I honestly thought we’d tried all possible options to get back to Provence, but it appears now that we may have found another route that is a bit bonkers, but seems (so far) to have been quite fun.
This time we have incorporated a couple of market visits into the trip, which has not only made it very useful and enjoyable, but also means that I get to visit Paris for the first time since I was about 12 and finally get to see the city with Andy after promising ourselves we’d have a trip there since we got married… Only 30 years of waiting then!
The day started with the early train from Exeter to London, arriving in the city just after 9am and taking the tube across to Notting Hill Gate, where we joined the mass of people walking towards the Saturday morning, must-visit event, the rather incredible Portobello Road Market.
I’ve visited a few times in search of silver for my business Vintage Silver Workshop, but this was the first time Andy had experienced the buzz that always comes with the thriving and busy market, which draws visitors from across the world.
You certainly don’t have to worry if you’re going in the right direction as there is a steady flow of people heading towards the same place, walking down pretty streets filled with delightfully quirky shops and cafés, past houses whose downstairs windows are heavily shuttered against the prying eyes of tourists intent on being photographed outside. It has to be said that it was the sort of street where you would expect to see Hugh Grant emerge from a house at any moment…. (sadly not today!)
Then, after crossing an elegant road you arrive at the top of Portobello Road, closed to traffic and filled almost kerb to kerb with people, wandering past the shops and stopping at the market stalls that line the right hand side of the street.
This time we were on a mission to find silver, but first and foremost was a mission to find coffee and happily there are plenty of cafés and bakeries, so very quickly we had coffee in hand and were able to start our search.
Portobello Road has two very distinct parts… The top section is filled with antique shops and arcades selling almost everything imaginable, from vintage homewares to stunning antique jewellery and also fine China to paintings.
On Saturday morning, everything is open and many of the shops spill out onto the street with the pavements filled with stalls, showcasing what you may find inside.
If you do amble inside, you often find yourself in an arcade of small units, each one owned by a different person, where you’ll find one selling old photographic equipment next to one selling fine China with perhaps one selling tribal artefacts or even specialising in magnifying glasses opposite.
It’s fair to say that time flies once you take a look inside and it’s hard to leave without having found something that really ‘does need’ to come home with you.
This time though it was like a military operation, with Andy scouting out suitable stalls whilst I snuffled through boxes and shelves of old silver to find the bits that I was looking for.
The majority of the shops and arcades are on the left hand side of the street as you walk down, with stalls set up on the other side of the road, selling other antique and vintage pieces.
You inevitably see places that you recognise, especially the blue front of ‘The Travel Book Shop’ made famous by Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in the delightful film ‘Notting Hill’ and glimpse into gated mews of pretty little houses that would seem so much more comfortable in the setting of a small market town, than the heart of a busy Capital.
Half way down the street there is a shift in style and the antique arcades & stalls change to ones selling food and clothing with the shops reflecting the change too…… There was a distinct French flavour to some of the stalls with one selling a lovely selection of cheeses and another selling crêpes.
It has to be said that by the time we reached here, not only were our feet weary, but we were a little frazzled and also rather peckish, but popped behind the stalls into a rather nice café filled with French sandwiches and patisserie and collapsed over baguette, quiche and coffee to take stock of what we had found.
Refreshed, and our feet feeling slightly less mashed we headed back up the street, popping into arcades that had been too busy earlier and finding a few more pieces in the process.
So all in all a great first-leg of the journey, before catching the tube back to St Pancras and boarding the Eurostar to Paris.
As ever the boarding process was seamless and we soon found ourselves hurtling through the tunnel under the Channel, passing the time with the virtual reality Odyssey game that I’m sure was designed with children in mind, but kept these over 50s happy too!
So we’ve now emerged into France and are now dashing at 281km per hour through a rather overcast landscape onto the next stop Gare du Nord in Paris….. And a hotel in Montmartre ahead of a morning at the Clignancourt Brocante tomorrow…. Now that will be another experience I’m sure…