It took seventeen hours and a plane, a train, and two automobiles, but Luca and I finally arrived in London late on the 18th of December. As our black cab whizzed us through the snowy streets, I tried to shake off the weariness from the flight. The city was in full pre-Christmas swing: shops were festively decorated, pubs and restaurants were filled with jolly revelers and well-dressed cosmopolites bustled along the pavement, arms laden with beribboned packages.
Upon arriving at The Gore Hotel, I was informed that The Divine Italian (who had arrived five days previously) had foregone our usual room for the Tudor Suite. My heart quickened -- I liked the sound of it and wondered if it would live up to its name.
Follow me and decide for yourself.
We climbed the first flight of stairs to a private staircase...
...which led to a private Hobbit-sized door...
...which led to a private foyer...
...which led to this.
(The Tudor Suite)
Piero, bless him, had made sure our entrance would be dramatic -- a fire was crackling in the huge stone fireplace, the candelabras were blazing and a bottle of champagne was chilling. For Luca, there was a basket of milk-chocolate Hobnobs, crisps and Ribena. We almost swooned with happiness.
The room was beyond all telling. I felt like I was at Sissinghurst or some medieval English estate instead of smack dab in the middle of South Kensington. In addition to the beamed ceiling and four-poster bed...
...there was an antique two-story minstrels gallery which housed the closets and bathroom (you can see the door leading to it on the left side of the photo).
Even the loo was no slouch in the style department. Just look at this gorgeous copper-clad shower.
After a celebratory toast, we all settled in on the massive Knole sofa and caught the last half of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's (love him) "River Cottage" special. (Note: Cooking shows have an amazingly soporific effect on children.) At long last, I could finally feel my body uncramping from the confines of seat 44J.
Saturday, December 19th
As the late morning light crept in through the leaded windows, I reluctantly opened my jetlagged eyes and could swear this gilt-bewigged gentleman on the ceiling winked at me.
Turning to the window, I noticed the gorgeous stained glass designs depicting Queen Elizabeth I and the warships that Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe in 1577. History was everywhere in this room.
But there was no time to rhapsodize. Over on the other side of the room, a creature was stirring.
And hell hath no whine like an eight year old with an empty stomach.
We performed our ablutions and quickly hailed a cab to Maiden Lane in Covent Garden where we had a reservation waiting for us at Rules, one of my favorite restaurants.
Open since 1798, it serves traditional English cookery and classic game dishes. Over the years, its tables have been crowded with luminaries like Charles Dickens, W. M. Thackaray and H.G. Wells and it has been featured in the novels of Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Rosamond Lehmann and many more.
What keeps me coming back even more than this is that I just think there's no more beautiful place to be over Christmas.
I felt like I needed something hearty. The fish stew didn't disappoint.
Luca had been looking forward to this visit for months, ever since I started telling him about their World-Famous Sticky Toffee Pudding With a Side of Hot Custard, "the best dessert in the world, one that makes grown men cry and grown women go off their diets immediately."
When it arrived, it looked even more delicious than I remembered it. I felt a growing urge to devour it myself. Just one bite.
The dialogue in my head went something like this:
My Dark Side:
Must have the Precious. We wants it. We needs it. Myyy precioussss.
My Good Side:
No! Not this time. For heaven's sake, control yourself. This time it's for HIM.
How I didn't take a bite of it, I'll never know.
Then it was off to see an afternoon matinee of "Hairspray," starring my friend Belindawho is playing the part of Velma Von Tussle.
Of course, she was amazing and gave a sultry rockstar edge to the role of villainous Velma. Afterwards, we went backstage to congratulate her and say hello.
She had already whisked off her dress by the time we went in, so sorry, no photos. But here are her costumes for posterity.
Tidbit: this one weighs nearly twenty pounds. Who would have thought?