Monday, December 31, 2012

Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park

For the last and final of our Christmas escapes in London, Paul and I made a trip to Hyde Park. While we have been here several times before with the pup on weekends, they transform it for Christmas into the Winter Wonderland. I had seen it advertised, but flying over it one night, it was lit up and beautiful in comparison to the darkness around it. That was the moment I decided to go.

I had thought it was going to be a lot like the Christmas markets last year in Germany but with more. I should have known from the website it wasn't though. The website touted a ferris wheel, carnival activities, an ice skating rink, a frozen (magical) ice kingdom in addition to the usual stalls with foods and other Christmas-y goods.

We decided to walk there from our place, about 45 minutes, strolling, enjoying the brisk evening and I went as far as to sing Christmas carols along the way, once we were off the busy streets. Within 15 minutes walk of the park, you could already see the lights. Like a beacon, calling you to them!

Winter Wonderland ended up being less than I expected from the Christmas markets, but more in other ways. While it was lacking the expanse of shops and delicious goods (while there were some food stands, there was a really odd assortment and not nearly as much good food as I would hope), it made up for as a carnival. There were rides and games galore. Paul ruled out most of the easy ride (aka the carousel and "reindeer" ride I suggested as a joke), and I ruled out the rides where you could possibly injure yourself, which left us with mostly carnival games. Paul tried his luck to win me a life size bear, but alas, the darts circled and missed their target, and I am bear-less.

After our losing streak in the games, we found the Bavarian Village and staked out a table. Basically, its a large area where you can, you guessed it, drink beer. They sell some food as well, but we had already stuffed ourselves on bratwursts, potato pancakes and candied cashews, so we stuck with a litre (for Paul) and a pint (for me). There were some lively bands going to keep us entertained until our show time at 8:30.

Bavarian beer

View of the Bavarian village from our perch

Most of the things within Winter Wonderland are free; however, there are a few things where tickets and/or reservations are required. One of these is the Magical Ice Kingdom. I decided it was worth the couple of quid to give it a try, so I had booked us in for this as well. Reservations are needed not just because you need a ticket, but also because it is a frozen little village. They want to regulate the number of people coming through to make sure it doesn't get too warm to melt the sculptures inside.

While it is small, some of the sculptures are pretty amazing. We got to "ride" in a carriage pulled by a unicorn and sit a top a frozen throne, although we did restrain ourselves from joining the 5-8 year old kids in sliding down the ice slide. After the freezing temperatures there, we were quite content to head back home and warm up by the fireplace!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Tarts!

Christmastime is over in London, as I was harshly reminded of this morning by the men sawing up our office's Christmas tree in the lobby.

As I had previously mentioned, this was Paul and I's first expat Christmas where we stayed overseas. Which meant, we had Christmas all to ourselves for the first time in our married lives.

It was a great chance for us to wind down and catch up, away from the usual hustle and bustle of Christmas. So, what was our agenda for the big day?

Eating. And everything else that revolves around eating.

We woke up and popped into the oven the ham, which I had cooked and prepped glaze for the day before, the egg casserole, fruit salad, and re-heated and iced the sweet cardamom bread I had prepared the day before.

My first ham - success!

We opened gifts with Christmas music playing and a fire on in the background. My favorite gift? An antique Belleek tea set from the 1930's in a sea design (think coral and sea shells!).

Even Belle was able to "open" gifts, which she immediately christened
by running around in mad circles and squeaking, much to Paul's delight.

We watched Love, Actually. I think Paul only agreed because he didn't know exactly what it was, but this is one of my favorite movies for Christmas.

We cooked some more! The evening course included left over ham, mashed potatoes with bacon & chives, corn bread stuffing, sweet potato casserole and some delicious rolls. We were so full, we decided to not even attempt the dessert.

Okay, lots of carbs. Note to self - veggies next time!

This meal was also followed by movie watching - this time, White Christmas, as neither Paul or I had seen it.

Finally, we wrapped up the day by Skyping with family and friends. Perfect end to a relaxing day.

Merry Christmas from the Tarts!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Visions of Sugar Plum Fairies

This Christmas, we will be spending our Christmas in our new home in London, which means for the first time we will be away from our native home and families back in Texas on Christmas. At first, I was sad to miss it - all the time with family and friends, the food, the traditions.

Then, I realised the opportunity we had to create our own traditions and do whatever we wanted on Christmas. We were skipping out on the hassle of flying back during the busiest time of the year and simply relaxing at home, kicking up our feet by the fire and doing what we like best.

Coming up with your own traditions can be daunting though. To compensate, I think I have tried to fit in every possible Christmas celebration I can in London from ice skating, to orchestra concerts, and now, seeing the Nutcracker at the London ballet.

Me and the Nutcracker go way back. My grandmother used to take us often to see the ballet in Fort Worth, dressing up especially for the occasion. Oddly enough though, my most distinct memory of the Nutcracker is from my elementary school, where each Christmas, the 5th graders put on a show of the Nutcracker. 

Now, don't get too impressed yet - this was no performing arts school. Our version was not something people had to pay to see (at least I don't think so!).

It was more along the lines of this. 

Okay, it was almost exactly like this, lyrics, dancing and all. I will say, our costumes had something on these baggy t-shirts. I remember painstakingly wrapping red around my white tights. And for some odd reason, this performance has stuck with me all those years - my first and last "ballet" performance.

Back to present day, seeing the Nutcracker here in London was the first time in probably 10 years that I had been to the ballet. There's some things I had forgotten, such as how unlike my elementary school production, there is no speaking, and it was nice to reacquaint myself after all these years.

You couldn't ask for a better place to see it - the theatre itself even gave off an air of Christmas with the red, plush velvet seating and ornate stones decorating the stage. Add to that walking out of the theatre to Trafalgar Square and standing to admire the Christmas tree puts you in the Christmas spirit.

This weekend, we buckle down for our final Christmas preparations - wrapping last minute gifts (and buying them), shopping for our Christmas feast and hoping for a little bit of Christmas snow.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Royal Albert Hall

First of all, I apologise for going rogue again this last couple of weeks. But, I have been back in the good old US of A and have been in a food coma from gorging myself on TexMex and other delicious Americana food. That and I was too busy eating to bother to take ANY pictures. Okay, and I might as well blame jet lag too for the additional week it took me once I got back to London.

Before we left for Texas though, we got in one more Christmas celebration to put us in the holiday spirit before our week of weather in the 70's (lower 20s for you Celsius folks) made us forget about the upcoming winter holiday.

We had seen a few concerts online at Royal Albert Hall, which looked amazing. So, I browsed out their website and they had all kinds of Christmas festivities, from formal concerts, to sing alongs to dancing. We decided to check out the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra which included festive carols & sing alongs, as well as more traditional orchestral music like Handel.

It is a beautiful venue, and with the snowflake patterns lighting up the stage, it had that magical Christmas feeling. That may have been the champagne, but either way, it was so fun! Carols have always been my favorite part of Christmas. They had some of my old favorites and some new ones I hadn't heard before. They also had someone do a rendition of Deck the Halls in Welsh, which was pretty interesting.

After caroling our hearts out, we went back to a friends for a little gingerbread man decorating. Now, bring on Christmas and perhaps a bit of snow!