Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Billund Bed & Bricks

If you've ever stepped on the sharp edge of a Lego brick in your bare feet, chances are you've cursed the town of Billund, Denmark. Almost 3 hours by car from Copenhagen, Billund is the world HQ of everything Lego. As if that weren't enough to make it legendary in the little C&G's minds, it's also home to the first Legoland theme park and the first Legoland hotel. So what better place in the world to start off our first European family vacation than Denmark?

The boys were beyond excited in the months leading up to our summer 2011 trip. I think starting off with something so epic (in their minds) really opened up the whole idea of travel for them. With Legoland as our jumping off point, we were able to involve them in conversations about the culture and history of Scandinavia. Our trip would take us to Denmark, Sweden, and Norway before heading back home to Maine. We did a lot of "research" together online so they could get to know the types of food we'd be trying, the different currencies we'd be using, and some basic polite words for conversation. 

After arriving in Copenhagen we took a few days to get acclimated to being in a foreign country and in a new time zone before heading out for adventure. The difference of being 6 hours ahead didn't affect us all as much as I'd worried about. The sky doesn't get dark till after 11:00 mid-summer, so the boys were fine with being up "late". Mornings were a little hard, but on day three when we woke them to go get the rental car, the promise of Legoland was the only alarm clock they needed.

Billund is too far for a day trip from Copenhagen, and even though it is accessible by public transportation we opted for a rental car to make things easier. Trying to manage train and bus schedules and two little first time European travelers was just too much to worry about. Driving also shaved an hour off the Copenhagen to Billund trip, which was one less hour of "are we there yet" that we had to listen to.

Our biggest splurge of the entire vacation was the Legoland Hotel, and it was worth every penny* (more on this below). I can't remember ever spending more than $700 for one night in a hotel but it really was amazing for the kids. We booked a package online which included two days park admission for the four of us plus breakfast, and I could almost justify the high price in my mind. The hotel is connected to the park so you can avoid the long lines at the gate and you can come and go as you please. Also they give the kids a pass to wear around their neck with a special security number and your cell phone number in case they get lost. Since none of us spoke more than 5 words of Danish, this was one less thing for me to worry about. My worries were for naught of course, because everyone spoke English, and all the signage was in Danish, German, and English. 

There are other options for hotels and campgrounds in Billund if you're trying to work within a budget. The packages from the hotel are expensive, but they can be a good deal because they include admission to the park. One day admission for a family of four is about $175 (obviously the dollar to kroner exchange rate varies), and there are options for a second day add on. I can't stress enough that if you're going to go, book your hotel online ahead of time (they do sell out quickly in the summer) and print out your admission tickets before you leave home.

Welcome to Cell Block 8
* All that being said, in my honest opinion the hotel is not fabulous. It's all about the children so don't expect much. The hotel was built in the late 1960s, with some additions and renovations since then but it could certainly use an update. We paid extra for a pirate themed room and we were very disappointed when we checked in and were shown to an older part of the hotel. The room looked like a Lego decorated cinder block jail cell. The boys loved it of course and didn't notice a thing because they were too busy playing with the free toys left on their beds. I was feeling very depressed, because in my mind a $700 hotel room should meet some sort of standards. 

That's more like it!
Thankfully we were rescued by Mother Nature. The day before we arrived in Denmark they were deluged by rain (the design museum I had been so excited to visit was closed from flooding) and the Hotel Legoland had some problems with water damage. I went to the front desk to complain about the wet dog smell in our room and was told that the hotel was fully booked and we were stuck. I didn't want to play the pushy American tourist card, but we did just fly more than 4,000 miles to be there. She promised to send housekeeping down to inspect, but did stress that we weren't going to be able to change rooms. The housekeeper walked in, took one sniff (while holding a bottle of the Danish version of Febreeze) and then marched back to the front desk. Within 15 minutes we were down the hall in the newer wing in a much more fabulous pirate room. The boys got a second round of free toys (gifts to the cousins then) and we happily headed into the park.

Hotel Legoland has a much needed bar and lounge with a fun cocktail menu for both kids and adults. Big C&G had a purple Harry Potter, and Little C&G ordered something in a frightening shade of fluorescent green. There are two restaurants, one which is cafeteria style (and where the breakfast buffet is served) and the Adventure Restaurant which is smaller but fancier. The Adventure Restaurant requires reservations and offers a welcome change of atmosphere after a day in the park. The prices are a bit higher but it was definitely worth it to get away from the crowds, so obviously that was our choice. There were activity books and crayons for the kids, and plenty of sophisticated Lego decor (think British Colonial meets Danish Lego) to fool us into thinking we were in an upscale restaurant. 

