Santiago: el corazón cosmopolita de Chile

In the immediate foreground of this photo is dark vegetation, beyond which far below are the buildings of the city of Santiago with the Andes rising behind them. The city and mountains are a little bit pink with the evening light and covered in a slight haze. Above the haze the sky is blue.

Santiago is the cosmopolitan heart of Chile, and has lots to explore. I visited initially with a friend and make regular return visits to see my girlfriend’s family.

This post has a quick overview of what I think are some highlights, and then goes into more detail neighbourhood by neighbourhood. Hopefully there is something useful in here to guide your visit to this excellent city.

All of the bolded location links below will take you to Google Map locations if, like me, you like to plan your travels by geography.

Quick Overview: the highlights!

Go to Lastarria, a hip neighbourhood where you can eat the best gelato (Emporio La Rosa) and take a stroll in Cerro Santa Lucía (park on a now-extinct volcano). Barrio Italia is a trendy neighbourhood with cafes, boutiques, and antique furniture, which is fun to wander.

Chilean Food & Drink

Eat: ceviche (“seh-VEE-cheh”; white fish ‘cooked’ in citrus juice with onion and herbs), hot dogs (yes, actually – a ‘completo’ is topped with chopped tomato, avocado, and mayonnaise), sopaipillas (deep-fried sweet potato cakes), maní confitado (candied peanuts), and empanadas (usually ground meat, but you can also find cheese and/or spinach, in a pastry).

Drink: pisco sour (made from the Chilean liquor pisco), or if you are so inclined, try a ‘piscola’ (pisco + coca cola), and of course: wine. Chile is known for its wonderful wine. Try a carmenere, (“car-men-AIR-eh”), a smooth red wine made from a uniquely Chilean grape.

More details by neighbourhood

A map I made so you know what I’m talking about!

Lastarria

Sign at Emporio La Rosa declares in Spanish, 'this is one of the 25 best ice cream places in the world'.
Emporio La Rosa: the best ice cream in Santiago.

In the super hip neighbourhood (barrio) of Lastarria, head to Emporio La Rosa (for the best gelato. It is a local favourite with classic flavours as well as flavours unique to Chile, like lucuma (made from lucuma fruit, a magical fruit that tastes a lot like dulce de leche) and miel de ulmo (subtly sweet and made from the nectar of the flowering ulmo tree). They have a few satellite locations, but the Lastarria location is the original and the best.

So many delicious ice creams!

Grab an ice cream and sit on their lovely corner patio (ideal for people-watching) or sit in or stroll the nearby Parque Forestal, and then walk around the neighbourhood – with lots of great shops and cafés there is lots to explore!

I strongly recommend visiting the Centre Gabriela Mistral (the GAM) which always has interesting exhibitions. Even if you don’t go inside, the covered courtyard/plaza is a great place to sit and people-watch and check out whatever rotating art display is on at the moment. (Last time, I was lucky enough to see this one.)

A tribute at the GAM to these important women from Chilean history (in *knitted* form!) Gabriela Mistral and Violeta Parra.

Also, I very strongly recommend visiting the Museo Violeta Parra, a beautiful, modern museum dedicated to the artist and musician who renewed and reinvented Chilean and Latin American folk music. You can listen to her music and marvel at her incredible embroidered tapestries. I was so thrilled that the museum has text in Spanish, English, and Mapudungun (the language of the Mapuche people indigenous to Chile.)

Near Lastarria is Cerro Santa Lucía , a park on an abrupt hill (actually a small extinct volcano) in the middle of the neighbourhood where you can find great views and cool basalt columns. Also a great location for the favourite pastime of Chilean teenage and young adult couples: making out in parks.

This photo shows the view from the top of Cerro Santa Lucia in central Santiago. The photo shows the trees in the park below and the long staircase that you must climb to get up to this viewpoint. There are also tall buildings and office towers of the downtown area in the near distance. In the far distance, obscured slighted by a thin layer of haze or smog are the Andes mountains. Above the haze, the sky is blue.
View from the top of Cerro Santa Lucia

Barrio Italia

Barrio Italia is a trendy neighbourhood worth a wander with lots of nice cafés, restaurants, and furniture stores! This neighbourhood was settled by immigrant artisans in the 1800s and is full of beautiful handmade furniture, crafts, and antiques.

