We had breakfast again in the hotel and then took a taxi to the airport. The airport seems in need of some renovation. Once past security they naturally have you walk through all the duty-free shopping but this area is much too narrow for the large number of people there. My mother wanted a coffee so we found the Starbucks and stayed there for a while. Unless you went to a restaurant there weren't a lot of other places to sit. It wasn't clear what gate we would depart from as they are located on opposite ends of the terminal so Starbucks worked just fine.
Close to boarding time we checked the monitor and the gate was posted. We are flying BA again but this time the plane is a newer 737. At the gate we only had to wait a few minutes. As we boarded I was happy to see it was a nice plane with comfy dark blue "pleather" seats. They had a business section too but we were seated in row 6 in Economy. There were lots of business attired people on the flight just like on our flight up.
We again had a person sitting in the middle seat between us. She was probably in her late 20's and had trouble storing her carry on so had to have it gate checked. She was too nice and let other people go ahead of her and by then there was no place for her bag in the overhead.
It is cloudy here today but the weather in South East England is supposed to be warm and sunny. We took off on time and once above the clouds we had a nice view of the countryside. I read the Financial Times and took occasional glances out the window. When we were about halfway there we had descended enough that I had a great view. I noticed this rather nice country home below.
When we got to the other end there were other drivers but not ours. I had no choice but to call the company. They put me on hold and came back and said our driver was parking the car. However, a funny thing happened immediately after I got off the phone when we noticed a guy coming out of the Men's room with a sign with my name on it! He quickly got in line with the other drivers thinking we wouldn't notice.
We didn't bother telling him he was at the wrong area of the airport for the pickup but we did say it was hard finding him. It was a pleasure arriving at Gatwick since it is so much smaller than Heathrow. We walked to the car and the driver opened it for us while he went to get a token to pay for the parking. The car was clean but it was nothing special. It is about 30 minutes from Gatwick to Tunbridge Wells in Kent. We have been to London many times and as it is just one night, we preferred to stay in the country.
Royal Tunbridge Wells
Royal Tunbridge Wells is a lovely small affluent town of 56,000 people 40 miles southeast of London. In its heyday during the 1880's it was a popular spa and tourist resort. The prefix "Royal" dates to 1909, when King Edward VII granted the town its official royal title to celebrate its popularity with the Royal Family including, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Duchess of Kent. There are only two other UK towns with that prefix.
The town is presently a quiet bedroom community of London with high speed train access to St. Pancras. There are several small hotels, various restaurants and boutique shopping to welcome tourists.
We drove through the pretty Kent countryside with tall trees and lush rolling hills. The rainy UK spring did the trick as it was very green! We arrived at the Hotel du Vin at around 11:45 am. The hotel is part of a boutique chain and has rooms on two floors and a popular restaurant. I had prepaid for the taxi online so we gathered our bags and hoped we could check in early.
|Hotel du Vin, Tunbridge Wells|
|Superior Twin Room|
The painting was downright frightful! I have never seen anything like it in a hotel room, or anywhere else for that matter, before.
|Horrors! I have no idea!|
When we went downstairs to inquire about directions to the train station we asked about the painting. The answer was ambiguous as they just short of dodged the question. Later on we noticed other lobster paintings (which were blue, not orange) near the restaurant but there were not as scary. I am glad we are only spending the one night. I can only imagine what kind of nightmares we may have.
On the plus side, the black and white bathroom was very nice with modern fixtures. The glass bath/shower door was a nice touch. It looks traditional yet contemporary at the same time.
|Great Hall Arcade|
|India Jane from the window|
Further up we passed a few restaurants, a hair salon, supermarket and more shops until we could see the train station across the road.
|Train station with the clock on far left|
In just 10 minutes we arrived in Sevenoaks, jumped in a taxi and headed to Chartwell House in Westerham. Chartwell is actually located closer to the Sevenoaks train station than the center of Westerham. The taxi fare was supposed to be about 25 pounds for the 18 minute drive to Winston Churchill's home. However, as we drove through the beautiful countryside we hit a snag when we saw a sign indicating a detour due to road closure. Not only would the trip now take longer as we needed to approach Chartwell from the opposite end, we also weren't going to be saving any money, actually probably costing more.
We circled back and ended up going through Westerham to reach the other road which was near the Kent boundary which we had passed this morning coming from the airport. During the drive we had a nice chat with our driver but I started to doubt his sincerity and if he knew about the road closure. Finally 20+ minutes later we saw the signs for Chartwell and drove up to the visitor center. The driver said the cost was 36 pounds!. This was 12 pounds more than it should be but we didn't argue with him. We were just happy to finally be out of the car and didn't want to waste another minute as it was almost 2:00 pm.
|Doggie Pickup Bag|
I have wanted to visit Chartwell for about 10 years but it never worked out. When I decided to stay in Kent the night prior to the cruise, it fit perfectly with our schedule this time. The grounds are huge and there were lots of people sitting on the lawn enjoying the fine weather and the views.
Chartwell House was the beloved home of Winston Churchill from 1922 until his death in 1965. Churchill paid 5,000 pounds for the house and its 80 acres. His wife Clementine was not immediately enthralled with the gloomy Victorian building covered in ivy and worried about its drain on their finances. It took her many years to feel happy here.
An architect was hired to modernize and enlarge the original dwelling. Almost every part of Chartwell was changed when the family finally made the move here in 1924.
