A Day at Kew Gardens

The second we decided to go to England I knew I had to spend a day at Kew Gardens. I had been reading about it for years through historical fiction, and non fiction books of various subjects. I was always fascinated by the scientific and seemingly innocent drive to collect and study the worlds plants. And how that opened up the doors for some of the most destructive advances in world trade and shipping that ultimately caused things such as the opium wars in China. The endeavor to collect and preserve as many plant species and display them to the public officially started in 1759. But was officially founded in 1840 which is when the construction of the glass and wrought iron houses that stand today begun. Today the Kew Gardens are 330 acres of walking paths, trees, bridges both over water and in the tree tops, several historic buildings that can be toured, green houses, cafes, art exhibits and a tea house. Kew Gardens We got to the gardens just a couple hours after they opened but there was already a line to get in. Payment is taken at the main gates and they do take cards, which is nice because it isn’t cheap to get in. From there we were handed a map and set off on our own. We wandered around the typical sights, sort of ever searching for the desert house, which is actually the Princess of Wales house, it isn’t marked very clearly on the map what that green house holds. It also appears to be much smaller on the map than it really is. We also wanted some food but every place we stopped seemed to just be cold sandwiches from a fridge and it was a little chilly that day we were hoping for something a big more substantial. We wound up eating at the Botanical, which was very beautiful and had a great view of the Palm House but the portions were far too small for how hungry we were. We later discovered The Orangery which is where we really should have eaten. Moral of the story, Kew is really lovely and I would certainly go back again it is big enough that I doubt you could actually see everything again. And the maps that are handed out are very helpful, but in hindsight we probably should have planned a bit better, given some of the info we wanted was not included in the materials handed out at the ticket gate. Newens Tea House Newens Tea House was something I found at the last minute. We were loving the tea services we had so far on the trip and wanted to have one last afternoon tea experience. The history of the place is really fascinating and I think is a must do for anyone who loves history and pastries. Allegedly King Henry 8th came across Ann Boleyn and her Maids of Honor eating this light as air tarts, when he tried them he was so smitten he took the recipe and locked it up in the castle. Time went on and in 1850 a man named Newen built the Newens Tea House at the location it is today, however it was destroyed in the blitz. It was rebuilt on the same location and sits there today as the only place in the world the makes the unique little pastries. We had our doubts about exactly how good they were, but we went to experience the history all the same. We had some amazing Russian Caravan tea, scones and clotted cream of course. And the pastries, and oh my heavens they were amazing. If you are visiting the Kew area, I personally think this needs to be a number one spot on your list. Kew England Kew England itself is a district within the Richmond area of London. It had its role throughout history for drawing in royals, as well as artists and even sheltering individuals during the French Revolution. Today however it is mostly just a very nice, if not very expensive residential district. The train station is quite small, and once you pop outside of it you instantly feel the drawn to the area. Small shops, tree lined streets, beautiful well kept homes everywhere you look. There is very little noise and traffic. Just a lovely quiet part of town all around. We wound up staying at the Kew Gardens Hotel, mostly for its proximity to both the gardens and the train station. It actually turned out to be even closer than I thought. For some reason the map made it look close but still a fair jaunt, but it turned out to be no more than a couple blocks from either. The hotel was more expensive than anywhere else we stayed, but it was well worth it for us. And still probably considered a budget room. The hotel is both a restaurant, pub and a hotel. So it can get a bit noisy at night. If you want to stay here and are a light sleeper I would just suggest requesting an upper floor room. Otherwise the rooms are updated and very nice. The dining space is really lovely and the food top notch. The rooms come with wi-fi and breakfast which in and of itself is a feast. After our long day of travel and touring around Kew I took a nice long bath in the giant tub in my room and we woke up the next day to a breakfast feast that lasted us almost back to the states. All in all I couldn’t have been happier with our stay in Kew and if we ever make it back will likely have to repeat a day at Kew Gardens since we didn’t actually manage to see it all. We will also most certainly we repeating our stay at the Kew Gardens Hotel.
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Royal Crescent – Bath, England

Bath is a town in Somerset England, settled in the valley of the Avon (one of several) at the foothills of the Cotswolds. It was known to early human’s for it’s naturally hot spring waters and was later developed by Roman’s in 60AD as a spa town.  The town continued to play an important role of the settlers near the area, having served as a religious center in the 7th century it continued to thrive and fall to despair only to be rebuilt again and again over the years.  The most recent rebuild was after the Bath Blitz during WWII and the city was finally was pronounced a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.

