Monthly Archives August 2022

A Royal Time in Windsor

August 03, 2022
Princess Eugenie's Wedding Procession in Windsor 12 October 2018
                                                             Princess Eugenie’s Wedding Carriage ~  Nathalie Taylor Photo
                     By Nathalie Taylor
As the Windsor Car’s Mercedes pulled up to the Langton House Bed and Breakfast, my heart welled with joy. I felt like I was coming home. The commodious Langton House, built in 1890 as a residence for Queen Victoria’s minor government officials, is located on a quiet, tree-lined road not far from Windsor Castle. For the majority of my visits to Windsor, this welcoming abode has been my anchor point – a place to return after a lively day – a place to relish the day’s experiences. A place to dream.

Famed for the largest inhabited castle in the world, the historic city of Windsor has captivated me since my first visit. Windsor Castle, with its acres of stone walls, has been home to England’s sovereigns for more than 900 years.

St. George’s Chapel, on the castle grounds, practically boasts of its stained glass windows framed by Gothic traceries. It is the keeper of much of England’s history. In 2018, more history was made – in the form of two royal weddings. My mother and I were fortunate to tour the castle a week after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s May wedding. Several wedding flowers remained, including a massive altar vase overflowing with fragrant white roses, peonies and lacy green foliage.

In October, another royal wedding – uniting Princess Eugenie of York and Jack Brooksbank – took place at St George’s Chapel. I happened to be in town and staying at the Langton House, so I walked to the castle with hopes of securing a perfect place to view the procession. First I stood in the security queue for about an hour, then I kept my spot at the railing for two hours.

The streets were crisscrossed with Union Jacks draped from building to building, and a mannequin in the Madame Posh window wore a lacy white wedding dress made entirely of frosting. The crowd waved plastic Union Jack flags that were distributed at the security queue. It was sheer royal wedding frenzy.

When the procession began, the Queen’s Guards marched, followed by the Scots Guards. Red-coated guards sitting straight on their massive white steeds preceded the carriage. Then, Princess Eugenie and her husband emerged from the castle grounds riding in the gilt-rimmed, glass-enclosed Scottish State Coach pulled by four grey horses. I was close enough to see the detail in Princess Eugenie’s diamond and emerald-studded tiara. I felt like I had stepped into a fairy tale.

After the procession, I enjoyed lunch from my window table at the Harte and Garter’s Tower Brasserie directly across from the castle. The duck confit served with braised red cabbage, mustard mash and asparagus was a meal fit for a princess. The duck was tender, and the red cabbage was a perfect blend of sweet and savory. As I enjoyed my meal, I watched a string of tourists taking selfies against the castle wall. A flock of birds soared overhead, casting winged shadows on the ancient castle stones.

The Drury House is also a wonderful lunch spot complete with wavy wood paneling and an intricate wood and stone fireplace. The structure was built in 1645 to accommodate staff from Windsor Castle. But, legend has it, that a tunnel connecting Drury with Windsor Castle was used by King Charles II to visit his mistress, Nell Gwyn. The tunnel is now barricaded. I have enjoyed several traditional English meals in the historic, fetching atmosphere of the Drury House.

My mother and I were fortunate to attend the 75th Royal Windsor Horse Show. It was our third visit, but Queen Elizabeth II has been present at the show since the event’s inception in 1943. We sat in the “Windsor Enclosure” near the Royal Box. From our front-row seats, we could hear the rhythmic cadence of hoof beats, and the gasp of the audience when a horse cleared a particularly high “jump.” Queen Elizabeth II, dressed in an elegant pink suit with matching hat, presented the trophies. Since we were not far from where the trophies were presented, I, once again, felt like I had stepped into a storybook.

How do I experience Windsor when there are no royal affairs? Oftentimes, I book Windsor Cars for private tours, including Hampton Court and Highclere Castle. A preferred destination is Royal Holloway, University of London, near Windsor. As our car passes through the massive gates, I am in awe of the extraordinary red Brick Founder’s building, built in Gothic Revival Style and completed in 1881.

Beautiful in the spring when lavender-hued blossoms surround them are the stately Roman ruins located in Windsor Great Park’s Virginia Water area. The Romans didn’t build them there, but the awe-inspiring columns were part of a Roman temple that was transported to England in the 19th century.

Flowing through Windsor is the River Thames, and a perfect way to enjoy it is the two-hour French Brothers River Cruise. From my open-air seat, I savor the view as we drift past willow trees, swans, manor houses, boathouses, and churches. The narrow boats are always a curiosity with their bold colors and fanciful decorations. They look like sea-going Gypsy caravans. The willow trees along the river banks are perfectly trimmed, thanks to the swans who enjoy nibbling at the leaves. The ride through the Boveney Lock is intriguing. The crew quickly ties up the craft; then, it’s such a strange sensation as the boat slowly sinks five feet.

