Seniors Visit the Paris Flea Market

Jun 30th, 2010 | By James E Becker | Category: Senior Travel

Having lived in Paris for an academic year as a graduate student, I had experienced just about everything that a tourist would ever want to see including a visit to “Les Egouts” (the sewers of Paris).  One day my curiosity got the best of me and I just had to check out one of the less famous Paris attractions, the Flea Market.  I found it to be gigantic and full of every kind of bric-à-brac the mind can imagine.  It was full of what are called in French “brocanteurs” or second hand dealers. 

This particular flea market is legendary.  It has been operating according in some form since the Middle Ages.  The name itself originated at the biggest and most famous, St.-Ouen, just outside the city’s ring road at Porte de Clignancourt, where back in the 1880s (according to ParisPuces.com, a Web site run by the Association des Puces de Paris St. Ouen) an “unknown bargain hunter” looked down from nearby fortifications, observed junk dealers selling scrap metal, rags and old furniture, and exclaimed, “My word, but it’s a market of fleas!”  You won’t find many fleas but you will see many signs that read “soldes” meaning “bargains.” I suggest that you read up on some of the market’s history prior to your visit. 

The Puces covers 7 hectares (17+ acres) and is the largest antique market in the world, receiving around 200 000 visitors each weekend.  This may be low your list of things to see and do in the “City of Light”, but if you want a memorable experience and simply love to watch people, this may be it. Here you will find furniture, old art pieces, clothes, shoes, porcelin, time pieces, military pieces, pictures, new and second-hand clothes — all at rock-bottom prices (especially if you’re adept at haggling) and tons of just plan “jonque.” There’s a jovial fairground atmosphere, with the aroma of food wafting in the air and people crowding round the stalls, hoping to pick up a 1970s leather jacket or rare Louis XV chest of drawers. Make sure to bring cash; the ATMs are far away.

Frommers has good advice for seniors.  They write…”Les Puces de St-Ouen is more like a small town filled with antique shops. It is divided into several markets, each with its own specialty and character. It is impossible to cover every market in a single day, so make sure to do your research beforehand and decide on which markets to visit.”  TripAdvisor advises that you…”skip all the street vendors selling clothes, t-shirts, cheap jewelry, and souvenirs. This part of the market is crowded and messy – watch out for pick pockets. Head straight for rue des Rosiers and explore all the little antique and vintage stores.”  I agree. A wonderful film called Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Ballon) includes a visit by a young boy named Pascal to the market.   Rent this movie and see the Flea Market with Pascal.  It won best film of the famous Cannes Film Festival way back in 1956.  I used to show it at least twice a year to each of my French classes.

How to get there:  The Puces de Saint-Ouen are located on the north edge of Paris and can best be reached by the Métro (Station Garibaldi on line 13, station Porte de Clinagncourt on line 4). Going by car is also very easy: take the ring, exit at Porte de Clinagncourt, you are there.  When you get to the station Porte de Clinagncourt, you will see many people flowing to a direction, and there are many shops selling clothes, shoes, low price watches and other electronic appliances in the street. That is not real “Le marché aux puces de Saint-Ouen”. The real flea markets are inside, after you go through the crowded streets.  The station lies just inside the city limits of Paris; to the north of the station is Saint Ouen.  A short walk from the station is the marché aux puces de Saint-Ouen. Simply follow the crowd to the more than 2000 “shops.” Good restaurants in the area includes Le Paul Bert, at 20, rue Paul Bert and Le Soleil, 109 av. Michelet.

Flea Market Hours:  Every Saturday from 9h – 18h; Every Sunday from 10h to 18h; Every Monday from 11h to 5h (many stalls close around lunch time…that’s French you know).
If you get there early, plan on having a leisurely Café Crème and watching the antiques world start up for the day. If you’re a serious shopper, watch out as it becomes very crowded after lunch!!

Important Note: Be careful to hide wallets and purses; as in any city, as I forewarned above, big crowds are a great place for pickpockets to work – and the Flea Market is no exception. Hide your wallets in a fanny pack and leave your passport in a safe.  

If you are a dedicated shopper in Paris, here is a nice map for your consideration and orientation: http://www.parisdigest.com/map_paris/map_of_paris_shopping.htm.   From this map you may locate and learn about the best Paris shops and Paris shopping districts with a Paris shopping map: fashion streets, department stores, food markets, flea market, food shops, shopping centers, books and music shops.  Amusez-vous bien! (that means “have fun”)  jeb



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