Bellavista & La Vega

North of Lastarria across the Mapocho River is Bellavista with more shops, cafés, and restaurants – another fantastic neighbourhood to stroll around and explore.

This photo taken in the Bellavista neighbourhood of Santiago shows a street corner with two historic buildings painted bright orange-red and a third newer building next to them with a turquoise glass facade. There is graffiti and murals on the sides of the red buildings and in the background, a construction crane and palm tree rise up from behind the buildings.
Street corner murals and street art in Barrio Bellavista

If markets are your thing, west of Bellavista you’ll find La Vega Central, a huge produce market. The nearby Mercado De Abastos Tirso De Molina is friendlier for buying a bite to eat and housed in a really interesting market building, and Mercado Central is just across the river from that.

Cerro San Cristóbal

Nearby, just north of Bellavista, you can take a dodgy/fun (depending on how you feel about these things) funicular up Cerro San Cristobal for amazing views of the city and the Andes.

This photo, taken from the funicular carriage looking down, shows the steep rail tracks of the funicular rising up the hill through the trees; buildings of the city are in the background, a little hazy in the evening light.
Take the funicular up Cerro San Cristobal for a great view.

Note that the view of the mountains is likely to be better earlier in the morning or right after it rains when the pollution is lower. (Your weather app might tell you that this is ‘haze’, which is a nice way of saying ‘smog’.)

In the immediate foreground of this photo is dark brushy vegetation including the fronds of some kind of palm tree. Beyond the vegetation in the distance and far below are the buildings of the city of Santiago with the Andes rising behind them. The city and mountains are a little bit pink with the evening light and covered in a slight haze. Above the haze the sky is blue.
Panoramic view of Santiago and the Andes at dusk from the top of Cerro San Cristobal.

Although I have never taken it, the cable car up Cerro San Cristóbal is open again.

Downtown & Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas  in central Santiago is a grand public square in the heart of a bustling, pedestrian-oriented downtown.

Off of the square, the Precolombian Art Museum / Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino hosts an impressive collection.

A central rope forms a semi-circle and from it hundred of smaller ropes fan out, each with knots tied at different points along the ropes.
Incan data storage: this quipus (knotted cord) was used by the Incas to keep their accounts by way of the quantity, type, and position of knots on primary and secondary cords. This 586-cord quipu holds 15,024 items of data.

A 10 minute walk from Plaza de Armas is the Plaza de la Constitución and La Moneda Palace, which is the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile. This was the site of the infamous US-backed military coup on September 11, 1973 that violently ended Salvador Allende’s presidency and marked the beginning of the Pinochet dictatorship. 

Quinta Normal & Barrio Yungay

Across the road from the Quinta Normal metro station is the heavy, heartbreaking, important, educational, and beautifully done: Museum of Memory and Human Rights / Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos in Barrio Yungay. First introducing human rights investigations and inquiries all over the world, the museum then takes you through Chile’s own relatively recent turmoil with the Pinochet dictatorship and the many killings and disappearances of dissenters that happened during that era.

This photo of the exterior of the museum shows the dramatic square architecture and large concrete plaza in front of the entrance.
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights

Nerdy aside: Check out the excellent film ‘NO’ (2012) with Gael Garcia Bernal playing the ad executive who comes up with a campaign to defeat Augusto Pinochet in Chile’s 1988 referendum. Although I haven’t seen it, I hear ‘Nae Pasaran‘ is excellent as well. It is a documentary about the Scottish workers who, in solidarity with Chile, refused to repair aircraft engines that were part of Chile’s military fleet and likely involved in the 1973 coup.

Next to the metro station is Parque Quinta Normal, which is beautiful for a stroll, especially after you’ve visited the Museo de la Memoria. Inside the park are the free Museum of Science and Technology, Natural History Museum, and Railway Museum. There is probably someone near the Quinta Normal metro station selling maní confitado (candied peanuts) from a little food cart, if you’re feeling snacky.

