A Wilder London, Day 1

“What will this day be like?
I wonder…
What could that building be?”

Okay, so that’s not quite how the song goes in Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music, but walking along the Thames River (which isn’t far from our AirBnB stay), wrapped up in a quiet morning fog… and with so many beautiful buildings and fascinating architecture, the day held so much potential and wonder! And, of course, we had confidence!

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Lorenzo Quinn’s “Love” in the Riverside Walk Gardens near Vauxhall Bridge

Our morning of show tune references actually began with a chorus of “Dite Moi” from South Pacific (another R & H!), after seeing the all-too-familiar Pret a Manger chain restaurant as we crossed the Vauxhall bridge into Pimlico (and pestering my sister for the proper French pronunciation — it’s “pret-a-mahn-zhay”).

We walked along the Thames (“not Th-ames?” my sister asks, prompting a reflection on British pronunciation — it’s pronounced “Tems”), until we reached Westminster, stopping to admire the architecture of the Houses of Parliament and the Abbey. Lots of construction is going on around the clock tower, which houses Big Ben, and was almost completely shrouded in scaffolding. Apparently, this year began Big Ben’s 4 years of silence during renovation.

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Westminster in the Morning (Dec 17, 2017)

Sam and I took us on the walk we remembered from our trip here two years ago, passing the WWII memorials, the Whitehall Palace/Banqueting House, and Downing Street (no PM spottings, either visit), until wandering the streets around Trifalgar Square and St. Martin’s-on-the-green, settling for breakfast at Caffé Concerto, a chain where we’d eaten on our last visit, in a spot around the corner from Picadilly Circus. For those you fellow tourists, I just listed off a bunch of London highlights. We ate “full English breakfasts” (I’ve wondered if the Full English Breakfast was just a tourist-y thing, but it apparently has a longstanding tradition). We talked about our day and what we planned to do, and the only plans we had aside from eating, was to take an early tea at the Orangery at Kensington Palace.

We meandered through Picadilly Circus, and tried shopping at a mass souvenir shop – we didn’t stay long, as I think Sam and I have become extra self-conscious about appearing like tourists we see in NYC!

We wandered down to the Mall, in St. James’ Park, which leads to Buckingham Palace. Walking down the steps beneath the monument to the Duke of York, I was struck that this is the very spot Sam and I had discovered two years before, where I had actually sat while having my picture taken while on a field trip to London when I was in high school! It’s a shame I can’t find that original picture.

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The tragedy that struck London during WWII was great. Many memorials are set up around the city (Dec 17, 2017)

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The Monument to the Duke of York, off the Mall approaching Buckingham Palace (Dec 17, 2017)

Let it be known, that it is cold in London. It was hovering just a bit above freezing, and so we were stopping to get our hands on hot cups of tea every chance we got just to keep our hands warm while we walked. Walking through a park with a nice hot cuppa is also just a wonderful experience, in and of itself!

(Note to self: Always wear hat and gloves. Always wear hat and gloves. Hat and gloves. Hat and gloves)

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The London Eye from St. James Park (Dec 17, 2017)

After dodging kamikaze pigeons (honestly, we all noticed, they were the fattest pigeons we’d ever seen!), we made our way back to the Mall and approached Buckingham Palace, just in time for the changing of the guard – it was quite crowded!

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Making way for The Changing of the Guard (Dec 17, 2017)

My sister later informed us why the guards were now dressed in grey, as opposed to the more commonly seen red tunics.

We ended up walking up through the Wellington Arch, into Hyde Park, where London’s “Winter Wonderland” is taking place – but honestly, it looks more like a state fair, and less appealing than we had imagined, so I think we’ll end up skipping it on our stay, here (and the lines to get in were astronomical!).

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The Wellington Arch. Also known as a gathering place for tourists armed with cameras (Dec 17, 2017)

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A single rose holds on in the rose garden of Hyde Park (Dec 17, 2017)

But we did see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, which we hadn’t seen before. A quiet spot, just off the water, the artist writes that the course of the water running in the circular fountain is supposed to be emblematic of Princess Diana’s life. Regardless of its symbolism, its quiet surroundings and serene beauty offered the perfect setting for quiet contemplation to the sound of bubbling brooks.

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A portion of the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain (Dec 17, 2017)

Passing under a bridge, we arrived in Kensington Gardens, and made our way up to the Palace – no, we didn’t run into any of the royal family! But, it was starting to rain, so we hurried up to the Palace and set out immediately for the nearby Orangery, for our early tea (an hour and a half earlier than we’d planned, but I suspect we were walking faster due to the cold!)

We chose a “Royal Afternoon Tea” for £38.50/person, which included a personal pot of tea (we each tried something different), two towers of food with three pieces of everything (4 or 5 finger sandwiches, 2 kinds of scone, w/ clotted cream and jam), and a smaller assortment of sweets. It was impossible to get to the sweets, as we got so full with everything else! To top it off, we each received a glass of merlot rosé spumante!

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I felt so hyped up already on the several cups of tea today, I felt positively jittery, and kept giggling.

It was just fun – Just to sit and take in the moment – just knowing where we were and what we were allowing ourselves to do, the way we all kept laughing at the slightest provocation, high on caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and the dizzying experience of sitting down and enjoying a piece of the city that we had planned to accomplish!

After tea, I kept saying, “but seriously… what do we do next?” as we hadn’t really planned out the rest of our day. We did spend some time in the shop in Kensington Palace (my sister bought a commemorative Princess Di plate), and then walked into the Kensington neighborhood and spent way too much time at a bookstore! Or, rather, we spent the perfect amount of time at a bookstore!

I bought two books, Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets, an absolutely riveting account of the Plantagenet line of Kings, from William the Conqueror to Richard II, and Trevor Royle’s Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms, that involves the events surrounding Oliver Cromwell… to whom I hate to admit that I am very distantly related. Yikes.

We stopped at a grocery on the way back to our AirBnB stay to get some light nibbles for the evening, so that we could retire early and dine “in,” and just relax after our first day. Getting used to jet lag is pretty intense, and they say it takes a day for every time zone you passed through, just to get on an even keel. So, we’ll all be okay by the end of the week?

For now, I’ll bring this entry – and this day – to a close. Sam is working on his needlepoint, and my sister is looking up information on the Palace and the changing of the guard (see her comment above on the grey dress of the guards). It’s nice to just be here, and relax.

Relaxing “at home” is, I feel, just as important as going out and experience some of the nightlife – and sometimes even more important. We often say “We need to spend ALL day and ALL night out and get the most out of this or that place,” forgetting that to get the most of our somewhere, we need to make sure we’re getting the most out of ourselves. How much to we enjoy whirlwind vacations, when we don’t give ourselves time to breathe and just be?

A wonderful, quiet end to the day, looking forward to the next.

Cheers!

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Walking in a Princeton Wonderland

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A tree in Central Park during the snowstorm (Dec 8th, 2017)

This past weekend, and right on the heels on my post about Autumn, much of New York City evolved into a truly wonderful Winter Wonderland. Snow flurries didn’t settle on the road, but everything they touched aside from the busy streets turned white, and it was difficult to see long distances (luckily the view below, across the Central Park Reservoir, is the only long distance view that probably exists in NYC).

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Central Park Reservoir, during a snowstorm (Dec 8, 2017)

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As you can see… a decent amount of snow! (Central Park, Dec 8, 2017)

That day, I was returned from an audition for Gilbert & Sullivan’s Yeomen of the Guard, with the Blue Hill Troupe, and had decided to take a walk through the park from the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side, instead of taking public transportation. Because… who would want to miss seeing all that snow in the park? Being able to just walk through a Park like that almost every day is one of the many things that makes life in NYC so special.

Staycation!

We’ve certainly taken advantage of what the city offers on a daily basis; parks, museums, historic sites and monuments, brunches and happy hours, skylines and greenways are all fantastic ways to vacation on a weekend or an afternoon and “get away” while staying where we are. Most people call this a “staycation,” and I’m actually surprised I haven’t used this word, yet, after having an entire blog post already (with more on the way) about my own “staycation” trips around the city! Exploring where you live is what “blooming where you’re planted” is all about!

When people talk about “staycations,” they’re usually spoken about in the context of hanging around one’s own city, taking the day to relax and vacation in one’s own neighborhood.

Merriam-Webster defines staycation in this way:

\ ˈstā-ˈkā-shən \ A vacation spent at home or nearby

But, also living in New York City, we realized there is ample opportunity for day trips to so many places nearby, outside of the city… and that a “staycation” in New York City could mean almost anything.

Like Princeton, New Jersey!

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Princeton University campus (Dec 10, 2017). No idea what building this is, but it’s beautiful!

On Sunday, a good friend of ours treated us to a trip to see a fantastic production of A Christmas Carol at the unparalleled McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ. The McCarter won a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 1994, and more recently was recognized as the original producer of the eventual Tony Award-winning play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, by Christopher Durang.

A Winter Wonderland

Our trip began with a train ride from NYC’s Penn Station across the white fields of New Jersey (well, after getting past all the cities!), nearly an hour and a half in all. My husband kept nudging me, because transportation makes me sleepy!

