Hyde park is an oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of central London, very much like NYC’s Central park, a little unassuming from the street with a basic tree line but as soon as you step into it the traffic noise is all but muted to a distant ocean waves-like wash. A bit further in and its gone altogether and you’re left with the tranquil sounds of nature. One of the major features, other than the deck chairs ūüėČ is the waterways and lake. There are plenty of ducks and swans looking for a feed and paddle boats to go exploring. Other wildlife in the park like birds and squirrels are very tamed almost to the point you can hand feed them, not that we were silly enough to tempt fate and risk a scratch or bite.

As mentioned, deck chairs are available (for a fee) but there are plenty of free benches and a whole lot of lush grass to soak up the atmosphere and any sunshine that may be lurking between clouds.

Photo tip: there are plenty of gardens in the park with a variety of flowers, ornaments and water features. A mid range zoom macro lens would be the way to go or a dedicated macro for close up flower work.

On the southern end of the park, crossing over to Brompton Rd. you will come across a line of higher end stores which pave a path to one of London’s most famous centers for pompus-ity, Harrods. If you’re like us and can’t fathom or afford thousands of dollars (pounds) for a purse or a single piece of clothing then have a quick wander, admire the intricate architecture on the walls and ceilings then get out before security labels you as a homeless bum and tries to usher you out… you heathen. If however you’re after some exotic llama cheese or feel like paying 30 quid for a small box of early grey then this is the place for you. Don’t forget your ¬£17BP enviro shopping bag to carry it all home in!

Jokes and insane prices aside, the food court area on the lower level would be the most interesting for most people. There’s a lot of gourmet items, some prepped ready to cook while others are ready to eat there and a wide selection of wines, condiments, deli produce and sweets.

Piccadilly Circus

If you’ve ever seen a movie with a scene in central London then more than likely you’ve seen Piccadilly Circus, well at least the giant TDK and Sanyo* sign. Adjacent memorial fountain is also a popular landmark which is located outside one of the few notable shops in this area, Lillywhites.

Lillywhites is a sports store and some what an institution especially in this location since it has been here since 1925. There’s 6 levels of sporting goods with a wide range of brands and styles, a lot at very reasonable prices and much of that on special. Being in this location of course attracts the tourist crowd so it gets rather cramped and a bit frantic at just about all hours of the day. If you find the last pair of sneakers in your size and the box is available, grab them and hold on to them even if you’re not 100% sure, otherwise prepare to feel the cold hard sting of regret moments later when they will be gone.

* – After about 25 years of this exact sign occupying this space, news is Sanyo wont be renewing its contract. By the time you read this it will more than likely read “Hyundai”.

Phototip: try and get there both during the day and at night for some vastly contrasting shots.

Well that about wraps it up for London. Next we don the beret, curly moustache, cigarette and baguette, board the Eurostar and head over land to Paris!

London 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Soho Shopping
London 2011 part #2 – Central London sight seeing
London 2011 part #3 – Chelsea Flower show
London 2011 part #4 – Shopping – Hammersmith
London 2011 part #5 – Shopping – Covent Garden and Soho
London 2011 part #6 – Shopping – Camden
London 2011 part #7 – Shopping – Shoreditch

London photo gallery here
Chelsea flower show photo gallery here

With a little time to spare we caught the black line from Chalk Farm to Old Street (just make sure you get the one going through Kings Cross, not Euston) to make a stop at an “in the know” sneaker collector spot Kazmatazz. ¬†Walking past, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was just one of those discount .99p stores with items stacked along its front window but on further inspection of the unpacked boxes and seemingly random grouping display, you’ll see a method to the madness with a lot of unique pieces of clothing and sneakers. ¬†A lot of items weren’t in multiple sizes or colours and quite a few I had never seen in the States let alone London or at all, another very good sign. ¬†On the down side, you would have to trust his taste and selection to really benefit from the “uniqueness” as some colourways and styles were questionable to say the least.

