Tag Archives: england

Bonnard show at Tate Modern, Zizzi Italian, Oliveira Brazilian vegan food, Cote for brunch — London

I met another friend of 39 years, Jemima, who came all the way from her home in the northern town of Ludlow to meet up, for the first time in about four years. What a treat! She suggested an exhibit of work by Pierre Bonnard at the Tate Modern, one of my favorite London “it” spots. The exhibit itself turned out to be stunning (Go! Go!)

South Bank was packed with people, many speaking languages other than English, strolling along the Thames on a sunny day with a brisk wind. Such a buzzy place. London seems so vibrant, healthier than ever and yet Brexit looms, creating an odd sense of doom.

We had a good lunch at Zizzi, a chain Italian restaurant with surprisingly good food that, even more surprisingly, arrived at our table very quickly and still tasted good. (We shared pizza and a salad.) We also had a really nice view of the Thames and all the hubbub along the South Bank.

on Saturday night, Francine, Russ and I had highly unusual vegan and veggie Brazilian food at Oliveira in East Sheen. We are now back on Shalstone road where Russ is engrossed in a chess channel on YouTube that he swears by (Power Play Chess, should you be so inclined.)

On my last day in London, Francine, Russ and I had a nice brunch (English breakfast for Francine and I) at Cote restaurant in the pretty Richmond village of Barnes and then were blown by an intense wind along the Thames path, back to Mortlake.

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Return to old London stomping grounds — Parliament, Covent Garden, south Bank, embankment

Francine and I met 39 years ago when we were both working for Labour MPs in The House of Commons. Today we returned for a program marking International Women’s Day, featuring 25 people – most black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women speaking in an elegant Commons meeting room on topics ranging from youth violence to sexual slavery to  increasing minotity women participation in science, business and artificial intelligence. It didn’t escape my notice that all this these attractive, smart and successful South Asian women were sitting in a room decorated with huge old oil paintings of white men. The times are a changing and, as one speaker noted, the art needs to also.

We drank tea and ate finger sandwiches, scones and macaroons afterwards at a reception in the House of Lords, overlooking the balcony and Thames on a rainy afternoon. Francine managed to get us back over to the House of Commons, through back hallways and we sweet-talked the nice guards into letting us join some other tourists inside the H of Commons chamber, which looked even smaller and more compact than I remembered. We walked through the glorious 12th century Westminster Hall, bits of it under repair. (Big Ben is completely shrouded in scaffolding.)

Continuing on our sentimental journey, we walked up Whitehall, past Downing Street and other imposing government buildings to Trafalgar Square and then Covent Garden, where I bought a rain hat (like my friend Una’s, which I borrowed in Dover) from Barbour (quintessential British) and tried on some shoes at one of three Allbirds stores in the world. Then we walked in the dark and drizzle through the crowds and past the shops in Covent Garden to embankment (Gordon’s wine bar, an old favorite, had an overflow crowd) and over the bridge to South Bank and the train from Waterloo back to Mortlake where we had Indian takeaway with Russ. Ahhh London….

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Hampton Court/Kew — London

Marion, Merida and I are bunking in a lovely Airbnb on Sandycombe Road in Kew, a pretty village in the London Borough of Richmond. Our friend Pam, who lives nearby, picked us up in her sweet little Fiat 500 and drove us around Richmond, where we stopped for coffee at the pleasant Richmond Hill Bakery, up the street from a glorious view from on high of Richmond Park (and near Mick Jagger’s house, we were told.)

We Ubered over to Hampton Court, which hasn’t changed much since I last visited with my kids about 14 years ago, except for the experience itself, which combined high-tech (a handy audio tour headset) and low-tech (a staged play in William III’s living quarters featuring the same characters portrayed in the movie “The Favourite,” part of which was filmed there.)4E49B1BC-94B7-4527-9A41-2F2C16416BB6.jpegWe got lost a time or two but it was a treat to be able to wander around on our own. We also had a good quick lunch in a cafe in an old room (baked potato with cheese, greens) and toured some nice gift shops, beyond the spectacularly ornate royal rooms and the great old kitchen rooms. 533C9AE4-E685-448B-A2E8-C5557DC67427.jpegMerida and I also wore borrowed long velvet capes, a nice option (that kept us warm) on a rainy day and made me feel a bit like a Hogwarts student. Undeterred by rain, we wandered around the formal gardens past bizarrely trimmed trees that looked  like hedges on stilts.

