There's some great finds to be had in Madrid’s El Rastro flea market, but they're not immediately obvious to the newcomer. When I saw stalls selling the usual market wares, predominantly clothing and faux designer bags lining the street leading down to Plaza de Cascorra, I was doubtful I was going to find anything worthwhile. That is, until we spied the side streets. To my delight these cobbled laneways contained the treasures I had come in search of.
Spread out on the ground and stacked in doorways of antique shops were all manner of interesting objects d’art. Antique books, locks, irons and large ornate picture frames were everywhere. A wonderful old Underwood typewriter and several book presses caught my eye. Sadly, there was no way any of these items could fit in my luggage. Several beautifully worn shoe lasts that were going for a song would have, until I remembered the restrictions on bringing wood into Australia, so reluctantly I had to leave them behind.
A beautiful penned manuscript at a hundred euros may have been out of my price range, but when I picked up a bundle of engravings and the seller said "Twenty euros," my heart skipped a beat. I offered fifteen and he replied that if I bought several he'd drop the price to fifteen EACH!! He and I obviously weren't on the same page.
I loved listening to vendors and buyers haggling over the ‘precios’. Just hearing the local language no matter where one is, makes the whole experience more enjoyable. Bargaining is expected and when one or two vendors dropped the price from twenty euros to ten immediately I began walking away, I was suspicious as to whether the item was the real deal. But at the end of the day it didn’t matter. I’ve learned from experience that there is nothing worse than regretting not buying something when you get the opportunity - you're likely to never see it again.
After three hours I came away with a few treasures, including a tiny silver mesh purse, some large keys, rubber ink stamps, chandelier faceted glass, and an 1840 French book. It’s heavy but the cover and end papers and text are divine.
Arriving early at the market was definitely the way to go, because by lunchtime when the crowds had swelled and the sun was high we'd had enough. While locals sipped their beer and ate tapas we opted for an expresso before returning to our apartment to drool over our finds.
Next weekend we’ll be in Granada for more bargain hunting; with Valencia, Barcelona and then Paris to follow. Give me a flea market over a designer shoe store any day!