The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Penhaligon’s Lothair: My new favourite scent

I’ve been on the hunt for a new scent for close to a year, trying different fragrances every time I entered a perfumery. But although most of them smelt nice, they either did not last long enough on me or the scent lacked that something special that I was seeking.

Then, last Saturday, almost as an afterthought, I tried Penhaligon’s Lothair. The initial whiff was a bit fruity, nice but not too memorable, I thought. Two hours later the scent had evolved into something more earthy, reminiscent of fragrant, exotic woods. And that is what made me decide to buy it. That rather mysterious, seductive, almost powdery, base note.


The nose behind Lothair is Bertrand Duchaufour and, in the company’s own words, it is:

“Inspired by the famous Tea Clipper Ships that navigated the globe to bring exotic wares to British shores, Lothair opens with the salty tang of grapefruit and juniper, and a brilliant green sensation from fig leaf. The smoky heart of black tea is softened by fig milk and magnolia, sailing into an ambergris, cedar and wenge woods base, reminiscent of the varnished decks of these elegant ships.”

I first heard of Penhaligon’s Perfume House on Travel Channel’s ‘Jenny’s Streets of London’ and soon after I visited their store in Covent Garden, where I was drawn in by the enticing scents that wafted out of their open door. Penhaligon’s was established in 1870 by William Penhaligon in a store on Jermyn Street. The shop was destroyed during the war but the fragrances endured. Penhaligon’s has been granted two Royal Warrants: one by the Duke of Edinburgh and the other by the late Diana, Princess of Wales. It’s nice to learn that I share my perfumer with royalty.

Related links:

- Penhaligon’s: A Short History

- Lothair reviews

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

November days

I want to start off by thanking all those of you who left a comment on my last post. I didn’t reply to each of you individually but just left a general comment to express my gratitude. A month has passed since Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and, to date, we have no answers. Not even one single suspect, if any exists, has been questioned by the police. The silence is deafening. Frighteningly so. And yet, life goes on for the living and November has all but flown by. Lots of people here love to hate this month because it brings with it shorter days and cooler weather and also because, in the not too distant past, it was dedicated to the dead.

Autumn colours

I look at November as a month of transition: from autumn to winter and, personally, I enjoy its anticipatory feel. Some Christmas lights have already gone up in places, even in our neighbourhood, and I am looking forward to decorating the house, baking cookies and other naughty treats, lighting candles and making home-made mulled wine, while dreaming about Vienna. Because Vienna is absolutely magical and breath-taking at this time of year and it smells of roasting chestnuts and gluhwein and spice and all things nice.

Autumn colours

But back to the present and back to reality. Because before Christmas there is Thanksgiving and, even though it it not a holiday in Malta, in this house it is celebrated. So I’ll be making some lists, doing some shopping and remembering all the people and things that I am so thankful for. It’s not easy, sometimes when so much of the world seems shrouded in darkness. to sit back and reflect on all that is good and beautiful and wholesome, But we have to do it. For the sake of our sanity and for our children, we have to let go of all that’s ugly and rotten and, instead, give thanks for our multitude of blessings and look with hope towards the future..

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Happy Thanksgiving

These photos were taken a long time ago (in 2003) when we lived in the US and I experienced my only Thanksgiving in America.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Dear Daphne

It’s already been two weeks since the cowards blew you up in your car and a part of me still does not want to accept the fact that you are gone forever. You’ve left a void that no one can fill because nobody has your inimitable style or your courage, We all thought you were invincible – one lone woman reporting and writing on an almost daily basis about all that is rotten in our society and our country, about the rampant corruption and the criminality that has infiltrated our institutions. The very institutions that should be there to protect us, but which are now turning not one, but two blind eyes at all that is taking place just beneath the thin veneer of respectability that still remains. You were one lone voice in the wilderness and we let you soldier on by yourself because it’s always convenient to have someone else fight our battles. Or maybe it’s because we never fully understood the implications of all that you revealed.

