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Making Pasta at Sur la Table Cooking Class

Making Pasta at Sur la Table Cooking Class

Last week my colleagues at work and I had a chance to attend a really fun Sur la Table cooking class, a fun kitchenware store located in the nearby mall. Most of us had never been to a cooking class before, so this was a virgin experience for me and others. It was a total blast and a great bonding experience. Plus, we made delicious Fettuccine with Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragu. We even made our own pasta noodles.

Fettuccine with Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragu

Our finished Fettuccine Ragu was delizioso!

Ultimately, we made this whole menu:

  • Classic Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons
  • Fettuccine with Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragu
  • Tiramisu Gelato

(And no, this is not a sponsored post – just sharing because it was fun and delicious.)

Sur la Table Cooking Class

At the back of the store, there is a giant exhibition kitchen where the Sur la Table Cooking Class sessions are held. Judging from the look of their weekly class schedule, this is a very popular thing to do. As we arrived, the cooking school staff handed us aprons and told us to wash up. Just like mom used to say!

cooking class couple at Sur la Table

Getting ready to make Fettuccine with Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragu

We situated ourselves in groups at cooking stations around the room, and waited for the Chef to signal it was time to start. They may have been a little wine poured during this set-up period, and we may have had to send someone out for more bottles. Like I said, it was a bonding experience.

How to Make Tiramisu Gelato

Just the way I like it, we made dessert first. Chef explained we would start with the gelato because it needed time in the freezer to firm up. As we mixed the ingredients, I felt my arteries hardening. Main ingredients included whipping cream, egg yolks, sugar and mascarpone cheese (yum). From there, we mixed in lady fingers, Kahlua, espresso and some other goodies. There’s more to the prep, but it ended up in the freezer looking delicious.

people in kitchen at Sur la Table Cooking School

My work colleagues cooked up delicious Tiramisu Gelato at Sur la Table Cooking School

How to Make Fettuccine with Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragu

Ok, I’m an Italian boy so I should know how to do this right? Well, even I learned some new tricks. The caramelized onions with sherry was a nice touch, and something I haven’t done before. Of course, the making of the pasta noodles was really cool since I have never done that either. There is a great place in San Diego where I buy my fresh pasta called Assenti’s. They make many different kinds of pasta noodles, all in house and so fresh and delicious.

Sur la Table Cooking school ingredients

Another view of the ragu ingredients before we started the sauce.

For purposes of this post, let’s assume you have the noodles already.

Sausage and Carmelized Onion Ragu Recipe:

(with credit to Sur la Table and a few of my own edits)

  • 1 lb mild Italian Sausage, with casings removed
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 large garlic gloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup cream sherry
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped, juice reserved
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn
  • Pasta noodles

To prepare ragu:

To a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add sausage and cook until browned, using a wooden spoon to break into pieces. Remove sausage from skillet and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Add butter and onions to the skillet and cook until deep golden brown, stirring often for 20-30 minutes.

ragu ingredients to make pasta sauce

As we sous chefs got ready to prep our ingredients for the ragu, Chef Douglas gave us some important instructions.

Add garlic and red pepper flakes to onions and stir. Add sherry to mixture and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Once sherry has reduced, add the sausage back to the skillet, and add the broth, tomatoes and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil and then lower heat to simmer, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To cook the pasta:

Chef taught us that regular dry pasta noodles have water in their recipe, which is why they turn to mush if you overcook them. Fresh pasta noodles are just flour, eggs and olive oil, and they do the opposite when overcooked – they get tougher. Fresh noodles only need 2-3 minutes to cook al dente, while dry noodles make take 8-12 minutes depending on the type. Either way, bring a salted pot of water to boil and add noodles to cook, stirring constantly to avoid sticking together. When cooked, drain the pasta and add save about a cup of the pasta water.

To serve:

Transfer the pasta to the the skillet with the ragu, and toss well with tongs. Add reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce as needed. Divide pasta among bowls, garnish with Parmesan and basil, and serve immediately.

Delicious and easy!

Fettuccine with Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragu

Our finished Fettuccine Ragu was delizioso!

Making Pasta Noodles

The process was fun in a group, and I enjoyed making pasta noodles together. Judging from the number of steps to make the dough, and then more steps to flatten it and cut it into strips, I don’t see this in my near future. I have the friendly Assenti Brothers to do that for me. However, I will say that fresh noodles just taste SO MUCH BETTER.

 


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Art Tour of Seattle With Kids

Art Tour of Seattle With Kids

Without a doubt, Seattle is a hip and happening city full of fresh seafood, great coffee, an amazing food culture and tons of art. TONS. That’s why we approached it as a Art Tour of Seattle With Kids, and it’s just as much fun for the parents.

Seattle boasts a great many fantastic examples of public art, as well as showings of enormously talented local artists. To give you an easy starter list for your Art Tour of Seattle With Kids, our family put together the following high points from our recent visit.

Pike's Market Seattle

Pike’s Market is so colorful and full of interesting things, we could spend all day here rummaging through all the stalls.

Art Tour of Seattle With Kids

Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum

More like a whimsical Dr. Seuss From Outer Space collection, Chihuly Garden and Glass features incredible artistic works by glassblower Dale Chihuly. Really to call him a glassblower is a vast understatement. Chihuly sculpts glass in such unusual ways with such vibrant colors that is defies the imagination. When we walked into the first exhibition room, we literally gasped out loud at what we saw. Over and over, we asked the kids what they saw in each creation, and our minds were blown with their creativity and imagination.

Chihuly Museum Seattle art glass sculpture ceiling

Even the ceilings at the Chihuly Museum are covered with glass art – so colorful and interesting.

Outside in the garden, Chihuly has woven his art into natural blooming flowers and plants. Colors of glass creations and the flowers around might be similar so they blend together. In another spot, they are so juxtaposed that it conjures images of another planet.

  • Open: 11-6 Sunday-Thursday; 11-7 Friday & Saturday
  • Cost: Adults $24, Kids $14, Under 4 free

Olympic Sculpture Park

Among the lawns and walkways of Olympic Sculpture Park stand one of the most interesting collections of outdoor sculpture we’ve seen. All are available free to the public on a sloping hill with a gorgeous view overlooking the Puget Sound. We weaved through the park admiring sculpture after sculpture, all so different and interesting. Some were more difficult to decipher than others, which made it more fun.

