Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chicago - Day 1

On June 20, 2012 we arrived in Chicago at about 3:00 pm.  We had not checked any bags so we were quick when exiting the airport.  We left the terminal and tried to find the Metra Station.  After a couple of false starts (the signage for the station was very confusing) we found the station and bought a transit card.  We immediately boarded a train and about 45 minutes later we disembarked in the Loop District.

The train ride took us through many different Chicago neighborhoods, largely consisting of red brick apartment buildings.  I was glad that the train was mainly above ground so we could see these suburbs as we travelled.

Once we left the transit station, we walked about 1 km to our hotel, which took about 15 minutes.  We walked past the printing district and we saw the impressive new library and the tracks of the “L” train.  It was incredibly hot (+34 Degrees Celsius) and we were overdressed, so this walk seemed to take too long.

We checked into our hotel, the Hilton Chicago and then we unpacked and relaxed in our room.  Our room had breathtaking views of the lake and also a good view of the surrounding area so we took a few minutes to look at our map books and get oriented.  At about 5:30 we went to the club lounge and had hors d’ouevres for a snack before heading out toward the Magnificent Mile.

We walked up Michigan Avenue toward the Magnificent Mile, and on the way we passed Millennium Park.  It was a gorgeous evening so we stopped to look around.  There was a bustling food festival and a free classical music concert in the gorgeous Pritzker Pavilion  (here is a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pritzker_Pavilion).  We watched the concert (which was absolutely packed) for a while and then we walked over to the massive Kapoor sculpture "Cloud Gate" (here is a link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_Gate).  We exited the park by walking past the founder’s fountain.

We walked on through the Magnificent Mile district and looked at all of the famous buildings.  The sidewalks were crowded and traffic was heavy, so the walk was extremely noisy.  Late in the evening we had supper at Cheesecake Factory.  I was initially hesitant about the Cheesecake Factory but I was pleasantly surprised.  Why was I hesitant?  Well, I hate most cheesecake, and I thought that the restaurant would have a limited menu.  Also, I did not really want to eat at a chain restaurant, but at a local restaurant.  But, the Cheesecake Factory was open and tables in the air-conditioned interior were available.

My meal was delicious, and it helped that I was really hungry!  I had chicken tacos that were stuffed with fresh vegetables.  The portion was ridiculously large and the price was quite low.

After our large supper, we walked home in the dark and saw the lit-up skyscrapers.  It was a beautiful night but a long walk to the hotel.  I was very exhausted by the time we went to bed.  Plus…the fact that I had not entirely adjusted to the new time zone did not help…

Friday, June 29, 2012

Hilton Chicago


My husband and I stayed at the Hilton Chicago from June 20 to 23, 2012.  The Hilton Chicago is located on South Michigan Avenue near many attractions including:  Grant Park; the Field Museum; Shedd Aquarium; Millennium Park; and the Loop.  It is a walkable distance from the Magnificent Mile, although on a couple of the evenings I wondered about that definition as we made our way home.  The Hilton Chicago is an historical building with a grand presence and a famous lion fountain in the lobby. Here is a link to the website:  http://www.hiltonchicagohotel.com/

My husband is a gold member of the Hilton rewards program, so we were entitled to some nice perks during our stay.  Our room had an amazing view of the lake and it was very spacious.  It had blackout shades (which were very necessary) and a clean and modern bathroom.  The room had a small closet and an awkwardly placed room safe.  The entire hotel is a bit of an odd shape (see the website for a picture), and it felt like we were walking through a maze when we went from the elevator to our room.

The exercise and pool facility at the hotel looked great.  There is an outdoor terrace near the pool and a well-stocked exercise room.  Unfortunately, looking at the facility was the closets we ever got to using it!

We went to the club lounge for complimentary breakfast and hors d'oeuvres each day and they were both really good.  Breakfast is hard-boiled eggs, muffins, toast, oatmeal (which I did not taste), melons and yogurt.  There is a coffee machine with push-button cappuccino (eeech) and a juice bar.  The hotel also provides complimentary water, which was a real bonus during the hot weather.  There are also complimentary soft drinks.

The hors d'oeuvres were always warm, with mini wellingtons one night, empanadas another night, etc.  There is also a popcorn machine for an afternoon snack.  The club lounge was not too busy, but on our last morning there was a bustling crowd - I think they were all there to attend the same wedding.

