Friday, May 28, 2010

Traditional Afternoon Tea

Scott's parents have arrived in England for a visit for the next month. They spent a few days in London first and then they arrived in our little town a few days later. The day they arrived was my mother-in-law's birthday and so to celebrate we went to a traditional afternoon tea to celebrate her birthday (a day late). We went to a lovely hotel with magnificent grounds called Coombe Abbey. Originally a 12th Century Cistercian Abbey nestling in England's historic heartland in Warwickshire, the Coombe Abbey Hotel has been restored and it is set within 500 acres of breathtaking parkland. It was a lovely way to spend a beautiful afternoon in England! 
The traditional afternoon tea was lovely. The cakes and tea sandwiches were delicious! 
My own little pot of English tea. Heaven! 
Cris & Craig at the entrance to the beautiful hotel. 
Beautiful white swans were swimming around the canal area by the entrance to the hotel.
Looks like a secret garden entrance on the hotel grounds....
Leading to the grounds of the hotel leading into the parkland area. 
A view of the Coombe Abbey Hotel. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Seas of Yellow

England in May looks like a sea of yellow in parts of the countryside. I love driving along the motorway and glimpsing to the side where the sight is an entire field of bright yellow. The yellow flower is rapeseed crop and apparently England produces a lot of this crop - enough to be one of the in the top ten worldwide countries producing this crop. 

Nearing the end of May, the fields of vibrant color are starting to fade a bit but I sure have enjoyed the sea of yellow around us this spring.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A taste of Turkey

On Sunday, we hosted one of Scott's Turkish colleagues for dinner at our house while he was in town for a work meeting. When he arrived at our house, he gave me this box as a hostess gift. 
I wanted to open it and eat the entire box before dinner since it contained baklava from the Turkish establishment I nicknamed "Baklava Heaven" while we were visiting Istanbul! Luckily, I restrained myself and politely served (a few) pieces of the delicious baklava with our dessert. And now all week I have slowly been indulging in this Turkish treat that is probably my most favorite food from our time in Istanbul. And of course Scott's colleague is welcome at our house anytime he brings back more of this heavenly dessert straight from the source!! 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It's Gorgeous...revisited

I recently posted a bit about the meaning of the word GORGEOUS and how it is used over here in England. Today, as I put two boxes of kleenex into my shopping trolley (aka as shopping cart), the different use of this word resurfaced....
How do Kleenex tissues feel gorgeous?
I now am curious to know if anyone has seen such marketing on Kleenex tissue boxes in the US?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Petersham Nurseries

I was in London recently and was able to meet my friend, Lauren, and her mom who was visiting from the US. We had lunch in a what appeared to be a rather strange location (at first) but after visiting Petersham Nurseries, I could see why it is a favorite location of those who live in the area. To get to this nursery, I took the green (district line) tube stop from the city all of the way to the end - the Richmond stop. Then, there is a beautiful walk along the river Thames to get to Petersham Nurseries. It was quite busy and such a pretty sight to see...most definitely worth an afternoon out with the ladies if you are in London or the area and have some time for English gardening inspiration. 
The greenhouses and nurseries are all filled with lots of plants, flowers, gardening treasures and even furniture for sale. 
Inside the nursery, there are two restaurant areas - a more formal restaurant and then the Petersham Cafe. 
We ate outside in the cafe area. It was such a neat mix of mismatched chairs and tables. The food was excellent as well! The cakes were delicious...
Miss Molly joined us for lunch too although I think she enjoyed popping in and out of some of the garden pots the most! 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Rainy Day in Worcester

Yesterday we had nothing on our agenda, so I wanted to get out and take advantage of our English Heritage passes to see another one of their properties in the region. After I had a meeting for work in the town of Worcester (home and namesake of the famous Worcestershire sauce) a few weeks ago, I thought we should go back there to see what the town has to offer. Unfortunately we did not find the original location of the sauce, but the town was quite picturesque, despite the rainy Saturday on which we visited....