Seattle Olympic Sculpture Park

Throughout Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park, the views of art battle views of Puget Sound.

The sculptures range from monolithic to humorous, from modern to traditional. Plus there are plenty of wide open lawns for the kids to run around and work off some energy.

  • Open: 7 Days a Week during Daylight Hours (check website for specifics)
  • Cost: Free

Walking Tour of Downtown

As we walked through downtown, we came across many examples of public/private partnership. High rise office towers, hotels, restaurants and more – they have all committed to making art a part of their Seattle presence.

Hammering Man sculpture Seattle Art Museum

Art abounds thoughout Seattle, including this kinetic sculpture in front of the Seattle Art Museum.

We started at the Seattle Art Museum on First Avenue, and walked north through town towards Pike Place Market. Every street had an installation to stop and admire as we walked along. With the gorgeous bay to our left, we could pay homage to the original Starbucks location, and continue along an easy pedestrian mall all the way to Olympic Park.

  • Open: 24/7
  • Cost: Free
original Starbucks store Seattle

We loved visiting the original Starbucks while on our art walk through downtown Seattle.

Space Needle

We would be remiss if we did not include the Seattle Space Needle as a true piece of art. This famous landmark is an artwork all to itself, and worth the visit just to understand the story behind its creators’ vision. Intentionally designed to look like a flying saucer, the Space Needle is an honor to the race for space.

Seattle Space Needle from below

The Space Needle is so cool and futuristic, even decades after it was originally built.

There are so many interesting examples of paraphernalia from the 1950s and 60s inside. Plus if you haven’t been to the Needle lately, you are in for a treat. The whole viewing experience has been updated with clear glass instead of the old wire cage. Well worth the visit – plus those incredible views from the top!

  • Open: Daily 10-8
  • Cost: Adults $22, Kids $14, Under 5 Free
view from top of Seattle Space Needle

The view from the top of the Seattle Space Needle is pretty darn awesome.

Alki Beach

One day we ventured out for dinner to meet family that lives locally. They introduced us to the sweet neighborhood community of Alki Beach, the birthplace of Seattle dating back to 1851. Right on the water, Alki offers crazy-good views of the Olympic Mountains and nearby San Juan Islands across the Puget Sound. And Alki is also full of art. With more historic art lining the waterfront (including a smaller scale replica of the Statue of Liberty), the area is full of creative souls who make a living as artists in many mediums. There are galleries full of paintings and photography, sculpture and jewelry makers dotting the streetscapes. Alongside, there are plenty of cool people who look like they have interesting life stories to tell.

Alki Beach Seattle Pugent Sound

Looking out into Puget Sound, we loved hanging out in Alki Beach.

While there, check out Cactus Southwest Kitchen & Bar for dinner. We loved their take on Mexican cuisine, and coming from San Diego that is saying a lot. We can usually judge from a Mexican restaurant’s guacamole if they are going to be good, and this one did not disappoint. They also make a delicious margarita, and offer several non-alcoholic drink concoctions for the kids as well.

Inside , the fire pit warms up the room as we wait for our guacamole and chips.

 


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Things to Do in Tempe with Teens

Things to Do in Tempe with Teens

Tempe is the under-appreciated stepchild of Phoenix, Arizona, and our recent trip to this desert city helped show us there are tons of things to do in Tempe with teens. Phoenix is so large (6th largest city in the US) that it seems the city limits go on forever. Not true, however, because Tempe is right near downtown Phoenix and is full action and energy.

front drive Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes

The front drive at the Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes (photo courtesy of Marriott)

Where to Stay in Tempe

On a recent road trip from San Diego, our family made a stop in beautiful Tempe and were pleasantly surprised at this mighty little burg. In Arizona to see the sights and also tour colleges for Sophia, we stayed two nights at the Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes. Now that is quite a mouthful to say (and type), and it’s proof of Tempe’s undiscovered status. Wouldn’t it just be easier to call it the Tempe Marriott?

Behind the front desk of Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes, the natural surroundings are brought inside. (photo courtesy of Marriott)

Whatever they chose to call it, this hotel was a perfect spot for us. It’s tucked up against The Buttes, a postcard-perfect rock formation like so many Western vistas. Curving naturally around the rocky outcroppings, the Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes takes full advantage of its elevated desert views. And the pool! The pool design made us want to dip in, despite the winter temperatures.

Things to Do in Tempe with Teens

Teens are a fickle bunch, and our girls are no different. At 17, Sophia is ready to rule the world with her growing independence. Ava is a 15 year-old focused on music, reading, writing poems and cheerleading. Both daughters are easily bored and need the right amount of mental stimulation to jar them from their phones. In Tempe, we did some cool things that kept our teens’ attention.

bird perched on cactus Tempe Arizona

Near our hotel in Tempe, this little bird caught my eye as it perched on top of this spiny cactus.

Tour Arizona State University

Because Sophia is trying to determine where she might like to submit applications for college, Arizona State University (ASU) was a natural choice to visit. This campus tour is really well done, and they made both our kid feel welcome. It was fun to get a glimpse into college life at ASU as we toured the campus grounds.

Hayden Library exterior Arizona State University

The Hayden Library at ASU is built underground, with this impressive entrance (photo credit: Arizona State University)

There were a couple of things that stood out to us all as we too our guided 90 minute walk:

  • The gym here is so enormous, there is room to for hundreds to work out, swim and play sports. Clearly this is an active student body, and our girls loved checking out all the ways to exercise offered here.
  • Always wear a helmet when riding a motorized scooter, and never try to ride two people at once. We witnessed a spectacular spill right in front of us, and thankfully the riders were okay. Both our kids shook their heads, and we were proud they recognized the risks these kids were taking. (See, sometimes your lessons and speeches really do sink in!)
  • The graphic and fine arts programs here are impressive, thanks to the largesse of donors like the Herberger Family. These buildings, and the equipment inside them, are state of the art. Sophia and Ava were thrilled.
girl in front of Arizona State University Welcome Center

Sophia was excited to tour the ASU campus, thinking of becoming a Sun Devil.

