…You know you want to
As promised, here’s the rest of my holiday adventure story.
The flight from Istanbul to London lasted about four hours which I spent watching movies and ordering more and more cups of orange juice. I could hardly get over my apprehension of the icy ‘spring’ the United Kingdom was experiencing and how I would soon be thrown face-first into it.
Once out of Heathrow airport, the 3 degree centigrade wind welcomed me with an icy sting on the cheeks. I knew immediately that my Baby Phat denim jacket was going to be far less helpful here than it was in Turkey. Thankful for a ride to London Central, I quickly settled into a hotel just off Edgware road. I should state that hotels at Edgware road and its environs offer tourists proximity to a lot of tourist attractions as well as easy access to big stores and boutiques. If you are like me, whose main motivation for traveling is the promise of reckless shopping (or window shopping), you will totally enjoy being close enough to Oxford street where the cream de la cream of fashion stores reside.
Thinking that it would be easy to find a warm jacket since the cold had refused to let up, I set out soon after settling in. Again, most stores had removed their winter collection and replaced it with the spring collection- one more reason to ask myself why the boutiques were so unsuccessful at wishing winter away. They really did give it a lot of effort. #eyes rolling# Just when I started wishing I had just taken my old, dusty winter jacket along, I found a leather jacket slightly warmer than my denim one and prepared myself for maximum layering of clothes to keep the cold out.
Winter stayed on like a big bully and occasionally sent down soft and scanty bits of snow. I sucked in air and swallowed hard each time snow threatened. It was cold enough already without the snow. The weather man said it’s the coldest ‘spring’ the United Kingdom has experienced in the past 60years. I wonder if there is a scientific explanation for that.
Well, desperate to not let the cold win, I put on my Eskimo gear and ventured out to Oxford street. Soon, I was gleefully skipping in and out of a couple of stores, giddy with the euphoria of satisfactory purchases. I got invited to visit relatives at Borehamwood, Hertforshire. It was my first time in that part of town (just on the border of London) and as winter would have it, most parts of Borehamwood were ankle-deep in snow. There was where I learned of an amazing little thing called outlets.
If you are an avid shopper, but conscious about your money, you just have to know where the outlets are. I particularly favour the M&S brand but, most of the time, their items are so expensive, I cannot afford to buy as much as my addiction demands. #side-eyes#
Outlets are subsidiary stores where the big brands ‘let out’ their old stock. They offer items that didn’t get sold before their season expired. The prices have been cut several times and they are
all in perfect condition! I dove into my M&S world of low budget shopping and literally went to town. The Brentcross mall, Stevenage shopping centre and The Galleria at Hatfield each have at least one M&S outlet. Eastham has a Next clearance store which serves the same purpose as an outlet.
I spent the greater part of my time in a small town outside London called Stevenage. Being a largely residential town and relatively new settlement, it enjoys a lot of peace and quiet which is quite distinct from the hustle and bustle of the much older city of London. Stevenage is a beautiful place if you are looking for a very quiet and restful holiday. It is however not a tourist location so if you are looking to do a lot of shopping and sightseeing, you should probably prepare to make at least a forty-five minute journey by train into London.
While I enjoyed the peace and quiet of Stevenage, my desire to stamp this trip as my first true tourist holiday saw me in London a couple more times. I finally got to go to the Madame Tussauds wax museum. I just have to state categorically that whoever came up with the idea and plan for that museum has a very great mind. Most of the statues were strikingly similar to the real life individuals who were reproduced in wax. The British Royal family couldn’t have looked more real. People queued up to take photographs with them and little girls got to wear crowns for their photo shoots with the Royals.
Marylyn Monroe was there in all her splendour, with her white dress floating in the artificial wind beneath her. Almost everybody was ‘there’; Michael Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Desmond Tutu, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt, Morgan Freeman, Barrack Obama, Nelson Mandela, the Beckhams, the Twilight boys; even Shrek was there! People just couldn’t get enough pictures. Then we got on a ‘taxi ride’ that took us through tunnels of wax dramatization and illustration of the British history. There is where I first learned of the London fire.
As if all that was not enough, we got to watch a 3D animation of the Avengers saving London from some big bad dude. We were constantly docking from ‘approaching’ objects and jumping scared from sudden back pokes which I still cannot fully explain. Water ‘splashed’ on us when Spiderman got flung into the water fountain and the kids just couldn’t stop screaming from excitement. We were literally right there in the movie.
I soon had to say goodbye to all the movie stars, pop stars, sportsmen and other famous people that I had just had the pleasure of ‘meeting’ and taking pictures with. Next stop; the London Eye.
The London eye gave us a 4D presentation just before the ride to get us all pumped and excited about the sights and sounds of London. In case you don’t already know, the London Eye is a kind of giant slow moving merry-go-round that gives you a view of London from the top. I’ve heard people say it shows the whole of London. It’s not exactly my place to confirm or dispute that so I won’t but, it was definitely a nice ride. The view was spectacular.
If you’re a fan of Shirlock Holmes, you should probably visit his fictional address at 221B Baker Street. It’s been transformed into a tourist centre and people queue up to visit the fictional detective’s abode. If you also like looking at exquisitely constructed houses, Bishops Avenue will give you candy for your eyes. I’ve been told that it is the most expensive neighbourhood in London and quite a number of Nigerians own houses there.
Eating out is one of my favourite things to do so I did it…a lot. I stopped by Pizza Hut once and they had this ‘free’ salad thing going on. Customers got to serve their own salad while they waited for their main order. I couldn’t pass it off, of course. I scooped some random veggies together with a whole lot of other stuff that I can’t name even if I try and that was it. It was the very best salad of my entire life! Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, they served us the hot wings we had ordered. Now, the usual me would have felt bad about eating baby chickens but I really couldn’t get enough of the delicious wings. The Pizza was nice too but the salad and wings totally took the cake.
I observed how grocery stores, Asda and Tesco competed over lower prices and discerning shoppers took the advantage. I wish we had such helpful competition in Lagos. Food shopping would be much more affordable for a lot of people.
The weather got better by the second week of April and on some afternoons; it was as warm as 9 degrees. I was so grateful for a little sunshine once in a while.
Just a few days before I was set to leave, former British Prime minister, Margaret Thatcher died. The country was thrown into an unexplainable state as some celebrated and others mourned. Clearly, those who mourned felt a sense of loss based on their admiration of her contributions to the economic development of England as well as their deep respect for her iron handed style of leadership. Those who celebrated on the other hand, were glad that the woman whose policies caused them grief for several decades was finally gone.
While I sympathize with those who are still hurting over the irreparable losses that her policies caused them, I do not get the point of the rallies, street parties and mock statues of her. She left power decades ago and she has since stopped having any influence on public life/living. I really don’t see how her death ends or soothes any suffering or pain, neither do I see how it can undo any loss. What’s done is done. I personally think the gloating is creepy. #Just saying#
By the 15th of April, the weather was occasionally warm enough for people to step out in just jumpers and shorts but not hot enough to make anyone sweaty. How nice of the weather to get so good just when I had to leave. Oh, well! I did have my share of fun despite the cold so it was all good.
If you have never gotten VAT refunds on your trips to the UK, I suggest you start on your next trip. I took advantage of it for the first time and it felt so good. Who doesn’t like to get some of their shopping money back?! No one I know at least. Remember to ask for your VAT refund forms when next you shop on a trip to the UK.
I had to do an exhausting sprint all the way from the Terminal 3 VAT refund desk to Gate 43 (trust me, it’s far) to catch my early morning flight but each time I looked at all that extra money in my wallet and thought of all the things I could buy with it, I knew it was well worth it.