The historic and castle-like Oakley Court on the River Thames was our home during the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Elegance dominates the Victorian Gothic hotel built in 1859. We were welcomed with a bubbly glass of Champagne, which we sipped from cozy chairs at the open window of our third-floor room. Birds sang sweetly as we watched boats drift along the river. The expansive green lawn, ancient trees, and trickling fountain completed the serene setting. The Oakley Court embodies all that Windsor is to me – history, elegance, and beauty – and a few bubbly surprises.

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Cannons, Cicadas and Sweet Tea ~ A West Virginia Encounter

August 03, 2022

West.Virginia. 2017


By Nathalie Taylor


While crossing a bridge over the Shenandoah River in West Virginia, I felt a John Denver song coming on… “Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River…” My mother and I were traversing country roads to get a feel for the countryside – the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as the yawning golden fields of the valleys. Most of our exploration was confined to Jefferson County, but we did stray across the county line once or twice.

Some of the valleys were dotted with hay rolls. That’s right. While we bale our hay curt and rectangular – they roll it in a highly picturesque manner. This creates a soft landscape, especially when the fields stretch on and on with no fences to bind them. Yellow butterflies flitted and twirled about. It was “almost heaven” with the sweet scent of hay and the endless blue skies.

That is where I first heard the cicadas. At first, I thought they were crickets, but it was daylight and I was puzzled as to why they were singing so loudly. There must have been millions of them – out of sight – hiding in the hay fields. They sang and sang and sang – until we were out of range.

Charles Town, West Virginia is 40 miles from Dulles Airport, but worlds away. The Carriage Inn, our home in Charles Town, is a stately historic mansion lovingly transformed into a bed and breakfast by our gracious hosts Donn and Marie Davis. Its rich history includes visits from General Robert E. Lee and General “Stonewall” Jackson of the Confederate Army. During the Union occupation of the area, General Philip Sheridan and General Ulysses S. Grant met for strategy meetings in what is now the dining room of the house.

After the war, a Confederate bullet mold was found hidden under one of the hearths, and a Confederate flag under another. (The flag is now in a museum.) If the flag had been discovered by General Grant during his visit, historians surmise that the house would have been burned. We stayed in the Shenandoah Suite, which afforded a comforting view of green lawns and towering trees. Breakfast at the Carriage Inn gives one the feeling of being a guest at a Southern plantation. I could imagine Scarlett O’Hara approaching – her green taffeta gown rustling as she enters the elegant dining room. My mother and I – two California Girls – felt like Southern Belles while enjoying cloud-like quiche, luscious fresh fruit, and other culinary delights.

Mother and I visited the place where her great-grandfather, Captain William Bristol, fought for the Union in the Civil War. He camped in the area that is now Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. (We know this because we have copies of letters he wrote describing the area.) Harpers Ferry is situated in a gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.

We sat on a bench overlooking the rivers where three states come together – West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. It was peaceful and beautiful. The emerald-hued rivers meandered on, a light breeze tapped the leaves in the trees, and the birds sang sweetly. The cannons on the hill had long been stilled and told nothing of the battles of 1862. My mother and I sat on the bench – in silence – for a very long time. We were both in awe of the fact that her great-grandfather camped here, and fought here, 155 years ago. But, no ghosts of cannon fire shattered our peace that day.

Shepherdstown is a fascinating historical town on the banks of the Potomac River. Rough-hewn stone houses, as well as some brick buildings, line the narrow streets. We were puzzled by a wooden structure situated near the riverbank – it was tall and narrow with a door that opened to absolutely nothing. A step out that door would be fatal. It could have been a pump house, but it remains a mystery to us.

O’Hurley’s General Store, Shepherdstown, is quintessential West Virginia. A cat named Murphy wanders the store and perches where he pleases. They advertise an eclectic mix of goods, from dinner bells to anvils to frogs. Knowing this, we took our time. We didn’t just browse a bit and then go on with our day, no, we took our time to explore all the nooks and crannies. We found tools, crockery, nails, but not one frog.

O’Hurley’s is like a museum – even the toilet was photo-worthy. My mother wanted a photo because it resembled the toilet at the family ranch house where she was raised. It was wooden with a high wooden tank and a flushing chain. Yes, a finer, more picturesque toilet was never seen.

