Migrating, Moving and Mid-life Mayhem

Well, I have a updates for you.  Remember back, back, back in time when I warned you a website migration was coming?  This is the week it happens,  so if you log on to see if I’ve done anything productive this past week, you’ll be redirected to my new website.  Since this migration involves technology and a million moving parts, you can guarantee a few bumps in the road….broken links, bizarrely categorized posts and other weirdness.  I’m sorry and I promise it will all be sorted as soon as possible.

Beverly Hillbillies Moving Day

Beverly Hillbillies Moving Day

I’m moving to a new flat in London.  It’s a long story and starts with “You can’t fit seven people in a two bedroom flat the size of a closet even on a temporary basis.”  or  “As much as I love people-watching at the posh club across the street, the 3am drunken anthems under my window and late night cab vs. limo  wars are getting on my last damn nerve.”  More to follow.

It’s my birthday week and I’m looking forward to some Funfetti cake and a few cocktails to kick off a mid-life crisis.

Thanks so much for following me and I’ll see you on the other side.





Happy Birthday, Prince of Cambridge

After the new little Prince of Cambridge was born, photographers were ready to pack up their tents and cameras and head home. Even they are tired of standing around talking about nothing  20 hours a day.  The crowds have thinned a bit at St. Mary’s Hospital, but not at the Palace.  I walked through Green Park this morning and saw thousands of people crowding the gates, hoping to glimpse the Royal Birth Announcement (PS, it’s quite small a la the Mona Lisa effect).

London Eye/ Jordon Lee/Twitter

London Eye/ Jordon Lee/Twitter

It’s been a fabulous few days. Patriotic colors spun around the edge of the London Eye in celebration and the BT Tower proclaimed “It’s A Boy!”   It was a celebration all round the world.

Tip:  to avoid this, always stay North of the rope in Green Park

Tip: to avoid this, always stay North of the rope in Green Park 🙂

Today, crowds piled into Green Park and the Tower of London to witness two Royal Gun Salutes.  The  Green Park salute was a 41 gun salute, twenty more than the traditional celebratory 21 gun because it takes place in a Royal Park.  There are rules, you know.  The Tower was 62 guns…the standard 21, plus 20 for a Royal fortress and an additional 21 as a tribute from the City of London.  Got it? It is a spectacular thing to watch.  The band marched entertained the waiting crowd with a weird playlist that included the theme from Indiana Jones and a few Star Wars numbers, rounded out with Rule, Britannia.  Not sure what that all means, but it kept everyone quiet.  A few minutes before 2:00pm, The Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery came barreling down  Green Park on horseback, caissons in tow , disengaged the guns and kept riding on.  If you’re wondering why I posted the YouTube video instead of my own, it’s because I had my camera on the wrong setting for the 45 seconds it took them to ride by.  Yes, I was sad/mad. Still am, but enjoy the concept.

Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery

Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery

Happy Birthday, Little Prince.

Following Anne Boleyn

I’m no expert on Anne Boleyn.  I’m more of an Anne Boleyn sympathizer.  I glean information about Anne from multiple questionable sources, ie  The Horrible History series I read to my kids, the epic and very racy television series,The Tudors and a song about Henry’s wives my kids learned in primary school. I can’t really remember how it goes…

Hever Castle

Lucky for me, my passionate retelling of the Horrible History books and a quick recap of The Tudors was enough to convince everyone to come with me to Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.


Anne Boleyn (2nd wife of Henry VIII) spent her childhood at Hever Castle before attending Court in the Netherlands and France. Her ambitious father, Thomas Bullen (Boleyn) pushed Ann into King Henry VIII’s Court when Henry tired of having Anne’s sister, Mary, as a mistress. Anne was in love with Sir Percy, however, and was heartbroken when her match to Percy was denied. Anne left Court and returned to Hever Castle to nurse her broken heart where Henry VIII, enamored with Anne’s charm, wit and intelligence, visited her there often. She rebuffed his romantic advances and refused to become his mistress, which clearly motivated Henry to redouble his efforts to annul his marriage to Catherine.  Eventually, as we all know, Henry VIII broke ties with the Catholic Church and married Anne. He fathered one living child with Anne before he tired of her.  She was tried and convicted on a number of questionable charges and beheaded in May of 1536 to make way for Henry VIII”s third wife, Jane Seymour.


The house was eventually given to Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as compensation for the marital annulment after Henry decided Anne of Cleves was incredibly unattractive and refused to consummate the marriage.  Hever Castle passed through a number of families after Anne of Cleves’ death before falling into complete ruin, a sad state for a place that played a role in changing the course of English history.  John Jacob Astor, a wealthy American, purchased and restored the house and gardens n 1903.

