Sunday, November 28

Somerset House

Christmas in London wouldn’t be complete without visit to the ice skating rink at Somerset House. It’s a spectacular winter venue located on the Stand. The floodlit rink sits in the courtyard of a dramatic 18th Century neo-classic building. Skaters book 30-minute sessions on the ice, often weeks in advance. I was happy to come along just to soak up the scene and enjoy the Christmas spirit. The tree alone was worth this evening’s bitter cold walk from the tube station.

The current building was completed in 1801, more than 25 years after the first foundation stone was laid. It was constructed on the site of an earlier Tudor Palace and was designed to house several Government offices and society institutions under one roof. The most prominent of these was the Navy Office in the South Wing. Its offices received the most elaborate interior of the entire complex, reflecting Britain’s preeminence as the world’s naval superpower.

This evening we dined at Tom’s Kitchen in the South Wing. The sense of history was everywhere as we ate Chateaubriand and Baked Alaska beneath a soaring high ceiling, framed by arched picture windows overlooking the Thames. Perhaps the most poignant moment came mid-evening as I stood in dramatic staircase in the southwest corner of the building. Known as Nelson’s Stairs, they lead to the Naval meeting rooms where Lord Nelson himself once met to debate British naval strategy. Awe inspiring!

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