Welcome to a new page devoted to England.  Most of the content here is devoted to London, a spectacular global city that has ferociously embraced modernity with a skyline of stunning new architecture, while simultaneously honouring its history, dating back to Roman times.  Travel advice for Bath, Manchester and Stonehenge is also provided.

Featured :  Getting There | Bath | London | Manchester | Stonehenge

Upcoming content includes :  Black Sheep Coffee | CitizenM Tower of London | Downtown London | Downtown Manchester | Emilia’s Homemade Pasta | London Waterloo Station | Manchester | Manchester Art Gallery | Manchester Museum | Manchester Piccadilly Station | The Shard | Sir John Soane Museum | Stonehenge | The Tate | Treadwell’s Restaurant | Try Thai Restaurant | The Tubes | The Velvet Hotel

“England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare.  England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England.” ― Victor Hugo

© deviantart.com

Getting There :  Heathrow Airport | Transportation Summary | Detailed Information on Transportation to Downtown

Contents for Bath, England :  Introduction | Getting There | Bath Abbey | In and Around the City | Parade Gardens | Roman Baths | Royal Crescent | The Stable Pub

The Bath Abbey.  © David-Kevin Bryant

Contents for London, England :  Big Ben | Big Bus Company | Boxing Day | British Airways | British Museum | British Museum Photo Galleries | Charing Cross | Citizen M Hotels | Downtown London | Halepi Restaurant & Kebab House | Hyde Park | Kensington Gardens & Palace | Leinster Terrace | Libations, i.e., Carling Ale and Einstök Icelandic Pale Ale | The London Eye | Machine-A Store | Oyster Visitor Travel Cards | Palace of Westminster | Porchester Terrace | Pret-a-Manger | Randomness and Fleet Street | The Royal Courts of Justice | The Shard  & 62 Buckingham Place | The Thames and London Bridge | The Thistle Hyde Park | Amba Marble Arch Hotel | The Lounge | The Glenn Miller Bar | The Thistle Kensington Gardens | The Tower Bridge | Westminster | Ye Grapes | Zizzi Ristorante

“This precious stone set in the silver sea, which serves it in the office of a wall.  This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.” ― William Shakespeare

The British Museum.  © David-Kevin Bryant

One of the benefits of London’s Heathrow Airport, which serves the capital city as well as the greater United Kingdom, is its proximity to the downtown area, slightly more than 20km.  Despite the airport’s huge size and reputation among regular travelers as a horrible maze, navigating it is easily accomplished as the signage, particularly since graphic design updates were made for the 2012 Summer Olympics, is excellent.

Heathrow.  © David-Kevin Bryant

Their app is excellent and we cannot recommend it enough.  Designed for both Android and Apple platforms, the app allows you to :

― check the weather at your onward destination;
― plan your onward journey with our connections planner;
― receive live flight updates, travel notifications and prompts;
― reserve Heathrow Long Stay Parking;
― see your Heathrow Rewards balance, and redeem rewards;
― see restaurant and shopping offers; and
― view maps of the terminal to find your way around.

The window shopping here isn’t so bad either.  © David-Kevin Bryant

Here is a summary of transportation options available followed by more detailed instructions :

― Cabs, for door-to-door service
― Heathrow Connect links to rail stations downtown
― Heathrow Express links to Paddington Station
― Rail-Air Bus Links
― Underground
― Travel and Oyster Cards
― Map of the Underground

Cabs.  London’s famous black taxis are readily available at all of Heathrow’s terminals.  Their reputation as reliable is well-earned and the cost is based on the distance traveled from your arrival terminal to your destination.  You will not be presented with hidden fees or taxes, a great source of pride as the city has strict licensing requirements for its taxi drivers.  There are information desks in each Arrival Hall where you can request pick-up but you can also reserve online in advance for a fixed price.  If you’re traveling to the neighborhoods of West London, you may want to consider Heathrow Connect, linking the airport to the following local rail stations :

― Ealing / Broadway
― Hayes & Harlington
― Paddington
― Southall
― West Ealing

© Heathrow Connect

The trains are clean and modern, and if your destination is near one of the above-referenced stops, its ideal as the prices are reasonable.  Service runs approximately every half hour.  If you’re traveling to other parts of the city, however, you may want to consider Heathrow Express, offering train service every 15 minutes from Central Station to downtown’s Paddington where you then transfer to the Underground.  The trains run like clockwork, feature WiFi, are clean and affordable.  If you purchase round trip, there’s also a savings over buying 2 separate, one-way tickets.

