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London at the Centenary

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Royal marching bands proceed toward Westminster Abbey on Armistice Day. (Courtesy Julie L. Kessler)

There is always a good reason to visit London. While the weather can sometimes be iffy in autumn, it is one of the world’s greatest cities and always has something for everyone.

This past November marked the 100th anniversary of the Nov. 11, 1918 armistice that ended the four-year war that left 17 million people dead. It has been called the war to end all wars, except, as we all now know, it was not.

With this backdrop, and the lapels of nearly every man, woman and child bearing a red poppy — a symbol adopted after World War I to signify remembrance of those lost — London was just a bit more somber than usual.

I had the opportunity to see some of London’s most historical sights in a different light and mood.

I stood near the main entrance of The Guard’s Museum in St. James Park when military band processions marched by toward the Cenotaph where British Prime Minister Theresa May, German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the royals would be, along with Ron Freer, a blind, 103-year-old veteran and prisoner of war. Amid the crowds, the royals drove by with police escorts near Winston Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms.

At precisely 11 o’clock shots were fired, the thousands in the crowd surrounding St. James Park, Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square all went deafeningly silent. Even babies screaming seconds before miraculously reprieved as if they intuitively knew the solemnity of the moment. Then bells were rung. More silence followed then more shots were fired. Pensive music began. As I made by way to the front of Westminster Abbey, several poppy wreaths were displayed in memory of the lives lost. In front of the enormous statue of Churchill, another band played “God Save the Queen.” To say this was a moving experience would be a vast understatement.

London’s Imperial War Museum displayed a red poppy art installation on the centenary of the armistice signing. (Courtesy Julie L. Kessler)

Crossing Westminster Bridge by foot I walked to the Imperial War Museum. The juxtaposition of the two 15-inch guns in the front gardens, one from HMS Ramillies, the other from HMS Resolution, was a bit jarring against the enormous red poppy art installation draping from the building’s exterior roof toward the grounds facing the gardens.

Amongst angelic vocalists accompanied by orchestra music were wartime exhibits and artifacts — torpedoes, cannons, fighter planes, spitfires, old press jeeps and other relics — one could not help but be overwhelmed by the number of fallen heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice. The debt of gratitude owed to those courageous and brave souls was palpable everywhere.

Despite the somber tone, there were moments of hope, and I found many places to enjoy the London of today. Here are a few recommendations:

The bed

The pet-friendly Athenaeum Hotel & Residences are perfectly situated in the heart of Mayfair, opposite Royal Green Park and a short stroll from Piccadilly Circus and the gateway to the West End, Leicester Square and Regent Street. It’s in between two tube stops, and getting anywhere is a snap.

The interior design at the Athenaeum is classically British, yet a bit whimsical. Award-winning interior designer Martin Hulbert capitalized on the property’s Art Deco past with period furnishings and installed several wonderfully unique collage art pieces depicting London.

Spacious rooms, suites and residences have marble bathrooms with all-important towel warmers. Large flat screen televisions, multiple USB ports strategically located bedside and sumptuous bedding make restful nights. In room Nespresso machines and tea kettles assure waking up will be lovely.

For whiskey lovers, The Bar has over 100 bottles, including some quite rare and old varieties. The backlit case display is unique and the Bespoke etched glassware unusual. Telephone 800/ 335-3300, https://www.athenaeumhotel.com.

The meals

The Michelin-starred Galvin brothers have made another home at The Athenaeum. In a trendy yet classic setting, they serve time-honored dishes such as Exmoor caviar. Inspired fare such as creamy Lincoln Potimarron pumpkin soup with chestnuts and a tender, flavorful
Rose County beef rib eye, served with bone marrow and olive tapenade were delicious. Telephone 44 (0)20 7640 3333, https://www.galvinrestaurants.com

For Spanish tapas designed to share, I headed to Pizarro, cookbook author José Pizarro’s (affectionately known as the godfather of Spanish cooking in the UK) second restaurant on Bermondsey Street. Here a unique cocktail and gin & tonic menu will get you in the mood to gorge. The Presa Ibérica, 100-percent acorn fed pork will forever alter your perceptions of Wilbur, despite Charlotte. The chocolate pot made with salted extra virgin olive oil is divine. Telephone 44 (0)20 7378 9455, https://josepizarro.com.

No trip to London would be complete without high tea. Created initially by the 18th century Duchess of Bedford to fill the void between early lunch and late dinner, its pinnacle of popularity was during the heyday of the British Empire.

This mid-afternoon activity stuck and nowhere is it done better than at two very different properties: The Milestone Hotel & Residences and The Corinthia Hotel. And quite happily, both menus have added Champagne to the mix.

The Milestone Hotel’s High Tea is classic. (Courtesy Julie L. Kessler)

In a very traditional setting of velvet chairs, sofas and silk-covered walls, The Milestone serves classic high tea. Single estate teas, unusual teas such as pink and chocolate heaven, mix with traditional planters’ options. With 22 varietals on offer, tough choices must be made. Their signature round chicken salad sandwich rolled in chopped almonds was delightful and scones with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry preserves followed by a tea pastry tray rendered me vowing to never to eat again. Until of course the next high tea. Telephone 44(0)20 7917 1000, https://www.milestonehotel.com

A Baccarat chandelier with 1,001 crystals sparkles in Corinthia Hotel’s Crystal Moon Lounge. (Courtesy Julie L. Kessler)

Near the London Eye, the Corinthia Hotel’s high tea is served in its Crystal Moon Lounge centered on its magnificent spherical chandelier comprised of 1,001 Baccarat crystals. Sixteen tea options are served on geometrically colored Richard Brendon bone china with metallic cups reflecting the saucers’ design. The beautiful, airy space and classical music played on the grand piano lulled me into false hope that I was not eating a week’s worth of calories in one lovely sitting. Telephone 877/842 6269, https://www.corinthia.com

For more information, see https://www.visitbritain.com.

Julie L. Kessler is a travel writer, attorney and legal columnist based in Los Angeles and the author of the award-winning book “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight” She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com.

Some vendors included in this article hosted the writer, however content was not reviewed by any of them prior to publication and opinions contained herein are solely those of the writer.

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