Perhaps the most well known residence was Jane Austen, though she never completed a book here, rather she drew inspiration from the town and the people that spent their time in the gorgeous city. Many films have been made here including: The Other Boleyn Girl, The Duchess and Vanity Fair. Obviously the surrounding lend itself to a more historic atmosphere, and usually highlighting the Royal Crescent a unique curved townhouse building overlooking extensive gardens of the Royal Victoria Park.
Things to See Near the CrescentThe Royal Crescent itself is quite the site. Built between 1767 and 1775, people looking to invest in the building would buy a length of the facade and then employ their own architect the build the rest of their portion of the house. It remains today a townhouse, as it was always intended to be. At the eastern end of the house however is No.1 Royal Crescent, a historic house and museum open to the public. We were short on time and didn’t get a chance to go through it, but if you are interested in the house I would say it would be a great place to stop in.
The Royal Victoria Park is 57 acres and boasts a botanical garden, bowling greens, duck pond, tennis and skateboarding areas as well as a cafe among other attractions. It was dedicated in 1830 by Queen Victoria but rumor has it she was insulted by a local resident and never returned. However there is a obelisk in the park commemorating her.
This side of Bath is also home to the Circus another set of circular Georgian style townhouses, but rather than the large half moon shape of the Royal Crescent this set is four smaller sets that make up a full circle with a road in the middle. The area is also home to the Museum of East Asian Art.

Hidden Things To SeeBig popular sites are all well and good but I like to find the hidden gems of every place I visit. One such places is a small restored Georgian Garden located on the Eastern edge of the Royal Victoria Park. Directions indicate you are looking for a small footpath in the garden. So that is what we were searching for. It took us about 20 min to find it, we had walked past the painfully obvious walkway multiple times. If you walk to the eastern edge of the crescent and turn right, you will see before you enter the Royal Victoria Park a small footpath on the left which takes you along the backs of some houses. The maps for what ever reason seem to indicate that it is both in the garden and some sort of small gravel hard to find walkway. It is not, it is large, wide and most certainly paved.
Part way down the not at all gravel walkway on the left you will find a garden gate that is open to the public. This is the Georgian Garden. This small garden was restored after the own of the building was repairing part of the house and accidentally unearthed the original garden walls from the 1700s. Several restoration groups jumped into action to restore the garden to it’s original plans and it is now open from 9-7. It is a quick stop as it is a small garden but to garden lovers I think it will be well worth the detour.
After leaving the garden continue down the footpath to the left. This will open up to the street with the larger garden’s main gates which as guarded by bronze lions just to the right. Just outside the main gates is the Bath War Memorial that commemorates the lives of Bath residence lost in several different conflicts.

Places to Stay Near the CrescentThere are loads of places to stay near the Royal Crescent. But I can personally attest to the service provided by Bath Holiday Rentals. I found them on a booking site, and I wish I would have just booked with them directly. The cost is lower and the individuals working with the company are incredibly helpful and kind. There is an apartment managed by them that is on the block of townhouses in the Royal Crescent itself.  As well as a number of others within just a few blocks. We stayed a few blocks from the area in the River Street Mews location and loved our stay.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald House – St. Paul, Minnesota

