Friday, August 26, 2016

Goldring Travel's 2016 Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise on the Seabourn Quest - Part VI (Oban, Greenock and Belfast - Seabourn Moments!)

The Oban Distillery stands over downtown Oban, Scotland
The Seabourn Quest arrived in the quiet town of Oban, Scotland to rainy skies, so after a few active days it was good to slow things down a bit.  After strolling through the seafront I headed up the hill, winding through pretty, well kept, streets to McCraig’s Tower, a former battery, which overlooks the town and harbor.

Oban, Scotland

Oban, Scotland
Afterwards I wandered down to the local museum, which was packed with all sorts of military memorabilia…a little gem of a place for those who have interest in such things.

It was then just a few steps back to the Oban Distillery, which has two types of tours…and the ability to skip them and simply head to the Tasting Room.  After our tour of Highland Park, the tasting room is all that we really needed.  With Oban really offering only one whiskey commercially (its 14 year old), being able to taste two others: Little Bay and Distiller’s Edition, was a treat, as they are not available in the United States.  (Personally, I am not a fan of Oban’s style and felt the other options were nothing special…so I wouldn’t worry that you cannot purchase them in the U.S.)

A small, but enjoyable, Oban whiskey tasting
 

It was then back to the ship for a bit of a lazy afternoon, but not before I undertook my usual hamburger test (skipping the hot dog this time).  I compared the standard Seabourn hamburger versus the Napa Hamburger designed by Thomas Keller.  The Seabourn burger is pure beef and is served with the usual compliments of lettuce, tomato and onion.  The Napa burger is a mixture of pork and beef along with a sharp cheddar cheese and a ‘special sauce”.  Honestly, for me (more of a purist) the Napa burger was all a bit busy and I did not like the contrast between the cheese and the sauce.  I understand there is probably a 50/50 consensus as to which is better.  

Seabourn's regular, all beef, hamburger
Seabourn's Thomas Keller inspired Napa Burger
(Note: I asked for the fixings on the top,
but they are normally placed under the bun)
Unfortunately, the next day, Greenock, Scotland (where you could take the train to Glasgow) was almost as equally rainy.  

Greenock, Scotland - Hints of a more grand past
After a wander about this historically pretty if you look closely, but now struggling, town, with my Pok√©mon Go pointing out seemingly endless churches, it was again back to the ship; albeit a bit disappointed that the past two days were less than stellar…but every port cannot be a winner for everyone.  (If the weather had been nice I would have taken the train into Glasgow and watched the first day of the World Pipe Championships.  Yes, hundreds of bagpipes.   You see there just may be a silver lining to those clouds!)

Seabourn Whiskey Tasting in the Colonnade
It was the only night I dined in the Colonnade as it was themed Scottish Night.  I had some local smoked salmon (from Stornoway), haggis, black pudding and a steak pie along with a wee dram of Scotch whiskey.  While I enjoyed the cuisine and the fun presentation, honestly I found it to be too informal for my liking, with it feeling more like a late lunch than a dinner. 

The next morning, as we arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland for an overnight stay, the skies cleared and a Seabourn Moment was about to happen.  My girlfriend of almost three years was finally arriving onboard and Seabourn had arranged a car for me to pick her up at the Belfast International Airport (a rather small airport that I am shocked can handle larger jets).  I walked down the gangway looking for the car, but what I didn’t know was right behind me was the Hotel Manager and Guest Services Manager with a giant bouquet of flowers and a cooler, which I assumed held a bottle of champagne and two glasses.  It, however, held two bottles of champagne and caviar with all the accouterments.


A Seabourn Moment:
Champagne and Caviar for an airport pickup of my girlfriend.
There was a huge bouquet of flowers as well.
The driver had never seen anything like it.
(We shared a bit of caviar, but not the champagne...He was driving!)
As I waited for her late-arriving flight the driver agreed to give us a bit of a tour of Belfast, as it would be a shame to not have sufficient time to enjoy all that Seabourn had prepared for us.  So with my girlfriend collected, the champagne open, caviar spoons in action and our driver at the ready, we saw many of Belfast’s sites including the Peace Wall, Titanic Museum, movie production site for Game of Thrones and more.


The Titanic Museum, Belfast, Ireland

After arriving back at the Seabourn Quest it was then time for the Goldring Travel 2016 Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise Private Galley Tour with Chef Andreas.  We were greeted with a variety of whiskeys and a sous chef preparing whiskey infused beef tenderloin to pair with it, as Chef Andreas ironically explained the cold galley.


Yes...More Whiskey!
Seabourn Chef Andreas explains how the galley works,
while his sous chef makes beef tenderloin in a whiskey sauce
for us to sample
Moving through the galley we came to the all important pastry area where we were greeted with an whiskey ice cream and champagne cocktail.



And then we moved on to the all important cheese tasting paired with a variety of ports and a Sauternes. This would, however, be just a sampling of what was to come the next day!