A 10 minute walk away through some beautiful streets is Peluquería Francesa, a nice cafe and restaurant in an old and interestingly decorated building that also still houses a classic barber shop.


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Bristol & Bath Railway Path

I cycled the 25km (15.5 mile) Bristol & Bath Railway Path in July 2018. I opted to cycle the round trip (50km) in one day, which amounted to 3.5 hours of riding time (1 hour and 45 minutes each way, not including breaks.) Some folks opt to cycle one way and take the train back (from Bath Spa station to Bristol Temple Meads station.)

Rent a bicycle from Bristol Bicycles & Jake’s Bikes in Bristol and head to the Bristol & Bath Railway Path website to learn more and download maps and leaflets.


The Bristol Bath Railway Path is a shared walking and cycling path that was the first-ever established section of the National Cycle Network. As the name suggests, the Bristol & Bath Railway Path was set up along the disused Avon Valley railway line – a totally brilliant re-purposing of space. The railway infill and right-of-way are already in place, so why not take advantage of the existing infrastructure? I only wish there were more beautiful paved cycle ways like this connecting major (and not-so-major destinations.)

With my rented bike from Jake’s Bikes (a comfortable, upright Dutch-style Bristol Bicycle with a few gears), I followed their handy printed map to the start of the path.

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It was a little hairy getting to the start of the path: the cycle lane consists of painted lines on the edge of a busy road and I ended up hopping on to the sidewalk for bits of it.

It didn’t take long to find the start of the path and then the blissful and relaxing experience of riding on separated bicycle infrastructure began.

The path is about 25 km (15.5 miles) one-way all the way to Bath and is nicely paved with a very lovely tree canopy that keeps it cool on a hot day and, I imagine, would keep the rain off a little, too.

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There are a couple of stops along the way:

The first, Warmley Railway Station, was a station on the old rail line. The station platform is still there (with ramps, I should add, making access with walking frame, wheelchair, or bicycle a possibility) and has a café, offering a great rest opportunity. Just across the road, continuing towards Bath is the beautifully restored Warmley Signal Box. (I should note that this is one of the only places that you need to cross a road.)

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After passing through a gate and crossing the rail tracks, I came upon the second stop: the Avon Valley Railway. For me this was a delightfully unexpected gem. Volunteers have restored this rail station and a section of the railway in order to operate a steam train that takes retro railway enthusiasts on a short ride.

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I stopped at the Avon Valley Railway Station for a tea and cake, which I enjoyed sitting on one of the picnic benches on the platform. The Avon Valley railway runs alongside the walking and cycle path. At a platform a little further down the pathway, I was delighted to see that the front end of the train looks just like Thomas the Tank Engine (thank you English childhood!)

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There are other opportunities to get off the path at the towns and villages along the way, including a few signs for bicycle repair shops for riders experiencing technical difficulties, but my goal was to get all the way to Bath and back.

Crossing the canal on an old bridge, I started to see houseboats – Bath is close!

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Once you arrive at the edge of Bath,  you leave the separated pathway of the Bristol & Bath Railway. I rode on a short section of road (it was relatively quiet and drivers seemed pretty well aware of the cycle path and proper safe distance etiquette) and connected to the lovely Avon & Kennet Canal Towpath.

You cannot be in a rush on the canal towpath as it is narrow and shared between people on bikes and on foot, but it offers nice views of the canal and it’s fun to look at the canal boats. (I cycled past a particularly dire-looking situation with several folks working to bail out a partly submerged canal boat. It looked like the situation was in capable hands, but that cannot have been a good day. I do hope they succeeded.)

The canal gets vaguely more industrial the closer you get to Bath…

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Then the canal tow path spits you out into the centre of town. I locked my bike at the bottom of Southgate Street and walked up past the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey.

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M&S, reliable for having quasi-public toilets convenient for cyclists, also apparently have their own beer. I picked up a can and headed back to Bristol to enjoy it.

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Making People Places: Glasgow

This post has some observations from a short trip to Glasgow in late September 2018. The feature image shows a view from the Glasgow Necropolis on a surprisingly sunny day in the city.

Find other Making People Places posts about Montreal, Bristol, and the Millennium Bridge / St Paul’s Corridor in London.


