Hoxton Hotel – an east end hipster haunt in London

When I booked the Hoxton Hotel for my short stopover in London, I didn’t realise it was such a hipster joint. But even better than that, it’s great value, fun, and in a great location near to Old Street tube.

Apparently I turned up during London Fashion Week (not something I have marked in my diary). “How on earth did you get a room here during LFW?” ask my local London (hipster) friends. Truth is, I have no idea, I just booked it on their website a few weeks earlier. Maybe someone had just cancelled, maybe I was just lucky? When I booked it seemed like a great price for a decent hotel in a fun part of London. Only later did I realise what a cool pricing policy they have.

There’s the periodic £1 room sales. And there’s the pricing policy that starts around £59 six months in advance and rises to about £199 one day in advance. This is a really good place to plan ahead for.

The staff are friendly and professional, theres no attitude oozing around here. I arrive looking like a frumpy backpacker (probably because I am), and they treat me as warmly as the guests that look like they might be LFW stars.

The decor and rooms are funky but also very well equipped and practical. I love the iconic rock/paper/scissors pillows, and the white-on-white wall art.The bed is very comfortable and the bathroom downright luxurious. A great touch is the Hoxton Guide, a credit card sized fold out map with staff recommendations on local bars, restaurants, shopping, art, music and “looking good”.

And they have the best room service breakfast I’ve come across, in terms of having items and quality I actually want to eat for breakfast. Instead of filling out a form and hanging it on the doorknob, I mark my choices on a recyclable brown paper bag, and voila, next morning there is my yogurt, banana and juice ready and waiting by my door – and it’s free.


And for the sociable, there’s the Hoxton Grill and Bar on the ground floor, a very popular place indeed to hang out on a weekend. And yet still a great place to have a delightful porridge breakfast in peace the next morning. I’ll be back.

Columbia Road Markets – more than just a flowery story

I need to start with a confession – I lived in London for 10 years and I never visited Columbia Rd Markets. So on this short stopover, I finally find out what I’ve been missing. And I am impressed.


I find the Columbia Road markets, perhaps not so surprisingly, on a blocked off part of Columbia Rd on a sunny autumn Sunday morning in the East End of London (every Sunday from 8am to 3pmish is the official line). For a few blocks it is a crowded lane of wall to wall flower stalls, ringing with the calls of the charismatic stall holders – plenty of cockney, and maybe a little bit of mockney, but who cares, it’s all atmosphere! And on this unusually sunny day, the flowers seemed to glow with a brightness and depth of colour that seemed more tropical than english, a beautiful way to calm a hangover. But it is popular, and therefore quite crowded, so it’s best to just go with the flow of the crowd.


Also lining the street, behind the stalls, are rows of wonderful old terrace houses with brightly colourful shops lining the street level, just like another row of flowers. There is plenty enough to keep me browsing the art, craft, fashion, jewellery and homewares for hours, and most are boutique and unique, not high street chain stores. My favourite part is Ezra St, branching off from Colombia Rd, with more pubs and cafes to enjoy. And clearly many people come here for a sunday brunch, a catch up with friends, a coffee in the sun; it all helps create a very friendly relaxed vibe. I settle into a communal table outside Lili Vanilli bakery, a cafe with lovely coffee and food, and a charmingly disorganised and chaotic atmosphere – is this the Fawlty’s of Columbia Road markets? I think I’ll get another coffee and have a think about that.

#fridayfaces – kids in cuba

Stopping in the middle of the hills between and Trinidad, Cuba to buy a roadside lunch from a local house, we end up at a local party to celebrate National Honour Teachers Day – teachers, parents, children, food, wine, music, dancing – it was a pretty cool afternoon with some warm and welcoming people.

country children, Cuba 2008
country children, Cuba 2008

looking back at photos of the faces of people I come across in my travels take me right back to that time and place.