The window

Let me start this by saying I had an awesome Saturday last weekend. It was filled with some of the things I love best – literature, history, discovery and most of all, London.

I had spent a fascinating hour at the old Roman House and Bath on Lower Thames Street right opposite the Billingsgate Fish Market. The City of London is an area I’ve explored over the last few years through walking tours (In Shardlake’s Shoes) but it’s not on my way to any frequent haunt so adventures tend to be a result of turning left instead of right, peering around unbidden corners and just venturing into open doors.

With some time to kill before heading to the Kings Place Festival, rather than head directly back to Monument Station, I let myself meander aimlessly along cobbled lanes admiring the architectural mix of old next to new.

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I had ambled up St-Mary-At-Hill toward Eastcheap when I saw this off to my right.

The window (small)

Intrigued, I headed towards it, the street silent and shaded against the warm afternoon sun. As I drew closer, I looked up and spied a steeple chalked against the blue of the sky.

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The sunlit window beckoned and as the cobbles turned left into Idol Lane, it became part of something much bigger. The tower in front of me rising up to unite the disparate parts of steeple and window into one glorious whole.

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St-Dunstan-in-the-East – all sweeping curves and delicate green. A little piece of history tucked just a few steps back from the dust and traffic on Lower Thames Street. I smiled and I could feel the warm anticipation of discovery growing inside me. The black iron gate was open so I edged through, curious and quiet, as though not to disturb the peace of the garden.

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I wandered along the leafy paths drinking in the beauty of this patch of nature and history entwined. Each turn revealed a stunning view, each door a different aspect to behold.

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The delicate shapes of the old walls reached up amidst the modern cut of the City, softening its edges and somehow showcasing the modern skyline. There’s a mix of old and new that I love about London – the way that each seems to compliment, even enhance, the other. I don’t think anywhere does it better.

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My breath caught over and over again as I gazed around me. I was moved, wanting to absorb each moment and imprint it into my mind. At the same time, I wanted to share the fullness of it. I found myself retracing steps, phone in hand hoping somehow to capture a fragment of what I was feeling in order to pass it on.

I typed my first draft of this post an hour later, sitting on the floor of Kings Place waiting for the event I’ve booked in for to start. It was a download I couldn’t stem, a rambling deluge of words and feelings for such a short space of time that had become so large and urgent in my memory.

Now I reshape it, ordering it, adding the photos which speak to my heart the most. There’s joy in revisiting the photos I took. They return me to places I stood – the central garden where the wiry black boughs framed by gothic arches were misted with emerald leaves, the far reaches of the path where I could see the red piped curves reaching from the bricked corner of the building next door – and the things that I felt – the warm sun on my face, the cool sweat on my back that made my t-shirt cling to the place that my backpack had been.

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And I smile again. It feels like the same smile as when I first set eyes on that black iron gate. And I feel grateful – for the moment, for the discovery and for the opportunity to live in this magnificent city I am lucky to call home.

To my mind, that’s not bad for a Saturday.

Not bad at all.

Victorian vista – benvenuto!

When last I posted, I was sitting at Heathrow Airport waiting for my flight to visit Seattle-A in – yes you guessed it – Seattle. A couple of busy weeks have elapsed since my return and I have finally sorted the photos and stories enough to warrant a ‘what I did’ post. Suffice to say that in ten days we did many things – weekend excursions, a girls night out, hanging out with the little dudes and considerably more ice cream consumption than I am used to (just as well I got a swim in!)

We also took a trip up to Canada to celebrate a certain person’s significant birthday last month so on a very rainy Tuesday morning (the only rain of my 10 day trip), we boarded the clipper and cruised north to the harbour city of Victoria.

We had decided to add a trip out to The Butchart Gardens to our clipper and hotel package and before we knew it, we were through immigration and on the bus for the 45 minute drive out to Saanich.  Seattle-A was quite excited…

Seattle-A Butchart-bound

Jennie Butchart created her first project, the Sunken Garden, in the exhausted limestone quarry on the family’s property during the early 1900s. Between 1906 and 1929 she then went on to cultivate the Japanese Garden by the sea, the Italian Garden on the old tennis court and the Rose Garden. Today, the Gardens remain a family enterprise and are visited by more than 1 million people each year – with over 22 hectares of public gardens (on a 54 hectare property), I suspect there is probably plenty to keep them busy.

