No matter where you are in the world, on July 1st,Canadian spirit will surround you. Weeks before Canada Day, I was searching for a place my husband and I could go to celebrate and meet some fellow Canadians when I came across Canada Day International. This is an all things Canadian event that takes place in Trafalgar Square showcasing some of Canada’s best in technology, arts, culture, education and of course, food.
Overwhelmed with excitement over this event I signed us up to volunteer. Our orientation night took place at Canada House in the square. This is where everyone asked if they had found cheese curds for poutine, the most popular question asked every year. The answer was, ‘as close to cheese curds as you can get in the UK’ and had been taste tested and approved by the Canadian staff organizing the event. We took the early shift, getting things ready and talking to people as they walked through the area. We also had the privilege to sample some of the Nanaimo bars from The Maple Food Company, a Canadian desserts company based in the UK.
It was an amazing day and we are so proud to be Canadian. As we have traveled throughout the year to many great places in the world, the more we appreciate our home country.
The Horniman Museum and Gardens contain perfect bite size collections of nature, history and culture with a vast range of display gardens, buildings and sundials in their park. The nature trail is the oldest one in London running along the original site of the Crystal Palace and the South Junction Railway that was closed in 1954. Located in South London’s Forest Hill, the museum is less busy on weekends then the major city attractions, and is also FREE. The museum has been open since Victorian times when Frederick John Horniman showed off his collection to visitors at his house.
The Sound Garden, inspired by the musical instruments collection inside the museum, stood out from the others for me. There are over 8,000 objects within this section of the museum, including the oldest pair of bone clappers made in Egypt 3,500 years ago! The garden has giant instruments all tuned in the same key. It would be fun to see a set of musicians jam out on these in the park. For now, kids (as well as my husband) can experiment with the different sounds. While we were there we kept thinking about how perfect this place would be to take our 5 year old nephew.
The Victorian Conservatory at the side of the building is an additional architectural bonus to visiting the museum. It was originally built at the Horniman family residence in 1894, however it was moved and restored in 1988 to the museum. You can even rent out the conservatory for special events. From the pavilion you have a perfect view of the London skyline. We didn’t get that good of a photo though due to the lovely London rain.
The best thing about being in London over the summer is the number of FREE events. Sure the weather might not be the best, but when you can go see performances from every west end musical over the course of two days, you don’t care if it rains! West End Live provides you with the opportunity to witness a small piece of what each musical will be like. From there you can then decide which one (or few) to go spend the money on. We Will Rock You definitely got the crowd involved while I think I might just have a crush on the Jersey Boys. I will be saving my pennies to go see Top Hat or Singing In The Rain next. For theatre ticket deals check out TravelZoo UK.
If you plan on visiting Trafalgar Square over the summer double check to see what events are taking place. Next one for me will be the Canada Day International on July 1st. I’ll be volunteering in the morning so if you have any questions before the event please comment below.
After living in London for 8 months we finally visited the Tower of London, the scene of some of Britain’s most fascinating yet shocking history. I highly recommend taking the tour from the Yeomen Warders a.k.a. the Beefeaters. The tour leaves every 30 minutes from the front entrance. I found ‘Beefeaters’ to be a very strange name, but it is said to have originated when part of the Yeomen Warders’ salary was paid through chunks of beef. Believe it or not this happened right up until the 1800s. Another fun fact about these guys is their families as well as themselves actually live inside the tower! I would be too creeped out to be roaming around during the evening there with all the ghost stories I’ve heard about the tower. To be a Yeoman Warder you are required to have served in the army for at least 22 years with an honourable record. Apparently they are in the process of hiring a new one too!
The line up to see the crowned jewels is massive throughout the day but if you wait until the very end of the day before close it is significantly shorter or get there first thing in the morning. They are worth seeing, however don’t waste your entire day standing in line as there is much more to check out. Across from the jewels is the White Tower, one of the most historic buildings in the world. Inside the tower are numerous sets of armour including Henry VIII’s, as well as an 11th century chapel and an interactive section for kids where they can draw a bow and handle a sword.
