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In London during World War II, a seven-story building with yellow sandstone walls was requisitioned by Britain's Ministry of Defense. It housed, among other things, the top-secret spy agency known as MI9. Room 474 was rumored to contain scale models of the beaches used by allies for D-Day landings.
Today, the building is the Corinthia Hotel London, one of several five-star properties that opened recently in anticipation of the 2012 London Summer Olympics. The first impression of the Corinthia is a lasting one: A huge Baccarat chandelier hangs from a glass dome in the middle of the Lobby Lounge. It contains 1,001 crystals, all lit by LED lights from within, with the signature red Baccarat crystal buried deep inside.
The effect is to give the area a light, airy feeling while also emphasizing the luxurious nature of the property. Harrods has even opened a boutique store in the lobby, a first for the high-end department store chain.
The hotel's 294 rooms (including 43 suites) continue the theme of the public spaces: spacious, light and airy, but with hues of brown and olive that lend a warm, comfortable feeling. The bathrooms are outfitted in marble, and the Royal Suite, measuring 5,000 square feet, has a panoramic view of the Thames River.
Corinthia Hotel is located in the Whitehall area of London, just down the street from Trafalgar Square. The River Thames is literally a stone's throw from the hotel's entrance on Northumberland Street.
When I stayed there recently, I was warned that it was too far out of the way. But that was not the case. All areas of London are within easy access by taxi and by subway transportation, with nearby stations at Charing Cross and Embankment.
One morning, I walked along the river toward Big Ben and then turned up into St. James Park. I arrived just in time to see the daily 11 a.m. changing of the horse guards, traditionally the monarch's honor guards. The guardsmen looked properly serious and resplendent in their silver and gold helmets and bright red capes. I then walked through St. James Park to the eastern end, where I skirted Buckingham Palace and walked up through Green Park to Piccadilly. It was still warm enough outside so people were relaxing on the grass or in rental deckchairs.
Piccadilly was abuzz with activity, and is the heart of the city in many respects. I walked over to my favorite bookstore, Hatchard's, where I bought a suitcase full of mystery novels and thrillers, some not yet available in the U.S.
I passed through some interesting small shops in the alleyways between Piccadilly and Pall Mall. One shop in particular caught my eye because it had hundreds of miniature tin soldiers lined up in the window. For a moment at least, I felt that I was walking back in time to old London.
Once back at the hotel, I made a quick turnaround and went to the theater. I took a taxi, not knowing where the venue was located but, when I got out, I was surprised to find that I was on the other side of Trafalgar Square from the hotel - just a five-minute walk away. From the Corinthia, I found out that things are a lot closer than you think.
Many airlines fly nonstop between Los Angeles and London but, for this trip, the writer flew on Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand offers daily flights between Los Angeles and London. Beginning Sept. 4, clients can book the carrier's new Spaceseat Premium Economy class for travel to England's capital city.