Rats, Another Chinese New Year!

Photo Chinese New Year 1

It was a typical Friday evening (or so I thought). I had made a dinner reservation at one of JC’s* favorite restaurants after she had experienced a particularly trying week. It seems that the bird watching club she was so excited to join was too far to travel to. On top of that, she was just told that she was now on the waitlist for free ukulele lessons. In the spirit of the upcoming Lunar New Year celebration, I made a reservation for the three of us (me, JC and Mr. Wiz*) to dine at Lin Asian Bar.

I didn’t realize the cup was full of water. The interesting metal cup looked vintage and when I picked it up to get a better look, it spilled all over me. As our waiter, Kanye, ran over to help clean it up, I said: “And, I didn’t even have a glass of wine yet.” His reply: “It should be interesting when you do” immediately endeared me to him.

Kanye asked if I knew that spilling water meant good luck in Chinese tradition. He told us that while helping his stern grandmother move to a new home, he accidently spilled some water on her floor. Rather than being chastised, she hugged him and thanked him for the blessing. The evening was starting out better than I’d thought.

This is the Year of the Rat. In Chinese culture, the rat symbolizes wealth and because of its reproduction rate, couples pray to them for children. Also known as Lunar New Year, this holiday marks the start of the Chinese lunar calendar and was originally a time to pray to the gods for a good harvest. It’s the longest Chinese holiday and celebrates with the most fireworks set off in the world. Because the elderly Chinese live in rural areas and most of their children live in cities, the country experiences the largest human migration in the world during this holiday period. Singles actually go to the extreme of hiring fake boyfriends or girlfriends to bring home to family festivities, rather than be interrogated about their personal lives.

In order to not wash away any good luck, showering is not recommended on new year’s day and no sweeping or trash pickup is allowed for a few days. Red decorations adorn homes, people dress in red and children receive monetary gifts in red envelopes to signify good fortune.

After a couple of restaurant visits, I am now able to master the Shanghai Soup Dumplings: lift the broth filled dumpling carefully into the small cup without breaking it, prick it with your chopsticks, pour the sauce over it, eat the dumpling then drink the broth. We ate slowly, enjoying our wine pairing and hoping that our Orange Peel Beef and Seafood Delight with Birds Nest (assorted seafood in a crispy potato shaped nest) might last longer.

By the time we sipped our usual hot sake instead of dessert, Kanye had explained the custom of kissing each others’ foreheads for good fortune. As we left and thanked him for a wonderful evening, he shared with us that his name was actually not Kanye, but he liked the sound of it, so found no need to correct us.

We walked home, arm in arm, laughing as we recounted the interesting evening. Giddy, still damp and with a kiss from Kanye on my forehead, I could only speculate how this good fortune might present itself in the coming year.

Photo Chinese New Year 2

Me and Kanye (who’s not really Kanye)

 

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Author’s Note:

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Sweet (and Savory) Dreams

Photo Sweet and Savory Dreams Small

A little biscuit humor from Hot Box Biscuit Club

The story stuck in my head. Our new friends suggested that a group of us head over to Dahlia Café in Liberty Hill, Texas one Saturday night. Sitting out on the patio, drinking cold beer and listening to the live music, they told of how this restaurant came to be.

Whenever Debby Johnston passed the vacant building that once housed a florist shop, she’d wonder why someone hadn’t bought it, never thinking it would be her. One morning, she awoke and told her husband she had a dream that they bought it and became restauranteurs. The feeling was so strong that she convinced her husband to take a chance. As it turned out, the combination of their country cooking and a relaxed, downhome atmosphere was a success.

While in Fort Worth, Texas a few weeks ago, a visit to Taco Heads for lunch brought that story back to mind. Back home and not sure where her corporate background would lead her, it was a dream one night that motivated Sarah Castillo to develop the perfect tacqueria that would inspire a cult following.

Two jobs and two years later, she had saved enough to buy not just a food truck, but a unique custom trailer. Her mother provided the recipes and a friend introduced her to area bar owners, who agreed on the need for late night dining. Six years later, had her Uber driver not struck up a conversation with her, he may not have become her business partner and their two restaurants (with a third on the drawing board) may not have come to fruition.

