Monday, December 28, 2009

Lisbon airport brings some Christmas joy - flashmob style!

I thought this was pretty cute given how boring hanging out at the airport is during the holidays. I'm not sure how we'd react up in Chicago, but bless the Portuguese for keeping it loose.

HomeAway Vacation Rentals: Beach Houses, Condos, Cabins, Villas & Vacation Rental Homes

HomeAway Vacation Rentals: Beach Houses, Condos, Cabins, Villas & Vacation Rental Homes

Jenni and I have been looking for a place for a mid-winter ski getaway with our family. There are going to be 11 of us. I'd blogged earlier about how much we like renting homes. Here's a good site to help in your travel planning.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Consumed - The Cult of Mexican Coca-Cola - NYTimes.com


Though I'm not a big pop drinker here at home, I find myself ordering Coca-Cola all the time when we're on the road. In Europe and Latin America, Coca-Cola is made with sugar, as opposed to the high fructose corn syrup used here in the States. I have to admit; to me it tastes better: a little sweeter, a little fizzier. I was listening to a podcast yesterday from This Week in Travel, and apparently quite a phenomenon has developed regarding Mexican Coca-Cola. I did a quick search and found this article from the New York Times. I've bought Mexican Coca-Cola at our local grocery store. Maybe it's the sugar, maybe it's the glass bottle, I don't know. But go have a coke and a smile while supplies last.

Consumed - The Cult of Mexican Coca-Cola - NYTimes.com

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Off Peak Travel

November has evolved into a vacation month for us. It's the beginning of the low season for European travel. Low season runs from November to March. We've found some great deals over the years by traveling opposite the high season. Sure, it's a bit cooler, wetter and darker in Europe; much like it is for everyone else living in the northern hemisphere. But because of this airlines and hotels have to work harder to fill seats and rooms. If you're willing make a few sacrifices, you can get a great deal, and have an awesome holiday. So, as you plan your holiday consider the time of year you're going, and why other people might or might not be going there.

Do some homework too, and see when the actual low season is; we found the low season for Stockholm was actually August. Europeans are not doing a lot of work in August, they too are on vacation, so the hotels in the capital cities such as Stockholm, Paris, etc, had great deals. Bermuda was a great deal last November. It was breezy and chilly, but it was still a lot milder than central Illinois. Keep in mind that it's the off season for a reason. You might find it great that there's nobody else at the museum, or that you have the beach to yourself, but that also might mean you're going to loose some of the extra service you might be expecting. Many attractions have different operating during the low season and some may be closed entirely.

Kiplinger's had a good article on off peak travel. I was reading it this morning while I was waiting for the scones to cook.








Posted using ShareThis

Friday, November 27, 2009

Volunteer Vacations & Work Travel: The Ritz-Carlton, Give Back Getaways

Traveling is one of the most fulfilling things you can do for yourself. Getting out on the road and meeting people from different places is food for the soul. But if you really want to combine traveling with giving back and making a difference, well, now there are some options.

I was reading about this on CNN's website this morning.

Giving back while you travel - CNN.com

Volunteer Vacations & Work Travel: The Ritz-Carlton, Give Back Getaw


Monday, November 23, 2009

Maltesers

Ah Maltesers, the tastiest malted milk ball money can buy. I picked up a box over the weekend at our international foods store. They always make me think of England. I was looking the box over, and it said they are safe for vegetarians. Good thing, since I had about 6 of them stuffed in my cheek. It's the holiday season, treat yourself to some vegetarian-friendly Matlesers, or a Crunchie if you can find one.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blenheim Palace


I've always been a big fan of Winston Churchill. When we were staying in the Cotswolds, Jenni and I decided to stop and see where he was born, Blenheim Palace. It's not exactly an understated country house. But next to Windsor Castle, it's probably one of the more unique homes in England. We enjoyed the gardens and grounds as much as we enjoyed the house. It had a nice cafe too. The history of Blenheim and the Churchill family is equally fascinating. If you thought the Windsors had problems, think again. I've been through quite a few stately homes, but this was the first time I took a tour that seemed outright critical of the people who built, sold off, and grossly mismanaged their own property.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Stratford

Here's Jenni outside a pub in Stratford. I thought Stratford was pretty commercialized, but it was a nice day out. William Shakespeare grew up here and so there were lots of Shakespeare themed tourist attractions. I found Stratford to be a little tacky, but it was nice. I didn't come home a better writer, but Shakespeare didn't write those plays anyway, did he?

