Strolling Through Colorful Street Markets

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One of my favorite things to do when I travel is visit local open-air markets.  Whether I’m looking for a little trinket gift to give someone back home or a juicy piece of fruit for lunch, I’ll always dash towards a table display on the street rather than a shop.

On reason to love markets is that they are usually filled with incredibly unique items.  Sure, there are the mass market souvenirs, but there are also handcrafted one-of-a-kind items that really capture the personality of a place.  I always look for local artists or photographers as they can offer a wholly original perspective on the region.  I’ll usually buy something small and then ask for them to tell me about the inspiration for the image.  Even a small photograph becomes infinitely more valuable when there’s a story attached!

After more than a decade of traveling, I’ve learned to aim my camera at the markets I visit as they are bustling with vibrant color and glowing moments of humanity.   From busy flea markets to fruit stands in small neighborhoods, markets are filled with family, friends, and strangers all coming together in one place.  Different ethnicities, languages, and cultures all converge, making markets a lovely reminder that we are more the same than different.

In London, markets sell everything from books from antiques.  Several street markets set up shop at Covent Garden including one of my favorite, The Jubilee Market.  To get there, ride a train on the Piccadilly Line to the Covent Garden station.  When standing in front of the main pavilion, (you’ll see The Apple Market), head to the right and keep going.  A bright blue sign and a reference to Henrietta Street will help pinpoint the correct spot.

Souvenirs, crafts, and delicious snacks fill The Jubilee Market in London. Photo by: c.b.w.

Of course, London’s most famous stretch of marketplace fare runs down Portobello Road.  While the antique stalls are fun, I love the food kiosks above anything else.  Fruit, crepes, and pastries make for a delicious stroll!  To get there, the best way is to hop on the Tube and take a train to Notting Hill Gate, (Central, Circle, or District Lines).  This stop is my favorite because there are big signs that point towards Portobello Road, which makes it super easy to find. Follow your nose for the food!

Porotbello Road, London. Photo by: c.b.w.

In Ireland, Dublin’s cobblestone streets wouldn’t be complete without flower markets peddling everything from daisies to roses.  Amid the the gray clouds and brown brick, blooming bright colors sure liven up the place!  Some of the more colorful kiosks can be found on Grafton Street in the heart of Dublin.

Dublin, Ireland. Photo by: c.b.w.

Prague, however, takes the prize for having some of the most lively markets I’ve ever seen!  Tables are filled with colorful fruit, amazing handcrafted items, and spectacular artwork. A small market with a big personality is but a quick walk from the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square.  Head down a street called Zelezna and hang a right on Havelská.

Handcrafted wooden toys on display in a Prague marketplace. Photo by: c.b.w.

Wooden critters line market shelves in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by: c.b.w.

It almost looks too good to eat! Fruit Market in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by: c.b.w.

On a day when museums are closed or the weather is too good to stay inside, a few dollars and a leisurely stroll are all you need for a beautiful memory.

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c.b. 2012

Books Keep the Best Memories, Part 1

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The Best Souvenirs Are Free, but books come in a very close second.  This is especially true if they are used and include inscriptions from previous owners.  While I wander through my travels, I always keep my eyes peeled for a bookstore where I can peruse local authors or maybe find a new treasure to put on my bookshelf.

Books are a favorite souvenir for they not only tell stories, but they keep them as well. New books pique my curiosity because the authors are unknown to me and I want to know how they reflect the place I’m visiting.  Used books connect me to people I’ll never meet and have a history that reaches beyond bent covers and cracked bindings.  I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

This is the first in a series of posts about books that hold special memories for me.  Much like stones and shells, books give me more than a tacky magnet or keychain ever could.

Books From Ireland:

UTZ by Bruce Chatwin 
Winter Garden by Beryl Bainbridge 
All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

On a walk through Killarney, I found a charming store called The Dungeon Bookshop. On the upper floor is a mess of used books stacked on shelves, the floor and wherever else there’s room. And none of them are organized beyond genre.  It’s a good thing I had an entire afternoon free and had on a good pair of walking shoes.  I’ve never been to a bookstore where climbing over piles of books was required in order to get from one shelf to another!  In the midst of the chaos, I found three thin novels by quirky authors, the likes of whom I’ve never encountered.  Chatwin has a unique voice he uses to create amazing metaphors, while Bainbridge proves she’s a legend with her elegant prose.  Then there’s Kaufman, a Canadian writer who deserves a far wider readership as he makes the allegory into an art form all his own.

The Dungeon Bookshop, Killarney Ireland

All three reads continue to be at the top of my list for original writing. It’s quite fitting they came from such a strange shop that defies all the rules.  Although, I realized some time later I may have broke a little rule, too.  The man at the counter seemed surprised to see a tourist in the shop, no less one who was actually buying something.  He was more surprised still that I was American . . . and then he smiled.  All I could think was how this bookshop appeared to be a safe house for misfits.  Whenever my fingers run over the bindings I feel the marvelous chaos that surrounded my feet that day and I hope quirky books and people continue to find their way to the friendly haven on The Dungeon’s second floor.

Ticket to Ride by Dennis Potter

I’ll be honest and admit this book was not an accidental find.  After reading Potter’s Hide and Seek,  I was on a mission to get my hands on more of his work.  In particular, I was after Ticket to Ride.  The only problem is the book is out of print and virtually unavailable in the States.  Seeing as I was on my way to Ireland, I decided my best hope of finding it resided in my trip, despite such slim odds.  Throughout my journey on the Emerald Isle I stopped at every bookstore I could find and came up empty until the last day.  In Dublin, I visited The Winding Stair, an incredibly cute and cozy used bookshop that literally has a winding staircase.   I scanned the fiction shelves and found nothing, so I headed towards the back corner where the bargain books were shelved.  I had to get on my knees in order to go through every book on the bottom shelf, but it was worth it the moment I spotted the magic words:  Ticket to Ride.  I found it!!  I’m pretty sure I gasped and did a little dance.  At the bargain price of €4, victory became even sweeter.  Although, Potter’s book was as good as gold to me no matter the price.

When I opened the cover I found the added bonus of an inscription from a previous owner:

It doesn’t get any better than this!  My curiosity continues to wonder who wrote it and why. What does the phrase mean? What colorful story inspired this person to pull out a pen?  I will never know, but with these few words I am connected to a total stranger.  I’ve always found that small connection to be a powerful thing as my memories are forever intertwined with memories of another.  For that simple reason, Ticket To Ride will always be priceless and meaningful on a deeply personal level.

The book still evokes a strong sense of exhilaration whenever I pull it off my shelf.  One touch instantly brings back the memories of every bookstore I visited as well as the rolling green hills that separated one shop from the next.  This is a book that triggered my book vibe before I even saw it and has proven to be a reader’s delight.  Potter’s writing may be dark, but it’s beautiful and bold in ways I can only hope to achieve as a writer.  I will always be thankful that somehow Ticket to Ride ended up on a dusty shelf in Dublin and I was lucky enough to find it.  It’s battered and worn from a life I can only imagine, but it now keeps the adventure of my treasure hunt safely between its pages.

c.b. 2011