― If you arrive at Terminals 1 or 3, follow the signage for Trains.
― If you arrive at Terminal 4, you need to transfer to Terminals 1 / 3 and follow the signage for the Inter-Terminal Shuttle.
― If you arrive at Terminal 5, use the elevators or escalators in the Arrivals Hall to the Basement Level.

If your destination is near the larger rail stations, you may want to use the Rail-Air Bus Link, offering bus transport and transfers to the rail systems.  You may purchase your ticket at Heathrow, or Reading Rail Station.  Consider booking directly online with the transportation provider, Rail Air, via their website.  And no trip to London would be complete without using the Underground where service from the airport to downtown takes just under an hour.  The trains run every few minutes and cost less than US$ 8.00.  You can also buy a single, one way fare or purchase a 7-day Travel Card or Oyster Visitor Travel Card.

© Heathrow

With the Travel Card you have unlimited travel on the bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and National Rail services in London, based on the number of zones for which you have prepaid.  With the Oyster Visitor Travel Card, a pay-as-you-go option, you can travel on the bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in the city.  The cards never expire and you can add funds to it throughout the Tubes, Oyster Ticket Stops or Travel Information Centers.  They can also be delivered to you in the States prior to your departure for a very nominal fee.

Oyster Card-01

For a side-by-side comparison of the two cards, click here; and for a map of the Underground, click here.

© David-Kevin Bryant

Content for Bath, England :  Introduction | Getting There | Bath Abbey | In and Around the City | Parade Gardens | Roman Baths | Royal Crescent | The Stable Pub

© David-Kevin Bryant

Introduction.  Bath may very well be one of the country’s best kept secrets.  Located in the county of Somerset, it is most famous for its Roman baths, temple and mineral hot springs which were believed to be curative.  While that in and of itself makes the city, named a World Heritage Site, a noteworthy destination, it also offers a host of other attractions, not the least of which is being the home to Jane Austen.

The entrance to the Roman baths; Bath Abbey appears in the back.  © David-Kevin Bryant

The presence of its namesake College, Bath Spa University and the University of Bath give the area a youthful energy and vibrancy.  There is a number of cultural attractions, museums, restaurants, pubs, shops and sport venues, along with the towering Bath Abbey, a gorgeous tribute to Georgian architecture, and John Wood’s Circus and Royal Crescent.

The entrance to the Roman Baths.  © David-Kevin Bryant

Getting There.  If you have a rental car at your disposal, a drive to this great city is a must, along with an overnight stay or two as Bath is a destination unto itself.  Otherwise, one cannot go wrong with the tour company, Viator, a service I have used in other countries.  Choose the Bath / Stonehenge day trip and you will have covered significant areas which might not be entirely possible on your own in a single day.  Our luxury bus, roomy and comfortable, left London’s Paddington Station early in the morning and included an excellent, funny and informative tour guide named Gavin.  After lunch, we traveled to Salisbury Plain to see Stonehenge.

Paddington Railway Station, London.  © Londontown.com

Dating back to the 12th and 16th centuries, Bath Abbey is known for its stained glass windows, vaulted ceilings and in particular, the statues of angels on her exterior climbing to heaven.

In and Around Bath :

Parade Gardens :

The Roman Baths are an architectural and natural wonder, comprised of the Bath House; the museum; the Roman Temple; and the Sacred Spring.  The mineral rich waters of the surrounding area were believed to have curative powers.

The Royal Crescent.  The city has other famous architectural sites, the most noteworthy of which is John Wood’s dramatic and striking row of houses laid out in a semi-circle and the subject of countless photographic tributes, particularly at sunset during the infamous golden hour.

The Stable.  After spending most of the day exploring the Abbey, Roman baths and shops, it was clear we needed a break.  We found a table outside The Stable and ordered a Marguerita pizza.  The pub―which also has locations in Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Plymouth and South Hampton, to name a few―is known for its extensive selection of ciders, crafted from local, small-scale producers.