Whatever it was, we are all guilty of your death. Because of our collective complacency, our infamous Mediterranean apathy and laid-back attitude, our lack of discipline, our culture of silence and omerta’, our xenophobia, our unwillingness to educate ourselves about the Constitution of our country, our acceptance of so much that is unacceptable within our government, our judiciary and our police force, as long as it didn’t affect us directly. But now it seems as if your horrendous assassination has woken some of us out of our stupor. Journalists seem to be finding their voice again and, the Sunday after you were so brutally murdered, thousands marched in protest for justice to be done on your behalf. Your assassination has been reported in some of the world’s most influential newspapers and websites like The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Politico, BBC News and many, many others. Journalists have held vigils in your memory here in Malta, in London, Rome and Brussels, and the European Parliament has named its press room after you. While your killers sought to silence you, the world is making sure that you, and all you stood for, will never be forgotten. In  their annihilation of your physical body they have given credence to all that you have been revealing, especially during the past two years. We all know that whoever did this did not do it because you mocked their fashion sense or because you called them out for parking on a double yellow line, but because of far more serious accusations. Like the cowards they are they thought that they could make everything you wrote die with you but I think they ignited more than the bomb that killed you, something they had not bargained for and could not foresee.. They’ve ignited little sparks of courage and indignation in many people that, if fanned properly, will blaze into a fire that will ensure that we will see the changes that many of us know are necessary for this country to regain a semblance of normality. At face value, it does appear to be normal, but you knew better and paid for it with your life.

Were you a saint? No, definitely not. You were human, like the rest of us and, like us I am sure you made mistakes. Figuratively speaking, you stepped on a lot of toes and managed to offend many, because the truth hurts, and too many people could not stand seeing their heroes knocked off the pedestals they themselves had placed them on. So they started calling you vindictive, a witch even. They would not mention you by name, called you ‘the hate blogger’, vilified and harassed you, calling your articles fake news, and had internet trolls hound you on a daily basis. They fanned the flames of hate so well that somebody thought nothing of placing a bomb  under your car and detonating it just a few metres down the road from your home. The message is clear: they want to scare and intimidate us into silence. It’s hard to believe this has happened in Europe, in 2017, in a supposedly democratic and sovereign member state of the European Union. And, of course, the powers-that-be in this country are continuing their campaign of discrediting and dehumanising you even in death, not openly, of course, but for those of us that can cut through the rhetoric, the message is very clear: you had it coming, is what they’re saying, because you had the impudence to uncover their sordid secrets; because their concept of free-speech does not extend to those that hold them to account. They are treating us worse than Marie Antoinette ever treated the French peasants yet, unfortunately, there are many amongst us who are content to eat cake, crumbs even, while the heads of the innocent roll in the dust of Maltese soil and any thought of revolution is blown away by sultry Mediterranean winds.


Daphne caruana galizia.jpgThis post is written in memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a journalist and Malta’s most influential blogger. She was a columnist for The Malta  Independent and editor of Taste & Flair Magazine.. It was not uncommon for her blog Running Commentary to receive 400 000 hits in one day. Daphne was assassinated on Monday, October 16 2017. She was 53 years old.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Snapshots of Florida

What struck me most about Florida was the heat – the humid, all-encompassing humid heat that embraces you as soon as you step outside and drives you half insane. As a friend of ours remarked, it’s almost as if there is no ozone in the atmosphere. But aside from the heat, I was surprised at how lush and varied the vegetation is. In my mind, intense heat goes hand in hand with months of drought and a dry landscape. But then, I didn’t know about the rain.

