Friday, January 4, 2013

On our Way...Taplow, England & Cliveden House

Note: All of the following posts for this Asia trip actually took place between December 3rd - 24th. Due to download problems with my smartphone (some photos), Internet connections on the cruise and an nasty bug I picked up while in Vietnam I have not been able to update the blog until now.

Today is December 3rd and we are flying from Florida to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to London Heathrow. I fed the dogs their dinner early and hugged them goodbye until we see them again in 2 weeks.

Our Delta flight to Atlanta left right on time and we arrived a little before 6:00 pm.  The flight was just about 1 hour. We purchased the economy comfort seats (our first time trying these) and they were worth the extra $. This is our first time at the new International terminal in Atlanta. It opened just a few months ago in May 2012.

New Atlanta International Terminal

The new terminal is 1.2 million sq feet and offers the following features:
  • 12 new gates in Concourse F
  • Eight security checkpoint lanes for departing passengers
  • New customs and border protection facility
  • Separate levels for arrivals and departures
Atlanta is the world's busiest airport and Atlanta needed the new terminal for a while. It is very bright and white but somehow left us uninspired. In fact Terminal E is still much nicer and still maintains most of the International lounges and duty free shopping. The new Terminal F is open and airy but offers little in amenities.

New International Terminal F

We are very familiar with the Atlanta airport having transited through more times than I care to remember! After riding the train to Concourse F we made our way to the British Airways gate. We had already done the online checkin on the computer at home. We had not checked any bags on the previous flight.

Once at the gate we confirmed our delay. We decided to go back to Concourse E to the British Airways Club. We took the train back and entered the club. They had some food but really old looking seats. We had a snack and then  decided to look at the shops. Our flight was delayed from the original departure time of 8:45 pm to 10:12 pm so we had plenty of time to try to amuse ourselves.

We are delayed. Original departure was 8:45 pm. 

We were looking for a Tumi store because my mother had a small bag (her second carry-on) that was not working for her. It was just too floppy. I had a dislike of this fake python bag from the moment she showed it to me. Now we could spend our extra time looking for a replacement. We asked the staff in the BA lounge if there was a Tumi store and they said they didn't know. It turned out to be just down the hall. They had a limited selection of small bags but my mother found one that was perfect and reduced! Mission accomplished!

New Tumi bag

We walked around a little and then took the train back to Terminal F. This being ATL this also required taking the escalator up and down each time. My mother moved everything into the new bag but she was still attached to the old one so she packed it in her hardsided carryon.

We went to the boarding gate and watched one of the attendants as she surveyed the passengers with and eagle eye looking for those with too much carryon luggage. They made an announcement that they would gladly gate check any bag, regular or oversized. One of the great benefits of flying BA (turned out to be one of the few!) was that in Club Class you are allowed to take two carryon bags which can weigh up to 50 pounds each. Luckily ours do not weight that much.

Finally it was time to board and find our seats. The seat configuration in Club World (Business Class) is a little odd in that if you have a window seat you are flying backward! I knew this advance when booking the flights and doing the seat selection. We are in seats 11 A & C. At first it was little strange not facing the front of the plane but I soon got used to it. The flight duration is estimated at 7h 20m.

Here is a photos of the seat and its special features:

Club World 777-200

The BA photo makes the seat look much nicer than it is! I did not put up the privacy screen. My mother would think that was rather strange and anti-social. Nice if you have a neighbor though.

My actual seat in 11A

We got comfortable in our seats and the plane taxied out and took off without much of a wait. Takeoff was a little odd but I adjusted fine. I could not see much outside the window since it was dark but knew from the onscreen display we were flying up toward Canada and then across the "pond" to London. As this is a relatively short flight, I didn't download any movies on my iPod Touch. I decided to watch what was available on the IFE. However, my screen was broken and I had to use the handset to watch the limited channels it could access - about 12. I ended up watching the Meryl Streep / Tommy Lee Jones movie and still cannot figure out the storyline. That movie was weird and made absolutely no sense.

They started the food service about 90 minutes into the flight. The items were a little odd. The first course was salad...and salad!

Strange starters! Salad and salad
For the second course I had the fish. I think it was sea bass or sea bream. Cannot remember.

The fish was pretty tasty. 
I walked around a little after the meal and used the lavatory. I then took a nap.

I woke up several hours later and chatted with my mother and then waited for the next meal to be served. We were already very close to London by now.

We are almost there

We had a second meal at 9:00 am. It was breakfast. I had cheese instead.

