Aimless walking

I’ll be upfront.  I can be a control freak.  I know it.  My friends know it.  My coworkers know it.  I can’t help myself.  I like to figure out the most efficient way to do things.  If I can see some way to improve something, I say something.  That personality trait has followed me on my travels.  I’d make huge plans, sometimes even planning out the timing of everything and as you can imagine, no matter how perfect I was, I always found that I would miss something.  That always left me stressed out and when I did miss something, I’d have a sense of disappointment.  Not an ideal way to spend a vacation.

Of late, I’ve adopted a more laid back approach to my travels.  I choose one or two big things, a museum or park, and prepare a list of things that are nearby.   A couple of restaurants and a couple of other alternate things like shops to hit up.  If I’m visiting a city and if I really want to do something, I make sure to plan that first and to make a note of when it’s open.  I also make sure to leave lots of open time or even full days to aimlessly walk around a city.  It’s amazing what you can find along the way.

On a recent visit to San Francisco, I was greatly rewarded on one of my aimless walks.  I was staying in Hayes Valley and I thought it’d be fun to take a walk on Market Street all the way to the water and then walk up the Embarcadero.  My walk on Market Street revealed the various neighborhoods in San Francisco.  Trendy, Shady, Touristy, etc.  As I reached Embarcardero, I ran into a huge farmers market that had stands upon stands of citrus, fruit, veggies.  Amazing.  As I made my way up the Embarcadero, I saw a peculiar sign:  CHOCOLATE and it pointed to the right.  I stopped.  What’s that?  Chocolate?

I look right, and the door says Open.  Store.  Factory Tours.  Factory tours of a chocolate shop?  Yes please!   Tcho.  I hadn’t heard of the brand before, but I am not one to turn down a chocolate tour.  As I walk in, I asked about the chocolate tour and wouldn’t you know it, I’m a little late, but just in time for the 2pm tour.  It’s almost as if I planned it.  The tour begins with a 15-20 minute video about the company, how it was founded and then it generally went over the process to make chocolate.  At the end, the tour guide went over a few more points and even had a few quizzes where you could win a few pieces of chocolate.  After about 30 minutes, the official tour began.  The group of about 20 people put away their belongings in a storage locker and donned hair nets.  We then entered the factory and took a deep breath.  Chocolate.  Everywhere.  It was like a dream.  The tour guide then explained each step of Tcho’s chocolate making process and patiently answered any questions that we had.  I thought that would be it, but would you believe there was a chocolate tasting as well?  We got to taste a piece of each flavor of chocolate produced by Tcho and also got a thorough explanation of the best way to enjoy chocolate – Let it melt on your tongue completely to enjoy all the flavors.

At the moment, Tcho makes 6 flavors of chocolate.
Nutty – dark
Classic – milk
Chocolately – dark
Cacao – milk
Citrus – dark
Fruity – dark

That’s written in my order of favorites.  I was amazed to find out that each of these flavors (except for the milk) don’t have any added flavoring to make it taste the way it does.  The citrus, for example, tastes without a doubt, citrusy.  Based on the natural flavors in the cacao used, it has that flavor.   I had no idea!  Letting the chocolate melt and savoring the flavors, I actually appreciated the nuances in each piece.   I usually steer away from milk chocolate, but Tcho’s classic milk is completely different from any milk chocolate I’ve had.  It tastes of caramel and is utterly addictive.

After spending an hour in a building full of chocolate smells, I was very happy.  I was even more thrilled when they said that you get a coupon at the end of the tour.  It honestly couldn’t get any better than that.

The enthusiasm of the tour guide was also infectious and I left the tour with a greater appreciation of chocolate, a new-found love of the Tcho brand and I couldn’t wait to buy some chocolate to bring home to let my friends and family enjoy it with me.

So long story short, this is an example of how flexibility in plans can have unexpected rewards.  Make some time here and there to roam aimlessly, even in your hometown, you’ll never know what you’ll find.