Thursday, October 31, 2013

Quebec City vs. Pac Man, Game On!

I have two words that will have your kiddos packing up their suitcases and making a break for the border. Video games. The Museum of Civilization (Musée de la Civilisation) in Quebec City has an extensive interactive exhibit on the history of video games, running now through March 16, 2014. We visited last weekend on a quick getaway trip, and I guarantee you if we told the boys we were making the 5+ hour drive again tomorrow they'd be in the car before I finished the sentence. Also it helps that I still haven't unpacked.

Montréal might be chicer and more cosmopolitan, but Quebec City is the beautiful classic Grande Dame of the province. Walking around the streets of the Old Town listening to the unfamiliar sounds of Québecois could easily have you thinking you've stepped back in time. It's hard to believe the only walled city in North America is also home to a thriving and highly successful video game industry.

Four top design studios have offices in Quebec City, making use of the giant abandoned industrial warehouses left over from the glory days of ship building and shoe making. Together along with MO5, a French non-profit working to preserve video game history, they've created the amazing exhibit Game Story/Jeux Vidéo at the Museum of Civilization. It presents a complete history of video games from Pong (1972) to Assassin's Creed (2013), and the chance to play more than 80 of them on their classic consoles.

Showing off the primitive graphics of what we all grew up with was incredibly amusing, and the exhibit is grouped into seven different time periods. I'd forgotten how simple the original Pac Man and Donkey Kong looked, nothing like their arcade versions you see nowadays. The little C&Gs ran from station to station, following the well-written and bilingual instructions at each terminal to play a few rounds of each. Who even knew there was a Miami Vice game, circa 1986?

We spent almost two hours in that exhibit, and the boys got to try their skill at everything from classics all the way up to the high definition best sellers of today. I failed miserably at "Dance Dance Revolution", but did discover the addictiveness of Angry Birds (now fully loaded on my iPad).

I'll write up more on our trip to Quebec City next week (hoping to inspire you as you plan your long weekend or holiday travel), but of course I can't post a museum without a good nearby lunch place. A five minute walk will bring you to La Piazzetta, where you can get delicious thin crust pizza to go with your croque of French onion soup and vin rouge. Order your pizzas as deluxe or as plain as you want, Little C&G and I skipped the escargot topping in favor of simple cheese, but Big C&G ordered his with ham and leeks and declared it magnifique!

The Museum of Civilization is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 to 5:00, and is located in the Old Town on Rue Saint Pierre. Admission for adults is $15CAD, children under 12 are free, and from ages 13-17 admission is $1CAD. Everything in the museum is presented in both English and French, but because I'm taking French Mr. C&G handed me the French audio guide for the Paris exhibit. I understood only half of it, but thoroughly enjoyed the French background music!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Travel Tips Tuesday: Gear I Love

I don't know about you but a trip through airport security these days is fraught with all kinds of anxiety, fumbling, shouting, and undressing. It's like a bad Judd Apatow movie, or if you're in your forties (like me) more like every Woody Allen movie.

Trying to keep the suitcases together, the kids organized, 8 electronic devices out and in the right bins all while taking off your shoes, scarves and sweaters is next to impossible. Add to that my inner panic over the TSA agent directing any member of my family to the full body scatter scanner (if it's banned in Europe then it's banned for me too) and it's no wonder my little plastic baggie of travel size liquids breaks open at the most inconvenient times.

Three of my last four trips through security involved the dropping or ripping open of my cheapo sandwich baggie filled with all my liquid necessities. Imagine my horror as I watched shampoos and sunscreens skid across the floor at Atlanta's airport (could it have happened at a busier airport??). Mr. C&G corralled all the stuff while reminding me to swing by our local travel store for some sturdier bags after we got home.

TripQuipment just outside of Portland is the go to place for all my guide books, travel accessories, and hopefully someday my full set of Rimowa luggage. Sam carries everything you could possibly need for any adventure near or far, and was more than happy to suggest the solution to my containment problem.

