Barcelona is young, hip, friendly and informal. Naturally, we assumed there had to be an insanely cool market hidden somewhere in this city. Flea markets in Europe are known to be a treasure trove of antiques and all sorts of shopping for the serious and the passerby. Our intense experience at Europe’s largest flea market – Les Puces de St. Ouen in Paris taught us that. So when we found Mercat Del Encants was Barcelona’s largest flea market, you can only imagine how excited we were about going there.
There’s something beautiful about the pre-loved. About tattered books and shattered glass, musty lace and tarnished copper. Objects that have been previously owned come with baggage. They come with stories and tales, of past owners and bygone times. They capture a sentiment that’s stronger than any other – Nostalgia.
Which is why I love flea markets. Even if I’m not there to buy anything, I love waking around and imagining the lives these objects once lived, who with and where. I couldn’t wait to do this in yet another European city.
Mercat Del Encants is walking distance from two metro stations – Encants and Glories. Take your pick.
The tacky stuff:
We were shocked to find it wasn’t a very large market. The stalls flanking the entire walkway right from the entrance were just full of cheap and tacky export reject garments. Ok yes, very cheap, no doubt, but they had their labels cut off, and some of them were horrendous. Socks, undies, and so much more that I just prefer not to show you pictures of.
Walking on, we finally reached an open area, that did indeed remind us of a small tiny part of the Paris flea market. And that’s when it got interesting. We decided to skip to the end, and then slowly work our way back.
In the central area though, we did come across some gems. Really old decorative items, ashtrays, figurines, glasses, ceramics, records and what not. Oh and books. Beautiful hardbound, gold embossed, yellow paged, dog- eared books. I ran my fingers over the spines, lovingly, longingly as I watched a man, who was as old as the books, putting them into neat piles as soon as a customer was done messing them up. I bought a few trinkets and realised bargaining here was the complete opposite of what it had been in Paris. In Paris, the wrinkly, cheerful old chaps offered you a discount or a freebie without you asking for one, and here, the hard-nosed mistrusting wiley old chaps refused to budge even on something they knew they were overcharging you for.
We roamed about for a while, and left the market, only to discover we pretty much had the entire day free (since we’d expected the market to take all day). While looking around the few shops that had opened, we saw some serious antique buyers, here to pick up the good stuff (usually stored at the back of these warehouses and reserved for such good homes) and we noticed an old man, sharp, charming, very wealthy, as he sat outside one of the stores, with his beautifully ornate horn walking stick, that had a secret compartment where he kept his tobacco. Done with the unabashed gawking, we then strolled about hunting for food. None. The area is pretty desolate, and is probably full of retirees from the looks of the crowd, which means fewer restaurants and cafes (or practically none at all). Talking to the locals here was a bit tougher than usual, since none of them understood a word of English, and most certainly didn’t get our broken attempts at Catalan.
I’m still glad I went to the Mercat del Encants though and rummaged around a bit, but I wouldn’t set aside an entire day for it. I still came away with some stories inspired by the objects I saw (most of them created by my in my own head) but then that’s me, I don’t know how Charles would have felt about it if it hadn’t been such a delight to photograph. He has a much deeper understanding when it comes to identifying the era or style of a certain antique and therefore, its significance or lack thereof.
For some great ideas on what you can do with your time in Barcelona check out 20 Free Things to do in Barcelona by AngloItalian