Friday, November 30, 2018

Debs' UK Highlights

DEBORAH CROMBIE: As many of you know, I just spent almost a month in the UK, from mid-October to to mid-November. I was working, but it was good, productive (Yay!) work, and every day was full of big and small delights. I wanted to share a few of those.

1) Pret a Manger. I promise not every item on this list will be about food! But to start, I so looked forward to eating at Pret a Manger. This is a salad/sandwich/soup chain, takeaway, with some very basic eat-in tables. They are ubiquitous in the UK. There is a shop literally next door to the Earl's Court Tube Station, so that was my kitchen-away-from-kitchen. I had lunch many days (eat-in) and dinner a few (takeaway.) Their food is made fresh every day, healthy, and reasonably priced, and they are friendly and cheerful. Here's one of my favorites, a salad with falafel, beetroot (beets), edamame, avocado, and broccoli rabe, or "tender-stem broccoli" as they say in the UK. Yum. I wish I could have this every day at home.

 

2) Watching the hor4s. That's Fuller's (the brewery chain sponsor) Heads of the River 4s. Still Greek? It's the annual rowing race on the Thames between Chiswick (Chis-ick) and Putney, for quad sculls, coxless fours, and coxed fours. It's rowed the opposite direction from the Boat Race (Oxford vs. Cambridge) in the spring, but on the same course. My friend Kerry, who works at Leander Club, gave me the heads up on this and I made my way to Putney on that Saturday morning to watch the racing. It was a glorious day, cool but not uncomfortably cold, and bright. The river was gorgeous. I watched from Putney Reach, in front of the boat clubs, and from Putney Bridge, cheering every Leander boat. (They won most of their races, due to me, I'm sure...) Of all the things I've learned researching my books, rowing is one that I continue to love.


3) Portobello Market. Always. I have such a strong connection with the market, both personal and fictional. I never miss a Saturday when I'm in London. The first Saturday was bitterly cold, the second Saturday was 70 degrees and absolutely perfect, and the third Saturday the sky opened up and poured buckets. Such is the market. I particularly love walking back up Portobello Road as the market is closing and the vendors are breaking down the stalls.


It's such a magical time of day. And here's a shot of The Sun in Splendour, the pub at the very top of Portobello Road, on that perfect Saturday. I managed to get a bus going past in the photo!


4) The Cotswolds! Where to start? This trip I managed to actually tour The Cotswold Distillery (last time I only stopped in for a visit.) I don't know why I'm so fascinated by distilling, but this was geek heaven, an hour and a half very detailed, very informative tour. Don't you love these huge and gorgeous copper stills? (Those are for the gin. The whisky stills are not nearly as pretty.)


5) Driving. Much to my surprise, because I've always found driving in the UK fraught with tension. But I've found a car hire company that will bring the car to me, so that I don't have to manage in a big town, and the last few trips I've absolutely loved it. Here's my little Peugeot peeking from the car park at the second of my hotels.


6) The views in the Cotswolds. That is the bad thing about driving rather than being driven, trying to take in the stunning scenery while paying attention to the road and to the navigation. To take a photo, you have to find a layby (a place in the road where a vehicle can pull over.) Here's one shot from a morning of absolutely breathtaking views. I think this is in Warwickshire, near Long Compton.
 

But no photo can begin to convey the beauty of this countryside.

7) The autumn colors. I was visiting the Cotswolds later this year than I have before, and I loved the combination of bare trees with brilliant foliage. This is the River Eye, near Upper Slaughter, one of my favorite shots of the trip.


8) Back in London, a new favorite pub, The Scarsdale Arms in Earl's Court, just behind the Kensington Police Station. Here I am with my friend Kerry, and some unknown but very fancy lady.


9) Saving one of the very best for last. (I promised I would keep food to a minimum.) Dinner at the Slaughters Manor House in Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire. Because of a scheduling issue, my original dinner reservation was canceled and the dining room was not open to guests. But Chef Nic Chappell had a table set up just for me in the Manor House Snug and he and his staff cooked me a fabulous dinner. Here's my table--don't you love the Sex Pistols poster in this very grand house?


