We are thrilled, happy, and delirious to announce that our new book is being published as a Kindle ebook on Amazon. It’s called Rome Secrets – Eleven Self Guided Walking Tours. You may remember that we spent a winter stay in Rome a couple of years ago because we had a book contract. That project is finally done and we are very pleased with the product. You can stay home and feel that you are wandering the sunny streets of Rome. There are lots of photographs, gossip, scandal, food, and of course, art, and architecture. Or, you can use it in Rome to guide you through the neighborhoods and make you feel like a real Roman.
A new painting of Castelo São Jorge in the parlor at Leith Hall
This is just a brief post to tell you about a change in our parlor atLeith Hall bed and breakfast. A few weeks ago, I went to a yard sale with a neighbor and found a great late nineteenth-century gilded frame for five dollars – and amazing price for a very fancy frame. The outermost molding was broken, so I replaced it and gilded it and ended up with a spectacular frame. Of course, it isn’t a standard size and I had no painting that would fit it. Fortunately, I wanted to make a picture of the Castelo São Jorge in Lisbon, which we visited during last winter’s vacation. The castelo sits on top of the Alfama hill, which was the old Arab city before the Christians conquered Portugal. We were staying on a cliff-top on the opposite side of the old city and could look across the lower town (the Baixa) to the Alfama and the castelo.
The Castelo Sao Jorge is the highest point in Lisbon. The Romans may have built a fort there on an Iron Age site, but if they did, it was obliterated by later building. The Arabs built a medinat (city) or al-qasaba (fort) on the same site, populated by “people of the book” – Christians, Moslems and Jews. The kings of Portugal kept and extended the fortifications until 1755 – the year of the terrible earthquake, tidal wave, and fire that wiped out the center of Lisbon. Much of what we see now was restored in 1910.
Suzie and I took the little yellow number 28 trolley from one extreme end of Lisbon to the other, ending in the Castelo neighborhood. It is a wonderful and sometimes exciting ride, as the trolley just missed hitting buildings in the narrow twisted alleyways. Of course, the trolley is on tracks, so it always just misses the buildings, but it plunges down the face of the cliff and up the hillside lke a cross between transportation and a roller coaster.
This past winter, Suzie and I went to Iceland to see the Northern lights. We stayed in the Northern Light Inn on a lava field in Southwestern Iceland, very close to the Blue Lagoon. We toured around our corner of the country and spent a few days in Reykjavik as well.
The Blue Lagoon was formed by the runoff from a geo-thermal electricity plant set in a lava field. The runoff contained so much white silica mud that it clogged the pores of the lava and created a shallow warm lagoon. Now it’s a spa and heaven to soak in. As you can see, it’s baby blue set in a landscape of black lava – very dramatic.
The weather at the Blue Lagoon changed every fifteen minutes or so. The sky would be bright blue, then huge hail would fall for a few minutes. Then the sky would be blue again, the rain. Then blue, then snow. All within a couple of hours.
We hired a car and driver who took us on a tour around the Reykyanes peninsula, that is Southwestern Iceland. We visited Gulfoss – a huge waterfall about a third the size of Niagara.
Iceland also has the oldest parliament in the world, running for a thousand years. This is the site of the original parliament – the Althing – where Vikings came together to vote.
Geyser is one of the few words in English that comes from Icelandic. The original Geyser is dormant now, but only a few yards away is Strokkur, which erupts every few minutes.
Reykjavik is the country’s only city, and its historic district resembles a more urban version of Cape May. It’s all Victorian with very similar buildings and gingerbread, only in Iceland the traditional siding is not clapboard by corrugated iron.
Recently one of our guests at Leith Hall b&b contacted me to request two recipes we serve at afternoon tea. This one, Leith Hall’s Cape May bed and breakfast Gingerbread, is for Donna. It has bits of crystallized ginger in it for an extra sharp bite. Sometimes I ice it with a bittersweet chocolate and butter icing (which I’ll put on almost anything) and sometimes I’ll sprinkle it with confectioner’s sugar through a paper doily laid on top of the gingerbread. We always have one chocolate and one non-chocolate treat at teatime. Suzie would never forgive me if I left out the chocolate, and we sometimes have guests who (sadly) don’t like chocolate.
Leith Hall Cape May bed and breakfast Gingerbread
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup crystallized ginger, cut into tiny slices
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F Line a 9 “square pan with cooking parchment and spray with cooking spray
In an electric mixer, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the egg, and mix in the molasses.