6DFB0B30-7913-4A01-B393-E0EE48E7F380.jpegMore memories of London visits with my kids when they were little cropped up when M, M and I  had cream tea at the famous old Kew tea house, Maids of Honour. Fourteen years ago, D and I ended up here with the kids after an attempted walk to Kew Gardens from Francine and Russ’s house in Mortlake ended abruptly, due to a downpour. Thank God for the Maids of Honour, which 14 years ago we stumbled into soaking wet. This time we were also wet but not as wet. The scones were as light and the clotted cream as rich as I remembered.

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A Rainy Relaxing Day in Deal

67905D8E-FF14-418C-AC46-02D2897A8816A rainy day in Deal and we were all happy to lounge around in this lovely house, reading the Sunday papers and drinking tea and catching up. I’ve also learned about some uniquely English television shows that no doubt will end up being copied in the U.S. My favorite is Goggle Box, a reality show about people watching television. I had to laugh. So English. But somehow the people sitting on their couch talking about what they are watching on the Telly are amusing. Although not sure I would be a regular viewer. Also learning to appreciate Steve Coogan’s satirical news show “This time with Alan Partridge.”

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Sea view from my room

We did venture out to Sunday lunch at Frog & Scot, run by a Frenchman and Scottish woman, serving food from both countries. My food struck me as English – a nicely cooked chicken breast with mashed potatoes, a thin buttery cream sauce and greens.

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Saturday market, shops on High Street, walks to the pier and two castles — a day in Deal

As promised, this is a charming seaside village with narrow lanes leading to the sea, lined with beautifully tended cottages and terraced homes in pale blue and creamy white, made of old wood and narrow red brick. I can’t get enough of it. The town has enough sophistication to be well above average but also an unaffected, unassuming air. After waking up to my bedroom view of the pale green and blue sea, we walked down the lane a few blocks to the Saturday market, a small one-block gathering of bakers, fruit venders, cheese mongers and bric brac stalls,  often with vintage  goodies from nearby France including heavy linen smocks, berets and tablecloths. We bought some buns from a Swedish woman, some local tangy Kentish blue cheese and smoked cheddar, fruit and veg.

Along High Street we popped into several small boutiques with carefully chosen and often pricey goods including silk kimonos, boiled wool slippers, lovely little cards and French country bread.

In the afternoon, the sun made a welcome appearance and lit up the coastline, the brown, tan and blue pebbles on the beach leading to the sea, the Beach Road lined with terraced houses. We walked along the seafront and down the long plain pier where we could spot white cliffs to the south (although not quite Dover, I was told). There’s a contemporary bistro at the end of the pier that looked promising.

50E4B413-991A-4312-B187-F34D96F21E31.jpegWe walked for 1.5 miles past Deal Castle to Walmer Castle (both built by Henry the 8th in the 16th Century) which looked more like a country home with cannons and a moat. It’s early season so not too many tourists. We passed families with kids braving the beach, older folks with their dogs, even a few jet skiers but it was mostly quiet and peaceful.

Una, our generous host, who discovered this village and whose friends own the house where we are staying, arrived from London, a sight for sore eyes. Russ and I cooked dinner — my pasta puttanesca, Russ’s salad — and we enjoyed a lovely meal.We walked back down to the High Street to hear some live music in a tiny wine shop/bar, Le Pinardier,  a guy playing Irish, Scott and bluegrass banjo and guitar songs, a woman playing the fiddle, to about 15 people in the cozy place run by a young handsome Frenchman. A near perfect day and night. Only wish Dirck could be here but glad to hear he arrived safely in Beijing.

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Unexpected sights/sites in England– palm trees and Stonehenge

“What are all those people doing up there?” my husband asked, pointing to a faraway hillside where a crowd was gathered. We were driving west of London toward Shaftesbury and eventually Lyme Regis in Dorset at the time and just getting used to driving on the left side of the road in a manual car with a leftie stick-shift. Gulp.

As we got closer and closer, we realized that – as we surmised – this was Stonehenge.  We were amazed. We could see it very clearly from the motorway and I crossed it off my list of things to see (it hadn’t been high but I was curious). I’m sure it would be even more impressive if we were closer and it towered over us but we were somewhat awed by seeing it even from a distance.

The other surprising sight came a few days later near the southwest tip of England in southwest Cornwall– around Lands End and Cape Cornwall. Palm trees! In England. Apparently known as the “Cornish Palm.”  (Cordyline australis). Below is one in Penzance.

