Visiting Bayern

I didn’t actually know that Nürnberg was in Bayern (Bavaria). Go figure. My German geography is horrible. I came to visit a dear friend, and Nürnberg was the closest city to where she lived. I didn’t really care where it was, I went to visit her, not the city.

That being said, I didn’t mind suddenly finding myself in Bayern. I was actually staying in a little town about half an hour from Nürnberg. But since the little town was very green and beautiful, I didn’t mind at all.

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It was also really near the Donau river. I’m completely biased towards my Rhein (very likely my favorite place on the planet), but the Donau was gorgeous as well.

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The river was so clear, you could see the reflection of the clouds in it.

The next day we went to see Nürnberg together. I have to say, there is something about Germany that I simply love. I just feel at home wherever I go. Bayern may be far away from Düsseldorf, and it is much much different than the Rheinland that I know and love. Nevertheless, I loved the city. And I still thought…this is somewhere I could live someday….

We went to a couple of cathedrals, which looked pretty much like every Cathedral you’ve ever seen. (sorry, really not very partial to cathedrals.)

But there was a cool fountain to see…

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Which included a gold ring wrought into the iron. The story is that if you successfully remove the gold ring from the fountain, you can keep it. No one has ever succeeded, but everybody tries…

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As I said above, we saw some cathedrals, which I wasn’t extraordinarily impressed with. The castle, however, was really nice…

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It used to be the imperial palace of the german kings and kaisers. Pretty neat huh?

The gardens from the Palace were gorgeous as well and had free entry! Take that Italy!

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There was also a really nice view of the Altstadt from the hill.

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All in all, I had a great time! Will definitely try to go again some time!

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Third Stop in Italy: Bologna

So up to this point I have been a bad tourist.

Now I graduate to being a horrible tourist.

I travelled to Bologna from Florence by train. I was flying out from Bologna, so I booked a hostel about twenty minutes from the city center. Getting to the hostel was a bit of a challenge, because I hadn’t looked up anything on Google maps, and had to rely on the directions to the hostel that I had printed out and the slightly incomprehensible directions I got from the man who was selling bus tickets. But I managed to find a map of the bus system at one of the bus stops…

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…and that enabled me to find my way to my hostel (i.e. I was able to find the correct bus stop of the bus I needed to take. I love maps).

However, once I arrived at the hostel, I no longer had any desire to go anywhere else. But I finally got to read Cherry Heaven (the sequel of The Diary of Pelly D which was SOOO good I just had to read the sequel). The hostel had a comfy couch and we could order pizza in the evening. I enjoyed it. =)

The next day, on the way back to the train station to catch a shuttle to the airport, I discovered this cute little park which made me wish I had spent a bit of time in the city. But I was also over budget at that point, so it all worked out in the end…

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Second Stop in Italy: Florence

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Words really can’t describe Florence. I don’t think this picture really does it justice, but it is better than nothing.

You’ll have to go see it yourself some day. It is very very very worth it.

The history of the city is simply fascinating. Florence was the home city of the Di Medici family, the most powerful family in Italy for a period of four hundred years. They made their money from banking, and a good majority of the artwork and the architecture in the city was comissioned by the Di Medici family. Their family crest shows up just about everywhere.

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This is the old Di Medici family palace. It is a typical example of renaissance architecture, using simplicity in the design and playing with proportions. The bottom level is twice as tall as the first floor. This gives the illusion that the building is taller than it actually is. You can see the Di Medici family crest (the shield with the six balls) on the corner of the building.

If I’m being honest, Florence was the first city that I have visited where I was actually seriously impressed with the architecture. I know, I know, I’ve seen Paris and the Eiffel tower. I’ve seen Rome with…?? Sorry, I’m not a big architecture fan. Obviously. I much prefer God’s architecture to that of man. Give me a park over a building any time of day…

But it wasn’t only the renaissance architecure that I liked (although I really liked the play with the proportions). Two of the cathedrals in the city were likely the most beautiful buildings that I’ve ever seen in my life (even though I am fundamentally opposed to cathedrals and what they stand for). I just loved the beautiful green, pink, and white marble…

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Of course, no surprise to anyone who knows me, my favorite place in the city was the river. Gorgeous. I don’t know exactly why I love rivers so much. I just know that I do.

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The one thing I didn’t like about Florence was that they charged admission for EVERYTHING. Don’t get me wrong. I understand why they would charge admission for the Uffizzi and Accademia (the two art museums I visited). I mean…you get to see Michelangelo’s statues emerge from solid marble:

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But they also charge admission for ALL of the gardens in the city (at least all of the ones that I could find). Me, being me, found the green squares on my map and tried to get in…

Unfortunately, those green squares were surrounded by very tall walls. They didn’t show THEM on the map.

