The past few days, Maiko and I had needed to get up early to make it on time for the tour. Today was the first day we could wake up at leisure and try the free breakfast our dinky little hotel had to offer.
We woke up at 9am and headed for the basement where Arriva hotel’s breakfast room was. We made it just in time, too, as breakfast was only being served from 7:30 – 9:30am.
The attendant in the breakfast room asked us what we wanted to drink. Maiko ordered coffee, and I ordered my usual tea. A few minutes later, the attendant returned with our drinks and a basket of toast.
A variety of jams were piled up on the table, along with sugar and cream. Behind us, stood a small table laden with almost empty jugs of orange and apple juice. I went over and poured some apple juice into a slightly foggy glass. I saw a tray with a plate of ham and cheese. There was something unappealing (and slightly disturbing) about the plate. The three pieces of ham and the remaining slice of cheese looked like sad little children who weren’t asked to join the playground games.
Maiko had no qualms about eating them though. They looked perfectly safe to eat and she was starving. I contented myself with jam on my toast.
After the less than stellar breakfast, we gathered our usual daily gear and headed out toward the tube station.
We stopped to take a picture with the King’s Cross/ St. Pancras Station in the background.
It being a Sunday, the tube wasn’t as packed. We took a 20- minute ride on the Piccadilly Line and hopped off at the Piccadilly Circus Station.
Before we had left for the UK, I had purchased a London Pass (with Travelcard ) online.
The London Pass allows the user free entry to over 55 attractions all over London. The Travel Card, much like the Oyster Card, allows the user passage on all public transport around London. But unlike the Oyster Card, the Travel Card expires within seven days of its first use. And unlike the Oyster Card, which was mailed to me in the US, the London Pass and the Travel Card, both had to be picked up at the Britain and London Visitor Centre on Regent Street.
Maiko was the assigned navigator for the rest of the trip (since my sense of direction pretty much sucks), and she led us toward the Britain and London Visitor Centre with ease.
Once there, however, we had to wait in line for an hour. A man distributed the London Pass free guide to all the people queued up, while the only clerk working on the London Pass vouchers spoke to the Spanish-speaking tourists up front. It pays to be multi-lingual when you’re working with a whole slew of tourists.
Two American girls in front of us took about 10 minutes of the clerk’s time, complaining about how one of their Travelcard’s stopped working in the tube. The clerk explained that sometimes the Travelcard’s magnetic strip got damaged since the Travelcard was really only a flimsy cardboard paper. She told the girls to just look for a tube attendant who would let them in through the gates. I took note of this, in case I encountered the same problem.
By the time we got to the clerk, it was already 11am. I handed the lady our London Pass voucher and she gave us our London Passes and Travelcards.
On our way down the stairs, I saw an ATM machine and a sign that said “No fees for cash withdrawals”. I withdrew 100gbp with ease and Maiko glared at me. Apparently, she had tried using the cash machine while I was in line and it refused her cards. I told her to try withdrawing a lesser amount and the cash machine calmly spewed out the money. Apparently it only allowed customers to withdraw 100gbp at the most.
The sun was shining brightly and the skies were a clear blue when we stepped outside the centre.
Maiko had heard about Fortnum & Mason’s famous teas so it was the next item on our list of shops to check. On our way, however, we passed by Whittard’s, (another tea shop) and decided to peek in.
Whittard’s had a 3 for 2 sale and Maiko and I decided to do some souvenir shopping.
Maiko and I left the shop with a bag each of teas and sweets and satisfied smiles on our faces. We were almost done with shopping for souvenirs for waiting family and friends.
We went up Regent Street and made a left on Piccadilly Street. On our way to Fortnum & Mason’s, we saw Waterstones, a bookstore chain in the UK. Maiko remembered my little bookstore custom and encouraged me to go in.
Whenever I pass by a bookstore, I head straight for their children’s book section and make a space for my future book. It’s a visualization technique I use to keep my hopes afloat and my mind focused on getting published.
