Bohemia Brilliantly Delivers

Our weekend in Jersey was well underway, and after a full day of exploring St Helier, we returned to the hotel in order to take advantage of The Club Hotel’s spa facilities. As a guest of the hotel, you are able to use the indoor salt water pool as well as the salt cabin, the experience shower, and the sauna. We really enjoyed the relaxation and the quiet of the spa, particularly the pool and the salt cabin. We didn’t book any treatments, but I had a look at the spa menu and it looked wonderful.

That evening, we had extra special plans to have a meal at Bohemia, which is the Michelin-starred restaurant in the hotel. For Valentine’s Day, they were offering an eight-course menu and we were both really looking forward to it. We arrived at the restaurant and had a seat at one of the tables in the bar. Richard ordered us drinks – a gin and tonic for him and the special Valentine’s champagne cocktail for me. We let them know we were eating in the restaurant and were brought the delicious canapés shown below. We savored these in the bar whilst we browsed the menu for the evening and soon it was time to be seated at our table in the restaurant.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, we definitely went all out during the entire weekend and decided to do the wine pairing with the meal. We were so glad we did this. Each time a course had a wine paired with it, the sommelier came to the table to explain why he chose that wine to accompany the course. I’ve been fascinated with how wine can (or can’t) complement food since I lived in the heart of the wine-producing region in eastern Washington state, so it was fun to have a little lesson during the meal. Being that we both really like Tempranillo, we were excited to try the Tempranillo Blanco. It was definitely our favorite, and it was neat to try something which is the first of its kind.

So, that was the wine, but how was the food? I’m not sure how to accurately describe this meal, aside from saying that it truly was out of this world. I’ve never had a meal where I have sat between bites and thought about the flavors and how the ingredients went with one another. Over the course of the meal, we spent time discussing what we were tasting. It was honestly incredible with everything cooked to absolute perfection, especially the scallop and the venison.

Because the menu listed the ingredients, we found ourselves wondering how the next course would be served and what it would look like. We were never disappointed as the presentation of each course was an absolute work of art. (I knew from the outset that I wouldn’t be taking photos during the meal because I wanted to focus on being with my husband. Once we were seated, I was so glad I made that decision as it would have felt completely inappropriate.)

Quite possibly the biggest surprise of the evening was the dessert described on the menu as a Valentine’s Kiss. If I remember correctly, it was passionfruit, blood orange, and chocolate served in the shape of very realistic albeit large lips! I loved hearing the chuckles and seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces as their desserts were presented. It added an aspect of humor to the meal and I loved that, plus it was absolutely delicious.

A lot of my fondest memories involve eating at great restaurants with some of my favorite people. This meal at Bohemia has been added to those memories of mine and is most definitely one I will never forget. Yes, the food and the wine were the highlights, but the service was impeccable as well. Because of all of that, I can say that it is the best meal I have ever had. Honestly.

Bohemia is a must-visit if you are in Jersey and want to experience world-class dining at its finest.

This quote was used in one of the publications in the hotel, and I think it is a brilliant description of our experience at Bohemia:

“I dreamed about the food when I went to bed. It was a fairy-tale dinner, and Steve Smith is a magician.”

-The London Metro

 

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To Londontown We Went

Last year, during the last weekend in October, Richard and I went to London for our last getaway before our baby was due. This year, unknowingly, we booked the same weekend for the three of us to travel down south for a couple of days in our favorite city. In 2013, we had no idea what we were in for with a baby on the way, but I do know we hoped she would be an easy traveler and that she would just go with the flow. So far, she has proved to be an awesome addition to our travels – both near and far!

We had no real plans for our time in London aside from taking her to Hamley’s and Harrods to check out the toys. She is extremely curious about everything around her, so we were both excited to see how she would react to these two places full of sensory overload. If we had to do it again, we would skip Hamley’s. It was just too crowded.

Harrods toy department, on the other hand, was really enjoyable and just the right amount of hectic. It probably also helped that we got there just as it opened on Sunday, so we avoided a lot of the normal tourist onslaught. Our little lady loved looking around at everything there was to see, and we loved gawking at some of the crazy (expensive) gifts on offer. We actually found her Christmas gift there, which we think she will really enjoy.

