One of the most annoying parts about arriving in London is finding an ATM. I don’t like carrying around too much of a foreign currency in cash but I also feel silly buying small things with a credit card. So the first step is to get money as soon as I get there. And some kind of unwritten law seems to be that the first couple ATM’s I pass are out of order. Always, always, always. By now I should know better than to try the HSBC ones near Piccadilly Circus. Those have never worked when I was there. I’ve come to believe they’re just for deco reasons.
In the end, we gave in, bought tube tickets with a credit card and got on the Piccadilly Line towards Gloucester station from where we walked the short way to the Natural History Museum. On the way, we did manage to find a working ATM and my mom had her first encounter with one of the public toilets. They look like giant ads but somewhere there’s a door which opens automatically when you put in 20p. According to my mom, she’ll rather walk with her legs crossed next time. Reason enough for me not to give it a try myself.
Once we got to the museum, we were surprised to see a long line in front of the entrance. When visiting the British Museum last year, we could walk right through. So I guess we assumed that museums weren’t on top of everyone’s list. It’s a stupid assumption, really, because the NHM has DINOSAURS!!!! Oh well…
It turned out the queue was moving along quite quickly and it only took some five or ten minutes for us to be allowed inside. The huge stairwell in the massive entrance hall was quite impressive, as was “Dippy”, the dinosaur skeleton replica they put up there. But despite all that, the place was a mess. It was crowded and seemed to be in complete chaos. We bought a guide and the layout of the museum seemed fairly simple but with people standing in line all over the place, several pathways, the rooms split into two levels and a bunch of kids running around, it was hard to make sense of anything. We managed to find the entrance to the blue area which contained the dinosaur exhibition (surprise!) and again, there was a queue. We spent the next hour or so waddling, shuffling, pushing and pulling our way around the place. It was hard to focus on anything but the guilty feeling when the whole queue had to stop because you were reading one of the signs. Eventually, I found myself focusing more on my fellow museum goers. There were kids who were too young to care about any of that, moms who kept talking to them in excited high voices anyway and dads who clearly thought of themselves as professional photographers as they were taking blurry snapshots of everything with their ridiculously expensive cameras.
Yes, I admit I got a liiiittle excited when we got to the highlight of the exhibition, a huge animated T-Rex. I admit it’s a little ridiculous because it could have belonged into a theme park and felt weirdly out of place amidst the actual fossils and skeletons. But there’s something strangely exhilarating about standing in front of a huge “creature” like that, even if it is fake. Ever since I was a child I found the idea of facing dinosaurs exciting and while everyone else was scared when watching Jurassic Park, I could only think “I wanna be there!” So sue me!
Originally, we had planned to make it through the entire museum but after we had spent nearly three hours checking out just the dinosaurs and the souvenir store and being severely disappointed when we found the café too crowded to sit down for a drink, we decided to leave the rest for another time. I was a little disappointed because I had planned to find a raccoon in one of the exhibitions. So I bought a raccoon stuffed toy souvenir instead. Crazy fact about me: I collect raccoons. Stuffed toys, mugs, figurines…I’m not above anything.But as many times as I had made it to London, I had never bought a raccoon there. What better place to buy one than the Natural History Museum?!
After we had made it out of the museum, we wandered around the streets for a bit. There’s a French neighborhood right by the museum with a lot of patisseries, cheese specialty stores and restaurants. I bought some macarons from one place which I looked forward to all day. When we were in our hotel room later that day and I finally indulged in them, I figured I shouldn’t have bought them from the first place we came across (a cheese shop) because the filling was some kind of sweet cheese. I’m sure it would have been any cheese lover’s ultimate dream but I just found it disgusting. Not disgusting enough not to eat the entire – ridiculously expensive – package, of course!
After wandering around for a while, we decided it was time for lunch. Despite still being in the French quarter, we didn’t feel adventurous enough to try any of the rather unusual dishes on the menus of the French restaurants and found a cute little Italian place instead. Not very creatively named Bella Italia, it really did feel like it was situated right in the streets of Venice. The place was tiny and crammed and would have seemed shabby had it not been so charming. With both our rather large builds, we knocked the cutlery off the tiny table within the first two minutes but after that, we adapted to the small space and were able to enjoy scanning the menu over and over again. Most were typical Italian pasta dishes but I’m a huge fan of pasta so it was all good. I had some fantastic cheese cream pasta and though I felt thoroughly stuffed, rounded my lunch up with a delicious piece of lemon cake.
