Cities of London: How to find your way through Europe and the US in Central London
Warren Street – Goodge Street – CHARLOTTE STREET – SOHO SQUARE – NEAL STREET (Covent Garden) – SICILIAN AVENUE – BRITISH MUSEUM
Wednesday 30th October
Get off at Warren Street Station- walk up to the bottom of the building on the Regent’s Park corner (Euston Road, North-West corner). Whenever I pass this corner of the city, it makes me shiver a bit. That is mostly because I find it totally inhuman. It is difficult for me to imagine that people with real lives spend their time in these glass monuments, working with technically ones and zeros on a computer. Antony Gormley has a sculpture in the bottom of one of these constructs- one human cast looking out from the building (a rusty one), one’s staring in from outside (new one)- to each other. I find this corner of the city of London disturbingly American. I can almost see Keanu Reeves stepping out on the edge of the 25th floor.
Walk up to Goodge street station. There is a small Place just before the station on your right, which is incredibly British somehow. The benches, the way how the trees are cut, even the graffiti is somehow from this rainy grey island. Not to mention the pigeons and the charity fundraisers. If you turn right here, you’re on Tottenham Street. Teahouse. Even more British, just check the distressed furniture. This is one of the rather rare coffee shops where even the staff is mainly British…
Walk to the first corner and turn left. You’re now on Whitfield Street. Pass the first road and walk straight. There is a tiny street on your right –Colville Place. This place is the furthest away from London as possible in the middle of central London. The small white house fronts with massive plants are all somehow rather Greek. I kind of think that what makes the trick is the flatness of the houses, and of the shape of the large pots for the external plants. There is a little garden just on the left of this street, where people from the very American offices come and eat their lunch throughout the day. A bit of escape for everyone in central London. Walk up to Charlotte Street, and turn left- go through Rathbone place to Oxford Street. When you pass the freshly set OhMyGodItsChristmasAgain decoration on the main shopping street of London, try to look up instead of looking down– then you’ll find that it is again very much British architecture. Pass to Soho Square. Do you remember the miniature cottage house in the middle? I was never really able to place it. The wooden structure of it almost suggests Netherlands, somewhere in a not too well remembered Rembrandt time Amsterdam. But it has just been dropped in this most unlikely spot just off Oxford Street. there are also palm trees. Go figure.
Continue walking down on Greek Street (rather ungreek actually) but there is the only Hungarian restaurant here I know in the entire London- the Gay Hussar. Rumor said their cuisine is rather horrific, and you do not feel like entering at all anyway – it is not a welcoming place – this place is from my home… On the first alley, turn left: small passageway (Manette Street) that is very much Prague for me: the narrow darkness in the arch that you got to pass beneath and the rather worn out building on your left itself is responsible for the metamorphosis. You’re almost about to forgive to the Hungarian restaurant for being so unfriendly when you remember that this is Eastern-Europe- people are not happy around there.
Pass Charing Cross Road to Denmark Street (nothing to do with Denmark as far as I can tell) with its instrument stores. From Saint-Giles High street turn down to Shaftesbury Ave and immediately to Monmouth Street on your left. Walk in to Neal’s Yard (opens up left from you). Rather small yard, tallish buildings, very colourful painting. Very much Barcelona, mainly the narrowness and the bright colours remind me on the Catalan capital, but the air is somehow different in this micro cosmos. Almost feels warmer (maybe the buildings block out the wind at it really is warmer). I have to admit that the mice at night here are rather very cute, small and British. Still.
Walk back up to Shaftesbury Ave through Endell Street: if you look right through the square, on the right side there is one of the most British Fairytale buildings I’ve come across in London. It is all red-brick and arch window and everything you may need. Then turn right on New Oxford Street, left when it’s divided in two (to Bloomsbury way). On the end of the way at the right, you’ll find Sicilian Ave, with a Roman-ish like façade. It is rater very Italian, yes, but in the copied sense of the word. It doesn’t feel real at all, but at the same time, when you just encounter it, you immediately go : WTF?. It is all very posh and restaurants and shops. That I find rather ironic to what poor Sicily actually is…
Anyway, walk through Bloomsbury Square and then turn left. You’re at the British Museum with its Classical front and welcoming entrance. Please wander around. Grab a coffee. Don’t miss the Egyptian pseudo-doors.