When you’re an expat living in a foreign country it’s often a challenge to find the things you need or want. Shops are different, food is not what you’re used to, appliances are not the same. Shopping can be so frustrating! For instance, where would you go to find surgical equipment from the 1800s? Or a set of false teeth? Or a knob to replace the one that broke off from your (antique) radio? Or….

Okay, I’ll tell you where: Hasten your expat self to the Vernissage, a fabulous flea market in Yerevan, Armenia. Be prepared to be amazed. I lived in Armenia for 6 years, and going to the Vernissage was always exciting. What would I find this time? So take a break, pour yourself a glass, and let me show you:

Flea Market in Armenia

The Vernissage is much more than an ordinary flea market. You can find new things and old things both, junk and real art, fakes and antiques and treasures of all kinds. Among the old items you’ll find out-of-date electronics; spare parts from or for equipment or instruments your great-grandfather might have used; sepia photographs of ancient ancestors dead and forgotten; archaic medical and dental instruments resembling dangerous torture devices; vintage Soviet coins and memorabilia; and leftover lab chemicals as you can see on the photo below.

Leftover lab chemicals.

Photo by 10b traveling / CC BY-NC-ND
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New merchandise includes arts and craft items, souvenirs, socks and sweaters, puppies with bows on their heads, glasses and dishes. The ones below are all blue because, you guessed it, they’re underneath a blue umbrella.

Delicate teacups, gold-decorated teapots, fancy glassware.

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Little old ladies wander around in slippers selling pastries or beautifully crocheted thingies your great-grandmother used to put over the back and arms of chairs. Antimacassers, they were called (what a word!). Sadly we have no use for those in our contemporary houses.

And here are some more finds:

Hairdryers, mixers and thingamabobs.

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And something underfoot:

Carpets. Old ones, new ones, good ones, not so good ones.
 
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And for the mechanically inclined this artsy collection:

Ball bearings

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Need some art for your walls or shelves?

Paintings, carvings, sculptures, lots of stuff.

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And let’s not forget the jewelry! So many stalls! So many lovely, odd and artsy adornments! I developed an addiction for the colorful pendants made of natural stone and set in silver. I could never walk past the many displays without admiring Mother Nature’s designs. Here’s what I ended up with:

Pendants and more pendants.
 
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And of course who can walk past these handbags and not buy one? Or two or three . . . They’re handmade using pieces of old carpeting (or maybe new at times as well). This is my collection. I must admit, I seldom use them, but they look nice as a wall decoration in the hallway!

Carpet handbags

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This is, of course, only a small sampling of the marvels of the Vernissage. You want to see more? Here’s a post with more cool Armenian stuff: Flea Market Fun. Enjoy,

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So where else in the world have you found a great market? And what types of merchandise was/is for sale there? Something gorgeous or fun or weird or scary? What is the most unusual item you’ve ever bought in a market? Or has something interesting happened to you in a market? Make my day and tell me!

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Italian driver

Don’t get in the car with him

Warning: If you’re on your way to visit Rome, don’t read this.

Our Italian driver is not of the Armani suit tribe. Carlo wears comfy jeans, has long shaggy hair and an unkempt beard. He also has the fabulous Roman nose of his ancestors as made immortal in ancient statues and sculptures. He looks like a scruffy Roman god. Seems like a good beginning for an Italian vacation, don’t you think? We just got off the plane and he’s driving us to our B&B in Rome.

(Note: I wrote this story a while ago. I am at this moment not in Rome, but remembering this still gives me heart palpitations.)

No sooner has Carlo plunked himself into the driver’s seat, than he takes off like a rocket to Mars while talking on a cell phone and driving with one hand. My limited Italian only serves me to understand that he’s in a hurry and has another pickup somewhere. It’s raining lightly but his right windshield wiper is groaning in a death struggle and the one in front of him is going through rigor mortis and is not doing any wiping at all.

Cool Carlo puts the phone down on the seat next to him and I realize it’s one of a collection of four. Four cell phones, I kid you not. In front of him on the dashboard are two untidy piles of paper and file folders. The place looks like the office of a homeless bureaucrat.

We steam out of the general airport area and find ourselves on the main highway leading from the town of Fiumicino (where the airport is) to Rome proper. It’s three lanes of traffic each way, and a goat track this road is not, let me assure you. It’s raining, and the wipers are not working, or did I mention that already?

Our Roman god reaches for one of the piles of paper and puts it on his lap. He ruffles through it and takes out a sheet of paper full of indecipherable scribbles. He starts to write, head down, eyes on the paper, one hand on the steering wheel. Minutes go by. The car is slowly drifting to the left into the other lane. I’m speechless with terror.

He rips off a small scrap of paper, opens the window a crack and pushes it out into the great wet yonder. He takes the opportunity to look at the road by leaning over to the right and glancing out of the window in front of the passenger’s seat, the part in front of him being un-look-throughable. He steers the wandering car back into its own lane and hits the accelerator.

We are tearing down the road at suicidal speed. Thank the gods there is not a lot of traffic because Kamikaze Carlo reaches for another pile of paper and goes at it again: reading, writing, tossing another piece of paper out the window, and talking enthusiastic Italian on one of the four phones. The conversation concluded, he continues scribbling some more, head down, eyes on the paper, one hand on the steering wheel.

I am now duly impressed by his skill in multitasking. Also I am frozen in terror as I look ahead through the window, seeing nothing because it has all fogged up on the inside and he has not noticed because he is studying for his doctoral degree in nuclear science. Looking out of the side window I see we are drifting off into the other lane again. Fortunately it has stopped raining.

He rips off another piece of paper, opens the window again, pushes it out and now leaves the window open a bit to clear the fogged-up windshield (I assume). He does not wipe it. One of the phones rings. Another discussion ensues, which gives him another opportunity to steer the car back into its own lane of traffic once he notices it’s meandering.

I did not come to Italy to die with my prince in a car crash right before Valentine’s Day. What an unromantic death! No, I came to Rome to live! To eat and drink! To gawk at old buildings! To watch Rome’s finest strutting their stuff in front of the United Colors of Benetton!

Colors of Benetton

United Colors of Benetton

Living in Rome

I want to live here

Carlo shuffles more paper, pushes the pile back onto the dashboard and grabs the other stack of files, all the while talking on one of his four phones. Then he’s back to work — writing, reading, head down, eyes on the paper, one hand on the steering wheel.

This goes on for twenty days minutes until we enter Rome proper and then he stops reading and writing and seems to pay more attention to the traffic. However, he still talks on two of his four phones, but really, I’m not complaining. I’m too busy trying to breathe again.

Italian elevator

Safer than Carlo

We arrive at the palazzo (old apartment building) that houses our Bed & Breakfast. We’re physically unscarred but emotionally traumatized. Crazy Carlo helps carry our luggage into the poorly lit, ancient building.

I’ve never been happier to see an elevator dating from Caesar’s time.

My man hands the guy his fee of fifty euros. Carlo wishes us a good time in Italy and turns away. A moment later he turns back, waving the money in the air. “Signor! I need euros!”

Well, yes, of course. He hands over the banknote and I take it and see that it’s some mystery money I do not recognize.

My spouse offers up his sincere apologies, digs into his wallet for the real deal euro note and hands it over. Our Roman god bolts out of the building.

And what was that mystery banknote of fifty, you ask?

Ukrainian money, left over from a recent business trip.

The value? About 4 euros, 4.5 dollars.

There would have been a certain karmic justice in it if Kamikaze Carlo wouldn’t have noticed, don’t you think?

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Do you have a story about a crazy driver?  Please hit the comment button and tell me. I’m holding my breath!

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