Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Feature: Imagine Nation Children's Museum, Bristol, CT

February's 12 Trips in 12 Months was a quick day trip to the Imagine Nation Children's Museum in Bristol, CT.  I had been wanting to check out this place for a while so when a Groupon became available at half the price of regular admission I snatched it up.  Unfortunately due to the bad weather in Connecticut I literally waited until the last week to redeem my Groupon to go there.  I'm a procrastinator at heart.

Bristol is in central Connecticut, southwest of the capital of Hartford.  The museum is located on the corner of a main road and a quiet residential street.  We had a hard time finding parking with all the snow buildup, ultimately parking on the residential street.  Apparently there was a parking lot available but there was no sign to indicate it and it was down another street before we reached the museum so we missed the turn.

The entrance to the museum includes a lobby area with seating, a coat rack, gift shop and old fashioned soda fountain bar that serves ice cream as well as kid-friendly lunches like chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese.  Our Groupon was for 4 admissions for $14, reasonably priced, but there were only 3 of us and since the Groupon only allows for one visit we didn't get the use of the 4th admission.  Still, we saved $16 considering regular priced admission is $10 per person (children under 1 get in free).

Floor 1 of the museum has a large food-themed play area in the center.  There's a kitchen, dining area, market stand, and fake cow that you can milk (or ride, as in Stink's case).  There's also a Science and Energy area which was a little too advanced for Stink, although she really enjoyed playing with the "dragonsaurs" in a giant box filled with wood chips.  There was a pen with 2 friendly bunnies under the staircase but a sign said they were available for adoption so I don't think they are a permanent exhibit.
Science and Energy Area
Dinosaur Pit

Petting the friendly bunnies
Cooking in the play kitchen

Floor 2 has a lot more exhibits.  There is a very nice water play area with a coat rack full of raincoats for the kids to wear.  Children can stand inside a hoop and surround themselves in a large bubble or play a fishing game in the water table.  There is also a chalkboard wall and cups filled with water for water painting.  There's a medical-themed play area with a dentist's chair, a huge kaleidoscope and a Pinterest-worthy Light Bright on the wall that both Brandon and Stink enjoyed.
Water Play area
Protecting our kiddo by sticking her in a bubble...forever

Playing doctor
I could use one of these for our house

Some of the room exhibits on Floor 2 include the greenhouse, a warm sunny room filled with tanks of reptiles and insects and western-themed play clothes.  There is also a multi-cultural room filled with books, toys and dress-up clothes from various parts of the world.  There's also a lot of musical instruments in this room and I think Stink tried every one of them out.  Floor 2 also has a stage for performances, large foam blocks and a very nice arts and crafts center.  Stink created a lovely masterpiece with feathers, plastic flowers and leaves which we left on a drying rack until we were ready to pick it up. 
Creating a masterpiece
Push a button and hear the word "Hello" spoken in different languages

Beating on a drum

The Imagine Nation's website boasts 3 floors of interactive play but really it's just 2.  The top floor is nothing more than a catwalk that leads to a little broadcasting station (the same thing you can visit on Floor 2) and a large tire.  Pretty disappointing but they said they were raising money to add new exhibits.

Now for the complaints.  Imagine Nation only has one unisex bathroom per floor and every time I walked by there was a line.  I eventually discovered a men's restroom on the first floor near the preschool classrooms but couldn't find the women's and just gave up and waited my turn in line at the unisex.  Also, one of the things I always bemoaned about KidCity Children's Museum were the cramped tiny rooms for playing but after having been to Imagine Nation I now see why they set things up the way they did.  At Imagine Nation almost all the play areas are open spaces and the echoes from children running and screaming can get pretty loud.  Frankly I felt quite a bit of pity for the rabbits and birds that were part of the exhibits at the museum.  Parking was another issue for me.  There were no clear signs for museum parking so we ended up on a residential side street where we were promptly asked to move our car because one of the homeowners was moving.  Even they couldn't give suggestions on where else to park. 

The Verdict:  ★★  With Imagine Nation being $2 more per person than KidCity plus 15 minutes further from our house I doubt we will visit again.  The Groupon was a good deal but without it I would never pay $10 a person to visit.  There are plenty of other exciting things to do in Connecticut. 

