I SET OFF EARLY YESTERDAY from my friend’s house in N.1 with a rough list of goals and my most comfortable shoes. I wound up wandering longer and farther than intended, into areas I’d never been and was curious about.
Eventually I’ll get to the Tate and the British Museum, to Shakespeare’s Globe and more historic houses. But yesterday was one long free-form meander through N.1, E.C.1 and 3, S.E.1, W.C.1 and 3. For those unfamiliar with London’s postal codes, that translates to Shoreditch, the City, the South Bank, Holborn, Clerkenwell and no doubt others.
I wanted to see trendy Shoreditch, which was merely up-and-coming when I was last in London ten years ago. Now you can’t turn around without spotting a modern café or pricey boutique.
I wanted to see the daring new office buildings, with nicknames like the Cheese Grater, the Walkie-Talkie and the Shard, a tall skinny pyramid that inserts itself into every vista, and confirm my preconceived notions that I would hate them. (I did, of course, because I’m a lover of the old, but they’re more interesting than New York’s banal contemporary architecture, so I couldn’t hate them unequivocally.)
And I wanted to see the Thames, to reassure myself I was really in London. Once I got to the river, and walked along it for a bit, I decided to go out on Southwark Bridge for the view. Once I got to the middle of the bridge, I decided to continue over it to the South Bank and check out the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I knew there would be no performance in the open-air theatre because it’s off-season; there were no tours, either, because of school groups.
So I wandered down to Borough Market, a sprawling open-air food market that wasn’t there a decade back — kind of like a permanent Smorgasburg, under an old metal shed roof.
A short ride on the Underground took me to Farringdon, where I sought out Ye Old Mitre, an 18th century pub with roots in the 16th, that gives new meaning to the word cozy. It’s in every guidebook, but famously hard to find, down an obscure, easy-to-miss narrow alley. I wanted to see if I could find it, and did, with the help of my iPhone GPS.
I walked on, up Gray’s Inn Road, and toward nightfall, met my friend at the Booking Office Bar at St. Pancras Station, the greatest Victorian pile ever, and had a gin gimlet under soaring Gothic arches.
Today, clear and bright, I traveled by Overground (newly built for the 2012 London Olympics) and Underground all the way out to W.6, to interview an interior designer at her home in Hammersmith for an assignment. Then I had a pot of mussels and a glass of wine at The Dove, a historic waterside relic with Wi-Fi, where the locals were excited to be able to sit outside in the sunshine wrapped in blankets (it was in the 40’s), and I was happy to sit inside, where fires blazed in two hearths, and watch the racing sculls on the river through the windows.
De Beauvoir Town, N.1
Over Regent’s Canal and into Shoreditch…
Inside the 1857 Shoreditch Town Hall
Forge & Co., one of the ubiquitous modern cafés of Shoreditch
This beautifully housed shop, Labour and Wait, sells utilitarian items like hot water bottles, enameled bowls and wooden brushes. It was closed, to my disappointment.
The new glass structures of The City, London’s financial district, are remarkably unsympathetic to the old, but at least they have curves and aren’t just boxes.
The Shard seen from Southwark Bridge (and many other places – it’s hard to avoid)
Shakespeare’s replica Globe, a few blocks from the original site
The unassuming 16th century house above, housed both architect Christopher Wren while his St. Paul’s Cathedral was being built, and Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, at different times — that’s what it says on the ceramic plaque.
Near the Borough Market, which definitely bears a re-visit when hungry
On Borough High Street, South Bank
The George Inn, off Borough High Street, owned by the National Trust. The present building dates from 1677.
Ye Old Mitre, found with difficulty
Re St. Pancras Station, the “great Gothic phantasmagoria” of 1868-74, I have to quote David Piper’s excellent Companion Guide to London: “High as a cliff crowned with pinnacled castle in a Grimm’s fairy-story; drawing up with complete confidence into its sky-assaulting rage of turrets.” And to think it was once threatened with demolition.
Instead, we have the glorious cocktail bar, part of a new hotel within the station. The line of chairs against the magnificent tile walls is in a back hall leading to the loos (see how I’m picking up the language?)
Another day, another bridge. This is the 1887 Hammersmith Bridge in west London, a suspension bridge with ornate Victorian detail.