Desert Botanical Garden

Technically not in Tempe but just stone’s throw outside its official borders, the Desert Botanical Garden is a lot more than a cactus garden. Yes of course there are tons of cactus, along with a total of some 50,000 different desert plants. What makes this place so special is the way it is laid out, with meandering gravel paths and view spots galore. There were kids playing hide-and-seek (not ours, who evidently are too cool for that). Although we visited at the wrong season to see the Butterfly Encounter, it looks amazing. Just a good reason to come back for another visit!

landscaped cactus garden Desert Botanical Garden Phoenix Arizona

All the paths throughout the Desert Botanical Garden are gorgeous, both landscaped and natural.

Next time we’d also like to take one of the guided tours. From what we could overhear without butting into someone else’s tour, the guide was telling really interesting stories. Even the kids in the group were listening, which is no small feat.

Teen girls at Desert Botanical Gardens Phoenix Arizona

The desert landscape at the botanical gardens near Tempe AZ looks both colorful and other-worldly.

Hiking The Buttes

There are a LOT of hiking choices throughout the area, and many more strenuous. We loved hiking The Buttes, directly above our hotel, because it was so convenient and so beautiful. Little did we know when we planned this December trip that so many flowers would be in bloom. Walking up the steep path to the top of The Buttes, we were surrounded by bright yellow wildflowers. Many of the cacti were in bloom as well, and the range of colors was so intense! Vibrant magenta, bright yellow and delicate white flowers were springing from thorny cactus tops.

wild sunflowers in Tempe Arizona

The rocky hills around Tempe are dotted with these bright wildflowers.

At the top, we felt like we could see forever. Heading up here in the early morning is a good idea, when the sky is clear and the wind is minimal. We scrambled across rocks and through cactus to a view point overlooking all of Tempe and Phoenix. From up here, the 360-degree view is pretty spectacular.

man with views of Phoenix from top of The Buttes Tempe Arizona

A brisk morning climb to the top of The Buttes in Tempe gives views for days.

Where to Eat in Tempe with Teens

Ah, the age-old question of where to find a restaurant menu that will please all the family palates. We’ve got one that won’t eat chicken, one that doesn’t like vegetables, one eating no carbs, and one who doesn’t care. Luckily in Tempe, there’s room for everyone and we found a couple of places we really loved.

Culinary Dropout

Another brainchild of the enormously successful Fox Restaurants, Culinary Dropout came highly recommended by family living in the area. It was a great call, with just the right amount of hip, fun vibe to please the picky teens. Not only was the menu varied and interesting, but the live music playing while we were there was pretty outstanding. Like really good!

Culinary Dropout at the Yard Tempe AZ interior

Culinary Dropout at the Yard in Tempe is a fun and happening spot. (photo courtesy of Culinary Dropout)

For starters, we sampled the Korean-Style Brussel Sprouts which were charred and tossed in a  tangy and sweet sauce. Alongside that we gobbled up the Hot Wings with classic Buffalo Sauce. For our main courses, we ordered the 36-Hour Pork Ribs with jalapeño and molasses barbecue sauce. The girls both ordered the crispy Fried Chicken with honey-drizzled buttermilk biscuits – sooooo good. I had the Grilled Steak Tacos, which were predictably tasty but not common by any means.

And the live music? This dude was impressive – he was a master of his laptop and guitar. Playing interesting covers of well-worn hits, Levi (don’t know his last name) put a new spin on things. All four of us were surprised at how good this guy is.

The restaurant is located in Tempe’s Farmer Arts District, which looked really cool. We’ll have to come back during the day to explore all the interesting shops and markets.

Snooze Eatery

For breakfast, we met a good friend at Snooze – An A.M. Eatery, across the street from ASU in Tempe. We have a Snooze in our home town too, and love going there except for the line of people waiting to be seated. No reservations + popular restaurant = long waits. We didn’t mind though, and yakked it up while they got our table ready.

Snooze Eatery interior Tempe Arizona

The interior of Snooze Eatery is colorful and creative, just like their food.

Here I love to order the Snooze Spuds Deluxe – hash browns covered in cheddar cheese and green onions with eggs on the top. You can add additional toppings, so of course I did! Other orders at our table included the mascarpone-stuffed French Toast and the Nutella Pancakes. Paired with a cup of joe and a nice mimosa, and we were all ready to roll.

Snooze Eatery Tempe exterior

Even in the winter, the outdoor umbrellas at Snooze Eatery provide welcome shade.

For more good ideas and what to see and where to eat, check out Tempe Tourism. There is a wealth of information there about how to enjoy this cool city.


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The Spa at Grand Velas Resort Riviera Maya: An Obstacle Course of Water Therapies

The Spa at Grand Velas Resort Riviera Maya: An Obstacle Course of Water Therapies

By “obstacle course of water therapies”, I mean only good things. The Se Spa at the Grand Velas Resort Riviera Maya is without a doubt one of the best spas I have ever experienced. That’s saying a lot, considering I am a complete spa addict and have visited a great many in my years. The Se Spa has perfected its services, with an important feature being their variety of water rituals and therapies. It’s really that good. I consider the Spa at Grand Velas Resort Riviera Maya to be the Best Resort Spa in Mexico.

hydrotherapy pool at Se Spa Riviera Maya

The hydrotherapy pool at Se Spa is enormous.

Best Resort Spa in Mexico

There are a lot of amazing spas at resorts scattered at destinations throughout the country of Mexico. However, the Se Spa at Grand Velas Resort Riviera Maya is the best resort spa in Mexico for several important reasons.

Se Spa overview at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Entering the men’s side of the Se Spa, guests look down into the cavernous pool area.

Obstacle Course of Water Therapies

Upon arrival, guests who have booked a treatment are shown to the locker rooms and invited to enjoy the vast hydrotherapy areas as a complimentary inclusion. With separate facilities for men and women, the sheer size of this spa is mind boggling particularly when you learn that these are mirror images of each other. All hotel guests can visit this portion of the spa for a fee, and stay all day if they want to by paying a $50 fee even without booking any treatment.

Here is the obstacle course that the spa calls the Riviera Maya Water Ceremony, combined with the therapies in the Experience Sensation Pool. This is truly a luxury all-inclusive resort experience.

hot sauna Se Spa Riviera Maya

The Hot Sauna at Se Spa combines heat with designer sweating.