AirQuart bags are totally TSA compliant, made of sturdy vinyl, and made in nearby Massachusetts. I love that it can stand on its own and the bright colored trimming makes it stand out against the black interior of my giant handbag. Plus it has a handy handle, which means no launching it into the crowds on our next run through the airport. Stop by and see Sam (tell him C&G sent you) or order it online, and it will be one less thing to worry about this upcoming busy holiday travel season. I'll see you in the cocktail lounge, with all my Kiehl's still in one piece.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Maine Monday: Grace and a Show

Where's Wynton?
We are truly lucky to have some fabulous shows come to the Merrill Auditorium in Portland. We've taken the little C&Gs to see Winton Marsalis, Blue Man Group, Potted Potter, and Stomp. The Portland Symphony Orchestra also puts on quite a bit of children's programming, and we've also gone to see their open rehearsals, free and open to the public.

The little C&Gs have some favorite pre-theater dinner spots within walking distance to the Merrill Auditorium. But busy Friday nights in downtown Portland can make dinner reservations (and parking) tough, and add in a popular show at the Merrill and it's almost impossible.

Birds-eye view of the open kitchen below
Thanks to OpenTable we booked a last minute table at the cavernous Grace restaurant before going to see the Blue Man Group. Grace is on the same block as the Merrill and a short five minute walk makes it a perfect pre-theater spot. Its a spacious open concept restaurant built into a renovated former church and popular for events (a no-brainer for a wedding reception) or an elegant grown up night out. But it never occurred to me it would be a fun place to bring the kiddos.

The little C&Gs loved Grace and it was surprisingly very kid friendly. The boys were totally entertained by watching all the action in the busy kitchen down below (ask for a table on the second floor balcony) and the waiter offered them several kid friendly options not on the menu. They ordered some cheese and charcuterie to start the evening off while Mr. C&G and I ordered drinks from their creative and biblically themed cocktail menu.

Dinner at Grace was delicious, totally fun and a great place to go with your dressed up kiddos, pre-theater or not. Big C&G kept a close eye on his watch and we made it around the corner to the show with plenty of time to spare.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Boulevardier

The Boulevardier is the cocktail of choice these days for Mr. C&G. It's the perfect cold weather version of his summertime favorite, the Negroni. Swap out the gin with bourbon and you've got a classic drink that dates back to the days of Prohibition.

Legend has it this cocktail was created by bartender Harry McElhone in Paris at his eponymous Harry's New York Bar for the wealthy American Erskinne Gywnne. The Vanderbilt nephew obviously used his money wisely, by fleeing to Paris while the rest of our country suffered under the Volstead Act. The cocktail arrived on our shores after the 21st Amendment lifted the ban on alcohol in 1933 and it's been a staple of classy cocktail drinkers ever since.

The Boulevardier
1 1/2oz bourbon (Basil Hayden's)
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth (Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
Stir in a mixing glass filled with ice
Strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a cherry

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Laundry On the Go

Little C&G only gets messier at mealtime
One huge reason our London and Edinburgh hotels are at the top of my recommendation list is because of the in-house laundry facilities. Both came as a pleasant surprise and I couldn't have been more excited if the washer came with bar stools and an unlimited selection of cocktails. Usually I spend a morning googling "laundromats" and then head out on my own to do the annoying task while the three boys go out and explore without me.

I don't like having to miss any of the adventures, but it's worth it for the convenience of traveling light. The key to my packing success is that no matter where we're going or how long we're staying, I pack enough clothes for five days and underwear and socks for seven. We can get away with one carry-on and one large suitcase for the four of us for up to three weeks abroad.

Little C&G always gets a few extra shirts added to the pile, because he rarely makes it through a meal without spilling something on himself. His shirts are generally a food map of his day, which is fine at home (where I have an endless supply of Shout), but it's disaster on vacation. Big C&G is much neater, and other than the occasional stray ice cream sprinkle he could make it through a month without any mess.

