Birthday Surprise in London

A friend of mine (V) turned 40 last autumn and another friend (M) and I were thinking what would be a great birthday surprise. We already had a tradition of going somewhere for a day or two and spending some time in each other’s company, but we wanted to make this more special as this was the first big four-o in our circle of friends.

We chose London because there is always something fun to do and this is also the city where V used to live. Due to M living abroad and some scheduling issues the birthday celebration was delayed by a few months, but finally in March it was The Weekend.

And we almost didn’t make it. Due to the ground services strike here in Helsinki, our flight was cancelled. M and I spent some time on the phone trying to get through to reschedule the outbound flight only to be told by the recording that there are too many people waiting to reach Finnair customer service and the phone call to be disconnected. Finally M got through just to hear that they found V’s flight, but not mine. After pushing that in fact both flight were booked at the same time under the same booking number, they found my flight as well. They also managed to schedule us for the morning flight via Stockholm only to call 30 min later and inform us that that wasn’t going to happen. Finally they managed to reschedule our flight as direct, but 3,5 hours later than initially. This meant that we would only miss one dinner in London and would manage to do everything else that we planned.

On the day I picked V from her place and told her that we’re going to pick M up from the airport and then go from there. At the airport V finally started suspecting something as we ended up in a departure lounge instead of arrivals lounge. V was instructed to pack lightly and was told that we would take care of everything like shampoos etc. and if she had doubts about something, she should consult us before packing something with her. She was also instructed to have a picture ID with her. This worked out great as she didn’t have any liquids over 100 ml with her and her only picture ID was her passport. 🙂

We rented this Airbnb apartment as it is much easier to stay in an apartment rather than a hotel room when there are three of us. It turned out to be a smallish apartment on a third floor with rather a lot of stairs, but was clean and functional for three people. As M arrived to London on time, she got and bought us amazing dinner for the first night. We got sushi, different salads, fruit, bread and toppings, and macaroons. It was heaven after getting to the apartment around 11 p.m. and enough to make up for not managing to go and try the food at BAO. I’ve been to London twice in the past year and a half and both times I couldn’t make it. Once it was closed and now the flight was cancelled. Maybe next time. 🙂

The next morning V woke me up at 6 a.m. When I politely enquired why the hell she was awake and talking to me at this hour, it turned out that her phone woke her up and she thought it was 8 a.m., which was the time we were supposed to wake up. So she changed the time settings on her mobile and then the phone changed them by itself as well.

Finally we got up and headed to have breakfast at the Exmouth Coffee Company nearby. The breakfast was super good and we had to buy brownies to go as well because they looked so good!

1_Exmouth Coffee Company
Breakfast at Exmouth Coffee Company

After breakfast we headed to the O2 arena, where we wanted to see the Star Wars Identities exhibition. We bought the tickets in advance and had to make our allocated time slot at 11:30. What you need to remember in London that the underground never works as it should. Especially on weekends. One time I booked a hotel near the tube station just to find out that it was closed for the entire duration of our stay and this time the trains went only to one direction and it wasn’t the one we needed. Finally we managed to find the O2 arena and its entrance and we were met by a huge amount of people wearing cowboy hats and blaring country music. It turned out that there was also a country music festival at the O2 at the same time. 😀

1a_The O2 Arena
The O2 Arena

Anyway, we found the Star Wars exhibition entrance and after a lot of waiting we reached the exhibition and it was actually quite great. You also get to create your own character as you go, which seemed silly at first, but was pretty cool in the end. 🙂

2_Star Wars
Star Wars Identities
3_Star Wars
Star Wars Identities
4_Star Wars
Star Wars Identities
5_Star Wars
Star Wars Identities: Your character is displayed at the end

After the Star Wars exhibition we headed towards The Lyceum Theatre, where we saw The Lion King musical. It was amazing! Super cool! The only weird thing was that the boy actor, who played Simba, was black and when the story went to adult Simba, the guy playing him was white. 🙂 He also wasn’t that good especially compared to the actress, who played adult Nala. She was awesome! Also as we went to see the 14:30 show and there were a lot of kids there, who were trying to talk and sing along and their parents had to shush them every once in a while. So while I get that kids are kids, if you want to avoid that, I recommend the evening show as the tickets are quite expensive and it is a bit annoying to have all this background noise. Otherwise the show was absolutely great!

5a_The Lion King
The Lyceum Theatre

After the musical, we walked to the restaurant called Clipstone. I’ve read some good reviews about it and wanted to try the food. The idea is to try many small dishes and share them with everyone at the table. I would say that the food was mostly good and quite inventive, but it was pretty difficult to share and some of the dishes could have had stronger flavors. Also the cocktails weren’t that great. But we had a good dinner. 🙂


After Clipstone we headed for drinks to The Artesian, which was voted as the world’s best bar. They don’t accept reservations, but we started at the bar and were invited to move to a table after about 20 minutes, so it worked out great. Some of the drinks were really good and had a nice presentation and some were more average. I think I expected something absolutely mind-blowing, so I was a bit disappointed. As drinks were £20 per drink, I think I have gotten similar or better value in some other places in London. But the bar itself was also gorgeous, so it was a nice end to our day.

The Artesian

The next morning I had the pleasure to be woken again at 6 a.m. due to V’s mobile. She swore that she fixed it the night before, but it was a short sleep yet again. We checked out and returned the key to the Airbnb hosts and headed towards Muriel’s Kitchen to have breakfast. Unfortunately we were running late and there was a big line outside Muriel’s Kitchen, so we had to head towards nearby Pret A Manger and had breakfast there.

13_Pret a Manger
Pret A Manger

We were heading to catch the last day of Undressed exhibition at V&A Museum on the history of underwear. We had bought the tickets in advance, so we had to catch our time slot at 12:30.

14_V&A Museum
V&A Museum

Our final stop in London was the tipsy afternoon tea at Mr. Fogg’s Tavern. I’ve been there before and I think that the place is quirky and lovely and the tipsy tea is very good. 🙂 It was a wonderful way to finish the birthday surprise and we had to head to Heathrow airport right after the tea. We managed to fit a lot into the two days we had and managed to be on time for everything despite the London underground, so this was a success.

15_Mr Fogg's Tavern
Mr. Fogg’s Tavern

Here (2017 London) is the original plan for our weekend in London. And if you think that this is too detailed and obsessive, I don’t disagree. 🙂 But at least I don’t have to think about practicalities on the go (except of course when London tube surprises you). We also managed to buy tickets for everything around one or another Brexit announcement, so the pount was almost equivalent to euro, which made the tickets a bit cheaper than they would’ve normally been.

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