Blessed with some sun for our day in Glasgow we walked around the centre of the city to see some highlights and I couldn’t help but notice some interesting public space elements along the way.

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Busy pedestrian Buchanan Street in Glasgow on a sunny Sunday

On Sauchiehall Street near Buchanan: an old bright red police box, giant planters as vehicle barricades, a variety of bollards, trees, and lots of interesting paving patterns.

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Bollards and paving treatment on a pedestrianized portion of Sauchiehall near Buchanan Street

Sauchiehall Street near the Glasgow School of Art is being transformed to include wider sidewalks and separated bike lanes and trees – hurrah! I did not manage any good photos and it isn’t much to look at when we visited in late September 2018 as construction is still ongoing. This is work was begun before and now delayed by the tragic fire at the Glasgow School of Art.

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BT digital advertising kiosk on Sauchiehall Street

A development about which I am harbouring some scepticism is the installation of BT InLinkUK digital advertising panels. I spotted one going in on Sauchiehall and another in operation on (I think it was) Trongate Street.

Having done some research on these digital kiosks for work, I am well aware that they are likely going to become a lot more common and ride in on a weird wave I can only clunkily describe as ‘hyper-connected surveillance capitalism but hey we’re giving you free wifi’. Although these units come at no cost to taxpayers (they are installed and maintained and run entirely from ad revenue) and claim to bridge the ‘digital divide’ by which some folks (wealthier, higher class) have ready access to the Internet and others (poorer, lower class, street-involved) do not, I’m just not convinced that this development is as good as it first seems under late stage capitalism. I’m waiting to be proven wrong. BUT I DIGRESS.

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BT InLinkUK digital advertising kiosks will replace 2,000 public telephones around the UK.

The Glasgow Necropolis which, like many Scottish cemeteries functions quite a lot like a park and busy albeit quiet public space, is a sight to behold. On this beautiful mostly-sunny day that still managed to retain a good measure of Scottish moody greyness, it was stunning. It’s an amazing point from which to view much of the centre of the city (as you can see in the header photo of this post.)

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Glasgow Necropolis

Also for work-related reasons I’ve taken an interest in wayfinding map stands and public toilets and in Glasgow near the Cameron Memorial Fountain there was an opportunity to see both in one photo! Sadly, though, this underground public toilet is, like most of them, a relic of the past.

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Disused underground public toilet and map stand at at Sauchiehall Street & Woodside Crescent

 

Making People Places: Bristol

This post contains some of my observations of public spaces in Bristol on a trip there in July 2018. The feature image shows a view from the canal edge to the pedestrian bridge that leads to Millennium Square with colourful balloons and flags (for Pride!) on sale at a cart in the foreground.

Find other Making People Places posts about Montreal, Glasgow, and the Millennium Bridge / St Paul’s corridor in London.


Bristol Canal

This is the place to be on a warm sunny weekend, and on a warm sunny weekday for that matter. (I wonder how this space works on a cool and drizzly day?)

Café patios spill out of historic buildings onto the cobbled streets that line the canal, and everyone and their dog is hanging out by the side of the canal, many legs dangling off the edge towards the water.

Spotted another heavy duty outdoor ping pong table by the canal provided by Ping! – “on a mission to bring ping pong to the people”. I wonder where one can borrow paddles and a ball from?

Millennium Square

Millennium Square feels like it has been recently redeveloped. It is bordered to the east by a newly renovated (or purpose-built?) building filled with hip restaurants with patios, to the south by an above-ground structure that leads to an underground car park, to the west by a casino, and to the north by the Bristol science centre, compellingly named ‘we the curious’.

Our trip to Bristol coincided with Pride, the ‘official’ version of which in Bristol consists of a parade followed by a kind of private event / outdoor party with live performances held in a large fenced-off section of Millennium Square.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of the space during Pride as we mostly gazed around wide-eyed while we passed through. Needless to say it was busy with people lining up to get into the event, plenty more milling about outside, and still others drinking on nearby patios.

(Rather than pay the fee to go into the performance area, we went to Castle Park where lots of folks were having a more relaxed and free celebration on the grass in the shade. The number of young people walking around in big queer gaggles wearing 6-colour rainbow pride flags as well as bi and trans and asexual pride flags just made my heart swell. I digress.)

