Busy, vibrant Covent Garden is a far cry from majestic Westminster Abbey. But there is, as I discovered, a link between the two, for `London’s best shopping experience’ was built on land that originally belonged to Westminster. The `Convent Garden’, as it was known, came into being in the 1630’s due to the work of the architect Inigo Jones and the developer, the Earl of Bedford. The marketplace and piazza were created under the aegis of Charles I.
Initially a fruit and vegetable market, Covent Garden diversified into gambling and prostitution by the early 1800’s--a magistrate dubbed it the `Great Square of Venus’--and although it did revert to being a market, it acquired its present blend of restaurants, stalls and boutiques only in 1980.
Tarun’s very fond of Covent Garden--he loves watching the performers--so we decided to go spend some time at the marketplace. We arrived about 5, on a hot summer day. Our first glimpse was of some of the many street performers who show off their skills here. On our right, a man dressed in the red and black uniform of a guard, with a bulbous false red nose protruding from below his tall black hat, delivered the punchline in a one-man comedy act. On the left, a man stood stock-still next to a bicycle, which, like the man and his clothes, was painted gold. A few steps further on, a muscular man, his head shaved, stood clad only in a decorative loincloth-type costume--this time, all in silver. Another performer dexterously (and seemingly effortlessly) juggled with four white balls, while a young magician entertained a huge crowd with the help of a pack of cards, a small table, and a cute toddler called Lucas, all wide-eyed and blond, drawn from the crowd.
We wandered around for a while, admiring the dresses in the shop windows; trying to see if we could afford a show at one of the theatres, and then checking out the stalls at Jubilee Market and Apple Market. Many of the stall owners here were shutting shop, but some were still around, selling prints, inexpensive jewellery and souvenirs. A quartet was playing a piece of exquisite music, Mozart, I think, and the courtyard around them was crammed with people, listening in appreciative silence.
Sitting out under the garden umbrellas, we ate a lunch of delicious Caesar salad, along with a fruity drink spiked with vodka. The ubiquitous pigeons flapped about hopefully near our table, but disappeared after a while in search of more generous patrons. Our meal finished, we treated ourselves to frozen yoghurt desserts (I had a lovely mixed berry one) at the Covent Garden Yoghurt and Fruit juice Bar. Then, after a final stroll around Covent Garden, it was time to move on.
Covent Garden’s one of those rare and delightful places that offer nearly everything: theatre, opera, street performances, chic shops, affordable souvenir stalls, fancy restaurants like Chez Gerard and Ivy, and plenty of less-expensive cafés. London must-do? Definitely!