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.

 

 

 

 

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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

Leaving Sussex for London

Sept 13th, 2014

We headed to the village after breakfast for one more look around.  When we got back, Lin had a video of the history of Billingshurst.  Of course she has lived here all of her life, so she could pick out a few errors in the more modern history.  It was interesting hearing about the village, built on the Roman Road of Stane Street. The oldest building is St. Mary’s Church where my ancestors worshiped, early documentary evidence begins in the 1100s!

 

St Mary’s Church

There are many timber framed buildings throughout the village dating from the Middle Ages to the 1700s.  There is a wonderful old pub there called “The Six Bells”, which I think I’ve visited on each of my holidays here.

The Six Bells-Billingshurst

It really is a fun and interesting village to check out.  It’s close to Horsham which is also worth the visit.  After a very nice home cooked lunch and visit with Lin’s daughter and grandson, Claire and Warren, we had to walk down to the station and say our goodbyes.

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Saying goodbye at the Billingshurst Station

The Billingshurst Train station is a great building in it’s own right.  Many of my predecessors worked for the railroad in Billingshurst so I’m very interested in the history.  The last time I visited,  2 years ago, the signal box was here.   The Grade II listed structure is thought to be one of the country’s oldest working signal boxes dating back to 1876.  The signal box was moved to Amberley Museum and can be seen as you come into the second station.

Billingshurst Signal Box

 

It’s time to get it all together and head north to London.  It’s been a great visit and I know when I’m home thinking about all of the things that we did and saw, the laughter, the hugs, I’ll again start longing to return.  This is always when my next plan starts to form.  Right now though, I’m anxious to get to London, as I love it as well.  London is the world in one place and I just like to be there.

It takes about an hour to get to the station where our friend Tim will pick us up.  This night we’ll be having dinner and catching up with our good friends and then planning our time here in London.

 

 

 

Sheffield Park

September 12

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Sheffield Park House

Today Lin and Richard drove us to Sheffield Park near Hayward’s Heath.  I highly recommend a visit here if you are close to Sussex!  Plan to be there for some hours because it is huge and spectacular!

The landscape garden was laid out in the 18th century by ‘Capability’ Brown so right away you know it has good bones. It was designed around a series of four lakes. Beautiful scenic paths take you through glades, through woodlands,  all around the lakes and over bridges.  You can bring the family, the kids can run around and you can be re-charged in the beauty and bounty of this garden.  It’s not like a commercial garden where every bed is perfect and not a bloom out of place.  It’s in a very natural setting with every season having a turn to dazzle.

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One of four lakes

Bring a picnic and relax on one of the expansive lawns, but don’t forget to bring some extra bread or grain for the ducks.  We had such a nice walk here and so many reasons to come back.  There is an ongoing list of events and things to bring the kids to see and do.  For instance, in January there is a “lost tools” hunt for kids called “Frosty Tools”.  The gardeners leave tools around an area of the park and the kids get to go hunt for them.  There are kite making workshops, Valentine’s Day tea, walks to see the changing colors in fall.  My favorite thing they have going for adults is the Christmas Stroll, “to walk off the excesses” of the holidays.  Choose from the Turkey Trot, Plum Pudding Promenade, Mince Pie Meander or Christmas Cake Constitutional.  So creative!

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Me in front of a willow

Some of the history of the park: Sheffield Park  estate is mentioned in the Domesday Book.  In 1538, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, entertained Henry VIII here.  In 1876 a cricket pitch was laid out on the grounds.  During World War II the house and garden became the headquarters for a Canadian division.  The estate was split up and sold in lots in 1953. The National Trust purchased about 40 ha in 1954, it now owns up to 80 ha.  My cousin told me she had read that the house is now sold and turned into individual flats with a price tag of around 1 million pounds each! It’s got to be because of the spectacular views!

