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Stonehenge

1 Lead-PhotoA visit to Stonehenge was high on our itinerary during our trip to England last June. Since this 4500 year-old British cultural icon draws over a million and a half visitors each year, admission is gained through a timed system best accessed through advanced booking online. We arrived a few minutes prior to our 11am admission time slot that we had booked several months earlier and found a short queue at the ticket office in the Visitor’s Center. From there, we had the choice of walking the two miles to the Stones or taking the shuttle which runs continuously all day — very little waiting. We took the shuttle.

The setting around Stonehenge has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years. While it is owned by the Crown, it’s managed by English Heritage and the surrounding lands are owned by the National Trust. In recent years, a nearby highway has been removed, leaving no remaining distractions around the stone circle. Shortly after we left the Visitor’s Center, Stonehenge dramatically appeared in the distance, standing solitary on a rise amid vast grasslands. The vista was incredible.

2-VistaWhen the shuttle arrived at the stones, we joined the throng heading to the pathway that encircles the ruins. The site is roped off and there is no longer any access directly into the stone circle. Instead, there is a path around the stones which allows visitors a good look at the entire monument. Stonehenge consists of both small stones and some really big ones. The big ones are arranged in a circle and joined by lintels laid across the tops creating Stonehenge’s instantly recognizable profile.

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Stonehenge Lintels

We circled around several times and found the sight lines that the sun’s rays blaze through at dawn on the summer and winter solstices. After staying for an hour and taking lots of photos, we caught the next shuttle back to the Visitor’s Center where we had lunch in the café. (I had a decent gluten-free lunch that included a slice of  GF Victoria’s Sponge Cake, a classic English dessert that we saw everywhere in England but GF only at Stonehenge.)

 

We spent some time after lunch viewing a very good exhibition that explained Stonehenge through a series of displays and ended our visit in the gift shop where we brought a few souvenirs.

Looking back, we understand the reason for limiting access to the inner stones, but we were disappointed that we could not inspect Stonehenge more closely. We saw more of inner Stonehenge from the Rick Steve’s Stonehenge episode.

4-Stonehenge-ViewRegardless, the Stonehenge experience was more than worth the effort and we encourage travelers to visit this British archeological treasure and enjoy the experience as we did.

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1.1 -Entrance-Gate

Entrance to Queen Mary’s Rose Garden

Our visit to England this past June was timed so we could enjoy the rose gardens, none of which were in bloom on our previous trip when we traveled to London to see the Chelsea Flower Show in May. This time our timing was perfect — the 3rd and 4th week in June.

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Map of Regent’s Park

One of the gardens we planned to see was Queen Mary’s Rose Garden in Regent’s Park, located in northwest London near Baker St. and the Sherlock Holmes Museum. The 410 acre park is also home to the London Zoo, numerous playgrounds, a boating lake and Open Air Theatre. But our primary destination was the Rose Garden, created in the 1930’s, which is located in the Inner Circle of the park.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, surprisingly one of many rainless days we enjoyed while in England, when we arrived by taxi which dropped us off at one of the gated entrances to the Rose Garden. Our entrance through the gates led us to a circular path through the rose garden. While we had anticipated an impressive June Bloom, the garden exceeded our expectations.

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Ingrid Bergman

The winding paths led us from rose bed to rose bed and with approximately 12,000 roses on display, the numerous (85) single varieties planted within the garden was overwhelming. Each rose bed had mass plantings of one variety and the effect was stunning. I find that photographs don’t always capture the impact that can be seen only in person. Such was the case with not only Queen Mary’s Rose Garden as a whole, but with the massive bed of Ingrid Bergman, a dark red hybrid tea in full flush, that created an eye-catching display.

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Double Delight

We saw some familiar roses like ‘Double Delight’ that was at its perfect stage of bloom and showed off its lipstick-edged petals perfectly. There was a large bed of roses that we recognized as ‘Hot Cocoa’, which we grow in our garden, but labeled as ‘Hot Chocolate’ in Queen Mary’s Garden. ‘Hot Cocoa’ was hybridized by Tom Carruth when he worked for Weeks Roses in California and we were pleased to see an American bred rose among those on display in Queen Mary’s Garden.