Lunch at Shepherdstown’s Blue Moon Café was marvelous. The trickle of the meandering stream welcomed us to the tree-shaded courtyard dining area. An imposing large-leafed paulownia tree bent over the patio, and tiny sparrows hopped nervously from one branch to the other. In the shadow of the trees, we sipped our “sweet tea,” (an amazing Southern elixir), and enjoyed our sandwiches. The Gobbler was a delicious choice. It was served on a Kaiser roll stuffed with turkey and bacon, then drizzled with Russian dressing. Melted provolone cheese crowned the delicious concoction. The mingling of scents – the stream, flowers, sweet tea, and delicious aromas from the kitchen, swirled into one fragrant whiff of the South.

Yes, West Virginia is far and away, and there are probably few in our area who have even thought of making it a travel destination, but it is a delightful experience, especially for those interested in the Civil War era. It’s also a fairly seamless trip from San Diego. Southwest Airlines offers flights to Washington Dulles International Airport with only one plane change.

When it came time to leave the cannons and cicadas and sweet tea, we passed the last remnant of our encounter with the captivating Southern culture…Frying Pan Road.

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A Tale of Two Chinatowns: San Francisco and Toronto

August 03, 2022

By Nathalie Taylor

Python skin-layered musical instruments, jujube mooncakes, and pagoda-style roofs – all this can be found in China. However, when venturing beyond the edge of the ordinary –  a little closer to home – I seek out the boldly eclectic Chinatown neighborhoods of San Francisco, California and Toronto, Ontario.

     What is the lure of these two neighborhoods that share a common spirit? It’s the thrill of a frenzied pace of life as residents brush and jostle each other on narrow, and often uneven, walkways. It’s the fascination of the Chinese culture that has arisen in these cities – a culture that is neither faux nor contrived, but has emerged from the residents’ earnest desire to live life enhanced by the cuisine, architecture, and trappings of their distant civilization.

These two boroughs are singing centers of life for the residents, which makes them intriguing destinations for visitors.

Herbalists hawk their wares in cramped shops that emit unique scents – dried mushrooms, the woody scent of ginseng…and some unrecognizable aromas. Roasted ducks dangle from store windows.

Elderly men sit at street corners playing ancient-looking stringed instruments. Shops are crowded with wares, some of it kitschy, some authentic. It’s all meshed into two captivating and inspiring entities – each called Chinatown.


San Francisco, California – Chinatown West

The Dragon Gate on Grant Avenue heralds the entrance to Chinatown San Francisco with a roar of color. This neighborhood, established in the 1840s, is purported to be the largest Chinese community outside of Asia.

At first glance, the area might seem like a mishmash, but there are layers to uncover, and each layer has its own appeal. Look high for green pagoda-style roofs and streetlamps circled with metal dragons. Lower your gaze a bit to see flashes of neon signs and walls emblazoned with red Chinese characters.

The elaborate Grant Avenue window displays encourage loitering. Some store windows are so crammed with art objects that it would take an hour to see every detail. Other windows have just one piece as the focal point – such as a jade dragon with lustrous curves, or a pretentiously carved elephant tusk.

The aromas that emerge from the conglomeration of markets lend an earthy luster to the air. Sunlight sifting between high buildings is somehow softened as it flows to the street.

There is a noticeable predominance of the color red. To the Chinese, red symbolizes good luck and prosperity. A string of red lanterns across Grant Avenue wag their tassels in the breeze. Red paper banners bursting with gold Chinese characters welcome patrons to restaurants and shops.

Tablecloths, rice bowls, tea cups and silk brocade jackets are abundant and reasonably priced – but shopping could get a bit tedious as many of the same items exist in shop after shop.

However, before your shoe leather wears out I am sure that you will eventually discover something unique. At Old Shanghai on Grant Avenue I found vintage carved wooden plaques that were probably once part of a door or cabinet.

I never pass up the Far East Café where several generations of my family have dined for 90 years, enjoying the exotic air of this Grant Avenue landmark which opened its doors in 1920. The café retains historical ambiance with faded 100-year-old paintings and intricately carved light fixtures. The curtained mahogany booths, where up to five can dine in privacy, still carry an aura of mystery. I always expect James Bond to emerge from behind the red velvet curtains at any moment!

Sitting with friends in one of the mahogany booths, I selected the Mu Shu Pork, which is a delectable taste swirl of tender shredded pork, fluffy eggs, black mushrooms and bamboo shoots. My friends chose the Dim Sum platter and we happily shared.

After lunch we enjoyed mooncakes at the Far Eastern Bakery. These desserts are filled with jjujube (date) paste and provided a sweet finale to our savory meal. The less adventurous can’t go wrong with the bakery’s traditional almond biscuits. None of the labels are in English, so, practice makes perfect, and the point and sample method usually works… at least for me.

