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The day after arriving in London UK to visit my daughter,  I received the following agenda for GERI’s Gin Tour of London.

As many of you know I love Gin and Gin Martini’s. Last Christmas my daughter gave me the gift of a Gin Tour of London—I simply had to come and visit her to collect it!!!

I had no idea it was going to be so amazing!!!

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The Invitation

11:30 – 12:30 Beefeater Distillery Tour : http://beefeaterdistillery.com/shop/11-30am-14th-may-2016/?attribute_date=14-may-16-1130-am&date=1463221800

1:00 – 2:30 – Maltby Market – Little Bird Gin http://www.littlebirdgin.com/#contact

LUNCH in the market

2:30 – 3:00 Maltby Market – Jensens (potential tasting or browsing)

3:30 – 5:30 You must choose:

Holborn Gin Bar – Largest gin bar in London http://www.holborndiningroom.com/reservations/

6:00 London Distillery – Charcuterie and Cheese dinner –http://www.cityoflondondistillery.com/our-bar/

8:00 Jamboree Live Music – PLATYPUS + THE STRING PROJECThttp://www.jamboreevenue.co.uk/events/black-snake-blues-presents-platypus-the-string-project

Be sure to wear your walking/dancing shoes!!!

The Experience:

 Daughter Rachael, niece Madi and I set off bright and early for the Beefeater Distillery for a tour of London’s oldest gin distillery. It is a very small distillery and I had a hard time believing that all the Beefeater gin was distilled in only about 12 stills. But they claimed it was!! The output from the distillery is 80% alcohol, it takes about 2 days to make and is then shipped off to Scotland where they add pure Scottish water and bottle it for shipment all over the world.

For those of you not familiar with Gin, it is a spirit which derives its predominant flavour from Juniper Berries. It became popular in Great Britain when William of Orange, leader of the Dutch republic occupied the English, Scottish and Irish thrones. Genever, as gin is known in Holland, is a favourite of the Dutch….so I also come by my fondness for gin through my dutch genes. In addition to the key juniper berry ingredient, different gins and styles  are created by using other botanicals  ( coriander, angelica, orange, grapefruit or lemon peel, cardomon, cinnamon, grains of paradise, other berries, licorice—the list is endless, creating endless varieties of glorious gin. Typically a fine gin should contain 6-10 botanicals. However one of my favourite gins from Liberty Distillery in Granville Island in Vancouver uses 24 BC botanicals and berries. London Gin must have a strong juniper flavour.

 

London has had a long and tortuous relationship with gin. A Gin Craze swept 18th century London. In over-crowded, slum ridden Georgian London, gin became the opium of the people. For a few pennies, London’s poor found entertainment, and escaped from the cold and hunger at the bottom of a glass. It is said that in 1730, an estimated 10 million gallons of gin were distilled and sold from 7,000 dram shops. This would have meant that an average Londoner drank 14 gallons a year—I know I love my gin—but that is staggering consumption.

No wonder Rev James Townley (1751) pontificated that

Gin, cursed Fiend, with Fury fraught, Makes human race a Prey. 

It enter by a deadly Draught And steals our Life away

What really put gin on the market was the duty on imported spirits during the end of the 18th century when England was at war with France. Restrictions were lifted on domestic spirit consumption—creating a rich source of tax revenue and a healthy market for domestic grain growing landowners as un. The effects on its people however was devastating—gin was blamed for misery, crime, prostitution, higher death and birth rates and madness. It seems during this period cheap low grade gin was more likely to be flavoured by turpentine than juniper.

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The satirical well know print by William Hogarth ‘Gin Lane’ depicts the sins of gin and links the grubby reputation that gin has had for many years as ‘mothers ruin. He contrasts the ill-advised consumption of gin with the healthy consumption of British beer  in ‘Beer Lane’. The government of the day tried to control the gin excess and rein in an unregulated industry, but the craze really did not end until a change in the economy brought on higher grain prices and therefore less affordable gin. Clearly Hogarth’s impact on many brits has been significant—beer is still the drink of choice for most current day Londoners.