We stayed in Florida for almost four full days and did the things that tourists do.  We spent our first afternoon in Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. My son and husband had a grand old time at the Harley Davidson merchandise store – especially since they got to pose with all the bikes on display, while I spent a wonderful hour at Anthropologie; and we all agreed that The Ganachery was a chocoholics heaven. We were seriously thinking of going for a ride in the Characters in Flight tethered helium balloon that soars to 400 feet but, due to a thunderstorm warning, all rides were cancelled, and, sure enough, it wasn’t long before the rain started to pour. We soon learnt that torrential downpours are part and parcel of daily life in Florida. No wonder the place is so green.

Our first full day was spent at Disney’s Hollywood Studios where we mostly passed the time chasing characters from the Star Wars movies to the extent of waiting in line for 45 minutes to take a photo with Chewbacca (I learnt that he’s the tall, hairy guy). But thankfully, we queued indoors where it was nice and cool. The most memorable and terrifying ride was the Tower of Terror and the one I enjoyed most (because it was a staid ride in an open vehicle) was The Great Movie Ride which has since closed down. I opted out of the Rock ’n Roller Coaster and was pleasantly entertained by two street performers in their 1920s costumes who soon had the crowd gathered round them in fits of giggles. Although we would have loved to stay for the fireworks show, we had friends to visit and left soon after seeing the Storm Troopers perform their final march for the day.

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The next day we drove to Kennedy Space Center which is about an hour away from Orlando. Space enthusiasts have plenty to see and learn here and even though rockets and spacecraft are not quite my thing, I was still thrilled to learn more about the Moon landings and Saturn V, the gargantuan rocket (111m long) that propelled Mankind to Earth’s closest neighbour. The space shuttle Atlantis is another jaw-dropping exhibit at Kennedy Space Center. I was especially moved by the memorial to the crews of the Challenger (lost in 1986) and the Columbia (lost in 2003) tragedies. A guided tour bus took us ‘Behind the Gates’ to the launch pads at Cape Canaveral. We got to see the cavernous building that houses the spacecraft and learnt how special, gigantic vehicles called crawlers transport the rockets to the launch pads. We stayed till closing time and were disappointed that we did not have time to see and experience everything, especially the Shuttle Launch Experience. which simulates the shuttles’ eight-and-a-half minute ascent into orbit. We arrived in Orlando just in time for a tornado warning that came complete with thunder, lightning and a downpour that lasted close to an hour.

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On our last day we drove back to Cape Canaveral to visit friends and swim in the Atlantic – it was the first time that I swam in an ocean and not in a sea. The water was surprisingly warm but the swell was a force to be reckoned with. The beach we were on stretched for miles, the sand  had an unusual mud-like quality to it and there was a wonderful breeze. I was loathe to leave but black clouds loomed on the horizon and before too long we were driving in an infernal storm that satisfied my longing for rain for a while.

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Our trip to Florida was vastly different to the things we see and places that we usually visit when we travel. It was more about fun, friends and, well, thunderstorms. I am glad I got to experience it and cross another State off my bucket list: 11 down, 39 to go.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Hannibal: Attractions in America’s home-town

This was not my first visit to Hannibal. Since it is only about 45 minutes away from where my in-laws live, this was probably my fifth visit – I’m starting to lose count.

Hannibal, MO

Hannibal was founded in 1815 and, strangely enough, was named after the famous Carthaginian leader who fought the Romans during the second Punic War (218-201 BC). He was the one who marched elephants across the Alps in a desperate attempt to conquer Rome.. He failed; but I am sure he would be happy to know that he has not been forgotten and has lent his name to a little town on the banks of the Mississippi – a far cry from Rome, but such is the irony of history. The place where Hannibal is located was long occupied by various indigenous Native American tribes. In the mid-1800s it became an important trading post due to its proximity to the river. Nowadays, it is mainly remembered for being the boyhood home of writer Mark Twain, who used Hannibal and its surroundings as inspiration for two of his most famous novels: Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn..

Hannibal, MO

Things to do in Hannibal

  • Take a stroll in the downtown area

The most picturesque part of  Hannibal is undoubtedly N Main Street which is lined with colourful store-fronts – some of them dating back to the 1900s although, back in the day, the colours would probably have been more muted. The businesses are quite varied in nature and include art galleries; stores selling vintage and antique items, jewellery, chocolate, souvenirs and quirky collectibles; boutiques and restaurants.

