Abundant Holiday Spirit at the Dickens Christmas Fair, Daly City

Christmas Carolers, Photo by John Barrows

They say it’s the smell of roasting chestnuts, the scent wafting through the busy streets of recreated Victorian London at Daly City’s Cow Palace. The warm sweet smell floats on the crisp ocean air even before we make it into the building. Later in the day, a friend would offer me a chestnut to taste. Eager to try it, due to the advertised aroma, I was disappointed when the nut turned out to be ordinary.

Eva, Hard Cider and Ghost of Christmas Present, photo by John Barrows

Besides the delicious smell, the Dickens Christmas Fair transports visitors to another time and place through many theatrical methods. One of the most obvious conveyances is what people are wearing – royal officers in uniform, Queen Victoria parading in a silk ball gown, unsettled Mad Hatter, and everyone else working at the fair in mid-1800s period correct costumes.

Hundreds of noses are deep inside newspapers

Another striking visual is the use of newspapers. When entering the fair, you’re given a newspaper detailing all of the festive events. Hundreds of noses are deep inside newspapers…a scene that’s extinct nowadays, only to be revived at the Dickens Fair.

Friends at Dickens Fair

Guests are welcome to wear whatever fanciful outfits they’d like or not get dressed up at all. I’m a half-hearted costumer myself. I’ll wear historical dresses I’ve sewn to costume dances but I don’t feel like wearing a hoop and corset all day at the fair. There are too many practical things to consider: clearance to pass people on the London streets, sitting comfortably at a crowded picnic table, and especially maneuvering in tiny bathroom stalls.

A little effort was all we needed to feel like we belonged

My husband and I opted for hybrid costuming. He wore a tuxedo coat, top hat and black jeans. I wore a Victorian-inspired velvet jacket over my normal clothes. A little effort was all we needed to feel like we belonged at the fair.

Mark Twain, Drawn by John Barrows

Last year at the fair, I noticed a parlor room with art easels set up for drawing. My husband, an accomplished artist, would have lots of fun participating in something like that. So he brought his backpack full of art supplies and took part in two different life drawing sessions. A string of interesting characters sat for the artists: Mark Twain and a sprightly green fairy to name a few. Unique participant activities like this are sprinkled throughout the London buildings.

Posing for Artist, Photo by John Barrows

My new partner confirmed that I did, in fact, know the choreographed waltz well.

While my husband was occupied with art, I ran off to Fezziwig’s Warehouse accompanied by friends who met us at the fair. Fezziwig’s is a large dance floor where costumed dancers and performers lead guests in vintage dancing. A live brass band, Bangers & Mash, play polkas, waltzes and other dance music. Free of my husband I got the chance to dance the Congress of Vienna with another partner. My new partner confirmed that I did, in fact, know the choreographed waltz well. It felt strange however dancing in pants when I’m used to a swaying dress!

Weird Science, Photo by John Barrows

My friend and I got in to see the much anticipated Saucy French Postcard Tableaux Revue. The show was an interesting mix of history lesson and naked people. If you’re over the age of 18 and want to get a seat for the French Postcards pick up your tickets early at the telegraph office – seating runs out quick!

Dark Garden Corset Shop, Photo by John Barrows

When Postcards ended for the evening, Cow Palace event security was out in full force. My trio was actually escorted to the exit during the sweep of the building. My husband was surprised at how fast the day went and couldn’t believe it was already time to go. Every trip to the Dickens Fair brings opportunities for new experiences – activities to try, characters to meet, shows to watch. But something that always remains constant is the wish for a very “Happy Christmas.”

Charles Dickens, photo by John Barrows

Plan to Go:

Weekends through December 17th, 2017

10am – 7pm

Cow Palace in Daly City

https://dickensfair.com/

 

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3 Historical Peninsula Gardens to Visit

Gazebo at Gamble Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Looking for a quick escape from the daily grind? A local garden may be just the place to breathe deep and collect your thoughts. There’s a number of in bloom historical garden get-a-ways throughout the San Francisco Peninsula. Grab your sun hat and check out these relaxing respites.

Gamble Garden, Palo Alto CA

Gamble House, Photo by John Barrows

Gamble Garden is tucked away in Old Palo Alto, a neighborhood of older homes with architectural variety. The garden surrounds the 1902 home of Elizabeth Frances Gamble descendant of Procter & Gamble’s co-founder. The garden is close to the Stanford Shopping Center and University Avenue, a perfect spot for a mid-day retreat.