With visions of tacos still dancing in my head from this incredible story, brunch the next day at Hot Box Biscuit Club had me taken aback. After dreaming about biscuits one night, you can guess what Sarah Houten had to do.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, the prestigious cooking school, she set out to create the perfect biscuit, then called her old friend, Matt Mobley. They had met years ago when he taught at Le Cordon Blue, the elite cooking school in Dallas, and she knew he was the one that could provide just the right accompaniments to take her biscuits to the next level. They collaborated on their favorite Southern recipes and soon their food truck gave way to a restaurant with lines out the door.

From pipe dream to reality; these women entrepreneurs were hungry to find their path in life. They listened to their inner voice, put their trust in their gut feeling and let intuition guide them. They dared to dream, but kept their eyes open and followed their destiny.

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Cowgirl Fascination: Annie Oakley

Photo Annie Oakley 1

Just under the wire, on the last day of 2019, I was able to squeeze in my goal of visiting the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas. There, I was introduced to Annie Oakley.

Born Phoebe Ann Moses in Ohio in 1860, Oakley’s father died when she was 6-years old. She was sent to live at the city poor house, but returned home as a teenager. She helped feed her family and eventually paid off their farm’s mortgage with her hunting skills, selling the excess to a local hotelier. When the hotelier set up a shooting contest between the fifteen-year old, five-foot tall Oakley and well-known marksman, Frank Butler, Oakley won, scoring 25 out of 25 shots. Smitten with her moxie, the two courted and eventually married, traveling together as a shooting act. When Butler realized it was Oakley the crowds wanted to see, he took a step back and became her manager. It is said the stage name Oakley came from the Cincinnati neighborhood they lived in.

They soon set their sights on becoming a part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. William F. Cody was a soldier, hunter and showman who turned his real life adventures into the first outdoor western show. Known for his foresight and business acumen, he was soon celebrated as one of the most famous Americans in the world. His use of press agents and poster advertising was innovative for the times. Realizing how essential Indians were to the shows, he paid them the same wages as the other performers. Their families traveled along with them and were encouraged to retain their language and rituals.

In 1885, Oakley auditioned and was hired on the spot. That year, she performed in 40 cities and then made a grand three year tour of Europe. In 1893 alone, the show performed for 6 million people and made a profit of $1 million. Patrons were fascinated with the ingenuity and efficiency behind the scenes as they were the show itself. Every night, the cast and staff of over 500 plus horses and buffaloes (along with grandstands and acres of canvas cover for the 20 thousand ticket holders) moved to the next town. Depending on the destination, they were housed in either walled tents or railroad sleeping cars. Three hot meals a day were served and their entourage even included its own fire department.

In a male dominated profession, Oakley was able to retain her femininity and become the most famous sharp shooter in American history. She was known for her ability to hit small size objects, such as a dime at 90 feet or the ash from a cigarette, once held in the lips of the Crown Prince of Germany. She headlined with the show for almost 20 years, retiring after a car accident. She still kept shooting even with the brace she wore due to a fractured hip and ankle, giving exhibitions, holding charity events and teaching women to shoot. The celebrity cowgirl died at age 66 and it is said that Frank died of a broken heart a few weeks later.

Photo Annie Oakley 2

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Heide Pitre: The Wink of an Artist’s Eye

Photo Pitre One Green Dot

“One Green Dot”: If you look closely, you’ll see it on her shirt

When Heidi Pitre’s Uncle Willy Willy Lump Lump suggested she draw freehand rather than trace pictures from the cover of a Charlie Brown book, the artist had no idea that his 5-year-old niece had such talent. All these years later, she can’t help but smile and wonder what he would think of her painting “One Green Dot” currently appearing on billboards across Austin. A winner of the latest Austin Art Boards Competition, her latest collection “Southern Peculiar” colorfully depicts heartwarming scenes of the South, presented with a lighthearted twist.

Pitre calls herself a narrative painter. She invents a story, creates a scene and then entices you to scrutinize it until you find your own ending. Her style is bold and realistic without being surreal, captivating you into taking yet another look to see if there was something you might have missed.

There’s no place better than New Orleans for a budding artist to grow up. Its eclectic music, cuisine, architecture and celebrations combined with the city’s freewheeling, creative spirit reassured her that a little bit of quirkiness and eccentricity was always welcome. At the University of New Orleans, she changed her major to Fine Arts, not sure how she would make a living, but determined to do so.

Once her daughters were on their own, Pitre decided it was finally time to dedicate herself to taking her career a step further. Utilizing her organizational skills and business acumen, she set out to learn the art business, established goals and never looked back. When fellow artists touted Austin for its opportunities, camaraderie and generous spirit, she packed up her moxie and made it her home.

