Steve’s birthday is four days before mine, so we get a whole week to celebrate and last week we went to Kent and East Sussex.
When travelling, the road is wider than it is long. Not only are there all of the new places to discover and experiences to have, but also the rich inner stirrings of memories, associations, feelings and new connections being made. I feel steeped in the experiences of those six days. Here are some of the things we did: camped (Steve’s first time!), visted a medieval castle with a moat; saw Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows in a little church in Kent; bought a fish poacher (our very own!); had a guided tour of Farley Farmhouse, the home of photographer/model/gourmet cook Lee Miller and her artist-curator husband Roland Penrose, by their son Antony and grand-daughter Eliza; bought my wedding dress; toured the site of the Battle of Hastings (1066); visited Sissinghurst Gardens; found the grave of E. Nesbit, one of my favourite writers; fell in love (me) with a spiral staircase in a Modernist building; watched the lights of Brighton Pier come on at sunset and took no fewer than 500 photos between the two of us.
One of our very special birthday treats was a night in the luxurious 4-star Spa Hotel in Royal Tunbridge Wells, an elegant 18th century mansion dating back to 1766. The prefix “Royal” dates to 1909, when King Edward VII granted the town its official “Royal” title to celebrate its popularity over the years amongst members of the royal family.Indeed, Queen Victoria had stayed at the Spa Hotel three times. Royal Tunbridge Wells is one of only two towns in England to have been granted this (the other being Royal Leamington Spa). The Spa Hotel today looks just as it did in the postcard (sans Edwardian croquet players).
Steve had made the booking as a surprise and there was a bottle of champagne and a bowl of fresh fruit waiting when we checked into our room. We had eaten very well the previous few days between restaurants and gourmet meals on our camping stove, but this night’s meal took the cake. We ate in the Chandelier Restaurant in the hotel that night. We dressed up for dinner and had a laugh with all of the waiting staff from the bread boy to the wine waiter (who admitted he was afraid of the scary Italian maître d’). We ordered Chateaubriand which we have both always wanted to try, but hadn’t yet.
Ali, who carved the steak at our table and served the vegetables, went and asked the chef why it was called Chateaubriand and gave us a handwritten explanation. The Chateaubriand steak is a recipe for a particular thick cut from the tenderloin, which, according to Larousse Gastronomique, was created by personal chef, Montmireil, for Vicomte François-René de Chateaubriand, (1768–1848), the author and diplomat who served Napoleon as an ambassador and Louis XVIII as Secretary of State for two years. This dish is usually only offered as a serving for two, as there is only enough meat in the center of the average fillet for two portions. It was exquisite. Steve likes his meat medium-rare and I like mine medium. The chef managed to cook this big hunk of beef medium on one side and medium-rare on the other. All of the vegetables were cooked to perfection and the jus had the perfect soupçon of Madeira.
Steve had also scheduled me in for a spa treatment on the afternoon that we left. It was a lovely, pampering finish to our birthday week away.