It’s not quite to the point where I’ll pop over to London for a spot o’ tea. But the capital city has become part of my regular vacation routine, thanks to the kindness of friends who welcome me into their home.
Last year I was arrived just days after the royal nuptials of William and Kate, and Westminster Abbey was still mobbed with tourists, perhaps hoping to find a stray grain of rice or wilted petal from the bridal bouquet.
This year my visit comes weeks before the start of the London 2012 Olympics. I’ll be gone before the torch lights the lamp, but as a longtime London visitor, I do have some money-saving tips for those who are attending the games.
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We were already running late. It was our first business trip, and the three of us were nervous about visiting our two London offices for the first time. The line to buy Oyster cards, the rechargeable plastic cards you use to ride the subway, was moving slowly since only one cashier was working. It was rush hour, and one of our co-workers offered to save time and pay for all three of our cards; she was trying to rack up JetBlue miles with her American Express credit card.
We went up to the cashier’s stand together. My co-worker said she wanted three Oyster cards, each with $25 on them. Sighing, the man said each card had to be purchased with a separate transaction. Wanting to earn those frequent flier miles, she wanted to go ahead and pay for each anyway. He took her card for the first payment and gave her the receipt to sign. When she signed it and handed it back, he compared her signature on the receipt to that on the back of her card. “Sorry,” he said. “They don’t match.”
So began the first of many adventures on our visit with old-fashioned U.S.style swipe-only credit cards in a new-style chip-and-PIN world. The lesson: If you don’t have chip-and-PIN, don’t expect to easily buy your fish and chips.
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