Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Market Magpie

At Borough Market

I am a street market girl from way back, so London is my kind of town.  I will always take a market over a shopping mall for local color, interesting, one-of-a-kind items, and fantastic food.  In my post a few days ago about Greenwich, I shared a few photos from the Greenwich Market, and I've posted about London Markets before, but who gets tired of markets?  Not I!

Lunch at Borough Market

These first few shots are from Borough Market on the south side of the Thames, tucked in under London Bridge next to the beautiful Southwark Cathedral.  Borough Market is a wholesale food market, but on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays it is open to the public, and it is the place to get lunch.  Say you're planning an afternoon at the Tate Modern or the Globe Theatre; stop in here first for samples, then grab lunch from a vendor or two and eat it in the beautiful little garden next to the cathedral. The food, atmosphere, and people-watching opportunities will make it a memorable part of your London experience.

Owl cookies from Cinnamon Tree Bakery at Borough Market

At Borough Market

Neal's Yard Dairy at Borough Market
Okay, so while these next few shots are technically shops and not stalls, they are located at Borough Market, and for me, they are an absolutely essential part of any trip there.  I so hope you're not lactose intolerant, because you simply must try these gorgeous British artisanal cheeses.  The original Neal's Yard Dairy is in, you guessed it, the wonderfully quirky Neal's Yard, and I love that one, too, but this one has the added bonus of being next door to Monmouth Coffee.  There's a reason so many people are waiting in line for coffee.  This stuff is fabulous.  Seriously.  I don't drink coffee anymore, but I always break down and have just one small cappuccino when I'm in London, and this is the place where I get it. 

Monmouth Coffee . . . love
Looking at the market from Neal's Yard Dairy

English muffins and croissants from The Flour Station at Borough Market

Flowers at Borough Market

At Spitalfields

On Sundays, we often head to three markets in East London: Spitalfields, Brick Lane, and Columbia Road Flower Market.  Spitalfields is great for clothing, vintage, handcrafted items, and food.  I've posted about it before, so you can read more here.

Early morning shopping at Spitalfields
Big Donut at Spitalfields

After a morning at Spitalfields, a very short walk through some incredibly fascinating architecture brings you to Brick Lane, which is really just one long flea market on both sides of the street.  Brick Lane is lined with Indian restaurants, lots of cafes, and several indoor markets as well.  It gets very, very crowded, so go early!  You will find people selling everything from leather goods to books to clothing to army surplus (seriously, if you need a gas mask, this is where to find it) and old records.  I never buy as much at Brick Lane as I do at Spitalfields, but I do love the food!
Delicious vegan Ethiopian food at an indoor stall next to Brick Lane

Ethiopian injera and several fantastic salads--my favorite meal on this London trip--all for 5 pounds!
Singing and Selling at Brick Lane

Brick Lane

The crowds at Columbia Road Flower Market
If you continue all the way up Brick Lane and follow the crowds just a bit farther, you will find your way to Columbia Road.  Hit this market last for truly astounding flower and plant deals--and good photo opportunities.  If you can stand the crush, you'll find gorgeous flowers at rock-bottom prices.  When we were there in the afternoon, vendors were selling armfuls of truly beautiful tulips for just a few pounds.  

Paella at Covent Garden
A fun market any day of the week is Covent Garden.  It is among the most touristy of all the markets, and as I've said in other posts, a good comparison is Boston's Faneuil Hall.  Still, it's a great place to grab a bite to eat, get your Laduree macaron fix, and find gifts from the lovely to the tacky . . . and everything in between.   

Entertainment at Covent Garden

It's also a perfect place to go to be entertained.  If you need a break from all the noise and frenzy, just sneak around to the quiet rose garden behind St Paul's Church, also known as the Actors' Church, where you can read the names of famous London actors on the memorial benches (John Thaw, who played Inspector Morse in the BBC series, is one of my favorites).  

I always buy some of these pretty handmade soaps in Covent Garden
These are highlights from just a few of the markets I love.  I have other favorites, like Camden and Portobello Road and the Bermondsey Antiques Market.  To read more, check out this post.

And there's more London love to come.  Just think color, architecture, and John Keats . . . xo Gigi

Monday, March 26, 2012


No matter how I arrive in Greenwich, by boat or by land, I am charmed every time.  This London borough on the Southeast side of the Thames has become a place that makes me linger far too long in front of the windows of local realtors, staring at all the listings that I will never be able to afford.  Can you blame me?

We stayed in Greenwich several nights during this last visit to London, and I do believe it was my favorite trip of the last twelve years.  If you've spent any time in London, you are accustomed to taking the Tube and "minding the gap," but most tourists never ride the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in East London (a fact that will change this summer during the Olympics, most of which will take place in East London).  The DLR is almost as wonderful a way to get to Greenwich from central London as the river boats.  Nearly the entire trip is above ground, high in the air.  The tracks sweep you through the glittering skyscrapers on the Isle of Dogs before shuttling you under the Thames.  Once you reach the south side of the river, you emerge at the Cutty Sark station beside that famous, and now restored (at least they plan to have it finished in time for the Olympics), 19th-century clipper ship. 