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The Palm Walk

We didn’t plan ahead and bring a picnic, so headed out around lunch time for Chaily and a pub that caught Richard’s eye on the way in.  The King’s Head Inn on East Grinstead Rd. The food was good and it wasn’t too crowded, we didn’t feel rushed and just relaxed with lunch and a glass of wine, then headed back to walk off the lovely desserts we all had.

The King’s Head Inn

The price to get into Sheffield Park, I thought was reasonable at  £9.90.  If you’re visiting from overseas, you may want to look into getting a pass to National Trust properties.  I have done this on several occasions and it’s really a good value.  You can get a seven day pass for £25 and a fourteen day pass for only £30!  It gets you into hundreds of special places around England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  It’s also really easy to get online.  One year I ordered three online and when I got the envelope, it had been ripped open and one out of three passes was missing.  I called the office of the National Trust and they sent a new card to my friend’s house in London for me to pick up.  I truly expected them to say “sorry you’re out of luck, buy another one.”  I thought that was pretty awesome!

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Lin and Richard

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!

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!

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:

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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:

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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 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!

Ludlow 2005-part 1

In 2005 I was living back in San Diego.  Two of my good friends, Peggy and Suzanne, still living in the Pacific Northwest had been wanting to go to England and decided that this was the year.  Together we planned a 2 week trip.  It’d been 3 years since I was able to go and I was so ready to go back.  I got on the internet to research places to stay and found a great website called holiday-rentals.com.  I just checked and the website isn’t there anymore, however, you can find Stone Cottage on ludlowcottages.co.uk.   I contacted the owner about renting the cottage for the week.  We decided it best to have a base and then take day trips.  This worked out really well and I highly recommend it. Not only do you not have to schlep luggage to a different hotel every night, it gives you a chance to thoroughly explore an area.   We found it fun and relaxing to go to the local shops to get ingredients and cook our own meals or go to a pub to try the local fare.  My mother in-law, Jean,  recommended the town, so we thought we’d give it a try.

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This time we were going in May and I hadn’t been at any time of year but September.  This is the first time I’d ever taken such a long flight alone.  Marcie couldn’t come because her daughter was getting married in the same month.  As it turned out, the plane wasn’t full and I got the triple seat to myself.  I flew British Air this time and I really enjoyed it, extra room and the food was great.  I got in a couple of hours before my friends, so I got to freshen up and have a cup of coffee.  I did some people watching which is always interesting.  Finally I see them coming out of customs, I missed them both so much.  We got on a train and headed for Crystal Palace.  We got so engrossed in catching up that we missed the connection in East Croydon.  I knew we were in trouble when I saw the Thames and London Bridge. I’m sure they weren’t too happy with me,  We’d all been traveling since yesterday morning.  We still had to wheel all the luggage down steps, under the train tracks, back up the steps, get the train at East Croydon, get off again at Crystal Palace which has it’s own daunting sets of stairs and then the 7 minute walk to Fox Hill, half of it up a steep hill.  Whew!

It’s always so great to visit with the Haighs and coming back to this house is nice, a home away from home.  Tim drove us up to a restaurant called Joanne’s in Croydon.  What a great place, the food was fantastic, so was the service and atmosphere, we thoroughly enjoyed it.  We got back to Fox Hill to have tea and catch up with the Haighs and then took a walk up to the Safeway to pick up something for a light dinner and wine, then off to bed for a much needed sleep.

We got up for a breakfast of English bacon and eggs and then head off to pick up a travel pass and head for Victoria Station and a day exploring the city. I’m disappointed to find that the flip time tables have been replaced with digital:(  The feeling of seeing the times flip and hearing the clacking is replaced with silence.  Jeez, sometimes progress is not better!

