A Bit of What You Fancy Does You Good

Freaked out? Fried? We all are. Yet travel needn't be a terror: sometimes nothing's more therapeutic than swanning around the city where the season's jolly.

Hotels: April Burbage gives you
the London lowdown

How can a clock be timeless? Big Ben not only declares the time. The 13.5 ton  Palace of Westminster clock tower bell evokes the very soul of London. Poor William Shakespeare did not have the good fortune to hear Big Ben (The bell's first public chime sounded n 31 May, 1859), the music of Shakespeare certainly is in Big Ben's tones -- along with Newton's clarity,  Churchill's will, Princess Diana's compassion and the dreams, thoughts, passions wishes and essence of millions of Londoners, present and past. Have a listen.
  H20 Heaven

Kensington Close Hotel

Wrights Lane Kensington W8 5 SP

Tel 020 7368 4005 Fax 020 7938 4331

Great beds, these. You’ll need a great bed after Virgin’s surprising new economy ’Iron Maiden’, Procrustian cramped seating---that and a chiropractor, With fewer Americans flying since September 11th, we realise that many flight services have had to be compacted: Virgin often have deployed the smaller planes in their fleet. But these days Virgin’s economy seats hurt you almost as much as that much hyped, much despised Singapore Airlines. Try for the bulkhead seats.

We’re fond of this small, immaculate hotel, tucked just round the corner from the tube in High St Ken, a neighbourhood that women especially like, just because it’s so pretty, not at all masculine or grubby like so many of London’s hotel neighborhoods. With coffee bars, supermarkets, Marks and Spencers, Smiths and buses to Knightsbridge shopping, it’s convenient but gentle.

This Posthouse is a modest and modern hotel: we keep returning here because despite the tiny size of the rooms, they balance the smallish hotel room with impeccably built in features, such making your own tea service, niches for the hair dryer, etc. Everything works and fits pleasingly. This is a cushy little space capsule.

The only snag is the bathroom light problem. When you travel a lot, it is a comfort to have some way to remember where you are when you are sleepily shuffling to the loo. Malheureusement, the bathroom light here hits you right in the eyeball as you lie abed, even if you keep the loo door open even a crack. Otherwise, they have thought of everything …well, everything but that blasted light.

And we ‘re wild about the hotel’s Spirit Health Club, and wonderful, wonderful swimming pool, free to guests. (open 6:30 am to 10 pm most days). The sauna hot as hell, the pool is sparkling and warm. The steam room is large, fabulous and fragrant with lung clearing herbs. It’s blessed with an excellent staff, and you can sneak to the health club direct from your room via the lift without hassles. All in all, this is the best deal we found in London. TIP: If you’re doing an extended London stay, you might want to know about this short term Spriti Health Club memberships. The off peak single rate for three months is £181 as of this writing---unbelievable value!

There’s more than one restaurant in the hotel, too. and  if you’re too tired to go out searching for curries, they do serve up a few...though how scrumptious they are, must wait for our review, which is imminent.


  The Dance of the Seven Dials


Radisson Edwardian Mountbatten Hotel

20 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden London, WC2 9HD England
Phone: (0)20 7836 4300 Fax: (0)207 240 3540
(800) 333-3333 US
(0800) 37 4411 UK

‘Look,‘ the bellman said, ‘the moon is right over the Seven Dials.’

The bellman was looking through the window of the fifth floor suite in the Radisson Edwardian Mountbatten Hotel. And bellman was right. Tucked away in Covent Garden, this quiet four-star deluxe hotel looks out on the bright lights of the West End theaters. The silver half-moon looked quite at home. If you look beyond the chimneys and rooftops that evoke Peter Pan, you can see the London Eye wheeling in the distance, guarding the legendary, looping. Thames. This enormous Ferris wheel, which was erected to celebrate London’s Millennium celebrations, smiles and flashes at nearby Big Ben with bluish blinks.

Back to the Seven Dials. Stories abound as to how this London landmark got its name. Currently, we like the one that notes that the seven catty-corner corners which meet have buildings that are blessed with clocks. It is an absolute symphony of roman numerals. In addition there is that Seven Dials pillar which pays its respects to the seven dials. It too is a time piece, at least during the few hours of daylight allowed by London’s latitude 51N31.

In order to understand the Mountbatten (if understanding hotels is part of how you process the world) it helps to understand the Radisson Edwardian Hotels. The privately-owned chain consists of 10 UK hotels (nine in London, one at Heathrow Airport) and apparently more on the way. Next to open will be hotels in Birmingham and Manchester. The Birmingham property, the Baskerville House is set to open in the fall of 2003. as  221-room luxury hotel. 

