Saturday, March 29, 2014

Once the Musical

"When I was in University, I use to manage a video store.  I developed a passion for random independent movies, and one day happened upon an Irish gem called "Once" - a movie with some of the most hauntingly beautiful music I had ever heard.  Then in 2012 the decided to develop this into a Broadway musical.  The unpredictable love story between a "Guy" and  "Girl" (as the characters have no names) is one that is also about music.  A musical based around actor musicisn, the orchestra is replaced with actors who also play on stage, on chairs off to the left and right.  There is nothing on stage I have ever seen that is remotely close, or as mesmerizing as this story, this music, and this experience, as what is found in "Once".

I first saw Once in 2012 on the stage in NYC.  I was blown away.  But when I arrived in London, and was riding up the, very long, escalators in the tube stations, past dozens of posters advertising shows on the west end, I saw two words.  Arthur Darvill.  ARTHUR DARVILL.  For those less geeky than myself, Arthur played a beloved character on Doctor Who known as "Rory."  He had taken the role of "Guy" in the Broadway production late last year, following his time traveling with the Doctor, and now had come home to England and was committed to 8 more weeks with the show.  I could not miss this.

And so I decided to take my one night "off" to go and see this show, and sure enough, two of my students were eager to join me - and I couldn't refuse!  I am all about igniting a love of Broadway, and nothing made me happier than to be able to share my favourite show with my students!  So Janey, Shelby and I made our way to the Phoenix Theatre to live the Broadway life.  I once again spent 2 hours mesmerized by the music and the beautiful vocals of Arthur Darvill, who brought such passion and emotion to the character, and following the show, we went around back to the stage door, and managed to catch him before he left.  We were able to tell him how much we loved him in this production, and, though he was exhausted from his day of work, he indulged us in a few photos before heading out for the night.  What a super nice guy!!  All this made for a PERFECT evening out!  So glad that we seized the opportunity.  It was one we will never forget!" - Mrs. Becker

Janey, Shelby and I with Arthur Darvill (top) and a few of the stage pre-show (while they all "jam" with Irish tunes) - before I was asked to put my camera away (and didn't have a chance to perfect my shot)
"Once was an amazing show that wasn't a cliche musical. It was a love story, but it had it's own unique story line and ending to it. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it (not to mention Arthur Darvill was in it too). " - Shelby

"On the evening of Monday March 24th, Mrs. Becker, Shelby, and I (Janey) left dinner early and set off on the tube to go to a broadway musical called "Once" starring Arthur Darvill. Darvill is well-known from the TV show "Doctor Who." I have never watched this show but plan to in the near future, as everyone who has seen it says it's amazing. Arthur Darvill and his fellow cast members performed incredibly; creating beautiful music with instruments ranging from the ukulele to the violin, and of course the guitar and piano (all while telling a story about love). The musical was so great that I want to see it again! After the show, we were lucky enough to get a picture with Arthur. He evidently has so much talent with singing and playing the guitar. Shelby was "fangirling" like crazy! I am definitely going to download the songs from this play. I now have a new found love of broadway musicals!" - Janey

If you are curious about the music of Once (or talent of Arthur), check out the following:

The British Museum, by Mr. Dewinetz

Mrs. Becker has asked me to do a blog post for the day at the British Museum, to quote her, “that's up your alley”. And I am going to take that as a compliment. 

This was my second time to the museum.  The first time there I spent around 6 hours and took a record number of pictures. This time I had only 3 hours and was clueless as to how to use it best. In her previous evening dispatch to us Mrs. Becker had recommended we check out the Rick Steve’s app and his audio tour of the British Museum.  This seemed like a good place to start. The audio tour itself lasts around an hour, not including travel time and my mind was boggled as to how they would do it. The museum is a temple to British Imperialism, numbering over 8 million works! I couldn't quite see how it was possible to rush through it in that amount of time.  After looking at the map of the audio tour, I realized that they weren’t expecting to cover the museum, they were simply covering Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Ancient Mesopotamia. These 3 collections amount to 1/3rd of the main floor but feature many of the big ticket items people come to the museum to see. Some of the treasures include the rosetta stone, mummies, and the famous Elgin Marbles. I followed along with the tour and had to struggle with my innate desire to see everything. While I did follow along with the tour, and was learning a lot, I did still sneak off to see other things, such as a mummified goldfish! 

