Oh, the opportunities for anecdotes British travel affords one. The stories I could tell you . . . . and I will. Now. Many moons ago, on a tour far, far away, I stayed at Chilston Park in Kent with a tour group I was leading. I was with my dear, good friend, author Sue Ellen Welfonder. She is the Bozzy to my Samuel Johnson. So, we were on a tour and arrived very late at night at Chilston Park. The tour group had dinner and then I sneaked off to have a cigarette. It was very late, it was very dark, and I stepped outside of the front door pictured above, lit my cigarette and inhaled deeply. Heaven. There I was all by lonesome, until I spied something from the corner of my eye. It was a large something, alive as it was heaving. It was moving, subtly so, but there was movement. It looked for all the world like a bear. Were there bears in England? (er, no) Must be, as there was one there, right before my eyes. I sucked in a lungful of smoke and stood as still as possible. Hopefully, the bear wouldn't see me and I would live to see another day. And to lead another day of our tour. It was then that the "bear" separated and I made out that it was a couple in a heavy clinch, a lovers embrace, so to speak, and not a bear at all, but rather a bear hug.
And then there was the time that I was in England with my daughter, Brooke, and neither of us could figure out how the shower mechanism worked. We had to call down and have the hotel send someone up to show us how to put the water on. And off.
And then there was the time . . . . well, you see that I have a trove of English hotel stories. And many of them involve Victoria. And some involve the Duke of Wellington Tour. After our visit to the Royal Pavilion in Bath, our coach took us to the Mercure George Hotel in Reading in preparation for our visit to Stratfield Saye the next day ( Huzzah!).
The Mercure George Hotel in Reading is housed within a 15th century building that was once a coaching inn.
It's ancient. It's historic. It's atmospheric. It's charming. However, it has no elevator.
Victoria and I told the tour group that the hotel staff would bring everyone's bags up. We distributed room keys and planned to meet for dinner in an hour's time.
"Do you think they'll mind that there are no elevators?" Victoria asked me.
"No! The staff will bring the bags up, and how often do you get to sleep in an authentic coaching inn? I don't think anyone will mind," I said cheerfully, taking the key card from the front desk lady. "Come on, bring your personal stuff and let's find our room."
So off we trotted to our room. Up the first staircase . . . .
Through a set of swinging doors that led down another hallway. And up another set of stairs. Then down another long hallway.
"Are they joking?" Victoria asked.
"Whatever can you mean," I replied, knowing full well what Victoria meant. This was akin to climbing Everest. I turned to find Victoria resting her back against a wall.
"How much further?" she asked.
I answered honestly. "No idea." Pant, pant. "It can't be that much further. We're in a certified coaching inn! Isn't this marvelous?"
"You have to get into the spirit of things," I cajoled. "We knew there was no elevator."
"Yes, but we didn't know how bloody big this coaching inn would be. No trouble in the days of footmen, but we have no footmen." Yet another reason to lament being born in the wrong time period.
Off we trudged again. . . down more hallways, through a set of double doors, all the while reading signs that promised to lead us to our room.
At long last, we arrived at the room. Our room number was emblazoned upon the door. We had arrived!
I put the key card into the lock . . . . and it didn't work. I turned the card wrong side up and tried again. Still no luck.
"Give it to me," Victoria said. I gave it to her. She tried it the right way. She tried it the wrong way. She tried it upside down and she tried it backwards. The key card did not work.
Victoria and I stared at one another for a time as the truth of situation sunk in. Then Victoria said, "If you think I'm going down that rabbit hole again, and back up again, you've got another think coming. I'm done."
Hmmm. Frankly, I was done, as well, but that wasn't getting either of closer to a rum and coke. So down again I went, through double doors, down hallways and following signs to the front desk, where I went through the explanations that finally led to a new key being cut and handed over. Reader, this time it worked. Sigh.
All was well hotel-wise until we got to Windsor, where we stayed at the Mercure Castle Hotel. If you recall, I had stayed here before with Hubby. It's a fabulous hotel, a literal rock's throw from Windsor Castle, and this time out, Victoria and I were assigned to quite a large room with a fabulous bath.
"Well!" Victoria exclaimed, sitting upon the downy bed. "This is more like it!"
"The room is huge, no?" said I.
"Huge, yes, and plenty of room to spread out. Look, there's a single cup coffee maker and a fridge." She got up and walked to the end of the room, where two steps down led to . . . "Wow, look at this bathroom!"
I got up and followed, poking my head around Victoria's. A large space, complete with a deep tub and towel warmer. "I don't know about you," I said, "but I can hear Jo Malone calling my name."
"Let's unpack and then get some ice and have drink."
I didn't argue. I unpacked. As per usual, Victoria and I prioritized our unpacking, setting up our laptops, plugging in the chargers for our cameras, getting out our nightclothes and reading material. It's so nice to travel with someone who shares the same values.
Several minutes elapsed before Victoria said, "Hey. Look at the door."
Hmmm? I plugged my laptop in and looked at the door. "Yeah?"
"Look at the door."
"Honestly! If you'd been at Waterloo, you'd have said what Frenchmen? Look at the bottom of the door."
I looked at the bottom of the door. "What in the Hell?"
As you can see, there was a rather large gap beneath one side of the door.
By this time, Victoria and I were sitting side by side on the end of the bed, staring at the bottom of the door.
"That's a huge gap."
"Mmmm. Which you hadn't noticed."
"Well . . . . but I'm fairly sure I'd have noticed if it were a Frenchman. Especially if he were in uniform."
"Why do you think it's like that?"
"A crap carpenter?"
"No. It's got to be like that for a reason."
"A cat could get in through there. Or a ferret. Certainly a snake."
"Lovely. Thank you for that." Were there snakes in England?
More minutes went by as we mused on the reason for the wonky carpentry. Finally, Victoria said, "Look! Look how the floor to this room slopes down. See it. The entire room's on a pitch. They had to cut the bottom of the door like that so that you could open the door. Cause the floor slopes up at that end. If the door weren't cut like that, you wouldn't be able to get into the room."
I saw what she meant. "You're right. But it still means that a cat can still get in."
"What would be worse, a cat or a Frenchman?"
"Definitely a cat," I replied. "I'm not allergic to Frenchman. As far as I know."
But back to our time at the George Hotel in Reading . . . . it's the night before our visit to Stratfield Saye (Huzzah!) Stay tuned for our post covering our most momentous visit to Wellington's country home coming soon.
Labels: Duke of Wellington Tour, Kristine Hughes