While attending an art residency, her love of libraries and reading led her to inquire whether she could remove the old library cards from their books. Given the OK, her stack grew until one day she began to sketch artwork on the card. As Pitre explains “Each repurposed card is unique, with the artwork added to represent a pivotal moment or theme from the book or a play on words of the title. Retired from their first career, these once forgotten pieces of paper have started new lives as ambassadors for the books they once lived in” Now these new cards, complete with artwork, live around the world with private collectors or hang in galleries and exhibitions. Reproducing them has made them available to a wider audience and a book entitled “A Permanent Record” recounts their story.

EPSON MFP image

Always in search of the bizarre, she had no choice but to purchase some vintage flash cards she came across one day. In her newest collection, she sketches on the cards, her play on words mingling childhood innocence with adult humor.

Heidi Pitre has successfully honed her curiosity, sense of humor and artistic talents into a one- woman, avant-garde show of everything that will tickle you, inspire you and remind you to celebrate the long forgotten. See what she’s up to at heidipitre.com.

 

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Ireland: October 2019- Part 3

Photo Cong

The peaceful little village of Cong

Day Seven:
We bid our driver, Barry, farewell as he continues north with some of the tour group, while the rest of us head out with a new driver, but not before many hugs and a group photo.

The west coast of the Atlantic is the home of Connemara, our first stop of the day. We’re intrigued by its rough coastline, mountains, lakes, tiny coves and fishing villages. Next, it’s on to the charming little village of Cong, made famous by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in the film “The Quiet Man”. Though the film was made there back in 1952, the townsfolk speak of it as if it were yesterday and the small museum, statue and walking tour serve as daily reminders.

We stroll down the road to have a peek over the wall of the Ashford Castle, originally owned by the Guinness family and now a five-star hotel on a golf course, before heading back to Dublin.

As soon as we enter Hotel 7, we know we’ve made a good choice. The historic building, restored into a boutique hotel is elegant and stylish. We’re a bit soggy from the drizzle and eager to check in, but the manager apologizes and asks if he might first check in a group that has arrived at the same time as us. He offers us a complimentary cocktail of our choice, leads us to the bar and we’re immediately soothed by the crème color décor and the Ella Fitzgerald song playing softly in the background.

We dine at The Church, a deconsecrated 18th century church, and are lucky to get a front row seat. The Gothic architecture and large stained glass panels are a lovely back drop for the lively musicians and Irish step dancers. My feet are dancing under the table as I clap in time to the music and once in a while, remember to actually enjoy my meal.

Day Eight
I’ve been waiting to see the bog people this entire trip and am so excited that the day is finally here. We arrive at The National Museum of Archeology (free!) and head right to the “Kingship and Sacrifice” exhibit. The dramatic presentation houses each corpse laid out in its own darkened area. The men were killed and tossed into peat bogs almost four thousand years ago, yet they remain preserved due to the combination of the cold weather and oxygen. It is fascinating to observe the detail; skin, nails on their hands and feet and even their curly hair is still intact. Renowned experts were able to analyze their bodies and piece together details about their individual lives and their civilization.

After a cocktail at The Green Hen and a lively discussion about Dublin with the owner, we take our leave. The Celt Pub is an authentic Irish bar filled with its share of curmudgeons, but it is not here that we will be dining. We are told to walk through it, look for a door, then enter its sister establishment Le Bon Crubeen. The startling difference gives us an even better reception to the lovely brasserie that serves Irish fare with a French twist. We are not shy to try an appetizer portion of crubeen and actually enjoy the pigs feet that are boiled, battered and fried.

Day Nine
What better way to spend a rainy day than at an art museum. The National Gallery of Ireland, (also free) is an impressive building housing a vast collection of European art. We are able to point out places we’ve been by the scenery in the paintings. I am particularly taken with two paintings that share some intimate moments; one of a young man writing a letter and the next of a young woman reading his letter.

Photo Art Museum Dublin

As we enter, the painted staircase stops us in our tracks

“Downton Abbey” has just opened in theaters and we decide it would be a perfect afternoon to take in a movie. We meet two ladies who have arrived with champagne and scones and chat with them about the characters. Spontaneous applause erupts at the movie’s end and we excitedly discuss the movie under our umbrellas all the way down the street.

