UK Trip 2012, Day 7: Portobello Road Market in London and York

With our last day in London, we checked out Portobello road market and caught a train to York. See the picture gallery for the day here, or you can read on for the details.

Ever since I saw the British movie “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” I always wanted to see Portobello road. (We recently re-watched the movie a few months ago, which made me want to see Portobello road even more!) Of course I had not realized that the market is really only lively on Saturdays. Luckily, one of our days in London was a Saturday, so we were able to visit the market and see it in all of its glory. On the Saturday that we went (May 19), we took the tube down relatively early in the morning (around 10AM) and the area was already bustling even before we reached the actual market. We followed the crowd out of the station and down the streets – there were signs guiding people to the market, but it was just as easy to follow the swarm. Trinket and tourist shops lined the small street leading up to the market, but it was easy to tell where the actual Portobello road market started.

At the market, stalls were open on either side of the road, and the road itself had been completely closed off to the traffic. Walking a block in to the market, there were more stalls in the road. In some places there were stalls set up within open areas inside the buildings next to the road. There were also shops open in the buildings lining the street – normally, the stalls were not there but the shops in the buildings were open. The stalls sold a variety of merchandise, from books, a wide array of food, trinkets (lots of pocket watches, figurines, handkerchiefs, and other items), children’s toys, clothing (including purses), tea kettles, musical instruments, plants, fabric, craft supplies, and lots, lots more. (I kept singing the movie’s song in my head, “Anything and everything a chap can unload.”) Altogether, there are some 2,000 stalls open on market days.

The market stalls went on for several blocks, perhaps over a mile. The entire stretch of the market was roughly broken up into different wares being sold – after the first block (which included a mix of food stalls, trinket stalls, a book stall, and some antique stalls) there were a few blocks selling food, from freshly prepared items (pastries, crepes, sausage, even Mexican food, and lots more) to produce (none organic though). Strangely, the produce looked as though it had been purchased from a grocery store and simply taken to the stalls to be re-sold. After the food was a few blocks with stalls selling different “new” items, from children’s toys, trinkets, and new clothing. After that most of the stalls sold cheap clothing, including lots of jackets and sweaters. All in all, we bought some food for a tasty brunch and I bought a 1916 edition of a Jane Austen novel for my mother – there were multiple book stalls selling very old books. It was a lot of fun to see all the shops, and the variety of wares they were selling.

A cute site of note – there was an old man with a terrier perched on his shoulder that would drink (presumably tea) out of his cup.

After seeing the famous Portobello road market, we visited a college friend of my mother’s, Liz, who lives in London (we’d had dinner with her the night before). It was interesting seeing a London flat – it was pretty similar to a flat you’d see in the U.S., but perhaps with a few more stairs (and no elevator). It was in a very pleasant part of Notting Hill with lots of nice trees.

An interesting site while we were there – a tree decided to grow through a fence, as if the tree were an amorphous blob.

Walking to a tube station from there, we caught the tube to the station where our train to York would pick us up. We enjoyed riding first class in the train (the only way to guarantee seats on some of these trains), which included tea and “biscuits” (they’re really tasty cookies). Saw some beautiful green country side and two nuclear power plants on our way up to York.

Our hotel, The Ashberry, was about half a mile from the train station, so we dragged our luggage up the streets to it. We admired the old town wall as we did so — York’s had walls since the Roman times, although not much of the existing wall probably dates back quite that far. After checking in to our hotel, we headed in to town for dinner. The town was surprisingly active at night (we had already been warned by the hotel staff to “walk past the drunks” as we entered town) – apparently Saturday nights are very popular for young people to go out and get drunk. There were several groups of college-aged people, male and female, wandering to the pubs (about 1 in 10 people in York is a college student). We saw at least two obvious bachelorette parties, and several all-male groups. There was at least one bouncer at every pub – one we talked to was very friendly. Although York is a very safe college town, apparently the Saturday night drinking has recently become a real problem, so much so that we later saw a sign in the train station saying that it was now not allowed to have alcohol on the trains on Saturday nights. Avoiding these groups, we found a quiet pub where mostly only older family groups were eating at.

We had a really great meal there, with real traditional pub fare which included our first hard cider (it was super tasty [I’d never had hard cider before]), deep fried brie cheese with chutney, a great shepherd’s pie (we were hesitant because we’d had a very disappointing shepherd’s pie for lunch a few days before), and slow-braised lamb shoulder. Wandering back to our hotel, we saw more groups of people still tumbling into town – it was more amusing than anything else.

As a side note, the recurring theme of seeing “repurposed” old churches/cathedrals surfaced again – we passed by a church that had been converted into a pub/night club.

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