After we left the toy shop, we wandered around the children’s clothing department and happened to notice The Disney Café. It was lunch time, so we thought we would give it a go. We really enjoyed it! The food was top notch, which we had expected from a restaurant in Harrods. The girl had a ham and cheese toastie cut into the shape of Mickey Mouse, Richard had a savoury crepe, and I had the mini cheeseburgers (and I was pleasantly surprised when the server asked how I would like them to be cooked). And, imagine my surprise when Richard ordered us a bottle of wine! It was such a nice lunch, and we loved watching our girl (wearing Minnie Mouse ears!) chomp away at her toastie whilst looking around at all of the older kids. She was in her element for sure!

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After leaving Harrods we walked towards Hyde Park Corner to Buckingham Palace and on to St James’s Park. We stopped in St James’s Park because it was time for the girl to be fed. (Yes, she had just eaten, but sister needed her milk!) I plopped down to feed her underneath some fabulous towering trees. When she finished I sat her next to me in the leaves and she was amazed by them. She examined them and played for awhile, and it was fun to just see her taking in the textures and the colors of the leaves. Richard would pick up bunches of leaves and throw them up in the air, which absolutely amused her!

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After leaving the park, we headed to Westminster and crossed the Thames at Westminster Bridge to the Southbank. There is a carousel on the Southbank, so Richard took the girl for a ride. She was unsure when they first sat down on the horse, but after a thorough inspection, she smiled big whilst pointing directly at me stood along the side. (Someone had to look after the pram and our shopping!) She seemed to absolutely love the ride, and Richard laughed the entire way around. And me? I could not stop smiling! I love those unexpected moments that we share when we are all together.

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After the carousel ride, we decided it was time to call it a day (plus we had to get back to watch the Strictly Come Dancing results), so we set off walking back to Islington. Once we were near the hotel, I happened to spot an advertisement for Chipotle, and it was all I could think about since it has been ages since I’ve had anything remotely resembling decent Mexican food. We located said restaurant and grabbed takeaway to enjoy in the comforts of our hotel room. The day ended with us plopped on the bed in comfy clothes chowing down on delicious burritos and chips and salsa.

That weekend was made up of so many little moments that were completely unplanned. We smiled a lot and laughed hard and introduced our daughter to a number of new places and experiences. I don’t think either of us could have anticipated how much joy we would get from observing our daughter absorb the world around her. It was great to slow down and really watch her take everything in. This trip allowed us to look back on where we were a year ago – full of wonder about what our daughter would be like and what we would be like as parents – and realize that we are living our life as a family of three in the best way that we know how. And, in my mind, that is a great way to be.

I’m hopeful that we now potentially have a new family tradition of spending an October weekend in London! (What do you think, Richard?)

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Ox Pasture Hall Hotel: All of The Food!

Not only did we enjoy the hotel and the property at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, but we were extremely impressed with the food. When you read this post, you will think that all we did was eat…and well, it is sort of true! We were spoiled with afternoon tea, an evening meal, and breakfast the next morning. All of which were delightful.

After a visit to Scarborough, we headed to the hotel as we were booked to have afternoon tea at 3 PM. (Booking is required for afternoon tea.) We weren’t exactly sure where tea was served, so we asked Lynsey at the front desk and she told us we were welcome to be seated in the lounge. The lounge boasts a couple of leather sofas, and we cozied up on the larger of the two as we waited for our tea. We browsed some photo albums of weddings held at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel when Lynsey appeared with two glasses of fizz for us to enjoy! It was a welcome treat after being pounded by the wind on the seafront.

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Next, out came our tray of scones, sandwiches, and miniature desserts. It was presented nicely on the traditional three-tiered tray. We tucked into the sandwiches whilst waiting for our tea to be served. The sandwich selection included roast beef, prawn with Marie Rose sauce, and brie with chutney. Richard raved about the prawn sandwich. We both liked the roast beef sandwiches. However, Richard doesn’t like soft cheeses, so I ate the brie with chutney sandwiches. The selection was a bit different than the traditional choices, but they were nice.

