London - Puttin' on the Ritz
by Jeff & Jan Gordon
As the limousine we hired to drive us from Newport to Logan Airport pulled up in front of the British Airways terminal, a porter rolled his cart over to the car and asked where we were going this morning. I couldn't help but respond: "This morning, we are going to London." Not intending to be flippant about his good-natured question, I was sincere in the intent of my response because my wife travels frequently for Wimco, and when I can find the time, I accompany her. Paris, London, Aspen, Nice, Rome, St. Barth's, St. Tropez; these are just some of the places Jan has visited on business this past year alone.
In any case, we were shortly on board the BA Thursday morning flight to London, and as far as I was concerned, there was no place I would rather have been at that moment. Being an Anglophile, I find the Brits who work for BA to be extremely pleasant, and a most authentic way to begin one's trip to Great Britain. Jet lag is my nemesis, so I have determined that it is easier to adjust to the time difference by taking the morning flight, leaving at 9:00am EST and arriving at around 8:00pm London time. After six or seven hours of travel, fatigue and darkness seem to go together to make the first night more bearable, even if it is only the equivalent of 3:00 pm EST when you land.
We arrived in London ahead of schedule because of a strong tail wind, got our requisite black London cab with a very pleasant driver, and within forty minutes, the doorman at our hotel was opening the car door with a cheery: "Welcome to the Ritz." The discreet hotel entrance on Arlington St. leads into an elegant lobby where checking in is a most enjoyable experience. It almost seemed as though they were expecting us to arrive at that very moment. We were lead to our room on the 6th floor overlooking Piccadilly which was simply perfect for us. A large room with a king size bed, subtle English fabrics covering nearly everything in sight, a marvelous bathroom with all the goodies, closets galore, and a very modern telephone system that easily accommodated my computer. Fresh fruit and flowers welcomed us, and had it been just a little colder, I could imagine a cozy fire might have been set in our fireplace. I was somewhere between nirvana and perfection: in my favorite city in the world, in a most comfortable room at the Ritz, with my wife for a long weekend get-away.
Puttin' on the Ritz
Noticing that it was now about 9:30pm London time, we thought we had better get changed for dinner, a reservation for which we had made at the Ritz dining room. As we entered this classically restored room, a pianist was playing my all-time favorite piece, so evocative of London and this special place: "…Angels dining at the Ritz, and a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square." If you like Dover Sole, there may not be a better place in the world to have it. Grilled, meuniere. Unbelievable. What a way to begin a sojourn to London!
I have to admit I did toss and turn a bit before I finally fell asleep. It was, after all, basically about 7:00pm EST when we went to bed. The next day seemed to come all too soon, but the prospect of a proper English breakfast served in our room was enough to get me going. Jan had a business appointment downstairs in the dining room, so I ordered for myself. It seemed as though I had just hung up the telephone when the doorbell rang and the porter rolled in the table festooned with flowers, jams, fruit, and my poached egg and coffee. Why does hotel coffee like this taste so good? My home brew doesn't come close.
After breakfast, I was on my own until late afternoon when Jan finally had a break from her busy appointment schedule. Roaming around London with no particular agenda is among my favorite things to do, but having one's hotel in Mayfair near St. James's is almost too good to be true. The Ritz is close to everything: some of the best men's shops in the world on and around Jermyn St., New Bond St. and Old Bond St., the custom tailors of Saville Row, St. James's and Buckingham Palaces, and virtually the entire exquisite Mayfair area. I thought I knew every shop within a ten-block radius from previous trips, but there is always something new to discover. After wandering in and out of such shops as Turnbull & Asser, New & Lingwood, Lobb's and Locke's, I found another superb shoemaker I had never come across before: George Cleverley & Co. in The Royal Arcade, off Old Bond street. A little gem of a shop that sells both ready-made and bespoke English shoes of the highest quality. While the Dollar/Pound translation was not to my liking, the fact that there was a winter sale going on made a purchase of a superb pair of shoes all the more appealing. From there, a brief walk to the Piccadilly Arcade brought me back to another of my favorite shops, The Armory of St. James's, perhaps the best toy soldier and military campaign paraphernalia purveyor I have ever come across.