Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Vacationing across the pond to celebrate a milestone: We're cruising right along!

Lyme Park, aka Pemberley in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth

This Spring, in a joint celebration of our mutual birthday of April 11, my friend, Pam and I, along with our respective spouses, Quint and Chris, embarked on a trip of a lifetime: a transatlantic cruise on the Queen Mary. We met up in London mid-May to board the luxury ship in Southampton, which took us across an ocean to dock in New York. 

Prior to meeting up in London, Chris, and I spent a week in the United Kingdom, flying into Edinburgh and journeying through the Lake and Peak district of England in a rented car. We really piled it on as part of my "milestone" birthday celebration, staying at several charming B & B's and visiting several great estates. 

UK version of dollar store
Chris driving on the wrong side of the car and road

In the land where one drives on the "wrong" side of the road and bargains can be found at the local "pound store", there's so much beautiful countryside and quaint places to experience that keeping up with the local customs is just part of the charm.

At Chattsworth with Mr. Darcy, do not kiss!
Cents and Sensibility

Speaking of pounds, even the currency is enchanting. What felicity to see my favorite author on the ten pound note. Not surprisingly, the money wasn't our only English encounter with Jane Austen. We visited not one, but two, Pemberley estates - Lyme Park and Chattsworth - and had afternoon tea at both Austen mansions. 

Chris looking like one of the natives at Edinburgh Castle on the Royal Mile

Starting our sojourn in Scotland, we felt like nobility. Our hotel was a stone's throw from the Royal Mile, the main street of Edinburgh, anchored by two castles: Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. We had afternoon tea on the grounds of the latter. Walking down this regal thoroughfare, we shopped for Royal Wedding souvenirs and kilts for our kids. We toured the Royal Yacht and, yes, had afternoon tea on board.

On the Royal Yacht
Afternoon tea on the Royal Yacht

We also stopped at the famed Elephant House tea room where J.K. Rowling wrote her Harry Potter stories. We had tea and scones and I was inspired to write many blog stories!

Tea at the Elephant House inspires more blogs
Chris back in the peak district after 40 some years

We left Scotland in a rental car and headed south to the Lake and Peak district. My husband had wanted to come back to this part of the world for many years. Back when he was a young lad of 19, he and his good buddy set off on their own "Tour de England", cycling across Britain for six weeks. This particular area of the UK was his favorite and he was excited to return. Although he left the biking to the 1970's, he did accept the challenge of driving on the other side of the road and navigated the  narrow country roads and too many roundabouts like a pro.

Tea on our balcony at Miller Howe
Miller Howe B & B in the Lake District

We stayed at the amazing Miller Howe B & B in the Lake District, one of the loveliest places we have ever rested our heads. A room with a  spectacular view and amazing dining,  it's not surprising, Queen Elizabeth lunched here in 2013.

Bubnell Farms B & B on  the Chattworth Estate

Our next stop  was Bubnell Farm, a B & B on a real working farm and once part of the grand Chattsworth estate. At night, we could see the twinkling lights of the village in the distance and hear the soothing moo's of the resident cows as they headed home.

No trip to Chattsworth is complete without a trip to the gift shop to see the bust of Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen, from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightly). There's actually a a sign posted below that warns "please do not kiss".  Although I love all the Mr. Darcy's, if it had been Colin Firth, I could not be accountable for my actions.

Blenheim Buttery, a charming inn from the 17th century and just a short distance from Blenheim Palace

Our final B & B was in Woodstock, and by that time, we were truly half a million roundabouts strong. The inn was Bleinheim Buttery, a charming  17th century building right in town and just steps from Bleheim Palace, home to Conseulo Vanderbilt (my Gilded Age Pleasure) and birthplace of Winston Churchill.

Blenheim Palace, home to Conseulo Vanderbilt and birthplace of Winston Churchill

At last, we turned in our rental car in Oxford and took the train to London. We met up with our friends at The Bailey's Hotel in Mayfair. Although we only had a day left before the cruise, we squeezed in a trip the British Museum, hat shopping and the traditional stop at Harrods' Oyster Bar.