And what you find in Greenwich is a mix of glorious architecture, parks, markets, and shops.  It's a place steeped in history, but very much thriving in the present day.  If you're in London and feeling overwhelmed by the city, a trip here will calm your nerves.

The view above is one I snapped early one morning from Greenwich Park looking back over the Old Royal Naval College and across the Thames to Canary Wharf and those glittering buildings that you travel through on the DLR.  

Greenwich Park is home to the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian.  If you climb the steep hill to the top, you are rewarded with the chance to stand in two hemispheres at once.  It makes for fun photos!  The Observatory was founded in 1675 by Charles II as an institution for navigational research.  I love the museum here.  A little side note: if you want to read an interesting story about how an 18th-century clockmaker named John Harrison discovered the way to determine longitude at sea--and how this discovery transformed navigation--I recommend a book by Dava Sobel called Longitude.

If you're not fascinated by clocks and navigational history, the park itself is fascinating and incredibly beautiful.  Rarely have I ever seen so much wildlife in an urban parkland.  In addition to the herd of deer that makes its home here, there are foxes and loads of other animals (including the hundreds of dogs and their owners who walk here every day), as well as dozens of wild bird species.  The pathways are lined with 400-year-old sweet chestnut trees.  My favorite part of the park is the large, enclosed flower garden (no dogs are allowed here), where we found hundreds of camellias blooming.

Situated in the heart of the borough is St Alfege Church.  A church has stood on this site since 1012 when Alfege, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was martyred here by marauding Vikings.  The current church was designed in the early 18th century by Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren.  I couldn't resist processing the photo above in b&w to feature the beautiful lines of the structure.

The Churchyard at St Alfege is a perfect place to go for peace and quiet.

Perhaps the best and most memorable part of traveling for me is meeting new people.  On this trip, a real highlight was meeting our innkeeper, Julia.  We stayed at a wonderful little place called Number 37, and we looked forward to talking with Julia each morning at breakfast.  When we arrived on our first day after a long, sneezing and wheezing flight (remember my crummy cold) followed by a considerable trek across the city by Tube and DLR, she greeted us warmly at the door, saying, "You both look like you need a cup of tea."  Indeed, we did, and it was one of the best cups I've ever enjoyed, followed by a long nap on an exceedingly comfortable bed. 

Our room opened out to a sweet little garden where the daffodils and camellias were blooming.  As I've mentioned before, I don't need luxury when I travel, but hospitality, comfort, and convenience are absolutely necessary in my book.  This inn exceeded my needs and expectations on all counts.  

If you like to wander through streets filled with character and history, then Greenwich is your kind of place.

And if you like to shop, you will be in heaven.

Wonderful local shops by well-known artists and designers, like the fabulous women at Lush Designs, abound.  And I've written before about my love for the designs of Sophia and Matt.  They used to have a stall at Greenwich Market, but now they have a bright and beautiful shop all their own, and yes, I bought more than one lovely bag there.  Another of my favorite shops is Cedarlia.

When you're out and about shopping, you'll often find sidewalk entertainment.  These guys were really wonderful.  They did the only version of "Sultans of Swing" I've ever liked.

You'll also find loads of restaurants, pubs, and cafes.  The shot below is silly, I know, but I can't tell you how much I love the rosemary skinny fries at Gourmet Burger Kitchen.  Yes, I know it's a chain, but it's not one we have here, and, well, the rosemary and the potatoes and the fat make for some memorable skinny fries.  I'm just sayin'.  That's a falafel burger in the background.  Sigh.

And when you want the most fun shopping experience in Greenwich, head for the markets.

You can read all about Greenwich Market here.  It's one of my favorite markets in London.  The focus here is on crafts, antiques, and foods, and while it's much smaller than Spitalfields or Portobello or Camden, it has a high percentage of quality goods, and since Greenwich has been a market town for hundreds of years, they've had time to get things right.  I love the small weekend market up on the high street, too.

If you're feeling adventurous, you might want to take the foot tunnel that goes under the Thames.  Built in 1901, this tunnel leads you to the north side of the river on the Isle of Dogs.

You will emerge at a spot called Island Gardens, where you can look back across the river at the Old Royal Naval College, which was designed by Wren and Hawksmoor on the site of the Tudor palace where Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were born.

While looking across, you can imagine you are Canaletto in 1752, painting his famous view when the Naval College (which is actually no longer a naval college) was still a hospital (its original purpose).  As you can see, the view remains relatively unchanged.

As pretty as Greenwich is during the day, I truly love it at night even more.

While it doesn't have the frenzy of the boroughs in the center of the city, Greenwich has a bustling nightlife with theatres and plenty of pubs.  The Prime Meridian is lit up in the night sky, and the streetlights cast a warm glow.  

I glanced out a restaurant window one night and snapped a quick shot of the street with the Cutty Sark in the background.  All the reflections in the glass created a palimpsest of past and present, and I felt the life of the city suspended in one moment.

If you travel to Greenwich, take a walk along the Thames at night.  The glittering lights of Canary Wharf will beckon, but you'll be happy right where you are.