Heading Southwest

If you love England, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t, you are always thinking of the next visit.  It’s a difficult task because, if it were just me, I’d go back and forth across the country until I was able to see every area including Scotland and Wales.

My next visit will probably be a foursome with my husband and our good friends, driving Southwest to Devon and Cornwall and looping around to visit Bath. My bestie’s family is from Christchurch and though we have been to England together, once in 2005, we didn’t get to visit there.  I think it’s so important to go where your family originated if you can.  Go to the church and the churchyard, look for those names that you’ve heard your whole life in family stories or read so often in your research.

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My first trip over in 2001, we headed south through Cornwall to Land’s End and up the West Coast to Wales, I absolutely loved it there.  I want my husband and friends to see some of it and for Suzanne to be in the places where her family came from.  I hope she has the overwhelming feeling of home that I had the first time I went to Sussex and walked in the footsteps of my father’s family.  I hope you get to Cornwall and revel in it’s Celtic history and beauty.

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The history of Cornwall is fascinating and extensive.   There are lots of books and information online.  There have been people there since 4000 BC, so there is not enough space here to delve into that subject.  I think I am most impressed with the fact that the Cornish people have held onto their culture and are now considered a distinct Ethnic group by the UK government.

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We’ll go to London first, our friend Bruce hasn’t had the opportunity to go there yet and there is so much to see.  Of course you can’t do London in one trip, unless you have unlimited time and money.  Hopefully this will be the beginning of several visits over for them.  I will write about what we saw and did after the fact since, as of now, in the early days of planning I’m not sure which attractions we’ll get to see.

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While in London each of us will plan a day out, as well as take a day on one of the jump on and off London bus tours.   Afterwards, we’ll head south by train to Christchurch and spend at least most of a day there, we’ll go to the church, explore the town and have lunch.  A few years ago my cousin Claire gave me a book, “Footpaths of Britain”.  There is a lovely walk in Christchurch along the harbor to Hengistbury Head, it’s about an hour with nice views of the Isle of Wight, a nature reserve and the beach at Sandspit.

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Whether or not we find this town interesting enough to stay the night remains to be seen, but after our visit, we’ll hit the road and head towards the West Coast, stopping along the way at anything that looks interesting to any of us.  I love this kind of a trip and I did it in 2001 and again in 2005. You drive along and take in the countryside, looking at maps and signposts until you see something that looks so delightful you just have to stop.  In the afternoon when you start thinking about dinner and bed, you stop in a town and visit the tourist information office.  These places have books and maps for sale, leaflets to give away and loads of advice on things to see or do.  After a conversation with the helpful staff, you just let them know how much further you’d like to travel that day or if there is a particular place you want to stop.  They have catalogs of B&Bs and hotels with photos, so you have a general idea of what to expect. They ask you what you’d like to spend on lodging, and will actually call ahead for you to let them know you’re coming, give you directions and send you on your way with a plan.

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Sometimes that kind of visit won’t work because of time constraints, event dates, etc., you wouldn’t want it to be so loose.  Then booking ahead online is the way to go.  With sites like Tripadvisor, Travelocity, and Air B&B you can easily make it all work.

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I’ve had people tell me how brave I am to go on an adventure without concrete plans like this one.  I guess it’s a kind of adventure, but really, you are in a civilized country that speaks the same language.  The people I’ve met along the way are always welcoming and helpful, so it’s not the kind of adrenaline filled travel in the darkest forests of the Amazon.  It’s fairly tame and you just might discover something off the beaten path that will make it amazing!

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The Hidden Gardens of Heligan

I recently added a channel app to my streaming that has lots of British TV shows.  One of them is “Britain’s Best Bakery” and I’ve decided that we have to stop and taste the fabulous offerings of some of the Cornish bakeries that were showcased.

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That’s pretty much the plan for this next excursion.  It’s fairly easy planning I think, pick the date, buy the plane ticket, keep saving to pay for it all.  Then just pack and go!  We already know we would be staying at Fox Hill B&B because it’s my favorite place in London, the rest is up to fate and whimsy.

 

 

 

 

A Series of Themed Trips Around England

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From the first visit I made to England for a family reunion with cousins I didn’t actually know, I have been looking for interesting things to see and do.   Truthfully, when I’ve gone for the sheer purpose of visiting family and friends it’s been wonderful.

However, my cousin and I had kicked around a few “theme” ideas over the years, ie:  the rock and roll of our youth, movies, books and authors, hiking, castles, etc., and also the different areas around the country including Scotland and Wales  So, with that idea in mind I set off in search of themes or specific areas to visit.  The first installment is north to south on the west side of England and into Wales.  These are very loose suggestions because people have their own interests and preferences which are easily researched on Google.  I mean only to highlight some of the history, famous things to see and do and maybe a few quirky things as well.  I’ll put in web addresses and current prices when I can,  please understand that these can change at any time.

York to Cornwall

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The Shambles

I had an email from a friend of mine wanting suggestions for a visit from York in the north of England, to Wales and Cornwall.  I appreciate the vote of confidence so have decided to start my series with that, this one’s for you Pla’. 

We’ll start in York, a beautiful city in it’s own right.  For less than $20 US dollars you can take the city bus tour, there is live commentary from April to October.  If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m a big fan of a live tour guide.  The history and stories are more meaningful when you have a real, animated person telling them.  Also, with the audio you take the risk of not being at the place they are talking about because of traffic and other human delays.  This kind of bus tour is a good place to start in any new city you visit.  You get the lay of the land, a good overview of the city and find lots of things you might want to see but wouldn’t know of otherwise.

