Hampshire and tea with Jane Austen

As many of you know, I am a lifelong Jane Austen fan. I harbour an unhealthy passion for all things Regency, I kiss Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy goodnight every night, I know every word to Pride and Prejudice, I dress up my loved ones in gowns with questionable back seams and force them to come English Country dancing with me. Ok, one of these statements is false.

I mean, Jane Austen is reason I got into costume design in the first place and by extension the reason I am on this trip. Where would I be without Jane? I had to make the journey to the mothership of Janeites everywhere, the cottage at Chawton. Her last residence before her death in 1817 and where revisions on her most famous work was done.

IMG_3155
On this table. This one right here.

Hampshire is heart achingly gorgeous. It’s the quintessential English countryside. Verdant rolling hills dotted with trees and peppered with thatched roof Tudor style cottages. I can understand why Jane’s heart was broken when she had to move from her childhood home in Hampshire to Bath. It’s too lovely.

Our bed and breakfast was right in the heart of the countryside. The mom and pop establishment was very remote. Maybe a little too remote, without a car getting to and from our bed and breakfast proved a challenge. Walking was out of the question, from the BNB to Chawton it would have been a 1.5 hour affair. A little daunting in the rain that poured down. And a cab ride one way was the equivalent of $30! I think it was only through sheer determination that we did anything at all. Next time I will rent a car. Luckily, the bed and breakfast was very quiet. Scratch that, mostly quiet. Our host made us a traditional English breakfast every morning that was SO delicious and as farm to table as you can get, the eggs came from a chicken coop in the back yard. Much to my chagrin, the rooster who woke us up at the crack of dawn every day did not make an appearance on my dinner plate. IMG_9120

IMG_9108

IMG_9130The Museum wasn’t open early enough for the us keeners. We arrived at 9:30 and were forced to kill time at terribly charming Cassandra’s Cup, a tea shop across the street. How unfortunate, right?
IMG_9132 (1)

They served the freshest scones I’ve ever had; warm and soft and obviously fresh from the oven. Served with Earl Grey tea and lavender infused jam and clotted cream. Heavenly! IMG_3154

Once the doors opened, I was given ample opportunity to shame myself in public with my fan girl behaviour. I ached to put on the bonnets hanging in the kitchen and almost made a dash for the dining room where the telltale creaky door stands. The kind staff patiently told me I would be welcome to come and volunteer there, in costume if I so prefer! Do you even have to ask? I gave myself a crick in the neck swivelling it around to see all the Austen memorabilia and left a very happy girl.

After our visit to the holy grail of Austen fans, we turned our sights to Spain. Truth be told, I was looking forward to getting out of England. I was ready for a little sunshine. England felt so much like home, that I never really felt I was travelling. So, with our giant bags on our backs, we cabbed our way to the London Gatwick and £80 later (eek!) we were on our way to Madrid. I think the lesson learned from this part of the trip is somethings you HAVE to do, and no matter the challenges you face doing them, you have to make the best of the situation and enjoy the moment. Just make it work or get tainted memories. Then retreat to a cheaper country to recoup the losses!

IMG_3137

Totally worth it.

 

 

Advertisements

The definitive guide to being annoying tourist in London Part 2

Rain? What rain? Only glorious London sunshine! We lucked out some how and caught five days of excellent weather. Which is most fortunate as neither of us thought to bring an umbrella.

To me, London is the witty, chic, and charismatic cousin of Vancouver (where I hail from) The similarities in climate and people really helped to make me feel welcome in the big city. Something I didn’t realize I really needed after relocating across the globe away from everything I know and love. A big part of which may, or may not be Starbucks. Aside from our aggressive tourism, London already feels like home. We’ve mastered the tube system (Hello, Oyster card!) sampled the espresso at local coffee shops (though I stubbornly cling to my skinny vanilla lattes) downed cold pints of cider in warm and cozy taverns and I’ve also learned that the British take their meadows very seriously.

IMG_3025
This is an electric fence

I know I sort of hinted at the annoying tourist bit when I went all Harry Potter on you in the last post, but did you really get just HOW touristy one can be? This is me attempting to take a photo for the cover art on my upcoming album.

IMG_3091

Just kidding about the album. This is THE famous cross walk used in the Beatles album cover just outside Abbey road studios. Getting here was relatively easy if you’re willing to walk a fair way. If you look carefully, you can see all the annoyed Londoners in their cars waiting for us tourists to walk back and forth across the cross walk in an attempt to get a good photo. It’s impossible to stand in the middle of the road to get the shot they did, and the alternating traffic made is extremely difficult to get any photo at all in the end we all looked a little bit mental as we walked one way and then the other, repeatedly.

