The Worst Flea Markets in Europe: Part One – Prague
My mother taught me to never say an unkind word and my blog is filled with praises of fabulous people I’ve met, great antique shops and boutiques I’ve discovered on my European travels and gushes about gorgeous European flea markets. In my blog I try to give advice on places that are diva-worthy, where you should stop, shop and drop your dough on fabulous European antiques and vintage items. And it occurred to me that if my objective in writing a blog about European Antique Shopping is to save you time on your travels so you can go straight to the fab places, then shouldn’t it hold true that if someplace is utterly NOT FAB that I should also advise when it’s best to skip the market so you can move on to better and brighter baubles? I for one hate wasting time when I travel – and that’s why I’m revealing what I think are the worst flea markets in Europe. And while this might sound like blasphemy coming from me, there are way too many wonderful things worth doing in Prague to waste time at the main flea market!
Before traveling to Prague on my most recent trip, I scoured the internet looking for hints and tips on flea markets in Prague and found a great article in the NY Times titled Affordable Prague. While I love champagne and fancy hotels, I also love a bargain (in fact, I need those bargains in order to fuel the champagne obsession) so I was utterly intrigued to visit Prague’s main blesi trh, or flea market, which runs every Saturday and Sunday from 6 a.m. until 1 p.m. It was a hike from our hotel across town on the Metro line B to Kolbenova, but never one to wimp out when shopping opportunities await I was up for the challenge. Fortunately, my traveling companions (my husband and niece) were equally pumped for the journey.
Stepping out at Kolbenova I got a similar vibe as I do in Paris at the Porte de Clignancourt in Paris – you know that sensation where you tighten the grip on your purse and try to avoid eye contact with the hoards of suspiciously lingering people. I was non-plused that this market was not in a posh locale – in fact, the less posh the market often the better the bargains found. Furthermore this seemed to be part boot sale, and I love a good garage sale! I was certain that this was where the real Czech bargains were going to be found. A fellow Oklahoman brocanter, owner of the Tulsa-based company French Finds, explained to me in an email recently that her husband describes her French flea marketing tactics this way, “If there are not stacks of used tires and cages of live chickens at the entrance to the flea market, it is too upscale for my wife!” With this same sentiment in mind I was practically salivating over the bargains we were about to discover.
Smelling a bargain, I skipped around the market, finding the requisite number of used tires and auto parts, an assortment of broken dolls, used clothes and household rubbish. Amidst the rubble, there were a handful of stalls that were diamonds in the rough. I stopped initially to inquire on these charming miniature musical instruments, thinking they had seriously cute decorative display potential.
The price per item clocked in at over 200E/$230 each when converted from local currency. Thinking perhaps my currency calculations were off, I plunged ahead. “What about the vintage porcelain pitcher?” I inquired.
Again the vendor came back with a ridiculously high price. Thinking perhaps that it was all in the negotiation, I came back with a counter offer less than half his original asking price to get the feel of the game. The vendor shrugged and walked away.
At the next vendor I tried a new tactic. His prices were readily marked – the pale blue military hat – an ideal “mantique” – was marked 500 CZK or 20 Euro which is a very reasonable price by Western European standards. I pulled 400 Koruny from my pocket, deciding to take the direct approach – why dicker over prices – I’ll show the vendor the cold hard cash when I make my offer. This time I wasn’t asking for a major discount but in the spirit of flea marketing knew that a discount was in order.
The vendor responded with a surprised exclamation, “Clearly the hat has been mispriced” and explained there was no way he could sell the item for this price. It was a steal at 1000 Koruny, he said, which was double the price marked. Now simply curious if the vendor would keep to the originally quoted 500 CZK I reluctantly added 100 Koruny to the pile. “750 CZK” the vendor countered as I walked away from the negotiation.
Now, this is a cold hard fact of flea marketing in foreign countries – sometimes, but not always, having an American accent can be a negative when it comes to negotiations. Americans have a bit of a reputation of spending money and being willing to pay higher prices, which is why I often shop with a local when flea marketing in foreign countries. I let them speak on my behalf, doing the negotiation for me! Having lived in Europe over a decade and having flea marketed in over 30 countries, I consider myself a Flea Marketing Expert, plundering literally thousands of flea markets across the globe. But at Prague’s main blesi trh I had met my match. The Antiques Diva™ faced defeat in Prague and I walked out of the market empty handed. In retrospect, I would have rather spent my tourist time visiting the Royal Palace.
If the quality of the inventory had been better, the locale slightly less depressing – apparently this flea market didn’t get the news bulletin that the cold war was over – or even if the food vendors had seemed remotely hygienic, I would not be writing today’s review listing the Prague Flea Market as among the Worst Flea Markets in Europe.
On a score of 1 to 10 – 10 being the best flea markets in Europe and 1 being the worst – Prague’s blesi trh scored a 2.5. Why so high you ask? I gave them an extra point for having a few booths with potential at the market and I believe had I not been American or had I had a Czech scout with me I might have come home with something special – a beautiful souvenir of my journey.
To see a fabulous place to shop for Czech antiques and vintage items in Prague instead of this flea market, visit “Bric a Brac” in Prague!
P.S. On my next trip to Prague I’ll be visiting a much larger market, Bustehrad Antik which the NY Times explains, “takes place every two weeks in a village 12 miles northwest of the city, with direct buses leaving from metro stations Dejvicka and Zlicin.” If anyone has any information and photos on this market write to me. I’d love a scout to shop with on my Prague Flea Marketing Journey in the Spring!