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There are plenty of walking tours, including history and ghost tours.  Don’t miss “The Shambles”, York’s oldest street with fifteenth century buildings.  Lots of shops, restaurants and history to see here.  I would definitely get the York pass when going.  It’s around $55 US dollars, but you get entry into thirty of the top attractions.  Visit the York Maze for some fun, there’s ice cream and you can picnic there.  York Minster is included on the pass, it’s history and craftsmanship are worth a look.  I can’t list them all, but a few that sound interesting are the York Dungeon, Chocolate Story, many manor houses and museums, a brewery, air museum, Roman bath and many others. Something for everyone, go to http://www.yorkpass.com.

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From York head to Liverpool by train or drive on the M62, it takes about two and half hours.  I like driving because you can see the countryside at your own pace and stop at anything that looks interesting to you.  If you haven’t taken the chance of driving here, I can tell you from experience that you get used to it quickly.  It’s easier with two, one to drive and the other to gently remind you to stay in the left lane and also look at maps and signs. Start in a more rural area and work your way up to cities.  I’ve driven in London and though it’s quite stressful if you aren’t used to it, I am here to tell the tale, so it wasn’t too bad!

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Albert Dock

Pla’ and I are both huge Beatles fans (see post of June 6, 2014) and going to Liverpool has been a dream of mine since the 1960s when I saw them on the Ed Sullivan show and listened to them on the radio, my transistor held against my ear.  A good start is “The Beatles Story” in the Albert Dock, a visitor center dedicated to that group.  You should allow several hours because there’s so much to see.  Albert Dock is also where you start the “Magical Mystery Tour”, a bus tour of Beatles landmarks like Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane.  The National Trust also runs a special tour of John and Paul’s childhood homes.  You actually go inside and see where they grew up!  There are so many different tours and things to see, clubs where they played, restaurants, streets and museums.  Worth a visit if you have appreciated their music over the years.

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There is a lot to see here even if you aren’t a Beatles fan.  Liverpool is officially the “World Capital of Pop”, so consequently lots of music, theater and nightlife.  There is the Merseyside Maritime Museum, beaches, lots of sports venues and a modern cathedral.  You can still catch a “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, from Liverpool across to Birkenhead, about a 40 minute trip each way.  There are also tour options if you’re interested in the history of the canal and ferries, go to http://www.merseyferries.co.uk.

Leaving Liverpool for Wales, you will be looking at an over three hour drive on the A483.  You might want to plan it out so that you’re stopping for lunch around noon or leave right after lunch in Liverpool so you arrive before dark.  I stopped in Wales for a nice pub lunch at the wrong time and they were closed to anything but a cup of tea.  I’m not sure if this is the same everywhere in that area, but take along some snacks just in case.  I loved Wales, it’s beautiful and easier to drive for an American, better placed signs than I found in the countryside of England where often, by the time I read and understood where I wanted to turn, I was past the street I needed to turn on.  Thankful for roundabouts!

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You don’t have to go deep into Wales to appreciate this tiny country.  Visiting from America, few of us have the time to see everything we want to see in one trip.  So to get a taste of it, you can see some of it on the way down and stop in Brecon for a night or two. Right on the edge of Brecon Beacons National Park, the country features incredible beauty.  There are National Trails for walking, wildlife,  caves to explore, cultural heritage, dark sky venues for stargazing, and market towns. If you’re a reader there is a town of books,  Hay on Wye, where you can spend many hours perusing as many books as you like. Watching TV there is also fun, lots of the stations are in Welsh but there are also English stations if you just want to stay in and relax a bit.

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Hay-on-Wye

One of the places that I love right over the Welsh border is Gloucestershire.  So much history and many wonderful sites to visit, beautiful gardens and good restaurants.  Some highlights are the Gloucester Cathedral, Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens in Burford.  Burford is a gorgeous place to visit, quaint, friendly, great cream teas and shops to stop in.  Hidcote (Chipping Camden) and Highgrove (Tetbury) Gardens are both outstanding ways to spend a couple of hours outside, looking at natures beauty, even if it is man made nature. So well put together and a nice way to unwind if you’ve visited busy towns or cities with it’s traffic.

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The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds is an area in south central England which encompasses from just south of Stratford-upon-Avon to just south of Bath.  I love the names of the towns and villages here so much and always wonder what they originally meant.  Some of my favorites are Chipping Sodbury,  Lower Slaughter, Wotten Under Edge, Stow-on-the-Wold, Wantage, Northleach and Painswick.  I will look out for a book about the village names on my next visit.  The villages here are so iconic, just what we Americans think an English village should look like.  The yellow stone of the buildings, covered in wisteria provide lots of photo ops.  Many nice shops and cafes here to enjoy.  There are too many to list, but if you’re a movie buff like me there are tons of places to see here that were used in movies and TV.  Check out www.cotswolds.info/places/ for interesting things to do here and look under “film and tv locations” to pick some of your favorites.  Glouster Cathedral=Hogwarts,  I’m just saying!

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Glouster Cathedral

Going south to Cornwall via the M5 and A30, it’s close to a four hour drive so you want to start early.  There are so many places to see this way,  you can pick and choose according to your interests. I think I would just enjoy the ride through the moors and choose a nice place to lunch, making a few stops for photos or things that look interesting in the moment.

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The Cornwall Moors

You could go all the way to Land’s End if your interested, great photo ops here.  If you’ve ever read the novels of Daphne De Mornay, you will love exploring Cornwall.  In fact, if you have time before or during your trip, pick up a copy of “Rebecca” or “Jamaica Inn”, wonderful stories that help put the place in context. Be sure to stop in the Lizard while in Cornwall for some of the best Cornish Pasties anywhere!  There are lots of villages and towns between here and Highclere Castle on to London.

