(Travel + Leisure) -- Some people travel so they can climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or ski the Rockies, or feast on rare delicacies in Bangkok. Not me. I think of the world as a series of fabulous flea markets, displaying each culture's best bibelots -- many of which can be had for a paltry few pounds or yen, euros, or dollars.
More than 2,500 vendors set up before dawn the second Sunday of every month in Pasadena, California.
Who needs an ordinary souvenir when you can remember your vacation every time you use your turn-of-the-century Parisian canisters or wear those Art Deco bracelets, bought for a song in Buenos Aires?
My roster of what I consider to be the 10 greatest markets in the world depends upon a highly personal interpretation of "great." Though some of my picks are vast and encompass thousands of vendors (the thrice-yearly Brimfield, Massachusetts, extravaganza, for example, has fully 6,000 dealers on hand!); others are great because, though small, they are consistently good -- not to mention picturesque.
The market that sets up on Thursdays in front of the Gothic cathedral in Barcelona -- quirky in itself since almost every other market is held on a weekend -- is small enough to enjoy in the space of a leisurely morning, but the quality (high) and average price (low) make this worth adjusting your calendar in the hope of finding a vintage Spanish lace shawl. Travel + Leisure: See the world's top flea markets
If you, like me, travel thousands of miles just to watch the sun rise over tables of treasures, here are some of my top tips culled from a lifetime of "fleaing":
And yes, size matters. Supposedly, there's some way to get that 300-ton temple bell home to Cleveland, but for myself -- after riding for seven hours with a four-foot-tall Victorian pixie doll on my lap (you don't want to know) -- I now confine my treasures to items smaller than a bread box (happily, that includes lots of vintage jewelry -- recently a Victorian bracelet and a 1940s copy of British Vogue).
Another hard-earned lesson? Do not exhaust yourself. This is supposed to be fun! Make sure you have lunch and/or take a coffee break. Many of the world's markets contain excellent bistros -- you can enjoy a hearty onion soup in one of the many cafés that dot the Porte de Clignancourt market; have a steak sandwich -- it's the national dish -- in view of the outdoor vendors at the San Telmo market in Buenos Aires; or enjoy a pub lunch in London while you contemplate potential purchases.
And one last thing: if you're at a really massive market and spot something interesting but aren't ready to make a purchase, write down the booth number. You don't want to spend the rest of your life pining for the one that got away, just because after hours of searching, you couldn't find your lost love again.
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