Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Three Hours In Paris

view from the Trocadero
My boss is travelling to Paris on Thursday.  She's grabbing the first flight there and taking the last flight back so she can get home to her kids (she's a single mom).  She has a meeting from 11am until 2:30pm.  Her flight gets her there around 9:30am and leaves around 8:30pm which means she's free to roam the streets of Paris from around 2:30pm until about 5:30pm.

She's only ever been to Paris once before, in October for the same meeting and the same three hours. She wandered to the Trocadero for the best view of the Eiffel Tower and bought macarons from Ladurée, both perfectly acceptable things to do during your first three hours in Paris. For her second three hours, she's asked me for some help.

Here's what I'm giving her (her meeting will be near the Jardin des Tuileries, which she visited during her last trip).
  • Walk through the Tuileries to Place de la Concorde for the Champs-Elysees Christmas Market and be sure to sample the vin chaud
  • Take the M1 (Metro) from either Champs-Elysees Clemenceau (mid-market) or Franklin D. Roosevelt (end of market) to Hotel de Ville where you can ice skate for free (small fee for skates rental) and experience a small Christmas Fair. 
From here you can do any of the following:
view from the Pompidou
  1. Head north to the Centre Georges Pompidou contemporary art museum (€12). Especially good if the weather is poor; you can store your bag in the cloakroom; wonderful view of Paris from the top floor. The building itself is worth a look, even if you don't go inside, and the neighbourhood (part of Le Marais) is cute, too. 
  2. Head south across the Pont d'Arcole towards Notre Dame Cathedral (free to enter, though the tower has an entrance fee). Continue south towards the Latin Quarter, the trendy/hip university neighbourhood near the Sorbonne. 
  3. Head east along Rue de Rivoli towards the Marais District, the historic Jewish quarter, which has eclectic shops and cafes. Visit the Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis Church just east of the Saint-Paul Metro station on the south side of the street (one of my favourites). Continue north-east towards the Place des Vosges and Victor Hugo's former residence (a free museum). 
Get to Chatelet Les Halles station for the RER B to Charles de Gaulle.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Portland Itinerary

After 11 years in Seattle, just a short 3-4 hours north, you would've thought we'd have spent more time in Portland, Oregon than just a couple of visits but, sadly, that's all we have under our belt. Still, I feel confident enough about my time there to make some recommendations.

Hotel: Hands down, no doubt about it, you must stay at the Kennedy School. It's a bit out of town but, if you're only staying for a weekend, you won't even notice the distance. Get there on a Friday late afternoon, check-in, and plan to spend the whole night there; you can check out the rest of Portland tomorrow. Kennedy School has restaurants and bars on site (yes, plural of both), entertainment including pool tables and a cinema, a lovely soaking pool (which we weren't prepared for but, especially after seeing it, wish we had been), and the ability to stroll the halls with a beer in your hand (like Vegas). It's a great hotel and a great destination and I only wish we'd been able to experience it more than just once.

Restaurant: Pok Pok - this place is crowded all the time. Just accept it. Put your name on the list, go across the street to their bar (Whiskey Soda Lounge), have a drink until they call your name, and then go experience some amazing food. Done. Caution: someone might whip out a boob and start breastfeeding next to you whilst you're enjoying a drink and/or meal. No judgement, just providing you with some notice so you can mentally prepare for this possibility.

There's another restaurant that I'd recommend if I could remember anything about it beyond the amazing food and atmosphere.  I remember we had to drive east from downtown, it was in a neighbourhood, and we sat outside in an amazing garden area.  Otherwise, I have nothing else to help recall it's name or location.  It was great, though.

Activity: I highly recommend the Worst Day of the Year bike ride.  If you do the full ride you've got two killer hills but both are well worth the effort.  I suggest taking the short cut after the second hill, which really should be the end anyway.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Glen Tilt

Glen Tilt is in the Cairngorms National Park, just outside the village of Blair Atholl (pronounced like asshole not A-hole), the village surrounding Blair Castle.  This is a five hour hike and, with our shorter days, we needed to get an early start if we were to avoid being stuck in the Cairngorms after dark and perhaps dying of exposure.  Thus, we grabbed the 6:52am train to Blair Atholl (via Perth) this past Saturday morning in order to experience the ramble at its most ideal (with autumn colours) whilst simultaneously living to tell about it.  As it turned out, starting at 9:15am did not provide us with enough time and we wound up having to abort the mission in order to make it home alive.

We arrived in Blair Atholl before 9am but wandered around a bit in order to see what the village had to offer.  For your information, the village has nothing more to offer than what is visible from the train platform.  There is one inn with a restaurant and bar left unstaffed, a staffed pub around the back of the inn, a convenience store around the corner, a working mill (only open April-October), and a post office.  The castle is a bit outside of town (the town being those four buildings and outside being a few steps beyond them) and where our walk began.