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Morning in Devon, long drive to London via (Dorset) West Bay, Netherbury and Beaminster/Dorset — goodbye (for now) England 

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Devon Airbnb

(a week ago…although it seems much longer…)

We hung around at the Devon farm Airbnb longer than usual, in part, because I needed wifi in order to checkin to my British Air flight 24 hours in advance and change my seat assignment, which as I suspected was a middle seat. (One of the annoying things I discovered about BA is that you can’t pick your own seat without paying $38, more than 24 hours before departing — a bit obnoxious for a round trip flight that cost over $1000…or in my case lots of credit card miles.) But I was happy to kick back, enjoy the lovely breakfast hamper that our host Sarah delivered to our cottage door with fresh homemade granary bread, multi-colored eggs from her chickens, raspberries and strawberries from the garden.

The Airbnb was deep in the countryside, north of Launceton, after a right turn at the pub in St. Giles on the Heath and a drive to the hamlet of Virginstow along another high-hedged, essentially one-lane, winding road that at times made me feel slightly claustrophobic. I generally love country lanes but the ones en this neck of the woods — literally the really wooded ones that form a tunnel, as opposed to the ones through open fields that you generally can’t see due to the hedges — were sometimes spooky, especially at night. (Maybe it’s a good thing I put off reading Daphne De Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn”, a spooky book set near where we stayed in Cornwall, although now I am more interested in finishing it.)

Dirck and I wandered around the farm, past the sheep and “rescue chickens,” the fruit, veg and flowers in the garden, the wood fence and beyond, a bucolic valley of fields stretching far into the distance.

In the church cemetery across the road from our Airbnb, we found a 19th century headstone for a “Betsy,” which was surprising since I rarely see my name anywhere, let alone in England. I also had a nice chat with our 34-year-old host who recently quit city life and a city job i to buy the old farm, fix it up and start the Airbnb (which despite its remote location gets guests from Europe, South America and us Yanks).

The three Airbnbs we’ve stayed at in England were excellent! Part of it may be that I am getting pretty good at picking and I don’t go for the dirt cheap ones (if they even exist) but beyond that, the English hosts seem to be particularly good at hosting and providing a good approximation of the English country life admired by anglophiles like me.

Our drive home was longer than expected, in part because we got waylaid for an hour (argh) in and around Exeter when the nice big A motorway we were on suddenly became a town center traffic jam. We ended up getting out of it by taking another smaller A road in the wrong direction and then having to take a series of tiny no-letter/no-number/high-hedged lanes that often seemed to lead nowhere useful but eventually did. We were amazed at the variety of  roads we traveled on during a short drive and how close they were to each other, from a multi-lane motorway, to a two-lane  (barely) road to a high-hedged lane.

In Dorset, we drove in and out of West Bay, where the TV show Broadchurch is filmed, long enough to see the back of the big sandy beach cliff where some dramatic scenes were shot. Way too many tourists. Fortunately my friend Marion had mentioned a lovely little Dorset village  nearby where she stays, Netherbury, so we sought refuge there. If only it had a pub. By the time we got to the larger town of Beaminster nearby, the pubs weren’t serving lunch any more so we ended up a a little bakery cafe for a few savory tarts.

To get back to our friends’ house in Mortlake, we pulled out the “Sat Nav” which was a big help. (Most of the time I relied on an AZ book of road maps Francine kindly lent us.) Driving in residential southwest London is not easy. The windy streets are narrow and confusing but with the help of “Tracy” (our friends’ name for the Sat Nav voice) we made it to the Mortlake house and even found  a parking spot (several actually) in time to have dinner one last dinner with Una.

This morning, without Tracy’s help, we gave ourselves extra time to drive the rental car to Heathrow  and even though I’d made several screenshots of the google map to Heathrow, we still made a few wrong turns. Fortunately a woman walking her dog at 7:45 a.m on a Sunday morning helped us and we were soon out of the tangle of neighborhood streets and onto the M4, heading to sprawling Heathrow, where we eventually found rental car return signs (near terminal 4 and 5 for future reference) and gladly returned our car.

Heathrow was packed thanks to the start of the school holidays so I was glad to have 2.5 hours of time. BA flight attendants were on strike, which affected our service  (no second meal although the first one included a surprisingly edible Chicken Tikka, scant ice for the drinks, a non-functioning computer map and iffy movie reception).  A few nice touches — free newspapers available before stepping onto the plane so I loaded up on the Times and the Mail (The Observer wasn’t offered but fortunately I’d already bought one.) Goodbye England. I’ll be back.