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Heading north on A30 and A303 to Highclere Castle for us “Downtown Abbey” fans is a must. Stopping along the way at Stonehenge is something everyone should see, it’s really mind boggling to listen to what history they actually do know and imagine how long humans have been visiting this place.  Also, not a little shocking to see the cars speeding by so close to where the stones are standing.  It’s about a three hour drive depending on where you left Cornwall.  It can be windy out here in the open, you might want to tie your hair back or bring a wind breaker as it can also be a bit cool.

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Stonehenge

 From Stonehenge to Highclere Castle, located outside of Newbury, on the A303 and A34 is about a forty minute drive.   Plan to spend a half day visiting the castle and walking around the beautiful grounds where this amazing series was filmed.  You should buy tickets in advance as soon as you know you’re going, if not, you take a chance at being turned away when you arrive.  Enjoy the guided tour of the house, tea in the garden and walking around the grounds.    The tour including the castle, Egyptian exhibition and grounds is currently £22.  There are a couple of offers for having tea here.  You can spurge and have tea in the coach house.  Tickets are priced at £25 per person, over age 18 only.  You must buy these tickets in advance as well.  There are many other tea rooms on the grounds, open from 10:00am to 5:00pm during open times, serving coffee and tea made in the Castle kitchens.  The tea rooms are also open for hot, light lunches from noon until 2pm .  You can get tea and scones as well.

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Looking down at Highclere Castle

From Highclere to London on the M4 (which has tolls) or the M3 (which takes about twelve extra minutes,  is about an hour and a half drive.   I’m not going to list all of the wonderful things a person can see and do in London.  I just like being there, having tea and people watching.  Of course there are many historical and amazing things to see and do and easily researched by your individual interests, but London needs an entire blog on it’s own.  Enjoy and take in all you can, there is no place like London!

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View of the Thames and the Shard in London

The Home of Charles Darwin

September 19, 2014

Visiting Darwin House was one of the highlights of this latest trip to England.  It’s in Kent which I have fallen in love with and jokingly tell my family and friends that if I win the lotto, I am moving to Kent.  (Of course it would help if I played).

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Front entrance to Darwin House. My friend Sue and I, hiding behind a pillar!

The weather was obliging and it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day,  so the drive down from London was really lovely.  I’m not sure what I imagined it to be before I went, but I know I wasn’t expecting such a large property.  It is a beautiful setting and the grounds are immaculate.  I love the Virginia Creeper climbing the walls of so many places in England, really spectacular.

This is an English Heritage property and they do such a nice job of preserving and presenting these historical places.  I enjoyed seeing the family rooms with a lot of the Darwin’s personal furniture and belongings.  There are a lot of interactive things to do, especially for the kids which would make a nice family day trip.  I also spent quite a while following the time line and history of Darwin and his studies and research.

One thing that is a passion of mine is genealogy and there is a room there which tells about him and his family, very interesting.  I love the story of how his children helped him in his studies as he got older.  They would do experiments on the property and report back their findings.

The back of Down House. It looks out to beautiful, well kept grounds

The garden here is very impressive.  I love gardens anyway, so to be able to walk the paths that Mr.Darwin walked almost daily for the forty years he lived here was pretty exciting.  The green house is outstanding.  There are rows of vegetables with flowers mixed in.  There are orchards and even a giant chess board for children to play with.

If only I knew how to play

If only I knew how to play

We walked around the garden for quite a while and it was every bit as interesting as the interior of the house.  What a wonderland for his children to grow up in and a special legacy for all of us to be able to visit. I love this display in the garden of a simple wooden wheel barrel holding clay pots.

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View of the massive grounds at Down House

View of the massive grounds at Down House

There is a restaurant here that uses the same kitchen that was used to prepare the Darwin’s meals.  It also has a great gift shop where you can get books on his theories and research.  There all a lot of really nice things here for children if you like something educational as well as entertaining.

Afterwards we headed to the village of Downe and to The George & Dragon Pub for lunch.  It was not crowded and since it was such a lovely day we ate out back at some picnic tables.  The menu was British pub food at it’s best, fish & chips, puff pastry pies, baguette sandwiches, lamb, stuffed jacket potatoes, curry and Ploughman’s.  I settled on The Dragon Burger and a lemon shandy.  It was cooked just right and so large that I couldn’t finish.

Across from the pub is St. Mary’s church and an ancient yew tree that is completely hollow in the middle, it’s a wonder it’s still living. I’m sure if Mr. Darwin were here he could explain it to me!

Neil in front of The George & Dragon Pub

Neil in front of The George & Dragon Pub

 

London-I’m Back!

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Fox Hill B&B, Crystal Palace

 I’m back in London and looking forward to showing some of it to my husband Neil.  We’re staying at the only place I’ve ever stayed in London, The Fox Hill B&B in Crystal Palace.  It’s home for me after so much time spent here and Neil’s first time to visit our friends and the proprietors Sue and Tim Haigh.  This is such and interesting house and I always feel so comfortable and well taken care of.  A family home, so you can expect to encounter pets, grandchildren, newspapers and the general chaos of a family life.  I’ve read good and bad reviews of this and other B&Bs that I’ve stayed in, in many places that I’ve been.  I love B&Bs for this reason and I’m always surprised when I see a review that mentions that everything wasn’t perfect all the time or it wasn’t like such and such commercial hotel. People, get real, if you don’t like the homey feel of a B&B, don’t go to one.  Go to the Hilton where you can complain as much as you like online and it won’t make a bit of difference to them.  Don’t go to someone’s home where you’ll encounter everyday home life and expect that you’ll get anything else.  I try my hardest not to go to a chain hotel or a chain restaurant for that matter.  Unless you’re rolling in money, they’re all mediocre.  The one exception is when I’m driving from point a to point b and just want to get there.  If you’re going to a foreign country and want to learn something about the culture, go to a B&B.  Meet the people, see how they live, it’s really the only way to honestly get that experience.