Nothing a napkin couldn't fix
Neither hotel advertised their washer and dryer was available for guest use, and it never occurred to me that it would be a possibility. I usually follow the advice of Rick Steves who regularly includes laundry advice in his guidebooks. If we're in a bigger city I'll rely on a Google search, but even in tiny Bellagio, Italy I didn't have to walk more than ten minutes to find an available lavanderia. Next time I'm researching hotels I'm going to add "nearby laundry" to my list of questions.

I made a wrong turn out of the elevator at our London hotel and found a little hidden room complete with washer, dryer, and supply of detergent. The only thing missing was a set of directions, so what I thought was only going to take an hour or two turned into a three hour affair. For future reference, the hotter the water temperature you select on a European machine, the longer the load takes. When we checked in to our Edinburgh hotel the desk clerk mentioned the lobby laundry (complete with detailed instructions) and I almost jumped over the counter to kiss him. Because the last thing I wanted to do was drag our suitcase of dirty laundry across the bumpy cobblestones and hilly streets of Edinburgh.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Edinburgh Hotel Review: Marriott Residence Inn

Plenty of space to play in the hotel courtyard
You couldn't pay me enough money to stay in this hotel again in the month of July. But for the other eleven months of the year this would be one of my favorites. The entire UK was suffering through a heatwave last July, and I was looking forward to leaving London for the misty highlands of Edinburgh. There was no mist to be found on our arrival, just a hot and toasty hotel room with a window that barely cracked open a few inches.

The Edinburgh Marriott Residence Inn opened in 2011 in the newly developed Quartermile neighborhood and it's the only Residence Inn in the UK. The sleek apartments have hardwood floors, tastefully modern decor, and a small kitchen in the entryway. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, with plenty of room to spread out across the couch and desk area. The only negative is the window situation, half of the rooms have windows that open just a small crack, and the other half have taller windows that slide open like a patio door. We were stuck with the single cracked open window and there wasn't an inch of air that blew into the room over our three day stay.

The one window of doom
Heat definitely rises in this hotel so rooms on lower floors are what you want to request. The staff was very apologetic and helpful, bringing up two fans that we kept on high all night. I honestly don't know how a newly constructed building could have gotten approval without some sort of ventilation system. I realize air conditioning isn't needed 99% of the year in Scotland, but with no fan or air system the room was stifling. During the colder months heat comes from a wall radiator, although with no method for air circulation I'm curious how that would work out.

All that aside we truly loved the hotel. The location is perfect, a little out of the way in New Town and just a short walk (10-15 minutes) from the bustling action of the Royal Mile. The University of Edinburgh borders the neighborhood alongside a giant park so there's lots of young energy around the neighborhood. There are three modern glass buildings together in the hotel complex (two office buildings and the Marriott) and the courtyards in between are perfect car-free areas for the little ones to play.

Breakfast is included in your stay, but Peter's Yard (a Swedish bakery) is just next door with delicious baked goods, pizzas, and gelato. A Sainsbury grocery store is also right there, although we didn't find much more than porridge and alcohol in their aisles.  It's been a while since I've been a college student, but that sounds like all the necessities for dorm living.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Maine Monday: Vena's Fizz House

On the sunny corner of Fore and Silver Streets is the charming Vena's Fizz House, a "natural soda bar" and the perfect place to stop for a kid-friendly cocktail in Portland.

The front of the store is a paradise of mixology paraphernalia, and the sparkling glassware in the window is what drew us in on a Saturday afternoon walk around town. The little C&Gs made a beeline up the stairs to the back bar and quickly sat down to peruse the mocktail menu.

Vintage barware and hard to find bitters and elixirs are stocked in their retail shop, along with a great selection of cocktail books. We loved their collection of short and tall Mason jars, with clever tops and colorful straws perfect for jazzing up any beverage. Syrups of every flavor are for sale alongside tiny eye dropper bottles of bitters, key ingredients for interesting sodas at home or obscure cocktail concoctions from your in-house bartender.

