Thursday, March 14, 2019

Who knew that orchids bloom in nearly every shade of the rainbow and beyond?

Every year, the annual Orchids Festival at Kew Gardens in London impresses me! This year was no exception, once I actually got inside the conservatory. When we went on opening weekend, the queue to get inside Kew’s 24th annual orchid show was more than an hour long, so I had to return on one of my days off work right before it ended.

This year’s theme focused on Columbia’s diverse landscape and its flora and fauna that inhabit it, complete with a gigantic sloth and jaguar replicas. The show included approximately 6,200 orchids, including Columbia’s national flower – the Flor de Mayo (Cattleya trianae).

Did you know that Columbia has more than 4,000 orchid species – more than anywhere else in the world? That’s four times more than what grows in the “tiny” country of Thailand which featured in Kew’s Orchids Festival last year.
Stepping into the Princess of Wales Conservatory, at first, I felt like I was in an arid dessert complete with cacti, but soon the temperatures turned tropical and humid as I moved to the next rooms. I love visiting Kew Gardens anytime of the year, but during the winter months, the orchids seem to add an extra dose of cheerfulness on otherwise grey days. Of course, I couldn’t resist taking more than 200 photos – no surprise there!

Hope you enjoy the orchid photo show!

Which photo is your favorite?


Seriously, the different shades of orchids look like a tropical rainbow!
Look closely at this red, yellow and white orchid below…doesn’t it look like a Ronald McDonald character in the center?
Columbian artists like Omar Castañeda created original sculptures such as these to feature alongside the Colombian orchids from Kew’s collections.


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

While many American friends and family members are still buried under snow, I’ve been spending my days off in London searching for spring.

Not to rub it in, but we’ve had a fairly mild February, except for some chilly mornings, so I’ve been wandering through gardens in the city and outlying areas. One of the first signs of spring are the dainty white snowdrops, which usually bloom from January to March. I’ve also spotted purple crocuses as well as sunny yellow daffodils and narcissus as well as camellias and even magnolias.

Did you know that there are 23 species of snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) as well as more than 3,000 recognized cultivars?  Although snowdrops are not native to the U.K., they are plentiful and were first introduced from mainland Europe in the early 16th century.

Battersea Park
During the first week of February on my morning jog, I stopped in my tracks when I saw some pretty blooms near one of the ponds in my favorite neighborhood park – Battersea Park. The park features a lot of green space and a couple of more formal gardens while the spring bulbs seem scattered through the park’s wooded areas.
Chelsea Physic Garden
Despite living so close to the Chelsea Physic Garden, I had never been to London’s oldest botanic garden until recently. The garden, which has bizarre opening hours, has a nice collection of snowdrops. You can see the little white flowers by taking a walk through the half-acre grounds, which are home to more than 150 species of plants. 

Kew Gardens
This famous botanical garden is the obvious place to get your snowdrop fix — almost all of the 20 known varieties can be seen here. You'll find most of Kew Garden’s snowdrop collection in the Rock Garden and the Alpine House in the north-east corner of the gardens as well as a wooded foothpath in the northwest corner. Again, don’t go here on a nice weekend during a school break.
Myddelton House Gardens
After nearly 90 minutes on public transport, I finally reached the overground train stop to access Myddelton House Gardens in North London. The long journey was worth the wait because these gardens are like a fairytale! Plus, the admission is free! (A donation is suggested, and I was happy to give a couple coins because this place is magical.)
Also, the gardens feature a small, but wonderful café with hearty soups and delicious-looking cakes. I had a generous serving of potato-leek soup with a brown bread roll and butter for less than £5.

Myddelton House, built during the reign of George III in 1812 by the Bowles family, is a lovely former manor house estate with sprawling gardens and a greenhouse. One of the Bowles ancestors, E. A. Bowles, born in 1865, became one of the great gardeners of the 20th century. What you see today are the restored gardens and manor house from his era.

Capel Manor College Gardens
From Myddelton Gardens, it’s only a 10-minute walk to another nearby garden called the Capel Manor College Gardens. The college is housed on a working estate where students can gain hands-on experience in land-based studies such as horticulture, garden design, floristry, etc.