The great thing about traveling with a foodie, is not just a superb selection of dining experiences, but her wide knowledge of cuisine means she can sniff out the most authentic Vietnamese in the city. Not only did this place smell amazing as we walked by (and exactly how it SHOULD smell according to Bev) but the food was flavorful, the broth aromatic and had great depth of flavor. Pho Cafe is definitely worth making a stop in if you’re around any of their 19 locations.

They’re also really considerate of your white blouses and give you this fetching blue bib number to wear as you eat your red soup. Which is not at all funny to your traveling companion with the big camera.
IMG_9070

IMG_9096

IMG_9072

We happened to visit the Tower of London on the one day that threatened rain. The imposing fortress is well known but entirely worth the visit. 1000 years of history is yours for the exploring. Immediately to your right when you enter is the gate the important visitors would have come through, hard not to imagine King Henry the 8th walking through it on his way to visit Anne Boleyn who lived there prior to being made queen (probably led by the enormous codpiece he favoured) I was extremely surprised to find that people live in the tower grounds. The torture chamber and graffiti carved into the stones by the unfortunate souls who met their end there juxtaposed by the cheery welcome mats and red geraniums at the threshold of the yeoman abodes.

Luckily for us the rain never came and we were treated to exceptional views of the Thames and London Bridge.

IMG_9087
Contrary to what I was led to believe, the bridge showed no sign of falling down what so ever.

IMG_9102

There is an English Heritage Visitors pass that can be purchased for your trip to the UK. This pass enables you to enter National Trust sites either for free, or at a serious discounted rate, visit just three sites with the pass and it will have paid for itself. Not only can you visit stately homes, roman ruins and other landmarks but it gives you access to events put on by the English Heritage such as reenactments of the Battle of Hastings. It can be purchased for the length of your visit and bought on-line here. If you’re travelling to England and plan on seeing Deal Castle, the home of Charles Darwin, or Stonehenge (to name a few of the included sites) it’s definitely worth it.

We attempted to see the only home of Charles Dickens still standing and now a museum. We didn’t make it in time to join the last house tour, despite all our hustle, likely because we were weighed down by our giant pho meal. But we were able to look through the gift shop. So I will have to go back and try it again.

IMG_3102
I couldn’t agree with you more.

IMG_3124IMG_4177

Our final night as tourists closed with the wildly hilarious Book of Mormon in London’s West End. Not knowing what to expect when Bev bought the tickets insisting we would love it and we had to go, I sat down with some apprehension in my heart. I love musicals, but I don’t love ALL musicals. What would this be like? Would I even like it? Could I pretend I liked it when Bev asked what I thought? Turns out I didn’t even have to pretend. I couldn’t say enough about it. It was hands down the BEST performance I have seen in a long time. I never stopped laughing. Yes, it’s about Mormonism, it touches base on controversial issues including faith and indoctrination. Is it racist? That’s not for me to decide. I opened my mind and let the song flow in and I found that it was good.

Did I miss anything? I’ll be back in London in September and would love to hear your suggestions for things not to miss on my second go around!

The definitive guide to being an annoying tourist in London Part 1

Warning: This is NOT an insiders guide. You will not blend in with the local population or fly under the radar as inauspicious wanderers bored by the splendor and bustle around them. If you follow my lead and nerd out as hard and as often I did, you will likely experience more than one eye roll and a raised eyebrow or two. Why nerd out, you ask?

IMG_3065IMG_3074

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fifteen years of fandom and still going strong. Gryffindor represent! Originally we had only gone to Euston Road to pick up our BRP’s but, wouldn’t ya know. King’s Cross is just across the road what a crazy random happenstance…

Ahem.

There was a long line but it’s totally worth it for the die hard fan. The photographer was very energetic and upbeat the whole time “Yer a wizard!” he would exclaim periodically, it’s like he knew what we wanted to hear (Total Hufflepuff) and the assistant, who magically floated our scarves spoke at least four languages (I sense a Ravenclaw.) We met a fellow Canadian while waiting. She told us of the Harry Potter walking tour where you find the various film locations throughout London and get a bit of history on it. She gave us her print out, I can’t wait to use it when I go back to London!