“There is no bad whiskey.  There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.” ― Raymond Chandler

© David-Kevin Bryant

The dedication to local ingredients and hand-crafted beverages shows and the excellent staff encourages sampling until you find the right cider.  We immediately bonded with the Black Dragon, Craft Cider and Crazy Goat varieties and spent time enjoying the beautiful weather and people-watching.

© David-Kevin Bryant

Our food, beverages and vantage point were the perfect way to conclude the day.  I recommend the pub highly.

© David-Kevin Bryant

Content for London

Ben is big.  Really big.  The iconic tower, officially known as Elizabeth Tower, is such an integral part of the Palace of Westminster, it sometimes outshines the neo-Gothic building at its base.  It’s nickname, Big Ben, refers not to the tower itself, but its largest bell, Ben, which is rumoured to have been named after Sir Benjamin Hall.

© David-Kevin Bryant

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.  For there is in London all that life can afford.” ― Samuel Johnson

© David-Kevin Bryant

I am not a fan of the typical tourist agendas but I make an exception when traveling to London and use its local franchise of Big Bus, a tour service operating in some of the world’s most noteworthy cities.  The reason is two-fold :  first, Big Bus covers almost the entire city, which is huge and nearly impossible to navigate exclusively by foot, or even via the Underground, over a few days.  And second, the buses pick up and drop off passengers at almost every stop already in use by the city’s famous double-decker buses.  Your options, therefore, for stopping and walking and then boarding another bus a few blocks away are seemingly endless.  Here are just some of the major places and sites along its route, in chronological order :

― Kensington Gardens, directly in front of the Thistle Hotel
― Paddington Station
― Marble Arch neighborhood and Madame Tussaud’s
― BBC, Oxford & Piccadilly Circuses
― National Gallery, Charing Cross and Westminster
― Westminster Bridge, the London Eye, Covent Garden
― London Bridge and the Tower of London
― Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Harrod’s
― Notting Hill

The Thistle Kensington Gardens.  © David-Kevin Bryant

Tickets can be obtained for UK$ 31.00 / person and kiosks are located throughout the city.  They are valid for 48 hours from the time they’re purchased and include a complimentary river cruise along the Thames.  The buses are clean, run every few minutes and feature audio guides in a number of languages.  At many stops, there are coordinators who are more than happy to answer questions and offer assistance.  We toured the entire city more than twice while we were there and recommend it highly.

© commons.wikipedia.org
© commons.wikipedia.org

A holiday celebrated throughout the United Kingdom, Boxing Day is traditionally where employers give their employees Christmas gifts, i.e., boxes.  It has been transformed into a day similar to Black Friday in North America―the day after the Thanksgiving holiday―where shopping rules the day and sales are to be had everywhere.

“The Calm Before the Storm.”  Early morning serenity at an iconic store.  © David-Kevin Bryant

We spent the morning safe and secure on one of the city’s iconic double-deckers, warm from the cold and wind and the hundreds of thousands of people who packed the shopping districts of King’s and Oxford’s streets.

The entrance to Uniglo.  © David-Kevin Bryant

British Airways has bragging rights as “the world’s favourite airline” and for good reason.  If it was a mere advertising gimmick, it would be inviting travelers to line the company up in their cross-hairs.  But it’s not as the airline has raised the level of customer service to new heights.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” ― J.M. Barrie

© David-Kevin Bryant

The stars must have aligned in our favor as there was a mix-up with our seats.  The solution was an upgrade to the business class cabin on the Airbus, i.e., their signature Club World, a noticeably larger and sleeker area than the one I enjoyed on the airline’s Boeing 747 counterpart on an earlier trip.  The service was excellent and the dinner menu was impressive, featuring antipasti, a choice of beef, cannelloni, grilled vegetables on Italian wheat, or salmon.  The wine list was extensive, as was the aperitifs and liqueurs available.  The customer service which accompanied it, was nothing less than excellent.  The multilingual flight crew was attentive, friendly and they took a great deal of pride in representing not just their airline but their home countries, too.

Update.  I recently flew from Washington’s Dulles to London’s Heathrow on British Airways again.  Thanks in no small part to extra frequent flier miles which needed to be redeemed and a rare opportunity to upgrade last-minute to their Club World cabin, I was determined to cross the proverbial pond in style.