EventualIy I run into Mrs. Becker who has abandoned the tour and is busy taking pictures instead and is (with not luck) looking for a particular Japanese woodblock print. I put on the tour guide hat and take her to the hard-to-find fifth floor Japanese exhibition. On our way up to the fifth floor I wonder why is it that no one talks on the elevator? So I ask that to the people on the elevator and end up making new friends from Greece and Ireland. I resume the audio tour and finish it off. It is at this point it is made clear why the tour is only an hour, we have barely scratched the surface on the museum.  However, I did get a chance to educate Mrs. Becker on a few points of Japanese culture (and geography....) No such luck finding the Japanese print though.

At this point Mrs. Becker is exhausted, and decides to take a break on a bench in the great hall.  I leave my camera bag and jacket with her and set off to see as much as I can in my remaining hour. One of the most controversial aspects of the museum is their possession of Elgin’s marbles. The marbles are parts of the Parthenon and other parts of the Acropolis, taken by Lord Elgin when he was a British ambassador to the Otttoman Empire, which at the time was occupying what is now Greece. While in this position he used his influence to get permission to remove portions of the frieze, metopes, and pedimental sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as of sculptured slabs from the Athenian temple of Nike Apteros. This is part of the reason that I made reference to the museum as a temple to British Imperialism. It is worth remembering that Canada was once part of the British Empire, and is still part of the British Commonwealth. I run into some of the students and take them to see the stuff that was taken from Canada and all the amazing First Nations art from the west coast as well as the Canadian north and plains. These museum artefacts taken from Canada also allow us to feel empathy for what that Greeks feel about what has happened to their heritage. It was pointed out that this museum would make a great place to take a field trip for Social Studies 8 or 9 or 10 and its true, to bad for the flight.

Great Hall, part of our group, and Harleen & Simran with the Rosetta Stone
Stone Ramses, Egyptian Art and Hieroglyphics
Moai from Easter Island, Parts of the Parthenon and Acropolis, and Cleopatra
Vancouver Totem, Entrance to Mesopotamia, Statue from Greece
More of the Parthenon and group outside the museum

Friday, March 28, 2014

Platform Nine and Three Quarters

Before 1997 Kings Cross would have been considered just another train station.  A hub of transportation from London to Oxford or Cambridge or Liverpool.  A way to get from one city to another.  And then came JK Rowling, and suddenly Kings Cross was still a train station - but also home to a little bit of magic by way of Platform 9 3/4.

Not that long ago it was just a hidden sign on a wall, but now it comes with it's own store, and an hour long line up to have your photo taken with the famous cart, half jammed into the wall, complete with books and a mini-version of Hedwig.  You can choose your own scarf as per your house (I'm blue for me) and have your photo taken, scarf flowing in the wind.  The people from the shop charge £10 for a print, but you can also take your own - for free!  Then again, given how many souvenirs our group bought, I think we earned a free photo!

Not only did we have photos taken, but we went into the shop to pick up various knick knacks of the Harry Potter variety - the most significant being a handful of wands.  I'd say we all picked our favourites, but everyone knows that the wand picks the wizard.

Wands and souvenirs (top and centre left), the line for photos (bottom left), and Shelby and Janey wait for the wand to choose the wizard.
Kings Cross Station
Celina (Gryffindor) and Serena (Slytherin)
Rene and Suesha (Gryffindor)
Shelby (Gryffindor) and Janey (Ravenclaw)
Simran and Harpreet (Gryffindor)
Group (top left and bottom), and Me (top right, Ravenclaw)

Roman Baths

About one hour from the site of Stonehenge lay the historic town of Bath.  In this town lay the historic Roman Baths - a structure constructed on a natural hot spring, starting with a temple between 60-70 AD, and the Roman Baths slowly being built up in the 300 years to follow.  The original building in the 2nd century was wooden, but fell apart, and was later rebuilt multiple times, the current incarnation being built up in stone in the 1700's.  It consisted of multiple rooms houses cold, warm and hot baths.

