Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Chelsea Flower Show heralds spring with the world's premier flower event.

All photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 28th June 2012

Foxglove in Chelsea Physic Garden
both lifesaver and killer

In May of London's Olympic year, I had the good fortune to visit the Chelsea Physic Garden, nestled in an upmarket residential area close to the heart of Britain's capital city. Created in the 17th century, it was in this garden that apothecaries and healers acquired herbal stock for curing all manner of ailments.

Confined within high walls, London's 'secret garden' ranks among the oldest of its type in the world, preceded only by a physic garden in Pisa, Italy and the Oxford Botanic Garden.

Laid out much like a monastery garden with mostly long narrow beds separated by grassy ribbons, its central feature is a rock garden pond, made with basalt spewed up by volcanos in Iceland.

In the garden's far corner, Britain's largest outdoor olive tree produces abundant fruit; tiny bitter olives requiring a brine soak to render them palatable. Overhanging a stony path nearby, a massive Cork Oak is adorned with a necklace of bottle corks. In the early 18th century nursing mothers believed that wearing cork necklaces would dry up their milk!

Edible plants, medicinal plants and poisonous plants are all represented here. Until fairly recently outside guides were permitted to escort tours of the garden but that has been stopped. A Spanish guide, I was told, allowed three members of her tour group to taste the round almost black fruit of the Deadly Nightshade. All three were hospitalized.

Attesting to the danger of some herbal plants, poison from the husk of the castor oil seed was applied to an umbrella spike used to kill a Bulgarian dissident in Britain many years ago. I was surprised to see an apricot tree in the 'Poisonous Garden', then discovered that the kernel is a source of arsenic.

More delectable is chocolate from the cocoa bean. It also has medicinal properties. In 1742 Jean-Baptiste Labat, a Dominican priest and renowned botanist, said dark chocolate quenched thirst and was flesh forming. In his opinion it restored strength, encouraged sleep, helped digestion and softened and purified the blood, preserving health and prolonging life. But there have been differing opinions on chocolate. Casanova, history's famous lover of the 18th century, was not impressed with this new addictive fancy. He claimed it was fit for maid servants only.

Photo copyright Anne Gordon

Posted on Thursday, 28th June 2012

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Like a magnet, Paris and the Hotel Napoleon have attracted fame and celebrity. Numerous stars, writers, artists and even royalty; among them Errol Flynn who called the Napoleon “the place”, Orson Welles, John Steinbeck, Salvadore Dali, King Constantine of Greece and Ernest Hemingway who as well as writing his now classic stories was also at one time the Toronto Star’s man in the Paris bureau, have all enjoyed the hotel’s hospitality.

We had our own brush with celebrity when riding the elevator one morning. We struck up a conversation with a charming American who thrust out his hand and introduced himself as Constantine Orbelian. He was, we discovered, the conductor of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, “the greatest chamber orchestra in the world” according to Dmitri Shostakovich. Much admired in Russia and worldwide, in 2004 Orbelian was awarded the title of “Honoured Artist of Russia” by President Putin.

On our way to breakfast I was drawn to a pseudo art gallery displaying a series of comical oil paintings. Depicting members of French society, some in full military dress…..all had canine faces. When I questioned the maitre’d about the paintings he agreed that “Some may not like them”. But then, unbowed and with a glimmer of sly humour, he leaned forward and whispered, “but we do”.

In a perfect location for touring guests, Hotel Napolean is just steps from the Arc de Triomph and the Champs Elysees. The Arc de Triomph seen from the hotel is the largest triumphal arch in the world. At 49.5 metres in height and 45 metres wide, the daredevil Charles Godefroy in the early 1900s successfully flew his bi-plane right through its center.

Cartiers, the jeweled emporium frequented by the rich and famous is on the Champs Elysees. High priced restaurants and boutiques abound, but bargains do not. A cruise on the Seine at the foot of Paris’s famed boulevard provides a memorable and peaceful interlude and attractions are a dime a dozen along its banks.

