Author: Ilze Vanaga
Out of six years in London, four have been spent in West London. Yet wearied by Notting Hill's steep prices and bankers' invasion, Ilze has lived two last years in Hackney Wick area, East London. It cannot be denied, however, that some street corners and addresses of the West End still exude that unique enduring charm of antiquity and multicultural coloring this amazing city possesses. Looking back at the years spent there and well-treaded paths, both in West and East London, there are spots that have melted permanently into her memory.
The most vibrant and colorful section of Portobello Market is its far-off and so to speak cheapest end, starting from Cambridge Gardens and Golborne Road. It's a real flea market, in fact, with all its contents literally flooding over the pavement. Portobello Road itself is a melting pot of cultures - Moroccan, Libyan, Spanish and Portuguese, throbbing with numerous shops and cafés, like a live organism.
Just one of many to be mentioned is a Portuguese café Café O'Porto (62 Golborne Rd) near Portobello Road. Men of many local communities, prevailingly Portuguese themselves spend their days sitting on street-side open air terrace, sipping coffee, smoking and reading newspapers, while on Saturdays, entire families with kids gather there. Don't expect to find any polished décor there - everything is natural and authentic, like a tiny bit of Porto itself. Cakes and coffee are truly irresistible and the bubbling of voices never ceases!
The corner of Portobello Road and Cambridge Gardens houses the Last Place on Earth - an antiquity shop, located there for several decades already. Only connoisseurs and the sharp-eyed ones would find it - no signboard marks the place even though it's claimed to be "the last". The small and painted black shop room lures into digging through an abundance of dusty interior and household items. A separate extension, resembling a greenhouse is filled with dresses, purses and jewelry. During the weekends, most of the shop's contents, starting from lace and ribbons to music records and anything you can only imagine, is placed out on the street. The stuff on the street draws you inside the otherwise unpretentious looking treasure-box-like store as well. Located nearby, there is a small vintage shop where you can get old Vogue issues, dating back even to the 60s.
It's not easy to single out any must-see spots or keep in mind their names, as the entire Portobello Rd. and Golborne Rd. area makes you dizzy with its intense and colorful atmosphere, which dwell almost behind every door. Just don't be scared to step over their thresholds and don't rush to judge a place by its shabby façade or often nonexistent signboard.
Trellic Tower is a symbol of West London ever since 1972. Designed in the Brutalist style by architect Ernő Goldfinger, it features a 31-storey block of flats that on every third floor is connected to a separately standing elevator shaft. This massive concrete structure marks the end of Golborne Street.
There is a superb bike store at the end of Golborne Street, right opposite Café O'Porto and some extremely helpful guys work there as well. If you have come across a bicycle that you are about to buy at Portobello market, they'll gladly accompany you to check out if your prospective purchase is going to serve you well.
Notting Hill Carnival is an annual two-day festival that takes place in the streets of Noting Hill including Westbourne Park Rd. For two days in the end of August it floods the streets and puts the traffic to standstill. The festival is organized by the local West Indian community and the tradition was started way back in the 60s. Initially, the carnival was organized as a response to racial oppression.
If you are lucky enough to live in this area, a film-set worthy sight opens to your eyes from its terraces and balconies! It has grown to become the second largest street festival worldwide and the commotion it brings about is truly surreal - an average of two million people stream out into streets, dancing and making food.
If you are not local, better think twice before immersing yourself there! There is nowhere you can get in, nowhere to sit down if you are tired, to say nothing of toilets.
At the same time, everything is well organized. Music vans with Mobile Sound Systems cruise the streets, Static Sound Systems are placed in different locations and deejays in their tents play Caribbean music. Youth organizations, various local communities and any other group for that matter have created their own carnival costumes, masques and even elaborate constructions. An entire dancing procession moves along the streets, following the vans of music.
On the final night when the police is about to roll up their sleeves to wrap up the festivity, the party still goes on! Entire Notting Hill boils like a huge open air party venue with everyone participating - both those who are out in the streets and the ones who watch the loud and colorful bash from their open windows and balconies.
Coronet Cinema (coronetcinema.co.uk, 103 Notting Hill Gate, W11) is one of the oldest movie theatres in London. On Tuesdays, one can watch a movie just for 2.50 GBP. Strange as it may seem, the cinema is almost empty then and you can have a luxury of watching a movie in the majestic 19th century hall in proud solitude. Another cinema in the area is the Gate Cinema (87 Notting Hill Gate, W11). It is a small and cozy place like a member's club where you can bring your wine and savor Art-House movies and films from festivals.
The otherwise seamless border between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in its west is marked by the Serpentine Lake with its favorite swimming place. Water is dirty there yet, when summer swelter sets in, this fact seems quite insignificant (it would be wise, however, to use available there showers to wash away algae that have stuck onto your skin, painting it greenish). The swimming area was created in the 70s and you have to pay an entrance fee of 4 GBP in daytime while after 6PM (when it's less crowded as well) this joy is for free. The beach is perfect for lounging late in the evening there, watching sunset, sipping wine and eating strawberries in a nice company.