We got tickets for The Original London Bus Tour.  I said it before, but it bares repeating, if you have a choice, always go for a live tour guide instead of the headphones.  It’s confusing to have the voice tell you to look for a particular building only to find that the bus hasn’t yet reached it or we’ve already passed it.  You can’t account for traffic, so the headphones have no idea really, where you are.  After jumping off at Trafalgar Square we head into the National Gallery to check out paintings from our favorite artists.  It’s so powerful to see them in person as opposed to a picture or online.  I fell in love with paintings by Georges Seurat.  We also asked a guard where the oldest painting in the museum was.  We walked around, got lost then finally found it.  A religious icon of some type, not my thing but I’m glad I got to see it.

On to Buckingham Palace and The Rubens Hotel for an authentic English Tea.   Lovely as before.  We then headed over to Leicester Square to see if we can get theater tickets to a play.  We ended up going to the movies instead and saw “The Wedding Date”,  a very enjoyable film, but if you’ve read my post before you know that this is the most expensive movie I have ever bought a ticket for!  12 quid, the equivalent to almost $24 US dollars!   It was fine and I’d do it again, but I’m always astounded when I read that in my journal, that is 3 times what a movie costs back home.  Just something to keep in mind if you’re trying to keep to a budget, it all adds up.

We asked one of the ushers how to get back to Crystal Palace and he told us if we hurry we can catch the last underground train of the day.   Suzanne and Peggy’s first ride on the tube, we just made it and got back at 11:30.  We walked back from the train station, talking about all of the wonderful sites  we’d seen that day and planning for the next.  Tomorrow we pick up our rental car and then hit the road to Ludlow.

After having a nice breakfast of porridge, delicious toast and orange marmalade,  we get ready to head out on our next adventure.   I’m elected to drive since I am the only one with experience.  I really don’t mind, it’s easy once you get the hang of it!  It was a long drive and we are all ready to stop.  I had a moment of panic when I realize that I don’t actually have an address for Stone Cottage and Ludlow is much bigger than I expected it to be.  This is something I do again and again,  I’m so sure of myself that I don’t bother to get the facts of things, very naive of me.  I’m such a dork!  Luckily Peggy knocked on an Antiques store door and the gentleman that answered kindly made a call to his son who apparently knows the area.  He guessed at the the approximate house and it turned out to be right!  It was really quite amazing considering.  We had seen pictures from the internet so we recognized it and were very lucky really.

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We were stunned when we got inside, what an awesome house.  Over 200 years old and everything is completely re-done, spotlessly clean and cozy. The kitchen is perfect and it has a very light and wonderful conservatory.  It turns out that the stone cottage is attached to Broadgate, in the oldest part of the walled city, dating from around 1138, the walled city I mean, not the cottage.  There is a magazine from the 1970s  there that shows how the current owners bought the cottage and gutted it and made it the wonderful property it is today.   It is attractive and comfortable and very convenient to stay here, I sincerely hope I can go back one day.                    

We ran down to the local Tesco that we had passed when coming into town and picked up some groceries and wine, went back to the cottage and Suzanne made us a fabulous dinner.  Parmesan chicken, roasted veggies, salad, wine, cookies and tea.  We are happily stuffed and looking forward to spending the next day in this beautiful medieval town.

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We slept like rocks, boy, wine really helps a girl sleep!  Got up and made a breakfast with Peggy of Scottish porridge with currents, juice, yogurt, toast and tea.  We took off to explore this ancient town on foot, stopping in all of the shops, looking at the architecture, and talking with the locals.  So many fresh food shops, we are very impressed with this.  Even the cafe where we have our lunch serves food that is grown and raised locally.  It’s called DeGrey’s and it is a lovely cafe and bakery.   The shops have the most beautiful produce, organic meats and cheeses, and lots of bakeries.  Suzanne and I decide that we want to buy a gooseberry pie since neither of us has ever tried it.  We pick up some local cheese, fresh raspberries and strawberries, and also eggs, mushrooms and asparagus.  Suzanne whipped it all into a gorgeous dinner.  She took the leftover roasted veggies and chicken from the night before, added some fresh mushrooms along with sun dried tomatoes and local Gloucester goat cheese, mixed it altogether with eggs and it was fantastic.  She served it with roasted asparagus and crusty bread.  We had stopped at the local video store and amazingly they let us rent movies even though we were just visiting and had no permanent address. So we put on our jammies, light the electric fire and cozy up with a movie and some gooseberry pie to end this fantastic day.

