I’ve mentioned before that we have a very special way of “doing” London, largely because we’ve both lived here and have visited so many times over the years. In short, we’ve perfected a sort of “hanging about” tour. In recent years, that’s meant parking ourselves at a small comfy boutique hotel, then confining most of our activities during the stay to the area immediately around the hotel. The result is a lot of relatively aimless, but very fun strolling about. The pattern is only broken up for two things: a visit to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and a ticket to some play or show that would be ridiculously expensive in New York or only have a reduced road show cast in San Francisco.
At one point, our home base was the Cadogan Hotel in Sloane Square, once home to Lily Langtry and also the site of Oscar Wilde’s infamous arrest. Unfortunately, there was an unfortunate remodel that took away much of the character. (It’s since been purchased by Earl Cadogan and restored to it’s former Victorian themed glory.) But we moved on to the Knightsbridge Hotel for a few years, largely because of it’s proximity to Harrod’s, Hyde Park and the V&A. In the past year, we’ve yearned for something a little more neighborhoody and have discovered a little pocket area called Fitzrovia with the Charlotte Street Hotel as our base. Surprisingly, the area of Fitzrovia was a place we knew little about — at least as a place called Fitzrovia. See, it’s a little bit Soho, one part Bloomsbury, a tiny bit West End and entirely it’s own thing. The acknowledged center of the area is the Fitzroy Tavern across the street from our hotel. One continuing theme of Fitzrovia through the centuries has been artsy bohemia with non-traditional thinkers such as the Chartists, Karl Marx, Virginia Woolf, Rimbaud, George Orwell, Quentin Crisp, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix living or hanging about the Fitzrovian streets. That tradition continues today as Fitzrovia seems to be a hotbed of digital and social media-oriented agencies, CGI and special effects houses. That tends to keep the cafes, pubs and restaurants around here full of interesting creative types with their smart phones and laptops. It feels a bit like some of the more fun streets in San Francisco. Of course, the big draw for Andy is that his favorite shopping districts — Regent’s Street, Saville Row and Jermyn Street — are in easy walking distance. He was starting to draw the line at parking ourselves so close to museums that he’d be dragged through endless exhibitions. (Although the grandaddy of all museums, The British Museum, is also close by.) So our four days here have been spent wandering around, dashing into a museum and gallery or two, window shopping and soaking up the atmosphere. It’s been a plus that we haven’t had to go down into the Tube at any point. And other than two short cab rides, have walked everywhere.
So yes, there has been a lot of shopping. (More on that later.) But Andy didn’t escape the museums either. When I was a student here — probably sensing that I would one day marry an Englishman with a low tolerance for galleries — I determined to visit every museum in London. And I thought I did. But apparently I missed the Wallace Collection.
The many rooms of Watteau finally did Andy in and it was off for shopping. People who know me, know that I shop once a year, whether I need it or not, and usually at REI. So while Andy contemplated bespoke suits, evaluated the high-end shoes and shirts in the various arcades and on Saville Row, I used the opportunity to check the State of the Terrier in England. I have stated before that England leads the world in terrier-themed merchandise, as befitting the nation from which most terrier breeds originated.
But the motherlode of terrier merchandise was in a wonderful little place called the Burlington Gallery at the end of Saville Row. If you have to ask the price of these Victorian terrier paintings, you can’t afford them. Believe me, you can’t afford them.
Did I mention that all this running around was done “on the hoof” without the need to cab it or take the Underground? That’s the beauty of Fitzrovia. And coming back to the charming Charlotte Street Hotel is an adventure in itself.
Did I mention that I LOVE Fitzrovia?