March came roaring in like a lion and Easter is super early this year. So with the lucky combination of a warm-ish day and a day off from work, I took off to New York City for the day to see the Downton Abbey Exhibition and an English Afternoon Tea.
It’s a rare day that I can take an afternoon trip by myself let alone take the experience at my pace. Toddlers seem to think that everything should revolve around them. And all heck can break lose if they don’t get their nap. (Thank you, Mom, for babysitting!) So, off I went to ride the Metro-North through field forest, and village into “The City”.
My first stop, after arriving at Grand Central Terminal (GCT), was to Zaro’s Bakery. Nearly every time I come through GCT, the carb-loving devil on my shoulder demands a tribute. Toasted everything bagel with cream cheese and an iced coffee with skimmed milk. This sustained me on the two subway rides to the Downton Abbey Exhibition.
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Downton Abbey Exhibition
It was relatively simple to get in, as I purchased my ticket ahead of time ($5 off with AAA through the event website, even more with the Groupon). Firstly, I’m not normally keen to spend so much on myself, but if it’s a unique experience, the purchase seems more worthy.
The exhibit starts with a video welcome by Carson. Fitting, of course, to be welcomed by the butler. The exhibit then winds its way around and up a couple of flights. The “downstairs” was truly the downstairs of the exhibit. (If you didn’t watch the show, that’s where the servants had their kitchen, dining room, and deliveries. “Downstairs” was also shorthand for the servants as a group.) The attention to detail in the exhibit made this a feast for the eyes, much like the show.
Clothing aficionados will love the detailed description of each costume’s fabric, detailing, and stylistic choices. The “sets” of the kitchen, dining room table, Carson’s study, and servants’ dining room carried all the appropriate details with letters addressed to Carson on his desk with Downton’s ‘address’ and a period-appropriate menu card on the family’s dining room table.
On the second floor, informative displays discuss each character and how the unique circumstance of the time period, their station, and societal expectations shaped their actions. Each stand for each character had pull-out drawers with more information such as the paper bag that hid Mary’s contraceptive device and love letters between Matthew and Mary. It has been a year or so since I’ve watched the show and these displays reminded me of how many subjects this show navigated, all the while in exquisite costumes and expert cinematography.
On the top floor, the second to last exhibit has the family’s outfits including Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Rose’s wedding dresses. It’s hard to pull off a dropped waist nowadays but they sure knew how to make ‘em. I loved the gorgeous Crawley diamond flower tiara and the detail on Lady Edith’s train that matched the flowery detail on her dress. Even the beautiful cinematography couldn’t capture every detail that you can appreciate in person.
The final stage of the exhibition is a short video with Lord and Lady Grantham, Mr. Carson, and Mrs. Carson (formerly Mrs. Hughes). The end feels a bit anti-climatic as you then exit through 3 stories of concrete stairs and shuffled through the gift area. (There are elevators back inside the exhibition if you need them.) The exhibition designers attempted to make it more attractive by painting wonderful quotes from the show on the walls. Still, the exit bears a strange contrast to the warm and inviting nature of the exhibit. It didn’t ruin the experience; it was just strange.
Afterward I meandered downtown to the wonderfully cozy shop, Tea & Sympathy at 108 Greenwich Ave. It was a straight trip on the subway from the Exhibition. Inside, a wall full of eccentric teapots and tempting cake stands beckon you upon entry. Quirky memorabilia of the royal family and other British sentiments hang from the walls. The close set tables and floral tablecloths remind me of cozy London shoppes.
Still full from my bagel, I ordered the Afternoon Tea with a promise of a takeaway box for what I couldn’t finish. Every table gets a unique teapot…Union Jack, cottage shape, covered in delicate flowers, you name it. They serve the tea traditionally with the tea leaves floating in the hot water in the tea pot. Just be sure to use the sieve when you pour your ”cuppa”. There were several small sandwiches (tuna, egg salad, and chicken), a cupcake, a huge slice of cake, two scones, and the essential tiny pots of clotted cream and jam.
Through a separate entrance, visit their gift shop for unique British imports like the full line of Cadbury products, quirky teapots just like the ones in their cafe, jars of clotted cream, and of course, tea. The heavy wooden counter and packed shelves reminded me of the candy shop in the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate factory film.
I picked up a few items, probably much more than I needed. Royal wedding anyone?
With a full belly and shopping bag, I made my way back on the subway through Times Square then Grand Central. On the cozy train, I wrote nearly 3,00 words for various writing projects and briefly contemplate how it might be nice to have this daily commute (at least for my writing’s sake). As the train charged closer to home, this country mouse realized she was pretty tired after such a full and wonderful day.
I’m so grateful to my mom for babysitting and that I was confident enough to make this my day. So, parents, take those days to seek out joy and the ways that make you feel fulfilled!