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Memories of the Millennium Dome

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At the end of June 2000, I visited the then-called "Millennium Dome", which has now been rebranded as "The O2" and is a popular music and entertainment venue packed full of restaurants and a cinema. The "Millennium Dome" began its life as a project to mark the millennium, similar to the London Eye and Millennium Bridge; unlike the Millennium Bridge (opposite St. Paul's Cathedral), it opened in 2000. The project had funding from the lottery money and housed different scientific and environmental 'zones'. I believe that it tried to be a modern version of the Crystal Palace and State Fair. I'm not sure if there were ever any plans for the dome after 2000, but I do know that they did not wish to dismantle it and tried to find a buyer for a good few years before it became the venue it is today. Overall, the project lost money.

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After 2000, the zones were stripped out. Some of it was auctioned off, and other parts went into a landfill. The most iconic and famous piece, "The Body Zone" was mainly sent to a landfill and what could be recycled was recycled. Several years ago and when the venue was kitted out with restaurants and an auditorium, I noticed a last replica of the original interior. They were curving white sculptural benches, and they were located near the middle of where the restaurants and the VIP area are now at. The last time I visited the venue, I did try to find them but could not. I imagine that they eventually got ripped out.

On that day toward the end of June in 2000, I remember my visit to the Millennium Dome. I went with an ex-boyfriend, and I regret that I did not purchase more souvenirs, though I was a student then and money was tight. At the time, I was actually living in Finsbury Park at that time and working in Highbury and Islington for six months on a work exchange programme. I became aware of the exhibition through the news and through my ex-boyfriend mentioning that he would like to visit it. Seventeen years later, and I can see how much London has changed.

As for the souvenirs - I bought a mug or two (one for my father and one for my ex); I remember that my London A-Z (which we carried around before Google maps) had advertising for the Millennium Dome on the backside of it. I remember finding and walking a few steps of the Meridian Line, which is the imaginary point where Greenwich Mean time begins. It was located outside of the structure and near the Thames. I remember the gift shop where I bought a few souvinirs, including the yellow mug. I remember a little bit about the different zones inside.

The interior of the Millennium Dome was organised into several 'zones'. The dome itself acted as a canvas (made of plastic or some other similar material) over the top in order to protect the exhibits, and I remember thinking of how big it all looked and how high the ceiling was. Of course, the most iconic piece was "The Body Zone". This was a large model of two bodies, and the bodies could be entered to see the different areas, such as the stomach, the brain, and the heart. I remember a large beating heart in the middle and then sperm fertilising an egg before we went to the brain area and then out of the zone. We did not have to queue long, and the zone did not take long to go through; I believe it was also self-guided.

The Play Zone featured different games that could be played, and I remember going to look at this but finding it a bit too busy; I remember that this seemed to be more of an area for children but also with a lot of technology and some innovating ideas. I'm not sure if it was in this zone or another one, but there was an exhibit that would scan your face and you could change the filter on it to change your age, race, and gender. I also remember something about looking up other locations of the world to obtain information, but we tried to do this and some of the technology did not seem to work properly. This may have been in The Talk Zone.

The Money Zone let us see one million pounds on display. I also remember that there was a little bit of a queue, and we also saw the diamonds that some gang of robbers tried to rob. This was another of the areas that I do remember pretty well because there was something to see and I found it interesting.

The Relax Zone was very surreal, and I have a lot of memories of this because I found it a little too odd. I remember entering a room; I remember that I had to crawl around. Inside the 'tent' area were other people, and strange noises were being emitted from the zone as well as dimmed colours; it was almost psychadelic. 

One of the highlights was the show; I remember seeing actors dressed up in different costumes where the cinema was. They were entertaining us while we got our seats for the show. The short film "Blackadder Back and Forth" was shown, and this featured the actors from the original television series and a plot that enabled the characters to go back and forward in time. I found it very funny.