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Our next course had us enjoying scones with absolutely delicious and silky clotted cream with our choice of jam. I’m a clotted cream enthusiast and Richard realized he is as well, so we constantly found ourselves adding more and more to our scones. With the scones demolished, Richard dove right in to the mini desserts whilst I took a little breather. There were two of each of these allowing us to indulge in lemon cheesecake, a fudge-y brownie with pistachios, parkin, and a chocolate cake with icing. I most enjoyed the brownie and the cheesecake. The cake and its icing were a bit too sweet for me. Richard had both his and my slice of parkin, so I’d say that must have been good! All in all, we enjoyed our afternoon tea and having a relaxing afternoon in the lounge at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel.

The second food experience we had was the evening meal. We ended up pushing our booking back from 7:30 to 8:15 for two reasons:  1) the afternoon tea left us feeling quite full and 2) the results show for Strictly Come Dancing finished just before 8. Priorities, people! We were slightly early, so we wandered to the bar in The Bistro. We were both planning to order a drink, but before we knew it, the bartender asked our room number and suggested we take a seat on one of the sofas in front of the fireplace before bringing us two glasses of prosecco whilst we perused the menu. We both commented on how we really like it when restaurants give you an opportunity to sit in the bar and have a drink whilst you leisurely look over the menu and place your order for starters and mains before being seated at your table.

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DSC_0084The Bistro

Although you can eat in The Bistro, we were having our meal in the Courtyard Restaurant. The Courtyard Restaurant has been awarded 2 rosettes for culinary excellence and is listed in the Michelin guide as a recommended restaurant, so we were both very much looking forward to this meal. Once we were seated at our table, the waiter brought us an amuse bouche of a delicious tomato bisque. He also came around with the bread basket, and we both opted for a slice of the fruit and nut loaf that tasted like it was fresh from the oven. And, the best part was the pats of butter on the table that were perfectly room temperature to top the bread.

For our starters I went with the Ham, Egg, Peas, which is a mini ham hock with pea mousse and a slice of a a hard-boiled quail egg. It had pickled vegetables as an accompaniment and the tanginess complemented the ham well. This isn’t a dish I typically would order and I’m not sure I would again, but I did enjoy it. Richard went for the Yorkshire Coast Fish Cake topped with a perfectly gooey poached egg. I tried a bite, and the egg really made the dish.

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Next up, our mains were delivered to our table. Richard went with the pork, which had belly pork, stuffed tenderloin, and homemade black pudding. I ordered the cod, which was perfectly cooked and served atop fondant potatoes, chorizo ratatouille, and a red pepper coulis. We both agreed the main courses were absolutely delicious, and I can say without a doubt that we both would order them again. All of the pieces of our meals meshed extremely well together in terms of flavor.

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Although we were both feeling full after two courses, we can never pass up dessert. After a peek at the menu, I decided on the apple and pear crumble. It was served delightfully warm with vanilla ice cream on the side. Richard chose the Caribbean Cocktail, which was a platter of four tropical desserts. He surprised me with his decision because if sticky toffee pudding (and it was!) is on the menu then he will usually order that, but he was so happy with his choice. I stole a small bite of the piña colada and it was a great blend of tropical flavors without it being too overwhelming on the coconut side as I find tropical-flavored desserts to sometimes be. We returned to our room incredibly impressed with the food and the service.

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When we went to sleep that night, we both wondered how we would manage to eat breakfast the next morning, but we did. Breakfast was served in the Courtyard Restaurant and we had a lovely table beside the windows overlooking the courtyard.

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For breakfast, there is a buffet of cereals, fruit salad, croissants, yogurts, and fruit juices plus you are able to order a cooked meal. We both ordered tea, and toast and jam were soon brought to our table. Richard went with the full breakfast, which was definitely one of the most well-presented full breakfasts both of us have seen. He said it was extremely tasty as well. I am not a fan of the full breakfast, so I ordered the goats cheese and tomato omelette. The fluffy omelette was cooked to perfection with cheese oozing in all of the right places. The breakfast was the perfect end to a great visit at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel.

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Our dining experience at Ox Pasture Hall was impressive. We particularly enjoyed the evening meal and the breakfast. I feel they truly excelled at those two meals, and the evening meal at Ox Pasture Hall is definitely one we would be glad to indulge in again. It was a fabulous 24 hours of food!

Our stay and our meals were kindly provided to us by Ox Pasture Hall Hotel for the purpose of review. All of the opinions are honest and all photos are my own, unless otherwise noted. I promise to always share my honest perspective when doing reviews. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions. Massive thanks to Ox Pasture Hall for the opportunity!

