A quarter of a century seems like a long time in a life – but for these discerning travelers it seems to have flown by. So, last week on the occasion of our 25th wedding anniversary, we spent another perfect day. Unlike other perfect days we’ve spent, this one was not on the water. It was determinedly on land – in London.
We awoke to a wonderfully sunny and crisp autumn day – just the way a perfect fall day ought to be – with only a vague notion of how the day would progress. We only knew how we would cap it off in the end – we’ll get to that. So, we did what we usually do when we visit a city: we walked.
Staying at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, we had little choice: as our son who now lives in London remarked, it’s not really close to anything. But for us that is not a shortcoming. The hotel is a remarkable architectural treat in itself, with a rich history, and when you walk through the Booking Room Restaurant & Bar and exit through the back door, you find yourself on the platform where the Eurostar trains leave for Paris & Brussels.
That morning we headed out toward Regent’s Park (which is but a five minute walk away – who says the hotel isn’t close to anything?). What a beautiful oasis in the city – one of many. London is dotted with these green spaces, a fact that often surprises people whose only view of London has been of traffic jams and hordes of ogling tourists as shown on the nightly news. We enjoyed our walk and just kept going into the heart of down town, browsing the many wonderful shops along the way.
Eventually it was time for a late lunch. It’s often best in our view to wait until the weekday office crowd has returned to their desks to take fuller advantage of restaurants. In the past when we have visited London we have concluded that we don’t go there for the food – but this trip seemed different somehow. Every restaurant we had chosen in the days leading up to our anniversary had proved our previous experience to be so wrong. And this time was no different.
In Swallow Street just off Regent Street, we discovered Bentley’s Oyster Bar. With options that included the oyster bar itself, an outside dining space and an upstairs dining room (a bit more formal, said the hostess), the restaurant had a wonderful British ambience, replete with attentive, professional wait staff and fabulously prepared and presented food. We opted for the ‘more formal’ dining experience upstairs and found ourselves surrounded not by tourists, but by well-dressed business types. It was wonderful. It also reinforced for us one of our rules of traveling: always dress comfortably but well: you never know where you might end up. We may not have been dressed as we would for a formal presentation at work, but we comported ourselves quite well, thank-you very much. Let that be a lesson to any travelers who favor those god-awful, hulking white sneakers and (we can hardly bring ourselves to say it) the fanny pack!
We treated ourselves to their wonderful seafood, a bottle of reasonably-priced Sancerre from France and even their trifle with mascarpone, and then returned to the street to continue our wander to soak in the London ambience.
Returning to the Renaissance, we made our way into the Chambers Club which has to be the most impressive concierge lounge among the Marriott properties. It is massive, well-staffed, well-victualed and does not charge for wine. We were in the mood for a few hot appetizers and a glass (or two) of their cold sauvignon blanc on offer. We were not planning to eat until after the evening’s entertainment.
We changed and made our way to the west end in time for the 7:30 curtain of the new production of Cabaret which had officially opened with press night just the evening before. We were eight rows back, dead center when Britain’s first Pop Idol, and platinum British recording artist Will Young emerged from the “O” in “Wilkommen” as the emcee in this astounding production. Of course, our interest was a bit more personal.
Several minutes later, we spotted him – Hans was the character’s name – and he was very familiar to us since we’ve been watching him perform since he was three years old. It was our 23-year-old son Ian making his west end debut, and it was the most unique and wonderful way to celebrate 25 years of marriage. We congratulated ourselves on having “done good” as they say.
We capped off the day with a late dinner at Café des Amis just off Covent Garden with Ian & Jeremy – another west end musical theater veteran, and returned to our hotel via the tube. We are now the proud owners of London Underground ‘Oyster Cards’ which we intend to use often and soon!