Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 20, 2022

Cora, Lidl, Spar and other "favorite" spots

Some of our friends and relatives see husband Art and me as world travelers, but compared to our friend Bryce, we are practically stay-at-homers.

Whichever we are, we certainly started from different points. I volunteered for the Peace Corps fresh out of college and hoped my small efforts in Ecuador would change the world a bit for the better while also allowing me to see some of that world. In contrast, Art was 39 when he made his first trip farther than Canada. His purpose heading overseas was to see the home in Wales where his great-grandfather Tom had been born.

Bryce has always liked to travel. Being a doctor, he has a skill that is needed everywhere. So after years of working in a small central-Kansas community and fitting in excursions when he could, he opted for an arrangement that gave him more freedom. Now, he works as an every-other-month doctor in Alaska and then indulges his travel bug on alternate months. While he has doctored in several countries, his journeys also involve visits to family and friends or to any country that happens to tickle his fancy.

Most of our trips have centered on Europe and Great Britain, so I can imagine our friends picturing us visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate, Buckingham Palace, and other iconic sites. But while that was once true, it isn't so much now. In fact, during our current trip, despite staying at the edge of Berlin for more than two weeks, we only ventured into Germany's capital twice - once for supper at a restaurant that serves not German, but Chinese cuisine.

Like many of Bryce's recent trips, this one has had a heavy emphasis on friends - friends who in many cases are as close as family. But that's not to say we don't keep an eye open for certain "special" places - places with names like Kaufland, Spar, Netto, Lidl, Auchan, Cora, Morrison's and Tesco. They aren't found in any travel brochures, but we like them.

So what are these attractive sites? They are grocery stores!

We have long thought of ourselves as oddballs in this regard, but Bryce surprised us when I recently shared a photo of Art inside a local Kaufland. He commented, "That looks like my kind of foreign travel. I LOVE grocery stores more than museums, although each has its place."

So what is our fascination with grocery stores? Part of it is strictly practical. While going out to eat can be great fun and is an important part of the travel experience, unless one chooses a McDonald's, Burger King or some local equivalent, it can be time-consuming and expensive. Shopping in a grocery store costs far less and provides food we can eat on our schedule. No need to be up and dressed before 9 a.m., a common time for breakfast service to end at a bed-and-breakfast. By renting a self-catering room complete with a kitchenette, no maid will annoy us asking to clean our room, and meals are served whenever we want to eat them. And on those occasions when we aren't in the mood to cook, restaurants are still an option.

But there is another reason we are fascinated by grocery stores. We get a legitimate reading on what the locals eat and how they shop for their food. In France, multiple aisles are devoted to cheese and wine. Rabbit, horsemeat and octopus are available - items not typically seen in a U.S. food store. In Germany, seemingly unending varieties of wurst - sausage - line the coolers. In Britain, Art is always pleased to see one of his favorites that he can rarely find in stores at home - mincemeat. It is readily found in pies, cookies and other goodies.

Today, grocery shopping almost anywhere has a decidedly global aspect. We Americans regularly see products from Canada, Mexico and Central American countries. Apples from Chile are also common. But an entirely different part of the world is presented in Europe. A flat of strawberries we recently purchased at Kaufland had an information label in German, Czech, Bulgarian, Slovakian, Romanian, Hungarian and Polish. The strawberries, which were some of the best we've had in recent years, came from Andalusia on Spain's southern coast.

It's also interesting seeing how "climate neutral" steps - meaning environmentally friendly - have changed buying food. We didn't see a single plastic bag. Most locals have reusable fabric shopping bags.

The stray parking-lot shopping cart left to scratch your car when the wind sends it on a journey of its own has also been addressed. When empty, they fit together to save space, just as ours do. But each has a short chain and key that locks into the adjacent cart when they are pushed together. To use one, a coin - 1 euro in Europe or 1 pound in the UK - is pressed into a slot which captures it, while also releasing the key that locked it to the next cart. When the empty cart is returned, inserting the key from the next one returns the coin and locks the cart into its neighbor. The German-owned Aldi has brought this to the United States.

We also have taken advantage of local butcher shops, bakeries, and fruit-and-vegetable stands. Strawberries and asparagus are widely available at roadside stands in Germany now. France has countless bakeries specializing in fresh breads and pastries. As our trip to Wales was coming to an end several years ago, fellow traveler Deb wanted to buy steaks at the local butcher. Art went to the shop, kidded "Sparky," - the butcher - about it being good to see he still had all his fingers, and then had him cut four one-inch-thick filets. That night, we, and friend Jan, had a picnic of steaks grilled to perfection on the grill supplied by our host Paul.

As Bryce said, museums and such certainly have their place. But there can be a whole lot more to travel than famous buildings.

Top-left: friends Lou (left) and Deb near the cheese section in a Cora. A glance at their cart reveals a previous visit to the wine aisles; center-left: "Sparky" cutting our filets; center-right: this Spar store in Llanrhaeadr -YM is one of the smaller grocery stores we have visited; top-right: shopping cart control device on a cart at a Kaufland store. The chain and the inserted key is at the top and the key's insertion ejects the 1-euro coin, seen at the bottom; bottom-left: Art has just finished grilling the filets, while friends Jan (left) and Deb anticipate my taking the photo so they can begin eating; bottom-right: an advertisement for Welsh lamb atracts attention because of its use of the double "L." Many Welsh words contain these double Ls to represent a sound unique to the language.

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