 

By the beginning of the 19th century the gin craze and depravity was almost all but forgotten as gin transitioned to a new respectability with the introduction of ‘gentleman’s gin’. Gin was now distilled in commercial distilleries, regulated and quality controlled.

It is during this time that James Burrough and the Beefeater Distillery came onto the scene. James was a trained pharmacist, passionate about experimenting with flavours. It led him to discover the recipe for the nine natural botanicals now known as Beefeaters London Dry Gin.

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Today new styles of gin are becoming increasingly popular. Some of the originals are

Genever, Jenever: A Dutch spirit, still immensely popular in the Netherlands today. Distilled from malt wine and flavoured with juniper, hence the name jenever. Also referred to as Madam Geneva in English.

Old Tom Gin: Now used to refer to a style of gin popular in England in the 19th Century. Typically sweeter than modern gin. Various explanations for how name came to be. Traditionally often featuring some sort of cat on the bottle.

London Dry Gin:Modern style of gin, which has dominated since the late 19th Century.

Plymouth Gin:Similar to London dry gin, although said to be slightly sweeter, and the subject of protected geographical indication status, meaning it can only be made in Plymouth.

Sloe Gin:A liqueur made from gin and sloe berries from the blackthorn.

 

Having gotten both the production and history lesson in Gin at the Beefeaters Distillery exhibition,  and fortified by a lovely Gin and Tonic at the end of the tour, we were all set to embark on our ‘gin discovery and tasting tour of London.

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Our next stop Maltby Market.

 

Maltby Market has become a popular destination to wander on a Saturday morning/early afternoon. In Bermondsey the street market has settled in amongst the railway arches of southeast London. While smaller by comparison to Borough market, it has far fewer tourists, yet boasts top-notch food sellers of all varieties. We feasted on the ‘best burger’ in London from African Volcano (as declared by Madi and several other irish ‘foodies we met at the pop up communal bar) awesome charcoal grilled British Beef with chimichurri sauce and fries from The Beefsteaks and a delicious Falafel platter from Hoxton Beach. Quite frankly there were at least another 10 food stalls we would gladly have sampled—there is a style and flavour to suit any taste bud.

 

Our lunch was accompanied by cocktails from Little Bird Gin. We learned that Little Bird Gin is ‘lovingly distilled in small batches in London using unique botanicals including grapefruit and orange to give a smoother more rounded, fresh tasting gin’. We of course each had a different cocktail to enhance our sampling opportunities. Several of their cocktails are on their website but here’s to start you off in the morning.

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Early Bird Breakfast Martini

30ml Little Bird Gin

20ml Cointreau

50ml Pink Grapefruit Juice

2 large teaspoons of Seville orange marmalade 

Muddle the marmalade in a Boston Shaker, add lots of ice and the rest of the ingredients. Shake well and double strain into a chilled martini glass.

 

Before leaving Maltby market we made one more stop and in another archway found Jensen’s Distillery. A little gin tasting of their vintage gins and a sit in the sun, sipping a G&T, while  people watching rounded out our market visit. We clearly agreed with Christian Jensen, resident  distillerer

Jensen’s is gin as it was. Gin as it should be.

 

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Armed with the ways of  world renowned Beefeaters to small local distilleries, we hopped on a double decker red London bus to our next destination, Holborns. Holborns is a grand old brasserie set in midtown London. It boasts a gin bar offering London’s largest collection of Gin, with over 400 Gins and 27 tonics. Apparently, if you had the time and liver for it, you could savour over 14,035 possible Gin and tonic pairings and cocktails.

I wandered the length of the bar and had a good long look at the 3 cabinets of gin bottles. Happily I saw a few of the unique gins, assembled in my gin cabinet, Death’s Door, Genever and of course the old well knowns, Hendricks, Tanqueray ( all of them) Beefeater, Boodles and indeed the new small batch distillery Lady Bird.