Breakfast the next morning was not nearly as civilized. The food is buffet style, and everyone is vying for tables so they can rush back into the park. The boys piled their plates with pumpernickel toast and smoked salmon (yes, they are strange) while I stuffed tiny packets of Nutella into my purse (not strange, don't judge). We had no agenda for day two, other than to head back to Copenhagen after lunch. The boys did another round through the park and then we finally turned them loose in the Lego Shop. As the largest Lego store in the world, we all went a little nuts buying gifts, souvenirs, and sets that hadn't come out in the US just yet. While we were checking out and heading back to the car, the skies opened up and the rain came pouring down. Perfect timing and a great excuse to leave.

There are a few important things to know about the hotel before you go. First, lower your expectations. It's for the kids, not for you. The decorations throughout are amazing, with tons of Lego sculptures, life sized statues, and wonderful little creative details. We had a Lego monkey just outside the window of our room peeking in. There are giant buckets of bricks everywhere you look and the kids are invited to make whatever they want for display on the shelves around the lobby. There is a video game room, a small putting green, a dragon in the lobby, and plenty of things to climb all over. 

Second, there is no air conditioning. From what I've read this is quite common in Scandinavia, but having the windows open with an early sunrise is not really a great thing. The kiddos were too pooped to care and pretty much zonked out as soon as they climbed into their bunk beds. We were equally exhausted but found it very hard to sleep with the stuffy warm air. 

And third, chances are you will be the only English speaking people there. All of the tourists in the park were German. We heard very little Danish, absolutely no English, and almost all German, with a few Russians wandering around. Which is a wonderful thing in a busy theme park. You know the kids are whining and complaining to their parents (that exhausted parent look needs no translation), but because it's in a foreign tongue it doesn't sound nearly as bad. 

Our two days of kid-centric adventure set us up for a wonderful rest of the vacation. The boys were pretty much game for whatever we did after that. Sometimes they needed a gentle reminder (especially in a museum) that we did just bring them to the center of the Lego universe, so we needed a little more enthusiasm from them. And if their energy was flagging, Scandinavia had plenty of Movenpick ice cream shops to search out. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Haute Cuisine in Hilton Head

We are not chain restaurant people, in case you hadn't figured that out by now. And while chain restaurants are the epitome of family friendly (generally), they are certainly not known for their culinary quality. The same goes for tourist town eateries. Most of the restaurants tend to put more thought and creativity into their t-shirt and beer koozie designs than they do into their menu. Which means we had a bit of work to do to uncover some C&G approved bars & restaurants on our recent trip to Hilton Head Island.

Up for the challenge were the C&G Grandparents, who were kind enough to invite us to join them on their vacation. Grandma C&G is the Chief Planning Officer, and her vacation planning skills are legendary. They've been most everywhere on the island and they know exactly what would appeal to our C&G sensibilities. Thankfully we travel very well together and we have very similar expectations for our food & drinks. With almost all of our activities involving just enjoying the outdoors, there wasn't much work for me to do ahead of time as far as research. Our daily schedule usually centered around when and where we would head out for drinks, and Grandma C&G already had that all figured out for us.

Our first night we struck out for cocktails at Charlie's L'Etoile Verte, as they weren't open on Sundays. So our backup plan was frozen drinks at Marleys Island Grille. Not fabulous but not bad for a plan B, and the boys were happy with sports on the overhead tv's and bowls of chips and salsa. They have a lovely outdoor patio that would be fun in warmer weather, especially as it's connected to the ice cream place next door.

Truffles on Pope Avenue was our destination for our first night of vacation dinner. We had all eaten there on past trips to Hilton Head, but this was our first time there with the boys. Its Euro-chic decor and local farm to table based menu make it the perfect C&G find. The restaurant is slightly noisy, and with a lot of booths and banquettes it is pretty easy to have kids go unnoticed. Ours were super tired so they were pretty occupied with the bread basket and the coloring activities on the kids menu. The children's menu has a nice selection of unusual (but Southern) fare, such as grilled or fried shrimp, baby back ribs, or a healthy grilled chicken breast with organic butter and sea salt. My little C&G's weren't feeling so adventurous after a full day of travel so they both ordered pasta with butter. And I was very proud of them for not falling asleep in their bowls.