As night fell and cable car clangs resonated through Chinatown, the mist began to creep up from the bay like a silent dragon, edging through alleyways and around lampposts. I inhaled Chinatown’s intense scents, trying very hard to isolate, identify, and then memorize them.


Toronto, Ontario — Chinatown East

On this July visit, it was over 100 degrees, steamy, and an unusually hot temperature for Toronto. But, I was on a mission to experience Chinatown, so I had the taxi driver drop me off at the intersection of Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue, Chinatown’s hub. Armed with my water bottle, I wove a path in and out of semi-air-conditioned shops.

Toronto Chinatown’s buildings are not as old nor as ornate as San Francisco’s, even though the community was established in 1878 when one of the first Chinese immigrants set up a laundry. However, colorful evidence of Chinese culture is still to be discovered – down the narrow alleys, I found a fish market, herb specialist, and a market with rows of bins crammed with mostly unfamiliar vegetables.

In Toronto, the color red is not as prevalent as in San Francisco. Pagoda-style roofs are also more difficult to find. Because I had come to equate both with Chinatown, it was necessary to refocus a bit in order to uncover the spokes of this neighborhood’s cultural wheel.

A street vendor peddling a wonderful drink made from sugar cane juice was a welcome sight, and something I had not experienced in San Francisco. The kiosk was framed by rows of sugar cane – like a jungle in the midst of the city. If you have ever chewed on a piece of sugarcane – this drink had the same flavor – sweet and refreshing.

Bakeries were small and looked to be family-owned. Most of the pastries were listed in Chinese, so it was a gamble, but also a taste adventure. Fortunately, everything I chose came in varying degrees of delicious, but one warning – don’t come with any preconceived notions of taste sensations.

I ordered a round, rather benign-looking bun in a Dundas Street bakery, then bit into something hard and black that tasted vaguely like fruit. After I overcame the initial texture shock, I rather enjoyed the taste. In the glass case, a pastry with a faint lavender hue caught my eye. I thought it might be a lotus seed bun, but couldn’t prove it by the label, which was written in Chinese. The pastel lavender was quite alluring and the delicate sweet flavor made the pastry even more seductive.

Toronto has fewer shops than San Francisco, however, the stores are more specialized, and the same items are not repeated over and over. Navigating narrow aisles of the Dundas Street shops was a bit like negotiating an obstacle course, but the effort was worth it. I was pleased to find brocade silk purses, a small hand-painted drum, and jade chopsticks.

After my shopping spree, I began to think it was not only time for lunch, but also time to seek an air-conditioned refuge. Roasted ducks hanging in windows have been, to me, a sign of authentic Chinese food, so when I saw the ducks drooping in the window of the House of Gourmet I knew I had come to the right place.

The hostess took one look at me, rattled off something in Chinese, then led me to a table with other solo diners. Scanning the room, I seemed to be the only tourist around – a good sign. Seated next to me was another non-Chinese – a local businessman who was fluent in both Cantonese and English. Across the table sat an elderly Chinese man and a Chinese woman about fifty.

I chose the tame Sliced Beef Fried Rice as I needed some comfort food after battling the heat. The beef was tender and the rice was enhanced by scrambled eggs, soft peas, and a hint of ginger.

The businessman who spoke Cantonese turned to me and relayed a message from the Chinese woman across the table. It seemed that she was concerned because they didn’t put enough beef in my rice dish. I smiled and told my “interpreter” to tell her thank you, but it looked just right to me. Very interesting dynamics when you share a table with three strangers, two of whom do not speak English. The elderly Chinese man was quietly enjoying his fried dumplings. I smiled, he smiled, and we were all very happy with our meals – even if mine was a bit thin on the beef, or so said the Chinese woman across the table.

     As I wandered down to the corner of Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue to wait for my taxi, exotic sounds emerged from a deftly played instrument wielded by a frail, elderly Chinese man. The music lent an ethereal aura to the frantic street corner.

     His instrument was an “erhu.” Two-stringed and violin-like, it was layered with python skin. The erhu looked well-used, with python scales curling up a bit.

As he drew the ragged horsehair bow across the metal strings, a lovely, lucid flow of music emerged — music that conjured up visions of bamboo rickshaws and placid rice fields. It was the sound of a far-away civilization, but also the same vibrant civilization that became manifest in Toronto over a hundred years ago.”

Because no city ever remains constant, and subsequent visits to these thriving Chinatowns will be a bit different, I attempted to savor each detail of my sojourn to these cultural portals that offer glimpses of a distant and ancient land called China.




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