The 2013 Adventure : London Edition

20130606-150159.jpg After a weather related delay at JFK we made it to London Heathrow smoothly. Virgin Atlantic made the grade. The taxi ride was incredibly slow and long. We never got an explanation for the heavy traffic. Perhaps rush hour lasts longer in London., but my guess was a accident. 20130606-150130.jpg20130606-150307.jpg We chose Firmdale Hotel’s Covent Garden Hotel again, as we enjoyed our stay with them on our last visit. Our early arrival was not a problem, they immediately found us a room which we sorely needed as the T-man was nodding off in the taxi. A tea tray was sent up with lovely little blueberry muffins. One impressive thing about the Covent Garden hotel is the room service turn around. The order had always been right and in our room within 20 minutes, sometimes as fast as 15. We all took naps and I made the T-man and I an afternoon tea reservation at Brasserie Max – the hotel’s restaurant, while Jack ordered the bacon, chicken, avocado sandwich from room service. Afternoon Tea at Brasserie Max was a great success. We had a Traditional and Champagne Tea to try them both. A lovely presentation and well crafted sandwiches, scones and lovely pastries. Jet lagged we were hoping to make a late dinner at 9pm, but we were all hungry early so we went to Moti Mahal early. It was a short walk, and would have been even shorter if we had successfully mapped it out first. 20130606-150052.jpg Moti Mahal The food at Moti Mahal was great, What impressed me was the attention to the small details of the spicing. It was obvious there was care taken with the creation of each dish. We had their equivalent of butter chicken, lamb biryiani with raita, tandoori prawns and a morel/pea curry with a chef’s selection of bread. The condiment/enhancement plate had cucumber, tomato, onion, curry, salt, fresh cilantro, lettuce,lemon, tiny radishes and a pod of some sort. It was not only beautiful on the table but a lovely idea. The t-man enjoyed a non-alcoholic cocktail of sparkling water, lime, fresh mint, cucumber and elderflower syrup. Bottom Line: Good! We might try the tasting menu next time. 20130606-145833.jpg

The Goring – Afternoon Tea After the disappointing tea at Claridges, on our last visit, it was down to the The Goring or Brown’s Hotel for this one. The tea had no complaints. Sandwiches, pastries and scones were all great. T-man’s favorite was the elderflower macaron. We had a blend of the Bollinger and Traditional Tea. The lovely yellow china is showing some wear. I think the biggest disappointment was the staff who didn’t seem to be on top of the mark. The location is also questionable. They have a few tables inside but six of them are on the terrace and while the garden outlook is lovely on a windy – less than 70s day, it was cold. The bottom line: Good but you don’t need to make a pilgrimage.

Restaurant Story Fabulous dinner at Restaurant Story in London. Make a reservation while you still can… Full review here. 20130606-150325.jpg20130606-150334.jpg

Dinings 24 Harcourt St. A tiny place. with a tiny sushi bar upstairs and maybe 8-10 tables downstairs. The menu is Japanese tapas with a sushi/sashimi menu, We had the mushroom and a salmon miso soup, Courgette flower/asparagus tempura, Toro 2-ways special. Crab, lobster and salmon tar-tar tacos, Wagyu beef steamed buns, and tempura crab futomaki roll. No complaints. Definitely try something off the specials board. They were very accommodating making up a favorite roll for our young diner. I appreciated the organic unfiltered apple juice on the drinks menu.
Bottom Line: We’d go back, but perhaps not rush back – although I think I liked the dinner more than Jack, and would be happy to return anytime.

Green Man & French Horn A Loire Valley themed restaurant from the creators of Brawn and Terrroirs. We chose the breakfast radishes, oysters to start and Turbot and the Shared grilled lobster for two as mains. The wine list holds some older vintages but the prices are daunting.
Bottom Line: The food was lack lustre. Our memory of a fantastic dinner at Brawn overshadowing what could have been a great meal; but simply wasn’t. The wait staff were friendly, but slow to the mark. Dinner dragged.

Hedone Mini-review here

Entertainment: One Man Two Guvnrs
We purchased tickets in advance that included Oscar Wilde Room tickets. With no idea what that means we notice a door with the name on it and enter – it takes us down a hallway to the theater. We still have no clue. Turns out that we missed the door in that hallway which leads downstairs to a private lounge. The bar is open (we had champagne) and the lounge has a private toilet. Despite the full theater we are the only guests that night so we have the place to ourselves and the attendant comes for us at half-time. Such an unexpected treat!

Shakespeare’s Globe – A Midsummer’s Night Dream
We sat in the upper floor and next time would like to be in the middle gallery. Our section was bay D which a good this time of year. Some the middle sections of all gallery floors were in full sun for part of the performance.

