Tuesday 5 November 2013

An Afternoon at the Old Country Market

Tourist traps:  Every community has one of two.  You know what I'm talking about: Those businesses whose primary aim it is to sell locally themed kitsch to out-of-town visitors.  

You also know that, in every community, there are one or two tourist traps that are beloved of the locals.  They're the ones to which local residents take their friends and family, and find their own way, unbidden, during the off season.

The Old Country Market in Coombs (on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada) is just such a place.  A collection of ramshackle log buildings roofed with grass, it draws tourists because of its eccentric appearance, which includes a herd of goats grazing on the aforementioned roof tops.

I somehow neglected to take a photo of the main market building but here's a picture of some of the smaller shops that line the lane beside it, and of the goat enclosure at the back of the main building. 

The goats are very tame. They enjoy a good visit with passersby.

Once drawn in, the tourists stay - and often return again and again - because of the atmosphere, which is just plain fun. During the summer months the market is crowded and hectic and a little crazy, with folks of every age shopping, and visiting, enjoying live music, and eating on the outdoor deck (hopefully well away from the edge of the roof and its attendant goat dropping hazard).

Even the goat dropping hazard has become part of the local legend, and has been turned to the market's advantage.  They do a brisk trade in all sorts of items, from T-shirts to food products, emblazoned with their "Goats on the Roof" logo.

Tacky, I know, but pretty funny too!

In the fall, when the weather cools, the crowds thin and the locals begin to shop. The market used to close by mid-October but now stays open until December, the owners having realized that their customers within the community appreciate the quieter atmosphere the autumn months bring.

I visited the Old Country market during last weekend of October. My friend Colleen and I drove out to enjoy lunch and a visit at Cuckoo's, an Italian themed restaurant located in the lane behind the market.  

Cuckoo's is very different in appearance from the market proper. Its stucco facade and wrought iron Juliet balconies are intended summon up tourist-y images of Italian houses.  

The restaurant's tall windows offer glimpses of the lovely space inside and are over-arched by grape vines which, even in late October, still bear dark purple grapes among the fading foliage.

(Please excuse the accidental self portrait.  ;^)

Inside, the restaurant is plain and informal, with polished wood floors and pretty garden views from almost every window.

It was a lovely spot for a quiet visit, and the food was quite good too!

After lunch, we explored the very un-Italian garden at the back of the building, still beautiful even with the falling leaves, 

The garden center next door to Cuckoo's hosted a bevy of Buddhas, 

and sold a wonderful assortment of plant pots, garden ornaments, shrubs and perennial plants.

From the garden center, we stepped into a small shop that sold a pretty assortment of Indian textiles, 

some lovely Victorian themed greeting cards and Christmas-y things,

and an assortment of really fun bath salts.  They had the most wonderful packaging!  Here are some of my favourites:

Directly opposite the shop, on the other side of the courtyard that houses the garden center, is the back wall of a produce stand.  

If you walk up to this wall, you can what the grassy roofs actually look like close up.  They're quite beautiful.

After buying some fruit and vegetables, we headed into the market's main building and quickly discovered exactly what it is that draws the locals back again and again.  

The market stocks an amazing assortment of international foods!  A shopper can travel in just a few steps from Italy to Asia by way of Germany, from Asia to France by way of India, from France to Britain by way of Mexico, and from there back to Italy again.  

Shopping heaven for a food-lovin' gal like me!

Come have a shop with me.  If you'd like to see the photos in a larger view, click on any image.