Category Archives: Culture

Spoleto Festival Charleston 2015

When I moved from London to a small American city, one thing I was apprehensive about was the cultural scene. So it was with great fortune that we timed our move here to coincide with the opening of the annual Spoleto Festival.

Spoleto is one of the biggest performing arts festivals in the country. It receives generous   government funding through the National Endowment for the Arts to support a programme of a world-class performances across the fields of theatre, music and opera.

Spoleto Festival Charleston Opening Ceremonies Broad Street

We were eager to be on hand for the opening ceremonies, which took place down on Broad Street, on the steps of City Hall. The crowd was packed with a sea of straw-hatted arts enthusiasts as the Mayor of Spoleto, Italy made his remarks to officially open the first day of the festival.

Spoleto Festival Charleston Opening Ceremonies Mayor of Spoleto

Spoleto Festival Opening Ceremonies Broad Street

Spoleto Festival Building Charleston

Spoleto Festival USA 2015

Charleston Riviera Theatre

Before the theatre, we had time to grab a quick bite at a Charleston dining recommendation we’d been chomping at the bit to try. My godmother, Lisa, suggested the Two Boroughs Larder and since we were downtown, this seemed the perfect chance to give it a go.

Two Borroughs Larder Front

Two Boroughs Larder Charleston Outside Sign

Two Boroughs Larder Charleston Communal Table

The communal dining area is lined with shelves stocked with dry goods and kitchen provisions. They carried some wonderful products, from French paring knives to custom dog collars that support rescue pups. I loved browsing that wall for things to line my own pantry!

Two Boroughs Larder Charleston Shop

Two Boroughs Larder Charleston Inside Friends of Walter Sign

We headed around to the other side of the restaurant to a more intimate seating area, and happily grabbed a seat by the window. The waitress slipped us some menus and we began to order a steady stream of small plates.

Two Boroughs Larder Charleston Kitchen

Two Boroughs Larder Charleston Chopsticks

Like many restaurants in Charleston, Two Boroughs Larder strives to serve locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. The dishes are simple, but some of the combinations really blew our minds. Even the most basic dishes, like the seasonal lettuce, had us scraping our plates.

Lettuce, benne seed tahini, meyer lemon, breadcrumbs

Lettuce, benne seed tahini, meyer lemon, breadcrumbs

Asparagus, buttered popcorn, whey

Asparagus, buttered popcorn, whey

Charred English Peas, horseradish, pea Jus, creme fraiche, radish

Charred English Peas, horseradish, pea jus, crème fraîche, radish

Squid Ala Plancha, aioli, wild greens

Squid Ala Plancha, aioli, wild greens

Cuban Sandwich, pork neck, ham, swiss, pickle mustard

Cuban Sandwich, pork neck, ham, swiss, pickle mustard

Things started getting real by the time we polished off the Cuban sandwich. But our favourite by far was the bowl of house noodles. Could it be Charleston’s best ramen?

Bowl-o-Noodles, pork confit, soft egg, pork broth, house noodles, plus kimchi pickled mushrooms

Bowl-o-Noodles, pork confit, soft egg, pork broth, house noodles, plus kimchi pickled mushrooms

We happily put away our bowls and headed to the theatre.

I’m profoundly embarrassed to admit that in five years of living in London I never managed to get to The Globe Theatre to see a performance. I walked by it so many times rambling up Southbank, but the right opportunity just never arose. So how apt that we moved to Charleston and let the merry players come to us!

Spoleto Romeo and Juliet Dock Street Theatre Steps

Spoleto Festival Dock Street Theatre Steps

Opening night performance at the Dock Street Theatre was The Globe’s touring production of Romeo and Juliet. And I couldn’t have been more excited!

Spoleto Festival Charleston Dock Street Theatre

Spoleto Festival Programme Dock Street Theatre

Spoleto Festival Romeo and Juliet Dock Street Theatre Table of Programmes

Dock Street Theatre Courtyard Seating

The Dock Street Theatre first opened in 1736, under the reign of King George II. And despite Charleston’s tricky (to say the least) history with the British, the royal crest still hangs above the Dock Street stage.

We arrived fashionably early, giving us time for a quick apéritif in the beautiful brick courtyard before the show.

Dock Street Theatre Courtyard Table

Dock Street Theatre Courtyard

When the bells chimed, we sought out our seats and were pleased to find the actors milling about the room, tuning their musical instruments and exchanging casual banter with audience members. I can’t deny it was nice to hear the familiar parlance of the English tongue after so many weeks away from London.