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My personal favourites are:

- The Native American Trading Company which specialises in Native American arts, crafts and jewellery.

- The Alliance Art  Gallery that features the work of member and guest artists. My husband was lucky enough to be the featured guest artist in December 2011, when he exhibited a number of paintings inspired by the Mediterranean. Member artists include, amongst others, Missouri native Kimberly Shinn, Hannibalian photographer Connie Stephens, potter Ron Cook and fibre artist Bella Erakko.

- Java Jive Coffee Shop and Deli that is located in the most colourful building on the street. It is impossible to miss the eye-catching combination of  the yellow and turquoise facade, with touches of fuchsia. We always stop at the Java Jive whenever we are in town. We love the friendly, relaxed and cozy atmosphere of this coffee shop and I have to commend the staff for their excellent customer service as they replaced my Italian soda free of charge after I spilt it all over my toes. The Java Jive also doubles as a gift shop. Apart from souvenir t-shirts and coffee  mugs, a selection of pottery by Steve Ayers and paintings by Brenda Beck-Fisher are for sale.

Java Jive, Hannibal MOJul-18 (14)

  • Get to know Mark Twain at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum

The boyhood home is one of nine properties that make up the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum complex. The two-storey boyhood home is surrounded by the now legendary white-washed fence of Tom Sawyer.

Mark Twain Boyhood Home, Hannibal, MO

The museum has a collection of many first editions by Mark Twain, family photographs and numerous personal items. The museum also houses the second largest collection of Norman Rockwell paintings that were commissioned as illustrations for a special edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer  and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Also on display are 54 original pen and drink drawings by Dan Beard who was selected by Mark Twain to illustrate A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. From time to time the museum also hosts touring exhibits.

Mark Twain  Museum, Hannibal, MO

Currently, actor Jim Waddell, as Mark Twain,, is recounting the the childhood experiences that led to the  creation of Tom Sawyer. Performances take place every Thursday in August and September at 4pm in the Mark Twain Museum Gallery auditorium. A frequently updated list of activities may be found here.

  • Ride the trolley

Trolley rides are always fun no matter where they are and the trolley ride in Hannibal is no exception. The narrated tour covers 14 miles, with stops at Sawyer’s Creek, Rockville Mansion, Mark Twain Cave and downtown Hannibal. The trolley ride is always one of my favourite things to do while visiting Hannibal especially since each of the tour guides, who are generally the trolley drivers, narrate the history of the town and its attractions in his or her own inimitable style – so it never gets boring.

Hannibal, MO

  • Visit Rockcliffe Mansion

Rockcliffe Mansion is a Victorian edifice in the Georgian Revival style. It is situated high on a limestone bluff overlooking downtown Hannibal and the Mississippi. Visitors may tour the building and the gardens are open to the public. Alternatively, anyone wishing to experience a glimpse life in a Victorian mansion may book accommodation in this boutique hotel for a few nights.

Rockcliffe Mansion, Hannibal, MO

  • Admire the view from Lover’s Leap

A perfunctory search on the Web will reveal that Hannibal is not the only town on a river that boasts of a place called Lover’s Leap. The Hannibal legend was started by a certain Arthur O. Garrison who claimed to have  obtained the details from ancient inscriptions. Not much else is known about Garrison. According to his story, a brave warrior loved by a maiden named Altala, was killed during a battle on the river. When Altala, who was watching the battle from the top of a high cliff, saw him fall, she leaped over the edge and into the river. You may find the full story here

Lover's Leap, Hannibal, MO

Similar stores abound in places where there is a cliff overlooking a river (there are 8 in Missouri alone) and the veracity of these tales has never been established. Most people will shrug their shoulders and move on but I prefer to believe there is some truth in this legend – it’s the only way to explain it’s popularity and longevity.

