The Underground tube
After delays of more than 2.5 hours (thanks, American Airlines!) and getting lost on the Underground (the Circle Line and the District Line share a track, and only the District Line trains are marked… did everyone else in the world know this except me?), we finally made it to our brand-spanking-new hotel right off of Westminster Bridge. This isn’t just brand new—the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge is still partially under construction, especially on its upper floors, making its debut at once delightfully swanky and comfortably rough-hewn. (When the construction is complete, it’ll be a gem, but it’ll lose that new-hotel smell.) The rooms— at least, my room— aren’t extravagantly huge, but they’re quite comfortable and have a very funky mood-lighting system. Awesome touch for literature lovers: The carpeting is inscribed with a selection from a poem by Keats.
View of Parliament and Big Ben from the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge
After a quick luncheon in the downstairs lounge (and honestly, these new restaurants with their wonderfully fresh food are going to turn all my jokes about bad English cuisine into lies), we took a quick tour of the still-in-progress top floors with the Penthouse Suites. Pictures were strictly forbidden, but we were able to get a quick video of the view from one of the terraces.
The London Eye
Onward to the Queen’s Gallery, which will be presenting a special exhibit of art collected by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert during their 21-year marriage. There are gorgeous paintings of the Royal Family together, clearly delineating Victoria as head of the State, but Albert as head of the household. Visitors can see a dress Victoria wore to a fancy-dress ball (we call them costume parties) that belies the statuesque woman who appears in most paintings: Victoria was barely over five feet tall. Some other unique features include some furniture the couple owned, such as sofas and chairs made of stags’ horns and a beautiful white throne from India. The exhibit opens March 19.
From the Gallery, we strolled over to the historic Goring Hotel, which is celebrating its centenary this year. We chatted with General Manager Graham Copeman and communications director Lucinda Buxton, who shared some cool trivia about the hotel (it was a favorite hangout of the Queen Mum, and remains the only hotel with one of her favorite recipes). We also learned that, in spring, the hotel will be turning its famous gardens (the largest private gardens in London, we hear) into a croquet lawn.
Copeman and Buxton took us on a tour of the hotel’s six “Silk Rooms,” which premiered last year with hand-woven silk wall coverings from Gainsborough Silk Weavers, the Royal Warrant-holding textile mill in Suffolk. The rooms have a classical luxury sensibility, but feature some cool modern touches as well: There are rubber duckies in the bathrooms, and the lightswitches have more creative notations than simply “on” or “off.”
The Goring was opened in 1910 by O. R. Goring, whose great-grandson Jeremy is now the fourth in the family to manage the hotel. It is now the only five-star luxury hotel in London that is owned and run by the family that built it (there has always been a Goring at the Goring), and the staff takes its sense of history very seriously. “The new wing was built in the ‘20s,” Copeman quipped over champagne in the hotel’s popular tea room. “We’re getting used to it now.”