Disneyland Paris! Both Ryan and Chris had worked for Disney at the Disneyland Resort for the past 13 years or so, they had been given several park hopper passes that could be used in Paris. They were so generous to save a couple for us so on a bright sunny Tuesday; we headed out for a day of Disney Magic.
With our Metro passes, we were able to take metro and train all the way to the Park. The final stop of the train is called Marne-la-Vallèe Chessy (cheesy), which seems very appropriate according to James Bell. The metro and train ride was about an hour and we made it without any problems. The weather was very cooperative no rain, but fluffy clouds in blue skies.
First stop, Main Street and blue Christmas trees! Of course, sapphire is the color of the Disney 25th anniversary as well.
We were going to ride down main street but decided to walk – which was nice. While it is the Christmas time there really were NOT any crowds!
Onward to Peter Pan and Pinocchio rides in Fantasy Land. Both are very similar to the Anaheim rides but just different enough to be interesting and enjoyable. Neither ride was narrated which we thought was strange – but then they would have had to do the narration in both French and English.
After two rides and a quick snack, we dared to ride Big Thunder Mountain. The Island isn’t an attraction to visit like Tom Sawyer Island, but it is the home of Big Thunder Mountain.
You board the train car and it goes under the river and circumvents the island. A really good ride! From Big Thunder we boarded onto the
The Main Street Holiday parade gave us hand clapping music and colorful dancers and floats, and Santa and his reindeer. So as the sunset, we dared to view the Phantom mansion with its abandoned bride and gold rush western town ghosts.
We also did Haunted Mansion – again, no narrative but very similar to what we know.
Ryan and Chris walked through The Nautilus attraction and David & Janeen found spots in the main square near the castle to view the lights and fireworks on the castle.
Sunday, Market day and we headed off to The Bastille Market. This is one of the largest partisan markets in Paris and stretches from the Bastille and Richard Lenoir metro stations and has 150 plus stalls.
Stalls are piled high with fruit and vegetables, meats, fish, shellfish, cheese and lots and lots of other things. There was also a spattering of clothing – wallets, handbags, scarfs and even some wine.
We walked most of the market, fortunately after the rain had stopped, and picked up a few things for our kitchen.
I fully expect we will hit another one or two while we are here.
On Thursday, we flew from Edinburgh to Paris and took a cab to our VRBO apartment to join Ryan and Chris. While the apartment isn’t as close to the center of the heart of Paris, it is certainly close enough to the metro that we can get there easily enough.
Our first outing, on Friday the 8th was to get metro cards and have lunch at Le Rèminet. Of course,
we did get to Notre-Dame for a quick photo prior to going back over the river to Le Rèminet.
Le Rèminet is a small bistro we discovered during our last visit to Paris and have wanted to return. It is not far from Notre-Dame and we were the last people to get seating for the lunch period – they don’t take new reservations after 2:30 and we saw them turn several people away after we got seated.
The entire restaurant, at least on the main floor, seats only 30 people. They can put a few chairs outside but only during good weather. The entire staff was very considerate of our language issues (although Ryan is really getting quite good with speaking French) and we had a very pleasant afternoon.
From there we got back on the metro and returned to the apartment for the day.
Saturday was just a perfect sunny ‘tour’ day for visiting various places Ryan and Chris have discovered prior to our arriving with an interesting lunch at a place that serves baked potatoes with all the trimmings – you choose what you want. We also found an Office Depot store. Next time we cruise, we might need a post office, a barber, and a place that sells pillows that please David, and a nail salon for Janeen.
Prior to getting to Edinburgh, I checked various listings for restaurants to try and make reservations for our stay. The number one restaurant was called The Table. It seems this place releases reservations months in advance and books solid almost immediately. Not wanting to let this get past me, I e-mailed a note and asked if there might be any openings and was surprised to hear there was! Seems a party from London wasn’t going to be able to make it up for their reservation and I was able to grab two spots.
The Table is a small place, only 10 seats, and we sat at the counter watching Chef Sean and his assistant Keith work magic before our very eyes! It is a BYOB place and we had hoped to get an idea of wine selections prior to arriving, but didn’t get them until the day of the reservation so had already picked up a bottle of Champagne and Burgundy. We figured both of these wines would go with just about anything they put in front of us and we were correct.
The menu is determined based on seasonal ingredients. No choices are available and you get what is prepared that evening. The process is not fast – we were there for almost four hours – and the interaction between the Chef and all the guests is frequent and animated. Doors open at 7, not before, and we arrived finding several couples waiting anxiously to get in out of the cold. Very soon we were all there, the doors opened and Chef Sean started the experience.
