Monday, October 29, 2012

To Market

My intention this past weekend was to simply give in to the predicament my horrible washer/dryer combo is putting me in by alternately shrinking and putting holes in my clothing and go to London and shop.  (Also, I've looked back at many of my photos-- I'm pretty much wearing the same thing in all of them. It's sad.  I don't know why I thought I had packed a lot of clothes.)  It was a fantastic cultural experience but, *spoiler alert*, it yielded no clothes.

There was a whole plan for this shopping excursion-- a carefully thought out route that would take me from vintage and thrift shops early in the day to the trendy, new fashions of Top Shop by the end.  So, I took the Oxford Tube (a coach service that runs between Oxford and London) to the Notting Hill Gate stop and started walking.  I envisioned meeting the coach later that day, laden down with all my fabulous purchases which I would then spend 2 more months protecting from my washer/dryer so I could show them off once I returned to the US.  That didn't happen--the whole experience was overwhelming from the start.

I did manage to find my way to the main shopping drag of Notting Hill-- it's not that hard really. There were a lot of people (lots of people was the theme for the day) headed in that direction.  It was hard to even move on the sidewalks or to push through to get into the stores.  I'm not generally a thrift store shopper-- I was when I was a teenager and that grunge look that could only be gotten by wearing old clothes was in.  But, I haven't really gone to one to buy clothes since my college days (though, I do make a Goodwill run to donate once or twice a year. It may not happen this year-- I don't know that I would wish the clothing I'm currently want to get rid of on anyone.).  However, I had read a lot about the upscale treasures to be found in Notting Hill where thrift stores are supposedly filled with brand name cast offs that once graced the pages of Vogue.  What I most wanted was a Burberry raincoat.  I can't afford a new one (they start at  $800-$1000 and go up  from there) but I do think they're quintessential England both for being one of the most famous English brands and because they are designed to help one brave the British weather (which has taken another turn-- I don't think it's getting out of the 40s again while I'm here.  The British fascination with the weather does extend beyond their own-- the "frakenstorm" hitting the east coast in the US is second behind the lead story on the news here.  The lead story is about Jimmy Savile, a radio and TV personality and DJ who died last year. It has recently come out that he was a pedophile, perhaps even molesting the children he visited in the hospital as part of his extensive charity work.  But, none of this came out while he was alive. There's a huge investigation and it's apparently really heartbreaking to the Brits who spend decades lauding how fabulous this guy was.  There's news everyday about new people being questioned and/or arrested-- I'm guessing because there had to be some massive coverup.  You don't spend more than 40 or 50 years in the public eye while being, what the British papers are now calling him, one of the world's most prolific pedophiles withough some people covering for and/or helping you.  He had offices at the BBC and so the BBC is being heavily investigated.  It's a big mess. You can read about it everywhere.  This is just one paper's coverage:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/jimmy-savile/). 

Burberry was nowhere to be found-- there was a lot of fur though.  I'm guessing a lot of it was fake fur, but I doubt all of it was (especially since I was in vintage shops.  Real fur wasn't always so anathema.).  In fact, there was fur-- fake, mostly, I guess-- everywhere I went. Fur, even fake, seems somewhat impractical to me-- yes, it's warm. But, I can't imagine it stands up to the rains well.  But, it seems to be very popular-- "then" and now.  There were some very high end brands in the thrift stores.  Especially in the shoe cases-- though, while the clothes were generally in pretty mint condition, the shoes were quite worn.  And still priced pretty high considering-- Louis Vuitton shoes which were certainly too worn out to go with the kinds of dresses they were intended to be paired with were still 80 pounds or more.  Most important and frustrating, the stores themselves were very small and the clothes were packed onto hangers and even just a few other customers in the stores made it impossible to get down the incredibly narrow aisles to look at what was on the racks-- I'm sure that patience and tenacity are rewarded in these places, but I didn't have the fortitude for it.  And, it was still early in my shopping day, so I headed deeper into Notting Hill towards the Portobello Market (named for the street it largely runs along).