Spoleto Festival Charleston Romeo and Juliet Audience Dock Street Theatre

Spoleto Festival Charleston Romeo and Juliet Dock Street Theatre Actors

Spoleto Festival Charleston Romeo and Juliet Dock Street Theatre

The performance was fresh and energetic, and the actors seemed to transcend the pitfalls of such a famous, well-known story. Romeo was played by dad-bod ginger Samuel Valentine, which took a bit of getting used to as my mind kept picturing Mitchell Pritchett from Modern Family up on stage trying to woo Juliet, who was played by Cassie Layton. She actually nailed the part as a callow, pubescent schoolgirl pining after her first crush – after all, the character was only 14 years old.

But the standout performance was definitely Steffan Donnelly, the lanky and incredibly camp Mercutio – his charisma and vigor onstage was magnetic and won the audience over completely.

A wonderful first show in a two-week long lineup of events that are sure to be equally enthralling. It’s a relief to know that the arts are alive and thriving down here in the American South.

Magnolia Plantation

Magnolia Plantation is a mere twenty-minute drive outside of Charleston and it’s known for its beautiful gardens.

When you pull up, you coast down a long drive covered in old oak boughs draped with Spanish moss.

Magnolia Plantation Spanish Moss Drive

Magnolia Plantation Spanish Moss Big Tree

Peacocks greet you on the front lawn of an old plantation house.

Magnolia Plantation Peacock

Magnolia Plantation Exterior Front

Magnolia used to be a rice plantation. The property backs up to the Ashley River, which was used to flood the fields to create the standing water needed to grow rice.

Reverend John Drayton inherited the property in the 1840s. It surprised me that he was a man of the cloth. As the tourguide gestured proudly to Drayton’s large Old Testament book commissioned from a London press, I couldn’t help but picture some creepy old villain, hunched over his Bible reading Exodus verses as enslaved labourers were being whipped (or worse) just outside his door.

I really struggled to separate the beauty of this property from its sinister history. I wonder if that’s what Drayton’s wife tried to do when she arrived at Magnolia from her hometown of Philadelphia. Legend has it that John built all the gardens on the property to please his out-of-town bride. There’s really no denying the refined allure of the landscape here.

Magnolia Plantation Exterior Rear Backyard

Magnolia Plantation Porch Bench

Magnolia Plantation Long White Bridge

Magnolia Plantation Long White Bridge Standing

Magnolia Plantation Long White Bridge Path

Magnolia Plantation Long White Bridge Pond

Magnolia Plantation Hedge Garden

The gardens remind me of the kind of Romantic landscapes you’d see in a Pre-Raphaelite painting. The kind of place a melancholy maiden might sulk around in a bohemian gown writing love letters…

Or maybe just prance gaily through a hedge maze!

Magnolia Plantation Garden Maze

The azalea bushes weren’t yet in full bloom, but there were plenty of exquisite flowers peeking out everywhere you looked. We toured down paths in every which direction, getting lost in the extensive grounds.

Magnolia Plantation Flowers

Magnolia Plantation Daisies

Magnolia Plantation Red Bridge Spanish Moss

Magnolia Plantation Red Bridge Gold Sandals

Magnolia Plantation Bag

Magnolia Plantation Peacock Fan

Part of our admission ticket included a walking tour of the swamp. So with some trepidation, we ventured in…

Swamp Tree Bark

Swamp

Magnolia Plantation Swamp

Magnolia Plantation Swamp Path

Magnolia Plantation Swamp View

Magnolia Plantation Swamp Egret in Flight

The swamp is such a fascinating eco-habitat for so many creatures – especially birds. We saw egrets, red-headed woodpeckers, cardinals, and some others that we couldn’t identify. I would love to go back sometime with a pair of binoculars. It’s a bird-watcher’s paradise!

Thankfully, we were able to get close to some cute creatures in the swamp.

Magnolia Plantation Marsh Rabbit

This little marsh rabbit was not afraid to strike a pose for the camera!

Magnolia Plantation Marsh Rabbit Photoshoot

Magnolia Plantation Marsh Rabbit Swamp

By the time we left, it was starting to get very muggy in the swamp – it’s definitely not a forgiving climate in which to live! But this was a truly special place to visit and appreciate nature in one of its most enchanting forms.

Magnolia Plantation Swamp Bench

We left feeling completely swamped with lots of great memories!