We were able to snag seats in the middle of the counter – 2 couples to my left and 2 couples to Janeen’s right – giving us a prime spot to watch all the action. To my immediate left was a couple from Edinburgh enjoying the evening and texting or emailing to their daughter throughout to let her know what was happening. The couple to Janeen’s right was from a village outside of Cambridge, England and had flown in for the evening! Next to them was another couple from London who were celebrating his birthday having taken the overnight train. We felt really lucky to have scored a reservation.
Throughout the evening there was increasingly lively conversation between everyone present with questions asked of Chef Sean like “How long have you been doing this?” pause, “28 months”. “ What kind of pig is this pork?” “Mangalisca, the Wagu of Pork” Who thought up a teaspoon of caramel powder with Anglesea sea salt as a course? A chef in Chicago.
Someone asked about the source for the hawthorne sauce (local scavenged); and Janeen learned what the red berries hanging on bare branches of trees are called.
Throughout the evening the items presented were well prepared and plated wonderfully.
I admit it, I like a good single malt whisky – and we were clearly at a place that has a lot of these. Specifically we went to
The Scotch Whisky Experience. This included a “barrel ride” through the process of how whisky is made, a tour of the largest single Whisky collection in the world and a tasting of the wonderful elixir called Whisky.
The Whisky Experience (WE) is a several story building on the
Royal Mile just before the forecourt of the Castle. We opted for the Gold Tour that included the basic tour, with one tasting, and an additional four regional single malt tasting flight in the lounge. On top of that we also get a one-year membership in the Scotch Whisky Appreciation Society (not sure I will be able to use any of the benefits but fun to have anyway).
The ride doesn’t compare to anything Disney might do, but it was at least clever in its presentation of how whisky is made with an interesting narrative. Having some idea of the process it was a refresher not anything new. After the ride we went into the Sense of Scotland room where a very enthusiastic guide – John, explained the history of where whisky is made. The video included visuals of all the areas of Scotland, the types of country and a general overview of the climates of Scotland. Clearly the video was done during the spring or summer, nothing like the weather in those areas in early December.
From there, we entered into the tasting room. After a brief introduction, we were given the option of tasting a Scotch from one of the six regions of the Country. I chose a taste from Islay and Janeen choose a Lowland pour. Before actually tasting the golden beverage we were taken into the magnificent Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection room.
This room holds over 3,000 bottles of UNOPENED Scotch Whisky that Diageo collected over the years – living in South America! Seems he liked the stuff so much he didn’t open any of the collection. It was purchased for an undisclosed amount about 10 years ago and is now part of the WE collection. It is with this backdrop of bottles that the guide explained how to smell and properly taste a whisky – a lot like drinking wines actually. Now we tasted our whisky.
After general tasting we end up in the “bar” where we were served our additional flight of four whiskies.
A nice culmination of the tour. The exit being, of course, through the gift shop we looked at a number of different bottles available, took a few pictures and left to grab some lunch downstairs in the Amber Restaurant.
When we were here in 2014 we didn’t take the tour but did have lunch in the Amber Restaurant and had a whisky or two at the bar. Our lunch was nice – local fare and filling. From the restaurant, we went to the Bar to look through and taste a few whiskies.
The “book” is divided into regions listing everything they have available. There are more than 350 different bottles to choose from! Impossible to get through more than a couple at a time really but an effort was made to try something different. Our educational take away from all this was the true nature of “blended” whiskey.
True, there are some blended single malts, but a true blended wart is made from a grain other than malt, then a small portion of a compatible flavor single malt is added to make the blend (the decision to start blending other grain whiskey was to compete with Irish and American whiskeys, perhaps?). Generally, blended whiskey is considered less “harsh” than the single malt that was distilled in the 19th century.
There are a LOT more blended whiskeys then there are single malt bottled every year.
While at the bar I mentioned a cocktail made with Dalmore that I quite enjoy. The barkeep said they had one too – called Thyme Well Spent. Naturally I had to try it and it was quite delicious, a great end to our meal and tasting.
So, having finished with the Whisky Experience we went out to the street, bought Janeen a cashmere sweater and caught a taxi home.
Castle Rock, the volcano that spewed lava rock in a mound, became King Edwin’s Fort (Gaelic burgh) sometime in the 12th century. The Castle built on and into the perpendicular lava stood a strong defense for centuries. People have lived on Castle Rock since the Bronze Age, around 850 BC, and there has been a royal castle on the site since at least the 12th century.
We “attacked” the City from the train station, after our 60 minute ride from Glasgow to the west.
The area around the Waverley Station is accustomed to wheel-bag dragging, hungry travelers, so we found a brew and steak just across the road for our Thursday evening meal. After a brew and some tasty food, a black cab delivered us to Lothian House our VRBO.
Arriving around 5:30, well past sunset (3:45PM here) and already dark we found our way into the building and connected with the owners for the key and instructions on stuff in the apartment. A nice one bedroom, with separate bath, entrance hall and living/dining/kitchen area was to be our base in Edinburgh for the next week.