Chipping Campden

The Cotswolds are filled with quintessentially English villages. Whether you buzz from town to town like we did in our rental car, or walk the Cotswold Way, they are fun to explore, as well as an easy side trip from London. Jenni and I also found an old GWR locomotive that was running as a hobby line, giving us a chance to ride through some of the towns like people would've in the 19th and 20th century.

Self-Catering Rentals

Jenni and I have rented apartments on our last couple of trips. It's a great option if you're bringing your extended family or all the kids. I don't mind staying in hotels, but it's a hotel. An apartment, or even a house, gives you your own living space. The kids can have their own bedrooms, you can make what you want to eat in the kitchen, and having your own yard or a fireplace is pretty cool.

Our apartment in Ireland was a converted stable. We had three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Downstairs was the living room, kitchen, and half bath. All the pots and pans, plates, blankets, etc were provided. I would walk down the local grocery and buy our food, and we had a family meals in the kitchen just like at home.

The apartment we had in the Cotswolds was one of the nicest places I think we've stayed. We didn't have the kids with us on that trip, but our apartment was cheaper than the hotels and B&B's around us. Broadway Cottage had two bedrooms and bath upstairs, with a large living room and kitchen downstairs. We also had laundry facilities to share with the cottage next door. The luggage was lost during this trip and we used the laundry constantly. Since we were out in the country you could hear the sheep in the fields and the air was full of nice country smells. I always remember the smell of the rosemary they planted around the building. Jenni and I would walk across a field and take a little bridge over the brook to get to the grocery store in Broadway. We'd meet people coming and going and we'd stop and say hello to them.

Just another thing to think about when you're planning your trip. It can be very economical if you're bringing a large group of people with you. And it can certainly make your stay feel more like home. You give up the luxury of people waiting on you and cleaning your room, but you also don't have to eat in restaurants or feel cramped up in a tiny hotel room. It's becoming more of a popular trend, so do a little homework when you're selecting your next destination. You might find this to be the way to go.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Japanese Gardens at Powerscourt

Dingle Pennisula





Wicklow Mountains (County Wicklow)

Pubs

Eating vegetarian in pubs can seem tricky, but we've done alright over the years. The vegetarian items are marked with a little v, for vegetarian, even out in the countryside. Pubs are great. I love them. They're supposed to be like an extension of the family home. And many felt that way, with their little nooks and crannies, fireplaces and low ceilings. When you're in the UK, you owe it to yourself to drop in. We've had some of our best meals in little out of the way pubs, where you wouldn't expect the food to be so delicious.

Soup For You


I'm not a big fan of canned soups. They're generally not vegetarian and they usually taste like can. But we've been on the go a lot this past week with the boy's birthday party and whatnot. So, I needed some quick, nutritious things to throw together. So, in a pinch, here are my recommendations.

Wild Harvest Organic
is making some terrific Vegan friendly, organic soups. They have black bean, lentil, tomato, and vegetable. I picked up the black bean and the vegetable soups this week.

Wild Harvest® Organic - Black Bean Soup

Another soup I'd recommend is Wolfgang Puck's brand. They've been carrying them at our local grocers lately. They're exceptionally good soups. I particularly liked the corn chowder and old fashioned potato.

Globe Trekker

I've been a fan of Globe Trekker ever since the show aired as Lonely Planet on the Travel Channel years ago. Lonely Planet is a travel guide company, which isn't associated with the show whatsoever. Good guides though.

I still watch Globe Trekker, which is available on our PBS affiliate, as is Rick Steves and Rudy Maxa. The shows are very well done. I watch them as much for entertainment as anything. They have some good tips, but it's doubtful I'll ever stay in a Yurt in Mongolia and have to eat goat eyeballs for dinner. It could happen, but it's probably unlikely.

You follow a host, or traveler, like Ian, Justine or Megan as they journey through a destination, meeting locals, shopping, dining on the 'typical' food that's available. The traveler narrates and provides context to what you're seeing. They usually try some exotic dish or participate in a local activity, like scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, or Bungee jumping off a bridge. There's sometimes a little too much acting, but the show provides you with more locations than you've probably ever thought of.

If you can't find the show in your local listings, Globe Trekker has its own website now. I found it a little difficult to use, and I thought it was a drag it wasn't free, but here it is.