Fallingwater

About a three-hour drive from Washington, DC in the rural foothills of Pennsylvania is American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater. It was recently voted the single most important building in the United States by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). It makes for a great field trip if you’re in the area; so with snacks for the road, we drove up to Bear Run for a tour.

Pennsylvania Barn Mail Pouch Tobacco

Fallingwater Snacks Cheetos

Fallingwater was designed in 1935 as a summer home for the Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh. The family had a successful department store in the city, and this was to be their wooded weekend retreat.

Fallingwater Drive

Fallingwater Side

The design of the house is a series of reinforced concrete terraces cantilevered out over the Bear Run river.

Fallingwater Pose Outside

From every room inside the house, you can hear the crashing waterfalls and feel as if you are part of the natural world around you. It’s the house that defined the philosophy of ‘organic architecture’ – a sense of harmony between nature and the built environment. The central living space inside Fallingwater is open and light, with the use of natural materials, including waxed river stones for the floor.

Fallingwater inside

Fallingwater Fireplace River Stones Boulder

Every room was filled with incredibly thoughtful architectural details. But sadly the organisation that runs the property, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, is letting the site fall into a state of appalling disrepair. I saw cracks in the plaster, mold growing on the terraces, and paper kitchen towel stuffed in cracks in the rock walls to plug water leaks. The conservancy is under-funded, inexperienced, and most probably mismanaged. It’s such a shame, because I imagine this property in the hands of the National Parks or Smithsonian where it could really be taken care of properly and wow its visitors even more! I hope this national treasure is around to inspire future generations and the next chapter of architecture students for years to come.

Fallingwater View

Fallingwater me

After leaving Fallingwater, we stopped for lunch at the historic Casselman Inn in Grantsville, Maryland. Operated by Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish owners, the restaurant is known for its selection of homemade breads, cakes, and pies. It’s also where I fell off the gluten-free wagon!

Casselman Sign

Casselman Inn Front Exterior

Casselton Dining Hours

Casselman Restaurant Table

Casselman Bread Basket

I resisted the yeasty sweetness of the warm, freshly baked bread. And I refused to give in to even a bite of Eddie’s honey-dipped fried chicken.

Casselman Fried Chicken Chips Fries

My fall from grace came at the hands of this monster iced maple cinnamon roll.

Casselman Maple Sticky Bun

I have never tasted such sweet, soft, maple-y perfection. And, for my figure’s sake, I hope I don’t for a long time to come! (It was so worth it though).

Casselman Maple Bun

Just around the corner from the inn is Castleman’s River Bridge, a historic national landmark. Its 80-foot span was the largest stone arch in America at the time it was built in 1813.

Castleman Bridge

Castlemans Bridge

I love driving though America and discovering little out-of-the-way spots with their own tiny history. Surely, there will be many more to come!

Roman Baths and Stonehenge

My parents are in town! Which is great because not only did I miss them, but now we get to explore around England together!

We set off for a day seeing Bath and Stonehenge, stopping along our route in the charming market town of Tetbury. Every Saturday, the 17th-century market hall comes alive, and I loved browsing the racks of vintage furs and rummaging through trays of antique jewellery.

Tebury Town Flag

Tetbury Flea Market England

Tetbury Market Fur

Above the market hall is a vendor selling a hearty selection of sheepskin and leather goods. We picked up two pairs of shearling gloves for £15! A terrific bargain for locally made products.

Tetbury Sheep Market Steps

Tetbury Sheep Market Skin Pelts

Tetbury Market Shearling Gloves

Tetbury Genuine Sheepskin Shearling Gloves

We piled back into the car and rambled through some beautiful countryside to the World Heritage city of Bath. Bath has special significance to me and my family because it is the sister city to my mother’s hometown of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia – also a historic resort town known for its natural springs.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Bath Cathedral

Our time in Bath was severely limited, so we made our primary stop the ancient Roman Baths. The ruins here date back to 60 AD when the city was a spa town called Aquae Sulis.

Bath Roman Baths Entrance

Bath Roman Baths View Down on Water

Bath Roman Baths Railing

Bath Roman View Cathedral

Bath Balcony Rail Roman Baths

Bath Roman Bust

The first Romans to come here were soldiers. Their architects and craftsmen built the Baths and Temple. Below is what remains of the temple front.

Bath Roman Baths Freize Temple Front Stone

Bath Roman Baths Sun Head God Freize Temple

People from local tribes, officials and priests, and traders from across the Empire began to settle here. Pilgrims travelled here. And monuments were built here.

This stone head probably decorated the tomb of a wealthy lady. Her hair-do was fashionable in Rome in the later 1st century AD.

