Londonagain

Being obsessed with a place is a strange thing.  I can’t tell you why I love England and London so much.  I’m either thinking about visiting, planning a visit, enjoying a visit or recovering from a visit.  I’ve just wrapped up my ninth trip to England.  Before you get the wrong idea,  I’m not wealthy and I don’t have any great tips on getting great deals.  I go so often because I work hard at saving up the airfare and I have wonderful friends and cousins that allow me to stay with them.   I’ve gone to many areas but have made sure to visit London each time.  It’s a chaotic, vibrant, ever changing city and I like that.

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I’m always impressed with the folks that drive there.  It’s rarely easy.  I watched as my friends wove in and out of side streets, trying to shave a few minutes off of any journey.  I learned to drive in America where we have wide streets and freeways.  We think nothing of driving fifty or sixty miles to try a new taco place.  It’s mind boggling to hear that a person has to plan, map out and schedule a visit to a relative that lives only twenty miles away.  Instantly in my mind its a twenty minute drive, London reality is a two hour drive.  You can begin to see the obstacles here and why the brilliant people of England have some of the best public transport in the world.

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This particular visit was pure relaxation,  we didn’t do the tourist stuff this time.  My husband and I visited with our friends at Fox Hill B&B.  We talked a lot, ate more,  watched movies, read, napped, enjoyed cocktail hour and all of the things that get pushed aside in the day to day business of  life.

We took the train one day up to Huntingdon, near Cambridge to visit cousins.  We checked out their jewelry store, Underwood the Jewelers, in the nearby village of Ramsey.  Check it out if you’re in the area.  We had a nice chat while enjoying a pub lunch.   It’s always fun to take the train through the countryside, so beautiful and completely different to London.

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We walked  up to the village of Norwood several times.  We enjoyed the cake at Dalhousie.  I tried a Victoria Sponge, made famous (in America) by the movie “Calendar Girls”.  The Blackbird Bakery there is also very good.  We had a scrumptious hamburger at Crystal Palace Market, with some of the best french fries we’ve ever had.  My husband loves cupcakes so much that after going to Ms.Cupcake last September, he was moved to embroider a few sweatshirts for the ladies that work there.

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My husband, Neil, and the sassy ladies of Ms. Cupcake-Brixton

We also went with our friends to a little area across from Hampton Court called Molesey for breakfast at Henry’s, excellent food and service.  I enjoyed the fresh croissants and coffee especially.    molesey       I love poking around in little antique shops and finding treasures that are so different from what you would find in America.  Neil is always up to a challenge, so I pointed out a particularly nice metal garden bench and asked if he would be able to make us a similar one.   He has been wanting to improve his welding skills, so I may get a nice bench after all.   I wouldn’t necessarily spend the money to buy it and then pay the expensive shipping from the UK.  Found this funny little brass piece in Molesey. It reminds me of the faces you see on the walls at Oxford College.  It may have been a belt buckle, but I have plans to use it on a custom bird house.

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Molesey Jester

The styles and indeed the customs are very different from place to place and that’s precisely why I like traveling.  It’s disappointing, at least to me, to see things like a McDonald’s in England.  I realize that companies want to expand to every corner of the globe.  When you can get the same things wherever you go, why do you need to travel.  I try very hard not to eat at chain restaurants as it is,  mediocre is the word that comes to mind. Try something local, even if in your home town.  You may be missing something unique.

