Part 1 of a series of indeterminate length
Welcome to England: Claridge’s
Cookie took care of our arrangements, aided by her travel agent at Artisans of Leisure. We ended up with absolutely fabulous hotels in both London and Paris. Here are some of the cool things that happened at Claridge’s, aka Buckingham Palace’s spare rooms. Apparently when the royal family doesn’t have room for all their guests, they ship some of them over to Claridge’s.
Our flight got in before 8 a.m. Luckily, the hotel was able to arrange a very early check-in for us, and brought us tea first thing. It went well with what the travel agency had already arranged: fruit, macarons, and champagne awaited us in our rooms. Thus began our vacation tradition of drinking champagne at the drop of a hat. (Though we were restrained enough to wait for the champagne until evening.)
It took us two days to get through the macarons, three or four days to get through the champagne (it’s all rather a blur), and we never quite finish all the fruit, though we put up a good fight on that front.
My favorite celebrity quote about Claridge’s comes from Spencer Tracy, who said: “…not that I intend to die, but when I do, I don’t want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge’s.”
Our first morning, our guide Viv saw a British comedian whose name I can’t remember, probably because I wasn’t familiar with him. He was hidden in the celebrity breakfast area (which doubled as a bar in the evenings), just off the public restaurant where we were breakfasted. When the mirrored door leading to this hideaway opened, Viv caught a glimpse of a server bringing something to Mr. Famous Comedian, and got all fan-girly. Then as we were leaving the restaurant the next morning, we saw Harvey Keitel, probably on the way to the same little hideaway. It must have been his first morning there, because they hadn’t yet shown him how to avoid being seen yet. There were also reports of Joan Collins, and we spotted a very well-put-together older woman who was definitely “somebody,” if one judged by the stir she caused when she walked through the lobby. Maybe a British actress?
My favorite, though, was our near-spotting of Matt Damon. The night we were going to the Globe Theatre, our driver Clive said, “You know that fellow, the one who plays Bourne?”
“That’s probably the name. I don’t watch many films, but I remember Bourne.”
“Yes, what about him?”
“He just walked into the ballroom entrance, up ahead there.”
“Up ahead there” was perhaps ten yards from the car. We stared at Clive, our mouths opening and closing like guppies. Clive is a prize-winning fisherman, so maybe that’s what he was after.
He finally went on. “Yeah, the doorman said there’s a big party tonight for some film. Lots of folks in fancy dress. He looked good, did Bourne. They’ll all be going off to Leicester Square for the premiere after this.”
“The movie—could it be The Martian?”
Clive shrugged. “Dunno. Don’t see a lot of films. I just know Bourne.”
There was some temptation to blow off our theatre tickets and hang out in Leicester Square, but that was momentary. After all, it wasn’t like we were going to be able to chat up Matt, Jessica, Ridley, or any of their pals even if we could get into the premiere. So it was off to the Globe for us, to see Nell Gwynn. But that’s a post for another day.
You can get a fancy afternoon tea in London. Sis took Cookie and me to tea at Claridge’s, and you don’t get any fancier.
We had champagne (do you sense a theme?) and of course, many types of tea from which to choose. I was boring and predictable, and chose Claridge’s Blend. Sis, being more adventurous, had White Silver Tip. Cookie tried the Iron Goddess of Mercy. Seemed apt.
The ritual was familiar; we began with tea sandwiches, and there were several tasty vegetarian choices. Then we had the best scones (plain and raisin) I personally have ever eaten, accompanied by Cornish clotted cream and Marco Polo jelly—fruity and mildly spicy. At this point, we were so full we could do little more than sniff the gorgeous pastries that ended tea: a strawberry mousse nestled on a large, macaron-type shell, a fluffy apricot dessert much like a light cheesecake, lemon cake with raspberry filling, and a mocha pastry with half a malted milk ball on top.
Our waiter asked if we would like our unfinished pastries sent to our room, to which the answer was a resounding yes. We saw him the next morning at breakfast, and he asked if we had finished them later that evening. We had to admit that we hadn’t been able to. After a walk down to the Serpentine in Hyde Park, we were pretty much done for the night. The pastries ended up being our dinner the next night, if memory serves. We had a lot of dessert for dinner during this trip. That’s okay; we were on vacation.