26 December 2010


Of the four main museums this time around, this is the only one I hadn't been to previously. It's not that I didn't want to go before, but there's only so much time, and its location looked so isolated on the map. I'm not against a little commuting, but I need some semblance of schedule!

I'm finding more and more that tube maps are deceiving. They make Pimlico seem further than it is. I decided to brave the supposed long commute, as I'd heard that Tate Britain's Pre-Raphaelite collection was outstanding. Bonnie came along for the ride, though at this point she was fading fast from the combination of a head cold and the temperature finally dropping to London's normal autumnal rates. She kept going with the promise of Wagamama directly after the museum.

First of all, the commute wasn't that long. The walk from the tube station was only slightly lengthy, and we got to see a section of London we'd never seen before.

Let's get the negative out of the way first. The section I'd wanted to see the most, with the majority of the Pre-Raphaelites, was closed for some repairs or Grand Scheme to Disappoint Catherine - take your pick. So it wasn't all grand for me, but there were quite a few unexpected surprises, and mild coincidences.

Beyond a cursory glance at a guidebook, I wasn't sure what was included in Tate's collection, so I was open to pleasant surprises. Here's the first one:


Okay, this painting is probably hard to get from the photograph (and I wasn't sure it photography was allowed, so I was covert all the way), but it's called The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, and was painted by Richard Dadd. Ironically, he was committed to Bedlam after confessing to the murder of his father. Apparently he was a paranoid schizophrenic, but also a recognized talent, and this painting was done while in the hospital.

Dadd's story and his work is interesting (and kind of disturbing) enough, but my connection to this work is that the band Queen named one of their songs after it; and the song is a bit erratic and odd, so now I see the connection. Dadd's poem about the painting seems to share similar lyric to Freddie Mercury's. I've also heard rumors that Mr. Dick of Dickens's David Copperfield is loosely based on Richard Dadd (his full name is similar, too.) Conversely, I read that the characters on the painting may have pictured people in the novel. Chicken or egg, it's still intriguing, considering the fact that it's one of the books of 2010! (Coming sooner or later, my 2010 Books Reviewed...)

Speaking of books, I know that I don't spend a lot of time reading while I'm away. Still, I can't help trying to match books with my trip, and exuberantly picking a few volumes, bravely fitting these inside my luggage. I might regret this when the trip's over and I've barely turned any pages, but I actually managed to make a dent in two books. One of them was Chatterton by Peter Ackroyd. It's not his most well known work, but I'd picked this book up not long after I'd posed for a photo in tribute to the painting 'The Death of Chatterton' by Henry Wallis. I know, it sounds kind of creepy, but hey, it worked for George Meredith, the model for the actual painting, who lived a long life as a writer.

The actual Thomas Chatterton, was rather fascinating. He produced what he called long lost writings from a medieval monk, and people were actually convinced for a bit. His body of work is impressive, especially considering the fact that he was only seventeen years old when he died. Some say he committed suicide, and others believe he accidentally overdosed. Either way, his life, death, and work inspired future poets like Keats and Coleridge, and even Oscar Wilde (wow, I almost burst out in a Smiths song there.) I mean when you get down to it, his death was highly romanticized, but I tend to fall prey to that sensibility here and there. So reading a novel based on this person, and those involved in the famous painting, and mostly took place in London, seemed to fit. And then, what do you know? Look what's in the Tate:



I think I must have read somewhere that the painting was here, but I was so concerned with painters like Turner, Rossetti, and Millais (whose famous Ophelia, also a death scene, I posed for on the same day as the Chatterton, and whose statue stands right outside Tate Britain), that I'd put this particular work to the back of my mind. Well, that's okay. I like little surprises.


16 December 2010


When preparing for my trip to London in October, I brought an autumn coat, figuring it was going to be chilly. I'd only had my 2000 trip to gauge the weather for that time of year, and during that trip it'd been kind of nippy. Though I was pleasantly surprised (and would give a good deal to have similar weather on a day like today), it wasn't the worst thing that one of my favorite activities does not belong to any season. Because even when the hottest day of the year makes a tea room seem uninviting, a museum is climate controlled! (Usually)

Bonnie and I visited four museums in one week, and we possibly could have done more. But the skies were blue, and it would have been a shame to miss all that outdoor time.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (or V&A) is a powerhouse of decorative arts. There are collections of paintings, statues, tilework, textiles, furniture, and costumes from all over the world, throughout the centuries. Which means that it's kind of overwhelming to try to take it all in in just one morning. We tried, though!

