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July 2010
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September 2010

2010 Tapis de Fleurs - Flower Carpet of Brussels


The flower carpet of Brussels occurs every two years and it is made predominately of Begonias with accents of dahlias.


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It is very difficult to photograph, as the entire carpet will not fit in the camera lens.  In the photo above we were on the balcony looking down.  D seamed two photos together to create a panoramic view.

 

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Begonias have long been associated with Belgium and have been cultivated in the Ghent region since the 1860's.


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Belgium produces 60 million begonias a year and is recognized as the world's largest producer.  With eighty percent of the crops grown for export.


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This robust plant is seeded in late January and they bloom all summer long.  The most beautiful blooms are selected to make the famous carpet of flowers.


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From design to execution, the carpet requires more than twelve months' work from hundred of volunteers.  This year's construction was interrupted twice by rain showers.


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The carpet requires an excess of 300 flowers per square meters, that approximately 700,000 begonias in every hue and shade.  


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The flowers are packed together one by one.  The only soil used is for the spaces between the floral pattern (where the green grass is).  


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The first flower carpet was created in Brussels in 1971.  Each year it is based on a theme, with this year's theme honors Belgium holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.  The presidency rotates throughout the EU every six months.


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Don and Donna visit - London

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 Don and Donna, my very special mother and father-in-law, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in March, but the real celebration was in July.......  in London!


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D&D arrived in Brussels and the four of us took the train to London through the Chunnel (31.4 mile undersea rail tunnel linking France to the UK).  Tammy, Allen, Trenton, and Jason joined us and we all stayed in a beautiful penthouse apartment, you have to visit their site and check this place out!  We had the top three floors.


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 Our first night was Allen's b-day so the party group took a bus to a local pub to celebrate with a beer!  I went along as team photographer   :   ). 


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Trenton was excited when he found out the drinking age in England is 16.  Here he is enjoying a beer with his dad and his Uncle D.  Grandpap was at the bar paying the bill!


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The next day D and I ventured out to a flower market and funky neighborhood, Columbia Road, that I had read about.  D was quite amused with the candy store, Suck and Chew.  Note the little bag of candy in his hand.


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I had read about a very cool vintage altered art  store, Jessie Chorley and Buddug - the shop.  The store was fabulous as well as the neighborhood.  Independently owned artsy stores.  Most were only open on Saturdays and Sundays.


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To see more photos on this store, visit my art blog Ma Vie Trouvee.

 

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 That afternoon Allen's sister Sherri, her husband Nick, and sweet daughter Eleanor came by for a visit.  They live two hours outside of London.  We had a very enjoyable afternoon chatting.  Other visitors were our Euro buddies D & A.  The family finally got to meet them in person.  Not sure why....but I did not take photos of either event :  (


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Even with eight people all wanting to go in different directions we had a GREAT visit and spent most days together!  Here are the highlights of our adventures.

The London Eye


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Originally called the Millennium Wheel, built to celebrate the year 2000, it is the most visited site in London with over 3.5 million visitors a year.  There are 32 capsules and each carries 25 people.


 
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Tammy took some great panoramic photos from the capsule of Parliament and Big Ben......of course I could not go up due to my many idiosyncrasies :  ). 


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Don and D stayed on the ground to keep me company.  We had fun people watching. 


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Big Ben


 

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Did you know that the real name of this structure is the clock tower and that only the bell is called Big Ben. 


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Big Ben just celebrated it's 150th birthday.


 

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Changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace is the Queen's official residence.  The current structure was built in 1703.  The men are not just ceremonial guards, they are active soldiers.

 

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On another day, we watched the Horse Guards daily change.  I found this to be much more interesting than the change at Buckingham Palace because it was more intimate.


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Time for a break.  Our favorite Pub drink for the summer was a pitcher of Pimms!  It is a light fruity alcoholic drink mixed with lemonade.  Ahhhhh so refreshing.


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As you can see here, Allen was in need of his afternoon Pimms!


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Westminster Abbey


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An Abbey was first built on this site in 1050 AD. 