© David-Kevin Bryant

Their business class cabins feature very comfortable seats with the capability of becoming fully flat beds.  Your space includes personal lighting, a privacy screen, a storage locker, a TV screen with substantial entertainment options and a work desk.  The menu was impressive, too, and rounding it out was an equally noteworthy wine list which included champagne, and red and white varietals from California and France.

© David-Kevin Bryant

Like New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Paris’ Louvre, the scale of the British Museum can only be appreciated in person as pictures don’t capture the building’s sheer size and scope.

© David-Kevin Bryant

The famed cultural institution is so large, it’s best to plan on visiting it over a few days.

Despite the cold weather and overcast skies, the museum was jam-packed.  © David-Kevin Bryant

Established in the 1700’s, the famed institution’s collection easily exceeds 8 million objects and pieces of art.  Some of those are controversial as they were obtained during the height of the British Empire and their ownership is contested by other countries.

© David-Kevin Bryant

It’s ground floor is the location of the world-renowned Ancient Lives, Assyrian, and Egyptian Galleries.  It took a full day to experience them and we arrived, it should be noted, when the museum opened its doors that morning.

The soaring atrium just inside the main entrance.  © David-Kevin Bryant

Photo Gallery I :

“Museums are places of worship for those whose faith dwells in human stories.” ― anonymous

Photo Gallery II :

Relief of Greek Warrior.  The serpent at the base represents the soul of the deceased.

Greek warrior from Rhodes.  © David-Kevin Bryant

“Here the goddess Venus is surprised as she bathes, her water jar resting under her left thigh.  Her beautiful head is turned nervously to one side, perhaps in the direction of an intruder.” ― from the Museum’s description.

Lely’s Venus.  © David-Kevin Bryant

The great pharaoh Ramesses II guards over the museum’s Egyptian Sculpture Gallery in Room 4 :

© David-Kevin Bryant

The city’s Cockspur, Strand and Whitehall Streets all converge south of Trafalgar Square into the roundabout Charing Cross.

© David-Kevin Bryant

The irony of the first street cannot be lost on those gathering there as it’s marked by a statue of a large blue rooster sculpted by German artist Katharina Fritsch.

Katharina Fritsch’s “Hahn/Cock.” © David-Kevin Bryant

The neighborhood should be on your must-see list as it’s the location of the Statue of Charles I; Nelson’s Column, honoring Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar; and most importantly, The National Gallery, one of the greatest art museums in the world.

Statue honoring Charles I.  © David-Kevin Bryant

“Don’t go to a museum with a destination.  Museums are wormholes to other worlds.  They are ecstasy machines.” ― Jerry Saltz

The National Gallery.  © David-Kevin Bryant

The Gallery is home to some of the world’s greatest paintings, like Sebastiano del Piombo’s, “The Raising of Lazarus.”  Expecting to see them all in a single day is an exercise in futility.

The Raising of Lazarus
“The Raising of Lazarus,” Sebastiano del Piombo.  © The National Gallery

You may want to visit the various galleries over a couple of days instead.  Ensure you make time to enjoy sitting outside the Gallery’s entrance, an area characterized by beautiful fountains and cafes.

“A kind heart is a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity freshen into smiles.” ― Washington Irving

© David-Kevin Bryant

For those who think London is stodgy, your perception will be turned on its head with CitizenM Hotels.

The Cantina in CitizenM’s Tower of London property.  © David-Kevin Bryant

Hip, modern and reasonably priced, it’s as if the editors of Wallpaper* magazine―considered sacred text for style aficionados everywhere―had dinner with the most noteworthy designers across Scandinavia and then given blank canvases, from which they created the ultimate accommodations for savvy travelers.

© David-Kevin Bryant

“You don’t have to make something that people call art.  Living is an artistic activity…there is an art to getting through the day.” ― Viggo Mortensen

© David-Kevin Bryant

Their CitizenM Hotel Bankside property is located in the heart of the city near the Tate Museum and perfect for those looking for something above and beyond the bigger hotel chains.

Citizen M Hotel London-01
© CitizenM Hotel

We stayed in their Tower of London property.  You could not ask for a more convenient location, i.e., above the Tower Hill Underground station, across from the historic Tower of London and well within view of The Shard.

© David-Kevin Bryant

Arriving and obtaining your room keys is a breeze and you can check in online prior.  The lounges scattered throughout the first floor and top of the building invite long conversations, more often than not, well into sunrise.