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At least the Piazzas in the city had free admission, and those were often green and nice. So I wasn’t completely disappointed.

I was actually intending to pay the admission to have access to the gardens of the Pitti Palace. Unfortunately, the day where I was planning my outing turned out to be very rainy. So I ended up reading a book in a cute cafe and reading with a couple of espresso and a panini.

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Have I mentioned how much I love my Kindle?

Wouldn’t travel anywhere without it.

First Stop in Italy: Pisa

Pisa is a little city in the west of Italy. It is, of course, famous for the leaning tower of Pisa…

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Some idiotic architects decided to build a building on swampy ground. As can be expected, the tower began to slowly sink into the ground. Pisa became famous for this leaning tower, and the city (I expect it is the city) has paid millions in order to keep the tower from falling completely down. They have drained the ground around the tower, and excavated the earth from under one half of the tower in order to encourage it to fall back in the other direction (or at the very least, to keep it from falling more in the wrong direction).

My goal in visiting Italy was to visit Florence because it was on the list of the things I want to do before I turn 25. I found out that Pisa was near Florence, and I decided to go there for a few nights to look around.

Bad idea. Pisa is tiny. The only thing to see in the city is the leaning tower. It takes approximately one hour to see the tower. You don’t need two days. Trust me.

Regardless, I enjoyed my stay in Pisa.

You have to understand that I’m not a hard core tourist. Really not.

Travelling is awesome. But it is not only a trip for me. It is vacation. Yes, I am studying, so as a student, I have a lot of free time on my hands. But I also work 17 hours a week, and am going everywhere all the time. I don’t cut myself any slack. Usually directly before I take one of my trips, I am stressing out at work trying to get everything done that I need to get done so that I can take the time off.

This trip was no different. The week before, I was super stressed out with work, finishing an programming project for a course I am currently taking, and applying for a scholarship. Besides the fact that when I got up at 6 a.m. to leave, I ended up missing my train connection to the main station, and therefore missed the train to the airport. The next one came in half an hour, but a half an hour means a lot when you are going to the airport. Of course, I was flying out of Düsseldorf Weeze, which is just about the smallest airport on the planet. I ended up getting through security in ten minutes (might be a record) and got to the gate just in time to get in line for the flight.
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Go me! I was off to Italy! Flew into Bologna, then four hours in the train (first to Florence, then a really really really slow train to Pisa), and THEN I went to see the tower. After an hour, I went back to my hostel and spent the evening in my bed.

And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thoroughly.

Pisa is really a nice little city, especially when the sun is shining.

The next day I had a great time being a very atypical tourist. After grabbing a quick coffee/croissant breakfast and stopping at a grocery store for snacks and water, I went and scouted out this old Roman ruin

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I’ll be honest. I didn’t research the history of the building. In fact, I couldn’t even find it when I googled/wikipediaed it (the name on the map was Fortezza Nuova, Giardino Scotto).

I just looked at the free map I got from the hostel and found the largest green square and headed in that direction. It was probably thirty degrees out and sunny, so I found a nice place to sit and spent four or five hours reading (except when I took a coffee break/gelato break)….

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This was my view from my pirch:

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Bliss…

Malaga

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This was seriously one of the best vacations I have ever been on ever.

Not because Malaga is gorgeous (although it is. Reference above picture). Not even because the beaches were gorgeous and the water refreshing (although it was. Reference below picture).

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The reason my trip was great was because of the company. I got to hang out with these people for ten days! It was great hanging out with people who have similar interests with me. We are all Christians who really love the Lord Jesus, and therefore we really enjoyed singing, reading, and praying together. And we also did not consider “having a good time” to mean getting drunk.

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We rented an apartment together in a housing development outside of Malaga (near the el Palo beach). The houses in the area were gorgeous, and we were ten minutes from the beach.

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We kept pinching outselves that we got such a well priced apartment in such a nice neighborhood.

The vacation was great. Absolutely great. I got to do all of my favorite vacation activities…

By which I mean that I spent most of the time relaxing under the palm trees reading books on my Kindle…

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So I’m lame. Get over it. Of course, I also regularly went into the mediterranean sea. I loved the feeling of floating on my back in the gorgeous clear water while the sun shined down on me…. The weather stayed in the thirties the whole entire time we were there. Unfortunately, the sea got pretty rough after a while, so floating on my back got increasingly precarious. However, jumping in the waves was also pretty fun.

