Category Archives: Wine

Richmond: Hollywood-on-Thames…

This will be a walk down memory lane for me, as I recall my July trip to Richmond, a leafy suburb of London and my former home. I wax nostalgic about our first expat assignment and the friends we made there.

Richmond has earned the nickname “Hollywood-on-Thames” because of the high concentration of celebrities who have been spotted in the area. Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie called Richmond home while filming in London, as did Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Johnny Depp and many others. (

I was never lucky enough to run into any of those stars while I lived there, but I did spot Mark Ruffalo and Ricky Gervais walking along the Thames – on different days, mind you. For some reason, they don’t seem like great drinking buddies.

And one day as I walked out of the courtyard of my apartment complex, Javier Bardem & Penelope Cruz passed right by me on the way to my building. No, I did not fall all over myself when they walked by. I didn’t even gawk…much. There was a beautiful penthouse for rent in the building, so I surmised they were there to take a look at it. They did not choose the flat, which was just as well. There was no guarantee I’d be able to keep my cool the next time I ran into them.

Richmond UK Thames view
Who wouldn’t want to live here? Penelope and Javier really missed the boat. That penthouse has a fantastic view!

Richmond was also recently named the happiest place to live in London ( It’s no wonder why. With numerous top-quality restaurants and great shopping within walking distance, it has a very upscale but still quaint atmosphere. Does it sound like I miss it much?

Luckily, Hubby’s job takes us back through London occasionally, so I am able to catch up with friends and get my Turner View fix. Even Mark Ruffalo couldn’t resist tweeting a pic of this view.

Turner View Richmond UK
The view immortalized in paintings by artist William Turner and others. Mick Jagger & Jerry Hall shared a house with this view, that is until they got divorced. She got to keep the view along with a hefty divorce settlement.

My first weekend in Richmond, I met a lady named Betty and she invited me to join in with a group of ladies who met every Wednesday at a different pub in the area. She called it Wine Time Wednesday, and I could hardly contain my excitement! Another name the group went by was A.W.O.L, or American Women on the Loose in London. Let me tell you, they were a fun group! We traversed London from one side to the other, taking in shows, going on hikes and checking out any new event that came to town. My experience there would have been very different – and a lot less fun – without these gals. Given that our initial activity was meeting in pubs, I would be remiss if I did not post a few pics.

Richmond pubs
One of the many pubs in Richmond. You could go to a different one every night of the month, though you would soon need bigger clothes – and a new job..
Richmond Pubs
The pub culture is one of the most charming things about the UK. Most flats are the size of a postage stamp, so a pub is a great spot to get out and enjoy some company – and a pint or two.
Richmond Pubs
Yep, another pub. Can’t help mah-self. But, check out those flowers!

Here are a few more pics of the place we Wine Time Ladies liked to call Disneyland…

Richmond Bridge
Some very dapper folks head out for a nice row on the Thames.
Richmond Bridge
Richmond Bridge. Honestly, I have so many pictures of this bridge that it borders on the ridiculous. I even bought a painting of it. This was our favorite weekend coffee spot.
View from Richmond Bridge
View from Richmond Bridge. This spot is always a hive of activity, with musicians, boat-makers, cyclists, runners, and families out enjoying the day.
Terrace Garden Richmond UK
No green area is wasted here. This is the Terrace Garden just down the hill from Mick Jagger & Jerry Hall’s place.
Richmond UK
Flowers, flowers, everywhere!

A short walk down the Thames is the village of Twickenham, home of British Rugby. While a huge, modern rugby stadium dominates the area, there are still plenty of quaint, narrow streets filled with restaurants and, you guessed it, more pubs.

Twickenham is known for Eel Pie Island, a small island in the middle of the Thames which was the site where many Rock 'n Roll legends got their start. Now Eel Pie Island is an artist colony.  This pub is a nod to those glory days.
Besides Rugby, Twickenham is also known for Eel Pie Island, a small island in the middle of the Thames with deep Rock ‘n Roll roots. Many big names got their start at a dance hall there in the 1960’s, such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton. These days, Eel Pie Island is an artists’ colony. The name of this pub is a nod to those glory days.
Church Street Twickenham
Church Street in Twickenham, and more lovely flower baskets.
Twickenham Church Street The Fox Pub
Church Street is a pedestrian street filled with restaurants and pubs. The Fox Pub is no bigger than the average American bedroom, but hordes of people crowd in every weekend to hear live music.

Richmond has been a magnet for notable people for centuries, including Kings and Queens. The remnants of the former Richmond Palace are located on the Thames, just down from the bridge. While the shape and trim on these buildings hint at their royal heritage, only artists’ renderings can show how grand it once was.

Richmond Palace.
The remnants of the former Richmond Palace, built in the year 1500. Queen Elizabeth I and Henry VIII both lived and died here.  The palace was torn down around 1650 and the materials were used elsewhere.
Richmond Palace
Plaque outside Richmond Palace.

My computer is filled to overflowing with images of Richmond, as are my memories of our first expat assignment. Most of my Wine Time friends have moved back to the USA, each one going through the difficult repatriation process. As one such Wine Timer tearfully prepared to leave, her husband said, “Sorry honey, our time in Disneyland is over. The park is closing.”

Thankfully, many Wine Timers now live in Houston, so the friendships live on. As often as we can, we gather to visit and recall our many Richmond adventures. Comparing notes on celebrity sightings, recounting the many pubs we visited and the interesting people we met in them, and trading travel expertise are all good ways to relive our time in the Magic Kingdom. Now, if only I had been able to invite Penelope Cruz to tea, my experience would have been perfect!

