Alice Pizza and Vatican City

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Day three in Italy was a trip to Vatican City. I’ve been here as well, and my deepest memory is losing one of our classmates in this busy square. Luckily, we found her somehow. Anyways, this time I understood so much more about the history again. I guess things just make more sense when you’re older. Vatican City is actually the smallest independent state in the world in area and population size. A size of around 44 hectares and a population of 840! The State is basically ruled by the Bishop of Rome or the Pope. First stop was St. Peter’s Basilica, which does not require admission fees. However, you do need to line up, but it moved quite quickly for us.

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St. Peter’s Basilica is located at St. Peter’s Square. It’s a Late Renaissance Catholic church and was designed by architects including Michelangelo. It is one of the largest churches in the world and is known to be one of the holiest and greatest churches in the Christian world. I’m an atheist, so visiting these churches isn’t really my thing, but I think it’s worthwhile to just see the architecture here. It’s seriously magnificent..

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Here is the altar of the basilica, and Saint Peter’s tomb lies just below the altar. You’ll also be able to see the dome of St. Peter’s and it’s the tallest dome in the world.

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Then, we took a short walk over to the Vatican Museums. You need to pay for this museum, but you’ll see some incredible work in here. You’ll find Renaissance sculptures, paintings, and other artwork here. For instance, here is just part of the ceiling. If I remember correctly, this ceiling is completely flat, but the artist painted it so you feel like it’s 3D and sculpted. Seriously, how do people even do this!? Crazy.

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I’m not an art person, and I forget who did this painting, but its pretty impressive how you see paintings all over the walls. Seriously, you won’t find a blank wall anywhere in these rooms. My favourite rooms had got to be the Raphael Rooms, with my personal favourite – The School of Athens. I learned about this in school, and it was so cool seeing Aristotle and Plato in the picture. After the Vatican Museum, you can connect to the Sistine Chapel, which does not allow photography. The chapel is in the Apostolic Palace, which is the Pope’s official residence. It’s basically famous because of the frescoes, the ceiling and The Last Judgment created by Michelangelo. You’ll also find the Creation of Adam here! Michelangelo was definitely a pure genius.

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After an afternoon of arts, we looked for some afternoon snacks. We found Alice Pizza, just minutes away from the Vatican Museum. I believe the store is actually outside of Vatican City though. The pizza was so good! It’s not your normal toppings, but with toppings like arugula, zucchini, eggplants, and more. You’ll see trays of pizza and you just let them know how much you want, and they slice them up for you. It’s priced by weight. Luckily, we were able to snatch the last few slices, because people were buying them so quickly and I think they had just taken out their last batches. So get there early and be aggressive about what you want! Some of the best Italian pizzas I had in Rome.

Lizarran and a Dali Day Trip – Figueres

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On a day off of school, A, S and I decided to take a day trip to Figueres. It’s a town north of Barcelona, in the province of Girona. We took the Renfe from Barcelona at the Passeig de Gracia station, and it took roughly under 2 hours. The town is pretty small and easy to navigate with an awesome tourist information desk supplying us with maps once we got off the train. The main attraction here is the Salvador Dali Theater Museum. There isn’t much else to do other than this museum, and the town is really famous because it’s where Dali was born. To be honest, I had no idea who Salvador Dali was. I knew nothing about Spain before coming here, and art was something I wasn’t too interested in. But S and A were taking a Spanish Art History class at ESADE, and their professor had recommended them to visit this museum. I had nothing to do, so I joined them, hoping I wouldn’t be too bored from looking at art. This was the best decision ever! If you’re someone who usually isn’t interested in art like the ones at the Louvre, I assure you that Salvador Dali will make you enjoy art!

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I think if I were to describe Dali in one word, it would be “weird”. Yup, Dali’s art is quirky and bizarre, but in a good way. He was a Catalan surrealist painter, but he has art work of all sorts. I often say that his work is trippy, because depending on the angles you look at it, the piece of art turns into something completely different. Hence it’s extremely fun to look at his work and you can be imaginative even if you don’t understand his true intentions. For instance, in this picture, when we walked in the room, it was weird to see two random paintings on the wall, and then a couch shaped as a lip. Then the blonde hair is actually a horse if you look from the other side. However, Dali wants us to look at it from the top of one wall and look into this circular glass. When you do that, it becomes a woman! I loved how his whole museum allowed us to be imaginative and creative. Something I don’t usually possess, but I really enjoyed and admired his work. The cool thing is that this theater was also completely designed by Dali himself!