I remember that we did not have nearly enough time in order to see everything, but substance felt a little lacking. I understand that it was a very ambitious project and seemed to lack some direction perhaps and was at a time when a lot of uses for technology were being experimented with. Technology and artificial intelligence was fairly new then, and it was really the key to the exhibition, although interacting with technology is not a "material" or tangible item and varies depending on each user's experience. It's also an area that I do not remember too much about, and in some ways, we are further ahead. 

The diamonds, million pounds, body zone, Blackadder film, and the "relaxing" zone were what I remember the most about my day out. I do wish we would have seen the other show with the arobatics and performers as I had heard that it was worth seeing. 

Did you visit the Millennium Dome? What are your memories of it?

Soft Serve Society Ice Cream

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The weather today was quite warm. Several of my colleagues and the bloke were complaining that it was "too hot" *gasp!* today, but I enjoy this weather. This is the perfect temperature for me. I love the sunshine and not having to cover myself in many layers to try to keep myself warm; winter, on the other hand, I'd rather skip. This is the perfect weather for ice cold lemonade (or lemon water), sorbet, ice lollies, and ice cream. Ice cream is the topic of this post, and I chilled off with one of these today. The venue is Soft Serve Society, located at BoxPark in Shoreditch. 

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The Instagram-able ice creams are the current London rage with Milk Train (which I visited earlier this spring and covered here) being another popular ice cream venue. The craze at the moment is to put cotton candy (candy floss) around the ice cream. Of course, the two do not mix, but it looks awesome.

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Soft Serve Society have a range of different ice cream sundaes and milk shakes (which they call Freak Shakes) available to purchase. The ice cream flavours are vanilla or matcha, but they do sell a "flavour of the day" too. The Freak Shakes go all out with many of them including toppings such as slices of cake, cotton candy, popcorn, jumbo marshmallow, chocolate shapes, cookies, and more. I dislike milk shakes, but I managed to get a sneak peek of a couple of Freak Shakes that a couple of other girls ordered.

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Today was actually my second visit to Soft Serve Society. I also visited it on Easter Weekend. The weather was a bit grey, but it was warm enough to enjoy ice cream. I had one of the pre-made ice creams this time, dubbed the Cloud 9. The Cloud 9 consists of vanilla ice cream with a cloud of cotton candy floating on top. Popping candy and Pocky biscuits were placed on top of the ice cream with strawberry pieces floating on top of the sugary cloud. It looked very pretty.

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Today's visit inspired me to purchase an ice cream cone in a black cone. Yes, they have black cones. The image is at the top of this post. I choose vanilla ice cream with strawberry pieces and a chocolate shape. It was delicious and melted very quickly in the temperatures today. 

Soft Serve Society have a loyalty card, so I can imagine trying a few more of these in the coming weeks, as long as the nice weather is here to stay. Also, there is a range of toppings available, including: biscuit pieces, nuts, bubblegum, sprinkles, meringue, waffle, granola, honeycomb, caramel, pastry, flake, ginger, popping candy, and more.

Lunches at Dinerama

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This is Dinerama's third year running at the eastern end of Great Eastern Street. (The closest tube station is Liverpool Street Station or Shoreditch High Street.) In 2015, Dinerama gained a lot of attention as a popular place to visit for after work drinks and street food on weeknights and weekends. The location suffered a fire that summer, but it was quickly rebuilt. The venue also does open for the winter months, and the outdoor section gains a roof. Anyway, I am now working again in Shoreditch for the first time since the beginning of 2015 and have finally made it to Dinerama. I've been out with colleagues to Dinerama during the day when it's not as busy. The images were taken across a couple of different visits.

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Dinerama has something for everyone. In terms of bars, there are several located across the venue with three or four upstairs and a few downstairs. Tables are communal, and the downstairs is busier than upstairs....mainly because it's difficult to carry different food and drink up the stairs. 

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One of the bars upstairs had a wall of shelving with plants, and this is an idea that I've wanted to do for the house renovations but have not quite got there yet.