Our first day in London was fun and exhausting, as it should be.  After taking the train to Victoria Station we started walking toward Buckingham Palace.  We walked past one of my favorite places for traditional tea, The Rubens Hotel, and then all around the palace.  We checked out the gate, the guards, the grounds, the Victoria Memorial, past St, James’ Park and all the way around the palace.  We then took off in the direction of the Parliament and Westminster Abbey, stopping at a small Italian store/deli for a delicious sandwich made with prosciutto and mozzarella at a sidewalk table.

 Just walking through any area of London you will see many iconic places that you’ve heard about all of your life, whether from books, movies, TV,  news or history class.   I always get a little thrill when I see the name of something that I’d heard mentioned sometime in my life.  Paddington, Wembley, Bond Street, Bloomsbury, Covent Gardens.  I love looking at the architecture, monuments, gardens, the different cars and road signs.  One thing that I noticed on my first trip there and subsequent visits is the lack of pick up trucks.  I’m from the West Coast and pretty much every man I’ve known, starting with my dad, had a pick up truck.  Of course I come from a long line of construction workers, which means most of the people I hang out with have something to do in that field.  My husband who, by the way, worked at a grocery store when I met him, also works in the construction business.  Neil asked a couple of workmen that he met on the train about how they go about doing business without a truck.  We were told that they either use the boot of their car or hire a van when they need to move bigger stuff.  You’re more apt to see Euro Vans about town instead of a pick up truck like we would use here.

After our lunch we headed down to look at the beautiful and historical Westminster Abbey and then waited in the long lines for the London Eye.  It’s a great way to see the city’s layout.  I feel it’s kind of expensive at £21 a person, but of course we paid because it’s something we wanted to do.  I’m not really complaining except as a reference for the reader.  I’m sure that it cost a fortune to build and maintain.  But it takes 800 passengers for each rotation,  32 cars with 25 people in each car.  It takes a half hour to go around and it doesn’t stop.  At last count, it takes more than 3.5 million visitors a year.  At the current cost of a ticket, and they have no discounts for seniors or children, that’s almost £74 million pounds a year. I just checked their website and the tickets have now gone up to £29.95!   I’m pretty sure they get an excellent profit from that and the corporation is very pleased.

I had only ever been at night, so I purchased the “360° Viewing Guide” for a couple of pounds and well worth it.  It shows the view of day on one side and night on the other.  In addition to showing many, many iconic buildings on the guide, it also shows the direction that you’re looking.  I found this very helpful because, as many times as I’ve visited, I have no sense of direction there, at all.  Unless it’s sunup or sundown, I haven’t a clue.

We left the eye and walked around a bit more, found a great bakery and picked up dessert, then headed back to Fox Hill B&B for dinner and a little TV with our friends.

Christmas in London

Merry, Happy, Joyeux Christmas!!  This is a re-post of my blog about spending Christmas in London 2008. Tis the season and I hope you are enjoying yours this year!

I was lucky enough, along with my cousin Marcie, to be invited to London to “see how they do Christmas” in 2008.  We were generously invited by our friends Susan and Tim.  Neither of us have ever gone away and not done Christmas with our families, ever.  I personally will probably not do it again unless they all come with me!  I missed them and all of our quirky little traditions.  The kind that only your own family can have, kept over the years because it gave one or all of us a happy feeling that we wanted to experience again and again.   I’m not sure how the rest of you are, but we try new and different things along with the old ones that were brought from when my husband and I were growing up.  Some things we have to do because of tradition, then we’ll add a little something new and maybe that will be the only year we do it or it becomes part of our repertoire.

At any rate, having the opportunity to go to England and experience with our friends and their family was an offer neither of us could refuse.   I think about it often and pull out the wonderful book of photos that Marcie made for us as a remembrance.  Indeed, I show it to everyone because it captures the fun and amazement that we experienced there.  I am only going to include a few highlights here for a couple of reasons: One is, that if you are anything like me, when it’s over it’s over.  I have a friend that puts her tree(s) up at Halloween and leaves them up until Valentine’s Day.  This is not me.  To my mind it takes the “special” time of year away.  Two,  I have had a spectacularly busy and crazy year and I can not locate my journal of that particular trip.  (New Year resolution: organize my office!)

Most of us came from European descent and holiday traditions were also brought over and passed down, so it was familiar and different at the same time.  Going to this already lovely home in Crystal Palace with the bright red door is always a wonderful homey feeling for both of us.  The wreath on the door, the decorations every where, the hustle and bustle of the season added to our excitement of being there.  The decorations and lights around the city of London were truly magical.                                       

Our friends had arranged a special present for us,  a Christmas choir concert at Westminster Abbey!  Can you imagine?  We had never been in the Abbey, in all of our visits.  I was awe struck, the history, the beauty of the place.  There were readings by Boris Johnson, actors and other dignitaries.  But the music, the voices were inspiring.   I felt my mind wandering, trying to remember some of the history that I had heard about the abbey.  I had to make myself focus on what was happening or I would have missed it.   I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to have witnessed something this beautiful and profound. There were carols that I recognized and ancient songs that I never knew existed.   I will be forever grateful to them for thinking of us.  It is a family tradition of theirs to go to this wonderful concert every year.  I admit that I was a little blown away when Sue told us that her children went to preschool at the abbey.  Being a foreigner it never occurred to me that this was a working church.  I naively assumed that it was for special royal ceremonies and tourists.