Having eschewed the bar cocktail menu I asked to see the list of gins and was presented with the ‘Bible of Gins’ by the gentleman behind the bar. After a deep consultation with said gentleman and a tasting or two I settled on Mayson’s Dry Yorkshire Gin, just to say I allowed my taste buds to sample something a little further afield but still British.

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According to their master distiller Mayson’s Dry Yorkshire Gin is

A London Dry Gin from God’s Own County!

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Masons set out to create something that “wasn’t just your run of the mill, off the shelf, generic gin”. According to the experts it  is a spicy, slightly malty number that has a pleasant fennel character. You may wonder how I could taste the differences by this time….but this was my first straight dry martini of the day ……no tonic or other additives, just a splash of vermouth, a lemon twist and ice on the side…..and I loved it!!!!

 

 

 

 

By now it was late afternoon, and time to depart for our final gin destination, the City of London Distillery. We headed down to a destination near Blackfriars on winding cobbled streets and came to Bride Lane. We actually bumped into a wedding party but did not see the bride. Searching around a bit we found a doorway, headed down the stairs into an underground bar (and fully functioning distillery). There is much too entice one at the COLD (stands for City of London Distillery) bar.

 

 

One can do gin flights,  a gin masterclass tour or even create your own gin. However, our day had presented us with several of these options already and we settled in for another cocktail, myself another dry martini with the house City of London Gin and a lovely charcuterie and cheese platter.  The ambience was terrific, Rachael’s room mates had joined the party by this time and we relived the delights, twists and turns of the day.

 

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Following our gin adventure you will see that the Rachael  had planned a visit to a live music venue with the girls…it turned out to be quite the adventure as you will see from the animals in the band–but that is another story

 

 

 

 

A very special day with very special person and her friends who put a great deal of thought and life into a remarkable London experience!!!

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It is perhaps very fitting  that my first blog on Barcelona should be about its beaches.

Not three hours after my arrival in Barcelona, I found myself taking a short walk to the shore( 4 minutes from my flat in Poblenou). Within another 2 minutes I was sitting at a “chiringuitos” pronounced chee-ring-geet-toes enjoying my first glass of white wine, the lovely April sun and a breeze off the sea. Life is great in early April on a Barcelona beach!!!

The Beaches in Barcelona, and there are many of them, 9 in all, are magnificent!! On the Mediterranean border they stretch for almost 5 kilometres. Each beach has a name and all have the EU blue flag of excellence for water quality and services. It seems even the National Geographic gave its approval naming Barcelona as the best beach city in the world. I would agree.

 

Every morning I get up and have a long morning walk along the beaches and then enjoy a cup of coffee in my favourite  chiringuito. These small beach bars are dotted along the beaches providing libations as well as lounges to bask in the sun. I can imagine in the height of the summer they would be very full.

 

When I return in the afternoon for a little sun time, the sailboats, pleasure yachts, windsurfers, swimmers, sunbathers are out. Volleyball courts dot the beaches and impromptu soccer games take place. Entertainment along the boardwalk on weekends.

 

At Mar Bella the kite surfers come out late afternoon when the wind picks up. It is incredible to see them fly across the sea and perform their tricks. There is no end of people watching available from early morning till late evening.

 

I understand that  millions of people visit the city beaches every year. I expect in the height of the summer season the beaches are incredibly crowded—not my thing. But at this time of year they are really enjoyable. I have read that the city makes a big effort to keep the sand clean and the seawater clear and already I see signs of the cleaning routines that attest to this. Every morning city people are out washing down the boulevards and all day long beach cleaners walk up and down the beach removing trash.

 

Garbage bins are prominent for all to use.  They even have divers in the winter do an annual cleanup of the seabed.

