Monday, September 30, 2013

Maine Monday: Front Row at Vignola Cinque Terre

Every September our favorite Italian restaurant in Portland packs up its chef, staff, and supply of wine and heads north for the day. Grand View Farm in Greene, Maine has been supplying restaurant Vignola Cinque Terre with fresh produce for years, long before "farm to table" was the buzziest of foodie words.

Their stunning pastoral setting annually hosts Vignola's harvest dinner, a much anticipated and always sold out event. We book the babysitter months in advance, as it's an all day affair of touring the farm, enjoying cocktails in the gardens, and sitting down to an amazing multi course meal with seemingly unlimited wine pairings. It's a good thing Vignola offers shuttle bus service from their Dana Street location, although we drive up on our own and one of us draws the short straw to be the designated driver. 

Vignola is one of the little C&Gs favorite restaurants, so they're always bummed to be left out of the annual festivities. Whenever they're told to put on a collared shirt and pick a fancy restaurant in town, Vignola is their number one choice. Chef Lee Skawinski regularly takes his staff to Italy, where they tour farms and suppliers, and they bring back all that knowledge and apply it to the restaurant. Both Big C&G and Little C&G always remark how everything they order at Vignola is just as good (sometimes better) than what they had in Italy. High praise from my kiddos.

Italian food is always kid-friendly, but add in a table overlooking the kitchen and you've got bonus built in entertainment for the evening. Recently Vignola added a long table in front of their busy kitchen which can fit up to seven people, and we were lucky to find it available on a recent Sunday evening. 

Vignola has an extensive list of wines by the glass, most of which are from vineyards the staff has visited. If you've drawn the short straw for the evening, they offer 3oz tasting size glasses so you'll have something to toast with when your youngsters order up one of their Italian sodas. After ordering charcuterie (the little salamis were Little C&Gs favorite thing ever), pizza, and pastas, we all sat back and enjoyed the hustle, bustle, and flames directly in front of us. A lovely Italian evening, without the scramble for passports and Alitalia tickets. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Autumn Manhattan

The only way to celebrate the first weekend of fall is with an autumn Manhattan. With a hint of apples, nutmeg, and cinnamon, it's incredibly delicious. After spending the entire afternoon on the soccer field I was very thankful Mr. C&G met me at the door with this lovely concoction.

The Stormy Scot has been my beverage of choice for the past week, so it's nice to have another tasty fall beverage to switch it up with. Now if I just didn't have to get dinner ready . . .

Autumn Manhattan
2 oz bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
1 oz Laird's Applejack (or apple brandy)
1 oz sweet vermouth (Cocchi di Torino)
2 dashes bitters (Fee Brothers)
Combine in a cocktail shaker filled with ice
Shake and pour into a martini glass
Garnish with a slice of apple

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Playgrounds of Newport

The Lady of The Breakers
Looking for a fun fall road trip? You know we can't stick around home for too long, so once our soccer Sundays come to an end we'll be free to head out on some fall adventures. By then the leaves will be long gone, and we'll need to point the car south to enjoy the brilliant colors of fall.

Rhode Island is a do-able three hour drive from Portland (also only three hours from NYC) and the charming waterfront town of Newport is a great place to explore. The cooler temperatures chase away the sailing enthusiasts, making fall a perfect time to visit. Plus you might actually be able to find a parking spot along busy Thames Street.

Touring beautiful mansions along the Atlantic Ocean sounds like the perfect girls getaway, but I was surprised that my little C&Gs enjoyed touring the former "cottage" of railroad baron Cornelius Vanderbilt almost as much as I did. The Breakers is the most kid-friendly of the nine mansions open to the public, both because of its grand scale and its wonderful children's audio guide.

The special kids audio guide (free with admission) gives them a room by room tour of the iconic mansion. They get to hear what life was like growing up in such an elegant and extravagant house. Standing in the great hall, the little C&Gs could totally imagine stealing trays from the kitchen to slide down the grand staircase, as one of the lucky residents described. Of course there are plenty of security guards standing by, just in case they get any crazy ideas. The kids audio guide mostly matches up with the adult audio guide so you can wander along together.

