November 27, 2012

Great Scotland - Part II

I feel like it wouldn't be a true travel post of mine,
if I didn't share some dining recommendations. 
We weren't in Scotland for nearly as long as I would have liked,
but we did manage to taste some traditional food that I would like to share with you now. 

So let's jump right in, shall we?
Ever heard of it? 
Straight out of Wikipedia: Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal's stomach and simmered for approximately three hours.

In all honesty, if you're strong enough mentally to get past the description,
it's actually really delicious.
Definitely not for everyone,
but we liked it so much, we actually had it TWICE.
Tastes likes chicken.
In reality, haggis has this very rich, nutty taste to it.
Best served with a side of neeps and tatties,
(officially translated to turnips and potatoes),
along with an iced cold Irn-Bru.
Scottish food really doesn't get more traditional than that!

On Saturday night,
after a long day of sightseeing,
we decided to go somewhere romantic. 
Dining at The Witchery was an unforgettable experience. 

This beautiful restaurant is hidden in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle,
yet it has developed a world-wide reputation for its exceptional dining experience,
attracting loyal locals, celebrity fans and visitors to the city alike. 
The gothic feel and the fairy tale ambiance truly encompasses the city's personality,
and made us feel like we were in the midst of a Brothers' Grimm story. 
We kicked the night off with some Scotch, naturally,
which I surprisingly acquired a liking for by the end of the trip. 
For the main course,
I selected the Scottish seafood platter, 
which was piled on with the freshest oysters, langoustines, clams, mussels, crab and smoked trout, served on ice with lime mayonnaise, Tabasco and fresh lemon.
The husband opted for the Roast Cairngorm venison, 
served with Pommes Anna, roast squash, purple fig, spinach and chocolate oil.
Everything was exquisite,
and as we sat there and took everything in for hours,
I couldn't feel more content if I tried. 


November 21, 2012

Great Scotland - Part I

We arrived in Scotland kind of late,
and were pretty exhausted after a long and adventurous road trip.
To be honest,
we didn't get much of an impression of Edinburgh that night,
since all we wanted to do was check into our hotel and go straight to sleep,
which is exactly what we did.
The rest was just what the doctor ordered!
We woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to explore a brand new country.
As we stepped out into the misty morning,
we were surprised to see the looming Edinburgh Castle directly above our hotel.
The location ended up being ideal for exploring around the city.
Scotland turned out to be exactly how I imagined it!
To give you an idea of what I was expecting, let's just say that I may or may not have watched Brave on our flight to Europe earlier that week.
I'm bummed that we only had two days to spend in this beautiful country... but I must admit, we sure made the best of it.
Here are a few recommendations for Scottish must do's:

-Take the New Europe free walking tour.
I've mentioned this company before, because they just can't cease to amaze me.
Favorite highlights of the tour include history of the royal mile,
glimpse into the "real Hogwarts", story of the real Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,
and tour of Greyfriars Kirkyard with Greyfriars Bobby.

-Hike to the top of Arthur's Seat.
Warning: this is no easy feat, but you can do it!
The views from the top are simply marvelous!
See what I mean?
Scottish Highlands
On our second day in Scotland,
we really wanted to explore outside of the city center. 
We've heard great reviews about The Hairy Coo tours,
and thankfully, our research did not disappoint!
Here are just a few places that we had a chance to visit:

Braveheart may be a great movie, but according to Russel, our trusty tour guide,
Mel Gibson didn't do the real William Wallace ANY justice. 
For starters, did you know the guy was 6'6"?!
Mel is only 5'9" in real life, just in case you were wondering..
He also wasn't as forgiving to the man that murdered his family as it may have seemed. 
In fact, Wallace decided that using the guy's back skin as a belt would be a fair punishment.
-The Lochs, Mountains and Glens of the stunning Trossachs.
I just love how green this country is!
Not sure I was completely prepared to venture out into the wilderness and face these guys:
That slug was seriously the size of my hand!

