UC Davis Arboretum Just Got Better!

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I have always loved walking around the UC Davis Arboretum. It was well established when I was a graduate student in the late 1980s, and even then it had a serious water quality problem in Putah Creek. The algae and other problems caused duck die offs and some stinky stretches. Now with a new design to help clean up Putah Creek, you can actually see the turtles swimming in the creek. The redwood grove has new plantings on the floor, and the new trailhead in downtown Davis is complete. If you haven’t been in a while, it is worthy of another look.

The new infrastructure in the creek helps to keep the water clean. Plus it introduces the sound of running water to your walk along the trail. You will get a healthy 3.5 miles of steps if you walk the entire loop. Along the way you’ll enjoy over 20 gardens, interesting bridges and paths and only occasional glimpses of campus life. I’m sure it’s kept many a student sane.

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Watch for slider turtles. The iNaturalist app suggests this is a painted slider.

I belong to the Arboretum so I learn about their plant sales and enjoy a discount. The Arboretum is free of charge. Most days you’ll have to pay for campus parking if you are starting from the oak grove side near the medical campus, so instead park behind Mikuni’s restaurant (by the closed Whole Foods). When you finish up you can enjoy a meal at Pluto’s or Mikuni’s. I’m taking my grandson on Friday!

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Trailhead accessible at end of D Street, in downtown Davis. Put “Arboretum GATEway Garden” into Google Maps.

 

 

 

 

Mooching Around Maldon, Essex

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Maldon is a smallish town (population roughly 14,000 people) with a lot of history and fun current shops and restaurants. Plus they have world famous salt! UK Sarah and I spent a few hours mooching around Maldon one March day. It isn’t far from where Sarah lives and one of the most charming towns in Essex. It is situated on the Eastern coastline with marsh flats and tidal fluctuations that strand boats in the River Blackwater for hours at a time. On my last visit we had explored the Promenade Park.

This visit was more practical with a stop at Tesco for dinner ingredients and then a leisurely stroll in downtown with a bit of shopping (for salt) and lunch at Mrs. Salisbury’s Famous Tea Rooms.

Apparently you can buy the Maldon salt at Tesco, but I didn’t think to look for it there. I was able to find it at the Marks&Spencer mini mart. It is the same box you can buy at your grocer. Perhaps like me you’ve been watching Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix or read the book and it peaked your interest in Maldon salt. Here are a few excerpts from Samin Nosrat’s book: Sea salt is what’s left behind when seawater evaporates. Natural sea salts such as… Maldon are the less-refined result of gradual, monitored evaporation that can take up to five years… Maldon salt crystals… take on a hollow pyramid shape, and are often referred to as flaky salt. (p25) I recommend buying Nosrat’s book if you’d like to know how to use Maldon salt and at what quantities. Very helpful.

I’ve also been watching Great British Bake Off and purchased a cookbook by Mary Berry when I was in London. I wanted to sample a Victoria Sponge or Victoria Sandwich to see what I’ve been missing. Mrs. Salisbury’s Victoria Sandwich was quite tasty although very sweet. I enjoyed the Victoria Sandwich at The Loft in Tollesbury more. And on Sunday’s the Loft plays vinyl records and creates a laid back vibe perfect for a Sunday afternoon.

I love the go-go of London and Harry Potter world, but there is a lot to be said for relaxing at the English seaside and experiencing a bit of modern English culture.

Sutter’s Fort a Kind of Living History

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My toddler grandson and I visited Sutter’s Fort on a Friday morning along with school kids.

Many a fourth grader in the Sacramento area has taken a field trip to Sutter’s Fort. It is easy to see it as a place primarily for kids. Alas, that would be selling Sutter’s Fort short.

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It doesn’t take much imagination to put yourself into the place of a miller or blacksmith living on this farm enterprise. Or imagine what life must have been like living in a community confined to these relatively small courtyards during floods in winter. This is where many a pioneer stopped thankful to reach “civilization” as primitive as it was. The California Indian museum next door tells the story of the indigenous people who lived here before European settlers and their fate as the settlers introduced small pox and other diseases and land ownership.

Here you see how the fort was first and foremost an enterprise. Many of the recreated scenes are accompanied by a narrated recording, but there are a few volunteer re-enactors who enliven the feel of the clerk’s office or other activity centers within the fort.

John Sutter was a Swiss immigrant who was granted the land from the Spanish for the fort and farms around it. His place in history was secured as the owner of the mill further upstream of the American River in Coloma where gold was discovered. The resulting rush brought a population of seekers and adventurers, quick statehood, and huge environmental degradation and water laws.

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Toddlers will race through the Fort finding very little of interest except the stairs and the gift shop. However, with a little energy expended, you may enjoy a nice snack stop on this bench enjoying the view of ducks, geese and butterflies.

Entrance per adult is $5 and per child over 5 is $3 except on special interpretive days like the Friday we visited. Then the admission is $7 per adult and $5 per child over 5. (Toddlers are free!) The fort gates are open almost every day of the year from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Harry Potter Appears Real at Warner Bros. Studio

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Hogwarts stairway and portraits at the Warner Bros. Studio in Leavesden, England

When I first read the Harry Potter books I found myself imagining the characters and the magic, and of course Hogwarts, but many aspects were fuzzy. That is, until I watched the first film. Suddenly the actors cast became what I saw in my head when I read the dialogue. The details were beautifully filled in by the elaborate costumes and props.

