Think Holland is across the ocean? This year Holland comes to America at the Philadelphia flower show! With spinning windmills of flowers, bridges, canals, and bikes galore, and a rainbow of tulips and daffodils that dance in the music and light, this year’s flower show could turn any thumb green (or orange).
There is something for everyone at this year’s show at the Philadelphia Convention Center. I was impressed by all the beautiful ways that floral designers incorporated Dutch culture into their displays. From blue & white Delft pottery and tiles, to towering stacks and fountains of bicycles and bike parts that remind people to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle, there was no question what the 2017 theme was.
Think that flower shows are for stuffy horticultural enthusiasts who are obsessed with pruning their roses? No! The Philadelphia Flower Show has something for everyone. We saw people of all ages enjoying the flowers with glee. I was struck by how many of the installations were closely related to contemporary art. The beautiful colors and textures of flowers and plants being used in the displays just added a natural element to the towering sculptures.
The artful displays drew attention to the qualities of different flower types. Ornamental grasses, gerber daisies, and tulips were even shown off as elaborate “hats” in one display.
Periodically, the hall would erupt into a musical lightship featuring the windmills. Everyone would stop to watch how the flowers changed colors in the synchronized lights.
The best part of this was how the lighting raced through the hanging curtain of pommanders overhead.
Towards the back of the convention hall were smaller displays, each featuring plants indigenous to Holland. Many of them appealed as secret gardens. One even showcased the ecological advantages of grass roofs on traditional Dutch houses.
The center of the hall featured awarded winning botanical specimen in their respective categories. We had a lot of fun looking at terrariums, succulents, and African violets. Our favorite by far were the beautiful Bonsai trees! Some of the trees had been carefully “trained” by their gardeners for over fifty years.
The rest of the show is dominated by shopping kiosks featuring seeds, tropical bulbs, garden ornaments, flags, containers and even designer greenhouses.
Whether or not you have a green thumb, you are sure to enjoy the annual Philadelphia Flower Show!
Continuing our journey through northern Wales, we wound our way through the twisting hills away from Conwy, through small villages en route to Betws-y-coed. The hills were dotted with sheep, small farmhouses, and occasional shops. But our eyes were often lifted to the sky, which changed with a fury of heavy rain-laden clouds, great sweeps of cotton candy white wisps, and then the pure blue that comes with the sun. It was a dramatic backdrop to the sweeping landscape.
One of the most picturesque towns of northern Wales is Llanrwst, known for its vine covered cottage which is green in summer and turns a fiery red in fall. The Llanrwst bridge crosses the River Conwy in the lowlands at the base of Snowdonia. Originally known as the center of wool trading in Wales and England, Llanrwst still holds vestiges of this early economy. The town today also has a lovely town square featuring small cafes and stores.
Our focus for the 2nd part of our Wales adventure was the town of Betws-y-coed, a resort and hiking village in Snowdonia National Park.
We were delighted to spend two hours in the village of Betws-y-coed, which featured shops, pubs, guesthouses, and a large town green perfect for football(UK) and frisbee. After hiking up and down the streets of Conwy and touring Conwy Castle, our stomachs were grumbling. So we settled into a pub lunch at the Gwesty Glan Aber.
LOML ordered a BLT with chips and I (when in Rome) ordered the Welsh Lamb Stew. We also walked back into another room which housed the bar two get two pints of ice cold ale and cider, which were very refreshing.
We did not have to wait long to get our food, and readily dug in! LOML’s BLT featured thick cut slab bacon, crisp lettuce, and tomato with a small side of crisps. We also had ordered some chips on the side, which turned out to be the best of our entire trip.
My lamb stew was delicious. I am still thinking about it now. Piping hot, it was filled with chunks of lamb, tender carrots, leeks, potatoes, and onions. It was perfect thing to warm me up on the cool day we visited Wales.
