There are many benefits to living overseas—like the opportunity to hunt for great antique or second-hand items that we’d never find back in America. Or we can go shopping in a large grocery store in say, France, and it’s filled with French food! Yes, retail therapy is a little different over here. Flea Markets abound with everything, from stuff that looks like it fell off of the back of a delivery truck to beautiful antiques. We woke up on a Saturday a couple of weeks ago and felt the thrill of the hunt come upon us. We took the back seats out of our trusty Honda Odyssey van (just in case) and the we were off.
We had heard about two secondhand stores near Metz that we wanted to explore. They were only a little over 2 hours away and it would be an easy day trip. Plus, our favorite French hypermarket, Auchan was only about 30 minutes away from our planned stops. So the die was cast—ROAD TRIP!
Our first stop was “Troc” in Forbach, France. Troc is a large consignment store filled with treasures (and some trash). Mid-century modern chairs sit next to Edwardian marble-topped sideboards, which stand beside
Bavarian farmhouse tables. The place is massive. And it’s not just filled with furniture, but also artwork, china, crystal, lamps, chandeliers, and tons more. But there’s also the junk. They have the inevitable ceramic clowns and various items from the 60s or 70s that make you shake your head and wonder what possessed someone to buy this on its first go-round. We found ourselves going down aisle after aisle of furniture and other treasures. They had a fairly large selection of shiny lacquered Italian inlaid wood furniture. These pieces when new are rather expensive, but here at Troc their prices were just a shadow of their former selves.
I found myself attracted to the vintage dishes from the town of Obernai in Alsace. They bore the scars of many a meal, with the odd chip or discoloration here and there. But to me, this was just evidence of a very happy life, and now I can display them with all their history. I thought they would look splendid hanging in a grouping on a wall. The plates were cheerful and full of colorful scenes of Alsatian village life. Obernai pottery is quite expensive when new and a bit too rich for my blood. But these were going for a paltry 1 Euro apiece for the well-worn and well-loved dishes. I splurged on a large presentation platter that was newer and in perfect condition for 5 Euros. By the time I was done, I had spent 14 Euros for the lot. I couldn’t even purchase a new saucer for that price. I left Troc a very happy girl.
Next on our itinerary was Titi International. Okay, everyone can stop making those little snickering noises now. I think the name is a bit silly as well, but the contents of this place are anything but. The prices seemed a bit higher than Troc, but the quality was a bit higher too. The furniture was gorgeous! They had a number of beautiful vintage pieces that I would have been happy to take home immediately. Even the smaller home décor and china seemed nicer. I’m still kicking myself for not purchasing the vintage transferware tea set from Maastricht in the Netherlands. Like Troc, Titi is basically a large warehouse filled various kinds of stock in widely varying conditions. Unbelievable as it sounds, we walked out
without purchasing anything, but it’s not likely that we’ll get away unscathed on our next visit. This trip was sort of our maiden voyage, and we decided that we need to come back once every three months or so and check out their inventory. Of course, the seats in the van will stay home, just in case!
Poking around in second-hand shops is hungry work! So after rummaging through all kinds of treasures, we were off to what is to us, the highest expression of the French supermarket, Auchan! There are certain stores in
France that earn the title of hypermart and all of them are great. Names like Cora, Leclerc, Intermarché, and Carrefour are certain to make our mouths water. Picture the finest gourmet shop you have ever seen (or even imagined), then expand it to the size of a large Costco. Throw in a few dry goods for variety and you have a French hypermarket. The French have a very well-deserved reputation for fine cuisine and it all starts with the very best ingredients. The typical hypermarket is filled with glorious French produce, wine, meats, cheeses, fresh seafood, and of course, a huge variety of baked goods. We have visited many of them, but Auchan (and especially the one in Semécourt, near Metz) gets our vote for the best selection and best quality. It’s always a major hub of activity and we start to drool whenever we get within a kilometer.
Inside the building is a mini-mall of smaller interior shops, eateries, and even a carousel for the kids. But the main event is the big store itself. This company is way ahead of the technology curve with something they call, “Rapid Auchan.” As customers come in, they can choose to get their own scan device that fits in a holder in their shopping cart. They self-scan their items as they go about their shopping. They go through a special line, pay for their purchases, and out the door they go. It’s a pretty cool system and certainly shortens wait times in the lines. Auchan embraces this technology as a way to free up their employees to offer one-on-one customer service throughout the store.
To us, Auchan seems like Disneyland for foodies. The cheese aisle—which seems to go on forever—always takes our breath away. The fishmonger calls out the specials of the day as if she were in an open-air market in an Atlantic port. We saw some prawns that looked (I swear, I’m not making this up!) to be about the size of a small poodle. There were several aisles of high-quality French wines, some at rock-bottom prices. The meats, patés, breads—Oh, The breads! Bread is like a religion in France. A fresh loaf is purchased every day in any self-respecting French household. And their bread is best served up with some glorious, creamy, butter from Brittany. I really like butter and to me, pretty much any butter is good butter. But the creamy product of Brittany is a cut above. It’s really special.
Even their “generic” aisle at Auchan is something to behold. Breads, cereals, canned goods, and candies all bearing plain generic labels with super low prices are equal if not better in quality to many of the name-brand products we’re used to in the States.
We rolled our cart to our waiting van and carefully packed out treasures into a large cooler for the trip back to Germany. Of course, a few “small” items were set aside to fuel the car ride home. I mean, after an exhausting day like that, you’ve got to keep up your strength!