London Travel: Two historic Train Stations, the Portabello Market, Notting Hill and London's Little Beirut
Finally I had succeeded in getting to London after my one day delay in Salzburg. I had spent about a week in Austria and was scheduled to fly to London during the late evening of May 8, but when I arrived at the airport I was told that my flight had been cancelled and that I was booked on next-day's flight.
Of course panic set in immediately since I had planned four days in London, and with a departure a day later I would lose an entire day of my already short stay in London. Huge disappointment set in since I had been looking forward to my London visit for a long time. Well, since I had no choice I made the best of the situation, and the customer service agents at the Salzburg Airport were very helpful and assisted me in finding reasonable accommodation. Once my room was booked I wheeled my suitcases out of the airport building, went on a 10-minute bus ride, checked in at my small local inn and quickly passed out cold after a long day.
Yesterday, the sun woke me up and a brilliant warm day was in store. I spent the entire day exploring Salzburg, hiking up on the Kapuzinerberg Mountain that faces the famous Hohensalzburg Fortress. I enjoyed a great outdoor lunch on the tree-shaded patio of the Franziskischlössl, a small fortified castle at the top of the hill that offers a great view of Salzburg's mountain panorama.
In the afternoon I descended back into the city and watched the local street life unfold on the banks of the Salzach River and also admired the beautiful gardens of Mirabell Castle. Finally at 6 pm it was time to head back to the airport to make a second attempt to reach my coveted destination. After observing the airport activities from the rooftop terrace at the Salzburg Airport I watched my British Airways plane land and got ready to board. Finally I was on my way to London.
It had been a long time since I had been to England: in fact 27 years have passed since my first and only visit to the British Isles. As a teenager I went on a language exchange program to England to practice my English and stayed with a family for three weeks in the coastal town of Southend. I had only ever spent one day in London, after taking the train into the city to visit the British War Museum. That was now more than a quarter century ago.
So I was really excited to get to know London, one of the world's great cities. My good friend Andrea, from my home town in Austria, was going to meet me in London to assist me with her local expert knowledge. Prior to my departure I had already contacted Visit Britain in order to get lots of valuable input for my trip, and with their help I had worked out a detailed itinerary that would expose me to many different facets of London.
After arriving around 10:00 pm at London's Gatwick Airport I booked a local train ticket to Farringdon Station and used public transit to get to my hotel. Any North American will notice that London has an extensive public transport system which today comprises the London Underground (the subway), London Rail and various forms of surface transport including buses and passenger boat service on the River Thames. Regardless of which city I travel to, I always enjoy using the public transit systems since this gets you a step closer to the daily life of the local residents.
Finally after 11 pm I had arrived in Clerkenwell, an area in Central London that got its name from the Clerk's Well in Farringdon Lane. Although it was close to midnight when I exited the train station I entered into a local entertainment area that was full of young stylish people laughing and socializing on various restaurant patios. Street life was absolutely hopping. Even at this late time of the day I felt completely safe walking through the streets of this neighbourhood, and just about ten minutes after my arrival by train I arrived at my abode for the next three nights: the Zetter Hotel.
The Zetter Hotel is a boutique hotel in the heart of Clerkenwell that offers 59 unique decorated bedrooms. My stylish rooftop studio was located on the top floor and came with a terrace that provided me with an enchanting view of the lights of London. I could even see London's giant ferris wheel, the London Eye, in the distance. The many interesting buildings of London's financial district were all lit up, testimony to London's role as a global financial centre.
My travel partner Andrea had arrived a few hours earlier and had already attended the famous Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London, a historic ritual dating back to the 14th century that I unfortunately missed due to my late arrival. While Andrea was still excited about her interesting evening, I started to settle down in my stylish hotel room and began to relax after a very long day.
After a few hours of good rest we were ready for a full day of explorations. We started with a hearty breakfast in the main floor restaurant of the Zetter Hotel which included an extensive breakfast buffet. I enjoyed a scrumptious Banana Strawberry Crepe while my travel partner partook of the generous buffet. After breakfast we had a chance to interact with the crew of the restaurant and snapped a few pictures of them in the cool lounge area.
Now we were ready to head out and I was excited about the chance to explore London. We started to discover the historic streets of Clerkenwell. Just around the corner from our hotel, we passed by St. John's Gate, built in 1504 as an entrance to the inner precinct of the Priory of the Knights of Saint John, also called the Knights Hospitaller. This Christian organization provided care for sick or injured pilgrims in the Holy Land during the Crusades from the 11th century onwards. St. John Ambulance, founded in 1877, is a charity organization that is also connected with the Order of St. John.