  • Tour Mark Twain cave

The cave is located about 1 mile south of Hannibal and it rather unique in that it consists of a number of winding passages that spread over 6.5 miles. Originally named McDowell’s cave, it plays an important role in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as ‘McDougal’s Cave’. Mark Twain cave was discovered in 1819 by a local hunter named Jack Simms. Guided tours of the cave take around 55 minutes. It is open year round.

Mark Twain Cave, MO

  • Other places of interest

- Molly Brown (the ‘unsinkable Molly Brown’ of Titanic fame) Birthplace and Museum

- Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse

- Tom and Huck Statue

Hannibal, MO

By American standards, downtown Hannibal is a very small place but, if you are ever in the area, you will definitely find plenty of interesting things to do and I would recommend a visit, even if it is a short one. Summers are hot and clammy in this area of Missouri so a visit during spring or autumn will definitely be more pleasant and I think that, like me, you will enjoy the pleasant, friendly atmosphere of this town.

Hannibal, MO

Thursday, 3 August 2017


It's been over ten days since we returned from the US. A part of me feels like we've returned from the moon - adjusting to the smallness of Malta is always hard, no matter how many times I go away. But life has to go on and I am more or less back to my normal routine. The word 'normal' however, does not seem to include blogging and other social media. I always struggle with that in summer and this year is no exception. Anyway, back to our trip …

For probably the first time since we've been crossing the pond, we arrived in St  Louis at the decent hour of 5pm, which meant that it was midnight back home and we had been awake since the ungodly hour of 4am or something like that (by now I'd lost track, but who cares when you're on holiday?). Also for the first time ever, our whole trip went without a hitch and even the Homeland Security guys didn't seem too threatening this time round. This meant that we arrived in St Louis with smiles on our faces and an enormous appetite which we immediately sated at IHOP - an American breakfast in the late evening sounded like a perfectly good idea. We spent the next 4 days in Canton, my husband's hometown in northern Missouri. It's a place of cornfields, farms and the sluggish Mississippi and is perfect for a few days of perfect relaxation.


From Canton it was back to St Louis on the 4th of July to fly to Florida.  We spent 4 days in Orlando (more about that some other time) and managed to fit quite a bit into our schedule including meeting up with some friends. From Florida we flew back to St Louis for 5 days and then spent the final week in Canton. Some firsts on this trip were an evening at a county fair, a jet-ski ride on the Mississippi, a tour of an old brewery that is being restored, a terrifying theme park ride, an up-close-and-personal look at the Saturn V rocket that propelled mankind to the moon, a swim in the Atlantic and a family photo shoot in a meadow complete with an old barn and some very lovely horses. Most importantly of all we reunited with family and friends (and I made some new ones).


Today I downloaded my photos and spent some time re-living the memories. Unfortunately, the heat must have addled by brain because I only took about half the amount of photos that I usually do. I will make sure to share some of our 'adventures' in the coming weeks. I hope you are all having a wonderful summer and that it's not infernally hot in your part of the world. I am already looking forward to cooler days and to wearing boots and beanies.


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Searching for answers

I did not mean to go so long between posts but for the past month I have sat at my laptop night after night hoping that, against all odds, I would be flooded with a dose of inspiration. But it hasn't happened yet; and chances are that it will not happen any time soon. It's been a rough month, not just for myself but for the whole country. A lot has happened here and none of it was good. It's a long story, but in an effort to keep it as simple as possible (and also because political discussions are not my forte) I will just say that  four years ago the people voted in a new political party. While in government, this party systematically incapacitated the different institutions necessary to ensure separation of power and the proper functioning of democracy. It did this by, to put it prosaically, lining the palms of  many with silver - many times over, and placing buddies and 'persons of trust' in positions in which they have no business to be. Evidence was also brought to light that high ranking officials in our government, including the Prime Minister himself, were involved in corrupt practices and money laundering. An election was called, a year early, and the people voted to return these crooks to power. I have been trying to come to terms with this decision. I have been trying to understand why human beings can be so perverse at times. Unfortunately, I am still without answers and I doubt I will ever find them.

