Elena’s Birthday Weekend in London, Days 3 & 4

Lena had a very stiff schedule planned for the Saturday of her party; everything needed to be prepared to a T and ready! She made a brunch reservation for us at a supposedly posh place, called Clifton Nurseries. Apparently, this place has a history since 1851! You walk in, and the first thing you see is all of the trees and plants that are for sale, and on the right, you see a greenhouse glass building, which is where the restaurant is located.

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After brunch, Lena wanted to grab a coffee/me a mocha, so she took me to this place called The Summerhouse along a small canal (Google Maps doesn’t even have a name for it). The posh experience continues…

After our coffee, Lena had more errands to run. As it were, I went on a little adventure all by myself. I started with the Tower of London and ended with IceBar London. The Tower of London is actually quite impressive and has an imposing presence on visitors. It has an expansive history as a fortress, even a zoo, and currently still houses the Crown Jewels. I wish I could have taken a picture of the crown jewels, but pictures are strictly prohibited in that part of the castle, with beefeaters watching over; additionally, the conveyor belt doesn’t make for an ideal position to take pictures, anyway.

Frankly speaking, the current crown jewels impressed me less than some of the older crowns that were on exhibit in another gallery. Here is what the current crown looks like. One example is St. Edward’s Crown (1661), which is likely to be the heaviest crown ever worn by English royalty (it is made of a solid gold frame, and is set with tourmalines, white and yellow topazes, rubies, amethysts, sapphires, garnet, peridot, zircons, spinel, and aquamarines). My favorite, though, was the Imperial Crown of India (1911), which is made on a frame of silver, laminated with gold, set with 6,100 diamonds, mainly brilliant-cut. The diamonds have all been removed in the exhibit, so this is what it looked like before that was done…just feel the brilliance of the diamonds emanating through the picture…

The reason that there are many different crowns, is because English royalty has the opportunity to change the style of the crown–which could be anything from the frame to the setting–s/he wishes to adorn once the prince/princess is due to be coronated. I’ve included a slideshow of everything else I saw in the Tower of London, including the bedrooms of some royalty when they were chillin’ there, too.

Having completed my visit of the Tower of London, I needed to occupy my time further. I didn’t know what to do because I had previously visited most of what had interested me already. I checked on my map what there was to see around the tower; there were some points of interest, but really nothing major. I figured I’d go for a walk around the City of London (the neighborhood) and see what I came upon! The first two things I saw were the Monument to the Great Fire of London and the Leadenhall Market. The monument is HUGE and visitors could go up many flights of stairs to get a good view; I refused not because of the walk, but because they dared to charge me for it. Heathens. As for the Leadenhall Market, wait for it….it was closed. Boo. It was a Saturday, for goodness sake. So I took this lovely picture of some couple walking down it, and then…

This one, from what looked like the remaining attendees of a wedding party, dining and drinking at the only place open that day.

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I wanted to buy a piece of clothing from London, but I knew everything is expensive. Luckily, along this little adventure of mine, I encountered a TK Maxx (yes, it is exactly what it sounds like, a British version of TJ Maxx)! Obviously, I knew they would have some nice clothes for an affordable price. I bought a shirt and this dress whose collar and style you wouldn’t find in the United States (which I purposely am not showing because it’s a surprise)!

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My next destination was the St. Paul Cathedral, which I had some déjà-vu at…I’m pretty sure Michelle and I saw it when we visited London a few years back. It’s still as beautiful as ever! The cathedral was closed when I came by, so I couldn’t walk in, unfortunately. I decided to have a mini photoshoot, instead, because all I hear from my family is, “Where are the pictures of you? How do we know you actually visited these places?” Well, I TOOK MANY SELFIES ON MY LONELY WALK AROUND LONDON, ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?

I ran into the London headquarters for LexisNexis! I found it along Farringdon Street, for those of you who care. It goes without saying that I needed to take pictures of the place of business of my former employer:

Nearby, I also found this national treasure:

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Leave it to the Brits to take credit for something a French Huguenot did. I now know that Jaques of London is a family company that has, since 1795, manufactured sports and game equipment. Besides ping-pong, the company also bears the rights to inventing croquet and the card game Happy Families. Here’s a fun Telegraph article discussing the company’s legacy, and why Lewis Carroll featured croquet in Alice in Wonderland.

Here’s the trajectory of the walk I took before I got on the Holborn Station to Piccadilly Circus. Please excuse the French names for very English things, Google refuses to disregard my current location. 😀

Walk in City of London

I walked along Regent Street to get to IceBar. It reminded me of Champs-Élysées, because it appears that this is the posh shopping center in London; but unfortunately, you could hardly tell from this photo, stupid construction.

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There’s a path deviation from Regent Street, almost like an alley, which leads to IceBar (it also does not have a name on Google Maps, Google’s really slacking).

