I found my shopping haven in London rather than in Milan or Rome.
This topic is trite and superficial, I know. It reeks with capitalism but I fell in love with Harrods and the hidden family-owned bookstores that litter the streets, while entirely amazed with the bargains in Primark.
Everyone has heard of Harrods.
When I first lay eyes on it, I palpitated. The building is so pretty and as The Great Gatsby is premiering worldwide that week, the window display of Harrods is similarly themed as well. Mannequins flashing 1920s fashion and exquisite lifestyle of the upper English-class occupy each display – everyone looks. I discover the Egyptian room with the imposing Sphinx and Rosetta Stone replica by accident after using the Egyptian Escalator that is placed right in the very center of the departmental store. The entire space depicts the legends of the Valley of the Kings. While it is a little disconcerting to experience Egyptian heritage in the Royal Borough, I still welcome this one of a kind shopping experience. Truly, the layout and the entire approach to run this place can’t be found anywhere else I have been to.
And to top it off, they have a Kipling store a stone’s throw away – a coincidence that successfully lure my inner-shopping enthusiast out. I didn’t buy anything from Harrods – being a student on budget at the time of my travel, i just couldn’t afford their price tags.
Oxford Street though, is a world of revelation for me.
I am surprised such an intellectual name is actually filled with quirky shops and internationally franchised labels. Not knowing what is in Oxford Street and feeling a little apprehensive after a friend remarked “Well, it’s Oxford Street, you are bound to buy something from there”, I am determined to see it and prove him wrong.
I shouldn’t have self-issued a challenge.
They have everything there if it is even possible. Seriously. This street is for those of us who are seeking affordable street fashion in the likes of Forever 21, Gap, Aldo, Bershka, PRIMARK (yes, I have to capitalize that bargain haven) and anything you can think of, literally. Needless to say, I walk out of Oxford St with more than just a something.
I have saved my personal best for the last. The unassuming bookstores in Charing Cross.
Well, it is a little inapt to use the word unassuming. This street is littered with bookstores such as Fowles, Koenig, Blackwells and Quinto but the very, very one that steals my booklust away is Any Amount of Books. Essentially a second-hand bookstore, I find that they are more comprehensive than any of the bookstores in Malaysia or Singapore (speaks volume about the reading culture in Asia). After nearly two months of wandering through gallery rooms in Europe, I need to satiate my curiosity. Wanting to quench my absolutely zilch-knowledge about art history, I walk into the bookstore to look for books on Goya, Picasso, Dali and Art History.
I find all of them sitting close to each other in one of the shelves – something that has never happened in my entire career of book-buying. It is rare to find everything I want at one go; my piqued curiosity is weird and unpredictable. My books are usually randomized with topics ranging from military, history, travel to business, finance and the more soapy paranormal romance and fiction. So, I pick my lot and the book-keeper takes pity on me, offering to help put them on the counter first while I continue my self-attained high from the smell of books. At the end of it all, I bought 10kg worth of books (evidently shown to me in Heathrow Airport a few days later)
More importantly though, take a guess at where Diagon Alley is filmed! In Cecil Court right off Charing Cross Road. Yes. This tops the cake. London is filled with many more film locations of Harry Potter – here, I finally have a taste of dream come true.
Ironically, I have met locals who talk about boring this city is. When asked how many days am I staying in London, I say 3 and their usual reply would be “Well, more than enough then! Nothing much to do there anyways”. Instead, they will always offer names that remind me of shires and countrysides as a must-go but for this, I will save it for another post.
Good day, readers.
(Pictures by Alex Dawson, Warda Sempa, Dalziel-Pow, Anna Tims)