fake Gucci hat, or was it real, sits along side furry little dead animals whose sole purpose in life was to grow, get old, die, and become a neck warmer. Mid-century furniture, vintage ski equipment, film cameras by the score, VHS Russian porno’s nestle up to nautical related future tchotchke’s. There’s plenty of warm clothing available, should you have underestimated the bone chilling feeling of being at Hrelic flea market in Zagreb, Croatia, on an icy day like this. It’s like standing in a walk-in supermarket refrigerator, except there’s more antique paintings, and less frozen yoghurt.
There’s a resurgence of flea markets going on around the world. From Brooklyn to London, the average flea market punter has gone from older ladies with small mustaches, to younger hipsters, with larger mustaches. Such is the cycle of fashion. However, Hrelic is old school. Apart from the one Ashton Kucher lookalike I met, who had scored a nice selection of books covering everything from Piet Mondrian, to a tattered old Croatian paperback on “How to Meditate”, Hrelic remains – your fathers flea market.
Hrelic is a local institution. Thousands of vendors set up at sunrise, snow or no snow, to sell at least one of every item available on Earth. It’s standard flea market practice. What isn’t standard flea market practice, is setting up in the middle of a huge snow covered field. Hrelic also differs from your regular flea market every Sunday – there are hundreds of cars for sale as well. Dreaming of driving a Lada to Singapore? Bring cash, start at Hrelic.
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Mall vs flea market. Indoors and heated vs outdoors and freezing. Tax avoiding sellers, vs tightly regulated commercial franchises. Chatting with real people, vs being sized up by commission hungry assistant sales managers. “I could spot you 100km’s away, you’re not from around here”. Began one conversation at Hrelic.
That conversation wouldn’t happen in a mall. Nor would the paradox of personal ethics – most people wouldn’t steal, nor would they feel comfortable selling stolen goods. But many wouldn’t seem to have an issue with buying something that is possibly stolen. There is life at a flea market, and it makes you feel alive.
A flea market is the antithesis of the bland shopping mall – all of which are almost identical across the entire planet. Shopping, as a marketable past-time, is much like the contemporary travel industry. We have been conditioned by persuasive advertising to believe that it’s correct to desire a glitzy shopping experience, complete with gift boxes and bonus offers. With travel, we are told that the “correct” way to live your life is working for fifty weeks, so that you can afford a luxurious two week vacation once a year. At best.
Some people trade time for money. Others, trade money for time.
When you think of Croatia, you may imagine historic towns dotted on the Adriatic coast, the clear emerald waters beckoning. Possibly, you’re not imagining a huge, jumbled, and gritty flea market in the snow. In fact, I’ll take that as a given. As with most countries, it’s the markets that hold the real heart of a nation. Hrelic Flea Market in Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia, is no exception.
This could border upon the cliched, but the truth remains that a flea market is one of the most accessible ways that a tourist can get to know a destination. Hrelic is a fascinating place, and I completely recommend a visit if, nay – when – you get to Zagreb.
Information – How to Get to Hrelic Flea Market in Zagreb, Croatia
Bus is the only pubic transportation option. From the south side of the central train station, catch bus number 295. The bus price is 15 Kuna, however a taxi will only set you back about 35 Kuna. There are no trams that service this area. Entry to the market is free. The map below shows the location of the Hrelic flea market in Zagreb.
I have travelled to flea markets from Penang to Budapest. If you’re a fan of flea markets, or just want to see an authentic slice of Croatian life, this is one place not to miss.
Oh, and there is plenty of food available. And beer. Just an FYI.
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