We’re early for our dinner reservation at Dolce Sicily, but they welcome us in out of the rain. Our table is in an upstairs room that overlooks the street. The Pinot Noir rids us of our chill, as we watch people outside skip over puddles and dodge oncoming umbrellas. We dine slowly, sharing our plates of Fritto Misto, chicken marsala and risotto with wild mushrooms. When we bring an error in our bill to our waiter’s attention, he thanks us with a complimentary Limoncello; just what we need to toast our last night together in Ireland.

What better way to end my Irish adventure than with a limerick:

After visiting bonny Ireland this year
I returned home with a yen for Guinness Beer

Tis the rainy weather they say
That leads you to the pub each day

A lasting souvenir of good cheer

Sláinte!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Author’s Note:
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Ireland: September -October 2019- Part 2

Photo Bunratty Castle

Bunratty Castle, home of the Blarney Stone

Day Four: Annascuale
Dingle is a charming fishing village, but in the teaming rain, we can’t seem to see the picturesque spots featured in so many films and we don’t get to hear the locals conversing in their ancient language of Gaelic. Dingle is also famous for the most pubs in Ireland for a town of its size, so we resort to plan B and choose one. A hot bowl of soup and an Irish coffee hits the spot.

Fortunately, the rain subsides and we are able to take in the amazing views around Slea Head. Regarded as the most beautiful peninsula in the world by many photographic magazines, it is also the home of some of Ireland’s famed beaches.

As we head to our overnight destination, the small town of Annascuale, Barry surprises us with an invitation to The Randy Leprechaun for dinner and karaoke, compliments of Paddywagon Tours. Sitting together at long tables, the fun group all get to know each other over cocktails and dinner. Before I know it (and much to my surprise), the usually reserved Mr. Wiz* has us both up and performing Willie Nelson’s “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys!”

Day Five: Killarney
Our day begins with a horse and cart ride through Killarney National Park. It’s great to be able to view the mountains, lakes and waterfalls without getting muddy shoes. An added plus is our comedic driver, who sends us off with a smile on our faces and some new material. We are awed by the spectacular beauty of the Ring of Kerry. Part of the Wild Atlantic Way, the scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula boasts rugged coastlines and rural seaside villages and has an almost mystical feel. The Skellig Islands are famous for the filming of Star Wars, its meteorology station and a bit of meteorological humor: it is said that it rains there twice a week; once for three days and once for four.

The charming town of Waterville almost did not host its most famous guest. Back in the 1950s, Charlie Chaplin intended to go fly fishing there on the recommendation of his friend, Walt Disney. Disappointed there was no room at the Butler Arms Hotel, he drove away, only to be chased down by the hotel’s owner, who welcomed him graciously. For years after that, Chaplin and his family would visit yearly and the town’s annual festival still pays tribute to him.

Photo Charlie Chaplin

We settle into our lodging quickly, excited to explore Killarney before heading off for cocktails at The Laurels. We’ve been told not to miss Quinlan’s Seafood Bar and the fresh fish does not disappoint. We’re lucky to get a front row seat at the Danny Man Pub and can’t wait to hear some traditional Irish music. The gentleman who will be performing looks a bit stern as he begins to set up, but as he puts on his cap he almost magically transforms, crooning wonderful ballads and even teaching the audience a few.

Day Six: Galway
To smooch or not to smooch the Blarney Stone? While we originally thought it a bit too touristy, once we arrive at Bunratty Castle, we find the best way to explore this 15th century bastion is to head to its top. While there, we might as well give the old block of limestone a peck and hope for some eloquence to be bestowed on us. You kiss the stone upside down, so hoping that the staff that assists us in leaning back has had a good night’s sleep and that the antibacterial spray bottle used to clean the stone is full, we give it a go. We leave with yet another unique experience under our belts, but still wondering why anyone would purchase the expensive photos taken of you in that awkward position.

Next stop is the Cliffs of Moher. A part of the Wild Atlantic Way, the spectacular sea cliffs rise over 700 feet out of the Atlantic Ocean. We’re able to hike up to the many vistas and take in our surroundings. Our journey then takes us to Galway Bay with fabulous views of the Aran Islands and a chance meeting in a small town with Joe and his mountain goat Puck (named after “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”). We’re captivated by the stories about the hamlet of Lisdoonvarna, with its Fr. Ted Festival (hundreds are dressed as priests after a popular Irish television program) and its Matchmaking Festival that lasts four weeks!

