Sunday, July 29, 2018

Royal Yacht Britannia Part II: Afternoon tea on Great Britain's (not so long lasting) Love Boat

Enjoying a cream tea on the Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia was not only the vacation residence of Queen Elizabeth for four decades, (as noted in our earlier blog Royal Yacht Britannia. . . Floating Palace), but a honeymoon hotel for four Royal couples. Although all four marriages ended in divorce, it was, for awhile, Great Britain's Love Boat, exciting and new. Come aboard, as we share with you. . . .

First to honeymoon on the Royal Yacht, Princess Margaret & Antony Armstrong Jones. Wedding photo hangs in Britannia.

Being a close relative to The Queen gives you an edge on securing the Royal Yacht for a honeymoon. The first  to use the floating palace as an apres-wedding resort, was Queen Elizabeth's sister, Margaret, and her husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones back in 1960. (For those of you who are fans of Netflix's "The Crown", you know theirs was a bit of a rocky romance from the start.) According to the Royal Yacht Britannia's website, the newlyweds traveled to the Caribbean. The Admiral ordered instructions to the crew that the couple were to have complete privacy. Though they stayed primarily in the Royal apartments while on board, all their  meals were formal and taken while in full evening dress. Staying classy while enjoying life's sweetest reward

The first honeymooners kept their privacy, the dining room may have been a bit empty. 

Thirteen years later, The Queen's daughter, Anne, and her spouse, Captain Mark Phillips, were on the Royal Yacht for their honeymoon, also in the Caribbean.  Unfortunately, the first half of the voyage was met with dramatic storms that gave the two "severe seasickness" and most probably sent them hastily to visit Doc to make sure love didn't hurt anymore.

First double bed was ordered by Prince Charles for his honeymoon with Princess Di

Certainly,  the most famous honeymoon couple to board the Yacht was Prince Charles and Princess Di. Their destination was the Greek Islands, where, amazingly, the press was kept away. Because of this, it was dubbed "The Ghost Ship".  On our tour of the Royal Yacht, we learned that it was Prince Charles who requested the first (and only) double bed to be brought on board for the couples' 1981 post nuptials vacation. That was surely setting a course, . .  for a new romance.

(While we're on the topic of bedrooms, the Royal apartments are all lovely, twin bed or double, but we also got a peek  at the crew's accommodations. Tight for even the staff of the Pacific Princess).

Efficient but cramped crew quarters. (Not much room for Gopher or Isaac) 

The last honeymooners on the Royal Yacht were Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1985. Their course was chartered for the Azores. Some of islands were so isolated, they could only be reached by a rubber dinghy. Since no disruptions were reported, we're assuming they were met with open smiles on a friendly shore.

After all that focus on romance, I joined my love, Chris, on the yacht's Royal Deck Tea Room for a little something to delight  both of us:  cream tea for me and the drink of the natives for Chris (i.e, Scotch). The tour continued, indeed!

Cream tea for one, at a table for two, on the Royal Yacht

Although not on our honeymoon, we were, at the time of our visit, just two weeks shy of our 35th wedding anniversary. A toast at the Royal Deck Tea Room was most definitely in order.

Toasting to 35th wedding anniversary at the Royal Deck Tea Room 

My  "Cream Tea for One" included my choice of tea (Earl Grey, of course), a sandwich, a slice of cake and a  glass of Sparkling Rose.  All were absolutely divine! 

Our tablescape was casual, with distinctive Britannia-branded paper napkins,  but with a million dollar view.

A stop at the Royal Yacht's gift shop brought this bounty.

To remember our visit of the Royal Yacht, we stopped at its gift shop (yes! there is one) on the way out and  purchased not only the upcoming Royal Wedding souvenirs, but the same Britannia-branded napkins used in the Royal Deck Tea Room.  (We plan to "replicate" the experience of the Royal Deck Tea Room on our own fishing - and long lasting love -boat, docked in northern Michigan, when we stop at Lewiston Lodge for pizza, served up with H.M.Y. Britannia napkins.)

Although the Britannia is permanently  docked in Edinburgh, and it may not make another run, like the Love Boat, it does promise something for everyone! Come aboard, it's expecting you!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

You had me at toile-oh! Miller Howe B & B in England's Lake District boasts beautiful views, tea poached fruit and a visit from The Queen

Tea time at the Ullswater Balcony at Miller Howe

The Lake District in northern England is beautiful with its rolling hills, towering trees and crystal- blue inland lakes that dot the landscape for miles. The scenery alone is a reason to visit this area,  but
add a B & B that has balcony views, gourmet dining, toile curtains, and a visit from  Queen Elizabeth and you will have upped the Lake District ante with a stay at Miller Howe  in Windemere.

