Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Night in London

My daughter and I had 24 hours to immerse ourselves in London. A city filled with eye candy: Big Ben, the West End theatres, London Eye, London Bridge, and of course Buckingham Palace.  Ironically our feet never entered any of these iconic symbols and yet what unfolded was more profound and meaningful than anything with an entrance fee could hope to offer.  

It started with a gentleman in a grey bowler hat opening our cab door welcoming us to the posh St. Ermin’s Hotel.  Walking through the gold rimmed door was a feast for the eyes.  If Cyndi Lauper's funky wardrobe were to have a one night stand with the threads of Ralph Lauren, the frock's love-child would be the St. Ermin's.   Walking into the lobby felt like waltzing on to an elaborate wedding cake.  White ornate scroll work detailed the ceilings and walls.  Crystals dripped from the chandeliers.  Subtle hints of color, like plum colored sofas invited the passerby to sink into its cushions.  My daughter pointed out a sophisticated ruby colored table lamp.  It looked ready to waddle off at any moment, held up by long golden legs with duck feet.   Quirky or quacky, I’m not sure, but we loved these fanciful touches.  Not unlike a Graham Base children’s book, the longer you looked, the more you began to see.

Playing “I spy” in the hotel lobby is a natural past time.  This was the gathering place for real spies. It was also a favorite spot for Sir Winston Churchill and other members of the House of Parliament.   As the hotel’s website states, “In 1940 Winston Churchill, held a historic meeting at St. Ermin’s Hotel. He asked a group of remarkable people to join him in ‘Setting Europe Ablaze’ – this elite set, were to become the founding members of the SOE (Special Operations Executive). The unit carried out covert operations during WW2, from their headquarters – an entire floor of St. Ermin’s Hotel, whilst MI6 were stationed two floors above.”  There is even rumored to be a secret tunnel that runs from the hotel to the House of Parliament.  A bell was installed at the request of Sir Winston Churchill.  Since many of the Parliamentarians liked conversing over drinks at the Caxton Bar, the bell served as an alert when it was time to head back for voting.

“I spy” continued as we traveled up to our guest room.  The walls were a soothing shade of peridot with complimenting tones of cranberry and cream.    The room was both refreshing and inspiring.  As I poked around, I started to find little treasures.  It’s common to find coffee stations in hotel rooms, what’s not common is finding stainless steel push pot coffee makers, herbal teas, and heart-be-still, real half and half!  The marbled bathroom was beautiful and so big that when I sneezed, it echoed.  

As difficult as it was to leave the room, we headed out for Piccadilly Circus, the “Time Square” of London.  We watched as crowds whisked by, youthful energy buzzed around us.  After buying a few souvenirs we headed out to find a place to eat.  Fortunately my misguided steps got us lost and we stumbled into a quaint pub, The Greencoat Boy.  They had a wonderful assortment of traditional pub fare and a few Indian dishes as well.  The meal was delicious.  The wait staff was personable and friendly too.  Leaving the restaurant, we headed back to the hotel to find each pillow topped with a bumble bee, a CHOCOLATE bumble bee.    This was a subtle reference to the bee colony on the roof, another quirky touch.  After downing my chocolate I slipped on my robe and slippers.  My daughter pulled out a large bag of M&M’s from the M&M store in Piccadilly Circus, got settled into pajamas, and was given full access to the remote control.  She looked right in her element.  I’m not certain how long she stayed up, but I fell fast asleep in a bed fit for a Queen Bee.  

The next morning, after sipping freshly squeezed orange juice, filling our stomachs with sweet blueberry pancakes, we packed up our belongings. It was Sunday and our whirlwind trip was coming to a close.    Doing nothing in London is a pure delight when you’re surrounded by a host of cordial locals.  Sure, this trip was enhanced by our splurge on the St. Ermin’s Hotel,  but it’s really the people that define the overall experience.  London cab drivers, delightful, London hotel staff, superb, London police officers, priceless (especially patient w/ lost tourist), and everyone in between made us feel welcome.  My daughter was the icing on the cake.  How wonderful to see a hop in her pre-teen steps as she wandered beside me.  Her world opened a little more the day our steps got lost doing nothing in London.   And I had the pleasure of taking home the part of the experience that dazzled me most, my daughter.

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