Hat shopping for the Royal Wedding
Harrods Oyster Bar, meeting up with friends

Finally, the day had arrived to board the Queen Mary and be indulged for seven days. With limited internet connections and no port of calls, one is highjacked to relax. We sat by the pool, read books, walked the decks, saw shows and dined superbly three times a day (at a minimum) and, of course, had afternoon tea.

Queen Mary stateroom, exciting and new, come on board, we're expecting you!

At the end of our cruise, as we neared the Brooklyn Port - rising at 5:15 AM to catch the first sight of Ellis Island - I got misty eyed with an unexpected flood of emotions. Not only was it spectacular to see the Statue of Liberty stand tall despite the early morning fog, but reality set in that this vacay was at it's end.

Our designated dining table in the Club Room

Afternoon tea on QM II

I checked off so many boxes on this trip that I'm sure I'm covered for quite awhile.  I feel so fortunate to have  taken  this journey with my husband along with good friends. Turning the "new forty" was exceptional!

Please stay tuned for future bite-sized blogs on our trip across the pond and back - afternoon teas, Gilded Age, Jane Austen and more afternoon teas!

Exceptional vacation, but great to be back home!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

How did you spend the Royal Wedding Day? BTS on Fox 2 News and Afternoon Tea at the Townsend

Fox 2 News, Royal Wedding: Charlie Langton, Barbara Gulley, Christopher Coscia and Maurielle Lue

Were you up at the crack of dawn yesterday, with teacup and TV remote in hand, to partake in the Royal Wedding viewing? Or, perhaps, you donned your favorite hat and shared the experience at a fancy tea room with fellow royalphiles. We here at BTS did a little bit of all, including appearing live on Fox 2 News!

Barb and Rachel partake in afternoon tea after presenting "Royal Afternoon Tea and Tea Etiquette" at the Townsend Hotel 

Our day began at 4:30 am, to be ready to meet make up artist, Kelsey, of Kelsey Marie Claire, at 5:00 am. During the transformation from "sweat pants zone" to "camera ready", I was able to sneak in a few minutes of pre-wedding festivities on network TV.  Already, the day was filled with more pomp and circumstance than I typically experience in six months.

I rendezvoused an hour later with Chris Coscia, Assistant Tea Director of The Townsend, at said hotel, and we made our way to Fox 2 Studios, armed with an array of Harry and Meghan souvenirs from my recent trip to the UK and several platters of afternoon tea delights, including scones, sweets and savories.

A bit nervous, but SO, so happy to be part of The Townsend tea team presenting at Fox 2, we were ready to go once the director gave the orders to begin.

Here's the link to the interview! We got to talk about our book, Michigan Tea Rooms, our upcoming etiquette book and the origins of "pinkies out".

Fox @ Royal Wedding Tea at the Townsend

Charlie Langton is in for a good time and with no rehearsal or script for us to go by, he greeted us a few seconds before the cameras rolled with a warm greeting of "let's have fun"! Maurielle Lue joined later for some tea drinking and inquiries regarding afternoon tea fare.

BTS Michigan Tea Rooms displayed next to Royal Wedding souvenirs 

Although I brought a range of commemorative trinkets purchased while in London and Edinburgh, as well as my treasured photo of me with Harry's uncle, Lord Spencer, when I interviewed him back in 2014, the "pinkie story" was what sparked more interest in the time we had allotted.

Meeting with Harry's uncle, Lord Spencer in 2014

However, we were able to share these items as well as few others later in the day, when Rachel and I presented "A Royal Afternoon Tea and Tea Etiquette" program to a sold out tea lobby of guests at Birmingham's Townsend Hotel.

BTS presented to a sold out crowd at Townsend's tea lobby

We know first hand the enthusiasm for Harry and Meghan's big day at Windsor Castle is shared equally among the UK and the US, having just been in Great Britain two weeks earlier and finding our way home via the Queen Mary 2, from South Hampton to New York. Even our cruise ship got caught up in the Royal Wedding, assembling their crew, including the captain, in the wee hours of last Wednesday morning in the grand lobby to send their congratulatory wishes to the bride and groom.