After making a space for my future book, we headed back out into Piccadilly Street. Maiko took a picture of Lladro, her mom’s favorite store and we moved on.
We saw another bookstore and just had to go in.
Hatchard’s has been selling books since 1797. That’s 214 years of excellent service and millions of books sold!
The Children’s Book Section was on the third floor and I was slightly out of breath by the time I reached it. I quickly found the W section (for Windsor) and made a space for my book.
I browsed through a few books and was about to head out when Maiko pointed to a copy of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, or what we in the US know as The Golden Compass. The book was not only signed by Philip Pullman, it was also on sale for half the usual price!
I hesitated, worried about my budget. But Maiko, ever the generous best friend, decided to buy it for me as an advanced Christmas present. I was practically jumping with joy! I clutched the book to my chest as we descended down the three flights of stairs back out into Piccadilly Street.
Two minutes later, we finally reached Fortnum & Mason.
We went inside and saw rows and rows of teas and boxes of biscuits on display.
They even had a table loaded with pots of the teas they sold so we could smell the tea leaves for ourselves.
Maiko lifted tea pot lids and smelled the various teas before finally settling for the Royal Blend.
Then I struck upon the brilliant idea of tasting the tea before buying it. We headed for the cafe within the store, and the attendant informed us that they only served lunch, and if we wanted, we could go to the Parlour on the third floor, where they served teas.
An attendant wearing the Parlor’s pink shirt uniform led us to a nearby table and gave us the menu. It was already 11:50am and just about time for lunch–but Maiko and I were craving snack food.
So we ended up ordering a pear and apple strudel to share, and pots of Royal Blend and Darjeeling teas.
The teas came in fancy silver pots . The cups we were given had individual strainers for the tea leaves.
They also provided us with brown and white sugar cubes and a pot of milk.
Maiko and I felt all fancy and uppity as we used silver tongs to drop cubes of sugar into our teas.
Milk and sugar for your tea
We remembered to raise our pinkies as we sipped our teas and ate our strudel. Maiko was craving ice cream so ordered a bowl.
The ice cream came in three different scoops, and we had to choose from 18 different flavors. We chose Frosted Strawberry and Shortbread, Chocolate Macademia Nut Biscuit and Amedei Chocolate.
Every bite was pure bliss!
We sat for awhile, talking, and eating our ice cream lunch and enjoying the view.
Since Maiko had paid for my Philip Pullman signed book, I decided to pay for lunch. Being a great foodie, Maiko was so happy for her wonderful Free ice cream lunch.
It was 1:00PM when we finished lunch. We wanted to make it in time for the 2PM London walks tour, so we hurriedly took bathroom breaks, and Maiko finished shopping for the tea we had originally come for.
On our way to the tube station, we passed by Hatchard’s again and I glimpsed a famous face. I stopped Maiko and said “Hey i know that guy!” Maiko took a look at the man entering the bookstore and shrugged. “I don’t know him,” she said. I told Maiko that he was in movies like Love Actually, Underworld, Pirates of the Carribbean and Harry Potter.
I dragged her toward the bookshop and as I made a beeline for him, Bill Nighy turned as if he knew I had come for him.
“Are you Bill Nighy?” I asked, obviously a stupid question. Bill Nighy said “yes” and reached out two fingers to shake my hand.
I totally turned into a fangirl. “Oh my God, I’m a big fan. I totally loved you in Love Actually. Ccan I take a picture with you?”. I said this all in one breath. “Of course,” he said and put an arm around me.
I said thank you and turned to go, but he asked Maiko (who took the picture) if she wanted a picture too. She said “yes!” , shook his hand and smiled for the camera.
I was so starstruck, my hands were jittery and I took a rather fuzzy picture of Maiko. But she didn’t mind. We were both just happy at the wonderful surprise at seeing one of our favorite actors.
We hurried for the tube, still giddy with excitement. We had 20 minutes to get our butts to the Bank Tube Station, where our London Walks Harry Potter Walking Tour was to begin.
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