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After an early morning in the museum, we decided to find food in Figueres. We did a quick tripadvisor search, and found that Lizarran was highly rated. Lizarran is a tapa bar which actually has many other locations around Spain. The fun part was that the tapas are self serve if you choose one of their options. This option allows you to walk down the bar and choose whichever pintxo you want. Each pintxo has a toothpick in it, and at the end, you pay by how many toothpicks you have on your plate. It’s pretty much based on a trust system. You can also choose to order off the regular menu, where you can have larger tapa dishes or actual entrees. We went for the self serve option. Some of the pintxos I chose included one with a cream cheese and salmon with a pedro pepper, shrimp and egg salad, brie with onions and garlic chips, and Iberican pork on imitation crab salad. All in all, quite a delicious lunch!

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After lunch, we rushed to get to the bus stop. We wanted to visit Dali’s house in the town of Cadaques. The best way is to take a bus that is near the train station, and it takes less than an hour. Cadaques is still in the province of Girona, but also on the Costa Brava of the Mediterranean. It’s beautiful here, with boats along the shorelines. The white house in the picture is one of the homes Dali lived in later in his life and is located in Port Lligat, which is a small village in the Cadaques area. Dali spent a lot of his childhood in Cadaques, hence he went back here to live later. The house is now called the Casa- Museo Salvador Dali, meaning the Salvador Dali House Museum. You do need to pay to enter, but it’s pretty cool inside, so worth a visit. Apparently in the summer or peak seasons, you’ll also need reservations.

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There will be a tour guide who will bring you and a small group of visitors in his house. She gives very brief information, so it’s not too useful, but you are welcome to ask her more questions. Here, this is where Dali used to do his paintings. When you look at the paintings at the Theater Museum, you’ll find lots of scenery and views of of the port since he painted from here.

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On the top floor, you’ll find weird looking objects. Like this egg shell. What was Dali thinking putting an egg shell on his house…?

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The beautiful view from his house. He has many paintings of this scenery if you visit the museum.

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And he also decided to put an egg on the top of his house. I have to admit, Dali is pretty cool. Who in their right mind would think of doing something like that? Also, how in the world did he structure this egg so it wouldn’t fall off?

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In his backyard, he has this giant… Such bizarre art.

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And here is a picture of Cadaques while the sun sets. I love how the houses are all white here. Such a beautiful place to spend in the summer, and hence many Barcelona locals spend their summers here as a getaway. This was already early November, but it was still fairly warm.

Serrajordia – Sant Cugat

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Mousse Cups

ESADE is located in Sant Cugat, and honestly, I don’t find food that appealing there. I guess it’s just that there’s limited choices, and the prices are higher than out in the city. However, on our walk to school from the station, we always pass by Serrajordia. K made it almost like a habit, to always grab a small breakfast there. He said their little pastries, like their mini cookies and biscuits were really good! I, on the other hand, always had breakfast at home, so never really got to try their pastries. However, most of my friends said they are a great bakery! One day, C invited us to her dorm for dinner she would cook, and I decided to stop by Serrajordia on my way to get some desserts. They have a variety of cakes, and also individual mini cakes, but I looked in the freezer and saw these little mousse cups. How convenient and cute! They aren’t the cheapest desserts out there, but definitely worth the money when you think about places like Thomas Haas. I got two Lemon Mousse Cups, one Triple Chocolate Layer, and one Chocolate Mousse. Each one were topped with little crispy chocolate balls and some had chocolate or berries on it. Everyone enjoyed them! They were smooth, but because we had fridged them and they hadn’t cooled enough, they were almost like an ice cream texture, which none of us minded. My favourite was the triple layered chocolate!  Now I wish I had tried some of their other pastries. I doubt I would come back here since it’s so far from the city…

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Anyways, if you haven’t realized, I’m putting a little twits to my food blog and introducing some places I’ve visited while on exchange. I guess it’s a way for me to remember and document some of the things I’ve done and to help others who are traveling in Europe. One of the first places I visited in Barcelona while my sister visited, was Park Guell. It’s basically one of the top tourist destinations for Barcelona tourists. It’s a little difficult to commute here, just because the metro doesn’t take you straight to the entrance. However, if you take a bus, it’ll get you right to the station, and the last bus stop is Park Guell, so not that hard. It’s a garden with amazing architecture designed by Antoni Gaudi, who you must recognize when you visit Spain. I feel like pretty much all architecture Barcelona is famous for is done by him! It’s extremely tourist-filled during the summer months. During September, when my sister visited, it was also free to go in. We got lucky and didn’t need to pay!

