Sunday, 27 April 2008

Its a Beautiful Day

Yesterday was a special day. It was the first real sunny day in London since we got here more than a month ago. People were in singlets, t-shirts, dresses and shorts. The skies were blue, temperature was about 20 degrees with a slight cooling breeze. Days are like these are special, they bring everyone outdoors to enjoy the sunshine. We were no different. The plan was simple, meet up with friends at Bayswater, have lunch and then take a walking tour of London together.

Walking tours are a great way to see London, places you might not get to see in the normal tourist sweep, learning history and little anecdotes about things you see. You can go with a guide, a good option if really want to learn about the history and if you don't mind spending money to do it, this is well worth it. There is also the el cheapo version where you download a walking tour podcast from this website and walk along listening to someone explaining the sights and sounds.
A bunch of us (Jem, Yui, Myle, Jason, Pramo, Lee and myself) did the ipod thing. We had lunch at The Waterway pub near Little Venice, right by the canal. Then we proceeded to Warwick tube station exit to start the Little Venice to Camden Lock walking tour. First we had to synchorize out ipods then off we went, all the girls with ipods in their ears and the guys walking by listening to our directions(and useful or not so useful facts) and Pramo running back and forth with Jem's SLR taking paparazzi style photos of the walking party and our surrounds. The walk was along the canal path all the way from Little Venice to Camden Lock where the famous Camden markets are situated.

The canals were completed in 1820 and used to transport heavy goods to all parts of London(the part we were walking along were just a small part of them) including coal. They became less important as the railway network came into place in 1837. The boats used in the canal are narrow, wooden and long(10 to 15m) so they can fit through some of the narrow parts of the canal. Many people live in these boats, which are moored along the two sides of the canal and some of the mooring stations allow you to connect to mains power.

Our walk took us under old rickety bridges, over a 250m long canal tunnel, past huge mansions backing on to the canal of the wealthy elite, behind the London Zoo, around Regents Park(named so because the Regent paid the Prince to name it after himself), past bushlands and sloping green lawns. The canal goes right by the London Zoo with certain enclosures(wild boar, hyenas, birds) backing on to the canal, so people walking along a canal path are able to see some of these animals.

The day was gorgeous so the canal path was quite busy with people walking and cycling by. The walk lasted about an hour and half ending up smack bang in the middle of Camden markets buzzing with people and wonderful smells of all kinds of food.

We had a well earned drink from the Japanese stall called Sunshine(orange, lemon and raspberry juice) which had a lot of zing. Then the group split up with Yui and Myle opting to have some food and return home while the rest of us walked to Primrose Hill located on the north side of Regent's Park. The hill is 78m high in the middle of the park. The top of the hill gives unparalleled 360 degree views of Central London. The park was full of people enjoying the nice weather and gorgeous views, flying kites and having picnics. We picked out some of the famous London landmarks from the distance and then decided to return to Bayswater on a bus.

Chi and Christina joined us for dinner at one of local Chinese restaurants. It was a nice end to a beautiful day out and about in London. Cannot wait to do another ipod walking tour with the gang. Or more so cannot wait for another beautiful day :) because its raining and cold again today :(.

Monday, 21 April 2008


Cheese stall at Spitalfields markets.

There are lots of weekend markets in London. Each has its own unique style and characteristics. So far we've been to a few; Camden, Portobello and SpitalFields. Camden is perhaps the most interesting. Its really huge and very busy and full of grungy/goth folk. The main section has tiny stalls crammed together selling everything from clothes, accessories, music and ornaments. Its not ideal for claustrophobic people but well worth getting lost in the maze if you can handle the closeness of the stalls and other shoppers. But you dont have to be stuck in this maze. The main street is full of shops and there are more stalls and shops near the Camden lock including some glorious food stalls. We had jerk chicken for lunch from a Caribbean stall with beautiful hot sauce and marinated/preserved banana(?). It was delicious.

The people you see at Camden markets are just as interesting as what you find in the shops. Guys covered in piercings stand around corners holding ads for piercing parlors. Seriously there 's no part of their face or body left un-pierced. Then there are the goth groupies clad all in black and platforms walking around looking very unhappy to be there. So far the people might sound scary but they are really quite charming. You will also run into a few Rastafarians at Camden markets and there are quite a few stalls/shops with reggae music, clothes and posters for sale. I was very happy to see that.

Portobello markets are geared towards food and antique lovers. Stalls are full of organic produce, a fantastic range of healthy looking fruit and veg some of which you never see in the prepackaged world of the supermarkets. Its also very cheap, especially if you're willing to buy bulk. The food you can eat on the spot is also fantastic. We bought boneless chicken thigh fillet burgers from a German stall, which was huge, hot and delicious. There are pancake stalls, giant paella pans and a famous cup cake shop will a long line of customers. Towards the back of the markets you will find many antiques and ornaments. Everything you can think of from very old cameras, cricket balls and bats to jewellery, lace and china. Time seems to slip away when you peruse through these intriguing stalls.

Spitalfields markets are pretty much all under cover. This is handy on rainy London weekends. Its catered towards more upmarket shoppers with many exotic cheeses and wines, vintage clothes and jewellery, some organic produce and mouth watering pasty and cake stalls. The area covered by these markets is not huge so it doesn't take all day to look through the stalls.

I can't wait to visit the other markets here in London and write about it. I'm becoming a bit of a market junkie.

Check out photos here.