Barn (a bulk food store in Toronto).

Photo Source: 1, 2, 3

Kochhaus (Berlin) A gourmet chef’s delight.

Photo Source: 1, 2, 3





Pasam Baklava: Berlin

Every time I travel to a new city, I make a point of familiarizing myself with the bloggers who write about the city I am visiting before venturing to other sources such as newspaper and magazine travel sections.  I feel the blogger perspective is closer to the street and perhaps a little more objective than traditional media sources, although don’t get me wrong, the Guardian’s review of Berlin’s top cafes and bakeries was awesome and extremely helpful in figuring out which spots to visit in the city.

While reading about Berlin, I discovered the city has a sizable Turkish population and Anadolu Market (Turkish market).  Keeping in the vein of Turkish food, a handful of Berlin bloggers reviewed Pasam Baklava as THE place to go for baklava in the city.  Since I have a sweet spot for baklava (as did my travel companions), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pay this bakery a visit.  We drove to Pasam 30 minutes before it was due to close and when we arrived, we had the entire place to ourselves.  The three of us, like kids in a candy shop, excitedly pressed our fingers up against the glass standing between us and the colourful trays of baklava.

I have never seen so many types before and they were so beautifully laid out in massive trays the entire length of the counter. I am only acquainted with the traditional baklava made of phyllo dough layered with cinnamon, nuts and honey. At Pasam, we decided to make the most of the experience and try one of everything.  Or at least nearly one of everything.  We tried sarma with pistachios (the first picture below), sobiyet (also photo below), kadayif which is like a square of thin noodles held together with something sweet, as well as Turkish baklava and some cookies.

After the decadently sweet and delicious experience at Pasam in Berlin, I think I need to take a course on Turkish desserts or get myself to Istanbul sometime soon, so I can learn more about the different varieties of what I ate.  I still can’t differentiate them all but I assure you, with a cup of tea, they were to die for.

Other bloggers who reviewed Pasam Baklava in Berlin include:

Berlin Reified: Perfect Baklava at Yorckstrasse

(The Wednesday Chef) Berlin on a Platter: Pasam Balkava

The Colour of Pomegranates: Satisfying a sweet tooth at Pasam Baklava



Art Sucre: Berlin

When I was in Berlin two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of meeting the creative, talented bakers behind Art Sucre, Berlin’s newest baking duo supplying the market with a much needed dose of macarons.  When I walked in, Nina, who trained in France, was focued on pipping out heart shaped macarons for a Valentine’s day order.

I spent an hour with them “talking shop”, getting a tour of their kitchen and got to sample some of their delicious macarons such as coconut, chocolate, pistachio, vanilla, cranberry-kirsh, lemon and cafe latte to name a few.  The macarons I tasted had the right balance between a crispy exterior and a soft, chewy interior and the ganache or middle fillings had a distinct, fresh and flavour not in the least bit artificial tasting that you get with an overly commercial operation.

From my own research in the city, outside of Galeries Lafayette Berlin, it’s pretty hard to find a good macaron, or any for that matter in Berlin. I mean, which city should be without a  trusted macaron shop to dazzle guests with trays of colourful macaron when throwing parties, or simply for your own personal macaron fix?  I know I am at a loss in Prague when I am craving macaron.  The commercial stuff you get from Paul just doesn’t cut it in comparison to something freshly made.

Back to Art Sucre, owners Frank and Nina have been in business for about a year and are moving towards becoming THE place for macarons in Berlin.   Something unique about their business is their savoury macarons.  In addition to the sweet flavours that are typical of a bake shop, Art Sucre also makes a line of savory macarons that are perfect with a glass of wine accompanying an aperitif for a cocktail party or after work drinks.  With flavours such as thyme and lemon, spicy parmesan, wasabi and beet and blue cheese and quince I am sure Art Sucre’s savory macarons will make it on every bride’s, hotel’s and hosts list of new and desirable items to serve to guests.



