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Tess Here and There

On a recent trip to England, I put a long overdue visit to Bath on my bucket list, and I wasn’t disappointed. With so much to see, a day long trip is not long enough. After a two hour journey from London we arrived just before 11am determined to see as much as we could, with Bath Abbey and the famous Roman Baths our first stop. England has had a very wet fall and it was raining as we followed fellow passengers on the short walk into town from the station, but the rain had not deterred visitors. The lovely old town, famous for its Georgian architecture, and a longtime centre of culture and fashion was bustling and alive with action.

Bath Abbey is among the gems of English cathedrals and churches, a place of worship since 757 AD with wonderful stained glass windows and an imposing façade. It fell…

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On a recent trip to England, I put a long overdue visit to Bath on my bucket list, and I wasn’t disappointed, but with so much to see, a day long trip is not long enough. After a two hour journey from London we arrived just before 11am determined to see as much as we could, with Bath Abbey and the famous Roman Baths our first stop. England has had a very wet fall and it was raining as we followed fellow passengers on the short walk into town from the station, but the rain had not deterred visitors. The lovely old town, famous for its Georgian architecture, and a longtime centre of culture and fashion was bustling and alive with action.

Bath Abbey is among the gems of English cathedrals and churches, a place of worship since 757 AD with wonderful stained glass windows and an imposing façade. It fell into ruin after the dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1539 but was gradually restored with its most recent restoration in Victorian times by famous architect Sir Gilbert Scott, who replaced the wooden ceiling over the nave with a spectacular stone fan ceiling. Currently it is undergoing another massive restoration and visiting is somewhat restricted at the present time, due to the building work.

Across the churchyard, the Roman Baths were renowned as a Spa throughout the ancient world. Hot springs have bubbled up from the nearby Mendip Hills since the spa was first constructed in 60 – 70 AD. and flourished for the next 300 years. They came into fashion again during the Regency period when the Grand Pump room was constructed in 1799. and fashionable people including Jane Austen frequented the town to sample the waters.

A winner of several Prestigious Tourism Awards in 2018, the most recent renovation is a marvellous combination of the new, enhancing the old. Most of the original complex has been excavated and you can follow the trail on a walkway through the four main features, the Sacred spring, Roman temple, Roman bathhouse, and the Museum which contains many artifacts uncovered from Roman times and the tour ends with a taste of the waters in the Pump room. It is all enhanced by digital displays which add to the presentation, and we found it all so fascinating, it was hard to leave.

Bath has a wide choice of dining establishments, and we were ready for a quick lunch at one of the many little cafes in the town. I purchased a jar of “Bill’s” homemade chutney, specially wrapped for me to take home to Canada by our friendly server, before heading to the Holborne Museum at the top of elegant Great Pulteney Street, and the Fashion Museum and Assembly rooms, still in regular use, up on the hill. Walking along Great Pulteney Street, with its Croquet club and immaculate gardens, heart of fashionable Bath in Regency times, it is easy to imagine Jane Austen out for a stroll with her ladies, and the area remains quiet and elegant today

It was time for us to leave, but not before enjoying tea and scones on historic Pulteney Bridge, overlooking the river, and as we dodged the rain to return to London, we wished we could stay longer, as our taste of Bath and all it has to offer, was far too short.

For WHATS ON IN BATH – check out visitbath.co.uk or @visitbath

Cambridge, Ontario has its own stately home.

Some people may not know that we have our own stately home right here in southwest Ontario. Langdon Hall, Cambridge, was built as a summer home in 1898 by a member of the Astor Family. In 1987 it was purchased by a local family who fulfilled their dream of a creating a Country House Hotel. Now Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa is one of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux Group of luxury hotels and the place to indulge for a Weekend getaway, Spa day, Afternoon tea, or just enjoy a cocktail on the lovely terrace or a leisurely walk in the magnificent grounds with several well marked trails.

I recently visited for Afternoon tea which is served on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the summer months. In our best bib and tucker for the occasion, as we drove up the long winding drive the elegant home came in to view across a wide expanse of lawn. It looks much as it did when it was a family home, a colonial style home modelled on similar era homes in New England, with antiques and fine paintings throughout. In the dining room overlooking the terrace and lily pond, gleaming white tablecloths and silver awaited our arrival. Soon we were offered a large choice of specialty teas, I chose my favourite Darjeeling, but the highlight was freshly baked warm berry scones dripping with jam and clotted cream. We had to leave room for the next course, fancy mini pastries with interesting fillings, featuring egg salad, salmon and mushroom, followed by an assortment of fancy petit fours and tasty dessert bars. It was a feast for the eyes and taste buds, in lovely surroundings, and is highly recommended for a special summer outing.

Langdon Hall also has excellent Spa facilities, 54 luxury guest rooms and an award winning diningroom, which features home grown produce from the property when possible. It is an oasis of elegance and charm, only one hour from Toronto and well worth the drive.