I don’t have the mistaken notion of many who have only traveled to England via TV and movies.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard comments about some of my photos that give me the idea that most Americans expect London/England to be quaint and simple, like the days of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens.   There is history and wonderful old architecture with all of the quirky little details all through the ages there. Victorian, Gothic, Roman and Medieval times blend with twenty first century sky scrapers.  Ever changing.  It’s modern and intelligent, and very much up to date.  I read that even Westminster Abbey is adding a tower.  A living, breathing part of modern England as well as a view to the past.                                      west minster tower

With every visit, I take away impressions, knowledge and a little more familiarity with my ancestor’s homeland.  This time I realize that I can love a place that I’m not actually from.  I can feel close to it for my love of it’s history and culture, knowing that if circumstances had been different, I would be a citizen instead of a visitor.   What continues to make it so important and dear to my heart though are the people I’ve gotten to know and the stories I uncover.   I am, as always, happy to be home.  And, as always, thinking about my next visit over which will be very different to this last one, but no less wonderful!  Happy travels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just London-part 2

Going to London for me is not just hitting the tourist attractions.  I am fascinated by this city! I’ve been attracted to England for as long as I can remember, it probably started with the knowledge that most of my family, on both sides, immigrated from there.  To me it is the homeland, even though the last generation to live there was my father’s great grand parents.  They came over to America in 1852, still I feel a kinship to this beautiful, history filled place.  Having said that, my family wasn’t originally from London.  The branch that I most closely relate to, reason being that I have been able to find more on them in my genealogy research, hailed from Sussex.

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If you know me at all, you know that I am not that fond of big cities.  Indeed,  I grew up in a small suburb of San Diego and rarely ventured downtown.  Although I lived there for the first thirty eight years of my life, I still get lost whenever I visit if I leave the neighborhood that I grew up in, or the one I raised my children in.  But London, it’s magic to me.   On my first visit there with my mother in-law, Jean, she said to me that she didn’t really need to go out and see the sites.  It was just being there, breathing in the air that she wanted.  I didn’t understand that on my first trip, but it’s so clear to me now.  glitter-heart-shaped-london-union-jack-fridge-magnet

One of the things we did on this visit and all previous visits, was walk around the village of Upper Norwood, into the cheese shop or the bakery.  Up to the pub for dinner.  It’s all part of the experience and something that I enjoy for the shear fact that the shops look so foreign to where I live, and I like that.  It’s learning another culture, seeing how these people live everyday compared to where we come from.  It’s talking to the shop owners and asking lots of questions, trying the local fare, the farmer’s markets, the fresh made goods.  I will take these experiences any day over stuff.

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Upper Norwood

One of the things that you do there is walk, a lot.  It’s nice because I tend to want to try all of the delicacies, so I eat more than I would usually.  Yet I end up losing weight because of all of the walking we do.

There is a show that I found on streaming called “Britain’s Best Bakeries”, and on that show I was introduced to the wonder of Ms.Cupcake.  Located in Brixton, it’s a vegan bakery.  They have the most luscious cupcakes and cookies, and when I say that,  I’m not talking about what they look like.  They taste amazing and the four of us made a point to search out this small bakery on a little side street in Brixton.  We spent a whopping £40 on cupcakes, had a nice chat with the folks that work there and were given some delicious gluten free cookies. Well worth the money for the experience and the cupcakes were unique and dare I say, heavenly!

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The lovely ladies of Ms. Cupcake

If you remember from previous blogs, I had always wanted to visit the Garden Museum and on our last visit, my husband and I got to go.  Shortly after our visit, it was closed to remodel and add to it.  So I was very excited to be able to go and see the new and improved exhibits.  Last time it was £3, the price is now up to £10,  and I have to admit that I was a little disappointed!  On our first visit, it was small but interesting.  The cafe was in an old part of the stone church, beautiful and quaint, leading out to a lovely garden with plants having identifying tags on them.  The historic churchyard had beautiful old markers and grave stones.  The only thing left was Captain Bligh’s tomb.  All gone in exchange for a big fancy and modern coffee shop, reminding you more of Starbucks than anything else.  Having said that, the food and service were fine.  But, when you visit a museum of gardening, you kind of expect some sort of garden.  They removed this for a lot of cement and glass doors.  The only thing recognizable was the famous tomb.  The display upstairs of garden tools and lovely art was much the same with a few additions.   I enjoyed the garden shed with videos of conversations with gardeners.  Looks like another addition in a corner downstairs, very artistically presented, though it may not have been finished.   Other than that, there was a huge open cavernous space of nothing.  One couldn’t help but wonder why the obvious addition of something like a Gertrude Jekyll or Vita Sackville-West display are not in the works.  Even large panels with photographs of these famous designs would be welcome.  All and all, I probably won’t return again unless it’s included on the London pass.  Having said all of that,  I found this lovely sign with one of my family names that I’ve been researching. That was a nice surprise!

