Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hampstead and Camdentown

So I see that my "re-committment" to blogging more actively hasn't come to fruitition, considering the last post was about the huge blizzard in late January...It's now March. Yikes, lots of things to update on.

The last month or so has been busy with a lot of friends visiting from the US, so I've been making the rounds at the typical London haunts (SoHo, Covent Garden, Mayfair, South Bank, Westminster, all the museums, even made it out to Greenwich, etc.). The last guests just left over the weekend and I woke up this morning to amazingly clear and sunny skies so on impulse I hit the pavement and decided to explore some areas I haven't seen yet.

It was a perfect day to stay outdoors, near 65 degrees, sunny, light breeze, clear skies...Couldn't ask for a better day in London, and an even better day to crawl around the hills of Hampstead! I wish I had taken my camera with me!

At this point I have seen a majority of the major neighborhoods of London and after today I would have to say that Hampstead is the most beautiful neighborhood in all of London! It evokes memories of the East Bay hills of North Berkeley, Tilden Regional Park, the enclaves of Piedmont and Montclair...Just beautiful!

From Clapham Common I just took the Northern Line all the way up to Hampstead, about a 30 minute tube ride. When exiting Hampstead station, just hang a right and walk along Heath Street, an incline which takes you along an impressive array of boutiques, cafes, restaurants and eventually the south side of the Heath. The Heath is a massive 700 acre park with hiking trails, ponds, cafes, gardens, and tennis courts. Adjacent to the 100 acre Kenwood Estate, together these parks form a massive, contiguous outdoor haven with stunning hilltop views of the entire city of London, particularly from Parliament Hill. The crowd was a mix of young couples, picnic goers, dogs, elderly couples, young families, kids, hikers, runners, all very cheerish adding to the atmosphere of celebration that erupts on days like today all over London. I spent a considerable amount of time at Golder Hills Park just people watching. Of all the outdoor spaces London has on offer (the numerous commons, greens, parks scattered all over the city) Hampstead Heath is the most superior of them all. Today I felt like I was back in the Bay Area.

After my time around Hampstead Heath I walked down towards the Hampstead High Street which boasts a nice variety of shops, boutiques, and expensive restaurants, before returning to the tube station to take on Camdentown.

Camedentown...How should I describe this place? Imagine if San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district slammed into Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue, resulting in a big bang of the strange, gothic, and bizarre. Now imagine that this resulting space grew appendages in every direction, encompassing an entire city with markets, outdoor food stalls, political protestors, opening up to a quite pretty canal with outdoor music and "freakish" looking people. That's Camdentown. I stumbled upon a fairly happening and impressive food market near the canal (the canal is actually really nice on perfect weather day like today, live music, beer, wine, crowds of people). This food market didn't have the typical crepes, kebabs, doners, fish & chips, and Indian fare that you find at most food markets throughout town. It was an impressive place with Egyptian koshary, West African stews, Brazilian BBQ, West Indy skewers, and Japanese Okonomiyaki. Come here if you want live music, outdoor beer gardens, and food stalls that offer something different. I went with the goat stew from the Ghanese stall today and I didn't regret it!

All in all, a great day to be outdoors. Hampstead is a must-see and next time we have weather like this, I'll plan a proper picnic and hike around there. Camdentown is a once in a while kind of a place, the crowd isn't my scene, but that food market is worth going back to if nothing else.

Hopefully more to come soon. -- Keenan

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