Kazmattazz

Watching, who I assume was the owner, stand firm against a middle age guy trying to haggle 60%+ off a pair of jeans was amusing to say the least. ¬†While firm with this guy, he was only to friendly to have a chat and point out new arrival stock to me. ¬†Chat a bit more and if you know what you’re talking about he may suggest you to have a look at the “good stuff out back/behind the counter”. ¬†From the quick look I had before he went back to Mr. Lowballer, it seems he may have access to a Tier 0/1 account and possibly a collector’s collection from the colourways and models I saw. ¬†Either way, stock was very limited, no idea on sizes but it would be one of those places where frequent visits would be required on the off chance you nab something you’ve been chasing.

Unfortunately with thoughts of overweight luggage looming, we left empty handed and headed down Bishopgate. ¬†Getting towards the business districts, it was eerily quiet on a weekend but a nice walk to see some stark contrasts of modern skyscrapers amongst period architecture. ¬†To cut across to Brick Lane, by pure chance we wandered down Brushfield St where we stumbled across the Old Spitalfield markets. ¬†While not huge, it still had quite a few rows of stalls, “classier” or more elegant styled arts and crafts, jewellery and hand crafted clothing sat amongst the market staples of novelty tees and souvenirs.

Arriving at Brick Lane was like walking into a music festival. ¬†Normally its full of expats and backpackers looking for the cheapest curry deals but come the weekend they’re looking for the cheapest of… just about anything else. ¬†The food stores still have their “hey buddy” “come have a look” staff on the street but towards the northern end, Dray Walk is where the random street vendors and market stalls start cropping up. The bulk of the stalls lie in the Old Truman Brewery building with the majority being at the cheaper low end of the market range. ¬†The selection of food definitely makes up for it, its just a matter of finding somewhere to sit (or stand) to eat it!

The surrounding lanes is where things look up a bit with a few nice boutique stores and Casio G Shock East store (pretty much identical stock to their West store). ¬†Prior research also revealed another sneaker spot called “Gloria’s” at shop 6 Dray Walk but I’ll be darned if we could find it! ¬†Quite possibly no longer existing or just wasn’t open on the day hiding behind one of the many vandalised rolla-doors.


Travel tip: We took the scenic (re: long) route down to Whitechapel station (Aldgate East is closer) but we did come across another JD Sports store which was perfect to grab a couple last minute items to fill the few spaces left in the suitcase. ¬†Moral of the story – JD Sports stores are everywhere so even if you miss one or change your mind there isn’t one too far away.

That’s just about it for our London visit, we wind down next with a spot of tranquility at Hyde park.

London 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Soho Shopping
London 2011 part #2 – Central London sight seeing
London 2011 part #3 – Chelsea Flower show
London 2011 part #4 – Shopping – Hammersmith
London 2011 part #5 – Shopping – Covent Garden and Soho
London 2011 part #6 – Shopping – Camden
London 2011 part #8 – Hyde park, Piccadilly Circus

London photo gallery here
Chelsea flower show photo gallery here

Imagine every market you’ve ever been to… all at once, and you’ll be coming close to what Camden is like, but first, getting there.

The busiest days are on the weekend with most of the shops open, because of this and the influx of around 100,000 people every weekend (and the dire need of an upgrade to the station) Camden Town station is “exit only” for most of it. Check the posted signs or London Underground website before hand for in and out times so you don’t end up trying to push your way against the current and REALLY look like a tourist ūüėČ

Rest assured, not all is lost if you cant make it out on a weekend, a fair percentage of the fixed stores are open during the week and will be much more suitable for those that aren’t fond of crowds.

Exiting the station on to Camden High St. you get a plethora of sneakers with JD Sports, Footlocker and Offspring. These are all decent sized stores with plenty of stock, variety and sales. If you’re going to buy up big straight out the gate, consider asking the store to hold your purchases to collect later otherwise you will quickly lose patience and strength trying to get a couple armfuls through the bustling crowd.