The history of Capel Manor dates to the late 13th century, but was only owned by the Capel family during the 14th century; and later, the land was surrendered to the Crown during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. There’s a complex history here and you’ll find recreated ruins of the old manor house in the college gardens.

Honestly, the gardens here were a bit barren in mid-February with a few spring bulbs like snowdrops and crocus here and there. From the photos, I think a late spring or early summer visit to Capel Manor would be better.

Eltham Palace and Gardens
On another cycling trip in London, we made the 13-mile journey from Clapham Junction to Eltham Palace and Gardens in East London, which is probably best known as the childhood home of King Henry VIII. Today, this English Heritage property is a unique marriage between a Tudor palace and a 1930s millionaire’s mansion. Although we didn’t find any snowdrops in the gardens here, the palace was an interesting place to visit.

Day Trips from London

RHS Garden Wisley
In order to get good tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show in May, I recently joined the Royal Horticultural Society which was offering a 12-month membership for the price of nine months. The RHS sponsors the Chelsea Flower Show, and I’ve been dying to attend for the past three years.

Anyway, Wisley is RHS’s flagship garden, which covers 240 acres of landscaped gardens in rural Surrey. Nearly one million people annually visit RHS Garden Wisley, which is a pleasant 20-minute bike ride on half paved country roads/half dirt path from the West Byfleet train station. (Otherwise, the gardens are probably best reached by your own car.) But if you want peace and quiet, do not visit here during a half-term break. My visit was somewhat ruined by hundreds of screaming children running wild throughout the gardens.

But I did find lots of snowdrops, crocus and even bring pink and white blossoms of camelias. Take the Wisley Winter Walk through the Seven Acres to find interesting flowers and shrubbery such as the sweet smelling Lonicera fragntissima and the Grandiflora.
Polesden Lacey
Another slightly-out-of-the-way destination featuring snowdrops from January to March is Polesden Lacey. I took the train from Clapham Junction to Box Hill, and then cycled/walked my bike up a steep, 400-foot hill on the country road that leads to the National Trust estate. You can even rent mountain bikes at the Box Hill station and choose a less hilly route than I did. I was a hot, sweaty mess by the time I reached the gardens only 30 minutes later.

Polesden Lacey, the weekend party house of Edwardian socialite Maggie Greville in the early 1900s, features a beautiful manor house surrounded by gardens and green fields. Definitely worth a day trip from London. Along the Lime Walk exiting the property, you’ll find 4,000 snowdrops that were planted last autumn.
As you make your way back to the train station, make a slight detour to the Stepping Stones Walk where you find a few snowdrops along the river as well as some wonderful views at the top of the hill.
Hope you enjoyed today's early spring photo journey from in and around London!



Thursday, January 31, 2019

Well better late than never. Between work and travelling a bit this month, I’m quite late on compiling my annual roundup post of my favorite meals from that year.

Perhaps this year, I’ll try and stay on top of my favorite meals as they happen.

Just like 2017, 2018 was a year that both hubby and I worked a lot in London, but we always find enough time to take several trips and enjoy some special meals together.

Beef – It’s What’s for Dinner
We kicked off 2018 with a fancy steak dinner in London with a good friend who was moving to Jakarta, Indonesia, for work. Hawksmoor is London’s prime location for a steak dinner and consistently ranks as one of the city’s best restaurants. Who needs a better reason to finally go here!

You pay for what you get as Hawksmoor is an award-winning British steakhouse that serves British grass-fed, dry-aged beef and sustainably-sourced seafood from Brixham. The company works with small farms around the UK that raise cattle to its “specific set of guidelines around the quality of the animal’s life.”