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Bike riding in Richmond Park, late Sunday lunch with English and Aussie friends

( a few weeks ago….)

Flat out gorgeous weather today, for the first time during this trip. And we put it to good use. Francine and I hopped on bikes and rode a few miles to Richmond Park, which was full of Sunday strollers and riders and deer with antlers moving in great packs. Blue sky, sunshine, light breeze, gravelly dirt paths. We rode the circular path all around the park about 7 miles. It was largely flat except for one big hill. Just  beyond some of the entrance gates I could vaguely see posh brick homes in “The London Borough of Rich People on Thames” (a phrase coined by my friends here…)

This afternoon, Francine’s relatives came for a late lunch and we had a great meal including Pavlova prepared by someone who knows her pavs…Francine’s step mum who lives in Sydney and grew up in New Zealand. (Lesson learned: pile on a lot more fruit than I have done in the past to offset the sweet merengue. Try kiwi as well as berries.)

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Walk from Port Quin to Port Isaac, drive thru Tintagel, Airbnb in Devon (virganstow), Coombeshead Farm — Devon and Cornwall

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Port Isaac dining!

(A few days ago)

We have moved to another beautifully restored barn in a secluded spot — this time in the hamlet of Virganstow near Launceton in Devon. This one is owned by a young woman who moved here from London two years ago with her partner and mother, got some sheep and rescue chickens, does some gardening and DIY stuff and somehow mananges to drive a Mercedes (at least two of them are parked out front.) It’s a peaceful lovely spot, pitch dark at night but somehow we managed to find it after a late night dining at Coombeshead Farm, another out of the way spot about a half hour south near the Cornwall town of Lewwanik.

The place is run by a young chef from London who bought an old stone country manor and cooks completely original food using primarily things foraged from the garden and woods. We sat at a table with about 7 other guests, several American, several staying over night at the restaurant/inn. I can’t begin to describe the food — many of the ingredients were unfamiliar, not to mention the combinations that made up the food but it was all interesting and delicious.

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Cornwall Coastal Path

We began the day with another glorious walk along the coastal path, this time walking east to Port Isaac from Port Quin.

We were surprised at how few people we encountered as we walked along the edge of the high jagged coastline. Loved it. We were sad to say goodbye to the lovely couple at our farm Airbnb but lucked out here, where we are staying in grander digs than expected becuz the room we were supposed to stay in had a hot water problem. So here we are with a whole,two,bedroom cottage for the night. Such a fun trip.

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hiking the coastal path to Port Isaac, ferry from Rock to Padstow, Doom Bar beer in the village of Pityme — north Cornwall

1cornwalllandscapeThe rain blew away, the clouds drifted off, the sun shone and my God, north Cornwall! Glorious. After a superb breakfast prepared by our engaging hostess ( homemade muesli, eggs from the next door farm, bacon, sausage, homemade jam, fried tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms and, of course, baked beans). We walked through the gently rolling green pasture, seen out our window, toward the bright blue ocean and picked up the coastal path, walking a few strenuous often steep but spectacular miles into Port Isaac. We passed cows grazing in pastures above jagged cliffs with waves crashing onto the stones and slate, following a path lined with ancient stone walls covered with bramble and patches of shoulder-high grasses and purple flowered thistle. The path was muddy and treacherous at times, especially wending our way downhill but the scenery was well worth it!

1betsycornwallFRom the Port Isaac car park (where we left our car with help from our kind host Michael), we drove to the amusingly named village of Pityme to pick up some tshirts for the kids at the brewery that makes the popular local beer, Doom Bar (another great name…named after a treacherous sandbank in the local Camel estuary.) Then onto the town of Rock (where we were told the young royals vacation)  to take a sweet little ferry across the river, winding through several sandbars to the tourist town of Padstow. Quite a change — pretty place but far more touristy. We had excellent Fish and Chips from the town’s major food entrepreneur Rick Stein, plus ice cream at his deli.

1cornwallwater.JPGOur one misstep was trying to drive to the Lizard, way down in the south, which we realized was too far so we turned back and drove to tiny Port Quinn where we bumped into our host Michael drinking wine with two friends while sitting on a little rocky landing in front of the tiny undeveloped harbor where a few kayakers were finishing for the night. We ended up joining them for some wine and kibitzing. A perfect end to a perfect day.

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