How To Get There: Imagine Nation is on the corner of Pleasant Street (residential) and Church Street (main) in Bristol, CT.  Their parking lot is accessible on the next residential street over, Upson Street.

What To Bring: You can bring a bag lunch and eat in the lobby if you choose but no food or drink is allowed in the museum.  There wasn't enough space to hang our coats so we had to carry them around in our backpack which I'm glad we brought!

Child Friendly?  Imagine Nation is good for kids who enjoy science, animals, imaginative play and arts and crafts.  There are more exhibits here for older kids than at KidCity but is still good for toddler-age children.

Pet Friendly?  No

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Travel Updates and Other Random Thoughts

Between planning two major vacations and my 12 Trips in 12 Months adventures my mind tends to get a little jumbled.  That's why I love my blog so much.  It gives me a chance to purge my thoughts out on screen and years from now I can go back and read my old posts to help me plan future trips.
  • Ever since Disney announced that starting February 21st they will no longer be offering non-expiring tickets I've been considering buying a set for our family.  There were still some available on sites like Undercover Tourist but at $750 for a 10-day Parkhopper ticket it's been difficult for me to click that mouse to actually purchase them.  So instead I opened up a new credit card with a $400 sign-up bonus.  I told myself if the tickets are still available by the time the card comes in the mail then I'll buy them.  If not, well it just wasn't meant to be.  Well it turns out the 10-Day Parkhoppers are gone and all that's left are 5- and 6-day tickets.  Not sure what I'm going to do about that now.
  • Speaking of Disney, I've finally booked all my dining reservations, signed up for our Fastpasses and scheduled our days at the parks down to the half-hour.  Yea, I'm one of those detailed planners but at least it will ensure we're not wasting our Fastpasses on rides that don't have long wait times or we're needlessly criss-crossing the parks 5 times in one day.  Our vacation is going to be heavily centered on character meets and family-friendly rides though I do plan to take our little thrill seeker on her first roller coaster ride, The Barnstormer. 
My crazy detailed Epcot itinerary
  • Our second set of Magic Bands just arrived in the mail today, woo hoo!  Did you know that you get a free set of Magic Bands every time you stay at a Disney resort?  We received our first set in 2013 while staying at Old Key West and I just assumed that would be the only ones we would get.  Luckily they send out new sets because Brandon's band was starting to fray around the edges.  The old and new bands will work interchangeably so we can bring both sets with us if we want.  We plan to leave Stink's at home since she doesn't need them yet. 
I would love it if Disney had a purple option for Magic Bands
  • Our European vacation is pretty much settled as well but I'm waiting on my new credit card to arrive to book our train tickets.  We are renting a car in Iceland but for our stay in Germany and France we'll be relying solely on public transportation.  Aside from using the Metro North to get to New York City I've never used the train to get anywhere and I'm really looking forward to the mountain scenery of Bavaria, especially on our trip to Salzburg.  However I find myself not really thinking about our trip that much.  It might be because I'm so nervous about how Stink will do, especially on the flights.  Last year she was such a mellow baby but this year we have a full-blown toddler whose attitude can change at the drop of a hat.    
  • I REALLY need to start planning our route around the Golden Circle in Iceland, especially since we won't be renting a GPS with our rental car.  Don't be surprised if I forget to write this week's Friday Feature.  I'll probably be perusing Pinterest all week for some Icelandic travel inspiration.
  • I received an email this morning that I had won a $100 Visa giftcard through a giveaway that Adventures by Daddy was hosting in conjunction with Enterprise Rent-a-Car.  How's that for luck?!  
  •  For all my upcoming vacations I'm really hoping to improve the quality of my photography so I've been reading the book "Better Photo Basics" by Jim Miotke.  It's pretty easy to understand for beginners like me.  One of the "assignments" listed in the book is to take pictures of a bunch of flowers using the macro setting on our camera.  What do you think of my work?
Original photo
With auto-editing from PicMonkey

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Feature: Manu Cloud Forest near Cusco, Peru