Friday we headed out to get a lay of the land – we had been here in June 2014 so had some idea of the general area but it’s Christmas Time and there is a huge Christmas Fair happening in the Park. That night we had dinner reservations for a place we had been while here in 2014 – Mark Greenaway Restaurant (review separately). Chef Greenaway uses local and cultural foods in innovative ways in his tasting menu, and has matching wines to complement his creations. A great way to end our first day in this city.
Saturday, being cloudy both in skies and heads, we decided it would be a laundry, nap, and relax day in our 1930’s decorated VRBO apartment.
Sunday we purchased the 2 day Hop on Hop off (HoHo) bus pass and sat up top on a clear, sunny, if chilly, tour of the highlights of the City. Stop 1 started at the Christmas Fair, 2 whisked us by our VRBO neighborhood, and we were headed for the hollow of Grassmarket. Stops 5/6 were bookmarked for return Monday for Castle and Whiskey. Stops 8/9/10 reveal both Georgian tenements and 20th century Parliament architecture of the Royal Mile and culminate at Arthur’s Seat, (the other dormant volcanic mount). Stops 12/13/14 found us back at the Waverly Train Station, passing the National Gallery and having crossed Bridge Streets which are engineering marvels, we had come full circle.
The HoHo bus brought us back to Princes St. (“New “Town, new circa 18th century) and many options for a late meal.
We found the beautifully holiday-decorated restaurant called The Dome and cued up for a bit in the warm, and enjoyed the elegant café lunch (the high tea was completely booked). After our late lunch or early dinner really, we walked through more of the Christmas Market area and back to our apartment
When we first visited Edinburgh in 2014, we had tried to get a reservation at a nice restaurant but it was fully booked. The Concierge at the Sheraton suggested the Restaurant Mark Greenaway not far from our hotel so we went. Our evening at this place was very pleasant with good service, an interesting menu and nice wines. So, as we were coming back, I made a reservation for one evening to see how it had changed over the last 3 and half years.
The Restaurant Chef and Owner, Mark Greenaway, has been listed as one of the best 100 chefs in the UK. When we first visited, in 2014, the restaurant had not been open very long but was already gaining positive recognition. Our reservation this December was for 5:45 and we were a bit early but that wasn’t a problem. Our table, in the main dining room, was well positioned to watch the other diners arriving and getting settled in. After reviewing the menu options, we selected the tasting menu paired with wines. We were sitting at the table remembering the waitress who had served us on our original visit and realized she was now the hostess who greeted us when we arrived.
I came to learn she was not only the hostess but had married the Chef and was now acting as the general manager.
Over the course of the 3 hours we sampled a variety of items over 7 courses. The presentation of the amuse bouche was delightful; eggshell porcelain cups held oak smoked salmon flavored cream and were presented in an egg carton with explanation and flair.
Course one encapsulated lobster in a smoky infusion, topped with a green pasta roll of crab with cubes of cucumber.
The paired white wine (Macabeo) enhanced the light freshness of the dish.
Course two was decorated with flowers and fresh buds of winter vegetable over custard. Cadillac Cotes de Bordeaux paired pleasing with this mix of fresh and rich.
Course three supplied a timely pause while we waited for the thyme infused beef broth to distill. Cabernet Franc (2016) was presented, and except for Janeen’s dislike of the grape, went well. The heated broth was poured over beet leaves and herb infused cream.
A New Zealand Gewürztraminer accompanied the fish course, gently steamed Hake, on a striped pasta bed with shrimp stuffing dill sauce and carrot puree.
Then, at five, there was savory; smoked pork layered with crusty skin, grilled corn, and garlic mash, piped onto scot pudding.
Course six, bridged savory and sweet, once the shell of meringue was cracked, lovely custard was flavored with Tokai wine in our glasses.
Last, and almost too much, a late harvest dessert wine accompanied four chocolate flavors, whipped, moussed, and jellied but all Choco late.
This would have been a lot more accurate if Nicola would have sent me a copy of the tasting menu as promised.
Glasgow Scotland – A UK couple on our Portuguese Douro River tour insisted we needed to see what Scotland looked like from here. Glasgow has hosted communities for millennia with the River Clyde providing a natural location for fishing and is said to have been founded by the Christian missionary Saint Mungo in the 6th century. In the 18th century, after the British Acts of Union in 1707, Glasgow became prominent as a hub of international trade to and from the Americas and a major ship building port. Today, while the River Clyde still flows through the City, the trade and shipbuilding are all a thing of the past. Today the city seems to have a large insurance company and finance presence and of course ,tourist visits.
