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Do the Funky ... Camden
Outside the tube stop, two young blonde women wearing backpacks and sunglasses pause, refer to a London map, and walk toward the crowds gathering outside the shops.
They are American 20-year-olds in search of sparkling jewelry, black platform boots, flowered dresses from the '60s and dusty, rare records -- all available at Camden Markets, increasingly a magnet for hipsters.
"We were here last night looking for music, but today we're just looking for something funky," said Amanda, a student at Iowa State University.
The Markets, located off Camden High Street between the Chalk Farm and Camden Town tube stops, are London's capital of "funky." With its vintage clothing, used records, international food, and alternative clothes -- including Goth, fetish and raver -- and eccentric salespeople to match, teens, bargain-hunters and fashion fiends find the place especially appealing.
"There's just a completely different atmosphere," said Striker, an attendant at a T-shirt stand that sold cotton shirts of all colors, adorned with catchy sayings, rock-star silhouettes and portraits of George W. Bush. "The teens love this scene, especially the different types of music blaring from the different shops."
The sounds provide a guide of sorts to the merchandise found in more than 350 shops. Clothing, music and souvenir stores are located on Camden High Street, while the most eccentric of the shops are inside nearby Camden Lock.
But want to see even older artifacts? The Jewish Museum here -- one of two in the entire city and known for its outstanding ritual art -- is celebrating its diamond anniversary this year. Not that it's always been in Camden; for most of its existence -- until 1995 -- it was a mainstay of the famous Jewish section of Bloomsbury.
Back to other oldies but goodies -- in the Markets: Soft oldies mixed with unrecognizable and beat-driven instrumentals leak out of Rockit True Vintage. Manned by tiny girls in layered dresses, colorful dreadlocks and at least three beaded necklaces each, this shop offers vintage clothing for both men and women. Women's blazers are priced from $28 to $65.
Rockit also stocks an unusual selection of vintage armed forces jackets, all under $55, and impressive Luis Vuitton and Fendi knock-off purses, at $65 to $93.
Just across the street from Rockit is the Electric Ballroom, the most popular weekend attraction. A converted Irish ballroom associated with a club that showcased London's Irish music scene, the indoor vintage mall includes many rooms of second-hand clothing, sorted by style, as well as used records and CDs, and new T-shirts.
"You see designers here, sketching, getting ideas," said Wendy, a longtime employee. "Designers will buy the older pieces and use them in their fashion shows."
Next door is one of two locations of the Music and Video Exchange. These are popular spots for local teens to hunt for the work of their favorite musicians. The Exchange boasts large selections of Beatles records and 1960s music, including rare treasures like a recording of "Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds Live With Sonny Boy Williamson."
Just as colorful and diverse is the display of food from all nations. These stalls sell food from everywhere at less than $7.50 a dish. On Camden High Street is a small stand called the Chocolatie Zone, a place to stop for chocolate-covered strawberries and strawberry shakes.
Weekends are predictably busiest; Striker recommends visiting on less crowded weekdays, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., when Londoners typically shop. Most of the stores in the Market and Camden Lock are open during the week, but the Electric Ballroom is closed.
Pointing to the stall selling Doc Martens shoes for $28 a pair, Striker described this as "the best bargain around."
As music and merchandise swirled, he added, that it's "like a carnival all the time."