The pound may be trouncing the dollar, but finding freebies and deals keeps Eleni N. Gage in the black
8:50 A.M. Arriving at the Heathrow tube station, I start the day right with an all-day Underground pass ($10.80), which is good during "off-peak hours," nearly the whole day (9:30 a.m. on).
Amount Left $239.20
10:30 A.M. I check into a comfy bed-and-bath suite in the apartment of Kai Vickers. I found it through Uptown Reservations (44-207/351-3445; www.uptownreservations.com), which a British friend had recommended over e-mail: "They match travelers with posh people who are down on their luck but don't want to sell the family pile, so they rent rooms." Vickers doesn't seem down on her luck, and her "family pile" is a spotless flat. But the neighborhood, South Kensington, is decidedly posh. And $154, with breakfast, is a steal in this city.
Amount Left $85.20
11:00 A.M. At specialty food shop Carluccio's (1-7 Old Brompton Rd.; 44-207/581-8101), I get a fortifying, delicious chocolate chip cookie ($1.30).
Amount Left $83.90
11:15 A.M. I walk a block to the Victoria and Albert Museum. London is expensive, but its museums are free. After checking out a fashion exhibition, I sail past the bin asking for a $6 donation. Then the guilt hits. Just because I'm on a budget, there's no need to be an ugly American. I toss in a one-pound coin.
Amount Left $81.90
1:00 P.M. You can practically make a free lunch out of samples from the butchers, cheesemakers, and bakers at the open-air Borough Market (Borough High St.). After nibbling on bites of Camembert and prosciutto, I splurge on an ostrich burger ($6), followed by a brownie sample, and tea and bottled water ($4.40).
Amount Left $71.50
2:00 P.M. I stroll along the Thames to the Tate Modern, and then across the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul's Cathedral. Two hours, zero spent!
Amount Left $71.50
4:15 P.M. In Hyde Park, I swing by the odd new memorial to Princess Diana, a large circle of running water that looks like an alien landing pad, before stopping at the Serpentine Gallery, where Polish artist Monika Sosnowska has constructed an elaborate maze. I buy a cute $2 coloring pack on my way out.
Amount Left $69.50
5:30 P.M. At the Troubadour (263-7 Old Brompton Rd.; 44-207/370-1434), an atmospheric old café, I perk up with another cup of tea ($2.80).
Amount Left $66.70
8:00 P.M. None of the $20 show tickets on www.Lastminute.com appeal to me, so I meet a London-based friend for dinner at Masala Zone (9 Marshall St.; 44-207/287-9966), an inexpensive (and packed) Indian restaurant in Soho. We sit down to food so tasty that I almost don't feel bad I'm not treating. Almost.
Amount Left $36.20
10:00 P.M. "It's still early," I tell my friend. "Let's go find someone to buy us a drink." She explains that people don't really do that here. So we head to her club, where I realize that I've been so good I don't need anyone to buy us drinks. I order two celebratory glasses of wine ($22).
Total Spent $235.80