Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cocktails at 9,744ft.*

James Bond is the current Halloween costume of choice for Big C&G, and as I was doing my 007 research (martini in hand, of course) I was reminded of our trip to the top of the Alps for a drink in Blofelds hideaway. Enjoy this past post while I figure out how to make Big C&G look like 007 in his tuxedo and not just a character from Men in Black. Cheers!

Yes, those are real clouds out the window
* But who's counting . . .
Notorious playboy spy and serial cocktailer James Bond may have enjoyed martinis all over the globe but there's only one place in the world you can order yours "shaken and not stirred" in the lair of an evil villain.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service was filmed at the top of Schilthorn, the mountain a few thousand feet above the alpine village of Mürren. Bad guy Blofeld and his lovely lady killers used the newly constructed (1968) restaurant Piz Gloria as their secret hideaway high up in the Alps. Spectacular chase scenes have George Lazenbys' James Bond skiing full speed down the mountain, with avalanches and snipers nipping at his heels. The movie was filmed on location around the Lauterbrunnen Valley and Piz Gloria remains a favorite tourist attraction of Bond fans from around the world.

The tiny little dots above the blonde head? Murren.
Once you've conquered your fear of heights (or not, as in my case), what's a few thousand more feet in the interest of cocktails? Piz Gloria is open to the public year round with food and drinks for tourists and brave hikers, from 8:00 to 5:00. For the truly insane, Schilthorn is open to daredevil skiers during the winter months and it's the finish line of the grueling Inferno Triathlon in early August.

It takes two additional cable car rides from Mürren (elev. 5,413 ft.) to get to 9,744 ft. The little C&Gs were so excited about the ride up into the clouds and their enthusiasm is the only thing that got me into the cable car. That and the promise of a very large martini glass filled with vodka at the top. Honestly they should set up a drinks cart at the ticket booth, I would have handed over thousands of euros just for a little liquid courage.

Little C&G not liking the sudden drop in temp
We watched On Her Majesty's Secret Service with the boys before we left home (it's pretty harmless, just long) and they loved seeing the movie location in real life. There's no Joanna Lumley hanging around the lounge but the interior is still pretty groovy. A new interactive Bond exhibit opened last summer and a 360º theater shows Bond clips and aerial shots of the mountain, just in case you kept your eyes closed when you got out of the cable car.

The restaurant rotates (thankfully very slowly) so no matter where you're sitting you'll get a spectacular view. The cocktail menu is filled with Bond references, so it's no surprise Mr. C&G went with a classic martini. I had to order the Bond Girl, a bubbly Prosecco tribute to the lovely Diana Rigg and the only Mrs. Bond in fictional history. The little C&Gs ordered ridiculously expensive orange sodas to go with their fancy Swiss desserts, and after a swing through the Bond themed gift shop we were ready to head back down the mountain.

The name's Gelato. Cocktails and Gelato.
The cable car station is located right in the center of Mürren and you'll want to check the weather forecast and the webcam at the ticket booth before your ascent. If you're going to be up that high you'll want to have clear skies, and wear as many layers as possible. It's cold.

Once the clouds clear you really can see forever, and it's absolutely beautiful. Had we been a little braver we could have walked out on the ridge of the summit. The little C&Gs loved their trip to the top of the world and begged us to go back up again the next day. I am massively acrophobic, so I certainly was not up for a repeat performance. As the cable car descended to Mürren I started feeling much better and 6,000 ft didn't seem so scary. Or possibly my cocktails were finally kicking in.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On The Road To Peace In Oslo

We are just back from a trip to Charlotte, NC where we celebrated the wedding of a very dear friend and his lovely bride. Congrats A&W! Over the weekend the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize were announced and I was so excited to hear Malala Yousufzai and Kailash Satyarthi will be heading to Oslo to collect their awards in December. I'm rerunning this post from last October, where I had my fingers crossed for the incredible Malala. I'm so thankful this young lady has been recognized for her courage and for the work of Mr. Satyarthi in protecting the rights of children in India. Cheers to them both.   

Oslo City Hall
Tomorrow the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced in Norway, and I hope with all my heart that it goes to the amazing and courageous Malala Yousufzai. She would be the youngest winner in the 112 year history of the award, and her message of peace and education is inspiring to us all.

The award ceremony will take place on December 10th, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death, in Oslo City Hall. It's a very austere building, built in the first half of the 20th century. From the outside it looks like an abandoned brick power station from the 1930s, but inside the elaborate and colorful murals brighten up what could otherwise be a very serious and dour government building.

Oslo City Hall is open to the public at no charge and worth a stop for its vibrant Socialist style murals and cavernous rooms. Let the kids stand in the awe inspiring main hall and tell them who has been there before them. Barak Obama in 2009 and Nelson Mandela in 1993 are just a few recipients to have accepted their Nobel Peace Prize here.