When Brandon and I were planning our very first international trip to Peru I discovered that our home base, Cusco, was much closer to the Amazon rainforest than I had previously thought.  In fact there are many excursions to the jungle that start from the ancient Andean city.  We were on a strict budget, having spent most of our money on plane flights and for the volunteer program that we would be participating in.  After all, 5 weeks abroad for 2 people isn't exactly cheap.  So when I researched excursions to the nearby jungle we were limited both in funds and in time.  Brandon wasn't allowed to take too much time off work and we didn't want to spend another $1,000 just for a side trip to the Amazon.  In the end we booked a short 3 day trip to Manu Cloud Forest through Andex Adventures for $375 per person.

Our first day started very early at 5 am, boarding a 15-passenger van that would take us on a harrowing 8-hour journey through the mountains to the Manu National Park.  The one-lane dirt road with no railings made me extremely nervous and had I known the trip would be like that I probably would have never booked it.  Along the way we stopped in a few villages including Paucartambo, widely known for its popular Virgin del Carmen festival in July which attracts thousands of visitors.

Entrance to Manu National Park.  See the low clouds behind us?
After about 5 hours into our journey we could see the change in the environment, from dry, dusty land to tropical, humid landscape.  Upon entering the park we escaped the confines of the van to walk along the road, observing plants and birds and stopping by a platform called a "lek" to observe a native bird known as the Cock-of-the-Rock.

A Cock-of-the-Rock and evidence that I suck at taking pictures in low lighting
Our dinner that evening was lomo saltado, a Peruvian meal that ended up being one of my favorite foods during our stay.  Accommodations that evening were in the San Pedro Lodge, sparse but adequate.  I was disappointed to discover large holes in the mosquito netting above my bed and electricity was only available from 7-9 pm, after which time your room would plunge into complete darkness if you didn't have a flashlight.

San Pedro Lodge
The second day came bright and early again with a 5 am hike to the lek.  After breakfast we boarded the van to continue deeper into the jungle.  A few stops along the way included a local bakery where we picked up fresh pan chuta, a type of Peruvian flat bread, and a tour of a local coca plantation.  Our guide Ronald explained that coca plantations in the jungle are highly regulated.  The farmer can only grow a certain amount of coca and only one company is allowed to take the coca leaves from the farms to the cities.  This is to ensure the coca is used for tea and other natural consumption instead of being turned into the drug it's known for.  The coca farmers usually supplement their income by growing other produce; in this farmer's case he also grew pineapple, bananas and lemons.

Baking fresh pan chuta
A small coca plantation
After the tour we headed to a small village called Pilcopata where we met a rafting guide who would take us on a journey downriver through some Class I and II rapids.  Brandon and I had been rafting before and were used to donning wetsuits and helmets but here we were just given a simple lifevest and told to put on our bathing suits.  After an hour of rafting and a quick dip in the river we boarded a small motor boat that would take us to our final destination: Erika Lodge.  This lodge was much nicer than San Pedro, complete with hammocks and an amazing view of the river, but still pretty rustic.  The rest of the day was spent on an evening hike where we saw...nothing.  A little disappointing but at least the scenery was lovely.
View of the river from Erika Lodge
Our favorite part of Erika Lodge
Our final day in Manu included an early morning boat ride to a clay lick on the side of the river to observe dozens of parrots and macaws who eat the clay to aid in their digestion.  After a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and yogurt was the highlight of our trip: the canopy zipline tour.  I had been looking forward to this for months and even the arduous hike up the side of a mountain to reach the zipline didn't dampen my spirits.  It wasn't until I got to the 20-foot platform that I realized what a zipline tour involved.  I foolishly thought I would be gliding through the trees, not over them!  My fear of heights got the best of me and I couldn't do it.  Even when I was told I could go tandem with one of the guides I just couldn't do it.  So Brandon and the rest of the group went ahead while I walked back to the lodge with Ronald.

Manu Cloud Forest
A raw cocoa seed.  This is what chocolate is made from!
At about noon Brandon and I packed our things to head back to Cusco.  The rest of the group was staying an extra day, a wise decision considering it was the same price to stay for 4 days as it was for 3 days but we simply didn't have the time.  After a very long journey on the boat and van we finally arrived back in Cusco at 2 am where we would start our volunteer program the very next day.

