Close to Home: Columbia Road Flower Market

Oh but I do love a London market. 🙂 GoodTravelerKarma readers know that Borough Market is one of my favorite places in the city, and I tend to make it a required stop when I’m meeting visitors or I have tourists in town (Spoiler Alert: Mum is going to experience it next week).

So when my colleague told me about Columbia Road Flower Market, a lively outdoor market held on Sundays, I had to add it to my list of spots to try.  On an uncharacteristically sunny and mild February Sunday in London, I headed up to Columbia Road via Shoreditch High Street .  The road itself is a bit tucked away in between some housing blocks about 10 minutes walk from Brick Lane. You can’t miss that you’re in east London with all of the artistic graffiti identifying this eclectic bit of the city.

On market day, Columbia Road is easy to find – just follow the crowds and watch those who have already purchased head the other direction with bundles of beautiful flowers. It surprised me that the road itself in only a couple of short blocks long – I expected more I suppose, given the scope of markets like Borough and Spitalfields.

There’s not much else to do but simply join the crush of visitors, slowly working your way past the booths of fresh flowers. The basic deal is three bunches for £10, where I picked up some ranunculus (white and pink) and vibrant yellow mimosa. The market does bleed into the sidewalks, making it a tight squeeze to get into any of the little shops. There are a wide range of antique shops and several cute little eateries and coffee stops – one of which is literally just a one-person counter with a queue out into the street.

After I perused the options a couple of times, I settled on an afternoon snack at Cakehole, a little café tucked in the back of an antique store called Vintage Heaven. I chose my favorite Victoria Sponge and a cappuccino, charmingly served at communal tables on mismatched china.

After my snack, and purchasing the flowers, I had a final stop at a little wine bar on the corner of Columbia Road and Ravenscroft Street. I’m not entirely sure what the metal sign with a wine bottle turned into a pig has to do with the name, Brawn, but I liked it. It was quite quiet in this little bar, a nice change from the bustle outside.  A little glass of wine to bolster me up and it was off to meet a friend in Shoreditch. It was a charming (if not crowded) little Sunday.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

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32nd Birthday in Verona, or “How many Italians can we get to sing to you?”

or, “How many liquids can we drink in one day?”

Midnight. February 1, 2014. All of a sudden, the lights dimmed, and a chorus of “Tanti Auguri” started, led by Paolo, our exuberant bartender at Osteria del Bugiardo. With rousing operatic style, Paolo received cheers from the whole bar as I blew out the candle in my little birthday biscuit. (Many thanks to Alan for orchestrating this whole little surprise.) A group of handsome Italian men, celebrating their friend’s birthday, invited us to join their group and we proceeded to down a few more glasses of bubbly before shutting down the bar. Not a bad way to start my birthday. 🙂

The next morning, Alan and I decided to see the main tourist sights in Verona before our dinner reservation. First it was off to Juliet’s House, where we showed the lady herself a little affection all in the name of good luck in love. 😉

After another wander through town and some coffee and juice at Caffe e Parole, it was off to the Arena, Verona’s Roman amphitheater.  We climbed to the top to take in the views of the city and out to the mountains (pretty impressive on a broken toe, I may add). The walkways beneath the stadium steps were spectacular as well and made for a good photo shoot.  Alan and I agreed we would love to come back in the summer when the Arena hosts Verona’s Opera Festival. What a fantastic place to hear some classical music!

Then it was on to the Castelvecchio. While we found the compulsory museum a bit dry, we loved roaming the ramparts. We were two of only about four people on the walkways on that cold February day.  After a scenic stint on the Castelvecchio Bridge, it was off to warm up and forage for some snacks and drinks. We walked back along the river and ended up in the Terrazza al Ponte, a bar and café we spied previously from the Ponte Pietra because of its cute terrace (so not just a clever name). The mist and the rollicking river made the terrace a delight, but it was too cold to stay out for long, so we warmed up inside with some wine and a caprese salad snack.  It was here that we met another group of lovely Italian men (after we noticed them taking tequila shots at 3pm) who bought us a drink and proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday” a couple more times. Our little break turned into over four hours of antics, and we had to tear ourselves away for dinner at Enoteca Cangrande.

I initially wanted to do the bespoke tasting  I read about, but the regular menu looked so good we decided just to order off that. The kindly staff presented us with a gnochetti dish on the house, then it was ravioli with truffles for me and we split beef braised in red wine with polenta.  Enoteca Cangrande gave us a luxurious experience with plenty of time for energized people to chat during courses which nearly turned into nap time for us.  Here’s the thing: You really do need a siesta when eating and drinking your way through Italy. It exists for a reason. Instead of resting, we were making new friends over several glasses of prosecco, which means we hit the wall at dinner.We couldn’t even make it to dessert! (A fact which I’m still a bit sad about, really.)

After a blissful sleep at the fabulous Hotel Milano, only Caffe e Parole and Osteria del Bugiardo were on the agenda before our evening flight. Back at the wine bar, we walked in to a warm welcome like we were old friends. We settled into our regular place at the bar, had a few more glasses of Vigliacco, some charcuterie and bruschetta and sampled the beef meatballs with polenta just to fuel us for the flight.

I realize as I write this that food and wine (and antics) feature more than the Verona sights, but isn’t that what a good birthday weekend is all about?  How it’s taken me 32 years to have a birthday in Italy when I am, if nothing else, an Italophile at heart, I will never know. I think this may need to become an annual tradition.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.