Marcie and I went Christmas shopping to gather a few things for a gift basket for our hosts. We had brought many small tastes of America for them, canned albacore from Oregon, wine from a Southern California winery, chocolate infused with chili, marionberry jam from the northwest.  We needed to find a basket as well as add a few fillers.  We headed to John Lewis, a lovely British department store.  The first visit we made to England included a visit to John Lewis where I bought a warm down comforter.  I somehow stuffed it into a tote bag to carry it home on the plane.   Having got it here I discovered that it was just too warm for my middle aged body, so it’s keeping one of my daughters toasty warm every winter!  At any rate, after shopping around we found ourselves at Green Park and remembered that Sue had told us to stop at the hour and watch the clock at Fortnum & Mason’s.  Not wanting to miss anything that cool, we did just that.  We also went in to peruse the lovely holiday displays.

One of our really fun days was spent going to Hampton Court.  I’ve been to many of the castles and palaces since I started visiting England, but this is one of my favorites.  Perhaps it’s the history, all Americans seem to love Henry VIII and the story of his wives.  So brutal and romantic at the same time.  It was decorated for Christmas and there was an actual ice skating rink set up on the front grounds.  The tour was very revealing and touring the kitchens was a real eye opener.  You just don’t normally think of the day to day actions it took to run this huge residence for the king, his guests and the hundreds of people that worked there.  The grounds are really beautiful, it’s what you would imagine a royal palace to look like, you can just see them taking walks through the park, reading on a bench, embroidering in an alcove.

Here is my cousin beside one of the giant decorated trees:

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Now, I’m going to talk about the food. You knew it was coming, right?  It’s all about the food and at the holidays especially. First of all, my friend Sue is an excellent cook.  It’s not only delicious, but she likes to add little surprise ingredients that the average person wouldn’t think of, at least not this average person!  So, for Christmas morning, we had champagne and little salmon sandwiches in front of the fire.

       I was impressed with their gift giving, so much more practical than the average American way of going crazy and spending a fortune on the people on your list.  They gave personal useful gifts that weren’t over the top, expensive or trendy.  I’m not talking about socks and underwear either.   But things that the other person was interested in and would be used for years and the giver would be thought of every time.  Like a very fine journal for a writer, or an unusual utensil for a chef, things like that.  Something they will cherish but didn’t put the giver into credit card debt.  Being a banker, this is the kind of thing I see year after year here in America.

Our Christmas dinner was flavorful, satisfying and long, in a good way.  First of all, the table was set beautifully with an array of silverware and glasses.  There were crackers at every place setting and yes, we all did wear the funny little crown hats!  I’d seen it on movies but didn’t imagine that I would ever be doing this at Christmas time. It was fun!  Our first course was plates of delicious cheeses and gherkins (pickles), crackers and breads and of course wine.

For the main course,  Sue had gotten the most wonderful Suffolk ham, promising that it was “very special”.  A huge understatement!   This was joined on the plate with perfect potatoes roasted in duck fat, carrots, green beans and herbed popovers, served with more lovely wine.  For dessert a traditional plum pudding was brought forth, steaming and gorgeous.  Altogether, a feast fit for a king (or queen).  Here it is in all it’s glory:

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 For New Year Eve, Sue made us another lovely feast.   But first Marcie and I spent the day in London, visited the Old Globe theater and walked across the Millennium Bridge to Saint Paul’s.   photo (10)

Then we went back to our home away from home where we spent another wonderful evening sharing with, by now, old friends, this delectable meal:

photo (14)

Beautiful food, artistically presented, and amazingly flavorful.  This is a beautifully arranged plate of hor d’oeuvres.  Followed by pheasant with whipped potatoes, whipped sweet potatoes and other various tasties!

 I am the luckiest girl in the world to have, not only my family and friends here at home, but my extended family and friends so far away from here.   I truly wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year and hope you find a place you love and feel a kinship to as I have.  Happy traveling!

September in Sussex

LAX

This was the longest flight I’ve had so far going to England.  It may have just felt that way.  After the usual chaos and panic of getting ready and a two hour flight to L.A., we had a three and half hour layover.  We started our trip off with dinner at Sammy’s Wood Fired Pizza.  I should not eat gluten, but that didn’t stop me.  I’m on vacation dammit and I’m going to eat all of the lovely things I’ve been craving for the last couple of years.  I find out later why that was a really bad mistake, but I digress….

Neil and I were  very excited about going together on this trip, it’s been an emotional year, both good and bad and we really need this time away.  Going to a place that I’m very familiar with but he’s never been to is kind of weird for both of us.  He, because I usually wait for him to take the lead and me, because what if he doesn’t see it the way I do?

Of course travel is always an iffy venture.  I was certain I booked the tickets through British Air, which I have always had a good experience with.  Instead it was through American Airlines which I have not.  Honestly it was fine except that the seats were the smallest I’ve ever sat in for a ten hour  international flight.  The movies were great, the food was fine for airplane fare.