The charming cottage design of Miller Howe let us know, we had found someplace special

In May of this year, my husband, Chris, and I retraced the route of a cycling trip he took in England when he was a young lad of nineteen. He loved this part of Great Britain and vowed to take me there some day. A few (ahem) decades later, and replacing a bike with a car,  Chris and I toured this enchanting area, making our first overnight stop at Miller Howe.

Queen Elizabeth visited  in 2013, the 60th anniversary of her coronation. Her lunch included smoked salmon and fruit tarts.

I found this B & B through Google searches and an exhaustive investigation of travel sites. It looked wonderful, but you never really know a place until you stay there and, for me,  there's always a moment of trepidation just before approaching  any new accommodations. But at Miller Howe, as soon as we pulled up the drive, where we were met by a  charming cream colored cottage fa├žade,  I knew we were someplace special. Moments later, when we were shown our room on the second floor, the door opened to reveal a picturesque lakeview from a doorwall framed by blue and white  toile drapes, the latter pattern being one of my favorite obsessions (toile finds its way "in" many of my annual "in and out" lists).  I was ticking more items in my mental checklist than I even had considered.

  • Lake views and toile, check, check. 
  • Molton Brown accessories (wasn't aware of these luxury toiletries until this stay), so yes, now - check.
  • An old fashion copper tub for a relaxing soak, check.
  • A room without a number, but a name, in our case, "Ullswater", check.

And, that's just the room!

Lake views and toile drapes! Check and check!!

Molton Brown toiletries
Cooper tub for a relaxing soak

Views of the lake even in the bathroom.

A room with a name, not a number. We had Ullswater.

After we had a cup of tea on the balcony, we made reservations for dinner at the conveniently located restaurant in Miller Howe. An exceptionally scrumptious foodie offering of small, but filling, plates, was kick-started with a delightful appetizer served on the patio.

Appetizers on the patio
Dressed for dinner, patio before dining room

Once inside the dining room, our table was filled with silver accouterments.  I ordered fish and - hold on to your fascinator - my set of utensils included a fish knife! Check!

(As an etiquette consultant, seeing a fish knife - which, granted,  has come in and out fashion for over a century - caused me much - perhaps, some may say, too much - felicity.)

Fish fork among the silver utensils, surely the same as set before The Queen!

Before settling in, we did a quick tour of the hotel. It was at this time we discovered The Queen of England had visited Miller Howe in 2013, the year marking the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty's coronation.  According to  the B & B staff who were there that day, The Queen was so very pleasant and friendly. The lunch they served Queen Elizabeth included smoked salmon and I bet she had a fish knife, too!

There are pictures and mementos shrined in the front hall to mark the incredible honor bestowed on Miller Howe.

  • Stay where The Queen has dined. Check 

Lambs frolicking in the rolling hills outside our balcony

After dinner, we climbed the stairs to Ullswater and from our balcony watched the bucolic setting before us, as playful little sheep got in one last frolic before sundown on the  rolling hills below.

  • Frolicking lambs, check
  • Beautiful sunset, check

Sunset at Miller Howe

Although it seemed we were done with the checklist, as there couldn't possibly be more to achieve in this delightful B & B, we went down for breakfast and at the extraordinary buffet, we found, in addition to several tantalizing savories, fruit poached in tea!   Specifically, there were Earl Grey poached apricots and raspberry tea poached prunes - they were real and they were spectacular!

  • Tea poached fruit, check!

Our breakfast buffet included tea poached fruit.

We were enamored with Miller Howe and vow to be back when we visit the Lake District again (doing the math, we can't really hold off another 40 years). The only thing left to do after breakfast, was to sign out and settle up. It was time for our last check, which was well worth it all!

Check, check, check! Plan to be back, will not wait another 40

Sunday, July 15, 2018

In the Navy: The 10th Annual Jane Austen Festival celebrates Persuasion and a particular little brother

With Patrick Stokes, direct descendant of Charles Austen, Jane's own particular little brother

In Louisville, Kentucky, at the site of the historic Locust Grove, there's a new brand of "village people" (of Mertyon),  who pay homage to those who serve "In the  Navy".  This year, the Jane Austen Festival put the spotlight on  the Georgian Royal Navy,  notable in the author's last novel,  "Persuasion", with keynote speaker, Patrick Stokes, a direct descendant of Charles Austen, who Jane once referred to as her "own particular little brother".