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Hot Chocolate aka Hot Cocoa

 

The rose bed that attracted the most attention — everyone wanted to have their photo taken in front of — was the bed of ‘You’re Beautiful’. We had to wait and wait until people finished posing in front of these roses before we could have a clear view. Mike finally got the photo below. The bed had close to 50 rose bushes of ‘You’re Beautiful’ and each was in bloom!

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You’re Beautiful

 

I was attracted to the colorful bed of ‘Tintinana’, a rose I had never seen, but if we grew hybrid tea roses, I wouldn’t mind having in our garden.

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Tintinana

Another unfamiliar rose I photographed is ‘Jam and Jerusalem’, displaying such a beautiful spray of roses too perfect to ignore.

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Jam and Jerusalem

There was a large bed of assorted David Austin Roses that contained many familiar DA varieties and I was able to capture this beautiful bloom of Lady Emma Hamilton.

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Lady Emma Hamilton

 

Some roses on display, like ‘Gorgeous’, a Poulsen rose, are not available in the United States. From information I gathered on-line, it is available for sale on web sites in the UK. This rose has amazing, multi-colored (orange, pink and yellow), very large blooms with dark green foliage. My research said that ‘Gorgeous’ needed no pesticides because of its disease resistance. We can hope that some day it will be introduced in the US, although it may be under a different name.

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Gorgeous

 

The park was filled with families and couples lounging on chairs, ready to spend the day. Benches were available, too, but many people had brought blankets to spread on the grass as well as picnic lunches. There are several cafes and kiosks available within the park and Mike and I stopped at the Boat House Cafe to get a cold drink (and ice cream) before we made another tour of the rose garden.

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Hot Cocoa, Easy Going and Me

As we strolled through the park, we were impressed, given the size of the crowd, with the cleanliness and order in the park — no litter nor stomping through flower beds — Londoners and tourists just enjoying a Saturday in the park.

The vast collection of roses and the obvious upkeep to keep them looking their best made Queen Mary’s Rose Garden in Regent’s park one of the most impressive rose gardens we have seen and definitely one of the highlights of our time in London.

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Mike Gathering Seaweed

Seaweed, fresh from the ocean, is a great amendment for garden soil as well as an addition to compost. Here in Rhode Island, known as the “Ocean State” with over 400 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, seaweed is easily found along the shoreline.

Once or twice a year, Mike and I pack the SUV with muck buckets and a rake and drive to our favorite seaweed gathering site – First Beach in Newport, RI (also known as Easton’s Beach). Growing up in Newport, I spent many days here with friends, lounging on the sand. We seldom swam because chances were that the water would be thick with seaweed, a daily plague of this particular beach.

Imagine my surprise, then, when we drove to the beach a few weeks ago and saw nothing but pristine sand. Not a slimy piece of seaweed to be found anywhere. It’s an hour’s drive from where we now live and we didn’t want to go home with empty buckets. I thought of the many areas we might find seaweed and remembered a place that might have enough seaweed to fill our buckets.

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View of Newport Bridge from King’s Park

So we headed down to Newport’s 5th Ward, where I grew up, and drove to King’s Park which indeed had the seaweed we were looking for. The beach at King’s Park looks out over Newport Harbor and has a great view of the Newport Bridge as well as the shoreline along lower Thames Street. However, it’s not the kind of beach that attracts tourists. If you didn’t know it was there, right on Wellington Ave. next to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, you would drive right by it on your way to the Ocean Drive which meanders around the coast and up to Bellevue Avenue and its many mansions.

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Ida Lewis Yacht Club

We had the small strip of beach completely to ourselves and as Mike gathered the seaweed that had washed ashore, I admired the yachts moored in the harbor. I also had a view of Goat Island that once was home to the Navy Torpedo Station before it was transformed into a tourist destination with a hotel and condominiums.  Pointing out to the harbor stood the statue of General Rochambeau who, in 1780, landed in Newport with his troops after the British had withdrawn.