Scarecrow at Gamble, Photo by John Barrows

An edible herb garden with sun faded scarecrow greets visitors entering the gardens from the back of the property. Sunshine fills the gravel lined walkways off the central gazebo. A bush trimmed into the Easter Bunny patiently awaits the seasons to change back to spring.

Gamble Garden Sundial, Photo by John Barrows

At the far side of the property a tranquil water fountain trickles, its sound mingles with that of the breeze flowing through the tops of surrounding trees. A circular rose garden, encompassed by a 6-foot tall hedge, offers droopy white blooms shedding petals to the ground.

Rose at Gamble, Photo by John Barrows

Benches dot the property situated under shade trees invite guests to stay awhile. Watch birds, bees and squirrels move about their daily garden life.

Filoli, Woodside CA

The Peninsula is home to an English country estate museum house and extensive gardens. The home at Filoli estate was completed in 1917 with the gardens following soon after. Filoli is a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Filoli Pools, Photo by Eva Barrows

Prepare to meander and contemplate in Filoli’s many gardens. Soak up the sun’s piercing warmth with clear blue sky overhead framed by a variety of swaying tree tops. Eye catching lush green lawns complement red brick footpaths. The fountains and reflecting pools produce the soothing sounds of water.

Garden Passage at Filoli, Photo by Eva Barrows

As the afternoon progresses, watch the fog push over the coastal redwood hills at the foot of the property. The seeping dry ice effect of the cascading fog creates a feeling of magic.

Wonder further back into the gardens, passing through archways in ten-foot tall hedge walls. Discover a variety of vegetation throughout the property: rose garden, herb garden, and squash gardens to name a few.

Filoli Manor, Photo by Eva Barrows

Find activities enjoyed by the inhabitants of the estate placed throughout the garden. A relaxing spa like pool house offers seating for visitors steps away from the sparkling swimming pool. Tennis courts are a short walk from the home and placed at the outskirts of the garden. Walk all of the way to the back of the gardens and find the “High Place” a great place to look out over the estate.

Central Park Rose Garden and Japanese Garden, San Mateo CA

Central Park Rose Garden, Photo by John Barrows

San Mateo’s Central Park was once the site of a mansion estate. The ornate brick and iron fence lining El Camino and the cast iron dog statue guarding the rose garden are remnants from that time. The rose garden with trellis gazebo and the many tree varieties throughout the park are cared for by the San Mateo Arboretum Society.

Central Park Rose, Photo by John Barrows

The rose garden is full of colorful flowers abuzz with honey bee activity. Sniff the buds of pink, yellow, white and red roses. Check the names on the plates next to each rose variety because they can be pretty funny like “Hot Cocoa” or “Barbra Streisand.” A row of benches line the garden under shade trees, a perfect place for visitors to sit and smell the roses.

Central Park Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Don’t miss the Japanese Garden in Central Park. It’s walled off by a traditional Japanese wood wall with a large gated entrance. Step inside to experience a peaceful escape in the middle of downtown San Mateo. The garden is built around a central koi pond with tons of large and playful koi pushing around tree debris at the water’s surface and splashing in water spouts.

Buddha in Japanese Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Walk around the pond on a slim pathway, under dangling trees or cross the water on stone bridges. Several pagoda temples and statues made of stone or bamboo are placed throughout the grounds. Relax on the tea house benches to take in the colorful fish and idyllic scenery.

Japanese Garden, Photo by John Barrows

Visiting the Gardens:

Gamble Garden
https://www.gamblegarden.org/
1431 Waverley Street, Palo Alto CA 94301
Free admission
Garden open daily during daylight hours
Main House open Monday through Friday 9 am-2 pm

Filoli Estate
https://filoli.org/
86 Cañada Road, Woodside, California 94062
Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 5 pm
General Admission $20 adults

Central Park San Mateo
Rose Garden
http://www.sanmateoarboretum.org/
Open day light hours

Japanese Garden
http://www.cityofsanmateo.org/3319/Central-Park-Japanese-Garden
Monday through Friday 10 am to 4 pm
Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm

Free admission
50 E 5th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

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