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As many of you know, I can usually be found tightly ensconced in my own little cocoon, surrounded only by the people and things I love; the little world I retreat to in an effort to regenerate myself. I do not usually stray out of it for very long. But, during the past months, I have had to. I have had to stop and take a good, long look at the outside world. And the sight that met my eyes was not pleasant. In some ways, I am still reeling from the shock. I am finding it very hard to get back to my safe cocoon. Truthfully, I don't think I have quite found my way yet and I feel like someone who is in the wilderness - even the gentle buzzing of words in my head has ceased. Instead of my little dream world, inhabited by half-finished stories and jumbles of sentences, I am forced to acknowledge the harsh reality that my fellow countrymen and women have either not understood what is going on or, worse, they have and they just don't care. Either way, I have to revert to who I used to be before this whole debacle turned the world as I knew it, the world where right is right and wrong is wrong, on its head.Ghar Lapsi (8)

Maybe I am not being entirely fair but, right now, I feel as if a dark cloud hangs over this small country. Whereas before all this started I sought out the things that made me smile  and soothed my soul - the pretty, quirky, quaint things - now I can only see the blemishes and the scars; the potholes in our roads; the rubbish that people leave indiscriminately anywhere and everywhere; the inconsiderate drivers; the general lack of manners. It makes me feel that the island I so loved to write about has changed beyond recognition and I have become a stranger in my own country. It is not a good feeling. But now that I have got all of that off my chest I will try to find my way back home again.Ghar Lapsi (22)-001

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Glastonbury Abbey: the legend and the history

Glastonbury Abbey has always been high on my bucket list - not only because of its association with King Arthur but because its destruction was wrought at the hands of King Henry VIII, whose notoriety lives on, centuries after his death. At Glastonbury Abbey I was able to learn more about the Arthurian legend and the tempestuous reign on the Tudors - folklore and history, two of my favourite subjects.

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"… among all the greater churches of England, Glastonbury is the only one where we may be content to lay aside the name of England and fall back on the older name of Britain." Professor Freeman (archeologist)


The Legend

Glastonbury Abbey is purported to be the earliest Christian church in Britain and it is linked to Joseph of Arimathea and also to the burial place of King Arthur and his queen, Guinevere. Joseph, who buried Christ's body in his own tomb after the crucifixion, is said to have travelled to Britain with the Holy Grail (the cup used by Jesus during the Last Supper) and burying it in a secret place in what is now Glastonbury. It is claimed that he also established the first monastery in Glastonbury and built the first wattle church on the site. It was also believed that Joseph was buried somewhere at the abbey.

In Arthurian legend, on of the adventures of the Knights of the Round Table was the quest for the Holy Grail. In the 12th century, the Abbey was destroyed by fire and, in an effort to raise more money from the pilgrims, the monks spread the tale that they  had found the bodies of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. To this day, a site in the Abbey grounds is marked as their tomb.

Glastonbury Abbey

Other legends associate the whole area around the Tor, a hill located a few miles from the town of Glastonbury, with the legendary island of Avalon, the place where King Arthur's sword, Excalibur, was forged and where he was taken to recover from his wounds after his last  battle at Camlann.