There’s a coffee bar located at the entrance where lattes and cappuccinos can be ordered and enjoyed near the large windows looking out onto the city.

© David-Kevin Bryant

The hotel’s cantina is also located on the first floor and features coffee beverages to order, great breakfasts, take away available 24 hours a day and an excellent bar staff.

And their signature cocktails are handcrafted by artisans.  The entire staff, in fact, completely redefines excellent customer service and possess a genuine warmth and affability that exceeds all expectations.  We quickly made friends with Jacqueline, Matt and Navid, all of whom went out of their way to make our stay special.

© David-Kevin Bryant

“Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go.  Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another.  No more walls.” ― Anais Nin

This hotel is too cool.  Ensure you activate the HD option.  Please note, this file may not be copied, distributed or downloaded without the express consent of the copyright holders.

The guest rooms, although compact, are brilliantly designed and feature personalized iPads which allow you to control ambient light for the shower pods, lights, music, room temperature and window blinds.

© David-Kevin Bryant

There are myriad, pre-set moods, too, for specific lighting and music combinations.

© David-Kevin Bryant

CitizenM Tower of London Photo Gallery :

The property’s jewel in the crown is their CloudM bar, a 2-story glass lounge at the top of the hotel.  Artisan cocktails, snacks and comfortable sitting areas fill the space and allow unparalleled views of the City.  There are quiet areas, too, for those struck with wanderlust and writing about their travels in this great hotel…in this spectacular city.


Downtown London.  From the airport to the CitzenM Tower of London hotel :

Near the Thistle Kensington Gardens Hotel, just beyond Leinster Terrace, is Halepi Restaurant & Kebab House.  A family owned and operated Greek restaurant, the dining space is intimate, inviting, and the kitchen is well within view of the tables.  We enjoyed grilled calamari, humus, lamb kebab with chips, peppers and radishes, a bottle of St. Emilion red wine and steak.  The restaurant is, in fact, considered the best Greek one in all of London.

© David-Kevin Bryant

Jack Woltz had it lucky.  Aficionados of cinema will recognize the name from “The Godfather.”  Having betrayed the Corleone family, Woltz awakens one night, in one of the most famous scenes in film history, to find the head of one of his prized horses in his bed.  It was, however, nothing like what you will find in London’s Hyde Park.  Artist Nic Fiddian-Green’s bronze sculpture, Still Water, dominates the Marble Arch section near Hyde Park.

© David-Kevin Bryant

The Park’s fountains were commissioned by Cllr. Colin Barrow, CBE, for the City of Westminster :

© David-Kevin Bryant

“Hearts at peace, under an English heaven.” ― Rupert Brooke

© David-Kevin Bryant

Forming a gorgeous green space between Kensington and Westminster is Kensington Gardens & Palace, an oasis of calm in the heart of London’s bustling downtown.

© David-Kevin Bryant

“I find peace where the sun-kissed leaves dance in the melody of the cool breeze that floats through the air.” ― Saim Cheeda

Kensington Gardens-11
© David-Kevin Bryant

The Kensington Gardens Photo Gallery :

Leinster Terrace is known for the rows of Victorian homes along Bayswater, opposite Hyde Park.

Libations.  While in the city, enjoy the limited edition lager, Carling’s Zest, with a hint of orange spice.

Carling Zest-01
© Carling

“An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Also look for Einstök Icelandic Pale Ale as London is one of the few places outside of Iceland you can enjoy this incredible beer, brewed in a fishing village 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle and with water from ancient glaciers.

Einstock Icelandic Pale Ale-01
© Einstök Icelandic Pale Ale

The London Eye was erected for the 2000 Millennium celebration.  Originally intended as a temporary installation, it offers one of the highest views of the city, second only to the Shard.  Not for the faint of heart, the Ferris wheel stands at 135 meters and is so popular it is now a permanent attraction along the Thames.  For those daring enough to board one of its glass pods, the 360 degree views of London are spectacular.

© David-Kevin Bryant

Machine-A is known for its smart clothing and gallery-style presentation.

© TimeOut

Clothes from established designers are sold alongside up and coming talent whose names are not yet global brands.  The looks are wearable in a space that’s very high concept.

