High tea @ Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa: Katoomba, Australia

Lilianfels Resort & Spa is located in an historic house in the town of Katoomba, New South Wales (NSW), Australia, near the Blue Mountain‘s Three Sisters rock formation on the edge of what Australians refer to as their “grand canyon.” Among other attractions available to those NOT staying at the hotel, is their High Tea … but for me, the meal was a MAJOR let down; it was no where near as tasty as it looked, and is most definitely NOT worth the calories.

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High Tea for one

As those who follow my blog know, I have a tradition of going to High Tea with my best friend since childhood, who from time to time will join me for a few days (she loves traveling, but not alone, and her hubby doesn’t, so she’ll take a few days off and join up with me. Since she’s not here to share it with me, I am having high-tea with an oversized teddy bear I spotted on the other side of the room that looked lonely (there being no children in the room that day).

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Having the bear as my partner tea partner was my idea, not theirs — they just looked at me funny when I asked if I could. But as I was one of the first people to show up, and no kids had arrived, they let me have it.
All in all the sandwiches were ok but not amazing nor worth much of a mention; to be honest I have had better at pretty much every high tea I’ve ever gone to. The hot tea  and the scone were fine (nothing particularly memorable),
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and in spite of having sat myself directly adjacent to the window, my only view was of a smallish garden with high hedge rows behind it.
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So mostly I’m going to talk about what should have been the highlight of the Tea, especially considering how pretty they were…. the desserts,

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When I fist got the tray, I was seriously impressed that the Panna-cotta has cotton candy on top of it … but here is the thing, and this was the first in a long stream of bad thinking and planning on the part of the pastry chef:  When you get a high tea you don’t dive into the desserts first. Instead,  you leisurely have the sandwiches and the scones… So that between arriving on my table and my finally getting to it ….the cotton candy did what cotton candy does when dampened… it shrinks and turns into a sticky glob
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The yellow thing in the middle turned out to be a white chocolate spoon. At first I was like “well that’s smart” … but as soon as tried to use it as a spoon, it snapped…. and then when I tried to use that now shortened “half” spoon, it also snapped … So that finally I just gave up and grabbed my metal spoon…. only to find that the Panna-cotta was kind of tasteless and definitely not worth the calories, and I left it half eaten.
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Next I had what turned out to be a beet root tart (Australians like Canadians are very into eating beets — because they’re healthy) and and love beets in general …. but this tart? Well let’s just say it’s ‘different’… nothing to write home about, and leave it at that…. but beetroot, healthy… so I ate the whole thing.

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This cheesecake dropped a pineapple apricot jam on my leg as soon as picked it up … and since again, it was more pretty than tasty, I put it down after the first bite 

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A custard tart with fruit perched on it… the custard was good the cup that held it was not so much — you sort of had to pick the fruit off and eat it separate because the custard wasn’t firm enough to hold it in place and the whole thing was way to big to pop into your mouth whole… again, bad pastry design.

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This oh so precious looking brownie ???  Again, not very tasty. In fact I once again put it down after the first bite because it just wasn’t worth the calories. And the hard candy on top did help a bit, but it was mostly just sugar.

All in all, don’t waste your time.

High Tea & Tour at the National Cathedral; Washington D.C.

Yesterday a childhood friend and I had High tea at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.; it was a very interesting tour with a tasty snack at the end. Unlike most high teas, the portions are just enough to satiate your hunger while leaving you more than enough room for dinner.

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As is our ‘tradition’ whenever my friend Gina comes to town, we go to high tea. Last time I was in D.C., Cheryl, another childhood friend who lives in the general area, suggested that our BEST choice was this one at the National Cathedral — but seating is highly limited so that by the time Gina had finalized her travel dates they were already fully booked and we ended up at Lady Camellia’s in Georgetown instead. However, SINCE I was going to be coming back to D.C. again this week, I suggested to Cheryl that this time she and I should do it together.

