It's not very often we head east past Shoreditch thanks to the fact that the Jubliee Line, one of two lines that run to Stratford, has been down every weekend for the past two and half years. But a few weekends ago, Keenan and I ventured out to East London to check out the new Westfield Stratford City which opened in early September. As Europe's largest urban shopping centre, this labyrinth mall and entertainment complex comprising of 1.9 million square feet surely did not disappoint. It featured some 300+ stores anchored by M&S, Waitrose, and John Lewis, 70 restaurants, a massive 14 screen Vue cinema, several hotels, and even a casino and bowling alley.
It is also the gateway to the London 2012 Olympics which is just about eight months away. As we alighted at Stratford station on a gorgeous autumn afternoon and walked across the pedestrian bridge for views of the famous Olympic Stadium, Keenan made a comment that the masterplanning was indeed "smart." Why? Well, nearly all visitors and athletes from around the world who arrive via one of the major public transport hubs in Stratford will need to walk through Westfield Shopping Centre to get to any major Olympic venues. And surely in between events, visitors will no doubt pass time shopping, eating, or watching the Olympic events live on large screens at Westfield. This means more foot traffic and presumably more spending from visitors. Smart planning on the part of this Australian-based retail developer.
A stone's throw away are three major Olympic sites: the Aquatic Centre, the Olympic Stadium, and the Athletes' Village which are literally separated a major walkway. We couldn't walk around the venues as we originally thought, but as we weren't so lucky to score tickets to next year's Olympic games, it was interesting to see the Olympic stadiums in its complete form rather than in architectural renderings.
As Christmas is around the corner, Westfield Stratford City was decked out for the holiday season with beautiful white lights and oversized bauble (Christmas balls in American English). It even had a ice skating rink on the promenade leading to the Aquatic Centre playing nothing less than my favorite "Last Christmas." The gleaming interior of the mall was equally impressive as tree-lined landscaped exterior. Westfield Stratford City is indeed a massive behemoth, but unlike its sister mall, Westfield Shepherds Bush in West London, it does not have a "Designers Pavilion" of luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton or Prada, but definitely enough variety of shops to keep the fashionistas happy.
Shoppers can peruse over three levels of pure retail bliss. The mall has every major High Street brand from Zara to H&M and LK Bennett and a massive selection of restaurants. I was delighted to see some of my favorites such as Franca Manca, (original output in Brixton), Bumpkin, Busaba Eathai, Jamie's Italian, and even Fenton's Ice Cream, which I believe is the same establishment as the legendary Fentons in Piedmont, CA, or at least I hope.
While it may be a trek from Southwest London, the glimpse of the Olympic Park alone is worth the journey to Zone 3 "where East meets Westfield." If you take the Dockland Light Rail (DLR) via Pudding Mill Lane, you'll be able to see an unobstructed view of the Olympic Stadium. Let the games begin.