Report from London – The First 24 Hours

Good morning and greetings from a gloomy, cool and wet London. Our first two days here were gorgeous, sunny and warm. Such is the weather in the UK, I suppose. But a little gloom and doom will not prevent us from having a marvelous time.

Here’s my account of our first 24 hours:

2017-08-27 01 - BA Check-In
Check in at JFK was nasty and very slow. BA reports being “woefully understaffed”

Fortunately, once past check-in and security, the Concorde Room awaited, where we had a lovely pre-flight dinner.

2017-08-27 02 - Heirloom Tomato Burrata
Heirloom tomato and burrata salad – very tasty

2017-08-27 03 - Steak
Perfectly roasted sirloin accompanied by vegetables and a lovely 2013 St. Emilion

Just as we finished dining, it was time to board our flight. Nothing much to report, except to say that BA took very good care of us. Once we reached cruising altitude, our beds were made and we drifted off for about 4 hours of sleep. Before landing, we enjoyed a hot breakfast to start the day.

Our flight arrived on time and, once past customs and baggage claim, we headed for the Heathrow Express, perhaps the best (and certainly fastest) way to get into London – it’s a 15 minute trip. And, by the way, you can get a nice discount if you book your trip online at least 30 days in advance of your travel date.

2017-08-28 04 - Heathrow Express
The Heathrow Express, comfortable and fast

TRAVEL TIP: HEATHROW EXPRESS

The train dropped us off at Paddington Station and, from there, it was a quick 15 minute taxi ride to our hotel, the Shangri-La at the Shard, across the river and a stone’s throw from London Bridge. (Normally, the trip can take longer, but it was a bank holiday, so the streets were pretty empty.)

Shangri-La Shard Logo

We arrived at the hotel at about 10:00 AM and, very fortunately for us, our room was available. Not only that but, because we had booked through the AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts Program, we were given an upgrade to the Iconic City View Room, which has the best views in the hotel. Thanks, Veronica!!

Iconic City View Room
Our Iconic City View Room – they weren’t kidding about the views

2017-08-28 05 - St. Paul
View #1 – St. Paul’s Cathedral (to the left)

2017-08-28 06 - London Bridge
View #2 – London Bridge (to the right)

TRAVEL TIP: The Shangri-La at the Shard

TRAVEL TIP: AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts Program

Once we unpacked and got settled in, we decided to walk off the jet lag and grab a bite of lunch. Because we’re across the river from most (if not all) of the action, we took the tube over to  Leicester Square (in the heart of the West End), and started strolling.

Leicester Square
The tube delivered us to Leicester Square in the West End

From there, we walked through Trafalgar Square and over to Piccadilly.

Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square on a beautiful Monday morning in August

By the time we made our way over to Piccadilly, we were feeling a bit peckish, so we decided to stop in at one of our favorite restaurants in London, The Wolseley. 

A bit of history, courtesy of The Wolseley’s website: “In 1921, Wolseley Motors Limited commissioned the architect, William Curtis Green, to design a prestigious car showroom in London’s West End. He drew on Venetian and Florentine influences, as well as incorporating the Eastern exotic touches that were in fashion at the time. The grand, atmospheric interior with its towering pillars, arches and stairways was testament to the great ambitions of The Wolseley Car Company. The cars were displayed on the marble floor and cost between £225 – £1,300. Unfortunately, the cars did not sell well enough and by 1926 the Company was bankrupt.

Wolseley Showroom
The Wolseley Showroom, ca. 1921.

“Barclays Bank acquired the building and a new branch opened in April 1927. William Curtis Green was recalled to install managers’ offices on either side of the main entrance (now serving as a bar and salon) and a banking counter, further developing the Eastern lacquer theme. He also designed specialized furniture including a post box and stamp machine, still on display today.

“Chris Corbin and Jeremy King secured the site in July 2003 and its restoration and renovation was overseen by David Collins Architects. The Wolseley opened in November 2003.”

