England Revisited – RIP Queen Elizabeth II!!

It is sad that Queen Elizabeth had passed away. I wish I had published my posts, especially the one about Jubilee, a lot sooner. In any case, it now feels even more precious that the queen did make Platinum Jubilee and that we were in England at that time.

The queen was 96, and I had noticed some sort of decline since Prince Phillips passed away. Still, she had been around for so long and going on so strongly, I somehow had expected her to go on forever, or rather perhaps I had wished her to last forever, along with the steadfastness, stability and unity she embodied.

Although I had been an Anglophile for a while, my understanding of the British royal family didn’t become meaningful and real until I lived in London. It is tradition, a way to unite the country through the constant changes of politics, added diplomacy for the benefit of UK and the Commonwealth, a boost to tourism, on and on.

QEII was extremely privileged, but she was also exceptionally dutiful, determined and hard working. She was beautiful and graceful. She had unrivaled stamina, uncanny ability to carry on with perfect balance of dignity and humanity, also intelligence, empathy, adaptability and sense of humor.

She was what had made the British Monarch a great success for the last seven decade and a powerful example to womanhood all over the world.

I watched the Queen’s procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall for her Lying in the State, via Sky News Live on YouTube. The ceremony immaculate, the Funeral Marches by Beethoven, Chopin and Handel evocative, it was a memorable event like no others. It is also touching to see so many people show up to show respect and say goodbye. The line to enter Westminster Hall to see the queen at this moment, at 9pm BST on Sep. 15, 2022, is almost 5 mile long, and growing.

Reflection and recollection brought back a fond memory, 2017 Trooping the Colors, when we saw the queen in person, albeit from a distance. I regret my phone camera at that time didn’t have a powerful zoom and closeups were fuzzy. It however certainly did not diminish the memory.

RIP Queen Elizabeth II! As we mourn her loss, we also wish great success to the new monarch.

England Revisited – QEII’s 70th Jubilee

Friends had put me on alert once Buckingham Palace announced the dates a year ago for Jubilee celebration, Jun 2nd to 5th, 2022. It was lucky we were able to make our visit coincide with it.

So how do the Brits celebrate the Platinum Jubilee? With gusto! That is for sure, plus bunting galore and lots of bubblies. We spotted buntings and Union Jack flags on buildings and houses everywhere. The Mall, the thoroughfare in front of Buckingham Palace, was certainly leading the pack and decked out with numerous numbers of Union Jack flags.

Buckingham Palace organized a four-day celebration and almost every village, town and borough of London has its own celebratory activities. There were many private parties too. My friend Amanda’s village organized an impressive four-day program that included a fly past! We attended its Big Lunch on Sunday, June 5th. Main section of The Street, the main thoroughfare of the village, became pedestrian only and families set up gazebos and tables with spread of food and drinks. The patriotic theme of red, blue and white was apparent. It was a treat to have experienced this unique British tradition!!

As a bonus, we saw Buckingham Palace’s light show on June 4th from our hotel room, The Cavendish, sweet! Just so happened, I had a lunch date with some girlfriends the day after the celebration ended. These are girls who love a few drinks and were always drinking every time we had met. Yet they were not drinking at that lunch. Reason? They had been drinking too much over the weekend and still “hanging over”, ha-ha!

England Revisited – Hello London!

Last but certainly not least, it was time for the big town.

Having returned our rental car at Heathrow, our taxi ride in a black Mercedes into London was a crescendo of anticipation. A long ride on M4 was followed by A4, Natural History Museum on Cromwell Rd, Harrods on Brompton Rd, Hyde Park, Wellington Arch, and a few more minutes of snaking through the traffic of Piccadilly, we arrived at Cavendish Hotel. Centrally and conveniently located with fantastic view from our room on 9th floor, I couldn’t have hoped for a better welcome to London! Adding to the excitement were Jubilee activities taking place on Jermyn Street.

And I couldn’t be happier with the location, walking distance to many great places, Fornum and Mason, which I had visited often, is just across the street, Academy of Arts practically a block away, Piccadilly Circus, Chinatown, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, Portrait Gallery, The Mall, Buckingham Palace, Green Park and St James Park, Hyde Park, St James and St Martin in the Field where I had been to for concerts and such. The list goes on and on. It is close to luxuries such as Ritz, Lanesborough, Galvin at Windows, Old Bond Street, Burlington Arcade and Piccadilly Arcade, but also close to packs of eateries and shops that are easier on the wallet, and main shopping areas on Regent Street and Oxford Street are also close by.