The tower is also famous for their ravens. It is said that as long as ravens stay at the tower, Britain will endure. During the WWII bombing blitz, these ravens were almost all wiped out or scared away. Only one survived, whose name was Gyp. The ravens were not the only animals around the palace though. For over 600 years ‘royal beasts’, roamed about the palace in the Royal Menagerie. These exotic animals were given as gifts. This special exhibit, which is included with your ticket price, is located in the Brick Tower. The first animals recorded in the palace were in 1210. Some of the more notable animal residents included lions, an elephant and even a polar bear! However, due to various incidents (you can use your imagination there) the animals left in 1832 to their home in London Zoo.
As you can tell this post is longer than most, yet this is not even close to everything you can see, do and learn at Tower of London. You’ll just have to go check it out yourself for more or if you have any questions comment below.
David’s parents came to visit us in London so we made sure that they would get to experience taking part in the traditional afternoon tea during their stay with us. After researching various places across the city to go for afternoon tea (there is an unbelievable amount of options), we chose to make it a royal occasion and have it at Kensington Palace in Queen Anne’s Orangery. Located in Kensington Gardens, the 18th-century building makes for the perfect location to sit back and sip a cup of tea, while imagining the type of events that have taken place here in past. Served on the palace’s beautiful china, we had a selection of sandwiches, sweets and scones with clotted cream and jam. Just outside the Orangery is the Sunken Garden where it is said to have been laid out during the reign of Edward VII.
There are 3 key areas to see inside the palace right now; Victoria Revealed, The King’s State Apartments and The Queen’s State Apartments. The Queen Victoria exhibit explores the many aspects of her life and features some of her possessions on display, including her white silk wedding gown. I still can’t get over the fact she shared a bedroom with her mom right up until she became queen even though she was only 18 at the time. In the Queen’s State Apartments you explore the rooms that were once used by Queen Mary II including her gallery, closet, eating room, drawing room and bedroom. The King’s State Apartments were much larger with each room serving a distinct purpose with paintings along the walls and ceiling by William Kent in 1723 depicting George I’s court.
Ah, food and theatre go so well together, don’t you think!?! Right across from London Bridge station is the Borough Market, attracting traders selling grain, fish, vegetables and livestock since the 13th century, making it one of London’s oldest markets. The food quality is outstanding, and they had free samples throughout the whole market. However, consider this your warning, do not visit here on an empty stomach! Everything smells so great it will be impossible to choose.
Visitors are encouraged to ask vendors anything they want to know about their products and can expect a knowledgeable response in return. The market has a panel of experts to ensure that the taste and quality of the foods being sold at the market meet their high standards. We took home some pies from Pieminister and it was (sorry Grandma) the best Pie I have ever had! The lady packaged all the pies up for us and put in a slip of paper with proper instructions for heating it up. We grabbed some Pimm’s on the way home, and had a superbly British meal at home.
A bit further along the water front is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre , a reconstruction of the 1599 Globe initiated by Sam Wanamaker in 1949. It is not a circular building but is in fact 20 sided, and was reconstructed the same way as it would have been back in the 16th century. The roof is made of water reed, and the walls are covered in a white lime wash. The inside is beautiful, made entirely out of solid oak! The elaborately decorated ‘boxed seats’ are for those of the higher class as the most expensive seats at the theatre back then were located at the sides of the stage. We were lucky and went in the morning, catching the first tour. Any later and we would have not been able to take photos from the inside as the actors would be practicing for their shows in the afternoon and evening.
This week my littlest sister came to visit me in London and I knew just where to take her…the Warner Brothers Studio Tour of the Making of Harry Potter. We loaded up her Oyster Card (used for public transit here) and booked the last available time slot for the week. Tickets are not sold at the door so make sure you book yours online in advance! At the studio, you not only get to walk through the larger sets such as the Great Hall, but also explore some of the smaller ones like Snape’s lair and Dolores Umbridge’s office. One of the highlights of the tour is finding hidden details on the sets and within the props that the camera simply never showed.
