It's hard to believe it's been two years since my first trip to Royal Ascot. It doesn't seem so long ago that my boyfriend and I went to Berkshire to watch the races and I got scouted for and then won the Face of Ascot 2009 modeling competition. It feels like such a short time has gone by since last year, when my time at Royal Ascot involved press interviews, sponsorships, and passing the baton to Callie Moore, the Face of Ascot 2010.
But the years have gone by, and on Saturday it was time to return to Royal Ascot. This time, though, I thought I was in for a relaxing day at the races with friends. I even went so far as to assure my companions that I wouldn't be involved in any of the interviews and publicity that characterized my Royal Ascot experience last year.
As soon as we walked into the racecourse on Saturday afternoon, my boyfriend spotted a Face of Ascot tent. We walked up, and I was immediately swept into an interview on Ascot TV, an impromptu makeover, and a photo shoot. It was very fun even if it was not quite the quiet day I had expected.
I went down to the racecourse with my friends to watch the first race, then headed over to the BBC catwalk to meet up with a number of people I had worked with during my year as the Face of Ascot. I also got to meet the two new Face of Ascot 2011 winners (there is now a male winner as well as a female winner, and there is no longer a judging, only a selection of the winners on the Thursday of Royal Ascot and their presentation on the Saturday).
It was great to catch up with everyone, from the Ascot PR team to the milliner that made my hats last year to the modeling agency that sponsors the Face of Ascot competition to the BBC presenters that introduce the winners on TV.
Following a short fashion show and the presentation of the new Faces of Ascot, my boyfriend and I went to the Winning Connections Room by the Parade Ring. There we got to say hello to some other people from Ascot and await an interview with all four Faces of Ascot. The interview was fun, not least because it took place ten feet away from both the queen and Vivienne Westwood.
After the interview I was able to meet back up with my friends, who had been watching the rest of the races. We stayed on for a bit longer before heading back to London, enjoying the last of the festivities and a final glass of Pimm's.
While this year at Royal Ascot wasn't as heavy with promotional activities as last year, it was still great to be involved with the Face of Ascot campaign and to see so many people that I hadn't seen since 2009. It was nice to have some down time to enjoy the races and spend time with friends, too. I hope the balance between the two continues in the future.
Continuing this week's theme of UK travel, my boyfriend and I headed out to Oxfordshire yesterday. Last year a friend of mine had gone to Garsington Opera, an outdoor opera venue at a stately home near Oxford, and, knowing we need little convincing when it comes to adventures, she insisted we go this year.
We rented a car to drive out to the opera. To make a full day of it, we added a trip to Blenheim Palace, the childhood home of Winston Churchill, to our itinerary. After some initial confusion on the part of the rental car company and terrible traffic on Euston Road in London, we finally made it to the palace with just over an hour to explore the grounds.
It wasn't as much time as we would have liked to spend at Blenheim Palace, but we made the best of it with the help of some Pimm's. Strolling along the walkway by the South Lawn, we headed to the (not so) Secret Garden, which was full of tiny streams, peaceful ponds, and lots of flowers.
From there we made our way past the neatly-manicured Italian Garden and over to the Temple of Diana and the Rose Garden. Out of Pimm's and out of time, we reluctantly turned to leave, wishing we could have spent a few more hours exploring.
Thirty minutes later we found ourselves in another garden, this one at Garsington Manor. The place was abloom with huge red poppies, purple foxglove bells, big bushes of lavender, and heavy white roses. Rolling lawns narrowed quickly into mysterious doorways that led to huge reflecting pools, and behind everything was a backdrop of green farmland and curving hills.
We took our seats at a table for cream tea, which we enjoyed in the beautiful afternoon sun (we could not have been luckier with the weather). When it was time for the opera to begin, we made our way to the open-air theater, which had been set up alongside a sort of pleasure garden with tall hedges encasing wild patches of foliage and flowers.
The opera was Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, the perfect choice for a garden setting. From the set design to the costumes to the singing, the whole production was thoroughly enjoyable. Between acts there was a long intermission during which we enjoyed a huge picnic dinner on the lawn and were able to walk around the grounds a bit more.