My only complaint about the hotel relates to the room service.  One night we got back too late to eat at a restaurant and we decided to order room service.  Unfortunately, no one picked up the phone when we called.  We tried many times.  Finally we called the front desk (and got the room service people in trouble) and then we ordered our room service.  Our order was supposed to arrive within 35 minutes and it was, of course, late....such is life.  What is irritating is all of the fees that are added to the bill for a sub-par service.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Toronto Visit

In this post I want to talk about our visit to Toronto, Canada.  We were in Toronto from June 15 to 18, 2012.  We are not exactly tourists in Toronto, my husband has family that lives there and we go about once per year to see them.  I have been on a number of conferences in Toronto as well, so we have a working knowledge of the geography and transit system. 

The hotel that we stayed in was located downtown (the Fairmont Royal York – see this post if you want more details:  http://janiceljlj.blogspot.ca/2012/06/fairmont-royal-york-toronto.html).  The family that we were visiting lives in Riverdale, and we took the cheapest mode of transport to Riverdale to see them – the streetcar.  My boys loved riding the streetcar – you board up high steps and it runs on an overhead track, which made Little Boy think it was just like a train.  Big Boy loves the "danger" aspect of walking across traffic to board the streetcar - I'm not sure I love that part.  We purchased a family day pass for each of the days that we rode the streetcar.  The cost of the family day pass is $10.50 Canadian, and they are only available on the weekend.  The savings are pretty substantial if you use it more than once or if you have a large group.

The streetcar took us through downtown and Cabbagetown and then up Broadview Avenue.  Just before our stop on Broadview Avenue there is a small Chinatown area and we had an outing in this area which was really fun.  We took the kids out for dim sum with a family member in Pearl Court restaurant in the small Chinatown and then we did some grocery shopping in all of the interesting little shops.  Big Boy proudly carried the groceries through the store and he marvelled at the pig snouts and chicken’s feet for sale.  He does not think these items are gross – he just thinks they are cool and interesting….ahh, boys.  There was also a very odd store that was a flower shop in the front and an exotic fish store in the back.  Big Boy was fascinated with the display of turtles.

We also had another meal in this small Chinatown area.  We had a large family supper in a restaurant called Ka Ka Lucky Seafood BBQ.  This restaurant gets really good reviews on various websites, but I have to say that my experience did not match the raving reviews – perhaps the carryout is more impressive than the on-site dining.  I have to add a disclaimer before I discuss the meal – Little Boy did not want to be at the restaurant and I actually ended up walking around outdoors with him while our party ate their meals because he was being fairly obnoxious.  But the part of the meal that I was at was less than impressive. 

We had a large group, so a table had to be prepared while we waited – that was no problem.  I did have an issue with the fact that the server brought a thin, plastic disposable tablecloth and put it on the table – and it was already dirty!  There were a few splodges and stains from some previous diners.  Why had they not disposed of the disposable tablecloth?  Once the server brought our chopsticks, I was disgusted by how sticky they were – completely unclean.  We had to ask for new ones.  The food we ordered was fine – but it tended to be too oily and not as flavorful as other restaurants I’ve been to, including the restaurant that we had dim sum at the day before (Pearl Court).  Overall it was a disappointing experience, but the food was fairly cheap.

In Toronto we spent a good deal of time walking around downtown, and we were surprised at the number of people that were either living on the street or panhandling.  It made the downtown core seem pretty down-and-out. 

Overall we had a good visit in Toronto.  We managed to fit in two good visits with family (each of which involved a meal out, as described above) and we also spent time napping and adjusting to the new time zone. 

I chose not to take a stroller on our trip because I knew we would be riding the streetcar and it is tough to get a stroller onto the streetcar (it is not stroller friendly because it has very tall steps for boarding).  I used our Ergo Baby carrier for the trip and it was great.  Little Boy was happy enough to ride around on my back and I find the carrier pretty comfortable to wear.  It was hot outside, so Little Boy was often sweating through his t-shirt onto my back (gross!) but that was the only real problem.  One thing that I have to watch for when Little Boy is in the Ergo carrier is “sticky fingers.”  While I’m carrying Little Boy through a store, he often grabs at items on the shelves and if I don’t check he holds onto them while I leave the store.  I have always caught him in time, but I am super-careful with this particular carrier as he is difficult to monitor when riding on my back.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Fairmont Royal York, Toronto

We were in Toronto from June 15 to 18, 2012 and we stayed at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel (the “hotel”).  Here is a link to the hotel website:  http://www.fairmont.com/royalyork/  

Our room was on the 6th floor and we did not get any discounts or bonuses from a customer loyalty program during our stay. 