Cheese selection

It was bright blue sky when we arrived in the UK. Due to the delay in Atlanta we landed around 11:00 am.

Over the UK near Heathrow

We made our way to immigration and it was so fast!. On our last visit to Heathrow in May it took us over an hour to pass through immigration. This time it only took 20 minutes. Yeah! I pre-arranged for a car and driver to take us to our hotel. We read all the limo signs (must have been over 30 of them) but did not see my name.  I asked a driver from another service if he could call for me and he was so nice and dialed the company. They said the driver was there near the coffee bar. Why would he be waiting there? We met him and he immediately said that because our plane was delayed that he was now going to be late for his next customer. I thought that was rather rude but was just glad we were on our way. We had used the same company in May and had great service. Our driver then asked us for the address of our hotel and the postal code. I forgot that UK GPS requires the postal code. I asked him to call his office (I had submitted the full address online) and my confirmation was in trunk. We meandered along the motorway for over 30 minutes until he finally had directions to Taplow in Berkshire and the Cliveden House hotel. In another 15 minutes we arrived.

Cliveden House Hotel

Cliveden House

Cliveden House is a country house hotel with a storied past. It is only about 25 minutes from Heathrow and 35 minutes from central London but with our terrible driver it took us much longer. The hotel is set on 376 acres of National Trust gardens and woodland. There is a fantastic view from the house of the River Thames below. Since the 1600's there has been a structure on these grounds in several different iterations. The last structure to be built was in 1861 by the Duke and Duchess or Sutherland.

William Waldorf Astor
William Waldorf Astor was an American who had a challenging short career in New York politics. In 1890 his father, John Jacob Astor III passed away and he inherited a fortune making him the richest man in America. He went into the hotel business and built the Waldorf Hotel in New York on the site of his former residence. His cousin, John Jacob Astor IV built the Astoria Hotel next door in 1897. The buildings were merged and became the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. In 1893 William Waldorf Astor left New York for England and purchased Cliveden-on-Thames for $1.25 million.

In 1894 when William Astor's wife Mamie died he was devastated and became a recluse. He devoted himself to the enhancements at Cliveden. In 1897 he installed the Fountain Of Love which was hand carved in Rome. In 1905 upon the marriage of his son, Waldorf Astor to Nancy Langhorne he gave him Cliveden as a wedding gift.

Many famous people have visited Cliveden over the years including President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and George Bernard Shaw, Most notoriously in 1961 call girl Christine Keeler met John Profumo, British Secretary of War at the Cliveden outdoor swimming pool. British politics was never the same again. This soon precipitated into Britain's biggest political scandal. It included a Soviet spy, a suicide, the resignation of the British Prime Minister and an end to the secrecy in the private lives of British politicians. The Petreaus-Allen-Broadwell-Kelley affair so far pales in comparison.

From 1969 - 1983 Stanford University leased the house for overseas study. Must have been nice! In 1985 Cliveden House became a luxury hotel. A new chapter began in the spring of 2012 when the hotel was sold to new owners and became the sister hotel of the famous Chewton Glen in Hampshire.

Since we arrived after lunch time we were able to check in. They gave us the Chaplin room which is in the older section of the building. We left our bags with the doorman and were shown to the room. It was like being in Alice in Wonderland and falling down a rabbit hole, if only it were that easy! We were lead up a flight of stairs down a hallway, through another hallway, down a flight of stairs and then up another flight to reach the room! My mother was visibly upset and very angry at the woman for making us do all this walking...and climbing. When we asked about the journey she said there was a much shorter way but that there was a business lunch going on below and she didn't want to disturb them! Now my mother was fuming mad! We were also not shown how to use the key which seemed magnetic. It was like a poker chip but much cheaper looking. So far this one night stay was turning into a disaster.

I went back to the front desk to ask about the key. When I returned my mother had just killed 8 large flies and noticed several dead bees on the window sill. She was ready to leave. I had her come with me to the lounge area to find the manager to discuss our situation. Sue Williams is the new Cliveden general manager and has extensive experience at other English Country House hotels. We patiently waited as she was saying goodbye to a large group of ladies who had just finished a large luncheon gathering.

Finally she was fee and I asked if I could speak with her. She agreed and I patiently described what had transpired since our arrival. She apologized and asked if we would be willing to change rooms. I said "gladly". She asked us to wait in the lounge while her staff checked to see if this was possible. We soon received the good news that they would find us a room on the ground floor. It would however take about 45 minutes to prepare. From this moment on we were treated wonderfully. We received periodic updates on the room and were invited to wait in the library. We decided to have a walk outside and view the grounds.