This stone head probably decorated the tomb of a wealthy lady. Her hair-do was fashionable in Rome in the later 1st century AD.

Bath Roman Baths Source Waterfall

Bath Roman Baths Looking Up Inside Springs

Bath Roman Baths Surface of the Water Springs

Bath Roman View

Roman Baths Springs Private Area

Bath Roman Baths Sitting Springs

There was a fountain at the exit where we were able to taste the purified spring waters. It has a stinky sulphuric taste, but contains hundreds of times more minerals than your standard mineral water. I savoured a few sips, letting my body absorb the curative powers of the water. However, I won’t be giving up my Perrier anytime soon!

Our final stop for the day was the obligatory Stonehenge tour. It is, by far, one of the most moving sites on earth. I swear I can feel the energy in the air.

Stonehenge Visitor Centre

When I came two years ago, you could park your car right across the street from the stones, then cross through an underground tunnel to walk right up to the site. Now there’s a new visitor centre, and a shuttle bus ride one mile down the road.

But same as before, the experience once we reached the site was equally breathtaking.

Stonehenge Green Grass

As much as the little wheels in my brain churned away at the thought of it, these stones and how they got here, and the reason why, is frightfully unexplainable.

Stonehenge Up Clsoer

Stonehenge Up Close

Stonehenge Portrait Gloves

Stonehenge Portrait

Stonehenge Portrait Audio Guide

Stonehenge Sunset

We walked the circuit around Stonehenge, utterly mesmerizing from every angle, the landscape changing like a kaleidoscope around it. A true wonder of the world!

Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy

One of the world’s greatest living artists is in London for a huge exhibition!

This incredible collection of works by Anselm Kiefer just opened at The Royal Academy, so I sped right over to spend an afternoon floating through its maze of galleries.

RA Burlington House

I brought along a fellow culture-seeker and together we entered the courtyard of Burlington House.

RA Burlington House Cord Blazer

RA Burlington House Arcade

RA Anselm Kiefer Sign

I fell in love with Kiefer’s art back in 2006 when I saw his Heaven and Earth exhibition at Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. For someone who didn’t know too much about contemporary art at the time, his work made a lasting impression on me. Huge, monumental pieces full of symbolism – history, theology, war. I had never been so drawn to modern art as I was to his.

Upon entering the gateway from Piccadilly into the palatial courtyard, we encountered two of Kiefer’s large-scale installations – big lead submarines suspended inside humongous glass cases.

RA Courtyard

RA Anselm Kiefer Courtyard Exhibition

RA Burlington House Courtyard Subs

RA Courtyard Anselm Kiefer

RA Kiefer vitrines

RA Courtyard Sun

The Royal Academy has an arcane policy on non-flash photography inside their exhibitions – which is to say they don’t allow it. So, sadly, no photos of any of the wonderful pieces from the show, many of which are on loan from private collections and may not be seen again in public for decades.

It’s frustrating – like most galleries, the Royal Academy encourage visitors to engage with their social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but they fail to recognize that our global culture increasingly communicates through images.

I assume it’s only a matter of time before they get it together, like the world’s top museums such as the Louvre, Smithsonian, and Metropolitan, all of whom currently allow non-flash photography in thier galleries. But you can always count on these stuffy ol’ Brits to be the very last ones to improve their dated methods of doing things – sheesh!

RA Anselm Keifer Wings

RA Anselm Kiefer Canvas

I was allowed to get a few snaps from the entrance of the exhibition, but if you are lucky enough to get to London this fall to see it for yourself, it’s definitely worth it!

After the show, we headed downtown to have a drink. Seeing as it was looking like one of those rare clearsky London evenings, we headed to ME London and hit their Radio Rooftop Bar.

Radio Bar Lounge area

The views of the London skyline were jaw-dropping.

Radio Bar Shard

Radio Bar Somerset House Sunset

Radio Bar French 75

I like my sunsets while holding a flute of something bubbly.

In this case, a classic French 75. Champagne, gin, bitters, and a sugar cube. Radio Bar threw an orange twist in mine.

Radio Bar French 75 Sunset

Radio Bar Smile

Radio Bar Strand Aldwych

Radio Bar Sofas

We hung out until nightfall when the temperature dipped; then we headed off into the chilly autumn night.

Broughton Castle

British people have a saying, “An Englishman’s home is his castle.” The phrase is taken to mean that everyone has the right to do as they please within their own home, and no one can enter a dwelling without invitation. On a weekend trip up to the Cotswolds, we stopped in to see one of the finest private moated manor houses in the country, Broughton Castle.