The hotel is located in downtown Toronto near: Union Station subway station (the central station in Toronto); the Air Canada Centre; the Rogers Centre; the CN Tower; and the Convention Centre.  The hotel is connected to the PATH system and is walkable distance from Eaton Centre. 

The hotel is a historic building with lovely stonework and a grand lobby.  There are many entrances into the hotel, but unfortunately most of them require patrons to climb up stairs – difficult in many circumstances, including toting wheely-cases and children. 

I was pleasantly surprised with the size of our hotel room.  It was a large, long room with 2 double beds.  We had 3 full-sized suitcases, 2 carry-on suitcases and some other bags and we had plenty of space in the room to open the suitcases up.  Unfortunately, Little Boy gets into everything so we could not leave the bags open, but that’s a different issue!  After we explored our room and noticed that we were provided with 2 double beds, we walked down to reception and requested a crib for Little Boy.  We had initially requested a “cot” in error – in the UK and Dubai, hotels seem to call cribs and playpens “cots” and they are appropriate for babies and toddlers, but in Canada, a “cot” is a camp bed.  We were told that a “cot” could not be placed into our room because of fire restrictions but that a crib was available.  We gladly took the staff up on their offer of a crib.

Upon check-in the hotel clerk gave each of our boys a stuffed lion.  I’m pretty sure the lions will become part of their permanent collections.

We then left the hotel for a while to buy milk and have supper and when we returned to our room, we were very surprised to see that the staff had delivered not a crib but a fridge!  We didn’t even know that you could request an extra fridge!  After I thought about it for a while, I decided that “crib” and “fridge” could sound similar over the phone if there was noise on one end or if one person had a strong accent.  Anyways, I called the front desk and the clerk thought the error was funny (as did I) and had a crib delivered to our room.  We got to keep the extra fridge as well!

When I gave the kids a bath in the hotel bathtub, I noticed that the water was not draining well.  A while later (10-15 minutes), I wanted to take a shower, and most of the water was still in the tub.  The sluggish drain was pretty gross and it left “deposits” along the sides of the tub…yech. 

We took the kids swimming in the hotel pool twice during our stay.  The pool was ideal for kids – there was a toddler pool with a lion fountain spurting water and then a larger pool for lap swimming.  There was also a hot tub and a pool deck with lounge chairs.  The first time we went to the pool, we let the kids play in the toddler pool and then I took Big Boy to the lap pool because I am encouraging him to learn how to swim (or at least I’m trying to).  The lap pool was pleasantly warm, but not too warm to exercise.  It was about mid-chest deep, which was great for our purposes; I could help Big Boy along but still stay immersed myself.  After a while Little Boy (of course) wanted to come into the lap pool too, so we let him play in the lap pool (there were no other people at the pool at all so we were not disturbing anyone). 

The second time we went swimming; the kids skipped the toddler pool and went straight to the lap pool.  They had a blast swimming around, but it was tiring.  At the entry to the pool there were pitchers of water, including delicious water with grapefruit floating in it, to refresh after our swim. 

After our second trip to the pool, I decided that we should use the swimsuit dryers in the change rooms to dry out our suits because we were going to pack them straight into our suitcases.  I took Little Boy with me into the ladies change room and took his suit off and then put it into the spinner.  I let him watch the suit spin while it dried, which made him very excited….a little too excited, because when I looked over at him, he was peeing all over the change room floor!  Gross!  Luckily there was a pile of towels nearby so I could clean up properly.  Boys….