"Now I do not ask you to believe these legends; I do ask you to believe that there was some special cause why legends of this kind should grow, at all events why they should grow in such a shape and in such abundance, round Glastonbury alone of all the great monastic churches of Britain." Professor Freeman (archeologist)

The  History

The history of Glastonbury Abbey is as long as it is eventful. In an effort to keep it simple I will just mention the most important milestones. The first church on this site was probably built in the 7th century by King Ine (or Ina) of Wessex. The church was enlarged in the 10th century by St Dunstan who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Following the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066, skilled Norman craftsmen added magnificent buildings to the existing church. By 1086, Glastonbury Abbey was the richest monastery in the country. The Norman church and monastery were destroyed by fire in 1184 and in 1191 the story about the tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere was circulated. The first structure to be built, in 1184, was the Lady Chapel which was later annexed to Glastonbury Abbey, also known as the Great Church. The Great Church was re-consecrated in 1213 but work on it continued until 1348. Both the Abbey and the Lady Chapel were destroyed in 1539 during Henry VIII's quarrel with the church and the subsequent Dissolution of the Monasteries. It was the last of all the religious houses in Somerset to be destroyed and despoiled of its riches, which passed to the Crown.

 Glastonbury Abbey

Artist's impression of what Glastonbury Abbey may have looked like

The Architecture and the  Ruins

Both the Abbey and the Lady Chapel are in ruins, albeit the Lady Chapel is in a better state. Most of its walls are still standing and one can get a good idea of what the original building must have looked like. The chapel is Romanesque in design and highly decorated. The crypt beneath the chapel, which was dug out in around 1500, is largely intact.

The  Lady Chapel - Glastonbury

The  Lady Chapel - GlastonburyThe  Lady Chapel Crypt - GlastonburyThe  Lady Chapel - GlastonburyThe  Lady Chapel - Glastonbury

The  Lady Chapel - Glastonbury

Glastonbury Abbey has both late Romanesque and Gothic styles incorporated in its structure and, despite the fact that not much of the original building is left, the surviving ruins are a legacy to its original grandeur and majesty. The Abbey had a long nave and choir, with a square central tower and twin towers at the west end. There is no doubt that this used to be a magnificent edifice which must have looked pretty awe-inspiring to the pilgrims that travelled here from around the country.

Glastonbury AbbeyGlastonbury AbbeyGlastonbury Abbey

"bare ruin'd choirs / Where late the sweet birds sang" (from Sonnet 73). William Shakespeare

The Abbey Grounds

Entrance to the abbey grounds and museum is through Magdalene Gate, a large stone arch dating to the 14th century with some 16th century alterations. Close to the entrance is a small chapel dedicated to St Patrick that is from the 16th century and has survived to this day.

St Patrick's Chapel - GlastonburySt Patrick's Chapel - Glastonbury

Unfortunately, we had to rush through the museum as we did not have as much time on our hands as we would have liked but, from the little that we saw, I can confirm  that there is a wealth of information about Glastonbury Abbey and its environs to pass an interesting hour or two. The abbey ruins are situated on 36 acres of parkland that has areas dedicated to public recreation. Also located on the grounds are the ruins of the Abbott's Hall, the cloisters and the still largely-intact Abbott's Kitchen. The latter is an octagonal-shaped building from the 14th century that served as the kitchen at  Glastonbury Abbey. The Abbott's Kitchen is one of the few surviving medieval kitchens in the world. It  used to be connected to the Abbott's Hall, of which only one small section of wall remains.

The Abbott's KitchenRemnant of the Abbott's HallRemnant of the Abbott's HallThe Abbott's Kitchen interiorThe Abbott's Kitchen

My Impressions

Needless to say, I loved exploring the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey and the Lady Chapel. Even though the connection to King Arthur is tenuous at best, the rich and varied history of the abbey made the visit extremely interesting. While I would have loved to see the abbey as it would have looked like before its dissolution, the scale of the ruins only reinforced the feeling of awe and mystery that washed over me as soon as I laid eyes on them. A visit to Glastonbury Abbey may not be everyone's idea of a fun-filled afternoon but there is a lot to learn and explore as none of the ruins are off-limits. The stately ruins, looking almost skeletal against the darkening sky, were absolutely fascinating to this amateur photographer. I would have been content to photograph the beautiful bones of this once-stately structure till the last sliver of light disappeared. There is an almost mystical sense of peace here that completely shuts out the world outside. Some people believe that natural energy lines run through Glastonbury. I saw others in deep meditation on the place that used to be the High Altar. It seems as if an aura of sanctity prevails and perhaps a little bit of magic too. Or maybe my imagination is up to its tricks again.

