Not going back to my day job after the summer holidays also meant waving goodbye to daily chats with my Languages department in a busy secondary school. We had all planned to meet in Côte, a French restaurant (what else?) in Camden Town and I was very much looking forward to it.
When the children found out I was leaving for the day (I was wise enough not to mention anything before this morning), all hell broke loose with the girls and I literally had to push them away from the front door so I could leave and lock the door. Talk about dramatic!
I left with a sleeveless top on and sandals. The sun was shining. What a promising start! As I got to the train station, I had some spare time to get a coffee. As soon as I opened my mouth, the lady behind the hill asked me whether I was French (damn it, I might have to work harder if I ever want to become a spy). She arrived from France three years ago and we had a nice chat. She even paid for my almond croissant. This little gesture made my day!
Camden is one of those places so unique to London. Whenever I get there, I always feel happy and at home. It is a tiny part of London yet it contains what I see as the essence of the city. It is busy but rarely feels too busy (to me anyway) if that makes sense. I am not keen on empty Camden; I much prefer it when it is full of hustle and bustle, tourists asking for directions, street vendors advertising their stuff, music coming from all directions, etc.
It is noisy. Have you ever stepped into Cyber Dog? The volume of the music in there will take you by surprise. It feels like you are inside an amplifier (not that I have ever tried)!
It is eclectic. I cannot think of another place where you can buy homemade soaps, vintage cameras, old records, bespoke jewellery made there and then, 50s dresses, skating gear, superhero lampshades and rude statement T-shirts all in one place. The people are also a mixed bunch and everyone seems to cohabit with no trouble whatsoever.
It is inclusive and does not judge. Sporting a pink Mohican, covered in tattoos from head to toes or wearing black from head to toe? No one will judge you there. You could wear a Lycra Spiderman costume whilst doing the Moonwalk and nobody would look at you as if you were sticking out like a sore thumb. I love that. I doubt there are many places in the world where you can be yourself (really yourself) like Camden.
It is multilingual. This Tower of Babel in the heart of my favourite city is just lovely, from the tourists taking it all in, to Asian, Italian or Mexican food stalls, vendors determined to get your attention by waving their specialities as close to your face as they can get.
You can buy anything there. Looking for an unusual present? Enjoy listening to live jazz music? Looking for a Pop Art print for the living room? A leather diary? Handmade jewellery? An old camera? Shoes? A carpet? Fancy a gig? A gift for a new baby? Furniture? Malay food? Antiques? A shower curtain? Clothes from the 1930s? You will find it there!
Here are my tips for a successful day out in Camden Town:
Bring some cash with you. I had two cards cloned in Camden over the past 15 years, resulting in a lot of faff with two different banks.
Take a camera or a phone to capture the colours, the busy atmosphere, the Lock.
3- Common Sense
Hold on to your bag and valuables. Tourists are such easy targets in crowds and can be spotted miles away. Just like any other large city, there are pick-pockets in London. If you leave your phone in your back pocket, do not cry if someone discreetly takes it as you are walking around, completely unaware.
Tourists strike me as a bit daft with their big cameras around their necks and cash in hand sometimes… I have a big camera, but I keep it in my bag when I am not snapping away, and I tend to bring a small purse with cash and just one of my cards when I go to busy markets, rather than my big purse with all cards and clubcards under the sun.
4- Travelling by Tube
You can get to Camden Town by tube (Northern Line), but it is exit-only at times when there are risks of overcrowding on the platforms (weekends in particular).
You have two options here. You could walk to Chalk Farm station, which is towards the bottom of the high street a couple of minutes’ walk past the Stables and the petrol station.
If you are towards the top of Camden high street (where Camden Town tube station is), your easiest option is to go to Mornington Crescent station by walking straight ahead in the opposite direction, on Camden High Street).
5- Parking in Camden Town
I have never struggled to park there, not once.
On Sundays, I tend to park on Adelaide road (near Chalk Farm station) road as there is always space there and it is free.
Any day of the week, you can also park for free in Morrisons’ car park for up to two hours (no need to spend any money in the shop) and if you park towards the end of the car park, where it is quieter, you will spot a grey structure. It is a lift taking you to the underground of the stables, right in the middle of the action, in the middle of second hand books, records and old suitcases. It is like a secret passage to the heart of Camden.
I would not advise you to think twice before bringing a pram to Camden. I did it once, but it is a real pain to be honest. Babies are best carried in a sling, toddlers held by the hand with a bag pack that has a lead on for extra security and older children are fine held by the hand.
You can pay the price you have been given (usually much much cheaper than you would pay on Amazon or Etsy anyway), but if you are buying several items from one stall or shop, you can always negotiate, within reason. Rather than £20 notes, bring £5 and £10 notes with you and never show all the money you have on you (put some in a pocket in your bag, a bit more in your purse and a chunk with your Oyster card for example).
I bought earrings for my friend’s birthday today and the price was so reasonable for a pair of handmade silver earrings that are completely unique I had no intention to haggle at all, but I would always try to get a good deal if I was getting 2 factory-made T-shirts or two prints.
There are food stalls from all around the world in Camden Town. Eating out of a Styrofoam box with a wooden spoon might not be your thing, but you have to give Camden’s street food a go. It is something else!
As seven of us were meeting for lunch today and we wanted a quiet place to catch up properly, we opted for a restaurant off the high street (a few minutes’ walk from Camden High Street station) and headed to Côte. I had so much food I skipped dinner (not something I ever do). Check out my lunch:
Traditional goat’s cheese from the Loire Valley, served with warm lamb’s lettuce and apple salad, walnuts, croutons and golden raisins.
Chocolate and praline crêpe with caramelised bananas and crème chantilly (whipped cream, to you and me!).
I ate all that for less than £25! I even had a latte with my dessert but it was so hot all I drank was tap water (lots of it!).
The girls also had some yummy food, from steak tartare (raw minced meat) to asparagus risotto to tuna steak.