Fortified by our lunch at the Gwesty Glan Aber, we walked into the heart of town. Dominating the town green is St. Mary’s Church, built with local bluestone in the 1870’s.
One thing you will notice immediately about the town is its outdoorsy-ness. The town is a rest stop for hiking enthusiasts in and around Snowdonia National park. We came across many determined individuals with backpacks and hiking shorts. Stopping in to the main outdoor sports center in town, you would not be lacking for anything should you need to pick up equipment before your hike.
We would have hiked up the mountain, but after seeing all the serious equipment everyone was purchasing, we thought it wiser to purchase postcards and visit the Anna Davies shop next door (ok that was my idea). Should you want some awesome toasty slippers lined with lambswool, Welsh plaid blankets, and sweet smelling candles (and who doesn’t?) then make sure to pop into the Anna Davies shop.
We also popped into the Londis shop, which is like a quainter version of 7-11. Inside were lots of convenience foods, magazines, and newspapers. Convenience stores and supermarkets in other countries are an absolute favorite of mine. I love looking at all of the different packaging and taste profiles, and these shops often offer some (very) affordable fun souvenirs. We bought a packet of prawn cocktail-flavored potato crisps, two boxes of chocolate tea cakes and custard tarts to bring home to family, and a large cadbury chocolate bar that had little cells of liquid mint in each square, which the cashier swore was the best chocolate bar on the planet (it was). The Londis store also houses the town post office, which was closed by the time we got there (2:15 PM).
After sitting for a bit on the town green, there was just one more thing to do: We had to have a Welsh Cake. A Welsh Cake is a small hot griddle cake, a bit more dense than the American pancake, often filled with currants and dusted with superfine sugar. Luckily, there is just the spot in Betws-y-coed: the Welsh Cake Company (Cwmni Cacen Gri). This quaint little hole in the wall on the town green makes Welsh Cakes right in front of you, so they come into your hands all sugary and piping hot.
You can also purchase beverages and other sweet treats here. They make their own fudge, carrot cake, brownies and Bara Brith (a Welsh fruitcake…which may explain my love of fruitcake) as well as sell cups of Illy brand coffee. They use delicious real Welsh Butter in their Welsh cakes, which makes them absolutely delectable. We walked around outside giddy with joy as we nibbled our warm Welsh cakes.
It was then time to get back onboard the bus and return to Liverpool and the QM2. We sailed through the Welsh moors and then descended again into the green valleys of Denbighshire. Life in this land is a fairytale.
Want to see some incredible art? Go to the annual summer exhibition at London’s Royal Academy. There you will see some soul-shifting, mind-bending, material-pushing art that will have you dreaming about your own ideas for days after.
The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts provides the perfect platform for emerging artists, as well as old guard creators, to strut their stuff. Hung salon style, the effect is much like the delight one gets from sorting through piles of old things at a sale and finding a treasure. Only there are many many treasures here.
As you enter the building, you can’t help but delight in Jim Lambie’s chromatic vision of a staircase (photo above). Like ascending to heaven on puddles of paint, it’s ok to smile with delight as you ascend to the galleries on the second floor.
Just in case you thought the esteemed Royal Academy was stuffy, they’ve gone and painted their galleries orchid pink and caribbean blue to enhance the works stacked on the walls.
At the top of the stairs is the Wohl Central Hall, a room by which you can orient yourself throughout the show. Planted in the center is Matthew Darbyshire’s Doryphous, a statue that puts Polykleitos’ canon on its head. While elegant and idealized and exhibiting the requisite contrapposto, Darbyshire’s standing man appears to dissolve before you in a haze of translucent color. A statue, so based in its physicality, has been rendered to resemble spiritual light.
The thing that excites me most about the Royal Academy’s exhibition is media. I stood there for hours, up close, far away, viewing works that pushed the limits of materials of creation. Woodgrain became a watery backdrop for a silhouette of fishermen in Mick Moon’s Noon Fishing. Grayson Perry’s Tapestry Julie and Rob invites us to explore the fabric of two lives. Bill Jacklin’s Stars and Sea at Night III shows us what Monotype is meant for. Emma Stibbon wows with her bleak inviting masterpieces in ink and charcoal.
