This weekend, I returned to Harpenden to visit my second family one last time before I leave! It’s crazy to think it was my first of many sad goodbyes, since now I’m so close to being done with my time in Nottingham. But no more sad stuff yet, so here is what I did.
Kelly came along with me, and Saturday morning, Gillian, Will, and Miles all came with us into London. We met up with Simon, who I didn’t manage to see before term started, and went to Somerset House to ice skate! There was a huge tree, lights, and music all in the courtyard of this beautiful stately home. Originally, it was occupied by several royals, but now is a contemporary arts and culture center, that happens to have a lovely cafe and outdoor ice skating rink in the winter! I didn’t fall at all (although there were a few close calls) and overall it was so fun and beautiful. It really started to put me in a Christmas mood…
Although it was pretty cold, the sun was out so we were incredibly lucky with the weather AGAIN. We were nice and chilled after our skating, though, so we popped into the Somerset House cafe (it might have had an actual name but I don’t know it) for some hot chocolate. I could tell it was a posh place because there were walnuts and oranges sitting in bowls on the table. I also found out I’m not a very posh person because I didn’t know how to properly crack open a walnut and ate a considerable amount of shell the first time before watching Gillian do it. However, the hot chocolate was probably the best I’ve EVER had- it was dark chocolate, which is my fav, and had really nice cream on top and tons of chocolate shavings and was just so so good.
Afterwards, Simon, Miles, Kelly, and I split off from the parents to go around London a bit more. Luckily, since Simon lives in London, he knew how to get everywhere and got us on the tube to the Tower of London! (In theory, I could’ve done that too… but it was nice to not have to try.) We didn’t go on an official tour, but explored and saw just about everything!
The crown jewels were actually really amazing to see. This was just me being uneducated I guess, but I didn’t realize there was a crown for EVERY monarch! I thought it was one crown passed down and that’s why it was such a big deal! So it was quite cool to see wayyy more than I expected to, crown wise.
It was strange seeing all the other important stuff- there was a royal spoon, and a grand punch bowl (it was literally called that!). The punch bowl was all gold and could hold something like 140 bottles of wine. Must be saved for some pretty wild parties! So weird thinking that these things were actually used, and some, still currently! Like, someone would have to come in here and get the crown and everything out of the cases for the Queen to wear! It’s hard to imagine the royals as real people sometimes. Like, imagine if they gave the Queen the ring and put it on a finger it was too big for and it slipped sideways or something, and she would just have that awkward feeling of trying to hold it in place with her other fingers. Or what if it got stuck on her hand!
So I guess I’m now realizing they probably fitted the ring to her finger. But I don’t know, maybe it was one of the things that was passed down so they didn’t alter it. It’s possible.
The other weird thing was trying to actually conceptualize how real and valuable everything was. I mean, everyone has seen real diamonds and gemstones before on smaller scales, but also lots of fake gold and big tacky fake diamonds and stuff. So seeing the real thing- the CROWN- didn’t really hit me! Not like I expected to feel anything in particular, and it was really beautiful, but I guess I just can’t fully understand its worth and reality.
The security was also pretty interesting- the entrance and exit to the main chamber had the biggest, thickest, steel doors and padlocks I’ve ever seen. They were obviously open for visitors to just walk in, but if you were trying to steal the jewels or something, I would not recommend trying to get through those doors.
(Obviously couldn’t take any pictures in there.)
The White Tower, right in the middle, was the oldest building and was originally built to strike fear and awe into people. Apparently Guy Fawkes was tortured in the basement, a king was murdered in there a long time ago, and a block and axe from Tudor times that probably were used in the last public execution at the Tower. We toured the historic Line of Kings, which was basically just an armor display (that got a little repetitive after a while honestly). King Henry VIII was pretty massive though according to his armor, so that was at least interesting to see! Also in the Tower was the Chapel of St John, which we just took a quick walk through.
There was a memorial we saw called the Scaffold site, where executions took place inside the Tower. Normally they were done outside, so everyone could watch, but really important people got it done inside. Some of the significant ones were Anne Boleyn, the 2nd wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, his 5th wife, and Lady Jane Grey, who was Henry VIII’s great niece and became queen for 9 days after his son Edward VI died.
Another crazy thing was that some people actually live within the Tower- I believe some of the guards and/or beefeaters. These were what we suspected were their homes. So strange to see cars and little porch benches, while you’re looking over the tower wall.
I got really confused reading this sign at first and for some reason thought there was an actual chance of attackers. It really should be in past tense in my opinion.
I did enjoy touring the Tower, but honestly, not as much as I expected! I thought there would be more information about the events that took place, like the people such as Anne Boleyn that were imprisoned and executed there, instead of history of the literal building. There was a little bit of both, and I still found most of it interesting, but I don’t feel like I would be interested going back (at least for a very long time)! The last time I was there, in fact, I was 3 or 4, and Simon was there too!
After the Tower, we were starved, and walked up the Thames and across the London Bridge to Borough Market. The sun was just about setting and it was really beautiful!
Borough Market was a cute, bustling farmers market with tons of street food but also nice veggies and meats and stuff.
After that, we headed to Covent Garden, a really pretty shopping district, on the tube. There were tons of Christmas lights and decorations, and even a tree! It was so pretty and festive. The shops were all really nice as well and there were some pretty fancy ones.
Although it was really cold, there was an amazing ice cream place called Milk Train we HAD to go to. They wrap the cone in cotton candy and then cover it with toppings. The most sticky and delicious concoction ever.
What a time to be alive.
We then walked through Leicester Square, which was just a super busy and popular place because of all of the theaters and cinemas there. The pictures aren’t great but I took them just to show the atmosphere!
Then, Simon and Miles left us to head home, and Kelly and I ventured to Hyde Park for the Winter Wonderland festival! It was HUGE and filled with tons of food, tons of people, and tons of rides. We ate a little bit but mostly just walked around the whole thing. Again, it was just fun to experience the festivity. The British really like their fairs apparently.
After a super long, but fun, day, we navigated the tube back to St. Pancras and Harpenden.
The next day, we went to church with the family in the morning, and then to the Christmas fair in Harpenden town center! Another place with lots of food and people, and lots of cute Christmassy booths and shops open down the street. All the pictures just really don’t look interesting at all so that’s why I don’t have any for Harpenden, although it was a really nice time and lovely town. I was sad to leave! We watched the lights turn on, which is apparently a big deal here in towns, and then dashed off to our train back to Nottingham. A really good weekend and great start to the Christmas season!
My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek.