Once a year, Lille hosts the biggest braderie, or street market, in Europe. Two to three million visitors venture to the north of France for one weekend to see tons of items from thousands of vendors. Vendors range from normal people to professional sellers to actual stores, and the items range from second-hand baby dolls to thousand dollar antiques. The moules-frites are famous, and a half marathon takes place in the crazy atmosphere as well. I missed it by three weeks last year, but this year, I got to experience it all.
The boy and I spent Friday night at his cousin’s house just outside of Lille so we could wake up early to get to the market before it became really crowded.
Lille is the fourth largest metroplex in France (after Paris, Lyon, and Marseille), hosting a population of around one million residents. The city of Lille is home to 25% of those people and takes up about 15 square miles, so you can only try to imagine how much there is to explore and how many people you have to make your way around in order to see anything.
Since we arrived early, we managed to spend a few less-crowded hours in Vieux Lille, Vauban, and République, three of the areas hosting some of the less commercial sellers. Walking through the streets, we had to watch our step in order not to cut off a marathon runner or walk over items displayed on blankets on the ground. French, English, Flemmish, German, and other unidentifiable languages were being spoken all around, and immediately I could tell that this thing was a big deal. It literally takes over the whole city overnight, and centre ville is transformed from businesses and restaurants to vendors and food stands.
We looked through vinyls, bags, jewelry, lamps, deco items, and more. The boy even found a leather-ish messenger bag for the bargain price of 5€. As we walked past all the vendors, I noticed two items that seemed to creep up everywhere: giant, bendy metal lamps and strange baby dolls. I didn’t buy either of those, but I did find a vendor selling old clocks. The word braderie comes from the French verb brader, meaning to discount, so the boy helped me get the price down from 10€ to 8€ for this beauty…
We met up with our friend for a quick snack, and continued to explore from there. There were so many cute, cheap things that I would’ve loved to purchase, but with my slightly unstable life situation, lack of means to carry it back, and further lack of my own apartment, I refrained. Of course, there is always next year!
After walking from 8:30am to 2pm, we called it a day. We were both exhausted, but I was so happy to get to see this crazy thing take place. My legs are still recovering, but hearing my second-hand clock tick happily in the corner will make this experience a long-lasting memory.