Located outside of Banbury and made of magnificent golden honey limestone, the core of the house dates from 1306. It has been home to the Fiennes family since the 1400s, and has appeared on-screen in films such as Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Jane Eyre (2011).

The owners open the house and grounds to the public on select days of the year, and we seized the invitation to have a poke around.

Broughton Castle Entrance

The Gatehouse

The Gatehouse

Broughton Castle Outside

Broughton Castle Landscape

Broughton Castle Shells Window

Broughton Castle Viscount Falkland Portrait

I have to admit it’s a bit weird roaming around a complete stranger’s home – no matter how magnificent. However, the interior is so perfectly cared for and preserved, it feels rather like a museum. As I became more and more lost in the details and grandeur of each room, I began to forget the sense that I was somehow intruding.

Armor on display in The Great Hall

Armor on display in The Great Hall

Broughton Castle Great Parlour Wallpaper BUST

Ornate Plaster Ceiling in The Great Parlour

Ornate Plaster Ceiling in The Great Parlour

Broughton Castle Bedroom Dragon

Broughton Castle Portraits

Breezing through the drafty stone corridors, and up the creaky wooden staircase to the long carpeted gallery filled with art and antiques, we amusedly nosed around the historic chamber rooms.

Broughton Castle Bedroom Wallpaper Chair

I freaked for this gorgeous wallpaper in the King’s Chambers, hand-painted in China with impressive detail in the 1800s.

Broughton Castle Bedroom Wallpaper

We were even permitted to climb out on the roof and look down over the luscious green landscaping and gardens.

Broughton Castle Roof

Broughton Castle Roof Panama

Broughton Castle Roof Shot

Broughton Castle Garden

The last room to see was the Oak Room, an opulently panelled drawing-room with an oak interior porch put up by William, the 1st Viscount.

Broughton Castle Sitting Room Doorway

Broughton Castle Sitting room fireplace

Broughton Castle Sitting Room Books

Broughton Castle Sitting Room Door

The Oak Room led out into a perfectly coiffed garden with neatly manicured box hedges and a smattering of pastel pink roses.

Broughton Castle Outside Garden

Broughton Castle Outside Garden Looking

Broughton Castle Outside Garden Arch

Broughton Castle Outside Garden Bench House

Broughton Castle Outside Garden Bench

Broughton Castle Outside House

Broughton Castle Outside Walking

Broughton Castle Outside Side View

Broughton Castle Outside Side Walking

We weren’t the only ones roaming the grounds on this beautiful day!

Broughton Castle Cows

Broughton Castle Cow

An udderly amoo-sing day in the country!

Thank you to the owners of this remarkable property for letting us have a captivating peek inside.

The Red City: Marrakech

One of my best beezies recently celebrated a milestone birthday. And you know my friends don’t celebrate with a couple of drinks down at the pub after work – they do it BIG! So we packed our carry-on luggage (maybe sitting on it to squeeze it shut) and jetted off to the Red City – Marrakech!

The birthday girl said it best, when she remarked, “I just wanted to go some place where I wouldn’t think about real life – and this is it.” And our real lives could not have been further from our minds! From the moment the airplane landing gear goes down, Marrakech is an assault on your senses. The red clay walls and rusty corrugated tin roofs of this fortified city are visible from the sky. As you motor into the congested town, dust and exhaust fumes billow up in little puffs, dogs barking, drums beating, the warbled lilt of the muezzin chanting out the call to prayer.

It all feels a bit feral. But that rawness makes Marrakech intensely stimulating – the relentless cadence of the city keeps you on constant alert. As I careened through the beguiling labyrinth of souks, I took in the smell of leather, the glinting light of intricate filigree lanterns, and the nubby weave of hand-loomed textiles. I absorbed all the frenetic energy of life in the medina.  Here are just a few glimpses inside the throbbing heart of Morocco’s most vital city.

Medina

Sq4

Sq5

Lanterns1

Lanterns3

Medina4

Sq1

Sq3

Sq2

Med

Medina1

Medina3

Medina2

Spices

alabaster

Sq6

Rumble out of town a bit toward the Atlas Mountains, where the pace of life in traditional Berber villages is markedly more subdued.

country

country1

donkey

Country3

country2

country4

Pillows

Turban

Cat

As you can see, it was quite overwhelming to arrive in such a dazzling and charismatic land! After a feverish first day, I was absolutely kaput. Check back again soon to see more of my explorations of Marrakech!