¡viva genevieve!

Embracing change through travel and culinary discovery

Archive for the tag “Couch Surfing”

Back Where I Belong

As I watch my deliciously golden mixture bubble away on the stove stop I hum to myself that tune by some rapper whose name I cant remember but whose song contains the words that express how I’m feeling at this moment, “ back where I belong, something about being strong, there’s nothing that I cant tryyyy, so put your hands in the skkkkyyy” (along those lines anyway) After being on the road for a good 3-4 months I have finally been able to get back in the kitchen. Where I belong (and no I’m not saying that just because I am a woman). One of the things that makes me happiest in this world apart from travelling, apart from working out to tunes by Beyonce and apart from eating (just eating in general) is cooking.

Since I have been staying in Sevilla in a real house I have been able to get a little creative again in the kitchen. There’s just one problem. This real house, it has no oven. What??! I know who doesn’t have an oven?! I was so shocked to discover this fact that I almost just turned right around, walked out the door and hopped on the next bus out of there. But what I realised is that it just means I have to be more creative. A challenge. So when I attended my first couch surfing cooking meeting I was racking my brains with what to make, I wanted to make the obvious and always moreish NZ (not Australian ☺) dessert, Pavlova, but I didn’t have an oven! So with a little help from my Grandad’s recipe and a little kiwi influence I came up with this velvety hokey pokey chocolate slice.

My Grandad uses ginger and apricots in his version and I always remember loving devouring this sweet delight whenever we visited him. His recipe uses sweetened condensed milk, something else I have fond memories about. I remember loving when my Mum would make her caramel slice because I would get to lick the spoon after she had used the sweetened condensed milk. I had a really bad realisaton making this slice as it dawned on me that I am in fact an adult now and if I want to eat sweetened condensed milk straight from the can then I can sure as hell do it and no one can stop me! Unfortunately I have now had to ban myself from buying sweetened condensed milk, add to that list Nutella as I had the same realisation the week before about this, my all time favourite flavor combination, and needless to stay the jar didn’t last long!

So with my slice I decided that I needed to incorporate a little kiwi in to it as it would be my dessert for the International couch surfing dinner, I thought hokey pokey would make a great addition to this slice because I’ve never met a person who doesn’t love hokey pokey! This recipe is great as you can add almost anything you like and it’s so simple. And the best thing, I didn’t need to use an oven! So the recipe…….

Velvety Chocolate and Almond Hokey Pokey Slice

Start with the Hokey Pokey

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50gms Sugar
2 Tablespoons Golden Syrup or Honey (I used honey as Golden Syrup doesn’t exist in Spain, it has a slightly different flavor but is still just as tasty)
1 Teaspoon Baking soda

1. Lightly mix the sugar and the honey together in a pot and boil over a medium heat on the stove. DO NOT stir once the mixture is on the stove top.
2. Let the mixture boil for about 5 minutes or so, the important thing is to watch it carefully and watch for a change in colour. You want the whole mixture to darken in colour to a nice golden brown.
3. When the mixture has darkened, the bubbles are bubbling and it looks as though it’s close to burning, remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the baking soda.
4. The mixture will foam and double in size and you can then pour the mixture quickly on to a piece of baking paper. Let sit until it has cooled.

*If the Hokey Pokey is chewy and sticky then it wasn’t hot enough when you added the baking soda, next time it needs to be left longer to bubble.
** This makes a small batch, double the quantities if you would like to have some left overs!

Chocolate Slice

200gms Best quality dark chocolate (This is important, I have tried it with cheap milk chocolate and the flavor just isn’t as good)
½ C sweetened condensed milk
50 gms Butter
1 portion of crushed Hokey Pokey
¾ C Chopped almonds
¾ C Dried cranberries

1. Melt the chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and butter over a low heat and let your mouth drool at the sight of this delightful mixture!
2. Crush your pre-prepared hokey pokey (which should have beautiful fluffy air bubbles throughout it) into small pieces with your hands or a blunt kitchen object.
3. Add hokey pokey, almonds and cranberries to the chocolate mixture and pour in to a small tin lined with baking paper. I used a loaf tin but you can use a cake tin if you prefer. Cover and put in the fridge to set. And there you have chocolate hokey pokey perfection!
4. Cut in to slices and enjoy straight from the fridge.

I love how simple this recipe is, it’s rich so you don’t need a lot. This recipe makes a small batch to enjoy as dessert or with coffee.

