On Monday, April 4, we disembarked in Civitavecchia, port for Rome, Italy, around 9:00 am. That’s when they basically kick you off the ship to make room for the next lot. Such is cruising. It’s no use refusing. If you didn’t pay for the next leg, off you go. Anthony from DayTrip picked the six of us up with a nice shiny black Mercedes, to ease the pain.
It was a pleasant sunny ride to Fiumicino, airport for Rome, for Tricia and Helen. We left Pat and Mike and Pat and Toby in our nice limo, to go check in at Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, now run by Hilton. I kind of wished I was going with them, as I do love Rome, but I love the shows in London’s West End even more. So, off we went.
We were very spoiled by our nice ride to Fiumicino, so while we were in the airport, I managed to log in and book us a car and driver to the Conrad St. James in London, too. We got that one from a company called Tranzitt, and it was only 70 quid for a good long ride. The car was basic but clean and the driver found the fastest way in. We were just in time for a drink and nibbles in the Executive Lounge. We had opted for that rather than full breakfasts and it did turn out to be a lot better deal. I’m not eating breakfast anyway these days, but I have taken to tea and scones, and have always had wine before dinner.
There’s a pub next door to the Conrad, called “Feathers” and, while the service was slow, it certainly had good pub atmosphere and food. Tricia had toad in the hole and I had fish ‘n chips. All that was missing were the crowds. I didn’t miss them much.
The Conrad St. James is a modern hotel, but it served our purposes nicely. It’s located on St. James’s Park, so it’s central without being frantic. I would recommend it. The area is Tricia’s old stomping grounds. She was once Head Housekeeper at the St. James Hotel, after starting her career at Brown’s.
Tricia had a bunch of errands to run on Tuesday morning, April 5. I took care of business in the room, which made a great office. In the afternoon, we walked through St. James’s Park on our way to Harrod’s. London has some beautiful parks and they are exceptional in the spring. This is where we entered.
There is a large assortment of feathered wildlife in the park and the males of the species were horny. I love this time of year. I spent hours watching the pigeons display on McGill’s Lower Campus, from the windows of the Redpath Library, when I was a student, and should have been studying something else. There were no exams on pigeon mating dances.
We came out of the park near Buckingham Palace, so Tricia decided I should have a quintessential tourist picture and here it is.
It hadn’t started to rain yet, but you can see the threatening cloud over my right shoulder, so the raincoat was a good idea. Like I had much else to wear. I was in carry-on, remember. We had a look at the map and, figuring we were only half way to Harrods and had done the pretty part of the walk, we hopped a cab from Canada Gate to Harrods. Neither of us had been to Harrods for at least 25 years and what a disappointment that was. If I want any Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, etc. I can get it a two minute walk from my own apartment in Montreal at Holt Renfrew Ogilvy. There were no regular English items whatsoever. All that was left of the Food Halls were a few biscuits and a couple of pots of jam. We took another cab back to the Conrad and had tea in the lounge, which was very nice. The scones were better than the ship’s.
When we got back to the hotel, we noted a lot of security and asked the doorman who our dignitary was. It turned out to be a whole soccer team – Real Madrid, no less. They weren’t in the Lounge, though. But the TV told us that Zelensky would be speaking to the UN soon, so we finished our tea and went back to our room to watch, where we could have the sound. The situation in the Ukraine is so heartbreaking.
We went off to escape into a fairy tale. First we took a cab to Drury Lane, where the Gillian Lynne Theatre is, and set to looking for a restaurant. I fancied Indian food, because it’s good in London and, with the help of a local, we ended up in Punjab, on Neal St., which has been there since 1946. The food was a little hot for Tricia but I thought it was excellent.
Then we went to the theatre. Our seats were absolutely perfect, fifth row, center. Couldn’t be beat. We were a little uneasy, being two of about ten people in the whole place wearing masks, but it was too late to turn back a month ago. One person in thirteen in London tests positive for COVID, and here they all were, acting like there was nothing to fear. You would have thought they would be more sensible.
Cinderella is the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and it was absolutely wonderful. Just the tonic we needed. It had the costumes, and the dancing, and the singing, and enough twists on the old plot to hold our interest. Some of the dancing was positively spectacular. We were a pair of very happy campers. We were lucky, too. When we got out into the cold windy night, we managed to find an off-duty taxi on his way home, who was going our way.
Wednesday, April 6, Tricia was off again in the morning while I worked out and worked a bit. Among other things, she went to see what the St. James Hotel was like now. But her/our real treat was Tea at Brown’s Hotel in the afternoon. Look at us, will you?
Of course it was champagne tea, with all the trimmings. We could have had that sandwich tier refilled as often as we wanted, too. We did get a double order of scones, jam and clotted cream. Oh, yum. The décor was Victorian or maybe Edwardian, but so what you want for afternoon tea? The pianist could have been better, but we didn’t care. We were in hog heaven. When the staff found out Tricia had worked there and lived in, they provided us with a guide and a little tour of the historic parts of the hotel. The most notable tidbit, and one Tricia had not known, is that Brown’s Hotel is where Alexander Graham Bell was when he made that first transatlantic phone call.
By the time we were done there, there wasn’t much to do but go to the theatre again. This time it was Dirty Dancing on Tottenham Court Road. Again, we sat with our KN95s among the great unmasked. Again, it was an excellent show. I could take Michael O’Reilly home in my suitcase. We agreed that we preferred Cinderella, but this was no mistake, either.
I had planned to stay until Friday, with a fourth day in London, but had started to question that, and I didn’t have a third show booked – yet. Instead of getting a third show, I decided to see if I could improve on my air arrangements. I had booked my return flight on Air Canada, business class, with United points, back in December. It was a nonstop. A month later, it had become LHR-YYZ-YUL. Now YYZ is Toronto, which means the plane flies for an hour longer so you can get off, wait, change planes and fly another hour back to Montreal. This adds three hours and no fun at all to the trip. I wondered if the nonstop might not have been reinstated.
Well, it was, but not so’s a poor passenger who had previously booked it would know. (The bastards.) And, they had sold it out of seats available for points flyers. But, they still had space on Thursday, April 7. For a few more points and just a few more dollars, I changed my flight to Thursday. Tricia was picking up her car for her month-long tour of England, so she offered me a ride to the airport. That worked well. We were not pleased to see that Heathrow is now charging you five pounds to set down a passenger, though. What next?
I meant to be writing this blog on the airplane but I was exhausted and I slept most of the way home. I got tested for COVID in Montreal on Thursday because I had not filled out the ArriveCAN app and they wouldn’t accept the paper version Air Canada in London had given me to fill out. Apparently the rules changed again on Thursday. First you need it, then you don’t, then you do. I was supposed to be notified within 48 hours by text to phone and by email and was told to self-isolate. I got no results but my cold got worse. I did a home test and it was negative. On Saturday, I reported the cold to my doc and she told me to self-isolate and approved my med choices. I ordered groceries on line. Sunday, the groceries came and I muddled through the day, feeling lousy but not terrible.
On Monday I got a call from the Federal Government checking on me, to be sure I was self-isolating and to see how I was. I had tested positive at the airport, last Thursday. I wasn’t surprised but I wasn’t happy that no text or email had come to let me know. So, if I am lucky, I get to come out on Easter Sunday. That’s appropriate.
It was not the cruise that did me in. That was a nice vaccinated, tested bubble full of heathy people. You would know if the ship was struggling with COVID on board. There’s nothing like a ship’s rumor mill, especially on a cruise that hardly sees a port. It was definitely London. But, not to worry. I am getting better.