October 1, 2012

London Calling (Day 6, 30 Sep)

And I’m home! In the blink of an eye, my London trip has come to an end faster than you can say ‘fish and chips’!

It was nice to be reunited with the girls who kept telling me they missed me while I was away and once I got back.

Plane ride was uneventful, had a Singaporean couple next to me…the wife looked domineering. She had the aisle seat and was too lazy to stand when I wanted to exit to the loo, just slanted her legs and expected me to crawl over them, even her own husband had to do that!

Got to watch ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘To Rome With Love’, both were on my watch list so at least that was something.

I had a semi-late start to the last day of my trip yesterday. First plan of action was to catch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace so I checked out by 10am and left my bags with the reception and had about 7 hours to complete my sightseeing and shopping before I was due back at the hotel for the shuttle to Heathrow.

Hyde Park was within walking distance from the hotel, so that’s where I headed. Entered via Bayswater Road and cut through one of the paths to get to the Serpentine. It took me almost an hour to walk through the park because I was stopping to take pictures every now and then, especially of the ducks and geese.
 
 
 
It was a tad cloudy so the pictures were dull. Could see some of the trees were starting to change colour, saw a couple of squirrels running around and was reminded of Sasha and her squirrel walk.
Got a bit confused in trying to locate Constitution Hill upon exiting but found it eventually and walked down it to Buckingham Palace only to find a massive crowd waiting for the guards.
And here I thought there would be no one, boy was I wrong! It was too crowded at all the gates, about 5-6 people deep and was about to start just when I arrived. Managed to find a gap which I could peep through but I was able to observe more on my camera screen by zooming, or by looking at other people’s screens.
Couldn’t really tell what was going on, and there was a spell where the band played a few tunes so it was quite a festive atmosphere with lots of pomp and pageantry. And they do this every other day!

Before the guards exited the palace, I managed to get a front row spot along the road just around the main gates and got to see the second regiment a bit closer as they passed my side.
 
 
My next agenda item was to shop at the Kensington High Street where a colleague had recommended TK Maxx for bargains and so I walked towards St James underground station only to find it dead…my fault for not paying attention to announcements earlier in the week that the Circle and District Lines would be closed for engineering works.

I hadn’t bought a day travelcard yet, didn’t know if there were any direct buses from where I was and refused to pay £2.30 for a single bus trip so I ended up walking quite a distance to Victoria station to take the tube to Knightsbridge then switch to a bus. But I made it eventually, though it had cut into my precious shopping time.

Spotted a Tesco’s Express and ended up buying a bunch of chocolates and sweets in there to take home…not the brightest idea because they were heavy to carry around and I hadn’t started shopping proper yet. I had also bought myself a pasta salad but couldn’t find a bench to consume it so guess what I did?
I found a bunch of dresses to try at TK Maxx and was lucky to get the extra large handicapped changing room. I actually gobbled down my salad in between trying on dresses…not very attractive but there I was jamming a few forkfuls of pasta a time whilst dressing and undressing!

Ended up with only one Cynthia Rowley sequined black dress that I suppose can go from day to night, for £39.99. Also got some shapewear without trying but methinks they are not going to fit.

I took bus 27 back to Westbourne Terrace and made it in plenty of time for the Heathrow shuttle that was picking me up between 5.30 to 6pm. It was only £15 for a minivan pick up, door to door and meant I didn’t have to struggle with my suitcase over staircases!

The driver was slightly behind schedule and drove like a madman. He made several more stops after me but we still reached around 6.45pm. I had naively thought there was plenty of time ahead of my flight at 10.05pm and was looking forward to a meal and shopping in duty free but I had another thing coming!

The VAT refund queue was horrendous and unlike other European countries where customs inspects your goods before endorsing your receipts and then you claim the money after security.

At Heathrow, it’s a counter managed by Travelex and the cash can be refunded on the spot without any customs inspection but the drawback is the waiting time. It took me 90 mins to clear it and then I had to queue again for my airline check-in, queue for passport control and queue for security screening!
By the time I was done queuing, there was barely time to buy a sandwich and spend 2 mins in Miu Miu before I had to proceed to the gate. I did see a fuschia oversized Longchamp Le Pliage tote and now I kind of regret not getting it.

Oh well, I hope there’ll be opportunities to shop properly next year…every other day I keep bugging Nick on how we’ll commemorate our 10th anniversary and a trip to Europe should be on the cards. Fingers crossed!

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