Sunday, August 29, 2010

Isle of Lewis, Scotland

Our group got up early Saturday morning in Inverness, grabbed some coffee and scones and boarded the bus for a 1.5 hour ride to the west coast ferry terminal.  Like the train, when someone else is driving, you can enjoy the passing landscapes.  It's just that the bus is a little more confining than the train.
So our arrival in the port of Ullapool on the west coast gave us an hour or so to look around and visit the small farmers market where residents of this small town were selling breads, baked goods and even home made pottery, home farmed cheese and honey and other good stuff one could take for eating on the run.  I purchased some smoked sea trout, someone else bought bread and a few other goodies we might enjoy on the ferry ride.

Public transportation in the UK is always on time, so don't be late.  The ferry pulled away from the dock right on schedule and we nested on couches around small tables looking out large picture windows on the port side.  We ordered cappuccinos and settled in for the 3 hour trip to Lewis.  Dolphins played in the waters around us and passengers found their respective spots... some on deck, some in the lounges, and still others in the bar.

The ship nosed up to the dock in Stornaway whereupon the bow raised and cars exited onto the streets of the small city.

Collecting our rental car was a breeze and we were off toward our crofting (small farm) cottage across the island.  Traffic was nearly nonexistent and the further away from Stornaway we drove the more rural the population became.
Settling into our cottage for a week, we unpacked groceries purchased in Stornoway and marveled at the fine position overlooking Loch Roag where our cottage was situated.  These photos are taken from my bedroom window.  I am constantly and pleasantly amazed by being able to choose very nice accommodations over the internet.  The lodging choices on Lewis are limited, especially away from the main town, so we were very lucky to have secured this one.  The secret to getting really good rentals is to plan a year in advance.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

36 Hours or Longer in Portland

I was invited to a birthday dinner last evening in Brunswick, about a half-hour drive from Portland and the home city of Bowdoin College.  The restaurant was Clementine's on the main street where the chef and head of waitstaff, a married couple, honed their skills at the Back Bay Grill, another fine dining opportunity in Portland.

We all chose the prix fixe menu ($25) consisting of six to eight choices for each of the 3 courses, a perfect amount of food.  Starting our evening with martinis set the jovial tone for the rest of our experience.  As each course was served we talked briefly with the waitress where we found out several tidbits about the restaurant and its location perfectly situated between Portland and points north and serves as a meeting point from those two regions.

Our starter course, respectively, was heirloom tomato Caprice saladCaesar Salad Smoked Bacon, Garlic Croutons, Hard Boiled Egg, and Field Greens Salad Buttermilk Blue Cheese, Roasted Walnuts, Oranges, Honey Vinaigrette.

Main: Hand-made Pappardelle Vegetable Bolognese, Basil, Olive Tapenade,  Sautéed Sea Scallops Carrot Purée, Olive Oil Potato, Shaved Fennel Salad, Salmon in Bric Pastry Peas, Radish Salad, Fingerling Potatoes, lemon Vinaigrette.

In an unanimous desert selection we all had: Warm Chocolate Cake Crème Anglaise, Hazelnut Gelato, Mango Coulis.

All this, accompanied with a very nice Ave  Malbec, Mendoza, '08 Argentina   ($24), left us pleasantly satisfied and a little tipsy so we strolled Main Street Brunswick taking note of various tree species, where the roots of the ivy covering a whole back side of a church were rooted and several other rather obscure sights and sounds.

An evening so pleasant with friends I have not had for a long time.  

For more information about Portland's scene, click on the NY Times recent article "36 Hours in Portland".

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Inverness, Scotland

Traveling by train from Edinburgh to Inverness way up to the top of Scotland, we passed through the highlands and mountains that separate the north from the south.  Train travel is a good way to see the countryside while sipping wine and cheese or indulging in something more substantial. We brought along lots of goodies purchased in the Marks and Spenser food store in the Edinburgh station.  I love M&S.

The River Ness flows from Loch Ness through the town of Inverness making a really nice walking possibility on both sides of the river.  After several hours of train ride strolling along the peaceful paths was a welcome activity.  Along the paths we came upon park-like settings with carved wooden benches or perhaps stone wall seats.

With only a day to enjoy Inverness... our walk along both sides of the river lasted until dinnertime where I had fresh Scottish salmon with lemon and dill...ummm good.  If you go, Inverness deserves more than an afternoon.