Posted in Travel

Historic Charleston Market

My wife and I spent a couple of days in Charleston, SC last week as part of the birthday celebrations for her and my sister. We had never been to Charleston, so it was a fun adventure that included a visit to the historic Charleston Market. The Charleston Market is a 200-year old brick market building filled with craft and food vendors. As we wandered through I especially appreciated many handcrafted items I hadn’t seen anywhere else.

I was fascinated by the wide variety of sweetgrass woven crafts. I was even more interested in watching the weaving happen right before my eyes. The crafters made every sort of basket you can imagine, in addition to wall hangings of every shape and size.

One artisan specialized in polymer clay pictures of egrets, crabs, turtles and lighthouses. Many of the works for sale were prints, but some original works were for sale, too. I looked closely at one and wondered, “Is that fabric?” The nice young lady working the booth explained that it was very thin clay crafted into unique works of art by the artist. I had never seen that before.

We happened across a young woman who had just procured a spot from which to sell her vegan mini-muffins. She was so proud of her work! We loved Emily’s muffins (@emilyeldh or themuffindrop on Instagram) and brought home half a dozen.

One sign puzzled me. “Please do not buy from roaming rose peddlers.” Then I saw one outside the exit. A young man weaving palm fronds into roses was actively marketing them on the street. Once it was in your hand, it was yours, for a price.

My brother and sister were especially interested in a booth that featured elaborate cross stitch renderings of famous Charleston places like Rainbow Row. I think they bought some Christmas gifts there.

The market was not crowded on the Monday morning we visited. Many of the booths had signs announcing “no photographs” so that no one would steal their ideas for painted tiles, handmade jewelry, hand-carved wooden plaques, and dog breed pillows. I was tempted. But I refrained.

I like the venues where I can talk to the artisans and learn something about them and their craft. I wonder what I could sell at a booth like that?

Posted in Israel, Travel

Mahane Yehuda Market

Our last day in Israel was the “go do whatever you want day.” My wife and I and a few friends decided we wanted to return to the Jewish quarter of Old City Jerusalem and then check out the highly recommended market, Mahane Yehuda.

When we started out, we didn’t even know the name of the market. But a shop owner said, “You are probably looking for Mahane Yehuda” and he wrote down the name for us. Great. Now, how do we get there? “Oh, it’s easy. You have to go deep into the Arab market, out the Jaffa gate, and head towards Jaffa road and St. George.” We thanked him as if we knew what that meant, and headed towards the Jaffa gate, where our taxi had dropped us off early that morning.

We got to the Jaffa gate. Now what? Aha, there’s a tourist center here. He sent us out the gate and up the hill to where we could catch the tram, a light rail train that would take us to the market. We saw the tracks in the road, and waited for the next train to come so we could see where the stop was. Once we got to the stop, it looked like we would need to buy a ticket. Not quite sure how to do that, a random guy simply directed us to a machine that had an English option. As I fiddled with the buttons and my debit card, a train came and left. Finally the machine spit out five tickets for us, and we boarded the next one.

I think this is the first time my wife and I have set out to explore a city on our own without a translator or guide with us. I really enjoyed the adventure! As we were told, everyone we asked for direction was extremely gracious and helpful.

Sitting on the train, I looked up and saw a sign announcing the next stop – in Hebrew. I can figure out some Hebrew, but now quickly. Before I knew it the announcement changed to Arabic. Not helpful. Finally came the English. We reached the stop specially designed to bring traffic to the market, and started down the street.

There is a lot of information on Mahane Yehuda Market on Wikipedia. Over two hundred and fifty vendors lined the streets, some out in the open, some under cover. There were fruits and vegetables, fish and meat, bread, halva, baklava, coffee shops, spiced and dried fruit, olives, and candy as far as my eye could see.

Turning into one of the covered areas, we came across Haachim Levy spices, teas and fruits. The young man working the booth enthusiastically described and let us try many of the blends of dried fruits out front that could be used to make tea, infuse drinks, or mixed into oatmeal. We bought three sweet and one savory blend from him.

Baklava, anyone?

We asked him where to get the best baklava and coffee in the market. With booth after booth selling those items, we wanted a recommendation. He directed our eyes down the long row of booths past several signs his favorite coffee roaster. “Just past that you’ll see an old man – that’s where you want to buy your baklava.” At the coffee roaster, I got a delicious long espresso made from a Tanzanian blend. Sure enough, just a few booths down we found a huge display of baklava. We loaded up a box with one of each that was sealed up so we could take it home with us.

As we continued to walk through the market, I couldn’t help but wonder how many in Jerusalem did their food shopping here. Throughout all our travels, we hand’t seen any grocery stores or Walmarts in Jerusalem. Maybe we just didn’t go through those parts of town. After a little research, I learned that there are some grocery chains there. But most people talk about the markets.

The experience reminded me of the markets in Baltimore when my wife and I lived there. The best thing is you buy everything fresh! I suppose after a while you would have your favorite vendors and be able to get exactly what you wanted in season and for special events. I could get used to a great selection of fish, meats and vegetables. I am too often disappointed with the grocery stores near me.

One cool thing about the market is that you get to talk to the person working the shop. Everyone was very proud of their booth and products, encouraged me to try samples, and loved to talk about their product, their family and the market. The few farmer’s markets near us give us a bit of that, but it just wasn’t the same.

I think I could have spent the whole day there!