One of the largest and best preserved examples of Victorian industrial architecture in all of North America is the Gooderham & Worts whiskey distillery in Toronto, ON. It is one of my favourite places in the city, particularly at Christmas time. During the month of December the cobble stone, pedestrian only streets are beautifully decorated and lined with local vendors selling crafts and sweets. Christmas markets originated in Germany in the early 1400s and thankfully for us made their way over to Toronto.
Being downtown in this pedestrian only village, walking through the Christmas market ignited a special flame inside my heart for all of our exchange students who spent Christmas with my family. My husband and I were down at the distillery on December 5th, the most important day in December for Cleo (one of our exchange students) from the Netherlands. Exactly two years ago on this day, we were in Holland visiting her for Sinterklaas, St. Nicholas’ day. This same celebration, including a procession with Sinterklaas riding a white horse through town happened down at the distillery district. It was incredible to be surrounded by so many people celebrating with us. We even bought some dutch sweets from one of the vendors.
There are many other events and celebrations that happen down at the distillery district, check out their calender here.
Our first Christmas together as a married couple was also my first Christmas ever being away from friends and family during the holiday season. Simply put, it just feels strange and different without many of the traditions you grew up doing. You make up your ‘once in a lifetime’ Christmas since you know there will most likely not be another one like it, where you are this far away home. To be blunt I would not have been able to do this if it weren’t for video chat. I felt like we were right there with our family, catching their jokes, watching them open up gifts and even joining the table for their Christmas breakfast. With the time difference we had the chance to make up our own Christmas celebrations in Bruge and still catch up with both families later on in the day.
David and I decided since we were going on this trip to Bruge we would allow ourselves to spend £20 each to stuff up our stockings with. David also got to experience for the first time me waking him up every couple hours throughout the evening saying, ‘it’s Christmas’, until the alarm actually went off at 8:15. We got up, dressed (in our Christmas onsesies) had breakfast at the hostel and then opened our stockings in the bunk beds. It felt like we were kids again.
If you’re wondering what you can get for £20 to stuff a stocking with for a female aged 23 year old, you can get: a hot water bottle (I forgot my sheep one back in Canada so David got me one that even feels like sheep!), a head massager (gift that keeps giving), a toothbrush holder (I didn’t have one for mine and they’re really cute), and finally a wonderful large package of After Eights. Total success all picked out by David. For a male aged 26 you can get: gum, maltesers, leather notebook, werthers original, mechanical pencils and bacon lip balm.
After we opened our stockings, David and I went out and spread plenty of Christmas cheer throughout the city! Our outfits were quite the hit and we even had some people ask to get their photo with us. Since it was Christmas and all we didn’t ask for tips ;) We danced to a man playing jingle bells on the accordion, picked up some nice chocolate truffles (all the flavours we like) and explored the city. Bruge is a beautiful city to see and there were plenty of people out on Christmas day. Most of the shops and restaurants were open. In the evening we just took it easy, caught up on our sleep and prepared ourselves for the next day in Brussels.
Today my family went out to find that perfect Christmas tree to fill up the front hall. This is my first year ever being away for Christmas but thanks to Skype, Whats App and Facebook, I don’t miss a thing! Sure the time change doesn’t really help for the evening events back home but David and I just take up our family traditions by doing similar activities only 5 hours earlier. We still decorated our place with lights and stockings, started watching Christmas movies and I have started the countdown with my Cadbury chocolate advent calendar David got me.
We dressed in our Christmas outfits while the family decorated the tree to add an element on our end of the camera to the festivities, pictured right. The final tree is pictured above as the featured image. My family’s tree is always full with new and old ornaments. About 1/4 of the tree is Winnie the Pooh themed ornaments collected throughout the years, then about another 1/4 of the tree is mom’s owls, polar bears and random fruit decorations. We have a tradition where Grandma will place an ornament on everyone’s gift each year. So, if you do the math, I will have 23 ornaments alone and then I have 2 sisters and parents as well. That’s a lot of ornaments for one tree!!! Every year Grandpa will have to fix a few that fall off the tree as the dogs walk under it and after a few days the tree will start to tilt and we will tie it up to the stairs. A few years ago David was watching us decorate our tree while he was working on a cruise ship and he even watched our tree actually fall over.
Decorating the tree is like the kickoff to Christmas! So thankful for technology and not missing a thing while being away.
This year Carnaby Street collaborated with the Rolling Stones for the most rocking out Christmas decorations of all time! We went to the street party last night to celebrate the launch of their art installations and check out the pop-up store GRRR! that was selling exclusive limited edition Rolling Stones merchandise and their recent album (image right) The street at night is turned red, and is designed by Patrick Woodroffe, who has done the stage lighting on every Rolling Stones tour since 1989. The gold vinyl records hung over the street with photos, artwork and album covers inside them. The famous arches were also dressed up with the Rolling Stones iconic logo (image featured above) These decorations were a tribute to the bands 50th anniversary with their association to the area rehearsing for their very first gig in nearby Broadwick Street.
We then were led by all the twinkling lights to Kingly Court, a three-storey courtyard just behind Carnaby Street. Each store was beautifully lit, and the court was full of unique boutiques, tea shops and cafes. Here we found something perfect to send home for Christmas! I’m not going to tell you what since I know our parents are probably reading this but you’ll just have to trust me it’s a great place to shop ;)
My favourite shop was Atelier Millinery. When you walk into her shop you’re surrounded with my favourite accessory, hats! It smells like glue in there with tons of drawers and stands of ribbons and bows for the many different classes they offer. From beginner to intermediate they will teach you how to build your own hat! It makes me want to switch professions or pick up a new expensive hobby. Hat makers are very talented and I was amazed with the lady in the store working away on a fedora while engaging with us in conversation.
We couldn’t just end our evening there but had to visit the world famous Hamleys! One of the largest toy stores in the world and 7 floors of fun, fun, fun. William Hamley opened up his first toy store in 1760 and it’s now a London landmark. The Hamleys we went to on Regent Street opened in 1881. David was thrilled with this store trying out all the toys and looking for things to “send back home to Etienne (our 4 year old nephew)” yah right. He looked very comfortable trying out the Nerf shooting range they had. This store is amazing and definitely worth the walk through. They had an entire floor of lego with the entire royal family built out of it! The lego guards stood just as still as the real ones too.