The Reunion World Tour, Day 3: London on a budget


This morning I got a late start due to the jetlag and late night meetups, so I decided to skip my 11am walking tour and didn’t really get moving until around 1pm.

I headed to a post office that I wasn’t sure was a post office despite the signage outside declaring “Post office.” Seems pretty stupid, right? Well inside the post office they offer a billion more services than a US post office does. The UK post office is like a currency exchange, a money transfer office, and a post office rolled into one. I barely saw any indication than I could buy stamps here until I saw a woman wrestling with a box and a roll of brown cello tape on the counter. Ok, yes, if you can ship things, you can get postage. I purchased my stamps and off I went.

I stopped by a cafĂ© near my hostel called Siham Lounge Bar because the chalkboard sign propped up outside enticed me with 1 quid espressos and 3 quid milkshakes. Only three?! Whoever said London was expensive just wasn’t going to the right places. While I sat on a giant champagne cork-shaped stool, the barista mixed me an Italian milkshake consisting of milk, ice and frozen strawberries. It was nice and refreshing.

I hopped on a bus to the city center, as I had a 3pm reservation for afternoon tea at the Great Court restaurant in the British Museum. The bus was a double decker, which I didn’t realize was basically every bus in London (I thought only tourist buses were double deckers), as the streets are too narrow and short to accommodate for a longer, accordion-style bus. I sat on the top as I enjoy the view from up above, and also it allowed me great viewing of the street signs so I knew where on earth I was going.

The bus dropped me off near Russell Square park, and I feel like it was a moment where I finally got to breathe in my surroundings. Around me were old buildings that had that distinct British feel (brown bricks instead of red, and of another era). It was sunny and there were people strolling about and it was just lovely.

I walked over to the museum, which is free, as all museums in London are free. So had I wanted to explore the museum of natural history, I could have done so for zero dollars. Just an FYI if you’re traveling on a budget. No $20 entrance fees like the ones in Chicago.

I really wanted to get afternoon tea while I was here in London so I researched places to go on message boards, Trip Advisor, or the slew of websites that are like Yelp exclusively for afternoon tea. You can enter price limits and options to suit your needs.

Through a message board I got the recommendation to get afternoon tea for only 19 gbp at the Great Court restaurant in this museum, which seemed like a nice setting and it was definitely an unbeatable price. Many other places offered tea for over 50 gbp, which, despite its meal-like offering, wasn’t worth it in my opinion.

I popped into the museum and headed straight for the upstairs restaurant. I made a reservation a week before but it seemed like that was unnecessary as walk-ups were openly accepted and it wasn’t too crowded.

They sat me at a massive booth with many smaller tables facing the drink bar and I ordered my tea. You choose a blend, or you can splurge for an extra five quid on sparkling wine added to the package deal. This is common in afternoon tea restaurants.

I stayed sober with just regular earl grey tea, and they brought it to me presented in beautifully painted china. They set on the table a teapot filled with tea, a cup and saucer, a sugar bowl filled with lumps of white and brown sugar, and a small pitcher filled with cream. Already on the table was a thin spreading spatula, a linen napkin and a plate.

If this presentation wasn’t enough, then came the food. The waiter set down a two-tiered tray, the bottom displaying four savory options: salmon and cream cheese on a bagel, roast beef with brown mustard on a mini baguette, egg salad on white bread, and a spinach quiche. The top tier displayed four small cakes: a pistachio cake with white chocolate frosting, a chocolate muffin, a macaroon, and a small fruit tart. The waiter then set another couple small dishes on the table, one of which held a plain scone and a raisin scone, and one that held an egg-sized curl of pure butter. The first and only time in my life, I felt like I had too many sweets.

I delightfully devoured most of it until Taylan arrived to meet me, as they live in London as well! I met Taylan on the Transsiberian and was able to coordinate some time between their classes to meet up. Taylan happily nibbled on some of the remaining cakes that I couldn’t finish, and we caught up on our lives for the past two months.

We walked aroumd along the Thames, snapping the requisite picture of Big Ben. Anne, whom I met on the Central Asia trip, wasn’t in London at the time (she is from there) but gave me the suggestion of walking along the Millennium bridge towards the birch trees in front of the Tate Modern.

We then took Anne’s suggestion for the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub, which ended up being packed with the after-work crowd, as evidenced by the hour and the abundance of black polyester blazers. We dipped down into the lower level, which was a maze of small nooks and multi-level rooms jutting away from the staircase, holding small tables and stools and benches stained with rings of beers past. We patiently awaited a table, as it’s first come first serve, and succeeded in acquiring a bench and a table in the same room as the bar. We ordered food at the bar and they gave us a buzzer so we knew when to pick it up. London is definitely affordable because I just bought myself a cider and a chicken pie with mashed potatoes and peas for a total of 14 gbp. And all of it was delicious.

The atmosphere was awesome there, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting. The thing I don’t understand about London, though, is how everything seems so cozy and warm and perfect for winter. What happens when summer hits? Do people still curl up on a wooden stool in the local pub’s dungeon with a glass of dark ale and lamb roast? It just doesn’t seem to fit anything but a cold weather season.

After dinner, Taylan and I walked around some more to seek out a pub with WiFi so I could get connected, as I was having a hard time outside of my hostel. We stumbled upon the The George Pub where we sat and enjoyed another drink as we basked in the glow of our technology. Yes, I came halfway across the world to see London, but sometimes you gotta catch up on emails, you know?

After  Taylan helped me figure out my route to the airport tomorrow, we parted ways and I headed home to the hostel. I arrived to a full hostel room with everyone in bed chatting with the lights on. After I changed and brushed my teeth, I asked if I could turn the lights off, and everyone agreed. The two Spanish speakers in the room took it as a cue to say their goodnights and drift off. The Germans took it as a cue to continue their conversation as I jammed some earplugs in and drifted to sleep around 1am.