Rarely do the little C&Gs get to belly up to the bar, but at Vena's Fizz House there isn't a drop of alcohol to be found so they happily pulled up a bar stool. All mocktails are $5 each, and there's a happy hour ($1 off) from 3:00-5:00 daily.

Big C&G loved having a long list of fizzy beverages to choose from, and surprisingly his favorite was a "lemon rosemarytini", garnished with a sprig of rosemary. He also stole my delicious "cinnamon coconut" with a festive topping of foam, so it was only fair we both took over Mr. C&Gs "gingertini", a cool refreshing version of my detox ginger tea. Little C&G is not a fizz fan, and there isn't anything on the menu that doesn't get a squirt or two of seltzer, but they do have regular juice for sale. They'll even put it in one of their swanky cocktail glasses, because everything always tastes better when it's fancied up.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cocktail du jour: The Macallan Clincher

Of the three cocktails we had this week, two were not blog worthy. I'm not sure if it's the changing season or my changing tastebuds, but I wasn't a fan of the vodka martini Mr. C&G made. The neutral taste was just too bland, especially after a few weeks of whisky and bourbon drinks.

The cocktail that made the cut was created by prolific cocktailer Gary Regan back in 2000 for Glenkinchie Distilleries, called the Glenkinchie Clincher. It comes from his indispensable book The Joy of Mixology, just one of many sitting on the C&G shelves. Glenkinchie is a popular Lowland malt, light in taste and color and one of the standard bottles you'll find behind any bar. Except ours, so a Macallan 12 year makes a good substitute.

Our bottle of Macallan is super-sized, a 1.75 litre duty free special, so it dwarfed everything in my photo. Rest assured that is not a shot glass sized cocktail on the C&G bar. The Macallan Clincher has a nice bit of sweetness with the addition of the Amaretto and just a hint of orange from the Cointreau. A well balanced cocktail to end an autumn day.

The Macallan Clincher
2 oz single malt whisky
1/2 oz Amaretto di Saronno
1/2 oz Cointreau
Stir together in a shaker filled with ice
Strain into a cocktail glass or chilled martini glass

Thursday, October 17, 2013

London Hotel Review: Park Plaza Westminster Bridge

This view and a glass of wine, balcony perfection
Hotels in London are expensive. Painfully expensive. Like you could buy a new car for the price of a few weeks expensive. My original plan for our summer 2013 vacation was to rent a flat (apartment) for the month of July, live like locals, and also take advantage of cheap airfares to get out and explore other European cities.

London is the center of the European financial world, so there are plenty of short term corporate rentals available. But with billions of pounds flowing in and out of the capital, money is usually no object. Sadly this isn't the case with C&G, and my plan came to a serious halt when I was quoted £500 per night by several rental agencies. A night. There were no monthly rates, especially in the height of summer with a royal baby on the way, so I politely declined the £15,000 (which worked out to a jaw dropping $24,000) and tried to come up with plan B.

Our 30 days in London became 10, leaving money in the budget for visiting other UK cities and maybe a swanky cocktail or two. After an exhaustive search, aided by my trusty DK Family Guide to London, I settled on the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge for their spacious two bedroom suites. Conveniently available for ten nights in a row and with an advanced purchase summer sale the price came in under the £500/night C&G debt ceiling.

The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge hotel opened in 2010, so everything is ultra modern, shiny and new. The top two floors offer studios, one and two bedroom suites, and all suites come with outdoor balconies and the best views in London. Rooms below the top two floors are more budget friendly, but some face an inner courtyard and don't have any natural light. Be aware of this when you're booking your rooms.

London HQ of the little C&Gs
Our two bedroom and two bathroom suite was enormous, and there was plenty of room for us to spread out and relax. With ten days together and another two more weeks ahead of us it was glorious to have so much space. A small galley style kitchen opens into the living room but we didn't use it for much more than storing our restaurant leftovers. Although the complimentary Nespresso machine easily saved us £25 a day.

Location is key in London, especially when traveling with kids. Walking to the tube station can easily drain everyones energy, and the hustle and bustle of London can be exhausting. The hotel is a quick five minute walk from both the Westminster and the Waterloo Underground stops, and from there you can zip anywhere around town.

