“There are always flowers for those who want to see them” – Henri Matisse
After two years of traveling I finally returned home this winter, expecting to be left lethargic by the intensity of long-term travel and troubled by the effects of reverse culture shock. In fact, what I experienced was the exact opposite of this. As I slowly absorbed the sights and sounds of a country that I once thought of as bland and grey, I felt an immediate urge to start traveling again, not in another country, but right here at home. My wanderlust for England was finally developing, and it felt exciting to indulge in it.
My experience of traveling has taught me three major things:
- The beauty of a place isn’t always immediately obvious, but with exploration you can find it.
- Try everything once because you only live once.
- You don’t need money to have fun
With this in mind, I set out with my camera and a friend and went to explore London on the cheap. Although London can be a very expensive place, it really doesn’t have to stretch the budget if you are careful about it. In fact, there are more free things going on in London than in any other part of England, and plenty of useful websites like London for Free can keep you updated on the latest events and exhibitions that you won’t have to pay a penny for.
My friend had suggested that we go to the Columbia Road Flower Market, which is well-known for being one of the most colourful markets in London. I always loved photographing markets in Asia, although before I went traveling I would have never considered going to one if I wasn’t going to buy something.
The Columbia Road Flower Market takes place in the trendy area of Hoxton, and the little street was an oasis of colourful flowers and leafy foliage. Cries of ‘one pound ya daffodils!” and “orchids only five pound!” floated from the stalls and hung thickly in the fragrant air. The jumble of shoppers ranged from intrigued tourists and well-off couples to overdressed hipsters in fur coats, and tiny dogs in their best sunday frocks. Tucked behind the flower stalls were a mixture of bolthole boutique gift stores, antiques and vintage shops, and cozy bakeries and coffee houses. At the end of the street, the market veered off into a few small restaurants and a courtyard inhabited by five or six musicians, playing pleasant melodies to the early morning crowds.
Wandering away from the main road, my friend and I came across a man selling Oysters from a tiny little table stall. “They came fresh from Pembrokshire this morning,” he told us. They were inexpensive and looked great. Never one to turn down new food, I was keen to try them, and so my friend and I bought one each, and watched as the man carefully unlocked them with a knife before pouring a little red wine vinegar and shallot dressing on to each one. We picked them up a little nervously, held them to our lips and then gulped them down.
The red wine vinegar was the perfect accompaniment, it was tart, sour and sharp, contrasting beautifully with the silky texture of the raw oyster, and adding more depth to its slightly salty and slimy taste. As I let it slip down my throat, I felt for a moment like I was back beside the ocean, and I clutched on to my empty oyster shell as though it were a seaside souvenir.
The oysters whet our appetites so my friend and I found a little cafe just minutes away from the market and had lunch for less than a fiver each. After this we decided to go and see an 80s arcade-style exhibition on Brick Lane that I had heard about online. Brick Lane is not too far away from Hoxton, so we saved ourselves some money and walked there instead of taking the bus or train.
Once home to the Jack the Ripper murders, the modern day Brick Lane enjoys a slightly more amicable scene! The area surrounding the lane itself is now home to a large percentage of London’s Bangladeshi community as well as a continually expanding range of nationalities. As a result of the Bangladeshi influence, the restaurants and curry houses are some of the best in London for those who like a spicy kick to their food. With its diverse ethnic groups, it is perhaps not surprising that Brick Lane is also a popular hub for London’s trendy crowd. Art galleries, vintage clothes stores, and markets are in abundance, and the vibrant street art creates a colourful backdrop to this thriving scene. The 80s arcade exhibition itself, which featured bitmap-style art installations spread out across the street, seemed to pale in comparison to some of the graffiti, quirky market stalls, and the sartorial style of most of the people there.
The Columbia Road Flower Market takes place on a Sunday and the best time to visit is in the morning. To reach it it is easiest to take the overground train to Hoxton, walk down to Hackney road, turn on to Ravencroft street and then keep walking until you reach Columbia Road.
Brick Lane always has plenty of interesting things on, whenever you visit, but the markets on Sunday are particularly good. The closest overground station is Shoreditch High Street and you can simply follow directions/the crowd from there.