I did catch Millennium Square after the Pride celebrations were over and the fenced-off event was gone, on a quiet Sunday evening with the weekend coming to a close.

 

Bristol Shopping Quarter

When I see high streets like Broadmead in Bristol’s central ‘shopping quarter’, I immediately wonder how we can bring this to Vancouver (e.g. Robson Street.) Here, two broad pedestrian streets with tons of shoppers milling about, tables and chairs, benches, and trees cross and converge at a circular plaza. Bollards and bike racks at the entrance to the street tell us: this space is not for cars, and here’s a place to put your bike so you can stroll down the street on foot.

Places to sit and rest and people watch, spots to grab some shade, and some interesting art make this is a lovely space that is about more than simply shopping.

The Bearpit

Not only is this a handy landmark for walking and bus rides around Bristol, but also an interesting public space. Sunk in the centre of a large traffic circle with stair and ramp access at a few points around the edges, the Bearpit is a unique plaza-like space. I observed people walking or cycling through*, skateboarding, folks who were likely street involved or homeless sitting under the trees at one side to keep cool, and a handful of businesses on the south side all closed and boarded up. It feels like a space that could be well-loved by all but isn’t.

*The Bearpit is where Jake’s Bikes is located, where I rented a bike for my cycle along the Bristol Bath Railway Path.

There is a group of vendors that ran businesses on the south side of the Bearpit until early in 2018 when they abandoned the site due to safety issues. They have put forward a £3.5 million plan to redevelop the site and rename it ‘The Circle‘, envisioning a food hub and community space.

As much as I can read and learn more about the background of the site, I know I can’t access the personal feelings I would have and community knowledge I would gain if this space were in my neighbourhood, but it is not difficult to get a sense that there is tension here.

From a jurisdictional standpoint, the Bearpit is part of three different city wards and it is not a park but is public highway. Although I am not sure of all of the implications of this in a Bristol context, no doubt it means that there are a lot of different stakeholders here. Significant stakeholders include the Bearpit vendors, who are concerned about people using drugs in the space and want to see greater police enforcement.

They also want to “[m]ake the space politically-neutral, and remove political slogans from the Cube“. Meanwhile, the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft note the importance of the Cube for political expression: “Where public space is continually eroded, the relative freedom of the Bearpit, which is hard-won, offers hope.” (The PRSC offer a brief visual history of the kind of messaging the Cube has displayed.) I tend to side with the PRSC here: public space serves a crucial political function and I’m sceptical that removing political murals from the Cube is the answer here. (Not to mention that there can be no such thing as a ‘politically neutral’ space; space *is* political and removing political slogans from the Cube is a political act in itself.)

Public toilet-related aside: The Bearpit vendors also want washrooms provided for staff, but I say why limit that to only staff?! When will we agree that washrooms access is a right and public washrooms essential to healthy public spaces?

Making People Places: St Paul’s Cathedral to Millennium Bridge

The beautiful ‘promenade’ from St Paul’s Cathedral in London to the Millennium pedestrian bridge over the Thames benefits from urban trees, shallow steps and ramps, and dark pavers.

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View towards the Millennium Bridge along Peter’s Hill, London

Making People Places: Montreal

This post contains some of my observations of public spaces in Montréal on a trip there in June 2018. The feature image shows a shipping container converted into small free library near Atwater Market, a project of Dare-Dare. (I saw lots of repurposing of shipping containters – and I mean, why not use the available resources? This is a port city after all!)


Quick-construction wooden Parklets seem to be a dime a dozen in a Montréal summer. Some of these look like they are year-round spaces (like the pink Parklet in the upper left photo below) and many are summer-time only. Accompanying regulatory signage indicates that these two parking spaces are reserved for Parklets from April 1 to December 1. Temporary loss of parking is just the price of great outdoor patios that enliven a street for the summer months.

