Trip Start Jan 20, 2010
Trip End May 15, 2010

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Flag of France  , Alsace,
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Today we went to the European Council. We had a tour of the building and saw the room where the meetings take place. The European Council focuses more on human rights law and moving Europe toward a United States of Europe. There are currently 47 member states and only 7 working languages compared to the 27 the European Parliament had. After the European Council meeting, Andi, Paige and myself went to a chocolate museum. The place was a little out of the way and very easy to get to (even though we got lost). During our detour, or as some would say while we were lost, we walked along a beautiful bike path in the country where we saw hay bails, picket fences and charming houses all surrounded by natures best greenery. At the chocolate museum we learned how various types of chocolate are made (white, milk, dark) as well as how the hollow molds are made. Chocolate is made from the fruit of the cacao tree, "Theobroma cacao" in Latin. It is a very fragile tree, liable to desease and fungus. It can only be cultivated in a relatively narrow area of land around the equator, in a hot, humid climate. It dislikes direct sun and is planted in the shadow of “mother trees” like banana or coconut trees. It does not tolerate an altitude over 700 meters. After 2 years, the cacao tree comes into flower, producing about 500 blossoms a year, of which only one in 50 produce fruit or gourds. The gourd contains 30 bears, embedded in a whitish pulp. 20-25 gourds are needed to obtain a kilo of chocolate. Three main varieties of cocoa exist, each with a very different taste. The crillo, the best, is used to make luxury chocolate. It is also the most fragile. The forastero, a much hardier variety, produces a strong, bitter cocoa. It is used in the manufacture 80% of the world's chocolate production. Finally, born in 1939 in Trinidad, from crossbreeding, the trinitario is a chocolate, which marries the qualities of the other 2 varieties. Like coffee or wine, each of these varieties had its vintages, which depend on the land and conditions of cultivation. The chocolate maker must combine these elements in a subtle mixture in order to guaranties the taste of an excellent chocolate. The Spanish used to call chocolate the “golden drink.” The women loved it and would drink it all day, even during religious services. In an attempt to take control of the cocoa beans, the colonists tried to take the Aztecs into slavery. But in 1537, a papal bull pronounced by Pope Paul the Third threatened excommunication to any Christian who practiced slavery. So the Spanish introduced a system of “voluntary cooperation” to cultivate the plantations. Consequently, even though they were treated as such, the Aztecs were never officially considered to be slaves. We got to see all the old machinery that the first chocolatiers used as well as the modern day equipment.  Next we went into a test kitchen and saw first hand how chocolates are made in different shapes as well as chocolates with color painted on. We got to taste freshly made white, milk and dark chocolate. The white chocolate was very creamy and light while the milk chocolate was very mild and serene and the dark was very bitter. After our tour of the museum we stopped by the café for some hot chocolate. Paige and I got the sampler hot chocolate which was 4 small cups of dark, rich chocolate and we could add either orange, cinnamon, chili pepper, pepper, or ginger. I personally enjoyed the orange and the cinnamon however the chocolate was too chocolate for me. After the museum we went back to the main area and went to McDonalds. I had the best American cheese burger, something I have been craving since I left Boston, it totally hit the spot :-D After McDonalds we traveled over to the Musee des Beaux Arts, and saw a bunch of paintings of Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. It was not really my forte but it is always interesting to see different types of art to expand your views. After the museum we went to Nortre Dame of Strasbourg. It outside was amazing and stuck very closely to its Gothic roots. 
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