After grabbing some picnic supplies and coffee from the convenience store, we headed towards the castle.  Although the beginning of our walk takes us down the castle's driveway, we actually never glimpsed the castle.  There was a part of the walk which supposedly overlooks the castle and Blair Atholl but we never got to that part.

Our first missed turn happened almost immediately after the trailhead and we didn't become aware of it until we got to the bottom of the hill.  Realising we shouldn't be crossing a river, we backtracked all the way back up the hill to where we should've turned.  For your information, the trail was well marked with yellow arrows on posts which we, for some reason, were incapable of finding.  This pattern of missing turns and having to backtrack for quite a distance would repeat itself at least two more times throughout our day and is the reason we weren't able to finish the walk.  What was supposed to be a five hour walk turned into a six hour walk because of our poor navigation skills.  But, the scenery was beautiful and we had a great time, minus the last bit where we were so confused we gave up and just followed a road back into town.

Six hours later, with sore feet and bruised egos, we wandered into the only pub in town to wait the two hours for our train back home.  Happily, this was just what we needed in order to lift our spirits.  We had a great time sitting next to the fire with our pints, warming up, and reliving the ramble which beat us.  Although resigned to defeat for now, we'll definitely be back.  We can't allow Glen Tilt to stand undefeated.  Hear that, Glen Tilt?  We'll be back and next time we're bringing friends.

For more pictures, please visit my Facebook album here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Pitlochry

Pitlochry is located in the lovely area just west of Tayside (where Dundee is located) called Perthshire.  Less than two hours from us via train, Pitlochry is a hopping town with two distilleries, a brewery, a dam, a theatre, and a whole lot of people on a Saturday night.  We weren't actually planning a day in Pitlochry, just a stopover for the Blair Athol Distillery.  But, then we heard about the Edradour Distillery, Scotland's smallest, and the Moulin brewery, both right outside of town, and decided it deserved a full day's attention.

We started our day leisurely, departing Dundee around 10am.  We had a short layover in Perth, where we've found we enjoy grabbing a sophisticated cuppa at the Station Hotel right outside in the car park, but were in Pitlochry before noon.  We immediately headed in the direction of the Blair Athol distillery but wound up on an unplanned detour to the Pitlochry dam and fish ladder.  Since the salmon weren't running and the visitor centre was closed, we quickly reversed course.

The Blair Athol Distillery is right outside of town (not sure how we got lost) and possesses a nice visitor centre focused on Bell's Whisky, which contains Blair Athol in its blend, a good gift shop, and the best tour ever.  Our tour guide was amazing!  He had both great historical knowledge as well as general knowledge and, best of all, he was able to explain everything to us in a way which we understood.  We never have to go on another tour again, this guy was THAT good.  Our tour did cost £5 each but included a £3 voucher for their whisky and a proper whisky tasting at the end.  It was an excellent experience and one which we highly recommend.

We had hoped to grab some lunch in the distillery's restaurant but, sadly, they don't have one.  Thus, starving, we headed back into town for lunch.  We stopped at the Pitlochry visitor's centre where we bought a £1 map of the area and received a few restaurant recommendations, which we ignored, and headed back out.

Black Spout
After lunch in town we headed off on our ramble of the area, through the Black Spout woods towards Edradour Distillery.  We haven't seen a waterfall in ages, so we were excited to incorporate this ramble into our day.  We love waterfalls.  The Black Spout woods themselves were nice, too, and the trail was empty and well maintained.

Edradour Distillery was a bit of a disappointment.  They have a sign out front, before even entering the gift shop, that there is a £5 admission.  Having just been on the best tour ever, we didn't want to do another tour and were unclear as to whether we would be charged just for entering the premises or if that was a tour charge.  Thus, we stayed off their grounds and just looked from afar.

We quickly headed the long way back to Pitlochry so we could go through the small town of Moulin on our way home.  We had heard good things about their brewery but, sadly, the brewery was closed to tours because their guide was on holiday.  Happily, the adjoining inn was open (and packed) so we were still able to sample the beer before leaving.

We arrived back into Pitlochry around 5:30pm and the town was hopping.  There were tons of people everywhere.  We were not prepared for this at all.  Our previous experience in Crieff had made us believe that towns closed down around 5pm in this area but Pitlochry looked like it was going to be open until the wee hours.  Apparently, if you want to party Pitlochry is your place.

We really had a great day, with some lovely scenery and nice drinks.  Pitlochry is definitely on our list of places to send friends when they visit and we'll keep our eye out for events at the Festival Theatre, another reason to visit the area.

For more pictures, please visit my Facebook page here.

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