It’s easy to imagine Anne wandering the grounds as a child or hiding from/with Henry in the hedgerows.  Supposedly, Anne’s ghost still wanders over the lovely wooden bridge and around the garden (without Henry) during Christmastime.

Photo via onthetudortrail.com

Photo via onthetudortrail.com

The house itself contains an extensive collection of artwork and antiques highlighting the Castle’s role in English history (no photos allowed, sadly).  I loved standing in Anne’s tiny bedroom, staring out the window and reading Anne’s prayer books, one of which she took to her execution. Love letters sent between Henry and Anne hang on the wall. They loved each other once-upon-a-time.

It seemed to me a bit insensitive to highlight Henry VIII so boldly throughout the property.  He did, after all, execute the woman who lived here.  Yet, his portraits and likenesses hang the Long Gallery and the Inner Hall and one of his gilded, personal locks hangs on the door of the Dining Room. Henry’s bedchamber has an original Tudor carved ceiling and a glorious, canopied bed.  If only walls could talk….

Le Temps Viendra   Anne Boleyn  "The Time Will Come"

Le Temps Viendra Anne Boleyn “The Time Will Come”

Things to Know

Hever Castle lies appx 35 miles from London, southeast of Edenbridge in West Kent. It was our first stop on a multi-day trip to the Southeast.  If you want to drive, consider taking the train/tube to the outskirts of London and picking up your car there. I didn’t follow my own advice, and it ended in a very long drive and  a few minor domestic disputes en route. If you’d rather go by train, check the link here to find out more.

Hever Castle is currently owned by a commercial venture, instead of a private family.  I was initially wary about having  a “faux” castle experience (you know what I mean) but was pleasantly surprised. The Castle was wonderfully presented.  The gardens are spectacular and the grounds have activities for children and grownups….archery, walking trails, camping (shudder) and mazes.  Beware the wet maze.  It’s called the WET maze for a reason.  The Mister was not amused.

The Castle opens later than the grounds, so time your visit accordingly. Check rates and times here  before you go. You can spend the night on the castle grounds by contacting the Hever Castle Bed and Breakfast.

If you have an interest in Anne Boleyn, you should also plan visits to Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London and Blickling Hall.

If you have good reading recommendations about Anne, I’d love to hear them!    

A Day at “Downton Abbey”


I love the fact we can watch Downton’s seasons a full 4 months before they debut in the States. Tonight, my American friends sit down to watch the last episode of Downton Abbey, Season 3.   What shall we do during the 7 month wait for a new season?  I suggest planning a trip to Highclere Castle, the setting for Downton Abbey.

Located approximately one hour from London by train, Highclere Castle is the stately home of the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon.  Sir Charles Barry built the present house in 1842 on top of an existing Georgian home, which was built on the site of an Elizabethan home, etc. While the estate has been a part of the Carnarvon family for over 300 years, there is evidence of building on the site dating back 1300 years.


We took a train from Paddington station in London to Newbury and hired a cab to drive us the remaining way to the castle.  We wound our way past miles of lovely countryside before turning up the mile-long, tree lined driveway.  As you round the final corner of the drive, you can see Highclere Castle’s glorious gothic turrets through the trees.  You can almost imagine the curtains twitching as Lady Edith watches you pull up the drive.



Admission tickets, purchased either on-line in advance or from the little shed near the gates, are timed in order to manage the crowds. We had about 1.5 hours to explore the castle grounds before being admitted to see the house.  The castle landscape, designed by Capability Brown, lends itself to endless wandering through fields and across lawns.  We visited the tea room for a light lunch and convinced ourselves we needed a double-chocolate magnum bar to eat on the lawn while watching military planes, both ancient and modern, flying over the castle.  I’m pretty sure the flyovers aren’t part of the usual day out at the castle, but it was fun to watch. We walked through gardens and orchards, peeked into greenhouses and tried desperately to recreate the opening scene from Downton by walking up to the house from the fields below while loudly humming the opening music. We nailed it, even without the dog. The house also hosts a collection of Egyptian artifacts from the Tutankhamen tomb, discovered by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, but we didn’t have time to visit the exhibit before our scheduled time at the house.


HC doors

We joined the visitors queue outside the giant front doors at the appropriate time and waited for Carson to open the door and welcome us inside.  Sadly, he was not available and we had to make do with the lovely greeters that gave us a brief overview of house rules and a quick outline of the self-guided tour.