Photo Puck

After a quick hotel check in, we head to downtown Galway. With its cobblestone streets and stone buildings, you can see why The New York Times named it “Ireland’s most charming city.” The bus stops at Eyre Square, a park in the city center, and in front of us regally stands Hotel Meyrick. We stop in for a cocktail and then decide on a change of pace for dinner. We choose Lime, a contemporary Asian restaurant. The service is impeccable, the decor is chic and the food delicious. After dinner, we walk along the river, as we relive another great day and try not to think about how many days it will be before we have to leave.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Author’s Note:
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Ireland: September 2019- Part 1

Photo Temple Bar
Temple Bar

Make no mistake; it rains a lot here and now we understand why the locals tell us “This is  why we drink so much!” There’s only one way to get rid of that damp, bone chilling feeling and it’s spelled P-U-B. Lucky for us all, that is also where many of the wonderful songs and stories that Ireland is famous for, originated. So, thank you, Guinness and Jameson for brewing and distilling us into a constant state of bliss. Rain, schmain; by the end of this trip, I’ll have a spring in my step, regardless of the weather, and will have to stop myself from saying “Top of the morning!” to everyone I pass on the street.

Day 1: Dublin
If Dublin were a shoe, it would be a toe tapping work boot tied with smiley face shoe laces. There’s nothing pretentious about this place; it’s not one of those stunning cities, but there’s a down-to-earth feeling that almost immediately makes you feel welcome. Dublin’s harsh history (think potato famine) prepared its people to be tough, proud and to find the joy in life and celebrate when you can.

We settle into the Maldron Hotel and we’re a bit underwhelmed; coming from Tigerlily in Edinburgh, which rocked our world, it’s a bit plain, but the great location and the young, eager- to-please staff seem to make up for it.

A lively discussion on where to have cocktails immediately follows, but the downpour outside results in a unanimous decision to stay put at the Maldron bar. It seems like a good night for a stick to the ribs dinner, so we head to The Chophouse and dine on sizzling steaks sourced from a local farm and served on wooden boards. If I lived here, I would be a lifetime member of the Beef Club, their foodie group.

Day 2: Dublin
The docent at St. Patrick’s Cathedral delights us with her anecdotes as we tour the imposing Gothic building founded in 1191. The largest church in Ireland, it is also the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland. This year the church celebrates famous Irish author and one-time Dean of the Cathedral, Jonathan Swift’s 350th birthday.

The drizzle doesn’t dampen our spirits as we walk around the lively Temple Bar area. Even though it’s a tourist area of bars, restaurants and shops and known for being higher priced, it’s still a must see. We follow Big A* across the River Liffey Bridge to Oxmantown, get the last four stools in this small sandwich shop and chow down. This gives the guys a good base for their Jameson Distillery Tour, while JC* and I people watch over a pot of Irish tea at a nearby cafe. We can’t help but stop in to The Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Ireland dating back to 1198 and then stroll the grounds of Trinity College, the top ranked university in Ireland.

Is it five o’ clock already? It’s time for cocktails at The Bank on College Green, renovated back to its Victorian splendor. Having stopped in at each of the contenders earlier in the day, we choose Terra Madre for dinner. Heading down the stairs to a basement, the tiny restaurant that only seats 18 in mis-matched chairs, makes you feel as if you stopped in at an Italian home. With no time for small talk, the owner glides through the tables, stopping only to discuss the menu. We get lost in the descriptions (pasta made in the traditional way as the old ladies did, who lived in the village of Campofilone that overlooks the Adriatic coast), share so we get to taste more of everything and almost fall off our chairs; it’s that good.

Day 3: Waterford
We say goodbye to Big A*, who’s traveling to London to visit friends before going home. Mr. Wiz*, JC and I are heading out on a six day bus tour of Southern Ireland. Even though we have always preferred to plan our own itineraries, having to drive on the “wrong side” of the road convinced us that there’s a first time for everything.

After much research, we settle on Paddywagon Tours. With high ratings, moderate pricing and small groups, we like the fact that they attract a younger demographic. We’re on our own for dinner each night (breakfast is included), leaving us some freedom of choice. While accommodations are simple, staying at bed-and-breakfast inns gives us the chance to get acquainted with the locals.

The jolly group from all over the world starts to assemble and introductions are made; three groups of women celebrating their 40th birthdays, a young man in his late 20s who just moved to Ireland, two recent college graduates with their parents, couples in their 50s and small world; two women from Austin, Texas.

