Last weekend the Notting Hill Carnival descended on my neighborhood. My street was the “Music Zone” and on the direct parade route. The Notting Hill Carnival is Europe’s largest street festival, and over 1 million people attend. Let that sink in for a second: a million people on my street. It was both spectacular and horrifying. The Carnival itself runs for two days, but bands were gearing up for a couple days ahead of the actual party. There were many loud, late nights. I’m generally a fan of the steel drum and was excited to see steel drum orchestras roll into the neighborhood, but after about 10 hours of drumming, I was less enthusiastic.
The two days of the Carnival itself were fascinating to watch. The first day was supposed to be more kid-friendly, so most of the Carnival acts that day were groups dancing, many including children. Generally, each act was walking/dancing behind a semi truck kitted out with sound equipment, speakers and staffed by DJs.
The second day followed this approach, too, but with more floats than just semi trucks. It rained on the second, so the parade was paused for a while. Many of the costumes and floats on the second day were astounding, not just in color but in scale as well. So. Many. Feathers.
Police were everywhere during the Carnival.
In the days leading up to the event, the entire area around the Carnival route did the city version of battening down the hatches: rerouting buses & Tube stations, fencing off private areas, bringing in extra security, and setting up public restrooms. It was clear they were preparing for a large display of public drunkeness, and the Carnival goers did not disappoint. I was impressed with the increased security in my building, especially considering the huge mosh pit right outside our front door. I was also impressed with the Westminster street cleaners – the massive mess left by Day 1 partiers was nowhere in evidence at the crack of dawn on Day 2, no small feat.
I got out of the area for several hours each day of the Carnival and had lots of challenges getting back home: the first night on the Tube and the second on the bus. It all worked out in the end, but not before I saw both mounted police and police carrying riot gear (the large helmets, anyway – I didn’t see the big shields). At no point did I actually feel unsafe, but it made for a bit of excitement.
Title quote: Lonely Planet Discover London guide, May 2014, 3rd edition