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Meeting the World one Couch at a Time

I have realised that my idea of travelling isn’t one that has me visit the most popular tourist sights in a whirlwind tour of a city or town where I leave with a surface deep knowledge, appreciation and memory of that city. What I have realised over the last few months is that I am happiest travelling when I am meeting people, local
people and learning about their city through their eyes. I am happiest when I am getting lost in a small, underrated part of a city that has bigger and more well-known attractions to offer.

So when I set off on my journey I went with the intention of using the couch surfing website in order to see a different side of the places I wanted visit. Upon telling others of my plan I was faced with a varied array of responses. Some were positive like “wow that’s such a great idea, I wish I could do that” some were non-committal like “hmm that’s kind of cool” and some were shocked and discouraging like the customs officer in San Francisco airport who interrogated me on whether I had in fact thought about what is going to happen when I wake up in the morning in a bath full of blood stained ice missing my vital organs and feeling pretty stupid.

Well, although I was faced with that particular response a moment before I was to meet my first couch surfing host, I decided to go with my loud and confident gut instinct that said, “hey you never know until you try!” Of course I can understand the hesitation and the scepticism over a website that brings strangers together in the confines of their homes that are usually not privy to the safe and watchful eye of the public like when you arrange to meet someone at a café or bar, but I like to think that a project such as Couch Surfing tends to attract like minded people. I like to think that everyone uses the website for the same reasons that I do, to meet, to learn and to help others on their quest to see the world and expand their minds. Unfortunately, of course, like anything conducted via that seemingly limitless World Wide Web that we love to hate, there are going to be people who are not of like mind (or sound mind!) and who abuse the project.

It is unfortunate also that the consequence of travelling alone as a young woman is that I put myself in a targeted position of vulnerability no matter how much I feel that I’m channelling Beyonce on the inside. Of course men also face certain risks when travelling but for women it is just a whole different world. I feel I have to be extremely judgemental about who I talk to or agree to meet with on Couch Surfing. Do they show themselves half-naked in any of their profile pictures? Do they have any strange comments on their profile? Do they look like they think they are gods gift to women? Do they use xos and winky faces when commenting about women they have couch surfed with? Do they offer to share their bed with me? What age are they? And lastly, do they have a creepy “I’m going to knock you unconscious, tie you up and hide you in my secret basement” kind of face? These are all very important questions I ask myself when agreeing to surf someone’s couch.

Being a young woman on one of these sites I have had many propositions from various men asking me if I want to stay with them where they will take me here and there and buy me this and that and if I want I don’t even have to wear clothes. Most of these men are old enough to be my father. And in response, I politely decline, “No thank you kind sir, I don’t quite feel like being an unsolved murder mystery today”. I have even had one young man try to come on to me within five minutes of meeting (literally five minutes!) I was meant to couch surf with him and he agreed to meet me at the train station near his house, which to my surprise meant somehow to him that we were on a date. He couldn’t believe that I wasn’t there to sleep in his bed and he couldn’t get his head around the fact that I wasn’t interested in him! Needless to stay I checked myself in to a hostel that night.

Despite a few strange incidences, for the most part my Couch Surfing experiences have been above and beyond amazing. The people I have met have taught me so much and have shown me that there are many truly genuine people out there, no matter where you place yourself. It’s just a matter of being aware, being smart and trusting your instincts. The majority of people on the site are genuine couch surfers through and through and want nothing more than to learn and share their travel experiences. So I have compiled a list of tips for new comers to the site, I highly recommend using it on your travels even just to meet for a coffee with someone, it’s a project that opens up so many doors and brings new ideas, people and experiences in to your life.

1. Start off by just using the site to meet other travellers, sign up, create a profile and start meeting! I love using the site this way, as especially when you are traveling alone, it’s so nice to meet someone for a coffee or to see some of the sights together. I have made many great friends this way.

2. Don’t stay with someone unless they are a person you would stay with at home. For me I wouldn’t stay with an unknown 45 year old man who lives on his own in my own country so I wont do it half way across the world. I’m sure lots of these men are lovely, normal people but you have to look out for yourself!

3. If their profile pictures are all of them posing topless and doing a muscle man photo shoot, they are probably using Couch Surfing as a dating site. If that’s what you’re in to, go for it, if not, next profile!

4. If they write, “clothing optional” on their profile, probably not a good choice.

5. If they write, “shared sleeping surface” or “can sleep up to four people in my bed” again, probably not a good choice.