We finally made it to Charlie's L'Etoile Verte during the week, and we had some absolutely wonderful cocktails. The restaurant opens at 5, and as the first ones into the lounge we claimed the biggest section of couches. The seats at the bar filled up pretty quickly but we managed to have the small lounge area to ourselves. The boys brought along some action figures, so between those and the cocktail snacks they were pretty busy. The C&G Grandparents had their usual martinis, Mr. C&G had a Sazarac, and I had my new favorite Parisian Cosmo. The friendly bartender (Jeff) was happy to improvise an Orangina for Big C&G with some oj & club soda and Little C&G had lemonade. The restaurant is a very elegant French restaurant and not a good option for dining with children, but the lounge was very welcoming for cocktails and conversation.

Santa Fe Cafe is another favorite of mine from a past trip to Hilton Head. The C&G Grandparents skipped out that night as they're not fans of Mexican food. They've joined us in the past for margaritas and guacamole on their rooftop patio, but with temps unseasonably cold the patio wasn't an option. The restaurant is upscale (higher priced) Mexican, and the dining room was filled with mostly adults. There isn't a children's menu available but they were happy to make Little C&G a cheese quesadilla. Big C&G shared fajitas with Mr. C&G, and we all enjoyed the chips, salsa, and guacamole.

A new restaurant that we tried is Ela's Blu Water Grille, on the water in Shelter Cove Harbor. The bar doesn't have a lounge area, but in nice weather the tables outside would be a good choice for cocktails with a view. Ela's has an elegant vibe, but they were still very kid friendly. The children's menu has all the usual options with a bit of a twist. The mac & cheese was penne with a cheese sauce, which was perfectly fine for Little C&G. But the pizza came French bread style and wasn't what Big C&G was expecting. The regular menu is based around the local seafood, and we were all very impressed with what we ordered. The food was excellent, the atmosphere was upscale nautical, and we all had a wonderful dinner.

For our last night together we splurged on the new restaurant, Ombra. But the first order of business of course was cocktails. We headed to Robert Irvine's Drink (the bar part of Robert Irvine's Eat) to take over the lounge couches when they opened at 5:00. Mr. C&G and I were there earlier in the week on our own and got to know the talented bartender, Peter. The lounge area is huge and the boys had their choice of dark corners and couches to play on when they weren't drinking their Shirley Temples or lemonades. The C&G Grandparents don't stray from their usual martinis, while I had a Moscow Mule made with Russian Standard vodka and Regatta ginger beer in a fancy copper mug. Mr. C&G got crafty and had Peter shake him up a "Remember the Maine", after checking they had all the ingredients.

A quick walk across the parking lot and we were on time for our 6:00 dinner reservation. Ombra is a very chic and relatively new Italian restaurant. There isn't a children's menu, but with plenty of pasta options the kids can easily be accommodated. Big C&G ordered penne with bolognese, already on the menu but scaled down for him. Little C&G asked nicely if pesto was available (it wasn't anywhere on the menu), and after a quick check with the chef he was informed that "the chef would be happy to accommodate the young gentleman." The boys were the only children in the restaurant, but with their fancy collared shirts on they knew they were expected to be on their best behavior. I'm pretty sure that we all agreed Ombra was our best dinner together on the island. The food was delicious and the C&G Grandparents are adding it to the top of the list for their next visit.

And what about the gelato part of this vacation, you might be wondering? We made several trips during the week to Pino Gelato, right next door to Ombra so we could end our vacation properly. After just 6 days on Hilton Head we earned one free cup on our frequent Pino card and were well on our way to another one. Each time the selection was different, but the family favorites were pistachio and straciatella. There are multiple locations in the south, so the boys were excited to find a Pino Gelato in the Charlotte airport while we waited for our connection home.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Parisian Cosmo

I stay far away from all the new fangled flavors of vodkas one can find these days. Salted caramel whipped cream? That's just asking for a nasty hangover. Leave it for the young twenty-somethings with healthy livers. 

I'm a classics kind of girl, Stoli orange or Stoli raspberry is more to my taste. Although Mr. C&G has an excellent recipe involving Ciroc coconut that I'll definitely have to post about. 