The crew of the Queen Mary 2 assembles for congratulatory wishes for H & M

I purchased wedding souvenirs at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, home to Queen Elizabeth one week every year, as well as Harrod's in London. At the latter venue, I also perused the hat department and found a delightful fascinator to wear for "Royal Wedding Day".

Shopping of hats and souvenirs at Harrod's.
Holyrood Palace history & retail 

A long, but one-of-a-kind day, filled with entertaining festivities and anglophile camaraderie.  A little excessive, a little frivolity, but lot of fun for us Royal-watchers.  (and, remember, pinkies in!)

A special thank you to Kelsey Marie Claire MUA and hair stylist, Liz N., for the early morning "transformation". Amazing artists, professional and a whole lot of fun!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Nashville Part II: The Hermitage, Vanderbilt University and a little bit of Honky-Tonk-ing

Outside The Hermitage in Nashville, home to Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the US

While we loved our visit to the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Museum, there's also a lot of American history to soak in at Tennessee's capital city.

During our short stay in Nashville, we also toured The Hermitage, home to president Andrew Jackson. A strong-willed, self-made man, the 7th president of the US still remains a controversial figure in history. His home in Nashville, however, is beautiful as are the furnishings. There was an exquisite silver teapot on display  that Jackson bought for his wife, Rachel, during one of his trips to Philadelphia.

Silver teapot from Andrew Jackson to his wife, Rachel

Hermitage blue toile mug

In the gift shop, (yes, there was one and yes, I had to go there), I purchased "The Hermitage" Earl Grey tea, from one of our favorite tea companies, Oliver Pluff (see our Key Lime and South Carolina tea blogs). Also picked up a china mug whose blue and white toile design is a replica of the wallpaper inside  the Jackson home.

Rachel and President Jackson
The Hermitage Earl Grey pairs well with history

Another "must see" Nashville destination on my list was Vanderbilt University. This school of higher learning was originally financed by Cornelius Vanderbilt. Also known as the "Commodore", he built a shipping and railroad empire that made him one of the richest men of 18th century America. That sizable fortune lead to some of the most extravagant spending and lavish lifestyles of the Gilded Age by the Commodore's grandchildren.

On the campus of Vanderbilt University with The Commodore

We've been to some of the homes of Cornelius Vanderbilt's decedents: Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, Biltmore in Asheville, and the Breakers and the Marble House, both of Newport. (Spoiler alert - in May, we'll be visiting another residence that was enhanced by the Vanderbilt money, Blenheim Palace in England. More of that to come!).

Honky Tonk-ing on Broadway, Nashville's main street

Of course, no trip to Nashville is worth its salt (on a Margarita at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville on Broadway) without a stop along the town's main drag, lined with bars and honky tonks, all filled with local color and amazing musicians. We hit three on Broadway, the city's main street, and listened to a variety of bands, from country to blues to rock and roll.  

Chris inspired by the cool country sounds at Puckett's

We spent our last evening at Puckett's, a restaurant that serves up fine Southern food and hospitality with live entertainment to boot. We indulged in fried chicken and cornbread while listening to a host of talented singer/songwriters. My husband was inspired!

Although this concludes Part II of our vacation in Nashville, we hope we'll be taking in Part III in the near future. We loved this city, full of history, music, good eats and good times and we hope to be back very soon!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Nashville: Grand Ole Tea Time

Souvenirs from our visit to Nashville's Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame

This month we had a grand ole time in Nashville  -  home to not only country music's most famous venue, but to the 7th president of the United States as well as a university with connections to one of the most celebrated families of the Gilded Age.  With travel tea cup in hand, we visited all three places (and more!) on our long weekend in Tennessee's capital city.

Waiting outside the Opry

Although I don't follow country music much, the Saturday night show we attended at the Grand Ole Opry was one of the best musical evenings I've ever experienced. The two-hour live stage show and simulcast radio program were filled with familiar classic tunes of Hank Williams and Patsy Klein along with cross-over hits from today's country music stars. Mixed with a lot of endearing, folksy humor and outstanding guitar and fiddle playing, there really was something for everyone.