Stratford Festival 2020

Tickets went on sale January 3 for what promises to be a Landmark 2020 Stratford Festival  season, commencing in April. Veteran actor, Colm Feore, will open the new Tom Patterson theatre, in the lead role of Richard III, with the later dedication of the new theatre on June 11, the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder. With 15 plays in four theatres including two other Shakespeare plays, Much Ado about Nothing and Hamlet, the season is lively and diverse. Chicago fills the musical bill along with Spamalot, and a brand new musical by our own Steven Page, Here’s What It takes. Some old and new dramatic favourites complete the mix. Across a broad spectrum, the season should appeal to all ages and tastes. Some special prices can be found on selected days and All inclusive packages and  accommodation can be booked in advance. See the comprehensive Program guide available on request, for further information.

The popular Forum series, originally started as an added enhancement to the stage productions is almost an entertainment in itself,  with a diverse program of events, everything from Margaret Trudeau in her One Woman show to a Drag Brunch, with debates, celebrity guest speakers, concerts and workshops almost everyday, for an immersion in the theatre experience.

Add the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre, University courses, and other realms of study and  Stratford has become a beacon of learning, for the Theatre/ Arts industry.

The Festival has a twice-daily Stratford Direct private bus service between Toronto and Stratford and Kitchener/Waterloo and Stratford. Stratford Direct is a reasonable and comfortable option for those who prefer not to drive the highway. It operates from Toronto downtown or Vaughan and  from Kitchener/Waterloo, during the season.  Seats must be reserved in advance at www.stratfordfestival.ca/bus   Buses  operate daily, check departure points on the website.   Overnight stays of various durations can be accommodated. Some date exceptions apply on single performance days.

Make a day or weekend of it and include some sightseeing, dining and shopping, for which Stratford and the surrounding rural communities are  justly proud.

For further information on Playbill performance dates, the extensive Forum program and other special events, see the informative Program Guide.

To order the Program Guide or Tickets    contact:   1 800 567 1600    or  see  http://www.stratfordfestival.ca

Shaw Festival tickets on sale for 2020 season

Tickets are now on sale for the 2020 Shaw Festival season which commences April 2 with a matinee performance of the comedy Charley’s Aunt at the Royal George Theatre. One of two comedies along with Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple, there is an eclectic program including two musicals, the ever popular Gipsy, and Assassins, among thirteen shows. Included are a Sherlock Holmes mystery, a family show Prince Caspian, based on a Narnia tale, and lovers of traditional theatre will enjoy Synge’s Playboy of the Western World. A highlight will be a very unusual new play Mahabharata, a contemporary look at an old Sanscrit epic, specially commissioned, which will be of particular interest to theatre fans looking for something different. A Cbristmas Carol will return again for the winter, before the season ends on December 23. Truly a season of contrasts. The Shaw Festival is unique in that it features plays by Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries.

For the complete playbill see www.shawfest.com

  You can order tickets online at www.shawfest.com, by mail to Shaw Festival, Box 774, Niagara-on-the-Lake, On, LOS IJO, by phone at 1.800.511.SHAW or in person at the Box Office.  Enquire about special offers,  Multi-play packages, Student and Senior savings, or book an All Inclusive Hotel and Theatre package through theatrevacations.com or 1.877.356.6385

Enhance your total theatre experience with a wide variety of  Beyond the Stage events. You can Meet the Company, take a  Backstage Tour, participate in workshops or symposiums, enjoy a musical interlude,  or take a Spa day, the choices are endless.  The historic Prince of Wales, and other featured hotels all have their own special character and offer excellent Spa Facilities.

The area is also known for its hospitality choices, with some first class restaurants, hotels and resorts, and wine tours and  fine dining at  many wineries throughout the Niagara Wine region.

Now you don’t even have to drive. You can can take the Shaw Express bus from downtown Toronto with a stop at Burlington, four days a week. See website for schedules and cost.

Find it all  in one of the loveliest parts of southern Ontario.  The historic town of Niagara on the Lake is  ablaze with flowers in summer, with horse drawn carriage rides, restaurants and boutique shopping in  picturesque  surroundings. Follow the scenic Niagara parkway  past pristine Wineries,  or be thrilled by  spectacular Niagara Falls, only a few miles down the road.

For everything you need to know to plan your visit   call 1.800.511.SHAW, to order the 2020 Shaw Festival handbook




Origins of christmas traditions

Christmas Traditions as we know them have been evolving since about the 1st century BC. Most of them had a religious significance at first and became more secular from the 16th century, but one thing is certain, Christmas has always been a time of celebration around the world, a time to reflect, give Thanks and enjoy the blessings of life and family in an atmosphere of Peace and Goodwill.

