Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Afternoon Tea at the Oxford Exchange

Over the weekend, I enjoyed Afternoon Tea at The Oxford Exchange in Tampa.  It's a large renovated 1890's building in downtown Tampa, Florida. The arched wood-paneled hallways and marble floors are something you would see in London, rather than Tampa. The OE is part bookshop, part champagne bar, part tea bar, part coffee counter, part gift shop, and a restaurant. Afternoon tea is served in the Conservatory, adjacent to the restaurant. 

The bookshop is full of best sellers and hardback classics.

There is even a Warby Parker eyeglass shop.

The gift shop is full of globally-inspired decor, coffee table books, and lots of candles.

The Champagne Bar is lovely and was very busy with customers sipping the bubbly champagne cocktails. The air was blissfully fragrant with all the fresh floral arrangements throughout the area.

Te Bella Tea Company has a bar with a wide selection of tea (45 teas in the collection).

The Buddy Brew Coffee Company has a counter—they are a Tampa-based craft coffee roaster serving up coffee specialty drinks and pastries.

The restaurant and Conservatory are both light and airy. I have had lunch in the restaurant before and it was fabulous!  The service was great as well.

The Afternoon Tea was held in the Conservatory.  We chose the Royal Afternoon Tea:  Savories, Scones, and Sweets, with tea and champagne. 

I chose the Lavender Earl Grey Tea--a blend of bergamot, lavender, and jasmine;  My friend Diana had the Earl Grey Creme--a blend of bergamot, creme, and French vanilla; Diana's daughter Natalie chose the Milk Oolong--It was a creamy, floral Chinese tea.  We switched and swapped to taste each other's tea and they were all very good!  All the teas were from the Te Bella Tea Company.

I give the Oxford Exchange Royal Afternoon Tea Five Silver Spoons. The service, tea foods, and tea were all great and the ambiance was delightful.
Five Silver Spoons for The Oxford Exchange Experience!

Reservations are required and you will definitely want to make them in advance as the OE is a very popular spot. The Oxford Exchange is located at 420 W. Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, Florida.  For more information, go to OxfordExchange.com.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Front Row at King Charles III's Procession

What a week we had in London!  It was an opportunity of a lifetime to celebrate the Coronation of King Charles III with longtime friends.  Of course we spent a lot of time seeing historic sites, but the King’s Procession was the main event. 

Our first day in London we decided to case out a location to view the Procession.  We chose an area along The Mall, which leads from Admirality Arch to Buckingham Palace. Avid royalists had been camping out for weeks to ensure that they had a front-row view of the Procession. 

I ended up with a front row on-the-rail spot and here’s how it happened. Friday evening before the Coronation, we headed to The Mall around 11:00 pm.  It was even more packed with people than the day we checked it out.  It didn’t look good for us to find a nice viewing spot where we would be able to see the royals in the carriages. As it turned out, there was a walkway crossing The Mall (for those who wanted to walk across The Mall to a park and watch the event on the big screen). We decided to hang out at the walkway right where we figured the rail would close at 6:00 am. Numerous times a security guard told me to move back and I did but I also kept creeping forward again. One time he said to me “It’s you again…Don’t think I don’t recognize you!”  (Before my trip my brother had told me to behave and not get arrested but I had to get the spot upfront)! This was around 5:00 am and people were flooding in through the walkway to get to the park. They were supposed to shut down the walkway at 6:00am but I could sense that it would be done earlier. I kept my eyes on the security people and the rail. All of a sudden, I could see them shutting the rail and I ran and got my front-row spot! All the while yelling at my friends to run behind me.

So, now I had a coveted spot. It was 5:00 am and I had already been standing for six hours since 11pm. I had a pain in my left foot and I was hurting. When the rails were closed, now everyone was standing shoulder to shoulder and we were packed in like sardines. I started thinking how was I going to make it until 10:20am. It was almost inhumane!! We couldn’t move. We were all saying to each other, “I’m not going to make it!” I had come to London to see the Procession so I just kept hanging in there. My legs and feet were numb and it was cold. 

At 9:10am we got some action. The Foot Guards of the Household Division marched down The Mall to line the street on both sides. The 'street liners' were placed at five pace intervals along the procession route. Throughout the event, I was an arm’s length away from a guard. They certainly strike a dashing pose in their tunics and bearskin hats, a true look of pomp and splendour. The hats are made from pelts of culled Canadian black bears—they are warm and water resistant. The 18” tall hats have been worn for more than 200 years, making the soldiers appear taller and more intimidating. Each hat cost roughly 650 pounds and each one weighs two pounds.

It was becoming a beautiful sight to see with the flags of every commonwealth alongside numerous Union Jacks. The King's Guards put on a display of precise marching while we waited for King Charles and Queen Camilla to depart Buckingham Palace enroute to Westminster Abbey. 