The lawn at Rosecliff
While you're browsing the amazing selection of books in the gift shop (fictional Gilded Age stories, high fashion coffee table books, biographies of the illustrious Vanderbilts, etc.), send the kiddos out to run wild across the most beautiful backyard in the country. The flat expanse of green goes right up to the crashing Atlantic (The Breakers was named for the waves crashing into the rocks below), and the ocean views (and ocean breezes) are stunning.

Check the website for the opening times of the various mansions, as some close for the season on October 14. The Breakers, The Elms and the Marble House remain open through January 1, and are decorated in true Gilded Age splendor for the holidays.

Tickets are available online, and you can print them out before you leave home. We went for The Breakers plus one ticket ($24.50/adult, $6.50/kids 6-17), allowing you to pick one other mansion to tour, but honestly nothing quite measured up after a few hours at The Breakers. I enquired about the special Bed & Breakfast package, but nothing was available. At least that's what the friendly security guard following me around said.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cocktails Hawaiian Style, at House Without a Key

Hawaii has been the topic of conversation around the house lately, from the little C&Gs, and I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe it's because of the cooler weather, or maybe they overheard the C&G Grandparents talking about future travel plans when they were visiting this past weekend.

We can't be the only ones dreaming of Hawaiian sunshine and tropical cocktails as we turn on the heat and unpack all our winter sweaters. But being East Coasters with a drained travel budget, Hawaii is not happening anytime soon. If you're lucky to have the island of Oahu on your upcoming holiday travel agenda, I've got a great family friendly place for cocktails, dinner, and a little hula dancing right in downtown Honolulu on Waikiki Beach.

Three generations of C&G cocktailers
There is no shortage of fabulous hotels overlooking the legendary beaches of Waikiki, but the luxurious House Without A Key at the Halekulani Hotel is the place to relax with a cocktail under the palm trees. The outdoor patio juts right into the ocean with no sand between you, your cocktail, and the lapping waves. Surfers ride the crests off in the distance and Diamond Head volcano glitters under the setting sun. Nightly Hawaiian music starts at 5:30, which is perfect timing for cocktails and an early family dinner (early is key with the six hour time difference).

House Without A Key was made famous in the 1925 Charlie Chan novel, but your kiddos will remember it as a place with plenty of room to roam, entertaining Hawaiian music, and a long list of fun, frosty beverages. I love a good cocktail list that offers just as many choices for your underage drinkers as for your overage drinkers. Big C&G loved the exotic smoothie choices like guava and passion fruit, while Little C&G ordered a few different lemonades before running off to watch the surfers riding the waves.

There are some super fancy dining and bar options at the Halekulani, but stick with House Without A Key when your crew gets hungry for dinner. The patio takes on a more loungy vibe as the sun goes down, and it was starting to get breezy so we headed for the tables indoors. Because it's a hotel the choices on the kids menu were pretty extensive, and it came with crayons and activities to keep the little C&Gs busy while we shared some fun appetizers.

We didn't stay at the Halekulani, our hotel was on the other side of the island, and we made the trip into downtown Honolulu just for a visit to House Without A Key. The food was as amazing as the view, and I would endure another 21 hour flight just for a slice of their signature coconut cake.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Maine Monday: Wannawaf

*** So sad to report, but we just heard Wannawaf has closed its doors. They still have their seasonal location in Boothbay Harbor, so be sure to stop by next summer. 

If I were twenty years younger, this could quite possibly be my favorite restaurant in Portland. Wannawaf is open till 2:00am on Fridays and Saturdays, and I can't think of a better way to end a night of bar hopping through the Old Port than eating waffles covered in powdered sugar and maple syrup before heading home to bed. 

But I'm old, I have kids, and I'm usually asleep by the time the young folks are heading out the door to start the evening. So I think we'll stick to visiting Wannawaf while the sun is still up. Waffles are delicious any time of day, no matter what side of the drinking age you fall on.

