London: Christmas at Kew

And I’m back (for now), with a long overdue Christmas post, though the belatedness is not entirely my fault. I couldn’t possibly have written this before Christmas, since I didn’t visit Kew until the 4th of January. This past month has certainly been interesting, and not in a good way, but I’m glad Biden at least managed to get inaugurated without further incident from Trump’s idiotic minions (though I was super weirded out to see people hugging and kissing at the inauguration, even with masks on). Here in England, we’re in lockdown again until at least the middle of February, so I’ve barely been leaving the house. It was lovely having a break over Christmas to sit on my couch and watch nonstop Christmas and Cary Grant movies (The Bishop’s Wife is both!), but going back to work (remotely, of course) has just made me a giant ball of stress. I’ve been asked to help finish up our NLHF project, which means getting out a TONNE of content in the next month, so I’m working an extra day a week to stay on top of it (with pay, but still), and since I’m mainly working with our WordPress-based website where I have to use stupid Block Editor and the formatting gives me migraines, I’m not feeling especially inclined to be regularly blogging in my free time. So I think that for the next couple of months or whenever things might start to open up a little bit again, I will probably just be posting once a month or so to give myself a break from WordPress (because spending like 30 hours a week on it for work is enough!) and not give myself the added stress of trying to develop posts when there’s no museums to visit (ironically, I took this job because I thought it would be less stressful than my old one and I’d have the mental energy to write more…).

 

But enough with the complaining (at least in the introduction), and let’s get to Christmas at Kew. I’ve been trying to visit this festive light installation at Kew Gardens for a number of years, but it always sold out before I could book tickets (they offer it to members first, and those jerks seem to book it all up). So when I saw last September that they were still hoping to go ahead with it this year, and there were still tickets available, I took a chance and snapped up two tickets for early December at the hefty price (off-peak, no less!) of £19.50 per ticket. And then, of course, the November lockdown was announced, which not only spoiled my intended wedding date, but also my Christmas at Kew visit. Fortunately, rather than cancelling, Kew added in more dates in January, and re-booked us for the 4th. Not as good as going before Christmas, but better than not going at all!

 

Marcus and I did have some concerns, since we knew Covid rates were on the rise pretty badly in London (though we hadn’t realised quite how badly until the lockdown was announced), but Kew is only a few miles away from us, and the event was entirely outside, required masks, and had limited numbers attending, so we decided it was worth the relatively small risk, and set out in early evening to check it out. Since we’d never been to Christmas at Kew before, I don’t know how it compares to what they normally offer, but it was pretty magical. Kew Village itself still had some nice lights up as we walked to Kew Gardens, and all the staff when we arrived were friendly and helpful. Because of Covid, they had three entrances open this year to space out traffic – you chose the entrance when you booked based on your intended method of transport, so we used Victoria Gate because we came by train, which didn’t have anyone else going into it when we arrived.

  

As you can see, all the paths were bedecked with lights, and it was easy to social distance on the pathways, but perhaps a bit less so in front of the larger light show installations where people tended to congregate, but I guess at least we were all outside, so it felt safer than some of the museums (looking at you, BM) I’d been to back when that sort of thing was allowed. Although eating maybe wasn’t the smartest thing to do, as it involved removing our masks for a bit, I was excited that Kew was still having food stalls this year. I visited Southbank Christmas Market in 2019 more times than I can count for the toasted cheese stall there (and considering what happened in 2020, I have no regrets whatsoever), so I do totally love a hipstery Christmas market, and since the delivery options are pretty poor where I live (nearly all chain restaurants except for a handful of Indian places and a falafel/hummus bar that is delicious but is only open until 4, so I have to be in the mood for a really late lunch or early dinner to eat it. Not gonna lie, I do love the occasional Domino’s (but only in the UK – the American version is gross), but not a fan of fast food or chains otherwise) I was thrilled just to eat some nice food that I didn’t have to cook myself. And the stalls we tried were actually surprisingly high quality. The chip “shack” had literally the best cheesy chips I’ve eaten in the twelve years I’ve lived in the UK – the guy even blowtorched the cheese on top so it got all gooey and delicious – and the waffle topped with peanut butter cremeux, banana, chocolate sauce, and honeycomb crumble that I had from Utter Waffle was amazing (and this is coming from a waffle purist who usually just likes syrup) and gluten free to boot (not that I care, because I love gluten, but it made the tastiness of the waffle even more impressive), so I was excitedly messaging my gf friend who lives in Kew whilst I was eating it and telling her she had to go there. I also may have had two hot chocolates, because fuck it, I was treating myself.

