Friday, June 22, 2007

Walking around Covent Garden

a specialty shop, originally uploaded by supafly.

Monday I found a great website with many different walks to take around London. I copied down the Covent Garden walk and set off. First, I stopped at Red Lion Square near Holborn station. There was supposed to be graffiti painting, but the heavy morning rain slowed down the set up. I walked down the Strand, but went the wrong direction and ended up on Fleet street. Luckily, I found a Barclays there and was able to withdraw some more cash. (It turns out Bank of America has a deal with Barclays so they don't charge your a "foreign fee," which from Citibank amounted to $5, so I deposited money into Marshall's account and have been withdrawing from that instead.)

Finally headed in the right direction, I stopped at a patisserie and got a tasty egg, tomato, and mayo sandwich. When I got to Charing Cross station, I began following the walk (also outlined at my google map - it's a lot more convolute than the last walk, but that's because it covered a small area and went down almost every little street, court, and passageway). St. Martin-in-the-Fields, which had been under construction last summer when we stopped by, was now completely closed to the public so I continued down St. Martin's Lane and found Brydges place, the narrowest passageway I have seen yet. (It is just wide enough for one person to pass down it.) Next, I stopped at a model car store where I found vintage motorcycle postcards to give to Marshall for his birthday. He claims there aren't any English motorcycle brands left other than Triumph, so I found evidence of those that had passed on. Down the street was the famous Freed's of London, where many beautiful satin pointe shoes were for sale.

I turned on to Goodwin's Court, which was a very picturesque passageway, still narrow, but wide enough that a tour group had congregated halfway down. At the end, I found a small Italian restaurant that seemed to be subterranean. From there, I passed the Lamb & Flag pub. (There are so many pubs with unique names and placards everywhere I walk around London.) I walked by another familiar site, a row of scooters and motorcycles, but in the midst of this particular row was one painted like spiderman - how conspicuous would Peter Parker be if he rode that instead of the sad little moped he has in the movie?

Next, I found several wonderful bookstores. There was a terrific travel and map store called Stanfords where I purchased my own copy of London A-Z which has detailed maps of every little street and passage in the city (over half of the book is just an index of all of the street names). I also sat in one of their comfortable chairs and read a few books on London. They also have a little cafe that sells fair trade coffee (which seems more available here than in Chicago). I also happened upon Dover Bookshop, which is a great resource for clip art, graphic, and fine art. Their books come with CDs of the images. They also had a wonderful collection of paper dolls, some of famous movie stars and others of fashions from different decades. I think I had some of these when I was a kid. Of course, the exchange rate made everything a bit pricey, but it was fun to browse.

Eventually, I ended up at Seven Dials, an intersection of four streets, one that ends there, thus the name. On Monmouth street, I spied a bakery window filled with the most decadent looking cupcakes. I'm a sucker for sweets, especially cupcakes, so I stopped in and got a lemon cupcake. It was topped with a yellow licorice piece and was filled with lemon curd. I ate half of it before I felt overdosed on sugar, and kept walking. The next interesting shop that I went into was called Coco de Mer. It was a very posh, high end sex shop that seemed to specialize in beautiful leather bondage gear.

From there, I turned into Neal's Yard and passed a much more innocent looking store with beautiful frosted glass windows covered in flowers called Orla Kiely. Neal's yard was a colorful little courtyard filled with all things needed for an "alternative and healthy life." There was a salad bar, a skate board shop, and a bead store (there were many bead stores in the area), but the most predominant business is Neal's Yard Remedies which sells natural "remedies" (skin potions, etc...) and also had treatment rooms and meeting rooms.

Down the street from Neal's Yard is Neal's Centre, which is an indoor shopping plaza that was a bit more hipster in flavor. It contained a vegetarian eatery called Food for Thought that was later recommended by my friend Seema's foodie mates. There was also a Japanese shop called Superdry that contained California surfer wear. I passed several more interesting shops: one specialized in boating supplies, another had the wonderful name "Coffe, Cake, and Kink." I also found a club of sorts called the Poetry Place where members were free to write and read their works. I also found a pub with a hilarious placard called Hercules Pillars. I stopped at the Freemasons museum, but was too late for the last free tour. I'd have to come another time.

After passing a Korean church, I stopped at the statue of a Ballerina across from the Royal Opera House, which was also closed to the public by the time I got there. (I thought the walk would take an hour or two, but it turned out much longer since I kept finding interesting shops to stop in, so that lengthened my trip.) After resting there and attempting to direct a fellow American tourist (how do you direct someone when there are so many little streets that stop after a block?) I found Covent Garden markets. It felt like a more picturesque Navy Pier and I stopped at a U of benches to watch a performer doing a striptease and scaring female tourists by getting close to them and gyrating suggestively. I stopped in at the London Transport museum shop (the actual museum was closed for renovation) and considered getting Tube magnets. (Marshall loves saying "Mind the Gap.")

Next, I passed St. Paul's Church, which had a beautiful little garden with rows of benches that would be perfect for sitting and reading. Unfortunately, it was closed so I kept on walking. Off of Long Acre, I found Cafe Pacifico, which is supposed to be one of the only decent Mexican restaurants and one that was recommended by Charlotte, our landlord's 17-year-old daughter. It was quite pricey for Mexican food (in comparison to Chicago).

I was at the end of the guided walk so I turned back to Charing Cross Road where there are many antiquarian and used bookstores. I found one where all the books in the basement cost £1 each. I considered getting some Agatha Christie to read, but knew I'd read them all and probably had them at home, so I kept walking.

It was Marshall's birthday, so I met him for dinner and we ate out at Mr. Jerk, a favorite of his co-worker. The food was tasty, but more barbeque than jerked. Afterwards, we walked to Chinatown. We had been there last year, but I had completely forgotten. I recognized it when we got there. It was much more lively than we had last been there and we passed at least five artists sketching the area. Close by was Leicester Square, which has at least three movie theatres ringing the square. On the way home, we stopped at The Castle, a local pub, for a pint. I got Scrumpy Jack, a cider with a great name.

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