The Verdict:  ★★  The trip to Manu was pretty disappointing.  The drive there was nerve-wracking, we didn't see any animals except for insects and birds and the accommodations were a little too rustic for me.  This was especially apparent after going back to Peru and seeing the "real" jungle from Iquitos.  If I had to do it again from Cusco I would probably spend a little bit more money and book something to Puerto Maldonado, an area deeper in the jungle but still accessible for short side trips.

When To Go: We visited Peru in July during their winter.  It's the dry season for the jungle which is good because the road isn't as risk for flooding and the trails are dry but the river is also quite low.  Like low as in less than a foot deep.  Even our flat-bottomed motor boat got stuck on some shallows and all the men had to get out and push it to a deeper part of the river.
Brandon helping to get our boat unstuck
What To Bring: A strong flashlight or head lamp is a good investment, as well as strong insect repellent, quick-drying clothes (stay away from cotton!) and sunscreen.

Child Friendly?  Older kids would probably enjoy this trip.  Cusco is a very family-friendly destination and adding this as a side-trip would give them a good introduction to the Amazon jungle.

Pet Friendly?  Definitely not!

Monday, February 23, 2015

My Favorite Foods of Peru

Peru is the only country so far that Brandon and I have visited more than once.  Whenever we have the opportunity to travel abroad we try to seek out new adventures and destinations but Peru is just one of those countries that keeps calling us back.  Perhaps it's because it was the very first international trip we had taken, perhaps it's because we spent a full month in Cusco alone and had time to fall in love with the country and the culture.  Or maybe it's the food.  Oh my, what delicious Peruvian food!  Unique, flavorful, adventurous, fresh Peruvian food.  Meals that my host family prepared for us 7 years ago still linger on my taste buds.  So let's take a trip down memory lane and revisit my favorite foods of Peru.

1.  Anticuchos

Anticuchos, image courtesy of James via Flickr Creative Commons
This street vendor snack of grilled beef heart on a skewer was my all-time favorite food in Peru.  Unfortunately when I first arrived I was too apprehensive to try it.  I mean, what if it was undercooked and I got sick?!  It wasn't until the last week of our trip during a guided tour of the Sacred Valley that I finally tried it.  The chewy marinated meat was unbelievably good.  On our second trip to Peru I looked desperately in Iquitos for anticuchos but instead had to settle for flavored chips at the airport.  It was NOT the same thing.

Anticuchos flavored chips!

2.  Lomo Saltado

Lomo Saltado, image courtesy of James via Flickr Creative Commons
Considering my aversion to having my food touch I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed lomo saltado.  Think beef stir fry mixed with french fries.  No Peruvian dish is complete without some starchy potatoes! Lomo saltado is one of the most popular and traditional Peruvian dishes and can be found on almost any restaurant menu.

3.  Sábalo

Our catch of the day, from top to bottom: Pacu, Sabalo and Peacock Bass
On our journey to the Amazon jungle we were served meals buffet-style and the meat of the day was almost always fish.  While we tried many species of freshwater fish during our stay, such as pacu, catfish and peacock bass, we found sábalo to be the most flavorful.  The fish were always prepared in a simple no-frills manner but they were so yummy.  Oddly enough we caught about 40 piranha during our many fishing trips but never actually ate any!

4.  Ají de Gallina

Ají de Gallina, image courtesy of Juan Jose Richards Echeverria via Flick Creative Commons
Ají de Gallina is a delicious chicken dish in a spicy cream sauce traditionally served with or over rice.  We learned how to make this dish during a cooking lesson on our first trip but our teacher kindly left out much of the ají peppers that make this meal so spicy.  Unfortunately we've had a hard time finding a restaurant near our house that serves this delicious meal but we found one a few hours away that we might eventually visit.

