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.

Advertisements

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_Henry

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.

hever-castle

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!    

Henry James Was Right…..High Tea at Brown’s

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”Henry James

Ever have one of those weekends?  A weekend where you plan grandiose “lets-do” agendas in your head which promptly go to hell in 20 minutes? The Girls were home for the weekend, the London Frieze Art Fair was on in Regent’s Park  and I managed a last  minute booking at Brown’s Hotel for afternoon tea.  A trifecta of goodness. What could possibly go wrong?

1. Appliances. The British appliances are giving me rage attacks.  I can’t figure out the heat, the hot water OR the damn washing machine.  I left the house with wet trousers (I’ve learned not to say pants) and a new shirt  now 3 sizes too small.  Wet trousers and tiny t-shirt delay the day’s plan by approximately 1 hour.

2.Tube closures.  Tube closures are a London weekend certainty and require a little advanced planning. After considering a few convoluted tube/bus combinations, we decide to walk from Green Park to Regents Park.  It was a gorgeous day, so why not?  Transportation issues delay plan by one hour.

3.Queues. Queues an hour long at the Art Fair for those who didn’t print out tickets in advance leave only 3 hours to see the exhibits before heading to tea.  At £27 a pop for admittance and a tight timeline, my plan is derailed permanently.

The Girls and The Mister gamely tried to rescue my plan and my mood by suggesting a walk through the Frieze garden, a free exhibit for the masses.

I enjoy renaming works of modern art.  This one, I call Broken Twig, No Berries

Redux on a Crate

We enjoyed our usual level of immaturity, hysterical laughter and a great game of “name the modern art”  on our walk through the exhibit. My apologies to the artists.

I didn’t know this was art…

mmmkkkkkk…

I was actually beginning to enjoy myself until the black clouds rolled in and we were caught umbrella-less and raincoat-less  in a mid-afternoon rainstorm.  This,of course,was a sign we should go home immediately and ready ourselves for the great, soul-restoring tradition of  afternoon tea. We can credit Anna, Duchess of Bedford, for the concept of afternoon tea.  The Duchess ordered tea and cakes served mid-afternoon to tide her over until the traditionally late European dinner hour.  Everyone thought this was a grand idea and “Tea” became a daily social event. Friends were invited to put on their best gowns, gloves and hats to socialize throughout the afternoon. Today, afternoon tea is an occasion.  You dress up (or should) and plan on spending hours absorbing atmosphere, cakes and company.

I love Brown’s Hotel and its cozy, traditional tea room off Abermarle Street.   I took Youngest Girl and her friend to Brown’s this summer and fell in love with the ritual and elegance of afternoon tea and the traditional vibe of Brown’s. An important factor in the ceremony of afternoon tea (for me) is the setting, and Brown’s Hotel has it in spades.

I am partial to the first of Brown’s two tea rooms.  I love the dark wood paneling, the piano and overstuffed setees underneath the window.  Both rooms are lovely, in all honesty, and we were escorted to the second room which was bright, elegant and comfortable.  We were fortunate to have a corner table where I could observe the goings on in the tea room and on the street. The tables were as they should be, low and laden with crisp heavy linen, lovely tea cups and  heavy silver pots.  I plopped myself onto the overstuffed setee, propped myself up on the pillows and prepared myself for an afternoon of tea and cakes with The Mister and The Girls.

Brown’s offers a number of menu selections, including the traditional or champagne teas.  I vaguely remember the waiter offering a “healthy” tea option. Seriously?  I didn’t care to know, so I didn’t ask what that might entail.  I’m sure you could call and ask.  We ordered the more exotic teas from the tea list, while The Mister ordered the Browns Afternoon Tea Blend.  He is not amused by exotic choices.

Our server poured the first cups of tea and delivered an elaborate 3-tiered stand laden with tiny chocolate desserts, scones still warm from the oven and a variety of crustless sandwiches.  Most importantly, they brought a crock of fresh clotted cream and another crock of homemade strawberry preserves.

The Mister started on the bottom tray of sandwiches. We started on the top tray of pastries and all met in the middle for the tiny scones and clotted cream.  Dear. God.  The most dangerous part of afternoon tea at Brown’s is the willingness of the staff to refill your trays as soon as they are empty.  We managed to polish off 2 trays each of  lovely chocolate pastries, scones and sandwiches.  Actually, we left two egg salad sandwiches behind on the final tray.  Egg salad offends me and we spent a few minutes trying to decide what should be done with them in order to get a refill of the most desired sandwiches….wrap them in a napkin and tuck them under a plate?  Stuff them into a handbag?  Feed them to the nearest potted plant?  The Mister eventually took one for the team and ate the remaining eggy things so the rest of us could enjoy another tray of the lovely roast beef , salmon and chicken sandwiches.  We had to order a refill of the clotted cream as well to ensure the proper balance of cream and jam on every scone.

Soon after finishing our last pastry, the staff rolled by with the cake trolley and offered a slice of traditional English sponge or fruitcake.  I just couldn’t. Everyone else did.   I was content to sit back on the sofa and soak up the atmosphere. Fading afternoon light, rain falling outside the window, a cup of  tea, my laughing girls and all is right with the world again.

Food, Glorious Food at Borough Market

South of the river, under an overpass lies Foodie Heaven.  Open from Monday through Wednesday (limited selections/10-3) and Thursday through Saturdays (times vary), it holds something to delight every vegetarian, carnivore and sugar fiend.

Cheese!  Cheese everywhere!  Best of all, they let you sample before you buy…artisan cheese, organic cheese, imported cheese.  Did I mention samples?

Lovely produce.  I don’t know what to do with half of it, but I bought so much of it!

One of the things I enjoyed most about the market was how passionate and dedicated everyone was about their product.  Every stall owner was willing to answer questions, offer samples and talk about everything they were selling.  It was their enthusiasm that led me to try things I ordinarily wouldn’t, with one exception ( I’m talking about you, smiling whole-pig-head-in-the-refrigerator-case).  Can’t make me. I’ll spare you the photo.

I can personally attest to the quality of these prize-winning pies.

Paella!!

I must recommend the cheesy delights of  the grilled/toasted cheese at Kappacasein.  Daughter #3 is quite the connoisseur of grilled cheese and made a beeline for the cart that promised raclette and other cheesey delectables. She was not disappointed, nor was I.  We went back to the cart 3 times.

Make sure to wash it all down with some lovely cider.

Also, take the time to wander outside of the market proper to have a coffee (Monmouth’s perhaps?) and visit Neal’s Yard Dairy for excellent advice which cheese should accompany the lovely wine you picked out.

Check the website before you venture out.