A Twist on the Traditional Afternoon Tea

There are not many things more quintessentially English than tea, and I do believe that some of my family and friends in the US are convinced I spend my afternoons sat indulging in a traditional afternoon tea with my best china on a frequent basis. It makes me chuckle, but that is just not my reality!

When we have visitors or if we’re feeling particularly fancy, we’ll splurge on traditional afternoon tea complete with finger sandwiches, scones, jam, clotted cream, and a selection of miniature desserts. To me, afternoon tea is a very nice treat, and my daily tea drinking comprises of me with my cuppa (just milk, please!) curled up on our sofa watching television with Richard in the evenings. And, if we’re going all out, one of us will pop to the local shop for some cookies for a treat. We’re pretty rockstar over here!

As I said, the full fancy spread is a wonderful splurge, but the Picnic Bench Afternoon Tea at The Fox Bar & Bistro in Ripponden is more laid-back and much easier on the budget whilst still making you feel like you’ve had a deliciously fun afternoon out.

Earlier this year, a friend mentioned she went to The Fox with her mum who was visiting from New Zealand, so when she explained exactly what the tea compromised of, I knew I had to book in for my mom’s visit in April. The girl and I took my mom to celebrate Mother’s Day with her since we wouldn’t be in the US to share the day in May. We arrived and were asked if we wanted prosecco, tea, or coffee with our tea. I’m pretty sure you know what we went for – bring on the bubbles! Yes, this is afternoon tea and the prosecco option is a few quid more, but definitely the way to go in my opinion.

Our prosecco arrived, and not long after, the lovely creation in the photo below showed up on our table. Prior to that day, I had never eaten at The Fox as it is usually a place we meet friends for a few drinks, so I was pleasantly surprised when we tucked in and all of the food was really tasty. The savory selections included a crayfish sandwich, calamari and chips, leek and potato soup, goats’ cheese tart, salad of rocket (arugula) with parmesan shavings and a balsamic dressing, and a ham and chutney sandwich. The sweet selections were scones with clotted cream and jam (jam first!), strawberry smoothies (served in mini glass milk bottles with adorable striped paper straws), two different cookies, cheesecakes, and chocolate truffle-like puddings served in mini clay pots with a Cadbury mini egg on top (as it was Easter weekend actually). Mom and I did our best to work our way through the food, but it was a lot of food as you can see. It was all very nice, but my favorites were the crayfish sandwich, the calamari and chips, and the scone. We ended up taking all of the desserts home with us and having those for dinner!

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I’ve since been one more time for a ladies’ day out with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. The menu was fairly similar with a few variations in there to adjust to the change in season. It was the first time both of them had been, and we all left happy and pleased with our afternoon chatting and eating. Again, we headed home with leftovers. (And yes, I went with the prosecco once more!)

Something I really like about this twist on traditional tea is that it definitely is for everyone, so we’ve booked in for a date in November with the other families from our antenatal class to celebrate all our babes turning one over the next few months. The Fox recently released their autumnal afternoon tea menu, and I can’t wait to try the mini burger, the mini fish and chips, and the gooey brownie!

If you decide to head to The Fox to enjoy their afternoon tea, these tips will hopefully help you out…definitely book in, it’s only served from Friday to Sunday during certain times, and enjoy the afternoon with some of your favorite people!

This post is just me sharing a fun find! I was not asked to write it by The Fox, but I hope they see it and know they’re onto something with the Picnic Bench Teas! 

A Bloggers Afternoon Tea at Sketch

I’m so glad that Gesci brought this bloggers tea to my attention because it really was an absolutely fab day with some amazing women! You see, Gesci and I wanted to meet up one more time before she moved back to the U.S., so this worked perfectly for us as I was to be in London (again) with the Brit while he was working.

The tea was organized perfectly by Laura at Happy Homemaker UK, who is another US expat living in England with her family. From the minute I emailed Laura to RSVP to the tea, she was so lovely even through the internet, which eased my nerves. Yes, I was admittedly nervous as, up until this point, I was only really familiar with the blogs of Gesci and Selena. And, I had only ever met Gesci in person.