Monday, November 2, 2009

Corn Chowder


Here's another soup I make just about every fall. I've been adding cayenne pepper to it this year, which gave everyone a pleasant shock on Saturday night. Like any soup it's easily customizable. I've used roasted red peppers in this too.

2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
1 small red onion chopped
1 or two cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups of frozen sweet corn
4 medium russet potatoes peeled and diced
2 cups of vegetable stock
4 cups of milk
2 tablespoons of heavy cream
2 teaspoons of dried thyme
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (optional)

Heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Saute the onion until tender. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about a minute. Add the corn kernels, potatoes, stock, milk, thyme, cayenne, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and let simmer about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Be careful not to let it boil over. Once the potatoes are cooked, puree a couple cups and stir back into the pot. Adjust seasoning and serve with melted cheese on top, or maybe a little extra cayenne.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Skansen



Church in Gamla Stan





Botanical Gardens Uppsala Sweden





House Swapping

Jenni and I rented an apartment a few years ago when we took the boys to Ireland with us. I thought it was great and I highly recommend it as an alternative to staying in a hotel.

Lately I've been hearing more and more about house swapping. It's a pretty interesting concept and possibly a big cost saver to your travel budget. Your accommodations end up costing you nothing. To do it: you register with a service, post pictures of your home, and make arrangements with the owners to swap homes with them for a weekend or a couple weeks. I haven't done it myself, but something to consider.

This is a pretty good article from Travel + Leisure where the authors talk about their experience.

Special Report: House Swapping - Articles - Travel + Leisure


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cheddar and 'bacon' drop biscuits

Here's an easy biscuit recipe that I appropriated from Cooking Light magazine. I just substitute veggie bacon for the bacon they recommend. I ended up making two batches of these last year on the boys' birthday. People were eating them as fast I could get them out of the oven.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 1/2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 slices of veggie bacon, cooked and crumbled
3/4 cup or more buttermilk
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 400°.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and whisk. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. I use my fingers to get everything blended, but that's up to you. Stir in cheese and bacon. Add buttermilk and 1/4 cup water, stirring just until moist. Drop dough by 2 level tablespoonfuls 1 inch apart onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake at 400° for 11 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Bad Leo's Diving

My buddy, Bob runs Bad Leo's Diving. He's no vegetarian, and I'm no diver. But Bob has a great passion for what he does; he takes great photos of his trips too. I credit Bob with recommending Bermuda to me last year. He'd spent some time working there several years ago and loved it. When I was looking for an island Jenni and I could visit, he provided me with some excellent information. I even stayed at the Elbo Beach Hotel, which Bob recommended. Fantastic trip!

If you're a diver, or want to become one, check out Bob's website.

Bad Leo's Diving

Cheers!

Long Way Down

I've been reading Long Way Down by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. In 2007 Charley and Ewan embarked on a motorcycle journey from John o'Groats in Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa. I watched the documentary they did a couple months ago, so I thought I'd look through the book to see what they didn't want shown by the cameras. I've really enjoyed the book. It's like reading a friend's travel diary. Charley and Ewan narrate their story switching back and forth in a conversational format, giving their reflections on what they're seeing, how they're feeling, etc. I liked Long Way Round too, but I actually think this is a better book. One of the most endearing aspects of the their story is that they seem just like any other traveler; they aren't historians, professional travel writers, or aid workers. They see cool stuff, meet interesting people, but they don't go into the scholarly details. They get ticked off when things break down, get into arguments with one another or their team, and are just as awestruck by what they are doing as we'd be. They make a lot of Star Wars jokes too. In the process they also draw attention to causes they care about: The Children's Hospice Association Scotland, UNICEF, and Riders for Health.

Long Way Down

The Amazing Race

It's hard to believe this is the 15th season of The Amazing Race. We've been watching since the show started in 2001. Some seasons have been more entertaining than others. This one has been pretty good. I don't have a real favorite though I'm leaning toward Flight Time and Big Easy. Jenni and I were really pulling for Margie and Luke last season. Curse you Tammy and Victor! You can watch episodes of the current show below. If there's one clear take-away it's this: next time you book that dream trip with that special someone, ex-spouse, fiance, sibling, or life-long friend, you should watch a couple seasons of The Amazing Race. You might find you're better off staying home.

