the house where Lytton Strachey lived

vintage E-Type Jaguar at 67 Belsize Park Gardens

I've been spending afternoons this week wandering around Swiss Cottage and Belsize Park in the Borough of Camden while my 10-year-old charge is in sewing class. Let me just say that Google Maps in walk mode is total crap in London—or maybe it's my Chinese-designed temporary cheapo phone—because the blue "You-are-here" arrow can be found between streets most of the time, as if I'm striding along rooftops rather than on known centuries-old streets with quirky historic names. And it's happened in Soho as well as Belsize, so it's not the fault of any one neighborhood.

London streets aren't on a planned grid but rather take medieval twists and turns, meaning if you started walking east, say, you could end up north, south, or even west. Moreover, whenever I (frequently) stop to check my direction, the phone reroutes, which is screamingly frustrating. So taking a pointer from my expat friend, I am now using only the macro route view, so that the blue GPS dot follows me like a shadow, while avoiding the step-by-step directions of the arrow, which made today's 10,000-plus steps much less stressful than yesterday's.

Also, don't expect the local libraries to have the printed version of the Belsize Walk from Primrose Hill in Regent's Park to (or from) Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath, even though the brochure says they will. However, a Swiss Cottage librarian was kind enough to print out for me the colorful, compact folded brochure in black-and-white on eight separate pieces of paper. Speaking of libraries, I was surprised to find London's branches selling tea, coffee, and little cakes to be consumed in-house on comfortable vinyl benches—a highly civilized complement to public reading, à la Starbucks.

pink roses, Belsize Park Gardens

"Make Tea Not War" stencil, Belsize Park

Per the Belsize Walk brochure, Engels and Marx lived in the area, as did Keats and Lytton Strachey. Though I've never read Strachey, I was curious to see the house where he proposed to Virginia Woolf, was accepted, and then soon after retracted his proposal. (Oh, those fickle Bloomsbury types!) What's funny is that I came across this lovely classic E-Type Jaguar parked on the street and thought, "I should take a photo of that vintage green car against the red mailbox," not knowing the background view was exactly that of 67 Belsize Park Gardens—the stuccoed-brick mid-19th-century house where Strachey proposed to Woolf (before she was Leonard Woolf's)—a fact I only figured out later on my return meander north after consulting the Belsize Walk map and realizing I had accidentally stumbled onto a section of the official route.

London is layered with so much history it's mind-boggling to an American. Nearby Regent's Park, for example, was once a hunting ground of Henry VIII, and Hampstead Heath formerly hosted a Mesolithic settlement, circa 7,000 BC. Maybe tomorrow I'll go check out Karl Marx's house.

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