© Machine-A

We purchased Oyster Visitor Travel Cards directly from http://www.VisitBritainShop.com and they were indispensable.  I ordered them with UK$30.00 pre-loaded and they were delivered within a week to the States.  We used them extensively on the city’s bus routes, which run like clockwork and maneuver downtown traffic effortlessly.  Not only do they spare you from constantly looking for loose change but use of the cards guarantees the best fares possible.

Oyster Card-01
© VisitLondon.com

The Palace of Westminster, i.e., the House of Parliament, is the site of the House of Commons and House of Lords, serving as both the political hub of the United Kingdom and a royal residence.

© David-Kevin Bryant

The Gothic building is such an iconic part of the skyline, it must be seen and experienced in person, and it’s presence on the river Thames, with its Elizabeth Tower―Big Ben―is the very definition of majestic.

© David-Kevin Bryant

The Porchester Terrace Photo Series :

© David-Kevin Bryant

“I like the spirit of this great London which I feel around me.  Who but a coward would pass his whole life in hamlets; and for ever abandon his faculties to the eating rust of obscurity?” ― Charlotte Brontë

© David-Kevin Bryant

© David-Kevin Bryant

Pret-a-Manger, or ready to eat, has a number locations throughout China, France, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and the United States.  Although it’s a global brand, it should not be mistaken for chain food―on the contrary.  The company prides itself on food prepared at each location and only with the freshest ingredients.

© David-Kevin Bryant

I had the pleasure of visiting their location on Queensway, off Bayswater Road, on a regular basis.  All it took was one bite on my first visit of their almond croissant and I was hooked.  The shelves were stocked frequently with freshly made baguettes, salads, sandwiches and soups and the place itself was clean and the food was presented with pride.  The staff is extremely friendly, helpful and immediately welcomed us a regulars.

The affable fellas of Pret-a-Manger.  © David-Kevin Bryant

Randomness and Fleet Street.  One of the city’s busiest streets, Fleet was originally home to a number of printing and publishing businesses, most of which have since relocated to other parts of London.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ― Marcel Proust

© David-Kevin Bryant

The Victorian Gothic style of the Royal Courts of Justice, designed by George Edmund Street and built in the 1870’s, looms large on the Strand in London :

© David-Kevin Bryant

London fired a shot heard round the world of architecture when it unveiled The Shard, a 95-story modern skyscraper, designed by the renowned Renzo Piano, wrapped in glass and in the shape of a pyramid near London Bridge.

“A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.” ― Robertson Davies

© David-Kevin Bryant

Instantly, traditional London transformed itself and demanded to be taken seriously in embracing modernity.  Visitors now have the chance to see the entire city and savor the views from high above.

“New buildings rise upon the bones of the old so that each shiny steel beam, each tower of brick carries within it the memories of what has gone before, an architectural haunting.” ― Libba Bray

© David-Kevin Bryant

Located on the glass building’s 32nd floor is Oblix, Chef Rainer Becker’s restaurant and lounge.  Having already created note-worthy dining establishments in other parts of London, Becker has made The Shard a building with what is undoubtedly destination dining as patrons’ views of the city are unparalleled.

© The Guardian

This modern tower was no one-hit wonder either.  Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and located along the city’s famed Victoria Street, 62 Buckingham Gate is unlike many buildings in London.  Imagine an architect creating glass and steel origami with the ease and angles of that created with scratch paper.  The result is startling and brilliant.

62 Buckingham Gate-01
62 Buckingham Gate.  © http://www.wintech-group.co.uk

Thistle has a number of properties in London, all of which are located in excellent neighborhoods and in close proximity to public transportation and major attractions.  Although I stayed at their Kensington Gardens hotel, I stopped in the adjacent one, the Thistle Hyde Park, for after-dinner drinks and to enjoy their lobby and bar which were both decorated for the holidays.

On Bryanston Street near Portman Square and Hyde Park is the Amba Marble Arch Hotel (formerly the Thistle.)  The customer service is excellent and the property’s public areas are immaculate as was my room (the bed was amazing and comfortable.)  I decided to check out their Lounge and Glen Miller Bar, both of which provided excellent experiences without the trappings of typical hotel bars, i.e., bland drinks, overpriced and served in even blander environs.

© David-Kevin Bryant

The Lounge is located in the main lobby and offers afternoon tea service.  It has a light menu if you’re not a big tea fan and the interior definitely has a masculine vibe to it.