Serpentine Gallery (Kensington Gardens, www.serpentinegallery.org), situated not far from there is one if my favorite art galleries. It's a venue of numerous architectural projects, organized in summertime in cooperation with renowned architects. Its café is opened until the beginning of October and its already legendary pavilions host conferences, film viewings and fantastic lectures, e.g., Miuccia Prada's lectures on fashion just for symbolic entrance fee.
Koenig Books at the Serpentine Gallery offers a wide range of books on modern and contemporary art, architecture and photography.
If you live in London or are a frequenter to this city, it's worth subscribing to newsletters of Serpentine Gallery, National Portrait Gallery or other art institutions to get regular updates to events taking place there. London is rich in large scale educational events that are free or just for a symbolic fee.
Needless to say that Soho area is brimming with variety of great spots and stuff, yet you need some knowledge to find the best. The history of such places reaches back to the 70s in some cases and, usually favored by locals, they are known only to locals themselves. These addresses don't boast flashy signboards and most often have to be entered from a backyard. A credible quality indicator of any place is its public. For example, if a Chinese restaurant is swarming with Americans, it's clearly not the right choice.
Walking from Soho in the direction of Covent Garden, you'll find Fopp shop (www.foppreturns.com, 1 Earlham Street WC2H 9LL). It's easily recognizable by its logo, resembling a blob of pink chewing gum. Fopp exists for 30 years already and is renowned for a vast range of CDs, DVDs and vinyl records for bargain prices, mostly mainstream production.
A couple of houses onward, there is a fashion, art and design book shop Magma (8, Earlham Street, WC2, www.magmabooks.com).
On Shaftesbury Avenue that starts from Piccadilly Square, you come across an incredible sailing shop, sited there ever since the end of the 19th century. Seemingly coming from the same epoch is its silver-haired sales assistant - a genuine English gentleman. The heavy wooden door with a gilded door-knob exudes timeless luxury and decorum. Among ropes, cable and technical sailing gear, you'll be able to find some garments for sailing as well - blazers, stripy sailors shirts and hats, produced by top brand marine clothing companies.
Running a number of cafes, Café Flat White (flatwhite.org) is a great spot to stop and treat yourself to a nice cup of coffee and get your breath back after walking.
Being a photographer myself, I cannot miss a chance of suggesting good photographic processors for those who are still committed to producing analogue photography. BDI (Old Street 171) laboratory is just unsurpassable in this respect. The shop is sited in a scruffy little house with cross-barred windows and outwardly gives an impression that it's long since closed and nothing is taking place there anymore. Nonetheless, it is one of the best labs for independent photographers! Bidding defiance to digital world, they treat each film with great care and accuracy, regardless of the size of your order and the level of your skills as a photographer.
On your way to BDI, it's worth visiting HOST Gallery (www.hostgallery.co.uk, 1-5 Honduras Str.), which features documentary photography and photojournalism projects and organizes seminars and movie demonstrations.
An informative newsletter, covering East London events and exhibitions is put out every two months and is available in most bars and cafés. It provides information on worth visiting multifunctional and creative places like JaguarShoes Collective (www.jaguarshoes.com, 32-34 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch) - a bar that operates also as an exhibition space and a platform for creative initiatives. In fact, everything eastwards from Shoreditch, is worth some attention.
Dalston District is something entirely dissimilar. It features completely different culture and environment. It almost seems that you are not in London and not even in Great Britain any more. Partly it's due to Ridley Road Market (www.ridleyroad.co.uk, Ridley Road) consisting of small stalls selling African food. Vibrant and full of life, it's like no other place in London! Sellers trade stuff among themselves and sell it to others. A railroad extends along one side of the marketplace while a peculiar and very atypical to London architecture rises on the other side.
Hackney Wick in East London, which is a former industrial area, now serves as a space for creative activities of London's young artists and house numerous workshops, galleries and cafés. Also the annual, two day Hackney Wicked festival is held there and features exhibitions, workshops, performances and has become a celebration of art itself.
Located in the same area is Elevator Gallery (www.elevatorgallery.co.uk, White Post Lane, Hackney Wick) - a wonderful art gallery, set in an old chocolate factory. The only opening the building has for letting in daylight is a top floor hatch, once used for loading goods and supplies. The long term patrons of the gallery are pioneers of Hackney Wick area - the residing there artist. The gallery hosts both local and international art exhibitions, movie viewings and boasts a lively music life as well. Elevator Gallery is currently recognized as the best underground art gallery in London.
Photo: - www.anothertravelguide.com
- Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2010, Designed by Jean Nouvel
© Ateliers Jean Nouvel
The Serpentine Gallery
© 2007 John Offenbach
Keywords: West London, East London, London