Flea markets in foreign countries combine our three favorite things, shopping, traveling, and treasure hunting!
So on a recent trip to London, we skipped Big Ben and went straight to the antiques market on Portobello Road. This famous swap meet is held on Saturdays in quaint Notting Hill. (Yes, the same neighborhood from the movie! But we didn’t see Hugh Grant.) Our cabbie dropped us off at a bustling street corner several blocks from our destination and told us to follow the crowd. We slipped into a sea of people all headed for bargains.
When we reached the antiques section, it was packed! There were vendors outside every storefront and throngs of eager shoppers. The first stall had stacks of wooden printers’ drawers and trays of metal type. We each gathered up a handful of ornate letters to use in stamping projects. Only one pound apiece. (The price, not the weight, or we wouldn’t be able to carry them home!)
The vendor next door specialized in vintage pewter, and Kitty picked out a cool, hammered mug to hold paintbrushes in her studio. At a cart in front of a bookstore, Jennifer bought a colorful map of Sussex for £6. We agreed that it’ll look “positively brilliant” in her den. The map monger looked up from a bowl of curry and he was not amused.
The most striking booth we ran across was filled with old court documents hand-written in beautiful calligraphic script. The dealer displayed the yellowing papers alongside a cup of white quills. When we asked about the quills, he laughed and said, “They’re just feathers. Thought they’d make folks stop ’n take a look. Worked on you two!” How cheeky!
Not surprisingly, we found loads of tea stuff. Teakettles, teapots, teacups, and tea strainers. We even found something called tea cards, collectible picture cards that once came in tea boxes. Thumbing through a stack of the cards, we saw collections of airplanes, ships, butterflies, and dogs. Kitty picked out three sheets of twenty cards featuring birds of the world. The seller said, “Three pounds.” We thought she meant for each card, but she smiled and said, “No, for the whole lot!” Smashing!
One of the highlights of Portobello Road was all the London and Royal Family kitsch. Of course, it was probably trotted out just for us Yanks, but we didn’t care! Tiny double-decker buses, little red phone booths, Queen Elizabeth plates, and Charles & Diana souvenir spoons. Our “mum” still loves to watch the royal wedding (despite its outcome!) so we got her a bone china thimble with their portraits framed in a foofy heart. It only cost us £3, plus it fits in a carry-on!
The same booth had several pub signs, but with the exchange rate the way it was, they were not a good deal. The one we wanted, a big Guinness sign, was priced at £225 or nearly $350! We decided to nip into a pub and have a pint instead!