Laura chose Sketch just off of Regent Street in London for the venue. Wow, it really impressed us all – not just the food and tea, but the decor is something that must be seen to be truly appreciated!! We had tea in The Glade, which is a room that makes you feel like you are possibly sat in the forest having tea in Alice in Wonderland.

The crazy cool chandelier in The Glade

Our tea began with a glass of champagne followed by our choice of tea. I decided on the Darjeeling, which was delicious. (It’s so funny to me now that I don’t even second guess putting milk in my tea…remember when I thought that was so weird?!) Then, the true centerpiece of the tea was the lovely little foods arranged on plates and mugs stacked to form a tier. This is such a great idea that I might attempt it when we have people over at some point as a fun way to arrange and display food! And, of course, it wouldn’t be a true tea without scones, jam, and clotted cream. It was all just plain yummy!

Our two-hour tea turned quickly into three hours of non-stop chatter with these ladies. It was a true delight to meet these women. My blog is very small compared to the rest of them, so I felt a little nervous and/or anxious, but blog size did not matter one bit. I felt comfortable having a good old-fashioned natter with them all. We had all styles of blogs represented, so I definitely recommend you check them out because they are just great! I’m excited to follow along with them all now!

From left to right:  Robynne, Liz, Louise, Selena, Belinda, Laura, Sarah (and her littlest little!), Charlotte, me, and Gesci (not pictured is Sarah Jane)

After, we were taken on a tour of some of the other rooms of Sketch, including the awe-inspiring toilets (Gesci explained this, but a bathroom/restroom without a bath/shower is typically referred to as ‘the toilet’ here…this was definitely a difficult one for me to get used to saying as it sounded so abrupt). It truly is a remarkable place! It has been awarded two Michelin stars and 5 AA Rosettes. Maybe, I can talk the Brit into going back with me and possibly trying out The Lecture Room or The Gallery for a meal! Anyway, I’m so glad to have met these women, and I hope we’ll have a chance to catch up again soon! Another big thank you to Laura for arranging the afternoon!

See those pods at the top of the stairs? Those are toilets!

The Gallery with tables and chairs removed for an event

The Swarovski-clad toilets full of mirrors and lights to trick your mind during your time in the toilet

Back to Wales for Celebration #3

The weekend that we went to the races for my second birthday celebration also happened to be a bank holiday weekend meaning Monday was a holiday here. With the extra-long weekend, we decided to head to back to Abersoch for Sunday and Monday.

We were hoping for a true summer day to spend at the beach and on the sea. And luckily, we had fabulous weather on Sunday! Unfortunately, I took zero photos because I was too busy absorbing every ray of sun that came my way, so you’ll have to check out my last three posts on Abersoch to check out the views! I really wish I would have taken some though because the beach was absolutely packed with people trying to enjoy what little summer we have had this year.

The Brit’s mum had packed some treats for us plus some fizz, so we enjoyed a nice little picnic on the beach along with sandwiches and burgers from the little cafe on Abersoch Beach. The sun stayed strong into the early afternoon then it got a little cooler when the wind blew, but it was so enjoyable to be outside.

That evening, we had a reservation at the Venetia for a nice meal. This is the same place where we had a meal and we stayed for the Brit’s sister’s birthday in summer 2011, so we were excited to go back with the Brit’s parents. Whilst we were sat in the bar checking out the menu and enjoying a drink, the lovely owner asked if I was the one who wrote the blog post about them the summer before! I think I blushed a little, but it was so neat that she said something — so thank you if you are reading this! 🙂

This is the lone photo we have from the weekend showing us happy and sun-kissed:

Our meal and entire dining experience was fabulous once more (and I’m not just saying this knowing the owners might be reading this post!). I wish I could remember what I had, and I should have written it down knowing I wouldn’t be writing a post about the meal until after I finished my dissertation, but I did not. It was all delicious — from starter to dessert, we enjoyed it all! It was so nice to celebrate my 30th for the 3rd time in such a great place!

We had a fairly early night and awoke to blowing wind and pounding rain, so we set off for home in the morning as soon as we realized we wouldn’t have another beach day. It truly was a great bank holiday weekend!