Travelling with a Coffee Snob

Given the bitter cold temperatures in Europe this past week, much of the time spent wandering around Berlin was spent in search of a place to warm up.  The most convenient places to warm up, of course, are coffee shops or cafes.  I had done a “bit” of research on coffee shops in Berlin in order to locate where I thought may be worthy of a sit and sip for my travel partners and made sure to have the list on hand as we roamed the city.

What I quickly (re)learned (I know this already) is that all coffee is not made equal. When travelling with a coffee snob aka coffee enthusiast, aka passionate coffee drinker, aka has the OTAKU for coffee, the difference between good and bad tasting coffee is evident and brought to light via long facial expressions, wilde gestures and mentally shutting down- talk about interesting consumer behaviour!

My list of hot, Berlin coffee spots included The Barn, Kaffee Mitte, Bonanza Coffee, God Shot, Espresso Ambulanz, Five Elephant Coffee, and Sloerm.  We siped and sampled in four of the seven place and concluded that the Barn had the best filter coffee and Espresso Ambulanz had the strongest espresso that would put hair on your chest.

The other thing I learned about on this trip was that hard core (filter) coffee drinkers seem to distinguish themselves by the accessories they used to brew, taste, and sip the beverage.  If you are not familiar with the Japanese company, Hario, then wake up and smell the coffee.  Hario has been making specialized glass and metal products (accessories) for coffee, tea and food since 1921.  I only found out about Hario after visiting several “niche” coffee shops/micro roasters around Europe and gazing around while my fiance tasted the coffee and chatted with the barista behind the counter (remember I am a non-coffee drinker).

So what type of coffee accessories do all the cool coffee shops use? I have posted four pictures below to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.  If you see the following items being used or sold the next time you enter a cafe, you know you are out of Starbucks land and into some serious coffee business. Happy tasting.

Photos via 1, 2, 3, 4


Asian Food Fix Berlin

Two weekends ago, my fiance and I drove to Dresden to stock up on groceries and go check out an Asian food market that he read about somewhere.  After driving around in a couple circles, we located the Asian food store where we proceeded to buy lots of random items such as rice noodles, soba noodles, chili chicken sauce, lemongrass, curry pastes, canned lychee, jasmine rice and mirin.  What can I say, we’ve been craving Asian food.

Living in Prague is certainly not like living in Shanghai, Hong Kong or Toronto where you have access to ingredients such as the ones I listed, in most mainstream grocery stores and food markets (not much schlepping involved).  As another example, On New Year’s Day, we went to a restaurant in TTTM SAPA, the large Vietnamese market in Prague 4 (very far), and despite the fact that most restaurants and stalls were closed, the one we found was only so-so.  I will return to SAPA on a regular day to try that shopping and dining experience again. There is a point to all this talk about Asian food and cravings. It is gearing up to the topic of this post:  Where I want to eat Asian food in Berlin!

Currently, my (growing) Berlin Asian restaurant wish-list is as follows:

1. Monsieur Vuong– Upbeat Vietnamese- reviews here and here (clearly states it has the best spring rolls EVER)

2. Cocolo Catering– A mobile Japanese soup kitchen with a dinner only ramen bar in Mitte- see menu here, and a review here.

3. Co Co– Bahn Mi heaven- except the Wednesday Chef says not enough kick in the hotsauce which is a bit disappointing but I will still give it a shot.  Foodspotting seconds the sentiment with chili is not standard. Hrmff!!  I like spicy food.

4. Sian– Vegetarian Vietnamese with a bit of meat on request

5. Dudu– Pan Asian restaurant which I’ve already been to but want to go back- see’s review here and I mentioned briefly in this post here.

6. Transit– Thai/Indonesian food that I read about on the Berlin Loves You blog.

6. Chen Che’s tea party- aka afternoon tea Vietnamese style- Read more about the Vietnamese tearoom here

via Transit



via lovely wee days


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