 Glastonbury Abbey

Related Links

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Kitchen tales: Almond lavender cake

While Christmas is a time when I invariably indulge in my love for chocolate when searching for the perfect dessert, at Easter I usually give chocolate a miss and try to make something lighter. Something which is more in keeping with the pastel colours that are generally associated with this special time of year. So when I came across a recipe for Almond Lavender Cake on Folk Magazine's Instagram feed quite a few months ago, I knew that this would be the cake I would be making for Easter dessert.

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My husband, who has a much more adventurous palate than I do, had been urging me to cook with lavender ever since he had eaten lavender ice-cream at Margo's restaurant. It took me a while to get used to the idea that lavender isn't only used in body lotions and other random potions and that it is actually edible. But once my brain had accepted the fact, I was determined to give lavender a try.

This almond lavender  cake is quite easy to  make and , although it took me a bit longer than the 25 minutes stipulated in the recipe (it took me around 40 minutes), the end result was worth it. This cake is moist and fluffy, with just a hint of lavender - so it doesn't taste like you're eating your body lotion. Most of the lavender flavour is actually concentrated in the drizzle, so although you might be tempted to decrease the calorie count by omitting it, I would not advise it since you will lose some of the cake's magic.

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Here's the recipe, reproduced entirely from Folk Magazine's blog:

Almond Lavender Cake Recipe (serves 12)

For the cake:

  • 2 cups sugar, divided*
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds (or whole ones, you have to grind them in the food processor anyway)
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
  • 1/4 cup half and half cream
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the drizzle:

  • 4 teaspoons boiling water
  • 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
  • additional dried lavender flowers, optional


  1. Grease a 10-in. fluted tube pan and sprinkle with sugar*; set aside.
  2. Place 1/2 cup sugar, almonds and 1 tablespoon lavender in a food processor; cover and process until finely ground.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter and remaining sugar until light and fluffy; beat in almond mixture until combined.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
  5. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and half-and-half.
  6. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; add to the creamed  mixture alternately with sour cream mixture, beating well after each addition.
  7. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350° for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the drizzle:

  1. In a small bowl, combine the boiling water and 1 teaspoon lavender. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Strain, discarding lavender.
  2. In another small bowl, combine confectioners' sugar and enough infused water to achieve desired consistency; drizzle over cake.
  3. Garnish with additional lavender if desired.


I am not sure why the recipe requires the pan to be sprinkled with sugar. It did not seem to add any value to the cake itself and the sugar made it very hard for me to remove the cake from the fluted pan. Next time I make this, I will either not use a fluted pan or I will omit the sprinkled sugar and add it to the rest of the cake batter. I think removing the cake from the pan might work better if the pan is sprinkled with flour after it is greased. Alternatively, I may have waited too long to remove the cake from the pan. Anyway, I just wanted to give you a head's up that you may encounter some issues removing the cake from the pan.

Almond lavender cake (4)

I do hope that you will try this delicious lavender cake recipe. I found others out there and next time I might try a different one. This recipe is definitely a keeper, which is why I have pinned it to one of  my Pinterest boards.

With regards to the lavender, I am sure that most of you will have no trouble finding it. I would have encountered a bit of a problem finding it here but we had purchased some from World Market  the last time we were in the US.To remedy that, we now have three different varieties of lavender growing in pots in our little yard. I simply adore it's unique scent. One of the plants is flowering right now and I hope we will be able to dry the flowers to use in recipes and in other things such as body scrubs or simply in sachets to fragrance closets and drawers.

Lavender (9)

Have you ever cooked with lavender? If you have any special recipes using this fragrant herb, please share them as I would love to give them a try.


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