Most people would like to think we lead glamorous lives, you and I and road warriors like us who are Up in the Air, know differently.
And while I’m usually lucky with hotel rooms, I don’t always get to return to favorites because part of my job is testing new hotels in hopes of a winner … especially in these days of low dollars and high prices.
NEW HOTEL DISCOVERY
I arrived in London via Eurostar from Paris—a swift two and a half hours that landed me at St Pancras Station which I like to call Saint Pancreas for the sake of absurdity.
This somewhat newish turnaround station for Eurostar is a fabulous station, new and spiffy and filled with good shops. But I had no time to linger, as I was en route to another London train station—Paddington—where I had just booked a few nights’ stay in the brand new, just opened two weeks ago, Indigo Hotel.
Now then, for the uninitiated, The Indigo is a new launch from IHG, InterContinental Hotels. They own the InterConti upmarket brand as well as Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza. I happen to be devoted to both. Indigo is just getting going on an international basis (there are about 20 hotels in the world now) and is a conceptual hotel—a boutique-style, contemporary hotel that is meant to be the Holiday Inn of the future.
It’s more fancy smancy than a Holiday Inn, but is priced much lower than, say, the InterContinental on Park Lane. The average room is £160, which isn’t bad for London; I met guests who got Internet deals.
Headed to London with kids? Don’t miss Family Travel: A Traveling Mom’s Tips for Visiting London With Kids.
The rooms are not huge, but they are equipped as if ready for a photo shoot for any contemporary design magazine. Corridors are narrow and fitted with stripe-y carpet, with sort of a “Paul Smith Goes Downscale” feel. But the rooms are done up with flocked velvet throw pillows, heated towel racks, rain forest shower schemes, giant flat-screen TVs, and the largest bath towels I have ever seen in a hotel.
The lobby is sleek, there’s a charming café, and breakfast is about the best in England at the best price—£9 for a full English breakfast. I was charmed by the giant vases filled with fake ice cubes and the Philippe-Starck-ish modernism of check in, lobby and rooms.
For more, don’t miss the Off the Brochure Travel Guide: London.
If all you can think of is Paddington Bear when I mention Paddington Station, then you have never caught the Heathrow Express—a train that shuttles directly between Paddington and all five Terminals of LHR. This is the fastest and least expensive way of getting to the airport, so staying at The Indigo and being able to wheel your luggage on the choo-choo train will save you a heap of cash.
Contrast this to the fact that a taxi from central London to LHR is £60 (over $100).
Paddington is not a swank neighborhood, yet others besides IHG have gotten the convenience notion and have jumped in to serve the visitor. Hilton renovated the Great Western Hotel—an old Victorian rail yard terminal hotel—and has opened the Hilton Paddington despite the fact that three blocks away there’s the Hilton Metropole.
For the truly budget conscious, there’s an Easy Hotel one block past the station, right across from St. Mary’s Hospital where Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.
SECRETS OF THE ‘HOOD
Staying in this part of London is far from Georgian splendor and iconic architectural wonders—there are no guards on horses or royal sightings. The distance from the train station to Edgeware Road was destroyed in World War II, so the area is filled with new buildings. Only St. Mary’s Hospital survived—although row houses from the 1830s still stand just a few blocks away in stunning and original glory.
Suzy’s shopping-partner-in-crime, Sarah Lahey, explored the shopping in nearby Oxford in Bargain Shopping Europe: Oxford, England.
Paddington Station itself looks more like a covered tennis court from the outside, or a demi-dome tent. Being here is more like being in England than in London.
This is how real people live and because of the ethnic diversity and fair prices, this area is a breath of good fun. Alongside The Indigo there are four mini-marts and a series of cafes offering every ethnic munchie on the globe (Italian, Indian, Middle Eastern, etc.).
My favorite treat is to walk or bus around the corner to Edgeware Road, heading in the Marble Arch direction. There are four or five blocks of Lebanese restaurants here as well as spice markets and hookah bars. This location is central enough even to Mayfair so that on other trips to London in years past, Sarah and I would walk here for take-out. For those who want to keep a lid on expenses and have a great meal or two, this is a secret find.
Our favorite place for take-away is The Beirut, but there are scads of sit-down, linen laid eateries where dinner costs about $15 a person—a bargain in London. And if anyone is silly enough to worry about the politics of the local population, note that most of the Lebanese Londoners are Christians, not Muslims.
There are a few fast-food places near the hotel, but I use the nearby McDonald’s as my landmark to know the bus stop on the corner. Here I take the 7, 15 or 23 bus and get to Marble Arch in five minutes; Oxford Circus in 10 minutes and Piccadilly Circus 5 minutes after that. Bus fare is half the price of the tube and you get to see the famous sights as you drive by.
By Suzy Gershman for PeterGreenberg.com. For 25 years, Suzy Gershman has written the popular “Born to Shop” series, now published by Frommer’s. Her most recent book, Where to Buy the Best of Everything, is available now. For more information, visit www.suzygershman.com.
More from Suzy Gershman:
- Suzy’s Postcard from San Francisco, California
- Suzy’s Postcard from Hanoi, Vietnam
- Suzy’s Postcard from Santa Barbara, California
- Suzy’s Roadtrip from San Antonio to San Francisco
- Suzy’s Postcard from Shanghai, China
- Suzy’s Postcard from El Paso, Texas
- Suzy’s Postcard from Paris, France
- Suzy’s Adventures in Las Vegas, Nevada