When your other half is summoned to work on New Year’s Eve, do you (a) accept long-time friend’s invitation to join a dinner party on the other side of London (b) accept lovely blogger friend’s suggestion to join more local house party (c) stay home alone in jim jams eating Nutella out of the jar (not something I would ever advocate by the way…) or (d) hop back to Mum and Dad’s for the kind of nostalgic creature comforts only found in the warmth of your favourite childhood surroundings.
Ahead of the final moments of 2015, however, I went with (e), the less obvious choice which essentially involved me tagging along with Pumpkin whilst he headed to work.
Now before you label me a serious clinger, let me clarify that Pumpkin didn’t technically need to be at work; he simply had to be near it in case his services were required. If his work ended up being quiet and I was off revelling elsewhere in town, then he would have had to see in the New Year alone (or may well have slept through it).
So, with purely selfless intentions you understand, I sacrificed all the other offers on the table to be by Pumpkin’s side. Needless to say, the prospect of checking into a luxury London hotel for the night had no bearing whatsoever on my decision 😀
The Athenaeum Hotel, Piccadilly
With that agreed, off we trotted to The Athenaeum Hotel, a luxury boutique property in Piccadilly that conjured up fond memories of our early days together, when, at a mere two hours notice, I took Pumpkin there for an afternoon tea date (his first ever afternoon tea.)
We loved the informal, cosy feel of the lounge, where we felt able to laugh and eat for hours and we were so impressed with the tea that on a significant birthday a couple of years later, we returned with the whole family entourage to relive it all over again.
Many London hotels have notoriously small rooms, which is why I swooned over the fact that this was one large enough to do cartwheels in (shame I could never do them!)
Having lived in and around London for nearly all my life, I have very rarely had any need for a hotel in my own city so you can only imagine the high-pitched, excitable squeals that emanated from my corner of the room, as my eyes flitted between the Nespresso machine, the adorable little soldiers encased in a glass cabinet, the lush toiletries and the clean and chic aesthetic of the room.
That’s not to say there weren’t any hiccups, most notably with the fact that one of the bathrobes in the room had a stain on it and it took me an initial phone call and a reminder phone call to get it rectified. I am fairly relaxed when it comes to hotel room expectations but stains do come as a not-so-pleasant surprise in a hotel of this calibre.
Still, it didn’t take me long to move on from this as I started snooping through the contents of the minibar and eyeing up the room service menu for later. There was always a chance it was going to be a dine in for one kind of night so I thought I’d get my research out of the way nice and early.
As I flicked through the pillow menu, I peered curiously at some of the pillow options that I’d never even heard of before ultimately deciding that the daylight hours were too precious to while away on such indulgences when there were festivities still waiting to be exhausted.
Festive Fun at Winter Wonderland
With bags dumped, we made a beeline for the nearby Winter Wonderland, a hugely popular Yuletide attraction (frankly too popular at times) swarming with festive families, stomach-turning, spiral roller coasters and clusters of calorific plates.
This year, we needed a jar of passion fruit curd for a recipe and when 3 or 4 big chain supermarkets failed to stock it, we found it in Winter Wonderland of all places so trust me when I say, there are a few real foodie gems lurking amongst the crowds.
The key to having a more pleasant and less crowded experience there is to avoid, where possible, visiting at weekends, evenings and school holidays. An hour and a half wasn’t nearly long enough within the confines of this fairytale world but with Pumpkin called out to work for a couple of hours, it was time for me to keep myself occupied for a while. Unfortunately, the skies were adhering to every international stereotype about England being grey and rainy so there was really only one place I had my eye on to seek shelter from the showers…
Festive Food at Fortnum and Mason
Luckily for me, my new home for the night just happened to be walking distance to the world-renowned Fortnum and Mason store, which you might recall from my Posh Nosh Ice Cream post. Just a couple of weeks earlier, I had been waltzing down Fifth Avenue, filled with festive cheer, staring at the Christmasy shop windows and soaking up the Christmas vibes in New York City. At home, however, I tend to take these things for granted so before entering Fortnums, I paused for a moment to admire the effort that had gone into these colourful displays.
Anyone who has been to this store will know that it is an attraction in its own right and for foodies especially, it is easy to spend an entire afternoon foraging through the goods on offer and succumbing to the temptation to purchase time and again. And whilst some visitors were zooming in on the ornate details of its glittering real Christmas tree, I was predictably drooling over the macaron Christmas tree instead – I know which one I’d rather have any day!
As soon as I purchased a whole box of canelés, my waistline knew it was time to make tracks and with the rain winning in the Shikha vs Climate battle, I arrived back to my abode, changed into my (now clean) robe and tucked myself under the duvet with a canelé in one hand and a milky coffee in the other.
During some hotel stays, it really is the little things that feel the most blissful.
I brought my tablet along with the best of intentions to blog away my backlog whilst Pumpkin was busy at work. Unfortunately, I soon got distracted, photographing the room, Instagraming my snaps and before I knew it, Pumpkin called to say he’d be back “home” by 8pm. You know you are winning at New Year’s Eve when home is the Athenaeum!
In any case, I had some fluffy company in the room until his arrival 🙂
We were both delighted that Pumpkin was back at the hotel at a decent hour but with no dinner reservations under our belt, we assumed we’d be sat on a park bench drawing drumsticks out of a KFC bucket. I guess you never know till you try though, since we managed to walk into a branch of Polpo and got seated immediately – at 8.30pm on New Year’s Eve in London with no queue or wait!
I will admit that I have never braved being sandwiched in the mayhem of the New Year’s Eve fireworks display in London but just between you and me, there are quite a few areas in London where you can get a more distant view of the higher up fireworks if you want to see some of the highlights minus the crowds. Granted, the views aren’t as good but given that it was only a little stroll away from the Athenaeum, we walked across Green Park towards Buckingham Palace and for the first time ever, I watched some of London’s New Year’s Fireworks in person rather on TV. Apologies for the blurry image – it was the best my clapped out old phone camera (and shivering hands) could manage with gloves on.
The New Year’s Day Parade, London
After a very comfortable sleep and luckily with no overnight phone interruptions for Pumpkin, we allowed ourselves a ludicrously lazy lie-in sipping mugs of hot tea in bed and watching holiday TV.
Our plan was just to make our way home thereafter but as soon as we checked out, we came to face with the preparations for London’s New Year’s Day Parade, which starts on Piccadilly and happened to be setting up just outside our hotel.
After all these years in London, I must admit, I knew absolutely nothing about the parade and intrigue took over, as we witnessed floats and trucks, costume-clad characters and music belting out from loud speakers.
There is always a myth (and I myself am the first to believe it) that in a city like London, you always need to prepare ahead with bookings and reservations to be able to enjoy an evening or weekend in the city – all the more so during special occasions.
And yet, we found ourselves, booked in for a night at the Athenaeum (which we had reserved only two days earlier), dining on crowd-pleasing Venetian fare in the heart of London with no notice whatsoever and observing one of the capital’s most magnificent parades due to nothing other than sheer coincidence.
I guess, sometimes, it pays to be impulsive!
Have you ever had an impulsive New Year’s Eve experience?