How elegant is that?? I felt like the Queen. And the food was just exquisite. It was truly an evening to treasure and I can't thank Chef Nic and the staff at the Manor House enough.

10) Okay, one more thing. Just walking. I walked every day in London, often for hours after I finished work, and as much as I could in between driving stints in the Cotswolds. 

I don't think there is anything I love more than just wandering in London, discovering new places as well as soaking up familiar neighborhoods. This was the last photo I took, on my last afternoon in London, walking at dusk (4:30!) from Kensington High Street down Earl's Court Road, with the crescent moon just visible over Earl's Court Station.


I was so sad to be leaving. So until next time!


54 comments:

  1. What lovely photographs . . . thanks for sharing your thoughts and the pictures --- they make me wish to travel there!

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  2. You've done my heart good, Deborah! Thank you so very much for the tour of your trip. I've been sighing at all the photos!

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  3. Thanks you for sharing that very lovely journey! Lucky you.

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  4. Oh my goodness. What a lovely start to my Friday in Winnipeg -- a wander through your trip to Jolly Old, Debs. Thank you!

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  5. How lucky you are to get to spend so much time in a place that inspires you as much as it does, Debs.

    And how lucky for us that you share it, both here and in your writing.

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  6. Thank you for the armchair tour where I didn't need to change my slippers for shoes. It is easy to tell what a wonderful time you had. Please tell about the meal you had at the manor House.

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  7. This is marvelous! What a great way to start the day… And Lucky you lucky you! And I am so touched by how much you love your work and your surroundings… It is fabulous to see. And hey—what did Chef Nic serve??

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    1. Hank, and Judi, I said I'd just have a starter and a main course, since they were going to so much trouble for me, but in the end they brought me half a dozen courses, some of which I can't even name. But there was a Seared Orkney Scallop with Preserved Mushroom Broth, a Crispy Veal Sweetbread with Caramelized Pumpkin Puree, and for the main course, Salt Baked Merrifield Duck with Celeriac and Mace Tart and Fino Sherry Sauce. Wow! And then a Mango and Coconut "Egg" (this was gorgeous) and THEN Blackberry Rice Pudding with Ice Cream and Puff Pastry Sandwich, which was fabulous and I could not finish. There were some other snacky things mixed in the courses, too, just little bites. Nic Chappell went to art school before he became a chef, so his food is beautiful as well as delicious. Follow him on Instagram: Chef_chappell
      to get an idea.

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  8. Hmmm, where to start? A trip through London and the Cotswolds before 8 a.m.--wow, thanks! Food to make me drool? Thanks for sharing! The news that your hardworking vacation is producing the next Duncan and Gemma?? Oh frabjous, joyous day!!!! Yay!!!

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  9. Wow, that sounds fabulous. I don't think I would ever want a trip like that to end!

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    1. Marla, I didn't:-) Although I was glad to be home.

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  10. Your dinner with Chef Nic sounds delightful and, trust me folks, this is the short version. The longer version includes a lesson in the power of standing up and stating your expectations (I'm a writer, and this was supposed to be research!) and the sort of wonderful things that happen when what you expected didn't turn out precisely as expected. I think you had a much better experience after you got bumped out of the dining room than you would have if your reservation had carried on as you originally planned. Isn't primary research fun?

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    1. You are absolutely right, Gigi. What happened was that the hotel had a last minute booking for a corporate conference, so they moved the guests who had reserved dinner to the restaurant in their sister property across the road (where I have stayed and eaten.) I'd attended a gin tasting dinner at the Manor on the last trip, and had loved Chef Chappell's food. When I checked in this time, I told them I was terribly disappointed (true!), that I'd planned my trip around that dinner (true!,) that I was a big fan of Chef (true!) and that I was writing a novel about chefs (true!)

      Hence the very personalized dinner, a lovely visit with Nic Chappell, who gave me all sorts of good kitchen/chef insights, and afterwards, a tour of the Manor kitchen. It really was a highlight of my trip, and you can bet Chef Chappell will have an acknowledgment in the book!