I like a lot of authors but there has always been something about F. Scott Fitzgerald that has always made me especially curious. His writing wasn’t terribly successful in his time. Rather he and his wife were famous for their lifestyle and the friends that they had. They ran with a dream crew of creatives and thinkers, partying all night and dreaming up some of that centuries most creative works. It was a life that I don’t think the world will ever see again and for that I am infinity curious about all that went on during that time period.  Most of us are probably more familiar the ‘The Great Gatsby’ than any of his other works, if it is no longer on the required reading lists of graduating seniors the two movies based on the novel are surely familiar. My personal favorite of his has always been ‘Tender is the Night’ a horribly tragic work about a married man and a much much younger actress, and the personal fallout of his life after an illicit affair. It sounds more like a soap opera than it really is. If you haven’t read it I really do recommend it, but not the movie. That was a tragedy of a different sort.  At any rate the last in the Minneapolis area for work a good friend of mine and I had just finished dinner at Parlour in St. Paul. And he kindly obliged to my very weird request to drive by the F. Scott Fitzgerald House which is just next door to Minneapolis in St. Paul. It was getting dark and raining a lot but despite his trepidation he kindly did it anyway. I hoped out of the car and rushed over to get a good look, which again was fairly hard given how dark it was getting and how terrible the weather was. Location and History There isn’t much to see in truth. It is one among many of a long set of row houses built in 1889. They were built in the New York Style of the classic Brownstone apartment but with a Victorian flair. Fitzgerald parents moved into 593 Summit Ave in 1914 when he was studying at Princeton and then later in 1918 moved down to 599 Summit Ave in the same block of row houses. He lived here only briefly between 1919 and 1920 while writing the manuscript for ‘This Side of Paradise’. It was declared a historic property in the 1970s but still remains a private residence, as such you cannot tour the inside. Which is probably fitting given he is known to have hated the neighborhood and probably would have been appalled at a museum here in his honor. Parting Thoughts It was have been nice if the location were a museum of some sort. But I suppose again given F. Scott hated the house, it is more fitting that there isn’t more to see. Never the less it is quite lovely and the area itself is home to a very impressive amount of mansions. Though Frank Lloyd Wright is also known to have publicly criticized the area for being the “worst collection of architecture in the world”. Alas, despite the negative opinions I hope that next time I head back there the weather proves better and I can spent some time strolling around the area.
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Maryhill Museam, Maryhill, Oregon

Sitting atop a cliff overlooking the Columbia River Gorge sits a house that is fairly easy to miss. Often mistaken for a private house or a winery building it is in fact an art museum. The Maryhill Museum of Art is open to the public and one of the best things to visit in the area.
It was built starting in 1914 by Samuel Hill a local business man and lawyer who had quite a bit of money and quite a bit of influence in early 20th Century Oregon and Washington. He was a very well educated man, who once took classes from Henry Cabot Lodge (who was an American Senator who staunchly apposed the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the inspiration for Veronica Lodges father in the Archie Comic series). And was very well traveled and well connected overseas having made good friends with the likes of Albert I of Belguim and Queen Marie of Romania.

The house had originally been intended to be lived in by the Hill family in order to entertain Hill’s wealthy friends however due to the entrance of the United States into WWI the building of the house was put on hold. The unfinished house was dedicated by Queen Marie in 1926 but not opened to the public until 1940 which was 9 years after Sam Hill’s passing.

Due to Hill’s friendships and connections the museum now houses quite a few personal effects of Queen Marie herself as well as a large collection of Rodin’s sculptures (another friend of Hill’s). It also houses a very nice collection of Pacific Northwest Native artifacts and history as well as the puppets and sets from Theatre de la Mode a mostly forgotten WWII French haute couture collection which was created by the great fashion houses of the time which premiered in the Louvre’s Museum of Decorative Arts in 1945.

Aside from an astounding amount of history the location itself is stunning. Complete with a cafe and well manicured grounds it is the perfect place to stop off on your way to somewhere or to adventure out to from Portland just for the day.

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Baldwin Saloon – The Dalles, Oregon

If you ever find yourself around the Gorge in Oregon you will likely have been in or near The Dalles. It is often pronounced, much to our amusement here in Oregon, like the city in Texas, but is not and I am not a linguist so have no clue how to write out how to properly say it.

Regardless of pronunciation it is one of the larger towns along the Columbia River, having been established in the 1840s as a major rail and river depot for families coming into the area via the Oregon Trail. It was featured in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ as the home town of Cheif. Bobbie the Wonder dog trotted through the area on his way home to Silverton Oregon. It had a US Mint and was home to the single largest bio-terror attack in US History. Moral of the story it is a much more interesting town than it may look upon driving by it on the freeway with quite a few nice establishments to go along with its rich history.

But my favorite thing about The Dalles is The Baldwin Saloon. Situated just off the main road downtown it can be hard to find but it should not be missed. The saloon originally opened in 1876 over the years it has also been a restaurant, a steamboat office, a warehouse, a coffin storage site, and a saddle shop. In 1991 it was finally restored back to its original state and reopened as a bar and restaurant. The owners have taken great pride in bringing it back to life by keeping the old that was worth keeping and decorating it with antiques of all kinds.

Not only is it quite a lovely little place the food is outstanding. They offer lunch and dinner with a large variety of sandwiches and filling entrees as well as vegan options a plenty. And given their location their wine menu is of course impressive and extensive. So if you ever find yourself near the area I highly suggest you stop in, it is in my opinion the best place in the area by far.