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View of Goat Island in the Distance

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Statue of General Rochambeau

Being at King’s Park brought back childhood memories when I used to walk to the Park from home on hot summer days. I realized that I hadn’t been back since I was 9 or 10 years old, but what a perfect place, I thought, to gather seaweed and recall times past. If you travel to Newport, you might want to discover this out-of-the-way spot with its great scenic views and free parking.

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Seaweed Ready for the Compost Bin

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1-Touluse-Lautrec-and-Stars

Recently, Mike and I went to the exhibit “Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and it didn’t disappoint. The posters of Toulouse-Lautrec, legendary for their depiction of the nightlife, cafes, cabarets  and celebrities of 19th century Paris, illustrated life in Paris and Montmartre during its bohemian heyday. Also included in the exhibit were other notable artists of the time, such as Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas and John Singer Sargent. The exhibit’s astoundingly vivid visual world of Paris’ social scene transported me back in time.

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Through Toulouse-Lautrec’s art, I learned about can-can dancer Jane Avril, who was a lifelong friend of Toulouse-Lautrec and commissioned the poster above to advertise her cabaret show at the Jardin de Paris. I especially like “Divan Japonaise,” (pictured below) which shows Jane Avril enjoying herself at the club.

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Toulouse-Lautrec’s depiction of May Belfort, an Irish singer who performed in Parisian nightclubs with her ever-present black cat, can be seen in this promotional poster.

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Mary Belfort

The exhibit also included several images of Aristide Bruant, French singer and nightclub owner, in his famous red scarf and black cape.

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I loved Le Chat Noir (“The Black Cat”), poster by Théophile Steinlen which advertised the cabaret located in the Montmatre section of Paris in the early 1880’s. It reminded me of our last trip to Paris, when we had purchased a group of souvenir posters from one of the many bouquinistas lining the Seine.

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The “Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris” will be at the MFA until August 4, 2019. If you have a chance to see it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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A Smart Blow by Fitz Henry Lane

The holidays are over. Our roses are dormant, sound asleep for the next three months. This is the time when Angelina and I catch up on other things that we like to do, like frequent day-trips to somewhere — eclectic destinations that catch our fancy.

 

We recently drove to Gloucester, Massachusetts, a fishing port city on Cape Ann on  the North Shore of Massachusetts to visit the Cape Ann Museum. The 2-hour drive north was prompted by a Providence newspaper article that featured the museum and especially its extensive collection of marine art by Fitz Henry Lane. When we arrived we also discovered a rich trove of historical maritime artifacts, ship models, a restored New England lighthouse lens, and exhibits pertaining to fishing and genealogy from the Cape Ann/Gloucester area. An added bonus we hadn’t expected.

 

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Cape Ann Museum

Once in Gloucester, our GPS had us driving in circles unable to find the museum until we stopped and asked a local guy where it was. He pointed across the street to a handsome building and it was then that we spotted the tiny sign that said “Cape Ann Museum.”

The museum building is well maintained with three levels serviced by both stairs and an elevator. The Fitz Henry Lane Gallery takes up half of level 1 with Lane paintings on view along with many of his drawings. In comparison, a few pieces of Lane’s work hang in the Museum of Fine Art in Boston and a few at the Metropolitan Museum in New York but nothing like the 40 pictures in the collection at the diminutive Cape Ann.

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A Rough Sea by Fitz Henry Lane

Lane, a Gloucester native, was a master of fine detail in his treatment of fishing and sailing vessels of the 19th century. So good was he at capturing every little detail, including the complicated rigging of 19th century schooners, that he was often hired by ship owners to paint portraits of their boats. Lane was well-known for his many paintings of Gloucester Harbor scenes, again bringing his attention to detail here as well as he did with ships.

 

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Normon’s Woe by Fitz Henry Lane

Lane also possessed an amazing ability to show glowing luminescence and accurate depictions of sea and sky. I especially liked the warm sunset glow of “Norman’s Woe” still radiant after 150 years. (Norman’s Woe, seen in the background of the painting, is a rocky reef 500 feet offshore of Gloucester’s outer harbor. It was the inspiration for Longfellow’s famous poem, “The Wreck of the Hesperus.”)