{Road Trip} North Berwick, Scotland

When it came time to book a hotel for Edinburgh Marathon weekend, we checked out hotels in the Edinburgh city centre and they are all nice, but the ones we were most interested in were completely booked. (We have previously stayed at the Apex in the Grassmarket, which I would recommend for a clean, well located, and reasonably-priced option.) Ultimately though, we decided to stay outside of Edinburgh and we were both really happy with that decision this past weekend.

We had to go into Edinburgh when we arrived on Saturday afternoon to pick up the Brit’s running vest (he ran for MacMillan and has raised over £1000!). Our original plans included spending some time walking around the city we love so much (we really do!), but after 4 hours in the car, we were ready to be at the hotel and for some relaxation.

So, we headed out to North Berwick, which is about 30 miles to the east of Edinburgh and is located right on the sea. We chose to take the coastal trail drive out to North Berwick and it was absolutely beautiful with the sun shining the entire way. We were booked in at the MacDonald Marine Hotel. And, when we arrived, we got to chatting with the front desk attendant who was running the half marathon on Sunday. He had run the full marathon before, so he gave us some pointers about the course. I’m quite sure he really enjoyed speaking with us because when we got to our room we had definitely been upgraded. I know for certain that I booked us into a standard double room (and the price we paid reflected that booking), but we walked into a suite that was larger than the downstairs of our house — king size bed in a bedroom with double doors, a full sitting and living room, and a massive bathroom! Regardless, we enjoyed every moment of that suite (and the Brit made sure to watch his share of the England cricket match on the satellite telly)!

Part of the sitting area of our room was in the first level of the small turret in the right of the photo.

We walked into North Berwick along the golf course and ended up on the beach that was full of people enjoying the British summertime. It was so nice to soak up the sun and the fresh sea air. It was the perfect temperature for shorts, so I couldn’t help to chuckle at the little kids running in and out of the freezing sea water in their bathing suits. It was just the perfect afternoon to be on the beach.

One of the great perks of this hotel was the pool and indoor/outdoor jacuzzi, so when we got back from our walk (and enjoying some delicious ice cream from a nice Scottish man who once lived in northern Pennsylvania), we took full advantage of the jacuzzi and pool. It had been such a long time since we both had a chance to relax like that together. It was just so nice.

The hotel has a fine dining restaurant called John Paul at the Marine and also the option of ordering food in their bar area. On Saturday night, the Brit was in the mood for fish so we decided to book in at John Paul at the Marine. The food was very good. The Brit had a salmon and lobster ravioli for his starter and turbot for his main while I enjoyed the monkfish cheeks for my starter and the basil gnocchi for my main. We were both tempted by the desserts and normally we would order two separate things, but the apple and rhubarb crumble with ginger ice cream appealed to both of us so we each ordered our own. (We are not so good at sharing when it comes to dessert.) So delicious. We do ‘carb loading’ in our own special way…haha!

We booked the ‘bed and breakfast’ rate, so we had breakfast in the morning before heading into Edinburgh. They had a nice breakfast buffet with cold and hot food, but my stomach is touchy when I run so I couldn’t eat much off the hot buffet. I had four pieces of toast with jam, a banana, and a sausage — breakfast of champions!

After the marathon, it was so perfect to come back to more than just a small hotel room. We could spread out and lounge on the sofa in the living room while we watched television. For dinner on Sunday night, all we had on our minds was a massive hamburger with chips (chunky fries) and a few pints. Unfortunately, there was no burger on the bar menu at the hotel so we inquired at the front desk if they could recommend a place for a burger, and we were really happy when they said that anything on the room service menu could be ordered while seated in the bar. Oddly, there was a burger on the room service menu, so we were overjoyed not to have to walk far to get what we were craving.

Let me just say that these burgers were 21-day aged Scottish beef and absolutely amazingly delicious. Oh my. Also, it was the most expensive burger I’ve ever eaten at £14 (roughly $21), but we both agreed it was worth every penny (or shall we say, pence). I had two pints of cider and the Brit had two pints of lager during the meal. When we finished I had remembered seeing a little placard for their drink special that sounded delicious, so we ordered one to take to the room and share. It is now quite possibly my favorite drink — a cucumber collins with elderflower juice. Wow. So, so good. Both of us enjoy our gin and tonics, so I figured this would be something we enjoyed and it definitely was. I definitely plan to learn how to make this drink!