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Beacon Rock, Washington

Beacon Rock is a monolithic structure on the Washington side of the Columbia River, the park that surrounds it takes its name from the structure and provides the usual amenities like bathrooms, fresh water and camping.

The rock itself provides areas for technical rock climbing for the extreme visitors, and hiking  for the rest of us mere mortals. From the parking lot it looks as though it would be extremely challenging to hike and I was all geared up to huff and puff my way up the hill. But it turns out to be a pretty casual incline due to all the switch backs and the path is fairly even. Hand rails are provided the entire time for those prone to tripping, swooning or leaning out over edges to take pictures. You could in all likely hood take on the hill with what ever you happen to be wearing that day, it is not long and the view is well worth the climb.

Beacon Rock was named by Lewis and Clark originally as Beaten Rock, allegedly due to the water marks made on the stone by the Columbia River which was much less tame in those years. It was named and renamed but then finally went back to Beacon Rock officially in 1915.
It was nearly destroyed by the state and it took a man named Henry Biddle 20 years to convince the state of Washington to turn the area into a state park, finally convincing the government after he offered it up to Oregon. They finally accepted at the threat of losing some of their riverfront to the neighboring state. You can thank Henry not only for having the foresight to save the area for public recreation but also for building the trail and picnic areas that stand today.


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Greystone Mansion – Los Angeles, California

Back in June my husband had to be in Los Angeles for work so I tagged a long for a semi cheap vacation. I did a lot of walking while down there, since he had the rental car and I was mostly on my own. I spent a lot of that time wandering around the Sunset Blvd. And one of those ended (not really ended because I had to walk back) at Greystone Mansion. Greystone is the former home of Ned Doheny, son of oil tycoon Edward Doheny .  Ned’s life ended in scandal in a mysterious murder suicide with his male secretary only a short while after having moved into his newly completed home.

He was survived by his wife and five children. The house is now a city park, or at least the grounds are. The house itself is used privately for events and not open to the public normally. Though tours can be arranged through the Friends of Greystone, the organization that currently manages the park.

However the grounds are free to the public for 10am to 6pm daily. To see the interior of the building however, you can check out the wide array of movies and TV shows that used the location. Such as my all time favorite Gilmore Girls, where it was used as Rory’s high school, Chilton Academy. It was also used as the Royal Children’s Hospital in Star Trek into Darkness, where can watch Benedict Cumberbatch stand outside the building looking ever so dreamy.

The rules of the grounds are quite strict. Though given how incredible they are and how impeccably well kept I can’t blame them. No dog, picnics, skate boarding allowed. And professional photography is only allowed via permit attained at the park office (so please forgive my unprofessional photos, which they always are, because I am lazy).

To get into the grounds you surprisingly go past the main gate up the road….and turn left. Then continue up past the house to the parking lot. The hill is steep, and I was on foot. I thought I was going to keel over, I was so thrilled when I got to the top and caught my breath enough to enjoy the gardens. I walked all over the grounds, snapping unprofessional photos and enjoying the view.

The mansions exterior is stunning. I walked so far around the grounds I wound up at the bottom of the property on the inside of the main gate, which was not an exit. I was promptly turned back around by the security guard and told to exit the same way I came in. Which was at the top of the giant hill I had just walked up and down. I may have whimpered a bit at the realization that I had to walk back up it. Oh well, I took the stairs with my chin held high, well I was actually watching the stairs because I was about 8 miles into my day and my legs were getting a little jello-ie.

The voyeuristic side of me wished I could have toured the interior. And I may have more than once tried to tiptoe through the rose bushes to see into the windows. That being said, the grounds were truly stunning and the view unforgettable. For everyone with time on their hands and an affinity for architecture or garden design I would highly suggest a visit.

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Mel's Drive-in – Los Angeles, California

When I was last in Los Angeles I twice saw an “Original Mel’s Drive-in”, in two different neighborhoods. I am a huge movie buff so I of course recognized the name as the diner from the movie American Graffiti. However it has been years since I had actually seen the movie and couldn’t recall just by looking at the diner and surrounding area to recall which of the two locations were actually used in the movie.

We were pretty busy when we were in LA, so I completely forgot to look up while we were there which location was used. And then as we were headed out town we needed to grab a bite to eat so we popped into the Sunset Blvd location, which my dad had also suggested as a decent place to eat. I later looked up filming locations of the movie and it turns out neither of the LA locations were used, as the movie was mostly filmed in San Francisco and the original location has since been demolished.

