We got up much too early in order to be at the airport by 8am. Had plenty of time until 5 minutes before we had to go when time suddenly ran away from me. Have NO clue how that happened, but we ended up leaving at the last minute - made worse by the fact that my suitcase accidentally opened as I picked it up, and I had to rush to get everything back. Not impressed! We made the bus with time to spare though, and the rest of the trip was uneventful. We met up with Henni at the airport, our flight wasn't delayed, and we had no problems getting to the hotel and checking in. Well... almost no problems. Lars' and my room wasn't ready when we arrived, but we just stuck out suitcases in Henni's room and left for the city. No big deal. We stayed at the same hotel as last time - a small one 2 minutes walk by Kings Cross Station. Nothing special, but when all you need is a place to sleep at night and some easy breakfast, then it's nice and central.
Lars went out trainspotting, and Henni and I decided to walk up and down Oxford Street to get a feel of the city. We did a lot of browsing, but actually didn't buy anything the first day, as we figured we'd have plenty of time to return later in the week, so Lars actually ended up spending more money than we did! Something we teased him about mercilessly :-D I love the atmosphere of London, so it was nice to just stroll around and reacquaint myself with the city.
We met up with Lars by Piccadelly Circus at 7pm and at my recommendation had dinner at T.G.I.Fridays. I think their food is absolutely delicious, and as we don't have the chain in Denmark, I try to go whenever I'm in London.
After dinner we went back to the hotel for a cup of tea at our room before going to bed.
Lars went out trainspotting again as he'd actually managed to arrange a tour 'behind the scenes' at Kings Cross and St. Pancreas. Nice! Even I thought that sounded interesting. Henni and I had decided to do some proper sight-seeing today, and as the weather was decent we started by heading towards London Eye (135m). I've wanted to go practically ever since it was build, but it's quite expensive, so I hadn't gotten around to it before now. I'm glad I finally got to go up though! Sure it was expensive (£15.5), but actually worth it I thought. Because we arrived so early there was no cue at all, and we could enjoy the view on the 30 minutes it took to make a full rotation. GORGEOUS view especially towards Big Ben.
After we got back down again we discovered that each 'wagon' (have no clue what else you'd call them) was checked by two people working there before the next load was let on. They used special canes with mirrors on to check underneath the bench and on top of the ventilation for things left behind - intentionally or not. I'm glad I didn't notice that until afterwards, because it did make me wonder if they were just being careful, or if they had a reason to be paranoid.
Anyway, from the London Eye we'd seen a museum called the Movieum, so decided to go check that out. It was located in the old county hall building, and it took us awhile to find the proper entrance. When there we asked if we could buy the tickets there, or if we had to go to one of the special ticket booths they had around the city.
"You have to go to one of the booths."
"Oh, okay. Do you know where the nearest one is, and what the tickets cost?"
"10 pounds, but I can sell them to you here."
Whereupon he proceeded to sell us two children's tickets for £7 each! Henni and I discussed afterwards if he was just being nice or if it was an unsuccessful attempt to chat us up. The museum was quite interesting with lots of props from different movies (British and American both) and fun facts. It'd be fun to go again in a couple of years to see what's changed.
My leg was starting to ache around now, but we knew there was a Florence Nightingale museum nearby and wanted to see that as well before lunch. It was okay, but I didn't feel I learned as much about her as I would've liked, so probably not somewhere I'd go again.
We wanted to get to the Millennium Bridge next and so walked along the Themes to get to it. On the way we found a very charming arcade called Gabriel's Wharf where they had a Crepe Cafe House that sold both savoury and sweet pancakes! The perfect place to eat lunch and rest our legs for a bit.
As the Millennium Bridge is right by Tate Modern and entrance there is free, we figured we'd take a look. They had pictures by Picasso and Monet, so it couldn't be all bad, right?
Wrong! I guess I just don't get modern art, because most of this was just plain UGLY to me. We went through half a floor and then decided it was a waste of time. The only thing I found even slightly interesting was a sculpture made out of 900 items (spoons, forks, plates, even a trombone) of silver that had been run over and flattened by a bulldozer! Everything else was either boring, ugly or both.
Ah well, at least it was free ;)
We walked back across the Themes via Millennium Bridge (which is just a pedestrian bridge, so I don't really get the fuss) to St. Paul's Cathedral. However, my legs were KILLING me at this point, so we didn't go in, but after a quick stop at Covent Garden (I wanted Henni to get a feeling of the atmosphere there - very unique) found a nice coffee-shop where we sat and read our books for a couple of hours to rest my legs.
