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.

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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 -

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

Monday, November 23, 2009


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


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)


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.