Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What happened to the snow?

I'm not sure what's going on with winter this year. We're in the final few hours of November, and so far I have yet to see a single snowflake! This has been a particular source of annoyance for me, because everyone knows how much I love frozen precipitation. Not only that, but we got our snow (again, after everyone else did!) mid November, last year. No fair. Hmm.

That said, apparently it snowed in Scotland earlier this month, and is due to snow there again tonight, which I suppose is good for them. If they like snow, that is.

However, I'm going to have to wait for my snow, as despite the slowly cooling weather, we haven't had so much as a flake of it, as I said.

Yep, the countdown to christmas is on again (not that it was ever really off), and I've bought um *checks* 5 pressies so far.

And so the weekend just gone brought with it the first of the Christmas festivities, that is, our trip to London:

Part One: Winter Wonderland. Also, London.

Yep, every winter, or for the past couple anyway, my mum and I seem to enjoy going to London to see what's on there. And so, waking up ridiculously early on saturday, we were driven to the coach station by my lovely helpful Brother.

Thankfully, there was no huge long interminable wait, as the coach (a rather shiny, new, and astonishingly expensive one!) was already there waiting for us, and, well, the journey was pretty comfortable and didn't seem too long, I suppose.
I spent a while reading a book or two and listening to tunes while my mum caught up on her sleep.
Eventually, we arrived, as you'd expect really, and off we got. I'd not even taken my first few steps before someone almost walked into me. Yep, welcome to London, a city with - you'd think - a dozen people for every square meter of space.

We had our traditional ogle in the "prestige car's shop" (a run-down looking showroom that seemed to give the impression that the rent was more than selling lamborghinis and paganis could cover), and found a fairly shiny (and fairly old, in prestige car terms!) Lamborghini Diablo SE 30.

We headed, as we do normally, into hyde park, and before long, got to my favourite bit of the entire city, Winter Wonderland. It seems that other people love it too, as I stood and watched depressed looking people instantly breaking into festive smiles as they entered, smelling the foods and hearing the christmassy music. No, really! Okay, so it wasn't lovely and snowing, but it wasn't attacking me with squalls of rain like it has done before. The cold was quite seasonal, and the cheerfulness at being there certainly stopped me from feeling the chill. And so off we went, wandering around, looking at the various stalls around the entrance. These included the traditional Christmas Gift Store, loads of food places including a Farm Burgers place and a Chinese Noodle shack (Hmm, Chinese Noodles, a christmassy treat?!), and, best of all, a rather lovely looking Father Christmas, that actually looked like Father Christmas is supposed to look, and not like some guy in a fake beard.

I had fished out my camera by this point and had started taking happy little pictures of everything I thought might be interesting to remember later, like a happy little tourist, Bob Ross style, I suppose. The place was already beginning to fill up even as we wandered around the "first" bit.

A short sit down later, and we started working our way around the attractions, including a genuine ice rink with real ice (and costumed elves). We wandered up to the official gift shop where we met a couple of tourists who were enamoured with a cake tin, before making our way round to the festively named Angel Market. Here, I was pleased to see that the rather lovely variety of stalls that had attended last year, were in attendance again. After a few free samples of "mountain cheese" (eh?) from the Speck merchants [see last year's entry] (I think), we worked our way down the wide variety of craft stalls, looking at everything from jewelry to candles, from homemade leatherbound books, to the ever-present gl├╝hwein, and "long drinks", whatever they were.

In time, we got around to one of my favourite parts of the day. Ever since last year's rant on Krakauers, I'd been looking forward to another one. Or two. So off we went and bought our krakauers, before scooting into a log cabin to eat.
And there we stayed, eating our delicious krakauers, enjoying the heat from the lovely fire (in one of those log stove things), and listening to a familiar voice mutilating a couple of christmas songs.

Yep, the Animatronic moose had returned for another sellout tour. In fact, according to Winter Wonderland's opening hours, I'm 99.9% certain that he's there right this second, singing Christmas songs in not one, but three languages (GB, D, E). Again, I'm pretty sure I heard him dispensing helpful advice at some point.

I was going along to go and get a second Krakauer, but I thought I'd be best off seeing what the rest of the place had to offer first. However, tired with standing at the table in the lovely warm log cabin, my mum decided we'd be better off sitting down somewhere quiet and out of the way, where we could watch the animatronic moose. She disappeared off for a while, and returned with a trio of fresh potato cakes, which were liberally covered in apple sauce and sugar. Except they weren't, due to um, a mixup on my mum's part I guess. Removing most of the salt from the apple sauce, I ate the majority of the apple sauce, and most of a potato cake, before it turned cold and I lost interest. At this point we were joined by a quartet of Japanese tourists, who I seem to remember seeing take photos of each other.

Eventually, we carried on our tour of the place, before, to my absolute delight, I found a place dealing exclusively in honey and mead. Mead, if you don't know, is kind of like a wine or beer. Like a wine because it's sweet, like a beer because it's made with yeast. It's an old old drink, many thousands of years old (it was especially popular in the early middle ages (500-1500AD)), and is made chiefly with honey, water, and yeast. The alcohol comes from the fermentation of the sugars in the honey.

