An old saying goes “collect memories, not things”. It is an ideal philosophy for backpackers to live by – not least for the romantic sensibility of it all but also, given the limited space in one's backpack and the fact that things tend to cost money, memories don't make you anxious when your backpack is weighed at the airport nor do they break the bank; well, modest memories at least. But I think there's something to be said for the souvenir. Something tactile that you can see, hold, put on your mantelpiece, something which represents the journey, an experience, a memory, a feeling, maybe even just a moment.
Back in the day, before digital cameras or mobile phones and all that jazz, photos from your trip achieved this. Sending a roll of film off to be developed after you returned home and excitedly opening them for the first time when they arrived was a great post-trip event as you would spend ages laughing your way through the story of your journey, fondly remembering places, people and moments. These days the photo has arguably been devalued to a large extent, serving to fill the canvas' of Facebook, Instagram and the like with selfies and 'arty', 'filtered' pics. It could be deemed somewhat narcissistic in nature this continued construction of one's own identity, heavily reliant on images, via online social platforms and the travel pics are no different. Instantly uploaded and available to friends to see how much fun you're having or the crazy shenanigans you're getting up to, which is great and all but when that's the primary purpose for taking the pic in the first place rather than something for you to look back at in fond memory, it gets drowned in the vast online ocean of images, soon forgotten having served it's purpose. But I'm rambling and it's really a topic which can't be fully explored in the confines of this humble blog but the point to get back to is that the popularity of 'souvenirs', in some form or other, may be on the way back.
Souvenirs don't have to take up much space or cost much money nor must it be some typical piece of kitsch from the airport gift shop. it could be a beer mat from the Dublin pub you had a great night in, a seashell from the beach you had a hut on in Thailand or the wrapper from that purple sweet potatoes flavoured KitKat from Japan...once it reminds you of the place, the time you spent there, the people you met etc. then that's all it needs to be.
A great place to pick up random and often odd trinkets & bric-a-brac are flea markets. I personally love flea markets, I've always enjoyed rummaging for different treasures in the wonderland of random items but it's also a great way to mingle with the locals, soak up the atmosphere and can be a lot of fun as many markets incorporate local cuisine, live music or art exhibits. And you may even find yourself a bargain, a few years ago I bought a figurine tortoise at a flea market in Bologna, Italy, simply because I liked it. I paid one euro for it and later discovered that it's a Castagna figurine from 1988 (which is considered Vintage now, I feel old) and was in some demand amongst collectors online willing to pay a hell of a lot more than a euro for it. But I would never sell Greg, he reminds me of my time there....and I'm pretty scared that he can read my mind.
Greg watching me as I work....bit sinister looking.
Anyway, without further ado here's our pick of flea markets in the five European capitals HostelCulture rocks out in, and a bonus one too! Enjoy!
Berlin - Mauerpark Flea Market
This is a pretty big market and very popular with local Berliners. It offers everything from Vintage clothing, vinyl and antiques to DDR memorabilia, musical instruments, hand-printed t-shirts, jewellery, vintage toys and everything in between. A nice way to spend a few hours on a Sunday with live reggae and a variety of aromas from the bustling food stalls filling the air along. There's beer too and even karaoke. Every Sunday, get there early.
Dublin – Ha'Penny Flea Market
Trust Dublin to have a flea market in a pub! The Grand Social hosts this market every Saturday from noon until 6pm and offers, aside from pints, stalls ranging from bric a brac, vintage chic, retro furniture and clothing, books, jewellery, the obligatory vinyl collections and a whole lot more over two floors while DJs spin old school classics.
Also, if you're in town on the last Sunday of a month you should defo check out the Dublin Flea Market on New Market Square. It's also indoors, unpredictable Irish weather dictates this but does sprawl outside when we have a run of sunshine.
Budapest - Zichy Mihály út 14 Flea Market (City Park Flea Market)
There're a few decent flea markets in Budapest on Saturdays and Sundays but we're mentioning this one as it is the most central and easy to get to and is probably the most diverse in terms of variety of smaller items such as vintage clothing, jewelry and cameras rather than larger antiques and furniture. There's also local chocolatiers on site so you can indulge in Hungarian sweetness and burn off the calories all at the same time.
If you're willing to go approximately 40minutes from the central market hall you should check out Ecseri flea market which offers paintings, porcelain figurines, militaria, cameras, old photographs, vinyls, plenty of jewellery and many things from the last century.
Els Encants Flea Market – Barcelona
Set in and around Plaça de les Glòries every Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday this market is the biggest in BCN and has been in existence since the 14th Century. Stalls sell everything from old coins and shoes to lamps and even underwear!
Brick Lane Flea Market - London
There are a shit-load of flea markets and second-hand stalls in London so it's difficult to recommend just one or two, but Brick Lane flea market is great. Every Sunday it spills colourful bric-a-brac across a fairly large area and a number of streets of the East End as joyful cockney accents cry out around the curry houses and bustling stalls. Great for unusual retro clothes, vintage wares & unique odds and ends and is very popular with young Londoners.
Old Spitalfields market is open every day with an impressive array of stalls and shops offering collectables and unique vintage amongst much more and you can visit it to soak up the buzz.
Kolbenova Flea Market - Prague
The largest in the country, this market is great for hidden gems of second hand items, from unique communist memorbilia to clothes, books, toys, paintings and much more. It can feel a little bit, hmmm...'drab', for want of a better word, but I don't mean that in a negative or derogatory way at all, rather that this market doesn't seem to attract the young, hip & 'trendy' crowd as it's less of an 'event' than it is a straight forward market where locals go to find a bargain and the area is not dressed up to add anything to the experience but it's quiet Eastern European and definitely a worthy experience in it's own right. Every Saturday and Sunday from 7am to 2pm.
That's it for now guys and gals, we may explore more markets for you another time and include some of the really good ones from other cities we aren't in yet but if you find yourself in one or more of the six capitals above you won't go wrong with those markets. There are of course other markets to satisfy the curious browser in those cities too so ask at your hostel for advice and It's also worth asking your friendly hostel reception crew for a few local expressions to help you in your haggling.....very often sellers at markets will be particularly impressed and appreciative of the effort on your part to engage in the banter with some of the vernacular and it might even earn you a couple of extra euros off of the bottom price.
By Mike Wrach