Two Days in Plainpalais

Current Location: Geneva, Switzerland

Jour 1: The Flea Market

It is really hot in Geneva this weekend. I think the lowest it has been the entire time I’ve been here was 68F/20C, even though the night. My goal these first few days was to acquaint myself with the canton, and one of the perks of the gorgeous weather is that it made touring Geneva’s many weekend markets even more pleasant.


The Plainpalais district, just south of the Geneva city center, contains the Plaine de Plainpalais. The Plaine is a massive field covered with a material much like the surface of a clay tennis court. On Saturdays the Plaine hosts a large flea market with vintage everything — ranging from cookware to books, and even stranger pieces like axes and stoves.

Flea market stalls line the massive Plaine de Plainpalais square.

The Geneva tourism website boasts that “Each item sold has it’s own story!” After being chastised in rapid French by one seller for taking photos of the marketplace, I began to wonder if all these stories involved entirely legal transactions. For the record, I was wearing sneakers and a backpack with English writing all over it; not exactly covert-French-photojournalist-writing-an-exposé attire.

Guaranteed fire hazard

I spent a good two hours wading through the massive stalls. Some contained expensive antiques displayed neatly and purposefully. Others were just brimming bins sorted by price. If you are willing to sift through the junk, there is an enormous amount of high quality usable items. I didn’t bring any cutlery or dishes with me to Switzerland, so I was on the lookout. I found a really nice Bodum milk frother, some coffee cups, soap dishes, and a very pretty copper carafe.


I can understand why people like to buy new things at large stores or even small shops. You know that they will have exactly what you are looking for, it will be easy to find, and everything will be ready-to-use. Even if the price premium of buying something new versus something used does not matter to you, it is worth considering whether you actually need a new version of that item. Walking through the Plainpalais flea market and taking in the colossal scale of the used items for sale, I started to wonder why I ever bought anything new before.


The extreme version of this line of thought is the zero waste movement. When I say extreme, I do not mean it negatively; I merely mean that on the spectrum of wastefulness, zero waste is the extreme. There is a huge number of zero waste bloggers online, and the choices they make are creative and fascinating. I am undecided at this point on my stance on the zero waste movement, but the sheer amount of waste visible in the flea market certainly makes you consider your own actions.

Jour 2: The Farmer’s Market


On Sunday I ventured back to Plainpalais for their legendary farmer’s market and it did not disappoint. There were probably twice as many stalls as the previous day, and it was still bustling even though I did not arrive until later in the afternoon. I am a big fan of farmer’s markets in general. I have made it a point to visit farmer’s markets everywhere I’ve lived: Ohio, DC, and Rhode Island. I usually spend an annoying amount of time discussing the produce with the owners, but I was so overwhelmed by the number of vendors and the multitude of options (not to mention that my French abilities are pas bien) that I barely spoke to anyone.

Catch me cheesin’ in the reflection.

Everything looked like it was straight out of my imagination: it was exactly as a Swiss farmer’s market should be: the massive cheese wheels, hundreds of olives to taste, vendors who sell exclusively mushrooms, produce so bright it looks like it’s been #filtered. Of course, my favorite shop was the bread.

“How can you tell how good bread is without tasting it? Not the smell, not the look, but the sound of the crust. Listen. [bread crackles] Oh, symphony of crackle. Only great bread sound this way.”
The past two summers I’ve gotten into the habit of meal prepping. Basically, I spend the entire day on Sunday cooking huge batches of food for the whole week. It saves a lot of time and money (and packaging) so long as you don’t mind eating the same meals repeatedly, which I don’t. This requires some planning. Unfortunately, I was so overwhelmed by the market that I forgot I had to actually cook the things I bought.


Logic did not factor into any of my purchases. I used absolutely no foresight, and simply bought whatever looked the freshest. It worked out okay for my dinners for the week: I made pasta with a vegetable blend of roasted red and yellow peppers, roasted asparagus, and seared mushrooms. Side note: do not buy chanterelles unless you enjoy the painstaking process of cleaning, drying, and searing them. They are deliciously frustrating.

My lunches, on the other hand, are a potpourri of impulse purchases. It could be worse…but bread, olives, cherries, and red cabbage are definitely not my best lunch prep work.


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