Overall we had a good stay at the hotel, but I did have one complaint.  This is more about the other hotel patrons than the hotel itself…it was incredibly noisy during the first two nights of our stay.  There were loud, obnoxious, sometimes drunk people singing and yelling as they walked down the hallway past our room.  I’m sure this had something to do with the fact that our stay was over a weekend and there were 2 baseball games that weekend, but it was really annoying for us.  We were trying to get the kids (and ourselves) to sleep during certain appropriate hours as we adjusted to the new time zone and we were repeatedly woken up by loud patrons.  Unfortunately we could not always get back to sleep.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Flights

Those who regularly read my blog will know that when we travel I generally do a few posts about any given trip, including a discussion about the airline travel experience.  Our family has taken many flights since June 15, and I will review them – the good, the bad and the ugly – in this post.
On June 15 we started out at Aberdeen airport in Dyce and flew south to Heathrow airport in London.  We flew BA (British Airways) and the flight was short (about an hour) and uneventful, except for one surprise.  On this extremely brief flight, we were served a hot breakfast that was actually quite tasty – eggs, sausage, tomato and beans.  We had to rush around Heathrow after we landed but we managed to catch our connecting flight (with a 1 hour layover!), even with a pit stop to fill up milk in the airport lounge.
The flight from Heathrow to Toronto Pearson was about a 7 hour flight.  Big Boy watched movies for the entirety of the flight, only taking breaks for meals and a very brief nap.  He made up for all of his missed TV in one day!  Little Boy was generally well-behaved on the flight.  He had a very long nap on my lap, which can be a bit unpleasant for a couple of reasons.  While he naps, his head (which is approximately the shape, size and weight of a bowling ball) was resting on my arm and it put my arm to sleep.  Also, he was sweating profusely during his nap; he actually sweated through my clothes as well as his – yech!
We arrived in Toronto exhausted, hot and travel-filthy.  We cleared customs easily and collected our bags before catching a taxi-van to our hotel.  I was surprised when our taxi had a car seat for Little Boy – safer and more comfortable than holding him in my lap!  Once we got to the hotel, we decided to keep the kids awake until about 7:00 pm local time, to assist in adjusting to the new time zone.  We arrived at the hotel at around 4:00 pm, so this was no easy task.  We let the kids play for a while in the hotel room and then we took them out to Tim Horton’s (yes, we were certainly back on Canadian soil) for a sandwich supper.  Then we took a walk around the hotel area before returning to the hotel.  I gave the kids luxurious baths before breaking down and putting them to bed at 6:45 pm.
The kids both woke frequently during the first night in Toronto and we gave up on trying making them sleep at about 4:30 in the morning.  We let the kids get up and play in the hotel room and then we took them for a very early breakfast.  Unfortunately immediately after breakfast both kids needed another nap, so we let them sleep for about 2 hours before we went visiting.
We spent 3 nights in Toronto, and each night helped us adjust a little bit more to our new time zone.  Then on June 18 we took a taxi back to the airport and caught an Air Canada flight to Edmonton.  True to their word, Air Canada served no complimentary food on the flight (not even those tiny bags of pretzels), and we were happy that we had packed some snacks.  Little Boy slept through most of this flight in my arms (I even took a cat nap while holding him) and Big Boy watched movies on the in-flight entertainment system until his eyes turned red and bleary….I’m beginning to think it’s a good thing we don’t have TV at home!
At the airport in Edmonton we were greeted by family and we had a lovely feast with family and friends that evening.