The Portobello Market is rather famous-- and this fame was proven by how many people were there. 






That was my best attempt to get a picture of the street with all its stands set up-- there are so many people, you can't see them. The stands go on for miles though.  And, I walked all of it. There is a progression to it. It starts with antiques of all kinds, both in stands on the streets and in stores.



There was stuff I couldn't even get close to because I was sort of being swept along with the crowd.  But, the array of antiques was amazing-- there was actually a lot of stuff I would have wanted, especially some furniture pieces which seemed reasonably priced, but I couldn't figure out how I would get them back to Oxford let alone back to the US (and, I wasn't supposed to be shopping for furniture).

From antiques, the Portobello Market moves to food. It is both a farmer's market and a food festival. The different kinds of street food available is amazing.





Those are giant cauldrons of paella (which I saw after I had already gotten something to eat or I probably would have had this for lunch-- I was quite hungry by the time I got to the food section.).  Near the end of the food section, and right before the "new goods" section begins, there's a small break in the stands and people.  So, I could at least finally appreciate the fun architecture in Notting Hill (I think this is also veering into being Chelsea, but I'm a little unclear on how neighborhoods are designated).  I like how colorful the houses are.


It's hard to tell in the second picture since that side of the street was in shade, but the houses on that side are largely all shades of blue, purple and grey, as though the residents planned a gradation of color.  There does seem to be a logical progression of color on that side of the street.

The new goods area of the market is once again an array of anything you can imagine- though slightly less crowded.  It was a lot of jewelry. And, most of the clothing for sale there were kitchy t-shirts with wry sayings on them (like, "No, I'm not on f$%#ing Facebook).  Not really the thing I was looking for.  There were some handmade sweaters-- they were all kind of shapeless and large though.

I think it took me more than 2 hours to get to the end of the Portobello Market (and, I rushed through parts of it where the crowds became too much to take, especially in the antique section). If you simply walk the length of it, as I did, rather than turn around and head back to Notting Hill Gate, you arrive at a totally different tube station. This one happened to be on the Hammersmith and City and Circle lines-- which is fine, except that there are repairs/upgrades happening on both lines on weekends, so the Circle line wasn't running at all the Hammersmith and City line was closed in some places.  Fortunately, there are few places in London which are accessible by only one tube line, so it wasn't that hard to navigate around the construction (though, I also wasn't trying to use the Circle line- that would have made it a lot harder).

From the Portobello Market, I headed to Camden Town where the Camden Market and Camden Lock Market are located (as is the Camden Stables Market which isn't advertised as a separate market for some reason-- I think it's considered an extension of the Camden Lock).

That it's called Camden Lock makes sense-- there's a portion of river and a lock there.





The riverwalk, however, is the only area of Camden Town that isn't, like Notting Hill, a throng of people.  The river picture is deceiving-- most of the time, I was walking through crowds like this.


Camden is the (somewhat self-proclaimed, but with reason) home of the punk movement. The first Doc Martin's store was in Camden. And, it retains that character-- which means the signs above storefronts are fabulous.





It also means it's a haven for every kind of person you can imagine-- and it's a stark contrast from Notting Hill which was a fairly preppy, touristy crowd.  I'm sure some of the people in Camden were tourists-- I couldn't be the only one-- but what people mostly seemed to want to do was stand out from the (incredibly large) crowd.  The fashion is wild-- and eclectic.  There are tattoo and piercing parlors everywhere.  Lots of people wearing leather-- it's the first place in London I've seen drag queens wandering around.  There's every hair color you can imagine. Oddly, though I wouldn't think it would be a top place for tourists to go, there were a lot of stores selling tourist crap. (Note: if you're in the market for touristy crap-- or, London themed souvenirs-- I would suggest heading to Camden.  It has the same stuff that is in the shops located around major tourist attractions but seems to be priced a bit cheaper.  And, there's a lot of it.) 