Heading north, take your selection of Converse and Dr. Martin stores along with kitsch punk, rockabilly, vintage clothing (Punkyfish, Rokit Vintage), leather goods and a secondhand music and video store.

The Camden markets themselves start just after the river crossing with Camden Lock and The Stables traditionally being THE markets but there are smaller groups of stalls in surrounding lanes and streets. In general its a mixture of fixed stores, large warehouse style areas and temporary pop up stalls that cover all manner of arts, crafts, fashion, food, brick a brac, novelties and souvenirs. There’s really no good place to start or any kind of system to get you round the place with so many things to see (and taste), its more a matter of taking your time and going with the flow (literally most of the time). If things get a little too hectic for you, there’s plenty of nice spots along the water-way to take a breather.

Stand outs were the smaller designer stalls with unique tees (these are the ones that don’t have the same designs as the last 10 stalls you just walked past!) and the cute vintage style dresses. There is a couple places stocking a few toys but the only place worth a mention is a small stall in the Stables hosted by some old dude. Pretty much all vintage items, most rather worn or in boxes that have seen better days. A few Star Wars and He-man items but you will have to get your fingers dirty to really find something amongst the cluttered shelves.

Finally, no visit to the Camden markets would be complete with out visiting Cyberdog. Quite possibly your worse nightmare if your kid brings you here and you have very little knowledge or experience with the dance music scene but for everyone else its pretty much like being at a rave. From the entrance with the giant “people of the future” statues you are bombarded with strobe lights and a barrage of hard style and hard trance. Its very dimly lit apart from neon lights and all manner of glow in the dark and flashing novelties like coloured contacts and light up face “neurons”. The rest covers everything you’ll need for a night of laser reaching with the staples of phat pants and light up tees to full space suits and girls outfits which shakily stumble the line of “cute raver chick” and Fortitude Valley hooker. There is also a good selection of DJ gear (CDJ’s, mixers, headphones etc).

The biggest set back is the pricing, which goes from “whoa!” to “ok, lets get outta here”. Also keep your camera holstered, the staff may look like they’re “best night eva”-ing but be aware of the ones that are already on to their “Terrible Tuesday” (plus there’s “no photo” signs at the entrance and around the store).

From my research there is also supposed to be a “good” sneaker store right near Cyberdog but with very little recent online presence I’d dare say it has since closed as it was no where to be seen.

Since the Camden Town station was exit only, we took a short walk to Chalk Farm Station which was stark quiet in contrast and an easy boarding to head out to our next stop, Shoreditch.

London 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Soho Shopping
London 2011 part #2 – Central London sight seeing
London 2011 part #3 – Chelsea Flower show
London 2011 part #4 – Shopping – Hammersmith
London 2011 part #5 – Shopping – Covent Garden and Soho
London 2011 part #7 – Shopping – Shoreditch
London 2011 part #8 – Hyde park, Piccadilly Circus

London photo gallery here
Chelsea flower show photo gallery here

Size?

Soho part #2

On the way to Covent Garden we decided to make a quick stop back at Carnaby, this time when the shops were actually open! Little did we know, it was the day of a monthly moped/scooter meet up, right in the middle of it. There was literally over a 100 “bikers” all revving their engines filling the small alleyways with leaded fumes and the sound of a bunch of angry mosquitoes, quite the spectacle for all the senses. We took refuge in Size? but the damage was already done, this and several other store along the way were already full of exhaust fumes, yummy. Size? did have a good selection of sneakers, some I didn’t see making the rounds online till a month or 2 later. They also had a few items on sale, always a good sign. Some clothing downstairs, most unworthy of the exuberant price tags but again there was a welcomed clearance rack of hoodies and tees.

