I had thought I might report regularly from London, but that turned out to be overly ambitious and impractical. I hadn’t taken my laptop, but just my PocketPC, and while I was able to connect to the hotel’s wifi with the latter, it’s just not a practical device for writing and posting to the blog. Moreover, our days were so full that by the time we’d return to the hotel each evening I generally was too tired to edit and upload photos or write.
It’s just as well we didn’t end up going in February, as that week turned out to be cold, wet and dark. This time, though, the weather was gorgeous and sunny; there was a brief light rain early one morning, but by 10:00 that day the rain had stopped and the sun had come out.
We flew Continental Airline’s BusinessFirst service, thanks to Jeff’s frequent flier miles. That’s really the way to go, allowing you to start your holiday already fairly refreshed, at least somewhat rested, and relatively well-fed. Leaving DCA Tuesday afternoon, and connecting in Newark to a 6:30 p.m. flight, we arrived at London Gatwick at 6:30 Wednesday morning, April 26. After going through customs, we hopped onto the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station, where we transferred to the tube one stop to Pimlico, then a five- to ten-minute walk to our award-winning hotel (where we had a great deal on the room of ₤602 for six nights, a real bargain for that area) , the City Inn Westminster on John Islip Street, just a couple of blocks from the Tate Britain and the Thames.
Arriving at the hotel around 8:30 a.m., we were told that they had no clean rooms available that early, so they held our luggage and we went walking around Westminster, over to the Thames and then north to Victoria Tower Garden, Parliament and the Big Ben clock tower, on up the Thames directly across from the London Eye, over to the Royal Horseguards, through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace and then back to the hotel. By lunchtime, then, we’d already had one spectacular, full morning of sightseeing.
Checking in, we discovered that Bank of America had protectively, though not so helpfully, placed a freeze on my credit card when the hotel called from London to verify my limit; the charge from London–even though I’d charged tickets for a London theatre just a few days earlier–apparently triggered an automatic freeze because of the overseas location of the vendor. My only other credit card on-hand was my Discover card, which isn’t used in Europe, but a phone call to Bank of America to verify my identity eventually got my card back in service for the hotel bill and the remainder of the trip.
After settling into the room and resting a bit, for dinner we headed to an Indian restaurant in Piccadilly Circus–Chowki–highly recommended by a colleague of mine. And what a great recommendation. Each month Chowki chooses three different regions of India or Pakistan, and offers relatively inexpensive (especially for London, and remarkable considering the quality of the food) “home-style” dishes from those regions; three-course prix fixe “region feasts” allow you to experience a full meal from a given region, all served in a beautiful, organically shaped white bone china thali. For April, the three regions were the North-West Frontier, Lucknow and Goa. Jeff selected the North-West Frontier and I went with Goa; my starter was “curls of squid tossed in a mouth watering carom seeds flavoured masala,” my entree was “queen prawns in spicy gravy with dried Goan red chilli, green chillies and peppercorns, tempered with garlic and curry leaves,” and the dessert from Goa was a “multilayered flavoured homemad cake.” It was all incredibly delicious.
After dinner we walked around Piccadilly and Leicester, and down to Trafalgar Square; Nelson’s Column is undergoing restoration, so was entirely covered with scaffolding (though it actually looked rather cool encased in geometric, blue-lit planks). We took some pictures of the fountains and column at night, and then took the tube back to the hotel, where we quickly fell soundly asleep beneath our plump white duvet.