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"Mother of all Fleamarkets" in Lille, France - largest one in Europe!

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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): "Mother of all Fleamarkets" in Lille, France - largest one in Europe!

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Mother of all Fleamarkets" in Lille, France - largest one in Europe!

What a fantastic way to start out the weekend!  I hesitated to go at first, as I am not a crowd person.  In the end, I'm glad I talked myself into it.  It all started with an email from my neighbor who was planning on going and told me all about it.  I then went to the Lille, France tourist bureau website and saw these stats:

  • 33 hours of non-stop fleamarket shopping
  • 10,000 exhibitors
  • Over 100 kms of stall space for the fleamarket
  • 1-2 million visitors
  • 500 tons of mussels ingested
 That last one made me curious.  There's also a half marathon going on in the streets....just another mix of quirkiness with this fleamarket!  Let me tell you how it went!

My dad was visiting us from the US, so I thought this would be a perfect European thing to do....fleamarketing, which has come somewhat of a national past time, for every European country we've lived in anyway.  Every town or city seems to have one, many every weekend.

Traveling from Mons to Lille is only one hour door-to-door.  I didn't realize this picturesque city in France was so close to us.  And the drive was easy.  I followed the recommendations on the tourist bureau's website and parked at one of their P&R parks.  We chose the Porte d' Arras over the 4 Cantons park, as it was closer in.  We left Mons around 0830 am and arrived an hour later....perfect.  Half of this particular parking area was still open, and there was a guy handing out the parking tickets at the entrance (rather than getting it out of the machine).  We parked and started to follow the crowd.  Many cars were already parked along the streets, so there would've been no way to park there at least.  About 100 meters away, we already saw stalls set up.  We never had to ride the metro, bus or any public transportation, as this P&R is very close to downtown.  They even gave us a map at the window of the P&R, which we had no trouble with, continually heading towards the city center.

The first stalls we saw were mainly everyday people selling their wares.  It was a typical town fleamarket, with a few residents capitalizing on the moneymaking potential by selling use of their toilets and selling cups of coffee from their Senseo one-cup coffee makers, pastries and later.....beer from kegs:-)  As we got closer to the center, we started seeing half marathon racers with their numbers, jogging by and warming up....we saw race numbers topping 9,000! We saw men in dresses getting ready to race, wigs....even a guy with a pack of French fries tied to his back....a few other rowdy costumes....everyone was in a jovial spirit and ready to go.

Here's some video I took during the day:




Some of the early birds were already wheeling away their purchases and leaving the flea market.  The diehards come EARLY to shop to get what they want, regardless of the start time posted on the tourist bureau website.  I saw empty grandfather clock cases, architectural wooden pieces, an anvil and furniture carried on peoples' heads......all headed back to their cars.

As we got even closer, we started to see more food stands....a favorite dish was a huge pan with hotdogs/bratwursts fried up with a mess of onions, served with a slab of crisp French bread....of course tons of fritterie stands where you could get fries with a dozen different toppings, crepes, waffles and donar kebaps.  Many of the restaurants also had stalls set up outside, as well as some bakeries and ice cream shops.

I think our boys had the best time at a stall that sold old uniforms, outfits and helmets from Roman to Medieval to World War II times.  The prices made me think these were replicas, but some of the helmets looked old and rusty....dusty clothing....many knights' helmets were battered, as if they had really seen battle.  Maybe they were from old re-enactors, movie sets or who knows where!

Some of the more interesting things we saw....a beautiful round table that had a leaf around the entire table to make it bigger, a coattree made out of lances and swords, furniture made out of old metal farm equipment, restored gas station equipment, tons of advertising signs, movie posters where one could cover half a wall, a booth with nothing but vintage movie projectors, a booth with nothing but vintage womens' high heels in brand new restored shape, booths with nothing but vintage military uniforms and accoutrements, antique sheet music, French statue clocks, beer memorabilia, vintage bottles, antique toys....the list goes on...everything you think that can be sold was being sold here!  We even saw a mountain, yes a mountain taller than me....of those old wooden sleds.

