It was in a Berlin flea market we accidentally stumbled upon that we saw someone selling old antique doll heads. Making our way across the world, and with sometimes as little as a hand full of hours, we’ve found the most entertainment in markets. Not only good for the people watching aspect, but the variety of what the world has to sell.
While in London we paid a visit to Camden Market. This the largest open-air market in London, open 364 days a year (closed December 25th) and one of the best flea markets I’ve seen. It’s like your spice rack of flea markets. Vintage stores, strange Japanese flare, neon underground selections, DJ’s, antique stores, foods from around the world, henna tattooing, record shops, artwork, graffitied clothing, all-leather stalls and even eating areas with seats made out of the back half of old scooters and Vespas.
We had four hours to make of Brussels so we decided to see its flea market. A local market that ran seven days a week from 4:30 am till 1 pm sounded promising and surely interesting. It has been our plan to pay a visit to a flea market in every city that we visit and the Brussels flea market has been the most memorable. People’s old photo albums still full of pictures of people, vintage bottles of wine from the 80’s, rusted antique cutlery, plastic toy drills for kids and shoe laces. Morgan was able to exchange a pair of Price Less shoes he’d picked up in Reading for a wedding for a pad lock. Starving, we stopped at a cafe and ordered a Crocque Madame (toasted ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top) that too an hour to make and left us running across the city of Brussels to make the next train out of Belgium.
Sitting in the Milano train station waiting on our night train to Prague, I realized that we hadn’t been to a market in Milan. “In Italy the market comes to you and it’s crap!” Morgan says. It’s true. In Milan, the shopping metropolis of Italy, you’re more likely to end up scoping out the Nigerian selection of friendship bracelets than designer decal. They approach you with a tray of bright friendship bracelets saying that they have something nice and “free” for you or “it’s for Africa”. Sternly saying no and walking away won’t help you. Morgan had one of these guys grab his hand and tie a ‘free bracelet’, but to have it then ask for a euro. It’s funny what you find yourself doing to get across your message of “No, I’m not going to buy anything from you or give you money” across. To the gypsies in Berlin, we pretended we were deaf and practiced some sign language. The young gypsy girl looked at us confusingly, realizing that there are crazier people out there than her gypsy-kind, laughed and moseyed on. In Milan, some guys pushed flowers on Morgan to which he replied “No thanks guys, I’m not hungry.” Walking into our abuse of the language barrier, they walked on leaving us in stitches.
Looking more closely, street toys are really some of the oddest. The Arab guys outside the Milan central train station sold the exact same five toys only a few feet away from each other. To be that close in proximaty would only make sense if they were running bets on whose dancing cow jived best, or who had the longest running wind up jet airliner. I still can’t for the life of me understand the blob balls – those sticky balls that when thrown against a flat surface they flatten and slowly regain their shape. I think by far the best street toy so far has to be what we’ve coined, Stupid Barbie. At first glance, it’s Barbie pedalling around in circles on a red bicycle, but looking closer you’ll notice her 10 speed has training wheels. It would make us laugh harder when we celebrated Barbie’s 50th birthday at the Toy Museum in Prague.
Prague’s largest flea market was dead on a Saturday. It consisted entirely of Asian vendors selling the same cheaply made and miniature sized knock off items and had been creatively dubbed the Yellow Market. I was in the market for a nice set of thermal wear since Poland would be the next pit stop, but was unsuccessful in my search. Had I been in market for brass knuckles, health cigarettes (fake plastic cigarettes) or stuffed top genitals I would have hit the jackpot. Instead, we tried some local Prague Kelbasa (menu read: bread, kelbasa and paper plate), potato latkis and hot wine. The hot wine was a hit. Tasting like a hot cider, it was made of cloved wine, hot water and cubes of sugar. Another recipe called for a slice of orange. It’s delicious and a great way for wine lovers to liven up a disappointing bottle or cheap wine.
We have many market moments to look forward to. We hear they’ve got a bucket of goat heads on display in Morocco.