I’m pretty sure the drink after the 26.2 miles helped us both to fall asleep before 9:30 PM and bring to a close what was truthfully a great weekend. Despite running the marathon, both of us said multiple times how relaxed we felt, and I’m so glad we had a chance to get away for a few days.

{Road Trip} The ‘Great’ North

Two weekends ago, we road tripped further north to Durham on Saturday then to Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the Sunday. This weekend away was prompted by the Brit’s participation in the Great North Run. (Does the post title make more sense now? :))

It just so happened that the Brit’s friend was also running the race, so he and his wife took the train up from London and we all made the trip north together. I love road trips with friends because the time just flies by as we’re chatting away and catching up on each other’s lives. The two and a half hours was gone in a flash.

We (really the Brit) were in charge of the hotel for Saturday night and they were in charge of the hotel for Sunday night. So, for ‘our’ hotel, we stayed at the Durham Marriott Royal County right in the city center. Upon entering, the staff offered us a glass of wine plus canapés. We all indulged in a glass of wine…we were on a short holiday, after all! After enjoying some more chit-chat in the lounge, we made our way to our rooms, which were nice, clean, and spacious plus with a jacuzzi tub for two in the bathroom. Not that I was surprised, but the Brit had made a great choice!

We strolled around Durham for a bit and towards the Durham Cathedral. To me, it’s a city that personifies what I always pictured of Britain before I visited for the first time in March 2010…cobbled stone streets with not many cars, little shops lining the streets, a castle and a massive cathedral overlooking the city. It was this perfect combination of quaintness and beauty that made Durham so charming.

Streets of Durham

Durham Cathedral is completely awe-inspiring. We toured the interior with mouths agape for most of it. (Sadly, we could not take photos inside, but check out the photos on the web site.) The stained glass, the spires, the tombs, the organ, and the overall attention to intricate detail…it was just phenomenal.

The center spire of the Cathedral.

The view from our hotel room window as sun shines upon Durham Cathedral on Sunday morning.

Durham Castle overlooking the River Wear.

That night, we enjoyed a delicious and fun meal of tapas at La Tasca. The guys probably drank a bit too much wine the night before a big race, but the four of us had a wonderful time laughing and eating!

The next day, we enjoyed the hotel breakfast, which was included in our room price. Of course, the typical English breakfast was being offered with bacon, eggs, beans, tomatoes, potatoes…you get the picture. But, the runners chose wisely and avoided those foods (as did I). Hilariously, after the Brit finished his porridge, he went to get some toast and as soon as he sat down to the table, I was overwhelmed with the smell of garlic. He had actually toasted garlic bread and put jam on it! He didn’t realize until I mentioned it smelled of garlic. Awesome morning selection! 😉

Soon, we were off on the 30-minute drive to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where the Great North Run would start. Luckily, we were able to find the hotel, so we could leave the car and our bags there until we were able to check in. You could tell the guys were getting a bit nervous as we started the long walk to the start line. It was a nice way to enjoy a little tour of the city, though I think I was the only one actually looking around! (I’m not afraid to admit I can sometimes be a bit of a tourist!)

Situated at our place for the start... This run is apparently the world's largest half marathon. I don't doubt it. There were masses of people everywhere.

We said our goodbyes to the guys and wished them lots of luck. We met up with another friend whose girlfriend was running the race and had just come into town for the day. Once we found him, the three of us situated ourselves close to the start to try to spot our runners at the beginning of the race. Immediately before the start the Red Arrows, which are the Royal Air Force’s acrobatic team, did a fly-over and then the elite male runners were off followed closely (but only for a short while!) by the rest of the pack.

The Red Arrows at the start...quite cool!

In the throngs of people, I caught a glimpse of the Brit, but we didn’t see the other two. So, after waiting for quite some time to see them, we decided it was likely we missed them and took off to South Shields via the Metro train to hopefully see the three of them as they finished.

The Brit is in the blue shirt and black shorts almost exactly in the middle of the photo right before coming upon the blue column thingy.