We started off with roast scallops cooked with white port and garlic as well as roasted bone marrow with onions. Yum! I don’t recall what cut of steak we ordered, but it was delicious and weighed nearly a kilo. Steaks are priced per 100 grams. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, I would recommend booking a table for Hawksmoor’s Sunday roast special.
Talking about Tacos
In February, we travelled back to the US to visit family and friends. I added on a few extra days, so I could hang out in NYC with friends. I treated myself to a fancy 3-course lunch at
Empellón, an upscale Mexican restaurant started by Chef Alex Stupak. For my $38 lunch (about £30), I chose the sticky rice tamal with red chile duck starter, chicken tacos with goat’s milk yogurt for my main and the sweetly spiced Mexican chocolate ice cream sandwich for dessert. While the meal was tasty, and I had some good people watching from the bar, I honestly wished that I had just found a street taco truck instead.
Farmer’s Market to Table in Canterbury
In March, we took a day trip to Canterbury, a cathedral city in southeast England (Kent) originally built by the Romans, lined with cobbled streets and centuries-old timber-framed houses. After a day of splendid sightseeing and taking hundreds of photos, we returned to The Goods Shed, an all-day restaurant overlooking a daily market, with its own bakery and an open kitchen. Ingredients are sourced from the in-house market, which was quite busy earlier in the day when we popped in. Though I didn’t take many foodie photos, I would happily return again just to eat the roasted local chicken cooked in wine with mushrooms and crispy lardons that I ordered.
Eating French Classics in Paris
Remember when we did our DIY tour of the Champagne region of France? Well, our group of friends stayed one night in Paris, and we ate a delicious dinner together at Les Enfants Perdus, a highly rated restaurant near the Gare de l’Est station. With a Michelin-starred chef in the kitchen, the menu is sure to delight with such French classics as foie gras, tuna tartare, steak tartare and sole meunière.

Seafood Sharing Plates in Chelsea
In April, we dined at Chicama in London with fellow American expats whom we hadn’t seen for a year and both have Latin American heritage. This Peruvian hotspot is known for its South American seafood sharing plates, so we enjoyed several tasty nibbles such as charred octopus, ceviche and some tapioca puffs. Surprisingly, this restaurant also had some of the most interesting desserts that I’ve had in a while – a deconstructed pavlova of sorts and a decadent, modern-looking chocolate pudding.
Seaside Sunsets and Birthday Treats
For my birthday in May, we picked the last-minute destination of Jersey Island, one of the English Channel Islands. Although I had little time to plan this trip, I think that Jersey ranks as one of our top (surprising) travel destinations for 2018. We kicked off our night with sunset drinks at the aptly-named Atlantic Hotel’s Ocean Restaurant, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean on the western side of the island. We opted for the 3-course menu for £65 so we could sample the desserts. Unfortunately, I was too busy enjoying the night that I didn’t take any notes on the food, but at least I took photos. Also, I recall that everything was delicious and plated wonderfully.
Visiting Jersey was a real birthday treat and a foodie weekend at every turn from local winery tastings to visiting a Jersey cow farm. I should write a post about that whole trip.

Seafood Bliss in Cornwall
During the summer, I was rather busy with work except for a weekend trip to Brittany, France, and a 4-day weekend to Cornwall at the end of August. Cornwall is another foodie destination, and we had two memorable meals there.

On our first night, I had booked us dinner at St.Enodoc Hotel, which features a lovely terrace overlooking the Camel Estuary. However, of course, it was raining the night we went. The menu showcases some of Cornwall's finest local produce, and seafood is the star here as it is at most restaurants in the Cornwall area. The restaurant was run by 2008 MasterChef UK winner James Nathan (and formerly run by top chef Nathan Outlaw), but not sure who is at the helm now.
You can’t move to England and have never heard of Chef Rick Stein. He is like a foodie legend here, and we’ve watched his television shows countless of times. He is so famous in Cornwall and owns several restaurants and shops in Padstow that the town is nicknamed “Padstein.”
At Rick Stein’s flagship aptly called the Seafood Restaurant, we had a 3-course lunch for £41 – a reservation I booked a month in advance. I should mention that we even saw Chef Stein walking around the dining room. What a delight!

For my lunch, I had moules marinière in a creamy garlic and parsley broth followed by a roasted fillet of Cornish hake with wilted spinach in a beurre blanc (sauce). Perhaps having two dishes with cream sauces was a bit much, so I just had a strawberry sorbet for dessert. But all very good!
Country Dining in New Forest
For hubby’s birthday in October, we took our bikes on the train and headed out to New Forest for the weekend. We stayed at one of the spa hotels called Careys Manor Hotel, which once was a royal hunting lodge. For dinner one night, we dined inside at the Cambium Restaurant, which is run by Chef Alistair Craig. The whole menu focuses on local ingredients from the forest area, which featured hearty autumnal flavors during our visit. Definitely recommended!

Wonder what delicious meals 2019 will hold for us!


Subscribe to My Traveling Joys by Email: