Thursday 24 May 2012

London in the Details

I'm back in London en route to my latest Lonely Planet assignment in Poland, and I'm feeling some of the excitement of my first visit to the British capital over 20 years ago.

Aside from all its well known attractions, there's something special about London at an everyday level. Something - a look, a feel, a vibe - which marks the city out as interesting as you walk along its streets.

I was feeling this yesterday as I wandered around in a slight haze while waiting for night to fall so I could go to bed at a normal time to beat jetlag; and today as I travelled around the city in a more wakeful state.

Here are some of the quirky details which caught my eye...

1. The slightly crazy but always interesting decor in my hotel, the Radisson Blu Grafton Hotel next to Warren Street Tube station.

A hundred year old hotel which used to be decorated in a conservative businesslike style, it's recently had an extreme makeover producing colourful public areas full of bright colours and offbeat art (there are two gold-faced alpacas standing in the foyer). Somehow, this contrast of wild and classic works:

2. Not far from the hotel I looked back and saw this scene. It seemed very London to me, the contrast of the 1960s Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower) with the older building in front. The fact that I first saw the tower in an early black-and-white episode of Doctor Who also helped make it interesting...

3. Walking along Baker Street, I spotted this sign opposite the Sherlock Holmes Museum:

4. This grand crest of the Metropolitan Railway is on the exterior of the Baker Street Underground station building.

The Metropolitan line, established in 1863, was the first underground railway in the world, and its original stations just below street level still look distinctively different from their deeper successors.

5. My hotel is in the neighbourhood known as Fitzrovia, reflected in this sign I spotted when walking its streets. It seems the neighbourhood was playfully named after the Fitzroy Tavern, itself named after 18th century developer Charles FitzRoy.

With its narrow streets and mix of cool little cafes and shops mixed with residences, it also reminds me of the inner-city suburb of Melbourne named Fitzroy.

6. Still in Fitzrovia, here's the patriotic view along Charlotte Place, a pleasant pedestrian-only street. It also contains the excellent Australian-owned cafe Lantana, which I wrote about last year in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. It's a great little place for a coffee, in a city which repays attention to detail...

Disclosure time... on this trip I was hosted by Visit Britain.


  1. Ahhh... London always carries a certain charm and romance for all of us. I last visited the city in October last year and enjoyed walking along the streets during the snatches of time I could find (in between museum visits and meetings). Loved the old world streets and the quaint little shops and corners.

  2. I haven't been to London nearly enough, and I have a sort of TV- and book-induced nostalgia for it. I'm still keen on going to London for two or three months some time and just going to all the theatre, espeically to the National Theatre, which is doing such impressive work. :)