The city of Bath is responsible for the hot springs, as per a charter from Queen Elizabeth I in 1591.  People have come for centuries to drink from the mineral rich water, high in sodium, calcium, sulphate and chloride.  Personally, I thought it was just funny tasting warm water (FYI - BC has some of the best drinking water anywhere in the world, as concluded by our group over the course of our trip).

The Pump Room of the Bath House is still the most popular to visit, and the most interesting to photograph.  In addition there is empty spaces where the lap pool and cold rooms use to situate, small rivers of hot springs running through the grounds, a place to make a wish, and an opportunity to taste the water.  The adjacent building contains many Roman ruins from the original site.  The tour comes with an audio guide - so you could move through as fast or as slow as possible.  While some of the group immersed themselves in history - I headed straight to the end of the line to photograph the pump room before any other tourists could get in my frame (yes - such is the life of a photographer).

View of the Main Pump Room at the Roman Bath, from the Top
View of the Main Pump Room at the Roman Bath, from the Bottom
Shelby (left), Harjot (top right), and Kimmi & Qudrat (bottom right) in the main pump room of the Roman Baths, + view of spring with hot water (top centre)
Harleen (left), Ms. Mulji (top right), and Suesha & Rene (bottom right), in the main pump room of the Roman Baths.
Mr. Becker (left) jumping, Shelby checking out the temperatures (centre), and Janey sampling the water (right).
Harsimran makes a wish and throws a coin into the warm pool (top and bottom left), remnants of the Roman structures (top centre and right) and the entrance (bottom right).
After our time in the Baths themselves we had a chance to grab some lunch and explore a little of the town.  Bath sits along the Avon river (one of many rivers called Avon in England), on the outskirts of the Cotswolds.  The beautiful Pulteney Bridge crosses over the river - the only bridge with stores built into it outside of Venice.  Many were able to enjoy a Cornish Pasty for lunch (or yes another meal from the adequate, but groan inducing, Pret a Manger), and a few even did some shopping.  While Bath was the home to the famous Jane Austen, I didn't see any venturing to walk in her footsteps - though that possibility existed.

Pulteney Bridge
Pasty Presto, for lunch, and views of the Pulteney Bridge
By the time we left Bath we were fully exhausted.  Given our 4:00 am hotel departure and early morning in Stonehenge we were ready for the ride home.  We drove through a small village, though many of us (myself included) had a hard time staying awake.  All and all, a wonderful day!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kew Gardens and the Rainforest

I love plants.  I never use to love plants.  I remember being in Biology 11 wondering why we had to study plants when we could study animals instead.  I mean - animals are way more interesting, right?

And then I got to University and started to learn about plants and the relationships between plants, and animals, and us.  In fact, plants hold together ALL ecosystems.  They are the source of habitat, and food, and oxygen, and life.  And the more I learned, the more I loved.

Inside the Palm House
London is home to Kew Gardens - or the Royal Botanical Gardens.  The property itself it huge, thought of course being early spring, not everything is in bloom yet.  However, it is home to multiple greenhouses, holding rain forests, desserts, orchids, cacti, carnivorous plants, and seed banks with millions of plants.  So cold and wind aside (as is the way in London), there was lots to see.

Finds in the Palm House, and group posing across the pond from the Palm House.
Making music with rainforest instruments, and wearing rainforest hats (or in Janey's case - wearing a food cover as a hat).  Also, flowers in front of the Palm House.
We started out time at Kew Gardens with a 90 minute Rainforest workshop.  We looked at the rainforest, the role in plays in the world, the food, music, and items that can be sustainably created from it, and why it is important to protect it.  We started in a classroom, complete with rainforest musical instruments, and then moved to the indoor rainforest.  We had the chance to eat different products of the rain forest.  When the workshop started our leader had a problem understanding our students answers because she was struggling to adjust to our "accent."  This was the first time many of our students realized that we have accents!  I didn't realize we could be that hard to understand.