 

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Fresnel Lens

 

A restored 13-foot Fresnel Lens from a lighthouse on Thacher’s Island is featured on Level 2 along with some fine scratch-built wooden models of sailing schooners. Our favorite was the model of the Andrea Gail, the boat made famous in “The Perfect Storm,” parts of which were filmed in Gloucester. (See photo below)

 

 

 

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Andrea Gail

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Model of John Hays Hammond Schooner

When we were leaving, the receptionist at the museum told us that a Winslow Homer exhibit has been planned for later this spring. Homer, another well-regarded American marine artist with solid New England artistic credentials, and Lane together in one exhibit means we will be taking another day-trip to Gloucester.

8-gluten-free-calamariWe were done by mid-afternoon and headed home. We stopped for a late lunch at The Causeway, a Gloucester restaurant we discovered on the way out of town. The front appeared non-descript and the plain interior looked like what a Gloucester seafood shack should look like. The menu was mostly seafood and I ordered a cup of fish chowder which was gluten free, and a side of fried calamari. The chowder was full of fresh haddock chunks in a steaming buttery white broth, almost like a stew, and the generous pile of squid was fried in gluten-free cornmeal. It was fabulous and another unexpected bonus to the trip.

This was a good day.

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1 Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Ever since I saw the movie “Woman in Gold”(2015), starring Helen Mirren, I’ve been fascinated by the glittering painting by Gustav Klimt and the story behind it. From the movie, based on the book called The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Ann Marie O’Connor, I learned the story of the painting.

The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was completed by Klimt in 1907, the first of his two paintings of Adele. The painting was confiscated by the Nazis who changed its name to “The Lady in Gold.” It was exhibited in Vienna’s Baroque Belvedere Palace until Maria Altmann, a niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer instituted litigation to have the painting returned to her. After a lengthy legal battle, Maria Altmann was awarded possession of the painting and in 2006 the portrait was purchased, for $135 million, by Ronald Lauder for the Neue Galerie in New York.

Once I found out the “Woman in Gold” was in New York, a trip to visit both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Neue Galerie was pushed higher up on our Places to Visit list. So a few weeks ago we drove to Stamford, CT and took the Metro-North train into Grand Central. From there it was a short cab ride to the Met where we spent an enjoyable afternoon (a blog post for another time) before we left for a 5 minute walk to the Neue Galerie.

2-Neue-GalerieThe Neue Galerie specializes in 20th century German and Austrian art, featuring works by Gustaf Klimt and Egon Schiele, as well as other artists, and is located in a small mansion on Fifth Avenue. Admission was high — the same as the Met — and while one could spent an entire day viewing the art at the Met and still not see everything, the Neue Galerie can easily be seen in a few hours.

At first I was disappointed that no photographs are allowed at the Neue, but then I realized that since we couldn’t take photos, we could spend more time actually viewing and studying each work of art.

The Portrait of Adele was displayed alone on one wall of the 2nd floor gallery much like the Mona Lisa is displayed at the Louvre — and it was stunningly spectacular. What surprised me when I first saw the painting was its large size and shape. It was 54” x 54” square! All the pictures I had seen showed it as rectangular and they excluded the green-blue painted area in its lower left hand corner. Once the crowd thinned from in front of the painting, Mike and I stood within inches of it (unlike viewing the Mona Lisa which is roped off) and saw Klimt’s use of gold and silver leaf, and his fine brush strokes. Adele’s gown is covered in symbols of eye-like images, mosaics and decorative patterns with her face and hands emerging from the golden background, her dark eyes staring out at us.

We spent a long time looking at the Portrait of Adele   and were drawn back to stand in front of it three or four more times before we left the Neue. I bought a poster of the painting even though I know that no picture can do it justice or show its magnificence. If you’re ever in New York, don’t miss out on the opportunity to see it.