Wolseley Cafe
The Wolseley today

The great thing about The Wolseley is that it’s open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and post-theatre supper. So you can eat there just about any time of day.

We decided to share a couple of things:

2017-08-28 09 - Chicken Sandwich
AAC had a grilled chicken, bacon and avocado sandwich served on ciabatta

2017-08-28 08 - Salad Niçoise
I opted for the Salade Niçoise – a very sensible choice

The food at The Wolseley is always delicious and you’re in an unusual and beautiful dining room and, should you be interested, you’re directly across the street from the world-famous Ritz Hotel.

DINING TIP: The Wolseley

As we finished lunch, the jet lag hit us bigly. So we decided to tube it back to the hotel and take a substantial nap. It felt SO GOOD!

We awoke refreshed and ready to get cleaned up and changed and headed out for our first theatrical adventure of the trip: the West End revival of the 1963 musical, Half A Sixpence

On our way to the Noël Coward Theatre, we passed the Colisseum, home of ENO (the English National Opera). This fall, the company is presenting the world premiere of a new opera by Nico Muhly, Marnie. You may recognize the title from the 1960’s Hitchcock film of the same name, which starred Tippi Hedren (of The Birds fame) and the quintessential James Bond, Sean Connery. Well, ladies and gents, how lucky are we that AAC and I will be back in London for the 1st performance this coming November?

2017-08-28 10 - Marnie
AAC looks forward to Marnie – isn’t that an amazing poster?

Half A Sixpence is based, I kid you not, on the novel, Kipps, The Story of a Simple Soul, by none other than H.G. Wells. It has been said that some plot points in the novel are autobiographical. The musical was revived by Cameron Mackintosh and created a star with the astonishing peformance of 23-year old Charlie Stemp. The actor playing the leading role of Arthur Kipps must carry the show, as he is onstage almost nonstop and is featured in no less than 15 songs. Stemp’s performance is not only accomplished – he is an amazing dancer and constantly in motion – but he’s also genuinely charming in the role and the audience adores him. The show is a constant delight and has been given a lovely and very substantial production.

2017-08-28 11 - Half A Sixpence
AAC arrives for his first show of the trip: Half A Sixpence

Stemp - 01
A Star is Born: Charlie Stemp onstage as Arthur Kipps in Half A Sixpence

Stemp 3
Stemp and Company: Pick Out A Simple Tune

I only wish that I could recommend this delightful show to you as a CULTURAL TIP but, alas, the production closes this weekend. Oh well.

Following the performance, we were peckish again, and so we decided to drop in at another of our favorite culinary establishments (and one at which we dine every time we’re in town), The Ivy, which is celebrating its centenary this very year. Unusual for us, we arrived without a reservation, but we were very lucky to score a table.

The Ivy
The Ivy – a great place to sup post-theatre

DINING TIP: The Ivy

We had a lovely supper and The Ivy is always so friendly and welcoming. 

By the time we finished, it was almost midnight and our first day in London was drawing to a close. It was time to taxi back to the Shangri-La, take some lovely pharmaceuticals and drift off into a delightful sleep with visions of what we’d done that day dancing in our heads.

 

 

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Countdown to London

“As a foreigner in London, I like that there are so many other foreigners.”
David Sedaris

How lucky are AAC CPA and I?

For the 3rd time this year, we’re on our way to London. This trip came about thanks to a blog entry by The Points Guy a few months ago giving us the skivvy that fares were being slashed to Europe over the holidays. If you happened to be an AARP member (reminder: you don’t need to be 50 to join AARP, just sayin’) and, for instance, went through the AARP website to a dedicated British Airways link, you automatically got a $400 per person discount. Added to that, we cashed in some Avios miles to save even more money.

How could we not go?

TRAVEL TIP: The Points Guy

In the event, we’re leaving early Sunday morning, will arrive early evening local time, Heathrow Express our way into central London and be at the Shangri-La at the Shard in time for a late supper with our friends A & K, who will have arrived the day before. As I said, how lucky are we?