The owner, the tycoon with good taste Jasminder Singh, is an accountant by training; he has been a London hotelier since 1977. The chain’s name suggests a slavish desire to reproduce an anatomically correct replica of the Edwardian era. This proves not to be the case: the prevailing philosophy is much more intelligent. The idea is to capture and maintain the spirit of that era specifically an atmosphere of luxury and opulence while happily using the best contemporary design ideas. Calm colors, sometimes joyfully startling shapes and materials blend throughout the Mountbatten.

And how suite the sitting room is: plump pillows and a comfy sofa, upholstered in a bang-on shade of Edwardian chartreuse… the rich lustre of the angled walls in a lovely, cosseting cerulean blue… huge windows which actually open and look out in different directions…George Melly on the Bose wave radio…who couldn’t get mellow here, very fast? We did.

Room service? Yes, please. The eats: eggs, mushrooms, grilled tomato, yogurt, fruit, juice, toast and tea. We liked snorking up the full English breakfasts --- we prefer vegetarian style --- room service shoots up to the rooms. We sat at the lovely antique table in the angled niche between two windows and engaged in commentary and delighted speculation about the people milling about below, off to work in Covent Garden.

And the well-appointed bedroom was not simply the obligatory other room but a soft

haven made for sleeping and lounging.

Staff at the Mountbatten were extremely helpful and friendly and professional. Not that we had many problems to pose to them.

When staying at the Mountbatten, don’t forget to set your dial for a drink at the hotel’s popular bar, The Dial An assortment of comfortable sofas, easy chairs and the posture-flattering, comfortable straight back chairs invite you to sit down. Bold white inch-thick candles lend a bit of atmosphere. Floor to ceiling windows face the street and look out at theater district night life. Who are those people in dress attire? Oh they’re coming in here. The Dial’s smart location, connection to the Mountbatten and inviting décor bring a highly democratic but sedate bunch to the joint. You have your actors and luvvies and hangers-on who have just strutted and sweated their hour or so on stage as well as young (but old enough to drink) men and women on dates as well as locals out for a breath of air, diplomats, industrialists, and yes tourists from all over the world, all mixing in.

The Dial is a wonderful spot from which to view the theatrical streets.

Verdict: Very comfy, great nabe, extremely nice. Would definitely do it again.


In Bloomin’ Bloomsbury:

Radisson Edwardian Kenilworth Hotel

97 Great Russell Street London, WC1B 3BL England
Phone: + 44 (0)20 7637 3477
Fax: + 44 (0)20 7631 3133
Toll Free: (800) 333-3333 US
Toll Free: (0800) 37 4411 UK

The Kenilworth, located in the Bloomsbury section, is another design jewel in the Edwardian Radisson collection. It’s only a block or so away from the British Museum, and not far from the Mountbatten, if you got hooked on pulling actors or actresses at the Dial bar. (And while the district is steeped in atmosphere and tradition, the Kenilworth rooms manage to be both really modern and comfortable. .

Just about everything has a designer label or at least designer mind behind it. A dropped ceiling with recessed lights transforms a grey wall to a subtle and nuanced (like Brendan Fraser’s performance) setting. The persistent and ubiquitous touches do not scream. They delight, charm and give comfort: leather covered cubical night stands, Philip Starck faucets, glass desks in some rooms. Cheery wood desks in others.

We are told that in course of redoing the place a few years ago, the design team led by Michael Attenborough and Mrs. Singh actively sought input from the staff. For example, housekeepers explained how duvets make the make the task of making the bed just right smarter, quicker, easier.

Whatever the journey, the beauty of it is that you find yourself staying in an environment that is modern without being edgily intimidating. Creative original art from around the world seems to be everywhere in the lobby, the rooms, the restaurants, the corridors. You can work calmly and productively or you can just relax and hang out.

TIP: Go out on the lobby head toward the gents and ladies but stop at the business centre. That’s where you will find three beautiful computers waiting for you and your e-mail. No need to dial up just click on the MSN icon and a web window opens. From there it’s a hop, skip and url to your messages. So far no charge.