Everyone (especially the birthday girls) likes our driver, Barry, immediately. He is a tall, good looking guy in his late 30s and has a nice way about him, speaking just enough to enlighten us about his country, but also knowing when some quiet time is needed. As we drive out of Dublin, he mentions that the locals call the Obelisk near the River Liffey the “Stiffy on the Liffey.” Having warmed up the crowd, he asks if we know the difference between Scotts and the Irish; Scotts are Irish people that can’t swim and then mentions that he’s half Scottish and half Irish; he likes to drink, but doesn’t like to pay for it.

Photo Glendolough
So much to explore at Glendalough

We drive through the rolling countryside to the Wicklow Mountains and hike around the monastery ruins at Glendalough, Valley of the Two Lakes. It takes us a moment to realize that those are real reindeer just a few feet away and not animatronics. With only 34 of us on the bus, we are able to make quick on/off stops along the way and the first one is Hollywood (population 50). We learn that the iconic Hollywood sign actually originated here, when two brothers bought land in California and named it after their hometown. The medieval city of Kilkenny captivates us with its cobblestone streets and buildings that date back to the 12thcentury. We hang on every word, as our docent regales us with tales of the Butler family, proprietors of Kilkenny Castle.

Finally arriving in Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city, we dine at La Boheme. The husband and wife owners lovingly restored the arched ceilings, pewter bar and original flooring into a French restaurant full of old-world charm. We’re not sure if we preferred the duck breast with ginger and honey sauce or the rack of lamb, but we can agree that Day One on the bus with Barry and our new friends went quite well.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Author’s Note:
I would greatly appreciate your input; if you enjoyed this post, please scroll down and like it!

 

Edinburgh, Scotland: September 2019

Photo Ediburgh

Edinburgh Castle looms over the city

It’s love at first sight! If Edinburgh were a shoe, it would be a Manolo Blahnik jeweled pump. This beautiful city, built on seven hills, looks like a movie set, with its cobblestone streets and its charming stone buildings, each vying for attention with flowering plants cascading from their window boxes.

There’s a certain feeling of comfort that English is the spoken language here, even though that Scottish brogue sometimes makes you need to pay a wee bit more attention. We’re told that it’s a short walk from the train station to the hotel and we take in all the sights and sounds, remembering to look right, left, up and down as we cross each street. It’s still unsettling to us that cars are driving on the opposite side of the road; each taxi encounter is more like a rollercoaster ride.

Stepping into our hotel, Tigerlily, takes our breath away. I’m here for only two minutes and I already know that we will add it to our list of all-time favorites. The small lobby gives way to two bar/sitting areas that have “Alice in Wonderland” written all over them.

Photo Edinburgh Tigerlilly 2

 

 

Photo Edinburgh Tigerlilly 1

 

The stylishly, large guest rooms, attention to detail (glitter balls hanging in the stairwells?!) and all-around trendiness is intoxicating; now I understand what the true definition of bling really is.

Day One
We hear bagpipes playing in the distance, so how can we not have a cocktail at a place called Angels with Bagpipes? We sit outside the 17th century building located on the Royal Mile, a main thorofare, and people watch (note: kilts on men are very sexy). Big A* and I compare research and settle on dinner at L’ Escargot Blanc. A winner of many awards, but unpretentious, it advertises itself as “the best of Scotland with a French twist.” Known for its casserole entrees, brightly colored casserole dishes of all shapes and sizes playfully adorn shelves as pieces of art. I am so impressed with the crockery canister of cornichons and wood tongs served with my terrine appetizer that I eat way too many, but save room for the luscious lamb entree. There’s no way we can bypass our jazzy hotel bars and not stop in one for a nightcap; a scenario that will play out each night of our stay.

Day Two
We’re not surprised that the Tigerlily breakfast is so exceptional. As I sip the best tea that I’ve ever tasted, I take note of how I can make sure to try as many of the offerings as possible. Fortified, we head to Edinburgh Castle for our tour (tickets purchased ahead online). A historic military fortress, royal residence and prison, it looms over the city. Our tour guide passes out his business card and introduces himself as “Australian David” (the better to identify him on TripAdvisor with). Dressed in a kilt, his acting background comes in handy as he regales us with countless tales of intrigue, warfare and romance.

We enjoy a quick lunch at Oink. A small space with a few seats, we line up to choose our size of pulled pork sandwich, type of bread, stuffing and sauce. Our next stop is Leith, a historic port town, and I will not let the rain dampen my excitement to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia. It is said that the day it was decommissioned, Queen Elizabeth II (not known for her emotions) actually shed a tear. As it turns out, it’s not all that difficult to be a Royal; all you need is a yacht and the handshake, which I practice on every level of the ship.