Returning to the hotel that evening I came upon a message of love etched on a gilded railing that appealed to my natural curiosity. “Jean-Philippe + Luclivine = Amour Pour la vie”. Wistful but hopeful words that confirmed in my mind that Paris is a city for lovers.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted on Sunday, 17th June, 2012


The Eiffel Tower at dusk

Opening the French doors of our suite, the warm fragrant scent of the city drifted in. High above the racing traffic on Avenue de Friedland I leaned out and could see the Arc de Triomph close-by, gleaming golden in the night.

The hotel’s 101 rooms including 47 suites provide extraordinary luxury and comfort for guests. Decorated in the Empire style favoured in Napoleon’s time, colours are rich and gilding plentiful. The Youssoupov suite, our home for two nights, was a dream setting fit for an emperor. A leopard skin print carpet was an exotic addition.

Named in honour of Prince Felix Youssoupov, the suite’s wall décor included photographs of the prince and his wife Princess Irina Alexandovna. Prince Felix, as those au fait with Russian history would know, had seen it his duty to Russia to rid the country of Tsaritsa Alexandra’s favourite holy man Rasputin. When lacing wine and chocolate cake with potassium cyanide failed to fell the “Mad Monk” as he was called, Prince Felix resorted to shooting him.

Photo copyright Anne Gordon

Article posted on Sunday 17th June, 2012

View from the Napoleon Hotel in Paris

Some wedding present! In 1928 when he married, wealthy Russian émigré and hotel owner Alexanae Pavlovitch Kleaguine bestowed upon the love of his life the Hotel Napoleon. And yes, as time revealed, that young and very beautiful Parisian art student was indeed the love of his life. The romantic pair married, raised their family and lived out their lives in the hotel’s grand surroundings. To this day the Napolean is a family-run operation.

Looking across the rooftops of Paris through a mist of red geraniums, I was enchanted by the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Nightly, 20,000 flash bulbs decorating Paris’s tallest structure ignite, lighting the darkness with scintillating brilliance.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday 17th June, 2012

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tilbury Lodge

Tilbury Lodge, a great little Bed and Breakfast in Oxford England is a popular place for travellers. We stayed for five nights and throughout a 'No Vacancy' sign was a permanent fixture on the front door - so book early.

Modern, clean and bright, Tilbury Lodge is located in a country lane on the outskirts of Oxford.  Wonderful as Oxford is - one of the greatest and most fascinating University cities in the world - we were grateful for quiet nights away from the rigours of downtown when every night for students is party night.

The Radcliffe Camera

 Step out of the door and you are just minutes from a bus stop.  Buses run every 10 minutes or so - about 3 dollars per journey.  Tilbury Lodge is also close to shops, pub, hairdressing salon and the Co-op grocery outlet.   We rented a car for two days during our stay and the Enterprise Car Rental was also minutes away.  The staff were very helpful and they do have GPS for rent which makes life a lot easier when  venturing out of the city.  Weary after a day in town, relax on a comfy sofa in the conservatory or sit in the garden. 

Stefan, Mel and the twins

Stefan Wynne Jones our genial host was a fund of knowledge and a great cook.  Believe me, fried piesang (banana), a South African speciality with egg and bacon, tomato etc. is delicious and Stefan's fresh baked banana muffins are scrumptious.  For those who don't know how to tackle grenadillas, cut them in half and scoop the delicious innards from the shell with a spoon - another South African speciality.

For information about Oxford and its fascinating surroundings check out or e mail
Photos copyright Anne Gordon
Posted by Anne Gordon on 10th June, 2012.

Friday, June 8, 2012

See the Olympic Torch as it passes through Scotland between 8-14 June, and if you’re in Glasgow don’t miss the chance to see world-class sport and culture as the city hosts the Olympic Football Tournament (25 July - 3 Aug) and the world premiere of Dance GB (19 Jun - 23 Jun), which will see the UK’s national ballet companies collaborate for the first time as part of the cultural Olympiad.
Find out what’s on in Scotland during the Olympics

Posted by Anne Gordon on Friday 8th June 2012