I was ten years old when I made my first trip overseas. My family was not a frequent traveller, but that spring, just one month before my eleventh birthday, my father got a business trip to visit London, England, for about a week. England was the country where both my parents once did their graduate studies – before I was born – and they both had a special emotional attachment. So, my father’s business trip quickly became a family trip.
Since it was a short stay, we bought a travel package. I don’t remember exactly, but the package came with return flight tickets and a shuttle bus service to our hotel in London.
My mother had a close friend in London, whom she met during her study more than a decade ago. She was overjoyed to meet us after such a long time – me for the first time – and she accompanied us from the Heathrow Airport to our hotel in Kensington, making sure that we were comfortably set up for the stay.
The adults commented that the hotel room was tiny, but frankly speaking, the size was no different from a typical hotel room that I had stayed in Japan. I was more impressed by its extreme cleanliness. The bright white bedsheet, the shining mirror, and not a single dust was to be found anywhere even on the windowsill. The floor was covered by a thick carpet, which smelled of fresh laundry soap.
Later that evening, my mother’s friend, her husband, my parents and I had dinner at a restaurant in Leicester Square. On the way, I enjoyed my first ride on the London double-decker bus and was shocked by the colourful underground train, which to me looked more like a toy train than a real train. That was the beginning of my 10-day stay in London.
Many things happened in the coming week. I visited many museums, parks and galleries in London, met my parents’ friends and acquaintances, and made a few daytrips to cities outside London with my parents. During this fun time, however, there was one constant source of headache – food.
Since we did not have a kitchen at the hotel, we dined out every day, and it was a difficult challenge to find food that suited my taste bud. I remember I could not finish the first bite I had at an expensive buffet at the Royal Festival Hall, I lost my appetite after trying some readymade food from M & S, and I had a hard time even finishing a pizza from Pizza Hut. It was the first time in my life that I did not enjoy the taste of food I ate outside home.
But there was one exception to this challenging meal experience. Our hotel’s complimentary breakfast service!
It was a very basic continental breakfast. Every morning, in the breakfast room, two baskets of freshly baked bread – one basket of croissants and one basket of German brötchen -, fresh orange juice, and tea and coffee were served. There was nothing fancy about the content of this breakfast, but the quality of each item was superb. I particularly fell in love with the brötchen and orange juice.
Quickly, breakfast became my favourite meal of the day. Each morning, I skipped to the breakfast room, looking forward to my brötchen and orange juice. In addition to its amazing taste, I was delighted that I could pick as many brötchen as I liked. Once seated at a table, I would spread butter and jam on my brötchen and sip my orange juice, feeling like the queen of the world.
Toward the end of our time in London, we visited my mother’s friend’s house in New Cross. My mother and I took a train to the New Cross Railway Station, and my mother’s friend’s husband came to pick us up. As we drove to the house, he asked me how I had been enjoying my time in London.
“The breakfast is very delicious at the hotel!” I exclaimed.
Due to my limited command of English, this was all I could say. But my enthusiasm was such that he thought we must have a very special breakfast arrangement. So, my mother quickly added that it was just a basic continental breakfast, but I was excited because no other food suited my taste.
I still remember the satisfaction and delight the brötchen and orange juice brought me every morning during my first stay in London like yesterday.