We stayed in Edmonton for a couple more days and then on June 21, my husband and I flew from Edmonton to Toronto and then Toronto to Chicago.  We did not bring the kids so these flights were generally uneventful.  We booked both flights on Air Canada (with points) but the second flight was operated by United Airlines and it was on a tiny plane. 
Once we arrived in Chicago we took the train (the Metra) to our hotel – this was an easy, quick and cheap way to travel from O’Hare airport to “the Loop” district in Chicago where our hotel was located.  We probably made the trip faster than a taxi would have because a taxi would have been stuck in the heavy rush hour traffic.  The train fare was only $2.25 for each of us – I thought it was a real bargain.  Also, since we got on at the very first stop, we had good seats and space for our luggage.  Once we disembarked from the train we had to walk about 1 km to our hotel, which took about 15 minutes.  Although this was a bit of a pain in a strange city (and we were very hot), we made it without incident.
On June 23 we took the Metra back to O’Hare airport.  We had a terrible time getting home because of our first flight (booked through Air Canada but operated by United Airlines) from Chicago to Vancouver.  There were so many issues with this leg of our journey.  First, O’Hare airport is over-run and the gate areas are far too small to accommodate all of the passengers waiting for the flights.  This meant that we could not sit within our gate area and had to stand in a concourse just outside the immediate area.  Unfortunately this meant that it was impossible to hear any of the passenger announcements – which were barely audible in the waiting area. 
We drifted over to our gate around the time that our flight was supposed to board and nothing seemed to be happening.  After a few minutes a bunch of passengers started to de-plane through the gate, so we took this as a positive sign – there was an aircraft at the gate to take us to Vancouver.  Unfortunately, the time was about 10 minutes prior to our scheduled take-off, so we knew that our flight would be delayed.  Then, after all of the passengers had disembarked, the United Airlines staff started a series of very confusing (and inaudible) announcements.  The gist of these announcements was that every single passenger had to appear at the gate desk with their ID to have the ID approved and a stamp placed on their boarding pass or they would not be permitted to board.  So, all of us passengers dutifully lined up to get our ID checked and stamped.
Then we waited for about 15 more minutes before the United staff started bossily telling us to board in a specific order.  It was incredibly unclear, and when passengers attempted to board out of turn, they were rudely told that they could not board yet (politeness is free people…).  When we went to board, I was very rudely informed that I had been moved to a different seat so that a mother and her children could sit together.  I have no problem conceptually with this, so I accepted it, boarded and sat in my assigned seat, nowhere near my husband.  As passengers were boarding and chatting, it seemed that a lot of coupled and families had been split up even though they reserved seats together.  Strangely enough, my husband and I each had an empty seat next to us, so I moved to sit next to my husband.
I was surprised when one passenger pointed out to another that she was in his seat and her reply was “oh yes, I’m sorry, but I can’t walk…I’m paralyzed and they moved my seat to one that I could not get into.  I have taken your seat because it was one of the few that I could get into.”  Interesting that United changed the seat selection of someone who needed a specific seat for such a good reason…
After we were all seated and settled, my husband and I started to worry that we were taking off far too late to catch our connecting flight in Vancouver.  It would be a tight connection – always worrisome.  Then our flight started to taxi over to the runway, where we sat for a few minutes before the pilot announced over the PA system that there was a queue for runways and we would have to wait about 40 minutes.  At this point we knew we would miss our connection.  The United staff very rudely reminded us to stay seated with our seatbelts fastened while we waited to take off.
Eventually, after a very long wait, the plane started to move and I assumed that this meant we would take off – not so…apparently the passenger manifest indicated that there were bags checked onto the flight for passengers that did not board the plane, so we had to return to the airport to have the bags removed from the plane.  At the same time, the pilot decided to refuel.  It took over an hour for the bags to be located and the plane refueled.  We were permitted to move about the plane, but the staff did not offer beverages (even drinking water) on the sweltering plane.  The United staff kept a very low profile, only leaving the service areas when specifically paged by a passenger.
When we finally started our flight after the long wait, there were no apologies or kind words from the United staff, just more barked orders about shutting off cell phones and staying in our seats.  During the flight I asked a flight attendant about our missed flights and he quite helpfully shrugged and told me that lots of flights are late so chances are we had not missed ours.  He promised to get more specific information and then he later told us to listen to a certain announcement at the gate.  We listened carefully to the announcement which told us only that we had to clear customs before boarding any connecting flight.  Thanks….very helpful.
Once we landed we ran through the Vancouver terminals to the Air Canada desk to learn that we had indeed missed our flight (in fact it was landing at about the same time as our flight from Chicago).  The polite and helpful Air Canada clerk booked us onto another flight, which had been delayed by 45 minutes.  This delay was fortunate; otherwise we would have been too late to board.  When we boarded the flight from Vancouver to Edmonton, the Air Canada staff was very polite and helpful and the pilot immediately apologized for the delay – United could certainly learn a lot about customer service from Air Canada.  The short Vancouver – Edmonton flight was pleasant and uneventful.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What we've been up to (or...."Here, There and Everywhere")

We have had a busy couple of weeks.  I will tell you what we have been up to in this post (kind of an overview) and then over the next few days I will elaborate in further posts.
On June 15 our family left Aberdeen and we flew to London and then Toronto (Ontario, Canada).  We stayed in Toronto for a few days to visit with family and then we flew to Edmonton (Alberta, Canada).  We stayed in Edmonton for 1.5 days before my husband and I flew off to Chicago for a “weekend away” (I have put this in quotes because our time away did not fall over a weekend, nor was it the same length of time as a weekend, but anyways…).  We left the kids in the care of grandparents during our trip.
After Chicago we flew back to Edmonton and we were happy to see the kids.  Tomorrow my husband will return to Aberdeen and the kids and I will stay back to spend some time soaking up the Alberta sunshine.
We are thoroughly exhausted after all of the flights and time changes.  And, of course, both boys are sick.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Back Home

We are now back safely on Canadian soil, but we are having some Internet connectivity issues.  I will blog about our trip once we have reliable Internet.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Airports....

