4:23 PM EDT, November 1, 2011
Splendid serendipity. That's the only way I can account for landing at one of the most marvelous hotels I ever have experienced: the St. Pancras Renaissance in London.
It began with an Orbitz search for London hotels at less than 150 British pounds a night, about $250 before tax. That is not really expensive by London standards.
When the Renaissance, a Marriott property, popped up at 148 pounds, I grabbed it without further ado or research, partly because my Marriott Rewards status brings perks such as breakfast and free Internet.
I didn't know until arriving that the hotel was a Victorian architectural landmark closed from 1935 until May, a period when it functioned only as a backdrop for movies such as "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and "Batman Returns."
I also didn't know the hotel was right next to the new British Library, where my art historian wife would spend two days, as well as right next to King's Cross tube stop and railroad station (home of Platform 9 3/4), from which our train to Edinburgh would leave.
The hotel actually is attached to the St. Pancras station, home of the Eurostar, which zips travelers to and from Brussels and Paris.
While checking in, jet-lagged after our flight, the splendor of the public areas did not immediately hit us. Once our brains functioned well enough to notice the surroundings, the impact was overwhelming.
Threatened by bombs in World War II and urban-renewal plans in the 1960s, then left to molder like a haunted castle, the revived hotel is both functional and a fantasy, with its grand staircase, soaring ceilings, stone gargoyles, granite pillars, dark wood paneling and a terrific staff from all over the world.
For $250 million, the original hotel (opened as the Midland Grand in 1873) was painstakingly restored and a modern wing was added, making the new name, Renaissance, fit perfectly.
And to think, in this Google world, I discovered its splendors by accident.
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