Give fleas a chance

I’ve been musing a lot lately about stuff. No, not stuff stuff, things stuff; that collection of material goods we accumulate (and eventually begin to choke ourselves with) as we meander through life. Here in our minuscule Parisian lodgings we have the advantage of not having the space for a whole load of material baggage (click here to discover more advantages of living in a chic match box), though when we do have the urge to shop, we do live in one of the best cities in the world to do it in.

Sure we have all the chains and the big names, chic arcades and sprawling malls – hell even the larger train stations in Paris are being turned into soulless shopping centres designed to lure in those sensible enough to have allowed themselves ample time to catch their trains. That’s not really what gets my carte bancaire sweating though, and I’m lucky enough to live less than a ten-minute walk away from one of largest flea markets in the world, where vintage chic melds with the beautifully bizarre and getting a real bargain beats battling around the rat run in Ikea into flat-pack submission.

If you’re heading up this way, eschew line 4 and the Porte de Clignancourt exit where cheap trainers and pleather handbags clog the lanes, and instead brave line 13 and get off at Garibaldi near the northern end of the main street Rue des Rosiers, meaning you’ll more easily get to good stuff and avoid all the tat (unless you really can’t do without some new incense sticks and a Bob Marley flag). Then all you have to do is keep an eye on your twitching credit card and decide which particular classic delight(s) your life and home are missing.

Rather than one big sprawl, the area is divided into lots of smaller markets (15 and counting), all specialising in slightly different things, though there’s furniture up the wazoo at every turn and if you have the time for a more comprehensive wander, it’s worth having a rifle through as many as you can (or bank balance will allow). See the photos for just a tiny taste of some of the gems I found on my way around. Needless to say I didn’t have a bag big enough to take a vintage pinball machine home, no matter how short the distance back to Granny Flat.

For those without a white van man on hand for larger purchases, there are plenty of smaller items to dig through from vintage postcards and knick knacks, to jewellery and classic toys. Remember though that actually digging may lead to some exasperated stall owners – ask before touching (‘je peux?’) and lead with your eyes; handling things is taken in some cases as a precursor to a sale. As with all flea markets, bartering is a useful skill, though you’ll have way more success if you bring cash (some stalls don’t take cards at all) and have a go at sealing the deal in French.

If you’re a visitor rather than a native and plan on organising your trip around a visit here, just be aware that the markets are only open at weekends and on Mondays, and you’d do well to try and avoid peak times if you want to snag the best bargains. Bad weather Mondays are treasure-searching gold.

Whatever your shopping motivation, for weary feet and spirits there are some weird and wonderful cafés dotted around, including some amazingly traditional French gems (remember the stall owners need to eat too!). And even if you haven’t been so lucky as to find that 19th century chandelier at the right price, keep your eyes peeled as you might just be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the local firefighters jogging around the area in their tiny, tight red shorts as they most regularly do. Sadly, no touching allowed, and models not for sale…

Click here to explore the various markets and offerings to plan your visit (available in English).

A right royal sunbathe

It’s that time of year folks – dust off the picnic blanket, grease yourself up in factor 15 and hit the park for a sizzling session or two of self-browning. Paris offers parks a-plenty for the purpose, though those with a more refined sense of outside fun in mind, might want to head to one of the city’s sculpted gardens.

Well hold your cool box right there sun-seeker, Paris hasn’t made this outdoor bronzing business quite as easy as we’d all hope, and actually not every green spot in town is open to receive a tartan blanket or ten. Think you can lounge uninterrupted on the grassy knoll in front of Sacre Coeur? Nope. You’ll get whistled at by killjoy guards before you’ve even settled in. The Jardin de Luxembourg might equally seem like a nice spot, but in fact amongst all that lush lawn, there’s only a tiny parcel that you (and a thousand other sun worshipers) are allowed to sit on. And each time I’ve been, it’s been in the shade.

If you want to keep your foray into the great green relatively central, then there’s only one real option where the grass is fair game, and the surroundings couldn’t be classier – the Place des Vosges, a geometrically perfect square straddling the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. If Louis XIV (aka ‘The Sun King’) had ever decided to take his title literally and mingle with the masses in a sunbathing sesh, then this is surely where he’d have done it.

Originally christened Place Royale (see, told you it was classy), it was the work of Henri IV (or at least his building crew) and was inaugurated in 1612, remaining to this day the oldest planned square in the city. It’s also one of the most elegant, and the prototype for many square places dotted around Europe, and single-handedly responsible for making the Marais one of the wellest-to-do parts of Paris. If it’s typically classically decadent Parisian architecture you want, here’s where to find it in geometric perfectness.

For your lounging pleasure there are ample patches of lawn to spread your picnic on, or plenty of shade under the rows of clipped linden trees if the French sun begins to bite. Play spot the jogger skirting the edges, let the kids battle it out in the sand pit or simply lay back and let the regal fountains trickle you into a reverie. Mostly though, just let your mind wander amongst the lucky residents enjoying such an address and try to come up with ways to make enough money to follow them (you’ll need to budget for upwards of €18,000 per m2 FYI). Tax avoidance to fund your dreams may not be in the spirit of the location however, given that the square was named after the people of Vosges in 1799, the first department in the country to pay their taxes to fund the revolution.

For a sneak peek inside before you get home to count the coppers in your piggy bank, head to the south east side of the square to have a wander through Victor Hugo’s house, where he lived from 1832-1848, just after the publication of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. See if you can get an idea of the creative magic that lived here too – it was here where the seeds of Les Misérables were sown and the fledgling work began to take shape (finished eventually in 1862). Writing a bestseller might be the only chance you’ll ever have of living here after all…

Post originally published on 02/06/2017