It was a beach vacation. Sun. Beaches. Books. Friends. Couldn’t ask for more.

Except for churros…

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Those things are SOOOOO delicious!

And perhaps ice cream….

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I didn’t actually eat a lot of the native food because it was all seafood. I do eat fish now (even though I spent my entire childhood eating it), but Spanish fish all seem to have the scales and heads and everything, and I chickened out. I admit it. Totally chickened out. I did eat a bocadillo once, and gazpacho and paella, so I wasn’t that bad.

But we treated ourselves WELL by cooking delicious food in the evenings…

Good Times!

Travelling in Europe

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As per usual, it has been ages since I have posted anything on this blog. I don’t offer any apologies. I don’t feel particulary bad about it. I have been too busy living my life in order to document every move and thought that I have made.

However, as I have said, I have been living my life. And one of the main things I have been doing with my life is travelling. This summer, I have visited Poland, Spain, Italy, and southern Germany. What better way to celebrate enjoying this wonderful continent in which I live than by bragging about it on my blog?

The posts will be short, to the point, and sprinkled liberally with photos. I’ve taken the liberty of documenting my journeys on Instagram (you can follow me here or search for my travel hashtag #thejoyofvisiting). The photos I have instagramed will very likely make their way onto this blog as well. I’m not a photographer, but I’ve tried to not be a completely neglectful tourist.

So stay tuned! I’ll be starting my journey tomorrow with Malaga (where the beautiful photo above was taken).

The Best Things in Life are Free

I’m a student. As in most other parts of the world, that means that I have to carefully watch the limited funds that I have so that I don’t spend more than I earn. I’ve been playing the Budget Game for almost a year now, and the amount in my bank account is actually going up every month (good feeling that). Of course, when I travel to Poland and Spain and Italy this summer, that bank account is definitely going to take a hit. Which is the whole point of budgeting and saving: to cut back on the things you don’t need so that when there is something you really want (Florence!!!!), you have the money to spend on it.

That is, however, irrelevant to the topic at hand. Today I want to discuss the things in life that everybody can enjoy regardless of how strict their budget is: the things in life that are free. And, for the record, by free I mean the things that are REALLY free and not just the things that you mooched off someone else and therefore didn’t have to pay for (although I do have difficulties saying no to free food…).

I’ve been living in Düsseldorf, Germany for close to five years now, but I have only recently become aware of all of the cool events and stuff that are available in this city. A couple of weeks ago, I spent an evening listening to some music at the Jazz Festival in Düsseldorf. There was a free yoga course in a park that I REALLY wanted to go to last Saturday. I decided instead to fix my bike. Bad decision. As soon as I fixed the front wheel, the back wheel went flat, so I’m STILL without bike this week (and suffering because of it). Yesterday I went to a free music festival with some friends after working out (also quite a fun thing to do for free).

Of course, all of these fun free things are in the past. There are many more that I am looking forward to this summer:

1. The World Cup

The whole world is in a frenzy. Who is going to be the football champions of the world this year? In a mere three weeks we will know! The world cup is a month long of solid free entertainment. You can watch it online, with friends, in a sports bar or restaurant. Or you can just count how many times the walls of your apartment vibrate with the coordinated cheers of the whole block whenever Germany scores a goal. 4-0 against Portugal? Not bad. The world cup is also an excellent opportunity to connect with people around you. Even if you are someone like me who doesn’t normally watch much football, and therefore doesn’t know the teams very well. You can always pick up some peripheral to start a conversation. “Can you believe that Spain is already eliminated? The defending champions?” *indignant* (for the record, I REALLY can’t believe it. They scored one solitary goal!)

Personally, I’m looking forward to the Germany vs. USA game on Thursday. It is time to see where exactly my loyalties lie…Just kidding. I can’t wait to see Germany DESTROY the USA team. The USA might be better than Germany in a lot of things, but football is NOT one of them. My heart is painted with black, red, and gold… (I have actually been considering painting my face with a half-Germany, half-USA flag pattern. Symbolism.)

2. Rollnacht

One of the coolest free things to do in Düsseldorf is Rollnacht. The night where the awesome Düsseldorfer shut down the streets to allow thousands of inline skaters to glide through the city. It is a great group activity, rollerblading is awesome, rollerblading in the street is even more awesome, and you get to see different (and sometimes very beautiful) parts of Düsseldorf that you have never seen before. I’ve said it before (although I don’t know if I have said it on this blog before) that I find Rollnacht to be one of the main reasons that make Düsseldorf a great city to live in. Einfach klasse!