-My favorite part of the day was when we went on the 'Hairy Coo Off-Road Safari'. 
What are hairy coos exactly?
They're actually just hairy cows,
pronounced with a Scottish accent. 
And they're adorable. 
We were lucky to come across a few who wanted to snack on some bread,
that the tour guide just happened to have laying around.
-We finished the day off by paying a visit to Monty Python's Doune Castle
Yep, this place was actually used to film the original movie,
and it still looks like it belongs in a fairy tale. 
Have you ever been to Scotland?
Are you in love with it just like I am? 
I can't wait to go back!


November 15, 2012


You know how they say "you never miss them till they're gone"?
It's true.
The husband and I were apart for just a measly four days last week,
yet it felt like a lifetime and I missed him like crazy.

We decided to celebrate our reunion this Monday with a spontaneous date night.
I've mentioned Whisknladle on this blog before,
but I had a completely different experience this time around.
Although their happy hour is still pretty legit,
the scene outside of the bar area is completely different.
It's dim, romantic, and a perfect setting for cozying up next your loved one.
Potato and Gruyere Raviolo: short rib alla Verano, egg yolk, glazed onions & gremolata.

Autumn Leaves cocktail
Roasted Pork Belly: lentils, Tuscan kale, butternut squash & mustard
Pan Seared Scallops: grapes, bacon, caramelized frisee & vermouth cream
Honey Ricotta Tart: marsala poached pears, pine nut croquante
Perfect place for a date night on a Monday evening!


November 13, 2012

Road Trip!

One of the biggest decisions that Erik and I had to make while on vacation this year was which mode of transportation would get us from London to Edinburgh. 
We kept going back and forth between three different options:
1) fly, 2) take the train or 3) drive. 
All three choices cost about the same,
yet we couldn't figure out which one would best suit our needs.

Should we fly and get there really quickly?
Should we relax and read a book on the train?
Or should we be adventurers and drive across the whole UK?

At the end of the day, 
we figured, when will we ever have the chance to road-trip in Europe again?
So a car was rented, and we were on our way!
Best decision ever made.

Approximate distance between London and Edinburgh is about 330 miles,
but we figured that since we weren't in a rush to get anywhere,
we could take our time and make a couple of pit stops along the way. 

Cambridge is less than two hours away from London,
and it's everything I imagined it to be and more. 
Oh what I would give to attend University in that beautiful town...

Once there, we spent a few hours wandering around the tiny streets that have been around since 1209. 
The architecture of places like the King's College Chapel, the Cavendish laboratory and the Library is out of this world.
After grabbing a quick bite to eat at Gardenia Take Away,
we hopped back into our little joy ride, 
and were on our way to the next destination. 

Enclosed within a circuit of 13th century walls,
sits York,
a romantic city full of culture and rich ancient history. 
We really enjoyed exploring around town, having supper by the river, 
and visiting places like the York Minster, which btw, is quite grand in scale and an unexpected surprise.
I wish we had more than one day allocated to our road trip so we could visit more small towns around the UK. 
As soon as the sun started setting over the River Ouse,
we figured we better get back on the road. 

The whole trip took us approximately 15 hours,
and I can honestly tell you that it was my favorite day of vacation. 
Between almost crashing in the center of London to getting lost in a tiny Scottish village,
we have so many memories that will put a smile on my face for the rest of my life. 

If you're ever planning a similar trip, here are a few tips:
- Rent a GPS system. Almost every car rental company offers them for about 10 GBP. It will make navigating SO much easier.

- Rent a car outside of London. We actually did this, by taking the tube to London airport and renting from there... the only glitch was when we realized we couldn't cash in our Oyster cards there, so we had to drive back into the city, cash them, and drive back out. At one point, we literally turned the corner and realized that we were driving across the Tower Bridge. Crazy! 

- Don't be intimidated to drive on the opposite side of the street. We were a little nervous at first, because 1) we rented a car with manual transmission which meant that Erik had to shift with his left hand {pretty hilarious}, and 2) all those round-abouts don't make it any easier to follow traffic signs. 
But hey, we survived, and like I mentioned earlier, had a blast doing so!


