London - Puttin' on the Ritz
by Jeff & Jan Gordon
After satiation in the shopping realm, I set out for my favorite place in London, the War Rooms under Whitehall. Since it was decent weather for January in London, I decided to take a circuitous route by walking down St. James's toward the Palace and then on to Buckingham Palace, around the bend to the Guard's Chapel, and then following the line of sight to Big Ben, landing finally at this most authentic museum of World War II, the actual rooms where Churchill conducted his war-time government. It is so realistic that one can almost see cigarettes burning in the ashtrays throughout the various offices. It looks as though everyone left it just as it was the minute the war was over. If you are at all interested in this period of history, it is definitely worth the trip.
After a full day of walking about London, I headed back to the Ritz for a rest. Dinner plans that night would take us to the Brasserie Roux, Albert Roux's second establishment in London after his other famous Le Gavroche already made its mark. The Brasserie is the restaurant of the newly restored Sofitel St. James's Hotel a short walk from St. James's Park. Quite modern and capacious, there is a distinct feeling that you are in an old bank building. The food was excellent and well presented, although not particularly crowded for a "hot" new restaurant. We had been given the suggestion (and invitation) to go after dinner to Monte's, a "where it's at" nightclub where, by membership or invitation only, you can dine, drink, dance, and watch as the evening unfolds. Not bad, but I had the sense that we were intruding on a private party. Jet lag had caught up with us, so after one drink, we walked back to the Ritz. We had been in London for 24 hours, but it surely seemed longer than that after the full day I had.
Saturday was destined for culture, a museum and theatre: one a known quantity, the other not so. Jan had asked the concierge for theatre tickets for six of us, and on short notice he pulled through. The museum was superb: the Tate Britain, full of familiar paintings I had not ever seen in person, but knew so well. We trailed behind a guided tour and picked up some fascinating information about their collection. On second thought, we should have taken the full tour, but time did not allow. Since we would be there for the lunch hour, we had called ahead for a reservation at the Museum's dining room, a comfortable and quite excellent culinary experience. Yes, Dover Sole again, on the bone this time. A grand day out indeed.
Dover Sole for the Soul
On our return to the hotel, we had a brief rest before the evening entertainment began. Since this trip happened to coincide exactly with the Robert Burns' birthday, we had heard that the Queen's pipe major would be parading through the hotel lobby, bar and dining room at the cocktail hour, along with the chef carrying the requisite haggis. I was eager to take in the whole scene so we descended early enough to get our table in the lounge area of the bar in full view of the pipe major on his arrival. Scotland the Brave and Highland Cathedral whined from the pipes as the haggis was presented. Small portions of the haggis were presented to the guests which I had prepared for by ordering a Macallan single malt. A perfect combination.
The evening went briefly downhill from there because the tickets we had blindly acquired on very short notice for six of us were for a play called Taboo, essentially a very bawdy story of Boy George's life. Yikes! On arrival at the theatre, we were the only ones in evening dress, and so we did look a bit out of place. I can't say that I ever walked out of a play before, but we all unanimously agreed to do so at intermission. From there to dinner, which reclaimed the evening nicely. We were very pleased with the Incognito restaurant where, once again, I have to admit I and three others of our group had Dover Sole. An excellent choice of restaurant and food, a bizarre experience at the off-Strand theater, but great fun nonetheless.
Our return flight was Sunday at 2:00 in the afternoon. There was just enough time to consider going to St. Paul's for choral music before the 11:00 service, but we thought twice about rushing to the plane, particularly these days with all the security issues at the airport. So we had a leisurely breakfast, gathered all our stuff, checked out, and reluctantly said farewell to the extremely attentive staff that manned the lobby during our stay. The gentleman who served as the security overseer in the lobby seemed to know the guests' names immediately after they arrived, and his parting words were "Thank you for choosing the Ritz Mr. and Mrs. Gordon. We will look forward to welcoming you back again soon." It almost sounded like "come home soon." I truly felt very much at home at the Ritz. Understated in its elegance, it is an extremely comfortable place to spend time in London.
The trip back was just long enough to allow me the opportunity to write these words on the plane. Another easy, but longer trip across the Atlantic on BA, and home again. Our real home, that is. A quick four-day trip, packed with activities and memories. I would highly recommend it.