So when I strolled past the Chambord flavored vodka in the store the other day, I kept walking. But on a cocktail menu recently they had a Parisian Cosmo, made with Chambord vodka. I was intrigued. And so happy I ordered it. It was absolute cosmo perfection! No overly sweet tart flavor and none of that cheek-puckering that turns you into Renee Zellweger after the first sip.

The Chambord vodka has a very clean, pure, essence of raspberry flavor. Very smooth, lightly pink, and totally delicious. I'm not quite sure of the measurements yet, but I'm happy to take on the responsibility of finding out. All in the name of research, of course. Looks like I'll be making a special trip back to the store to fill up my cart. . .

Parisian Cosmo
Chambord Vodka
Splash of cranberry juice
Triple Sec
Fresh lime
Shake & enjoy!


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Dinner Theater

Mr. C&G surprised us last night with a mystery dinner reservation to celebrate Valentine's day a little early. The little C&G's and I were totally unable to guess our destination until we were circling Exchange Street looking for an elusive parking spot. And Mr. C&G let slip a vital clue, about how we were late and they were holding a special spot for us. . . 

That could only mean one thing. The seats at the kitchen bar of the always delicious Grill Room. One of our favorite restaurants, we've always wanted the premium seats overlooking all the action in the kitchen. They're available if you call ahead, and we usually remember that just as we're walking through the door. The boys were so excited to be front and center for all the action on a busy night.

The Grill Room is a very popular Portland restaurant, not particularly fancy but we did ask the boys to put on a collared shirt. Which means good behavior is expected. Of course that wasn't a problem with all the kitchen drama going on in front of us, they were so entranced that we hardly heard a peep from them the entire night.

Cocktails were the first order of business, of course, and the Grill Room has an interesting specialty cocktail menu. Mr. C&G started with a "Remember the Maine" (Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, Cheery Heering, Kubler Absinthe) and I stuck with my recent Aperol theme of a champagne cocktail (Cava, Aperol, Bitters, and a sugar cube). Big C&G ordered his oj mixed with seltzer (bubbles always make anything fancy!), and Little C&G stuck with his usual, he's a water man.

The bustling activity in front of us was fascinating and the staff was very friendly with the boys. The kitchen bar overlooks the salad prep area, the wood burning oven, and the flaming cooktops that dish up everything but the grilled steaks. Veggies were getting tossed, fry pans filled with mussels were bursting into flames with a few shots of wine, pizzas were coming and going from the oven. It was total theater for all of us. Our salad prep friend was also in charge of the pizza making, so Little C&G got to watch his custom-ordered pesto pizza being made (and ask nicely for a little extra cheese). Big C&G would have jumped over the counter to raid the caesar salad supply. 

We had a lovely grown-up Valentine's dinner with the boys, and we were all completely entertained for the evening. They got to see the backstage workings of the restaurant and the kitchen guys got to show off their skills (flames, knives, scallops . . . ). And we got to have some cocktails and conversation. A wonderful and thoughtful surprise from Mr. C&G!


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Aperol Spritz

Mr. C&G has some mad bar tending skills (of course!). So with three feet of snow deposited on our doorstep today I was in need of some major cheering up around cocktail hour. Thankfully we had the ingredients for my favorite summertime aperitif. An Aperol Spritz takes me back to our summer adventure on Lake Como. So if I close my eyes, take a sip, I can pretend I'm back on the patio at the gorgeous Hotel Belvedere in Bellagio, Italy. And not stranded in our house, surrounded by crazy children and their epic Lego battles . . . 
Ahhh. . . that's better! Cheers!

Aperol Spritz:
3 parts Prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 splash soda water
Orange garnish

Friday, February 8, 2013

Paintings & Pizza in New Haven

We do the Maine to NY drive several times during the year, and it has never occurred to me to break up the trip with a stop in New Haven (even with a giant Ikea located nearby). But after reading about the recent completion of the $14 million renovation at the Yale University Art Gallery, I thought it was worth a stop on our way back home to Maine. 

Only an hour by car from Westchester (and easily accessible on MetroNorth), the Yale University Art Gallery has a world class collection of art, both ancient and modern, that makes it well worth the trip. So much so that I texted the C&G Grandparents and told them next time they're headed into the city for a museum, get on a north bound train instead of a south bound train and head to New Haven. I was stunned by the quality of their collection and the boys were hooked when they walked into the first cathedral-like gallery filled with ancient Greek & Roman statues. 

And best of all, admission is always free. Thank you wealthy Yale alumni!