While learning more about the rainforest we learned that there are items in the rainforest that are used in up to 85% of chemotherapy treatments for Leukemia.  The rainforest are home to an incredible number of foods and medicines.  They house 45% of all animals.  Vanilla, rubber, bananas, papayas and more are all found in rainforest.  They hold together the land and prevent flooding, and they are home to many tribes who have learned to protect and live.  We learned that papayas can help with back pain, and rubber trees are tapped to create latex.  It was informative and interesting - and as close as we could get to a tropical rainforest in the heart of London.

Walking through the Palm house with our guide
After we finished with the rainforest tour we had time to explore the property.  I started with Princess of Wales Conservatory - an indoor home to various rainforests and desert ecosystems.  I was particularly drawn to the orchid room (how did I not know how gorgeous orchids are?) and the carnivorous plants (besides the typical venus flytrap).  The Catci were gorgeous (though, of course, don't touch), and the colours brilliant at every turn.  So many beautiful shades of green.  I love green.

Princess of Wales Conservatory and the Carnivorous Plants Room
Many Plants and Catci in the Princess of Wales Conservatory
Beautiful flowers in the Princess of Wales Conservatory
I ended my brief time here at the Xstrata Treetop Walkway -  120 stairs up in the canopy of the trees.  Except the trees were still bare from winter - just beginning to show signs of spring.  Mr. Becker was not a big fan of the heights and rickety walk ways, but I closed my eye and imagined what it would be like 6 weeks from now - green and filled with the songs of the local birds (not just the angry geese who left Shelby and Janey fleeing in fear).

Xstrata Treetop Walkway, and the insides of a tree trunk
I believe Kew Gardens would be a beautiful location to spend a sunny afternoon wandering, picnicking, and enjoying a good book.  The immense grounds needed more time than we had and a little more summer and we could have made a whole day out of it.  The waterlilies were not yet in season, and I missed the Japanese Pagoda.  I didn't have time to get to the bluebells, azaleas, magnolias or Rhododendrons, because they were too far away.  Kew Palace and the Evolution Gardens were closed at the time, but are on my list for a future visit.  We only scratched the surface of the 326 acres the Kew Gardens had to offer (for an idea of how immense, see map here).  But, while I didn't witness it myself, I have it on good authority that our students fully investigated the children's playground.  What can I say - who doesn't love a good playground?

To Be or Not To Be - A Day in Stratford-Upon-Avon

To be or not to be, hear-in lies the question we explored today upon Avon.

We began out journey exploring the quaint little town, with its pretty little shops.  Whilst  there, our first stop was the birthplace of Shakespeare, and the the home where he grew up.  We viewed his how and what his lifestyle was like.

We broke our journey at Benson's, famous for their traditional afternoon tea.  Our group feasted on finger sandwiches, scones, and of course, creme tea.

We continued along our Shakespeare tour, visiting two other houses that resembled that of Shakespeare's time.

Finally, we visited the Holy Trinity Church, which dates back to 1210.  William Shakespeare and his wife Anne are buried here, along with other family members.

We as a group picked Stratford de to the fact that, individually, eveyone one of use enjoys poetry and wanted to know where Shakespeare was born and raised.  Learning about someone so significant and finding out where and how he was brought up was simply poetic.

"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." - William Shakespeare.

Written by Celina, Serena, Simran and Harpreet.  Photos by Ms. Mulji.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spring Equinox at Stonehenge, by Shelby

Hi, my name is Shelby (aka The Clever One) and I too, am part of the Sullivan Heights London crew. I have been immensely enjoying myself here in London, seeing the rich and illustrious history mixed with the modern. It is an amazing city to explore, but England isn't all about specifically London, or even the city. There is the English country side to see as well, and we were fortunate enough to be able to see too. 

