Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Food, glorious food!

Dateline: June - July 2015
Place: London and beyond
Time: Throughout the day
Temperature: Variable
Song of the day and night: Food, glorious food (Oliver!)

Okay, so most probably don't take photos of their meals when abroad ... but I ate really well and think of my trip in terms of great food, theatre, music, and libraries (although not necessarily always in that order). A well-presented cup of tea or piece of Victoria sponge can make all the difference to the day!

So I was lucky enough to have a Konditor & Cook bakery just around the corner from the King's College residences ... mouth-watering chocolate croissants and lattés to start the day (although not too often, so I didn't fill my Cake Club card!). I bought copies of the fabulous bookbook for myself, my sister and a baker-extraordinaire friend and hope I can do the recipes some justice.

As we were walking towards the London Library, on a hot London afternoon, my eye was caught by the colourful display of teapots in a shop window ... of course it was the famed Fortnum and Mason "luxury department store." Prof. Welsh treated us to tea and I had my first truly awesome iced tea, made with very, very good Earl Grey loose tea leaves and my first slice of Victoria sponge cake. Perfecto and oh so British (at least for those who can afford it).

My friend Pamela, who is smart enough to spend part of each summer in London, introduced me to both lunch at Garden Museum Café, attached to Lambeth Palace, as well as champagne cocktails at the swanky St. Pancras Hotel, which exits into the international train station.

Our day out to Oxford started with a lovely snack at the Vaults and Garden Café, which is located in the old Congregation House at Oxford University. I finished with a fizzy cranberry juice at a café on the main drag opposite Balliol College on Broad Street, which went down well as I was parched!

In Edinburgh I ate well ... and particularly liked the menu at The Elephant House, conveniently located across from the National Library of Scotland and "birthplace of Harry Potter" as well as perhaps a couple of John Rebus novels by Ian Rankin? I had lunch there with classmates but also felt comfortable eating up at the front by myself--great corn chips!

I also enjoyed a wonderful dinner one night at The Reverie, a café and bar just down the street from Pollock Halls. I tried the soup of the day (creamed leek) and the Sticky Pork Salad along with the Sticky Toffee Cake for afters ... delish!

Going back to London from Edinburgh, my trip would not have been complete without a cup of Yorkshire Tea, which I also drink courtesy of Mrs. McGarrigle's ... it came complete in its own little carry bag, so that I wouldn't spill it on myself or anyone else! I got on the Virgin Trains East Coast train at the Waverley Station and arrived smartly in about four hours.

Eating in Dublin was equally fine ... and the major treat was lunch at Bewley's, which I knew of in the sense that I regularly by Bewley's Dublin Morning Tea at our beloved 
Mrs. McGarrigle's ... had to have the experience in situ so to speak, although finding a Bewley's was difficult as many seemed to be either undergoing renovations or closed. Finally, I found one in Arnott's, Dublin's "luxury department store" and was first famished and then suffonsified.

The hills (and concert halls) are alive with the sound of music and theatre

Dateline: June - August 2015
Place: London and beyond
Time: Throughout the day
Temperature: Variable
Song of the evening: The hills are alive (Julie Andrews)

I had the most wonderful time listening to music is all kinds of spaces, from Van Morrison and Gregory Porter at the Great Court of Blenheim Palace (mentioned in an earlier post) to Kate Rusby at the annual Sidmouth Folk Festival.

I was as thrilled by all the ukeleles I found along the way as I was by the artistry of the musicians I heard ...  plus I took in some really good theatre including The Importance of Being Earnest (with David Suchet as Lady Bracknell), High Society and The Play that Goes Wrong in London and The Shadow of a Gunman in Dublin (appropriate in the wake of a city walking tour that started with the post office and the "troubles" of 1916). 

This on top of The Merchant of Venice in Stratford and Measure for Measure at the Globe Theatre, mentioned in earlier posts.
Ukeleles are making a come back, they say ... I think they're here to stay! In Oxford (left),
London (top right), Edinburgh (middle right) and Sidmouth (bottom right). Maybe it's time I got a colourful uke?

I took in one concert at the 2015 Edinburgh Jazz Festival--I was was lucky enough to be in town when the festival opened. I chose the venue more than the group as the Tron Kirk intrigued me--a decommissioned 17th century church. But the Oriental Jazz Band from Amsterdam more than delivered on it's promise of Dixieland music and the one-hour gig was lots of fun.

Take a listen ....

On my bucket list is to attend concerts in some of the world's great halls or venues ... I managed the Royal Albert Hall and St.-Martin's-in-the-Fields this time. On the program at St. Martin's was the Feinstein Ensemble, which played Bach and at the Royal Albert was the English Festival Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky and Holst while the Really Big Chorus sang The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace. Over 2,000 voices colour-coded by voice (soprano, alto, tenor, bass)--superb!

My ticket to the Royal Albert concert led to my one truly "star" encountered: my box adjoined that of Julia MacKenzie, who was very charming and friendly as she explained the tradition of the concert to me (it happens annually) ... 

although I think she was a bit bemused that I didn't recognize her (I had to ask for her name and then Google her afterwards).
Needless to say, I have now watched a few of this Miss Marple series.

So the real ukelele treat was seeing the Great Britain Ukelele Orchestra live (my first post refers to my anticipation of this "great" musical event). They did not disappoint and so they shouldn't after "30 plucking years" performing together!

And the theatre ... I could have cheerfully gone bankrupt attending all the fabulous shows in the U.K. last summer but restrained myself. However, I am still marvel at the fact that programs don't come free with the price of a ticket ... they can add as much as an extra $10 to the cost of an evening out (per person!).

The Shadow of a Gunman was written by Irish playwright Sean O'Casey in 1923, seven years after the takover of the central post office in downtown Dublin--a disturbing slice of Irish history and the lead character, Donal Davoren, was played by Mark O'Hallaron.