The cheerful teal and red interior is a welcoming spot in Portland's Monument Square and you can get just about anything baked into your Belgian style waffle. Waffle-ize a grilled cheese or a cheeseburger, add some popcorn chicken for a Southern favorite, or skip to the sweet side of the menu and top it with ice cream for a truly decadent treat. 

Big C&G went with the classic breakfast theme and added in some bacon. Little C&G and I couldn't choose so we had a plain waffle smothered in syrup and scooped up every last crumb. Mr. C&G had a falafel waffle (challenge the kiddos to say that three times fast) and it was bizarre but amazing. 

After placing your order be sure to send the kiddos down to the end of the counter to watch waffle magic happen. The giant waffle irons sputter and steam as they pour in the batter with the yummy add-ins. Gluten-free options are available, if you're like me and occasionally follow Dame Goopy Gwyneth. Wannawaf is open 10:00am to 10:00pm Tuesday through Thursday, 11:00am to 2:00am Friday and Saturday, and early on Sunday for the perfect brunch food, 8:00am to 8:00pm. Now if they could just add in a cocktail menu for us early bird special diners. . . 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The French Connection

I am going back to school. Every year when we come back from Europe I am appalled at our inability to speak more than one language. In Austria and Switzerland everyone we met switched effortlessly between German, Italian, French or English. In the northern part of Italy signs were in German and Italian and we couldn't understand either. Unless it involved food, wine, or cocktails. That we could translate.

Traveling always fires me up to make changes when we get home, and this year I've decided to stop procrastinating and finally sign up for a French class. I studied French for years when I was younger, but it was so long ago I can barely remember how to écouter et répéter. I've convinced a friend to sign up with me and together we'll dust off our brain cells and hope it comes back painlessly. This lovely cocktail will certainly help our study sessions go by quickly.

The French Connection
1 oz Grand Marnier
3 oz Cognac (we used Saint Vivant Armagnac)
Combine in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake and strain into a martini glass
À votre santé!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Stylish Seat of Parliament

The thoroughly modern debating chamber
One year from today there could be an independent Scotland, as they vote to break away from the UK on September 18, 2014. Scottish teams could compete at the Winter Olympics in Russia, and Andy Murray could fly the blue and white flag when he steps onto center court at Wimbledon in 2015.

The Acts of Union in 1707 merged the kingdoms of Scotland (independent from the 13th century) and England to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. A historic vote in 1997 established a Scottish National Parliament in Edinburgh, and they broke ground on the new building in 1999. Doors opened for the first session of Scottish Parliament in October 2004, with Queen Elizabeth leading the procession. Whatever the SNP decides next year, they have one architecturally stunning place to rule from.

The stairs leading to the chambers
In a city where the "New Town" dates from the late 1700s, it's shocking to see the concrete, steel and glass building sitting at the base of Edinburgh's historic Royal Mile. The Scottish National Parliament building is open to the public and a definite must-see. Government buildings aren't usually on the top of our sightseeing list, but this award winning structure is jaw-dropping gorgeous. Plus it's across from the 500 year old Palace of Holyroodhouse and a great place to sit down after all that royal wandering.

The modern design isn't everyone's cup of tea, and there's been quite a bit of controversy surrounding its construction. The architect went for an interpretation of the Scottish landscape made out of concrete, stone, glass and wood. With the natural wonder of Arthur's Seat in the background it certainly stands out of the landscape. Coming in way over budget probably didn't help the public opinion of the normally staid Scots, but it works as a symbol of a government looking to move towards the future.

After passing through the required metal detectors you'll enter the soaring steel, glass, and oak lobby. There are children's guides at the information desk, but really just let them lead the way as you explore. If Parliament isn't sitting you can head up the stairs into the stunning debating chamber. You're allowed to sit in the viewing gallery and there's an amazing view out the back windows. The little C&Gs loved watching the people trek their way up Arthur's Seat, watching them get smaller as they reached the peak at 822 feet.