I was invited to try them all, and happily followed along:

  1. Dry Sauna – cook out the impurities
  2. Ice Room – ice cold room with frozen tile chairs
  3. Sensation Shower – alternating sprays of hot and cold water
    hot sauna Se Spa Riviera Maya

    The Hot Sauna at Se Spa combines heat with color therapy.

  4. Color Therapy Steam Room – more sweating
  5. Clay Treatment – full body treatment
  6. Sensory Pebble Foot Therapy – walking troughs of hot and freezing cold water
    foot hydrotherapy at Se Spa Riviera Maya

    Warm water on the right and freezing on the left, these troughs are hydrotherapy treatments for the feet.

  7. Cervical Neck Jet – jets in the giant pool to massage your lower and upper back
    hydro therapy at Se Spa Riviera Maya

    The super forceful hydro jets at Se Spa are meant to massage and relax the neck and upper back.

  8. Bubble Volcano – rapid bubbles in the pool to aid leg circulation
  9. Full Body Bubble Bed – beds built into the pool with gentle bubbles all over
    bubble beds at Se Spa Riviera Maya

    The bubble beds at Se Spa are so relaxing, I pushed the button three times to repeat the process!

  10. Waterfall – douse your head and neck with gentle waters
  11. Hot Tub – very warm and bubbly
  12. Cold Plunge – really chilly and bubbly

And all that was before I even reported to the treatment rooms for my massage!

Mayan Rituals and Spiritual Connections

When it was time for my massage, I waited for my therapist while drinking a delicious Mayan concoction called Ponche, believed to open the senses and calm the body. (As if after all that water therapy I needed more calming!) It was delicious, and just the sustenance I needed after my hydrotherapy immersions.

Traditional Mexican Ponche Drink Se Spa at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya

The traditional Mexican Ponche drink is a hot “tea” made from tropical fruit and spices.

My therapist Liliana led my to my treatment room, which was both peaceful and luxuriously zen. Incense was burning, which I later learned is an ancient Mayan ritual ingredient made from tree resin called Copal. It smelled so good I wanted to bring some home.

traditional Mayan cleansing ceremony Se Spa Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Crushed herbs, Mayan incense and Shaman-blessed water all helped to set the tone.

Many elements in the room had Mayan significance, from a ceremonial rain stick to vanilla poured in the bathwater to the music playing in the background. The entire experience was culturally fascinating and educational at the same time.

Innovative Treatments with a Mayan Flavor

I received the Organic Kaab Honey Experience, with elements important in the Mayan culture. The local honey bee has been a source of food and trade since ancient times, and is revered throughout their history. The bee itself, I learned later, is stingerless and tiny – the size of a mosquito. Together the Melipona bees produce a large quantity of honey that provides a source of commerce to local villages. I brought some home, and it is uniquely delicious and not cloying with sweetness.

honey and vanilla ingredients at Se Spa Riviera Maya

Locally sourced honey and vanilla are important ingredients in

As I relaxed on the table, Liliana spread honey all over me like a massage oil. She then began the massage, with just the right amount of firmness and relaxation. I melted into the bed, teetering on the edge consciousness. I did not want to fall asleep and miss this amazing experience!

After massaging both sides, Liliana led me over to the hot bath nearby. Yes, there was a bathtub in the room with gentle jets and relaxing waters. While I soaked, she poured several concoctions into the water. My so-so Spanish only caught one of them – it was a large pitcher of vanilla, which honey-colored the water and smelled divine.

warm millet foot treatment at Se Spa Riviera Maya

Getting ready for my massage, I put my feet in warmed millet seeds to bring calm and serenity.

After the bath was drained and I dried off, I got back on to the massage table and waited for what came next. The final part of this experience was an invigorating application of smoothing lotion. Feeling exfoliated, hydrated and fully pampered, I was officially cooked – a limp noodle.

All in, I had been at the Se Spa enjoying treatments for nearly four hours. Every minute was perfectly executed and managed at the highest level of service and comfort. Definitely the best resort spa in Mexico.

See here for the menu of services available at Se Spa.

Stay at the Grand Velas Resort Riviera Maya

Let’s face it – this is a luxury 5-star resort, and it is not inexpensive to stay here. Having said that, the price is definitely worth the experience and I consider it money well spent. As a Riviera Maya all-inclusive resort, the nightly room rates at the Grand Velas Resort Riviera Maya start to make more sense when you consider that all meals, drinks and some activities are all included. The restaurants are world-class, with Michelin-starred chefs and 5 Diamond ratings. The grounds and facilities are gorgeous and impeccably maintained. Staff is extremely friendly and accommodating, and seem truly dedicated to every guests’ needs.

pool rooms at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort

Rooms overlook the pool and ocean at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort.

And yes, room rates are on the higher side. Rooms begin at around $800 USD per night for two persons with a jungle view, $1,200 per night with a pool view, and $1,400 per night with an ocean view. When you consider this price is all-inclusive with 5-star restaurants, alcohol and activities included, guests really get a lot with their stay.

To visit the Se Spa at the Grand Velas Resort Riviera Maya, hotel guests can enjoy the water therapies for $80. Spa treatments and massages range from $236 to $342 USD.

I’m already saving up for my next trip to the Grand Velas Resort Riviera Maya. It’s 100% worth every peso.


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Tucson is a Desert Paradise for Families

Tucson is a Desert Paradise for Families

We partnered with Visit Tucson, Loews Hotels and Chevrolet for this visit, and the opinions expressed here are our own as always.

There’s just something special about Tucson that draws people from all over the world. Maybe it’s the spikey saguaro cactus that sticks up from the desert floor, or the purple and red mountains that surround this high desert hamlet. Or maybe it’s the darn good food? Whatever floats your boat, there are tons of things for families to do in Tucson. It really is a desert paradise.

Our recent visit here was guised as a college tour for Sophia, who is now a high school junior. At this age, juniors have to start thinking about where they might like to apply for college. Most don’t have a good concept of what they are getting into, thus the college tours. Parents like us go to great lengths to show our kids a variety of options so they can better envision themselves on a campus somewhere. We love Arizona, so we loaded up the spacious hatch of a sweet new 2019 Chevrolet Traverse and headed for Tucson.