At 6:30pm we walked back to Leicester Square to meet Lauren and Tane - my friend from NZ and her husband. It was SO GOOD to see Lauren again. She was one of my best friends in NZ, but except from half an hour in 2004 we hadn't actually seen each other since 1999, yet we immediately started talking a mile a minute just like we would've back then. Poor Henni, Lars and Tane when we got talking about old mutual friends ;) But at least they had each other. I'd never met Tane before, but he seemed really, really nice - open and friendly. I'm glad I finally got to meet him. We had dinner together at a nice Italian restaurant, and spent several hours just talking about everything. I hadn't properly realised how much I'd missed Lauren, but it was just wonderful to catch up with her again :)
We went our separate ways at around 10'ish and Henni just about laughed at me because I looked so happy :) It did make me terribly homesick though, although I'm not sure what for, as just about all my old friends have moved away from Palmy now... probably just homesick for 'back then' I guess. No matter, it was great seeing them and probably the best part of the entire trip for me.
Lars had deigned himself to spending the day together with Henni and me - yay :) We walked from the hotel at 9:30 to make the Games shop when it opened. Unfortunately we misremembered and it opened at 11am instead of 10am, so we were an hour early! Fortunately the British Museum is right across the street from the shop, so we decided to spend the hour there, looking at Greek and Egyptian statues.
Once the shop opened we ran amok - pretty much as expected. It was rather amusing though - we were looking at extensions to Munchkin, Settlers and Carcasonne (bought one of the former and the latter) and one of the people working there came up to us while we were looking at Settlers.
"Oh, if you enjoy Settlers, you might like Carcasonne as well."
"Yes, we do, we've found an extension we like."
"Excellent! Seeing as you like those, you'll probably enjoy Munchkin as well."
"We do, we own all the extensions except this one." (holding out the one we were missing)
"Right then. I can see you know what you're doing. I'll just stop helping you now then."
We cracked up laughing :-D
After spending too much money there, we proceeded down to Oxford Street and the HUGE DVD/CD store on the corner of Oxford and Tottenham Court Road. I'm usually fairly sensible with money, but when I go to London, something snaps. Compared to Denmark, stuff's just CHEAP!
We had a quick lunch at the foodcourt of The Plaza (foodcourts are a great idea. Why hasn't Denmark noticed yet?) and then walked via Hamleys (5 story toy store) to the HUGE Waterstone's down by Piccadelly Circus. I LOVE British book stores. We have absolutely nothing like them in Denmark, which sucks. Here book stores are a lot smaller and you'd never find any with couch areas or an in-store coffee-shop. That's just not the Danish mentality. Probably just as well though, taking my weakness for books into consideration ;) Anyway, it means that once in a proper book store I can spend HOURS on end there. Fortunately Lars and Henni are almost just as bad, so none of us ended up feeling rushed or bored.
As we were having a late dinner, I decided to take Lars and Henni to the Häagen Dazs restaurant which I'd been introduced to when I was in London last. They have some expensive but DELICIOUS ice-creams :-D
Despite his love for acting, Lars has no interest at all in actually watching musicals, so we separated again for a couple of hours at 5pm - Henni and I to go see "Avenue Q", Lars... well, you guess ;)
"Avenue Q" was HILARIOUS! Not nearly as crass/crude as I'd come to expect, but really, really funny and well made. Both Henni and I loved it, and I bought the soundtrack the following day - the songs are REAL earworms though! Have any of you seen it? What did you think?
After the show we sat talking about it for awhile, until Lars had finished whatever he was doing, and found us again for dinner at a really good Mexican restaurant. Yum!
Sunday Henni and I intended to do some more sight-seeing, but it backfired on us, as we hadn't thought as far as that most churches would be closed for tourists on Sundays!
We'd originally talked about starting at Petticoat Lane Market, but seeing how fast my leg gave up on me the previous days, we figured it was silly to use good walking time on something we weren't both all that keen on doing. Instead we went directly to Buckingham Palace to see the Royal Mews. The British royalty have some very impressive coaches... and some very UGLY ones. Still, I'd never seen them before, and it was actually quite interesting. Especially seeing the Irish Coach which was given to the royal family... on some anniversary for the Indian colony, I don't remember exactly what. Anyway, it was decorated with the English rose, the Irish shamrock, the Scottish thistle and a palm tree to symbolise India! Very nice :)
From Buckingham Palace we walked along Regents Park to Westminster Abbey (gorgeous from the outside, but entrance was £12.5 so even if it hadn't been closed, we probably wouldn't have gone in) and on to the nearest subway station to take the train to Temple, as we wanted to see the Temple church. Unfortunately the map was quite misleading, so we ended up going 3/4 around the block instead of the 1/4 it would have been if we'd gone the right way! No big deal, but we were utterly amazed at how deserted the area was. Most parts of London are buzzing even on weekends, but this basically looked like a ghost town! Anyway, we finally found the church only to discover that it was closed on weekends, so we'd have to return tomorrow. Ah well. Henni had wanted lunch at a typical London pub and there was one right by where we had a DELICIOUS lunch so it wasn't a complete waste of time :)
We went back to central London and... hmmm... I actually don't remember how we spent the rest of the day. I know it involved a "quick" stop at Foyles (another huge but not as well stocked book store) and a couple of hours spent reading at a Pret A Manger (coffee house) to cater to my bad leg (it can handle less and less for each passing day unfortunately) before meeting up with Lars for dinner.