 

In Spanish the beach is called ‘Playa’, but here in Catalunya they go by ‘Platja”. Mar Bella Platja is the beach I frequent. It has a dedicated nudist beach which I came across one afternoon by accident on one of my strolls along the beach…. But not too many visitors yet at this time of year yet.

I was curious about the beaches and was surprised to discover that up until the 1990s, the seafront had no resemblance to what I am experiencing here. The shores of Barcelona were dotted with factories( textiles  here in Poblenou) , fishing ports and even shanty town slums. All this changed with the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The 5 kilometers of beach front, boardwalk, cycling and walking paths, and green space was constructed along with the Port Olympic  and Olympic villages. Sculptures, including Frank Gehry’s Peix and modern architecture make the beach walk engaging for full 5 miles. Remarkable!!! Today the Barcelona beachfront remains as an exemplary of Olympic infrastructure spending at its best!! Providing to the city beauty and economic wellbeing.

 

However, now more than 20 years later, some cracks emerge.  Being a popular tourist destination has its downsides. Residents struggle in the height of the season to get to work, do their daily shopping and the number of flats rented ( like mine) to visitors  impacts the real estate prices making local housing less affordable for the locals.

The recently elected Barcelona mayor Ms Colau, is talking about setting a limit on the number of annual visitors by freezing hotel construction or tightening up the rental of flats. Looking at pictures of the beach or the pedestrian La Rambla in summer, I can understand her concern. Apparently Barcelona has 1.7 million inhabitants. It sees over 7.5 million tourists a year… that’s quite an imbalance. Apparently the tourist numbers doubled in just 13 years.

 

The city has already taken some measures.

To ease mobility for residents the popular pickup bike that you find in almost all European cities ( and now even in Toronto in the summer), are generally available to tourists as well as residents. In Barcelona the system operationally supports residential use.  Fees are only provided on an annual (47 euros) basis, no shorter term fares available and one needs a Spanish credit or bank card and a local address to sign up for the system. The system has in fact been put in place to work alongside the local bus and metro system to enable people to get to work in the busy tourist season. I guess if there are 4 tourist to every local, weighting in favour of locals makes some sense.

In the height of the season large tour groups are barred from the famous La Boqueria market enabling local residents to shop for their daily food…. Getting your meat or fish and veg and fruit on a daily basis is still common here. Within the first week I have adopted this pattern.. shopping for my fresh fish, bread fruits every day… its great!!

When we visited Park Guell you have to book on line for a ticket and are assigned a time to enter.  I was quite happy that visitors were restricted to 400 per hour and understand the requirement for a fee.  I don’t think I would have enjoyed my ramble through Gaudi’s park if there were no restrictions on the numbers in the park.

Bottom Line April is a great time to visit Barcelona beaches.. sunny, warm, not too crowded and clean

 

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Fall 2015 found me one more time in London, one of my favorite cities. It was a rather different visit. Instead of exploring the museums, sights and shops I spent several weeks ‘hunting’.

Daughter Rachael was facing down 2 weeks to ‘homelessness’, having been unsuccessful for more than 2 months in finding a new flat to move into with 2 new flat mates, Ana and Lauren. Who would have thought it would be so difficult to find a place to live in central London?

Well I was soon introduced to the challenges of London Flat Hunting!!!

It is incredibly competitive to find a flat in London. Rentals are logged with rental agencies and there are hundreds of them…check out any of the key London neighborhood corners and you will find 4-6 rental agencies within spitting distance. Those looking for a place, log their requirements with agencies—many of them!!! Or you don’t stand a chance!! Each of Rachael, Anna and Lauren were registered with multiple agencies in the 2-3 neighborhoods they were interested in living in. Oh yes, that’s another key element, narrow your search so that you can actually manage the activity…if you don’t you will be run off your feet.