What I really love about the Royal Academy show is how it turns gallery life on its head. The viewing of art has sadly become almost clinical in our modern age, with paintings, prints, and sculpture segregated and realists rarely exhibited next to their more conceptual neighbors. If a show exhibits large scale works, rarely do you see small ones hanging beside them. The salon style stacking of works, which is so well-planned, yet delightfully mixed, enables us to “discover” artists and ask questions that might even be answered by a neighboring work of art. It’s warm and cozy and playful and approachable, everything art exhibitions should be if they want to attract an intelligent audience.
Then, there is the issue of re-appropriation. Elise Ansel makes an even better Titian for us in her Feast of the Gods II, After Bellini and Titian.
Tom Phillips’ A Humument is an installation of book pages from the obscure Victorian novel A Human Document that is reworked into something new and captivating. To take an old story and highlight its words on the page, isolate them, and beautify them on such a vast scale is something new, but the greatness of it is that it lead me on a journey through two-dimensional space and forced me to rethink the relationship between text and image.
Melissa Scott-Miller’s oil painting Holloway Back Gardens with Self-Portrait is a terrific investigation of inside/outside and near/far with daubs of color that sing together. I loved peeking into this hidden world, walled in, but not sealed off, from our view.
Having just learned somethings new about the 2-D world, it was then fun to enter the Large Weston Room and explore the 3-D architectural models. Often overlooked in fine arts settings, the concepts and unlimited potential of future environments, both interior and exterior was fabulously on display at the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition.
If you happen to be in London during the summer, do not miss the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. It left me exhilarated and happy to be a part of humanity, a humanity that is current rather than a great one that has passed. Which is a rather different thing than what you will feel upon leaving London’s museums. Nice, isn’t it?
When I go shopping on my travels, I like to visit stores that are not available to me where I live. Why bother stop in at Gucci, Prada, or Chanel? These items can be found in most major cities and even some small ones. On my recent trip to London, shopping meant stopping in at some of London’s finest: Liberty on Regent Street, Fortnum and Mason Picadilly, Laduree London and the Burlington Arcade. We decided that our third day in London, would be our day of “Shopping and Tea.” After a (second) morning jaunt to the British Museum, we set forth on a day of touring the shops. We started off at Liberty on Regent Street, the great Tudor emporium of ironically trendy chintz.
The store itself is quite beautiful, with exposed timber beams, bright windows, and open balconies. I found the offerings at Liberty enticing, particularly in Haberdashery and Household sections. The store caries a wide variety of artisan cosmetics and perfumes on the main floor. The jewelry and accessories departments offered very artsy and funky Rosantica, True Rocks and Marni items, any of which I would have loved to have worn out of the store.
I couldn’t resist a pair of potholders and some cloth napkins in this cheerful Wiltshire Liberty print to brighten up the kitchen. I also purchased a bunch of sewing notions and Liberty print sewing boxes for my friends, which you can read about here.
The men’s department was a bit lacking. LOML did not really find too many items to his liking but he enjoyed walking through this interesting old building. Perhaps the best department in all of Liberty is the Scarf Room, where you can feast your eyes on colors and prints lining the walls. I could not help but purchase one Liberty scarf, which has quickly become my personal favorite accessory.
Regretfully leaving Liberty behind, we headed over to Picadilly to the flagship store of Fortnum & Mason. When you walk into the store, you will be on the Main floor, which offers fine foods, teas, spices, biscuit tins, and jams. Fortnum & Mason carries a Royal Warrant, which means if it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for you!
Do you need Aleppo pepper? Himalayan Pink Sea Salt? Dukka? Well, then you have come to the right place.