The Amazing Race: Watch Episodes and Video and Join the Ultimate Fan Community - CBS.com

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Easy Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup


It's that time of year again. The days are getting shorter. The leaves are turning. The air is chilly and damp. Good soup making weather. Everybody has a favorite pumpkin soup recipe. And here's mine. It's an old Rachael Ray recipe that I've been playing around with over the years. It's a quick meal, and as easy as pie.

1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
2 tablespoons of butter
1 red onion chopped
1 can of vegetable broth
1 can of diced tomatoes in juice
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 pinches of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat a deep pot over medium heat. Add oil and butter. When the butter melts, add the onion and saute until tender. Add broth, tomatoes, black beans, and pumpkin. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and stir in cream, curry powder, cumin, cayenne, and a few pinches of salt. Simmer 5 minutes, adjust seasonings and serve.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

How to Make Friends and Oppress People

I picked up a few books yesterday. I couldn't resist How to Make Friends and Oppress People (Classic Travel Advice for the Gentleman Adventurer) by Vic Darkwood, simply based upon the title. I don't think it's for everybody, but I think it's pretty funny. I've read my share about the British Empire over the years. The author guides you through typical travel topics, but sends them up in a cod Victorian style. Interspersed is travel advice from actual travel guides from the 19th and early 20th century. It's hard to imagine accomplishing so much dressed in tweed and roughing it by being forced to make your own gin and tonic amongst 'savage natives' in places like Italy and Spain. But should you enjoy a very erudite joke on the English Gentleman it might be worth a look.

I also picked up:

The Global Soul by Pico Ayer
Long Way Down by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman
Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

KAYAK

KAYAK

Kayak is a constantly evolving travel search engine. It was started in 2004 by the co-founders of Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia. The site aggregates information from other travel sites, consolidators, airlines, hotel chains and online travel agencies. It's a pretty cool, intuitive site and the search engine does some of the grunt work of sorting through the clutter.

I'd read in Budget Travel magazine that Kayak is going to allow: Search Sharing, where you can share your search results with others who might be traveling with you. Search Snooping, which allows you to enter your home airport and watch as the best fares other searchers are finding from that airport pop up in real time, and Search On The Go, Kayak's iPhone app which allows for searching when you're mobile.

Shared via AddThis

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Calzones

Calzones are a nice break nice break from pizza, should you need one. They're easy to make, and they allow for plenty of options. I use my basic pizza dough, and divide it in two after it's risen. The recipe for that is below. My filling tends to be whatever is handy. This one has kalamata olives, mozzarella, tomatoes and basil.

Basic Pizza Dough
1 1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

Roll dough flat on a floured surface, like you're rolling a pizza. On one side of the dough add your filling: cheese, tomatoes, basil, olives, more cheese. You can fill it up, but don't fill it too much. Fold the dough over and pinch the sides together so there is a nice seal. Add a couple holes to vent and pop it in the oven. Mine tend to cook up nicely at 400 degrees in 30-40 minutes.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson last week. This thriller and international bestseller is set in modern day Sweden and revolves around an unsolved murder, a disgraced journalist and and a rich, dysfunctional family with many secrets. There are Nazi's, socio-paths, hackers, and perverts galore. The hacker would be Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo herself. The novel has so many plot twists that you're never sure what's coming next. And there's so much gratuitous violence that you begin to wonder if there was some hidden insanity inside those ABBA songs you listened to as a kid. It's a bit overlong toward the end, and it takes some time to get used to the dizzying number of characters, but it's still a great summer read.


Jenni read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo while we were in Sweden and really enjoyed it. She's just started book two: The Girl Who Played with Fire. I'm onto lighter fare with Long Way Down.







Friday, September 18, 2009

Travel Planning and Deals

I'm currently enrolled in a travel education program with hopes of having my own travel business in the future. For some time, I've put together trips as a hobby. Now that we have this blog, whenever I see a great deal or put together a new package, I'll share it in case someone might be able to use the information.

If anyone would like some help planning an upcoming trip, please let me know. I can use the practice!


Stockholm Journal 6

This is Stockholm journal 6. Just us taking a 3 1/2 hour steamship ride with the kids back from Gripsholm Castle. Lake Malaren was beautiful, and it was a nice day trip. Not a tremendous amount to see at Gripsolm Castle, if you're used to other European castles, but it was great being out on the water. It turned off pretty wet and cool on the way home so we had the deck to ourselves. The boys took full advantage of that.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stockholm Journal 1

Here is Stockholm Journal 1. This is our first evening in Stockholm. We're dining outside behind an Italian restaurant.