The setting is spectacular with slopping hills, ponds and beautiful gardens.
|View of the garden and rear of the house|
We visited the painting studio which is bi-level and quite large. It was very crowded as perhaps some of the people were also waiting for their tour to begin. They don't allow any photos inside any of the buildings so I relied on the postcards and guidebook I had purchased.
|Postcard of Winston Churchill's Painting Studio|
|Grey Walled Garden|
|Chartwell House from the rear|
While my mother relaxed on one of the benches, I took a walk to the pet graves. This is where two of Churchill's poodles (Rufus I and Rufus II) and his favorite cat Jock are buried.
|"Jock" the cat from a postcard|
|Chartwell from the front|
|View of the Weald of Kent|
The rooms are arranged and furnished as they were when the Churchill's lived here in the 1930's. As the Churchill's grew older and less mobile they located Lady Churchill's bedroom on the ground floor but that has now been reversed.
The Drawing Room enjoys windows on three sides and is bright and airy. A Georgian card table, Lalique crystal cockerel, handsome fireplace and several striking George II mirrors provides and elegant feel to this room. The most distinguished painting in the room is on the right hand wall. It is a painting of London Bridge by Claude Monet and was a gift from Churchill's literary agent.
We then made our way up the rather ordinary looking carpeted staircase to Lady Churchill's Bedroom on the first floor. This room has a fantastic view of the Kent countryside. Clementine took great personal interest in the decor of Chartwell and had final say on the color scheme. In her own bedroom she used cerulean blue (looks paler in person) on the walls and ceiling with red moire silk (looks more orange) for the four poster bed. Clementine also used the room as a personal study where she managed the household accounts and interviewed the staff.
|Lady Churchill's Bedroom|
The next rooms we visited were the Museum and Uniform rooms. These original 3 bedrooms were converted to their present museum role in 1966. The display cases hold awards and many interesting uniforms. Two of the notable awards of interest displayed are the Honorary Citizenship of the United States and the Medal and citation for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Apparently the impressive showcases with the uniforms were modeled on the window displays created by Liberty's of London. There is quite a large selection of robes, coats and hats. It was fascinating to see the range of ceremonial and everyday clothing he wore.
Just past these rooms is Churchill's Study. It has exposed ancient roof timbers and a huge Union Flag is hanging from the rafters.
His bedroom which is just off the Study, is small and private but not open to the public.
We then went down to the ground level to see the Dining Room.
This room is in an east facing extension of the house which was added in the 1920's. The room has the appearance of a summer room or conservatory. I had expected something a bit more grand. However, it is a nice relaxing room with a marvelous view.
Finally we just had the Kitchen and the Exhibition rooms to see to complete our tour. In the kitchen there are no electrical appliances or easy to wipe surfaces. The utensils are made of copper and cast aluminum and the Belfast Sink has solid brass taps.
The exhibition has many photographs, various objects and a genealogy chart showing the Churchill family lineage. There was also a plaque on the door with a crest and Churchill's full name.
|Doors to the Drawing Room|
The taxi soon arrived and we were on our way for the ride to the train station which did not take long. The work on the roads had stopped for the day so it was a quick 15 minutes to the station. The tickets we had purchased earlier were roundtrip so we checked the track and waited for our train.
Once back in Tunbridge Wells we stopped at Morrison's supermarket to purchase some duct tape. My new 22" spinner suitcase needs some mending. The rubber part has separated from the front part of the bag. It is still attached well enough that it isn't open but my clothing and contents can be seen from the outside.
Morrison's carried a wide variety of items and after asking about the tape, we easily found it on one of the aisles. It was only 1 pound for a roll which seemed cheap. They had self-serve checkout like Home Depot.
Back at the hotel we rested for about an hour until it was time for our dinner reservation at 6:30 pm. The Bistro at the hotel is refined with sconces and stone fireplace but also relaxing with the large windows and casual ambiance.
|Bistro Hotel du Vin|
We had eaten at the same Bistro in Cambridge with my cousin and her husband a few years ago in their Cambridge location. The menu was very similar here.
We began with wine of course and then the Mushroom and the Pate starters. These were just "okay" and somewhat disappointing. It seemed like toast was a great gastronomical feat with both of our plates sporting a single piece like it was extra special.
|Mushrooms on a piece of toast|
|Pate with one piece of toast|
Although the first courses were not that pleasing we were entertained by the young couple sitting diagonal to us. The woman was blond and in her early 20's. She could not stop playing with her hair. First it was down, then a ponytail, then plopped on top of her head! They must have been staying in the hotel too because at one point she left and came back in a different sleeveless top.
The other table near us was a bunch of business colleagues who worked in the fashion industry. There were 4 men and 3 women. One of the men was quite boisterous and must of loved the sound of his own voice as he would not shut up and let anyone else speak! They were all dressed smartly and seemed to be having a great time with lots of laughter.
We enjoyed the delicious bread and butter until our main courses arrived.
My main was the Steak Hache which I happily devoured in Cambridge.
At least we were eating in the hotel and could just go upstairs when we were done and not need to take a taxi anywhere tonight.
We both ordered dessert which turned out to be the highlight of the meal. My mother had the Baked Apple and I had the Banana Chocolate Brownie which sounds even more decadent the way the British pronounce "Ba-naa-naa".
|Banana Chocolate Brownie|