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On one of the days that I was laid up and everyone else went to the British Museum, I got to experience Cost Co, London style.  It was interesting in that it was all familiar, the layout, etc.  But the items were a bit different.  For instance, there was an entire aisle of prawns!  Raw, breaded, curried, etc.  I was very impressed with the variety of shrimp you could buy.

My friends went to a street near the British Museum where it is blocked off from cars.  It’s called Museum Street and they found a great store with vintage style clothes called “Thomas Farthing”.   You can see why from the photo below that I insisted we go back the next day when I felt better.  The displays were gorgeous and the the quality was apparent in every item that was out for sale.  Across the street was an authentic (the staff barely spoke English)  Italian restaurant where we had some of the best pizza I have ever tasted!

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On the way back to catch our bus I snapped this photo of a vintage clock.  I’m only sorry that we weren’t there on the hour to see this glorious clock chime.  It’s attached to the side of building where there is an entrance to a courtyard of shops.  I plan to explore this area more on our next visit.

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Of course it wouldn’t be a proper visit without a family dinner to catch up with all of the assorted Haigh’s.  Sue did herself proud with such a succulent meal, good wine and conversation with friends that long ago became my extended family.  I think about them often, appreciate their generosity over the years, care about them each and every one and look forward to every contact with them.

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Just London-Part 1

London

September 2017 brought my eighth trip over to England, this time with my husband and our close friends.  We went specifically to visit with the Haigh’s of Fox Hill B&B and introduce Bruce, who’s hadn’t been to London before.

Neil, Linda (me), Suzanne and Bruce

Time always seems to go so fast, on top of which I got a cold and had to sit out a couple of days.  The rest of the group carried on while I was well taken care of by Sue, who served me soup and “Aunt Nora’s tea”.  tea  An English custom, weak tea with no milk or sugar, specifically for when one is under the weather.  It was warm and comforting and much appreciated while I was recuperating!

london pass  We visited some places that I had been and a few that I hadn’t had the chance to see before.  I’ve been to London in September, but this time it seemed more crowded than ever.  Buying the London Pass helped,  you can bypass the lines in many places.  If you get the pass be sure to pay the extra and include an Oyster card, it’s a great value and you get around much quicker.  With the pass you get a one day, hop on and off bus pass, a perfect way to get an overview of the city, especially if you haven’t been before.   We decided to take the six day pass, even though we were in London for ten days.  You have to think about it in advance, the first time you use it starts the clock for however many days you purchased.  The first day you get there is typically shot.  By the time you arrive,  go through customs, wait for luggage, travel to your hotel, etc., there isn’t a lot of time left in the day to go exploring.  Better to shower, relax and have a revitalizing meal, fish and chips perhaps.  Don’t forget the traditional mushy peas!

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The pass is good for over 80 of the top attractions and has the Fast Track entry to some of the most popular sites. Of course I can’t list them all here, but the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court  and Westminster Abbey to name a few.  Check it out at https://www.londonpass.com/.  The cost at this writing is approximately £184.00, but check the site often because they are always having sales.  You can usually save 20%, which brings the price down to £163.15, including the travel pass which is an Oyster card worth £40 of travel.  We used most of it, going all over the city.  I had about £12 left because of my cold, but the others used up pretty much all of it with out having to pay any more for day travel passes!  I’m not meaning to advertise for London Pass, but you do save some serious money by getting this and not buying each entry separate.