In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Beat into the creamed mixture. Stir in the hot water. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven, until the gingerbread springs back when prodded with a fingertip. Allow to cool in pan before serving.
Did you know that wooden house trim is called gingerbread because gingerbread was once very heavily decorated? During the Middle Ages, ginger was fabulously expensive and gingerbread was a desert at Royal and Noble courts. Sometimes, it was ornamented with real gold leaf in elaborate swirls. When sawn wooden ornament was introduced in the nineteenth century, people started calling it gingerbread because it reminded them of Christmas gingerbread houses – which are the last vestige of great medieval gingerbread constructions.Architecture and dessert all in one, my favorite combination
My last blog post was about the new exhibit at the Carriage House Gallery at the Physick Estate describing the restoration and renaissance of Cape May. That reminded me of our own restoration story at Leith Hall bed and breakfast. In 1989, when we bought Leith Hall, we had to decide what we wanted to make of it. A bed and breakfast is whatever the owners want it to be and usually reflects the owners’ interests and tastes. It is always better for the B&B to embody your real interests so that your enthusiasm shows for the guests’ sake and for your long term satisfaction, too.
Why an Authentic Restoration?
I used to work as an Historic Preservationist advising clients on restoring historic buildings. So, faced with a big 1880s house with 1960s furnishings and decorations, Suzie and I had to decide what we wanted our bed and breakfast to look like. We decided to make a Victorian period house. Since I learned what wallpaper, what furniture, and what objects were popular during any decade when I went to school, we decided that we’d make the house look like the 1880s.
Art Wallpaper at the Beach
The clues were in the woodwork. The baseboards, door and window surrounds and newel posts at Leith Hall have chamfered edges and bands of reeding. This style is part of the Aesthetic Movement that was popular in the 1870s and ‘80s, so we bought hand-made reproduction Aesthetic Movement wallpaper for the whole house. We bought Eastlake style (Aesthetic Movement) dressers and armoires, picture frames and decorations.
The Iris Room on the first floor is a good example. The wallpaper and ceiling paper are from a room-set by Bradbury and Bradbury called “Fenway”. The fens are swamps in Eastern England. All of the motifs in the wallpaper: the irises, cattails, fiddlehead ferns, whirlpools, and lightning bolts refer to the swamps. We thought of calling it the swamp room, but no one would rent it! So we called it the Iris Room. The dresser is made of walnut with burl walnut panels in Eastlake style and has a red marble top. The bedside table, rocking chair and side table, the mantelpiece and plates hanging on the walls – all date from the 1880s. Of course the television and the air-conditioning break with authenticity (not to mention the private bathroom) but even a b&b at the beach has to provide guests with modern amenities. Victorians after all, didn’t bathe much or change their clothes, so even I am not all for authenticity.
This Friday, a new show is opening at the Carriage House Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate. It is about Cape May’s revival during the 1970s and comes from a book by Ben Miller, The First Resort. An article in the Cape May County Herald consists of an interview with Tom Carroll, who was there at the time. Suzie and I were the beneficiaries of the “Cape May Renaissance” since we moved to town in 1989. If Cape May had torn down the Victorian houses to build motels, by now the motels would be thirty years old and unfashionable. Instead, we kept our architectural heritage and can re-use it every time Victoriana comes back into fashion.
The latest Victorian Revival is Steampunk. It’s been around for a few years now and is based on the idea- what if technology had continued on the steam-powered, mechanical path of the 19th century, and hadn’t become the electronic world that we have today? Wooden laptop computers, time-machines chairs, lots of leather and lace; it’s a hoot.
The First Resort exhibit will be on all Summer. Come visit us and visit the Carriage House Gallery while you’re here.
Now that spring is sprung in Cape May, we’re having some work done on Leith Hall this
midweek before it gets too busy. Easter is just over, and my mind turns to vacation. For us, vacation is always winter vacation, so I thought I’d share a few pictures of a trip we took to Andalucia, in Southern Spain, a few years ago. We toured most (or all) of the cities of Andalucia. One of these is Mijas, which is one of the “white villages” of Andalucia. It is very convenient to the beach resort of
Torremolinos and the other towns of the Costa del Sol, so it is often overrun with visitors. Not in January, however.
We’ve also been to the Alhambra in Granada a couple of times. I think that it may be the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen; oddly, in a completely different way than Western buildings. Instead of making the palace bigger and grander than a house, the designers made it more and more complicated. Instead of immense, like the palace of Versailles, it
has another courtyard with another set of rooms, and another and another. The result is a palace that is human scale and very pleasant to be in. Versailles is impressive, but not actually pleasant.