3. Entenrennen Düsseldorf

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I just recently heard about this. It was apparently supposed to take place on the 15th of July, but because of the huge storm that visited Düsseldorf that week, it was cancelled. They are supposed to find another date for the event, and I REALLY hope that they do. Throwing 6000 rubber duckies into the canal on the slightly-snobby Königsallee? Spraying them with water to see which one can swim the fastest? Yes please! I’m all the way there. Wouldn’t miss it for the world!

4. Büchermeile Düsseldorf

 

I actually found this on the NRW hits page while looking for free activities in the Düsseldorf Altstadt. I love reading, so I’ll probably make a point of going and checking out all of the cool books that they have there.

Ok. That’s pretty much it from my side. There are, of course, many other lovely things in life that are free. Or at the very least, lovely things that do not cost any money (small distinction there). For instance, having lovely friends with whom you can do a lot of these free things is worth its weight in solid gold. Making and keeping friends doesn’t cost you any money (or shouldn’t anyway), but it does require you to spend your time and energy. But in the end, it is totally worth it.

Of course, this only really touches the free events that you can visit. There are a lot of other things that are free. For instance, loads of books can be found for free from Gutenberg. My favorite book (The Bible) is free from many different organizations (like this one) or can be read in many different versions online on sites like this one. If you stumble on a job fair somewhere, chances are you will be able to find free pens (I love free pens so much!). And there are countless other places to find free entertainment online and in the wide wide world (although to clarify, any website that makes it’s profit by selling your personal information (I’m talking to you Facebook!) is NOT free).

So now I want to hear from you. Do you have any recommendations for me? Do you have any favorite free events?

 

Finally – the weight lifted off my shoulders

Finally!

That is the word currently vibrating through my head.

I’ve been in autopilot for the past couple of months trying to get everything done that needed to get done. And this morning, I finally got to check the last box on my imaginary check list! Over the past month I have:

  1. Completed my bachelor thesis and thereby earned my bachelor’s diploma in Computer Science.
  2. Packed the entirety of my possessions into boxes so that they can be moved to my new apartment.
  3. Worked at getting my papers together so I could apply to renew my visa to remain in Germany (I’ll be getting my Master’s in the fall).
  4. Worked (at my job).

I had my appointment to renew my visa this morning and therefore could check off that last box on my TODO list. Unfortunately, they couldn’t renew my visa for my Master’s yet because I am not yet “accepted” to the University as a Master’s student (I don’t have my certificate of enrollment yet). The man at the Ausländersbehörde was very nice, however, and he extended my visa until the end of September so that I can get all of the paper’s together. *!WHEW!* That will not be an issue any more.

In any case, that milestone marked the official beginning of my vacation! And I am desperately in need of a vacation. I don’t think I have really taken a break since the end of last August. Even when I have had a couple of weeks off, I’ve usually spent it working. So I’m REALLY looking forward to this. A LOT.

Tomorrow, I am kicking off my vacation with a 22 hour trip. Stressful right? But I am fully aware the success of this trip will hinge on one thing: if “War and Peace” is really as good as everyone says it is. Because, as of 7:30 tomorrow morning, I am not only beginning a 22 hour trip, I am beginning the book by Leo Tolstoy that is apparently one of the best books written in any language ever. We’ll see if it is as entertaining as everyone says. I have high hopes. Of course, I can’t seem to find anybody that I actually know who has actually read the book. Then again, I’m not sure the people I asked have ever read Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, David Copperfield or any of the other great classics that I have read and loved. They probably even consider Lord of the Rings to be too long, and that’s one of the most epic books ever written. So, undeterred by my friends’ opinions about the correlation between the length of a book and how interesting it is, I remain extremely hopeful as to the quality of the read. I also intend to read “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but that will be on the return flight.

I intend to have a great time and to fully reboot over the next four weeks. I can’t wait to see my family and friends, and I am especially excited to meet my new niece!

And I intend to have a great time playing around with my new Lenovo ThinkPad x230, which is already waiting for me in the states. 4GB Ram and a 3.2 GHz processor! I am going to have fun!

Free Language Learning Resources

I come here today to rave about two particular resources that are available for those of us who want to learn a second language. The first is an app that is available for free in the android market (and probably for iOS as well). The second is an online resource that is also available for iPhone owners in app form (which is not me!).