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Many people refer to this place as looking a bit like Candy Crush or a Candy House. I do agree. Everything seems like it’s sugar coated with frosting. And I absolutely love the mosaic you find at the top. You’ll also see the statue of a salamander that is popularly known. This park is basically one that you won’t experience any where else. It’s not one of those romantic parks you find yourself in London or Paris, but one that is whimsical, artsy and fun. You’ll find yourself taking pictures of literally every angle of this park. There’s so much to see, you won’t even feel tired climbing up to the top of the park with the burning sun on you! A must see!

Els Quatre Gats – Barcelona

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Els Quatre Gats means “The Four Cats” in Catalan. You’ll sometimes see that it’s short termed as 4 Gats. This restaurant has a lot of history! It started as a hostel, then became a cabaret, a pub, and finally a restaurant. It’s been open since 1897! There is supposed to be a lot of art and architecture history behind the building and it’s actually well known because this was the spot where Picasso used to come very often.

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Inside, the place is colourful and there is a small section of tables near the entrance with the bar behind.

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If you continue walking in, you’ll find that the restaurant is actually quite large. There’s also an old piano on the side, and it seems like there are jazz nights here.

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The restaurant is filled with art pieces, and Picasso actually had his first exhibition here. I love how there’s two seater tables at the top balcony. It sort of looks unstable, but people still sit up there today. I could only imagine Picasso sitting there sipping a cup of coffee and finding art inspiration.

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This is the menu. The title page for the menu is actually made by Picasso. Pretty neat! Anyways, the prices at 4 Gats is quite pricey and not for everyday meals. However, they offer a menu of the day with 3 courses during lunch time for around 16 euros. It’s much more expensive than typical menu of the days, but the restaurant is almost a famous tourist spot, and the setting is close to fine dining. So it’s quite reasonable.

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Bread

Of course, we ordered the lunch menu, since most entrees on their own were the same price. The set came with a bread roll for each of us.

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Mineral Water and Red Wine

Then came a glass of mineral water and a bottle of red wine for our table of 5 to share. The wine wasn’t actually too bad. Usually the house wines are watered down and extremely cheap. You get around two glasses each. I liked how the waiters were very professional in the way they poured the wine and how they placed our table setting.

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Paella

Since we had 5 people, we ended up ordering every single item on the menu. They had four choices in each course to choose. We were able to try a bit of everything this way. The first appetizer was Paella. I really enjoyed this! This was probably one of the best paella I had. I hadn’t had a lot of paella in Barcelona just because I wasn’t very fond of it. I could have it once or twice, but I eventually got sick of it, and it’s also not the cheapest dish. This was a seafood and meat paella. Rice was moist, but not too saucy, but at the same time, it wasn’t too dry. The rice was cooked perfectly so it wasn’t too hard or soft. There were shrimps and mussels and a meat I couldn’t really grasp upon what it was. It had a chewy texture, but I loved it! I felt like it was some part of pork. Loved this dish!

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Spinach Lasagna

Another appetizer was the Spinach Lasagna. The lasagna was actually quite a decent sized portion as an appetizer. I could easily get filled up by this and the bread. It was very creamy with a load of cream sauce and tons of spinach. There wasn’t too much cheese to it though, so it wasn’t a very cheesy lasagna. Definitely more of a cream base one.

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Goat Cheese Salad

The Goat Cheese Salad was plated beautifully. I liked how the cheese was made into almost like a terrine, where there was nuts mixed into it. I’m not a huge fan of goat cheese, so I found the cheese to be really strong. My friends really enjoyed it though. The greens were also extremely fresh and crisp.

