A guest post by Andrea Kirkby.
Jules Verne challenged his character Phileas Fogg to get round the world in 80 days. I can do better than that – I like to visit the world without leaving London. Here are my favourite places to visit to experience the cosmopolitan character of London:
First stop Venice, Italy via the Wallace Collection. One entire room is full of views of Venice by Canaletto and Guardi. Two great Canaletto views face each other across the room; the Grand Canal shimmers, lawyers and merchants converse, little dogs bark at nothing much. It’s a busy, wealthy world, packed with riches and detail. In Guardi’s paintings, gondolas flash across the water and you see the texture of flaking plaster and torn sails – a Venice fallen on harder times.
Bangladesh and Pakistan
Next stop: Bangladesh and Pakistan via Brick Lane and – perhaps more authentically – Whitechapel. Not only can you get a good meal at Tayyab’s (the huge queues speak for themselves) or the Lahore Kebab House, or buy subcontinental sweeties in Brick Lane; you can also buy fabrics or invest in a salwar kameez if it takes your fancy.
You can navigate in time as well as space; next we’ll visit Ancient Egypt via the British Museum, going back five and a half millennia to the earliest mummy with his bright ginger hair. From massive statues of pharaohs in glistening porphyry to 4,000 year old children’s toys, by way of a painted tomb chapel and mummified cats and ibises, you’ll be captivated by the life of the Pharaohs’ Egypt.
Africa is the star at the Horniman Museum, which has an extensive collection including bronze plaques from Benin, beautifully carved wooden cups and headrests, and colourful textiles. Even better, the Horniman has artefacts intended for visitors to hold and feel – a real hands-on museum.
Chinatown is an obvious destination on our round the world whizz – you could stop at a Chinese restaurant but I’d recommend one of the smaller cafes or cake shops where you can get cold Horlicks and a bun, or bubble tea – followed by a trip to one of the supermarkets to get such vital comestibles as Jimmy’s satay sauce (no other satay sauce will do once you’ve tried this one!).
The Hari Krishna temple in Soho could be your first stop on the road to India, or you could instead head out to Neasden and the Sri Swaminarayan Mandir. While the intimate Krishna temple has been shoe-horned into a central London townhouse, the Mandir is an amazing confection of shining white marble, with soaring spires and delicately carved screens. It’s spectacular and a bit surreal to find it in a quiet London suburb. And if you want a true taste of the Punjab then head to Southall on the way to Heathrow.
Next on the list is Japan via the Kyoto garden in Holland Park, with its waterfall, stone lanterns, and maple trees. You can devote yourself to Zen meditation, pen a haiku or just walk round and soak up the atmosphere. Like all Japanese gardens, it’s meant to reflect the particular feel of each season – at its best in spring and in autumn when the leaves are turning colour.
South Kensington hides a sort of Little France, with the Institut Français, French Lycee, patisserie Le Pain Quotidien (which, correctly for French breakfast, serves its coffee in bowls rather than cups). Perhaps it’s the elegant tall stucco houses and tree-lined streets that attracted emigrés from the civilised boulevards of Paris. But Petty France next to St James’s Park has nothing to do with the French any more, despite its name; French merchants came here in the 15th century, when it really was petit France.
Head to New Malden for a taste of Korea strangely transposed to London commuterland. Half-timbered ‘Tudorbethan’ semi-detached mix with Korean neon signs and cafés you might expect to serve coffee and Chelsea buns actually dish up kimchee, bulgogi and noodles. A slightly oddball but rather delicious stop on our world tour.
And finally, a trip to the Texas Legation in St James’s – in a tiny courtyard reached through a narrow passage by the side of Berry Bros and Rudd wine merchants. It’s an atmospheric place, dating from the time of the Lone Star Republic, though it has little American flavour these days. Not to be confused with the Texas Embassy cantina in Cockspur Street, off Trafalgar Square, where you can satisfy your Tex-Mex craving.
After all that globetrotting, you may want to retire for the night somewhere that reminds you you’re still in England and so I’d suggest The Montague on the Gardens – a boutique London hotel next to the British Museum.
Note: this post was brought to you in partnership with London Hotels Insight.