Down to the southern bordering lane of Carnaby, Brewer st., resides the New Era flagship store which surprisingly stocked a wide range of Yankees caps in just about every colour possible but disappointingly few other teams or colours over their two levels. Couple doors down is easily one of my favourite toy stores in London, Playlounge. These guys have been going at it for years and their wide selection shows this. Like my other fave stores, they don’t just stock only the obvious stuff like Kidrobot, there’s plenty of obscure stuff and local pieces like The Bubblegum Adventures of Periwinkle series. However, saddened once again with not being able to make the big (in size) purchases I dragged my feet out to Covent Garden, stopping at Sports Direct along the way. Oh, there’s also the Vintage Magazine store, which wouldn’t be out of place in West Hollywood with a lot of movie and TV memorabilia, celebrity related stuff, cool vintage posters and of course magazines.

New Era

Playlounge

Vintage Magazines

Covent Garden

We stopped in at Foot Patrol, kind of London’s answer to Undftd. The name gets around thanks to some of their collabo’s but in general their range of sneakers and clothing is pretty small with a strong leaning towards “dressier” styles and higher end items. It would of course be the place to be if there was a quickstrike drop or a new limited release.

Foot Patrol

Foot Patrol

Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet megastore popped up a few blocks later and a megastore it was. Very much like Melbourne’s Minotaur, it’s a geek haven for all things comics, anime, collectibles, pop culture, cult tv and associated merch. What it lacks in quirkiness and uniqueness against Playlounge it makes up for in sheer bulk. Prices were average RRP, some a little higher compared to the States not at all helped by the exchange rate but there was a good selection of sale items.

In the same area you have the London Kidrobot store one or two London exclusives, namely the printed tees. Couple doors down is Adidas Originals and Volcom, there’s also the “West” G Shock store, nothing you cant get online (and for cheaper) but it was cool to see rows of the watches all lined up.

Neal Street is the main drag of Covent Garden and is home to a string of shoe and clothing stores. Sole, Offspring, Size? and Focus are just some of them, all have varying degrees of stock, pricing and variety. All are small to average sized stores so it wont take long to pop your head in to all of them. Round the corner in Neal’s Yard is Slam City Skates, one of London’s oldest and most prolific skate stores. They have a good selection of skate related products at regular prices, just don’t tell the kids off for loitering round the entrance, more than likely they work there ūüėČ

G-Shock West

G-Shock West

Next, we go market crazy at Camden and Shoreditch.

London 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Soho Shopping
London 2011 part #2 – Central London sight seeing
London 2011 part #3 – Chelsea Flower show
London 2011 part #4 – Shopping – Hammersmith
London 2011 part #6 – Shopping – Camden
London 2011 part #7 – Shopping – Shoreditch
London 2011 part #8 – Hyde park, Piccadilly Circus

London photo gallery here
Chelsea flower show photo gallery here

Hammersmith is not really a common stop for London tourists, in fact the locals will probably tell you to stay away from it! Possibly in part its because it feels like it’s the old shopping center that went downhill when the new mega shopping mall came to town. BUT, the reason I decided to head out this way again was because of a recommendation and subsequent successful trip out the last time I was in London, the two main draw cards being, TK Maxx and Primark.

TK Maxx is very similar to the big brand items clearance items at shopping centres like DFO or Harbourtown but all in one store. Womenswear takes a fair chunk and the whole lower level, handily arranged by clothing type on racks. Upstairs there’s menswear, footwear and household items. Brands vary but it all depends on when you go, this time there seemed to be a fresh shipment of Britian’s popular activewear, Bench. Sneakers were sadly lacking this time, unlike my last visit where Adidas Muppet or Mr Men collabs were being thrown away for ~50BP, a year later appearing on sneaker sites for $200+AU! They do however have a good range of hiking shoes, boots and technical runners which go well with a large selection of out of season jackets, parkas, windbreakers etc.

Primark is probably just as avoidable for Londanites as Lowes or Valleygirl is to most Aussies but their range and prices are unmistakably good value. If you’re looking for general business/office basics then this is definitely the place to go. Plain colours, simple, clean designs with a modern touch and best of all original enough to still look just a little bit different back home in Australia.

While both these spots were disappointing this time, a third reason has appeared in the last few years one tube stop away at the newly built Wood Lane or upgraded Shephard’s Bush stations, Westfield London.