The town of Worcester is home to a rather large cathedral, The Worcester Cathedral, which really is quite a magnificent cathedral. It sits on a bank overlooking the River Severn. This cathedral actually remains free to tour. (although donations are appreciated so we did opt to participate to help keep it free to the public). 
Built between 1084 and 1504, Worcester Cathedral represents every style of English architecture from Norman to Perpendicular Gothic. It is famous for its Norman crypyt and unique chapter house, its unusual Transitional Gothic bays, its fine woodwork and its "exquisite" central tower. For once, we actually did not climb the tower here....thought our legs would appreciate the rest this time around! 
Inside the cathedral are a number of of them we found to be most interesting was that of Henry VIII's brother, Arthur Tudor. From our extensive knowledge of English history (or watching the series The Tudors, supplemented with some actual historical reading), we remembered that Arthur Tudor was actually married to Catherine of Aragon before she was married to Henry VIII. Arthur died only a few months into their marriage while they were on their honeymoon, so the marriage was declared null and thus Catherine could marry Arthur's brother, Henry. Talk about keeping it all in the family!
The beautiful East Window of the Cathedral.
Back into the rain....

After touring the cathedral and a late lunch in town, we ventured over to Witley Court just outside the city. Witley Court was once one of the great manor houses of the Midlands, but today it is just a ruin house, as it was destroyed largely in a fire in 1937. Today, there is still a large shell of the manor house but the gardens and fountain have become the focal point for visitors to see. 

From the inside of the remains of the house, looking out onto the back lawn with the great fountain and gardens. 
We walked to the very back of the property, and saw this view of the fountain and the manor house which was beautiful. Every hour this main fountain goes off and puts on a little show for the visitors to watch. 
The lady at the front desk when we arrived kept talking about the flowers at the very back of the garden. They were in full bloom and smelled quite fragrant as well.
One of the side gardens and a smaller fountain

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mozart, Schnitzel and some lovely cakes in Vienna

Bank Holidays here in England and nice little bonus days off. May has two of them and they are a great excuse for a long weekend of traveling. We took advantage of the first Bank Holiday in May and extended the weekend into a short holiday for ourselves in eastern Europe. Our first stop was Vienna. And after going through our photos and posting these, it almost appears as if I were not there! I guess the fact that I tend to be the photographer, means I am not really in as many photos as Scott....
The buildings are all very grand but not very high throughout the city. Lots of statues too. 
This scene seemed like a quintessential Vienna shot to me - horses riding through the beautifully ornate domed buildings in the centre of town. 
We wandered through Graben which is a broad pedestrianized shopping street that was once the town moat. (hence the name - Graben = ditch). It later became a marketplace and now is one of the city's finest boulevards. It seemed to be a popular area for the locals to congregate. 
Stephansdom - the glorious gothic nave, choir and side-chapels from the 14th and 15th centuries. Probably the most famous church in Vienna.
Inside Stephansdom - a beautiful sight. Inside St. Stephen's church there is an elevator attraction to take tourists to the top of the church for an unbelievable view of the city.
The ONLY stairs we had to climb to get to the top! The elevator ride to the top of this bell tower was worth every Euro (a mere 9 for both of us) was probably the only place we've been able to take an elevator to the top. Now, these few stairs did make me a bit nervous as we felt like we were walking up a staircase suspended in the air...
A view of the buildings below from the bell tower observation deck. The buildings in Vienna were largely white in color and very picturesque. 
Scott at the top of St. Stephen's church. The top is caged in so no one can fall out...
A beautiful view of the city....
The intricately tiled roof of St. Stephen's church. 
And the other side of the roof...
The large bell a top the church.
At a lovely little cafe called Cafe Oberlaa, we sat outside to enjoy the beautiful day. At many cafes throughout the city, I kept seeing beautiful milkshake-type drinks that people were enjoying. I was very excited about the prospect of a good milkshake (unlike the English versions which are basically flavored milk), so I ordered a chocolate one.
Looks can be was beautiful upon arrival. And while it was a tad thicker than the English milkshakes, it really still pales in comparison to any mediocre American milkshake. I guess I have now resigned myself to waiting until we are back in the US before enjoying any more....
Scott planning our next route at another lovely fountain sculpture in the city. 
Our next stop was Vienna's best food market: Naschmarkt. This market was a series of stalls that were a few blocks long, many featuring fresh produce, meats, cheeses, etc. along with a series of restaurants and cafes dotted throughout them. 
One of many produce stands in the market area. 
And so we stopped for a pint at a great little outdoor cafe within the Naschmarkt. 
While we were in Vienna, we took the tram, the subway and a few buses to see the sights of the city. Normally Scott navigates for us and he is excellent at it (if I do say so). However, something was off in Vienna. We ended up on the wrong tram lines, walked in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go when leaving the subway, and on and on. Our sense of direction was a bit off in Vienna and it took us a few extra attempts to get it right and get where we needed to go in the end. 