After dinner we went back to the hotel for a cup of tea in our room and ended up talking until far too late - the atmosphere was almost slumber-party'ish. Very cozy :)
Monday was our last full day, so Henni and I decided to spend it shopping ;) Nah, not quite, but as we'd browsed a lot of shops Thursday, but not actually bought anything, we went back to many of those shops. We started by taking the train to Oxford Circus and then walked down Regent Street to the Swarovski boutique (it was too fancy to be called a mere 'shop' ;-) ). It was Henni who introduced me to the tradition of buying crystal figures when abroad, so of course we went to buy some together. There were many absolutely gorgeous figures and most of them were FAR out of our price range, but there were still enough within it that it took quite a while for us to make up our minds - and I found heaps I'd love for another time ;) Henni ended up buying a cute frog, and I two baby turtles.
From there we walked on towards Trafalgar Square to find the Kiwi shop as it had been closed Thursday (we'd actually arrived just 5 minutes after it closed - annoying!) so I could browse around and get even more homesick ;) I actually ended up not buying anything though (other than Jaffas, but that's a given, so that doesn't count!), because they didn't have the book I wanted, and buying Kiwi souvenirs in London is just a tad too sad... even for me ;)
We'd seen Sunday that Temple church was open from 12-2 on Monday, so as it was now 11:45 we decided to go back there (and got to see the changing of the guards from Horse Guard House on the way!) and this time figured we'd walk the RIGHT way around the block ;) The church wasn't anything special, but at least we got to see it. We had lunch at the same pub as the day before (I told you it was good food :) ) before we went back to Oxford Street and more shopping - Henni wanted to visit the Esprit shop and I'd found a dress I wanted to try on.
Visiting the Esprit shop really showed us just how low the pound is at the moment, because the tags there show prices in several different currencies, so we could compare the prices in Danish kroner to the price in British pound and discovered that Henni would save somewhere between 20-30% by buying clothes in London rather than in Denmark! Not bad! I felt like I'd already spent too much money though, so I ended up not buying anything - the dress made me look like I was born 70 years too late (when we pointed it out to Lars the next day his response was "I'm glad it didn't fit!" Alright then...), and I decided to be sensible and not try anything else I might fall in love with. Instead we found a Starbucks inside Borders and sat there reading (I'm SO glad Henni's as much a bookworm as me so she didn't get bored with the limitations my leg put on our wanderings) until it was time to meet up with Lars and go visit Alisa - a classmate from high school (Henni and Lars were classmates in high school).
Alisa turned out to be really, really nice and we had a great time together. I'd never met her before, but she's extremely friendly and we clicked immediately, so while they did talk a lot about people I'd never met, I was mostly not bored at all ;) Besides, I'd heard so much about her, it was great to finally meet her. We caught the last train back to the hotel and once again got to bed much too late.
The morning was spent packing - trying to get everything to fit into our suitcases. Thank goodness we'd thought to bring one each rather than share one. Sharing would have been no problem at all on the way to London, but on the way home? Let me just say it was a good thing we were allowed 20kg each! ;)
The trip to the airport was uneventful, but I goofed majorly at security. I'd brought a pair of scissors for my embroidery and somehow they'd gotten mixed up in my jacket, so I'd forgotten to pack them in my suitcase and they ended up in my carry-on instead! I thought nothing of it when I was pulled aside after they X-rayed my bag - routine checks, happen all the time, I'd nothing to worry about... I thought, but was mortified when he asked if I had a pair of scissors in my bag and realised what had happened. It was a very blunt pair of scissors and obviously no threat to anybody, but he had to keep them anyway because of policy. I felt so stupid and my respect for authority is apparently such that I had the worst bad conscience... over a pair of scissors. I can laugh about it now, but I'm glad Lars and Henni didn't tease me about it back then!
All in all - a really great trip, and we now know for sure that the three of us 'work well together' on vacations without getting tired of each other's company :) (we've seen each other twice since already!)