And so we spent a good couple of hours breathing in the fresh clean air and gaping at the extraordinary beauty that greeted us around every corner.

Red white & yellow tulips

An advertised feature of the gardens are the tulips. They were absolutely everywhere and in every conceivable size and colour – this display was right at the beginning as we walked in.

We headed for the Sunken Garden first…I had a little chuckle to myself at the irony of going up to reach them.

Sunken Garden

The Sunken Garden was spectacular and the going up was definitely worth this view of it. Following the gently curving paths brought us face to face with all sorts of permutations of colourful foilage, fragrant blooms and calm stretches of water.

Red and white

This was such a pretty display and having never seen these red and white striped flowers before, I had to a) take a photo and b) include them in this post. I do not know what they are…do your worst people.

Pale pink

Even though I had seen these before, they were just so pretty I had to take this photo. (I have also forgotten what these are called…green thumb I am not.)

Curly yellow roses

We thought that these were roses but the curly petals lent a more unorthodox prettiness.

White daffs

Daffodils are my favourite flower and while their bright yellow sunshine-iness is a big part of their usual appeal for me, I was struck by the simple delicacy of these pure white ones.

Water feature

This water feature was at the far end of the Sunken Garden and quite spectacular. In posting this photo on Facebook to announce brag about my travelling exploits, I received four different replies in quick succession from people who had been ‘here’ before (obviously a more famous ‘gardens’ than I had given them credit for). One of these was from Dad who posted the ‘same’ photo taken when visiting a few years ago.

Leaving the Sunken Garden, we headed up to the concert lawn…

April on carousel horse

Here’s Seattle-A demonstrating that inside every grown woman, there remains a little girl wanting a pony

Pink & Purple tulips

More tulips…especially for Lil Chicky.

Me and totem pole

This one is to prove that I was there too: the totem pole shows Eagle with Salmon, Orca, Bear with Salmon…and moi.

'Aussie' trees

We were struck by how much these looked like Australian paperbarks. They are not Australian paperbarks – we asked – but for the life of me, I cannot remember what they were. Yet another horticultural #fail.

Rare Mongolian PoppyWe were keen to see these Himalayan blue poppies as they only flower for about 6 weeks each year (and we had missed the ‘rose’ season…more on that next). There was a whoop of discovery upon finding a smattering of these bright blue blossoms.

Rose(less) garden

This is the archway through the rose-less Rose Garden. Timing is everything – if you like roses.

Next it was down into the Japanese Garden…

Japanese garden

Stepping stones

Weird white flower

There was some strange flora in this garden. This one was definitely one of the weirdest flowers I’ve ever seen (and which still remains a mystery)…

Bubble tree

…and clearly there’s nothing like keeping oneself busy with a spot of topiary, tree-shapery, pruning. Because 54 hectares is not enough…

Red Bridge

Of the many amazing photos I managed to take, I think this one is my favourite – it looks so beautiful that it seems not real (but it definitely was!)

Nature's window to the cove beyond

We came upon this in a back corner of the garden. I know. This looks like nothing special but if you look through this little window of nature…

The cove 'beyond'

…you’ll see the cove beyond it that backs onto the Butchart property.

We wandered out of this oriental lushness towards the main buildings again to be greeted by another expanse of tulips…

Pink tulips

Apricot rose…and a raft of sunset-coloured roses.

The Italian GardenWalking through the gap in the hedge, we found ourselves in the Italian Garden, the most formal and the smallest of the gardens we’d seen.

At this stage we’d been meandering in the fresh air for a couple of hours so we were delighted to be met with an opportunity for refreshment…

Ice creamBenvenuto indeed! The Maple Walnut Gelato was delicious.

And with that, it was time to return to the bus for the snooze ride back to Victoria and to our hotel where the view from our balcony turned out to be this…

From the Inn at Laurel Point

And as we relaxed on the balcony at the end of our first day ‘abroad’, we sighed contentedly and wondered at the hardships we had been forced to face together…and planned 24 hours of foodie forays to keep us entertained for the remainder of our visit.

More(ish – see what I did there?) on this soon…but if you are venturing out BC way, make a note-to-self – The Butchart Gardens is a ‘must-see’.