After a fairly uneventful red-eye flight to England on the night of December 25th, we landed at Heathrow next morning and then headed for the Green Park Hilton, our hotel in Half Moon Street. This is a little gem of a place, located in a row of townhouses between Piccadilly and Curzon Street and backing onto Shepard's Market.
Though it was much colder, and wetter, than the Husband or I had anticipated, we were given a warm welcome by the hotel staff and shown to our room, which wasn't badly sized, as London hotel rooms go. Once I'd unpacked (i.e. put the suitcase on the luggage stand and the duffel in a corner) I urged the Hubby to get a move on.
"Come on, let's go," said I.
"Go? It's freezing. Where are we going? You're taking me to Apsley House, aren't you?"
"Apsley House is closed till Saturday. We're going outside. We're in London. In Mayfair."
I should probably tell you now that we spent three days with my family in New Jersey before flying to England. During those three days, my daughter, Brooke, had ample time and opportunity to warn the Husband against Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington. Boring is what she called it. Have you ever? She did allow that it was tolerable the first few times I'd taken her there, but that by now she would be grateful to never darken its doorway again.
"Really, Ma, how many times are you going to see it? And why do you always have to drag me along?" Kids.
So Hubby and I venture outside and make it all of a few hundred feet up to Curzon Street, where Hubby spots a Caffe Nero on the corner. I can take a hint as well as the next chap, so inside we go and order an Americano (Hubby) and a mocha (moi). We take them outside and sit at one of the little cafe tables on the pavement. We sip. We light up. And I begin to grin like a Cheshire Cat.
"Is it me, or is this the best coffee you've ever tasted?" asks Hubby.
"It's pretty demmed good. Better than Starbucks, even."
"Why is it so good,do you think?"
"It's not made with regular coffee. It's made with two shots of espresso and boiling water. Strong."
"Is that why you're smiling like that?"
"No. I could be drinking bilge water and I'd still be grinning like this. I'm in London. Finally. London. In England." I looked across the street at the G. Heywood Hill bookshop. "Nancy Mitford worked there."
"A writer. Sister to the Duchess of Devonshire."
"My good man," said the Husband. His usual response to most of my remarks about British history, as he tends to feel as though I'm lecturing him whenever I attempt to explain what I think are interesting bits of trivia.
"Come on, let's walk around the corner to Shepard's Market," I said, getting my things together.
"Shopping?" the Husband asked.
"Only if you want sheep. It used to be where they sold sheep in London. Now it's full of restaurants and pubs. I just want to go and look."
"Look at what?"
"Shepard's Market," I sighed. "We're in London. We're going to go and look at London. Starting with Shepard's Market." I refrained from explaining that I just wanted to walk the streets, any streets, in order to just be in London. I wanted to soak up the atmosphere. Personally, I didn't care that it was cold, or grey, or wet. All I wanted was to walk aimlessly through Mayfair, to examine every nook and cranny as the whim took me, to peek down service entrances and read blue plaques and imagine Fanny Burney and Beau Brummell having strolled these same streets. Egad, but I'd never missed Victoria so much in all my life.
We walked up Curzon Street and through the alley there that leads to the Market. Unfortunately, it being Boxing Day, everything but one lone pub was shut up tight.
So I walked Hubby down the alley that leads to Piccadilly, where we came out just beside the In and Out Club, now almost obscured by sidings.
Peeking through the gates, I told the Husband that it was soon to be the most expensive private home in Mayfair, that the people who'd bought it were planning to do a massive remodel and that the building alone sold for one hundred and fifty million pounds.
"It was originally built for the Earl of Egremont," I went on, even though I knew that Hubby might feel he was being lectured. "Then it was sold to the Duke of Cambridge. Adolphus. Brother to George the IV." I was in full spate. "Then it was bought by Lord Palmerston. Who was Prime Minister. Twice." I couldn't have stopped myself if I'd tried. "Finally it was bought by the Naval and Military Club. They painted the words In and Out on the two gates and so the place came to be called the In and Out Club instead."
"My good man."
Part Two Coming Soon . . . . . .