There were beautifully tiled Babylonian mosaics on the wall, and a particularly well-preserved one on the floor, that had been excavated by university students in the early 20th century. Big C&G wants to be an archaeologist when he grows up (I don't think he's realized yet it's not all Indiana Jones. . . ) so he was happy to spend at least an hour wandering from room to room. Another gallery featured some reassembled rooms from a 3rd century Dura-Europos site (in what is now Syria), excavated by students in the 1920s & 1930s. There was a very informative (and kid friendly) kiosk that showed the history of the dig and how they found and reconstructed all the pieces. 

As you travel up the floors in the museum you advance through the centuries. Each period of European & American art is very well represented. The dour looking Renaissance portraits with their ruffled collars and curly wigs were oddly entertaining to the kiddos. The collection also has some lovely Impressionist pieces, a few Picasso's and Hopper's, Mondrian's and Twombly's, just to name a few. 

We skipped over the African, Indo-Pacific, and South American collections, just in the interest of time & energy. I'm sure the boys will want to check them out next time, but I'll have to take a pass. The wooden idols look like something from my nightmares, and I always think they're about to spring to life. 

As we got towards the top (modern & contemporary) the boys enthusiasm started to rapidly decline. The comic book styles of Roy Lichtenstein briefly grabbed their interest, but we knew it was time to head out for some lunch. I know I've read about the pizza rivalries and alliances that exist in New Haven, but our choice needed to be within walking distance of the museum. The restaurant Bar was just a 5 minute walk away, and is known not only for their pizza but their in-house brewed beer.

With another 3 1/2 hours of driving ahead of us we had to skip the beer. The pizzas were absolutely delicious, very thin crust and plenty of interesting choices for toppings (mashed potatoes and bacon!). But be warned, they are huge! I wrongly assumed the nearby tables of hungry college students were sharing large sized pies, so we ordered 2 mediums and 1 small. But when our waitress arrived carrying 3 huge trays, I knew I assumed wrong. 

Another nearby lunch option would be the charming Atticus Bookstore & Cafe, directly across from the Yale University Art Gallery. They have a small area with wait service, but they also serve up tasty looking breakfast and lunch items to go. Perfect for a picnic on the pretty Yale campus in nice weather. We grabbed coffees for the car ride while the boys browsed the bookstore. The kids selection was pretty impressive and Big C&G found plenty of titles to add to his wish list. 

Next door to the Atticus Bookstore is the Yale Center for British Art. Next time we're passing through New Haven again we'll definitely have to check this museum out. With some coloring books bought at their gift shop, we were ready to hit the road back home. Coloring in the knights & castles bought us almost an hour of silence before the "can we have our iPhones" chorus kicked in. . . 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Blustery Boston, day two

Good morning Boston!
Day two in Boston and I was prepared with much more of a plan than day one. Golden rule of C&G travel, always have a plan. . . We had tickets for an 11:00 planetarium show at the Museum of Science. As much as I would have loved lounging around and enjoying the view out our 15th floor window, we had to pack up and find some quick breakfast. 

Thankfully with Quincy Market next door there were plenty of options to satisfy everyone's breakfast needs. Not too many stalls were open that early for breakfast, although I did see some people grabbing pizza slices. We each got something different and met back in the center at the long tables. The souvenir carts inside were just setting up for the day and provided a little entertainment for the kiddos while they ate their breakfast.

The incredibly ugly City Hall Plaza, built in the 1960's.
The Museum of Science is on the green line of the T (From Quincy Market get on the green T at the Government Center stop and get off at Science Park) but there is also an indoor garage if you're going by car. If you've got your car, don't bother looking for street parking to save a few dollars. Mr. C&G tried that once, dropped us off and then crossed the bridge into Cambridge to look for parking. Almost an hour later he returned, super grumpy, and the best spot he found was back in the garage. Lesson learned. 

Little C&G wants to be an astronomer when he grows up. Which means we've seen almost every planetarium show up and down the east coast. Rarely do they put out new ones, but starting in January the Museum of Science debuted "Moons: Worlds of Mystery", put together by the talented staff of the museum. It was very impressive and up to date, as things change quickly out there in the universe and Little C&G is the first to point any errors out. He was very happy with the new show, and it was perfect for kids 7-8ish & up. 

