London, UK

  • Date
  • 15 January 2000

In the winter of 1991 when I was college senior and again in the spring of 1996 with my parents, I visited the Portobello Road Antiques Market, which on both occasions was packed to the brim with street vendors offering almost any imaginable item. This morning I was eager to return and see if my memories of the street market should remain in tact or if they should be updated due to the passage of time.

On the drive there I shared yet another interesting conversation with a London taxi driver (they may be the nicest I’ve encountered in 43 countries), who encouraged me to spread the word on ‘how great London is since we sure need the tourists and the money’. Arriving at the market around 9 a.m. with the sun peaking through slight clouds, I found many stalls still being set-up. But instantly I could see that this place had changed little since my last visit, except for the addition of pashmina shawls!

I first walked through one or two blocks of the antique section before coming upon the food and flower section that covered at least four blocks filled with tulips, roses, fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, raw meats, cooked bratwurst sausages, coffee and tea and freshly baked breads and pastries. Then I returned to the top of Portobello Road to browse the ‘antiques’. I write this word in quotes because yes, old items are on display, but many are made to look aged and ‘antiqued’. One example is a telephone my Father would have loved that looked to be at least 75 years old, but the seller said the phone was really only 30 years old. So Jim would say – it was made last week!

Along Portobello Road and inside the antique stores there are frames, prints, artwork, old and old-looking jewelry, trendy new jewelry, pashmina scarves and shawls, silver tea and coffee services, silver spoons and flasks, brass nautical pieces, canes, a few t-shirt stands, Scottish cashmere stores, maps, globes, old and old-looking colored glass vases and lamps and many other riches.

As I watched people haggle over prices I head vendors say, ‘You are my first customer so I’ll give you a deal’ and ‘For this workmanship, the price is cheap’ and ‘You will never find another one like this’ and ‘You’ll regret not buying it when you return home’. I smiled and sometimes grinned listening to the negotiations in process from stall to stall and block to block. Most prices that I saw marked on items did not look like steals or deals so I think haggling is expected on Portobello Road.

The street market is a dream walk for a people-watcher and photographer. I’m not sure a real antiques buff would say this is the place to visit for a real find, but for me Portobello Road Market is one of the finest things to do in London on a Saturday morning. And I only bought one small silver pillbox for 10 pounds or US$16.50 – with Viagra across the top of the box. A perfect gift for a man we met in Germany, who swears by the pills. I’ll send him greetings from Portobello and no doubt I’ll be back again.