The show had the right mix of classic & modern tunes with folksy humor

The evening of country music legends continued with a back stage tour that's offered after the show. Here you get to view the dozen-plus waiting rooms customized for certain guests and an opportunity to stand on the stage, in front of the microphone, and look out to the rows upon rows of theater seats - intimidating even when empty. You can have your picture taken at this spot, and find a copy of it waiting by the gift shop for purchase if you choose. Of course, that was a foregone conclusion. I had the check ready before the tour concluded.

We came upon a cool family connection during the tour. In the mail room, where the current Opry stars have their own mailboxes, there's a wall lined with nameplates of all members, past and present. Here we found Billy Grammer's name, a cousin of my father-in-law's.  Billy was a frequent guest at the original Opry and Chris and I and our children had the pleasure of meeting him on a few occasions and hear him play guitar, witnessing his amazing talent first hand.

Billy Grammer, a cousin on my husband's side, a member of the Opry

Our next day in Nashville, we learned more about this entertainment genre at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Cornfield from the original set of Hee-Haw

 Highlights for us included spotting a few Grammer guitars, a Taylor Swift exhibit and, my favorite, the cornfield from the original set of Hee-Haw. With the latter, I felt right at home with Grandpa, Lulu and Junior Samples.


At the Museum's gift shop - yes, there is one and yes, I had to go there - I found a delightful tea cup as a keepsake of these country music memories and some fancy soaps inspired by famous songs. How can one resist, "Friends in Aloe Places" or "I Walk the Lime"? I coudn't!

Two guitar-picking thumb's up to Nashville's country music scene. Stay tuned for Nashville, Part II coming soon!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane: Lisa See back in Detroit talking Chinese family history and tea!

Barb G. and Lisa See at Troy Community Center last Tuesday.  

Last Tuesday, Lisa See was once again visiting Detroit to discuss one of her historical novels. Although we're a fan of all her works, her most recent, "The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane" struck a particular chord with Barb's Tea Service. As with many of her novels, See draws from her own personal ancestry and rigorous research, but her latest book also focuses on Chinese tea, in particular pu'er.  Immersing herself in the subject, she not only learned more about the Akha culture, (one of the ethnic minorities in China), but also about pu'er, the only tea that improves with age.  With her focus  on the latter , See became a self-proclaimed "tea snob" and, we here at BTS know, there's nothing wrong with that!

Meeting Lisa See in 2016
Lisa See speaks in Troy 

We first met Lisa See two year's ago when she came to the DIA as part of her book tour for "Shanghai Girls". As captivating a speaker as she is a writer, she talked about growing up as part of a large Chinese-American family (on her father's side) whose history intrigued her and influenced much of her writing. 

Lisa See spoke at the DIA about Shanghai Girls

As part of See's 2016 book tour, Detroit-area local libraries chose "Shanghai Girls" as their book of choice for that year's "Everyone's Reading" program. BTS was delighted to partner with two libraries, Birmingham's Baldwin Library and Canton Public Library, to present  a "Tea from China" talk along with a tea tasting of, you guessed it, teas from China.  

BTS at Canton Library Chinese tea tasting
BTS presents Tea from China at Baldwin Library

Lisa See presented to a standing-room only crowd last Tuesday at the Troy Community Center, an event hosted by the Troy Public Library.  After the formal program, she graciously stayed after to answer many questions, one of which was, "what is your favorite tea?"  She paused for a moment, and then said while she was always a tea drinker (enjoying jasmine tea especially), after digging into the world of pu'er it has become her favorite. In fact, she admitted, she has become a "tea snob".  We already admired her for her fascinating writing - that she's an unapologetic tea enthusiast endears us to her even more.

Watch for an upcoming "Tuesday Tea and Tomes" to feature "The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane".  

Signing off, just "another tea snob", Barbara.   :)