  

And the lights were pretty great too, though I confess I was more distracted by the food for some of the time. I especially loved the tree shown above left, the animal sculptures, and the dandelion pod things that were suspended over our heads. I’m team coloured lights all the way (white lights are just so boring), so I was glad the installations were mostly pretty colourful and the white lights were at least in interesting shapes. There was Christmas music piped in throughout, and a final large display projected on the fountains in front of one of the glasshouses, which was particularly cool but fairly crowded, so we didn’t hang around for long. Kew had made an attempt to accommodate this by clearing a large standing space in front of the fountains, but people gonna be jerks if given any opportunity, so they did still pack themselves in, albeit not as tightly as they would have done in pre-Covid times. I would imagine the whole thing was much less crowded than it would have been before Covid, and probably so much the better for it, as we could explore with ease, and staff members at least kept people moving along on the pathways.

 

I actually really loved Christmas at Kew, perhaps partly because it was the only Christmas activity I got to do this year, but I would definitely go back in a “normal” year too to check it out again (if such a thing as a normal year exists anymore). And it turned out to be the only activity we got to do at all for who knows how long, because whilst we were there, my friend who I messaged about the waffles messaged me back and said that it looked like they were about to announce another lockdown, which happened as we were on our way back home (luckily, the trains were super empty that day, and we were the only people in our carriage), so I guess Kew rescheduled our visit for the perfect time, as we wouldn’t have been able to go if it was even a day later. 1 in 30 people in London with Covid is a pretty terrifying figure, so I understand why it had to be done, but I am still happy we got to squeeze Christmas at Kew in first, because it was a much needed treat! 4/5.

  

See you again at some point in February, and really hope things have improved a bit by then, though I’m not counting on it!

 

19 comments

  1. It’s never too late to look at lovely Christmas lights. I’m so ready for things to get back to normal too. This pandemic is very wearing. Stay safe!

  2. I had a similar experience with holiday lights at New York Botanical Garden, going the first week in January and posting about it a few days after that. Kew looks prettier, or maybe it’s just your pictures are better.

    1. Usually the lights here are not so great, at least on people’s homes, since not many people go all-out the way they do in America, but Kew was really good! I did notice more lights this year in general though, maybe because everyone was staying home. We normally don’t put lights on our house since we usually go visit our families for Christmas, but this year we did and it was really nice to have our own decorations for once!

      1. In 2019, I didn’t even put up a tree. This past Christmas, I had the tree up even before Thanksgiving just to cheer the place up. Lights outside and wreath on the door, too. Kept them up until way past New Year.

  3. I’m still using the WordPress Classic Editor, and hope they keep supporting it for the next few years. I’ve tried the Block Editor, but found it totally chaotic.

    1. I’ve gotten a lot better with Block Editor, and I will concede that it is easier to use if you’re doing coding and have a business site, since the shortcodes do the work for you, but for a basic site like my blog, Classic does the job just fine since most of the shortcodes and plugins aren’t available anyway on free sites.

      1. My blog is self-hosted, so I can get all the plugins I want, but I got them when I started four years ago, and now I see no reason to keep fiddling with them.

    1. It was so weird, but typical of what seems to be happening in America generally. My family are all going off on holidays in the US, and seemingly just going about their normal business (and yet still complaining about how difficult life is), and I just don’t understand it at all.

  4. So glad you had the opportunity to get to Kew – and enjoy the cheesy chips too (which sound utterly divine)! I love Christmas lights in general – and those look amazing!

  5. The Bishop’s Wife – yes! It was first on my list for watching this Christmas. I know we’ve discussed it before but he is just too good. I love how Elsa Lanchester’s Matilda gets all goofy around him. That would totally be me, but times a hundred.
    So sorry to hear about the work stress though – and I’m with you on hating Block Editor. Ugh. When I came back after being away I was like “what fresh hell is this?”
    Oh my god, I want that waffle so bad. I consider myself a waffle purist as well – I can even do with just a pat of butter – but holy hell, I could go for all those toppings right now.
    And the light displays are delightful. I’m especially fond of the lantern trees but otherwise, like you, am team coloured lights.
    Thanks for the visual treat. Continue to stay safe, please!

    1. Yes! Elsa Lanchester (who seems to go straight from being Bride of Frankenstein to playing servants, poor woman) and the ice skating scene, which is so great.
      I had waffles for breakfast this morning, which I was planning on and looking forward through all of this long stressful week. I actually have three waffle irons because my waffle obsession is so great, but my favourite is still the one I bought right after I moved to London, which was literally the first purchase I made from Amazon UK. I didn’t even have a full set of bedding yet, but I had the ability to make waffles. Priorities.
      I hope you stay safe too! I’ve barely left the house this lockdown, so I think I’ll be alright.

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