London Calling

Happy last day of 2015. It’s sunny here in London; a little rain expected mid afternoon and then clear again for the nighttime fireworks. Brussels has canceled their fireworks, but not here. Even so, we’re not going out tonight. We plan a nice long walk this morning along the south bank of the Thames, west to east.  Then home to cook a modest meal of pork medallions, roasted potatoes with butter and parsley, and snap peas. And of course cheese. Meanwhile, here are a few London pictures from December.

Draycott Place our streetThis is our street–Draycott Place, looking NE toward Sloan Square and the back of Peter Jones Department Store, if you know the area. Wonderfully energetic Victorian buildings. Most are flats, but the Spanish consulate is also here. A couple weeks ago when Spain was holding elections there were long lines of Spanish expats here waiting to vote.

The store below is where Peter buys his daily ground coffee. The store is the purveyor to the Queen and it’s a tiny small space in Mayfair,  between Grosvenor Square and Oxford Street. It’s a nice walk from our place, up and across Hyde Park. We have several grocery stores nearby and a wonderful fishmonger.

Interesting fact: The eggs are not refrigerated. Does anyone know why?

Higgins coffee purveyors

Kensington graffiti

This little graffiti was on a wall between our place and the coffee place. One day it was there and the next day it was gone.

 

 

Hyde Park December sunshine

 

Here’s Hyde Park’s Rose Garden on a sunny December afternoon. Roses in bloom, winter sun slanting across the park. It was in the high 50s F.

And here is a scene from Kensington park, some pretty amazing sailboat “toys” just finished their morning sail.

sailboats in Kensington garden

 

Oxford St holiday lights Selfridges

This is Oxford Street looking west across from Selfridges. The colored balls are strung all the way from Regent street to Marble Arch. Many other streets had amazing holiday displays as well–huge silver peacock feathers across Bond Street, giant gold discs on Regent street, etc. Magical and hard to photograph with cell phone.

For my birthday, we took the bus up to Oxford and spent a night at Le Manoir aux Quatr’ Saisons. Here are two pictures from our sunset stroll around the grounds at sunset and one looking up at the moon a few minutes later on Dec 20. And you wonder why I love England?

waterfall through the stone window

 

sunset at le manoir

tree and moon at le manoir

We went to the states for Christmas with the girls and their families. Tess and Ken, taking advantage of the crowd, had decided to get married. Small ceremony at their house on the 27th, signing of papers and much laughing and good cheer.

Tess and Ken

Happy 2016, one and all!

Brugge and Amsterdam–travel adventure #2

Brugge beginhof at sunsetWe had a huge dose of tourism last week, taking the Eurostar train onto the continent to spend two days in Brugge, Belgium and four days in Amsterdam. We’ve taken this trip through the Chunnel several times before, and this week there was clearly a LOT more barbed wire and security vehicles as we popped out onto the flat French countryside.

Our train ticket destination was labeled “Any Belgian station.” I guess it’s such a small country that it’s all the same to them. We changed in Brussels to a smaller train that took us to Brugge (which required a back-track, but basically everything has to go through Brussels). In the Brussels train station, we also saw much heightened security.

 

 

Brugge

Friends had told us to go to Brugge. It was a later add-on to our itinerary, so we didn’t do much if any research. An old town, we were told, very pretty, canals. Fun to walk around. And indeed that was an understatement. It’s amazingly medieval, all brick and cobblestone, pointy churches and spires sprouting weathervanes, every narrow street opening out to yet another small courtyard or plaza, canals and bridges and swans all around. Very atmospheric. And of course it being Christmas, there were lights and people and good cheer everywhere. We didn’t go to any museums or visit any churches—it was all about wandering around outdoors. We ate in pubs, had coffee in little cafes, visited chocolate shops.

Some Brugge photos:

 

December night in Brugge

December night in Brugge

Brugge Christmas  Market and bikes

Brugge Christmas Market and bikes

Actually, we did go to one museum: the Frites Museum. Very good; the story of the potato told from Peru to Belgium. Bottom line: the Flemish invented frites and they only came to be called French fries after World War II when the American GI’s thought the Belgians were French. Made you understand Hercule Poirot’s constant correction of everyone who assumed he was French.

Eat as many potatoes as you want!

Eat as many potatoes as you want!

Amsterdam

Peter’d been to Amsterdam for work several times years ago; I’d never been. A big city! Yes, cute narrow houses along canals, but not nearly as atmospheric as Brugge. Although we walked around quite a bit, the main goal here was to see the art. And goodness, what a treasure chest of paintings the Dutch have produced. We started by going to Rembrandt’s house. A friend of a friend works there, and we watched him demonstrate how paint colors were created and used

Rembrandt's raw paint materials

Rembrandt’s raw paint materials

in Rembrandt’s lifetime (1606-1669). Such a lot of work before you ever made a mark.

 

We moved on from there to the recently renovated van Gogh Museum, which made me cry. Such an earnest painter, tried so hard, worked like crazy, cared so much. The museum’s official story is still the suicide, although when I asked, they admitted that there is some controversy about that these days. Wonderful paintings there, though not the ones I’m most familiar with because, of course, they are in other museums where I’ve seen them in London, New York and DC. the van Gogh museum has his writing desk with the placard reading “This was Vincent’s writing desk before he became an artist. Naturally, e-mail and cell phones did not yet exist. That is why people who did not live near one another communicated through letters.”