Incidentally, the V&A has a great gift shop. Of course, the stuff I'd like to own from the museum is on a look, don't touch, and certainly don't take basis. Here's a few of them:


I just thought this was apropos: Apollo and the Muses


They don't make men's clothes like they used to...


Do I even have to caption this? Wish the lighting was better.


Elizabethan Claviorgan. Even if you can't play it, it'd look gorgeous in anyone's living room. Probably wouldn't fit most people's living rooms.

03 December 2010


When people go out for a drink with me, I suppose they assume it's gonna be something hot, in pretty china cups, and there might even be lace involved. Of course I'm never one to turn down such an outing.

But this particular Saturday in London, I'd already done the tea thing, and the museum thing...I was kind of done with my regular things. It's after dark, we're hungry so what's two girls and their cousin and wife gonna do in London? Well, we thought we'd try The Sherlock Holmes, a pub/restaurant near Charing Cross (after getting out of the station, you go through some very Holmesian small streets and there it is), but sadly it was still a Saturday night and the restaurant required reservations. Though technically we're tourists, and I'm not against doing some touristy things per se, we didn't want to go anywhere that screams "I've just spend the day taking pictures of Big Ben and I have twenty phone box tchotchkes in this shopping bag!" So we took the middle road, and found a pub called Lord Moon of the Mall that suited us just fine.

Though it was busy, we found a nice table in the back of the back room, and settled in. Then we sorted out the business of ordering food. The menu offered a good amount of choices, including items like burgers that come with a complimentary pint. Not bad. So you give your order at the bar. Now this is the part I find daunting. I've always found bars intimidating, because you have to get someone's attention over a loud crowd of thirsty patrons. I'm hopelessly soft-spoken. Situations like that make me feel like a little mouse in the corner of a dog's poker game (who came up with those paintings?) But I was hungry, and Bonnie was just starting to come down with the ailment that afflicted her throughout our stay, so I manned up.

The next step is, they serve the drinks and the bar. You carry them to your table and wait for them to bring your food. We all ended up wanting fish and chips, which thankfully did not disappoint. I didn't get beer. I hate beer. In fact, if you can find a beer that I'd actually like, the next round would be on me. Until then, I got Strongbow Cider. I'd never had this before; usually when I'm out and want cider I find Magner's, which is fine, but I'm always up for something new to me. And now I'm on the lookout for Strongbow in New York - I'm sure it's here somewhere.

Maybe we were just there on a good day, but for a place that's just down the road from Trafalgar Square, Lord Moon did not have a terribly touristy vibe. I spotted quite a few patrons that seemed to be regulars, reading their newspaper, not a tour guide, with a pint. It felt like a place people could go to and make themselves at home, though I have very little to compare with. I've been to so few real English pubs, especially the ones that could truly be deemed "locals", that I'm afraid I have little authority on these matters. Still, I do know what it's like to be in tourist traps (I work near Grand Central Station and close enough to Times Square)and I didn't have that itchy feeling here. We were completely relaxed, and spent hours just talking amongst our dinner, and later dessert. I had sticky toffee pudding, something you only see in NY in places like Tea and Sympathy. This sweet tooth loved it. And, by the way, the prices were really reasonable, something one seldom finds in London.

The bathrooms were downstairs and eerily cavernous. I expected to turn a corner and find Guy Fawkes plotters (obligatory history reference).

A few snaps:


The Before Picture.


How could I not feel at home here? This looks like my apartment; just add HP sauce.


Cousins! A frameable portrait.

Can you spot Big Ben and the Wheel? View from the block of Lord Moon

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24 November 2010

Muffin Man!

Obviously I'm still blogging about London, and nothing but. I'll probably be on this kick for a while (or until I run out of pictures, which will take some time.) Surprisingly, so far I've made little mention of my tea experiences on this trip, and there's a reason for that. I didn't sit around drinking tea the entire time I was there. No, we moved around a lot, and on the more jet-laggy days I even drank coffee (shock!) Of course there were some amazing moments of relaxing with a requisite spot of tea, and here's one of those moments.

There are many places to take tea in London. Duh. The same goes for New York, really, but they've had it down to a science for centuries, where in my hometown its history is more of a love/hate relationship. So it's hard when I get my rare few days every 3-5 years or so to pick places to take tea in my second favorite city ever. I've had suggestions, and ideas for next time (whenever that is). So the plan goes this way: pick an old favorite, and try one new (to me) place. If I can do more than that, great. If not, fine.