We are currently waiting in an airport lounge....even though it is nicer than waiting at the gate, it is still waiting, with two restless kids and two restless adults....

I will update on our journey as Internet access permits.

Tough Day

Last Thursday was an incredibly exhausting, tough day for me and the kids.  It took them days to recover.  Why was the day so tough?  Well - to put it frankly- we were completely over-scheduled.  

I took Big Boy to school.  A field trip was scheduled to Drum Castle, and I had promised Big Boy that Little Boy and I would meet the bus at the castle.  A friend offered to drive Little Boy and I to the castle, and although I  was initially hesitant, I said "yes."  This was a mistake on my part.

I travelled with my friend to her home, where she gathered up a picnic lunch and got her other things together for the field trip.  We visited for about an hour and then we headed over to the castle.  At the castle, I used the Ergo Baby to carry Little Boy (for about 3 hours) through damp, chilly, midge-filled air.  (For those of you who are unfamiliar with midges, they are horrible - tiny little flies that swarm and bit, here is a link for info about these horrible creatures:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midge).  Little Boy started kicking up a fuss around nap time, but he would not go to sleep.  If I had driven myself, I would have taken him home to nap at that point (this is why accepting a ride was a mistake...).

After a while, the class gathered for a midge-filled picnic and a bit of a run around on the castle lawns.  Then the kids all piled onto the bus to head back to the school.  My friend drove me and Little Boy back to the school.

At the school I picked up Big Boy and I let him and Little Boy play outdoors for 1/2 hour.  Then I took the kids inside, where we had a snack and waited 1/2 hour for Big Boy's rock climbing to start.  Big Boy went to the climbing wall for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, and then we waited another 1/2 hour for Big Boy's swimming lesson (also at the school).  Little Boy and I sat and waited through both lessons, and Little Boy became increasingly fussy.  We left the school at about 5:30 pm and arrive home at 5:45....we left the house at 8:00 am and had not been back since!

Little Boy usually naps 2-3 hours each morning, but on Thursday he napped for a total of 20 minutes all day!  This had a big effect on his eating and attitude at supper time.

We made the kids a quick and basic supper, and I ran off to shower and change into nicer clothes.  At 7:00, after I had eaten about 4 bites of dinner, my friends picked me up to go to the opera.  We went out for coffee after the opera and I was not home until 11:30!

This was a real lesson to me regarding overbooking...I will have to make sure I watch how many activities Big Boy does each day in the future...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pre-School Graduation


On Tuesday morning we attended Big Boy’s Preschool Graduation.  It was a fairly formal ceremony, the children wore caps and gowns, and, in the spirit of the Olympics, they each received a medal.  The children presented songs and there were a few short speeches.

Big Boy was very excited about the graduation – they practiced the songs for weeks and worked on a special presentation for the parents. 

We are very proud of our young graduate….well done!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Olympic Torch Relay


On Monday night we decided to walk over to see the Olympic Torch Relay pass by Big Boy’s school.  The school was chosen as a celebration site and the Bank of Scotland sponsored entertainment, treats and decorations.

I was really surprised and impressed by the amount of “hoopla” that came with the Torch (I attended the Torch Relay in Calgary a couple of years back and there was almost no accompanying celebration).  On Monday night the torch was preceded by a small parade and there was a very large audience.  Of course, the large audience made it a bit difficult to see the Torch, but I did my best to snap a few pictures.




The road closures that accompanied the Torch did not bother me, but I was surprised to notice that although the Torch passed through our town at about 7:00 pm, parking bans for the Torch procession were in effect at 9:00 am.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Marcliffe Hotel Anniversary Dinner


On Saturday night, my husband and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary.  We treated ourselves by hiring a babysitter and going out for dinner to the Marcliffe Hotel, a local fine dining venue.  The kids and I walk past the Marcliffe on our way to school each day.  It is located on a beautiful property and is often a venue for weddings and other formal functions.   It is definitely one of the nicest hotels in Aberdeen (if not the nicest).  Here is a web link if you are interested in more information:  http://www.marcliffe.com/index.htm

Now, on to our meal. Our reservations were 6:30 to dine at 7:00, as the tradition at the Marcliffe is that patrons sit in a large drawing room with fireplaces and comfy chairs whilst enjoying pre-dinner drinks.  Guests select from the dining menu during these drinks and are lead to the dining room when their food is ready to serve.

