Monday, August 11, 2008

El Rastro

Be it Europe, or Asia, the one thing that all big cities have in common is a flea market. Market on wheels, markets in squares, bric-a-brac sales, junk sales, weekend markets - all big cities seem to have one if not more...and they are a must for the tourist. Not just becuase of what you might find there, but mainly because they have an atmosphere that distinguishes them from every other market / historical monument that you may see.

Be it the stall selling old used junk, or the lady playing the organ, old music LPs that you have not heard in a long while, old military paraphernalia, ethnic jewellery, local art or carts selling local food, there is a quirkiness to these markets that nothing else can replicate. They are windows into the lives of the local people, an opportunity to mingle with them, haggle over every single piece that you definately do not need, flop on the benches as you savour that local delicacy, observe the little girl plead with her father to buy yet another rag doll that she just must have, smile at the joke shared between the two stall owners watching the intrepid tourist bargain! Its an experience that one must go through.

Madrid is no different. In fact, if anything, it boasts of multiple flea markets. It can pride itself on being a city with the highest number of street markets, amongst them being the stamp and coin market in Plaza Mayor, the craft market in Plaz de las Comendadoras, and, the pottery market in Plaza del Conde Barajas. But the most famous of all of these is the El Rastro, held every Sunday, on Ribera de Curtidores.

This, I was told, was perhaps one of the oldest parts of Madrid and the market is spread out all over random streets, and, as you walk from the main road into the thick of the market, it would appear that half of Madrid had the same idea as you! The one phrase that you need to learn and will constantly use is Cuanto cuesta? - kwan-to kwes-tah - How much is it?

The main street has clothing, music, pottery, leather goods, swords & knives, fans etc but its the side lanes where you can hunt out bargains on handicrafts and antiques. The market starts early in the morning around 7 and continues till around 2 o;clock in the afternoon. When tired, flop down, have a cold beer / soft drink from one of the shops, and then resume your quest.

I picked up a lovely poster of a bull fight where they printed my son's name as the chief bull fighter, and, another one for a flamenco performance by my husband and me! They are now my prized possesions!

I also bought a lovely knight's helmet for my son, complete with a curtain of links. There were also a huge range of swords with beautiful sheaths which I was very tempted to buy, but the edges were too sharp, so I had to forego them - couldn't risk my son cutting himself on these!

All that walking had tired us, so we dropped into a roadside eatery to buy some water and a bite to munch. There was an array of mouthwatering snacks on display, all wasted on a vegetarian like me! Hubby and son devoured some food, and, when we were looking to throw the wrapper, we realised that everyone was throwing them on the floor. Then we realised that its the done thing, you eat whatever, and throw the wrappers / shells / packets / corks on the floor. Every 10 mins, the cleaner would come, and, sweep it away! It reminded me of the Camel bar in Sharm, where the USP is that you eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor!

Just a word of caution! Where there are crowds, there will be pickpockets, so keep your wallets securely strapped, and avoid carrying large floppy bags where you won't even register a quick hand in and out!

1 comment:

Fiona said...

I just love flea markets and the ones in Madrid sound fantastic esp the stamp and coin ones cos that really interests me!!