Sure, London has its famous sites. In fact it’s hard to go too far without tripping over one. Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament…. These people aren’t starved for a statue or a monument. For some less traveled paths we chose a few places which were a bit more obscure and which don’t disappoint.
- Dennis Sever’s house. Located in Spitalfields on Folgate St. Dennis was raised in Southern California and moved here, to this house, and decorated it like it was the 18th century. He lived in it but also made it a “living painting”. If you visit, you’ll understand. He died here in 1999. The motto of the house is “you either see it, or you don’t” and in keeping with that spirit, we will say no more. Factor in time after to debrief over a pint at The Water Poet across the street.
- Postmans Park. In the shadow of St. Paul’s, this small park tucked away behind one of London’s most famous churches is popular for lunch with the locals but was actually founded by G. F. Watts as a memorial to those who had saved the lives of others in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of those who lunch there may not even take much notice of the placards of memorial. Take a moment to read them over and behind the heads of the luncheoneers.
- Blackfriar’s pub. Maybe less obscure but we went for a sip and returned for dinner of fish and chips. It’s part of a restaurant group, which is a nicer way of saying chain, but this is no Applebees. Delightful.
- Changing of the Horse Guard. We’d read about this and just happened along at the right time. Unlike the throngs who witness the daily changing at Buckingham Palace, this understated bit of business permits you to actually see something. They change daily at 11am and we marched right up at the appointed time (actually followed them up the mall to the changing) and watched it go down. No long wait and no crowd to speak of.
- Denmark St. It’s a short little block but has a long history of 60s-80s rockers frequenting it’s halls. The Stones (as in Rolling, youngsters) recorded here, as did David Bowie. Elton John wrote songs here (well, his songwriter Bernie Taupin did whilst Sir Elton composed) and the Sex Pistols lived here. Channel Warren Zevon and “walk through the streets of Soho in the rain” (or the sunshine) down this quick little block which is now mostly music shops. If you’re into that kind of thing, that is.
- Squeezed in between Parliament and the Thames and at the foot of Big Ben is an understated park (Victoria Tower Gardens) in which you can find a sculpture by Rodin. The story behind the Burghers of Calais makes it super interesting to check out. When Edward the III had laid siege to Calais in France in 1347 (Hundred Years War) he offered to spare the city if six of its top leaders offered to be executed on behalf of the others. Six did, led by Eustache de Saint Pierre, and were marched to the edge of town with the keys to the city in hand and nooses around their necks. Rumor has it that they were spared by Edward for fear that their deaths would be a bad omen for his unborn child (and yup, you guessed it, his wife made him come ’round).
- Portobello Rd. Ok, you Hugh Grant fans probably have this one on your list already but it’s kinda worth getting away from the tourists and the hustle of the city and soaking in the peace and love by wandering down this upscale Haight-Ashbury-esqe scene. Shop if you want, drink and chew if you might but it’s worth checking out regardless.
- And… the one (at least the one we’d planned) we didn’t get to: The John Sloane Museum. Sometimes, there’s just not enough time. This was on the list, but didn’t make the final cut. We will be back to visit. You can read for yourself of their website as to why we wanted to go.
There are undoubtedly more niches like this and we hope to be back to discover them soon.