Listing Checking, Agent Pestering, Frustration

Every morning, the flat hunting drill means you 1) troll your search engines (http://www.rightmove.co.uk or http://www.zoopla.co.uk) , 2) hope your agents are also searching for you and sending you emails about new listings—(they often get them before they are logged on the search sites). This later step requires ongoing pestering, as of course in the current environment the agents have many people who are looking for a flat just like you and 3) pick the flats you want to check out. So far so good. The challenge is that you need to move very quickly, almost at the drop of a hat. Getting to the new rental flats first is critical!! I found that for every flat there are another 5-10 people interested in the same space…so it is all about getting your rental offer in quickly!!!

So, as fast as you can, check out the flat, make a decision re what to offer ( at rental price listed, above, below, special requirements etc), get the offer to the agent and wait to see if the owner chooses you for the flat…and yup it is their choice and they typically have multiple offers.

Never Ending Listing Checking and Flat Hunting exhaustion

Sound easy? No, not so much. Frustrating? Yup, and increasingly more so as you make offers and time after time are not chosen!!! arrrggghh

All of the above, is complicated hugely by the fact that you have to make a living…meaning that you typically can only focus on this before breakfast, during work breaks and lunch and after work and on the weekends..in other words you have no life other than flat hunting. And naturally not being able to check out flats until after work, means that you are not typically the first offer!!!

Rachael, Ana and Lauren are all young professionals. Two weeks before they would all be out of their current housing arrangements, Ana was dispatched to Croatia to follow the refugee crisis for Reuters, Lauren was off on a long planned holiday she could not cancel and Rachael had colleagues from South Africa in for the week for a workshop… yup life gets in the way !! They of course were all now not only looking for a new flat to rent, they also needed to pack up their belongings and figure out where they are going to live in 2 weeks time…yup life is complicated and VERY STRESSFUL!!!

Packing up the belongings and storing across London at Friends

So on my arrival, I joined the house hunting task force!! The girls would do the searches early in the morning from wherever they were, send me the possibilities and I would contact the rental agents to see if I could set up a viewing. They armed me with a list of questions to ask, and a checklist of their requirements to confirm in the flats.  The best trick was to take a video of each flat I visited,  check out the flats and load my  visual and verbal observations  ASAP on our WhatsApp group, and the girls could check out the flats virtually.

Walking the streets of Clapham & Balham, checking out flats—lovely ones

WE DID NOT GET!! Aaarrrggghhh!!

I became very familiar with Balham, Clapham Junction and Clapham Common…having walked the streets and visited flat after flat. I, along with niece Madi,  experienced with them the disappointment of a flat that did not live up to expectations, of trying to decide if they would offer, of losing to another bid, and the nerve-wracking waiting to hear.

So every now and then we needed a break!!!

Cocktail Breaks to keep up our Spirits

It took  another 3 weeks to finally secure a flat!!!! But they did it!

It took seeing beyond the distressing lack of housekeeping by the current renters, begging and negotiating with the owner, and constant follow-up with the agent but the girls were successful and late October moved into their flat in a great neighborhood in Balham.

 

Happy Flatmates Ana, Lauren and Rachael in their new flat !!!

They now live happily in a flat, newly scrubbed, decorated and made ‘home’. Balham is where they settled…a great neighborhood, pubs, cafes, parks and easy transportation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brighton by the Sea

Brighton by the  sea.. a city sandwiched between the South Downs and the English Channel—a city that is  colourful, quirky, cool and tacky !!!!

Top of the tacky list is the Brighton Pier… a very long pier enabling all to soak up the tackier side of Brighton …tons of kitsche, noisy arcades, games, lights, fish and chip shops, bars…and at the far end, an old fashioned carnival style amusement park.. horror house to roller coaster to an  old style merry go round. And at night lit up like a grand old dame.

 

 

 

 

 

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My favourite part of the pier, are the great chairs to sit in and soak up the sun.