– Old Proverb

Here are the origins of some familiar Christmas traditions –

1. Where did the Santa Claus tradition come from?

It is believed that it started with St. Nicholas in Myra, Turkey, who was born about 280AD.
According to an old folk tale he gave presents to children on his Saints day – December 6
Eventually the custom was combined with Christmas Day – December 25, and the name changed to the European derivative Sinta Klaas as it spread around Europe and across the sea.

2. How did mistletoe become associated with Christmas?

Mentioned in Druid folklore, which was part of Celtic culture in 2 or 3rd centuryBC, it was
thought to be a sacred plant and was offered for sacrifice at the beginning of the year. It has been used for decorative purposes ever since.

3. Where did the decorated Christmas tree start?

A Christian tradition in Germany since the 16th century, where devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes, Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg Gotha, husband of Queen Victoria introduced the custom to England in 1840. Immigrants later introduced it to North America

4. Where did Pantomime originate?

In Roman times it was a Mime show. Up until the 16th century it continued to be a form of Italian entertainment with embellishments over the centuries. It was adopted in England during the 19th century, where it is usually presented as a parody of old fairy stories.

5. When and where was Handel’s Messiah first performed?

Strangely, although Handel was born in Germany, he lived in Britain from 1712 and the famous Oratorio written in 1741, was first performed in Dublin, Ireland in 1742

6. When and where was “The Nutcracker” first performed?

The music was written by the Russian composer Tchaikovsky and the ballet was first performed at the Marinsky Theatre, Moscow on December 18, 1892

7. Who said Christmas is “Humbug” – in what book?

Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”, written by Charles Dickens in 1843

8. Who wrote “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”

Francis P. Church, Editor of the New York Sun in 1897, in response to a letter from an 8 year old girl called Virginia, who asked the question.

9. When and where did turkey or other game birds and Christmas pudding become the traditional Christmas meal?

Turkey became popular In England in the 17h century, while Christmas pudding dates from Medieval times

10. Why the New Year kiss on the stroke of Midnight?

Dates back to the ancient Romans and the Festival of Saturnalia.
Some believe failure to kiss means a year of Loneliness

Let us hope not – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All !

Ottawa/Gatineau – a swinging place

Ottawa/Gatineau is a Swinging place

If you haven’t visited the National Capital region of Ottawa/Gatineau recently, now is the time to go.
Once it had a staid image but not anymore, open air cafes and winebars abound and there are festivals and special events galore.
This time I stayed across the wide Ottawa river in Gatineau, the little town formerly known as Hull. I like Gatineau much better. Dominated by the massive Canada Museum of History which stretches along the river and overlooks a wonderful view of Parliament hill, it is a quintessentially Quebec town, a pretty little place, less crowded and easily walkable, with biking trails and some great restaurants to cool off in after you have taken in the Museum and the unique Mosaiculture exhibit currently drawing large crowds in Jacques Cartier Parc. Mosaiculture was a Canada 150 project last year. and drew much interest with 1.5 million visitors. Funding was obtained to present it again this year from June 22 – October 15, when it will be permanently dismantled. A version of topiary, there are 45 commemorative wire structures reflecting different themes, from Canadian provinces, Indigenous peoples and their stories to ecology. The architectural designs are covered with 5.5 million plants that require constant trimming to keep the shapes alive and keep an army of gardeners at work everyday. At the entrance a large structure of Anne of Green Gables, reflecting Prince Edward Island’s iconic image starts a winding pathway around the open air exhibit, which takes about 60 – 90 minutes to take in. You can see everything from Mounties, moose and polar bears, native canoe builders, to a giant Mother Earth. Along the way, some plants and flowers are identified as well as the stories behind the ingenious exhibits.
You will need a lot longer at the Museum of History, probably several visits to see it all, but this year a special exhibition, Death in the Ice- the mystery of the Franklin expedition, is attracting a lot of interest and runs until September 30. A travelling exhibition from the British Museum via Spain and Australia, Medieval Europe, with 200 artifacts opened June 8 until January 20, 2019.
Gatineau dining is varied with many locally owned restaurants serving locally sourced healthy food, and full or tasting menus accompanied by wine tasting, and the friendly locals know their products. Take care if you are not French speaking, road signs are in French and some menus also although service people are mostly bi lingual.
A fun way to cross the river to Ottawa proper, is by a little ferry which provides a wonderful view of Parliament Hill and the Ottawa skyline and drops you off at the bottom of the cliff below Parliament hill where you can climb up and cool off at the Tavern on the hill, a new watering hole, hopping on this hot evening, which serves a wide variety of drinks and cocktails and gourmet hamburgers and hotdogs. Afterwards walk around downtown Ottawa, past the impressive War memorial and newly sand blasted Chateau Laurier hotel, where you will find many excellent restaurants, bars and canal side walks to round out your visit on a late summer evening.

Mosaiculture Gatineau 2018
Canadian Museum of history
Canadian Museum of Nature

Tess Bridgwater July 2018