2-course-sunday-brunch-menuAfter strolling through the campus and the college town’s quaint streets of shops, restaurants, and cafés, we had brunch at the elegant Peacock Inn. The meal was unparalleled, a prix fixe menu of two courses – completed of course, with complimentary pastries from the pastry chef, and the Bloody Marys we ordered. (What is brunch without at least one Bloody Mary?) I ordered some potato cakes with homemade applesauce and sour cream, while my companions both ordered a deconstructed gravlax! The second courses were equally delicious. Check out their menu!

 

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Who says non-selfie pictures are a thing of the past? Check out my giant scarf!                        (Photo courtesy of the valet guy!)

When asked for dessert in Princeton, I was taught to just say “No, I’m going to The Bent Spoon for ice cream.” I was told by our host that he said that to a server at a restaurant once, and the server replied, “Oh, that’s understandable.”

Sure enough, our brunch server said the same thing! And rightfully so, because their ice cream is quite epic. We visited the Bent Spoon not once but twice in the 9 hour span of time we were in Princeton. The first time, I had a sorbet they simply called “Autumn,” which was akin to a cranberry-apple cider, topped with a scoop of Mascarpone flavored ice cream. It was like eating a crustless pie!

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We posed in front of the store here, too. But you don’t need to see what my hair was doing in this picture…

Before we left, after I was absolutely stuffed from all the food we’d had over the course of the day, we got ice cream again. This time I went for the exotic Anise Seed flavored ice cream – not as potent and much more delicious than you might imagine – as well as another sorbet, a Cranberry Pear!

A Christmas Carol

The highlight of the trip, and the reason we were in Princeton in the first place, was to see McCarter’s production of A Christmas Carol. Suffice to say, there was no disappointment, whatsoever. Upon first entering the theatre and seeing the production’s “community ensemble” dressed in Dickensian garb – they led everyone in an older English carol before the show, and performed a hand bell choir in the entr’acte – I knew the production would be exciting and immersive!

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Had to document our experience in classic photo-op fashion! We then stood there for five minutes taking other people’s pictures…

Suffice it to say, this production has a lot of incredible people behind it, as well as on stage. David Thompson, who wrote the adaptation, is responsible for writing the new book for the 1996 revival of Chicago, as well as other works, such as Steel Pier, and the recent Prince of Broadway. Michael Friedman, of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson fame, composed original music for the production, and the special effects were designed by Jeremy Chernik, who, among other things, will be bringing us the special effects for Frozen on Broadway, soon!

Following the production, we took a short walk down to visit (read: gawk at) Albert Einstein’s New Jersey home – notice that it is not a museum. I think they stress that quite well, don’t you?

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There are literally three signs that say “No Trespassing” before you even reach the front door. Think they’ve had a problem with people hoping this house is also a museum?

We satisfied our appetites with a visit to a favorite haunt of our friend’s, Winberie’s, before visiting the Bent Spoon yet again (seriously, it’s that good) and heading back to the train… where I promptly fell asleep.

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Winberie’s, per our friends tradition for after meal victuals!

All in all, a fantastic trip, with fantastic company – just extra proof that day trips from the city are within our grasp, and bring a myriad of experiences and surprises. I highly recommend each of the places into which we stumbled – and the beauty of the campus in winter is a wonderful sight! I can’t wait for future trips elsewhere (or back to Princeton!) and look forward to our annual vacation coming up for Christmas, this year!

 

 

 

 

Blooming in NYC: Inwood

As promised in my last post, I want to continue the “bloom where you’re planted” theme in my writing by sharing the various things I find in my city when I seek out all it has to offer. If you’re not from NYC, maybe you’ll get some tips on what to visit when you’re here (or at least let you know what else exists here, aside from Times Square and other various tourist hellscapes…) If you’re from NYC or the nearby area, maybe you’ve seen what I’m describing and can chime in, or haven’t visited it yet and might want to check it out!

After spending my “Black Friday” outdoors in nature, far from the maddening crowd, my husband and I decided to travel even further uptown Saturday morning – originally planning to visit Fort Tryon Park, after breakfast at Rue La Rue Cafe. Sadly, Rue la Rue is closed (hopefully temporarily), but we opted for something that ended up being a fantastic adventure: Inwood!

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Muscota Marsh in Inwood Hill Park. Henry Hudson Bridge crosses Spuyten Duyvil Creek.

For those that don’t know, Inwood is the upper most neighborhood uptown, on the island of Manhattan (Oddly enough, the Bronx-situated neighborhood of Marble Hill is still considered part of the Manhattan borough). Inwood is, essentially, everything north of Fort Tryon Park.

What’s so “In” about Inwood?

