GATWICK EXPRESS TRAIN
I was headed to Covenant Garden (Central London), so I bought a ticket at the Gatwick Express ticket counter for the Gatwick Express Train and a single tube ride. Total cost: 15 pounds ($26.78). Then I hit the ATM for some pounds ($1 USD = .56 GBP; 1 GBP = $1.78 USD -- that hurts!). The train was easy: It takes 30 minutes, departs every 15 minutes and has an on-board beverage cart. I later learned that tickets can be purchased on the train at no extra cost (that's not true for Heathrow Express). For more info about Gatwick Express, click on GatwickExpress.co.uk.
Gatwick Express goes to London's Victoria Station. I love this stop because of its high ceilings, great light and many places to eat and shop. It's also a madhouse, like Grand Central Station. At Victoria Station I asked a cop (there were plenty, because this was a week after the first London bombing) if I could take the tube (subway) all the way to Covenant Garden. He said yes. I was surprised, because I thought it was one of the places affected by the bombing.
I jumped on the Tube to prove those cowardly terrorists weren't scaring me. I was not the only one -- I didn't sense any fear in the many Londoners joining me on the tube. It was business as usual. Unfortunately for me the cop was wrong, because my transfer station was indeed closed. Instead of lugging my bag on a double decker bus I jumped in a taxi, and went a mile or so for 9 pounds ($16) (ouch!). London taxis aren't cheap, but they are the most comfortable and spacious cabs in the world.
ONE ALDWYCH HOTEL
I was in London because I cashed in United Miles for a frequent flier ticket, and it was the only city in Europe where I could depart out of on the dates I wanted. Instead of rushing from one gate to another (or airport, for that matter) I thought I would spend a night and check out a hotel I had read so many good things about. One Aldwych Hotel has won numerous awards, and is listed in Conde Nast Traveler as one of "the world's best places to stay." When my taxi pulled up to One Aldwych and I was immediately greeted by two bell/doormen (one opening my door, the other grabbing my bag), I knew I was in for a treat. Yet I had no idea what was in store for me.
One Aldwych sits on a triangular site at the junction of The Strand and Aldwych — in the middle of London, where the city meets the West End. The contemporary luxury hotel, opened in 1998, has 105 rooms and suites. One Aldwych occupies one of London's most important Edwardian buildings (it's now protected by English Heritage). The building was constructed in 1907 as the home of The Morning Post newspaper. The hotel owners have kept some of the original feel, but added a collection of contemporary art and colorful flowers. The hotel bar is one of the liveliest in London, because many locals meet after work for drinks. After checking it out, I agree. Some people also go to the Axis restaurant bar, on the other side of the hotel. Speaking of restaurants, One Aldwych has two fine ones. The other restaurant, Indigo, is where I had an incredible lunch with public relations director Howard Rombough. It overlooks the lobby, and serves exquisite food. Just take a look at dessert!
If you think dessert looked good, wait until you see my room. Holy cow! It's definitely in the top 5 rooms I have ever stayed in. When the bellhop escorted me there and I saw the double door, I knew it would be nice (double doors = suite, baby!). But I had not the faintest idea what I was about to experience. He opened the door, and I was in a small hallway with five other doors. That's right: five! The first door led to a private toilet (for my guests); the second was to a kitchenette/stocked bar; the third opened to my bedroom. I had a king bed, a giant plasma TV, a desk, and a large private bathroom with tub, shower and killer bath products. (Actually they weren't killer, but rather 100% pure and natural products from New Zealand.)
The fourth door was to my gigantic living room, which had another desk (all rooms have free internet), another giant plasma television, a couch, a dining room table, and my own private terrace with great views. Now I know you are trying to hold in your screams (I sure was), but then he showed me what was behind door number five: my own private gym. Are you kidding me? There was a running machine, an entire weight set machine and a TV. I couldn't wait for the bellman to leave, because I was about to explode with excitement. When the door shut, the first thing I did was jump so high on the bed I almost hit my head on the ceiling. When that wasn't good enough I ran to the bathroom, stuck my head in the toilet and screamed underwater as loud as I could so no one could hear me. Then I called all my friends.
One of the best parts about One Aldwych is that it's not a stuffy or trendy hotel. The staff are all very friendly, and down to earth. That's probably because the owner, Gordon Campbell Gray, really cares about people. Not only does he treat his guests well, but he cares about his staff and the environment. None of the bathroom products have any harmful paraffins; all the food is organic, and the toilets use a vacuum system like an airplane (to conserve energy). He also thought of many little things - for example, fresh fruit in the rooms; all different types of electrical outlets, a small reading light by the bed to avoid disturbing your bed mate; in-room safes hidden behind paintings; heated bathroom tiles; a state-of-the-art fitness center with an 18- meter pool, and a private 35-mm projection screening room for 30 people to watch movies. If you can't afford to spend a night, (NOTE: standard rooms are nice too) the hotel offers specials for dinner before of after seeing a play (the hotel is surrounded by theaters). There is also a dinner-and-movie special for the screening room. One Aldwych; One Aldwych, London WC2B 4RH; tel: 20-7300-1000.
½ PRICE THEATRE TICKETS
I had such a nice room, I almost didn't leave it. (I was so bummed I was only in town for 18 hours, and had no friends to share it with). But I wanted to spend some time outside, so I grabbed an umbrella and walked around the area. I've been to London a bunch of times, so I didn't need to see any of the major landmarks. Instead I walked around through Covenant Garden to get to Leicester Square to find a discounted play ticket. London is the best place in the world for plays; the theatres are all historic, and it's my favorite thing to do there. Many kinds of stores sell tickets, none more popular than TKTS (the same company as in Times Square). But I went to the one I always use, and bought a $45 ticket to "The Producers." It was my first time seeing a play by myself. Other than looking like a loser and having no one to share it with, it wasn't so bad. Actually, the experience was quite relaxing, and the play was funny.
After an incredible sleep in my comfortable bed I took a walk for some breakfast, then jumped in a taxi. This time I went to Paddington Station, where the Heathrow Express trains depart and arrive. Heathrow Express is a non-stop rail-air link between Heathrow Airport and Paddington Station. Trains depart every 30 minutes. The trip takes only 15 minutes, and costs 14 pounds ($24.22). If I wanted to save money I could have taken the tube (£3.80 = $6.78). Departures are every 5-10 minutes, but there are many stops, and the trip takes 45 minutes.
To see a 1-minute video of my short trip to London, click this link and let it load. High speed should take about 1 minute; dial-up, 3 days.
Next week we fly to the States, and take a vacation from our vacation.