Ooooh, what a good day I had today! Not even a hint of rain, mostly sunny, great temperature, and I got to experience more new-to-me stuff. I love that fact that, as many times as I’ve been to London, I keep finding new ways to experience it. 🙂
After a good night’s sleep and breakfast at the hotel, I set out for my first stop of the day, a tour of the bowels of Piccadilly Circus Station, courtesy of the London Transport Museum’s Hidden London program. I left earlier than I needed to (the station is only about a 20-minute walk from my hotel) so I could do some wandering on the walk and take a different route than I have been on the trip so far. The nice weather gave me the opportunity to look down streets, gaze up at signs, and find some interesting stuff to take photos of along the way. This area of London isn’t totally new to me as I stayed pretty near here with Scott on our last trip together, but we were in a slightly different part of the neighborhood, so it’s been fun to experience some new sights and streets. As I’ve said many times before, I get so much energy from just walking (or sometimes sitting!) in London, so those moments when I get to experience new parts of it or see new landmarks are always important to me.
Let me whet your (photographic) appetite with a few photos from my morning walk.
Oversized Christmas decorations are great for taking a unique selfie.
St Anne’s Church in Soho. The group of parishioners (I assume) were singing, presumably as part of their Sunday service.
I always love the lanterns in Chinatown.
I love how the photo of this tavern came out!
Underground sign at one of the entrances to Piccadilly Circus Station.
I cheated a little bit with those last two photos as I took them when I arrived in Piccadilly Circus for the tour, but since I was early and still walking around, I think it’s fair to say they were part of my walk. 🙂 I heard about the tour both in my own research and from my friend Matt and we were originally hoping to go on one while he was in London, but they’re pretty popular, so tickets sell out quickly. By the time we looked, none of the tours we could take during my time here had two tickets available! It worked out okay though because that helped sway us to booking 9 to 5 tickets for the two of us while I moved forward with booking the last ticket for this tour for myself (Matt had already been on a Hidden London tour of a different station, but he thought Piccadilly Circus would be the best one to pick, so that’s what I went with). I wasn’t sure how big the group would be, but I was happy to find that there were only 20 of us, which seemed like an ideal size (not sure if tour sizes vary by station). Our guide reiterated the fact that tickets always sell out quickly, so if you’re considering going on one, plan ahead! Oh, and also plan ahead the day of and make sure you bring an ID with you. If that was in the fine print of my email confirmation or the actual ticket, I completely missed it, so I got nervous when they said they needed some form of ID when they checked our tickets (I don’t usually carry my passport around with me as I don’t want to risk losing it)! Thankfully, they just need to see anything with your name on it, so since I had a couple of credit cards with me, I was good to go. But learn from my (almost) mistake and come prepared!
Anyway, let’s get on to the tour! It really was a lot of fun – very interesting and we had a great guide (so of course, I’ve forgotten his name). The tour runs a little over an hour (again, that could vary slightly by station), so it’s not a big time commitment and you’ll walk away with a nice bit of London history. It was neat to learn about the history of Piccadilly Circus Station – it was originally built in 1906 and was serving over 18 million people/year by 1922, so it was decided that a new station needed to be built, directly under Piccadilly Circus itself in order to create the space and facilities needed to support up to 50 million passengers/year (fun fact – the word Piccadilly comes from piccadill/pickadill, which is a very uncomfortable-looking lace collar that helped make the man who once owned the land Piccadilly Circus sits on very wealthy). The first part of the tour, while we were in the station proper, focused more on that kind of history, but when we went down into the original (now disused) tunnels of the station, we learned more about the role the station played in World War II. Like many stations, Piccadilly was used as an air raid shelter and it was fascinating to hear how they balanced it being a shelter while still also needing to run trains on a schedule to get passengers where they needed to be. From stationmasters who argued with shelter managers to “droppers” who held their sleeping spots on the platforms by dropping their bedding early in the day (people couldn’t actually use the station as a shelter until 4 PM each day) to the London Underground management making money off shelterers by selling them tasty, off-ration food at night, there was a lot to learn! We also got to see old elevator shafts and the spot where makeshift sewage equipment was installed to deal with the waste of all those people who took shelter every night (it had to go somewhere, after all). I highly recommend going on this tour or any of the other Hidden London tours! In fact, I’ll probably do more on future trips myself. The tickets aren’t cheap (mine was £43/$57 USD), but having been on one now, I think they’re worth it.
Getting started by learning about the original station and the construction of the current one.
A memorial to Frank Pick, who was very involved with the rise of the Underground and was a driving force behind its design, architecture, and branding.