2019 Chevrolet Traverse hatch open with luggage

The 2019 Chevy Traverse fit all of our bags and still had three rows of seats for spreading out.

Of course while there, we explored some super cool spots to share with you for your next visit.

Things for Families To Do in Tucson

Not sure why, but some people’s impression of Arizona is a bunch of retirees. Well yes, there might be some of those mixed in with the young families, hipsters, scholars, artists, adventurists, makers and scientists. In Tucson, you get all that and more. A pool of blue in a red state, Tucson is liberal, progressive and undeniably chill. It’s a live-and-let-live kind of place, where LGBTQ families like ours are welcomed with a hug.

Ventana Canyon mountain landscape

The mountains behind Loews Resort Ventana Canyon are breathtaking, especially in the bright clear mornings.

Full of history and Western lore, the city of Tucson has maintained it’s blended roots from Native American, Mexican and Spanish influences. People from all over have been attracted to this place, and now that diversity makes it really special.

If you visit here, we’ve got some recommendations on things for families to do in Tucson. And if this is not enough, check out Visit Tucson for more suggestions and ideas.

For a Taste of the Old West

Head to Downtown Tucson to catch the flavor of the Old West. In the blocks surrounding the Hotel Congress, the early roots of this town can still be seen and experienced. In fact Hotel Congress looks a lot like it did back in 1918 when it was built. The Hotel is famous as the site where legendary gangster John Dillinger was finally captured, after hiding out at the Congress from the long arm of the law. (He’s now celebrated there with his own Dillinger Days events every January). Now the Hotel is full of old-time memorabilia, hip guests with a downtown vibe, some pretty great live music, and a really great cafe (see below for more on the restaurant).

Cup Cafe interior Hotel Congress Tucson

The Cup Cafe at Hotel Congress in Tucson serves up a mean French Dip Sandwich with a southwest flair.

Fun Fact: The Hotel Congress did not have air conditioning until 2010. Say what?!? Summer temps in Tucson rise to 100-degrees+.

For the Desert Flora and Fauna

If you love the desert landscape and its scrappy critters as much as we do, you will love the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Just so you know, “museum” is not really the right word for this place. It’s like a zoo and botanical gardens and aquarium and bird show and art gallery and nature hike all in one. Phew! There is a lot to see here, so don’t plan on doing it in 90 minutes.

burrowing owl at Desert Museum Tucson

This little dude gave us the evil eye when we arrived at the Desert Museum in Tucson, and the burrowing owl did too.

From the moment we walked in, were were greeted by a man with a Burrowing Owl on his arm. From there, it was a cavalcade of desert animals including vultures, coyotes, javelinas (wild boars), prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, tarantulas and more.  Heed the advice of the kind guides when they suggest you make your way into the gardens for the Raptor Show. As these impressive hawks and owls fly overhead, it’s fascinating to observe their delicate wingspans and learn more about their desert homesteads.

napping coyote at Arizona-Sonoma Desert Museum Tucson

We’ve seen a few coyotes in our neighborhood at home, but never as relaxed as this dude at the Desert Museum in Tucson.

Fun Fact: Great Horned Owls do not build their own nests. They lay their eggs in the abandoned nests of other birds. Squatters!

For Homage to Early Missionaries

If my Catholic mom were still alive, she would be proud we visited the Mission San Xavier del Bac while in Tucson. The thing is, we’re suckers for mission architecture and this one is pretty spectacular. Built in 1783, the Mission is considered by experts as the best example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the US.

Mission San Xavier del Bac Tucson

I promise the sky above the Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson was even more beautiful than this photo shows.

From the exterior, it looks unfinished – like the builders never got to the second bell tower. But from the inside, the frescoes and tile work are truly impressive. Combined with the flickering votive candles and the voluminous ceilings, the effect made me feel like I was in Europe. For those feeling perky, there is a nearby path that climbs to a cross on the hilltop. We did not make that pilgrimage though, opting instead for some warm and delicious Indian Fry Bread purchased from locals in the courtyard.

Fun Fact: This Mission was built in New Spain, which transferred to Mexico and ultimately became US territory.

For Your Empty Stomach

Tucson has a broad range of culinary options to match any taste. In fact, the city was recently named the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the U.S. Here’s a few of our favorites:

Tucson, and Arizona in general, is known for some pretty great Mexican food. And so we did have to try it out, and headed to dinner at El Charro Cafe. Touted as the oldest family-owned Mexican restaurant in the US, El Charro lived up to the hype. The carne seca was delicious, and so were the enchiladas, tacos, chile relleños and more.

family dinner at El Charro Cafe Tucson

It’s nice to have family in Tucson that takes us to great places like El Charro for delicious Mexican food.

If a modern take on diner food is more your game, then Welcome Diner is the place. The kids loved the kitschy 1950s architecture, which the owners had updated and funkified from a previous Sambo’s Restaurant location. And the food! Oh that food  – it was a collection really inventive and delicious version of diner food. We viewed fried chicken, chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, and several kinds of pie.

exterior of Welcome Diner in Tucson

The architecture of the Welcome Diner in Tucson is so kitschy and fun, and so is the food – so delicious.

Back at the Hotel Congress, the lobby restaurant Cup Cafe is something of a local legend. With some staff members on the team here for more than 50 years, Cup Cafe and the hotel bar have stood the test of time. The food here is dependable and tasty. My French Dip sandwich had an interesting southwest flavor twist, and the kids loved their breakfast-for-lunch omelettes. But here, save room for dessert because they are famous for it. An old-fashioned spiraling display case shows guests a variety of sweet treats. We chose to try the coconut cream pie and the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

Carrot Cake at Cup Cafe in Hotel Congress Tucson

The carrot cake at Cup Cafe is just one of the desserts that called our names at the Hotel Congress in Tucson.

For Your Sleepy Heads

It was a real pleasure to stay at the luxurious Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, and we highly recommend it. The rooms are large, and some are connected to a full suite with living room, dining room and even a working fireplace! It was just the right amount of cozy and chic at the same time. We slept on the Murphy bed in the living room suite, letting the girls each have one of the queen beds in the bedroom. Both Ava and Sophia said they were the comfiest hotel beds they had ever experienced.