The upstairs rooms are also open to the public and the kiddos will love climbing the long staircase and poking their heads through the window openings to wave at you down below. Follow them up and check out the display of dinner menus and place settings from past Nobel Peace Prize award banquets.

The colorful murals everywhere depict the struggles and triumphs of the Norwegian people. Norway is virtually a classless society, and the paintings all illustrate the glory of the working people. Agriculture is also a big part of Norwegian life, and there are many murals showing the struggle against the harsh land. We certainly were not up on our Norwegian history, so we kept the boys entertained by making up stories to go along with the pictures.

The murals in the great hall are a bit more serious in nature. They tell the story of World War II in Scandinavia, and some of the images are very powerful (but not scary). Certainly a fitting decor for the room where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony takes place. Free guided tours in English are available daily, check the schedule at the information desk.

Perfect couches for cocktails with a view
When you get hungry head out of City Hall towards the trendy waterfront neighborhood Aker Brygge (go towards the water and bear right). We took advantage of the gorgeous summer day and ate lunch on the floating tugboat restaurant Lekter'n.

The food wasn't great, but the view was spectacular. Most of the crowd was practically horizontal on the comfy lounge chairs around the bar, but we had two hungry kiddos so we opted for a traditional table and four chairs. After lunch stroll along the waterfront, and you can't get too far without bumping into a busy Mövenpick ice cream truck. I'm sure they do a good business year round, Norwegians seem to love their ice cream.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Birds, Beetles, Botanicals & Blast Off in Montreal

Would you call that Spanish Canadian Moss?
With four of Montreal's biggest attractions centered around Olympic Parc you've got to do a little planning ahead to avoid some major meltdowns. The little C&Gs (ages 9 & 12) are usually good for up to two hours on any of our adventures before we need to move on for a change of scenery, some snacks, and cocktails (for us) & gelato. So you'll be happy to know that your tickets for the Biodome, Insectarium, Botanical Gardens, and Planetarium are good for up to 31 days, making it easy to stay flexible as the weather and your kiddos' moods change.

The Biodome and Botanical Gardens are located in Maisonneuve Park (get off at the Pie-X Metro stop) and the Biodome, Planetarium, and Olympic Tower are a twenty minute walk away in nearby Olympic Parc (get off at the Station Viau Metro stop). Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics and this eyesore of 70's concrete architecture is now a prime destination for sports, music, and culture.

In this residential neighborhood a 25 minute Metro ride from downtown Montreal (on the green line) there aren't many options when your crew gets hungry. The Botanical Gardens has a cafe serving sandwiches, salads, pastries and coffee and it's your best bet before making the ten minute walk over to the Insectarium (just in case you lose your appetite after seeing all those bugs).

Les grilled-cheese and a glass of wine, in the Metro
The Biodome and the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium are next to each other and the cafe at the Planetarium serves sandwiches, salads, and pastries in the bright and modern lobby. But an even better option awaits you in the nearby Olympic Stadium (a five minute walk down the main avenue towards Metro Pie-X) at Station In Vivo.

This European style cafe serves breakfast pastries, grilled sandwiches and salads, all made from local ingredients. There's a full menu of espresso drinks and if you're ready for something a little stronger they also serve wine and beer. Long cushioned benches line the windows and your kiddos will love watching the commuters come and go from the underground entrance to the Metro stop.

Exploring the Canadian Rainforest
If you have the time you should split your visit across two days because it's easy to get overwhelmed with all four sights to take in. The Botanical Gardens and Insectarium can be done together and we spent most of a day there. The Biodome and the Planetarium could be done in half a day if you aren't interested in adding in the two shows at the Planetarium. Exhibits and hands on activities are free inside the ultra modern Planetarium building and you only need a ticket to go into the theater.

Tickets and packages for any of the four attractions can be bought at the admissions desks in all of the locations so there's no need to buy them online ahead of time. My next Montreal post will share the must-see highlights from all four destinations around Olympic Parc. But by far my best piece of travel advice is a glass of wine and some chocolate chaud at Station In Vivo. Wine in a Metro station. I love Canada!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Portland Hunt & Alpine Gets Our Vote

Portland Hunt & Alpine celebrated their first birthday earlier this month by throwing themselves one very fun cocktail party. Expertly crafted punch cocktails and Nordic inspired nibbles made up the special celebratory menu and we ended the evening with a champagne toast and platters of Holy Donuts. Now that's how you throw a birthday party!

We aren't the only fans of this cocktail hot spot, Bon Appètit magazine named Portland Hunt & Alpine one of the 5 Best New Cocktail Bars in America. That's very high praise for this newcomer and certainly well deserved. The lads behind the bar are expert mixologists and they're always very happy to help you navigate the menu of cocktail classics and creative libations. Just tell them what you like and they'll find you a perfect match. Their barrel aged Negroni is one of Mr. C&Gs favorites and I love the Gin Gin Mule.