We flew into Glasgow and took a cab to our hotel close to the City Center. After settling in we walked around and got a brief ‘feel’ of the place ending up with a lovely dinner at a small restaurant and then back to our hotel. Let me say at the outset that the hotel a Best Western Historical refurb, was still a work in progress. First, we were in the basement level, not really a problem but no elevator or lift, and the heating was intermittent, making the room very uncomfortable. We got up the first morning to find the heating completely off – the radiator cold to the touch and the single pane windows not helping a bit. The response from the front desk – “we had complaints that it was too hot, so we turned off the heat”. Well, that didn’t make me happy and they clearly knew that but enough about the lousy hotel.
Our first full day, we walked down to the main square and picked up a couple of tickets for the Hop on Hop off bus tour around the City. This was a really good way to learn about the sites of the City and learn some of the history.
The tour hits all the highlights and gives some details. We did a complete tour and got off at the stop closest to our hotel. We did hop off a couple of times and checked out the local sites.
Onesite was the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. This was a lovely museum with interesting displays of Edinburgh history.
The next day, we walked down to George Square and the main (pedestrian) shopping area of the City and just walked around looking at the sites and taking in the holiday cheer of the shops.
As we really aren’t looking for anything in particular it was fun to just window shop (although a bit cold for us SoCal folks).
While we didn’t visit many of the historically significant sites of Glasgow we did get a nice feel for the City and didn’t feel badly when we left by train to Edinburgh.
Friday was shopping day and we headed off to the Old Boot Factory to see if I could find a pair of boots to supplement inventory of things to put on my feet. After wandering around a bit we did find the place and ultimately picked up a nice pair of low boots and several other things for our trip. Heading back to the room, we stopped at a nice Italian restaurant for lunch and then after unloading our stuff we went to tour Kilkenny Castle.
The Normans built Kilkenny Castle in 1195 to control a fording- point on the River Nore. It was both a symbol of Norman occupation and used as a defensive point for the City. Over the years it was modified and changed ownership several times but the longest owner/occupants were the Butlers. They owned and controlled the area for over 500 years. The final hereditary owner decided to grant the State ownership for fifty pounds. Thirty years of neglect meant the refurbishment was costly, but area families who had bought up furniture when the family moved south, responded to a request to donate furnishings from the 19th century. Photos by one local gallery owner over a period of time provided guidelines for wall coverings, room designations etc. The carpeting throughout was rewoven from patterns that had been designated as “not to be duplicated” except for the family. The family , over a 500-year residence, adapted the surrounding 12th century walls to the needs of each generation, including removing all the south walls to reveal the beautiful park. We spent about an hour on a guided tour of the Castle and ventured into a number of different rooms, learned the history of the place, and very much enjoyed what we saw. We have been in a bunch of Chateau’s, Castles and Big Houses, and I would have to say that the Kilkenny Castle was one of the most enjoyable ones I have seen.
The town of Kilkenny is a generous host to gatherings like the Subtitles Film Festival that was going on while we were in town.
They generate many return visitors, and seem to have a love of American culture
We left Dublin, via rental car with David driving, and headed to Kilkenny. The day before we headed out it had rained virtually all day, flooding Dublin. Our trip south, fortunately, was in good clear weather and there were no problems figuring out which side of the road to be on. I will admit that Janeen kept a sharp eye on me to help out our navigation. Kilkenny is a medieval town in southeast Ireland – we had been close to it when we were in Waterford but didn’t venture into this part of Ireland. This spot had been a recommendation of our guild, Tony, on our CIE Adventure around Ireland. The town has deep religious roots and there are many well-preserved churches and buildings. The primary highlight is the Kilkenny Castle built in 1195 by Norman occupation.
We stayed in a nice place just up from the Castle and the main intersection of town – Butler Court.
We arrived in Kilkenny in time for a light lunch at Pennyfeather Tea Room and a quick walk around town before getting changed for dinner. During our walk about, it was very clear that the American influence of Black Friday sales has come to Ireland. There were lots of Black Friday sales signs inviting us to come in to various shops and buy stuff at great discounts, and Janeen found a warm wool cardigan,20% off! We decided to make plans for a Friday shopping for David boot excursion.
It being Thanksgiving, David made reservations for dinner at a nice restaurant in town – Campagne, a one star Michelin Restaurant where the executive chef/owner had been at Chapter I in Dublin for many years prior to opening the spot in Kilkenny. When we got to the restaurant I sent a card into the Chef that I had picked up at Chapter One along with one of my Loverofwine cards and he came out to our table to meet us. Not one to let an opportunity get by, I asked if he would prepare three dishes for us he considered his best representations of the menu paired with wine.
He gave that some thought and said he could do that. So, over the next couple of hours we had a wonderful relaxed dinner without knowing what would be coming next! We highly recommend this approach if you can be adventuresome and get a Chef to agree to do this.