Posted by: 2girls2europe | August 3, 2011

Surviving Shopping Hell: My Trip to Harrod’s and Camden Market in London

You know those news reports about people trampled at Wal-Mart on Black Friday? Those stories horrify me enough to avoid large crowds of shoppers at any time of year. Anywhere.

So how on earth did I end up at both Harrod’s (a mammoth department store) and Camden Market (a huge street full of shops and booths) in London these past couple days?

Let me lay it on you.

On one of our last days on the grand continent of Europe, we decided to take it easy and just do a little shopping in lieu of real sightseeing. Nothing strenuous. So Jessie suggested Harrod’s, a place she had visited with her dad when she was ten.

“It’s worth seeing,” she insisted.

I agreed, due to lack of energy/other plausible ideas. My first mistake.

We entered the 7-floor behemoth in the cosmetics section, where perfumes and pretty people ruled.

Jessie smartly obtained a store map from one of the employees dressed in a sleek black pantsuit and we pulled off to the side to decide our plan of attack, like military officers in unfamiliar territory.

“So what do you want to do?” Jessie queried, flipping through the pages.

“Hm, I don’t know. They have everything here, right? Where’s the book section?” I replied.

“Let’s see…there’s men’s wear, shoe salon, beauty, fashion accessories, food halls, women’s wear and shoes, home decoration bed and bath…” she rattled off, for several minutes, finally ending with “…and sports and leisure.”

Guess what items did not make the list (hint: it was books).

“Ok then,” I sighed. “I might like to take a look at the tennis stuff…and maybe the stationery?”

After this deliberation and some more furrowed map reading, we had an agenda. But first, we had to make it out of the makeup.

Which meant dodging the perfume people—our biggest obstacles.

As these ministers of fragrance patrolled the counters of product, their shiny black heels clacked against the marble white floors. They stood like guards at their various stations, offering spritzes of perfumes more expensive than my college education to passersby. I nearly gagged on the fumes as we strolled behind a woman who stuck her arm out for every single scent.

Eventually we escaped, unscathed, but with whiffs of Chanel at our tails. A necessary sacrifice.

We then sought the escalators, which happen to have themes. Cause, you know, why ride an escalator to the next floor unless you can feel like you’ve entered EGYPT? Seriously. A pharaoh head stared at me while we rode into glittery, pyramid themed upper floors.

“This is like a playground for rich adults,” I murmured.

Nearby, a chubby American with a point and shoot camera gleefully captured these magical moments on the escalator. Jessie said that she couldn’t wait to ride the Mesopotamia-themed one, and to be honest with you, I still don’t know if that was a joke or not.

Jessie wanted to go into the Harrod’s Gift Shop to look for a makeup bag, so I followed. Essentially, it contains all the crap you absolutely don’t need to buy but do anyways because it costs comparatively less than anything else in the store. Wow, a six-inch Harrod’s teddy bear for a mere £15 pounds (or over $20)? What a steal.

In about five minutes, I became claustrophobic and angry. At least six people lunging for various crap products had bumped me, while I contorted myself around corners to avoid knocking over a display of tote bags bedecked with maps of the London metro system.

Time to go. I corralled Jessie into one of the registers so that we could vacate the area.

“Is it always like this?” I asked the cashier, gesturing toward the throbbing mob beyond.

“Oh this isn’t even busy,” the man replied with a little chuckle.

During the remainder of our stay at Harrod’s Shop of Horrors (as I now call it), we encountered everything from £400 (about $650) skimpy lingerie to a pen worth £15,000 (about $youdon’tevenwannaknow). Various employees looked me up and down, glared at me and completely ignored me. You know how Anne Hathaway feels at the beginning of the Devil Wears Prada when everyone’s judging her appearance? Well, no one ever showered me with fashionable clothes, but I imagine we felt similarly.

I hit my limit when we couldn’t find the café, so I directed us out in my trademark “I-will-kill-the-next-thing-that-moves-if-I-don’t-get-out-of-here-soon” face. Jessie knows it well. Ask her for an impression next time you see her.

And leave we did. I felt tempted to give a swift kick to one of those obnoxious life-size Harrod’s teddy bears on the way out, but I resisted. Would have been quite the stand against capitalism, no?
You might think that this experience would have deterred me from further shopping while in Londontown.

Ha! No. We made time for Camden market.

Now, neither of us really knew much about Camden market. We had planned on going simply out of others’ suggestions for us. In anticipation, I wondered if maybe it would have remnants of the farmer’s markets back home, with local products and neighbors milling around in a peaceful, quaint setting.

Oh, Past Gina. So naïve.

I should have known the extent of the madness we would soon enter when we disembarked from the Underground. Hoards of people pushed toward the turnstiles, while a God-like voice barked at people to

Shit, this might be bad.

Once we finally fought our way through the throngs of sweaty shoppers we made it to the street. I glanced down the road to survey the situation. My eyes met a disastrous scene.

There’s a part in the movie War of the Worlds when Tom Cruise happens to have the only working vehicle in a 100-mile radius and he makes the wise decision of driving it through a crowd of apocalypse-crazed people. The taxis and buses motoring down Camden Town must feel a little like Cruise. Although I think they despise those running amok just a bit more.

We soon realized that we had forgotten to take out money before we arrived, so we joined the line of impatient market-goers at the nearest ATM. We stood behind a lady in a flowered shirt who apparently needed to perform at least five transactions right then. Jessie and I mocked her while we waited, to the amusement of a Spanish girl in front of us.

See, that’s how you make friends, kids. Unite against a common enemy and destroy them with mean-spirited jokes.

Once we had gained a few pounds (see what I did there?) we forged ahead into the heart of the market.

Around us, little stalls touting sundresses, sunglasses, sandwiches and slews of other souvenirs vied for our attention. Store employees perched on the sides of the street tried shoving fliers for discounted tattoos (questionable) and “amazing sales” at me while religious zealots spouted their philosophical garbage at passersby. If you would have thrown in some casinos and strip clubs it would have been just like Vegas.

We spent some time browsing, haggling and yes, buying, but after a couple hours my patience waned faster than a boner in a cold shower.

Purchases in hand, we disappeared into the depths of the tube station with about 8,000 other sweaty tourists and called it a day.

All complaints aside, Harrod’s and Camden Market really are worth your time, even if, like me, you tend to avoid such places. At the very least, like me, you’ll make it out with your life and a pretty baller purple Volkswagen jacket.



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