London Week 3 – Exploring the Nightlife & Surrounding Areas

Whenever my friends call me, one of the first things they ask is “How are classes going?” I think the forever answer for that can be summed up by my friend’s interaction from this morning:

Professor: You stated in your reaction paper that universal human rights should be bound by cultural realities, right?

Friend: What? (pregnant pause as brain works furiously) Oh, right, okay.

Professor: Would you agree with David Luban’s take on that?

Friend: (uncomfortable pause) Um… I guess?

Professor: Would you mind summarizing it for the class?

Friend: Um…(nervous chuckle) no, not really?

Yeah, that’s how classes are going. Stop asking.

 

Moving on… So, I haven’t really attempted to frolic into the evening up until now, and was both refreshed and displeased by what I found. First, particularly in the areas I have gone out in thus far, there are not a lot of annoying drunken shenanigans, thank god. But then, even if Google tells you the bar closes at a certain time, this is almost certainly a lie.

Prime example: Coin Laundry. My friend and I went there twice, once for happy hour around 6pm and once late-night around 12am because Google played us. I love much about this place. I love the vibe, I love that every time I walked by it I erroneously thought it was actually a coin-operated laundry facility, and I love the fact that if you ask for your wine “take-away,” they produce the bottle cap and give you the whole bottle to take home.

So, what don’t I love?

Why, I’m glad you asked. So, my friend and I arrived at Coin Laundry for our second time, at midnight, having ascertained from Google that the bar did not close until 2am and we had several hours of frolicking ahead of us. One drink in, which anyone who knows me knows this takes an hour to get to, we returned to the bar and were told, as we stared aghast, that the bar was closing.

“But… Google!” I futilely bleated, thrusting my bright screen under the unfazed bartender’s nose.

“Yeah, wow, huh. Look at that.” He glanced down at it, bored, and then went back to wiping down the counter.

While I gaped at the bartender like a guppy, my friend whipped out her phone and started scrolling furiously.

“Oh, wait, no problem.” She shoved her phone under my nose. “These three are all in walking distance and close at 2:30am.” Boom. We set off. We arrived quickly at the next, irrelevantly-named place, and were relieved to see people inside. We shuffled in quickly, noses pink from the cold, and began unwinding our scarves.

“Uh-” We looked up at the interruption, spotting the bartender waving his hand at us. “We’re closed.”

My friend intercepted the diatribe bubbling at the back of my throat (You can’t refuse to serve us, you racist —-!) and quickly asked “But, Google says you don’t close for another hour?”

“Oh, I mean you can sit in here until 2, but we stopped serving at 1.”

Really, Google? You said 2:30.

… And this happened with the other two bars.

So the main takeaways from this experience are 1. Don’t trust Google times, 2. Always call the establishment first to verify, 3. Classy geographic areas, like Covent Garden, St. Pancras, Clerkenwell, Westminster, and SOHO, close by 2, and 4. Bars typically stop serving alcohol 30-60 minutes before closing.

Shoreditch is not one of those classy geographic areas so, deductive reasoning decrees that bars in Shoreditch,therefore, close later than 2am. So, the next night we went out, that’s where we went.

Side note: Our first stop was a close-at-the-regular time Afro Beats party. This was like an aggressive college throw-back, complete with the stifling sweatiness, ladies strutting their form-fitting, cleavage bearing, tattoo-displaying outfits and tryna get chose, and finally, guys lurking in the shadows trying to figure out which honey they wanna hop on first. My absolute favorite part came at the 2am conclusion of the party, where everyone was trooping down the stairs to the outside, wildly chattering, drunkenly singing, or gloating over their catch of the night, and clearly about to disturb all of the sleeping residents of the area.

So, what were the party planners ready and waiting with? Taffy Lollipops.

The sheer brilliance of this will go down in history. Every single person who filed down the stairs was met in the middle by a member of security carrying a bucket of these lollipops, and given one, free of charge. It was like an optical illusion: Loud noises until stair #10, and then miraculously, as soon as stair #11 hit, complete silence. Permeated, of course, by an occasional smacking as someone attempted to dislodge the taffy from their teeth.

So, anyways,the party let out at 2am, but since this was Shoreditch, did we have to go home? No, we most certainly did not! We went to an entirely different bar that was open until 5am. Granted, I’m too old to be staying out that late on the regular, but it’s comforting to know that I could do it if I wanted to… which I, like, really don’t want to.

Travel Tips & Recommendations from Week 3:

  1. Tax Free Shopping: Did you know that you can get a refund on certain goods bought in the UK if you come under one of the following categories: 1. You are visiting the UK, but live outside the EU and are going back home, 2. You are an EU resident but will be leaving the EU for at least 12 months, or 3. You are a non-EU resident working or studying long-term in the UK, and will be leaving the EU for at least 12 months. If you come under one of those categories, you can get a VAT refund on certain goods purchased in the UK, provided you receive a VAT receipt and will be obtaining said refund before 3 months from purchase date has elapsed. All you need to do to get paid is bring a completed VAT 407 form, the goods, and VAT receipt to customs when you leave the EU to get it approved. Then you either bring the approved form to a refund booth (see [L] below picture for refund booths at both Gatwick and Heathrow airports), or mail the approved form to the retailer or their refund company (see [R] below picture of envelope given to me for my VAT refund from the specific retailer I purchased from). This does not apply to restaurants and service purchases, only goods. For more information, click here
  2. Google Hangouts: I don’t know why I didn’t realize this before, but if you have a gmail, you can make calls to the US and Canada for free from your computer. To anyone, anywhere, even if they don’t have an iPhone. Thus, I can now both call my Grammy who has declined to have a smartphone, as well as call my US-based credit card company and pester them re: details that are none of your business. A much better solution than FaceTiming my parents and then making them call for me, hold their smartphone up to the house phone so I can try and talk through two phones to a customer service representative.
  3. Money Conversion: This is sneaky sneaky. Depending on where you go to change your money, there are different conversion rates. Always ask about the exchange rate before you give them your money! My friend came to visit me this past week, and she and I went to six different places asking about the conversion rate they used, getting different answers from all of them! The post office’s rate was 1.6, the cell phone store’s rate was 1.5, the money conversion store’s rate was 1.4, oh, and Paypal’s rate is 1.56. Wish I had known that before I converted most of my money at the airport when I first arrived.
  4. ATM Withdrawals: This is a mild annoyance in that I am only able to withdraw 200 pounds per day from any ATM and, no, my bank would not increase my withdrawal limit. This means that every time I withdraw money I get charged the $5 foreign ATM transaction fee, and there’s no way around multiple charges when you need more than 200 pounds. Wells Fargo: 1; Becca: 0. Check with your bank before you frolic off abroad so you don’t get panicky confused running from ATM to ATM trying to figure out why your card is being spit back. No, you weren’t robbed.
  5. Groupon: This was actually my first time using Groupon, and now that I’ve tasted it, I may never go back. First of all, everything is cheaper with Groupon. My friend and I got a three course Italian meal, complete with a bottle of wine, for 19.50 pounds each. Ordinarily, this would have been 45 pounds each. They have excursion options for people doing the day trips to Stonehenge or the Roman Baths, as well as the Harry Potter Escape Room, the foam and ping pong brunch in Shoreditch, and the light-up zip-line caves with trampolines built into the walls in Wales. Very cool stuff, people.

Until next time!

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