LONDON – It’s hard to put into words how annoyed I was with myself this morning when I arrived at Columbia Road flower market , a trip I had been planning for some time, and realised I had forgotten my camera! I’m still reeling from the moment. It took me two buses to get there and once I realised I hadn’t brought my camera, I toyed with the idea of turning back. But then I’d come so far and decided to press on. Sigh!
To sum up, Columbia Road is really, really cool and well worth a visit. I’m going to return and take some snaps and probably shop some more and then I’ll write up about it in Part 2. But right now, here is my Part 1, with limited visuals.
If I have any advice for you, go early. I arrived at about 11 am and was confronted with big crowds that you have to navigate your way through in order to experience the market. Columbia Road is narrow and flower vendors line both sides of the street making the pedestrian area even more narrow. As a result, when it gets busy, it slows down and you have to be patient because you really are moving at a snail’s pace.
The crowds are colourful. It’s touristy so you’ll see a lot of foreigners – with cameras! It’s also in the East End. It’s also sells lots of garden plants so you’ll rub shoulders literally with pensioners too. It’s a mix. So go because you’ll fit in too.
As you slowly make your way down the street, the vendors will shout out their prices ‘three for a tenah (£10)’ or ‘roses, roses, come and get your roses. Twenty for £8.’ You get what I mean. It’s repetitive but it gives you an idea of what the deals are. Basically, they all sell at the same rate. And once the day wears on, the price drops because they need to sell their goods before 3 pm when they close up or before they’ve lost their voice – which was happening. It might be a good idea to stick around till the end because you could negotiate a good deal. One thing I did like about the vendors is that they were locals. No foreigners here. So it makes you feel like you’re experiencing the local culture.
There is a large variety of flowers. Expect: tulips, gladioli, roses galore, Chinese lanterns, sunflowers and what was particularly popular were the agapanthas. I really wanted to buy them. They were five stems for £10, but held back until I bought some cabbages. I’ve seen these for years and have always wanted to buy them. I paid £5 for five stems.
I’m assuming the flowers are seasonal. I didn’t ask. But they were in good condition and it felt fun to walk away with my flowers wrapped up in brown paper just like everyone else. What wasn’t fun was being wacked in the face by people with tall plants thrown over their shoulder. So be aware of that.
Once you’re done with the flower market. Take a deep breath. You’ve made it through part 1 of the visit. But don’t leave. Because behind the flower vendors are the shops and I have to say, there was a great assortment to browse through. I ended up buying a second hand book ‘How green was my valley’ by Richard Llewellyn (I’ve read it before and it’s very good) for £5. I also popped into Beyond Fabric and for £1 purchased a small square of fabric. I’ve decided to make my own bunting later this year for Christmas decoration.
There is also a small side street that you can pass through and you will find a cafe called Lily Vanilli. Apparently it’s got a celebrity following. I had no idea. But as I walked in my eyes fell on to this thick slice of bread, covered in vegetables and melting cheese. It looked soooo good. After what seemed like a long painful wait in the queue (their service is a bit wet behind the ears), I finally ordered the cheesy bread and I tell you, it was well worth the wait. It was so delicious. Sometimes meals with the simplest ingredients are the best. All they did was put some red onions and cooked baby marrows on a slice of thick brown bread covered in a sharp cheese and melt it in the oven. It was a winner!
Talking of celebrities, I did bump into a b-list celebrity! Remember the actress from ‘It’s Comlicated’? No, I did not bump into Meryl Streep. The other woman in the movie. This one.
Her name is Lake Bell. I sort of got a shock when I saw her. I knew I had seen her before but wasn’t sure where from. We made eye contact and she looked confused because of the way I reacted to seeing her. Not all star struck, but just when you see someone and you think you need to say hi because you know them from somewhere. Anyway, we didn’t stop for a natter.
And finally, here are my cabbages in the vase I bought from the Chelsea antique market in New York.
What flowers would you buy?
Stay tuned for Part 2.