Westfield London

I know what you’re thinking, ANOTHER Westfiled, but this thing is something else. It’s the only one in London and being only a few years old, the place looks super modern and is huge with 300+ stores and an open air feel thanks to the high glass ceilings. The centre boasts 319 stores, (search the whole list here) some of the staples are Onitsuka, Vans, Adidas, Puma and Nike, which are all on par for their respective names. Nike had a second story but again all regular fare. For variety in sneakers and clothing and sale items Sole, Foot Asylum, JD Sports and Sports Direct were worthy stop-ins.

Lego Deathstar

Lego Tower Bridge

One other must see is the Lego store, the (fully operational) Death Star or detailed model of the London Tower bridge will draw you in but the wall of coloured bricks sold by the soda cupful will make you want to stay! Only the basic bricks were available in this manner but they were in every colour ever made. In hindsight even one kg of bricks could’ve easily fit sprinkled through out my luggage. There are also stations to test build your own creations or customise your own Lego man. They of course, also have a good range of Lego merchandise.

Wall o' Lego

Lastly if you’re looking for the Wetzels Pretzels stand, sadly it is no longer there. Those poms don’t know what they’re missing!

Covent Garden and Soho are next on the shopping list.

London 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Soho Shopping
London 2011 part #2 – Central London sight seeing
London 2011 part #3 – Chelsea Flower show
London 2011 part #5 – Shopping – Covent Garden and Soho
London 2011 part #6 – Shopping – Camden
London 2011 part #7 – Shopping – Shoreditch
London 2011 part #8 – Hyde park, Piccadilly Circus

London photo gallery here
Chelsea flower show photo gallery here

I always thought this was one of the biggest flower shows in London but after catching a Better homes and Gardens special the other night, turns out its not, but don’t let that deter you, its still one of London’s most prestige flower shows and occupies a good couple square kilometers of the Royal Hospital park. As a testament to this, tickets sell out almost as fast as Big Day Out (used to), so getting in early to save disappointment is a must. Tickets are available by date and by time with the cheaper ones being later in the day or towards the end of the show dates.

Sloane Square is the closest tube stop but there are plenty of buses and other unofficial cash-inners doing regular runs. Walking down Lower Sloane St, take the right into Royal Hospital Rd. to get to the main entrance and collect your tickets, otherwise you will end up having to circle the whole block as there are no other entrances (one on the south western side but its for members and media only).

Some very handy tips are listed here which will help you through the day but in general it’s a sea of people everywhere you go and a little bit of a maze to get around.

Main Avenue

Main Avenue is the first place to start with larger companies and stores displaying and selling products and flowers. Smaller vendors with crafted items and garden ornaments branch off from this along with fully recreated garden entries, these ranged from rustic to ultra modern minimalistic styles. Unfortunately getting a nice wide shot can be quite difficult with the crowd and little ol Mavis doesn’t help by elbowing you in the ribs or obscuring your shot with some wayward pointing.

The definite highlight is the Great Pavilion which houses hundreds of displays of cut flowers, new varieties, exotic plants and exhibits on how to go completely over the top with them. Some of the simplest displays were just as eye catching as the elaborate thanks to some clever arranging.

One of the first things even the most casual observer will notice is the variety of colours, think Hyacinths don’t come in magenta, think again. The next observation is the countless new hybrids and completely new varieties available and not just thanks to the UK’s flower friendly climate. For the most part, viewing is rather easy in the sense that similar varieties and countries’ natives are grouped together. There was even an Australian natives section, sadly amongst all the colour and flair it looked more like the backyard of my old share house after not mowing it for 9 months than a flora display.

The Bonsai exhibit stood out in an understated simplistic way but was dwarfed in size, colour and sheer “Whoa! That would’ve taken FOREVER” with a ceremony display of Thai flower arranging in the shapes of animals (elephants and fish) and temples garnished with further origami style weave crafting of dried leaves and reeds.

