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.
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.
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.
We had a day in Brussels and to be honest you really need more then this if you want to check out the many exhibits at the museums as well as the comic strip (Tin Tin and Smurfs to name a few). I highly recommend going on a walking tour of the city to learn some fun facts about Belgian culture and the historical significance of the buildings throughout the city.
We started in the main square, also known as The Grand’Place or Grote Markt. Here you will find the Guild houses, town hall and the King’s house. Since we were there over the Christmas holiday season, we had the privilege to see the famous Modern Art Installation of a Christmas Tree in place of a real tree. This display sparked a European renowned protest in the city. Many people took offense to the installation saying it is another form of removing Christian symbols and the celebration of Christmas from the city of Brussels, where the prominent religion in the city is Muslim. Others say it was just another light themed display for the city as it was one of the five they have had throughout the area this year. I’m not a fan of the modern Christmas tree however this has nothing to do with religion as there is still a large nativity in the center of the square which I believe is a strong representation of Christianity and Christmas in the first place.
From there we walked to see Manneken-Pis. He wasn’t dressed up at the time however we did learn that he has over 800 outfits and you can even contribute to his wardrobe if you like! To do so is very official as there must be an official demand sent to the College of Mayor and Aldermen where it is then analyzed by a committee with representatives of the city. From there an official ceremony of delivery is organized and sometimes ‘Manneken-Pis’ will thank the people of Brussels by serving beer and other beverages.The new outfit will then be added to his wardrobe that is kept in the Museum of the City of Brussels.
After this, we decided to check out the Musical Instruments Museum. This museum has about 1200 of its most interesting instruments displayed in 4 different galleries. However, it has a collection of over 7000 instruments. We were given an audio device and as we approached different instruments, the audio track would automatically change. There are over 189 musical fragments spread out throughout the galleries, amounting to 4 hours of music. It was very interesting to hear a wide variety of music from a number of different cultures.
The Scotland Street Public School was designed by Glasgow’s famous architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (The Willow Tea Rooms and The Hill House). The school is now a museum with temporary exhibits and back to school classes where students experience the Scottish schooldays of Victorian times or the classrooms of WWII. The school was open from 1903 – 1979, teaching students from 5 – 13 years old. The cookery place, cloakrooms, and ceramic-tiled drill hall have all been restored to the original designs from 1906.
The cookery place room stood out the most with desks at the back seated for up to 60 students and 18 working stations ‘in the kitchen’. Girls aged 12 – 14 had 10 hours a week of homekeeping classes where they would alternate schools based on what they were taking. For example, Lorne Street School had the classroom for laundry washing and Lambhill Street School for housewifery classes (cleaning and shopping).
Inside the school there is a special Beatrix Potter exhibit. This year marks the 110th year since the ‘Tale of Peter Rabbit’ was published. This year a brand new adventure for Peter Rabbit is told by Emma Thompson in, ‘The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit‘. The exhibit features original artwork of Beatrix Potter alongside the new book’s illustrator Eleanor Taylor. There was also a display of merchandise dating back to the early 1900’s including a rare Steiff Peter Rabbit Doll. The stories are brought to life inside the exhibit with illustrations of Peter and his friends along the walls. It is completed by an area with some flower pots where children can sit and hear a reading of one of the many adventures of Peter Rabbit.
The V&A museum lives up to it’s reputation as the world’s greatest museum of art and design. The museum covers a span of 2,000 years worth of art in every medium across the world to educate and inspire both designers and manufacturers. The museum was called the Victoria and Albert museum after Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of a new building at the museum in 1899. Within the museum is the National Art Library with over 1 million items covering every aspect of design in categories from furniture and woodwork – fashion – ceramics and class – history of art and plenty more.
The V&A features different exhibits throughout the year and currently on display are Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950. This exhibit is AMAZING, showcasing dresses of royalty (Princess Diana’s ‘Elvis Dress’ by Catherine Walker), red carpet worthy dresses (worn by Elizabeth Hurley) and dresses straight from the catwalk of Alexander McQueen. The exhibit is two floors with more then 60 different designs. While I was admiring all the beautiful fabrics, designs and textures of these carefully constructed gowns David was wise to just let me be and dream about one day owning something as magnificent as what was being showcased. I met up with him after I had stared at them for long enough and we explored through the rest of the museum.
The theatre and performance section of the museum was really fascinating with models of famous sets and theatres throughout London. Some of the costumes that were there were from plays like The Lion King and outfits worn by Elton John in performance. The image to the right is the ever so revealing jumpsuit worn by Mick Jagger in the Rolling Stones concerts of 1972. Also in this collection were puppets, the history of stage makeup and Kylie Minogue’s dressing room.
This is a fantastic place to wander around and get lost in. It is so easy to lose track of time and realize hours have past since you arrived. This is a place I will return to as they have different exhibits throughout the year.