It seems that central London is always busy, with the exception of first lockdown in 2020. During our stay, it was less busy than before the pandemic, especially after the Jubilee, which I preferred. The rest of our stay was a whirlwind of visiting with friends, shopping, eating, and having a good time.

Old Bond Street

Burlington Arcade, Fornum and Mason and Piccadilly Arcade

Lovely dinner and best Crème Brulee ever at Cote on St Martin’s Lane

Cote is one of my favorite places to eat in London. We walked there via Leicester Square and strolled leisurely back via Trafalgar Square.

Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus

Shopping on Regent Street, lunch at Bilmore then a leisurely stroll back via Oxford Street.

Green Park and St James Park

London has many amazing parks. We were able to revisit the closest two, Green Park and St James Park.

A Happy Birthday!

I am a tea drinker and Afternoon Tea works its wonder on me. I think I can safely say that nowhere else comes close to the variety and quality of Afternoon Tea that London can offer. Among a list of places I’d tried, Dorchester and Fornum and Mason come up on top, Dorchester for most gorgeous tearoom, and F&M for most delicious savories and sweets. This time, I booked Peter Pan themed afternoon tea at Aqua, Shard for my birthday.

Fortuitously, Jane Ausen Society London Branch, of which I am still a member, organized a walking tour following Jane Austen’s footsteps between Convent Garden and Twining on The Strand that would coincide with my birthday. I couldn’t have planned it better.

Highlights of our walk included Royal Drury Lane, Convent Garden Markets, St Paul’s Church, Henry Austen’s house on Henrietta Street where Jane Austen stayed, Somerset House and Twining where Jane Austen was believed to have shopped.

“What! Are they naked?”

In addition to the lucky walking tour, we landed on extra entertainment. One day while waiting at a bus stop on Piccadilly just outside the main gate to Academy of Art and across from Fornum and Mason, a large group of cyclists appeared a few blocks away on Piccadilly. My husband was wondering out loud, “Are they naked?”. I couldn’t tell and had to use my camera to zoom in. Yup, they were wearing between very little to utterly nothing. We thought they might be passing by but they turned down to St James Street instead. And I was not disappointed, I’d probably be more embarrassed than the nude cyclists if they got too close, ha-ha!

And guess what! An hour or so later, having done my shopping at Twining on the Strand, I was standing outside the store front, admiring the majestic Royal Courts of Justices right across the street, who else but that same group of cyclists, hundreds of them, appeared on the other side of the street, streamed down The Strand eastwards right by the Royal Courts of Justices. Being closer this time, I had a better view, but was still able to avoid the embarrassing details, thanks to my nearsightedness. While a few painted themselves orange, green, or something else, the majority of them had nothing but their birthday suits on. A few boasts of eye pleasing physiques, most are average, and a few not so great.   

It couldn’t be comfortable riding in one’s birthday suit, could it? I couldn’t help but wonder what they were baring themselves for!? It was picked up by many news media of course, but this is the official website, World Naked Bike Ride London: https://wnbrlondon.uk/

London is probably not stranger to quirkiness, but we somehow didn’t run into this one when we lived there.

London, we will meet again!

Dinner at Hawksmoor on Air Street on the day before leaving was delicious and London under full moon was memorable. I won’t say good bye London, we will meet again!

England Revisited – Minchinhampton, Stroud, Glocestershire

From rugged sea cliffs of North Devon to gentles hills in landlocked Cotswold, the landscape was quite a change indeed. Nonetheless Cotswold’s idyllic charm appeals in equal measure. I’ve been to Cotswold a number of times before and covered many of towns better known by tourists. Where to this time? The guiding idea was to experience a manor house hotel, and Burleigh Court Hotel made the cut due to availability, affordability and location.

It worked out perfectly. Burleigh Court Hotel is located on the outskirt of Stroud, Glocestershire, and within walking distance to Minchinhampton, a 17th century market town with a market house and town center that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years, and it has an excellent onsite restaurant.

The walks between Burleigh Court, Minchinhampton and Box are delightful, with typical Cotswold vista and glimpses of Stroud Valley along the way. The Commons here are immensely impressive, especially in springtime when the fields are covered in pretty little wildflowers, where people picnic or play golf, alongside herds of grazing cows, picture of pastoral bliss.

Here is the self-guided walking route that we followed:

Following this route, we passed Weaver’s Cottage where we ran into a couple working on their garden and learnt from them that this little corner used to be the “red district” of the town two/three hundred years ago.