One of the places I hadn’t had the chance to go before were the Churchill War Rooms.  This is a fascinating museum!  If you love history,  and are interested in WW2, you will love this.   Just the story of them turning out the lights and locking it up when the war ended, not to be opened up again until the 1980s, was enough to peak my interest.   It’s laid out in a nice flow.  You can peek into the underground rooms where these men and women worked day and night, throughout the war, then move on to amazing photo timelines, film clips that you’ve never seen before and Churchill’s personal items.  Plan to spend at least two or three hours here.

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I also wanted to share some of my favorite, iconic sites such as St. Pauls Cathedral, Hampton Court and Westminster Abbey.  All are worth seeing, all were very crowded.   I think the next time,  I will take a few minutes to check out the least busy times.  Each of these wonderful historic locations are worth visiting.  I like to do some preliminary research, just to get the basic history before I go.

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Above the entrance gate to Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court:  Building was started in 1515 by Cardinal Wolsey, one of Henry VIII’s favorites.  When he fell out of favor with the King, Wolsey gave it to him as a gift, hoping to save himself from Henry’s wrath.  The architecture is Gothic inspired Tudor, built of brick in amazing design and decoration, massive, with beautiful grounds.  It’s easy to imagine the King and Anne Boleyn walking the Privy Garden.  The ceiling alone in the chapel is worth making the trip, but seriously, this is a stunning palace and only one of the two remaining that belonged to Henry the VIII.  The tour here is interesting in that you will learn the everyday life of running this palace for hoards of people.  Hampton Court has it’s own train station and is just a short walk away.  There is much to see inside and out, with a couple of good cafes and some interest for children as well.  Check the calendar because often there are special events and re-enactments that you can watch or participate in.

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One of the King’s Beasts, standing on the bridge, overlooking the moat

St. Paul’s Cathedral:  There has been a church on this site since AD 604!  The present cathedral, dated from the late 17th century, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.  Its construction was part of rebuilding the City after the Great Fire.  It is one of those buildings in England that you can only marvel at.  As with most of the attractions in London, you receive an audio guide, giving you history and interesting tidbits.  My favorite story about St. Paul’s is how the fire brigade posted itself near the roof, ready to put out sparks from the blitz.  The selfless dedication to save one of London’s landmarks is inspiring.  St. Paul’s was hit by a bomb in WW2.  It survived because the bomb exploded in midair and thankfully missed anything crucial.

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St.Paul’s Cathedral from the Millennial Bridge

Westminster Abbey:  I had been lucky enough to visit Westminster Abbey when the Haigh’s took my cousin Marcie and me to a Christmas choir concert here.  It is ancient and beautiful with so much history, and pageantry.  Construction of the present church began in 1245, on the orders of Henry the VIII.  It is still a working church and indeed our friends children attended pre-school here, which to this American, seems very strange.  You imagine kings and queens of old, and yet, most of modern day pageantry takes place at this site.  The Queen’s own wedding , the famous wedding of Charles and Diana,  and William and Kate.  All but one coronation since 1066 has taken place in the Abbey.  Only Henry III in 1216 was left out, because the French Prince, Louis had taken temporary control of London.  The tombs and headstones of the Abbey read like a who’s who of British history.   With the audio guides you get selected stories of the politics, rivalry, bravery and love lives of some of these famous English men and women.

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One of the gorgeous stone carvings near the entrance when you visit Westminster Abbey

While I was laid up, the rest of the group hit a couple of not to miss places that I have been to more than once.  They spent some hours at the British Museum and the Tower of London.  Both are worth visiting and both are included on the London Pass.  Although the British Museum is technically one of the many free museums in London, there is a fee for some of the exhibits.

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Some of the other places we hit I’ve written about previously.  The Imperial War Museum,  walking around Buckingham Palace and Green Park, the City of Westminster, the bus tour, lunches at pubs, etc.  Always so much to do in London!

Check out my next post, coming soon:  Just London-Part 2.  I will share the best cupcake place I’ve ever been,  off the beaten path shopping, family dinners, more food and fun.

Happy travels!      london poster

 

 

 

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:

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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

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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!