Monday, October 6, 2014

The Flea Market the Parisians Prefer

If there was one thing I was excited for in Paris, it was the flea markets. Okay, okay, you got me, I'm a chronic bargain hunter. And I purposefully left half my suitcase empty for some ancient treasures to lug home just for the pleasure of saying, "Oh, that old thing? Found it at a flea market in Paris." Time to put all those years of thrifting at Goodwill and garage sales to work.

The first rule of flea market shopping in Paris is to arrive early.

Seriously early. Many of the sellers are first unloading their wares at 5 am, and the good stuff goes quick! So despite a short sleep after kicking it with some friends at a jazz concert the night before, I drearily trudged onto the nearly-abandoned metro (because who in their right mind is up this early on a Saturday?) and headed down south to meet my friend Lu for a morning in the markets.

Down south, you say? Why, isn't the Parisian flea market scene in the north, you say?
Let me 'splain, Lucy.

The most well-known flea market in Paris, and largest in the world incidentally, is Le Marché aux Puces de Saint Ouen, or Les Puces as it's better known. But despite this market's "queen status", after reading the reviews on Trip Advisor and consulting my holy grail of advice Paris: A Guide to the City's Creative Heart, I decided to skip out on the pickpockets, seedy characters, and overpriced, overwhelming garage sale atmosphere for a more authentic flea market experience. The locals told me the real Parisian flea market experience was to be had down south.

So hence, I stepped off the bus just as the sun hit the tips of the trees in the southern tip of Paris to Le Marché aux Puces de la Porte Vanves. This market swirls across three main streets, forming a cursive "L" sort of shape. If you get off the Porte de Vanves metro stop, walk a few hundred meters south to avenue marc sangnier, you can start right at the beginning and wander down all the streets in one big loop. Or there are a handful of buses that take you right to the market as well. 

My favorite stretch of this market is just after the creperie and cafe station on the corner of avenue marc sangnier and avenue georges lafenestre (where Google maps will tell you the market is located). After you refuel with a buttery croissant and a café crème (you will need it since you will be there for hours), you turn onto avenue georges lafenestre and discover the kindest of sellers and some magnificent bargains.

One particularly kind woman explained the market in English to us, and even taught us how to bargain in French. There was every kind of item you can imagine, and then some.

Yeah, apparently doll heads are a thing here? At least they seemed to be a common item in the flea market scene. Channeling some freaky memories from Toy Story 1...

As a serious penny-pincher back home, the Paris price tag made me want to retreat into my minimalist hole and cry bitter tears of a miser. I refused to pay full-price for something I knew I could get much cheaper back in the States, or that I felt I could survive without. But the flea markets, oh these blasted flea markets! I did not see it coming. Some of my favorite finds:

I absolutely fell in love. The atmosphere was pleasant and peaceful (except one seller who threw some old man out of his stall. That was awkward...) The characters were aplenty; the old men there were in particular fun to watch, adjusting their silk scarves, trying on leather gloves, and smoking wooden pipes.

And I even left with a few treasures of my own tucked away in my market bag. A fuzzy flyaway dark green vest (10€... before I knew how to barter), a glass bottle with an ancient script label still attached (6€) and a 17th century collection of all of the works of J Racine, first French playwright to live off his writing (5€). 

All together a blissful experience, and one that I will revisit again soon.


  1. If you see a gorgeous little painting that reminds you of me, please bring it home! I would love love LOVE that--I wish I could wander, browse, and munch along with you. This looks and sounds glorious. :)

  2. Oh those blasted flea markets!
    I get it, I so get it :)
    Though, I don't fully comprehend the French spin on it. How fantastic!