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When at first you arrive at the Cathedral, the first thing you’ll notice is the update on the post 2011 earthquake repairs to the only recently completed Cathedral (1990), and a plea for funds so that they can complete the job. Personally, while construction had begun in 1907, I have to wonder why as it progressed modifications had not been instituted to keep it up to modern earthquake standards.

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When you enter the Cathedral at the check in counter you tell them you’re there for the high tea, and they don’t even bother to check a ticket or compare your name to a list. (That said, one way to get in and avoid admission on a weekday is to time your visit to when folks would be arriving for the tea, and just say that’s why your there.) Once you are inside the church proper, you are immediately impressed by it’s grandness, which is on par with some of the greatest medieval built Cathedrals of Europe, but with a lot of very modern touches (earthquake proofing construction not being one of them).

Notably, the stain-glass windows are on the whole far more modern than what I would have expected. One of them, which I could not get a good shot of, is devoted to the exploration of space, and includes a moon rock provided by NASA. And many of the windows have a sort of ‘cartoonish’ aspect to them, rather than the sort of classic stained glass you normally see in churches.

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My favorite window however was fairly traditional… and pretty clearly devoted to Jews and the old testament:

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About 30+ people had shown up that day for the tour and tea, and first they spoke to us about the Cathedral

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and then of course showed us some of it’s high points.

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if you look very carefully you’ll see mine and Cheryl’s reflection in the mirror, I’m wearing red

HOWEVER, as Cheryl had already done the generic cathedral tour twice before, I had signed us up for their “Nobel Prize” tour, which highlights aspects of the church devoted to that; this is a tour only offered a few times a year, and these are some but by no means all of the details they pointed out to us…

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This corner includes an image of Mother Teresa who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979
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While Elenor Roosevelt never won the Nobel Peace Prize, she was nominated for it three times
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Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953, this area of the church is devoted to him and includes a sculpture of the prize itself
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A window devoted to the United Nations whose combined agencies and funds, etc., have won the Nobel Peace Prize eleven times
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The actual crypt of President Woodrow Wilson who won the Nobel Peace Prize of 1919 for his work in trying to form the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations) and his wife
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And this is of course is in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. While at it Cheryl and I talked about how he had come to the village green of our home town of Winnetka in 1965 to speak about how segregated the great Chicagoland area was. When my parents tried to buy a home in the area realtors would not show us any because we were Jewish, and when my parents on their own found a home for sale by owner and bought it, petitions went out the next day in protest that Jews were moving into the neighborhood. The first blacks to move in was a bi-racial couple where the wife and mixed race daughter stayed hidden from the realtors till after the sale had been completed.

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Kneeling cushions devoted to Nobel Prize winners, and and other notables. While Ben Franklin obviously could not have won the Nobel as it was not created till well after his death, he did win the Copley Medal for his work with electricity, which is given out the UK’s Royal Society, and was an early equivalent.

After the tour they took us all upstairs to have our tea. Cheryl and I were lucky in that we had a window seat:

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While very tasty, as you can see the sandwiches and desserts are for the most part “finger food” or appetizer sized portions, so our hunger was soothed, but the meal wasn’t filling enough so that we had no appetite for dinner.

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This was the view directly out of the window we were seated next to

After our tea was over, we explored the top floor and the windows other groups were sat next too, taking in the various views offered

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Note the capitol building and the Washington monument

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In this image you can also see the Vice President’s mansion and the Jefferson memorial

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After the Tea we went down into the basement of the Cathedral, which the tour had not gone to and explored it…

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the basement gift shop
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Things for sale in the basement gift shop
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Apparently one of the Gargoyles on the building is the head of Darth Vader, and as a way to make money to fund the repairs, you can buy a duplicate of it

In addition to the massive gift shop the basement holds more crypts, chapels, and is something of medieval architectural delight

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Lady Camellia’s for High Tea; Washington, D.C.

Lady Camellia’s is a cute little, as in tiny, Tea shop in Washington D.C.’s GeorgeTown area that is popular with the ladies. Because of the size (all of four, or maybe five tables?) of the place, I strongly suggest making reservations.

