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Monday, June 4, 2018

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Located just 20-30 minutes from London, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, better known as simply Kew, is not to be missed.  So vast and impressive on 325 gorgeous acres, it makes you feel as if Disney designers visited Giverny  (pronounced shee-verny), saw Monet’s garden and said, “You know what….”  (For a true French pronunciation:

So close to London and yet so far.  Wide open spaces, small lakes, flowers galore, water fowl sitting quietly under the trees, or floating placidly on the lake, Kew (pronounced queue, and you’ll see what I mean when you’re waiting to buy tickets) is open daily, 1000 to 1900 and 1000 to 2000 on weekends. 

For the unfortunates who’ve never used a European train schedule, 1900 = 7 p.m. and 2000?  Well, I give you more credit than you give yourselves.

But, back to the garden itself.  I know you’re probably thinking, seen one you’ve seen ‘em all.  Not so my botanically challenged friends.  Where else can you laze under huge trees, stroll wide open spaces of green grass, stop and smell the roses, admire fabulous arrays of water lilies, see palms and their cousins collected from all over the world, all while you broaden your education and treat your senses?

Unfortunately, the Treetop Walkway was closed during our visit.  And after more than two hours of walking, we ran out of time and energy to visit The Temperate House.  No problem.  We will go back.

It was in the Palm House that I had a conversation with one of the attendants, while he was in the process of watering huge potted plants.  Remember in London Conversations I explained how import conversation is to being a traveler, instead of a mere tourist?

So, I asked the smart young man while he waved his hose and sprinkler.  “How often do you water these plants?”

“Depends mostly on the weather, but the potted plants usually get watered twice a day.  On the other hand, the bedded plants get watered once every day.”

“How deep are the beds?”

“About six feet, but you’ll get a better idea if you stand close to the beds and look down through the grates. You can see to the bottom of the beds.”

Really nice fellow, with a cheery smile, who no doubt enjoyed his job, and I’m sure watering was only a part of his job.  Kew Gardens are also a botanic laboratory and research and educational facility, sponsored by The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, with 723 employees.

Speaking of education, Kew offers everything from short courses on identifying and planting wild flowers, to lengthy PhD degrees.  You can check out what’s available for yourself:

But, we were there just for the day and I’ll tell you right now, a day at Kew is akin to watching the five minute version of Gone With the Wind.  We strolled the grounds, saw the Palm House and the Water Lilly House, crossed the lake (simply called The Lake) via the Sackler Crossing.  Yes, we stopped to smell the roses and loiter in the shade of giant trees while sipping a refreshing cider.

Need some more adjectives and inconsequential comments?  I thought not.  Time to let both my faithful readers, through the magic of photography, meander the grounds of this very special garden and see for themselves the best way to discard the crowds and cement of a fabulous city, to recoup and linger and relax in the leisure of the magnificent Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which by the way is a United Nations World Heritage Site, with over 40,000 species of plants.

Be sure to mind your manners and obey the posted signs!  The Kew Gardens has its own police force, the Kew Constabulary!

Overlooking the Rose Garden

Don't forget to look up or you'll miss some color!


Many of the trees are hundreds of years old.

Friday, June 1, 2018

London Conversations

London Conversations

You want to be a traveler instead of a tourist?  Simple.  Stop reading the signs, snapping the photos, then climbing back on the bus.  Talk to people.  Ok whiners, I know what you’re thinking.  I don’t speak the language.  I might make a mistake and say something awful.  What the hay!  You may already say awful things in English.  But, wait a sec, they speak English in London and it’s definitely more gooder English than most Mericans speak.

So, cheer up and speak up!  I’ll give you some examples:  

David (barber at Trufitt & Hill, the world’s oldest barber shop)

As everybody knows, having your hair cut draws out conversation with every snip of the scissors.

“You’ve got a job ahead of you, David.  This is my unfashionable shaggy look.”

“I’ll soon have you looking like a gentleman.”

“My wife will be surprised, but I like an ambitious man. By the way, I’ve found a way to regrow hair.”


“So far it only works on ears and eyebrows.”  David chuckles.

I’m attracted to people who laugh at my jokes.

There follows a short exchange of how I want my hair cut. “Like yours, David.”

Michael had cut my hair on previous occasions and turns out that’s who cuts David’s hair.  Small barbershop ain’t it.

“How long are you in London? Where are you from in the States?”

Which swings the conversation doors wide open.

“Taking in three musicals,” I say.  Which leads to finding out David’s not just excellent with the scissors, but is also a singer and has his own cabaret troupe.  Which led to dancers and singers as athletes. 

“Matter of fact, we singers refer to ourselves as vocal athletes.  Takes hours of daily practice to get your voice to do what you want it to do.”

Don't doubt it.  I often have trouble getting my lips move in the right order.

David is also a philosopher:  “Our lives are formed by our mistakes.” Fortunately, he wasn’t talking about my haircut.

Then he talked about his hometown, Bristol.  “It’s a great city and so much to see and do.  Been there?”

“No, haven’t had the pleasure, but one of my favorite authors, Derek Robinson is from there.”

Haircut over and perfectly done, I struck up a conversation with Poppy, a bright young woman who offers the potions and lotions at the front of the shop.  She’s also a singer in David’s troupe.

My purchases complete it’s time for some light shopping and some thirst quenching refreshment.

(More links to my blogs on Truefitt & Hill at the bottom of the page.)

Veronica (barkeep at 45 Jermyn Street) pronounced German Street

As with all the other barkeepers at 45 Jermyn Street, Veronica knows her stuff.  We ordered coffee and when we also requested an Armagnac, she smiled and quickly produced a bottle of exquisite, ten year old Baron de Sigognac.  That it was before noon raised not one eyebrow, but which began our conversation.  She’s Italian and Italians never blink twice at the chance for alcohol.  We moved on to travels and why she came to England.  “I like to travel.  I’ve also lived in Brazil and Columbia, plus I’m half Korean.”

Italian-Korean?  She laughed.  “Crazy! You know how Italians are so emotional, with hugs and kisses?  When I go to visit my grandfather in Korea, he has no idea what to do when I rush up and hug him and kiss him on the cheek!”  She laughs again.

Veronica has lived so many places! So does she speak a bunch of languages?  Yes. In addition to her native Italian:  Portuguese, Spanish, and English.  How about Korean?  “No.”

Now I’m fascinated with a young adventurous woman and fearless traveler.  “Lived anywhere else?”

“Germany, but I don’t speak German. It’s too hard!”

By this time, she was making other drinks and I watched her concoct a Bloody Mary.

“First you need some really good tomato juice.”

Made with fresh tomatoes?

“We tried it with fresh tomatoes, but the flavor wasn’t intense; we use a quality juice and add a blend of spices and cream of horseradish.”

I’ve had one of their Bloody Marys. It’s well balanced, intense and sensational. You remember the spice, but it doesn’t deaden your tongue.

Then the 45 Jermyn Street’s general manager (another David) arrived with a complimentary plate of melt-in-your-mouth chocolates, both dark and white, filled with raspberry cream, hazelnut caramel, and dark mousse.  He saw us drinking coffee and Armagnac and wanted to help us ease into the rest of the day.  “Enjoy,” he said, and we followed his instructions to the letter.  By the way, David is also Italian!  Then the maître d’ floated over to congratulate us on our libation choices.  Yes, we will come back here, every chance we get.

(More links to my blogs about 45 Jermyn Street at the bottom of the page)

Jane (clerk at Jo Malone, Covent Garden)

Being a man, I don’t expect anything more than a perfunctory ‘Hello’ at a perfume emporium.  But, Jane is the kind of woman that wants to chat and you immediately want to chat with.  She’s smiling, cheerful, and brimming with information, both product and background. 

“So, is there a real Jo Malone, or is that just a brand name?”

She explains, ”She’s real!  Jo Malone began making lotions in her kitchen and giving them to friends as presents.  Then friends told friends and the business grew.  Now, as you may know, the brand is owned by Estée Lauder.  Jo Malone had breast cancer and needed to slow down, so she sold it in 1999.  Now she’s started another company, Jo Loves.”

“Are there fragrances for me?”

“Originally, Jo Malone’s idea was to create unisex fragrances and that’s still mostly true, but now some of the fragrances have a more masculine scent.”

The things you learn when your wife wants/needs some more Jo Malone Red Roses lotion.

Alina (at the Caffé Concerto on Piccadilly)

Alina is from Romania (Romanian is another romance language).  By the way, she speaks perfect English.

“So, was English difficult to learn?”

“It took me a long time.”  Can’t tell if that’s a groan or a wince, but whatever, it looks fetching on her.

“So now you don’t care if someone speaks Romanian or English to you?”

She smiles (and it’s a gorgeous smile!). “No, makes no difference to me.”

Lanja (a waitress at Strada, a restaurant at the Heathrow Airport)

Lanja is from Iraq and her English is also perfect, as is her cheery disposition.  “So how long have you been here?”

Another wonderful smile. “I’ve been here twenty-two years.”  Either she’s discovered the secret of eternal youth, or she got here when she was still an egg.

 She seems disappointed that neither of us finished the delicious linguine Bolognese.  “You didn’t like the food?”

“We did, but it was too much. Our stomachs are too small.”

Lanja waves a dismissive hand and smiles again. “Your stomach isn’t as small as mine.” 

Show me yours first.

She’s right.  I’d be surprised if she weighs a hundred pounds (about 45 kilos or 7 stone). The Brits lead the world in obtuse ways of measuring weights and distances.  “I carried ten stone for a hundred furlongs.  Took me a fortnight.”   Could you give that to me in rods?

For your edification:

1 stone = 14 pounds. 
1 kilo = 2.2 pounds.
1 furlong = 1/8 Mile, 660 feet, 40 rods, or 10 chains.
1 fortnight = 2 weeks
1 rod = 5.5 yards

Ok, with the kilos you caught me. A kilo is really 2.20462 pounds, so go ahead and work that out in your head.

But, let’s pick up our instruments and get back to the music.  When it comes to travel, it’s the people you meet that leave the most lasting impressions.  Sure you can remember what la Tour Eifel looks like, but what does it mean to a Frenchman?   What does he think about Americans? What are people like in Germany or Belgium or Japan?

Everybody has a story and if you ask and listen, you’ll find out more about a country than ever gets in a travel book.

So, here’s a thumbnail guide on how to travel:  First you get a haircut, then find a nice spot for coffee and Armagnac.  After that you’re on your own.

Links to other times I've written about Truefitt & Hill, and 45 Jermyn Street.