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1.-Rosecliff

Rosecliff

Whenever Newport, RI is mentioned, Bellevue Avenue with its row of elegant mansions that served as “summer homes” for the wealthy in the early 1900’s comes to mind. Growing up in Newport, I, along with most of the other “natives,” only visited these mansions when we had company from out of state. This summer I decided that it was time to revisit a few of these impressive estates.

 

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The Breakers

Mike and I started with a tour of The Breakers, perhaps the grandest of the Newport mansions. I remember visiting it when I was in my teens and guided tours by docents were conducted. Times have changed and the tours now include audio guides that give excellent room by room descriptions along with a history of the people who lived in these “summer cottages.”

The Breakers, which epitomized the Gilded Age, is a 4 story limestone mansion that was modeled after Renaissance Italian palaces. It was built in the mid 1890’s as a summer home for Cornelius Vanderbilt II and replaced the first Breakers which was destroyed by fire in 1892. This 70-room mansion, 33 for staff alone, is located on 13 acres and was designed by Richard Morris Hunt. Many of its rooms were designed and built in Europe then shipped to Newport and reassembled on site.

 

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The Breakers Gates

While one of the most luxurious of the Newport Mansions, the Breakers is not located on Bellevue Ave, but rather two blocks away on Ochre Point Avenue. The first sighting of this “stone palace” is through its ornate monogrammed gates.

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The Breakers Grand Staircase

Once inside the mansion, it’s easy to feel the imposing scale of this building. While all the rooms are impressive, the Grand Staircase in the Great Hall is exceptionally striking. Glittering chandeliers and marble fireplaces adorn massive rooms but the view from the second floor open air loggia made our visit complete — beyond the well-kept, massive green lawn, lay the Atlantic Ocean.

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View of the Atlantic Ocean from The Breakers

 

On another day trip to Newport, we chose to visit Rosecliff. We were more familiar with this mansion since it is the site of the Newport Flower Show which we have attended as judges for the rose horticultural entries for the past several years.

This is not the original Rosecliff which was a wooden cottage owned by George Bancroft, a horticulturalist who maintained a rose garden here (hence, the name Rosecliff). After Bancroft died, his estate was sold to Mrs. Oelrichs and her sister who increased the size of original estate by purchasing an additional 11 acres off Bellevue Ave. They hired Stanford White to design a new Rosecliff, the same architect who designed the Newport Casino. Rosecliff was modeled after the Grand Trianon at Versailles, and is a far cry from the original Rosecliff of George Bancroft.

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Rosecliff’s Grand Staircase

After entering Rosecliff and obtaining the audio tour for the mansion, the first thing seen is the red-carpeted, rococo, heart-shaped grand staircase. It’s no wonder that this venue is so popular with brides.

 

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Oscar Wilde

 

On the day of our visit, the exhibit “Bohemian Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement and Oscar Wilde’s Newport” was on display on the second floor which we reached by walking up this majestic staircase. The exhibit featured a selection of furniture, ceramics, paintings and costumes, among other objects, that revealed the belief of “art for art’s sake,” a movement which Oscar Wilde supported. Below are photos from the exhibit.

 

 

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Bohemian Beauty Exhibit

 

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Bohemian Beauty Exhibit

After viewing the exhibit, we continued on our tour which took us to the focal point of Rosecliff — the 40’x 80’ ballroom, the largest of the Newport mansions. This was where parts of The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford was filmed in the 1970’s, as well as the movie True Lies starring Arnold Schwarznegger in 1994.

 

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Rosecliff Ballroom

One of my favorite rooms was the library with its wood paneled walls and low, intricately designed ceiling.

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Close up of Library Ceiling

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Rosecliff’s Rose Garden

Rosecliff, like The Breakers, overlooks the Atlantic. On our way to the back of the mansion to see the ocean, we walked through the rose garden which had recently been renovated. The hardscape, including statues and urns was fantastic; however, the garden roses were disappointing, as you can see from the photo above.

 

 

 

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Rosecliff Terrace Facing Atlantic Ocean

There are many other Newport Mansions left to explore. I think the Marble House and The Elms are next on our list. For more information about visiting the Newport Mansions visit http://www.newportmansions.org

 

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