Sunday, 5 December 2010

Charlie (on holiday) in London (5): The East End

Does a holiday count if you decide to stay in the same city? To visit the sights and sounds that is normally mundane and routine? Well, we have a much quoted maxim, you never bother to see Madamme Tussaud's unless a visitor is in town. Well, last month I decided to head out into the city, and explore it, just a little. So join me this week, as I take you on a mini-tour of some of London's more fashionable (and quirky) sights.


Yesterday I wrote about the West End and so today, it is only natural to talk about the East End. Why? Well, Sunday is the day that this part of London traditionally comes alive! While the rest of London simmers in a swirl of Sunday trading laws, the East End has never really had this problem. A gathering of immigrants from European Jews to the Bengalis of late has meant that it was other days that became the Sabbath and so London's traditional day of leisure and relaxation has meant that those in the East End are ready to cash-in on London's greatest pastime – shopping!

All right, all right, I am cynical about shopping, but there are two exceptions to this rule. Firstly I love shopping for food, and secondly, I love markets. All too often in the UK, we are treated to sanitised, fluorescent lit malls and supermarkets, indoor arenas where everything is just right for that special moment – oh please, do not make me puke. But in the market place, there is something a lot more raw and ready, a link to a more primitive time – before solid foundations and building statutes, there have been markets worldwide, across cultures and nations, it is something inherent to humanity. Blame the Archaeologist in me, but I would have loved to have witnessed the great trading scenes of Tlateleco or I should have spent more time in Bangkok at the Floating Markets. Nonetheless, despite the ravages of modern, credit card dominated capitalism, we have a few great market places, all in East London, all trading (madly) on a Sunday. I myself used to work one of those markets, in Petticoat Lane, selling coats. Ah, such is the varied life of this particular film director...

One of the things I love about the East End markets is the food pickings. Have a wander, and do not be tempted by the smells of the first stall. There is usually a plethora of fod outlets selling everything from cinnamon coated Churros to Miso Soup and everything in between. Ah, such is the eclectic nature of London's food scene. Witnessed best, not in some fancy restaurant but on the grubby streets of the capital itself. Take a peek, have a sniff and make your gamble on what you desire. The food is actually pretty good, fresh and importantly, cheap!


There are four big market areas in East London, open every Sunday from the early hours until mid-afternoon. They are Columbia Road Flower Market - one of London's most scenic. Brick Lane, one of London's most eclectic. Spitalfields, one of London's poshest. And Petticoat Lane, a piece of traditional London hemmed in by posh on all sides.


Getting there and away:

Columbia Road - Shoreditch High Street (London Overground) and bus routes 8, 26, 48, 55, 388 and D3.

Brick Lane - Shoreditch High Street (London Overground) or Aldgate East (District/Hammersmith & City) and bus routes 8, 15, 25, 67, 135, 205 or 388.

Spitalfileds - Aldgate East (District/Hammersmith & City) and bus routes 15, 25, 67, 135 and 205.

Petticoat Lane (the best connected of the lot) - Aldgate (Circle/Metropolitan) or Liverpool Street (Circle/Met/Hammersmith & City and Central) and bus routes 8, 11, 15, 23, 25, 26, 35, 40, 42, 47, 48, 55, 67, 78, 100, 133, 135, 149, 153, 205, 214, 242, 271, 344 or 388.