Burleigh Court Hotel :

Minchinhampton town center:

Minchinhampton – Weavers Cottage:

Common areas between Minchinhampton and Burleigh Court Hotel:

England Revisited – National Trust Stourhead

The properties in care of National Trust are truly impressive in both numbers and variety and it has done brilliantly in restoring and reserving these wonderful British heritage. Although we left UK almost two years ago, we’ve kept our National Trust membership. Now in England we can put it to good use. This time I chose to visit Stourhead in Wiltshire, enroute to Stroud, Glocestershire.                                                                                                                                       

We’ve visited many grand houses and found Stourhead equally impressive. The house is architecturally beautiful, the collection of antique and arts priceless, and its park, delightful to both sense and sensibility, tops the list of my favorites. Austen Fan might recognize Temple of Apollo as where Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth meet and have a stormy encounter in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice. Stourhead is indeed another amazing jewel in that seemingly endless treasure trove of National Trust.

Another fun thing to do at a National Trust property is to visit its café and shop. We had lunch at the café and thoroughly enjoyed some simple and delicious fare that got us ready for the long walk that followed.

Nice surprise along the way is always welcomed. While driving on Reynolds Way (Glastonbury) towards Stourhead, a spectacular view popped up on the roadside, we turned around for it and found lovely views of Glastonbury Tor on a quiet country road, Westfield Lane.

England Revisited – Lynton, Devon

While we lived in London, we took many road trip and explored many of the beautiful places outside London. I couldn’t wait to do it again.

I’ve always loved Cornwall’s rugged seashore, and it was tugging on my heartstring again. But this time I found the same kind of Cornish scenery in Lynton, north Devon, simply because I stumbled across Highcliffe House B & B on the internet.

Five hours after leaving Essex, a coastal road leading to Lynton yielded prospect of a town on a majestic sea cliff. Shortly realizing it being Lynton, we were quite hyped up by that exciting vista. Soon the road dipped and we were driving through Lynmouth, Lyton’s neighbor at the beach, before the road climbed up again towards Lynton. Having gone through some narrow winding streets, we reached Highcliffe House. Located high above the town, view from its driveway was breathtaking and I literally cried out.

I couldn’t be happier with Highcliffe House. We were welcomed with cream tea as soon as we arrived, which came with instructions for cream tea either the Devon way or Cornish way, i.e. cream first or jam first. I ordered a pot of Lemon Grass and tried my scone both way. It was equally delicious either way!

Our room, Countisbury, named after Countisbury Hill that could be seen from the room, is a pretty room with lovely view and equipped with convenient gadgets, USB port charging station, Tablet for browsing news and Alexa for playing music. In addition, I liked the pleasant infusion throughout the house and appreciate helpful informatioon on its website for restaurants and walks.

Breakfast served with a view was also superb! All items, from smoothie to yoghurt parfait, fruit, tea, coffee and the hot dishes, were made of fresh, high-quality ingredients.

We had a great time in Lynton. In addition to beautiful location, Lynton is sophisticated, easy to navigate and has great restaurants and interesting shopping. I think we had the best Tapas at The Oak Room. Check out Art and Craft Center housed in a beautiful building next to the majestic town hall for locally made products, and St Mary the Virgin built in Art and Craft style overlooking Bristol Channel and Countisbury Hill. BTW, Lynton has its own Cracker Barrel, which specializes in Cornish Pasties.

The Brits are strong walkers and have developed extensive network of footpaths. Wherever I go, I take advantage of these walks. From Lynton we took up two beautiful walks, Valley of the Rocks and Countisbury Circular Walk via Winston’s Path.

Valley of the Rock is just an easy 30 minutes stroll from town. You can continue further into the valley, or return via the same route or a costal path which I highly recommend. Enjoy the spectacular views and watch goats carry out their gravity defying acts on the steep cliff sides.

Countisbury Circular Walk via Winston’s Path is a longer but equally exhilarating walk! It starts and ends at National Trust’s Barna Barrow car park. Path from the car park leads to the cliff where one can take in a stunning panoramic view of sea, Lynton in the distance and Parish of Saint John the Evangelist Church, a church dating back to the time of the Vikings. You will also go by Blue Ball Inn, a traditional coaching inn dating back to the 13th century. The rest of the path will yield delightful views of East Lynn Valley through which East Lynn River traverses.

Lynmouth is smaller, but picturesque in its own right, and boast easy access to a rocky beach.

As a fellow holiday maker aptly put it, “North Devon is like Cornwall without the tourists”. What could be better!