The grounds surrounding the building are beautiful and equally modern, and with such a vertical, ancient city it can be difficult finding some flat green spaces to let your kiddos run wild. Sit back on one of the concrete benches and let them get their inner Highlander out while you admire the thoroughly Scottish mix of ancient and avant grade. And pretend you have enough energy to summit Arthur's Seat, if only it weren't so close to cocktail time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Other Changing of the Guards

The military band leads the way
With the mercury rising north of 30ºC (86ºF) on our visit to London, we were completely unmotivated to join the pre-royal-birth masses in front of Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guards. I can't imagine how those wool clad guardians of the Queen make it even ten minutes in the oppressive heat, much less marching their way down the Mall. We could barely make it two blocks in our shorts and tees, and neither of the little C&Gs were wearing a big, black, fuzzy bearskin hat.

London may get all the glory when it comes to putting on a daily royal show, but Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm also have palaces (and royalty) that need guarding. The Royal Guards of Stockholm are the most entertaining of the three and a definite must-see while visiting Scandinavia. Every day at 12:15 (1:15 on Sundays and holidays) the Royal Guards march from the Army Museum to the courtyard of the Royal Palace. The accompanying military band performs during the summer months, and the mounted Royal Guards occasionally make an appearance.

The outgoing guards ready for a nap
The blue rope inside the palace courtyard marks the public viewing area and makes an excellent place for your little travelers to grab a spot. The best seats are just outside the information and ticket office. The little C&Gs sat down on the cobblestones and pulled out their Papo action figures (knights on horseback) and started their own Scandinavian battle while they waited. You'll hear the loud footsteps and the music echoing off the old stone buildings long before you see the blue and yellow uniformed band appear.

All that pomp and pageantry is very impressive, and while the royal family no longer lives at the royal palace, you'd never know it from the serious looks on the young mens faces marching by. The boys absolutely loved the guards pointy silver hats and they got a great view from our vantage point in the courtyard. After the outgoing guards switch places with the incoming guards (lots of shouting and Monty Python style walking) the band will put on a very entertaining show. They perform for thirty minutes, which was about fifteen minutes longer than the little C&Gs attention span.

When it all comes to an end, head inside the royal palace courtyard for a much needed snack. The outdoor cart offers up salads, pastries, and beverages. We were surprised to find giant slices of watermelon for sale (watermelon and Sweden, not two things I'd usually put together), and with the greatest possibility for messiness of course that's what the boys chose. I had a giggle at the water station on the back of the cart. It's tap water, straight from the taps of the old royal palace, available for free in giant jugs labeled "Royal Tap Water". The little C&Gs were feeling very royal after having a jug poured over their sticky watermelon covered fingers.

Check the website of the Swedish Armed Forces for more info and schedules of the Royal Guards. I'll bet their British counterparts would pay a royal sum to switch places for the summer months.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Maine Monday: Cider Sundays at CMBG

Fall is a beautiful time of year at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. The bright colors of summer have dulled into gorgeous golds, oranges, and reds. With the slight chill in the air and the earthy smell of fall, a walk through the woods with the kiddos is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Best of all the traffic going up Rt. 1 lightens and you can actually get a parking spot on the drive through Wiscasset. Definitely stop if you didn't get your Red's lobster roll over the summer, or just for a walk around the adorable little town.

For the next four Sundays the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is bringing back "Cider Sundays", where you can learn all about the process of pressing apples into cider. The little C&Gs loved doing this last year and were amazed at how much effort it takes for so little juice. They each got a turn at the press, and Little C&G had to call in some extra muscle from his big brother as it was incredibly hard to crush down the apples.

The meditation garden in Fall
It takes 30-40 apples just to make one gallon of delicious cider, and the boys made it through only 5-6 apples before their arms gave out. Thankfully they had quite a few jugs going so we did get to try some fresh out of the press and we were all rewarded for their hard work.

Cider Sundays run September 22 through October 13 from 1:00 to 3:00 and it's free with admission. The Botanical Gardens are just over an hour from Portland, and admission is $14 for adults and $6 for kids 3-17. Check out my summer post on the CMBG for food suggestions if you get hungry on your way through Brunswick. Donuts and gelato are conveniently at the halfway point in this walkable college town.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Stormy Scot

It was a dark and stormy night. . . and the Lady of the Manor was sitting by the roaring fire, awaiting the arrival of her evening cocktail. Something with the faint scent of the windswept Highlands, with just a hint of burnt orange. She could hear the bottles of whiskey being taken down from the high shelves above the mahogany bar, and smiled at the sound of ice rattling in the stainless steel shaker. . .

