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Cool hotel carved out of a London brewery, and is Google mapping nude sunbathers?

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LONDON – I don’t know this city as well as I’d like, but I found a great new spot in the eastern-central part of town.

The Montcalm at Brewery City is a fun, polished and unique property near the Barbican and Moorgate tube stops. It’s in what functioned as the Whitbread Brewery for more than 200 years, and it’s got a lot of charm.

You walk into the facility through a giant archway that once formed the entrance to the brewery, past iron gates with a polished gold sign. The lobby isn’t large but there are beautiful, fresh flowers (they’ve won awards for their floral displays) and nice furnishings and one of those rain walls that have become popular the last few years. Why there’s a rain wall in a city as wet as London I’m not quite sure, but it gives off a soothing sound and maybe it reminds folks to take their brolley with them when they venture outside.

The rooms are good-sized and very well appointed, with a mix of modern and traditional furnishings and appointments. There’s the requisite sound system and flat screen TV, of course, but they also have a scent machine in each room that you can access in advance and program to give off lavender or lemongrass or other aromas to soothe you when you arrive back in your room after a harried day of shopping or navigating the Underground.

My room was in one of the “Wow” suites, with more than a few extras. I had a huge, four-poster bed with gorgeous, carved wooden supports and a billowing fabric over the top. I also had a heavy, old-fashioned wooden dresser with equally impressive workmanship.montcalmroom

The bath was a huge contrast that I’m not quite worked with the traditional bedroom; a combination of mostly black marble with shiny silver bits that I found a tad garish. Still, it was a huge bath with lots of storage space and nice toiletries and a great tub and shower that was open to the bedroom but installed with privacy panels in case you don’t want to show off to your roommate.

I had a fine breakfast at one of the restaurants on site, the Jugged Hare, with great English sausages and bacon and fruit and pastries. I didn’t have time to check out the Chiswell Street Dining Room for dinner but I did order a room service hamburger one night. It came with British cheddar cheese but only one slice of bacon. The burger was pretty tasty and it was huge, but there was no bun, which threw me off. It also cost me nearly $40 including tax and built-in service charges. Montcalmroom

Notwithstanding the bathroom (which lots of folks might like) and the burger price (which is my own fault for not stopping at a cheaper restaurant), it’s a fine hotel. There’s a small but decent gym and a steam room and sauna on site, and the brick architecture and fine courtyard make it a hotel that’s both unique and easy on the eyes.

It’s in a nice part of town; fairly quiet but very close to fine shops and pubs and restaurants. I stopped in at the Globe pub on Moorgate and had decent fish and chips and a beer for about $25. I also watched as a small Remembrance Day parade came marching through the area, which was very cool and full of pomp and ceremony.

haulover_beachI promised I’d mention a few things I learned at the World Travel Market in London last week. So here goes:

Did you know that Belize not only has great beaches and Mayan ruins but a full 25, count ‘em’, 25, different ecosystems? That’s cool.

Florida has 825 miles of beaches and they’ve all been mapped by Google and apparently will be available on Google’s Street View program come next spring. I’m not sure if this includes the nude beach in north Miami, Haulover Beach. But I bet the Google guy got some attention when he showed up with his cameras….

Air Canada in March will begin flying Boeing 777’s direct from Vancouver to Heathrow. And back, which is really convenient. The planes will be outfitted with 24 “Premium Economy” seats, which have proved popular (and, better yet, profitable) with airlines that use them, including Cathay Pacific and Air New Haulover_beachZealand. Air Canada rouge, meanwhile,, will fly from Canada to Manchester next summer and Air Canada rouge flights from Canada to Edinburgh will be increased from three to five times a week.

The Ace Hotel chain, which I love, will open its Los Angeles property in January. They just opened one in Shoreditch, London and apparently are looking at Panama and perhaps Nashville. No word of any Canadian properties yet, which is too bad. Speaking of Ace Hotels, the Ace in New York City last week was awarded the title of best hotel bar in the world by Mr. And Mrs. Smith, a terrific website that helps people book boutique hotels around the world. It’s a wonderful bar and one of my favourite spots in the city.

Speaking with Brad Smyth of Texas tourism at the London event, I discovered that British Airways is adding a flight from London direct to Austin, Texas. Smyth also told me Dallas has undergone huge changes, with new parks covering up freeways, new arts districts and lots of new bars and restaurants in a city that seems very much on the move.

I also discovered a new acronym. We’ve all heard of DINKS, right? Double Income No Kids? At the travel market some wise guy was talking about how extended family members now like to travel with their sister or brother’s children. Some folks are calling these people, wait for it, PUNKS (Professional Uncle No Kids) and PANKS (Professional Aunts No Kids). Aren’t you glad you clicked on my blog now? Don’t you feel so much better about society?

I said I would mention the Heathrow Express in London so here goes: It’s brilliant.

Sure it cost something like $25 for an express train fro Heathrow airport to Paddington station on the underground network, but it’s so seamless as to be unbelievable. I mentioned the other day how I found it easy to get downtown on the express, but it was even easier going back to the airport.

I took a cab for about $30 from the Montcalm to Paddington Station. The second I emerged from my taxi, I spotted the trolley carts for luggage. Yes, they required a one pound coin but, unlike those at Pearson, you get your money back when you return the cart.

Not only were there signs pointing me to the Heathrow Express train at Paddington Station, there were signs on the floor; purple arrows that any idiot could follow. I got to the platform in just a few minutes, where a nice gentleman told me where to sit on the train for my terminal at Heathrow.

There’s Wi-Fi on the train, although I couldn’t’ get it to work, and the cars are spotless. We whizzed through London in no time and I arrived at Terminal 3 in 15 minutes.

I got off the train and there were clear signs pointing me to the terminal. Not only that, but Air Canada’s check in counter happened to be a one minute walk from the traine exit. Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant.

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