Stockholm Journal 4

Here is Stockholm Journal 4. The daily journals were supposed to provide insight into what we were seeing, doing, or eating, but I was so tired most of the time it's really just me drinking beer and rambling. We're on the street for this one, so the sound is pretty bad.




Segway Army

Is it the future of transportation, or just a fun way to travel six inches above the ground. I don't know; but Stockholm was one of the cleanest and best smelling cities we've been in. Maybe it's because they keep their options open. There were numerous ways of getting around on public transportation, light rail, subway, bus, water taxi, train, all very punctual too. We found a lot of people on bicycle or walking as well. But this could be the future. These folks attended a training session in the Gallerian across from our hotel. At the end of it they were set loose on the streets. I was lucky enough to catch them.



Restaurants in Gamla Stan Stockholm Sweden

Gamla Stan Stockholm Sweden

Carl Linnaeus Garden Uppsala Sweden

You don't often get to say famous and botanist in the same breath. But Carl Linnaeus, the man who gave us the Latin naming taxonomy for plants and animals, is about as famous as they come. Take your Home Sapiens self for a walk through his gardens in Uppsala, and marvel at natures diversity. You might not see Sid viciousi and Johnny rotteni. They were ancient trilobites. But if you're lucky, you might see some mold eating beetles named: Agathidium bushi, A. rumsfeldi and A. cheneyi.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Salsa Verde

This recipe comes from the Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook by Jack Bishop. This is great on toast or served with pasta. It's delicious. I usually serve this with Spinach and Ricotta cakes.

1/4 cup of minced fresh parsley leaves
10 large green olives, pitted and minced
2 tablespoons of minced fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon of capers, rinsed and minced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
salt

Place parsley, olives, basil, capers, garlic and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Slowly beat in the 1/3 cup of olive oil. Taste and add salt if necessary. Use immediately.

Tomato and Basil Tart

I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with at the moment. This recipe is quick and easy, and makes good use of those fresh tomatoes. I grew the basil next to the tomato plants to save time.

5 oz of mozzarella sliced or chunked
4 large tomatoes sliced
10 basil leaves
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
salt and black pepper

Crust
1/2 cup of all purpose flour
pinch of salt
2 oz of butter
1 egg yolk

Mix the flour and salt, rub in the butter and egg yolk. Add a tablespoon or so of water, or enough to bind everything. Knead on a floured surface. Wrap and chill for an hour.

Roll the dough out and place into a pie pan. Prick the crust with a fork and bake for 10 minutes until firm. Remove and let the crust cool for a few minutes.

Line the crust with the mozzarella. Arrange the tomatoes on top of the mozzarella letting them overlap. Dip the basil leaves in olive oil and arrange them on the tomatoes.

Scatter the garlic on top of the tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil and season with black pepper.

Bake 40-45 minutes at 350 F. Serve hot.

Flip Camera

I've been lugging my old Sony camcorder around for years. I love that camera. But this year we went ahead and picked up a Flip camera. These little pocket size video cameras are great when you're spending the day sightseeing. They fit right in your pocket and make it easy to have a video camera with you at all times. They plug directly into your computer, so you can easily offload your videos and post them on the Internet to share with your friends and family back home. I've read reviews by folks who really liked them, and reviews by people who really didn't. I don't think the technology allows you to shoot high end videos, and there are some functional limitations, such as being unable to use them for night shots, and some limited zoom capabilities, but for what they are they're an excellent investment.

Noise Canceling Headphones

I'd been considering getting noise canceling headphones for years. They do a great job of canceling out the sound of the jet engines, letting you listen to your music or movies without having to crank the volume all the way up. You can spend a small fortune to get the high end Bose headphones, but we invested in a some relatively inexpensive JWIN's that worked just fine. Amazon has a pretty good selection, but you can find them all over the place these days. Do a little research and see what works for you. But these are a great investment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Saved by Travel John


Having young children, you always have to be aware of the nearest bathroom. Sometimes, there just isn't one available or near enough for emergencies. Enter my favorite invention, the Travel John. This little miracle saved us many an embarrassing moment while traveling - and it's not just for kids!

