Stonehenge
Stonehenge is probably one of the most recognised sites in the world. Once people see a picture of Stonehenge, the image probably rings a bell even if they might not know exactly what it is. As a matter of fact, Stonehenge is a monument that dates back to prehistoric times. It can be found on Wiltshire in England.

Based on Wikipedia’s description, Stonehenge is:

one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones. Archaeologists believe that the standing stones were erected around 2200 BC and the surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 in a co-listing with Avebury henge monument, and it is also a legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument. Stonehenge itself is owned by the Crown and managed by English Heritage while the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust.

The current structure than can be found on the site has actually been renovated several times already. It was first examined in 1666 but the first major restoration was carried out only in 1901. This was done by William Gowland. About 2 decades later, in 1920, William Hawley carried out another restoration. In 1958, another restoration was done and the last one was in 1963. Since then, no more restorations were tried but many excavations have been carried out.

To date, Stonehenge remains one of the most popular tourist sites in the area.

glastonbury
Music lovers are sure to find the Glastonbury Festival something to look forward to. The UK has long been known to be home to some of the world’s best musical acts. Whether they are groups (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Oasis) or individuals (Sir Elton John, Amy Winehouse), the British is no doubt quite excellent in the musical arena.

This June, music enthusiasts should head on over to the Worthy Farm at Somerset outside of Glastonbury. Every year for the last 30 years, the Glastonbury Festival has been held in this area, making it into a modern day Woodstock of sorts.

Ferne Arfin describes the Glastobury Festival:

This 30-year old festival is a bit like an English Woodstock with cherries on top. There’s a famous Pyramid Stage, smaller venues, camping, food, a kids Glastonbury and every kind of music imaginable. There are at least seven main stages, circus tent and theatre and loads of Greenfield activities. The weather usually turns it into a huge mud bath. And if you don’t have the stamina for three solid days of partying, don’t come.

Indeed, this event is not for the faint of heart or timid of spirit. If you are looking to attending the festival, you ought to be prepared to be expending a whole lot of energy for the whole duration of your stay.

This year’s festival is set for June 27 till June 29. Registration is required so I suggest you visit the official web site for the last chance to grab tickets.

toad in the hole
Umm, how about no? I know that in some parts of the world, frog legs are considered a delicacy but I am not THAT adventurous. Lucky for me (and people like me), toad in the hole has nothing to do with this particular animal.

In fact, it is a traditional dish prepared for breakfast in the UK. Toad in the hole is a very hearty breakfast dish comprised of sausages placed in Yorkshire pudding batter and served with gravy and eggs. Nothing to do with toads at all, right?

So how come the dish got to be called this peculiar name? As with many other monikers that we know of today, the origins of toad in the hole (the name) is not very concrete. The general consensus, however, is that the name came from the fact that the dish has an uncanny resemblance to a toad which is sticking its head out of a little hole. Though I am not quite sure that I see the resemblance, I do know that toad in the hole makes for good meal!

I have been trying to find a good and easy toad in the hole recipe to follow. There is no lack for recipes for this dish on the Internet, trust me. They are all over the place! However, I did find a rather authentic recipe over at Retro Food Recipes. This one is supposed to date back to the 1930s! If you are not in the UK, though, I don’t know if the particular brand of sausages will be available.

swans
I honestly would not have known what people were talking about if I heard them say “swan upping.” Quite logically, it must have something to do with swans. But what about swans?

Well, in the UK, swan upping is somewhat of an important event. It is actually an activity that has a dual purpose – both ceremonial and practical. Every year, the mute swans in the River Thames are rounded up and then marked and then released back to the “wild.” Swan upping is normally held around the third week of July.

Tradition has it that there are three groups of people involved in the activity. There are the Queen’s Swan Uppers, the Vintners’ Swan Uppers, and the Dyers’ Swan Uppers. These three groups come from a 15th Century Charter wherein two Livery companies in London had the right to share the ownership of the swans with the royalty. As such, these three groups would comb the River Thames in an effort to mark which swans would belong to which group.

So how are the swans marked? The swans caught by the Queen’s Swan Uppers would not be marked. The swans caught by the Vintners’ Swan Uppers would be ringed on both legs. The swans caught by the Dyers’ Swan Uppers would be ringed on one leg.

It used to be that the swans were caught and marked for practical purposes – to be eaten eventually. Today, however, the swans are rarely eaten, except perhaps during State Banquets.

charity shop
The UK is not a very popular destination for Americans these days simply because of the fact that the dollar is weak while the pound continues to be strong. However, this should not really dissuade Americans from visiting the UK – especially those who like to go shopping. If you have not heard about British charity shops yet, then it is about time that you did.

Charity shops are specialty shops managed by British charitable organisations. Their aim is to raise money for the less fortunate. These shops, in fact, have dual benefits – the money raised is used for noble causes and the prices of goods are very affordable for the shopper.

What can one find in a charity shop? The answer is that you can find most anything! From clothing to shoes to knickknacks to art pieces to crafts – charity shops offer these things. Most, if not all, of the products on sale are made in the UK, making for good souvenirs for tourists.

So where do you start looking for a charity shop? The fact is that not many tourists go out of their way to look for charity shops. In fact, you would not find many tourists in these shops. One good way to start would be to look online, prior to your trip. The web site to start with would be the Association of Charity Shops. The web site is rife with information – everything you need to learn more about charity shops, actually.

Totnes in Devon
Are you in the mood for something different? Are you tired of visiting towns and cities that have the same things to offer over and over again? If you are, then you might want to head on over to the town of Totnes in Devon.