5.  Fried Yucca

Fried Yucca, image courtesy of Arnold Valentino via Flickr Creative Commons
Peruvian food is a carb-lover's dream and fried yucca is something one must try if visiting South America.  These starchy sticks taste distinctly different than french fries.  Some people say that it's stringier but I disagree.  The Peruvian fried yucca that I tried was starchier but that could have been simply because the sticks were thicker than American french fries and weren't fried in oil.  It just tasted like clean, delicious carbs to me.
Even though there were so many foods I loved I think there were an equal number of foods I hated, which I'll probably discuss in another post.  For now I need to find something to eat because this post has made me extremely hungry.  Adios!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Feature: Kylemore Abbey, County Galway, Ireland

In the last few days of our 2-week jaunt around Ireland Brandon and I visited the Connemara region in the western part of the country.  One of those days was spent exploring Kylemore Abbey and Connemara National Park.  That day was one of the highlights of our trip and for good reason  The abbey, walled gardens and Gothic church are set in the beautiful and rugged mountains of the Connemara and there was a wide variety of things to see and do at the abbey and in the immediate area.  Of course no trip to Ireland would be complete without a full day of rainy weather but that didn't dampen our spirits or desire to see everything the abbey had to offer.
Kylemore Abbey: this view from the parking lot doesn't cost a thing!
Kylemore Abbey wasn't always an abbey.  It was a house originally built by Mitchell and Margaret Henry in 1867 and took 4 years to complete.  Unfortunately tragedy struck soon after when Margaret fell ill with dysentery on a trip to Egypt in 1874.  Mitchell had his wife's body brought back to Ireland and immediately began constructing a chapel to house her remains.  After Mitchell's death the house passed to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester where it fell into disrepair before being purchased by a group of Benedictine nuns from Ypres, Belgium.  Kylemore Abbey has been home to the nuns ever since with 15 nuns still living there today.

The front of the abbey
Dining room
Only a small part of the abbey is open to the public for tours while many rooms are closed off and used as living spaces for the nuns.  The guided tour doesn't take long at all so the majority of your visit is actually spent outside walking the trails between the gardens, abbey, and church.  The picturesque trail that runs along Pollacapall Lake from the abbey to the church has plenty of benches for guests to stop and enjoy the scenery.  The Gothic church still regularly holds performances.  In fact there was a group of American students performing at the church when we were there. 

The incredible Gothic church.  Performances are still held here
Stained glass window inside the church
Almost everything the nuns eat is grown within the 6 acre walled gardens of the abbey, along with various flowers and herbs.  There are many paths in the gardens to walk through so that even with tour buses filling the parking lot it doesn't feel crowded.  The walk from the abbey to the gardens is a little lengthy (1 km) but there's a shuttle bus you can take if you're not up for walking all that way.  Because of the distance, however, we heard many complaints from guests on guided bus tours that they simply didn't have enough time to visit both the abbey and the gardens.  One of the reasons I always prefer to rent a car and drive on my own! 

Inside the walled gardens
The Verdict:  ★★★★  While the church and abbey were beautiful the gardens of Kylemore Abbey were undoubtedly my favorite part of the day.  If it weren't for the dreary weather I would have spent so much more time in there. Still, I truly enjoyed our visit and would go again.  Heck, if I lived in the area I would even get a membership there!  Their 13 euro price is reasonable and if you book online you can save an additional 10% but the reason I gave this 4 stars is because I wish there were more of the abbey that guests can visit.

How to Get There: Kylemore Abbey is right off N59, the main road that makes up the majority of the Connemara Loop, or at least the version of the loop that we did.  Connemara National Park is right across the street so you can easily visit both attractions in one day if you wish.

What To Do: Only about 5 rooms in the abbey are open to tourists and the guided tour is short so much of your time will be spent outside.  Be sure to pick a sunny day to visit!  There is also a cafe on site and souvenir shop.  I recommend purchasing a piece of handmade Kylemore pottery.  We came home with a lemon-scented candle and loved it!

Child Friendly?  Kids will enjoy running around the abbey's gardens but there is also a designated children's play trail with outdoor musical instruments, rope sheep and lots of other wooden play pieces.