Ice cream along the Thames in Southbank
London's Southbank waterfront neighborhood along the Thames is also just a ten minute walk from the hotel and is a welcome escape from all the busy streets and honking cabs. The Jubilee Gardens have lots of green space to roam and a perfectly sized kids playground, all under the shadow of the London Eye. Restaurants and cafes line the waterfront and we loved heading out for dinner with the locals while still being a short walk from our hotel.

I may have given up my dream of living like a Londoner for the summer, but watching over the city from our balcony with a glass of wine was the next best thing. The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge was a great place to call home for our vacation, even if I never got to see the city turn blue with the arrival of little Prince George.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Alligators and Anemones in Atlanta

The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is the world's largest aquarium, thanks to the deep pockets of Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus. Roughly 250 miles from the nearest ocean, it's an impressive feat to have carted in dolphins, manta rays, whale sharks, beluga whales, and over 100,000 other marine animals to create this popular attraction.

Buy your tickets online to avoid long lines at the entrance. We visited on a Monday, and even with the majority of kiddos in school it was still slightly crowded. There are five different environments to explore; cold water habitats, the Georgia oceanfront, rivers of the southern hemisphere, tropical coral reefs, and the star attraction, a 6.3 million gallon tank called "Ocean Voyager".

The live action show "Dolphin Tales" is included in your ticket price ($30/adult and $24/child, weekends add $5 each to the price of your ticket) and you must select a showtime at the time of purchase. We got to the aquarium just before noon and the 2:30 dolphin show was the perfect way to end our visit. They open the doors for the show half an hour early and seats go quickly, so keep an eye on your watch.

Breakfast in the South comes super-sized, so we made it all the way through the Aquarium before getting hungry for lunch. Following my rule of trying not to eat in museum cafeterias led us back out into the Georgia sunshine to Googie Burger (similar to Shake Shack). It was on the other side of Centennial Olympic Park (be sure to stop and watch the Olympic rings water fountain) and would have been perfect if they didn't close at 3:00 (which is not what they said on their website), so a quick check of Yelp averted a hunger meltdown.

Just a five minute walk back behind the Aquarium is Max's Brick Oven Pizza, with Georgia's only coal burning oven. The crispy, thin crust pizzas were delicious and just what we needed to tide us over till dinnertime, which would be at the Atlanta airport.

Max's is also walking distance to the Georgia Dome, home to the Atlanta Falcons, so it fills up with enthusiastic football fans on game day. On the same block is the German restaurant Der Biergarten and the sports bar STATS, just to give the fans some more options. Although if it's a game day I'd take noisy hyperactive kids at the Aquarium cafeteria over grown men wearing face paint and football jerseys any time.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cocktail du jour: Detox Ginger Tea

Caffeine free tea in the caffeine mug
Whoa, what's up with the detox C&G? Not to worry, next week I'll be back with something intoxicating and delicious. But this week I'm doing my best to stay healthy. It's the time of year when everybody seems to be catching something, and I'm always super cautious (some might say paranoid) after traveling and flying.

Rushing through airports and sitting on planes with re-circulated air always worries me, no matter how much I wipe down our seats and bath the little C&Gs in Purell. So I've been brewing up this powerful ginger tea in hopes of warding off any germs that may have crossed our path.

I got this recipe out of the Gwyneth Paltrow It's All Good cookbook, and I'm not sure if it's the power of ginger or the power of Gwyneth, but it seems to do the trick. It has quite a bite to it, which I like to think means it's boosting my immune system. Just pretend it's a shot of strong whisky and bottoms up.

Detox Ginger Tea
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp honey
1 cup boiling water
Boil one cup of water and add in the ginger and lemon
After two minutes strain into a mug, add the honey and stir
Enjoy and à votre santé!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

And the Nobel Peace Prize Goes To . . .

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 award's 112 year history, 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.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

And the Nobel Goes To . . .