At one point, we stumbled onto "restaurant row".  Since we hadn't seen a lot of toilets, which seems to be the norm in both Belgium and France (Germany seems to do better here)....in fact, we had only seen the one in the lady's apartment up to this point.....we decided to park it at a table outside one of the many nearby restaurants.  Service was slow, but we were just happy to be sitting down and having a break.  We talked to some Brits who had come across on the ferry that morning....heard Dutch, German and of course French being spoken all over.  People come from all over Europe for this thing!

Then we noticed a phenomenon that I had read about...restaurants each with a pile of eaten mussel shells out front.  Apparently, it is a pretty serious competition for the restaurants to serve the signature mussels & french fries dish...where the mussels are steamed in a pot and served up in a heap with some fries on the side.  The used shells are then continuously piled up, and at some point, the piles are measured in height at each of the restaurants competing.  I have no clue what the prize is, but while we were in the area, it seemed the Flunch Restaurant had the biggest pile.  Flunch is like a cafeteria-style low budget kind of place.  I guess for consumers, price was the key factor, as they were charging only 6,80 euro for their dish....the cheapest I had seen anywhere...even in Mons....typically you pay closer to 18 euro for such a treat....and now they are in season, so be sure to try them if you haven't...they look ugly as sin, but they taste fantastic:-)

After being refreshed at our stop, we were two blocks away from the gorgeous city center with its narrow decoratively gabled buildings and grand city hall....and you could certainly tell by the massive crowds!  We were walking shoulder to shoulder and the place was packed with hawkers and noise coming from every corner.  There were more food stalls and many stores had booths outside, trying to get rid of things on sale....I read somewhere that stores try to get rid of their summer collections here.  For some reason, I saw a lot of winter boots for sale...huh?  There were lots of stalls selling new items....African items...copies of expensive items....probably fresh off the boat at nearby Calais, I don't know...even perfumes and toiletry items, packaged groceries even....wondering if they were expired....many foreigners selling their wares....but many speaking three or four languages....electronic items....all "new" with some antique vendors and antique furniture vendors thrown in between.

It became a bit much for me.....kids were having trouble seeing where they were going, so we decided to head back towards the P&R.....again, more room to move around and see what is being sold.  We bought a few items.  We did have a rolling cart we took along, which made it so much easier.  We even carried our snacks, water and raingear in there.  We also saw people pulling wagons and carrying those huge blue IKEA bags.  Some people had twine and metal carts, and it was amazing how people were able to whisk away some of their larger purchases...they were not amateurs!

The walker also was KING!  They shut down all the streets around the city center, for a few kilometers out...so don't expect to drive in close!  We loved listening to the drivers who would come with their little cars, trying to think of a plausible excuse why the police should let them through...very animated discussions.  There were police at every corner, keeping cars out and also wandering around, especially in the squares.  They are also very helpful, as we approached one when we got turned around at one point.  He got us right back on track without a word of English.

By late afternoon, we were seriously dragging....we had been eating at a variety of stands, so no one was hungry, but our "go power" was significantly reduced by aching feet.  We had no issues finding a roundabout way back to the car, so we could catch more stands on the way back.  As we got to the P&R, we saw cars waiting....and waiting, for someone inside to leave so they could go in....another reason to come early!  That is nonsense!  We paid 3,50 euro for our entire day at the P&R for our one vehicle, and since we were right by the highway, we didn't have to navigate any traffic going home.  Just got on the highway and off we were.

All in all, it was a fun day....the city itself has some wonderful architecture and some interesting building styles I had not seen yet in this area.  I kept getting reminded of Napoleon and also Moorish influences....a very nice city to walk around in...the only thing detracting was the smell coming up out of every single sewer grate I walked by.

Be sure to catch it again, the first weekend in September 2011!  If you do plan to stay in a hotel or B&B, book that EARLY!  Out of curiosity, I checked three days before the event online..and only found one B&B and no hotels in the entire city!  Did you get a chance to go and how did you like it?

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