Or at least that's the little movie I've been playing in my head over the past few days. We've had two days of non-stop torrential rain and booming thunder, with occasional flashes of lightening. All of which I'm perfectly happy with because it fits right in with my "we're still in the UK" dream. In reality it's been back to school, back to errands, and back to driving (on the right side of the road) the boys all around town to their various activities. So it's definitely time for a cocktail.

Mr. C&G had a classic Dubliner the other night (Irish whisky, Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters), so I challenged him to make me a Scottish version to match the gloomy weather outside tonight. Slàinte!

The Stormy Scot
2oz blended Scotch whisky
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
1/2 oz sweet vermouth (Cocchi di Torino)
dash of orange bitters
Combine in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Onto the Pitch at Wembley

Through the famous tunnel onto the pitch
World Cup soccer (or football, as Little C&G refers to it) fever has started in our house, with all the World Cup qualifiers currently going on. Unfortunately we don't get a lot of European games broadcast here, but ESPN on Apple TV has a long list of matches available to watch on demand. Thank goodness! Little C&G watched the Germany vs. Austria game over the weekend and happily cheered many of his favorite Bayern Munich players on to German victory.

Before heading to the UK in July, I gave each boy the chance to be in charge for one day in London. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Little C&G picked a tour of Wembley Stadium, scene of Bayern's fifth UEFA Cup championship win back in May. He couldn't wait to follow in the footsteps of his favorite players, climbing the 107 steps to the Royal Box and hoisting an imaginary trophy over his head to the sound of 90,000 cheering fans.

If your little London travelers are fans of the English Premiere League teams, Chelsea and Arsenal also offer tours and both stadiums are easily reached on the Tube. Check the websites ahead of time for the tour schedule and to book your tour online. We couldn't commit to a time (sleeping in, late lunches, etc), but with tours running every half hour (during the summer and school holidays) at Wembley we easily got spots on the next available tour.

Beckham sweated here
Our tour started in the famous red seats of the  recently renovated (2007) stadium. Our guide filled us in on all the important facts, figures, and architectural marvels that make up the second largest stadium in Europe (Camp Nou, home turf of FC Barcelona is number one). The one fact that the little C&Gs still remember is that there are a record number of toilets in the stadium, 2,618 to be exact. And I'm sure there's never a line at the ladies loo.

We also got a behind the scenes look at a locker room, one of four that are used during games. After suiting up in the locker room the only place left to go is out onto the pitch, and we followed the path through the famous tunnel and out onto the field. It took all my effort to not yell "Hello Wembley" at the top of my lungs. From the field we walked up the 107 steps to the Royal Box, posed with a replica trophy for the souvenir photos (for an extra charge), and then finished up the tour inside where we started.

Of course the only way to end a C&G outing is with cocktails, and thankfully St. Pancras Station was a quick ride away on the Metropolitan Line. The beautifully renovated St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel was on my list to check out on account of their retro-chic Bookings Office Bar.

It's a dramatic, high-ceilinged, old world leather and wood bar straight out of the 19th century, with an equally vintage cocktail menu. We ordered a few bar snacks (we skipped the haggis bon bons. . . ) to go along with our drinks, and sat back and relaxed into the leather club chairs. All that soccer action was exhausting!

Wembley Stadium is easily reached on the Jubilee and Metropolitan lines, get off at the Wembley Park Station and you can't miss it as you exit the tube station. Family tickets are £41 (roughly $65USD) for the 75 minute tour of the stadium. The gift shop has merchandise for the English and Scottish national teams, but not for the rest of the Premier League teams, just in case you have a little fan (Little C&G) looking for something specific.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Maine Monday*: Organic Apple Picking

Fall comes very early here in Maine. It always catches me by surprise, because I grew up in upstate New York, where fall arrives in October and could easily continue straight through Thanksgiving. It's not until Halloween that I usually realize it's time to go hunting for apples and by then the pickings are slim and the scenic foliage is long past it's prime. But this year I'm determined to make it before candy corn has disappeared from the shelves.

Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, Maine is our favorite place for apple picking. It's a trek to get out there, just over an hour driving time from Portland, but we load the boys into the car with a pile of books and it makes for a nice weekend drive. It's totally worth it for Ricker Hill's organic orchards, corn maze, obstacle course, farm activities, and of course apple cider donuts.

The pick-your-own orchards are up a long dirt road past the farm. You'll wind through orchards, past the cranberry bog (again, we're always too late to see the cranberry harvest and it just looks like a big muddy field) and to the top of the hill where the view is spectacular, foliage or not. There are wagons for the kiddos to pull their haul along (or usually it's us pulling them) and after paying for your bags (organics are extra) off you go into the orchard. It's divided into three sections, non-organic and organic with a "semi-organic" row or two separating them.

The biggest hit of the day is the apple sling shot, where you pay for a bucket of rotten apples (genius, from the farmers point of view) and then you can have at it till your bucket runs out. They make such a satisfying splat no matter where they land. After a few rounds its back down to the farm to try the bouncy house, corn maze, hay climb, and obstacle course. All the activities are extra and you pay at the shop while you're picking up a bag of hot cinnamon sugar donuts and gallons of cider.

If you're feeling lazy and don't want to venture past Portland, you can pick up Ricker Hill organic apples and cider at Whole Foods and Hannafords. Just make sure the kids wait till they get home to start sling-shotting their apples.

* writing ended up on the back burner yesterday when I realized none of the little C&Gs sports equipment fit. How I didn't figure this out in the past four weeks, I really don't know . . . but with school activities starting up this week it's really time to snap out of my end-of-vaca denial!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Queens

As in the borough, not Her Majesty. Cheers to us all for making it through the first week of September, and for most of us the first week of school. If that doesn't call for a cocktail, I don't know what does. Time to put Mr. C&G to work.

Negroni and Aperol season is sadly coming to an end. It just doesn't feel right sitting back with our summery Italian favorites when there's a slight chill in the air. The Queens is a variation of the classic Manhattan, which is perfect for this transitional season.  

The Queens
1 oz gin
1 oz dry vermouth (Lillet Blanc)
1 oz sweet vermouth (Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
1 oz pineapple juice
Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and enjoy!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Back to the Books, British Style

Cocktails with a side of Horrible Histories
Before our adventure this summer I was on the hunt for some children's books about our destinations and not having much luck. Most of the selections were either too young or too old, and it was hard to find something that struck the right balance between entertainment and engaging history lessons.

The talented illustrator Miroslav Sasek has a very charming This is. . . book series, all written in the 1960s. There are 18 books illustrating some great cities, such as New York, Venice, Israel, and more. The drawings of the iconic landmarks are beautifully done and timeless, so we picked up This is London and This is Edinburgh to prepare the boys for some of the sights.

Little C&G found the Dodsworth book series at the library and the story about Dodsworth and his duck getting lost around London was perfect for him. Dodsworth in London is geared for the K-2 set and there's also a Paris, New York, and Tokyo version for your little travelers.

Big C&G had just started reading the Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix and the second book Sent centers around the mystery of the missing princes who disappeared from the Tower of London in the mid 1400s. History really came to life for him as he brought it to London and read it right before our visit to the Tower of London.

I hit the jackpot for both boys while touring the Tower of London gift shop. Horrible Histories is a wildly successful British tv show and book series over in the UK, but of course on this side of the pond I'd never heard of it. Their Gruesome Guides tell the stories of various cities in a way that 8 and 11 year old boys truly want to hear. It's all about beheadings, plagues, blood, guts, wars, and of course plenty of  toilet humor. Because Medieval Europe was never known for its sanitary conditions. I bought them the London, York, Edinburgh, and Dublin guides and the boys had their noses buried in them for a full three straight weeks. They were more than happy to fill us in on the bloody histories as we ate lunch along the River Thames, toured the ancient walls of York, climbed to the top of Edinburgh Castle, and we finally learned what happened to poor Molly Malone on the streets of Dublin's fair city. Alive, alive, oh.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sweatin' with the British Oldies

When you're on vacation in a big city that's rarely hit with high temperatures, where's the first place you think of to take shelter from the soaring mercury? A museum, right? Generally that would be the wisest idea, to wander the halls admiring centuries old paintings in their climate controlled habitat.

