London Day 5, Part 2: In Which We Don’t Go Shopping, But We Go Shopping

Yeah, the title’s a Monty Python reference. You should expect this by now.

When I left off last time, we had just finished touring the National Gallery. It was also where I left off being the sole decision-maker of the trip. Mom took over from then on, because the rest of Monday, 21 July, was dedicated to ~shopping~.

Now it’s not that I don’t like shopping in itself, I just don’t like most of the things shopping involves – namely clothes, shoes, purses, etc. As you probably guessed from our visit to Canterbury (and the subtitle of this entire site), I’m more of a bookstore lady. I also went to a private school from second grade to twelfth, and while I admit that’s not an excuse, it is an explanation for my fashion sense failure. Plaid goes with plaid, right?

IMG_1563This picture is here to tell me to get on with it!

We hopped on a bus that would take us to Regent Street, one of the most famous shopping districts in London, and where Hamleys was located.

IMG_0803This was taken on one of the Big Bus Tours.

Now, you’re quite right in thinking that Mom probably didn’t want to go to the oldest and largest toy store in the world, and that I lied to you about no longer being in charge. Well, you’d be mostly right. I had wanted to go to Hamleys since we’d passed it on the bus tour, so it was always part of the schedule. Also, we hadn’t picked up any souvenirs for my little brother, and duh, toys.

We got off at Regent Street a bit earlier than necessary, and walked along the busy streets on busier sidewalks. A great many tourists were about, as well as heavy shoppers clutching multiple bags from myriad places. Fun fact: there was a bus stop made entirely of LEGOs.

IMG_1567It’s probably bad that I really wanted to smash it, cool as it was. 

Right behind it was Hamleys.

IMG_1571I keep wanting to add an apostrophe.

The place was absolutely heaving with people. It was early afternoon by then, but I imagine that it’s stuffed to the gills at all hours of the day. It has SEVEN floors of playtime goodness, including a Build a Bear station, a smoothie bar, a candy shop, interactive games, kiosks, and birthday party room.

IMG_1577The blurry bits on the side are bubbles. Or magic, whichever you prefer.

It was actually smaller than I had been expecting, or at least narrower. I’m used to great sprawling Toys R Us’s and Targets, and though each floor was massive, you could see either wall from the center.

IMG_1588The directory almost made it more confusing.

We didn’t really have an idea in mind for what we wanted to get my brother, though Mom was keen on London-specific LEGOs, like the Tower Bridge or something. Unfortunately, they didn’t have anything like that (or to be fair, they had merely run out), and so after I picked up an adorable Regent Street shirt for my Build a Bear Snoopy, we wandered around a bit, trying to find something Bro would like.

There were a number of toy demonstrators peppered throughout the place, each showing off a unique toy or craft. One was blowing sticky bubbles, another was tossing bouncy balls at the opposite wall and timing it perfectly between passing customers. My brother likes art and drawing, so we ended up with a sort of rubbery slate that reveals rainbow colors when you press on it, and you use a stick thing to draw fancy shapes. And yes, that’s really how I can best describe it.

IMG_1581Look! The Queen! And a corgi…?

We looked around a bit more, but it was getting very hot and stuffy in there with all those people, so we finally paid for our stuff and left.

As I said before, Regent Street is chock full of shops, and there were a great number of clothing stores with designer names that I’d never heard of. Mom, energy waning after the draining toy crowd, perked up when we started walking by them, and we went into a few. I don’t remember all their names, but they were pretty fancy!

After buying a few more gifts for friends (the fact that we were leaving tomorrow was really starting to sink in), Mom was ready to move on, and we took another bus to Harrods.

Let off a couple blocks down, we shuffled with the crowd up to the street to the famous shopping building. And it was not at ALL what I expected. I had pictured it being more like a normal department store, like JC Penney’s or Macy’s. Not a behemoth full of luxury brands.

IMG_1596I suppose the size should’ve been a giveaway.

Most of my knowledge of Harrods comes from television, specifically Mr Bean and Monty Python. I guess it hadn’t crossed my mind that it would have upgraded after all this time, and quite fancily so. I certainly didn’t think they’d have free samples of Chanel perfume in the women’s bathroom.

