Our last night in Poland we spent in an American hotel, the Courtyard Marriott. This is a chain we know well. It even has a shower curtain in the bathroom, unlike most hotels in Europe. I wonder if it’s an American invention. The hotel is directly across the street from the airport terminal and at the same level as the check-in counters, and we appreciated the convenience as we were leaving. We did a little shopping to use up some zlotys and then waited at the gate for a short time before boarding.
The contrast between the Warsaw and London airports was most striking when we arrived at Heathrow, where we had to walk for what seemed like miles to reach the Underground station. We boarded the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square, where we changed to the Northern Line. After many, many steps with our heavy suitcases, and with the help of a kind Brit for part of the way, we reached the surface and walked a short distance to the Bloomsbury Hotel. Overcome by the heavily scented lobby and guest room, we requested to cancel our reservation (at no cost) and were directed to another hotel a block away, the Bloomsbury Street Hotel. This one was adequate, but we could stay for only four nights. We decided to deal with that problem later. Our friend Jim, whom we met on the world cruise earlier this year, came by about six, and we walked with him over to the flat he’s rented for a few months. It’s in a modern high-rise which has an interesting view of London rooftops. We sat with him in his living room for a few minutes to catch up on news and then walked out into his neighborhood, which is bustling with pedestrian, construction, and vehicular activity. A thriving neighborhood, I’d say. We eventually found a busy Italian restaurant (staffed by real Italians) and had a pleasant meal together. After discussing plans for the next few days, we called it a night (as they say).
After breakfast the next morning, we were talking to the desk clerk about extending our stay there when I noticed the wallpaper behind the reception desk. Turns out it is reproductions of pages from Mrs. Dalloway, which is appropriate because Virginia Woolf lived nearby. Some of the pages were handwritten, which contributed significantly to the impact of the design. The clerk did find an additional day for us, but at a much higher cost, so we realized we still had a problem. But rather than wasting a beautiful day working this out, we decided to take the Underground to Kew Gardens.
We spent a lovely day there. First, we took a narrated tram ride around the park to get oriented, then entered the Palm Court, which is a huge glass conservatory almost overflowing with an incredible variety of plants. Next, we came upon a “skywalk” which was similar to the ones we had taken in Western Australia and in Singapore. We ascended 100+ steps and walked a circuit through the treetops. There wasn’t much of a view outside of the park, but we did have one unexpected treat. We spied two green birds that looked like parrots poking around in one of the trees. They were almost the same shade of green as the pods which covered the tree. Later, I heard them screeching and saw them flying away. I’m sure there’s some great story about how parrots got to England, but the mystery remains for me. We finished our visit to the gardens by going into the Princess of Wales (Alexandria, daughter of Queen Victoria) Conservatory. This is a newer building of glass, but it has computer-controlled climate zones and exhibits of plants from at least ten different areas of the world: cactus, tropical plants, ferns, bromeliads, lily pads and other water plants, etc. We also came upon an eighteen-inch iguana, who seemed to be lolling about and posing for pictures. An attendant explained that the conservatory has four of these creatures: they eat the cockroaches! By the end of the afternoon, we were tired but glad to have finally experienced some of the attractions of Kew Gardens. We returned to the city, decided to change hotels again, and were able to reserve a room at the Hoxton in Holborn, a short distance from our previous hotel.