Christmas shopping has reached its fever pitch, no? And I am not sure there is a more beautiful place to elbow the frantic shoppers than central London. Greg is visiting and we are going to venture out today and show him the festive madness live.
Oxford Street is mere minutes from our flat and one of the most famous streets in London. It is a bustling, teeming, free-for-all of natives, tourists, red double-decker buses, those iconic black taxis and most importantly, the busiest shopping street in all of Europe. If I was a certain kind of tourist, it would dazzle me. If I was a certain kind of Londoner, it would repel me (it’s not the fashionable, fancy part). But I am a Marylebone expat and to be quite honest, Oxford Street is like my local mall. It’s not unusual for me to “run down there” because I decide I immediately need my eyebrows threaded or I need an inexpensive new shirt or I need some everyday baby things. The walk there from us is pleasant and if you land on Oxford Street at 10am, you might just enjoy it. For a second. But any other time, game off. The sidewalks are like human molasses. Cattle going in and out of chain stores. I remember when I first moved here I read in a guidebook a quote by a famous author on one of his favorite things to do in London:
I love to walk from Centre Point to Marble Arch without once setting foot on the hideousness that is Oxford Street. You feel like you’ve cheated death.
Well said. But I go anyway. Because I can only afford chain stores and also, you know what I love about this country- when I knock into someone by accident or ram Jonah’s stroller/buggy up the back of their feet and legs, they apologize! Very refreshing if you’ve come here by way of New York.
Oxford Street meets the beautiful but equally touristy Regent Street in a dramatic denouement of people, cars, buses, people, buses, cars, people and traffic lights. This is Oxford Circus: the busiest intersection in Europe. So I’ve heard. It’s world-famous for the density of people and its also one of the busiest tube stations in the entire Underground system. And can you believe my luck: 3 out of 4 of its corners are H&M, Topshop and Benetton.
So this is where I dork out. Just last month marked the completion of years of planning and millions of pounds of construction to reimagine Oxford Circus from its chaotic and clogged frenzy of people trying to cross both streets from behind metal barricades into a glorious and easy “pedestrian scramble”– modeled after the world-famous Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. Did you know there were so many famous intersections?
Before and After
I tell you, it is a sight to behold. And every time I cross it, no matter which direction (of course diagonal is my favorite), I honestly smile. And often I stop to watch all the people. And of course, every now and then, well…I pull out my camera.