It was wishful thinking to believe we could make it from where we were to the finish in enough time to see them cross the finish line. We were still on the Metro when I got a text from the Brit’s mum saying she just saw him finish on tv. (This race is such a big deal that it was broadcast on BBC!) Mr. Speed Demon totally surpassed his goal time! Once off the train, we still had about a 20-minute walk to the finish. So, a solid 25 minutes after he finished we found him and gave him his jacket and change of clothes. We tracked the other two runners (they also did awesome!) down shortly after and walked to the pub for a celebratory pint…or three.

Happy guys, after the race!

So proud of this guy!

Soon, we said goodbye to the two friends who had just come up for the day and we headed back to the hotel. The Hotel du Vin, which our friends chose, is quite posh. Our rooms had two levels with the bathrooms complete with claw-footed tub and enormous walk-in shower, which were situated upstairs. The toilet and a very small sink were downstairs. (There was a large sink in the upstairs bathroom area.) I wish that I could remember the name of the room (it started with a ‘Y’, I think) we stayed in, but each is named after a brand of wine. Our room was situated in the new section of the hotel, which you can see in the photos below.

The downstairs in our room.

The bathroom area upstairs.

This is the courtyard of the hotel -- the main entrance is to the left, the Bistro is directly in front, and the building we stayed in is to the right.

Since the hotel is a little outside the city center, we chose to eat at the hotel bistro that night. According to our friends, the Hotel du Vin chain is known for its attention to food and wine. The food was good, but the service could be improved. We received the best service from the sommelier, who not only knew the wine list impeccably, but also the entire menu. Of course, he was not serving us, but did help us quite a bit. It was a night to celebrate though, so we brushed off the service and enjoyed each other’s company!

Overall, a great weekend with friends! Big congrats to the Brit for his incredible finish in the Great North Run!

{Road Trip} Abersoch, Wales: Part 2

For Part I, go here!

The view of the sea from the back deck of the hotel across the street from the Venetia.

I truthfully was not sure what to expect of the village of Abersoch. I assumed it would be fairly small and perhaps similar to some of the lesser-known beach communities in parts of the northwestern U.S. I was sort of right.

The main street through the village.

Aside from the beach, most people spend time on one main street, which was home to restaurants, pubs, and shops. The Venetia is located on one end of this street making it an easy walk (no more than 5 to 7 minutes) to any of those places.

Because of the weather, the beach was empty on our second day in Abersoch, but we really enjoyed being out there with no one around.

Although the weather was quite gray on our second day, it was still nice to walk around the village browsing the shops and stopping for a pint on the patio of a pub. Even a walk along the sea and the beach were high points of our stroll on this overcast day. I’m always in awe how seas and oceans carry a sense of beauty with them, regardless of weather.

See what I mean? Still beautiful on a cloudy day!

As I mentioned in Part I, we had dinner at the Venetia on our second night. Because it was half birthday dinner for the Brit’s sister and half engagement party for her and her fiancé, we had a quite a group — fifteen of us in total! This is definitely a large party for such a small restaurant, so they split us into two tables next to each other.

One thing I’ve grown to appreciate (and really love) about dining in nicer restaurants in the UK is how the ordering of the meal happens. Most times, you will take a seat in the bar/lounge area of the restaurant where you will order a drink and be handed the menu. While enjoying your drink and your company, you peruse the menu and place your order for your starter and main course before being seated at the table where you will dine. I usually order a fun drink, like a glass of champagne or a mixed drink, and then we order a bottle of wine to go with dinner. The restaurant at the Venetia was the same. So, it was fun to chat and mingle with our group of 15 before we were seated separately.

Sunburned and happy in the bar at the Venetia!

The restaurant focuses on using local foods, especially produce and seafood that is in season. Because this was in early June, I don’t completely remember what I had for dinner. (Oops.) I can tell you though that not one person had a bad meal. Everything from the presentation to the taste was spot on. For dessert, I ordered the crème brûlée, which is one of my favorite desserts. Wow. They gave me two of them and it was great with the crispy sugar top and custardy center! I ate one and the Brit ate the other (along with his dessert). 🙂

Honestly, the food was incredibly delicious and the service was impeccable, especially handling such a large group! I would definitely recommend trying their restaurant if in Abersoch and would suggest making a reservation, particularly during the summer months.

We had a wonderful time in Abersoch, and I was so glad to finally see the place I’d been hearing about for so long. The village is so low-key and just a great place to relax. Abersoch didn’t let me down and I truthfully can’t wait to go back!