Oxford-Sept 27, 2001

Before we went on this trip, I really didn’t know much about Oxford except that it is a college.  Per Jean’s previous experience, we went to the car park outside of town and joined a bus tour.  I for one really appreciate the city bus tours that I’ve had the chance to go on.  The guides tell you so many interesting facts and it’s nice being able to see them as you’re learning about them.

 

This city is very old, started in the 1100s!  It is a collection of 35 colleges all under the umbrella of Oxford University plus all the other kind of things needed for people to live.  Housing, food, shops, etc.  The architecture is amazing here and it’s such a busy, busy city that I’m glad we’re not driving!

There are bike parks here that boggle the mind. I’ve never seen this many bikes in my life, let alone in one place!

We went into a little mall and had some delicious pasties, bought a few t-shirts and looked around in the shops.  The thing I found most fascinating were the gargoyles up on top of the buildings and I’m sure that many people agree with me.

                                                   

What I wasn’t prepared for was so many homeless beggars, trash diggers and scam artists, it’s kind of scary.  To this day I have an image of a little wizened looking person walking down an Oxford street in a long shapeless wool coat with a hood and gloves and wrappings around the legs and feet.  I have no idea whether it was a man or woman, but I remember wondering what his/her story was.   I think about that person sometimes still.

Here I am years later and hooked on “Inspector Lewis” which is set in Oxford and it’s fun to see the sights in the show and wonder if they are on a street that I got to see.  With this many murders I guess finding it a little scary wasn’t too far off!

Blenheim Palace

September 26, 2001

Today we are going to Blenheim Palace, home to the aristocratic family of the Dukes of Marlborough, including Winston Churchill.  The palace is massive!  We check out the extensive water garden first.  It is a huge square with statues in all four corners and a gigantic fountain in the center.  There are four other fountains and four still pools with hedges planted and trimmed in a design like a maze.

We enter the main palace and go through the Winston Churchill exhibit.  As I am so interested in history, I find it fascinating.  There are many early letters from WC to his family through his early school days up to and including his military training.  Some of his speeches are being played in the background.  We were able to go into the room where he was born in 1874 and also see some of the paintings that he did in his later years.

Afterwards there is a tour through the palace with a docent telling about the family history, the furnishings, paintings and tapestries. Very opulant, ornate furniture and beautiful paintings of the family. The ceilings are amazing, the chandeliers and fire places et all speak money and power.  I was standing next to one of these bookcases listening to the docent speak about all of the lovely books and glanced at the books I was next too.  It was the first time I had ever actually seen bookworms.  I think they had a pretty severe problem with them.  Since then I’ve read that to get rid of them without chemicals, just zap the book in a microwave for a few seconds!  (Moving on)

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The three of us stop in the tearoom and have a quick lunch together.  After this Marcie and I want to check out the Pleasure Garden and Butterfly House and Jean wants to go to the car and catch up on her reading.  She has a great book about royal scandals!!

                        

We take the small train to the garden which is a small and beautiful herb garden.  Another thing I learned in England is that they do not drop the H like Americans do, which I always thought sounded silly and affected.  Of course I always try to remember to use the H, but forget because that was how I was raised.  The Butterfly House is especially fun, so many gorgeous butterflies and tropical plants.

                                                                                                                           

  It’s starting to rain, but we both really want to walk through the maze. It has a sign at the beginning that says on average it will take about 25 minutes to find your way through the maze.  We managed to finish it in 17 minutes and were pretty proud of ourselves.

After such a great day exploring one of the many treasures of England we headed back to the pub and then our cozy beds for a good nights sleep.