LONDON — Like many great cities, this one draws much of its character and vitality from being a collection of villages--ethnic or social-strata enclaves the likes of Chelsea, Soho, Belgravia, Bayswater and The City, the last dating from Roman times and now a bubbling mix of cockney-newspaper-financial London.
One of the latest to gain an identity is the area around Sloan Street, the turf of young, trendy and upwardly mobile types, dubbed only in half-jest as Sloan Rangers for their Kiplingesque resolve to achieve "What Really Matters" in life.
Sloan Rangers know, or claim to know, exactly how to decorate a flat with family heirlooms, the only places in town to lunch or shop, which waterproofs and Wellies are acceptable for mucking about in the country. Many little Sloan Rangerettes are aimed toward Oxbridge-level colleges.
Princess Di is their guiding light. She is 19th-Century chic (the Sloans' favorite era), her public demeanor never gets off the rails, and most of all, she is their idea of what being royal is all about.
So if such things are important to you, pick up a copy of "The Sloan Ranger Handbook" as soon as you're off the plane. Or just dine, shop and amuse yourself in one of the world's most exhilarating cities. It's practically impossible to have anything but a joyful time in merry old London Town.
"Actually, it's a bit of a giggle," as Sloans are fond of saying.
Here to there: British Airways, TWA and Pan Am get you to London-Heathrow non-stop, Air Canada with one in Toronto, Delta in Atlanta. Air New Zealand and British Caledonian fly to London-Gatwick. Take an Airbus from Heathrow to town for $4.25, the underground for $2. Gatwick-London trains are about $5.
How long/how much? Four days bare minimum for a first-timer, but after a zillion trips we still run out of time no matter our schedule. Those charming B&Bs for $20 double of the '50s and '60s now have a Pepsi machine in the lobby, the charm has disappeared and they're in the $50-$60 bracket. Central-city hotels have all gone pricey, but great food from the world's four corners is still moderate.
Getting around town: London's transportation system is our favorite for cost, speed and safety: mid-city tube rides 70 cents, a day's London Explorer pass for $4.90, double-decker London Sightseeing bus tour of major historic spots for $6, kids $3.50. Cabs plentiful, no longer cheap but moderate.
A few fast facts: The pound sterling was recently valued at $1.40. Weather runs the gamut, sometimes changing hourly. But the weatherman's "bright intervals" can be sparkling, and we've hit week-long runs of gorgeous skies. Still, take your raincoat and brolly. Pub hours are 11 to 3 and 5:30 to 11, Sundays noon to 2 and 7 to 10:30.
Getting settled in: Mornington Lancaster (12 Lancaster Gate; $68 double B&B) is a Swedish-owned little one that gives you a hearty Scandinavian-buffet breakfast, sauna, and an area with plenty of moderate-cost restaurants and pubs. Right on Hyde Park, small modest rooms, cozy lobby and bar, near tube station.
Anna Hotel (74 Queensborough Terrace; $67 B&B) has a cheerful, skylighted breakfast room in summer, smallish rooms in pink or blue modern, TV and mini-bars, a full restaurant. Neat but simple and a step from Hyde Park.
Westland (154 Bayswater Road; $66 B&B, $56 in annex) is an old friend from the early '50s, family owned, a cheerful place. Lobby and restaurant decor an eclectic melange, but it's across the street from Kensington Gardens, convenient to underground station, Black Lion pub and a few dozen ethnic restaurants along Queensway.
On the line between moderate and expensive, for London, is the Flemings (Half Moon Street; $104 double), a small hotel on the grand scale. Heart of fashionable Mayfair, warm and inviting lobby, most of everything you'd get at a much higher price, near Shepherds Market.
Regional food and drink: Think of typical English fare, then add the best cooking from anywhere on this planet. After all, the empire once reached there.
Moderate-cost dining: We again checked the Piccadilly (13 Great Windmill St.), a tiny Italian trattoria in Soho still serving up a cheerful assortment of Italy's best. Escalope alla Siciliano with peppers is heaven on a plate for $5.40, melanzane parmigiana $4.75, most pastas around $3. Capo Roberto will take good care of you.
Maharaja Tandoori (14 Denman St. in Soho) and Tandoori of Mayfair (37 Curzon St.) are two fine Indian places, the first a bit less expensive, second with more handsome decor. Two can dine very well at the Maharaja for less than $20, the Mayfair place for around $30.