However this doesn't apply when the works of art are ancient Greek and Roman statues. That was our "d'oh" moment when we walked into the British Museum and joined the other sweaty masses trying to get a glimpse of the famous Rosetta Stone and the sculptures of the Parthenon. London had record setting temps this past July, and we learned the hard way that the British government has no interest in cooling down stone and marble statues that survived thousands of years out in the harsh Mediterranean sun.

Thankfully the British Museum is free, so we didn't feel bad picking just a few ancient treasures to seek out before heading back outside in search of gelato. The information desk had several kid friendly activities for the boys to choose from, including adventure backpacks (free with a £10 deposit) and a handheld multimedia guide (£3.50 fee for under 12s, reserve online) to take them through one of the world's best museums. The little C&Gs barely had enough energy for carrying around the paper kids guide to the Greek and Roman galleries so we didn't push it and just let them wander, taking lots of breaks for water and just sitting on the cool stone benches. Had the conditions been better I'm sure we all could have happily spent a few hours wandering the galleries and exploring the hands on and kid friendly activities on offer.

Before we braved the crowds at the British Museum, we made a quick stop for lunch at Jamie Oliver's Union Jacks restaurant, conveniently between the Tottenham Court Road tube station and the museum. We slept in that morning thanks to the silly time zone change and totally missed breakfast. I love Jamie Oliver, he's a cheeky bloke who's passionate about good food, and as a dad of four he knows what kids like to eat. His wood fired pizzas were a big hit, especially because we ordered them with a side of mushy peas.

After sweating our trousers off (the boys giggled every time we said "pants", it's British for undies) at the British Museum we had all earned a few scoops of gelato. Just a five minute walk from the museum is Gelateria Danieli, where we were happy to grab a few scoops and sit under some shady trees enjoying the breeze. Even the freezer cases were working overtime in the heatwave and our gelato was melting before it made it to our cones, but it was still delicious.

The British Museum is open every day from 10:00 to 17:30 (5:30pm) and admission is always free. The website has a great section for the kiddos to explore before their visit. Check online for the list of galleries open late on Friday nights. It's a great way to keep your family going if you've just arrived from the US and haven't quite adjusted to the time change. Plus it's less crowded, because Brits like to spend their Friday nights out on the town, not hanging with the mummies.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Summer wrap up

Sadly it's time for summer 2013 to come to a close. Our days of adventure are behind us (for now) and it's time to get back to school and back to our daily routines. We had a full week of nightly tears after returning from our trip to the UK and Ireland (not just from me), but things have settled down and we're ready to get back to reality.

The little C&Gs are not too thrilled about returning to academic life, so we've had several discussions about how I am not going to home school them while we wander the world. For many, many reasons, the least of which is we'd run out of money before we got to the departures gate at Logan airport. So it's off to school, back to work, and back to blogging for us all.   

We love these maps from the National Geographic online store, they hang in the playroom and are a nice reminder of where our travels have taken us. The maps can be personalized when you order them, and Mr. C&G used his mad computer skills to print out a color key for the pins. Red is for where we've been as a family, green and yellow are for places we've visited without the kiddos in tow. Once the jet lag wore off from our adventures across the pond (a full five days after returning home) the boys were excited to add some new red pins to our European map. 

During my three week blogging vaca I joined Instagram and have been posting a photo from our past travels every day. The whole hash tag thing seems so foreign to me, but it's been easy to just pick a random photo and upload it. You can find me there as "cocktailsandgelato", and I'd include a link if it weren't so complicated for this forty-something blogger to figure out. I'm sure Big C&G could give me a tutorial if he weren't so busy enjoying every last minute of his summer vacation. Cheers to you all on this Labor Day and C&G will return on Wednesday.