In fact, once again, there is a lot of everything.  The Camden Market is a relatively small space packed with items like novelty t-shirts and other relatively cheap clothing. 





Actually, quite a bit of what is in the area marked Camden Market is junk.  (It's also the only place besides Buckingham Palace I've been so far that had a sign warning to look out for pickpockets.) 

The real treasure troves are in the Camden Lock Market and the Camden Stables Market.  Especially if you're hungry (which I wasn't because I ate in the Portobello Market.  If I had known what awaited in Camden Town, I might have allowed myself to starve for a while.  Seriously-- if you can think of the ethnicity, its food is represented in Camden Lock or Camden Stables. Or both.  It kind of makes me want to go back just to spend a day eating-- like, order food, eat, walk around until I'm hungry again, order more food... and keep going until the market closes. Or I can't eat anymore.)  Additionally, if you order food on the side with the river walk (pictured above) or carry it over there, you can eat on motorcycle seats.




Why? I have no idea.  It just adds to the fun and wackiness that is Camden.

There are also great architectural features around the Camden Lock and Camden Stables-- parts of each are indoors.  The Camden Lock indoor section looks like more traditional architecture amped up with color.



And, the Camden Stables are named that because the indoor section was clearly once actual stables (vendors are set up in the old stalls).  The statuary in it celebrates this.





There is also statuary in the stalls that have nothing to do with horses.


That's the entrance to a bar/club.  There are a few of those located around the Lock and Stables markets as well.

Beyond the food, there is great shopping in Camden-- lots of very cool handmade jewelry.  Fabulous leather goods.  Clothes.  Lots of hookahs and bongs.  And, like in Notting Hill, I was so overwhelmed, I couldn't buy anything (I did try on one fabulous ring-- and I would have bought it if the woman had made one in a smaller size. I have thin fingers-- the ring I tried on was even a little loose on my thumb). There were people everywhere-- even after it started raining.


Eventually, I gave up on trying to do any actual shopping in Camden (I did walk around for a while hoping I would get hungry again so I could justify eating at at least one of the stands.  Didn't happen.), and headed towards the more conventional shopping to be found in Oxford Circus-- namely at Top Shop.

Exiting the Oxford Circus tube station, you can already tell it's a more traditional shopping area-- it's already gearing up for Christmas.






That there is already a sign for the kick off to the 12 Days of Christmas confuses me-- this seems amazingly premature since we're a ways off from that particular countdown. However, in the absence of Thanksgiving to mark the kick off to the true Christmas season, Halloween seems to be the marker.  Santa arrives at Harrod's at the end of this week-- just two days after Halloween.  But, if Christmas would start anywhere, Oxford Circus-- with all of its familiar and popular shops-- seems like the place to start.  And, there is some sort of shopping rush there too because it was as crowded and hectic as all the markets I had been in earlier that day. 

I specifically went there to go to Top Shop-- there's a small Top Shop in Oxford, but nothing like the famed one in London and I figured any shopping excursion should include this iconic store.  It was like shopping in a night club.  Music was blaring, the lighting was dim (which actually makes no sense for a clothing store-- that seems like a place where you want to be able to see) and, again, masses of people packed in.


So many people, in fact, that it was hard to even get near the clothes.  And, the lines for the changing rooms were impossibly long.  It was past 5 pm by now-- and I was exhausted.  Not that I had done anything all that hard, but I had been mingling with and fighting against crowds all day and I really had no desire to do that for another couple hours (and, I would have been waiting in line to try clothes on for that long).  So, I left and headed to meet the coach back to Oxford.  

Because of the tube outages, it was easiest to get to Victoria Station to meet the coach.  The area was much less crowded (the first time all day I didn't have to push through people to move on the sidewalks)-- but no less in a holiday spirit. At least it was the right holiday.




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