After the show (about 40 minutes run time) I knew we'd have less than an hour to explore the museum before the boys lost interest and started melting down. Big museums can be very overwhelming and I've found that no matter what activity it is, the boys are only good for about 2 hours. It's important to always assume you'll be coming back so you can take the pressure off yourselves. Don't try to see and do everything all in one day, and when the meltdowns start you know it's time to bail and search for some cocktails. And gelato!

Practicing his retrieval skills at the SHIPWRECK! exhibit.
I knew we'd be at the museum around lunchtime, and there's absolutely nothing satisfying about greasy overpriced cafeteria food. Usually served up with noisy and equally overstimulated kids. When making my travel plans I always try and find some lunch or cocktail options in whatever neighborhood we're going to be in. In this case, I found us a quiet spot across the river for lunch at the ArtBar restaurant in the Royal Sonesta hotel. Just a short 5 minute walk across the bridge into Cambridge and the first left onto Edwin H Land Boulevard, the Royal Sonesta is on the waterfront overlooking the Charles River. 

The hotel is a top rated hotel for families (we've never tried it, but that's what their website says), and the restaurant was chic enough that we didn't feel like we were dining in a chain hotel. The boys loved the kids menu, with a choice of goldfish, carrot sticks, or fruit as a starter. The goldfish came in a little cocktail bowls, which Little C&G felt were not for sharing with Big C&G. Mr. C&G and I had some fun appetizers , like deep fried mac & cheese egg rolls and sweet potato tater tots to go with our cocktails. We were all able to relax with some food and a much needed change of scenery. 

Other neighborhood options include the Hotel Marlowe across the street, which we have stayed in and it is absolutely wonderful. Their restaurant is also nice (a little fancier), while still being family friendly, with plenty of tasty options for lunch. Next to the Marlowe is the CambridgeSide Galleria, a typical mall with all the usual eateries if you're up for something super quick. Or for the triple crown of mall restaurants you can choose from California Pizza Kitchen, the Cheesecake Factory, or P.F. Changs. 

After our refreshing lunch nobody wanted to go back to the museum and instead we decided to get back home in time for dinner. With such gorgeous mid-winter weather, we spilt up and took our own long routes back to the hotel. I did some window shopping on Newbury Street while the boys checked out Newbury Comics and then we all met up back at the hotel. 

One overpriced valet parking bill later . . . (it's $40/day, and your "day" is up when you check out. Then the clock starts all over again, unbeknownst to us, so we had to pay $80 for our day and a half of parking. Oh well, there's always something in Boston.) and time for our little getaway to end.
Good bye Boston!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Blustery Boston, day one

We were in need of a little adventure over the MLK long weekend and Mr. C&G was in need of a late afternoon business meeting in Boston on Friday. With Boston just 2 hours away I was more than happy to pull the boys out of school a few hours early and hop in the car with an overnight bag packed for the 4 of us. 

The last few times we've stayed overnight in Boston (we've done several day trips recently), we've been branching out into other neighborhoods. Brookline is a wonderful new find for us, and Cambridge is always a favorite. This time we stayed right in tourist central, at the Marriott Custom House next to Faneuil Hall. With it being the dead of January things were pretty empty so I was looking forward to not fighting the usual crowds around Quincy Market or dodging the street performers and souvenir carts.

Marriott Custom House is best known as one of their time share vacation clubs, but we just discovered they were available as hotel rooms as well. The rooms are 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, living room & small kitchen (fridge, microwave, sink), and while I wouldn't really want to stay for an entire week, it was perfect for our short adventure. For the price ($165/night) and location, it was absolutely perfect! The boys loved having all the room to spread out and play, and there's a game room and outdoor observation deck on the top floors. The pull out sofa wasn't the most comfortable for big C&G, but little C&G loved his rollaway and said he slept "super good". 

While Mr. C&G had his meeting in the hotels cavernous "counting room", we ventured out into the bitter cold to explore. First order of business was the nearby Gap Kids to buy the boys fleece hats. Travel planner that I am completely ignored the forecast, although I think I was too focused on looking forward to temps in the upper 40's for Saturday . . . 

Triangular penne (aka Trenne)
We were headed to the North End (a short, but cold & blustery 10 minute walk away) for some Italian treats. To get a quick break from the cold we stepped inside the Salumeria Italiana, a wonderful little grocery filled with all things Italian. Pasta in every shape imaginable, cheeses and salamis hanging from the ceiling, fun cookies and cakes, all of which made us desperately miss our recent trip to Italy. Little C&G was so excited to find his absolute favorite (and of course impossible to find, even in Italy) kind of pasta called "trenne". Triangular penne. . . So 3 bags and one happy boy later we headed back out to find Mike's Pastry for some espresso (for me) and cannolis (also maybe for me). There were several gelato places on our walk that on any other day we would have been happy to sample (it is the C&G rule of travel after all), but on this day we all agreed it was much too cold for gelato.