IMG_8979I would have spent all my money in the shop, but refrained only because my backpack was already terribly heavy and I had been having daydreams since day one about throwing half of my stuff. There was no room for the wand and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, my house scarf, and owl I had my eye on. I did allow myself to purchase digital copies of the photos we took, but I wouldn’t do it again. The photo quality was absolutely terrible. Bev took better photos on my phone with better resolution. They’re blurry and not worth the £15. Sorry, Harry.

IMG_3031IMG_3028

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the best things about London is the free museums. I’m a total history nerd. I love knowing about the historical events that shaped the culture of each place I visit. Fashion has often reflected the political happenings of its nation and is even shaped by the events of the age. As a costume designer, The Victoria and Albert Museum has a special place in my heart. Their beautiful collection of historic garments photographed and published in beautiful detailed books have always been there for me when I needed to escape from modernism into history. Anyone who has seen the V&A books will recognize this gown from around 1780, even though in this time period having a small waist wasn’t the goal, this dress is extremely petite. I am 5’2, this woman must have been just 5’0 and had a 24″ waist. They also host many paid exhibits and luckily for us “Undressed: A brief history of underwear” was still on display. Sadly, photography was not allowed. The pieces were amazing and included an Alexander McQueen. All hail the fashion gods! Crying optional.

IMG_8917

After seeing all the dainty small waisted gowns we found ourselves suddenly very hungry. Comptoir Libanais was pretty close to the museum and had tables outside for us to soak up the rare English sunshine. The food was excellent so full of flavour and fresh, and it turns out Comptoir Libanais is pretty much everywhere. It’s nice to know we could find a healthy light lunch around London because the food in London is delicious, too delicious. Have my pants always been this tight?

I’d like to say that I’m going to focus on being a lean, healthy travelling machine and find a way to incorporate fitness and a fresh food into my diet on the road, but at the end of the day, when that pedometer reads 26,000 steps 25 flights of stairs and 17km travelled, eating that chicken pot pie and collapsing into bed is extremely appealing.

Do you find yourself wondering how one does THAT many km’s in London in one day?

Behold the icons!

IMG_8948IMG_8935IMG_8941

Buckingham Palace. That famous royal balcony where the queen does her queenly wave. I didn’t get to see the palace on my first visit to the UK so I was glad to finally make my way to the historic palace and cross that off my bucket list. But that’s about all we did there. I don’t mind visiting the tourist places, but I didn’t want to pay to see a fine house richly furnished, but the grounds surrounding the palace are delightful. I would rather just wander around and find things that the locals do or strike a balance between being a tourist and living like a Londoner. I say this and yet somehow, I don’t know how…Well, at least Beverley doesn’t know how, we ended up on Baker Street! What a coincidence! Since we were so close it only made sense to visit 221B! I didn’t know there would be a museum there, but there it certainly was.

Honestly, it was kind of disappointing. Ok, not just kind of, it was really disappointing. If there is one thing I would definitely suggest you skip it would be this. First off, the entrance fee is £15 which is really expensive for four floors of 1820’s architecture filled with the cheesy wax figures one would find at a circa 1960 macabre Disney theme park and manufactured props of things from the fictitious memoirs.  I would have liked to see things from Arthur Conan Doyle’s life, his manuscripts or diaries, what inspired him to write about Holmes, the history of Holmes fandom from its first print until now. Anything real. It’s very much a tourist thing but with little reward. This Londoner/Tourist balance was totally off kilter. So we retreated to Regents Park to lick the wounds of expensive disappointment and eat our lunch in peace. Or relative peace.IMG_9018Canada’s national bird was NOT being very Canadian. He was pushy, and mean, and relentless. I had to eat my sandwich in a slight back bend to avoid his greedy insistence. Thank God for yoga.

IMG_9004
Seriously, Goose. This is chicken.

I have been to the National Gallery before. It was splendid then and it is splendid now. Some of the world’s most famous art works housed in its magnificent halls spanning 700 years of art history. We spent a little time in Trafalgar square having lunch and watching the goings on around us. Most of London seems to be in a big hurry and the square is one place where people mill about in no particular rush. It is vibrant and full of life from early morning to late evening. Buskers perform their tricks and illusions, musicians fill the square with music of varying quality. I have to say I love London it has a hustle and energy to it with history and fun around every corner. There’s so much to do, there’s a part two to the nerdy London posts!

IMG_9049

IMG_9047

IMG_9057

IMG_9052