© David-Kevin Bryant

The Glenn Miller Bar, named after our very own jazz legend, features great drinks and the bartenders are affable, offering much-valued advice on pubs and restaurants frequented by locals.  I also liked the range of customers all enjoying themselves before dinner―business people, a couple of media types, and visitors staying for a few days before traveling onward to Canada.

The entrance to the Glen Miller Bar.  © David-Kevin Bryant

The hotel offers a number of specials / package deals exclusively via its website.  I recommend signing up for its offers via e-mail which may be, in some instances, all you need to prompt you to make the trip to London, even on short notice.  When I returned to London several months later, the Marble Arch was fully booked but they gladly referred me to their sister property, The Thistle Kensington Gardens.

© David-Kevin Bryant

When I checked in, I jokingly told the front desk staff they had a lot to live up to as staying at the Marble Arch was one of the nicest hotel experiences I had enjoyed.  The young woman who checked me in winked at me and informed me they would gladly take up the challenge.  And they did.  My accommodations were spectacular and overlooked Kensington Gardens.

Thistle Kensington-03
© David-Kevin Bryant

The room was immaculate; featured general closet space; coffee and tea service; a king-size bed; bathrobes and thick cotton towels; excellent amenities; and the bathroom was the epitome of well-thought out design, with modern features.

Looking out from the room towards Kensington Gardens.  © David-Kevin Bryant

Just as the Empire State Building defines New York City’s skyline and the Eiffel Tower defines that of Paris, the iconography of London’s Tower Bridge cannot be overstated.  Crossing the Thames River, the suspension bridge links Tower Hamlets on the north side to Southwark on the side.  The design, by Horace Jones and George D. Stevenson, was not initially greeted with enthusiasm.  But, it has stood the test of time and underwent face-lifts for both the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and 2012 Summer Olympics.

© David-Kevin Bryant

Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.” ― Rebecca Solnit

Westminster, located in central London, is the very definition of majestic.

© David-Kevin Bryant

The area, which is located on the North Bank of the Thames, features one of the highest concentrations of architectural and historical buildings in the city, all of which are easily walkable.

© David-Kevin Bryant

Buckingham Palace, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Horse Guards Building, the House of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral are just some of the spectacular and historic buildings populating the area.

I stumbled upon Ye Grapes on Shepherd Street when I left the Thistle one day and was immediately struck by the pub’s authenticity as it seemed to be from another era entirely and not touristy at all.  As it turns out, it has been in existence for decades and the building itself is well over 100 years old.  Located a few blocks from the Underground’s Green Park station, via the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines, the pub is frequented by locals on a regular basis, always a good sign.  The service is friendly and the pints of ale refreshing.  On warm days, patrons spill out onto the “ledge” and its well worth the effort.

Ye Grapes-01

It’s entirely possible to have a great plate of pasta in London―yes, London.  The city has shaken off its mantle as a haven for forgettable and bland food and transformed itself into a global, culinary powerhouse.  One can meander through a number of neighborhoods and find very good-to-excellent Brazilian, French, Italian, Moroccan and Spanish cuisines, to name just a few.  To wit…we walked past Zizzi Ristorante on Bayswater Road one blustery night and stopped dead in our tracks as the smell of warm bread enticed us.  We didn’t even bother looking in the windows―no, we walked right in and asked for a table.

© David-Kevin Bryant

What an unexpected surprised it turned out to be.  The charming and family friendly restaurant has a warm and inviting feel.  After promptly being seated, we glanced at our menus and decided on :

― Arancini.  Risotto balls with mozzarella, peas and a breadcrumb coating, and served with a tomato peperonata dip.

― The Skinny Pizza.  Topped with artichokes, goat cheese, peppers, roasted aubergine, slow roasted tomatoes and olives.

― Spaghetti Carbonara.  Prepared with pancetta, parsley, thyme and wild mushrooms.

Chocolate Tartufo.  A dark chocolate mousse served with crushed hazelnuts, amaretti biscuits and Frangelico liqueur finished off the meal.

The meal was very, very good but the spaghetti carbonara was the stand-out.  We enjoyed the experience so much we returned a couple of days later, on yet another cold night, only to find our first visit there was clearly no fluke.  I recommend the restaurant highly.


Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.