I ordered a starter of scallops and duck fritters.  They sat in a green pea puree.  The dish was incredible – it consisted of:  3 perfectly cooked, very large scallops (I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about undercooked scallops – “seared” scallops seem to often be completely raw/cold in the middle!) and 2 duck fritters that were lightly breaded.  The duck fritters had delicious flavor but they were slightly dry – a dip in the pea puree fixed that!

My husband’s starter consisted of mussels in a Thai green curry sauce.  The quantity of mussels was massive and they were tasty.  I really dislike curry, but I tried a mussel and the sauce was light and flavorful with a bit of a kick. 

After our starters, we were quite full, so we were glad of a brief pause before our mains were served.   My main was roast Guinea fowl on a bed of tagliatelle with morel sauce.  The Guinea fowl breast was well cooked with a lightly spiced, crispy skin.  The morel sauce was wonderful, with countless varieties of fungi.  I could not finish my entire dish, but it was delicious.

My husband chose a steak with peppercorn sauce and fries.  The steak was perfectly cooked and he loved the fries…it also came with 3 onion rings, in a very "fine dining" sort of arrangement.  He loved his meal (I just can’t get that excited about steak…).

I finished my meal with a coffee and tablet (Scottish fudge), while my husband ordered a chocolate and peanut butter concoction that contained a lot of different elements.  I am assured it was delicious.

Overall we had a wonderful meal and a special evening out.  Here’s to the next 11 years!  And those after that….

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cappuccino


On Saturday I took Big Boy for a haircut and afterwards, we went to Costa for a little treat.  It was a terribly rainy day and the barista at Costa personalized my cappuccino appropriately…




Tosca

On Thursday night I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Tosca at His Majesty’s Theatre here in Aberdeen.  The production was musically the original Tosca (premiered in 1900 and set in 1800) but it was set in the 1940’s in Fascist Italy.  The costumes were beautiful and the performance was flawless.  Here is the website:  http://www.scottishopera.org.uk/11-12/tosca

The theatre is gorgeous, here are some photos:




The theatre had a "ticker" mechanism with scrolling English subtitles (the opera is in Italian).  At first I was a bit snobbish about the ticket - I know the story and music of Tosca, why would I need subtitles?  But, I found the subtitles to increase my enjoyment of the show.  I understood more of the jokes and the tongue-in-cheek humour than I would have.


Our seats were not great.  When I bought the tickets, most of the seats were sold out.  I bought tickets for the front row of the balcony, which is actually the 3rd balcony.  Scottish theatres used different labels for seat sections than Canadian theatres.  The stalls (in Canada:  the floor) is topped by the dress circle (in Canada:  the 1st balcony), then the upper circle (in Canada:  the 2nd balcony).  The "Balcony" (where we sat) tops the stalls, the dress circle and the upper circle…so it is very high up.  The sound quality was great and the view would have been good, but there was a safety rail that I had to look around and through.  Also there was not a lot of legroom, even for me with my short little legs!

Despite these complaints, I had a lovely night out and the show was amazing.  I did not take either of the kids, I went with 2 girlfriends. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

To us!  Today is our 11th wedding anniversary....I hope we have a great day!  The weather is unco-operative so far - it's pouring!

Friday, June 8, 2012

"No"

Little Boy is starting to figure out speech....and his favourite word is "no."  He says it very delicately, it is actually almost "dainty" when he says it.  It is incredibly cute.

But, of course, there is a problem....he says "no" all the time, whether he means "yes" or "maybe" or "I'd like that."  Very confusing....

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Little Boy and Cutlery


Little Boy has been very interested in using cutlery (a fork and spoon, no knife) lately.  He will literally eat anything, as long as he can use a fork or spoon (and sometimes both!).  The interest has moved very quickly – he decided to try out a fork to eat grapes about 2 weeks ago and now he wants cutlery for everything!

While I am proud of the progress he is making, there are a couple of downsides.  First, it’s messy.  He drops food off the utensils before they can get to his mouth.  This food generally ends up on the floor or in his chair.  I don’t mind this clean up, it is basically an exchange – his hands and arms are cleaner now when he is done eating, but the floor and chair are messier.

