For our youngest daughter’s 16th birthday, my wife and I arranged for her to see Phantom of the Opera in London with three of her friends with time for shopping as well. Obviously, we were not keen on just sending them off to London on their own to fend for themselves so my wife and I arranged to travel down with them, stay in the same hotel and generally be around without cramping their style. I was able to get tickets to see the stage production of Dirty Dancing (one of my wife’s favourite films) for the same night so it turned into a great trip for us as well.
What I had not allowed for was engineering works making a trip that normally takes just over 90 minutes from Stafford to London not being available and ending up on the twice as long and less salubrious Wrexham & Shropshire train from Telford to Marylebone. That said, it ran exactly to time with no hassles both ways. Just to add to the fun, the Bakerloo Line, which services Marylebone, was offline for the weekend as well. Shame as we were all armed with Oyster cards, but had to wait a little longer to get to use them. (I do wish Oyster was available everywhere and not just in London.)
As we came via Marylebone rather than Euston, we took a small detour on our walk to the hotel. This was to visit The Little Shoe Shop. My wife has very small feet, and finds it very hard to get adult shoes to fit her. This shop is one of the very few places in the UK where she can try out a range of adult shoes in her size. This time she benefited from the “help” of four teenage girls (keen to get to the hotel to dump their bags and go out shopping for themselves).
Using points built up over many business stays, I was able to book us rooms free of charge at the Marriott Marble Arch. You would think that the Marriott Marble Arch would be close to the, er, Marble Arch. It is. But not as close as the Marriott Park Lane is, which is across the road from the famous landmark. We were not the first to turn up to the wrong hotel and no doubt will not be the last. It is not difficult to guess which hotel Marriott acquired first.
We were a little early to check into our rooms, but we were able to dump our bags and head our separate ways. The kids all headed off to Oxford Street to begin a hard afternoon’s shopping. Me and the Mrs headed for some refreshments in the executive lounge and then for a nice afternoon dinner in a fine Moroccan restaurant (Sidi Maarouf) on Edgware Road. Sadly I left my camera there but didn’t realise it until later.
After a filling meal, we had no particular desire to go shopping or sightseeing. We headed back to the hotel for some relaxation and eventually got ready and headed off to the theatre. We needed to get there an hour before opening to collect our tickets from the box office (despite booking many weeks before through Lastminute.com we still had to collect from the box office – there is always that little bit of doubt in the back of your mind until you have the tickets in your hands). By contrast, we had received the Phantom tickets by post months before and had handed them to the kids earlier in the day, so there was no similar pressure on them to get to the theatre early. They did though make the mistake of agreeing to the hotel taking their bags to the room when they finally checked in rather than getting them out of storage and taking themselves. This despite not having a huge amount of time after shopping to get ready (four girls and one bathroom remember). The bags eventually turned up after a couple of calls to reception. Texts were exchanged between us and the kids and our elder daughter back home (so she did not feel left out – she does not like musicals, works on Sundays, and someone needed to stay at home and look after the dogs).
We were all in our seats in time for the shows to start. There have been plenty of reviews of both Phantom of the Opera and Dirty Dancing. Both shows lived up to the best of the reviews for this group of people. The two shows finished around the same time and we got a text asking us to meet the kids outside their theatre to accompany them back to the hotel. Some of them – less experienced with London evening life in theatre land – were a bit worried about getting back to the hotel safely.(In fairness, they had had some men follow them on the underground earlier and make suggestive comments.) When we got to them a few minutes later after a short taxi ride, we found them posing in front of the Phantom posters and taking lots of pics. The journey back to the hotel was of course uneventful. We nipped into a Sainsburys to get some supper, the kids (well three of them – my daughters refuse to go near fast food places for some reason) grabbed some food from MacDonalds.
My feet, by the way, were in agony. Several blood blisters thanks to wearing casual shoes that were pretty much worn through to the sole. All that marching across London!
Ill fitting health facilities
I think London hotels are more “blessed” than most with oddly laid out health facilities, particularly where swimming pools are concerned. They are usually stuck in some kind of tank in the basement with odd stairwells to get to them or between the water and the changing rooms. This hotel was no exception. The ladies’ changing room opened onto the small health facilities’ reception so after getting ready for a swim (or to use the gym equipment), you had to walk through reception and down a small flight of stairs to get to the pool. Having to traipse back that way when wet is not much fun. For a change, the Men’s changing room practically opened onto the pool. It wasn’t worth the effort, the pool was too cool for all but the most productive swimmers, which is not me on a weekend away.
As I practically live in hotels, a hotel breakfast is no great joy for me but my wife likes. As a regular customer of Marriott, breakfast was on them for up to four adults. Given that there were two of us and four kids (or adults for purposes of food ordering), we decided to discourage the girls from joining us. (Most of them are not really into breakfasts anyway.) They did not miss much. The hot food wasn’t (it was luke warm – yuk). Wished I had stuck to cereal, porridge and fruit. (Actually, I don’t think they had porridge.)
Boots and Books
My main interest was getting some decent footware to ease my painful feet. I ended up with some Air Cushion Gortex lined boots from Clarks (a company I normally avoid as I have not found the quality of their products that good over the years). I had nearly reached the point where I could hardly walk anywhere in the original shoes. The damage was done but walking was a little easier with the new boots. We did though start using the buses to get around more (didn’t fancy walking long distances to platforms underground).
Books for learning
As the Mrs is about to do an Access course so that she can return to University as a mature student, our next mission was to find a decent book store. The Waterstones on Oxford Street was too small and too tourist oriented. I suggested we look for a book shop near a University, so we headed up to UCL near Euston and, sure enough, found a huge Waterstones (formally Dillons). There were 5 floors with lots of wide ranging academic coverage. I picked up some discounted sci-fi novels quickly, paid for them and headed for the in-house Costa Coffee. My wife turned up some time later having selected one book very carefully from a huge range of possibilities to assist her in her studies. Over tea and sandwiches, we got stuck into our respective books for a while before time ran out, and we had to head back to the hotel to pick up our bags.
We had to go back to the hotel to collect our luggage and head for the station. Sadly, our starting point was not far from our end point. It was getting to the hotel that was trickier than it should have been. We suffered the usual, wait ages for a bus and three turn up at the same time. We ended up getting a bus to the Edgware road and then walking the half-mile to the hotel. I admitted defeat for the last leg though and hailed a taxi to take us to Marylebone.
As I climbed into the taxi, the driver spotted my compact camera, a Panasonic Lumix. Specifically, he spotted its Leica lens and proceeded to talk to me about the pros and cons of various Leica cameras he had owned over the years. I did not have the heart to tell him my camera was a Panasonic. We got the the station with plenty of time to spare, and the girls were not far behind us just laden with more shopping. The train was ready early, and the journey uneventful.
It was nice to get back home and rest my feet though