As an expat and frequent traveler in London, I’m often watching the fluctuating economy to see how far my American dollar will go. Even though I’ve mostly made the switch to Pound Sterling, it’s interesting to see how much my homeland’s currency will get for a little-above-average day in central London. Travelex has introduced a new ‘Cash Passport’ card, which works like a MasterCard and is accepted most places throughout the city. What’s interesting about this card is it will hold several currencies at once so you can watch exchange rate fluctuate and use what works best for wherever you travel. Although many of the Travelex store fronts you will see in airports, we went to the location on Oxford Street to start the day.
Stroll and swerve
After a walk into the department store Selfridges to find the Travelex checkpoint and pick up my card. My $150 USD that day got us about £113 GBP to indulge the afternoon. While that’s a good chunk of change to use, I had to quickly exit the high-end department store so I could stretch my way out beyond 15 minutes. Instead I braved the Oxford Street crowds and went to an old favorite, Marks and Spencers, or M&S. There I rewarded my husband for coming along with a couple of dress shirts on sale. Sometimes clothes can be pricey in London when using the dollar, but sales and quality items can make up for the difference.
I think the main thing I wrestle with living in London is where to eat! I know, tough life. But French is always an ideal standby, especially for our close proximity to our crusty-bread devouring neighbors. A pre-fixe lunch with cider and wine at the Côte restaurant off of Oxford Street. A starter of fresh mussels swimming tomato sauce, finished with some steak frites is perfect on a cold London day. Although desserts looked tempting, we were off to another part of the city to hunt for something sweet.
SoHo at Sunset
SoHo is one of my favorite areas of London for its flashy colors, tongue-and-cheek sexy storefronts and lively nightlife butting up against the theater district. There, we discovered Spuntino which was rumored to have one of the best desserts in London. It also might be the tiniest place ever. But around 4PM it was empty, so there was enough elbow room at the small bar for an espresso and two treats. The ‘peanut butter and jelly” was hardened peanut butter ice cream cut to look like bread with fresh jam stuffed inside. Incredible. And the Brooklyn toast option sounded less than appealing, but ended up being some sort of rich donut or sugary bread with a scoop of Nutella ice cream inside. I could have stayed there all night watching candlelight dance across the tied walls and bar.
We should have called it then but as I passed a bubble tea shop I couldn’t help but grab one of my favorite foodie items. It could have been an off day, but my green tea was grainy and stale tasting, while the other ginger tea was way too sweet and strong. Oops.
A little classic culture
After ditching our bubble teas, we headed to Trafalgar Square in hopes of catching a glimpse of the pop-up Luminere display. Nothing was happening yet, so we ducked in the National Portrait Gallery to warm up and see some beautiful paintings for free. Do keep in mind only some galleries allow photography – I learned the hard way! To kill a little more time, a visit to Waterstones book store across the square was necessary to collapse into a reading chair and open up some new and old reads. If you head to the basement it’s much less chaotic and there’s plenty of space to spread out. I picked up two titles: Girl Boss by Sophia Amoruso and the Fishing Fleet by Anne De Courcy.
Unfortunately, the Luminere ‘event’ was less than exciting and not really worth the bother. It still gave us time to enjoy the square then take a leisurely double-decker bus ride back home. I can’t believe how much we packed into a day!
Here’s a quick breakdown of everything we did on a Saturday in London:
Lunch with wine for two at Cote: £30
Two dress shirts at M&S: £30
Dessert and coffee at Spuntino with friends: £20
Bubble tea for two at Bubbleology: £8
Visit to The National Portrait Gallery: FREE
Two books at Waterstones: £18
Checking out London’s Luminere and Trafalgar Square: FREE
Total: £106 = $151.98
See how some other Travelex writers and expats spent their days too by following the #travelextourist hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. This post was in partnership with Travelex, but all the adventures and opinions are purely my own.