 

 

 

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Tammy and I had toured it on earlier visits so we relaxed on the lawn and got caught up on things.  Please note:  the ice cream cone is in Tammy's hand.  I did not have one as I was on a diet that hour  :  )


 

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Don, Donna, D and I did the Hop on Hop off bus tour.  Originally I just went along for the ride.....but this ended up being my favorite event.  We went one afternoon and then again the next morning.  I have been to London 5 or 6 time but this is the first time I did a tour. 


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Tower of London

The Tower of London is Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress and was built in 1066.  The tower has played a prominent role in England's history, but today is only used as a museum and houses the Crown Jewels.  Many of which date back to 1200.


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It was the home to kings and queens of England up until 1837.   Buckingham Palace is now the official residence.   


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The Tower is still guarded by Yeoman Wardens or Beef-eaters, so called because they use to have to taste the Kings food to make sure it was  not poisoned.  They also give the tours of the castle and are quite humorous.


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It has many interesting events in its history including the execution spot for two of King Henry's wives - Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.  Sir Walter Raleigh was also imprisoned there for 13 years.  


  

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 Tower Bridge

Tammy captured this lovely shot of the Bridge.  It is an iconic symbol of London. officially opened in 1894.  It is often mistaken as the London Bridge.


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One day we all ventured into China town for lunch. 

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And enjoyed a street performer...


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He was so good he was able to make Jason smile!   


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Allen too!


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My attempt at a "we" shot - the girls enjoying an ice cream.


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I was disappointed as we never got a group shot...This is as close as we got....the team waiting for a bus.


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The funniest story of the trip was when we were all dining on the famous British Fish and Chips.  Don was working the bottle of ketchup to get out the last drop.  D and I were both getting ready to tell him to calm down......when it exploded from too much pressure.....


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And it shot all over Donna's WHITE shirt!  Donald started to wiped it off as you can see at the top....Donna did not flinch.  She just kept eating her fish and chips.


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Maybe Donna did not think this was the funniest story of the trip  :  )

The last day we broke into two groups.  D, Donna and I opted for lunch at a Polish restaurant and some shopping.  


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The other group did the Winston Churchill War Museum and the Globe Theater.  And Tammy got to walk across the Millennium Bridge!

For a few more fun photos - check out the album in the upper right hand corner at the top of this page.


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A very Happy Anniversary indeed!
 

 





 





Don and Donna visit - The Cotswold

Saturday morning the West family headed back to the states and the four of us continued on to the Cotswold area in England.  I love the city, but was anxious to show D&D the quaint English countryside. 

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 Just a few hours from London, the Cotswold is an absolutely charming area with homes with thatched roofs, the epitome of "Englishness".


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 On our way there we stopped at Oxford University.  Oxford is the third oldest University and the first English speaking institution in the world.


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The exact date of when it was built is unclear, but there is evidence that teaching at oxford goes back to 1086.  Interesting trivia - the University is actually made of of 38 individual, self-governing  colleges.  There are over 20,000 students.  Allen's brother-in-law teaches there.  Pretty impressive huh?


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On our way our we stopped at Ben's Cookie shop.  I had read that it had THE BEST chocolate chip cookies.  So we stopped. And yes, we all agreed - Ben's had THE BEST chocolate chip cookies we had ever eaten!


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 Next stop was Blenheim Palace, home of the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill (Prime Minister of the UK from 1940 - 1945 and again from 1951-1955).   He is most famous for his leadership during WWII.


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The Palace was built around 1705 - 1724 in the English Baroque style of architecture.  Today it is a World Heritage Site.


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The 9th Duke made the biggest impact on the Palace where he did many improvements throughout including the creation of the beautiful formal gardens.

 

 
 
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Our first B&B was the Mole & Chicken.  It was a restaurant with five petite country style rooms out in the countryside of Buckinghamshire.  It was build in 1831 and was a worker's cottage, then the village store, next a pub, and now a restaurant with rooms.


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Sweet rooms and a SWEET bathtub!


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We had a delicious dinner in the restaurant and as we took a little evening walk down the street, an older gentleman popped out of his house (fourth house in the row) and began talking to us.  


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His name was Jack and he was 76.  He invited us into his house to show us his collection of antique articles.  It was a priceless experience.  But I did not take my camera to dinner so no photos!