When the opera ended it was just getting dark, and the whole garden was lit by tiny orange lights. The beauty of the place made it difficult to leave.
Sadly, this is Garsington Opera's final year at Garsington Manor. A new venue has been found in nearby Wormsley Estate, though. I didn't need an excuse to go back next year, but seeing if the new location is half as beautiful as the current one will suffice.
It's been awhile since I took a trip in the UK. I'm really good at getting out of the country, but I'm not so good at staying in it. That trend changed over the weekend, though, when a friend's play in Leeds gave me an excuse to head north.
Having already been to Leeds, I wanted to stay somewhere outside of the city. I had read about Harrogate, a historic Yorkshire spa town, and thought it would be a good alternative to its larger southern neighbor. It was.
We drove up to Harrogate on Saturday morning, stopping in Leicester for lunch and arriving in town in the late afternoon. My boyfriend and I immediately fell in love with our lodging, an apartment in The Lawrance's Duchy House. We were in a gorgeous suite with beautiful decor, and every detail from the silk throw pillows to the Philippe Starck bathrooms to the bottle of milk in the fridge was exactly what we were hoping for.
My boyfriend, who was so kind as to drive us from London to Harrogate, immediately collapsed into the goose-down-and-Egyptian-cotton-goodness that was our bed and settled in for a two hour nap. Obsessed with the apartment's gorgeous details and the beautiful light coming in through the windows, I spent awhile taking pictures of the rooms before heading into Harrogate to explore.
Duchy House was only a few minutes' walk from the main part of Harrogate, so I had ample time to wander around the town while my boyfriend got his beauty rest. I started at the Royal Baths (now somewhat confusingly a Chinese restaurant), and made my way through the main shopping areas before coming to a stretch of green with beautiful historic buildings on all sides.
From there I passed the famous Betty's Tea Rooms and made my way down the hill to a perfectly manicured park. I took a stroll along the tiny stream with its lush greenery and up to a fountain that was surrounded by beds of bright yellow and red flowers.
When I got back to The Lawrance, I dragged my sleeping boyfriend out of bed and we enjoyed Betty's coffee and tea and the apartment's free Wi-Fi until it was time to drive to Leeds.
Once in Leeds we met up with our friends, who were staying there for the night. We all headed to the West Yorkshire Playhouse to see Hay Fever, a Noel Coward play in which our friend starred as a member of a highly dysfunctional family that invites house guests over for the weekend with disastrous results. The play was great, so much so that we didn't feel bad about missing the USA vs. England match in World Cup.
After the play we went for a surprisingly good dinner at a nearby restaurant called Aagrah. It was nice to catch up with our actor friend and the food was so good that we couldn't stop eating until we were well past the point of satiety. After an aborted attempt to find an open pub for a post-dinner pint, we drove back up to Harrogate ready for a good night of sleep.
The next morning our friends came up on the train from Leeds and the four of us went to Betty's Tea Rooms for a late breakfast. The tea rooms are somewhat of an institution in Harrogate, and we enjoyed a big breakfast and a side of their signature dish, the fat rascal (no, it's not a rodent, it's a scone with lots of fruit and other goodness in it).
After breakfast we went back to the park I had found the previous day and took another walk. As if the half-hour stroll actually burned off a single calorie of the bearnaise sauce from our eggs Benedict, we stopped at Cupcakes by Charlie for vanilla sundae and sticky toffee pudding cupcakes on the way back through town.
At last in food coma, the four of us walked back to The Lawrance and picked up our car. Waving good-bye to the beautiful apartment and the lovely historic buildings of Harrogate, we made or way down through England to London.
Despite the shortness of the trip, our weekend in Harrogate was a success. It was great to see our friend's play, and even yesterday my boyfriend was talking about how our apartment at The Lawrance was one of our best hotel stays ever. They're opening another property in York sometime this year, so we might just have to use that as an excuse to stay in the UK for a future trip.