We also got lucky with a special promotion through the AmEx FHR program. Although we’d already booked a return visit to the Shangri-La, it turns out that, thanks to AmEx, you can pay for 2 nights and get the 3rd for free. Our awesome AmEx travel agent, Veronica, was happy to rebook the reservation so that we could take advantage of this offer. The only fly in the ointment is that we’re planning to be in London for 6 nights, and the hotel refused to let us use the promotion twice on this visit. Other hotels do it all the time but not the Shangri-La. Good thing it’s a really nice hotel or we’d be very miffed. (Well, maybe we are, just a wee bit.)

Shangri-LaTime for a return visit to the Shangri-La

TRAVEL TIP: AmEx FHR Program

TRAVEL TIP: Once you’ve booked your hotel reservation(s), go back every so often either to the hotel’s website or the AmEx FHR website and check for better deals. I’d say that there’s an excellent chance that you’ll find a lower rate or, even, a promotion like the one we’re taking advantage of next week. If you have the forbearance (and the time, of course), you may end up saving significantly on your hotel bill.

“In London they don’t like you if you’re still alive.”
Harvey Fierstein

Before we pulled the trigger on the airfare deal, I checked to see if we could score tickets to, arguably, the biggest theatre deal in London this fall: the revival of Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory. At the time, I went to the theatre’s website to check on availability and found that tickets didn’t go on sale to the general public until the following day. Call it my cultural sixth sense, but I decided that I had to get tickets right then so, for a modest donation to the Chocolate Factory, I was able to select prime seats (well, in a 188-seat theatre, I guess that ALL seats are prime), for a little more than tuppence. Having taken care of that task, we went ahead and booked the air tickets. Thank you, AARP; thank you, British Airways; thank you, Avios miles. (And thank you, Chocolate Factory!)

And, wouldn’t you know, when general public seating opened the following day, the entire engagement sold out within 2 hours!! The Chocolate Factory had never seen anything like it. Ever!!

So even if you can’t obtain tickets at the Chocolate Factory to see the show, don’t despair – before it even started previews, a transfer to the West End was announced! And, if you’ve never been to the Chocolate Factory, you really should pay a call. It’s a great space and some amazing productions have started there.

Chocolate Factory

CULTURE TIP: Menier Chocolate Factory

CULTURE TIP: Funny Girl at the Savoy

“London is too full of fogs and serious people. Whether the fogs produce the serious people, or whether the serious people produce the fogs, I don’t know.”
Oscar Wilde

As usual with our visits to London – I believe that this will be our 14th time there – we tend to book up heavily on the cultural side of things. This visit is no exception: 3 shows on the West End, the aforementioned FG at the Chocolate Factory, our first ever Panto (Cinderella at the Hammersmith), and another venue new to us: a Candlelight Christmas Eve Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. (AAC CPA has promised not to scream at the climactic part of the concert a la Doris Day in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.)

Doris Day
Doris Day or AAC CPA? You be the judge.

Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall

“London is a roost for every bird.”
Benjamin Disraeli

In between all the culture, there’s the eating. We’ve booked some fun meals at some of our old haunts, and I’ll be reporting on them as merrily we roll along. We’ve also been invited to join A & K for a holiday dinner with A’s family, as they reside in Merry Olde. We’re very flattered to be part of their family for that special evening.

The other fun thing is that, on Christmas Night in London, the very final episode of Downton Abbey will be telecast and we’ll be there to see it. (Don’t tell anyone, but we’ve already seen the final season and it’s GOOD! Shhhhhhhh!) We’re a bit sorry to see the series go, but it seems to be ending on a high note.

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
What would Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham say?

I’ll try to post a couple of entries while we’re across the pond to let you know how it’s going.

In the meantime, I hope that all of you are enjoying a happy and healthy holiday season.

Cheers!