For variety sake, we had booked a change in hotel mid-stay. I didn't want to commit staying at a place we had never been for a whole week. It is also seemed wise to move to a different part of town where different stuff would be more convenient.
We stayed the next three nights at the Chancery Court Hotel near Holborn tube on special deal that was $250/night. It is primarily a businessman's hotel, and we were there on a weekend. The location is excellent. It is a block from central line Holborn tube station and short walk to Covent Garden as well as lots of stores for room food and several attractions like the British Museum, and John Soane's House, both London musts. It is also nice and quiet, just east of Kingsway the road that seems to divide tourist London from financial London.
However, it is an odd place. On the one hand, it has all the trappings of a luxury hotel. The rooms and especially the bathroom were very, very fancy. Even little things like the room tea in silky little bags and coffee making were far more luxurious than I've every seen in a hotel. The minibar had a collection of fancy scotchs. Unfortunately, it was not free this time. Wireless is also not free and very expensive, but I knew this going in. I walked over to Starbucks every morning to check my email. I didn't learn until the last day that they have a guest computer on the third floor, so it was unnecessary.
On the other hand, the building had originally be insurance company offices, and it showed. There was essentially no lobby, just a small entrance area with counter for the clerks and a desk for the concierge, so the place felt more like a glorified pension than a hotel. There was really no common areas, except dark and some forbidding hallways and a small dark sitting area in front of the elevators in another room beyond the entrance. I thought the place was fine and would stay there again at the price, but my wife wouldn't.
After dumping off our luggage, we tubed to Oxford Circus. The plan was to walk down Regent Street to see some of the fancy shops that we had read about, soak in London atmosphere and to go to Fortnum & Mason to buy tea. I guess we hadn't learned our lesson about shopping. Same old same old. Liberty was just another department store, but at least it was in an older building that had some character. One place we were looking forward to was Hamely's, the worlds biggest toy store. We're big on puzzles and were hoping for something new and different. Big, as it turns out doesn't mean more different stuff. It just means more of the same stuff. The place is also a turn off because it is just so calculated to play on the excitability of 8 year olds. The phony, cynical manipulation of children and their parents with a contrived aura of playfulness and innocence was sleazy in a particularly despicable way.
Approaching Trafalger Square, we heard the loud singing of a bunch of German football fans who were in town for some big match. We had seen them all over town, but they mobbed the Square singing and waving around beers. Americans who have never been to Europe have no idea how crazy people there get about football. The craziest Philadelphia Eagle or Flyer fans are no match for your average Europe football fan on tour. I stood watching, hoping that some British football hooligans would counter attack, so there would be some real fun. Unfortunately, we never did see any real British football hooligans, which is like going to London and not seeing the houses of parliament. You feel like you've missed a classic British institution.
Fortnum and Mason is our second favorite place to look at food in London. We are especially fond of their tea although it is no match for the extraordinary at the hotel. The only other store we saw on the trip that really seemed special was James Smith & Sons. Luxury umbrellas are about as British as you can get. Globalization has lead inevitably to boring sameness everywhere. Finding new stuff gets harder every trip to Europe. The world is no longer divided by geography. It's divided by money. You are no longer British or French. You are now rich or you are poor. The only meaningful divide left is time, now and then. I prefer then, which is why history (and scenery) is about the only reason to travel anymore. The worthwhile part of London is the V&A, Greenwich, John Soane's House, etc. History. It is definitely not Oxford St. or Regent St.
We tubed back to Covent Garden and walked around a bit before visiting John Soane's House, a block from the hotel. It is a small townhouse crammed, and I mean crammed, with art and curiosities ranging from a pharoh's sarcophagus to John Hogarth series of paintings, the "Rake's Progress," which we greatly enjoyed due to a docent who explained what was happening in each and the story that Hogarth was telling. The overall effect of all this stuff crammed together was sort of awe inspiring a way that is hard to define. We found it one our favorite places in London, although I suspect that it is not for everyone.
Our dinner plan was to try Dishoom in Covent Garden, so I asked the concierge to make a reservation. He tried, but the place doesn't take them. Instead, they just said to come over and they would seat us. We didn't notice that they didn't say when they would seat us. Ten minutes later we arrived and they told us that the wait was an hour and a half. OK, maybe they didn't exactly lie, but even Bill Clinton could learn a thing or two from them about dissembling. Finding an alternative on Saturday night in London isn't easy, especially in Covent Garden. We walked around looking at restaurants bursting at the seams for a while until starvation seemed imminent. Then I saw a sign for Masala Zone, which I had on our radar as a supposedly good cheap and cheerful type of Indian restaurant that probably isn't for the purist. Anyway, we were just happy to get seated immediately. We both ordered a thalis, mine with lamb curry and my wife's with fish curry. My lamb jogan rosh curry wasn't all that great, yet somehow the overall he meal was very enjoyable and satisfying. All of the vegetable food had a perfect level and character of hotness that tickled the endorphins. I would certainly go there again and hope for better luck on the curry.
Opinionated London: Day 4
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