Front entrance Loews Ventana Canyon Resort Tucson

The architecture of the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students.

One of our favorite things about this hotel’s public spaces was all the enormous amethyst crystals and geodes on display. And by enormous, we mean museum-quality sizes. We were told the hotel was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students. That influence was strong in the unique architecture of these buildings inside and out.

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort Tucson Arizona

The lobby of the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson.

Tucked up against the Catalina Mountains at the entrance to Ventana Canyon, the Loews Resort in Tucson has some gorgeous views of the high desert. From the hotel’s entrance, guests can look down towards the lights of downtown Tucson. We loved the grounds surrounding the hotel, and walked the paths to have an up-close look at the local flora and fauna.

So beautiful.

pool view Loews Ventana Canyon Resort

The view from our room at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort was pretty spectacular.


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Prepaid Cards Are Like Digital Piggy Banks

Prepaid Cards Are Like Digital Piggy Banks

*This post was created in partnership with Starbucks, and as always, all opinions expressed here are our own.

When our girls were very little, we introduced the idea of piggy banks – with a twist.  We gave each of our daughters three piggy banks, marked on their sides with a sharpie: “Save”, “Spend” and “Give”.  These days, those piggy banks have gone online, and now prepaid cards are like digital piggy banks that help kids save, spend and give through the use of tools like the Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card.

Prepaid Cards Are Like Digital Piggy Banks

In this modern world of online banking and finance management, we are teaching our girls the value of money by allowing them to use our Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card. The idea of saving, spending, and giving is still the same.

girl in Starbucks with Starbucks mobile app

Sophia and Ava can both check their balances from their phones, and make Starbucks mobile purchases in any Starbucks location

Save

As little girls, Ava and Sophia learned the value of saving for what they really wanted. The piggy bank marked “Save” collected $2 of the $5 we allowed each girl per week. With these two dollars accumulating per week until a small fortune (at least in the minds of young kids), they could witness what saving for something was all about.

We would ask them what they wanted to save their money for. Usually the answer was a new Malibu Barbie or Play-doh, or some fun toy. Then we would go online or show them in the store how much the item cost. We’d then help them tally their savings until they reached their goal amount. The reward for patience was to take the money and purchase the toy that had been saving for. Reward system!

Spend

Granted, the money in the “Spend” piggy bank did not last very long in that piggy’s belly. These $2 per week was designed for immediate gratification. Ava and Sophia could go immediately to the store and spend their $2 on whatever they wanted that week.

There was another benefit to this system – they also learned that $2 does not go very far. In fact, $2 does not buy very much at all. More the once, they would get a dissatisfied look as they held a few small pieces of candy or a Japanese eraser in their hand. To them, the rewards of saving for something bigger started to seem like a pretty good idea.

corner Starbucks store exterior

Our neighborhood Starbucks is within walking distance, and we’ve been going there with the girls since they were babies.

Give

Our girls have been fortunate to have the opportunity for a weekly allowance. The “Give” piggy bank was designed to help them understand the power of sharing with those in need.  One dollar of the five each week was placed in this piggy bank, collecting until there was enough to make a gift of some kind.

As the money accumulated over a couple of months, we asked the girls where they would like to donate the money for that round. Sometimes their answer would be to help homeless people; sometimes it was school supplies for kids that couldn’t afford them. Heartbreakingly, one time it was for the janitor at school who had lost everything in a fire.

The look of pride on their little faces was priceless, as they realized their “Give” piggy banks had helped in some small way.

Now

Now that the girls are teens, they’ve obviously outgrown the piggy banks. However, the concept of Save/Spend/Give is something we still talk about.

Starbucks Rewards Prepaid Visa Card

We felt like the cool kids in our local Starbucks store, whipping out our new card when no one working there had seen it yet.

We’ve shifted our conversations to how prepaid cards are like digital piggy banks that help kids save, spend and give. Through the use of tools like our Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card, we can use the card to help them learn about the value of money with an added bonus. Although far more sophisticated and powerful, cards like this can still operate in a similar fashion. We give the girls the choice to spend it all, or save it to amass for a larger purpose.

Once or twice a week, we sit with them in front of a laptop to view our card balances online. We talk though each purchase, the price of what they paid, and whether or not they feel that purchase was worth the cost. So far, the eye rolling and heavy sighs have been kept to a minimum. Instead, they actually seem interested in how it all works.

For The Love of Starbucks

A huge added benefit of the Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card is the ability to earn Starbucks Stars with each purchase we make on the card (some restrictions apply, so see Starbucks.com/terms for details). We can earn an easy 125 Stars the first time we use the Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card to load $10 or more to our registered Starbucks Card. Purchases outside of a Starbucks earn 1 Star for every $10 spent, but purchases made with our registered Starbucks Card at Starbucks stores earn 2 Stars for every $1 spent!

original Seattle Starbucks with Starbucks prepaid Visa card

We even visited the original Starbucks location across from Pikes Place Market in Seattle, and yes the card works there too.

We have no illusions as parents that their interest in talking finance with us will continue, but we are gaining confidence that the habits will last.  As digital piggy banks help kids save, spend and give through the use of tools like the Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card, these old habits will die hard.

And in this case, that’s a very good thing.

 

At participating Starbucks stores. Some restrictions apply. See Starbucks.com/terms for details.

Debit cards are provided by JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A.  Member FDIC.


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9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

It’s really hard to believe that Sophia is a Junior in high school already. It was just the other day we were pushing her around in the stroller while she gummed a handful of Goldfish Crackers. Now as a high school Junior, she has to start thinking about college. But where to go? Many parents have to help their kid visualize potential college options by actually going to visit them. We’re starting this now, and wow is it fraught with questions and landmines. Turns out planning college tours for your high school kid is no walk in the park!

This past week, we loaded up a sleek 2019 Chevrolet Traverse (#brandpartner) on loan for our family to test drive, and headed to Arizona. First up on the college tour schedule were Arizona State University in Tempe, and University of Arizona in Tucson.

