Markets. I always like the idea of them but somehow they never quite live up to their promise. Or at least they don’t usually. We may just have found the exception…
I used to live around the corner from Columbia Road Flower Market in East London and would often wander over there on a Sunday morning. It was great, but only in very small doses. The colours were incredible and there was always a really good atmosphere, but for me it was just too crowded.
Borough Market, just south of the Thames, was much the same. Remarkable food, smells that were so good I can still remember them now, but far too many people for my liking. The roast pork, stuffing and apple sauce baguettes may have kept drawing me back, but I wasn’t happy about it!
And so it was with some trepidation, that I suggested we should visit Il Gran Balôn Antiques Market in Turin last weekend. We need to buy some old stuff for the house and the internet had reliably informed me that this, being one of the biggest and best antiques markets in Europe, was the place to do it.
It was going to be over-crowded, over-priced and overflowing with junk, I could just tell.
Except it wasn’t. It was amazing! Held on the second Sunday of every month, the market takes over an entire area of Turin. It’s like a small town in itself. You can wander for hours. Every street you turn down is lined with yet more stalls. And they sell literally – and I don’t use that word lightly – everything. I mean it. Anything you can think of can be bought there. From cars to giant model dinosaurs, pianos to Vespa windscreens. I have never seen anything quite like it.
And it wasn’t that busy. It had a nice buzz to it, but when we wanted to stop at a café to cool down (that’s right, it was actually hot and sunny enough that we needed to stop and cool down), right in the middle of the market, we found a table without any trouble.
In fact, a quick drink soon stretched into lunch. The people-watching was just so good we couldn’t tear ourselves away. Although it wasn’t so much the people, more what they were carrying… We saw a hipster-type toting a wagon wheel, a rather serene looking old lady carrying what looked like a 19th century wooden saw and dozens of yummy mummies (is that a politically correct term? Oh well…) carrying around large plastic letters, presumably planning on spelling out their child’s name or some witty Italian phrase when they got home.
We didn’t buy anything on this trip. It was all a bit intimidating to be honest. We asked the price of a few things, and they seemed pretty reasonable, but you are clearly expected to haggle and we haven’t quite honed our Italian negotiating skills just yet. We’ll go back though. There’s an amazing wooden table with our name on it (not literally, although it did have loads of those letters on it, so I guess it’s possible) and a pair of 1950s leather chairs that would look perfect next to a big window, looking out over the vineyards.