From their website are the following standard features:

Revolutionary "bag within a bag design"
Non-toxic, odorless, spill proof gel. It instantly gels after absorption of liquid thus making it leak-proof!
No closure needed
Waste disposal safe, simply throw away
Small and light weight
Reusable until it is full
LIQSORB® super absorbent polymer pouch included
Volume indicator included
Unisex plastic collar for easy handling

I highly recommend this product - not only for travel, but also for every day trips. It's awesome!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review: Scandic Sergel Plaza Hotel, Stockholm Sweden


For our family trip to Sweden, we chose to stay at Scandic Sergel Plaza in the heart of Stockholm. I had researched Stockholm hotels on the web, looking for something family friendly, and knew I would choose a Scandic. Their Sergel Plaza location was recommended by Frommer's, and Frommer's has never steered me wrong, (except for that time in Monterey, CA many years ago...)

Since we had four in our party, two adults and two children, I booked a family room. This includes what they call a double bed, (which I thought was near the size of a queen bed in the States), a pull out sofa, chair, desk, satellite tv, two armoire type cabinets, a stocked (and wired for purchase) mini-bar, and a full bathroom. Breakfast was included, as well as a special gift for all children on arrival and a play area in the hotel specifically geared for younger children.

After we arrived at Arlanda Airport in Sweden, we took the Arlanda Express train to Stockholm's Central Station, (which I highly recommend.) Since we were half crazed from lack of sleep, (Brad and I can't sleep on planes), we opted for a taxi to the hotel. It was only a couple of blocks away from the station. The check in time was 2pm, and it was around 10:30am when we arrived, so we checked our luggage in their baggage room and went exploring.

First impressions: Great location! This Scandic is not only located in the heart of Stockholm, but it's also in the midst of the shopping district. Across the street is a Gallerian shopping mall with over 80 stores - enormous! H&M, Ahlens and NK are also nearby. Almost everything is within walking distance; a metro station (tunnelbana), Central Station, several ports, City Hall, tons of restaurants, parks, bus lines, the tram line and ferries.

The lobby is large and bright. Near the reception desk, there is coffee available, along with all sorts of snacks, sandwiches, salads and drinks for purchase. They also have what they call a "store", but really it's just small items to purchase on a few shelves. The items for sale are handy though; personal care items like toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo as well as toys for kids and souvenir items. The staff was friendly, efficient and spoke English very well.

Downstairs is the family breakfast area. I have to say, the star of the show was the breakfast they offered each day. What a selection! Here are a few things that were included: several kinds of yogurt, with dried fruit and nuts to add in, fresh fruit, several kinds of fresh bread and rolls, pastry, scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, jams, jellies, applesauce and cottage cheese, green salad fixings, cookies and biscuits, and finally Swedish pancakes with cream and lingonberry jam. Yum! Drinks offered include coffee, many types of tea, milk, juices, chocolate milk and the ever-present sparkling water. We couldn't believe that they offered so much for the "included breakfast." And here's some video Brad took on our last day showing some of the offerings...




Our room was larger than we expected, and we found it clean and comfortable. This hotel has a lot of "green" initiatives, so we found no toiletries in the bathroom. (Actually this has been the case at most of the European hotels we've stayed at.) There was a hand soap dispenser on the wall near the sink and a "Shampoo/Shower Gel" dispenser on the wall of the shower/bath tub area. I expected this ahead of time and brought our own soap and shampoo/conditioner. One note: For those not used to European hotels, bring your own washcloths from home. They do not provide any. From what I understand, they consider it too personal an item to provide at hotels. I brought some cheap kitchen dish cloths from home. This worked out great because we each had our own color so always knew which was ours.

On arrival, a large platter was brought to our room. It had a mountain of fresh fruit, two bottles of Coke, two small boxes of chocolate truffles and two bags of Swedish candy. I can only assume this was the special gift given to children on arrival. It was a great surprise and we ate every last bit!

Our room was promptly and thoroughly cleaned each day, and the hotel staff was receptive to our request for more pillows and towels. The television had several channels (in Swedish and English) and had children's programming including the Disney channel (which was dubbed in Swedish - but our boys didn't seem to mind) and two Disney movie channels that ran a continuous loop of "Wall-E", "Bolt", and "Ratatouille" - all dubbed in Swedish. The boys were thrilled that they could see some of their favorite movies, didn't care it wasn't in English, and even picked up some Swedish words. :)

We stayed nine nights, in August, and our cost was 11,160 SEK or at today's exchange rate, $1,548.72, which costs out to $172.08 per night. (I booked early from Scandic's website and received the Early Saver rate.) Considering the location, amenities, and especially the free breakfast each day, I think we received a good deal.