Now if I had only one hour to spend in any part of London, it would likely be in Covent Garden. After that, it would be The Muffin Man. It represents to me all that it cozy in Kensington. It's simple, not overpriced, they're generous with the clotted cream, and the scones are THE BEST IN THE WORLD!!!!!!!! Oh, and the tea's good too. They have a small selection of teas, but it's satisfying.

Mind you, I've had not-as-good scones there. It seems this happens every other time. So Visit 1: Amazing, Visit 2: Average, Visit 3: Exquisite, Visit 4: Okay...I think this was Visit 5. Do the math; it was wonderful.

I plan to post a short video of our visit there, but until then, here are some pics. We'd just come from wandering in Holland Park, and it was the ideal next move. Or not move; just staying put for a while.


It was open!


We had "our table"...the one I've felt most at home with since my first time in 1998. It has the view of Wrights Lane, which is right off of Kensington High Street, and the tube station.


The scones, in all their homemade goodness.

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18 November 2010


In the course of our week in London, it was Chocolate Week and Wool Week. How can you keep up with all these special weeks when they want to overlap each other? Well, you can eat a surfeit of Cadbury bars whilst cozying up in a nice woolen sweater, I suppose.

Savile Row, known all over the world for men's bespoke tailoring, got down to their roots during the Monday of our visit. They wanted to promote buying real British wool products, I think. This means that Bonnie and I had the luxury of seeing real live sheep without having to bus it to the countryside. Not that I don't like the English countryside, but you see there's only so much one can do with a week!

All we needed was a piglet to turn this into "Babe" (well, some singing mice might help):




The good shepherd,and his loyal napping sheepdogs:


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08 November 2010

By Any Other Name

You don't take the subway if you want to get on a train in London. You take the tube, or the underground, or maybe a train. Aside from that, a commute's a commute. There will always be crowds, rude people, service interruptions, and annoying transfers. On my rare visits to London, of course, I tend to travel during the less populated times of the day when I can. It doesn't make the move from point A to B endearing, but at least the various place names and different ads help it along.

Oh, and rest assured you will burn calories if you need to transfer to other lines. It's a massive system!

One question: what happened to the Cadbury machines? They used to be the highlight of my ride. And why did I get a cavity anyway?




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Chillin' with my Holmesey!!!

26 October 2010



Beautiful neighborhood! Can't imagine the mortgage prices in such a place.


My very first Yorkshire pudding. It's just a bready matter that went with the Sunday roast. The whole meal was really satisfying, especially after that heady walk in the park. I'm gonna attempt to cook my own roast sometime soon. Oh, and I guess we have proof I'm not a vegetarian!


Blue skies, no fog in sight...take that, London naysayers!

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Words cannot express...

24 October 2010

HH2 (Of London Part One)


Such a relaxing place to hang on a Sunday afternoon!


The first of many crows/ravens I saw during my London stay. I never see them in New York. Well, maybe once or twice.


I'm obviously not the only one who found Hampstead inspiring!

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Fancy a walk?

18 October 2010

Hampstead Heath 1 (of London 2010 Part One)

After years of waiting and whining, I finally made it back to London this month. My travel companion was my sister, Bonnie, and despite getting sick in the midst of it, she was a trooper. It was a fantastic trip, but instead of telling you about it, why don't I show you through interpretive dance! No? Well, all right then.

We took more pictures this time around than ever before. I also brought a tiny camcorder which proceeded to stop working halfway through, but I might be able to salvage it. In the meantime, I present to you Installment Number One of London 2010: Hampstead Heath.

Hampstead is sometimes categorized as a day trip destination in the travel guides. I'm not really sure why; it's mapped within the travel zones of London, I think Zone 2 which is just immediately outside the city center. You could, of course, stay here for an entire day and not get bored; particularly if the weather is pleasant. And it was. It felt like the perfect spring day, blue skies and sunshine. People were out in droves and it still didn't feel crowded.

This is the main difference between Hampstead Heath and Central Park. Much as I love Central Park, on the weekends it tends to be overwhelmed with tourists and other park-loving folk, and you can't move two feet without risking getting clocked by a softball or a couple out for a romantic stroll. The only exception is in the Ramble, which is designed to feel like unspoiled green space. Though Hampstead Heath has a number of more populated sections, we had plenty of frolic space. If I lived in London, especially northern London, I'd spend a large amount of free time in Hampstead Heath, but for this trip we were content with an afternoon. I can understand this particular source of Keats' inspiration...but more on that in HH2.


This is the only sad dog we came across in the area, and that's probably because he was outside of the park space. Every other dog I saw looked happy beyond their wildest dreams. I'd own a dog if I lived around there, just to be able to bestow such joy on another creature.