But that’s not even the beginning! Fortnum’s offers many floors of home goods, fashions, and cosmetics. We toured them all in a daze because…alas…Fortnum and Mason is not air conditioned and this is likely perfectly fine 364 days out of the year, but we happened to be there on a day when it was 91 degrees. And London, my friends, is just not built for that.
Yet, we persevered. We went up to the fashion floors of Fortnum’s.
Upstairs, I was able to reach out and touch a gorgeous Philip Treacy hat. It was so beautiful, the stuff of dreams. A dove colored fascinator with teal blue feathers. For a moment, I thought it could be mine. I imagined myself wearing it with a smart L.K Bennett dress holding a clutch purse smiling at my adoring public, accepting flowers from a child in a sailor suit.
Oh wait, that’s the Duchess of Cambridge.
But then I turned over the price tag and saw that it was 5400 British Pounds Sterling, and I realized…even I could not fantasize that one into reality.
So I just admired the perfume display for a while. Take note Macy’s, you need a fragrance chandelier.
We also toured the Men’s floor, which LOML really liked. He tried on a few hats himself and we gazed at the beautiful Kaleidoscope display cabinet.
By now we were sweaty. Very sweaty. In an upscale department store. And we were very early for our 3:30 PM tea reservation (easily made in advance on OpenTable). But we could not soldier on without some cool air for a moment longer. So we went up to the top floor, to the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon and begged for mercy. Actually, we quietly asked if we could be seated at 3:00 PM instead. And the wonderful staff there brought us over to a crisp white table with no questions asked. The tea salon had a little air conditioning and was about 10 degrees cooler than the other floors, so we were happy to sit…and enjoy…the tea to “end all teas.”
We decided upon the Afternoon Tea (High Tea is a rather heavy meal). The Tea salon at Fortnum and Mason is beautiful and very easy on the eyes with its signature sea-green and white color palette and garden-themed art on the walls. You can choose from a huge menu of teas.
We chose the Fortmason tea which was delicious (so much that we bought some on the way out to bring home with us). Unlike teas we have enjoyed in New York City, we were served our tea sandwiches first: shrimp salad, chicken, smoked salmon, egg, and cucumber mint. It was nice to be able to savor these.
When they were gone we both looked longingly at our empty plates. And then something magical happened. Something that has NEVER happened before at any tea that I’ve ever enjoyed in the United States. The waitress asked if we would like any more sandwiches. LOML and I just looked at each other and then he calmly asked for another chicken sandwich and I asked for a smoked salmon. She soon returned with a plate containing every kind of sandwich. We ate those too. It was delightful, delicious, and generous. So listen up posh New York City hotels: don’t be so stingy with your finger sandwiches. It’s simply not the British way. Otherwise you will have to call your overpriced “Afternoon Tea” something else, like “tiny, limited afternoon sandwiches with hot beverage option.”
After the scrummy sandwiches we were presented with tiered trays of the BEST ever scones, jams, clotted cream and pretty pastries.
You must have some clotted cream on that scone, or you are not worthy of such a lavish experience!
The pastries were like little jewels. We split each one and they were so sweet and delicious: lemon meringue tart, rose eclair, chocolate praline cake, raspberry sponge, and a pistachio macaron.
After our tea we left F & M and proceeded down Piccadilly to the Burlington Arcade. An arcade in London is a covered walkway with shops on both sides. It’s the perfect place to get out of the weather and into the shops, or even stroll along window shopping. Burlington Arcade is filled with lovely places to stop, if a bit pricey.
You’ll find some name brands and specialty items here.
House of Cashmere and Penhaligon’swere having very nice sales to make it possible to snag something luxurious.
I also loved the well-designed windows of the perfume store.
We stopped to admire the beautiful pens.
Actually the whole storefront of Penfriend captivated us.
