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Travel Cultures Language

Little London

by Joyce McGreevy on September 26, 2016

Entrance down into The Wonderpass, a mini-museum in a street underpass, showcases London details that offer travel inspiration. ( © Joyce McGreevy)

To truly appreciate London, get down into the details.
© Joyce McGreevy

Travel Inspiration: Details That Delight

You’re watching an American TV show when the location segues to London. Yup, there it is again—ye olde stock footage of Big Ben. So much for London in close-up.

By the logic of TV, Londoners from all 33 boroughs enjoy unobstructed views of this English landmark, the better to set their watches.  Never mind that Big Ben refers to the great bell housed inside the Elizabeth Tower.

Gold railings in Little Venice Maida Vale are London details that offer travel inspiration. (© Joyce McGreevy)

Gold railings along Little Venice Canal in London’s Maida Vale.
© Joyce McGreevy

Travel guides often present London as a checklist of iconic attractions–Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge, the Millennium Eye. Yet for 30 million annual visitors, it’s the London details that form our enduring impressions.

Oh, I see:  In the sweet-shop of travel inspiration, London is packed with tasty “allsorts.” Here’s a sampler of London details to savor:

1. Fascinating street names

A street sign for Bird in Hand Yard is one of the London details that offer travel inspiration. (@ Joyce McGreevy)

Presumably worth two in the bush, this London street is named for a former pub.
© Joyce McGreevy

Favorites among London’s 20,000 streets include: Man in Moon Passage, Crooked Usage, Ogle Street, Batman Close, and Ha-Ha Road. Technically, “ha-ha” refers to hedges and a batman is a cricketer, but still.

Don’t forget Pudding Lane. Or perhaps do, since “pudding” in the 1600s referred to animal guts that were tossed from butcher-shop windows onto the streets below.

2. Not-always-so-historical plaques

A Sherlock Holmes-themed sign at a dry-cleaners is one of many London details that offer travel inspiration. (© Joyce McGreevy)

Dry humor at its best pressed.
© Joyce McGreevy

London-born actor Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch (try saying THAT five times fast) is synonymous with another famous Londoner, the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes.

Could this plaque signify the designated drop-off for Cumberbatch’s britches and cummerbunds? Doubtful, but it’s eminently worth pondering.

3. Games afoot!

So popular is the BBC television series “Sherlock” that the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street draws constant crowds.

Don’t fancy languishing in line? Then follow the literary clues on foot. Pop round to the Criterion Restaurant, where Dr. Watson first hears that Holmes is “looking to share lodgings.” Stroll through the Langham Hotel, named in “The Sign of Four.” See the Opera House, one of Holmes’ favorite haunts.

Hats, a pipe, and magnifying glass at the Sherlock Holmes Museum are London details and a travel inspiration. (© Joyce McGreevy)

Grab your hat and follow Holmes on foot.
© Joyce McGreevy

Or go all modern by visiting locations from the BBC series. You can even get your London details direct from Holmes’ nemesis—albeit by text message—if you sign up for Moriarty’s Game. It’s a creative way to explore hidden London while solving a mystery with fellow sleuths.

4. Windowsill whimsy

Why limit your décor to inside the flat? Despite googling the World’s Silliest Search Terms, I’ve no idea why there are frogs on this central London windowsill.

An English windowsill with two ceramic frogs on it, both delightful London details that are a travel inspiration. showcases whimsical London in close-up. (Image © Joyce McGreevy)

When toad-in-the-hole becomes frogs-on-the-sill.
© Joyce McGreevy

5. Places to “potter about”

Potterheads flock to King’s Cross Station to find a sign labeled Platform 9¾ and a baggage trolley submerged in a wall. But for truly immersive magic, visit Leadenhall Market.

The location for Diagon Alley scenes in the Harry Potter films is just as enchanting in its everyday guise. As local Muggles go about their business, let your imagination summon up wizarding charms.

Leadenhall Market is among the must-see London details that offer travel inspiration to Harry Potter fans. (© Joyce McGreevy)

Does this Victorian galleria look familiar?
© Joyce McGreevy

6. Museums under sidewalks

Design firm London Sing transformed a bleak underpass in Marylebone into The Wonderpass, a free must-see mini-museum. Step down to discover London in close-up.

A diorama in The Wonderpass, a mini-museum in a street underpass, is one of the London details that are a travel inspiration. (© Joyce McGreevy)

A diorama in London’s Wonderpass.
© Joyce McGreevy

A diorama of Regent Park Open Air Theatre exemplifies the travel inspiration of London details. (© Joyce McGreevy)

A doll-size peek into Regent Park Theatre.
© Joyce McGreevy

7. Afternoon tea

To avoid shocking Dowager Countesses, never, ever call it “high tea.”  That’s an entirely different meal, associated with humbler, heartier fare. (Think meat, cheese, and other savories laid out by Mrs. Patmore for Downton Abbey’s staff.)

A costumed writer for OIC Moments clarifies London details that make afternoon tea a travel inspiration. (© Joyce McGreevy)

Important disclaimer: One is not actually a Dowager Countess,
nor does one play one on “the telly.”
© Joyce McGreevy

Credit for the more formal “afternoon tea” goes to the Duchess of Bedford. Around 1840, she visited the Fifth Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle, where the fashionably late dinner hour left guests peckish. Her discreet suggestion for bridging the gap became a national habit.

Today U.S. visitors pay a duke’s ransom to sip afternoon tea in hotels populated mainly by their fellow Americans. For twice the charm at half the cost, try local favorite Bea’s Cake Boutique. Or splurge while dodging stodginess at sketch in Mayfair.

8. Or do as the English do and . . .

Drink coffee! Tea consumption in the UK has fallen by 60 percent since the 1970s, but coffee has percolated up to boiling point. Britons now drink 70 million cups of coffee daily.

Customers at Bloomsbury Coffee House share the travel inspiration of London details. (© Joyce McGreevy)

By 1633, there were already 85 coffee houses in London.
© Joyce McGreevy

9. Pillar boxes and postal puzzles

You can still find red pillar post boxes  dating back to 1853 all over the city. There’s surprising variety among the designs.

 A 19th century red postal pillar is one of the London details that have become a travel inspiration. (© Joyce McGreevy)

When you absolutely, positively have to send it next Thursday.
© Joyce McGreevy

Over time, Britons “have found ways to play with their post.” So say the founders of the Postal Museum. The first major new museum in London in over a decade is sealed until 2017, but visit its website posthaste for special delivery of fascinating finds.

A Victorian-era pictogram envelope from The Postal Museum exemplifies London details that offer travel inspiration.

To deliver this letter, the postman had to unscramble the words Greenstone House on the envelope.

10. Your own personal London

London in close-up is the world’s most renewable source of travel inspiration. As novelist Walter Besant wrote, “I’ve been walking about London for the last 30 years, and I find something fresh in it every day.”

Now recall your own personal London, whether it’s based on life, literature, or your favorite British video. What London details inspire you?

An interaction between a waiter, a dog, and a customer exemplifies the travel inspiration of London details. (© Joyce McGreevy)

Small treats add big charm to London’s Primrose Hill neighborhood.
© Joyce McGreevy

See guides to coffee and afternoon tea that really stir things up.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here


One thought on “Little London

  1. Another great blog entry from Joyce! She makes one feels as if there is something intriguing around every corner in London.

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