 

The Brighton Pier opened as a pleasure pier in 1899. In world war II the pier was closed… clearly it was an easily identifiable landmark  at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just down from the Brighton Pier is the rival West Pier. It was closed in 1975 and having been severely damaged by fires and storms, today is just an iron wreckage rising out of the sea. I think I prefer it to the tacky main event.

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Top of the quirky list is the Royal Pavilion…the exotic extravaganza commissioned by the equally quirky Prince Regent.

Designed by John Nash, the architect of London’s Regent Street, the Royal Pavilion is a a rather unusual, extraordinary building, boasting minarets, pagodas, twirling domes, balconies and Indian and Chinese motifs. George IV, was a huge disappointment to his straight laced father George III. The Prince Regent was anything but straight laced. He devoted his life almost entirely to pleasure….gambling, heavy drinking, dining, mistresses, racing, fine clothes …and clearly extravagant lavishly furnished homes..and in the process running up huge debts for the royal family.

George IV’s love with Brighton started in 1783. Introduced to him as a health retreat, George IV made it his “London by the sea”.  Here he  settled his mistress, Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert, whom he secretly married, and later disavoved when his father forced him to marry  Princess Caroline of Brunswick . This marriage did not last as Princess Caroline shared his father’s views about George’s lifestyle. Nevertheless having set up in Brighton , the Prince’s royal followers followed and made Brighton fashionable and racy.  He died in 1830 at 68. By this time he was king, morbidly obese, often caricatured by the press as completely out of touch with his subjects, who following the Napoleonic wars suffered famine and high unemployment. The times summed up his passing as follows “ there never was an individual less regretted by his subjects than this deceased king”. 

Interestingly, he clearly left a strong mark on Brighton. I had always planned to visit the Royal Pavilion but was always waiting for a rainy day.. as i barely had any rain when I was in Brighton, I never did go in to see the interior extravaganza..I will probably live to regret this.

Top of the Colourful Cool List …Brightons eclectic vitality  Today Brighton  continues to have a  bohemian vitality. It comes from artists,writers, musicians and other creatives and a thriving gay community. During my month there, it was the comedy festival, so regrettably I was not able to participate as fully in the musical cultural events.

Brighton  has a charming inner core —known as the Lanes and North Laines. Generally car free, it is  a maze of little alleyways crammed with shops and boutiques—lots of jewelry places. I loved to wander the Laines, check out the shops, pop in to a coffee or wine bar and quite lovely restaurants. My favourite was Riddles and Finns, a champagne and oyster bar which also served fabulous sea food. If you are in Brighton check it out.  There are two one on the beach and one in the Laines. I loved the one in the Laines. Tiny venue, open kitchen chandeliers, candelabras on long tables where you are seated family style—a great way to meet people —and sure enough in Brighton, of the artistic sort. One evening my guest and I met a heavily tattooed and pierced young woman from Australia who was a producer of electronic music and her friend a film producer.

Another favourite walk was of course, the one along the seaside on the promenade. Brighton has a long wide pebbly beach ( which is actually very comfortable to sit on—who knew? )  you can walk for quite a distance along the coastline. People flock to the beach in the summer…but even throughout my time there in October it was well populated with people taking in the fall sun rays and simply strolling or cycling along. Lots of places to stop for coffee, a snack or wine or beer. In the first few weeks it was still quite warm and I loved to grab a comfy couch at the outdoor bar, with glass in hand sit in the sun and listen to a wonderful female singer singing jazzy tunes.

I lived in the area of the Seven Dials. Lovely homes, nice pub nearby ( The Cow) and a great Coffee place ( Small Batch Coffee) . My flat was really wonderfully decorated…french provincial country style. Again I booked through AirBnB…my go to place for great flats. The owner was a british airways stewardess and clearly an experienced home decorator. It was a cosy and delightful spot to come home to after a day in Brighton or on the downs.

All in all I enjoyed my time in Brighton on the Sea. A part of which was the hiking in the South Downs, which will be the subject of my next blog.