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As some of you may have noticed, my friend (best friend from first grade) Gina and I have developed a tradition of doing High tea. Along my travels she, from time to time, will come and visit me for a few days and I’ll tour her around the area. The First time she came I was in Orlando, and I had REALLY wanted to try the high-tea at Disney World’s Grand Floridian (high tea being something you really shouldn’t do alone), so I planned to do it with her when she visited. The 2nd time she came for a visit I was staying on Vancouver Island, B.C. Canada, and there one of the “THINGS TO DO” in Victoria (according to all the web sites) was to have high tea at Butchart Gardens … and since Gina loves gardens (me not so much) we did that… at which point we agreed to make a tradition of it … namely, that I should find us a high-tea at every stop (if available).

Now one of the things that drives me a bit bonkers about Gina…

I love her, I do… in first grade I wanted to be her (in some ways) … and to this day I STILL wish I had a bit more of her in my personality (she’s a much more genteel sort of a person than I am… so I often envy her social skills, not to mention that I think she’s WAY better looking than I am, she would disagree, even though we’re from time to time mistaken as sisters. I also trust her implicitly… which is something that I’m almost incapable of with most people; as in I would, and essentially have, trusted her with my life. But, that said….

Gina does regularly get on my nerves in some respects …. and for the purposes of travel her refusal to ever plan ahead by more than a week or two makes me want to tear my hair out.

From a tourism perspective, the BEST high tea in D.C. according to another childhood friend, Cheryl (who I’ve known since 2nd grade) and who now lives in the D.C. area, (as well as more than few on-line sites) is the Tea and Tour package offered by the All Hallows Guild on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons at the observational level of the National Cathedral.  HOWEVER, tickets for that are limited that, you NEED to book this well in advance…. like WELL in advance. So by the time Gina had finally made up her mind about when she wanted to visit, they were already all sold out. As such, even though this is what I had wanted to do — and hope still to do at some later date, I had to find an alternative.

Happily, there are more than a few high teas in the D.C. area, and I ultimately settled on the highest ranked on on Yelp, Lady Camellia’s.

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All in all we were happy with our Tea… we found the tea itself (as in our chosen brews) to be more flavorful than at the previous locations… but offerings of scones, cakes, and sandwiches — while tasty — didn’t quite hold a candle to awesome offerings at Disney’s Grand Floridian… that said, and to be fair… the Floridian’s tea Cheshire Tea had cost almost double for a not that dissimilar menu

Grand Floridian’s Cheshire Tea: $48.00/per person
Selection of exotic fruits and imported cheeses
Medley of Finger Sandwiches accompanied with Berries, Cheese and Lavosh
Buttery Scone and Jam Tart
Choice of delicate House-Made Pastries, Strawberries and Creme, or English Trifle
Choice of tea

while Lady Camilla’s Full Tea option cost us $29.00/per person
1 pot of tea
2 scones or 2 croissants or a mix
4 pastries of choice (selection varies daily)
2 tea sandwiches of choice:
Cucumber, Egg salad, Brie & Apple, Smoked Salmon & creme fraiche

(we decided we didn’t want their $36 High Tea with an entree menu option, thinking, rightly as it turned out, that it would be way too much food)

This time however, Gina and I were not alone… I decided to invite along (with her permission) my Airbnb host, who was a very nice recently divorced guy who didn’t seem to get out of the house near half enough… who kindly drove us to the teashop.

IMG_0725 And on that topic, Be Warned!!!! Georgetown has NO rapid transit, none… Thise, to paraphrase the guy who first told me about this (an Airbnb host I had had while down in Miami), “was designed intentionally in order to keep the riff-raff out;” as such, you have to either get to this tea shop by some sort of private conveyance (like a kindly Airbnb host), or by foot from the closest metro stop (about a quarter mile away).

