October 25, 2014 by Emma Bentley
It’s rare that I’ll be standing outside a McDonald’s at 10.45 on a Saturday morning. On this occasion, coming at the end of a full week of fun birthday festivities, the smell of greasy oil was almost enough to turn my stomach. However, the reason for standing there on this particular morning was to meet our Discover Walks guide for a tour around the flea markets of Saint Ouen.
I had tried to venture into the Marché aux Puces once before, with a group of friends shortly after arriving in Paris in 2011. Despite having tried as best we could to read about the different markets online, the five of us ended up, after just thirty minutes, stressed, overwhelmed and LOST!
This time, it was a dream. Our guide took us round the Marché Vernaison, Marché Dauphine, Marché Paul Bert and Marché Jules Vallès. We covered furniture, antiques, silver, vintage posters, old newspapers, designer clothes and everything in between. The two hours flew by.
At the end, he shakes our hand, says goodbye and leaves us to retrace our steps back to whatever may have caught our eye during the tour. (In my case, it was a coffee and a lamb sandwich!)
More personable than professional, it was like having your friend show you round town. An inexpensive orientation to an area that is otherwise very difficult to navigate as a first-timer and we learnt some interesting titbits along the way.
In contemporary French language, if you are going through a rather dodgy and unsafe area, you might hear someone say: “wow, mais c’est le zone!” I had always thought that it was some kind of abbreviation for “war zone” but it turns out that “the zone” actually refers to the stretch of land between the Boulevard des Marechaux and the Peripherique, which was (and still is rather) a No Man’s Land.
Having someone who knows their way around, who can keep you out of trouble and steer you in the right direction is invaluable.
One of the really curious facts of history that we learnt was that up until March 2014, Saint Ouen was run by a Communist local government. It’s for that reason that this area is known as the ceinture rouge (red belt) and it’s also why this area has not had the same real-estate development boom that other suburbs of Paris have been experiencing recently. The idea of ploughing any profits from building projects straight back into the public purse was rather discouraging, to put it lightly, to any private investors.
Thank you Discover Walks for giving me the the opportunity to do something that in the four years that I’ve been in Paris, I hadn’t done myself.
To check out their website and book this tour for yourself, the link’s here.
P.S. For more photos of the markets, that’s this way.