Further creativity was on display with the finalists of the Chelsea Young Florist of the Year competition, where entrants had to create a jacket made from or heavily cover in intricate live flower designs.

Back outside, you’d have more luck finding a spot to eat, rest or use the bathroom at a music festival than here. Long queues and people who don’t function well in crowds (or are too old to care) are a problem but if you come prepared with some snacks or don’t plan on staying more than a few hours it wont be enough to ruin your day. Even better when you realise you’ve gone the whole event without getting hayfever! ūüėÄ

Photo tip: A mid range zoom macro lens should cover all your needs for this event. A wide angle may be helpful for the bigger displays and “getting it all in” if you manage to squeeze your way to the front. Ambient light is still plentiful even in doors thanks to semi opaque ceilings so flash wont be necessary.

Next up, we hit the shops at Hammersmith and Covent Garden.

Complete Chelsea Flower Show 2011 photos here

London 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Soho Shopping
London 2011 part #2 – Central London sight seeing
London 2011 part #4 – Shopping – Hammersmith
London 2011 part #5 – Shopping – Covent Garden and Soho
London 2011 part #6 – Shopping – Camden
London 2011 part #7 – Shopping – Shoreditch
London 2011 part #8 – Hyde park, Piccadilly Circus

London photo gallery here
Chelsea flower show photo gallery here

The best thing about seeing the sights in central London is their close proximity, barely a couple km’s separates the majority of them so a few hours and footpower is all you’ll need. The trade off is of course having to compete with thousands of other tourists.

Trafalgar Square

Getting the Tube to Charing Cross will pop you up at fountains galore, Trafalgar sq. Like with alot of popular tourist spots there are always scammers, pick pockets and crazy bums accusing you of stealing their sandals so keep your wits about you and know where or how to contact police/security. Security here patrol the area and are easily visible.

Buckingham Palace

Fountain at Buckingham Palace

From here we took a short walk down to Buckingham palace where less than a month before Prince Willy and Cath tied the official knot. If you time it right you’ll also get to witness the famous “changing of the guard”. You can then cut through the gardens to the back of Cavalry Museum where you find guards on foot and on horse back ready to be demeaned with peace symbols and cheesy grins in a photo.

Mounted guard at Cavalry Museum

Big Ben

Westminster Abbey

A couple blocks from here are 2 unintentionally gloomy buildings thanks to period architecture and a typically overcast London day, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament featuring Big Ben. There always seems to be road or building works in this area so you may need to cross the road a few times to get a good spot. On the plus side, with the tower being a lot taller than the adjacent buildings you can get a photo of it from just about anywhere.

London Eye

From here its another short walk across Westminster Bridge to the London Eye. Even with the typical London haze and boring skies it’s a great way to see a broad view of the city and if you time it right you might even score some sweet sunset photos.

Tower Bridge - Lego version ;)

Tower Bridge - Lego version ūüėČ

If you have time to spare, continue along Southbank. There’s usually artists and small market stalls set up along the way and the rug store closing down sale style of the “Under croft”, London’s longest running central skatepark dating back to the 70s. Further along there’s the Tate modern museum, Millennium bridge, London bridge and then the Tower bridge (what people think is London bridge).

Travel tip: If you’re catching the Tube back from this end of town, try not to get stuck at Monument or Bank stations during peak hour. This is a major business area and center for multiple interchanges. If you’re new to Tubing, its definitely not for the faint hearted (or short of patience/fitness). Also note, even though on the map the interchanges look close together there are some considerably long tunnel/escalator runs so it may actually be quicker to spend longer on a train than running through tunnels, especially if you have luggage.

London 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Soho Shopping
London 2011 part #3 – Chelsea Flower show
London 2011 part #4 – Shopping – Hammersmith
London 2011 part #5 – Shopping – Covent Garden and Soho
London 2011 part #6 – Shopping – Camden
London 2011 part #7 – Shopping – Shoreditch
London 2011 part #8 – Hyde park, Piccadilly Circus

London photo gallery here
Chelsea flower show photo gallery here