Our rain hoods affect our peripheral vision, but not enough that we don’t see into the bar at The Kitchin and decide that cocktails are in order. Contemporary and sleek, we dry off to the sound of Ella Fitzgerald. Then, it’s back to Edinburgh and on to Michael Neave Kitchen for dinner. The décor is a contemporary mix of metal and wood and, Neave, one of Scotland’s top young chefs, introduces us to cod with chorizo risotto and venison and lamb, both with a slightly gamey flavor, alluding to the fact that it’s been sourced from local farms.

Day Three
The rain is relentless, so JC* and I decide to explore the art at the National Gallery of Scotland (free!), rather than accompany Mr. Wiz* and Big A* on their day trip to St. Andrews, known as “the home of golf.” Bypassing the bar where Prince William and Duchess Kate met (they both attended St. Andrew’s University), they head straight for St. Andrew’s Links. They find out that it is a public golf course and on non event days, anyone can stroll around it. As luck would have it, they spend the afternoon watching Rory Mcllroy and his dad play golf together. They are told that tomorrow will start a championship open, so entry will be restricted and ticket prices will be high.

JC, Google Maps and I make it to our meeting place, The Royal Oak. As we’re all sharing our day’s adventures, we notice three people from very different walks of life enter, pull out their instruments and just start playing. The bar is so small that our knees are almost touching the band members’ knees, so we try to not make any sudden movements and realize we can’t leave until their set is finished. We then head down a narrow alley way and multiple stone steps to The Devil’s Advocate for dinner. It’s housed in an old Victorian pump house and is lit by candlelight. We’re very adventurous and find that even animal innards (haggis and black pudding) and lamb neck filets pair well with pinot noir.

I’m sorry to say goodbye to Edinburgh and my dream of living at Tigerlilly, but there’s still one more nightcap and one more breakfast to look forward to before heading on to Dublin.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Author’s Note:
I would greatly appreciate your input; if you enjoyed this post, please scroll down and like it!

 

Glasgow, Scotland: September 2019

Photo Glasgow 1

Glasgow University

Glasgow is Gaelic for dear, green place. I open the plane shade as we are about to land and gasp. The craggy mountains are a splendid backdrop for the verdant patches that sparkle. JC* and I take one look at each other, smile, break into song with a quiet rendition of “Loch Lomond,” that old Scottish ballad, and receive a thumbs-up from Mr. Wiz*, while the family across the aisle claps softly:

“You take the high road
And I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland before you
For me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond”

We head to our hotel, excited to meet up with Big A*. The Fodors review was so complimentary that before booking the Carlton George, I checked to make sure that the reviewer’s last name wasn’t Carlton or George. All in all, it was a nice hotel in a great location, nothing exceptional. Due to the recent liquor issues in hotels, the complimentary decanters of gin, sherry and whiskey in our rooms go unopened, but the rooftop bar is a nice touch.

If Glasgow were a shoe, it would be a practical oxford in a daring color. What the city lacks in beauty, it makes up for with its edgy vibe. And then, there’s that sense of humor: someone has placed traffic cones on the heads of the elegant statues all around the city, a sign reads “There are two seasons in Scotland: June and Winter” and a Kentucky Fried Chicken ad asks “What the cluck?” I’m still giggling when we walk through a tunnel and painted on the wall it says “Are ye dancing?” and we pass Sweaty Betty, a women’s fitness apparel shop.

We explore Argyll Street, City Center, the West End and Glasgow Cathedral. Glasgow University enchants us; it’s very Hogwarts-like and we search for Harry Potter around every corner. We arrive just in time for an organ recital at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and then learn about some of Scotland’s famous artists in a special exhibit.

We’re treated to a lovely view of the city at Citation, as we enjoy cocktails on its outdoor balcony. Even though we’re lucky to get the last table in the cobblestone courtyard at Sloan’s, a bar dating back to 1799, I make sure to check out its acid etched windows and mahogany staircase inside. We were so glad the hotel staff told us to check out the bar next door. We’d never seen anything like Waxy O’ Connors Pub. The waiter tells us that its design was the creation of the owner. We can’t imagine how he thought to combine six bars, multiple landings and nook and crannies over three floors in a gothic style that resembles a church and how the wait staff finds their way back to their customers.