St. Martins in the Field – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
Lead Violinist Ofar Falk was fabulous.

Victoria & Albert Museum
definitely get your tickets in advance, online. We went to see the special Tudor exhibit which was disappointing. We later ended up in the regular jewelry and theater/costume areas which were far more interesting.
The British Museum
Rosetta Stone, Lewis Chessmen and a great Babylonian Assyrian collection. Good egyptian. Worth planning a part day. We had lunch in the cafe/cafeteria and it was a fine choice.
The London Eye
Fast Track will cost you but will save you time depending in the lines. It cuts you way ahead in the line. Saved us 20-30 minutes on a not too busy day. I was skeptical but the Eye is fun and stress free (unless heights are an issue)We enjoyed it much more than the Tower. It would be fun to try in the evening sometime.

Covent Garden Hotel wrap up:
One morning cigarette smoke woke us up. Smoking is not allowed in the hotel. The solution was to put a deodorizer/air cleaner in the hallway. It was rotten luck, but a miserable few days of walking though that hall. The room is small for the price. The shower tiny and no shaving mirror. One elevator was out of order fir two days (there are only 2 and the staff use them as well). The battery in the cordless phone kept dying on us. Despite the flaws of this stay, the location is good for covent garden, room service is great and I like the feel and decor of the hotel.
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Shopping:

Covent Garden &
Seven Dials Area Shops
Harvey Nichols
Liberty of London
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Den Gamle By

Den Gamle By in Aarhus, Denmark is an open air folk museum. The buildings show a variety of period architecture. Inside is housed static museum exhibits. A few houses have shops. The toy museum has an interesting collection of turn of the century toys and the merchant house has a small museum with some lovely period maps. Our young traveler was pleased to visit the bakery and sample some traditional Danish treats for a small charge. The bakery has a little book of recipes that can be purchased. Each house had a traditional sign outside of it – I love these old style signs. One window display showed how tobacco was sold. We were surprised to see the rolled leaves in round spools and the bigger rolls also rolled rope-like.

In contrast to the open air museum in Oslo, Den Gamle By is town/city focused. We liked the country scene more, but enjoyed our time in the city today.

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Oslo wrap up

After breakfast, which for our younger traveler is a jam slathered waffle which has just a hint of cardamom, we headed to out the Mathallen food hall for a perusal and quick lunch. We decided to choose Vulcanfisk because of the freshness of the seafood. We sampled sashimi and the gravlax salad.

After lunch we went in search of apples and juice for our travels. Interesting to note we have yet to see any organic produce of any kind and no organic juice. We found locally pressed juice which is unfiltered called Epleslang – It had a really interesting story which I encourage you to take moment to read about.

The purchase of French macarons followed from the Oslo chocolatier Sebastian Bruno

A brief foray into the art store across from Mathallen scored a new pen and a couple if tips on things my studio was lacking – a situation which now has been rectified.

Our next stop was a trendy shopping area called Grünerløkka. We were not that impressed but maybe we missed the best street? Our young explorer scored some raspberry sorbet as we walked around.

Our last stop was Akershus Slott the medieval fortress which has had many evolutions and overlooks the Oslo harbor. The tooled leatherwork on the chairs inside the castle was memorable – as were a few pieces of carved furniture. The view is worth the walk up but often cruise ships are docked just beneath the fortress obscuring the harbor view – today was the massive Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas.

A refreshment at the Bergshaven bakeri adjacent to The Thief netted cold water and a cream filled bun called Bergshaven Bolle.

A dinner of Limousin Beef at The Edge with a strange starter of caviar and asparagus which had virtually no taste. The steak made up for it – but it was seriously lacking.

Tomorrow is a travel day to Denmark…
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Oslo Day 2

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Today’s Adventures took us to the Viking Ship Museum, the Vigenlans Sculpture Park and downtown for a bit of shopping in the Norwegian department store Steen and Strom.

One thing I’ve forgotten to mention are the lilacs which are in bloom along the highway and in the gardens. There are also rhododendrons in bloom.

The afternoon snack today was a waffle smothered in jam which has also turned into the breakfast hit with our young traveler.

Something else to note was the great little playground next to the sculpture park where our monkey got to stretch his limbs at bit.

We dined at Solsiden Restaurant which is open for only 4 months of the year. The Restaurant is situated dockside, just beneath the Akershus Fortress. Definitely dinner with a view – as long as there is no cruise ship in dock. Eat like a local there and order the play de mer. The seafood was fresh an assortment of crab (2 kinds), scallop sashimi style, lobster, shrimp and crayfish. I will have fond memories of peeling shrimp for days to come.