©2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Wine a little, you’ll feel better…

Although our Shark Cage Diving experience was exciting, it was not exactly a romantic start to our South African vacation.  Luckily, my sweet hubby had planned a picture perfect part two: several days in the Franschhoek wine region, a foodie haven with spectacular scenery and world-class wines.  The drive from Cape Town was only a little over an hour, but it was filled with lovely views of vineyards and beautiful mountains.

We arrived at our hotel, Mont Rochelle, which Sir Richard Branson had recently acquired and completely refurbished.  Cool grays, bright pops of color, and modern lines dominate the decor. Everything seems very well thought out, as many of the newer “design hotels” are, but Sir Richard also threw in some whimsical pieces: chairs covered in artificial grass and strange yellow bowls that resembled large empty tennis balls.  The two resident cats also lend a homey touch.

Here are a few shots of the hotel and grounds:

Lovely views all around.  This was where we ate breakfast each morning.
Lovely views all around. This was where we ate breakfast each morning.
Grass chairs? But, of course!
Grass chairs? But, of course!


The wonderful restaurant, still a bit undiscovered...
The wonderful restaurant, still a bit undiscovered…
Not a bad view to wake up to!
Not a bad view to wake up to!

Our first night, we enjoyed the restaurant at the hotel and settled into the relaxing atmosphere.  The next morning, we had a full day wine tour planned of the Franschhoek/Stellenbosh Wine Regions, or at least a very small portion of it.  This wine area is enormous, with close to 300 wineries.  There was no way we could see them all and live to tell about it!

We learned the hard way on previous trips to Napa that trying to tackle more than three or four wineries in a day just makes you silly drunk and unable to taste much of anything.  Not starting out with a long list of must-see wineries made it much easier, as the pressure was off to rush about from place to place.  We left the choices up to our driver, and he picked three very nice spots based on our favorite types of wine.

Our first stop was Ernie Els winery, a gorgeous spot high on the side of a hill, with an amazing view and excellent red wines.  It also has the bonus of a trophy room featuring great photos of Ernie throughout his illustrious golfing career. We could have sat there all day, taking in the view, but we had given our driver permission to push us along when needed.  Here are a few photos of Ernie’s place:

What a view!
What a view!
Of course there was a putting green!
Of course there was a putting green!
Ernie makes some fabulous reds...
Ernie makes some fabulous reds…

Next, we visited Neethlingshof, to sample their excellent pinotage, a uniquely South African blend of hermitage and pinot noir grapes. We stopped for lunch at the lovely Bread & Wine restaurant at Moreson Winery, and nibbled on their recommended charcuterie platter.

2015-02-11 13.45.40

Our last stop for the day was at La Motte, and then we were done.  Even with pouring out much of what we were served, we had had enough wine for the day.  Slow and steady wins the race, and we had several more days of this ahead of us.

The next day we began with a lovely drive just outside of Franschhoek, where we discovered near wilderness.  This seems to be the main difference between this wine region and others we have visited.  Its vastness and relative sparse crowds give the impression that you have the place to yourself.  So relaxing.

Looking down at Franschhoek from the pass.
Looking down at Franschhoek from the pass.
Wide open spaces just outside of town.
Wide open spaces just outside of town.

After our short drive, we headed towards Stellenbosch to see a couple of places we had missed.

Visiting Haute Caubriere, were we tasted an un-oaked Pinot Noir, a lovely mix between a white and a red wine.  Not a rose, but something entirely new.
Visiting Haute Caubriere, were we tasted an un-oaked Pinot Noir, a lovely mix between a white and a red wine. Not a rose, but something entirely new.
Visiting Delaire Graff, a very posh hotel and winery with a spectacular view.

Dinner that night was a Le Bon Vivant, a small french restaurant in town. Franschhoek (which is dutch for “French corner”) was settled by French huguenots in the 1600’s.  Their influence is still strongly felt in many ways, not least of which is the predominance of excellent French restaurants in the area.

The next day we hopped aboard the “Wine Tram”, a slightly hokey, but fun way to see more great wineries without having to drive under the influence.  We enjoyed the experience and were able to try even more wine, even though we were both reaching our limits.

The Wine Tram.  All aboard!  Toot! Toot!
The Wine Tram. All aboard! Toot! Toot!

Since this was our final night, we had saved the best restaurant for last.  La Petite Ferme is a very popular spot, but usually only open for lunch.  But on Friday nights it is open for dinner and live music is played on the lawn overlooking the vineyard.  We had called several weeks before the trip and made a reservation for 7:00 pm.  We arrive on time only to have a very surly hostess inform us that we did not have a reservation, but she did find our name on a waiting list. The place was completely booked, especially the outside tables overlooking the jazz band.  What to do? I’ve found the best tactic is to smile sweetly and stand your ground until someone finds a solution.  We were not leaving, so they needed to figure out where to put us.

The surly hostess placed us at a table in the back near the kitchen.  It was’t exactly what we had in mind, but at least we would be able to have a nice meal.  Then, our darling waitress saved the day.  She sat up a table outside in what is normally the bar area.  It had a perfect view of the band and vineyards and we felt very special.  See, there are angels among us.

We had the best spot in the house.
We had the best spot in the house.
An excellent band played all kinds of music and we even had a chance to dance under the stars.
An excellent band played all kinds of music. After the sun went down, we danced under the stars.

It was a wonderful week in South Africa and we cannot wait to return.  Having only scratched the surface of what this beautiful country has to offer, we look forward to finding new treasures on our next trip.  As long as my husband doesn’t announce a lifelong desire to go bungee jumping or hang-gliding, our future trips are sure to be romantic from start to finish!

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved