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.
The cool crew at the Zetter Hotel’s restaurant
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.
St. John’s Gate
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.
St. Pancras Railway Station
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.
Interior of St. Pancras
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.
Platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter fame
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.
Selling onions, Portobello Market style
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…
Gas masks, anyone?