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Oslo adventures part # 1

We got a later start on our adventuring, because of the one hour time difference from London.

We set out for the Vigenland Sculpture Park and changed course, because the parking lots were full.

Three museums made a great day. The Folk Museum should go on your not to miss list if you visit Oslo, we had a great time walking though it. The most exciting location for me was the Stave Church built in the 1200s and relocated in the late 1800s. The Folk Museum was both interesting and beautiful. Trent enjoyed the lefse just baked from the open fire with my freshly fire roasted coffee. A bit later he tried out the small playground and then scored an interesting blueberry sugar pop from the mock general store.
A bit of unexpected rain curtailed travels between buildings but we were greeted back at the hotel with a double rainbow!

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The Scandinavian Adventure Planning phase 2

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More focus now on how to make a loop out of the trip. It appears Stockholm is a very interesting place and I’m trying to carve an extra day out of the schedule to spend there and also allow for going to Aland, Finland. We’re having trouble calculating sane driving times to get from Norway to Sweden with the intent on going to Northern Norway (or at least as north as Trondheim or Alesund). An extra challenge will be to consider in Jutland, Denmark. By far the biggest connundrum is what to with the car between Oslo, Bergen and Flam.

Oh and did I mention we added London to the mix? It appears the trip might have to be a few days longer.

Here’s my short list of planning links:

Visit Flam
Samso Labyrinth
Ale’s Stones
Denmark Top Hotels – Tripadvisor
Sweden Top Hotels – TripAdvisor
TripAdvisor Top Norway Hotels

Care of Hotels – Sweden – Grythyttan Inn
More Self-Drive Scandinavia
Kronberg Castle (Elsinore)
Roskilde Viking Museum
Legoland Factory Tour Denmark
Glacier Walking in Norway
Visit Norway
Norled Ferry (Bergen to Flam)
Self-Drive Travel Gate Sweden
Den Gamle By
Rosenborg Castle – Copenhagen
Legoland – Billund, Denmark
Amalienborg Museum – Copenhagen
Lejere Experimental Center – Roskilde
Tollund Man – Bog Bodies – Silkeborg
Gotheborg Maritime Museum & Aquarium
Egeskov Castle – Denmark – Maze
Dalslands Kanal
Jutland Attractions (Good Highlights list of links)
Jelling Runic Stones Denmark – UNESCO WHS
Unesco World Heritage Sites – Norway
Unesco World Heritage Sites – Sweden
Urnes Stave Church – Norway

Planning the Scandinavian Adventure 2013 – The First Installment

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Crazy strange people that we are, the trip we are planning to take involves no overnight cruises. A driving tour of Scandinavia may be a novel concept for most vacationers, but it fits our style to wander the countryside. In Europe these types of trips are packaged and called Self-Drive Tours where you rent a car and travel around to a pre-set itinerary. I won’t be signing up for a self-drive tour, but I will be looking at what they consider the highlights of an area before making a decision of whether the offerings are attractive enough to make a detour.

The planning of 4 country adventure by car is a daunting task and I’m just starting to piece things together. The first challenge is to find the perfect number of days for the adventure. The second is to find a place to stay about every four and half hour or less car trip. Long drives are tough for adults but suicidal with most kids/teens. Generally we like to stay 3-4 days at a location and usually aim for a minimum of 2. That means I have to find the perfect sleeping spot about four hours away from the last one. There are logistical problems to tackle as well; namely what to do with the car when you get to a city or want to take a train ride which sends you to a new location. We are not light travelers, so luggage is always a concern as is laundry. Generally we pack 7 days of clothing on a 3-4 week trip we have to find laundry facilities at least twice.

This is the first post of hopefully many in the planning process. I’ll be throwing links in at the bottom of the post which I’m using to help with the planning.

Things I’ll be looking for are: Castles/Ruins, Gardens, Places of Historical Interest, Interesting Architectural or Cultural Buildings, Restaurant destinations, Wildlife Parks, Mazes, Places of Natural Beauty, Day adventures (like glacier walking, fjord cruising, train rides, fishing, hiking), Aquariums, Museums/Art Galleries, Glass blowing experiences…

Here are some websites I’m bookmarking… The all-important restaurant short list will be my next post-in-progress 🙂
Countryside Hotels – Sweden
Self- Drive Scandinavia
Profil Hotels
Smultronstallen Hotel
Svenskamoten Hotels (Business & Meeting Hotels – Sweden)
Kloster Hotel
Aland – Things to do with Family