The Jane Austen Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has grown and become increasing more efficient!

The Jane Austen Festival also celebrated two special anniversaries this year:  the 200th anniversary of the novel, Persuasion and the 10th anniversary of the Festival itself.

My daughter, Rachel, and I have been attending the JA Festival almost every year since 2009, it's second year in the making. (We missed 2011 as we were in Chawton, England, visiting the Jane Austen house - so still doing right by Jane!). Each year, we've seen the event grow and get impressively more efficient. Starting with 660 guests in 2008, last year's attendance exceeded 2,400! 

Mertyon Village is filled with merchants and a most handsome congregation of military men strolling about

The "Shoppes of Meryton" have expanded as well, with an array of merchants selling gowns and bonnets as well as a most handsome congregation of Regency-era military men strolling about, bringing the Pride and Prejudice village to life on the grounds of Locust Grove.

With all the expansion, we were happy to see our special favorites back this year, including Afternoon Tea in the Visitors Center, Bingley's Teas' retail shop and Mattie, the sweet. 22-year old pony, that carries folks about in a small cart and will be your best friend for a handful of clover.

Rachel feeds Mattie a handful of clover

But, this year's highlight, was Patrick Stokes, who discussed the Royal Navy at the time of Jane Austen. Dressed in a replica navy uniform that would have been worn by an officer in Jane Austen's time, Patrick Stokes informed us of the successful strategies of the Royal Navy and how one could advance through the ranks to become Admiral. Achieving the latter may not necessarily have come from winning battles, but outliving those who were one's superiors.

Waiting for keynote speaker, Patrick Stokes, (in the background) to begin!

Although connections were helpful in military appointments, those of lesser status in society could achieve high-ranking positions, providing admiration among peers and skeptical condescension by aristocrats.

Patrick Stokes under the picture of  his ancestor, Charles Austen

Patrick Stokes ended his talk with a dramatic reading from the most famous correspondence of Persuasion, Captain Wentworth's letter to Anne Elliot. Wentworth, the successful, self-made Navy officer was once engaged to Anne. Due to influences of her society, she broke their engagement due to his inferior class.

 *Spoiler Alert*:  Anne regrets this decision and, in Wentworth's letter, she rejoices in his still present love for her, as she reads she has"pierced his sole". Oh, my, bring out the handkerchiefs.

Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth see happy endings

After  that climactic end, we did a turn about the grounds and stopped to compose and repose at the Dining Pavilion tent. Here, Rachel, her adorable Pride and Prejudice purse, and I took a much-needed break.

Rachel with her Pride and Prejudice purse

Another awesome time at the Austen Festival, but with just one slight twist. This year, we stopped on the way back home to visit my own particular sister (in-law), Cara. She and her family just moved from Denver to southern Ohio and we were able to take in a tea and talk of our own before heading back to Detroit. Next year, we'll be bringing someone new to the Festival with us and we can't wait!

With our own particular sister and aunt, and new JA Festival attendee in 2019!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh: A day in the life of The Queen aboard a floating palace

Eight bells plus one and it's tea time on the yacht

This year, The Royal Yacht Britannia celebrates its 65th year and for over half its life, it had been the vacation home to The Queen, reception venue for heads of states and the honeymoon suite for no less than four royal couples. Decommissioned in 1994, it found permanent docking in Edinburgh, Scotland where it continues to entertain visitors with not only a peak into the former private rooms of the royal family, but an afternoon tea where one can channel their inner Lord or Lady.

Chris at the helm of the Britannia

While in Edinburgh this past May, we were "on board" with taking a tour of  the Britannia - one of the few places one can view a bedroom used by a current monarch and get a feel for the life aboard a floating palace.

The Queen was so fond of the Royal Yacht, that, according to the Royal Yacht Britannia's website, on the day  the ship was officially decommissioned, she shed a tear in a rare display of public emotion.

The Queen's bedroom in the Britannia

The Royal Yacht website also shares an itinerary of The Queen's typical day when she was on board.  Her day would start at 7:30 am, when her maid would bring Her Majesty a cup of tea (which had milk, but no sugar!) and draw her bath.