This clock was installed to show times around in the world in the various parts of the British empire.
Learning more about the new station by way of the “stomach map” which shows the different layers of the station.
A better shot of the map. It’s really neat!
This sign is in the original station’s tunnels.
This is where we learned more about how the station was used as an air raid shelter.
Looking up into one of the old elevator shafts (those elevators were removed when escalators were installed).
The picture on the left shows someone dumping waste into the makeshift sewage equipment during the war.
Our guide pointed out this tile as unique because it’s one of the original manufacturers’ tiles (most have been replaced or tiled over over the many years).
What a great experience that was! And it seemed only fitting to take the train from Piccadilly Circus to my next destination, Brick Lane Sunday Market. I think the Sunday part is a bit of a misnomer as much of the market operates every day, but it’s particularly popular on Sundays (that definitely seemed to be the case today as there were a LOT of people there). It’s actually more of a series of markets, shops, stalls, and more, all up and down Brick Lane in east London. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I did have a fun time wandering through all the stalls (and people!) and looking through some of the merchandise. Oh, and I also enjoyed the food. 😀 I was there mid-afternoon, which was perfect for lunch, so I grabbed a couple of treats for a makeshift meal. Although the large crowds weren’t ideal, it was a fun way to spend part of an afternoon, so it’s worth a visit. In fact, while I was there, I texted Scott and told him we need to go there the next time we’re here together because he would definitely love all the food options (not to mention the multiple places to buy vinyl).
Don’t worry, I didn’t just take pictures of bricks!
LOTS of interesting signs to read on this wall.
The wall art on the way down to the vintage market I walked through.
Walking into another of the standing, covered markets.
I mostly just loved the name of this place (and the colors).
I loved both the tree and this old sign from Truman’s Brewery.
Although this chorizo-filled delight was sold to me as an empanada, it was really more of a Spanish tortilla. Tasty either way though!
Naturally, one must have dessert, so I enjoyed mine in the form of this salted caramel brownie.
I had to take at least ONE photo of bricks, didn’t I? Oh, and a Brick Lane street sign.
I kept on truckin’ after my stop at Brick Lane and made my way to a spot I have to visit on every trip – Tower Bridge! Brick Lane isn’t too far from there (around 1.5 miles), so I put some more steps on my feet and was there in (mostly) no time. I take photos of this darn bridge every time I’m here and I never enjoy that more than when the sun is shining on it. Like today! And while I was in the area, I made a brief pit stop to rest my feet and have an afternoon drink at a pub near the bridge. Refreshed from that, I went a little farther afield to make another quick stop, this time at the place that used to be BBC Television Centre. In its time, it was the home of Doctor Who and many other well-known BBC productions, both TV and radio. However, the BBC stopped broadcasting from it in 2013 and sold it to a property development company, who turned it into apartments. Now called The Helios, the apartments actually look really cool as they retained some of the unique design elements from the building. There’s also studio space, restaurants, and other public spaces, so it’s really a big community. I did get to see the building on one other trip, when I was here with some great friends for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013, so it was neat to see how it’s changed since then.
And now for the final round of photos to put a bow on this great day.
I passed St Botolph Without Aldgate on my way to the bridge. Seems like such a specific name, doesn’t it?
A glimpse of the old (Tower of London) against the new.
Another shot of the Tower of London against a beautifully blue sky.
Annual selfie with the bridge = done!
And of course, I have to take a fresh photo of the bridge on its own, too.
I only went into All Hallows-by-the-Tower once, on a 2016 trip. It’s worth a visit!
The Hung, Drawn, and Quartered is the pub I stopped into. I had lunch with Matt there on a previous trip and its name has (understandably) stayed in my brain ever since.
Outside the regenerated BBC Television Centre.
I really like the circular nature of the building. It’s a shame that the BBC history is lost, but nice that the building still exists and wasn’t just torn down.
See what I said at the beginning of this post? ‘Twas a good day! 🙂 I did make one more stop before I headed up, at the (apparently) one remaining HMV in the area. It’s only about ten minutes away from Television Centre, but it’s inside a large mall, so I couldn’t find the shop right away! Thanks to a check (maybe two) of the handy map kiosks, I found my way there, perused for awhile, and made a few choice selections before catching the tube back to my neighborhood. So the good day led to a quiet, relaxing night of me editing photos and writing this post while catching up on some DVR stuff from home (isn’t technology grand?). I’ve been thinking about tomorrow and what I’d like to do as well – nothing definite, but I have some options in mind.
You know the drill – check back soon for the details!