Visitors to this town have one common thing to say about it – it is like talking a trip to the past. Its main shopping street, Fore Street, is reminiscent of an old time town, with small shops scattered throughout. Don’t expect to see generic commercialised shops, either. The shops on Fore Street are for “real” – butcher shops, toy shops, bookshops, and the grocer’s all stand beside each other in a unique mix. Add to this distinctive shops like the Green Fuse (a funeral parlor that is eco-friendly), Rhythm and Light (crystals and fossils, anyone?), and Fairies on the Rise (anything to do with fairies) – and you have a whole new world to discover.

The Friday market is a must for visitors as all the inhabitants of the town can be seen milling around. One notable characteristic is that a lot of them sport dreadlocks, many of them wear kaftans – a sign that the hippy life is on the rise yet again. I suppose that is why many describe Totnes as a bohemian town.

Life is laid back, there is almost zero crime – people love it in Totnes. Understandably, the price of housing is quite high. Yet this has not dissuaded many people from trying to move to Totnes to experience a lifestyle that is more than alternative.

amy winehouse
Britain and its culture is not normally known for being eclectic. Yet this is what the newest musical star to come out of Britain stands for. Amy Winehouse recently caught the attention of the whole world with her eclectic music and overall packaging. Who is Amy Winehouse?

An English-born singer and songwriter, Amy Winehouse has actually been around for several years now. It wasn’t until she had 6 Grammy nominations – 5 of which she won – that she really made a name for herself. Her music is a unique mixture of jazz, soul, and R & B and her singing style is something in itself.

Off the stage, Amy Winehouse has been commanding a lot of attention as well. With her erratic behaviour and substance abuse, the press has continued to bring her into the spotlight. All this negative publicity has not lessened her popularity, however. In fact, blogs all over the Web stand to testify to her fans’ unfailing support despite the stumbling blocks that she continues to encounter in her life.

I personally do not really find much pleasure in listening to her music but I am sure that there are countless other people from all over the world, from all walks of life who are able to relate somehow to her music and everything she stands for. Here’s to another Brit who is showing the world that this part of the world does have a knack for producing world class talent!

beers
There are countless different types of beers in the UK – it would take hours and hours of reading and writing to detail each and every one of them. So, I took the easy way out and looked for a broader classification of the beers to be found in the UK. One good way to find out more about this beverage is to look at the different regions and see what they have to offer in terms of beer.

The Black Country
This area is known for being industrial in nature and includes Wolverhampton and the West Midlands. The Black Country is best known for its Mild Ales, which was the traditional drink for industrial workers after a hard day’s work. The area is still known for the Wolverhampton and Dudley breweries which currently produce mild ales as well as strong pale ales.

Kent and Surrey
Hops is the key word for Kent, which produces ales with the undeniable flavor of hop. Surrey, on the other hand, is quite famous for TEA. No, it’s not the traditional English breakfast drink but TEA as in Traditional English Ale.

London
Care to have a Porter? Not the guy who lugs your stuff around, but the well known type of beer that London is most known for. Porter was first brewed in the 1700s in the East End of the city and is still popular these days.

Scotland
Scotland in itself offers a wide variety of beers. The Caledonian Brewery is known to have made the strongest impact on the image of Scottish beer and anything from this brewery is nothing but excellent.

uk beer
There is no doubt about it – beer is the refreshment of choice for majority of the British. Indeed, it has been referred to as the country’s national drink many times over. So what is the big deal about beer? Perhaps, in order to answer this question, it would be necessary to go back in time and see how beer came to play such an important role in the British culture.

Stason.org provides a brief but neat narrative about the origins of beer in the UK:

Something like beer has probably been drunk for many thousands of years. For centuries it has been an accepted part of northern European lifestyle. The largest brewhouses were to be found in religious institutions that catered for a complete community, but otherwise brewing was on a domestic scale. 19th century industrialisation had a profound effect on the size of breweries and started a continuous process of takeovers and mergers with breweries and brewing companies getting larger and more powerful. The wealth of the brewers lead to their establishing what today we call franchises – the tied house where the publican is a tenant of the brewery and sells only their beer.

Fortunately there are still breweries where you can see the traditional processes used for the last two hundred years.

In the 60′s the production of keg beer, increased rapidly. By filtering and sterilising before it left the brewery, then adding gas at the pub, the beer was easier to keep, always looked clear with lots of nice fizz. The economics of this operation and the marketing opportunities arising from it lead to an acceleration in the continuing process of takeovers, eliminating small brands, closing smaller breweries to build larger, more modern ones. Also at the time many brews suddenly became weaker.

I’d say that there is still a lot of pretty strong beer in the UK today. In the next posts, we’ll talk more about this beverage.

theatre
If there’s one thing about London and culture that any visitor MUST experience, it is the theatre. Of course, when one mentions theatre in relation to London, the foremost thing that would come to mind is the West End. There simply is no alternative – or is there?

OffWestEnd
proves that though the West End is the premiere theatre scene in the city, there is no lack of brilliant theatres all around London as well. In this web site, theatre lovers can find anything and everything showing for over 50 of London’s Off West End theatres. The Guardian has even partnered up with this alternative source of all things theatre and features the best of London theatre in its online portal.

So why would anyone want to go to a theatre while in London? Well, for starters, London has had a long and glorious history when it comes to the performing arts. In fact, many performers from different countries around the world make it their goal to perform in a prestigious London theatre. Many of them use that event as a milestone to mark their success in the world of theatre. Watching a performance in a London theatre is sure to provide the audience with a world class experience, unmatched by many. More so, some of the best plays and musicals are presented in their finest in London theatres. If one wants to see the “original” version of a play or a musical, then a London theatre would probably his best bet.

So head on over now to OffWestEnd and see what’s new this April!