Saturday, May 28, 2005

London--The Most Livable City

It was drizzling in London when my flight touched down at Heathrow. After a short hop on the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station, I passed the huge line of travelers waiting in the taxi queue and stepped into the London drizzle. This is why I purchased a raincoat before leaving California—not that we don’t have rain in California, Lord knows we had rain this last winter, but Californians don’t live outside their cars, houses, offices and shopping malls where they need a raincoat.

I packed light for this trip—only one rolling suitcase and my carry-on office on wheels. They stacked nicely together, giving me a free hand to throw upwards to hail a taxi outside Paddington. Adjacent to Paddington is a Hilton where I hovered, knowing it would be only a matter of minutes before a taxi would drop off a Hilton guest and need to pick up a new fare. The Hilton doorman, splendid in his top hat and traditional livery, winked and stepped out to hail for me. I dug into my change pocket and pulled him a tip of a pound coin; equal at the day’s exchange rate of about two American dollars. He tipped his hat and closed the taxi door.

London is the most livable big city I’ve ever visited. Perhaps it was the idyllic time of year to visit—mild mornings with gentle breezes, warm afternoons of blue-sky sunshine, crisp evenings perfect for a light sweater—for I found myself charmed from every angle. Convenient and clean city transit, along with well-marked street names and neighborhoods, make London the easiest city to navigate. Victoria Station was a quick walk from my host’s flat in Westminister. From Victoria I could hop on a bus or the Tube (the underground rail system that snakes throughout London) and go anywhere in a matter of minutes. Despite the London drizzle, I took the big red bus tour on the day I arrived, taking in all of the historic sites so familiar to me from history, literature and art.

The Chelsea Flower Show

England is to flowers and gardens what Los Angeles is to beaches and hillside homes. The Chelsea Flower Show, the granddame of gardening expos, had just opened in London when my colleague at The NoteWorthy Group generously handed me a ticket. Buzz about the show was the top design award going to the Royal Hospital Chelsea's garden commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

A tribute to a soldier’s dream of his home in Britain, this picturesque garden, complete with flowering meadow, duck pond, victory vegetable garden, and thatch-roof pub, is the vision that inspired British soldiers of World War II. Living history completed the garden scene with the presence of several Chelsea Pensioners wearing with pride the red dress uniform of their station.

The Dorchester Hotel: Accommodations in Grand British Style

Tradition meets tomorrow at London’s Dorchester Hotel where I enjoyed a room larger than my first apartment in Laguna Beach. I met for tea with Victoria Batten, the hotel’s senior sales manager, in the hotel’s Promenade, where Victoria told me that only last night Rod Stewart had been spotted. Renovations to meet exacting standards for tomorrow’s travelers are underway at this venerable London property. I just missed the mid-June opening of The Park Lane Suite, a high-tech banqueting/meeting suite in deco-style. Other renovations include China Tang, a sophisticated new restaurant which will serve extensive cocktails and dim sum from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; a champagne bar in the Promenade; a complete redesign of The Dorchester Bar (thank goodness, as I found the current bar to be stuffy and dank with the stench of rancid tobacco), and finally a restoration of the hotel’s celebrated Grill Room. From its setting on Park Lane, across from Hyde Park and near Piccadilly, The Dorchester tops my list for luxury, tradition, and convenience. Read the complete history of this London landmark hotel here.

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