6. It’s best to look for families or couples; I find it feels a little safer; I also try to stay with women if possible.

7. If they offer a room to yourself and not just a couch they are probably true surfers! After all, if they have a spare room they have the option of renting it to you but they are offering it for free, I think these people tend to be genuinely interested in cultural exchange.

8. Go to a couch surfing meeting! They happen in cities and towns everywhere, usually once or twice a week at the same place and it’s a great place to meet new people, people who you may want to stay with later on. It feels a bit more comfortable if you have met the person already. And there are usually so many people there; you are bound to make new friends.

Overall I always recommend Couch Surfing to others as something they should look in to when travelling. I have had many unforgettable experiences and I have made so many new friends, I have also met some people I don’t wish to meet again but that is the beauty of Couch Surfing. You never know who you will meet or what you will learn. So go dip your toes in the water and start surfing! ¡viva new stories from the couch!

*Photos below of my Couch Surfing experiences

Breaking Point on the Road to Como

Yesterday I had my very first “I hate traveling moment”. I have yet to experience one of these since leaving New Zealand back in the middle of June. I wouldn’t say it was a “I hate this, get me on the first plane home” kind of moment but more of a ” I hate this, I want to spend all of my money on a flash hotel and hide there under the blankets with the air conditioning on, eating room service and watching movies” kind of moment. This moment came about after a wonderful day in fair Verona (see Snippets-Verona for photos and details) and ended near the middle of the night in a quiet, wet train station in Como.

I was up early to take the train from Peschiera Del Garda to Verona on Monday morning only to find that it was delayed by half an hour. I had heard that the Italian rail service was not the most reliable but this was my first encounter since being here with a delay of any sort. Not to worry, I had all the time in the world as of course I am unemployed and traveling solo. I got to Verona at around 10.30am and spent a great day walking all over the city and I absolutely loved it there. It is a popular tourist destination but I would say it’s less crowded than Rome and Venice and there are certain areas of the city that remain quite desolate of tourists for the most part of the day. I had my train route home all planned out as I was to meet my new couch surfing hosts in Como at 6.30pm. I needed to catch the train from Verona back to Lake Garda to pick up my bags and then continue on to Milan where I was to catch the next train to Como, arriving between 6.30 and 7pm. Easy. Well maybe in a country like Germany. Not so easy in Italy as I found out.

My train back to the lake was delayed by half an hour (Oh bugger!) so in turn I missed my first choice of train to Milan meaning I had to wait another forty minutes. When I finally got on my way, the train went backwards. Seriously?! The train wasn’t meant to go backwards! So I went all the way back to Verona where we sat stationary in the train for 20 minutes only to travel back to Peschiera Del Garda to sit for another 20 minutes (Oh shit!), this was going to be a long trip I could tell. What was worse was that no one spoke English so I had no idea what was going on or when I was to arrive. The train finally got rolling at about 7.15pm (already very late) and I arrived in Milan at 9pm (not good). From there it was on to Como, but wait …. my train was delayed (of course!) In the end I didn’t reach my destination until 10.30pm and when I arrived I was greeted by the late night station inhabitants and a cellphone that decided to run out of credit (Oh F&*K!) just as I was to tell my hosts that I had arrived. Several scenarios started racing through my mind as I eyed my co-habitatants of the dank and dark station, none of which involved me inside a safe, warm, house far from the drunks and the displaced. Running through all of my options I thought I could wait it out in the hopes that my hosts would get worried and come and find me or I could take my chances on the late night streets and ask around for a nearby hostel.This was the moment. I hate travelling. 

As I began walking out of the station I noticed in the window of a bar, in front of the occupied polkie machines, a familiar orange logo that loosened my navy seal style knots in an instant. WIND! My Italian sim card provider! Thank you Italian Jesus for coming to my rescue. I was able to get the barman to top up my sim card with enough credit to call my hosts and tell them of my arrival. Within 10 minutes I saw the big green car puling up beside me and I was welcomed in to the home of the most generous hosts anyone could be lucky enough to have through the couch surfing project. They had waited all evening with dinner in the oven to greet me and had provided me with everything I could need for a great nights sleep. So after a long day of seeing the unpredictable side of Italian public transport,  I had finally reached my next destination and found my new friends and fellow surfers. After a delicious dinner and some even better gelato for dessert, I lay my head down on the couch and thought to myself “my god I love travelling” and that ‘blankets over my head’ moment was gone….. until the next one of course. ¡viva those fleeting moments!

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