Because of its elevation, the views of London's skyline was spectacular. You get both country and city in one lovely package.

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This was the most crowded part of the park. 'nuff said.

10 September 2010

A Teany bit Disappointed

I reported a few months back on my first visit to Teany since it reopened. My greatest letdown at the time was that they'd run out of Teanychino. I'm glad to say that at today's visit this was not a problem. The beverage was lovely, and it was, I must say, the perfect day for it. I also had the Teany Tea Sandwich, which succeeded in getting me to eat massive portions of (pickled) beets and actually enjoying it. Dwight Shrute would be proud.

So what am I gonna whine about now? Something quite dear to my heart. It seems Teany has dispensed with Afternoon Tea. They still serve scones, but they no longer provide clotted cream, just butter and jam. Why, Teany? Why? I'm not gonna go into paragraphs of what I love about my three tiers of delight; been there done that. But Teany, you had Afternoon Tea for years. Why the change? If it ain't broke...

What baffles me, though, is that the online menu still has it. Perhaps it hasn't been updated recently: I'd get on that. Otherwise it's just a tease.

Now, I have no problem with the service. Everyone was friendly, and we were certainly not ignored. Of course, we were one of only a handful of people in the cafe. I know it was Friday night, and not everyone decides to go for tea at that time if they're normal, but in the past, even in June, it was more crowded. I don't want to see Teany fare badly; I just want to understand what the changes are about.

Also, they still have the list of teas in a binder, and it's still a good vegetarian eating establishment. As long as there tea loving vegetarians/vegans in New York, Teany could be around for a long time. I wish them well, but I'm moving on.

We didn't stay for dessert; instead, we picked up cupcakes at Sugar Sweet Sunshine. I love this place. They've got it decorated like the way I dress - or rather the way I used to before I toned down a little. The furniture is shabby chic, though we only bought cupcakes to go. I'm home now, so I tried the red velvet cupcake ("sexy red velvet" to be exact), and it's perfection. No wonder they were listed recently in a top ten list of best cupcakes in New York. Even better, the cupcakes are $1.50, which is half the price of Magnolia's. I had it with a "Sino the Red" tea, which I'll elaborate on in my next installment.

Right before we went down the steps to the Delancey Street subway station, we caught sight of the Tribute in Light, where the Twin Towers used to be. It looks eerie, kind of spectral. I thought about how some things are gone for good, and sometimes you can't really substitute what's missing. I really hope Teany makes a bigger effort to, though.


03 September 2010

25 years later...



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There's a drugstore on the corner of the block where I live. It's been there nearly four years. It's well lit, so when I pass by I can see everything they sell that's not hidden behind the counter. I can tell you where they keep their ibuprofen, mouthwash, and of course their tea. If memory serves me, however, I've never been inside.

But it's right there! you might be protesting. Just stop in; it won't be too much trouble. I agree. I still haven't passed the threshold.

Why is it some of the closest places are the ones I never visit? I could give you a list of locations in New York that are languishing on my to-do list. Carnegie Deli? Russian Tea Room? Someday, someday. How about one of the closest cities to New York...closer than Albany, possibly? Well, it had been a long time since I went to Philadelphia. A quarter of a century, apparently. I only have vague memories of the road trip there in 1985...I specifically remember hearing the song 'We Are the World' at one point.

So Daphne, who wasn't quite born the first time I went, said to me, "wanna do a day trip in Philly?" Hey, I survived two day trips to Boston, which is further away. Each time we took Megabus. I do have a few words about that. But first, I agreed to go, and she booked the reservation and did the mapping and planning. I'm doing enough planning for an upcoming trip, so I was glad to leave it in her hands.

The bus ride over was with little incident. I got mildly carsick, and spilled tea all over the table in the bus (but tables are fun! I love them in trains, too) but we made it in one piece. After a short walk, we made it to our first stop: Reading Terminal Market. It's a big old farmers market, with a variety of foods, specializing in Amish fare. I had what they called a pot pie, but it was more like a chicken dumpling soup. It wasn't bad. Daphne got a beef plate that was very much like SOS (ask a veteran). We also found a section in there with chocolates molded to look like internal organs. This was just the beginning in our adventures with Anatomy.