November 11, 2012


Officially one of the best breakfast joints in San Diego. 
But I must say, the name of the restaurant is a little hypocritical.
If you really want to snooze on a Sunday morning,
you probably have no business trying to come to this place, because you'll have to wait at least two hours to get in. 
So worth it though.
The food is incredible. 
Chilaquiles Benedict: carne asada steak served on a cheesy, saucy tortilla stack topped with poached Niman Ranch eggs, smoked cheddar hollandaise, fresh salsa and cotija cheese.  
Bobbin' for Pancakes: dunk into a plate of buttermilk pancakes filled with caramelized gala apples and topped with brown butter, candied pecans and lemony whipped cream.
Happy Sunday!!


November 9, 2012

Side trippin, London style

One of my favorite things about Europe is how accessible it is. 
You can be having a croissant in Paris one morning,
and then a few hours later you can very well be snacking on paella in Spain. 
Between trains, boats, and $18 flights on Ryanair,
no place is out of reach on that continent. 

The UK is slightly different, 
simply because it's so large and in charge. 
But, being the adventurers that we are,
we decided to take advangtage of the time we had in London and take a few side trips to explore some other places  in England. 

Below are a few snapshots of some places that, in my opinion, are just too good to miss.

Considered to be her majesty's home away from home,
Windsor Castle is only 40 minutes away from London city center.
Catch a train from Paddington Station and make a day of it. 
Take a tour around the State Apartments,
and get a glimpse into the good life. 

Stonehenge, Bath and Lacock
Visiting England without checking out the ancient stones would be like a sin, right?
Since we knew we would be heading west to check out Stonehenge,
we decided it would be worthwhile to make a whole day of it. 
I read a lot of great reviews about The English Bus tours,
and since they offered up an itinerary that tickled our fancy, we decided to give them a try. 
Couldn't be happier with how the day turned out!

Our first stop was, of course, Stonehenge
Let's see, what can I tell you about this place that you don't already know...
not much really. 
A bunch of old rocks, assembled on a grassy knoll, in some mysterious way. 
Worth a visit?
Of course!
It's probably the most important prehistoric monument in all of Britain,
and it also offers up a great setting for a mid-morning nap. 
Our next destination was the beautiful city of Bath
I seriously fell in love with this place.
It's tiny and peaceful,
but also offers up a unique experience with stunning architecture, great shopping, and iconic attractions.
Nestled right in the center of town are the Roman Baths,
a magnificnent temple and bathing complex that still flows with natural hot water.
For a few British pounds you can purchase a glass of this acclaimed water that is supposed to be filled with beneficial minerals (and that also tastes atrocious),
or you can treat your pallets to traditional afternoon tea at the Pump Room Restaurant
This was one of the most memorable experiences for me, and I highly recommend it to anyone who visits Bath. 

The restaurant decor is impressive enough,
but when they bring out that pastry tower,
your heart will melt into a big puddle of dough. 
We opted for the Traditional Pump Room tea ceremony,
and feasted on a selection of tea sandwiches, soft cheese with smoked duck crostini, homemade scones with clotted cream and cherry tree fruit preserves, pastries
and of course, some tea. 
I dream of those pastries at night some times... 
Honestly a must if you're ever in the area!
On the way back to London we made a couple of pit stops.
I won't disclose all the spots because the tour company prefers to keep the location of the last few stops a secret, but I must share one of them!
I felt so lucky to have had the chance to wander through the village of Lacock
Founded in the 13th century, it was unbelievable to me how well it has been preserved. 
but believe me when I say I'm not the only who thought it was breathtaking. 
 The tiny streets are often used as film sets.
You may have seen it in movies like Pride and Prejudice and Harry Potter. Nbd. 

Haven't heard of Watford before? 
Me neither... until I found out that it was the official location of the studios where Harry Potter was filmed!
I've mentioned before that I am self proclaimed Pott Head,
so there was no way that I was going to miss out on visiting the Warner Brothers Studio Tour
It was everything I imagined and more. 
A true Mecca for all my fellow Harry lovers. 

We rode broomsticks, drank butter beer, and walked through Hogwarts. 
My life is officially complete!
There are so many other destinations around London that we wish we had a chance to visit..
if only we had more time. 
Oh well, there's always next year!