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Visitors Arrive

Two weeks have passed and the first of my guests started to arrive!!! I was so excited to begin to share the sites, sounds, smells and taste of Italy.

I have moved from Florence to Giardino Incantato, a lovely Tuscan home I found through Airbnb. It is an idyllic setting and perfect to entertain guests and leverage as a home base in Tuscany.

My Tuscan Home

My Tuscan Home

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Rachael, my daughter arrived mid week and we had an awesome day out in Florence on her first day. The weather was amazing, the sky perfect ( especially for picture taking)  and our stop for a Caffe Macchiato and Cappuccino and visits to imagethe  Mercato Centrale ensured several chances to smell and taste the wonderful Italian cuisine.

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It turns out the world is indeed very small, as walking along the River Arno we ran into a KPMG partner from Saskatoon, Canada, Tom Robinson and his partner Suzanne. It turns out he too retired and was having a tour through Italy. We shared wine and dinner and exchanged stories…. What a chance meeting???

The following day we maneuvered our way into the city centre to Stazione  Santa Maria Novellato pick up Mary Lou and Virginia who arrived by train from Rome. Perhaps at a later time I will do a blog on the challenges of driving in Italy and navigating Florence. I think I and several of my guests have several more grey hairs after our weekend driving expeditions. But we tried not to let it get in the way of our enjoyment.

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After a glass of wine in our lovely garden, we headed off the first evening to Tre Pini  http://www.ristoranteitrepini.it/Welcome.html a  restaurantnearby.. we had a lovely wine and Tuscan food…although our favorite item on the menu was the pizza we shared as a starter..pizza in italy is truly something else!!

Touring Tuscany

Saturday was dedicated to roaming the Chianti region…visits to towns, to  enotecha’s to taste and buy wine, a lunch stop to relax and drink more wine and indulge in a spectacular sharing platter.

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Our favorite town was the medieval hillside town of San Gimignano.

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San Gimignano is a small walled medieval hill town in the province of Siena, Tuscany. I remembered it as one of the prettiest Tuscan towns from an earlier trip to Italy – I have a lovely picture of its unforgettable skyline in my home… five towers in the medieval style …examples of both Romanesque and Gothic architecture. The town built from the 12th to 15th centuries is encircled by three walls and has four town squares. It is a charm to walk within and around the walls encircling the town with its amazing viewpoints into the valley below

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And of course our favorite past time was tasting and buying wine….Mary Lou and Virginia managed to find some amazing bottles of wine, typical to the region, both from the Italian grape sangiovese and the super Tuscan variety. Another blog will be dedicated to the wines we have enjoyed. image

imageWe returned to our Tuscan home and collectively prepared our ‘Italian Tuscan Thanksgiving dinner’. Bruscetta, pasta and Pollo all’arrabbiata.

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href=”https://gmarkvoort.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/img_8808.jpg”>Stepping Out from 45 Chepstow Road Stepping Out from 45 Chepstow Road[/caption]

Chat line…..Rachie and I
Rachie: yeah mom …..LTD
Me: LTD??
Rachie: Living the Dream mom!!!
Me: Yeah …..Rach love your definition.

LTD used to mean Long Term Disability to me in my world. Now it means Living The Dream
Rachie’s version of the acronym suits me to a tee right now.
Living the life in England! A weekend in Paris! All is good.
Loving London. Visiting all my favourite places. Stepping out!