Home to incredible restaurants and bars, such as The Park ViewLa Marina, Darling Coffee, Tryon Public House, Guadalupe’s, a 233-year-old Farmhouse-turned-museum, and more, Inwood is also home to quite possibly the most untouched natural landscape that Manhattan has to offer.

According to the NYC parks website,

Evidence of its prehistoric roots exists as dramatic caves, valleys, and ridges left as the result of shifting glaciers. Evidence of its uninhabited state afterward remains as its forest and salt marsh (the last natural one in Manhattan), and evidence of its use by Native Americans in the 17th century continues to be discovered. Much has occurred on the land that now composes Inwood Hill Park since the arrival of European colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries, but luckily, most of the park was largely untouched by the wars and development that took place.

Inwood’s parks are the real deal. This is “old New York” at its oldest, and I’m excited to share a bit more about my interactions with Inwood Hill Park, as well as the morning I spent there this weekend.

Story Time!

Back in March of 2014, before we moved to NYC, we took a trip up here partly to scope out potential neighborhoods for our imminent move that fall, but partly for me to do research on a play I was directed in Oklahoma City, for a Native American Play Festival.

The play is titled Manahatta, written by Oklahoma-born, NYC-resident Choctaw playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle (it was being simultaneously workshopped at The Public Theater in NYC, and is now being performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as part of its 2018 season). It tells parallel stories of the Lenni-Lenape people who originally lived in Manhattan (“Manahatta” is a Lenape word, meaning “island of many hills”) and were tricked into “selling” the land to the Dutch, and of a 20th century Native Delaware woman trying to reconcile her life in New York City, working on Wall Street, with the native roots of her ancestry, displaced to Oklahoma where her immediate family still lives. It was well received!

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OKC Theatre Company’s Manahatta starred Maya Torralba, Zack Morris, and Rachel Morgan. Artwork by Rachel Morgan.

I spent a lot of time in Inwood that March, discovering not only the “Indian Caves” where the Lenape people would camp while they spent their summers fishing in the nearby bodies of water (and are still in use today as shelter for the displaced), but the “Shorakkopoch Rock,” where, according to some legends, the actual transaction between the Dutch and the Native tribes took place.

The “Indian Caves” of Inwood Hill Park

Inwood - Shorakkopoch RockShorakkopoch Rock, where some say the infamous “sale” of Manahatta/Manhattan took place.

My husband and I host a walk from Inwood to Battery Park every fourth of July, in part to honor the history of the island, its original inhabitants, and its sordid relationship with the past and founding of our country. We have always begun our walk at this rock, even if it might not be the actual site of this legendary transaction.

Fast Forward to This Weekend…

In my last post, I had mentioned the “North Woods” of Central Park as a place that can very often be a true escape from the sights and the sounds of the city… but nowhere on the island of Manhattan is there a greater escape than Inwood Hill Park, where you’re not only escaping sights and sounds of the city, but much of the past millenium. The park is where you’ll even find Manhattan’s last surviving salt-water marsh (apparently there were once quite a few on the island), revitalized thanks to Columbia University, which has a boat house just next door.

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Muscota Marsh today.

Our day on Saturday began here, near this very salt water marsh, having a weekend brunch at the Indian Road Cafe, which we had first discovered this past summer during the Drums Along the Hudson, a Native American and Multicultural Festival.

Indian Road Cafe describes itself as “a restaurant in constant motion,” changing menus seasonally, and providing local artists and musicians the chance to display (or perform) some of their work on a weekly basis. Their menu also features local goods – they try to source as close to home as possible,

using a large group of Hudson Valley farms and producers. We also have relationships with purveyors on the Arthur Avenue (some call it the real Little Italy) in the Bronx, and source a great deal of fresh pasta, cheese, and meats a short ride away on the 12 bus. (from their website)

Saturday brunch included bottomless mimosas (I’ve said before that moderation is key, so only attend bottomless brunches in moderation), fresh fruit – as locally sourced as possible – and eggs from nearby Feather Ridge Farms. Oh, and some delicious French Toast. All in all, it was a wonderful meal in a wonderful place.

Outside the restaurant, there was even a “leave a book, take a book” stand. They clearly knew all the right buttons to push to provide us with the best start to a Saturday morning stay-cation experience in NYC.

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Of course, being that far north in Inwood, we couldn’t help but take advantage that afternoon and walk across the Broadway Bridge to the Marble Hill Target… but that’s a boring story that doesn’t need to be told here (except that I lost my great-uncle’s vintage sweater while I was there, alas!)

All in all, another wonderful chance to bloom here in NYC!

Have you been to Inwood Hill Park? Or, what’s your favorite part of Inwood?

If you’re not from these here parts, definitely consider visiting there when you do – and let me know, and I’ll tag along! And let me know where else I should visit that you might know, in your own city or state!