IMG_1614In case you doubted me.

Harrods has a number of entrances, and the one we went in led right to the jewelry department. I felt poorer and poorer the further we moved on. Diamonds, emeralds, gold, silver – everywhere. On our way to find the toilets, we went through an entire grocery section, complete with oyster bar, delicatessen,  and sweet shop. The place doesn’t just have a coffee bar, it has multiple cafes and full restaurants on each of its floors. They sell cigars and Rolexes, too – anything uber expensive you can think of, they have it. I was most excited about the bookstore and the Disney store (which we actually didn’t see), and Mom just wanted to stare at the shoes.

IMG_1615I actually like shoes, but I don’t understand why some people need so many.

I was put in charge of photography then, and followed her around with her phone, taking pictures of all the displays so she could show them to her equally shoe-obsessed friend.

Everywhere we had gone this past week, I had tried to get a little souvenir of some kind, be it a free brochure or a purchased item from the gift shop. The most important thing was that it had to have the place’s name on it. Tote bags were usually the best, cheapest bet, and I had amassed quite a few by this time. As such, I really just wanted something that said “Harrods” on it, and none of the designer items really appealed to me (or my frugal nature). Fortunately, Harrods knows its clientele, and there was an entire gift shop devoted to all things Harrods.

IMG_1618This was the Christmas section!

Purses, wallets, shirts, plushies, bags, pens, candies – tons of stuff that had the name scribbled on there in some fashion. As more of a touristy section, most of the items were reasonably priced and/or on sale, but still fancy. I couldn’t add to my tote bag collection, because they didn’t have the typical canvas or cloth kind, but ones covered in shiny plastic and costing nearly five times more than the usual. I settled for a new wallet, as I figured I would actually use it. Mom picked up an iPhone case, and more souvenirs for our family and friends. I kinda wanted to explore some more, but we were both very footsore by this point. We paid for our stuff (the clerk was a very nice guy who remarked on our accents and said his dream was to teach in America; I told him he would be quite popular due to his own accent), and tried to find our way out. This actually took awhile, since there are no windows and no directories (maps are only available at the cashier counters), so you can literally spend your entire life in there and never notice the time passing. We managed to escape via a sweet shop, and into the open air. (Though Harrods is one of the few places that has that wonderful invention, air conditioning.)

Feeling peckish and trying to avoid peak hour traffic, we looked around for a place to eat. We paused briefly at a sushi place, but I’m not very fond of the stuff, and there weren’t many alternative options. The only other places besides fast food/casual restaurants were pubs, and we finally found one that wasn’t too busy.

It was actually quite fitting, as Mom pointed out. Our first true meal in London was at a pub, and so now would be our last. And we thus celebrated our return to America by eating amazingly delicious hamburgers.

IMG_1626We were starving, so take that rating as you will.

Full and happy, we gathered our shopping bags and decided to risk public transportation even though it wasn’t quite after 19:00 yet. Mom vetoed the Tube for that reason, and we rode the bus one last time.

After arriving back at the hotel and cleaning up, we had to start packing. We needed to be at the airport bright and early tomorrow morning, and there would be no time for dilly-dallying.

I still wanted to get a couple things for my own friends, stuff I had put off buying because I knew I wanted to get them touristy things, items that blatantly stated LONDON on them, and there were a number of such shops all around the hotel. By the time I headed down, the ones in the station had closed, so I went across the street to one that we had passed every time we took the Underground. A couple of keychains, mugs, shirts, postcards, sweets, and a Paddington bear later, I waltzed out of the shop, finally done with all my London shopping.

The rest of the evening was finishing packing and doublechecking flight times and train schedules. I also took the time to reflect on what had happened that day and in the preceding ones. Even though we had just lived it, parts of it felt like a dream, and though I wanted to return home to my family and friends, I knew I was going to miss London very much.

I also wasn’t sure if I would survive the 10-hour flight back.

[Author’s Note: Hey, guys! There will one more quick post about London, specifically leaving it and also what else happened that day, before I transition into San Diego Comic Con posts! Stay toon’d!]

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