Feeling stuffed and lazy, we stumbled back to the tube station and decided it was time for some shopping now so we got back onto the tube and let it take us to Oxford Circus. It does seem a little suicidal to even get near Oxford Street before Christmas but when you only have a day there, you have no choice. At least not if you’re a shopaholic like me. Back as a rebellious teenager, I scoffed at the “mainstream” shops there and could have happily spent my entire stay in Camden Town. Nowadays, I’m not nearly as excited about it anymore. Camden Market is still awesome but I hate how much interesting and charming furniture and decoration I see there without being able to buy any of it. And I don’t wear enough band shirts and rock ‘n’ roll clothes anymore to do much shopping there. In short: I grew up and never thought it would happen. But even without my lack of love for most things to be purchased in Camden these days, the place has lost its charm by inviting too many chains and souvenir shops. When shopping on Oxford Street, at least you’ll know what to expect. I think I lost my love for Camden when they closed the awesome shop that doubled as a second hand clothing store and a piercing / tattoo parlor.
Without much purpose and an actual list of things I wanted to get, we just stumbled along with the steady stream of shoppers, visiting our regular choice of stores (HMV, House of Frasier, Boots) and then I made it a point to visit Victoria’s Secrets. I got depressed over the size of my butt which prevented me from buying any of their overpriced but gorgeous underwear but still wanted a bag so I looked for the vanilla perfume which I had wanted to sniff for ages but apparently, they don’t sell it anymore or maybe it is
a US-only product. So then I also got depressed over not getting one of their pretty bags which caused other people to stare at you, clearly wishing they had bought something nice from VS, too. Pah! With my usual promise of “I’ll lose so much weight that I’ll buy five sets of underwear next year!” I left and told myself I’d buy an additional book from Waterstone’s instead.
This may or may not have happened next. It’s hard to tell because I hadn’t thought of a specific number of books that I wanted to buy. What has happened was that we went back to Oxford Street to catch a bus to Piccadilly Circus. We could have walked but walking is quite difficult for my mom sometimes so we try to get public transport whenever possible.
Once we got there, we made our way straight into another HMV where I may have gone a little carried away with all the insanely cheap DVD’s. Finding that all the box sets I wanted were way too expensive even for me, I ended up buying several movies that had been on my Amazon wishlist for several years. The kind of movies that in the “I’ll buy them if I ever see them on offer”-category. That time was now as none of the DVD’s cost more than five pound. My Johnny Depp collection grew and I finally got my hands on the Muppets Christmas Carol.
Without shame, I can say that my belly was ready for more culinary treats, so when we came across a peculiar-looking little place right on Piccadilly Circus, we had to see what the long queue was all about. Turned out it was a Cinnabon store. Don’t worry, I had no idea what a Cinnabon was before, either. And I’ve only recently discovered that it is indeed a chain. They sell the bestestestest cinnamon swirls in the world!!! I’m not exaggerating. Feeling not all that adventurous, we both went for what everyone else chose: a Classic Cinnabon.
A little annoyed, we discovered that we’d have to wait for them but boy, was it worth it! They were huge, about the size of a big (European) burger from McDonald’s and they came in a similar books. In addition to the sugary cinnamon filling and the sugar icing, they’re soaked in what I think was some kind of vanilla sauce. And they’re served hot so basically you get a wonderful soggy, sugar-sweet hot cinnamon mess! Gaaah, my mouth is both, orgasming and getting depressed over not getting another one any time soon right now. I’m sure they’re about 1,000 calories per bite but they were the best thing I’d ever had!. They also sell them with some kind of chocolate sauce and with nuts (I think). I’m not a big fan of nuts (*crickets*) but I may have to give the Chocolate Cinnabons a ride next time.
Feeling stuffed but completely satisfied and smitten, we stumbled across the street to Waterstone’s. Try as I might, I would not have made it through any more shopping. So I parked my mom in one of the many comfy shares spread all over the five floors of the giant book store and rolled from shelf to shelf, rubbing my belly, safe in the knowledge that it was home to s wonderful cinnamon-flavored baby right then. (Does this sound crazy to you?)
To my surprise, I didn’t buy that many books. In the end, I got away with four. I blame it on the Cinnabon because, apart from John Green, I suddenly couldn’t think of any specific books or authors I had wanted to look for. And they only had one book by Green, so… This time, they only had a “Buy one, get a second for half the price” offer, so even though I fell for that as well, I only came away with two. The fourth was mostly picked up because I would have felt guilty walking away with only three books. I ended up buying one YA book, one from the erotica genre, one general fiction and one about London. It was almost a surprise that I wasn’t asked if I wanted anything giftwrapped. For some reason, buyers with a diverse taste don’t seem to be very common in book stores.I had planned for there to be two parts but now this is getting longer and longer, so…