Through the narrow streets of Clerkenwell we strolled towards Farringdon subway (or rather tube) station and came across Smithfield Market where meat has been traded for about 800 years. Today's market consists of an expansive Victorian-era building with two wings, the East and West Market, which are separated by Grand Avenue. Street names like Poultry Lane bear witness to the meat-trading history of this market. The market buildings are a stunning example of Victorian-era architecture and feature very colourful metal ornamentations and interesting details.
This Saturday morning the market was closed, and I wish we had had more time to explore it in further detail, but our busy schedule demanded that we move on. We got on the tube at Farringdon Station and went a few stops to St. Pancras Railway Station, a great example of a Victorian railway station, built in 1868. The station was renovated during the last few years and recently reopened as the terminal for the Eurostar trains that connect London with the European continent via the Channel Tunnel.
Just steps away from St. Pancras is another major railway station: King's Cross, which was built even earlier than its neighbour and opened in 1852. Great Britain is truly the cradle of railroad travel, and many of London's historic railway stations provide an ambience that gives you a feeling for what early rail travel must have been like.
King's Cross is the southern terminus of the East Coast Main Line, one of Britain's major railway routes. King's Cross has even found its way into popular culture: the Pet Shop Boys used it as a backdrop in several of their music videos. More recently the railway station was featured in the popular Harry Potter series, and a Platform 9 ¾ is indeed located in a side building of the station. King's Cross St. Pancras Tube station is the largest station in the entire London Underground, illustrating the importance of this nerve centre of public transportation.
Then we hopped on the Tube again and were quickly whisked away to our next destination: Portobello Road Market. Located in the Notting Hill District, this outdoor street market runs through almost the entire length of Notting Hill from north to south. Saturday is the day for the famous street market which features an eclectic collection of fruits, vegetables, prepared foods, second hand clothing and antiques. People flock to it from far and wide, and this street market attracts its share of unique characters. We got enticed several times by different street vendors that sold anything from fresh steaming paella to colourful Italian mini-pizzas, freshly baked bread and sweet chocolate crepes.
The outdoor stands were displaying funky clothing, cashmere shawls, fur coats as well as all sorts of unusual antiques. From vintage miniature cars, to old binoculars, record players, metal contraptions that I had no idea what they were and instruments that looked like early machine guns, this is definitely a place that will delight any avid antiques collector. If you are looking for eclectic items to decorate your house with, Portobello Market is your answer…
In the early afternoon we had arranged to do an interview with Michael Williams, one of the organizers of Notting Hill Carnival, London's annual Carribean festival. We arranged to meet in a small café near Notting Hill Gate to find out more about the city's biggest street party. Michael initiated us to the history of this annual event which first happened in 1967. The carnival is the world's second largest street festival after the carnival in Rio de Janeiro and has attracted up to 1.5 million spectators.
Michael provided us with a historic overview of Caribbean immigration in London. During World War II in particular, a lot of black immigrants from West Africa and the Caribbean arrived in London, working as sailors and in the armed services. During the 1950s and 1960s Britain experienced heavy immigration from English-speaking Caribbean countries, in particular Jamaica. Many of these immigrants worked in transportation, hospital services and railway development, significantly contributing to Britain's post-war rebuilding efforts.
The initial Notting Hill Carnival was actually held in 1959 as a response to the poor state of race relations. Racial riots had taken place in Notting Hill in 1958 when white working class youths attacked houses of West Indian residents. Claudia Jones, a Trinidadian political activist and community leader, founded Notting Hill Carnival in 1959 in order to showcase the talents of the Afro-Caribbean community in Britain. Her Mardi-Gras celebrations turned into an annual event. From 1965 the event was held annually in August and became a popular street festival. During the 1970s there were often tensions and riots, reflecting the uneasy state of race relations, but in recent years British authorities have come to view Notting Hill Carnival as a very positive addition to the London's annual event calendar. Recent estimates indicate that Notting Hill Carnival contributes around $200 million to London and the British economy.
Historically the Notting Hill area was used for clay brick-making, and it also featured a large number of pig farmers. The main development of the area got started in the 1840s by the Ladbroke family who were major landowners in the area. A main street in the area is still named after this family. In the early 20th centuries many of the large mansions were converted into rooming houses, and during the post-war years Notting Hill became a low-income area dominated by a number of slum landlords. The neighbourhood came full circle in the 1980s when affluent families started to move in again and began to gentrify the area. Today, Notting Hill is one of London's most popular areas.
About the Author
Susanne Pacher is a Travel Journalist specializing in <a href="http://www.travelandtransitions.com/">Unconventional Travel</a> you can get tons of great unconventional and unique travel information and tips if you <a href="http://www.travelandtransitions.com/">Click Here</a>
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