Overall, I highly recommend this hotel, especially for families. For more information, please see their website.

Drottningholm Palace

Lower Lake - Glendalough - Ireland

Boats - Wexford


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Clif Kid Bars

I had to plan ahead for our trip to Sweden. Since we took our 4 year old twin boys, who, like us, are vegetarians (and picky ones at that), I knew we would encounter food issues. I wanted some snacks that were (somewhat) healthy, easy to carry and very tasty. I discovered Clif Kid ZBars. First, I tried them out at home on my two subjects. From Amazon, I ordered a Clif Kid ZBar variety pack which includes 8 Chocolate Brownie, 8 Chocolate Chip and 8 Honey Graham bars. The boys (and their parents) liked all three varieties. Success! Since we're gluttons, we ended up eating the entire variety pack before we left on our trip. I ordered two more variety packs and kept them under lock and key until we left.

Since the bars have vitamins and minerals, whole grains, no artificial ingredients, no high fructose corn syrup or trans fats, I felt good about the boys eating them. They just thought they were getting a treat.

Review: SAS, Scandinavian Airlines

We just returned from our trip to Sweden (obviously, per previous photo posts...) and flew via SAS both ways. We had a direct flight from Chicago to Stockholm, Sweden, which took a very long 8 hours (with two 4 year old boys.) I have to say, SAS seriously impressed us.

First of all, the flight crew were nice (shocking!) Everyone we encountered on board was professional, friendly and efficient. We were in Economy class, which usually is the pits, but considering how many people they had jammed in that section, we were made quite comfortable. Each seat had a seat-back screen with Movies, Music, Games and Flight Information. Our boys loved the fact that they could control what they did to pass the time. I think all aspects of the entertainment system were utilized. Each seat was provided with a bottle of water, which was also a nice touch. After take off, a flight attendant came around and gave each child a small toy. We didn't expect this, so the boys were very excited. They both received a Lego vehicle to build.

The drink service was similar to others I've experienced except they allowed Economy class customers to have one alcoholic beverage for free. (Brad took advantage on the way back home and had some red wine, which was very good.) The meal also surprised us... It was edible! Being vegetarians or vegans, you don't expect much from airline meals, but Brad and I both agree that SAS provided the most tasty vegetarian meals we've had on an airplane. We had ordered Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians meals for all four of us. Our entree on the flight to Sweden was roasted asparagus, potatoes and red pepper with a mild tomato sauce. There was fresh fruit, a green salad and two kinds of bread rolls with butter and brie. Brie! Can you believe it?! After dinner, we were offered coffee or tea and they came back for multiple refills. Between meals, they came through with water and a large basket of wrapped candies to choose from. Our snack before landing was a tomato and cucumber sandwich with yogurt and juice. Brad liked the sandwich, but the boys and I preferred the yogurt.

On our return trip, we had a similar experience. The meal was good; an entree of roasted vegetables in a light tomato sauce on a bed of wild rice, fresh pineapple, green salad and two pieces of bread with margarine. The snack before landing was a cheese sandwich and a fruit juice. As a treat, during the long period between the meal and snack, each child was offered an ice cream treat. Nice touch! Considering the flight back to Chicago was 9 hours, (yes, NINE hours), that extra treat perked up the boys considerably.

All in all, we give SAS a big THUMBS UP! Their staff were great, the amenities were plentiful, (even in Economy class), and the food was edible, and dare I say it, tasty.

Our trip to Sweden was wonderful. I hope we go back again some day - and if we do, we're definitely flying SAS.

http://www.flysas.com/en/us

Tangopalatsi - Stockholm Culture Festival

How can you pass up a Finnish - Persian Tango band.


Rosendals Tradgard

Riddarholmen - Stockholm

Drottningholm Palace

Friday, August 7, 2009

Gamla Stan at Dusk


Stockholm - Kungstradgarden

The Kungstradgarden is a great big city park. It was always filled with people eating at the cafes or strolling with their kids in the warm summer sun. We passed it through it every day on our way around the city. The tourist office is right by the park as well. The day before we left there were stages set up for rock concerts as part of the Culture Festival.