England Revisited – Chelsea Flower Show

Have you heard of Chelsea Flower Show? This annual horticultural event has been held in London since 1913. My first attempt to visit the show was in 2020 but it was cancelled due to the pandemic. This year it became a reality on May 27.

The show is truly a stunner, likely the most incredible flower show ever, for it is hard to imagine anything better!  The variety and quality were simply mind blowing. Prepare to be wowed by everything, including a bonsai from 1860, and smell David Austin’s roses at your own risk of intoxication!! My favorite Show Garden is Perennial Garden with Love, designed by Richard Miers who is quite dishing himself.

One of the wonderful takeaways from our London sojourn is appreciating the British culture of gardening and developing a love for gardening myself.

This event is organized by RHS, Royal Horticulture Society, and one that is graced by the royal family. If you attend on a member only day, you might get a glimpse of the royals. Follow this link to learn more about Chelsea Flower Show, https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/

Oh yes, there is shopping and food at the show too. Now all that is left to do is let the pictures speak themselves!

England Revisited – Staying in an English Village

Where to go for first oversea vacation in 2 years? No brainer really, back to England of course!

At this point, dear Blog, I should explain about this hiatus of more than two years. We moved back to USA in Sep. 2020. Although that is not the only reason for the abrupt halt to my posts, I’ll spare you the details of vicissitude, and focus on returning to England for a holiday.

Living in London between 2015 and 2020 was truly the time of my life. Although I had been a fan and visited multiple times prior to moving to London, those five years afforded me the opportunity to explore further the British Isle in length and depth that I had not expected. I am now convinced that, despite its own host of issues and imperfections, the British Isle is my happy place. Interesting fact was that I didn’t come to the conclusion until after moving back to US. Sometimes one must step away to see the big picture.

Needless to say, it was exciting to be back. During almost three weeks’ time between May 26 – Jun 13, we stayed with a couple of friends in their village in Essex, took a road trip and finally spent a good portion of time in London. As a friend put it, “England is the best this time of the year”, I couldn’t agree more, I was reminded many times why I love England!

As much as I enjoy London the big town, I love the countryside too, and no visit to England would be complete without experiencing its countryside & village life, its heart and soul! Luckily, we were invited to stay with our dear friends Amanda and Ian in their village in Essex.

Having arrived at Heathrow Airport on May 26, we picked up our rental car from Enterprise, and drove towards Amanda and Ian. Heathrow, Enterprise, M25 and service areas on the way are formerly familiar stomping grounds, fatigue from the long flight swept away, and the excitement built, “Hello UK, I am back!”. As we left the traffic behind, entered the rural scene and along with it that sense of peace and quiet that I enjoy so much in the English countryside. Thus we began the first 4 days of our holiday.

Being close to London, our friends get the best of both country and town. Meanwhile, like many villages in UK, it boasts a long history and hosts a number of Grade II listed buildings. Although I have visited multiple times before, I still find it irresistible!! Take a little stroll with me through one of the walking routes, crossing wheat fields, picking on Elder Flowers, Dog Roses, and Sticky Grass while minding and avoiding Nettles, looking for the elusive manor house, which alas was completely concealed in greenery this time of the year, visiting Parish Church of St Mary dating back to 12th century, walking through high street spotting various old and new buildings, stopping at a war memorial, which is something you might see in every village of certain age and a way of reminding its residents how precious peace is, and watching a Saturday cricket match. And certainly, don’t forget delicious tea and cake at the end of the walk.

London Diary – Stowe Park, Buckinghamshire

Jun 26, 2020

England keeps serving up wonderful surprises, and what a treasure we find in Stowe Park! Massive ground adorned by unparalleled number of beautiful temples, monuments and statues, Stowe Park is breathtaking. Four hours and 14kms later, we haven’t seen it all.

National Trust manages it well, and the park is so big that visitors seem to disperse and disappear. Quiet, peaceful, just the way I like it! See this website for more, https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/stowe.

London Diary – Heughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire

Jun 12, 2020

Hughenden Manor in High Wycome, Buckinghamshire, also a National Trust property, was at one point the residence of former Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. House not open, but we got to walk around the house, garden and parkland for some exercise and fresh air. The parterre at one end of the handsome house is pretty with colorful blooms, and prospect from east side of house towards the church and valley eastward enchanting, a very English image. Walled garden has a variety of apple trees, including Doctor Harvey (1629) and Blenheim Orange (1740). Multiple bridges stride across a chalk stream through Heughenden Valley. It would be an interesting house to visit and learn about the intriguing history and stories. We should come back when it is open.

Check out the following link for further details, https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hughenden.