After the Tea, my Airbnb host headed home to welcome a new guest that was arriving that day (he has set up FIVE bedrooms in his home, in addition to his own) while Gina and I set ourselves on a 8 mile (21,235 steps — thank you apple watch) hike around the tourist center of D.C.

The Butchart Gardens, Victoria B.C.

Designated a national historic site, Butchart Gardens is a privately owned and constructed garden/estate located north of Victoria (near the airport), famous not just for it’s beautiful themed gardens, but also for it’s oh so British, High Tea…

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When my friend Gina came to visit me in Disney world in Florida, one of the things we did together was to have high-tea at the Grand Floridian Hotel (its a girl thing). So when I heard that there are a lot of places that do High-tea in Victoria, I decided that, if she was game, we’d do one here as well. We have since decided to try to make it a tradition.

Today, with Gina’s help, I moved from my Airbnb in Shwanigan Lake, to my new one in Victoria. Once we’d checked in we boogied north to try to make our reservation for high tea. As we were driving (we were already behind schedule) we hit some traffic, so I used the car’s blue tooth phone system to call the Garden to tell them we might be late. Suffice it to say I was a bit perturbed when the woman said that even though I had called, they would only hold our reservation for 15 minutes after the arranged time. Not great customer service that… And then we got to the gate:

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Keep in mind this is just the admission to the park and doesn’t include the price of the tea. In US dollars it came out to about $26.64 a person just to enter. Now my friend is a librarian for the also world famous Chicago Botanical Gardens, and most of these places have exchange programs to allow their staff free entrance, or at least a discount… but these guys didn’t accept Gina’s card. And then, there were some staff directing parking… only it was really organized. Once we’d been parked (well away from the entrance) we pass any number of empty spaces much closer — again annoying.

But boogied as fast as we could, and managed to make the 15 minute window. The tea was a set tea (in terms of the edibles) with each of us getting to choose our own tea… I had the one the waiter said was his favorite, and Gina had one with rose petals in it.

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Also, they allowed Gina to make some exchanges for religious reasons… all in all it was a tasty tea. It wasn’t AS good as the one at Disney — we both agreed on that — but then again it was almost 1/2 the price (that one was close to $50/person — so almost double the price).

The Tea is served in what had been the historic home of the Butchart family, with seating scattered in all the various first floor rooms. Gina and I were sat on a shaded balcony overlooking the Italian gardens behind the house… and off to the side of that we saw that you could also get Gilato.

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After we were done with tea, I noticed a major difference between Gina and I, while I was walking around taking pictures of stuff, she was always pausing to quite literally smell the roses… (which it would not have occurred to me to do).

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This estate was built by a Robert Butchart who came to the area specifically because it had rich limestone deposits, which are necessary for his business — cement. The family built their home near one of their quarries.

The first (oldest) garden on the estate is the Japanese one, built by a Japanese gardener who at the request of his own son built a Japanese Garden in Esquimalt Gorge Park near downtown Victoria. Once built it became all the rage with the local elites, and when the Mrs. Butchart saw it, she too commissioned one for their own home.

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The Japanese garden is located between the house and the bay, where I assume the family parked their private boats, so that you need to walk through it to get from one to the other.

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Next, when the Limestone quarry next to which they had built their house was exhausted, Mrs Butchart set about converting it from what must have been a major eyesore into a magical sunken garden. (Note the before picture below and compare it to the after picture above it.)

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One really impressive thing that I didn’t get good pictures of (it would have required a video, was the dancing waters of the Ross Fountain at the back of the garden, but this is why we have Youtube:

At this point, not surprisingly, the gardens had become something of a local attraction. This is when the family decided to convert the tennis courts behind their home into an Italian Garden (as they’d given their home an Italian name). This would be what Gina and I were overlooking while eating our high tea.

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There is also a massive rose garden (from the look of it, and it’s location, I was wondering if it had been the family swimming pool), with a lot of examples (like a hundred or more) of championship named roses, each with a tag.

