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26 January 2016

london | the travelex tourist

when i first moved to the uk, it's fair to say i had no idea what to expect. from anything, really. from the weather, from the job market, from humanity, especially though, from my finances. i saved and saved and saved my pay for about six months before cashing it out and transferring it into great british pounds, where i ~immediately saw it halve. let me tell you something: that's hard to accept. when a banana costs $1 in australia and £1 in the uk but your hard-saved dollar is only now only ~worth 50p - well, that's baffling, right? i wish someone had been able to prepare me back then, so i  could have had some inkling of what to expect once i had arrived at heathrow - suitcase in tow, travel on my mind.

which is why when travelex got in touch recently, asking me to help them do just that for ~future travellers to the uk's capital, i decided it was my "civic duty" to pay my experiences and learnings forward and offer them whatever advice i could. the challenge they proposed: to see how far $150 australian dollars would get me in one day in london. for comparison: that's roughly minimum wage for a day's work (after tax) back home, give or take a couple of dollars. 

the challenge sent my mind racing; once the dollars were converted to pounds thanks to the multi-currency passport cash, i was left with just over £75 to play with - a ~lot less than what i earn a day now. much planning was required. i gathered the troops, and on saturday we hit the town - in true tourist style.

we met at monmouth coffee at borough market, to start the day right. it was a bright and sunny morning in south london and i was full of hope that maybe we'd picked the best day in all the days to hit this adventure head on, because up until that day it had been totally shit weather. nevertheless, coffees in hand, we hit the markets - cash card in hand. ok, so a lot of the market traders don't take cards (for everything else, there's mastercar-- oh wait), but with the nifty travelex branded phone box turned cash machine inside the market, we were set with good old-fashioned cash. 

from there, we stuffed our faces with baked goods and cheese samples and fruit smoothies until we could eat no more. borough market is such a great place to head to if you're on a budget, as you can literally wander the markets for hours nibbling on the samples as you go, until you're sucked into buying a whole hog roast or wheel of cheese, of course.

artisan coffee: £2.70
fresh juice: £2.00
bread stick: £2.50
filled doughnut: £2.50
total spent: £9.70

from borough market we headed up: to the aqua shard restaurant inside london's most controversial landmark - the shard. with no need to make a booking, it's definitely the cheapest way to check out the london sky line from 32 floors above the thames. the view from the shard may be another twenty floors over head, but it's also twice the cost of a drink in the aqua bar, with no other benefit - other than the view, i mean. the girls and i settled for champagne cocktails and the disappointing notion that our view was somewhat clouded by the - erm, dark clouds, that had formed over the city, threatening to put a (literal) dampener on our day.

we sat and watched and drank and prayed and took a bunch of selfies in the loos while the weather made up it's mind, then dutifully gave up our precious seats in the bar area so another bunch of tourists could get their chance to follow in our footsteps. i have been up the shard only once before, and i must admit, it never gets old. i was whelmed by the weather, but never by the view. 

we took our leave and headed via the *totally free* sights of the southbank to st paul's where we were lucky to jump on an old-school number 15 bus as it was leaving, headed to trafalgar square. as we were headed to covent garden next, our timing could not have been better! the old school buses don't accept contactless or cash payments anymore, so if you're lucky and get a forgiving ticket inspector, you might even get your trip for free!

champagne cocktail (and a tip): £20
bus fare: £0.00
total spent: £29.70

it was after 2pm and we were back to feeling peckish - turns out we hadn't eaten our fill at borough after all! with a quick squizz on the time out top ten brunches in london (on a budget), we decided to try our luck at the ivy's spin off restaurant the ivy market grill, on the corner of covent garden. the weather had decided on grey and overcast, but not too cool, so we grabbed the last available table on the terrace and indulged in a little people watching while we also indulged in some excellent brunch eating and espresso martini drinking. the wait staff there were super friendly, had a chat and a laugh with us - and more importantly, let us charge our phones once we were done taking photos of our foods. for what it's worth: the pancakes are ermazzzing, and so affordable considering the brand name.

after a while the sun started to dip and our enthusiasm for continuing the adventure was starting to dim. could it have been the alcohols? who could say. we had one final stop on our "must see" list, and so we headed over to soho by foot so we could catch the god's own junkyard installation at the lights of soho before the exhibition finished up for the month. i have been to see the lights of soho's shows before, but i think this one was definitely my favourite. it was less crammed and much better curated than other times, so we were pleased we were able to get there just as soho began to light up for the night. 

brunch at the ivy: £21
drinks in soho: £9.00
total spent: 59.70

we sat in the bar and had a drink or two while we contemplated the night ahead, and how much (or little) we each wanted to go out that night. we'd been on the go, adventuring in london for almost six hours, and i think we each wanted to put our feet up a little before we headed back out. we had plans for a leaving do in wandsworth, and the remaining pounds would go nicely towards a bottle of bubbles to reward ourselves for having such a productive day!

i definitely try to not take london for granted - even after living in the same part of the city for over five years, but this adventure did make me realised i don't do enough "touristy" stuff with my spare time. there were so many other things on my list of things to do in the day, and had it been the summer and we'd had more daylight hours, maybe we could have done a little more. things like: riding bikes through the city (free for the first half an hour), taking a walking tour of the houses of parliament (about a tenner), taking a picnic into st. james' park, walking through mayfair and admiring the architecture, the list goes on. 

what this challenge has proven though, is that while those pounds are easy to spend when you want to, they're also pretty easy to hang on to in a city as bursting with culture and scenery as london. despite heading into one of the most expensive buildings in the city, as well as dining at a version of one of the most fancy restaurants, i still wasn't able to spend my budget - and i tried! so a massive thanks to travelex for the opportunity to get out and spend some quality time and pennies in this bloody gorgeous adopted city of mine. the girls and i had an absolute blast!

*travelex provided me with the mcp cash card pre-loaded, but all adventures are my own.*

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