Sunday, November 19, 2017

Venetian Holiday

Riding in the gondola (recommend donning attire to match your driver)

Venice is filled with canals, gondolas and  gift shops filled with Murano glass. It's also home to St. Mark's Square whose perimeter is lined with a palace, a church, numerous cafes and the Adriatic Sea.  Throw in a palace-like hotel and exquisite tea room and, yes, this was just about the most enchanting city we've ever visited.

Gondolier on the Grand Canal (his shirt looks familiar)

In September, we traveled to Italy and visited Rome, Florence and Venice. On the high-speed train, Venice is a short three-hour trip from Rome, and once off-board the rails. the flurry of activity on the Grand Canal is there to greet travelers. Water taxis, gondolas and shuttle "buses" speed along the wide span of  liquid road to navigate the labyrinth of canals throughout the city.

Chris and Rachel at Hotel Becher

It gave us a great first impression only to be exceeded by the next stop to our beautiful hotel. Our room at Hotel Becher  included a balcony overlooking the water, a crystal chandelier, comfy slippers and -  the ultimate - a buffet set up with a silver urn, china cups and tea! 

After a quick unpack and a relaxing cup of tea on the balcony, we took in the quintessential Venetian activity, a gondola ride.  It was a half hour of fun  taking in all the scenery while witnessing our gondolier move our floating vessel through the canals in "rush hour" traffic with ease.

After checking that box, we toured the city and stocked up on a bounty of beautiful Murano glass items. Rachel and I bought some necklaces and upscale bric-a-brace  while my husband Chris, enjoyed a little red wine in the Square.

Rachel inside one of the Murano glass  gift stores in St. Mark's Square

In the evening, our concierge recommended the restaurant, Vini da Pinto for dinner. It was here we had the "house specialty" of white fish baked in salt. It is presented in two stages:  first the fresh fish is brought to the table, then once fully covered and baked in its salty blanket, the waiter is back again with a mallet to crack it open for all to see.  Amazingly delicious and, surprisingly not salty, we gave it due pollici su!

Vini da Pinto is where we also collided with celebrity. Nick Reynolds of Alabama 3 was there visiting with his entourage and he graciously took photos with our ensemble.

Dining at Vini da Pinto

Our last day in Venice was spent having afternoon tea on the Square (a future blog story!), touring the Basilica of St. Mark, (where we visited a special room that contained fascinating and eerie relics of saints) and sampling every Venetian delicacy we could, including chocolate filled crepes at Gelato Di Natura.

Basilica of St. Marks

Venice is also home to the Masked Ball, a centuries-old grand affair where paupers and aristocrats celebrated together in anonymity. It fell out of favor at the turn of the last century, only to be revived in the late 1970's. Still going strong today, there are several merchants in Venice that specialize in wigs, masks and fancy attire for those who wish to attend the elaborate event in style.

I believe I've found my dress for the ball.

Venice  is a tribute to a city's strong will and resilience that, although experiencing a wild history of conflict and power struggles,  maintains beauty and charm that has attracted artists for centuries, including Mozart, Byron and Hemingway.

Oh solo mio. Oh, so Italian!

Venice has it all:  canals, gondolas, fancy gift shops, gourmet food and, yes, even tea! It truly is a magical city and we plan to be back. Adoriamo Venezia!

Balcony at our room at Hotel Becher

View from our hotel balcony pre rush hou


Taking a break at one of the many cafes in St. Mark's Square

Adoriamo Venezia! We will be back.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Westbury Hotel: Looking back at a most charming afternoon tea in Dublin

Afternoon tea at Dublin's Wesbury Hotel back in 2012.

In the "Entertainment and Travel" section of today's Detroit Free Press, "Dublin: Classic Cool" features our favorite tea room, The Westbury Hotel,  in our favorite city in Ireland.

The Wesbury Hotel, busting crowds outside but elegant and relaxing inside 

Reading about the unique artist markets, upscale stores and gourmet shops of Dublin today, it brought me back to our trek down Grafton street in 2012, when we made our way through the bustling crowds of the busy city to The Westbury Hotel for afternoon tea.

Chris and I enjoying the ambiance and comfy accommodations

Our trip to Ireland was memorable for so many reasons: visits to wonderful sites and the amazing personal connections, some of which I wrote about in our blog back in October of 2012 ("Travels in Ireland: tea, gold, and, yes, a bit of blarney").  It was a delightful family vacation with my husband, Chris, second eldest son, Matt, and daughter, Rachel.

Rachel and Matt relaxing in the luxurious environs

Although we visited Cork, Monaghan, Waterford, and Cobv, our "home" was Dublin and we walked from our hotel, just off O'Connell street, to many places in the city including Temple Bar, Kilmainham Gaol and Trinity College.

Excellent service at The Westbury Hotel

But, amid trains, planes and automobiles, we treated ourselves to an elegant and relaxing respite from the crowds in the form of  afternoon tea at The Westbury, a five star hotel in the heart of Dublin.

Enjoying a royal tea (adding champagne) by the marble fireplace

It's luxurious, but comfortable. The dining room is beautiful, with sumptuous couches, marble fireplaces and crystal chandeliers. The quiet and reserved environs are a startling contrast from the street scenes below, which can be viewed from the large windows that line one wall of the dining room.