Each morning at breakfast, we settle on our lunch choices. Catch wins us over with its luscious fish and chips and its navy and white nautical décor. Paesano impresses us by elevating pizza into an art form, its menu detailing how each imported ingredient was chosen and enlightening us about its wood fire oven, perfected over four generations.

Our culinary priorities set, by lunch time, we secure our dinner reservations, not wanting to miss out on any of the choices we’ve spent time researching. After dining at the Mussel Inn, we agree that, though delicious, we may have reached our mussel quota for the balance of the trip. Rogano’s elegant art deco décor sets the stage for their smoked fish chowder and lemon sole drenched in a brown butter sauce that I could have bathed in. The waiter tells us that we’re in good company (Henry Kissinger, Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart have also dined at table 16) and he will be sure to add the Thornton family to the list.

Now it’s on to Edinburgh! We head to the train, secure in the knowledge that we’ve successfully made the best of our short stay.

Photo Glasgow 2

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Author’s Note:
I would greatly appreciate your input; if you enjoyed this post, please scroll down and like it!

 

The Tale of the Sales Pitch

Photo Tale of a Sales Pitch


House rule: we always open every piece of mail. Remembering Mr. Wiz’s* astonishment, a while back, in receiving a $300 rebate from his old insurance company, I recently ripped open both sides of an envelope that urged me to open it immediately.

We’ve all seen these invitations before; listen to a presentation in exchange for a gift of some sort. This one caught my eye, only because of the gift: two- round trip tickets to anywhere in the continental United States, a two-night stay at a top hotel and a $50 restaurant gift card.

Curious, I called the 800 number and was told that this travel agency promoted themselves via one-on-one presentations, rather than utilizing other forms of advertising.

With a background in sales, I was intrigued to see how these experts might elevate their craft to an art form. The two airline tickets and the fact that the presentation was in a classy downtown hotel made me decide to reserve a space.

We arrived early and greeted the woman sitting outside the conference room. Wondering how she could possibly be so irritated at such an early hour, she looked up, handed us a clip board and told us to fill out the information without acknowledging us at all. I named her Ms. Morose (aka Ms. M).

The doors opened and we were ushered in, along with two elderly couples. The body language of the two gentlemen accompanying their wives conveyed immediately that they were coerced into attending. Personally, I would have removed the two tables that sat in the back empty.

Before we had a chance to chat with our neighbors, the master of ceremonies leaped into the room and introduced himself. Because of his Hawaiian shirt, perpetual smile and game show host voice, I gave him the title Mr. Carnival Barker (aka Mr. CB). In between photos of exotic destinations, we were told that joining this members-only travel agency (brokers that cut out the middlemen) would discount our travel by at least 50%.

We were then introduced to our personal consultant (Ms. M and Mr. CB turned out to be the other consultants). A large black man with a sweet face, he shook our hands and joked that, by his accent, we could probably guess that he was from Alabama. He later mentioned that he was actually was from Senegal. Having to repeat his introduction three times before we understood him, we settled in at the edge of our seats and politely tried to focus intently on every word that Mr. Senegal, my name for him (aka Mr. S) had to say.

It seemed that Mr. S. was also the closer. With a broad smile, he assured us that the $3995 we would spend, along with the $199 per year was a small price to pay for the deep discounts offered us.

By the time we looked up, the two grouchy husbands and their spouses were nowhere to be seen. It was time for Mr. S. to throw in the discounts and specials that he had been hiding in his back pocket. Though he mentioned more than once that the offer expired once we exited the room, we were unsure why he wrote his name and cell number down for us.

We declined the offer and said our goodbyes, still wondering, if this was their one shot at a sale, why the staff was not as professional as expected and not dressed for success. Exiting the room and walking down the hall, I heard Ms. M. call me back to her desk. As I returned, she said in her monotone voice “I’ll need that pad back” Mini paper hoarder that I am, I had put the white lined 8 x 11 inch pad under my arm.

All in all, I learned a lot that day: first impressions are important, never make a big decision before sleeping on it, if it seems too good to be true it probably is and the secret to success for multimillion dollar companies is keeping an eye on those 25 cent pads.

Postscript: The coupon for the airline tickets, hotel stay and dining did arrive along with a request for credit card information to cover taxes and fees totaling $450. I figure I still came out ahead; I made scrap paper out of the coupon, still have the Sheraton Hotel pen and got the idea for this post.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.