10:20am The King’s Procession began with troop movements from the Armed Forces, led by the Sovereign's Escort of the Household Calvary.  The King and Queen road in the Diamond Jubilee Coach, which cost four million dollars to make, has electric windows and air conditioning, weighs over three tons, and requires six horses to pull it. Six Windsor Greys pulled the Coach: Icon, Shadow, Milford Haven, Echo, Knightsbridge and Tyrone. They are magnificent creatures, dressed in royal blue braids, dating back to Queen Victoria’s coronation. These Windsor Greys underwent weeks of predawn walking the parade route. The crown at the top of the carriage has a camera inside to video events.

The Windsor Greys who pulled the Diamond Jubilee Coach

Camilla was on our side of the street for this ride to Westminster Abbey.

After the King and Queen had passed by, fatigue set in again. Now we had to remain standing in the cramped atmosphere until the Coronation service was over. Lord have mercy, I thought I was going to pass out!

1:00pm The Coronation Procession from Westminster Abbey back to Buckingham Palace began. This was an outstanding display of military marching. 

The impressive military procession, led by Brigade Major Lieutenant Colonel James Shaw, riding Sovereign's Shadow, was made up of more than 4,000 members of the armed forces from around the commonwealth and the UK. Grenadier Guards,  the Household Calvary, and the King's Troop were lined up in front of us waiting for the signal to begin. The preciseness was brilliant to see in person as thousands of men and women marched to the same beat and the same tunes. The King and his Queen road in The Gold State Coach which is 260 years old and valued at 2.5 million dollars. This Coach weighs four tons and requires eight Windsor Grey horses to pull it—Meg and Newark joined the other horses for this journey.

Brigade Major Lieutenant Colonel James Shaw led the Procession and said "It was one of the most important days of his life!"  I say "Well done, Sir!"

The Prince and Princess of Wales with their children definitely got a lot of cheers from the crowd!

Meg and Newark joined the other Windsor Greys to help pull the Gold State Coach

Charles was on our side of the street for the ride back to Buckingham Palace.

Tens of thousands of people braved the cold, rainy weather to cheer on the King and Queen. We definitely witnessed pomp, pageantry, and splendour. It was an extraordinary day in history…one that will surely live long in my memory!  God Save The King!

Monday, May 15, 2023

Fortnum and Mason

Fortnum and Mason, Piccadilly, London

Epitomizing the sophistication of Afternoon Tea, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon has served Fortnum and Mason's most delicious tradition since 1926. It was renamed following a visit from the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2012.  The salon serves the city's top afternoon tea with a resident pianist and refined Georgian-style decor. Finger sandwiches, scones, and beautiful patisserie are freshly baked in Piccadilly. Having tea at Fortnum and Mason is a historic experience.  The iconic department store was founded in 1707, invented the Scotch egg in 1738, and added Battenburg cake to its menu in 1926.

It's so quintessentially British, in fact, that in 2012 when the brand launched its Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at the top of its Piccadilly building, the late Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Camilla, and the Princess of Wales all came to open it. A decade later, the service remains impeccable, the signature eau de nil china is as elegant as ever, and the menu refined yet irreverent.  

2012--The late Queen Elizabeth II opened the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, wearing the stores signature color, eau de nil, from head to toe...swoon

Fortnum and Mason has long been linked with the royal Family.  Generations of the Fortnum family worked in Royal service, from the reign of Queen Anne onwards. During the long and illustrious reign of Queen Victoria, the company received the first of its many Royal Warrants.  On August 30, 1867, the company was appointed grocers and tea dealers to her son, Prince Albert, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.  Today the world-famous store continues to hold a royal warrant for the King for groceries and provisions. 

I knew when I booked my trip to London for the King's Coronation a reservation for AfternoonTea at Fortnum's was a must-do. I confirmed my reservation seven months in advance...I didn't want to miss out on the Fortnum's tea experience.

181 Piccadilly is a rather special place. Beautifully crafted patisseries greeted us upon arrival and then there was display after display full of a tea lover's and gourmet food connoisseur's dream groceries and accoutrements! The place was packed with happy people shopping for loose tea, tea bags, gourmet foods, jams, honey, biscuits, and all the British fine delicacies.

This celebratory loose-leaf blend Darjeeling tea was created to mark the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III...of course, Darjeeling is the champagne of teas.

Another tea was created to celebrate the Coronation...Pineapple and Coconut Infusion, teabags.

After shopping till we dropped, we headed to the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon...

My afternoon tea squad...friends I have known for many, many years--from Georgia, Mississippi, Italy, and England!

I behaved myself and checked out the menu without taking it home with me!

I decided to have the Fortnum's Coronation Afternoon Tea...

We started our celebration with the Coronation of HM King Charles III Champagne!

Proper British Afternoon Tea--Savories, Scones, and Sweets...total perfection!

I sipped the fragrant Victoria Grey tea...heaven in a cup!

Afternoon tea at Fortnum's was everything I hoped it would be...elegant and delicious!