Westbury's dining room, beautiful ambience

The service was excellent and our waiter served us champagne along with an artistic presentation of afternoon tea fare, including scones, sandwiches and scrumptious pastries.

Of course, we had tea as well - and it was absolutely delicious.

The Westbury provided us with a much needed break of quiet refinement. As noted in today's Free Press article, ". . . if you are looking for a good hotel base for some creative retail therapy and dining, you can do no better that the Westbury".

We wholeheartedly agree - and that's no blarney!

Matt and Rachel back at it on Grafton Street after tea
Repping the"D" at Westbury

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween from BTS' northern Michigan Tea Garden (enter if you dare!)

The misty, moody feel of the Pemberly Pines tea garden, captured by my photographer husband, Chris

Tonight at the Pemberly Pines tea garden, tea may not be the only thing brewing. Lurking in the fog-filled woods, bats may fly, owls may screech and witches may brew, but, it's still a beautiful spot to sit, reflect and sip tea . . . any time of day, any time of year.

The P. Pines tea garden is home to perennials, herbs and teapots. 

Our "formal" tea garden started four years ago at our northern Michigan retreat, Pemberly Pines. The garden is set in a large clearing where we've cultivated flower beds that are home to perennials and herbs. It  has proved to be a natural gathering place for tea time with friends and family during all four seasons.

In the winter, we cc ski to the garden, covered in a blanket of snow

In the winter, we cross-country ski to the garden and in the spring, we watch the snow melt around the  welcoming "T-E-A" letters, literally set in stone.

In the spring, we eagerly await the great snow melt

Summer brings more visitors and more afternoon tea parties. At our annual family reunion, along with paintball and boating, afternoon tea has become a requisite event. And, the fancy affair in the woods is not just for the ladies, as my brother proved this year.

Family reunion tea time tradition, crashed by my brother, Glenn

In the fall, our friends join us at Pemberly Pines for a walk in the woods, where the leaves of the oak trees among the pines turn a harvest-hued rainbow, and we sit for a cup of tea.
Our friends join us for a fall retreat at Pemberly Pines and tea  in the garden

Pemberly Pines tea garden is a lovely place to sit during any of the seasons, but tonight, it captures an eerie beauty, perfect for Halloween. I must credit my photographer husband, Chris, for the misty, moody, October tea garden picture at the very top. He captured the "fall feelz" of our northern Michigan retreat.

Black teas pair nicely with  cookies and Kit Kat's no matter where you celebrate!

Although, we're not actually at Pembery Pines this haunted holiday, we are there in "spirit". Tonight, we're enjoying a cup of Venetian Rose tea and Halloween sugar cookies, baked and decorated by my daughter, Rachel.

In the woods, garden, or a  wonderfully, densely populated neighborhood block filled with trick-or-treaters, enjoy a cup of heartily brewed tea paired with a sugar cookie, Kit Kat or Almond Joy and from BTS, have a happy, happy,  Halloween!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Celebrating National Chocolate Day in northern Michigan

Doing our part for National Chocolate Day at Alpine Chocolat Haus in Gaylord

According to National Day Calendar, October 28th is National Chocolate Day. Here at BTS, we welcome any day that celebrates our favorite confectionery treat no matter where we are. This weekend, we're in northern Michigan and fortunate to find a lot of great palaces to honor this special day,

Alpine Chocolat Haus in downton Gaylord is filled with tasty treats: ice cream, hot cocoa and, as the name suggests,  lots and lots of chocolate treats.  They offer  what you are sure to expect, truffles and caramels, along with the not-so-standard fare, including chocolate covered potato chips and apples. The latter are decorated for the season (this weekend we found some black cats and Spartan apples).

Chocolate covered apples, including black cats and Spartan "S"

A short drive from Alpine Chocolat Haus, there's double-the-fun at The Old Spud Warehouse and The Bearded Dogg Lounge, a gift shop and gourmet restaurant, respectively, all under the same roof.  We found some wonderful treasures inside both to honor National Chocolate Day. 

Tea towels at The Old Spud Warehouse

The Old Spud Warehouse is always filled with great finds, no matter what time of year. But this weekend, we keyed in on a new selection of tea towels embellished with wise and witty prose.

The towel versed with a rationale for chocolate as salad inspired us a little bit later as we dined at the adjoining Bearded Dogg.

If chocolate is a salad, could carrot cake be considered a serving of veggies?

Here we indulged in the Bearded Dogg's dessert menu and chose carrot cake served with a chocolate garnish.  We had to eat our vegetables before getting to the chocolate!

After vegetables (carrot cake?), you get chocolate!

If you want to enjoy the taste of chocolate, but skip the candy and the calories, we recommend Light of Day's (northern Michigan Tea Room and Farm in Traverse City) Cacao Mint.  A black tea blend with peppermint and chocolate, it serves up a satisfying dessert in a tea cup.

Save on calories with a cup of Cacao Mint from Light of Day

May we add, this may be enjoyed in the northern woods, next to a cozy fire served in a vintage tea cup from Lewiston's own Antique Depot.

Chocolate tea tastes even better in a tea cup from Antique Depot

However- or wherever, - you celebrate National Chocolate Day, it's sure to be delightful.  Here at BTS, we don't necessarily need a reason to partake in chocolate, but we'll never turn down a day to honor this decadent treat!

Truffles from the Alpine Chocolat Haus