Too many treats to choose from

Mike's came highly recommended by a very good friend, and although we were warned about the long lines it was pretty empty for an early Friday afternoon. Little C&G got very upset, because he took one look at all the treats at the counter and immediately the tears came along with "How am I going to choose". I hear ya buddy. Of course Big C&G just assumed he could get one of everything. We narrowed it down to a few things to share, and I told the boys to grab one of the little cafe tables as soon as some people got up. I didn't know (so I'm telling you all so you'll know) that the tables offer waitress service. Brilliant, no waiting in lines! So we grabbed a table, and our waitress brought over a much needed espresso, one chocolate covered cannoli, one pistachio cannoli, several macaroons, biscotti, pignoli cookies, and a cupcake. 

After our sugar fest (yes, we ate it all!), we got back in line to get some stuff to go for Mr. C&G to share during his meeting. The boys were wowed by the string coming from the ceiling that they used to tie off the pastry boxes and I'm sure they would have spent the rest of the day there, but we headed back out into the cold. We followed the red line on the sidewalk (The Freedom Trail) and it took us right past the Paul Revere house
A little history to go with our sugar. . . 
There was no line to get in and we were happy to get out of the cold for a bit so we decided to check it out. Cash only ($3.50 adults, $1.00 for the kids) and it's self guided. There was a nice gentleman guide downstairs who was happy to tell us all about the rooms and life back then. There was a "kitchen", living room, and fireplace big enough for them to stand in. Upstairs there were 2 bedrooms and a guide who was absolutely silent. If I'd known ahead of time we were going to stop by I would done a little Revolutionary War research, but I think the boys were just happy to be out of the cold for a bit. They did have fun trying to imagine living there with with lots of brothers and sisters, and they were amazed that kids back then didn't get their own rooms. . . 

We took a detour through Quincy Market to get out of the wind on our walk back to the hotel. Quincy Market is a giant food hall with lots of vendors where you can get a quick & cheap meal. Pizza, bagels, smoothies, fried rice. You name it, most likely it's here. There are tables in the center of the market and if it's nice out plenty of space outside to sit. It's usually pretty crowded with tourists and nearby office workers, but we found it pretty empty in the late afternoon. And thankfully we weren't hungry!

Back at the hotel we checked out the game room, which had foosball, pool, checkers, and some video games. Not enough to keep the boys occupied for more than 10 minutes, but it was fun to explore. The observation deck is all outside on the top floor and with the crazy winds and cold temps we couldn't be tempted out the doors. We had some time to kill before our dinner reservation so we headed back to our very spacious room and the boys spread out with their legos, I grabbed my book, and everyone was happy.

Dinner was at the slightly fancy steakhouse Del Frisco's on the waterfront. The boys know if we make them put on their collared shirts that we're going someplace nice and they have to behave accordingly. It's a pretty loud place and we were lucky to have one of the banquettes, so nobody would notice a couple of noisy boys in the midst of a lego minifigure battle. But we did insist they keep it down and there are no toys on the table after the food starts arriving (our usual C&G rules). Plenty of bread and butter kept them happy while the grownups had cocktails. 

Del Frisco's doesn't have a kids menu but they are very accommodating. There are burgers on the menu, and I'm sure they could do a grilled cheese on a burger bun, or they're happy to make up a bowl of linguini with butter and cheese. The sides are also great to share with the kids and the onion rings come big enough to put on your wrist (a big hit). We split the giant lemon cake for dessert (be warned, it's huge!) and then headed back out into the cold. Del Frisco's is accessible on the silver T line, or it would have been a short cab ride back to our hotel. We had our car because we had a guest with us and both the hotel and the restaurant have valet parking.

Part of my original plan was to take the boys to the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), just a short walk away from Del Frisco's and also on the waterfront, before meeting Mr. C&G and his client at dinner. I think if the weather had been nicer I would have made it happen. The ICA looks like it would be a lot of fun for the boys (modern art always seems to make them laugh) but since everyone was happy enough hanging out in the hotel I'll have to save it for another trip.