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In terms of food, there is a large variety, but sadly a few of the places are only open for dinner. Fundi pizza and You Doughnut are the ones that I'd love most to try, but they are closed at lunch. Club Mexicana sells vegetarian Mexican street food, Yum Bun sells soft steamed buns, Thunderbird sells chicken and spicy wings, seafood, dumplings, burgers, and barbeque are all on offer. There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options and plenty of bars.

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I do hope to visit the venue again for a taste of what is in store in the evening, but so far, I have tried to barbeque chicken and Mexican. The chicken wings looked and smelled good with the spicy sauce and were a hit with colleagues, and there's plenty of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to try.

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Dinerama is open from Thursday to Saturday from 12:00 noon until late.

Birthday Brunch at Chiltern Firehouse

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This morning, I headed over to Chiltern Firehouse to have birthday brunch. Chiltern Firehouse is located on Chiltern Street, a short walk from Baker Street tube and not too far from Selfridges. Before the building became a hotel and restaurant and celebrity hang-out, it was a former fire station (known as Marylebone Fire Station). The hotel and restaurant is owned by Andrew Balazs (who also owns hotels in NYC and California), and the head chef is Nuno Mendes.

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We started the brunch off by having a spritzer. We both had the strawberry and basil, topped with champagne. 

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We ordered the starters. I opted to try the Bacon Cornbread, which was served with chipotle-maple butter. (My palette loves spice and cannot detect it, so I did not taste the 'kick' of the chipotle.) The bloke wanted to have sourdough bread. 

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For the main, I ordered the buttermilk pancakes. These were topped with blueberries and creme fraiche, and a small pot of maple syrup was provided on the side.

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The bloke had the saddleback pork chop, and this was served with sauce ravigote and seared carrots. He also ordered chips.

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The food was very tasty and very filling, and we both struggled to finish our plates. We sat near one of the areas where the food is prepared, and the most popular item appeared to be eggs benedict. This always seems to be a popular Lodon breakfast and brunch dish, and it does sound nice indeed with a cheese biscuit and glazed ham.

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I saved some room for dessert and opted to try to lighter option, English raspberries, which came with a cream and mint granita. 

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I was also brought a miniature birthday cake, lit with a silver candle.

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After we finished, we left with full bellies to wander back to the underground station. I really liked seeing this classic Ferrari parked outside.

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Food was good with a different/creative twist so that it was not boring, and I could tell that fresh and good-quality ingredients were used. Also, staff were attentive to the presentation of the dishes before they were taken to tables. Staff were friendly and courteous to make my birthday visit special. 

On Saturday, the bloke and I took part in the special event MINIs at Dunsfold, which raised money for children's charity, Variety in association with The Italian Job Mini rally. The last time that this event was held at Dunsfold was in 2009. After a short break, the organisers have put the event on again this year, and this will be the final year at this track as it will be developed on and the site of a new housing estate. Dunsfold (near Guildford) is where the car enthusiast television show "Top Gear" is filmed, which we got tickets to go to for the filming earlier in the year. The test track is located here, and it is used in the series to test drive cars and to have celebrities drive cars around the track. 

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The event enabled groups of MINIs (approximately twelve at a time) in different groups around the track in five laps. There was a slow group, a fast group, and a group in between; there was a queue for each speed. All cars drove behind a safety car so that you couldn't overtake and crash out. We drove in the fast group for a few sessions, and this properly tested the car's boundaries. We had beautiful hot weather for it.  

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The inside of the track was a haven of wildflowers, which were filled with butterflies and bees. It's sad that this land is going to be developed on.

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We even got to see a plane doing tricks in the air above us in the afternoon.

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At the end of the day, those who were still around were asked to participate in a photo shoot on the way out. Photographs of our cars were taken as we drove around the track, and the final photographs included all of the cars in front of the iconic plane on the track/runway. There were so many MINIs that I could not even attempt to photograph them all; there were also a few rows back to the plane.

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Over the course of the day, over 2,000 pounds were raised for charity. This included the price of tickets, the donations made by the refreshment stands, raffle tickets, and merchandising.