Pet Friendly?  There is no information on Kylemore Abbey's website about their pet policy so I'm going to assume that pets aren't allowed on the premises.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ring of Kerry vs. Dingle Peninsula

When I was planning our trip to Ireland I knew that the Ring of Kerry would make it on our itinerary.  I mean, how could you go to Ireland and not see one of the most popular scenic drives in the country?  But after a few weeks of doing research I discovered other scenic loops such as the Slea Head Drive on Dingle peninsula.  Since we were going to Ireland for 12 days we could afford to add both loops to our list but not everyone has that opportunity and many visitors have to decide which one they see on their trip.  In this post I'll outweigh the pros and cons of each loop so hopefully the decision will be a little easier to make.

This was taken on the Dingle Peninsula, somewhere between Killorglin and Ventry

Our itinerary

Brandon and I spent roughly 3 days on the two loops.  Our journey began in Killarney where we arrived at about 10 am after a night spent in Kinsale.  The whole day there was spent at the Killarney National Park where many of the main attractions for the Ring of Kerry are located.  Later that afternoon we took a quick drive to Kenmare and back since our B&B wasn't ready to receive us yet.  Many travelers choose to stay in Killarney or Kenmare before starting their loop drive.  The next day we drove the rest of the Ring of Kerry, starting clockwise down N71 and not fully completing the loop but heading straight to Dingle once we passed through Killorglin.

We drove the Ring of Kerry for scenery and thus didn't stop at any of the historic sites along the way, having seen all the major attractions we were interested in the day before at Killarney National Park.  Because of this we arrived in Dingle quite early, at about 2 pm, so we got settled in at our B&B and spent the evening at Murphy's Pub in Dingle having a few drinks and listening to a trad session.  The next day our fishing trip was cancelled due to high winds so we spent the day traveling along the Slea Head Drive loop, stopping at Gallarus Oratory, a historic structure that's believed to be a church built in the 9th century.

Best for Scenery: Dingle Peninsula

In my opinion the Slea Head Drive handily beats the Ring of Kerry when it comes to beautiful scenery.   The coastline is closer and more visible and the farms are more grassy and hilly than along the Ring of Kerry.  I have to admit that my opinion may be a little biased because it was more overcast on our drive along the Ring of Kerry but Dingle really is a beautiful part of Ireland.

On the Ring of Kerry
On the Slea Head Drive

Best for Activities: Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry certainly has more to do along the way than Dingle Peninsula, though in my opinion Dingle has better pubs and music which was a huge part of our trip to Ireland.  Aside from all the activities in Killarney National Park alone, the Ring of Kerry takes you by other places of interest like Derrynane House and Ballycarbery Castle.  You can also make a side trip to the UNESCO site of Skellig Michael which we wanted to do but couldn't because of that pesky wind.  The Slea Head Drive simply has the Gallarus Oratory plus numerous tiny towns for food, shopping and music.  We did stop at a farmer's land to pay a few Euros to visit some beehive huts way up on the hill and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the ocean.  Unfortunately I don't recall where this farmer was located except that it was along the Slea Head Drive before the town of Dunquin.

Ross Castle in Killarney National Park
View from a fort of beehive huts on a farmer's property

Gallarus Oratory

Shortest Loop: Dingle Peninsula

The Slea Head Drive loop is 47 km long, roughly 1/4 the length of the Ring of Kerry which is about 179 km.  We took about a half day to drive each loop though we stopped a lot more along the Slea Head Drive than we did along the Ring of Kerry.  Tour buses drive the Ring of Kerry in a counter-clockwise fashion and since we were driving clockwise we began to meet them about halfway through our drive.  It was a pretty harrowing experience to pull over on the side of the road fast enough to avoid hitting a giant tour bus that easily takes up both lanes on the narrow roads of Ireland.

Dingle Peninsula

Smallest Crowds: Dingle Peninsula

There weren't nearly as many tour buses along the Slea Head Drive as there were on the Ring of Kerry.  This can be both a pro and a con for each of the loops.  If you're doing a self-drive and want to avoid the crowds then Dingle Peninsula would definitely fit the bill.  However if you don't plan on renting a car and would need to book a tour then the Ring of Kerry would probably have more options for your itinerary and budget.

