Open for about 5 years in an area of Fitzrovia that is crammed full with restaurants, cafes, pizzerias and pubs, Salt Yard is consistently booked out for lunch and dinner, according to Max, my friendly and informative server. I understand why.
On the last day of my London 2010: Restaurants, theatre and shows visit, I decided on impulse to check out the restaurants along Goodge Street for lunch. The combination of very warm London weather and the sudden demise of the air-conditioning unit in my hotel had left me with little appetite for breakfast that morning but by lunch time I was ready for food.
When I checked online on Vancouver for restaurants in a 1 mile radius of where I was staying, one of the top restaurants that came up was Hakkasan on Hanway Place. I was not sure where that was in relation to where I was staying and planned to check the map online.
But as it happened, on the Saturday of my arrival in London, taking a different route back from the theatre district (well actually I kind of got lost looking for a shortcut to my hotel), I noticed the street name Hanway and on impulse wandered along till I found the restaurant. The hostess standing outside told me that they were absolutely fully booked and there was no chance of a last minute table, even for one person. I took the restaurant card she gave me and thought I might try later in the week.
Well I really must learn to read my travel information more carefully - though even though the man who checked us in for the coach transport to Southampton agreed that the ship transfer information was written somewhat ambiguously. I found that other people also experienced the same confusion regarding where to go, so it must be partly the way the Cunard documentation is written.
Basically the transfer details state: meet the Cunard representative at the Information desk at Victoria Station and they will direct you where to go to get the coach. Then it says that the coach will leave from the Victoria Coach Station between 11 and 12, and gives the address.
What it does not say is that the information desk to which you must go is at the Victoria Coach Station. For foreigners who have not done their advance research and who do not know that Victoria Station and Victoria Coach station are two separate locations, that is a problem as they are more than two very long city blocks apart.
Disaster strikes. At least disaster for someone who does not like saunas and steam rooms.
For four days and nights in London I had enjoyed the arctic-like temperature in my room, turned the AC off before I went to sleep, and slept like a baby all night. Actually probably not like a baby since babies wake up crying for food every few hours. But I do sleep well, and wake up thoroughly rested and ready to go despite only 5 to 6 hours of sleep.
At this hotel, each day when I hopped out of bed in the morning the first thing I would do was switch on the AC and the room would cool within minutes to a comfortably arctic level. But not today. I switched the AC to high as usual. At first I did not notice that anything was wrong - it sounded as though it was working, but when I got out of the shower, and the room was steamy instead of cool, I realized something was wrong.
Vincent came to check. We agreed that it seemed as if cold air was coming out of the unit but the room did not get any colder. When I went down to speak to Keisha, the manager, it became apparent that the problem was not just in my room but that the entire AC unit that supplied the guest rooms with cold air had gone on the blink.
They offered to move me to another room. It was larger and marginally more comfortable that my bargain priced single room but the AC was not working there either and I could not see any point in moving for one night. So Keisha suggested that they put a fan in my room and I figured I could last out one night of heat.
She bought me a drink at the bar downstairs where I sat and worked for a while to escape the sauna in my room. In the hour or so that I sat downstairs in the lounge where the temperature was cool, group after group of guests were checking in. I felt really sorry for the desk staff who would have to deal with complaints about intolerably hot rooms - and for the other guests who were expecting air-conditioned comfort.
By my third day in London, I had seen three productions, Thriller Live, The Habit of Art and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, done the Backstage Tour at the National Theatre and enjoyed some good dining at ROKA. But the promised wireless internet access had not yet materialized. Apparently the hotel was being re-cabled, and I was days behind in keeping up with email and with posting my Travelblogue. entries.
I must have been really tired because when I opened my eyes on Monday morning and checked the time it was 9:30. Guess I was catching up on the travel sleep deficit. Couldn't really face breakfast so I ordered a pot of coffee from room service and got myself thoroughly caffeinated while I dressed and got organized for my theatre booking expedition.
My Tuesday night was already allocated for All My Sons so that left me with Monday night and Wednesday night open. The last time I was in London there was virtually nothing on on Sunday and Monday and I wondered if that would be the same this time. However my last visit was in January. Now it is the height of the summer theatre season so probably there would be a reasonable selection of plays on.
By the time I was ready to go it was nearly eleven and I thought I had better get moving. My plan was to see what was available at discounted rates and if I could not find what I wanted, to go directly to the various box-offices.
On my way past the store where I bought my phone I stopped in for a quick discussion about OK buttons. By trial and error we decided it was the same as the back button - go figure - but it seemed to work.
As I walked along Rathbone Street to and from the hotel on Saturday and Sunday, I noticed that the glass-fronted restaurant on the corner of Charlotte and Rathbone, always seemed to be busy. I couldn't see the name anywhere so on Monday on my way to organize the rest of my theatre tickets,
I went to check out the name and the menu posted outside the restaurant. Roka.It seemed familiar. I checked back at my pre-trip research and sure enough on an UrbanSpoon London search for restaurants in the Fitzrovia area, Roka was on their "Best Restaurants" list.
Despite the fact that London is 8 hours ahead of Vancouver, I woke up at 7 AM on my first morning here, feeling quite rested. I had decided to have breakfast in the hotel dining room at least for today, and then see what coffee shops were around the area.
At 8 I walked down the stairs to the first floor restaurant. It is staffed by several lovely young women from all over the world. They are all smartly dressed in black pantsuits, are charmingly eager to help and have varying degrees of facillity with the English language. But their smiles help them through any language barriers.
This morning I met three, from Poland, Columbia, and Sicily.
I decided on the continental buffet. There was a very reasonable spread of baked goods, fruit salad, yogurt (including plain no-fat), and cheese and charcuterie. Add orange juice and coffee and its a huge breakfast. The other buffet held cereals of various descriptions.
Flight, train, taxi - smooth as silk. The big question was sleep- or start my London adventure.
By shortly after 1 PM I was unpacked, showered and ready to head down to Leicester Square to check out the theatre scene. I also planned to see about getting a local cell phone so that I could call home without having to mortgage my home to pay my Fido bill when I got back to Vancouver.
As I walked along Charlotte Street I noticed that both sides of the street had restaurant, pubs and cafes, one after another. Basically the whole street is food and drink heaven. I turned right on Tottenham Court Road and passed a number of electronic stores.
I stopped in to enquire about a cell phone. After some negotiation I ended up picking up a small Sony Ericsson phone and a Lebara international mobile SIM card. Then I bought a calling credit top up for ten pounds and I was set for the rest of my trip, or so I figured.
It seems as though it would be a long and exhausting journey from Vancouver to my hotel in London but this is how the timing actually went:
Depart Vancouver around 5 PM (equivalent to 1 am London time the next day)
After a nine hour flight, arrive around 10 am at Heathrow
By around 11 am, I am on the Heathrow Express for the 15 minute ride to Paddington Station
The wait for a taxi was under 5 minutes and by 12 noon I was standing at the desk of the Rathbone Hotel for check-in.
Eleven hours from YVR to my London Hotel. Isn't it great to live in the 21st century!
Vancouver to Heathrow: Air Canada's direct flight
The Air Canada Boeing 777-300s have been in operation for about three years according to the Enroute magazine but this plane was so immaculately groomed it seemed almost new. I booked my flight when Air Canada was offering one of their discounted airfares so my budget allowed for a seat in the Executive First cabin. The London flight was packed and I was happy that I made that choice.