London, England - On the pica dilly line heading for the city from Heathrow, I'm watching commuters, cellphones in hands, urgently send text messages. We pass a golf course where golfers are putting on the green before 8 am. Then, finally, I'm deposited near our destination - the Earls Court Youth Hostel in central London.
There, I discover, the going rate for breakfast is $8. I head to a nearby tea room that offers bangers, toast and tea for a lot less.
I'm learning that everything here is twice as expensive as in Toronto. But once you get over the shock, you can still find ways to do London on the cheap.
To save money and have fun at the same time, I decide to pack my lunch and buy sandwiches at a nearby green- grocer. The English passion for sandwiches is a wonder to behold. Avocado, curried chicken, pickles and in some cases a whole salad - almost anything - goes into the space between two pieces of bread.
For supper each day I nip into Marks and Spencer's Simply Food late in the afternoon for their fabulous salads and an entrée to heat in the hostel microwave.
On a typical day, at 9:30 am I buy a cheap £8.1o day pass that allows me to jump on and off the buses and underground at will.
The best thing about London is that the major art galleries and museums are free. So with my lunch in my backpack, I'm off to Russell Square to the British Museum, famous for the Elgin Marbles and Rosetta Stone.
At lunchtime I grab a cup of tea and take my sandwich to the museum's great classical court. Next-door to the old British Library Reading Room in the centre of the museum, the court, with soaring walls, marble statues and glass canopy ceiling, is breathtaking.
There's always something eye- catching in the shops on Oxford, Lower Regent and Carnaby Streets, where buskers and street musicians provide free entertainment.
Then, over to Covent Garden. Wherever we go, people are selling pashmina shawls of varying degrees of quality. An Indian woman having lunch in John Lewis reminds me that the best place to buy them is India, not here.
For souvenirs, I like to go to charity, trust and thrift shops. After visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum, I walk toward the food courts at Harrod's. I take a detour into a thrift shop nearby that's displaying two lambswool scarves with a Harrod's label. I snap one up. At another thrift shop I buy a great mohair pullover for $15.
The Tate Modern, housed in the old Bankside Power Station and accessible by St. Paul's underground, is not to be missed. I walk across the pedestrian bridge over the Thames that links the museum with the city, taking in the panoramic view of the tug boats and other river craft. The museum's dramatic entrance-way features a huge ramp leading down to the large Turbine Hall. It has some great modern art and a nice café for lunch overlooking the Thames.
For the next several days, I hit art galleries: the Royal Academy of Arts and then the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. Behind it is the National Portrait Gallery. At tea time I head to the top floor for a fantastic view of rooftops Mary Poppins would have loved - Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.
On my way into the tea room, I see a 20-cent piece on the floor, which is good for a few minutes on the phone. The hostess ignores it. After tea it's still there. Nobody has bothered to pick it up, so I do.
We Canadians know the value of our pennies.