Check out the Babbel application if you would like to learn English, German, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish, Dutch, Polish, Indonesian, Norwegian, or Danish. I had tolerable success with the Babbel app last year when I went to Paris. As in, I wanted to learn enough French to be able to order food and water in a restaurant. And I was able to! They didn’t even switch to English when they were speaking to me! It might have been because I pretended to have a German accent whenever I spoke an English word, but whatev…

Had I actually regularly used the Babbel app, I am sure that my successes with the language would have been much better. I have recently decided to learn Spanish and have started using the app for that as well. The app is mainly useful for learning new vocabulary. There is a vocabulary manager and a feature for testing your pronunciation of the different words. You also have to learn how to spell them. On the Babbel website, there are also several different grammar courses that are offered, but they cost money, so I haven’t tried them out (sorry. I’m cheap).

Duolingo is an online resource that I’ve just discovered and am super psyched about. This is helpful for those who would like to learn German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, or Portuguese. It is built up like a game. You have to do exercises to gain points. You learn a lot more grammar than with the Babbel app. I’ve just completed the first two lessons in Spanish and I believe I’ve learned more about Spanish grammar during the past couple hours than I’ve learned in the whole last month of using the Babbel app. If you speak the language to some extent, you can also try to test out of the different levels. I tried to test my German and actually failed. =( Shame on me! Forgive me for translating “I want you to be my friend” as “Ich möchte mit dir befreundet sein” instead of “Ich möchte, dass du meinen Freund bist”. Sorry! Didn’t know you were going to get all literal on me. And I STILL think that my translation is something that a German person is more likely to say. But now I am stubborn and will probably complete all of the German levels just to prove once and for all that I can indeed speak the language.

And, if I may add a personal geek factor, the website design and software design for Duolingo is absolutely gorgeous.

I’d also like to learn Russian some time down the line (I’m starting with Spanish because I’m guessing that it is easier), but I’m not sure how to go about that best. When the time comes, I may check out another online resource, busuu.com which does offer Russian. And then I’ll let you know how that goes!

Pickpockets and Les Miserables

So…yesterday wasn’t exactly the best day that I have ever had while travelling. Probably the worst, actually, because a bunch of teenagers came up to me, wanting me to sign some petition thing. I didn’t really realize what they were doing, so I just tried to get away from them, but they ended up stealing my wallet. I had a pretty decent amount of money in there, as well as my credit cards, but the main blow is the fact that I lost my driver’s license. That baby will probably require a hundred euros or so to get it replaced.

Still, it could have been a lot worse. I am uninjured, and I’m sure those kids needed the money more than I do. I still have my passport, and I didn’t keep all of my cash with me, so I still have enough money to comfortably complete my trip to Paris.

After the robbery, I was a little bit shaken. But I was able to go to the family where I spent the night and use their landline to call and cancel my credit cards and recover a bit from the shock. I also had to say goodbye to my sister which was super sad.

But the afternoon ended on a higher note. I always say that when I feel sad, I retreat to my bedroom with a box of Toffee (I love that stuff) and a good book. I don’t really have a bedroom in Paris, but books? I mean…Paris is the scene of interest in so many great books of literary value. And then, when I found out that there was a park (Place des Vosges) not too far from where I was staying. This park was not just any park. Victor Hugo had lived there!

So I decided to go to the park and read an abridgedversion of Les Miserables. I had already read the unabridged version, but there is  a ridiculously large amount of tangents in the story that take place and turn it from a 600 page novel to a 1300 page novel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually buy an abridged copy of the story on Kindle because I had already cancelled my credit cards. But I happened to have an unabridged copy of the story already, so I’ve decided to sort of self abridge the story by skipping “Waterloo”, “Petit-Picpus”, “A Parenthesis”, “Paris Atomized”, “The Grand Bourgeois”, “Patron Minette”, “A Few Pages of History”, “Argot”, and “The Intestine of Leviathan”. That’ll shave off 50% of the story, and if I just skim the last couple of chapters of the sections, I shouldn’t miss out on anything important to the story itself.

The park was really pretty.

But the benches in the park weren’t really comfortable, so I couldn’t actually enjoy my time of reading at all. Therefore I decided to “rent” a space Cafe Hugo which was right nearby. 15 Euros for 2 hours! And I got a delicious omelet, creme brulee, and a cup of tea in the bargain! (this is hands down one of my favorite things to do in any city that I visit. Visit a cafe and park out there for a couple of hours for some decent reading or just enjoying the atmosphere).

By the way…creme brulee is officially one of my all time favorite things now!