After a detour (let's just say I found the cutest dress!) we went to the Mutter Museum (of College of Physicians). Let me preface this by telling you a little bit about my history with body parts. It's just not my thing. I got out of dissecting a frog twice. The first time I had to take an essay to get into Advanced English in high school. The second time I let my lap partner do the dissecting, and I just looked on in fascinated disgust. I can't watch surgeries on television; it makes me ill. So a museum featuring nothing but real human skulls and pickled fetuses and misshapen stomaches is not going to uplift me. It is right up Daphne's alley, so I let her do her thing. I did buy syringe pen that I love. To calm the faint feeling that crept upon me (what a lightweight!), I relaxed in the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden. If I had a garden, that's exactly what I'd do with it. That and maybe a few flowers. Just dwelling on these fantasies made me feel better.

The Philadelphia Art Museum does not have antiquities, but it does have those famous Rocky steps. I ran up about half of them. What? It was hot out! Besides, I needed my strength to take in all the lovely paintings. More importantly, this museum has a genuine tea house brought in from Japan...the ones they use for tea ceremonies. I've never been to one of these; they're too precise for me to pull off on my own. I do like some of its principles. I, of course, have my own version of a tea ceremony: Cathernoon Tea. We can talk about that another time.

The museums close at five, so nothing was entirely thorough. I had enough of a taste of them to know I could return for a good look around, without waiting so long this time.

After cooling off in a fountain frolic (what? It was hot out!) we did a little more walking. Philly's an okay city, but we must not have been in the most vibrant part of town at this time of the day. Almost everything was closed, and it was August, without a holiday in sight. The subways, by the way, were a little creepy.

On the transportation note, there was massive confusion in the bus lineup; the problem being there was no real lineup. Megabus needs to get on that, at least in Philadelphia. Get it together! I'd taken Dramamaine for safe measure this time, and was groggy, so the ride home went by in a blur. All in all it was a satisfying day trip. I'd like to go back someday, and if you have any suggestions of other places to see or eat at, let me know. Maybe I'll get to that corner drug store too.

24 August 2010

It's like I died and went to Florida




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I may have a different view of Florida than most. The average vacationer to the Sunshine State goes there to relax at the beach, maybe visit a spa, play some golf, or party on South Beach till all hours of the night. At least that's what I imagine people do; I was such a mediocre travel agent because I really don't understand what the typical traveller wants out of their trip. The closest I get to this demographic is the occasional shot I'll take next to a famous site (I was thrilled to be photographed next to Cinderella's Castle in Disney World but have no desire whatsoever to return. It was just one of those things.)

My only reason to book a flight to Florida is to visit good friends. I don't hate the state, but otherwise it's not really the Catherine destination. I do have some good memories of my previous visits, and they usually include going to the beach or going to a tea room. So when I did both of these activities on a recent Friday in Long Island, I imagined for a moment that I'd hopped on a Jet Blue flight, sans the cursing flight attendant (that's old news already, isn't it?) But no, this was not the case; I was at Jones Beach with Pam, and later at Teapot in Bellmore.

Besides travel agent, a job description that I'd contemplated but might have trouble with is restaurant critic. I love good food (which is the most banal four words I can utter; who doesn't?) and I enjoy finding new spots to eat, especially tea rooms. But I'd hate the part of the job where I'd have to look for something to criticize. Though I'm given to whining about prices, or the dearth of clotted cream (this is coming up), I have this ingrown terror of hurting a chef's/restaurant owner's/staff's feelings by pointing out what I really didn't like. So I'm going to stick to what was good, and gloss over the negatives as much as possible.

Of course Pam and I had the Afternoon Tea for two. Here you get a choice of two sandwiches and two different kinds of pastries. The scones are just the plain kind, but two types of jams add to the variety. Where was the clotted cream? Sorry, the critic just showed up. I'm shushing her as I write this. Anyway, I thought the scones were good; very home made tasting. The sandwiches were also substantial. One in particular, The Henry, was downright hearty. I'm guessing they are named after Henry VIII. The Elizabeth was a cucumber sandwich, with herbed cream cheese. They were dainty and We Were Pleased.

I was also impressed by the generosity of the teapots. We had a pot of decaffeinated lavender Earl Grey, and a peach flavored black tea, and we didn't come anywhere close to emptying the teapots. They live up to their name, for sure.

Teapot is on a strip of shops, which I suppose made me think of Florida as well. The interior had Victorian decor; by that I mean if someone looked for ideas in a Victoria magazine circa 1991. It was a bit much for my tastes, but this is not a criticism...it's an observation. The bathroom (very clean) had a hand lotion called "Drenched in Pink." Quite appropriate.

A morning at the beach, followed by tea, is an art form in itself. You don't want to drag a drenched, sandy self into any nice eating establishment. I'd like to think my sister and I managed to pull it off. And I'm as pasty white as ever!