Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April 29 - Highgate Cemetery and a small bit of Paris

the B519, also known here as Highgate Hill street in Highgate
Our second to the last leisurely morning mixing a light breakfast with lively conversation at Ellis Fields. After we finished, we headed out for Highgate in the borough of Camden, London. Richard had originally planned for us all to use the underground (“Le Tube”) but a planned two-day strike kicked off that day so we were forced to drive.

Fortunately traffic was light and parking easily found -- although we had to wait about ten minutes until noon to park legally on the street. Once free of the car we strolled down the main street before making our way  to Le Pain Quotidien for a wonderfully fresh, scrumptious lunch. Susie and I had the good fortune to eat at not one but two of these in Paris last year and found them to be a great value: the food delicious, the price right, the ambience cozy and the serving staff immensely friendly and helpful (the two working that morning were from Latvia and Italy).

I had the smoked chicken club tartine with chorizo chips and lots of greens
Susan had the avocado tartine
several in our group split the rhubarb tart
We enjoyed the partly sunny sky as we left the restaurant and made our way down one of the small side streets on Highgate Hill (reportedly one of the highest and steepest in greater London) to the entrance of Highgate Cemetery. Richard and Pauline had peviously made reservations and purchased tickets for a guided tour of the West, and oldest, side of the cemetery; in fact, the only way you can see that part of the cemetery is through a tour.

We were lucky that day since it was partly sunny, slightly coolish in the shade and our guide was the registrar of the cemetery, the man with the answers so to speak.

For the next hour or so our little group of about 16 wended around various paths, stopping every so often as our host related bits of cemetery history intermixed with personal histories of a handful of burials all within the framework of explaining certain elements of funeral symbolism and architecture. It was fascinating to me, of course, but everyone in the group seemed to enjoy not only the talk but the very feel of the space itself.

entrance to the west side

Egyptian avenue

At the end of the tour the four of us and most of the rest of the tour group crossed back over to the east side and with the handy map explored on our own.

Among the denizens buried there — and those we tracked down — were: Karl Marx, his tomb, which was originally located in a different part of the east side, is topped by one of the largest stone heads I’ve ever seen;  the writer George Eliot,  and Thomas Shepherd who served in the Union army during the American Civil War.

Alice Crisp opted to have a high relief of her "faithful" friend Emperor put on her tomb


manager of the Sex Pistols

Ferdinand Barzetti

Patrick Caulfield - his the upright pretty much says it all for everyone buried here

Anna Mahler, sculptor and daughter of Gustave
As it was nearing closing time we eventually found our way back to the entrance and then walked through nearby Waterlow Park where the four of us stopped to have coffee. 

Leaving Waterlow Park and returning to Highgate Hill street  Richard caught sight of this little plaque on the wall surrounding the park, a reminder of the history lurking around these streets -- a plaque marking the former entrance to a cottage once owned by Andrew Marvell, "Poet, Wit, and Satirist," and a colleague of John Milton (yep, THAT John Milton).

Even though our return route was pretty much uphill we were soon back at the car -- making just one stop at a small wine wine shop for a cold bottle of Blanquette de Limoux to celebrate the finale of a grand and wonderful trip. Less than a half hour or so later we were all relaxing comfortably in Ellis Fields, in eager anticipation of the evening meal, Pauline's renowned "Toad-in-a-hole" dinner

Our waiting was not in vain and the meal was everything we expected and more:  Pauline amazed us with her version of Toad in a Hole, sausages cooked in Yorkshire Pudding, with sides of vegetables and mashed potatoes, all washed down with a Crozes-Hermitage, compliments of Dick and Dorothy. A wonderful evening of lively talk over delicious food and tasty wine. Life really doesn’t get much better than sharing it all with good friends.

Toads peeking out of their holes. . . 

Now, THIS is real comfort food.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 28 - Back to St. Albans by way Durham Cathedral and Harrogate for Tea

Yet another splendi morning spent chatting leisurely over rich coffee and a tasty Northumberland breakfast — I’m going to miss those free range chickens in the backyard; they’ve been the source of some scrumptious scrambled eggs on toast these last few days.

Toward the end of the meal our hosts Paul and Kathryn came out from the kitchen and we all talked about one thing or another, but usually about travels; places visited and those we’d like to see. It turns out that our hosts have a great affection for the United States and talked at some length about their numerous visit to "the states."

We had put off the inevitable as long as possible and it was time to go. After settling our bill and saying our goodbyes we loaded the car and headed off east to Newcastle to pick up the A1 south.

Our first stop on the way back was Durham to see the cathedral — well worth a stop to be sure. The cathedral and nearby castle are located on the summit of a peninsula of sorts, really a sharp bend or loop in the river Wear with a commanding view of the surrounding village and vicinity.

Durham cathedral overlooking the River Wear
After finding a place to park the car in a nearby “mall” parking lot, we strolled across the river, up a steep hill (the path is hidden by the trees in the photo) and on to the church grounds. As we made our way to the entrance of the church we walked past the remnants of the church burial ground next to the cathedral and caught sight of a memorial to the men from Durham who died in the Boer War, an oddity I thought. Indeed, a Englishman standing next to me said in passing that the memorial was very unusual and he couldn’t remember ever seeing one dedicated to the Boer War.

Durham Cathedral burial ground

Entrance to the cathedral

We spent the next half hour or so exploring the interior of this enormous edifice, finding the tomb of St. Cuthbert (7th century) as well as that of the Venerable Bede (also 7th century), the first true English historian. We then made our way to the cathedral coffee shop for coffee (of course).

Relaxing in the cloisters

George Washington's ancestor presumably

Wedding photo shoot outside the University of Durham Music School

After making our way back to the car park we continued south eventually pulling off and stopping in Harrogate. The idea was to experience real British high tea at Betty’s one of the most famous tearooms in England. No sooner had we arrived in Harrogate than the sun came out at long last and we enjoyed soaking up the warmth as we strolled a few blocks from the car park to the tea room.

Turkish baths in Harrogate
Afternoon tea the British way at Betty's in Harrogate

Betty's exterior

Richard, Pauline and Susie
Back to the car we turned our attention to getting out of Harrogate, no mean feat believe me. But our steady guides soon had us back on the road where we switched to the M1 at Leeds, finding ourselves caught up in the swirl of traffic stops and starts until well south of the city. 

Dusk was falling as we neared the greater St. Albans area and Richard thought it best to stop somewhere short of home for dinner. I believe it was Pauline who suggested ZaZa, an Italian restaurant in Harpenden and we soon found ourselves striding inside hoping for a table without booking.

We were ushered upstairs to a lovely open space and spent the rest of the evening enjoying delicious food and warm company, talking about the wonders of our trip and the wonderful things we had seen and those things that still awaited us.

I had the fish with a tomato sauce

Susan had grilled chicken salad
Richard had pasta
and so did Pauline.
From Harpenden it was a quick drive to Ellis Fields and home.

During our sojourn to northern England  and Scotland we (or rather Richard) drove, with Pauline navigating, a total of 1,022 miles: 302 miles to Hexham, 422 miles while we were up north and then 309 miles back to Ellis Fields in St. Albans.

And the trip wasn't quite over yet. . .