Cliveden Grounds facing the Thames
And Another

My first and previous time at Cliveden was in September 2004 at the end of a cruise to Russia and Scandinavia. It was quite warm then with temps in the low 80's. As it is early December, the weather is clear and cool today with a high of 41 F. I brought my gloves and a scarf so it is still comfortable to spend time outdoors. We were shown to the outdoor pool which  is heated year round and there are two Canadian cedar hot tubs. I checked the water temp and it seemed quite lovely for a swim. They were people laying out on the loungers. We also took a look at the indoor pool and spa.

Cliveden Pool. It looks much warmer than it is. 

There are magnificent views of the Thames and the hotel even has classic wooden boats with a captain for a fee. Cliveden is known to be very popular with wedding parties and anniversaries. I think the water level must be very low because I had a hard time getting a good view of the water.

We walked by the clock tower which we were told was recently restored. The gold embellishment was not so striking in 2004. It looks a bit out of place in my opinion. I liked it better before.

Restored Clock Tower

Due to the cold we retreated inside and were told our room was now ready. We were lead down a short hallway to the Orkney room. They did not tell us we were being upgraded to a Junior Suite!

Hallway to our room. First door on the right. 
It was definitely worth the wait. The suite was gorgeous and we were told it had just recently been refurbished and we are its first guests!

Large living room
The room had a large living room and very spacious bedroom. The bed was two twins when they did the turndown service.

Twin Beds made up as a King

All the rooms are named after people, Lady Astor, Charlie Chaplin, etc. The Orkney room is located on the ground floor of the East Wing. We have a beautiful view of the gardens and a large white marble fireplace. The color scheme of green and gold is very soothing. The French glass doors leading to the cream bedroom is also a nice touch.

According to the Cliveden website, the suite commemorates the family that owned Cliveden when it was destroyed in the disastrous fire of 1795. Three Countesses of Orkney resided in the house between 1751 and 1824. In 1795 the main mansion at Cliveden was burnt to the ground, apparently caused by
the carelessness of a servant turning down a bed. Very few items of value were saved – although the Orkney tapestries now found in the Great Hall were rescued. The main mansion was destroyed but the wings survived and are the oldest parts of the house.

The bathroom is also quite large!

And the bathroom

Nice modern bath

We couldn't be more delighted with the room. We are feeling very spoiled now. We will be having afternoon tea instead of lunch today at 3:30 pm.  We relaxed in the room for 25 minutes and then went to have tea.

We were seated in the Great Hall and they handed us menus to choose our tea. I was a little disappointed they no longer have peppermint tea. I chose the Jasmine tea but it didn't taste anything like Jasmine. They said we could change the tea halfway through.

Lounge where we had our tea
The The food and tea presentation was amazing. Being the Christmas holiday season they had some special items. The Christmas pudding was included. As good as the food was I was also looking forward to my nap!

Tea Tray
There was way too much for us to finish though. They boxed up our leftovers and we had something to snack on later.

After our tea we took a walk to the Club Room in case we got hungry for dinner. The Club Room is located in the former stables and is adorable. The bar stools are made of saddles and the booths are in the horse stalls.

Club Room with saddle bar stools. A model of the hotel in the background. 
We went back to the room and slept for a while. We both woke up around 8:00 pm and were not hungry for dinner.

I wanted to get some photos of the hotel lit at night so I went out the side door quite near our room to get a photo of the front of the hotel. Too tired to walk around the back.  It was probably in the low 30's but it did not feel that cold.

Cliveden at night
I uploaded the photos to the iPad while my mother was snoozing away. I then decided to email some photos I took on my HTC smartphone to myself to post to the blog. I am very unfamiliar with data roaming charges so started to email the photos only to receive 3 texts messages in quick succession from T-mobile alerting me that I had now spent $200 on data roaming! Yikes. Seemed like data roaming Armageddon. I called T-mobile and they credited me $50 for my stupidity (my word not theirs) and then the rep helped me delete the rest of the photos that were pending from my outbox and draft folders. Imagine if all 30+ photos had been sent instead of just 3! This was the start of realizing I might not be updating the blog as soon as planned. Of course I could have just skipped the departure and UK entries but wanted to have a complete report on the trip.

Tomorrow we will have a relaxing morning at the hotel and then go back to Heathrow for our flight to Shanghai.

1 comment:

  1. I love the tiered server at Cliveden. Do they have a gift shop where you can buy items from the hotel?