Billingshurst Station

We arrived at two the following afternoon, got through customs with me warning my husband not to joke around with the officer asking questions.  They are known not to have a sense of humor. However, the woman that checked us through was awesome and it all went off without a hitch.  We bought our ticket on the Gatwick Express and headed south to Sussex to meet our cousins.  They were waiting there and it’s so nice to have those hugs and catch up time with people that you know and love.  They took us straight back to their lovely, comfortable very British home and a great home cooked meal, then it was time for some much needed sleep.

Linda and Richard are my fifth cousins who I met doing genealogical research in 2001.  They are really, really amazing hosts, much better than I can ever hope to be.  They have taken such good care of me on five other occasions and this was no exception.   They cooked us nice food, drove us around, gave us gifts and even gave up their own bed for our comfort.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for that!  Here is a beautiful watercolor that Lin made for me as a gift.  I will cherish it always!

There are so many beautiful and interesting things to see in Sussex! I love just walking around the villages, stopping in at shops, maybe picking up a few things that are different than I can get in America.  It was nice to show Neil where my family originated, walk in the church yard, see the WW1 memorial that has one of my ancestors name engraved on it.  I love the hardware store there in Billingshurst and go in it on every visit just to  see what interesting things they have that Home Depot does not.

Lin was keen on showing us St Botoph’s Church in Hardham in the Horsham District of West Sussex.  Built about 1050, it has wall paintings from about 1100.  A really interesting and important church, amazing!

Inside of St Botolph’s Church

Lin and Richard then drove us around the gorgeous country here.  We stopped at the town of Petworth which is mentioned in the Doomsday Book.  We walked around the town and stopped in at a few antique shops and St Mary’s Catholic Church.  Petworth was bombed in World War ll in Septemberof 1942, when a lone German plane tried to bomb Petworth House.  It missed the house and landed on the Petworth Boys’ School in North Street. Twenty eight boys died along with the headmaster and assistant teacher. So sad.  I think most of us relate the Blitz only to London, but they also bombed much of the rest of England.

The parish church of St Mary, Petworth

We then drove past the Goodwood Estate which was having a car event of some kind and we got to see lots of vintage cars.  Just up the road is a Rolls Royce factory and there were dozens of new cars lined up outside.  Apparently they were heading for the car show at Goodwood as well.

Richard treated us all to delicious fish & chips, Neil’s first authentic English!  The place was called Andy’s Fish Bar, in Chichester.  The portions were so huge I don’t think anyone actually finished the whole meal.  I find it amusing because whenever I’ve had a conversation with anyone from the UK about food, they will mention the large portions in America.

Arundel Castle

We stopped at Arundel Castle on the way back and walked around the town a little bit.  I had always wanted to see this castle because while doing genealogy, I remember seeing the name “Arundel” in my mother’s family history.  I later found out that what I remembered was “Arundel, Maryland”.  Big let down, thought it meant that we came from royalty!   It was too late to go into the castle by this time so we went in to a little tea shop and had a dessert.

Back home for nice dinner and conversation, talking about all of the lovely things we got to see today and looking forward to more tomorrow.

British Food and Drink

There’s an old cliche that I still hear whenever I tell anyone that I’m going to England, “OMG, I’ve heard the food is horrible “.  To which I say, ” I’ve never had a bad meal there”.  That is such an old tale, really.

I tell anyone that asks that you can get any type of food in the world there.  This trip we are taking the time to eat Indian food on Brick Lane!  I have heard many times that this is the place to get the best Indian food in the world.  I can’t imagine it could be better than actually being in India, but I’m willing to give it a try!  Of course, you can count on the fish and chips to be the best anywhere.  That goes for cream tea and high tea as well, there is no contest.

 

Marcie and I went to an “English tea shop” for  high tea in a little town on the outskirts of San Diego.  It was really well done and you could tell that the proprietress tried her hardest to make it authentic. It was very good, but there was just something missing.  Neither of us could put our finger on it.  It may just have been the atmosphere but it wasn’t the same.

Years ago at the bank where I worked, I had this English gentleman customer that was the epitome of what I had always imagined an English gentleman to be like.  He had white hair, a goatee, wore a plaid cap and vest and walked with a cane.  Just before my first trip over I asked him if he would like me to bring him back some real British tea.  He looked at me with a wry smile and told me that “it isn’t the tea my dear, it’s the water.”

Some of the foods that I cannot imagine eating anywhere else and having it be as good are:  British bacon, scones, roasted potatoes, fish and chips, sticky toffee pudding, Victoria sponge and cranachan.  There is a never ending list, but I haven’t had the pleasure of trying everything.

I also hear it about the drinks, especially the beer.  I hear things like “What do they know, they drink their beer warm”, “You can’t get a cold drink, they don’t have ice”.  It’s all so silly.  People should judge from their own experience.

 Now, I’m not a big drinker of alcohol.  I do like red wine with a meal.  I haven’t tried the beer there, but I imagine that it’s a matter of taste.  Some people like it with more flavor and some like the lighter lagers.     I have tasted a lemon shandy though, which is surprisingly refreshing.  Half ale and half lemonade, completely British!  I’ve also had barley water, which I had never heard of before I went there.  Some drinks that make me instantly think “England” are tea, Pimms,  bitters, ale and cider.  Maybe cider because the UK has the highest per capita consumption of cider, as well as the largest cider-producing companies in the world!

 My guess is that the service men that were stationed in England during World War II came home with stories about how awful the food was there.  It’s not surprising really, think about it.  England is a small island that was pretty much cut off during most of the war.  They had what was already there and what they could grow on the island.  I don’t think they were getting deliveries of fresh food from anywhere during those years.  I’m pretty sure that since the weather there is similar to the Pacific Northwest where I live, the growing season is pretty short.