Despite not actually having been used for the movie the Sunset location is full of movie memorabilia and holds true to its 50s style decor and menu.  There isn’t a lot of information out there that I could find out the diner’s history or at least there appears to be some contradictory information. But the general idea is that Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs built the first location in San Francisco, a true drive in style diner which catered to the ever growing car traffic on the west coast.

Several more locations were added over the years and ownership has since changed hands from the original families that built the drive through empire. Regardless that the location we ate at was not the original we thoroughly enjoyed our experience. As I mentioned the waitstaff was incredibly friendly, helpful and prompt. The diner was clean and while we were there blissfully empty. Which was a nice reprieve for us from the busy LA mood.  I would most certainly go back if I find myself near a Mel’s location, the kitschy decor and delicious diner food made the whole experience quite fun.

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Book Soup – Los Angeles, California 

Book Soup is an independent book store and mainstay on the Sunset Blvd since the 1970s. Popular with tourist and celebrities alike the store specializes in hard to find and high end art books but also has a very comprehensive fiction section as well.

The store will suck you in from the street with a beautiful New York style newsstand display at the front door. Where you can then see the curved and towering bookshelves that are begging to be explored. Once in a person could spend hours (and I did) browsing the displays and finding all sorts of new books you want to read.

I found no less that 10 books immediately that I had not heard of and wanted to read. And that doesn’t include the pile of glossy art books that I would have snatched up had I not been on foot and several miles away from where I was staying. I went in more than once, spending at least an hour on my own. But I also wet in once with my family. Every time we were ready to leave we would be missing a member of our party, and in going to try to find them we would find more books that caught our attention and then again someone would be missing and the cycle would continue. Like I said it sucks you in, in the best possible way.

I sadly did not have the pleasure of being there on days with any special events or while one of the many famous locals made their way into the shop. But it is known to be a popular location for celebrity sightings and hosts a large number of events including talks on art and literate as well as book signings.
If you are a fan of books this is a Los Angeles sight not to be missed, but come with dollars because you will windup spending a lot. Even if not on their perfectly curated collection of books, their gifts and souvenirs are impossible to pass up and I wound up spending way too much money on greeting cards which I in no way regret doing.

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Azulejo – Lisbon, Portugal

If you have seen even just a single image of Portugal, chances are it had azulejo in it. Azulejo is a form of painted glazed tile, whose history dates back to the 13th century. These beautiful painted tiles are synonyms with the country and Lisbon in particular. And for good reason, they are stunning.

My research so far seem to point to Seville Spain being the epicenter of the Azulejo movement in the 13th century, at the time it was heavily influenced by Moorish culture and as such the tiling technique were perfected here.  King Manuel introduced the techniques to Portugal after a visit to Seville and the rest his history.

The Sintra National Palace has an impressive display of both indoor and outdoor tiles. We wound up skipping  it because of sick family members and a want to get settled in Lisbon before Christmas but I would love to go back and visit. There is also a tile museum in Lisbon we didn’t make it to that would probably worth the time if you had an interest in ceramics and history.

My favorite tiles I saw in Portugal were at the Pena Palace in particular the gold tile in picture above. The room was dark so the picture is terrible but I was memorized and wound up holding up a long line of tourist trying to take pictures of it.

A slightly better picture of the gold tile seen above, but it doesn’t show off how vivid the gold was.  I just want to touch it. Which is frowned upon and often ends in being ejected from the building. So I resisted, this time…

Pena also boasts a large college of relief tiles, I couldn’t find any information on the history of the relief tiles, though given when Pena was built I would imagine it was all the rage in the 1800s.

Where as the more standard and repetitive tiles were more common closer to the 15th and 16th centuries.

At various points in history production of tiles moved out from Spain and Portugal to their colonies, a large amount of which landed in Brazil.

Where as the blue and white tiles were more likely from the 18th century and of Netherland origin.

And the blue and white tiles with scenic motifs are possibly even newer and mass produced with industrialized methoods in the 19th century.

If you are really intrigued by the history and tile facades Lisbon Lux has a nice round up of the prettiest facades in Lisbon. Complete with addresses for each building so you can go see them for yourself if you are ever in the area.

Lisbon Lux also has a nice round up of the best tile panels in the city, if you are more interested in the mosaic picture rather than the repetitive patterns.

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