By Elinor Garely
When weekends in Manhattan become “same same” – it is time to head for London. Call United Airlines, book a business class seat, and wait for your flight in VIP Lounge comfort. As a VIP you are notified of boarding time, and as you settle into a “person size” seat, and head for the trendiest place on the planet, you know that London is “The” hot destination.
From Heathrow Airport there are at least three ways to speed toward London Central. The least expensive method is the Piccadilly Line on the Underground. At the equivalent of US $ 4.00 this method is both frugal and fast. The Express Train from Heathrow to Paddington is much more expensive and at US $42.00 I do not consider it a good value – although the seats are very comfortable. The most expensive option is a taxi, which sets travelers back about US $100.00. This is an excellent choice if your spending is based on an expense account and you are not counting on a piggy bank for financing.
The Underground is both efficient and effective; the Brits are friendly, kind and delighted to talk to anyone, even Americans. Do be prepared for faulty or non-working elevators and escalators and very long corridors that link one tube with another. This becomes a serious inconvenience only if your luggage is heavy and bulky and you are not.
The most wonderful hotel in London is the Athenaeum. This boutique world class property (116 Piccadilly) is noted for what it is not: It is not branded, it is not commercialized, and it is not trendy. What is it? Old world, old-fashioned, and absolutely charming, the hotel is furnished in a classical period and the staff is trained to handle guests, one person at a time! You will not find a fast food ethic at this property. You will find a small, but elegant health club, chock full of modern work-out equipment, and a wide variety of spa services. There is no better place to crash and deal with jet lag than the Athenaeum. Conveniently located at Green Park Station, and only a few blocks away from the Hyatt, it is within walking distance of museums, elegant shopping and the noted Rib Room at the Carlton Tower.
You know you have arrived at the Athenaeum when Jim Burns, one of the official hotel Greeters, gallantly ushers you into the intimate hotel lobby. All smiles and cheers, he meets every guest as though a long lost friend from across the pond has materialized – out of the blue.
The hotel interior designers know what the weary traveler is looking for, and every bed has a fluffy white goose feather and down comforter and extremely expensive 240 thread/cm squared Frette duvet covers, matching sheets and down filled pillows, as well as incredibly thick towels (nicely toasted from the heated towel rack) and downy soft robes. French milled soap adds to the joy of slipping into a very large bath tub and a good soak leads to a wonderfully restful nap.
Nap Time is Over
Now to explore London. If you are home sick already, you may want to lunch at the Hard Rock Café. A quick menu review prices salads at US $50. My preference for lunch is a little café that serves Lebanese food. The Noura is located at Lowdens Square SWI, very near the Sheraton Park Tower Hotel. The best lunch is a falafel sandwich with a spicy gherkin salad and fruit for US $9.00
Fortified for shopping, continue directly to Cadogan Place and Sloan Street. If your credit card allows, grab up tons of fashionable outfits that have not yet hit New York stores. Only the very latest, trendiest, cutting edge designs are marketed in these shops that boast the names of Channel, Pucci, Valentino, Chaumet, Armani, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Gian Franco, Fendi, Cartier, and Gucci. There is even a specialty shop for rich hookers and Jitros is where the successful ladies of the night set off in the daytime to fill their baskets with short, hot, flamboyant outfits that will definitely knock his socks off (along with other a few other garments).
Harrods’s is also here, making American tourists really depressed with a weak US dollar. The pineapples are beautiful, but at US $10, this shopper walks on by. The small Gala melon at US $6.00 was another (I’m just looking), and the US $6.00 per kg for apples made me feel like a poor relative. The sandwich prices at Harrods’s are in the stratosphere with a US$ 24 price tag for turkey and cream cheese on a bagel.
There is so much to see, and so little time, that a London Pass may be a good investment. With the dollar weak and taxi’s expensive, the Pass could be a bargain Available for 1, 2, 3 and 6 days, it can be yours before you hit London by ordering through the website of www.londonpass.com. From approximately US $54.00 for a day pass, to US$188 for a six day pass, holders go to the front of the line (if there is a queue), and get free entry to over 50 attractions, including the Royal Mews, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, the Tower of London, galleries, Queens Ice-skating and bowling, cathedrals, cinemas and the London zoo. The fee also includes a travel pass for the Underground.
Travelers can book London theatre on-line. Visit the http://www.expressevents.com/contact/ and scan all the current and future plays, choose your date, select the discount, make and confirm your reservation – all in a New York minute. Current attractions include Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Royal Ballet, Stomp and Sweeny Todd.
It’s a Saturday Date
Today is the day to get out of town and head for a historical treasure known as the Waddesdon Museum. A former Rothschild estate, it is located about 2 hours by Underground and Rail from London. Part of the fun of visiting the Mansion cum Museum is the lovely ride through the English countryside that transports you from the busy London scene, to the tranquility of the small town of Aylesbury.
A French Renaissance-style chateau (built 1874-89), the Waddesdon houses the Rothschild collection of art treasures that originally belonged to this noted family. On display are magnificent pieces of French Royal furniture, Savonnerie carpets, Sevres porcelains, portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds, as well as works by Dutch and Flemish masters of the 17th century.
The garden is renowned for its seasonal displays, and star studded designers submit their personal plans which are translated into plants and flowers for incredibly original and outstanding horticultural events. The Museum also boasts a superb wine cellar featuring some of the best of the Rothschild collection. These superb wines can be ordered along with gourmet cuisine for lunch and dinner at the museum’s restaurants. The wines can also be purchased at the gift shop.
London is an excellent gateway city. Whether plans direct you onto Beirut, Dubai and Qatar, or back to New York, this is a city that continues to be smart, sophisticated, and expensive.
The best way to return to Heathrow is via the Piccadilly Line. Be aware of the many steps at the stations, and be ready to call upon the kindness of others to help move your luggage. Aside from this inconvenience, the trip through the airport is a snap. Although there are very long tunnels from the tube to the departure terminals, security is light; do plan your time conservatively- so that you do not miss the flight.
After checking luggage through at the United Airlines counter, proceed to another security checkpoint. Run with reasonable efficiency, there is very little pain going through the process. Finally in the terminal, there are miles and miles of shopping. If your wallet can’t handle the ticket shock of London prices, head directly for the United Business Class lounge, where VIPs enjoy imported wines, snack on cheese and chips, access email, watch TV, read magazines or nap. A clear speaker system alerts business class passengers as to departure time and terminal. Once on the plane United provides travelers with tasty meals, and gentle service.
Back to Reality
One of the wonderful things about returning to NYC after an international weekend is the fact that Manhattan is actually affordable! With subways priced at $2.00 and Big Macs still under $1.00 – the Big Apple looks like a much better deal then it did when I left 60 hours ago.
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