Belfast was an overnight port, but a special birthday dinner for one of my clients was on the schedule for The Grill by Thomas Keller.  I will be writing a separate article on The Grill, but suffice it to say, The Grill is not for everyone and not every dish works for the culinary palate of every culture onboard.  My Australian dining partner was very unimpressed with the rib eye steak as it is cut so lean, but he devoured the rack of lamb!  Something to keep in mind.  By the way:  Order the chicken!


The Grill by Thomas Keller
Presenting the Lamb and the Chicken tableside by the Chefs
But in another Seabourn Moment, I had mentioned to Chef Tom earlier in the cruise when he was pouring caramel sauce over an ice cream sundae for someone that my girlfriend loves caramel.  He winked at me and said he had something in mind.  Well, boy did he have something in mind:  A beautiful dessert that was caramel over caramel, covering caramel, and covered in caramel that took two days to create.
Another Seabourn Moment:
A one of a kind Caramel, Caramel, Caramel Dessert

But that was only Part One.  Part Two was a special birthday cake that was not only incredibly beautiful (and tasty) with a spun glass dome, but had as a filling a dense, chewy…caramel.

A Seabourn Moment:
Now that is a culinary wonder of a Birthday Cake
That is truly a crowning achievement for a birthday cake
Absolutely incredible and, without exaggeration, presented at the culinary and artistic level of Michelin star restaurants...on the Seabourn Quest.

If you would like more information or would like to book your Seabourn cruise, please give us a call:

United States:         (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:   020 8133 3450
Australia:               (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585

Or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Goldring Travel's 2016 Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise on the Seabourn Quest - Part V (Kirkwall, Ullapool, Whiskey and the Kindness of a Stranger)

The Seabourn Quest’s arrival into Kirkwall, Scotland, the largest town in Orkney; an archipelago of islands in the far north., marked one of the highlights of the 2016 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural (Food & Wine) Cruise:  An exclusive tour and tasting at Highland Park Distillery followed by a gourmet pub lunch.

Highland Park Distillery, Kirkwall, Scotland

The day started out with torrential rains that, but for the annual Goldring Travel jackets, would have left everyone soaked as we made our way from the ship to our private Highland Park bus waiting to pick us up.  After our wet Scottish welcome the weather fortunately cleared...not exactly into a sunny day, but most certainly sufficiently dry!


Our tour started with the typical introductory movie…and that was all that was typical.  Our tour of the Highland Park Distillery, which is both ancient and beautiful, was in depth and very interesting; led by James…who you could instantly tell has done this for years and loves his job.

Highland Park Distillery's Bonded Warehouse
This is where the aging is done.  The days of the unique painted
labels (on the right) have been replaced by bar-coding (on the left)
but the product remains the same.


Highland Park Distillery's beautiful stills.
It was an interesting discussion on what angle leaving the still
 is best when making whiskey
But the real enjoyment came after the tour where we had a truly exceptional tasting of eight (8) whiskeys starting with an unaged whiskey (also known as “white lightning” or moonshine), and following then Highland Park’s 12, 15, 18 (declared “the best spirit in the world”), 25, 30, 46 year old and then a 60+ year old whiskey (pretty much priceless at an estimated 9,000 GBP per bottle).

Goldring Travel's Culinary & Cultural Cruise
Enjoying an Exclusive Whiskey Tasting
at Highland Park Distillery
While the first seven were enjoyed in Highland Park’s private tasting room, the 60+ year old whiskey (which I describe as subtle and smooth as your most comfortable pair of slippers) was properly presented and relished in the Eunsun Room.

Enjoying "The Best of the Best"
in Highland Park Distillery's Eunson Room
I love my job!
After our Highland Park experience, it was time to head off to the quay in Kirkwall for a gourmet pub lunch at Helgi’s; a true Scottish pub renowned for its exceptional Scottish fare. 


Helgi's Pub - Kirkway, Scotland
Helgi's Pub - Kirwall, Scotland
Goldring Travel’s guests enjoyed such delicacies as a platter of smoked mussels, scallops and salmon, cauliflower and smoked cheddar soup, Bubble and Squeak with Scallops and fish & chips (though some did order hamburgers!), combined with local beers, stout and other beverages. 


Goldring Travel's Culinary & Cultural Cruise
is not just about consuming food and wine,
but the culture:  Here sitting in a real pub with real people
and enjoying a local beer or two
The Best Fish & Chips...with really tasty Mushy Peas
A gourmet take on Bubble & Squeak with scallops
(leftover vegetables with potatoes)
And I could not resist the Sticky Toffee Pudding.  (I ordered it with cream, but the waitress, with a sparkle in her eye said, “You want it with ice cream”.  I said, “I do?” and she replied, “You do!”  She was, of course, right.)


Sticky Toffee Pudding...with the recommended ice cream
After lunch a stroll around Kirkwall completed our day…and a great day it was.