My sister (a loyal Harry Potter fan) and my husband (who works on tv and film sets) came home amazed by the work of everyone who was involved in the making of the films. The displays throughout the sets show how certain scenes were created and how long some of the makeup and props took to actually create. One fact I never would have known without the tour was that the Chamber of Secrets door was NOT a computer-generated effect. It was actually hand built by the special effects department.
There were many other “hidden secrets” between the film’s crew throughout the movie, particularly within the walls of Hogwarts Castle. There were nearly 350 portraits on the walls of the castle honouring old witches and wizards however some of the crew were also given the opportunity to be featured in some of the hand-painted portraits.
Also on set were the white-card models, created by the art department before actual construction began. This helped plan out shots and camera movements. Near the end of the tour was the scaled down model of Hogwarts that was used to take some of the beautiful aerial shots from the films. In the room they adjusted the lighting to show you how they controlled what it would look like during the day as well as the evening.
This tour is definitely an eye opener to illustrate how much work goes into a production like this. From the massive sets, to the thousands of props, the masks and animated creatures it was a fabulous look into over a decade of work on these films.
The Somerset House hosts some amazing exhibits and their latest definitely lived up to its reputation, Valentino: Master of Couture. Vanessa Thomas, the fashion designer behind Jesse Rowes in Toronto, accompanied me to this exhibit during her stay here in London. She is currently working on her new collection and what better way to be inspired than being in one of the top fashion capitals of the world and seeing a showcase of 130 Valentino haute couture designs.
The exhibit is broken down into three parts. First you enter a room where a collection of photographs are presented from Valentino’s personal archive. Here you find some magazine covers as well as letters from fashion editors and celebrities. From there you walk down the catwalk where the 130 designs are displayed. These included designs worn by Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Gwyneth Paltrow, Julia Roberts and Audrey Hepburn. In the final section is the incredible wedding dress of Princess Marie Chantal of Greece exemplifying the process of couture. There are also mini tutorial videos demonstrating the processes of some of the designs stitch by stitch. Amazing!
If you can’t make it to the exhibit you can explore the Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum.
A performance at the Royal Opera House is a must see while in London! The Royal Opera company itself is one of the best in the world and the Royal Ballet is Britain’s largest ballet company. The Royal Opera Chorus acts as the backbone of the Royal Opera and performs an average of 20 productions each season. The chorus was created in 1946, when the Royal Opera House reopened after World War II.
You can get a small taste of the opera experience for FREE during their lunchtime recitals on Mondays in the Crush Room. Nine days before the recital, tickets can be reserved online, then collected from the box office the day of the performance. The Royal Opera House is located in Covent Garden and has two entrances. If you can’t make it to one of the shows, at least walk inside the building. They even give tours throughout the building, we will have to go back for one of those.
We saw ‘Opera vs Ballet’, with Andriy Viytovych on viola and Stephen Bettaney on piano. The recitals last one hour and during that time we listened to both opera and ballet pieces. In my opinion, ballet won the battle with Three pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Passepied from Cinderella and Scene de Ballet.
The Jazz Cafe is located in the heart of Camden attracting internationally known musicians in Jazz, Soul, Funk, Dance and Hip Hop. The venue is great with a stage surrounded by an open dance floor, bars around the outside and upstairs looking down onto the stage is a restaurant. Once inside it’s difficult to believe the building was once a Barclay’s bank branch.
David and I have been here a few times since moving to London. We saw Roy Ayers, a well known Vibraphonist/Vocalist and the Godfather of Neo-soul here in London. His songs “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,”, “Searchin” and “Running Away” are loved by every generation as they dance and sing along throughout the show.
More recently we went to support one of our Canadian artists here in London, Divine Brown. Divine Brown is opening for Brian McKnight then is off to Cannes, France for Canadian Blast at MIDEM 2013. You can check out some of her stuff on the links above. Her voice is unbelievable.Thanks to Divine, she brought along one of our best friends from Toronto as her keyboardist, Kibwe Thomas. Kibwe is a very talented keyboardist and singer. He is also a music producer and director with his own recording studio “Heaven Sound” in Toronto. You can check out the recording studio’s youtube page here.