Finally, we stopped in at Laduree, London. The Laduree store in Burlington Arcade is one of several in London. It’s very unusual in that it looks like a little gold grotto! The walls are stuccoed and painted gold, with little niches for the teas and pastries, so you get to walk into this gold cave to pick out the best macarons for your choice of pretty boxes. We made sure to pick out a selection to enjoy later that night at the hotel: Marie Antoinette (turquoise), Earl Grey (Cream with flecks of tea), Apricot (peach) and Four Fruits (raspberry).
After Laduree, we dragged our tired feet and shopping bags back to the Chesterfield Mayfair for some well-deserved rest. Kicking back, reviewing our day, and nibbling our macarons, we decided it was indeed the perfect day of Shopping & Tea in London.
When I was 16 I wrote an autobiographical term paper for my English class called “Wales, the Land of Song.” Little could I imagine that 20 years later I would be flying over the moors of Wales in a tour bus listening to a guide crooning lullabies in Welsh.
We embarked on our Welsh Adventure for one day as part of Cunard’s 175th Anniversary Queen Mary 2 stop in Liverpool. Our one day excursion promised us a tour of Conwy Castle in Conwy, Wales and several hours in the outdoorsy village of Betws-y-Coed.
Our bus sailed past a verdant coastline and little churches to arrive at picturesque Conwy, Wales. This little resort town has pretty much everything a traveler could desire: breathtaking sea views, charming architecture, sweet shops, a sweeping broad and changeable sky and a well-preserved castle from the time of Edward I (1283-1289). The walls of the castle enclose the town of Conwy in a bear hug of stone.
The castle is an incredible place to investigate. It is easy to imagine Edward’s orders to build it to reinforce his power in Wales. Although an excellent addition to his “iron ring” of castles, as a Welsh descendent, I could not help but smile when I saw the Welsh flag flying over the towers. I can only imagine Edward’s reaction to that!
Be forewarned, the ramp up to the castle is quite a steep incline and there are many large stone lintels and uneven surfaces that gave some of the older guests trouble to navigate. But persevere and you will not be disappointed! We had a wonderful time peeking around corners and through the windows of the castle. It does not take a lot of imagination to get a sense of dwelling in its dark walls.
You are allowed to tour Conwy Castle at your own pace. LOML and I took advantage of this, taking our time to look at the remains of Edward’s private chambers, the chapel, and the towers.
It is interesting that Edward I allegedly stayed in this castle only once. But surely his presence was felt was always palpable to the administrators and servants that lived here.
Although the castle itself is impressive, I could not help but be drawn to the windows. The view of Conwy bay is stunning.
After touring the interior, step outside and view the castle bridge and valley from a small outcropping. You are also welcome to climb up a very steep, very narrow spiral staircase in the tower with teeny tiny steps and nothing but a rope to give you leverage so that you can walk the upper walls of the castle. LOML, my fierce knight was able to do this. I got 2/3 of the way up and then realized that I would probably fall down the shaft trying to descend. So the very adventurous height lovers are all welcome to try this!
After touring the castle, we walked through the town of Conwy. A resort town, it is filled with charming bed and breakfasts and little shops. We also saw many signs for tea, fish & chips, and bakeries.
Walk down the street leading from the castle and pop into the shops you fancy!
We also stopped to gaze in the window of what is the most beautiful little gem of a bakery we’ve ever seen.
Hook a right at the Tan Lan Bakery and walk down an alley way to the beach front. There are spots to sit and enjoy the sun, watch the boats bob on the water, and get an ice cream. It’s so pretty, you’ll almost forget about the castle.
While Conwy boasts one of the best preserved monumental structures in Great Britain, it also has a second architectural claim to fame: the smallest house in Britain. Facing out on the bay, you will be able to see its bright red exterior from the beach. A very touristy situation was arranged for paid entrance into the little house, so we just enjoyed looking at it from the outside.
Leaving the beach, we walked up the hilly side streets filled with shops.
We left Conwy around 1:00 PM…in search of sheep and Betws-y-Coed. Stay tuned for my next post: Touring the Welsh Countryside.