Seabourn Quest anchored off Ullapool, Scotland
The next day brought us to the lovely little town of Ullapool, Scotland; a hidden gem introducing us to the Scottish Highlands.  With a soft rain being omnipresent, one would think the place dreary and dank.  It was, quite to my surprise, anything but!

The brilliant green glowed against the grey skies in Ullapool, Scotland

I disembarked the tender and went into the local information tent.  There I was met by an utterly charming, if not incredibly cheeky, woman with a little grey woolen cap, bright eyes and a huge smile.  I asked her if there were any hiking trails…and this Irish transplant let me know it was going to be an interesting day.  (And, of course, her cohorts did nothing but encourage her banter.)


Start Here...not "there"!
She handed me a map for the Ullapool Hill Path telling me there is a very nice loop trail.  It, very clearly, showed a “Start Here”, but noooo, that was not where I was to start; Edel insisting that I was to start behind the town’s gas station though the map showed no entry point and no trail there.  This led me to believe (sort of) I was being set up as an innocent tourist being taken advantage of.  (Next thing I thought was that she would be telling me where I could find the nests of some wild Haggis.) And the laughs just kept coming.  

Our "discussion" was interrupted by a very rude man from the ship who insisted she call him a taxi; though in this tiny town the taxi wasn’t going to be available until mid-afternoon.  His selfish urgency could have ruined the moment, but Edel told him to wait until she was finished with me...and she wasn't finished!  (I ran into him the next day as well…and he has “rude” well practiced.  Oh well, his loss!)

I was also told of a walk down by the river which, if I put everything together, would eventually lead to the “Start Here” rather than the gas station…and so I went off. 

An absolutely beautiful walk by the river in Ullapool, Scotland
But before I describe my hike, I want to pause and mention that many times I hear an urgency of “What tour should I take?”; especially in small or otherwise unfamiliar ports.  I believe that in most cases those tiny and unfamiliar ports are hidden gems and the places that we, as travelers, are supposed to embrace.  Ullapool and its people oh so perfectly prove that point!

Scottish Thistle
I headed off with one couple from my group (now friends who have done many cruises, including Seabourn World Cruises) and found the river and an amazingly beautiful path with wild strawberries, raspberries and cherries as delicious snacks – of course picked at a height above that of a dog…for obvious reasons) as the wildflowers and omnipresent natural beauty amazed us; the soft rain and light making everything look that much prettier and the colors more intense.





At the end of the river path we headed back towards town and saw the infamous sign for the actual start of the Ullapool Hill Path.  Saying goodbye to my friends it was a really wonderful hike up the “hill” (known as a mountain, except, I guess, in the Scottish Highlands) with yet more beautiful wildflowers, thick patches of heather and as I got higher, fantastic views.

Hiking up Ullapool "Hill" in the Scottish Highlands
(Seabourn Quest and Ullapool in the background)
But just to make sure I wasn’t too full of myself having climbed this “hill” just as I was about 90% of the way, one of the Seabourn waiters, Dawid, comes bounding up behind me hardly breathing.  He was kind, however, and walked the last bit with me at a pace probably a bit slow for him.



As we headed back down, I asked him which way he came.  He said from the left (my having come from the right) and eventually – returning his way – I wound up behind – yes, you guessed it – the gas station.  But we did discover that the only “loop” trail would have involved another three hours or more of hiking and put us miles from where we wanted to be.

Dawid needed to get back to the ship and I needed to stroll through town and find a local, greasy, chippy.  And I did, ordering up fried haggis and fried black pudding with an Irn-Bru (a disgusting, but very popular, orange colored Scottish soft drink that my children love). 


"Culinary & Cultural" - The Scots fry everything
Here:  Fried Haggis and Fried Black Pudding
with an Irn Bru
So with my Scottish delicacies I headed back to the Seabourn Quest tender…or so I thought.  There was Edel ready to once again pounce on this gentle soul.  “What are you doing with an Irn-Bru?! And what’s that you are eating?”  Round 2 of banter began, but ended when she said, “If it wasn’t raining so much I would take you for a ride and show you the area.”  I said “Let’s do it anyway.”  And we did…right after she threw out my haggis and black pudding!  So for about an hour we drove along the water’s edge and viewing this absolutely beautiful area and with wonderful local flare. 



My time in Ullapool had come to an end, so with a fond farewell, I returned to the Seabourn Quest after an absolutely fantastic day.  

After arriving I heard a number of complaints that due to the rain and clouds the tours to see the Scottish Highlands were disappointing.  Now I don’t expect most Seabourn guests to hike a mountain, or hop in a car with a total stranger, but chatting with the locals can be far more rewarding and a far more personal experience than listening to a tour guide on a bus.  At least it is for me!


If you would like more information or would like to book your Seabourn cruise, please give us a call:

United States:       (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom: 020 8133 3450
Australia:             (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585


Or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.