The Play that Goes Wrong
is simply (and antidotely) a farce that felt like Monty Python on steroids: deemed delightful by the Telegraph review and I concur ... I laughed and laughed and laughed!

Monday, 4 January 2016

Flowers, flowers everywhere

Dateline: June - July 2015
Place: London and beyond
Time: Throughout the day
Temperature: Variable
Song of the evening: Where have all the flowers gone (by Pete Seeger)

Well, maybe a war song isn't what I thought of when hit by the brilliance of colour and bloom but I do love Pete Seeger so perhaps not a bad fit after all.

Being in England this past summer was like being home in Vancouver again except a perfect Vancouver summer--warm, clear, bright and bursting with reds, pinks, greens. London is, of course, a city of large parks in which folks seem to live as much as they can--playing soccer, picnicking, cycling etc. and it was glorious just to be able to walk and walk and walk and take in everything.

Here are just some of what I saw on my travels ... I haven't been able to identify all the species but enjoyed them just the same.

Scotland was different--northern, rugged and yet also like Vancouver: I found a Monkey Puzzle tree, although missed it in my walk through Kew Gardens.

I visit a number of parks and gardens in London (from left to right): Royal Botanical Gardens (Kew),
Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, St. James's Park, St. James' Square (above the park),
and finally Regent's Park new Madame Tussaud's. Here's the interactive map.
Hyde Park
On July 2, I walked across Kensington Road from the Royal Geographical Society
and into Hyde Park via the Alexandria Gate. The famous Serpentine Lake
 was busy with bathers on one side and quietly peaceful on the other.

Regents Park
Commissioned in 1811 by King George IV when he was the Prince Regent, Regent's Park covers
410 acres in downtown London. Filled with grand boulevards, fountains and much waterfowl, it was a lovely space in which to walk at the end of a long day. I should have taken photos of all the soccer players
out on a myriad of pitches--but wouldn't have done them justice.

Royal Botanical Gardens (Kew)
Here is yet another Harry Potter connection (rewatch the repotting a Mandrake scene):
who knew the mandrake is real and documented in the Kew's oldest manuscript?
We were lucky enough to view some of the rare manuscripts in the Kew collection
during one of our field trips.

The Kew Mural by Robert H Games sits near the Victoria Plaza Café and Shop just
inside the Victoria Gate entrance to the gardens
Lush, lush, lush: that's all I can say about the plants in Kew Gardens. I am drawn to lavender and other "foliage" of that colour as well as those I know (such as the purple cone flowers)
but wish I could identify this magnificent tree.
We were treated to a day in Stratford-Upon-Avon which meant a delightful afternoon at Anne Hathaway's cottage as well as tickets to see the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2015 production of The Merchant of Venice (reviews patchy).
The sweet peas at Anne Hathaway's cottage are spectacular. I bought some seeds and hope they will bear fruit/flowers in my garden--we shall see this summer. The rest of the garden is equally beautiful with roses and daisies galore along with lots of vegetables. It's well worth the visit.
My classmate Kim and I took a boat trip down the Stratford River ... warm, river breeze, golden sunlight and lots of swans.

I had almost a week in Scotland and was based in Edinburgh for all of that time. We stayed at Pollock Halls, the residence for the University of Edinburgh which are about a 30 minute walk from the downtown. Great breakfasts included in the accommodation fee--a "thumbs up" as a place to stay.
Pollock Halls offered lovely paved walkways bordered by flowers (left) and crowned by a 
Monkey Puzzle Tree (centre). Even wind-swept Edinburgh Castle had blooms galore (right).
Pollock Halls is a stone's throw from Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh. Here I am starting and finishing the 823 foot (251 m) hike up to the top of the Seat--going down was harder and seemed steeper. No flowers but lots of lovely scenery!

We started from Pollock Halls (near the Commonwealth Pool) and took the Blue and Red Routes.
Here are some lovely views from the climb (courtesy of Prof. Matthew Griffis) ... the ruins are of St. Anthony's Chapel.

Hadrian's Wall and Loch Lomond
I was so lucky to visit a couple of World Heritage Sites including Hadrian's Wall--in fact I called Sean when I was on the wall as I wanted to share the experience with someone. Great reception. My friend Irene Hansen, whose parents are originally from Lossiemouth in northern Scotland, recommended the Loch Lomond tour and it was well worth the 12-hour bus ride.

The border between Scotland and England seemed bleak that day ...
but thistly, tough flowers still dot the countryside.

The Wall ... sheep, ruins and my first selfie but no flowers.

The weather at the Wall deserves its own announcement board:

Our first stop heading south was the historic Rosslyn Chapel, complete with model and roaring lions. Then we had lunch in Melrose and walked by historic gardens before getting to Hadrian's Wall and our final stop was Ledburgh, where, even though the summer was cool, flower boxes were riotous (centre photo).

Loch Lomond ... a journey that is only 125 kilometres (78 miles) but lasted the whole day as we wended our way via the Deanston Distillery (site of The Angels' Share which Ian and I saw and loved), Doune Castle (site of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one of Sean's favourites), the Commando memorial on the way up and then a lovely waterfall lookout in the Straithmashie Forest and Pitlochry for ice cream on the way back. 

Again, not always flowers to be had but certainly lots of green, green scenery.

Deanston Distllery and Doune Castle ...

The Highlands and Commando Memorial ...

The bonny, bonny banks ...

And Nessie alongside our tour boat ... pretty realistic!

And home via Straithmashie Forest and Pitlochry, where there are flowers!

Final floral offerings? The indoor courtyard at the Victoria and Albert Museum (left) and Buckingham Palace (right) ... such a sight.