The Britannia offers a rare glimpse of the boudoir of a reigning monarch

After breakfast and a variety of official duties, the Royal family would meet in the State Dining Room for a buffet lunch.  The Queen would later retire to her office to attend to private correspondences before engaging in (my favorite part of the day), afternoon tea, in Her Majesty's favorite place on the yacht, the sun room.

The Sun Room
The State Dining Room where the Royals meet for lunch and dinner

But, wait, there's more! After a late afternoon consult with her Dresser as to what jewels and attire were  to be worn for the evening - in addition to a suitable amount of time to prepare - The Queen would meet up with guests for dinner, once again in the State Dining Room.

The Drawing Room where the Royals retire after dinner.

Then, of course, the party would retire to the drawing room, complete with a piano and fireplace (much like my family's own boat, but without the piano or fireplace or chintz upholstered furniture).

At 11:00, The Queen would retire to her bedroom (protocol states no one goes to bed until Her Majesty does).  It's nice to know, however, that Prince Phillip's bedroom was adjacent to his royal spouse's suite.

Prince Phillip's bedroom - it's adjacent to Her Majesty's

But wait, there's still more!! In the next installment of the Royal Yacht, we'll talk tea and dish on other royal tales on board the Britannia.

Oh, yes, indeed. The tour continues! More to come!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Vera Grace & Etta Mae's: A gift shop that's everyone's cup of tea!

Vera Grace & Etta Mae's, new gift shop in Marine City has something for everyone!

Marine City has a new gift shop, Vera Grace & Etta Mae's,  that's filled with unique home furnishings, jewelry, candles, apparel and, yes, lots of tea accessories. But, it's not just the merchandise that's appealing - the displays set about the vintage house/gift shop are inspiring as well. On our latest visit, there were two bistro sets decked out with tea accessories:  one with a blue and white teapot accompanied by cobalt blue hurricane lamps and matching seat cushions, the other with stoneware tea cups on top of a beige and sage green table, also with matching seat covers. These tablescapes were so inviting, I wanted to sit right down and have a cup of tea with a plate of scones.

Vicky Smithberger paints some of the vintage furniture.  She and Donna Tebeau own and manage Vera Grace & Etta Mae's

If you do take a seat, however, it won't be for long. There's just too much to see in this beautiful store and you'll want to check out every nook and cranny.

Inviting displays throughout the store charm and inspire visitors

Co-owner, Donna Tebeau,  is not new to the retail business. We've been to her  former store, Vera Grace, in downtown Marine City. However, due  to a few unforeseen circumstances,  Donna started fresh and joined forces with Vicky Smithberger, to create a new enterprise on Water Street. Set in a vintage home that overlooks the river, there are stunning views both inside and out. 

A cup of tea for thee, Vera Grace & Etta Mae's is my cup of tea!

Last week, I visited the new shop with my  cousins, Dianne and Kathy (aka, "The Sistahs"), both skilled shoppers with a keen eye for home interior design, and we "oooh'd"  and "ahh'd" our way throughout the store.  We left  with several treasures in our shopping bag.

Tablescape of white and cobalt blue with matching seat cushions, makes one want to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea

Among the antiques and repurposed furniture, there's also a lot of brand new items on sale including Magnolia merchandise (Vera Grace & Etta Mae's are the exclusive retailer of Magnolia Home scents in Marine City). We all had to purchase the Magnolia candle with the "Dwell" aroma. Sweet, refreshing and adorably packaged, the candles are like the gift shop that houses them.

Cousins, discriminating shoppers and 2/3 of the Sistahs found much to take home at Vera Grace & Etta Mae's

Vicky paints much of the antique furniture displayed throughout the store and she said these items, like most of the store's inventory, moves quickly. That means two things:  one, if you see something you like, go for it now and  two, the vignettes and displays change up often. You will rarely walk into the same setting twice.

Across the street from the river, Vera Grace & Etta Mae's has spectacular views inside and out.

Vera Grace & Etta Mae's is filled with charm and an eclectic variety of antiques and gift items. It certainly is Barb's Tea Services' cup of tea.  (I'm already planning my next visit!)

One of BTS's favorite stores. Already planning our next visit!

Vera Grace & Etta Mae's is located at 256 S. Water Street, Marine City. Check out their Vera Grace & Etta Mae's page on Facebook for more information.