The other downside to the new cutlery obsession is that I need to bring plastic cutlery everywhere because he (like Big Boy before him) chews on metal cutlery.  When we are out I take our own plastic forks and spoons (from Ikea).  Little Boy has simultaneously developed an obsession with garbage cans.  Unfortunately a bunch of our cutlery has ended up in public  bins!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bun Pan


A couple of weeks ago I bought a bun pan.  I have not ever heard of a bun pan before, but I make buns about twice per week and I thought I’d give it a try.  This bun pan was on sale for £2 from £12, so it was not a big spend.

I have tried out the bun pan a couple of times and I could not be more thrilled!  The pan seems to assist the buns with rising in a uniform way, and my buns are more uniform in size.  I just love using it!

This is the pan - it is kind of like a shallow muffin tin.



Didn't they rise nicely?

Mmmmmmm...my kids love whole wheat grainy buns!



Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New Lipstick

Just a warning, this is a very girly post....



I bought a new lipstick a couple of days ago and I am thrilled with it!  It is a No. 7 brand Poppy King lipstick in colour #6 “Confidence” and it is the exact shade I wanted.  The lipstick is smooth and creamy and it is a subtle, matte red/brown shade.  It's not too flashy but it looks dressy, classic and grown-up.

I usually buy No. 7 products because Boots regularly gives out vouchers for £5 off. 

My only disappointment with this lipstick is the size.  It is much smaller than a regular No. 7 lipstick (i.e. one that is not a “Poppy King”) and it costs £2 more.  I do like the smaller size for my purse, but it is not particularly good value when you compare the volumes.

Cute box.

Quite a size difference...


Monday, June 4, 2012

Jubilee Sales


I am really enjoying the Jubilee celebration weekend here in Aberdeen.  Although we are in Scotland and there are certain feelings here about the English monarchy (which I am assuming are causing local celebrations to be slightly muted compared to those down south, i.e. in London), it has been really festive.

I do have one complaint (of course)….the sales.  I have no problem with the stores selling “tat” like bunting, napkins, table clothes, teapots, and flags for the Jubilee.  But I take issue with some of the other slightly “opportunistic” sales.  For example, there are sales on: mattresses; cars; clothes; and toys.  



Sunday, June 3, 2012

Aberdeen's International Street Market

Yesterday we went to Aberdeen's International Street Market.  It took place on a blocked off street right above Union Terrace Gardens.  The market consisted of a number of stalls selling international food and drink delights, as well as some souvenirs and plants.  We had a great time despite the sometimes-chilly weather (as soon as the sun went behind the clouds, the sweaters came out!).  We looked at all of the interesting booths and we decided to lunch at the Market.

Big Boy picked a bratwurst (big surprise) while my husband and I got lunch at the Jamaican booth.   It was delicious!


Gramps came along!

Mmmmm.....tomatoes!
We also...inexplicably....bought a wooden carved duck wearing shoes!


Isn't he cute!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Jubilee

We are just starting out the Jubilee Celebration weekend.  There are so many activities, decorations, recipes and parties....it is indeed an overwhelming time!  

At Big Boy's school, the Kindergarten students prepared some very special and cute portraits of the Queen.  It is not his class, but I thought I would share them with you:

Double-click to enlarge....they are really cute!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dinners at Malmaison


Recently I have eaten supper at Malmaison twice.  Malmaison is nice hotel with a fine dining restaurant here in Aberdeen.  Here is a link to the Malmaison website:

And here is a link to the menu at Malmaison Brasserie in Aberdeen:

The interior of Malmaison has a funky dark feel with giant canvas pictures (I’m not sure if they were photos or not) of cattle.    There is a gallery wall with many other animal pictures, presumably a reflection of the food served in the restaurant.

On both visits to the restaurant I had an issue when making up my order.  The portions are quite small, so I wanted to choose a starter or salad and a main.  I did not want anything from the grill, and this left a very small selection of main courses to choose from.  Both times I picked the risotto, which was delicious on both occasions.  I started my meal with a chicken starter the first time, which was average (fine tasting and well-cooked, but nothing exciting).  The second time I picked  the tomato and basil salad, which was a wonderful twist on a classic salad.

My meals were enjoyable, but the service was very slow at both dinners, with a 3-course dinner taking slightly more than 3 hours both times.