Reigate Castle and Barons's Cave

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Last weekend, I went to Reigate to visit the caves. The caves are only open for a few days a year over the summer months, and last weekend was the first day of the year that they were open. You can read my post here: A Visit to Reigate Caves. Reigate is built on sandstone, and it has three caves to visit. Tunnel Caves is in two parts, and it is a former sand mine. Part of the tunnels can be accessed by guided tour only, and another section is kitted out as a museum and was used as air raid shelters. The other cave (Barons's Cave) is the oldest, and it was built at the same time as the castle.

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I went to Tunnel Caves before heading to Barons's Caves via the castle. Tunnels for both caves go underneath the castle. The castle was built in the late 1000s and was captured by the French in the early 1200s and was used in teh Civil War, where it was destroyed.

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Today, all that remains of the castle is the earth mound where it was built and Barons's Caves, which are under the mound where the castle stood. The former entrance to the caves was in the castle grounds, and this is marked by a stone pyramid structure (seen through the doorway in the image below). All of the castle's stones were taken and used for other building. 

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Today, a castle gatehouse was constructed in 1777 as a tribute to the castle that used to occupy the grounds and in memory of those who built it. 

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The castle grounds are now public gardens. In one place, the caves have collapsed and the ground is lowered.

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Footpaths can be used to walk up and around the castle and down to the modern day's entrance to the caves.

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Barons' Cave got its name from the barons who drew up the Magna Carta; it was rumoured to have been drawn up in the caves, but that probably is not true. Tours of this cave are guided only. Unfortunately, the queue was very long, and we were rushed through. Apparently it was the busiest day that the guides have ever seen, and a lot of people had apparently seen the open day on Facebook. This meant that we were rushed through and did not get long in the caves and had to share it with several other groups of about thirty people each.

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The below picture is the best I got to take of the original carved archway tunnels. The other areas have been damaged by people who stole the sand to sell on.

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One of the tunnels is larger and probably used as storage for the castle. At the end of the tunnel is the oldest grafitti, which dates to the 1600s. We were also shown the echo made if throwing a large stone at a sand-filled hole on the floor at the end of the passage.

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The other interesting feature in the caves are carved animals, such as horses and carved faces/heads.

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Have you ever visited Reigate Caves or the castle? The next tour is on June 10, and there are ones every month through to September. The cost to see all the caves is 4.50 per adult, and all caves can be visited easily in a day. Several town centre car parks can be used in order to access the caves. Arrive early in order to get the most of the caves. It is probably wise to do the Tunnel Cave tour first and then walk across to the tour of Barons' Caves before walking the museum tunnels at your own pace. (We wished we had more of an opportunity to see the older Barons' Caves.) For more information, see http://www.reigatecaves.com/index.php

A Visit to Reigate Caves

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One of the items in my calendar for last Saturday was to visit Reigate's caves. The caves are only open a few days each year, and this past Saturday was the first day that they were open for the year. Other dates are in June, July, August, and September. There are three caves to visit. The oldest is Baron's Cave, which was a part of the castle, and which I will be covering in another post. The other is Tunnel Road Caves, and this can be visited in two parts. One part is a visit by guided tour only, and the other part is a museum with uses for the cave and World War II information as the caves were used as shelters. (Read my post about Reigate Castle and Barons' Cave.)

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I arrived early to buy tickets, and I was happy that I did as I was on the first tour of the Tunnel Caves, and when we finished the tour, we saw a very long queue for the tickets. The museum tunnels were a bit busy too, and we had to wait in the queue for Baron's Caves and had a very large and rushed tour, which made it impossible to get any photographs.

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Reigate is built on sandstone, and the sand here is very good quality and fine. Sandstone mines opened up under the town, and the sand was sold to make clear glass bottles (amongst its other uses, such as covering the floor in pubs to clean them). Miners dug the tunnels to escavate as much sand as possible without the caves caving in. 

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To do this, they created large stone pillars, which are angled and arched (with arched ceilings) to take the load. The shapes and size of the pillars can be seen in my photographs.

