The Prince Who Got Away
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Shopping on Oxford Street? A tour of Buckingham Palace? Afternoon tea at Claridge's?
Even before I finished reading the British Airways e-mail, I was planning my trip. The oversize type seemed too good to be true: Fly to London from $189 each way, plus two nights' free hotel. When I studied the fine print, I couldn't find a catch. The $189 fare applied to Washington. Members of BA.com would get an additional $20 off. And the free hotel options included a Hilton.
Only weeks earlier, inspired by a friend's trip to Thailand, I had resolved to have more adventures, to pick up and go while I was still free enough to be able to catch a flight on, well, relatively short notice. Now, it seemed, British Airways was encouraging me at just the right moment.
A few nights later, at dinner with the friend whose trip had ignited my own wanderlust, I mentioned the e-mail and learned that Clare had seen the same offer. Our chatting quickly turned to planning; after paying the check, we headed to my place to book tickets.
The deal had more than half a dozen hotel options, and Clare and I settled on the Phoenix Hotel, on Kensington Garden Square in London's Bayswater neighborhood. A few clicks and we were set. The taxes were nearly as much as a one-way fare, but our long weekend would cost each of us only about $500.
Clare, who had studied in London while in college, was adamant about going only long enough to take advantage of the free lodging. Her main interest was in seeing how her old neighborhood had changed. My priorities were not as straightforward. I had already seen many of England's tourist attractions. I wanted to have an adventure, but I wasn't sure exactly what that meant.
What would I do in London if I could do anything at all, I wondered.
Meet Prince William.
My reflexive thought was laughable, I knew. Even spotting the second in line to the British throne wouldn't be a matter of, say, keeping my eyes peeled as I walked around. I couldn't exactly ring the palace for an audience. It would surely require going to celebrity-haunt nightclubs, I mused, which we probably couldn't get into and probably couldn't afford if we did get in.
And yet, could there possibly be a better adventure for a 20-something girls' weekend abroad? One needn't be a royalty enthusiast -- which I totally am, at least when it comes to Prince William and his younger brother, Prince Harry -- to be excited at the idea of being in the same room with the prince. I didn't have notions of a love-at-first-sight moment. I don't even have a crush on William (though I do think he's cute). But I did have dreams of the Best Weekend Trip Ever.
It was the perfect quest.
I began research immediately. Mainly, this involved poring over People magazine and the British tabloids. Princes William and Harry have been photographed exiting an array of posh restaurants and nightclubs (occasionally in less-than-regal states). The reigning royal haunts were clear: Mahiki, in Mayfair, and Boujis, in South Kensington.