 All I’m saying is keep an open mind, try everything once and don’t make assumptions from what you hear, especially from people that have never even been there.  I guess that’s good advice for everything in life!

My next trip to Blighty

It’s happening, I’m finally planning another visit to England and I couldn’t be happier! This one was actually my husband, Neil’s idea.  He asked me if I would like to go with him, he figured that since I wasn’t going to grow out of this obsession with England phase, he should check it out as well.  I am ecstatic, especially since he’s never shown any interest in going before now.

We have been married for almost 39 years and the last time we took a real vacation, just the 2 of us, was our honeymoon. We went skiing at Mammoth Mountain in Southern California.  I had to take lessons because I had never been, he had raced the cornice there.  I was more interested in the food, Burger’s Burger’s (is that place still there?)  yum.  It just seemed that after that, we started a life together, had 3 daughters, and then it was kids and dogs, and going on trips with other families.  When our kids got big enough to leave, we either went away with other couples or separately.  You see, I like history and food and culture, he lives and breathes auto racing. You can see my surprise here.  But he really does seem interested in going this time and I aim to show him all of the things that make me long to be there.

Billingshurst print by Patricia Hall, it hangs in my living room to remind me of where my family hale from.

So, we will spend a few days visiting cousins and friends and London, then just take off, the two of us.  We are not making a firm plan, but waking up and just seeing which direction we feel like taking that day and then heading that way.  We’ll use the excellent Information Service that seemingly, every city, town and village has.

Of course, he’ll have to see London Tower, take the bus tour and, keeping my fingers crossed, The Garden Museum.  If these things don’t entertain him, there is always this:

We are going in September, but he will have a good time looking out for this sort of thing!  I’m hoping there is a tour of the Goodwood Estate and that we can prevail upon my cousins to take us:)  At any rate, I have a fantastic holiday to look forward to, people to see and places to go.  New ideas to write about and a completely different perspective.  Going with someone that has absolutely no idea what to expect will help me see my beloved island through new eyes,  from someone that I love and admire, it doesn’t get any better than that!

Egg Coddlers and Toast Racks

I wanted to share how impressed I am with a couple of everyday kitchen items  used in England.  Here in America, unless you were very privileged,  meals were eaten with pretty basic pieces.  My mother actually only used the “special” pieces for holidays and special occasions, and these were really only bowls and platters.  Growing up in the 50s and 60s in America we had Melmac and metal cups.

               

Years and years ago my mother in-law, Jean, who you will remember from my first trip to England, brought me back an egg coddler and a toast rack.   I honestly wasn’t sure what to do with them at the time.

I thought the toast rack really wouldn’t do, I mean, wouldn’t the toast get cold before you ate it?    I didn’t use it because of that reason until I actually went to England and saw that they were used all over the place.  Let’s face it, toast starts cooling off the second it comes out of the toaster.  This is just a nice way to set it on the table when you’re having a family breakfast, and the toast doesn’t get all soggy.

I like poached eggs, but wasn’t sure how to use this fancy new device.  Jean told me she thought you just buttered it, cracked in an egg or two, and then lower it into boiling water for about 5 minutes.   I tried it and the egg wasn’t cooked all the way, it actually took about 15 minutes before the white was fully cooked.  I kind of just put it on a shelf and didn’t use it for years.   Now that we have Google, I took down the egg coddler and tried it again.  You can put all kinds of things in it, like mushrooms or other veggies and of course cheese.  It does take a bit longer to cook than that funny little Teflon egg poacher.  It’s a lot healthier though than cooking in Teflon.   I’ve also learned to appreciate little niceties  like these since I’ve gotten older.  Like having a beautifully set table and using  the dishes and special bowls and platters that you own all the time.  What are we saving them for?   When my mother died I got a few of her fancy dishes that were literally up in the top cupboard and only seen on Thanksgiving and Christmas, maybe Easter if we were lucky.   I use them all the time and I really love that.  I always tell my daughters “now, this belonged to your Grammy” or “this was your Dad’s Grandmother’s”  I want them to feel that sense of family and continuity, but also that this is your life, make it special everyday!

I know a few people that think I’m a little weird to use something so totally out of the norm here.   Someone asked me once “do you actually use your teapots?  You’re the only person I’ve ever met that makes tea in a teapot”!

I’ve  found that you can go to another place in the world and really fall in love with it.  Bringing some little ritual back to work into your life makes you feel a part of it even when you’re so far away, and I think that’s nice.

Christmas in London

Well, I’m a bit late as usual with a post, this one about Christmas.  Merry, Happy, Joyeux Christmas!!

I was lucky enough, along with my cousin Marcie, to be invited to London to “see how they do Christmas” in 2008.  We were generously invited by our friends Susan and Tim.  Neither of us have ever gone away and not done Christmas with our families, ever.  I personally will probably not do it again, I missed them and all of our quirky little traditions.  The kind that only your own family can have, kept over the years because it gave one or all of us a happy feeling that we wanted to experience again and again.   I’m not sure how the rest of you are, but we try new and different things along with the old ones that were brought from when my husband and I were growing up.  Some things we have to do because of tradition, then we’ll add a little something new and maybe that will be the only year we do it or it becomes part of our repertoire.

