Markets and more

It’s a testimony to German efficiency that a market spanning two city blocks can be set up and taken down every day. The transition from organised chaos to clean streets and sidewalks made in the space of an hour. Right next to the Tiergarten stop on the S bann, the Todelmarkt is a shopper’s paradise. I found myself thinking how great it would be to furnish a flat in Berlin.

There was everything from new Spanish linens to old masters. From books to baubles. From beer tankards to fine china. And where else would you find a Russian trying to buy a bag of chips and a bottle of water with a €500 note and simply not getting the fact that the chipper couldn’t make change for her. I was in my element and could lawfully have spent a fortune – if I had one.

Across town, at the Mauerpark market, things were a little different. This is where you need to roll up your sleeves, disturb the dust and the cobwebs, and burrow for your bargains. The vendors are younger and more hip. The wares lean more towards artisan than antique. And the food is healthier. A completely  different experience and yet just as interesting.

What makes Mauerpark market different is that outside the market fence, on a Sunday afternoon, a open-air karaoke session is in full swing. Browsing is puncuated with regular applause as complete randoms take the stage to wow the crowd and enjoy their three minutes of fame. A multicoloured golf umbrella marks the spot and a guy in a green t-shirt emcees the proceedings. The audience sits under the full blast of the summer sun, oblivious to the heat. BBQs smolder and cold beers wash away the dust. Tis a hard life but sure someone has to live it.

I used to be a discount supermarket…

… now I’m an upscale, trendy restaurant with a cocktail bar, with a fashion lounge and spa/salon within spitting distance of Belgrade’s Silicon Valley (not to be confused with California’s Silicon Valley – this part of town got its name from the amount of silicon walking around on two legs). I’m the Supermarket Concept Store. I wrote a while back about Hungarians and their ability to make stuff from nothing – Serbians have taken that one step further. This is one, simply amazing place. Once a regular discount market, it now screams a litany of adjectives like ‘arty’ ‘trendy’, ‘on fashion’, ‘with it’. It has it all. A wide open space that is divided without walls or ropes into clearly defined areas that somehow all work together.

And the food…agh, the food, the food, the food. The salads include anything from rocket salad with smoked beef and truffle oil to stir-fried tiger prawns in spicy caramel with citrus bavaroise (and impressive as that sounds in English, try getting your tongue around the local rendition: gambori pripremljeni u voku sa pikantnim karamelomi i bavarskim kremom od citrusa!). For soups, what about fresh spinach and nettle soup with sour cream and lemon or thai chicken with coconut, lemon grass and cashew nuts. Main courses include everything from chicken, pork or beef to salmon, squid,  or tuna.I made the mistake of thinking that anything off Fuze (fusion bites) menu would be snack size  – not so. As for the sushi… and the desserts!

Then there’s the drinks. It nevers ceases to amaze me how so many places simplay cannot pull off a good cosmopolitan. At most, recently, I’ve been giving 5/10 or 6/10 but Višnjićeva 10 gets an 8.5/10. Not bad at all by my reckoning. But their Aperol spritz is off the charts – just how it should be.

You can have a ‘super start’ to your day from 9-1pm, a jazz brunch on Sundays from 1-5pm and happy hour every Friday from 5-7pm.

Wandering through the displays on my way back from the loo I chanced upon the find of the century. A little green frog in a jar. You pour some water on him and he turns into a little prince. And then he grows.  What’s not to like about Belgrade eh?

Why I love living in Budapest No. 6

IMG_3769There’s shopping. And then there’s shopping. And then there’s Ecseri and Petőfi and Keleti and the other flea markets in Budapest, each one better than the next. Like people, each market has its mood and like people, each market has its good days and its bad days. Sometimes you’re both in sync and spending a couple of hours wandering the stalls is like being with someone whose company you really enjoy. Other days, you may as well be at each other’s throats! There are too many people, everyone’s in a  bad mood, there’s nothing remotely interesting to see (no, that’s not true… there is always something interesting, it’s just a matter of having the patience to look for it).

My favourite is Ecseri. It’s a hike… about 30 mins from the flat via metro 3 to Ecseri ut and then bus 84E or 195E to the market.  I’ve only recently discovered the fleamarket bit (like a carboot sale at home). People load up their cars and vans and trucks and then park them just beside the actual market. The only trouble is that you need to be there early as by 9am they’ve all pretty  much sold out and gone back home. There are temporary stalls at the back and then the more solid ones in the middle which now have a roof so that you can wander out of the rain. You can buy everything from old-fashioned porn to gramaphones, from walking sticks to suites of furniture. It’s a great place to bring a camera for unlike many of the markets in BP, you can actually take photos without risking life and limb. PM got a classic of three violins next to a heap of vintage porn mags! Talk about crosscultural! And the food!!! There’s something magical about a coffee in the market in winter – huddling against the rain or cold trying to get some feeling back into your fingers – while around you, people go about their business, buying, selling, making the world go around!

IMG_3764I lucked out on Saturday and found a wonderful antique tablecloth for my art deco table. Unfortunately, I went to buy chairs and lights… but no joy. Ah well, there’s always next week! My favourite furniture shop there has now opened a shop in town and has gone upmarket! And lovely lads that they are, they’re on the lookout for some chairs for me. It becomes quite the challenge, shopping for stuff. You spread the word and then soon, everyone is on the lookout for what you want – like a community spend! The thrill is in finding exactly what someone wants. I’ve sent texts and had texts about something somewhere that would suit someplace… I’ve just seen X and it would be just perfect for Y…. love it!

For a Sunday morning stroll though, a little more central, is the great Petőfi Csarnok up in City Park. It’s smaller and hasn’t much in the line of furniture but you can still find textiles, statues, lamps, pictures, and washing powder! It sells all sorts! And the journey in itself is worth it. Metro 1 to  Szechenyi (M1 is the oldest metro in continental Europe and still has the leather straps to hold on to!) and then a short walk through the park, past the palaces, and stopping to touch the statue of Anonymous for luck! In winter, you can help yourself to a glass of hot wine;  in summer, a fruit lemonade. My favourite there is a man in his eighties who is selling off his own pen and ink etchings. For a song! I have two of his nudes on my bedroom wall and a monk librarian in my hallway. He’s a dote.

IMG_3768If you’re feeling particularly brave and ready to take on the world, then Keleti market (M2 or the No. 7 bus)  is the place for you. The aisles are narrow and the crowd is large and everyone seems to have a little bit of an attitude going on. I have it on good authority that it has its good days…and I’ve not yet written it off. Mind you, the morning I was there it didn’t do anything to warm the cockles of my weary heart. But never say never. We all have our bad days, and it’s worth trying again. Likewise with the Four Tigers Chinese market. Not one to visit if you’re in any way claustrophic. It’s a maze of stalls, all selling the same tat. But the food… that’s supposed to be out of this world, if you can find it! I know people who go there for lunch! I’ve been there a couple of times and have to fess up to panicking slightly. Too much for me. I have visions of disappearing into the hold and not surfacing for months.

Nope, I think I’ll start setting the alarm a little earlier on Saturday mornings and heading to Ecseri… that’s where the action is!