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 The next morning we had a typical British breakfast; eggs, sausage, ham, beans, mushrooms and toast.  As seen below in the postcard  :  )


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Our first stop was a very old church.  There was nothing notable about it, we just thought it was pretty so we walked through.


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An unusual but interesting thing all churches in England have is hand-embroidered cushions to kneel on.  I have not seen this in any other country.


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In England on Sundays, the entire family goes out for a traditional "roast" lunch.  So we went to the Lamb Inn Pub for our Sunday roast.  


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Check out this cute sign in their parking lot.  And D did park prettily.


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That night I had a surprise for the group - Gifford's Circus!  


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I had read about this local circus owned and created by a husband and wife team.  It tours the Cotswold every other year in the summer.  They  base the shows on the circus performances of the 1930's. 

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This year's show was called Yasmine and was a musical about the legendary female horse trainer, Yasmine Smart.  It was a very small venue in a big top tent.  Locals we spoke to were surprised that we had even heard about it.  All my research!


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The show was absolutely delightful!  Old fashioned fun with some impressive performances  There was a 12 piece band, horses, clowns, and several acts like the woman on the tight rope.  Amazing!!


 

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This one was equally impressive. 


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And the clowns had us all laughing!


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We are so used to everything being high tech with flash and electronics.....it was amusing to see how entertained everyone was with the simple act of blowing into plastic flutes.  


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It was just good old fashioned fun and we all left feeling really happy.  Who wouldn't with dancing pigs and all!


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Our B&B for the next two nights was the Mole's End.  A lovely manor home with three stately rooms you could stay in.


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We gave Don and Donna the large room as this three day trip was our anniversary present to them.  Not that our room was any less charming.


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 The next day we visited Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon.  Born in 1564 he grew up in this house where his father made gloves in a room adjoining the family home. 



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I like Shakespeare but am not a huge fan.....yet I was in complete awe when we walked through his house.  To think....Shakespeare was born in this house and actually lived here 446 years ago! 


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As Shakespeare said, "such stuff as dreams are made on".



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Why look, Don even got to meet Shakespeare.  Isn't Don's sweater cute?  We bought it for him in Scotland for Father's Day.


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Another event I wanted D& D to experience in England was a proper afternoon tea.  Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Ann, the seventh Duchess of Bedford in the year 1840.


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A traditional tea would consist of sweets and sandwiches.  And you absolutely must have scones with jam and clotted cream.

 

 


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We skipped the sandwiches and each selected a slice of specialty cake and shared the scones.  All were absolutely divine!


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Outside of the tea house an old time car caught Don's attention.  I love this photo!  Don looks like he owns the car and the house behind it!


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We spoke to the owner and she said it was a 1933 original Austin and you need to crank it to get it to run.  It was a beauty.


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Our last stop of the day was a lavender field.  I had read that it was in full bloom at this time of year.  I was surprised to find a lavender field in the Cotswold. 


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But to my delight...the color was as intense and as beautiful as any I've seen in Provence France!


 

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The air was fragrant, full of that luscious lavender smell.  I wish I had a scratch and sniff function on this blog.


 

 

 

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There were thousands of bees busy at work on the lavender and the nearby sunflower field.


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The owner was also very busy harvesting.  It was peak time for the harvest, in fact if we were a day later, we would have missed seeing the beautiful purple fields.


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 Our wonderful vacation ended on Donna's birthday.  Happy Birthday Donna!


 

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We savored a leisurely breakfast at the B&B.  Jane, the host, made really good eggs. 


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We had a little time before heading to the train station so we walked though a quintessential English neighborhood with thatched-roof  houses.  How sweet to live in one of these and enjoy it everyday.


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We stopped at the local post office/florist/tea house for a spot of tea.


 

 
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It is always special when you order tea in England.  Even in a tiny tea house they will bring your tea in proper china.


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 Since it was Donna's birthday and we would be traveling most of the day, we would not have time to celebrate with a cake.  But what would be even better than cake?  BEN'S COOKIES!!!  That's right, we went back through Oxford just to buy cookies.


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 Was it worth it?  Oh ABSOLUTELY 100% YES.  We splurged and each got two.  It was a birthday celebration after all !!!!