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Vegetables with Parmesan

I was hesitant about the Vegetables with Parmesan, as it sounded very plain. However, it was plated beautifully again. They stacked the vegetables on top of each other to make a square shape, and topped it with lots of Parmesan. This was then baked I believe. It was a simple dish, but I really enjoyed it! I thought all the flavours worked really well together and I never enjoyed eating vegetables so much!

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Stew Fish with Clams and Potatoes

Now onto the entrees! Again, we tried every item on the menu. I didn’t think the presentation of the Stew Fish looked too appetizing, but then again, it’s a stew. Surprisingly, there was a lot of fish! The sauce was very flavourful, and all the ingredients were soaked in it. Not bad, but wasn’t my favourite.

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Swordfish with Vegetables

Another fish dish was the Swordfish with Vegetables. The swordfish were battered and deep fried. There wasn’t much of a sauce to it other than the vegetable mix with a slightly tangy lime sauce. However, the fish was fresh, so it was really delicious without any real sauce.

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Steak with Baked Potatoes

I thought the Steak was both a hit and a miss. We ordered two dishes of this, and one was cooked perfectly, while I thought the other was a little undercooked. Both dishes were cooked very rare, but one of them was extremely tender while being pink. The other was a bit tough and I almost felt disgusted that I was eating raw meat that was extremely difficult to chew. Let’s comment on the good dish. It was lightly seasoned with salt and topped with some green onions. It was already sliced into strips so it was extremely easy to eat. As for the potatoes, they were baked alright with a generous sauce on top. I found the baked potatoes to be just average.

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Duck with Artichoke

The Duck dish didn’t look too appetizing again, but it was actually quite delicious. The duck was extremely tender and the meat would just fall off easily. I wish the skin was a little crispier. The artichokes were cooked till soft and complemented the dish quite well. A lot of sauce on the dish as well.

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Apple Cake

As for desserts, we ended up only choosing two out of the four, since the other two were a yoghurt or fresh fruit. Didn’t sound too interesting. So instead, we got the Apple Cake. Sadly, it was quite disappointing. The cake was extremely sweet since it had alternating layers of a cream custard. The custard was very similar to the ones they use for Catalan Cream. It was too moist and soggy with the cream, and none of us really enjoyed it. Also, overly sweet!

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Pineapple with Catalan Cream

Lastly, we had the Pineapple with Catalan Cream. We weren’t too sure what to expect, but it ended up to be simply a kebab of pineapples on a skewer stick and topped with tons of Catalan Cream. It was actually quite refreshing! Not the most amazing dessert, but it wasn’t too sweet. A great way to finish our meal.

Overall, I was quite satisfied with Els Quatre Gats. I don’t think it’s a place I would recommend as a must go, but I think it was cool to dine here at least once. You really get that artsy atmosphere and now I can say I’ve dined at the restaurant where Picasso did! Also, service was not as bad as other reviewers have written. I found it a little cold when we first stepped in, but our waiter himself, was extremely funny and friendly. You’ll also find an older crowd here.

Raw Canvas (Dine Out 2013)

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I’ve always wanted to try Raw Canvas but looking at the menu, it can be pretty pricey. It’s basically a place where you can eat some meat and cheese, have some drinks, and then you have the choice to go paint! Pretty neat idea, and an awesome place to go for a girls night out. Luckily, Raw Canvas participated in Dine Out Vancouver 2013, so I got to try it out for only $38!

$38 gets you your “appetizer”, which is a choice of cheese sampler or meat sampler. Then your “entree” is a canvas to paint on, with all paint supplied and included. Lastly, your “dessert” is gelato and port! A pretty good deal, since the smallest canvas itself is normally $55. The one for dine out is a bit smaller though, but still a deal regardless since you get food as well.

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They have a really nice bar, and at around 9p.m, the place was filled with people having drinks. It definitely feels like a nice place to chat with friends over some drinks.

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The place is basically separated so one side is where you eat, and the other half of the place is where the art happens! At first we thought that there weren’t that many easels, but they actually have a lot! It gets a little tight, so if you want lots of space, then I would suggest going earlier or on a weekday night.

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I love how the wooden tables and brick walls give the place such an artsy feel to it! Along with the gorgeous paintings on the wall, you can’t help but feel inspired to paint!