Chevrolet Traverse with desert background in Tempe Arizona

With the Arizona desert landscape of Tempe in the background, the Chevy Traverse showed up nicely. #brandpartner

9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

As we prepped for beginning this process, we learned some things about planning college tours for your high school kid worth sharing. Already we’ve made a couple of mistakes, so let us help you avoid some of our pitfalls and learn from our experiences. I imagine this will be an ongoing series, because we still have a lot to go!

9 Tips For Planning College Tours
  1. Talk with you kid about what they want to study. I know this seems obvious, but when we started planning this process Sophia did not have an answer to this question. Without knowing what she wanted to study, we were flying in the dark on choosing college campuses to visit.
  2. Know your budget in advance. One of our mistakes was planning to visit schools before we had checked on tuition and other costs. Well THAT was a shocker. We live in California, and out-of-state tuition and associated costs like housing, books, etc comes to $44,000/year for ASU and $48,000 for UofA. Not to get into anyone’s personal finances, but that might be a lot for some people to shoulder for 4-5 years. PER KID.
  3. Buy this book: Fiske Guide to Colleges. It lists every college in the US, complete with important stats like tuition costs, GPA/SAT requirements, strong areas of study, acceptance rates, financial aid and more. We’ve been pouring through this book, looking for potential college fits for Sophia using a list of criteria combining her desires and ours. It has been immensely helpful in narrowing down on great options.
    Fiske Guide to Colleges book cover

    This book, Fiske Guide to Colleges, is the bible for kids (and parents!) researching which colleges best suit their needs.

  4. Consider hiring a college coach. This may seem like a luxury for some, but we have found it to be money extremely well spent. You know that thing your teen does, where she looks at you like you are an idiot and know absolutely nothing about anything? Yeah, well they don’t pull that with a neutral third party. The college coach has gotten more information out of Sophia than we have. Plus she’s helping Sophia prepare for writing entrance applications, essays and more.
  5. Plan your college visits to include an actual school day. It may be hard to drag your kid out of school to miss a day for touring, but it will be good to see the campus with actual students and activity. On our recent tours, school was out on vacation and the colleges were deserted. It was a chilly way to see what is normally a bustling campus. Part of the reason for touring is to see the other students, and have your kid determine if they like what they see. Can they be friends with these people? Are these people they could be dorm roommates with?
  6. Make appointments for your college visits far in advance – the dates book up quickly. Most college websites have a built-in scheduling function so you can request your chosen day and time. The tours are very full, and no walk-ups are allowed.
  7. Encourage visits to large and small campuses, colleges and universities, public and private, small town and big city. This will help you kid start to envision themselves in this place, living here for most of the year. Do they like the energy and bright lights of the big city? Or maybe they prefer a quieter, less active country location.
    University of Arizona sweatshirts

    Waiting at the UofA bookstore for our tour of the campus, it was hard not to purchase a signature sweatshirt.

  8. Don’t stress if they hate it. This touring business is as much about helping your kid determine what she doesn’t like as what she does. Just like you, they are not going to like or feel comfortable in every location. Some will naturally drop off the list after touring.
  9. Have your kid keep a notebook for writing down pros and cons of each college you visit. Good advice given to us by our coach was for Sophia to ask herself the same four or five questions after each campus tour.
Tucson mountain landscape

The landscapes in Arizona are breathtaking, like this one in Tucson.

Arizona College Overview

Arizona State University

ASU is located in a sweet little town called Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix. Located right next to downtown Phoenix, Tempe is a mix of hotels, retail, residences and the Arizona State University campus. Our tour started at the Welcome Center, and was extremely well organized and planned. Starting in an auditorium with a slide show and video, our host guided us through a great amount of information. She was warm and personable, and Sophia felt instantly at ease.

family entering Arizona State University Welcome Center

The ASU Welcome Center was, well, extremely welcoming! Great way to start a campus tour.

After that 30-minute orientation, we were split into groups by major or interest, and off we went to tour the campus. Because it was holiday break, we did not see lecture halls or dorm rooms. However, we did tour the sports center and student union buildings – both were very impressive. Sophia’s eyes were wide open, taking it all in.

University of Arizona

A more informal tour, this one started at the bookstore on the Tucson campus. We were split into random groups and assigned to a guide for our walking tour. Since there was no orientation, the guide became the source of information about all things University of Arizona in Tucson. Our guide was knowledgeable and funny, but not overwhelmingly personable. We toured the student union, sports center and even a dorm building.

Old Main building at University of Arizona

The Old Main building at UofA was the original university structure, and now houses administration offices.

Sophia was not feeling this one, and I think maybe seeing a dorm room was the clincher. She will get used to it, but at first glance these rooms are S-M-A-L-L. She did not like the idea of having the shared bathroom down the hall either. We will be encouraging her to shake off the princess attitude, but this first tour was not the time to address that.

After a very brief comparison of pros and cons, Sophia decided that she did not want to pursue either of these colleges in Arizona. We’ll see if that view changes after touring more!

red 2019 Chevrolet Traverse in driveway

This sweet red 2019 Chevy Traverse was our loaner car for our Arizona college tours, and it was the perfect fit for our family. #brandpartner


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Family Day Trips from Edinburgh by Train

Family Day Trips from Edinburgh by Train

*Our visit to Scotland was sponsored in part by ScotRail and Visit Edinburgh, and the experiences expressed here are our own as always.

The train systems in Scotland are well-known for their efficiency, comfort and timeliness, and our experience recently in Edinburgh was all of that and more. On a recent trip with just Ava, she and I loved exploring the countryside. We took several family day trips from Edinburgh by train and had a blast! They were the perfect combination of authentic Scottish culture, history and old-world beauty. Scotland by train with kids is super easy!

ScotRail train at Waverly Station

ScotRail trains are an easy way to explore the Scottish countryside, all from Waverley Station in Edinburgh.

Traveling via ScotRail, Scotland’s official rail system, we traversed the countryside in style. Ava and I loved reaching destinations around Scotland full of excitement and adventure. Beginning in Edinburgh, we set off from Waverley Station (located in the middle of the Old City). We planned several fun-filled family day trips from Edinburgh by train that left plenty of time to explore and enjoy.

girl on ScotRail train in Edinburgh Waverly Station

Ava was so content on the ScotRail train, she even did a little creative writing on the way to Stirling Castle!