Now, as a fan, both of all things medieval and especially of Skyrim, in which mead is every other character's favourite drink, I'd been itching to give it a go, and so I did, as they were offering around free samples.
Mead tastes like warm runny honey, with just enough alcohol to make your throat burn slightly. It's really lovely, and so I bought a couple of bottles more or less right there. One of normal mead, the other of Spiced mead (technically a metheglin), dramatically labelled "Feuriger Drache" (Firey Dragon), which featured a lovely warm seasonal image of a slavering dragon with a rather expensive looking sword through its throat (no, really, I'll prove it later).
Mead is an absolute bugger to get hold of, so finding a place completely dedicated to it was fantastically good fortune, and cheered me up even more.

A final tour around, and off we wandered towards Harrods. Before we got there though, we had to take a detour down past a bit of grassy parkland, covered in autumns dry leaves, and absolutely frantic with squirrels (if 8 or 9 in a small area of grass is absolutely frantic).

These little dudes jumped about, searching under leaves for each other's food caches, and occasionally, bounding up to people. You see, there are so many people in and around hyde park, day in day out, that the squirrels are absolutely, totally and completely unafraid of people. Even as my mum rested against the iron fence, one individual hopped on top and came to see if she had any food, even going so far as to climb over her arm (this was repeated by a pigeon a few moments later).

I encouraged the attention of one squirrel in particular, who (without giving me opportunity to get any decent pictures), hopped over to the fence, between the bars, and stopped right at my feet. After a brief pause, (and I have a witness, my mum is my witness) said squirrel then jumped onto my leg, and climbed, bit by bit, up it, before disappearing round my back, much to the amusement of the people around me. He didn't seem bothered by the fact I was twisting around trying to see what he was up to, and seemed quite comfortable nestling under my backpack, in the small of my back. After a short time, he hopped down to the ground, presumably satisfied (or perhaps dissatisfied) that I didn't have any food for him.

A few moments later, another squirrel (or maybe the same one?) climbed the leg of a small girl, who was nearby, before hopping onto the fence nearby, where a couple of other tourists somehow convinced it to stay perfectly still for me to take a few pictures :-).

And yes, off to harrods.

Harrods, wow. Even by its own standards, it was absolutely ridiculously full of people. The only way to move from one room to another was to basically pick a flow of "traffic" that was going in the right direction, and to try and join that flow.
We stayed in harrods just long enough to get wound up and severely annoyed with the crowds.

After that, we went to another few places. We went to Trafalgar Square, to see the olympic countdown clock thingumy.

We went to Garfunkel's for a quick meal, where we met a nice family from Norwich (thus confirming my suspicion that no one you meet in London is actually from London).

And finally, we went to Fortnum & Mason, which is apparently a very popular and prestigious department store. It's famous for being the first place in the UK to sell Heinz Baked Beans, and the birthplace of the Scotch Egg. Yummy.
Admittedly, its decor, based mostly around seminaked Vaudeville style mannequines wasn't really to my taste, and would have looked more in place in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but hey, it's a privately owned business, so I suppose they can decorate the place how they want :-).

After that, we zoomed off to a pub, before catching the coach home.

And that's that. A nice, festive, if tiring day, out.

Some pickatures. In no particular order whatsoever, of course:

PART TWO: Gainsborough.

No sooner had I got to sleep after returning to London, than it was time to go to Gainsborough. The day was bright, the sky was clear (I think) and I was looking forward to it.

Arriving in Gainsborough, we went straight to the hall and wandered around looking at the lovely stuff that people were selling. As in London, varieties on a theme of hand made clever stuff were being sold throughout the hall. We did our traditional sitting down by the fire in the kitchen for a while, then went out to watch a sextet (it's a word) of minnie dancers (like morris dancers, but female I guess) who were quite capable of doing some interesting dance moves using nothing more than two shoefulls of bells and some bits of rope.

I have to admit, Morris Dancing's not really my thing, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves (with the exception of one woman who looked like she was there for a bet), and this was a medieval themed day after all, and so we watched for a while before heading off into the town.
There, I took the opportunity to do some shopping, buying a couple of inexpensive stocking fillers, before we had a small wander round what Gainsborough calls "A christmas market". I have to admit, in comparison to winter wonderland, it left me a bit underwhelmed, but since it was technically approaching Christmas time, and it was a market, it didn't feel fair to complain. Besides, I was in a happy christmassy mood :-).

A short car journey later, via the jeweller's with the unfortunate typeface (he has CHANGED his sign, so it's no longer unintentionally rude!), and we were at the local garden center, exploring their christmas decoration department, and trying to ignore their absolutely horrifically bad CD of musical nobodies (all with a diploma in writing severely dated 1980s gameshow theme tunes) butchering a few of my festive favourites. I recorded 3 home videos in the same room as that CD, two of which I have since deleted, I hate the music that much.Hammond organs do not belong in Christmas carols :P.

After that, off home, where I relaxed until I went to bed :-).

So yeah, we're getting slightly more christmassy than normal. Could still do with some snow though!