  Days of Tory Glory

Athenaeum Hotel and Apartments

116 Piccadilly, London W.1 J 7BJ

Tel 011 44 020 7499 3464

Fax 011 44 020 7493 1860

The Athenaeum is a magnet for visiting film and theatre stars. Recent guests have included John Malkovitch, Samuel Jackson, Simply Red, Dionne Warwick, Russell Crowe, Meg Ryan, Linda Gray, Michael Douglas and Larry Hagman. Part of the Hollywood hangout mystique is certainly because the J. Arthur Rank Organization once owned the property. Two other factors are probably more important. First of all, the Athenaeum delivers service. Staffers quote executive director Sally Bulloch when she says “The answer to every question is yes.”. Also it offers a comfortable and comforting sense of privacy that whispers discretion. Even to the extent of offering the use of secret hallways that afford private entree and egress for the celeb who does not wish to be haunted by paparazzi. This privacy was offered to Denis and Margaret Thatcher when they dallied in the Athenaeum 9th floor 750 pound a night penthouse for 9 weeks. They chose instead to eat in the public areas and walk through the front door and the Brits loved it.

Travelers USA Notebook stayed in an apartment. These are special and spacious and are round the corner from the main hotel building. The apartments are townhouse suites, two per floor, on Down Street, the side street adjoining the hotel proper. (Quite proper, as a matter of fact. This is Mayfair after all.). Each suite has an oversized living room; ample bedroom; contemporary dark green, tiled kitchen (complete with stove, oven, refrigerator, sink, dishes, tableware, washer dryer combination but alas, no microwave) and a lovely loo. There’s ample closet space. But what’s with the twin beds in the bedrooms? They were tucked in so smartly that it was hard to kick free and play footsie footsie. It made us respect Russell Crowe more, but still. There are twin beds in so many of the A’s rooms, pushed together to make one large bed, that we warn you: if you are a big shot and planning a big juicy secret louche love affair, please phone ahead so the staff can put in a queen size for your visit, or it’s twins for you, duckies!

The central theme of our apartment’s décor might be called patterns. Every surface, fabric, object bears a discernable pattern powerfully striped green, maroon and cream curtains; beige wallpaper showing regalia separated diamonds, tan and brown floral carpet; bright Princess Anne red rose in a green diamond wreath on an ivory background straight back chairs, rose on burgundy sofa and arm chair red and gold orchids on forest green background chairs. The plush furniture has fringes and the straight backs have studs.

Now here’s the thing. One of us loved the apartment and one of us hated it. One of us found solace in the plush, traditional décor. The other didn’t  -- if we are to attach any credence to the description, “arsenic tones from 1910 and poison and pus greens and brown fringed Philadelphia unsuccessful whorehouse draperies.” (A possible exception to the general décor doldrums might be apartment #13 with its black ceilings and leopard upholstery. Known as the “Wild Room,” it is often used by privacy seekers.) Admittedly there was a bit of discombobulation with trying to work out the tricky television remote controls, coded washer/dryer and stove instructions that didn’t help. And then there were the visible outlets for old English electrical plugs that no longer existed and the hard to find outlets for the more popular plugs of the day. But after a few days crawling around on all fours, looking for the American outlet, which, it is claimed, is in every room, and giving up, it did all seem quite mellow. After all, it is a lovely feeling to have one’s own apartment in London’s Mayfair, and to have an oven in which to cook all those delicious Marks and Spencers frozen meals we often long to try as tourists but cannot bring home on the airplane. There is even a box of laundry powder for you by the washer. To have a discreet staff bring you room service if you are promoting a book and having a series of interviewers traipsing in and out, or having a little orgy---well, as Edward R. Murrow would say,’This---is London’.

The Athenaeum is the perfect spot to stay if you’re into Tory glory and if extreme privacy does not feel like isolation. Whether a guest or not, do drop in on the clubby intimate Whisky Bar. Its menu of at least 100 different single malts is said to be the largest selection of whiskies in London. The barkeep pours with a lovely sense of solemn ceremony.

TIP: For international calls, don’t dial the AT&T number because you don’t get an AT&T operator. Instead, accomplish your goal by just dialing “130.” 

Travelers Notebook 

     Let USA Travelers Notebook reporters share their insecurities with you about London. It’s a bathroom/loo kind of thing. All London hotel bathtubs seem to have high sides. Climbing into the tub is not just a figure of speech. And there are all those marble surfaces that get so slick when wet. Traveler gets woozy when he/she contemplates a familiar tendency toward awkwardness. What if he fell, he wondered. What if she dropped her compact and it shattered, she fretted. What if he hit his head or chipped his elbow or fell on his jaw and broke one of his crowns. Ooo. Uggh. Horrors. So do be careful when entering a London bathroom -- if not for your own sake then for Traveler’s peace of mind.

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