At any rate, having the opportunity to go to England and experience with our friends and their family was an offer neither of us could refuse.   I think about it often and pull out the wonderful book of photos that Marcie made for us as a remembrance.  Indeed, I show it to everyone because it captures the fun and amazement that we experienced there.  I am only going to include a few highlights here for a couple of reasons: One is, that if you are anything like me, when it’s over it’s over.  I have a friend that puts her tree(s) up at Halloween and leaves them up until Valentine’s Day.  This is not me.  To my mind it takes the “special” time of year away.  Two,  I have had a spectacularly busy and crazy year and I can not locate my journal of that particular trip.  (New Year resolution: organize my office!)

Most of us came from European descent and holiday traditions were also brought over and passed down, so it was familiar and different at the same time.  Going to this already lovely home in Crystal Palace with the bright red door is always a wonderful homey feeling for both of us.  The wreath on the door, the decorations every where, the hustle and bustle of the season added to our excitement of being there.  The decorations and lights around the city of London were truly magical.

                                                                            

Our friends had arranged a special present for us,  a Christmas choir concert at Westminster Abbey!  Can you imagine?  We had never been in the Abbey, in all of our visits.  I was awe struck, the history, the beauty of the place.  There were readings by Boris Johnson, actors and other dignitaries.  But the music, the voices were inspiring.   I felt my mind wandering, trying to remember some of the history that I had heard about the abbey.  I had to make myself focus on what was happening or I would have missed it.   I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to have witnessed something this beautiful and profound. There were carols that I recognized and ancient songs that I never knew existed.   I will be forever grateful to them for thinking of us.  It is a family tradition of theirs to go to this wonderful concert every year.  I admit that I was a little blown away when Sue told us that her children went to preschool at the abbey.  Being a foreigner it never occurred to me that this was a working church.  I naively assumed that it was for special royal ceremonies and tourists.

Marcie and I went Christmas shopping to gather a few things for a gift basket for our hosts. We had brought many small tastes of America for them, canned albacore from Oregon, wine from a Southern California winery, chocolate infused with chili, marion berry jam from the northwest.  We needed to find a basket as well as add a few fillers.  We headed to John Lewis, a lovely British department store.  The first visit we made to England included a visit to John Lewis where I bought a warm down comforter.  I somehow stuffed it into a tote bag to carry it home on the plane.   Having got it here I discovered that it was just too warm for my middle aged body, so it’s keeping one of my daughters toasty warm every winter!  At any rate, after shopping around we found ourselves at Green Park and remembered that Sue had told us to stop at the hour and watch the clock at Fortnum & Mason’s.  Not wanting to miss anything that cool, we did just that.  We also went in to peruse the lovely holiday displays.

One of our really fun days was spent going to Hampton Court.  I’ve been to many of the castles and palaces since I started visiting England, but this is one of my favorites.  Perhaps it’s the history, all Americans seem to love Henry VIII and the story of his wives.  So brutal and romantic at the same time.  It was decorated for Christmas and there was an actual ice skating rink set up on the front grounds.  The tour was very revealing and touring the kitchens was a real eye opener.  You just don’t normally think of the day to day actions it took to run this huge residence for the king, his guests and the hundreds of people that worked there.  The grounds are really beautiful, it’s what you would imagine a royal palace to look like, you can just see them taking walks through the park, reading on a bench, embroidering in an alcove.

Here is my cousin beside one of the giant decorated trees:

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Now, I’m going to talk about the food. You knew it was coming, right?  It’s all about the food and at the holidays especially. First of all, my friend Sue is an excellent cook.  It’s not only delicious, but she likes to add little surprise ingredients that the average person wouldn’t think of, at least not this average person!  So, for Christmas morning, we had champagne and little salmon sandwiches in front of the fire.

       I was impressed with their gift giving, so much more practical than the average American way of going crazy and spending a fortune on the people on your list.  They gave personal useful gifts that weren’t over the top, expensive or trendy.  I’m not talking about socks and underwear either.   But things that the other person was interested in and would be used for years and the giver would be thought of every time.  Like a very fine journal for a writer, or an unusual utensil for a chef, things like that.  Something they will cherish but didn’t put the giver into credit card debt.  Being a banker, this is the kind of thing I see year after year here in America.

Our Christmas dinner was flavorful, satisfying and long, in a good way.  First of all, the table was set beautifully with an array of silverware and glasses.  There were crackers at every place setting and yes, we all did wear the funny little crown hats!  I’d seen it on movies but didn’t imagine that I would ever be doing this at Christmas time. It was fun!  Our first course was plates of delicious cheeses and gherkins (pickles), crackers and breads and of course wine.

For the main course,  Sue had gotten the most wonderful Suffolk ham, promising that it was “very special”.  I huge understatement!   This was joined on the plate with perfect potatoes roasted in duck fat, carrots, green beans and herbed popovers, served with more lovely wine.  For dessert a traditional plum pudding was brought forth, steaming and gorgeous.  Altogether, a feast fit for a king (or queen).  Here it is in all it’s glory:

photo (13)

We ended up staying for three weeks on this particular visit.  I will locate my journal and do a proper blog with the details and the wonderful places we visited with cousins and friends.

 For New Year Eve, Sue made us another lovely feast.   But first Marcie and I spent the day in London, visited the Old Globe theater and walked across the Millennium Bridge to Saint Paul’s.   photo (10)

Then we went back to our home away from where we spent another wonderful evening sharing with, by now, old friends, this delectable meal:

photo (14)

Beautiful food, artistically presented, and amazingly flavorful.  This is a beautifully arranged plate of hor d’oeuvres.  Followed by pheasant with whipped potatoes, whipped sweet potatoes and other various tasties!

 I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have not only my family and friends here at home, but my extended family and friends so far away from here.   I truly wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year and hope you find a place you love and feel a kinship to as I have.  Happy traveling!