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As it is now open to the public (at a hefty fee) other family attractions have been added, like a small concert pavilion where the audience sits on the lawn, and a carousel for the kids, as well at least two more places that I spotted (one near the entrance and one near the very back of the estate, near the carousel) where folks can pick up meals that are more kid friendly than a high Tea.

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Also at this point almost every inch of the estate has been turned into a garden, with botanical curiosities like a Monkey Puzzle tree (picture below top right), and ‘gifts’ from foreign nations, like the Dragon fountain which was gifted by the government of China.

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And when the government of Canada designated the garden a national historic monument, they gifted it a totem pole

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High Tea at the Grand Floridian, in DisneyWorld

Granted, Americans consider this to be a girl thing (mother daughter or gal friends), but if you’ve got the time, consider doing a High-Tea at Disney World. (And if you’ve got cash to burn, consider doing the Princess high tea).

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People, when they go to Disney, tend to forget that there’s way more to do their than just go into the parks. Disney World is 43 square miles large, about TWICE the size of Manhattan Island, and almost as big as San Francisco. Sure, there are the four main theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood and Animal Kingdom), two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), and five golf courses (for the fathers who refuse to do the parks)…. but there is in fact much more than that. One of my favorite things to do is to explore the various theme hotels (all of which are way to expensive for me to seriously consider staying there, unless I was sharing the expense with friends), and explore the activity options available there.

One of the most impressive hotels was the third one built (1988) on the campus, namely the Victorian era themed Grand Floridian Beach Resort (although it’s exterior is modled after the Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire, which is one of America’s Historic Hotels).

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Visible, from across the lagoon while at the Magic Kingdom, most visitors don’t bother exploring the hotel, but they should. Adjacent to it is Disney’s Wedding Pavilion (no seriously weddings are a big business at Disney World for people who really want the fantasy wedding)

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Image from http://www.chipandco.com

so it’s fairly common to find folks posing for their wedding photos at the Grand Floridian, and in addition I’ve seen at least TWO occasions of pageant contestants coming there for award ceremonies, once it was the child contestants, which is an american cultural phenomena if ever there was one (Honey Boo Boo anyone?).

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At the back of the hotel is a restaurant called Narcoossee’s which has decent food, but more importantly, its back deck overlooks the lagoon and is one of the prime viewing areas for the Magic Kingdom’s nightly fireworks, including the very special displays (way pricer) that they do for special events like the Xmas or Halloween parties. You do NOT need to pay park entrance fees to see it, and they pump the music for display through the speakers embedded in the ceiling of the balcony (which will protect you from incremental weather.

Plus the Grand Floridian makes one heck of a gingerbread house during the Christmas season, which you can actually walk into — its a shop that sells gingerbread cookies, etc., and if you get there when it’s just gone up the whole area is flooded with the smell of gingerbread.
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One of the things you can do at this hotel, other than shop is, High Tea at the Grand Floridian Hotel, although it is really something you share with a friend. I had ‘living at Disney World’ for about five months when my friend Gina came for a short visit, which gave me a defensible opportunity to finally do this (let’s face it, doing high tea by yourself is kind of pathetic).

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The High Tea is served in the cafe below the band, you don’t hear them there

While this places offers high teas that go for as high as $175 for adults (which includes caviar and champaign),  or can go staggeringly high for the (spoiled child) Princess teas (see menu above for complete pricing), we opted for the far more economical, and princess-less, Cheshire Tea:

First Course
Selection of exotic fruits and imported cheeses

Second Course
Medley of Finger Sandwiches accompanied with Berries, Cheese and Lavosh

Third Course
Buttery Scone and Jam Tart

Finale
Choice of delicate House-Made Pastries, Strawberries and Creme, or English Trifle
Choice of tea
$48.00/person

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By the end of it, both Gina (who you can see is slim) and I (who is a good 50 lbs past slim) were stuffed to the gills. The meal can best be described as decadent, albeit a bit pricy. We really loved the cheeses.