While most of the USA was saying farewell to the unofficial end of summer with Labor Day weekend cook-outs and football games, the city of Lille was busy hosting Europe's largest flea market, la Braderie.
I'd read about about la Braderie before coming here, but it's one of those things that you have to experience to really get. Cars were prohibited, allowing room for ~10,000 sellers to set up tents in the streets, parks, and main squares filled with furniture, glassware, clothes, books, and a slew of random collectibles. All the retail shops had sidewalk sales and restaurants and bars spilled out on the streets with extra tents and tables.
With over 2 million people browsing, buying, eating, and drinking, I was almost immediately drawn into the lively atmosphere. It seemed like everyone was on the same wavelength about how things should be and what was happening. I was surprised at how organized it was, and everything was cleaned up almost entirely overnight like it didn't even happen.
I was a little worried that some idiot would try to take advantage of such a large crowd, but that wasn't the case. Last year la Braderie, which dates back to the 12th century, was cancelled due to concerns about security. The only other time it was cancelled was during WWII. This year the city increased the police presence and had different security measures in place to control the flow of people. They also invested in large concrete blocks to keep cars out since most of the streets were for pedestrian-only traffic.
I certainly felt safe, and I know that the city was glad to have their Braderie back. They were so excited, that ahead of the weekend, they declared that they were going to try to break the Guinness World Record of the most mussels sold and consumed in 48 hours (500+ tons). I'm always amused by festivals centered around one thing - beer festivals of course, but also apple festivals and carnivals and fairs where there's an unofficial menu. That's definitely the case for la Braderie. Everyone eats mussels and fries, moules-frites.
All the restaurants sell them and for 10-20€, you can get a bucket, sit outside, and pretend you enjoy these snot-like sacks in shells. Mmmmmm! Actually I was in the minority because people were going to town on them. I just can't get past the texture enough to truly enjoy them, but I'll eat just about anything with fries, so no complaints here. I was trying to focus on the fact that they're an excellent source of B12, selenium, zinc, and other delicious vitamins and minerals.
We had the moules marinières, which is the traditional recipe - white wine, butter, parsley, shallots, and/or garlic. You could also get them with the local stinky cheese (maroilles, it's growing on me) or à la crème.
Aside from moules-frites, other menu offerings included carbonnade flamande (a Flemish beef stew), baked Camembert with herbs, croque-monsieur, and chicken with maroilles.
More info about la Braderie: here and here. Their marketing was also real cute, with a smiling fry and pot of mussels and the slogan "J'peux pas, j'ai Braderie," which I'm pretty sure translates to: "I can't, I have (to go) to the Braderie!" If you're a flea market fanatic, you'd get a kick out of this event, so fingers crossed that they break the mussels record and can continue the tradition for many more years.