 

This tiered Parklet structure designed for the slope of the road up Mont Royal appears to be a summertime installation as well, although the sun cover could just as well be a cover from the rain in a wet Vancouver winter. It has a mix of moveable and fixed seating as well as swing seats hanging from the scaffolding (see lower centre photo below – neat!), in-built planter boxes, an adjacent shipping-container-cum-café (bottom left photo below), and steps and ramps for access. (I think the small grey attachments on the stairs and at the top of the ramp are solar lights?) A posted wooden events calendar for June shows a whole bunch of scheduled end-of-week and weekend activities and performances. When we were there, there was a musician playing cello (top photo below).

The whole thing has the air of being thrown together quite quickly – the goal is a functional, quickly installed space, rather than something that’s meant to endure through the seasons. I’m curious what happens to the lumber when winter comes.

I spotted specialty paving treatments like tiles and pavers (not just asphalt and concrete) in public plazas across Montréal.

Off of the fantastic fully separate bike lane that runs what seems like the entire length of Rue Rachel, north of Parc La Fontaine, I spotted these permanent ping pong tables. Would have loved to catch them during the day to see how popular they are.

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A couple other pieces of street furniture I liked were these pre-fabricated wood-topped concrete benches with skate-stops (which function well as both blockade and sitting opportunity) and these add-on wheelchair ramps at the Saint-Laurent street festival for folks to get on to and off of the sidewalk.

The ramps are made by AXCS, who envision a Montreal without steps, and what to raise awareness among citizens, urban planners, and business owners to making space more physically accessible.

London: Camden, Regent’s Park, Seven Dials, & Trafalgar Square

We are staying in a tiny studio flat on the third floor of a row house and it has a gabled roof, so it is very lucky that we are both short humans. Although there is no view, it’s fantastic to have the skylights that let in tons of natural light.

 

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Our rental flat near Willesden Green tube

Camden Coffee House has good coffee, light food, good wifi and a relaxed environment for working, plus a delightful secret back garden.

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Lovely back garden at Camden Coffee House

It is hot right now in London (around 28 degrees) and sunny. The canal near Camden is full of a strange green water plant bloom, which is capturing plastic bottles that folks have chucked in.

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Camden canal in bloom

Walking near Primrose Hill, it’s clear that the trend in sustainable transportation for young school aged children is the scooter.

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Packed parking lot at local primary school

Seeking out some better shade, we headed for Regent’s Park. Maria was very interested in checking out the waterfowl at the Boating Pond, so off we went. We spotted swans, many ducks, and a heron! We ended up in the Rose Garden for a lie down in the grass.

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I loved this rose variety named “Colorific”

A little more work time at Harris + Hoole in Fitzrovia.

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H+H had a delicious summer berry soda and plugs for some much-needed tech-charging.

I was thrilled to discover Attendant, an old underground washroom (like the last remaining in Vancouver) converted into a coffee bar. Unfortunately it was closed when we walked by, but I had to capture the ornate wrought iron grate.

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Although I love a creative reuse of space, I wish there were more (accessible, attended) public washrooms in public space.

We headed to Seven Dials, to the Homeslice Pizza in Neal’s Yard for a GIANT thin-crust pizza. I’m not sure if this is a truly public space, or a privately-owned publicly-accessible space, but it is a fantastic spot of people watching.

The roundabout at the centre of Seven Dials is also a wonderful space.

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A couple enjoying a beer from a nearby pub at the centre of Seven Dials

Not too many cars passing through the centre of Seven Dials, and a pub on the corner has patrons standing outside standing or leaning at ledges along the pub windows, just enjoying their beers on the sidewalk. What a great after-work thing, to have a pint outside in the beautiful evening air instead of holed up inside a dark pub, and at the same time bring a little more life to the street. We’ve seen quite a lot of that this evening.

We walk through Leicester Square, and then Trafalgar Square, where Maria enjoys the giant lions at the base of Nelson’s Column.

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This is the quintessential “Maria Does London” photograph

The crosswalk at Trafalgar Square has special green ‘walk’ lights for Pride – can you see them?

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Trafalgar Square at sunset with a Pride-themed female-female symbol crossing light. (The crossing light on the other side had a male-male symbol. I didn’t see any trans walk light symbols, although that would have been great.)

A Tube ride back to our flat. Fantastic light this evening and a warm breeze.

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Sunset in Brent