Riding the tram around the city. It was a neat way to see the city, provided we got on the correct line! 
Riding the bus en route to Grinzing, outside the city centre, in hopes of finding the wine villages for a quaint dinner choice
One evening we ventured to a northwestern village on the outskirts of Vienna, called Grinzing, which is an old wine village surrounded by vineyard striped hills. It is where many wines are produced and is is known for its quaint old houses and cosy wine taverns, or Heuriger, as they are called locally. Our hope was to find a Heuriger so we could eat at one of these wine restaurants where families promote their new wines and we could sample them with small dishes. Unfortunately, again, our sense of direction was really off and we somehow wandered down the wrong street as we left the bus stop. Only upon our return back to the bus stop, did we take another road (by chance) which of course was dotted with MANY of these cosy wine taverns with lovely wine courtyards! 
The restaurant, Figls, at which we ended up eating turned out to be a good find but not a traditional Heurigen. They have a huge beer garden out back which is where we ate and enjoyed the cuisine.
 I had this HUGE delicious pretzel as part of one of my starters. This pretzel, along with the white asparagus soup Scott had at this dinner, were two of our most delicious things we ate in Vienna. 

The route back to the bus stop was where we found the street of cosy wine taverns....clearly marked with the big bunch of grapes - signaling the wine route! If only we had taken the other road....
The next day we ventured out to the grand location of Schonbrunn. As our guide book said "What Versailles  is to France, Schonbrunn is to Austria." This grandiose baroque palace was once the summer residence of the imperial family and now it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is Vienna's most visited attraction. It was quite large and the grounds were stunning. 
Scott with the crowds at the entrance to the palace grounds. 
I really was there too! 
A view of the palace from the back of the palace grounds. 
Neptune's Fountain inside the palace garden. 
More climbing...we walked all the way up the palace hill to the Gloriette, which is situated on a high hill overlooking the palace and gardens, with the city as a distant backdrop. 
Gloriette - the large aracde up at the top of the hill that was built to commemorate the Austro-Hungarian victory over the Prussians in 1775. Inside there is even a little cafe. 
Walking through and touring Schlosspark, the palace park. The immaculately clipped hedges fill the park. 
The Schoner Brunnen fountain (translation - beautiful fountain) after which the palace is named. 
We stayed very close to this building which is Vienna's city hall. 
Such a pretty building....
A fancy little street side contraption. Purified water on the street so one can refill a water bottle or take a drink of a water. I guess it is really just an upscale drinking fountain but it looked fancy
There were two food items on my planned agenda for our Vienna trip. The first one was the famous Sacher torte. The Sacher Torte website claims it is has been the most famous cake in the world for more than 175 years! Its recipe has been a secret since 1832. 

The staff is constantly plating up pieces of the famous dessert and they sit for only a few minutes before they are served to customers. During our short time at the cafe, we saw two full tortes plated and served to the crowd. No wonder over 360,000 tortes are produced EVERY year! 
I had the original Sacher Torte (a chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam in the middle) and Scott had another slice of apple strudel. 
The second food item we were after while in Vienna was schnitzel. Our guide book and a family friend both suggested a restaurant called Figlmuller as the best place for schnitzel in the city. It was also listed as one of the top 10 things to see or do in Vienna by our guidebook, so given that ranking, we knew it was a place to visit. 
Sure enough, we were not the only ones who wanted to eat this place. Per a recommendation, we went to dine on the earlier side as we ate our dinner, the long queue started to form outside the restaurant for others wanting to dine there too. 
We ordered their most famous dish - Winer schnitzel. Our guidebook said "the schnitzels are so large they overlap the plates" which clearly was true! The schnitzels were paper thin and were tender and buttery in taste. Each was served with a simple wedge of lemon to squeeze on top of it. Schnitzel heaven.
The recommended side dish for the schnitzel was a german style potato salad and some mixed greens. Clearly we didn't like ours at all...
We ate, ate, and ate some more but seemingly could not finish the full plates of schnitzel. They were just too large! 
After our bellies were stuffed full of schnitzel, we thought a walk was in order. We wandered across the river towards Prater park.  
The Danube River in Vienna at dusk. 
At Prater Park, there is a huge amusement park, including a large Ferris Wheel. 
We decided to give it a whirl....and up we went over the city at dusk. 
Scott took this photo - as soon as we got up high in the ferris wheel, I wasn't too keen on looking out the window. I was glad to have a little seat inside the ferris wheel cabin, which is where I remained for the duration of the ride. 
Back on the ground and through the amusement park we went....