Don & Little C&G give their vote
Food & Wine magazine has recently nominated Portland Hunt & Alpine for their People's Best New Bars: Northeast list and you can cast your vote at the Food & Wine website until Thursday, October 2nd. Click here now and go give them a vote, they're up against some tough big city competition, and it would be great to see Maine at the top of the list.

Even Little C&G gives Hunt & Alpine his two thumbs up and he's a tough and experienced critic. Check out my past post and see how this cocktail hot spot isn't off limits if your kids are tagging along. The bartenders make a mean Shirley Temple and be sure to order up some pretzels and popcorn (ask for it light on the green chile). Good luck Portland Hunt & Alpine! Vote here

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cocktail du jour: Rusty Nail

Well the Scots didn't win independence, the seasons have officially changed, the bottles of Aperol have been put away until spring, and I haven't been blogging. Many apologies but I'm at the peak of my marathon training program. Which means if I'm not out running twenty miles at a time then I'm either eating or sleeping. And by eating I mean making my daily trip into Portland for gluten free donuts at Holy Donut (seriously, their dark chocolate sea salt donut would turn you into a runner too).

As Scotland went to the polls last Thursday we had to raise a toast with a thoroughly Scottish cocktail. Cocktails in Scotland usually come as a dram or two of single malt in a glass (they don't mess around) but the Rusty Nail is a true classic combining a blended whisky with the honey sweetened malt Drambuie.  Mr. C&G made a his and hers version, he likes his whisky on the smokier side (with The Peat Monster from Compass Box) but I'm a fan of the smoother Dimple Pinch. If you're not a huge lover of whisky this is a great drink for the colder weather, Drambuie mellows out the usual bite and makes it a very drinkable cocktail.

I bet he voted yes for independence
Rusty Nail
2 oz blended Scotch whisky
1/2 oz Drambuie

Add ingredients into a cocktail glass filled with ice
Stir and enjoy

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sleek, Chic, & Cheap in Montreal

Montreal is a chic family friendly getaway and the perfect destination for one of my friends who is looking for a Columbus Day weekend adventure. I sent her a quick email with tons of stuff to do but I realized her husband might need a little more motivation than butterflies at the Insectarium or croissants in Old Montreal. I'm thinking a brand new hotel with an ideal location, an indoor pool with a skyline view, and a wallet friendly price tag will do the trick and soon she'll be packing up their bags.

Hotels in Montreal can be old, small, and trés cher but the Courtyard Marriott Downtown Montreal is refreshingly sleek, modern, and rooms can be found for under $200CAD ($180US). The hotel opened in September of 2013 in the first twelve floors of a newly built luxury apartment building and it's more boutique hotel than international chain. We spent a few nights here last month at the end of our whirlwind road trip and the rooftop pool with a sun deck was just what we all wanted after three weeks on the go.

Rooms are generously sized and they all come with city views. Double rooms have queen beds (better than the typical two fulls) and we could have fit a cot in if needed for Little C&G. Usually he doesn't like sharing a bed with his restless big brother but they each had plenty of space to spread out and nobody got a knee to the belly in the middle of the night.

The bathroom was the most luxurious I've ever encountered in a Courtyard Marriott. The glass walk-in shower (some rooms have tubs, ours didn't) was lined in marble tiles and the fluffy white towels and Aveda products made me feel like I left the boys behind and escaped for a few hours to the spa. Pool towels are provided for you in the armoire so don't bother packing yours. Keep that extra space for souvenirs and all the fabulous French things you'll find in the corner drug stores (KC, I've got a shopping list for you!).

Location is key when you're in a big city with kids and the Courtyard Marriott sits conveniently between the attractions of Old Montreal and the bustling shopping and arts districts in the center of the city. After you've wandered the neighborhoods and had your fill of croissants and poutine, head back to this chic hotel to grab your towels (and maybe a cocktail in a to-go cup from the bar in the lobby) and relax with a rooftop swim in la piscine.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cocktail du jour: Stormy Scot

Arthur's Seat and a stormy Scottish sky
With Scotland grabbing the headlines this week, the sudden chill in the air, and a dear friend trading in her Scots citizenship for a USA passport (I'm devastated, we could have worked out a trade!) I've been dreaming of something dark and malty in a cocktail glass.

One of my favorite fall drinks from the blog is the Stormy Scot, a delicious and cockle warming mix of blended whisky, orange flavored Grand Marnier, and sweet vermouth. When Mr. C&G looked up the recipe (Cocktail Hour is one of my most used pages on the blog) he had to laugh when he noticed the Stormy Scot debuted exactly one year ago today. Clearly I am a creature of cocktail habit.

The Stormy Scot
2 oz blended Scotch Whisky
(Dewar's or Johnnie Walker work well, we like Dimple Pinch)
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
1/2 oz sweet vermouth (Cocchi di Torino)

Add all ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Shake, strain and serve up or on the rocks. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry. Slàinte and cheers to you CW!