I didn’t actually know if they would actually let me in because I heard they require reservations. I figured it would be easy to accommodate me because I’m only one person. Once I spoke with the hostess, she told me that the price is 15 £–though not guaranteed–and she’ll see about an open spot if I return in 10 minutes. I thought it would be a waste not to at least give it a try, so I went for a walk for that time. Came upon this toy store, called Hamleys, which reminded me of FAO Schwarz before it closed. 😥

When I came back, the hostess said that not only could I come in, but I also would receive a discount! I paid only 10 £, which includes a cocktail drink, yesss. The place was just as cool as I had imagined (hehe, see what I did there?). The coats they give you have a hood and gloves attached to them, and are surprisingly quite stylish! The walls, tables, cups, sculptures, all of them were made out of ice. I can’t speak to the floor, I don’t think that it was made of ice. As for the RealFeel, I could hardly tell it was below 0, the coat keeps you real warm! Every visitor is only limited to 15-20 minutes inside there because of the high demand, which seems like so little time…unless you’re just me, and have no one to talk to. I simply gazed at people and danced a little, since the music was eh.

After my fun in the IceBar, I was craving something cold…I know, it doesn’t make any sense. So voilà!

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Lena had another party at her apartment this night…I was so wiped out I just chilled in the guest room for an hour or so before getting back out there. The food was wonderful and the conversations good, but I was too tired to stay awake for long.

The next day, Lena wanted to have our last brunch, even though we were potentially running a little late to my flight. Guess what? Big surprise, more poached eggs for breakfast:

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I don’t know what it is, but the Brits really seem to have poached eggs on every brunch menu…not like I’m complaining.

As for the final installment of my London saga…the trip to London Gatwick. My flight to Luxembourg was at 2:45 PM. Lena walked me to the St. John’s Wood tube station, which I got on at 12:15 PM. The ride to London Victoria typically takes from 20-30 minutes, and I got there at 12:35 PM. I asked for a ticket for the Gatwick Express which was due to depart at 12:45 PM, a ride that usually takes from 30-40 minutes. I figured I was good on time because I would get to the airport within a good window, also if I could check in. I took a seat and because I was unsure of the class of the wagon I sat down in, I asked the guy nearby if he knew whether we were in 2nd or 1st class; he confirmed we were in 2nd class. While I connected to the Wi-Fi and attempted to check in to my flight, he continued to talk to me. I was barred from checking in by just a few minutes…. 😥

Since we were talking about where we were going and with what purpose–he to Florence and for business–I became distracted, only to realize that it was 12:50 PM and the train had not departed yet. He dismissed it happenstance, claiming that as a British man, he’s aware that their transportation is hardly ever on time. I begged to disagree, saying that Gatwick has always been on time and this worried me. Then, a female voice came on in the intercom and said that they were trying to fix an issue with the doors, but that they believed it would be fixed. Before long, it was just past 1:00, and we missed the opportunity to take another train (as they depart every 15 minutes). At 1:05 PM, she announced again that they could not fix the error in a timely fashion, so we should all proceed to the train departing at 1:15 PM, grrrrr. There went 30 minutes, wasted.

The guy followed me to the other train and we continued talking. He’s quite fascinating! He told me that he was commissioned to make a shield mosaic for Richard III’s crypt, as his bones were recently discovered, see here. He said he’s the only person who could do the work, a specialist! Oh, and the reason he was going to Florence? To show a duke around one of the museums there, as his guide. I asked him what other royalty he has met, and he said he met Prince Charles and shook his hand!

Once we arrived at the Gatwick terminal, it was 1:45 PM, one hour before my flight, and I hadn’t even checked in yet, geez. He and I were sprinting together, but since he had already checked in, he wasn’t as worried. I lost him in the crowd, without ever having learned his name. But I’m a research expert, don’t worry. 😉 [Click here to see what the Richard III mosaic looks like.]

I soon realized that I wasn’t even in the right terminal!! I took the shuttle between terminals, arriving to the check-in desk. It was 5 minutes before 2:00. I squeezed through and asked one of the women working if she could check me in, even though it was pretty late. She did not look hopeful, but asked someone else anyway. The other woman agreed to help me, but told me that I would likely not make it through security and to my flight, as it was a really busy day. I told her I didn’t care, just to give me the boarding pass. She did, and I ran through to security.

Not gonna lie, I cut through large groups of people in line who had no idea what they were doing, and within a minute was already able to put my stuff on a conveyor belt. But their system is such that there’s a small line at the conveyor belt, and I was last to get my stuff put through; yet first to finish, so I went through the detector first. Which just meant that I waited longer than everyone else for my stuff. I was a little worried I’d be held up because I had toothpaste that was larger than the regulation size, a tidbit I was stopped for in Luxembourg Airport, but let go by putting it in a plastic bag (because yes, that changes EVERYTHING). Security in Gatwick let me go, though, likely because I removed the toothpaste and put it on top of my bags, so they did not think I was trying to hide it.

I grabbed all my stuff and looked at my boarding pass to find out my gate number. It was 2:10 PM at this point, and my ticket said the gate closed at…2:05 PM!!! The pass did not even indicate what gate I was to go to, simply said TV. So freaking helpful. I checked the large TV screen and saw, thankfully, that my gate was still open! Didn’t matter, I still ran to it. Guess what? There was a humongous line to board my flight because, hey this is a crazy idea, maybe it was a busy day at the airport and that’s actually a good thing? I also expect some people were held up by the Gatwick Express, as was I. What’s the good ending to all of this? I was in the 3rd row! 😀 🙂 😛