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The lounge of Number 4 Privet Drive is filled with Harry’s letters.

Sometime after the movies began debuting, I was in Chicago and there was a special exhibit of the Harry Potter film props and costumes. I loved it so much I was even inspired to copy the knitted blanket on Ron Weasley’s bed. I had toured movie studios and I knew that seldom do they spend so much time or money on getting to this level of reality!

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Ask at the information booth for the Passport so you can get stamps along the way and find the golden snitches throughout the tour. 

So when we were planning our Harry Potter adventures in London, I was enthusiastic about taking the train to the outskirts of London to the Warner Bros. Studio in Leavesden for the “Making of Harry Potter” tour. It is around $60 a person for a ticket to enter the world of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley and No. 4 Privet Drive. The greeter tells you that it takes about 3.5 hours to walk through (at your own pace) with a lunch stop about 2/3 through. In fact, we explored most of the sets and exhibits and stopped for a quick lunch and it took about 5.5 hours. Not that we are complaining! Plus there is shopping at the end of the tour.


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The graphics firm designed 20,000 individual props for the Weasley’s joke shop on Diagon Alley.

We got some great advice: ask the interpretive hosts if they have a favorite fun fact for the room they are stationed. All of the hosts were very enthusiastic about all things Harry Potter and usually gave us more than one fun fact. This is how we learned that 17,000 wand boxes were created for Olivander’s wand shop. And that many of them are still charred from the scene when Olivander’s shop explodes–a shot they only had one chance to capture. Or that Rupert Grint who played Ron asked to keep the number 4 from the house on Privet Drive.

We went on a weekday and there were lots of school trips. The staff said it is actually less crowded on the weekends. It was a fantastic day.

Sacramento Scandinavian Festival Easier Than Travel

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It’s a fascinating aspect of American life that we celebrate our cultural heritage, whether it is Norwegian, Lithuanian, or Persian, in a variety of festivals. Food features prominently. It is also an easier way to experience another culture when you don’t have the time or money to travel. Sometimes it just whets your appetite to go!

The Scandinavian Festival, held on one day at the Scottish Rite Temple near Sacramento State University, features many booths with various Scandinavian themed goods. Then in the main ballroom they sell tickets to buy food and have seating to watch the flag ceremony or the fashion show. Many people are dressed in traditional dresses or Norwegian sweaters. All decedents of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, or Finland are welcome, in addition the Sami indigenous people are also recognized as their own nation although they live across Norway, Sweden, Finland and part of Russia.

Two of the people in our group discovered they were Scandinavian thanks to 23 and Me so they were discovering cultural traditions like the food, like the delicious flatbread lefse made with potatoes. I also discovered there is such a thing as Viking reenactment.  I sent a photo (see above) to my brother and found out that he reenacts being a Viking for his history classes at the Community College where he teaches. I learned something about my family too!

International Book Buying

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I discovered Hatchard’s via a collection of postcards of The World’s Greatest Bookstores.

I feel much better about my propensity to buy too many books when I am traveling after hearing one fellow bibliophile call it patronizing the arts. Yes, I am a patron of the arts. And it is much easier to tuck a beautiful special edition of The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield in your bag than a painting or sculpture!

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The collection includes a postcard featuring Moe’s in Berkeley. I look forward to exploring this bookshop!

My Auntie J and I volunteer to send postcards to potential voters to encourage them to be a good citizen. She found a box of The World’s Greatest Bookstores. There are 50 featured, and one is for Hatchard’s in London. I’d somehow never heard of it or been there.

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El Ateneo Grand Splendid looks like an opera house more than a bookstore! A reason to go to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I love Foyle’s in London. It is popular with television writers too and appears in the Netflix adaptation of Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War is named for the bookstore. It didn’t rate a postcard though.

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The bookstore on the left is Alabama Booksmith from Birmingham, Alabama. The Hatchard’s postcard is on the right.

I have only been to a couple of the book shops featured: City Light Books in San Francisco, The Strand in New York City, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee and Powells Books in Portland (as often as possible). With bookstores in Goa, India and The Bookworm in China, I can’t commit to visit them all. One thing I can safely guarantee, I will always return with more books in my bag than when I left home.

Shopping for the Unique London

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Retail is hurting because of competition with Internet shopping. And I believe it’s suffering because shopping has become so boring. The shops on Main Street in almost every city around the world is practically the same. So when I travel I am looking for something unique. Sure I love Anthropologie, but I can always shop there at home. London used to have more unique shops. Now I search for them. Of course the atmosphere is still London-ey.

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Nothing says London like a classic black cab.

Neighborhoods are distinct and some streets are closed to auto traffic. Plus London still has some large and unique department stores. My favorite is Liberty (not Harrods). And when I got to Liberty I have to go to the floor with Liberty fabric and Rowan yarn. I also love Liberty’s customer service and their help with getting VAT refund.

You can get a VAT refund if you buy goods worth over 50 pounds. Save your receipts and take advantage of help from the first shop where they will give you the VAT refund envelope. I prefer to make time when I depart to go to the VAT refund desk (all the way to the left in Heathrow Terminal 2) before I check my bags. Sometimes they ask to see the goods. You can get cash (but what to do with a bunch of foreign currency?) or get a refund to your credit card (preferred). If you forget or run out of time, I believe you can also mail it in.