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The caves stopped being mined when a bit of one tunnel caved in in the castle grounds. As a result, some of the tunnels were filled, and some of them were bricked up. Some access was provided in some areas to fix issues in the caves. Others were bricked up and filled in because of their proximity to a bank's vault. The caves used to have a bar in them, and they were used in World War II as air raid shelters. Concerts have also performed in the caves. They were also used for a cycle club meet-up point as a shop sold bicycles on Tunnel Road outside. The same group then formed the rifle club, which still uses the tunnels today and which has set up targets to shoot at.

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The caves were also used for dumping trash. Several barrels were thrown down into the cave, and only the metal rims survive. Most of the glass bottles were completely smashed, but a couple of intact ones and pots were found. Also, a meat refridgerator was found.

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During the years, people have made carvings on the soft sandstone walls. Others have stolen sand.  

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The caves ceased mining in 1862, and this was carved into the end of one of the tunnels.

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After the guided tour, we walked across the road to the Tunnel Caves Experience (also known as the East Side Caves). These tunnels of the caves were used as the shelters and for storage vaults for shops, and the most notable was used to store alcohol. Information about the stone mined in the caves can also be seen in one room, and there is a Roman tile kiln on display as well.

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One of the rooms holds a Morrison Table and is kitted out to look like the war years. The Morrison Table was used to shelter under. In case your home was hit by an indirect bomb and the building structure collapsed, you could be safe if you hid underneath the table.

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In the next room, we could sit inside an Anderson Shelter, which could survive an indirect hit from a bomb. These shelters were put up by average citizens for a place to hid during the air raids. Over 3.6 million of them were made, and most of them were given back to the council, although some were kept to be used as garden sheds.

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Another room showed the facilities, and both the women's and men's restrooms were available to see as they would have appeared back in the war.

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I will be covering the older cave, Baron's Cave, and the castle in another post. Have you ever visited Reigate caves?

One of my cousins lives in New York City, and he arrived in London this past weekend in order to spend a few days at seminars and an opera for his research on a particular composer. He had some spare time at the weekend, so we caught up on Saturday and then again on Sunday. We decided to have Sunday brunch, and I suggested Mews of Mayfair. London was celebrating Saint George's Day and the London Marathon.

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Mews of Mayfair is tucked away in Lancashire Court in the middle of Mayfair; it's at the southern end of South Molton Street and located in a cobbled alleyway that used to be stables for horses (mews). This is how the restaurant got its name.

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The weather was very nice, so we sat at one of the tables outside. The English flag was placed on a lot of the tables to celebrate St. George's Day, and the restaurant also had a special selection of cocktails to celebrate.

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Instead of the special cocktails, I had the Berry Mews cocktail, which was very fruity.

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For some reason, they did not give us the Sunday brunch menu when we asked, so we decided to just opt for the traditional Sunday roast. I had the roast chicken, and my cousin had the pork belly with applesauce. Both meals came with vegetables (brocolli, parsnip, and swede mash), cauliflower cheese, and roast potatoes. The food was delicious.

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After finishing, we headed off to do some sight-seeing and watched a couple of minutes of the London Marathon near Buckingham Palace. Some additional photographs of Mews of Mayfair are below.

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Have you ever visited Mews of Mayfair? What did you think?

Ruislip Fairy Village

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I spent Easter Sunday visiting the local market and an Easter Egg Hunt in Ruislip, which you can read about on a previous post here. I also went to visit the Ruislip Fairy Village, which is located in The Orchard near Winston Churchill Theatre, the Old Barn, and Ruislip Manor House. Ruislip Fairy Village is a group of tiny doors put onto the bases of tree trunks and stumps, and each one is unique and crafted beautifully by the mother of the fairies, Ellie Travis. 

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Unfortunately, vandals have destroyed the fairy village twice now, and it has re-opened on Easter morning, minus one of the doors that could not be saved. I met Ellie and spoke to her about the village, and she told me that there are 12 doors, but there used to be 13. (The Fairy Village is also now under CCTV surveillance so that anyone who damages it will be caught.) When I learned about Ruislip Fairy Village earlier this year, the village had already been destroyed. I have been waiting for it to be rebuilt. I am glad it has been rebuilt so that others can enjoy it.

