Travelling With Mother; 60th birthday, staycation edition

Covid has got in the way of a lot of things over the past 15 months, but if it thought that it was going to get in the way of mother celebrating her 60th birthday, it had another thing coming!

Despite not being able to leave the country, we’ve made the most of being a tourist at home and have stretched the celebrations across the whole month of May, starting with a local night market on the big day itself. Even the unseasonably cold weather and hailstorms didn’t put us off wondering around stalls selling foods from Yorkshire to Greece to Jamaica. The goat curry with rice and beans went down a treat with the Aperol spritz from the gin truck. The white hot chocolate was the perfect dessert.

The weekend after was spent crossing the Pennines to Chester Zoo. Meeting up with my brother and his family, we again braved the cold and torrential rain in the hope of seeing some exotic animals. Unfortunately, the animals seemed more bothered about the rain than the humans and most stayed out of sight. We did manage to see some lions and just caught sight of a tiger’s arse before it hid back under cover.

Not all of the animals were shy and we did see a chimpanzee shit in to its own hand and eat it. The giraffe were altogether more graceful.

The cutest animal had to be the red pandas, with their furry cheeks and bushy tails. Followed closely by the penguins, and the mallards!

In all seriousness, Chester Zoo is a great day out and the conservation work they do to protect endangered species is vital.

Outing 3 was a more refined experience than shit eating monkeys and involved sleeping somewhere other than our own houses for the first time in nearly 9 months!

Having learned about the amazing possibilities of the IHG Luxury & Lifestyle programme, I took the opportunity to book us in to the gorgeous and industrially classy Kimpton Clocktower Hotel in Manchester.

I’d stayed at the hotel way back in the early 2000s and had been keen to revisit after the previous owners, Principal Hotels, spent a fortune refurbishing it in 2016. Principal Hotels were bought by IHG in 2018 and the hotel was rebranded Kimpton in 2020.

Directly across from the Palace Theatre and Oxford Road train station, the hotel is a little out of the action of the city centre but close enough to get to the thick of it on foot. As we’d arrived before check-in, we dropped the bags and walked in to town for a bit of shopping and light lunch.

The street food stalls along Piccadilly Gardens were too inviting and me and the other half wolfed down salt and pepper chicken with fried rice whilst mum and Diana tucked in to steak baguettes.

It helped massively that we were basking in the first hot weather days this summer! Life was feeling normal and the streets of Manchester were packed with people. If it wasn’t for face masks, you’d never remember that Covid was a thing.

We headed back to the hotel, excited to check-in and enjoy the grandeur of the late 19th century building. I’d given the hotel the heads up about mum’s birthday and were pleasantly surprised by the huge balloons, birthday card and bouquet of flowers waiting in the room for her. The double bed was a bit too cosy for mum and her friend so they ended up moving rooms but the hotel comped a bottle of Prosecco for the inconvenience.

Both of mum’s rooms were beautifully decorated with stupidly high ceilings, massive beds with lots of squishy cushions and statement light fittings. Our room was just as comfortable with a super king size bed but the high ceiling in mum’s room just elevated the experience.

After a quick shower and change, we met my brother and his wife in the hotel bar for pre-dinner drinks. The bar was busy with nearly every table taken and the DJ playing some chilled out tunes, it felt good to be out out after such a long time stuck at home!

The cocktails started flowing and we enjoyed the free Prosecco before heading to the hotel’s Refuge restaurant for dinner.

As it was a Sunday, the hotel was only serving a roast dinner menu, but what a roast dinner it was! Served either as individual or sharing platter, there’s a choice of roast chicken, beef, pork loin or all 3 on the sharer with massive Yorkshire puddings and plenty of veg. We were most aggrieved that they had run out of pigs in blankets but were more than impressed with the vimto braised red cabbage and honey glazed carrots. Your usual pub roast this is not and despite being on the more expensive side, the portion size and incredible flavours more than made it worth the price.

Dessert was a Vivienne Westwood handbag cake we’d brought from home. Not that we had much room for it after the massive roast!

We had another drink in the hotel before heading to the Revolution bar across the road. We only stayed for one drink as the place was almost empty and had no atmosphere, which was a shame as you’d think places would be busy on a hot bank holiday after lockdown.

Thinking we could have a nightcap back at the hotel, we headed back and snaffled some seats in the impressive winter garden only to be told that the bar was closing and we couldn’t have a drink. It wasn’t even 11pm! The winter garden and main bar were full of people but they were still closing and turfing us out. They eventually let us order 1 drink but it felt begrudging.

It would be easy to be critical of some points of the service at the hotel. From mum’s room being wrong (I had booked a twin), to no pigs in blankets, they’d run out of rhubarb gin, had no decaf coffee, sold out of several beers on the menu and some of the cocktails. Service at breakfast was well intentioned but slightly chaotic; we had to ask to order hot items, had to ask where they were about 30 minutes later and was only offered one round of tea and coffee. That pain au chocolate was easily the best one I’ve ever had though!

I did notice a lot of the same staff were working from when we arrived, to when we had dinner to when we had breakfast which suggests some staffing issues or the hotel not bringing people back from furlough. I also think that there’s an element of everyone trying to remember how to do their jobs after such a long time off and readjusting to not living in sweatpants.

Speaking of sweatpants, Kimpton play this cool little game on their social media channels where they reveal a secret password that gets guests that quote the password during check-in a free treat. A new password was revealed the day before our stay and it was “no more sweatpants”. As we checked in, I asked for our luggage out of storage and said, “don’t worry, there’s no more sweatpants” and the receptionist gave us a knowing smile from behind her mask and asked which free gift we’d like – a box of hotel fudge or a fluffy Manchester bumblebee. I chose the fudge, everyone else got the bee. The free gift varies by the hotel but it’s a nice touch and knowing the password makes you feel like a member of a secret club.

As I’d booked the rooms on the IHG Luxury programme, the fudge and bumblebee weren’t the only free gifts. We also got free room upgrades (our room wasn’t upgraded but mum got a double upgrade so I was happy with that), free breakfast per person and £77.00 per room to spend in the hotel bar and restaurant (converted from $100US). Considering that mum’s room was £111.00 and mine was £136.00 it was incredible value for money. If you then count the cost of the flowers and Prosecco (sold for £28 in the hotel bar), mum didn’t do too badly out of this trip. Oh, and the restaurant gifted her 2 miniature bottles of Prosecco as a further birthday treat!

Our stay at the Kimpton Clocktower was the perfect end to a month of celebrations for mum’s birthday. I’m sure the team at the hotel will find their feet and polish the friendly and well intentioned service. Their enthusiasm to serve didn’t go unnoticed and I’d definitely stay at this hotel again.

Date of trip; May 2021

Price paid; £111 for mum’s room inc free breakfast (worth £37) and restaurant credit (£77). £136 for my room inc free breakfast and restaurant credit).

Points earned; 4063 IHG rewards points plus 230 BA Avios for spending on BA Amex card.

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