Our trip back to the hotel from our day trip was a scenic one through the English countryside. We were able to see the rolling green hills and the quaint little towns and villages. However, my morning began with a 3:15 wake up call, as we had to leave the hotel by 4. Breakfast was bagged to go, so we had the ability to eat when we chose to. It was extremely early with the sky still asleep. The reason for this madness was Stonehenge. When Mrs. Becker booked our trip to Stonehenge, she had the foresight of booking it on the spring equinox. At Stonehenge, the spring equinox is a special ceremony where druids, pagans and other groups welcome the beginning of spring and celebrate the earth. The spring equinox is the official beginning of spring, where here they celebrated and prayed for good health, a successful season for crops and good fortune. So we woke up early to watch this once in a lifetime ceremony at sunrise, and we were not disappointed. We had the privilege of not only watching, but also participating in the ceremony. We were able to walk up directly to Stonehenge, inside the circle and into the ceremony. This presented us with amazing photo opportunities and an incredible experience. We arrived there by a coach bus (very comfortable and included a guide) at around 5:50 AM. It was very cold and windy for the whole time we were there. That was the only negative in the experience, so in hindsight, not too big of a deal (though it certainly seemed so at that time). We arrived there with the ceremony just starting.  It was unfortunately a cloudy day so we couldn't see the sun rise, but it also didn't rain so I was happy to overlook that fact. 

We first walked around just taking in the fact that we were actually walking in Stonehenge, not just around it. We could stand beside, and even hug the stones there.  I walked around it until I found a spot with a good view of the ceremony happening. I stood with Janey, Celina, Mrs. Becker, Mr. Becker and Mr. Dewinetz. It was very interesting to watch, but one of the most memorable parts was singing along with them. One young man came forward with his guitar to play for us and people started singing along. As this was a spiritual experience, I was unprepared to hear him start to play 'Three Little Birds' by Bob Marley. I was shocked to hear that, but I also thought it was so cool how we were able to sing along in the ceremony with them. It was an experience that I will never forget, but that wasn't the last of it either. As the ceremony concluded, many groups divided off to worship and pray in their own ways. We walked around a bit more, and the guide talked to us about the history of Stonehenge. The view from Stonehenge of the surrounding area was unbelievable; with beautiful hills and authentic English sheep. A typical view of the English countryside.  After, we then proceeded to start to walking back. As we were walking, there was a group who started to form a circle and dance and were asking for people to join them. As it was something that I would never have the chance to do again, I brought Janey, Celina and Serena with me to join in. After, other students from our group joined as well. We joined hands with one another and proceeded to do a spiral dance while chanting a song about  beginnings and inspirations. "Anything you can do or think you can, begin it, just begin it" and "Boldness has genius, power and magic in it" are lines of that chant. At first, truthfully it felt quite awkward for me as I had no clue what I was doing and I was also beside a stranger, but later it was fun and unique. It was really cool to say that I have watched and also participated in the spring equinox celebration at Stonehenge. I'm speaking for myself, but I am sure that many others agree with me that this is an experience that I will never forget.

Stonehenge - Up close and personal
Ms. Garr, Serena, Shelby, Celina and Janey hugging the Henge
Learning all about the history of Stonehenge, and standing on the stone pillars equally spaced around the henge
Participating in various songs and dances
Celina, Shelby, Janey, Harjot and Harleen all posing with the stones
Group in front of the Stones (top), Students "tanning" on the stones, and Qudrat, Harleen and Harsimran posing with stones.
Suesha, Rene, Janey posing with stones (top left), Shelby jumping for joy (top right) and group touching the stones (bottom).
The various people at the ceremony.
Video: "Whatever you believe..."

Video: "Three Little Birds"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Westminster Abbey & the Tower of London, by Janey

Hello, my name is Janey. I am a student of Sullivan Heights, and a member of the Sullivan Heights London crew. I have been enjoying myself very much in London, England, even with the lack of sleep during the past few nights. With traveling, my motto is, "Go hard or go home!" I love to travel and hope to travel the world one day. 

I am very fortunate to be sharing a room with my best friend, Shelby. One funny memory with her was during the first night in the hotel. It was approximately 5:30 am when I heard "Janey, are you awake?" To which I quickly replied, "I am now." Luckily for her sake, I eventually fell back asleep. We told some members of the group this story, and it gave them a chuckle. This is such a fun and great group to travel with, and we have made many memories in such short time!

