On some level, it felt almost sacrilegious going to a Christmas/Holiday amusement park and market on Thanksgiving. But we were desperate for something to do while everyone else in our program stuffed their face with turkey.
It started with a couple of my friends asking me if I wanted to do anything on Thursday. No one had the time or desire to cook. Plus, it was only just the four of us and I was already planning on doing a Friendsgiving (a Thanksgiving potluck amongst friends) on Sunday. Ice skating was brought up as an alternative, and I immediately thought of Winder Wonderland in Hyde Park.
I’ve been seeing ads for this winter carnival everywhere: In the tube, in TimeOut: London, on buses, in the newspapers, etc. And as a good saturation marketing campaign should work, it kind of sunk into my brain and popped out again an option for a night out. Plus, I had already looked, that week’s tickets were discounted (off-peak is what they called it, the time right before the crowds start to appear). My friends had no objections, so we bought tickets to the ice skating rink online and planned on walking over together.
When the night came upon us, we bundled up and set out for Hyde Park. We could see the lights from Winter Wonderland as we approached, the rides sticking out from the tree like a distant…well wonderland. As we got closer, and the Serpentine came into view, the carnival’s reflection appeared and glittered in the dark water. The excited screams of riders drifted towards us in the breeze. We all took a movement to stop, stare, and smile, before continuing on.
The place was bigger than expected. Through a gateway proudly proclaiming that we were now entering Winter Wonderland was a maze of roads with minimal signs and maps. We got a little lost trying to find the ice skating rink. The lights and sights dazzled us, and we were easily turned around. But eventually we made it, just in time for our 8:00pm time slot.
After picking up our skates and checking in bags, we were out on the ice. It was a relatively small rink and the condition of the ice was terrible, but overall we had a good time. It took me a moment for my muscles to remember how to skate, but I eventually got into the swing of things. I wasn’t as good as some of guys who were quite literally skating rings around other people, showing off to all the girls in the crowd, but I wasn’t as bad as the people who refused to leave the ledge throughout the whole hour.
I did fall three times though. The first two were my fault. But the third, someone ran right into me. It had gotten pretty crowded by that point and this girl just plowed straight into me. We laughed and she apologized profusely as only the English can. Nobody was hurt.
After our hour was up, we returned our skates, picked up our bags, and then headed out into the market and carnival. We didn’t have much money on us (it was cash only) so we just wondered about: touching all the knick-knacks and ornaments in the market stalls, staying away from the numerous and deviously tempting candy stalls, gaping at all the rides that were lit up in an obnoxious amount of lights (there was even an haunted house), drooling over the smell of the German food wafting out from the food courts, etc.
There were a ridiculous amount of pubs and mulled wine stalls. This wouldn’t have happened in the states. The more time I spend here, the more I’m realizing how Puritan America still is. In the states, drinking is common but not commonplace, whereas here, it’s everywhere. You can even get a pint on the train or in a museum. So when we saw all the alcohol in Winter Wonderland, I all that wasn’t surprised.
We eventually couldn’t resist buying some freshly-made donuts, chowing down on the sugary goodness as we made our way out of the place. It was getting close to closing time. As we headed home through the park, we turned back and the lights were already off. The wonderland was dark and the further we went, the more the rides blended into the tree line. Eventually it looked as if it hadn’t been there at all.