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  11. Beautiful photos and so many memories! We borrowed a friend's flat a 5 minute walk from the Kensington High Street tube station. One of my favorite activities was lunch in the crypt at St Martin's in the Field, Trafalgar Square, followed by a free concert, or a picnic from Pret-a-manger consumed in one of the many parks. Many years ago, we did a hiking trip through the Cotswolds during lambing season.

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    1. Margaret, what great memories. That part of Kensington is the best area, and an easy walk from Earl's Court. I love St. Martin's in the Field, too. I did get to the Crypt this time, but not to Evensong or a concert, sadly. A great thing is to have afternoon tea in the Crypt on a Wednesday, then go to Evensong service. So lovely.

      And I'm terribly envious of your hiking trip through the Cotswolds. That is really the way to see the landscape--but those hills take some climbing!

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  12. Loved this post, Deb - I want to go to England WITH you! I've never been to the Cotswalds and would love to go, but I don't dare drive - minutes in I'd be on the wrong side of the road and soon after on my way to hospital. I have fond memories of Portobello Market -- went there when my daughter was about 14 and bought her a fabulously edgy (for the time) tie-died jacket which I'm sure she remembers.

    There are Pret a Mangers here in Boston and NYC - wondering if they're the same...

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    1. The market probably hasn't changed that much, Hallie, although I think there is a lot more food now than I remember from fifteen or twenty years ago. Not a bad thing! Some of the street food is amazing. My favorite is the stall that makes grilled cheese sandwiches to die for.

      I knew Pret was in NYC. I wonder if they have changed anything up for the US market? I remember when they first started in the UK it was mainly sandwiches, which they still do, but it's the salads I really love. I rotated my way through my favorite three or four, most of which are about $6 in US terms. Of course they are small portions by American standards, but plenty for me for lunch.

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  13. Beautiful photos, Deb - especially of the Cotswolds. Thanks for sharing.

    Mary/Liz

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  14. Thank you so much. I love spending time in London. When I was in Paris getting my Masters, I spent Christmas in London with my parents. In fact just last night we had guest for dinner and used the fish knives I bought at Portobello Market (as a unwed grad student but they are so lovely). My husband spent part of our honeymoon there, also at Christmas time. Your photos are wonderful.

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    1. I always love the silver stalls at Portobello, although I've never been tempted to take any home. If I lived there, I'd set my table with antique silver every day. And London at Christmas is just glorious. The Regent Street lights this year are amazing! Lots of photos on Instagram.

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  15. Gorgeous, Deb, both the pictures and you. We were just talking last night about our drive thru the Cotswolds and to Lower Slaughter, as you recommended. But my favorite Deb-induced side trip was to Nantwich and the bookstore. I landed right in the middle of a Deb Crombie novel!

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    1. I'd love to get back to Nantwich, Ann. I should plan next time to visit my friend Kate Charles in Ludlow, and from there take the train to Crewe, where I could pick up a car. Or Kate and I have said we want to tour Liverpool together, so I suppose I could go from there. I'd love to drive through Cheshire again, but after this trip I think I may have to give in and hire an automatic. I tore up my left knee in that fall last year, and it still hasn't recovered from the three days of clutch in the Cotswolds. It's so much more fun to drive a standard, though!

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    2. Better yet hire my daughter! She gave us a great tour and all you need to do is feed her a bit. She adored Nantwich, and she has this driving on the wrong side of the road down to a fine science. Liverpool is fantastic. (Humming Penny Lane and looking for Paul)

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  16. London is hands down the best walking city in the world. And I think I've been to the Scarsdale Arms, Debs - the Ithaca College London Center is on Harrington Gardens, and we went to just about every pub within a one-mile radius... for cultural research, of course. :-)

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  17. Thank you all for indulging me! Just going through my photos last night for the piece made me think about how much of what I did was following in my characters footsteps. I'm already feeling very nostalgic for London and the Cotswolds, so will just have to live vicariously through the book!

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  18. We all live vicariously through your books! Can’t wait for this next one. Thank you for sharing your trip and photos.

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  19. Sigh. Been to London once. Loved it. I have to talk my husband into going sometime. I much prefer to travel in the fall so I've got time to work on him.

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    1. Pat, I think London is the best time to go to London. The weather is usually nice September through at least early November, prices and crowds go down, and I love the autumn colors. It was such fun to stay long enough this time to see the Christmas lights go up!

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    2. Pat, I meant I think AUTUMN is the best time to go to London! Duh.

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  20. Oh, Debs, this post filled and lifted my anglophile heart. Thank you!!! I'm writing the next London Hat Shop mystery and this is absolutely inspiring for me. Yay!!!

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    1. Yay, Jenn, can't wait!!! And consider me your on-tap London research source!!!

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  21. I've travelled to London on my own twice in the last few years and I like nothing better than walking and wandering. Thanks for the photos.

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  22. I've said for years, Debs, that your Gemma and Duncan books should serve as travel guides. I've also pushed for a tour of London led by you. I love the pictures and information and stories you share about London and the areas around it. I haven't been yet, but I'm getting closer to planning it. I need to fit in London and points south, as my ancestors are from Devon.

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  23. Your pictures and copy are very tantalizing!
    Thanks
    Libby Dodd

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  24. Debs, wonderful memories! Reminds me of when I lived in England years ago! Did you have cottage pie or fish and chips?

    Diana

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    1. I did have fish and chips, once, Diana. No cottage pie, but I had steak and ale pie twice--at The Scarsdale Arms!

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  25. Ah, I am just reviewing the photos I took on my trip to London last week. Every time I walked by the Holborn Police Station I thought of Duncan:) We did Brick Lane on Sunday and found so many new (to me!) places--the London Tea Exchange, Kate Morgan Jewelry made from recycled silver, Dark Sugars chocolate from Ghana, Libreria Bookstore--it just never ends!

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    1. What fun! I found a fabulous wine bar/restaurant in Lamb's Conduit Street this trip, called Noble Rot, so next time you are in Holborn. I expect some of Duncan's team will show up there in a book. And I'm envious of you getting to Brick Lane. It's been too long since I've spent any time in the East End. There is always too much to do!

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  26. Thanks so much for this post! And there are now Prets in NYC (in case you ever come for a visit). I have also read about a chain called EATS in London that sounds similar (fresh food, fast). I also love walking and walking around London. The mix of modern and historic around every corner is amazing. And your special dinner at the Manor House sounds like a once in a lifetime experience. I'm so glad you had a fruitful trip. --Marjorie of Connecticut

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    1. Hi Marjorie! You know, I've haven't tried EATS, because Pret usually looks better to me, but I'm sure I should. Or you can do it on your trip and give me the scoop! And the Manor House was truly amazing. Just one night in the hotel was my biggest splurge of the trip, but it was so worth it.

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  27. Debs, I loved #5 because driving in the UK makes my adventure spirit soar. 22 years ago my sister put me behind the wheel as we left the Channel Ferry at Dover and told me to go! Wow, it was scary but that indoctrination opened up a new world for me. Loved everything about your post.

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    1. I do fine on the other side of the road. It's just getting in traffic in the towns when I don't know where I'm going that makes me panic. Hence this wonderful car service I've found that will bring the car to my hotel and pick it up again, so I don't have to drive in a city to hire a car.

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  28. Thanks for sharing your trip with us. I’ll never be able to go there, so I always love reading someone else’s account of a place I’d like to visit. (And I’m eagerly awaiting the next book!)

    DebRo

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  29. I LOVE your books and can't wait for the next one!! I found you late but my reward was reading all of the Duncan/Gemma books in order and one right after the other!! I think a tour should be organized to cover all the places in books! I would sign up immediately.

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  30. Thank you for taking time to share your very useful and engaging insights. Definitely a bookmark!

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  31. Deb, I so enjoyed your account of your recent trip England and also the photos. I haven't been over there since 1999, but my first trip was in 1967. I smiled when you mentioned Earl's Court. We didn't stay there, but ate at some lunch place. Back then it was a mecca for young Australians and New Zealanders. I am very much looking forward to your next book.

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  33. Love this, Debs. I used to walk down to watch the scullers every chance I got. It reminded me of home back in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I guess the place was designed that way!

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