Upon arrival at Heathrow, we head straight for the nearest coffee bar. You have to admire a cappuccino that comes with a weather report.
(All photos by LBG.)
Yes, it's raining. But really, who cares? We duck into a taxi cab and hurtle instantly into the heady atmosphere of a city that wears its centuries as seamlessly as a Savile Row suit.
Regent Street is aglow and so are our spirits.
(Heading north on Regent Street.)
My heart is thumping as we pull up to our hotel. I've been wanting to stay here for as long as I can remember.
It surpasses every expectation.
"Why yes, I think I will sit down."
I would be perfectly content to curl up in bed and watch "The Great British Bake Off" but Piero and Luca are antsy. We drop our bags and head back out.
We plunge into Piccadilly Circus...
...stumble onto a cheeky tribute to the power of rock and roll on Carnaby Street...
...and meander through the labyrinthine streets of Soho. We pass by Andrew Edmunds, the Tom Thumb-sized Hogarthian restaurant that I wrote about here. It's one of those hush-hush cult haunts (no website, reservations a must) that its patrons want to keep to themselves -- the food is incredible, the prices are good and the atmosphere is nothing less than incandescent.
We take a stroll around Covent Garden. St. Paul's is looking mighty robust for a building that's been wowing people since 1633, don't you think?
And then it's back to the hotel. We have been given a room designed by David Linley and it's a vision of creamy elegance with high ceilings and a curtain treatment that makes me want to take a bow. (Watch David talk about the project here.)
I become a bit fixated with the wall sconces -- love the modern update on the classic "sheaves of wheat" motif.
And I really don't think you can improve upon these knobs.
In the entry foyer, the framed photograph by Lord Snowdon (David's father) and the red leather umbrella stand give a modern punch to a traditional space.
The bathroom is so perfectly black-and-white that for a brief moment I wonder if my retinas have reverted to monochrome. It's only when I spot the moss green Bamford toiletries that I realize it's just a stunning illusion.
What makes staying at Claridges even more magical is that we're here with a group of friends. On New Year's Eve, we eat dinner at Rules in Covent Garden and the maitre 'd seats the adults at one booth...
(From L to R: Jeanne Tripplehorn, David Netto, Liz Netto, Leland Orser, Piero Giramonti.)
...and the children at a table around the corner. It's perfect. The children feel liberated and grown-up -- and so do we!
Rules' menu is a marvel of traditional English fare: potted shrimp, oysters from Cornwall, furred and feathered game like hare, venison, partridge and pheasant, and time-honored desserts like sticky toffee pudding with sauce boats of steaming custard.
The next few days rush by. Among the highlights are a trip to the actual Harry Potter Studios which leaves the children, all avid J.K. Rowling fans, gobsmacked...
...a delicious lunch at Daylesford Organic, a favorite of David's, whose slogan is "Straight from our farm to your fork"...
...afternoon tea at Home House, a private members club with 18th century interiors by Robert Adams, with Mary Henley Magill...
...and a tour of Kensington Palace which is fantastic...
...apart from the spooky Princess Diana wallpaper.
And everywhere we turn, gloriously, rivetingly, irrefutably...London.