Europe Day 20 – Piccadilly, Oxford Street and London Heathrow Airport

On our last day of holiday, we decided to sleep in till later and checked out of the hotel first before proceeding for breakfast once again at Pret A Manger. Ordering the similar fare as yesterday, we had another wonderful breakfast before walking down towards Piccadilly Circus, another major traffic intersection. I made it a point to walk here today after passing by it the night prior on the bus. At night this area becomes illuminated by the neon lights of the billboards placed on around the circus and makes for a dazzling sight. In the morning though, a milder version awaits us. During our walk along Piccadilly towards the Circus, we passed by several London institutions such as the Ritz Hotel and the Royal Academy.

Billboards of Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus in the day with the crowd of billboards advertising

While not as exciting during the night time, the area is still worth a visit in the day for the plethora of shopping available in the area. From Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street branches out providing a range of shops from Japan’s Uniqlo, the Ferrari Store and the Apple Store. We also found time to visit the Burberry branch at Regent Store which had different selections compared to the ones in Bond Street. There was also a sale on Burberry products while we were there which meant more shopping. Besides the abovementioned brands, numerous other shops line Regent Street and there is also the Molton Brown Boutique, whose toiletries I really like. However knowing that I can get these cheaper at Heathrow later in the evening, I skipped a visit to this store.

Ferrari Store
Shopping along Regent Street

From Regent Street, the shopping continues into Oxford Street which is home to several well known department stores like Debenhams, Selfridges and Marks & Spencer. This area is also teeming with crowds by the time we walked here. One can also find numerous snack options such as fish and chips and hot dog stands as well as sit-down restaurants. We had our lunch here at a small Asian fast food join which served value-for-money set meals ranging from Thai Tom Yum Noodles to Chicken Rice. The food was alright for the price but I should have went for the fish and chips instead. Since we still had some time left to spare, we took another London cab ride to the Bank district of London, where the Royal Exchange building and the Bank of England can be found. As one of the leading financial centres of the world, we thought it was worth looking at the banking and financial area of London. Once housing the city’s centre of commerce and the London International Financial Futures Exchange or LIFFE as it is known, the Royal Exchange is now a luxurious shopping mall housing brands like Molton Brown, Hermés, Tiffany and Paul Smith. We also passed by St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Church of St. Mary-le-Bow on the way to the Bank district.

Royal Exchange Building & Bank of England
Royal Exchange Building and Bank of England

We did not spend much time there before deciding to head back to our hotel in the late afternoon to collect our luggage. As we had a lot of tax refunds to handle, we wanted to ensure we were at the airport earlier and it was a good call that we departed around 6pm for our 10pm flight back to Singapore. The drive to the airport was nice as the London cab passed by the beautiful residential areas of Knightsbridge as well as landmarks like the Brompton Oratory, Victoria & Albert Musuem and the National History Museum. Under relatively good traffic conditions, we took around 45 minutes to an hour by cab and very soon we were joining the extremely long queue to do the tax refund.

National History Museum
National History Museum

For all our shopping in Europe and United Kingdom, we were only able to do the tax refund on the last airport where we would board the flight home to our home country. Departing from Terminal 3 as we were on the Singapore Airlines A380 flight back to Singapore, it was around an hour’s wait before we got to the counter and got the chop for the tax refund. Some of the tax refund was given in cash immediately while a small portion will be processed to be refunded on the credit card used. The officer in charge made a point to check out some of the more expensive goods which we bought, though due to the large number of goods, not all had to be presented to the officer. During all this time, there was a mother and daughter couple from Thailand which was doing tax refund up to the thousands of Pounds and it seems they had difficulty in getting some of their tax refunds stamped. Thus I would recommend tourists to really prepare their goods beforehand especially if the price involved is large. While getting the refund immediately in cash, there was a small administrative charge involved and we were given the option of getting the refund amount in Pounds or Euros. Generally, it is better to take Euros if departing from European airports but Pounds in Great Britain due to the initial conversion of all the refund amount into the local currency. Thus getting Euros from Heathrow airport means one is charged the cost of converting the currency twice over.

With the tax refund done, we headed for check-in which thankfully had short queues and cleared immigration relatively hassle-free as well. The waiting area in Terminal 3 had one large duty-free area selling liquor, cosmetics and fragrances before the section where there are several individual boutiques with brand names like Hermés, Chanel and Tod’s in addition to several restaurants and a WH Smith bookstore. I got some of my Molton Brown toiletries from the duty free before getting a copy of Top Gear from WH Smith and preparing to board the plane. Boarding was orderly as usual and as we were in the front of the economy class cabin, we were the last few to board the plane. Like our flight to London, this plane also had some delays in taking off, and I am beginning to think it is a common feature amongst A380 flights maybe? Overall though the plane flight was uneventful and I hadn’t managed to get the 3 seats close to the window which made the flight less enjoyable. On the upside, I got to watch ‘How to Train a Dragon’ which was entertaining enough and managed some shut eye on the flight too. And the supper served on the plane was also ultimately better than the one served on my way to London which really made it satisfying since we didn’t have dinner all due to the long queues at the tax refund counter.

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