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The place actually has a decent amount of seats too. Seats for smaller and larger groups as well. The dim lighting totally works in this setting.

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Blue – Sake, alize bleu, ginger ale, ginger

K got a mixed cocktail called Blue. Pretty nice!

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Karmellet Tripel (Belgium) – abbeys

E got the Karmellet Tripel, which he said wasn’t too bitter. It was recommended by the guy, who we think may be the owner. He was extremely nice and professional. Awesome service!

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Peach Italissima Nectar

For myself, I was not feeling like alcohol, so I chose the Peach Italissima Nectar. I really had no idea what it was, but it came in a tiny little bottle.

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Then you pour it into a glass with ice, and it is actually pretty good! It’s a little thick, but the ice helps to liquify it. Not bad, and it actually was decent with the meat.

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Water comes in a Raw Canvas glass bottle, which they reuse. It’s pretty neat though. You want to check your glasses beforehand though, because some of them have paint on them since people can take their drinks with them when they go paint. The servers were observant enough to let us know and quickly change them though.

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Freshly Baked French Baguette

At first, we thought that we would not get full at all, since we’re really just eating meat… but we were wrong! For the 3 of us, they served us two large bowls of Baked French Baguettes. And we were totally full after our  meal! I guess the bread really fills you up.

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Charcuterie Tasting Plate, served with freshly baked french baguette: Provence Saucisson Sec southern French sausage flavoured with pastis, Pheasant and Pistachio Terrine made in Quebec by maison du gibler, Czech Beer Salami classic Czech style salami flavoured with beer

Accompaniments:Stoneground Mustard, Fire Roasted Tomatoes, Cornichons

All 3 of us got the Charcuterie Tasting Plate, which is basically a plate with 3 types of meat and 3 accompaniments. On the far left, there was the Provence Saucisson Sec. This was basically a sausage, and was my favourite. It was soft and tasted great with the stoneground mustard. In the middle, was the Pheasant and Pistachio Terrine. This was probably my least favourite. It might’ve been the pistachio flavour that threw it off for me. Lastly, on the right was the Czech Beer Salami. Although it was lightly sliced, it was very chewy and hard. It was also extremely strong in pork, but salami is made of pork! They gave a fair amount of the salami, and it was easy to place on the bread.

For the accompaniments, it came with the Stoneground Mustard, which was my favourite! It’s basically mustard seeds that are grounded and made into a paste. It’s definitely strong in mustard flavour, and I could just spread it on the bread and I would be completely happy. So delicious! In the middle, we had the Fire Roasted Tomatoes, which were also really delicious. This can just be put on the bread and there was tons of flavour. And lastly, on the right, were the Cornichons, which are basically pickled cucumbers and are popular in Europe. I’m not a big fan of pickles, but these ones were surprisingly not too sour. I didn’t finish all of them, but they were nice to have in between all the meat.

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Gelato and Port – Vanilla Bean Gelato with Sweet Portuguese Wine

For dessert, the item was Gelato and Port. It was a huge scoop of Vanilla Bean Gelato, and you could see the black specks so you knew it wasn’t just vanilla extract. It was served with a glass of sweet Portuguese wine, which when you smell it, smells quite strong in alcohol. I thought it was brandy or whiskey at first, but the server explained that it was a sweet wine. I poured around half the flask in, and it was already plenty to have a taste of alcohol in it. Definitely brings out the sweetness and was a great pairing to the gelato.image

After you finish dessert, they ask you if you’re ready to go paint! They don’t push you to, and you can take your time to talk some more if you want to. But of course we were ready to go paint! They provide you with a smock so you can totally get into your artsy spirit. They also have a long wall of paints, and you just squeeze them out onto you palette board. I wish I got a picture of that, because it looks really neat! Then, you go ahead and get all artsy! They also have an artist there to look after you in case you have questions, or need some help getting inspired. And honestly, you don’t need to be an amazing artist to paint. Everyone was just having fun and bringing out their creativity!

So overall, Raw Canvas is an awesome place whether you know how to paint or not. It’s definitely a place to go once in your lifetime, whether it be on a date, to celebrate or to find a place to have food, drinks, and art! It may get quite expensive if you go on their regular nights, but it is something that everyone should try. Instead of having a typical movie night, why not go painting?

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