Project Bly Brings World Street Market Culture To You

Mumbai street market
Courtesy of Shriti Bannerjee, ProjectBly.com

If you are the kind of traveler who lives for digging through flea markets and wandering through souks, you might want to travel over to ProjectBly.com, a new lifestyle website featuring a rotation of world street market collections. In addition to shopping for carefully curated home goods and textiles, you can also check out street photography, food, fashion and members’ profiles.

Bly highlights a new city and one-of-a-kind market goods every two months, working with local photojournalists to capture the style and spirit of each place. The website works with local vendors and artisans directly to get a fair price on goods, and gives 5 percent of proceeds to local charities. The first featured city is Mumbai, India, with La Paz, Bolivia, debuting in early June. Other cities planned for the first year include Kumasi, Ghana; Bukhara, Uzbekistan; Malacca, Malaysia; and Berlin, Germany.

Bly is named after Nellie Bly, a pioneering female journalist who traveled around the world in 72 days in 1889 with just two day’s notice and one small bag (check out a nifty drawing of Nellie Bly’s packing list, which included a flask and a jar of cold cream). The founder of Bly, Rena Thiagarajan, was born in the former Indian city of Madras (now Chennai) and now lives in San Francisco, and has traveled the world in search of unique design finds and street culture.

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Get hunting at ProjectBly.com and check out the slideshow of street photography featured on the site.

Sunday At The Market In Tlacolula

“Donde esta el autobus por Tlocolula?”

The question was met with a quizzical look. Where was this gringa trying to go?

Perhaps I wasn’t pronouncing it correctly.

“Tloco… Toco… Tlaca…” I stammered.

“Ah, Tlacolula.”

Si. There.

I don’t suppose the makeshift bus stops on the highways of Oaxaca state see many tourists. But somehow, through a series of bumpy bus rides and a long stretch of walking along the side of the road, I had arrived at one.

Earlier in the day, I had decided to escape Oaxaca city for the villages of the Valle de Oaxaca, a vibrant region filled with talented craftsmen, small workshops and stunning scenery. I had discovered that the Tlacolula held a weekly Sunday market, but all attempts to secure a private bus in town had failed – not many tourists visit the small town, about an hour and a half east of the city.

So instead, I decided to try public transport. In time, I found the right bus, and after a cramped hour-long ride I disembarked at a small, dusty station.

%Gallery-181090%It was 10 a.m. and the streets were packed with pushcarts, pedestrians and small pop-up restaurants, with families packed into picnic tables eating tamales. Vendors sold everything from onions to electronics to handmade wooden furniture and gigantic aluminum cooking vats.

This wasn’t a market for tourists. This was a market for Oaxacans.

My tan coloring lent me a degree of anonymity, and I walked peacefully through the stalls, without the hawking and hustling I had become accustomed to in downtown Oaxaca. I stopped for a taco, and then for an horchata. I spent 30 minutes sipping mezcal with a third-generation distiller and another 45 learning about natural dyes and handlooms from a Teotitlan del Valle textile weaver. Enchanted, I left with a sweet passionfruit liqueur and a colorful Zapotec-inspired rug.

I continued through the food stalls of the covered market, where the scent of raw meats mingled with the charcoal from the BBQ pits set up to grill them. Tripe, chicken feet, whole rabbits with the fur still on. Your wish was their command. An old woman stirring a huge pot of stew reached out her fingers to offer me a bite.

Instead, I headed to the main plaza of Tlacolula, a peaceful spot bordered by the magnificent 16th-century Parroquia de la Virgen de la Asunción. Taking a seat, I breathed in the sights and sounds of the village: the meats, the heat, the bougainvillea. I watched as merchants chatted and children played and a single balloon ascended high into the sky.

The ride had been worth it.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Video Of The Day: Rummaging Through Singapore’s Thieves’ Market

This short documentary film about making personal connections at Singapore‘s Thieves’ Market is a little different from Gadling’s usual Video of the Day, when we often feature time lapses and quick glimpses of cities or neighborhoods. Filmmakers John Clayton Lee and Jaspas Deck capture a place often avoided by tourists: Sungei Road, the largest and oldest flea market in Singapore.

People in Singapore come together at the market to buy and sell second-hand goods, much like a giant community yard sale. It’s known to locals as “Thieves Market” because contraband goods are also widely available, and refunds or returns from any seller are impossible because someone who peddles you an item one day may not be there the next (and its not likely you’d get a receipt in the first place).

The long look at the market and its inhabitants is a reminder that people and places aren’t always what they seem to be, and many times are best taken in slowly. Have you ever visited somewhere in your travels you were told to avoid, and ended up having a great experience?

Photo of the day – Don’t look a gift buffalo in the mouth

Photo of the day
Shopping at a local market can be a highlight of any trip. You might find antiques in Paris, produce and food in Ethiopia, or just tube socks and funnel cake in America. Today’s Photo of the Day was taken by

Flickr user American Jon at the

Bac Ha Market in Vietnam, known for colorful hill tribes, livestock of all kinds (some good advice on transporting your new chicken can be found here), and moonshine. Just don’t have too much of the local swill – you want to stay sharp when bartering for your buffalo like the gentleman above.

Have any good market photos to add to the Gadling Flickr pool? Make sure we can download them so we can use one for a future

Photo of the Day.

Weekending: Beirut


One of the best things about life as an expat in Turkey is easy access to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, with many previously far-flung destinations only a few hours’ flight away. I might not plan a week-long vacation in, say, Kosovo, but if I can be there for Friday happy hour and home Monday morning, why not? My main criteria for choosing weekend trips are easy access, no advance visa required, and access to sights and culture I won’t find in Istanbul. Other than that, I pore over the Turkish Airlines timetable like a Stieg Larsson novel, choose a destination, and start planning.

The place: Beirut, Lebanon

All the travel mags have recently hyped Beirut as the “Paris of the Middle East,” a title the city has long boasted but only recently regained after the 2006 bombings. Now it’s *the* place for nightlife in the Middle East, a hot bed of new construction with luxury hotels opening like the Four Seasons and Le Gray, and a diverse mix of culture (Lebanon has 18 official religions, representing Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and the Islamic Druze sect), where you can often hear church bells and the mosque’s call to prayer on the same corner. The downtown district has been beautifully restored, though it lacks a little soul; the Corniche waterfront is pleasant for strolling among Muslim families and locals drinking tea and smoking nargileh pipes; and the university area of Hamra is dotted with cozy pubs and cafes.

%Gallery-97953%Upgrades

  • As the summer gets more oppressively hot in Turkey, I find myself in search of a beach and despite the fact that Istanbul is surrounded by water, options are slim and expensive. Beirut offers many options for refreshment in the form of beach clubs (really a glorified pool complex with restaurants), where you can also take in the daytime social scene with young Lebanese chatting each other up in the pool with a cocktail in one hand and a cigarette in the other (smoking is pretty much the national sport of Lebanon, so be warned). If you’re not wearing stilettos and a bejeweled, designer bikini that probably shouldn’t come into contact with liquid, you’re probably under dressed.
  • The shopping scene downtown has the usual gang of international brands, but nearby Saifi Village has cool boutiques with local, up-and-coming designers. Even more interesting is the Sunday Souq el Ahad flea market, with everything from live chickens to bootleg DVDs to antique clocks, with nary a souvenir or fanny pack in sight. Try saying that about the Grand Bazaar.
  • Expat ease: English is widely spoken and US dollars are used everywhere in addition to Lebanese lira, though getting change in two currencies requires some finely honed math skills. Alcohol is quite readily available and cheaper than in Turkey, with particularly good local wine and laughably cheap duty free prices.

Downgrades

  • With all the hotel openings, the cost of accommodation is pretty steep, with few hotels under $200 in high season and a dearth of good budget options. Looking for a hotel with a pool (a must in summer), I ended up at the Riviera Hotel, where the main draw was the attached beach club and quick walk to Hamra, for $165 a night. Beirut could use a chain like Istanbul’s House Hotels, which has converted historic buildings in trendy neighborhoods into chic and cheap accommodation.
  • As sprawling and inconvenient as Istanbul’s public transportation is, Beirut is even worse with a confusing and rundown bus system and taxi cabs which have no meters (tricky to agree to a price in advance when you don’t speak Arabic or understand what price you should pay). Service taxis are shared cars most locals use to get around, but they are virtually indistinguishable from private taxis and difficult to navigate, as you have to ask where they are going.
  • Beirut has a handful of good museums and good access to day trips, but otherwise your sightseeing can be done in a day or two, which can leave you for more time for people watching at the beach or at a cafe. Contrasted with Istanbul’s endless array of palaces, museums, historical sights, and markets, Beirut works best as a stop on a larger trip or as a relaxation and nightlife-centric getaway.

Getting there

Beirut International Airport is served by flights from Europe and the Middle East; budget carriers Air Baltic and Pegasus connect with most of Europe, and bmi flies from 7 cities in the US via London. Most countries get a free 1-month visa on arrival. There’s no public transit from the airport; arrange a taxi pickup with your hotel, or try to bargain to around $30 – 40. Along with Syria and a dozen other countries, Lebanon will not allow entry to anyone with an Israeli passport stamp, but you shouldn’t have many problems going into Israel with a Lebanese stamp.

Make it a week

Beirut is an exciting, sad, glamorous, and hopeful city, all at the same time and depending on your perspective. It would be worthwhile to extend your trip to explore more of Lebanon or combine with a visit to Syria (also a “go there before it gets discovered” destination but requires you apply for a visa in advance).