Family Day Trips Edinburgh by Train

Stirling Castle

ScotRail Stop: Stirling Station on the Stirling Line

One of Scotland’s most beautiful examples of age-old royal compounds, Stirling Castle is an incredible experience for family members of all ages. We took a quick train ride on ScotRail from Waverley Station and followed in the footsteps of knights and nobles. From there, it was an easy walk from the train station through the charming village up to the hilltop Castle.

Stirling Castle entrance in the rain

Rain or shine, Stirling Castle takes visitors back in time to Medieval Scotland.

We planned our visit to coincide with a day offering a special experience of reenactments of castle life during Medieval times. Castle guides were dressed in period costume, demonstrating various parts of life in the 1500s. Included in our tour, we saw feasts in the main dining hall and examples of costume making, painting and more. The entire castle is set up to teach about Scottish history through interactive exhibits. including Palace Vaults. Specifically for kids’ exploration, these including a wardrobe room, a room with Medieval toys and games, and an exhibit on medicinal plants and herbs. Check the Stirling Castle website for a schedule of special events.

Ladies in Waiting at Stirling Castle Scotland

These Ladies in Waiting were standing guard in the Queen’s bed chambers at Stirling Castle.

Falkirk Wheel & The Kelpies

ScotRail Stop: Falkirk Grahamston Station on the Stirling Line

Falkirk Wheel

This day trip allowed us to see two different sights in the same day, both from the same train station about 25 minutes outside of Edinburgh. First we visited the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift that connects two waterways located at different elevations. A feat of engineering, the Wheel is the only one of its kind in the world. (I know it may sounds boring, but trust us it isn’t.)

Falkirk Wheel on the Scottish Canals

The canals of Scotland are connected by locks, and the Falkirk Wheel is the most impressive of them all.

Boarding a canal tour boat, we maneuvered into the lock which then lifted us slowly into the sky. When even with the upper canal’s water level, the locks opened and our boat captain moved us out of the wheel and into the waterway. It was dramatic and impressive – a very modern and innovative solution to the age-old problem of water navigation.

The Kelpies

From the Falkirk Wheel, you can rent bikes and easily traverse the 20 minute ride across the flat Scottish countryside to The Kelpies. (Since the weather was poor, we took a taxi!) Situated alongside the canals, The Kelpies are an enormous sculpture of  two horse heads. Towering nearly 100 feet high, they are made of stainless steel and incredibly impressive. According to ancient Scottish lore, Kelpies were mythological creatures that could transform their shape at will. They often chose the appearance of a horse, representing both strength and perseverance. Situating them next to the canals was a very symbolic move to signify Scotland’s progress into modern technology.

The Kelpies sculptures in Scotland

The enormous scale of The Kelpies sculptures are hard to comprehend until standing directly under them.

There is a 30-minute guided walking tour. It’s worth the small fee for better understanding of why this attraction is so important to Scottish culture. For us, it was a great visit outdoors where we could experience the beauty of the Scottish countryside. We breathed the clean crisp air and spent time along the canals in a park-like setting. Here, there is plenty of room here for kids to run around and let off some travel steam!

National Mining Museum Scotland

ScotRail Stop: Newtongrange on the Tweedbank Line

The National Mining Museum Scotland is a very quick walk from the train station. It’s nestled into a largely residential neighborhood amid a growing suburban community. Along our way, we passed a sweet little downtown of shops, pubs and restaurants. This was the original site of the Lady Victoria Colliery, founded in 1894 as one of the United Kingdom’s many coal mines. It was also one of the last operating – it closed in 1981.

The National Mining Museum of Scotland entrance

The National Mining Museum of Scotland celebrates the hard work of coal miners throughout Scotland’s history.

Well preserved in much of its original state, the mine is now a giant exhibit of what life had been like for coalminers and their families. Kids were a prominent part of coal mining back in the day, and their stories were tragic. Some were indentured by their families to pay a bill. Other families had too many mouths to feed, and sent their kids to the mines. It was an eye-opener to understand the conditions in which these kids and adults worked, and how dangerous the mines could be. Organizers have done a great job appealing to kids at this museum, with tons of hands-on exhibits and places to explore. It was particularly spooky in some places, where the self-guided tour led us into some less traveled areas. Ava got the heebie-geebies and insisted she sensed ghosts, so we moved on!

coal bins at National Museum of Mining Scotland

Inside the National Museum of Mining in Scotland, there are some creepy spots in these old coal mines.

Abbotsford House

ScotRail Stop: Tweedbank on the Tweedbank Line

Abbotsford House is the country home of famous author, poet and playwright Sir Walter Scott.  The home and grounds are preserved much the way he left it, complete with Sir Scott’s myriad collection of oddities from around the world. The manor is a very romantic view back into the history and aristocracy of 19th century Scotland. Collections of knives and swords, armor, antlers and taxidermy beasts are still displayed as he left them. In addition, most of the furniture and his vast library collection are intact. There is a audio tour we found really well done, with versions for both kids and adults that keeps the younger ones entertained.

Abbotsford House of Sir Walter Scott

One of the most elaborate country manors in Scotland, Abbotsford House is a museum of collectibles and oddities.

If you visit during the Spring and Summer months, the gardens here are spectacular. They are filled with colorful blooms, interesting statuary and long green lawns stretching out into vast parkland. We also really enjoyed the restaurant here, built into an ultra-modern visitor center with a great menu. On a dreary day, it was the perfect place to stop for some warm soup, crusty bread and a nice cup of tea. Revived, we ventured back out into the famous Scottish fog.

sword and firearms collection at Abbotsford House Scotland Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott was quite a collector, and these swords and firearms are a tiny portion of the things on display at Abbotsford House in Scotland.

We Can’t Wait to Go Back!

With so many places to explore, Scotland remains high on our list of places for a return visit with the rest of the family. The rail system makes it so easy to explore! We still have yet to visit the northern parts of the country to see Loch Ness, Inverness and some of the more remote destinations.

We had a blast on the train, complete with cups of warm tea and free wifi. Family day trips from Edinburgh by train is definitely the way to go!

Edinburgh Waverly train station

Topped by an enormous greenhouse roof of glass panes, Waverley Station is stunning and historic in the middle of Old Edinburgh.