London Updates: Camden Market, Columbia Road, and Freak(shake)'ing Out

We learned pretty quickly that summer in London is not quite like summer in Chicago.  Sure, there are still a million fun things to do because the weather is nice…r, but we’re not exactly getting any tan lines on this side of the pond.  With the exception of a few perfect “high 70’s and sunny and breezy” and two shockingly hot days, the weather has been mostly “meh”:  High 60’s/low 70’s, cloudy, and/or rainy.  There’s really no use checking the forecast, and I’ve taken to just carrying an umbrella with me at all times.  I suppose that’s to be expected when you live on a northernly island, but I do miss my sleeveless bros at Lollapalooza….And by “miss them” I of course mean “not at all”.

Not a ton of news since I last posted an update, but we’ve been keeping busy.  We’ve met some great people since we’ve been here, both fellow Americans and not, which has been awesome.  Even though our course ended, the archery group still gets together every other Wednesday or so, meeting to play darts (shifted to a new target) and pub trivia.

Poseidonnnnnn, look at meeeee

Poseidonnnnnn, look at meeeee

El and I have also been busy checking out new spots, like this industrial area called Hackney Wick that’s a mosh-up of warehouse bars and restaurants and the canal by our house.  We’ve been doing a number of canal walks since the weather has been nice, and it always makes for great people watching.  There are canal boats of every color tied up to the wall, and the narrow walkway is filled with pedestrians, runners, and cyclists (although it’s way too narrow for them).  There are occasional stone archways and patches of cafes that are set up along the river.  There’s even this place called the Barge House that does a “breakfast in bread” brunch where they serve EVERYTHING IN A BREAD BOWL.  It’s basically my kryptonite, and I’m now going to gain 1,000 pounds.  It is known.

Music, thy name is Camden

Music, thy name is Camden

Besides checking out new hotspots and meeting new people, we’ve also been checking out various “classic London” spots like Camden Market and the Columbia Road Flower Market.  Camden is the gritty neighborhood of northern London that’s known for its musical history.  It’s where the punk scene was huge in the 80’s, where Prince owned a purple painted store, and from where countless musical legends like Amy Winehouse were “born”.  Today, there are still plenty of eclectic shops, tattoo parlors, and bars that have live music at 9am, but they run side-by-side with tourists who flock to the neighborhood for the street markets.  The three big ones are the regular Camden Market, which is a maze of pop-up t-shirt shops, Camden Lock, a crowded area packed to the gills with delicious smelling street food stalls, and Inverness Street, a mix of food, clothing, and souvenir stalls.  It’s wall to wall bodies on a nice summer day, not too different from Borough Market by London Bridge.  Although El and I are pretty far from punk material, we both enjoyed Camden’s unique vibe.  We didn’t, however, walk away with any of the thousands of crop tops people were peddling there.  Game: Brouses.

But it's just a fiver!

But it’s just a fiver!

Another London staple that I went to was the Columbia Road Flower Market.  About a 20 minute walk from our flat, it’s a street (you know, called Columbia Road) that on Sundays gets filled with stalls from the local flower shops.  It’s only a few hundred meters long, and it’s so narrow that you can only walk two people abreast, but it’s a London institution.  You can buy flowers, herbs, ferns, and even banana trees if that’s your thing.  They’re not mine, but banana hammocks are.  Kidding…sortof.  Anyway, I went one Sunday, and it was jammed.  Shouts of “everything for a fiver!” permeated the air, and cell phones were shoved into the sky to capture the organized chaos.  Although there were tons of stalls, the selection of flowers wasn’t too varied from stall to stall, and I don’t recommend going into the market if you’re claustrophobic.  It was definitely cool to see though, and I was able to pick up a giant hydrangea, these purple flowers, and a basil plant for, you guessed it, a fiver.

Besides the London “staples”, we’ve been trying to find new and interesting things to do around the city.  Two weeks ago, we went with our friends Tony and Marina on an Indian street food tour of Shoreditch, an East London neighborhood that has both a large southeast Asian immigrant and a large hipster population.  Not necessarily those two things combined.  You can get some of the best Indian food in the city there, and our guide took us to some gems.  We had chili mogo (cassava) at Lahore Kebab, and it was by far my favorite dish of the night.  It’s an eastern African Indian dish that tasted amazing.  We also picked up some savory (potato pakora and this yogurt marinated sponge cake) and sweet pastries from these two different bakeries, stopped in an Indian grocery store, and sat down to a meal that consisted of several lamb and chicken dishes and garlic naan.  The food was really good, and we had a great time with Tony and Marina.

Bikin' with Ben

Bikin’ with Ben

Last weekend, I did the Prudential Ride London Freecycle, which was an 8 mile trek past all of the city’s coolest landmarks.  They closed down the major roads along the Thames and set up festival areas throughout the city.  I can’t even describe how cool it was to ride past Westminster, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, London Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Buckingham Palace without any cars around.  I went early in the morning, when there were fewer bike riders around, so it was even more freeing.  You didn’t have to register or anything; you just rode your bike onto the course.  They had different stops and music playing along the way, which definitely upped the energy.  It was a great way to see “touristy” London without being crammed in with all the tourists.  Definitely gonna do it again next year.

 Random Observations/Updates:

-The Brits tend to use What’s App? instead of their phone’s text message feature, and they sometimes put XX at the end of their messages.  I had to look up what that meant because I thought it might be odd if people I just met were ending their texts with kisses.  Turns out that putting x or xx at the end of a message is a friendly send-off.  So people DON’T want to make out with me.

-Still catching on to the British slang.  My personal favorites are “cracking” for when something is good and “knob” for someone who’s being a dick….which makes sense actually

-Finally tried one of those famous London freakshakes, and it did not disappoint.  I could feel my arteries constricting with every bite, but it was delicious.  Check out Maxwell’s in Covent Garden if you’re in the London area.

Freak shake! Le freak ce chic!

Freak shake! Le freak ce chic!

-We also went to our first UK casino which modeled itself after a 1920’s Chicago speakeasy.  There was even a slot machine from a place owned by Capone, and every coin that goes in is donated to charity.  This casino also had a cage dancer and free-to-use hair straighteners in the women’s bathrooms.  You know, typical casino stuff.

-Everyone goes on “holiday” aka vacation in August.  How do you think I’ve been able to do so much blogging lately?

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