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Boroughs market for lunch with Sister-in-Law who came to visit. This has got to be the BEST Foodie Market. So many great marketers.. Jenny Dawson of Rubies in the Rubble, who brought disadvantaged women together, using local produce, produces great chutneys and of course employment! Lloyd Hayes who used to be a drug dealer and now a chef due to Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Foundations course and a regular demonstration chef at the Boroughs in his old neighborhood.Ronnie Hancock of Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House..who brought back oysters from the Thames and serves them with Porter. Porter was a drink that emerged out of London, had a connection with the markets way back and a favourite of the workers…hence its name. Apparently the chocolate notes of porter balance very well with the salinity of oysters….alll fitted well with the borough.
Now me, I still prefer just having a Borough’s glass of proseco…nothing like it at 11 in the morning with the multitude of smells in the market.
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My favorite purveyors Pieminster Pies..nothing like them …..Moopie, Chicken Funghi, and about 10 more. The Cherry Trees jams and chutneys..Spicey Tomato and Caramelized Onion, my current favorite and cheeses ..so many places.. but Neal’s Yard Dairy right at the top..a must see shop. And for coffee the Monmouth Coffee shop…be prepared to line up though!!
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Great Shows… latest was Once. An Irish busker, a Czech pianist and some fabulous musicians make for a great experience.
And of course real live busking at Portobello market!!!
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Pub crawls along the Embankment,
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cocktails at Sofitel and other swanky hotel bars
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. High Tea at the Park Lane Hotel,
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lunch at the food court in Harrods,
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and of course popping into Prince Bonaparte..fav pub across the road after a day on the town.. eating and drinking one’s way through all London has to offer.
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Sunday service at St Paul’s Cathedral
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and a walk through the parks… glorious sunshine
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A city for all the senses!!!

Ever seen 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths all in bloom? NO?
Nor have I.
But it was probably 5 million 4 thousand, 2 hundred and 73 tulips, daffodils and hyacinths…plus a couple thousand orchids. Even though spring was extremely late here in HOLLAND, our visit to the KEUKENHOF was in one word spectacular!!

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Mothers day in Canada, Liberty Day in Holland saw my colleague Tracey and I taking an early bus to the Keukenhof gardens just outside Amsterdam to take in the annual spring splendor.
The Keukenhof opens every spring for 2 months ( between the end of March to the end of May)

Keukenhof is dutch for Kitchen Garden.. it gets its name as the location was originally the castle’s( Slot Telylingen) kitchen herb garden. Baron and Baroness van Palland originally invited garden architects JD and LP Zocher to lay out the castles gardens. They had also designed Amsterdam’s Vondelpark…just 5 minutes from my apartment…a huge city park. Keukenhof was designed in the English landscape style.

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The current public gardens were established by the Major of Lisse in 1949. Today the 32 hectares of garden are planted every year by leading bulb growers and suppliers ( 86 of them in fact) They come from surrounding area, which of course is the key bulb growing district of the Netherlands –Lisse. Every weekend different flower exhibitions are featured in the 3 major pavilions. It is a clever commercial for a significant dutch business.
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However, it is clear that the TULIP reigns supreme in Keukenhof and continues to be the archetypal dutch flower. The first tulips were shipped to Vienna in 1554 from the Ottoman empire. In 1593 cultivation started in earnest and the dutch found that the plants tolerated the harsher conditions of the low countries. The tulip quickly became a coveted luxury item. It takes 7-12 years to grow a tulip bulb from seed. By 1636, the tulip bulb became the fourth leading dutch export after genever ( dutch gin) , herring and cheese. Prices skyrocketed and speculation on tulip futures was rife. Tulip mania reached its peak in 1636-7 and then the market collapsed in February 1637. IMG_7308IMG_7318

Today of course dutch bulbs continue to be exported across the globe. I saw some of the most amazing colors and varieties while at Keukenhof and hope to bring some home to plant in my cottage garden.

The orchid exhibition we were lucky enough to see was incredibly creative and beautiful as you will see from these pictures.
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For 64 years over 52 million visitors have taken in these amazing gardens and exhibitions. Luckily while we saw millions of flowers, our early start ensured we were not surrounded by millions of people.. 4 hours later however, the crowds had followed us and we left having feasted our eyes on the rows and rows of coloured flowers.
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If you are in Holland in the spring do not miss this garden!!!