The Nobel Prize in chocolate goes to . . . 
The Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, and literature are being announced in Stockholm this week. The Norwegians are responsible for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, and that announcement will be made in Oslo on Friday.

Each winner will receive gold medal, a beautiful hand painted diploma, and a check for 8 million Swedish Kroner (SEK), roughly $1.2 million USD which is split amongst the up to three winners. You can view the awards and learn all about past winners at the incredibly interesting Nobel Museum in the Gamla Stan neighborhood in Stockholm.

Stortorget is Stockholm's oldest square, and home to the Nobel Museum, located in the former Swedish Stock Exchange building. For what could be a very dry and unappealing topic for kids, the museum has done an amazing job of making everything interesting and interactive.

Portraits of all the past winners zoom overhead on an automated conveyor belt and kiosks in the front lobby allow you to look up anyone in any category. Assign your kiddos a topic, like finding someone from your home state, and see what they can report back. A friends father was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine years ago, so the little C&Gs were on a mission to find out all they could about him.

Be sure to pick up the Nobel Trivia Hunt (available in 8 languages) at the entrance when you walk in and off the kiddos will run into the exhibition. Glass cases with stories and treasured objects are on display, and the trivia questions can't be answered without some in depth reading and examining. Even Little C&G, who was six at the time, was insistent on finding the answers all on his own.

Return the completed sheet to the gift store and they'll "win" their very own Nobel gold medal. Made of chocolate of course. The glass case outside the shop showcases the incredible hand painted awards, beautifully illustrated and unique to each winner.

You don't need to go too far out the front door of the Nobel Museum to track down snacks and cocktails. Stortorget square is surrounded by colorful merchant buildings dating from the 17th century, many of which are now bars and restaurants.

We found an outdoor table at De Svarta Fåren (The Black Sheep) for a late lunch and the little C&Gs were very happy to find pizzas and pastas on the menu. The square has excellent people-watching, and everybody was kept busy while I started planning what to wear to the awards banquet when Big C&G collects his Nobel Prize in physics. . .

The Nobel Museum is open daily June through August, from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. Winter hours are slightly different, and check the calendar for closings due to special events. Admission for adults is SEK 100 (roughly $15) and children under 18 are free.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Marriage Monday!

We have just returned home (at a very late hour) from a lovely long weekend in Georgia to celebrate our dear friend and his beautiful bride tying the knot in Athens. The State of Georgia Botanical Gardens was the enchanting setting for the nuptials, and we all celebrated late into the night. Even the little C&Gs kept up with the grown ups, and they stayed in full jacket and tie until the very end.

The rest of the weekend was a whirlwind of fun, and I've got some great stuff to write about in the upcoming weeks. But now, it's time to catch up on some sleep. I've got a little nightcap waiting, a delicious dram of Balvenie Triple Wood that we brought back from our UK trip in July. Perfect for raising a toast to the new Mr. and Mrs.

Cheers to the new couple!  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Cocktail du jour: French 95

We are two French lessons in, and I can't even begin to describe how my brain hurts. All week long I've been listening to French podcasts and my audio cd, thinking I'm understanding everything that's streaming through my noise canceling headphones (the better for my French bubble). Then I step into class and it all disappears. I might as well be thirteen again, sitting in the front row of ninth grade French with Madame Alkonis. Good thing I'm old enough to mix conjugating with cocktails.

A French 75 is the classic combination of gin, champagne, lemon juice, and sugar. Substituting bourbon for the gin spices it up a notch (20 notches, to be exact), and by adding in some orange juice it turns into a French 95. My bartender extraordinaire muddled up some water, lemon, and a sugar cube to make the simple syrup. The bourbon makes it perfect for a cool fall evening, especially after a difficult day of practicing your je ne sais quoi's.