Visitors are allowed to wander through the glorious dining room where the portrait of Charles I hangs over Carson’s sideboard and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) throws her infamous one-liners at unsuspecting guests.  Visitors can also see the library, used as Lord Grantham’s office and study and the glorious “saloon”, where the family gathers and the Grantham sisters plot their various schemes.  Upstairs, visitors file past Sybil and Edith’s bedrooms as well as the “Rose bedroom” where Lady Mary and Mr Pamuk had their passionate, ill-fated romp.  Unfortunately, all of the below-stairs scenes of Downton Abbey are filmed in a studio in London and not at the house.


The house and grounds are stunning and make a fabulous day out, even for non-Downton Abbey fans.  Make sure you check opening dates and times before you go, as the family is in residence most of the year and Highclere is not open year-round.  You can check visitor information here.

Things to know and other random bits about Highclere Castle:

The 8th Countess of Carnarvon wrote a book “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey” to raise funds necessary to restore Highclere Castle.  The Castle was falling into serious disrepair in 2009 and required a minimum of £12 million to prevent it from falling into complete ruin.  The book, film fees and publicity from the Downton Abbey series generated enough funds to make necessary repairs. There was a bit of a neighborhood tiff between the Earl and his neighbor, Andrew Lloyd Weber. When Weber heard about the plight of the Carnarvon estate and offered to buy Highclere Castle to store  his art collection. The Carnarvon’s were not amused.

Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, nursed and housed recovering soldiers in WWI at Highclere Castle  just as it did in the second season of Downton Abbey.

You can book weddings and special events at the castle.

Highclere Castle is a two hour drive from central London.  Alternatively, you can take a train from London Paddington to Newbury and a cab to the Castle (cab fare approximately £25 plus tip).  It is also possible to take a bus from London Victoria to Newbury.

Make sure to arrange your return trip to the train station with your cabbie before you step out of the cab at Highclere.  The wait to return to the train station can be long if you do not.

Driving to Highclere from London takes approximately 2 hours.

Warning: Not-For-Mealtime Reading

I feel the need to defend myself lest I be accused of having morbid fascinations. We’ve had a string of guests recently with an interest in science and medicine. Being a good host, I try to accommodate their interests, thus our visit to the Resurrection Men at the Museum of London and our visit to the Hunterian.  A friend told me my post about the Resurrection Men ruined her breakfast, so, in the interest of decorum, this post comes with fair warning and fewer pictures.


The Hunterian Museum  located at Lincoln Inn Fields, within the Royal College of Surgeons, contains John Hunter’s spectacular collection of 3500 human anatomy and pathology specimens, fossils, paintings and sketches.

John Hunter (1728-1793), credited with being the father or “scientific surgery” was born the youngest of ten children and was fatherless by 13. After a failed attempt at being a cabinetmaker’s apprentice, John  joined his brother William in London as a dissection assistant in William’s anatomy school. John showed great aptitude for dissection and preparation under William’s tutelage and earned a place studying medicine under more experienced surgeons. He was commissioned as an army surgeon where he gained experience treating the maladies of war and upon his return to London, established a surgical practice and published papers on the etiology and treatment of gunshot wounds, venereal disease and the disorders of the skeletal system.  As his reputation as a surgeon and anatomist grew, so did his collection of usual and unusual specimens.  Fossils, mummies and skeletons (both human and animal) joined the beak of a giant squid, parts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, exotic insects, diseased body parts and other oddities. His collection was opened to the public in 1785.


Hunter’s massive collection was purchased by the government in 1799 and subsequently turned over to the Company of Surgeons.  The established museum was restructured and redesigned numerous times between 1834 and WWII.



On May 10, 1941, bombs fell on Lincoln Inn Fields, destroying the Royal College of Surgeons building and over half of John Hunter’s specimens. The remaining collection was reorganized and rehoused in numerous forms during the subsequent 64 years, reopening in its present form in 2005.

If you have more than a passing interest in nature and the sciences, the Hunterian Museum is well worth a few hours.  The depth and breadth of the collection is mind-boggling.  I particularly enjoyed the fossils, skeletons, insects and animals. Our medical student friends were riveted by the process of disease displays. Eeeshhh.  One of my children refers to the museum as the “parts in a jar museum” and refuses to return as the more graphic human specimens left her in need of the well-placed “fainting couches.” Check details here before you go.

Things to know:

*You must sign in at the Royal College of Surgeons front desk and get a little badge before proceeding upstairs to the Hunterian.

*No  photography allowed.

*The museum is free, but they do ask you to consider a £3 donation.

*While young children are permitted inside the museum, parents should seriously consider the ages and maturity level of their children before bringing them. The children WILL have questions.