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Originally, the Ruislip Fairy Village was installed in the base of one large tree. The door could be opened to reveal gifts left for children behind it. Children would then leave notes, and they could also receive a note and small gift from the fairies in return. This tree was later chopped down, so the door was eventually moved to The Orchard and more doors were created. The new doors started with a theme with homes for the fishermen, woodsman, washer, dress-maker, witch, and fairy dust maker.

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The Ruislip Fairy Village is beautifully-created and a pleasure to walk around to discover the little doors and the little items that have been created around each door. More photographs can be seen below.

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For more information about the Ruislip Fairy Village, visit https://www.facebook.com/ruislipfairies

As you may have read from my previous post, I did not travel far for Easter this year. On Easter Sunday, I walked to Duck Pond Markets north of Ruislip High Street and where the Old Barn and Manor House (Ruislip Castle) is located. I visited Duck Pond Markets for the first time right before Christmas soon after I moved to the area. Duck Pond Markets offers an alternating artisan market and a food market every other Sunday in Ruislip, and vendors for the market can travel to other locations on the other weeks. 

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Before arriving at the market, I have to walk up Ruislip High Street. Most shops were shut, but I did notice that a few coffee shops and cafes were open. One of them, Fields, is new to Ruislip High Street. I decided to pop in and had a hot chocolate and a croissant.

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Duck Pond Markets and the Old Barn/Manor House is located at the top of Ruislip High Street, and the lower end of Ruislip High Street is where the Ruislip tube station (Metropolitan line) is located. The walk to Duck Pond Markets is nearly ten minutes from there. The Manor House is clearly visible once entering the area, and it is a museum and open free to the public. It's worth a visit.

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Information panels are located around the Old Barn and Manor House area to inform about the history of the location and the site of the castle. There's also a panel for the duck pond, which was where the work horses would be washed after a day of working.

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The Old Barn is a listed building and beautiful inside. Part of the market takes place here. As the day was Easter Sunday, the market was less busy with vendors and people, but there were still many gifts and other items on display. 

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Outside were a few vendors selling food items. These ranged from gluten and vegan baked goods, cheese, meat, treats for dogs, pies, honey, chutney and sauces, bread, sweets, cooked food, and coffee.

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Inside the barn, children can play with the large selection of Lego; the table is filled with Lego. The Lego belongs to the son of the organiser of Ruislip's Duck Pond Market. Money can be donated, and he spends it on more Lego.

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After wandering around the market, I headed outdoors to wait for the beginning of the Easter Egg Hunt, which was held in the grounds of the Manor House (called "The Orchard" although many of the trees are not fruit trees). The hunt started at 11:00, and the children were encouraged to dress up like bunnies or with fairy wings. The Easter Egg Hunt was held in conjunction with the organiser of the Ruislip Fairy Village. I will be covering this in another post, but many small doors for the fairies' houses are put up at the bases of the trees, and the fairies leave little gifts for the children. Unfortunately, someone keeps damaging the fairy village, and it was only re-instated on Easter morning. I do hope that the vandals leave it alone now. In addition to the easter egg hunt, the children could participate in a quiz. The Easter Egg Hunt attracted a huge crowd.

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When it was time to begin, the children ran for it. The eggs were hidden very well!

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The weather was quite nice with spells of sunshine, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. I even helped the children to spot some eggs with my keen eye; some of the smaller eggs had been well-hidden in the grass, and my height was an advantage. A couple of the children I had helped had not found any of the eggs yet, so it was appreciated.

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After the egg hunt, an Easter bonnet contest and parade was due to be held back at the Old Barn. I did not go to see it, but I did see a few of the Easter bonnets, and they looked very creative. My personal favourite one (that I saw) was a tall green one that was decorated like Super Mario Brothers. Okay, it is not as Easter-y as some of them, but I thought that it was creative. 

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