Monday, June 11, 2018

What started out simply as a day exploring a new-to-us part of London on our new bikes turned into an afternoon of garden hopping.

Over the weekend, I only had one day off, and the weather happened to be glorious! So unlike typical British weather. I like visiting gardens, such as Kew Gardens and Hampton Court that I’ve written about before, but today I wanted to head down to Ham House and Gardens. Well, we didn’t quite make it that far because after passing through Richmond Park, we cycled through the small “village” of Petersham, which happened to be hosting a gardens’ open house fundraiser. Several owners in the area joined together to open their private gardens to the public to raise money for local charities. We bought tickets on the spot.

Behind a pair of ornate wrought-iron gates along Petersham Road is the entrance to Montrose House, which was one of the gardens for the event. The house is a late 17th-century Grade II listed building and is named after the 3rd Duke of Montrose, who was not the original owner. Well, this house boats not only expansive gardens but a greenhouse, not one, but TWO tennis courts as well as a cricket batting area and several large sculptures. Absolutely amazing!
From here, we wandered through Petersham to check out the other gardens and houses.

A little background on Petersham, it’s a village and parish in the Richmond district along the Thames River consisting of 660 acres and takes its name from having belonged to St. Peter’s Abbey at Chertsey back in the 11th century.

Up to the Tudor period, the Thames landscape between Hampton and Kew consisted largely of quiet riverside villages, orchards and market gardens that supplied Londoners with food. Following the construction of Richmond and Hampton Court Palaces, the landscape began to change as royal and aristocratic families moved to the area. In an area known as the Arcardian Thames, located between Weybridge and Chiswick, a series of grand houses, magnificent gardens and hunting parks were constructed along the river and surrounding woodland. This area is considered “a rural paradise on the doorstep of London.”

Well, we saw several of these grand houses and their splendid gardens on our mini tour of Petersham.

Petersham Lodge, another Grade II listed mansion, located on River Lane, was rebuilt in the early 18th century for the Duchess of Queensberry. In 1987, Prince Rupert Loewenstein, the longtime financial manager of the Rolling Stones, bought the property for £2 million and lived there until his death in 2014. I can only imagine how much this massive property, with an impressive veg garden, water pond and greenhouses, is worth now!
Outside of Petersham Lodge, I climbed over a fence into Petersham Meadows, one of the preserved farms that originally was part of the Ham House estate dating to the 17th century. Lovely dairy cows still graze here today, and I walked right amongst them taking photos. You take a girl out of the country, but….you know the rest.
The Petersham gardens’ open house also featured two cottages, which both had some lovingly arranged flower gardens. One garden even included an Airstream caravan purchased from Ohio, USA, and shipped over to London, which the owner uses as his personal office. How cool!

And, I even persuaded hubby to stop at Petersham Nurseries, which was a madhouse, but we looked at the lovely plants that I would like to buy.
Well, this surprise tour of Petersham ended up being a delightful way to spend a Sunday in London. And of course, as how all weekends must end, we stopped at a riverside pub and enjoyed a pint of refreshing cider.

Cheers from London!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Spring in London arrives first with the pink magnolia trees and then the cherry blossoms.

But what seems to set the Instagram scene on fire is when the wisteria vines start blooming! There’s even a hashtag called #wisteriahysteria where you’ll find thousands of photos of plush purple wisteria blooms. These lovely vines typically start blooming in late April and continue through mid-May.
A classic scene in Chelsea - wisteria vines over bay windows on an old row house.
Since I started working full-time in the Chelsea neighborhood, I’ve had more time to walk a bit after work or sometimes even in the early mornings on my way to work. There are quite a few fancy houses in this area and many feature some amazing wisteria vines.

If you have time, you’ll want to wander around the Chelsea Gardens area and head to Sloane Square. Even if the wisteria isn’t blooming, you can admire these historic, fancy houses.

Enjoy my wisteria wanderings through Chelsea!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

I can’t believe that it’s been already two weeks since we spent a short weekend in the Champagne region drinking champagne with friends in the snow.

Oui! It does snow in France, besides the mountains, just a 45-minute train ride from Paris to Reims. In fact, when we returned to Paris on Sunday afternoon, it was snowing in the City of Lights as well! I wish we had more time to spend in Paris so I could take photos, but we took the early Eurostar back to London on Monday because of work.

This was our first trip to Reims, but we were meeting up with other expat friends who have visited several times before. Luckily, one of our German friends, originally from Burkina Faso, Africa, speaks fluent French, which was quite handy to talk with the friendly French champagne house owners.
This UNESCO World Heritage city is perhaps best known for its champagne since the region surrounding Reims is ideal for growing chardonnay grapes, which are used to make champagne. The major champagne houses, such as Tattinger, Moet & Chandon, G.H. Mumm and Veuve Clicquot, are headquartered here. One of the days, we visited Vranken Pommery, a historic champagne house which achieved fame in the late 1800s under Madame Pommery, which was magically covered in snow. We had a snowy, nearly 2-kilometre walk from our hotel, but I enjoyed taking lots of photos of snow-covered spring blossoms.
Reims, with a population of 186,000, is still small enough to be quite walkable to everything. The first documentation of Reims dates to 57 BC when it was under Rome’s protection, and later became an important religious and political city. You’ll find several Roman ruins in the city center.
Another UNESCO site that must be seen is the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims, a gorgeous Gothic church dating to the 5th century originally, but was rebuilt in the 13th century and then restored again following World War I. I visited the cathedral before it was even open, not a soul was around, and I took photos of it covered in snow on Sunday morning.
The Reims Cathedral played an important role for the French Kingdom as it became the site for coronations of French kings until the revolution. In total, 37 kings were crowned in Reims. In addition, in 1429, Joan of Arc knelt down in front of Charles VII when he was crowed King of France at the cathedral.  

Although Reims is an easy city to reach from Paris, I really wish we had one more day to see more in the Champagne region. Or maybe, I’m just looking for another excuse to drink champagne!

My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Imagine being surrounded and walking amongst brilliant shades of fuchsia, periwinkle and ruby red orchids.

That’s exactly what we did this past weekend at Kew Gardens as we caught the last day of the annual Orchids Festival in London. Unfortunately, I only had a little over an hour to admire all the orchids since I had to work that afternoon, but since we often go to Kew, that was plenty of time to see the highlights.

This year’s theme featured a celebration of Thailand’s vibrant colours, culture and diverse plant life. (Last year's show festival focused on India.) About 1,100 orchid species grow in the wild in Thailand, according to one of the exhibit’s signs. I had no idea! Many of these orchids grow in remote places and can grow in the ground in warm or cool-climate rainforests or even on trees, which are known as epiphytic.
Orchids seemed to fill nearly every inch of the Princess of Wales Conservatory – hanging in pots, planted vertically, suspended in air and even decorating a Thai palace. I took a ton of photos with my new Canon 50mm lens which allowed me to focus on the flowers themselves. I didn’t bother with finding out the names of the orchids, but if you can identify any of them, please feel free to comment.

Enjoy the orchid show!
Besides the orchids, Kew Gardens featured plenty of other spring blooms such as daffodils and crocuses, and even a random pineapple! I'm thrilled that spring is finally here!

My Traveling Joys

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