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Madrid´s Mega-Market: Spanish Culture Where You Name the Price

This article was written by Dexter Gauntlett, a Political Science major at UCLA who lived in Madrid, Spain and contributed to the Travel Guide Urban Lowdown.

The bonanza of bargaining spans ten street blocks in every direction in the heart of the city with vendors selling everything from hand made bongo drums from Morocco to German Beer Mugs.

Church never had such competition. Sundays in Madrid are not just a day for prayer, but for cheap purchases at El Rastro.

Every Sunday thousands of anxious bargain hunters storm El Rastro Street´s mega-flea-market. The bonanza of bargaining spans ten street blocks in every direction in the heart of the city with vendors selling everything from hand made bongo drums from Morocco to German Beer Mugs.

El Rastro, as the flea market is referred to is Spanish for "trail" or "track" which, upon approaching the cattle-like crowds, becomes instantly suiting, but it also means "rake", which is exactly what the street vendors hope to do with eager tourist and local consumers´money.

El Rastro is much more colorful than typical US flea markets to say the least. Street performers seem to play background for the rhythmic catch-phrases from steet vendors. "Two Euros for two shirts, I must be going crazy!" shouts one Señora in her native tongue.

The majority of El Rastro is focused on clothes (ropa), shoes (zapatos) and hand bags (bolsos) all for prices between 2 and 10 Euros ($2-$10). Bargaining is expected but not always successful, especially without a grasp of the language. But don´t despair if that running of the bulls shirt is just out of your price range because chances are that someone is selling the exact same shirt on the next block.

There are two distinct sections at El Rastro. The first is inhabited by the professional vendors, equipped with hangers, clean and new clothes, popular cds, and a portable hut to house the merchandise. These are the people who usually have set prices and are long time Rastro residents.

Maria Juarez has sold shoes at El Rostro for ten years. She said El Rastro is a tradition for her. "I have made many friends at El Rastro because I have been coming here for so long... My shoes are very popular and I do very well every Sunday," she said.

The other section takes place outside more vintage apartments as opposed to the busy closed down main street of El Rastro, and this reflects in the merchandise. But this is where the bargaining happens. A family of Moroccan try to sell off their mountain of shoes that also serves as a bed for their 2-year old´s siesta. If you are lucky enough to find a matching pair the mom will nearly let you name a price.

This area also borders on slightly depressing in some cases when old couples pawn off obvious heirlooms and broken appliances that will never sell. This area is on the outskirts of the market and the shanty apartments offer a view of the more impoverished side of Madrid.

Because of the massive crowds, many people who wish to spread their political or religious messages drudge through, loudspeaker in hand, preaching as they go. And chances are you will be apporached by people asking for money in exchange for small ribbons or trinkets, and often by others asking for money to feed their stomachs and their kittens.

El Rastro starts at around 9 am and spans late into the evening. The best way to get there is to take the metro to the stop "Sol" and then follow the crowds through the Plaza Mayor and then to the left. El Rastro will not disappoint and you will leave with the glow of getting a steal of a deal while experiencing first hand one of Madrid´s most popular and impressive cultural caveats.

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