The Rijksmuseum, also recently renovated, was pretty stunning too. You can’t take it all in; like the Louvre, you have to pick and choose and decide to come back another day. We stuck mainly to the Rembrandts, van Goghs, Vermeers and quick run through the delft porcelain. Loved all the portraits. Lots of elementary school groups there; what lucky kids! The pride of the place is Rembrandt’s Nightwatch. Incredible! Again, it gave me a lump in my throat to see such amazing work.

Dutch kids in front of Rembrandt's Nightwatch

 

Rijksmuseum holiday tree hologram in main courtyard

Rijksmuseum holiday tree hologram in main courtyard

Also visited the Stedelijk museum, which is their modern art museum. Some good, some beyond us. Peter most interested in the furniture—Gerrit Rietfeld (1888-1964) designed several of the chairs that Peter has built, and various versions of them were in the museum. Fun to see how he modified his thoughts over time. The zigzag chair is one of his best known. Rietfeld was from Utrecht, so we took a commuter train out there to see a house he’d built. Interesting—the house is basically a big piece of furniture. Very good tour provided. Utrecht also has canals and cobblestones; we walked through a Sunday street market where Santa was simmering and dispensing gluvein.

Rietfelt Schroder house in Utrecht. 1920s.

Rietfelt Schroder house in Utrecht. 1920s.

We ate great food in Amsterdam, having made reservations at places several foodie friends recommended. The Dutch are wizards with veggies, also ham and pork and cheese. What’s not to like? Peter had a selection of oysters at one place, a couple were similar to our PNW and Japanese oysters but one was large and startlingly different—he liked it.

What we didn’t do was spend time learning more about all the engineering that allows the country to stay above water. There was visible water everywhere—the country is basically flat, green and wet. But the guy at the Rembrandt house, who’s lived in Amsterdam for 18 years says he’s never seen the canal water rise or lower by even an inch in any weather ever.

Amsterdam mom and kid (but not everyone was blond, honest!)

Amsterdam mom and kid (but not everyone was blond, honest!)

Oh, and those bikes. Yes, lots of them. The scooters and motorcycles sometimes use the bike lanes. Saw one guy carrying his Christmas tree home on his bike. Bikes have zero to three gears tops—no hills. We took a taxi ride once and learned that one of the taxi companies had bought 300 Tesla’s for their airport runs, but the drivers don’t like them because they didn’t have enough range for a day’s work—so they lose money having to sit around and charge up.

 

 

Back to our London flat via bus, plane, train, tube and feet. A little laundry and shopping for a few days, then to State College where we are all gathering for Christmas. Hope yours is warm and wonderful and full of stories, peace and fun.

One more picture: from the Stedelijk modern museum.

Travels #2: December 4, 2015

First week high point is two days in Copenhagen to eat at Noma! Amazing, friendly, delicious and all-around incredible. About 50 people in the kitchen, including the outdoor BBQ, fermenting rooms and space for plucking the ducks. 25 are paid, 25 are 13-week unpaid interns, everyone very friendly and easy to chat with in English. There are 14 or 15 nationalities amongst the staff; only 3 are Danish. We were treated to a kitchen tour by Luke, a tattooed Seattleite who grew up on Queen Anne, and has worked at Noma for 4 years. And yes, they do have a pacojet (we had roasted kelp ice cream which tasted uncannily like salted caramel) but use it mostly for sauces and savory bits. They hardly ever sous vide anything.

Menu was 18 courses. Even Kit ate the seaweed and the Danish ants and grasshoppers, but balked at the monkfish liver, clam and sea urchin. The bread was amazing and the butter was unbelievably wonderful–first churn or virgin butter. Never heard of it before, but ambrosial. Oh, also, Kit didn’t eat the duck brains or tongue. Peter ate both.

100 year old mahogany clam

100 year old mahogany clam

Translucent cabbage leaves sandwiching seaweed--yummy!

Translucent cabbage leaves sandwiching seaweed–yummy!

Looking into Noma kitchen from back alley

Looking into Noma kitchen from back alley

Peter and Noma chef from Seattle

Peter and Noma chef from Seattle

Plucking the ducks out back

Plucking the ducks out back

Roasted duck at Noma

Roasted duck at Noma

Chocolate covered moss!

Chocolate covered moss!

 

We are staying in a hotel that is on the edge of Tivoli Gardens—our windows look right onto a wonderland of twinkly lights. It’s really an amusement park, not a garden. The little kids are all blond and dressed in winter jumpsuits. They do a lovely light and water show to parts of The Nutcracker. (Tivoli, not the little kids)

Christmas lights at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

Christmas lights at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

Now back in our London flat, sorting out the washer/dryer (it takes 4-5 hours to do one load that is about half of what I can do at home in a quarter of the time). We’re been to the local grocery store (Waitrose) a couple times—wonderful cheese, jam, chutney, tea selections, as you can imagine. Sunny this morning—we’ll be heading out later, no big plans for today; we’re looking for a local pub we can call our own.

So far: we are VERY luckymanandlady.