Few cars at a scenic stop in Dunquin
All in all we enjoyed the Dingle Peninsula much more than the Ring of Kerry.  If you have time then do both and see for yourself.  If you only have 2 or 3 days to spend in this part of Ireland then try spending 1 night in Killarney to see the attractions at Killarney National Park and then the next day head straight to Dingle Peninsula.  You'll still be traveling some of the Ring of Kerry along N72 as you head toward Dingle.  We stayed at a B&B in Ventry which is no longer in business but we loved the tiny town and it had plenty of shops and pubs for us to enjoy.  The more popular town of Dingle was right up the road.

There are also a few other scenic drives in Ireland worth checking out such as the Connemara Loop (which we also did) and the Beara Peninsula in the south (which we did not do).  Seeing everything that Ireland has to offer can't possibly be done in one trip so just be sure to narrow down what is most important to you and decide which area of the country can best fit that description. 

Please note that on my pictures I did use a "vivid" setting on my camera for some of the pictures but other than that there was no editing done.  I'm not a Photoshop user, Ireland is just THAT beautiful :)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday Feature: Chocolate Bar, Boston, MA

What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day this weekend than with chocolate?

Many moons ago, just a few weeks before Stink was born, Brandon and I spent a romantic weekend in Boston.  We stayed in the pet-friendly Nine Zero hotel in the heart of the city, attended a wonderful performance of the Nutcracker and dined at the sumptuous Chocolate Bar, the feature of today's post.

The Chocolate Bar is a buffet-style dessert bar located in the Cafe Fleuri which is located inside Langham Hotel in Boston.  I heard about the bar from a friend of mine and knew that I simply had to visit.  A chocolate themed dessert bar?  I'll take two, please!  Since the Chocolate Bar is only open on Saturdays we made reservations well in advance to ensure we could enjoy such a delicious experience.

Little did I know that the Chocolate Bar only serves desserts.  We arrived at the hotel late Saturday morning with empty tummies, assuming that we could order a small traditional breakfast before partaking in the chocolatey free-for-all.  Unfortunately this wasn't the case.  When we were seated we were given a small drink menu but nothing more.  Perhaps I could have ordered something else if I had simply asked but we just went with the flow, ordered a few alcoholic drinks and started at the buffet.
My drink, Chocolate Banana Martini
Brandon's drink, White Coco Martini
The Chocolate Bar buffet is easily the largest assembly of desserts I had EVER seen.  Cannolis, crepes, ice cream, pastries, and even a chocolate fondue station with fresh fruit.  Every dessert you ever heard of and even some you never knew existed are all laid out in a decadent display.  My favorite non-chocolate dessert was a square puffy donut-like pastry sprinkled in cinnamon and sugar whose names escapes me.  Let's just call it the square donut.  My favorite chocolate dessert was easily the single-serve chocolate lava cakes.  SO delicious.

Chocolate Bar, Boston

Despite being such a plentiful buffet Brandon and I simply couldn't eat more than 2 plates apiece without feeling as though we would have a heart attack.  In hindsight I wish we had eaten a banana or cup of oatmeal before we had gone but it's a lesson we learned if we ever decide to go back.

The Verdict:  ★★★ The Chocolate Bar was an enjoyable but expensive lunch for us.  The 2015 prices for adults are $42 per person which is pretty steep considering the wait staff were not very attentive and the DJ was a little loud and annoying.  Still, I would consider going back if I had family visiting that really wanted to eat here or for a special occasion with Stink.   

How to Get There: Cafe Fleuri is located in the Langham Hotel on Franklin Street in Boston.  It was a walkable distance from our hotel but it is also just 1/3 mile from the New England Aquarium which has ample parking garages for reasonable prices. 

What To Try: No visit is complete without stopping by the crepe station and chocolate fondue fountain.

Child Friendly?  Children are welcome to the Chocolate Bar and I'm almost positive that Stink could eat her weight in chocolate if she were allowed to roam free at the buffets.  Still, the prices are still expensive for kids at $29 per child ages 5-12.  Kids 4 and under eat free so it's for this reason that I might take Stink before her 5th birthday.

Pet Friendly?  Langham Hotel used to be a pet-friendly hotel but they no longer are.  We chose to stay at the Nine Zero Hotel which I highly recommend if you're bringing Fido.