Yesterday, March 19, was my favourite day so far. It was a jam-packed day of London history and of course, the continued competition to see who can come up with the worst joke. I was in the lead until Rene, another student and good friend of mine said one at breakfast. She said: "What did the fisherman say to the magician? Pick a cod and cod."  

After our delicious hotel breakfast, we took the Tube to Westminster, where Parliament and Westminster Abbey are located. This is where we met up with a private guide, Simon. I found the guide very useful, as he filled our brains with knowledge of the history of Parliament and of Westminster Abbey. He was fun to have as a guide as he made jokes with us and gave nicknames to some people in the group, (Shelby became "the clever one", and Mr. Dewinetz became "The Barometer of Truth"). From him, we learned many facts about the architecture and important people involved with the Parliament buildings and the Abbey. Fortunately, we were able to tour inside the Abbey (but no photos allowed inside). We viewed many tombs of past kings, queens, and significant people such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Lewis Carroll, and Lord Alfred Tennyson. The architecture of the Abbey was extravagant with its detail, and structure forms a cross from a bird's eye view. I can honestly say it was the most beautiful building I have ever been in; completely magnificent.

Palace of Westminster, Complete with Big Ben (or the Clock tower holding the bell Big Ben), and a statue of Oliver Cromwell.
Palace of Westminster (Left) across the street from Westminster Abbey (right), which was built to match.  Pretty close, right?
Inside court yard at Westminster Abbey.  No photos were allowed inside, but I can promise you it's beautiful.
Group Photo outside Westminster Abbey, plus a few details of the architecture.
Westminster Abbey, Celina outside the front doors, Group inside the hallway before going in, and a few of the front.
After Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (the Parliament building across the street containing Big Ben), we walked down past the "Ministry of Magic" and towards St. James' Park.  Here we found the Blue Bridge, and took photos in front of Buckingham Palace.  Some of us also participated in the tradition of throwing coins into the pond and making a wish.  We then walked through the horse guard for a few photos.

Blue Bridge in St. James' Park, with Buckingham Palace in the background.  Harsimran, Qudrat, Rene, Harjot, Mr. Becker and Mr. Dewinetz throw in coins and make a wish, while Janey and Shelby jump for joy and Ms. Mulji takes in the site.
Horse Guard.  You are allowed to have your photo taken at your own risk, as long as you don't disturb the guards.  See Kimmi, Qudrat and Harsimran, left, and Ms. Garr petting the horse, right.
Janey in front of the "ministry of magic"
After we finished this tour, we took The Underground to Tower Hill, where we had lunch and toured the Tower of London, also with Simon. This is where grade 8 and 9 Social Studies truly came to life for me. We learned the history of the Tower, as well as the different lifestyles of people who lived there. For example, we saw where Anne Boleyn (2nd wife of King Henry VIII), lived and died. We were also able to see the Crown Jewels as well as suits of armour worn by past kings and noblemen, which were all absolutely stunning. Such a treat to see.

Group shot in front of the tower of London (top), Mr. Becker in front of the tower (bottom left), Harjot, Harleen and Simran in front of tower bridge (centre) and the guards matching through the tower grounds (right).
Mrs. Becker, Suesha and Rene, and the Tower Bridge. 
Inside the tower grounds, complete with the white tower and Tower bridge in the background, the homes that are still lived in (see guard in front of the place of residence of Anne Boleyn before her execution), weapons, the crown jewels building (no photos in there) and the commemorative pillow to the spot in which Anne (and royalty) were beheaded.
The White Tower, Traitor Gate and group listening to our guide Simon explain the history of the Tower of London.
Following the tour of the Tower of London, we had dinner at a Belgian restaurant where I ate mussels for the first time, (Belgium is famous for their mussels). In my opinion they were all right, but I was only able to eat a few. However, Shelby said she thought they were quite good. To end the day with a bang, we walked to a broadway theatre and watched "The Phantom of the Opera." This was another first for me as I have never seen a broadway play before. Myself, and others, thought it was fantastic! I did not hear anyone say that they did not enjoy seeing the play. It made me even more excited to see Wicked! Such an extraordinary day, and I can not wait for the many adventures to come!

Blog post by Janey T. and Photos by Alyssa Becker