French 95
3/4 oz Bourbon
3/4 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz orange juice
splash of Prosecco
Combine the first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice
Shake and strain into a cocktail glass filled with ice
Top with Prosecco

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Trolling in Bergen, Norway

The charming port city of Bergen, Norway is a popular stop for cruise ships working their way up to the Arctic Circle, and the departure point for the world famous Hurtigruten. Once the capital of Norway, Bergen has been a vital center of international trade since the early eleventh century. It's definitely worth a stop on your trip to Scandinavia for the gorgeous scenery and the very family friendly waterfront.

We flew into Bergen from Stockholm to meet up with two cruise shippers, my world traveling Mom and amazing nonagenarian Grandmother. They were on their way from Amsterdam up to the Arctic Circle, so with quite a bit of advance planning we made reservations to meet up for lunch at the classic Norwegian waterfront restaurant Bryggeloftet & Stuene. Centered on the postcard perfect Hanseatic wharf (and UNESCO World Heritage Site), we had a delightful lunch catching up over reindeer filet and whale steak (ok, maybe not but it was the special of the day) before they had to head back to their ship.

With a few hours to wander before catching our flight to Oslo, we walked over to the Fløibanen funicular. The quick tram ride brings you to the most spectacular view overlooking Bergen and its busy harbor. When paying for our tickets we were happily surprised to find they offered a kids scavenger hunt nature trail at the top of Fløyen.

Armed with their maps and their search for clues, the little C&Gs lead the way through the giant trees and muddy paths. Clues (in Norwegian and English) were attached to various trees along the trail, and after filling out the answers they were directed to the next clue. The trail takes about an hour and the adventure and the view was amazing. We did get lost a few times, but it wasn't too long before another family appeared and helped us back onto the trail.

After rinsing off our muddy shoes in the restaurant bathroom near the Fløibanen station, the boys went off to play on the playground while Mr. C&G and I enjoyed a cup of coffee and a chance to put our feet up. The platform at the top of the Fløibanen offers a spectacular view, along with a gift shop and restaurant. There's a fun playground, jungle gym, and plenty of room for the kiddos to roam in case they have any energy left after your hike. Be sure to stop for a photo with the giant troll before heading back down.

We returned to sea level and the boys returned their scavenger hunt maps at the ticket booth for a prize, which turned out to be a nine piece puzzle. Not that exciting, but they had a great time on the hike and it kept them busy and focused. The Fløyen treasure hunt is available from the Fløibanen ticket booth from June 1 through September 30.

Family tickets for the Fløybanen funicular are 200NOK (about $34US), and there are one way tickets available if you're brave enough to walk all the way up or all the way down the steep path. Although if you value your knees I'd highly recommend taking the tram both ways. Don't be fooled by all the families heading up on foot, most likely they're Scandinavian. Which means they're in much better shape than you are.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Happy October!

Vintage Little C&G, in Hilton Head
Our very dear friend (and talented C&G graphic designer) is getting married soon, and we are very excited to watch him tie the knot. So I'm in the midst of travel planning for our brief weekend away and coming up with things to keep us busy after the nuptials.

It would be so lovely if there was a C&G style website for the city we're headed to, which would make my life much easier. But right now I'm stuck digging through various tourism websites, and being reminded why I started the blog in the first place.

Googling "travel with kids" in whatever selected city doesn't get you very far. I'm always interested in the insider information, what other families have done, what's worth the time and what's not. There's a lot to choose from where we're headed, and we've only got a day and a half. I'm all about efficiency, and of course where we can go for snacks and cocktails after our adventures. Which means I have a lot of windows open on my laptop right now, between Google maps, Yelp, Trip Advisor, and various online travel magazines.

Vintage Big C&G, in the pumpkin patch
As I've been narrowing down our itinerary, I realized it would be helpful to do some posts about putting together a plan. It's been a while since we've gone to a new city with the little C&Gs, so this upcoming trip requires some actual research. There's a lot of content on C&G about things to do in various cities, but I'd like to add information about how to tie those activities together. A perfect example is Venice, an amazing city with endless things to do, so how did I make an agenda for our three days on the island.

I always find my ideas for summer travel start to form in the early fall, so hopefully C&G will inspire you to start planning for 2014. Until then, happy October!