MadridMan: Grocery shopping without a car in Madrid
After many awkward shopping journeys, MadridMan sets the guide for how to shop in Madrid without the luxury of a car.
Wasn’t it great living in the USA, driving from pillar to post, parking less than 50 meters away from any given store, leaving all your multi-stop purchases in your trunk while going out for more? Ahh… Those were the days of comfort, convenience…and laziness.
That’s not the case living in The City, of course. Here, you walk, putting one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, dodging meandering Spaniards and random doggy-do-droppings along the way. You go to one store, buy your groceries and carry them to the next store. There, you buy more and carry them to the next store, and so on, until you eventually carry everything home – and then, potentially, up four flights of stairs to your flat.
Doing on-foot shopping all sounds good and healthy, and works well when patronising only markets or shops. But you can’t take outside shopping into supermarkets. Some people do their shopping with handy, albeit not-so-cool, wheeled carts, but even those can’t be taken inside a supermarket shopping area. These, you have to lock them up – or leave them at the door at your own risk – until after check-out. Most supermarkets have taquillas or lockers into which you feed a returnable 1 euro coin to lock up your stuff.
This means planning is crucial. It sounds silly, but it’s true. Sometimes you can’t possibly fit your non-supermarket purchases (from the bakery, the chicken shop, the butcher shop, the olive shop, the nuts-and-snacks shop, the seafood shop) into one of those tiny cubicle lockers. That means you have to do your supermarket shopping first – and then take all that to those aforementioned shops afterwards. (Oh, gawd, I’m sweating just thinking about it.)
God forbid you have to buy milk or clothes detergent or something really heavy, putting more stress on those joints. And even if you’re strong (or a 70+-year-old Spanish woman used to hard labour – yes, I said woman), this can be challenging, not only carrying two hands of shopping bags several blocks, but also doing that painful twist-at-the-waist as you encounter oncoming pedestrians on the narrow sidewalks, holding one bag in front of your body and the other bag behind as you pass.
So you’ve completed your shopping. Congratulations. You win a gold pin for achievement. You’re still out on the street and it’s lunchtime so you’d like to go someplace to eat. Great! – except you can't because you can’t lug all those bags of groceries and other miscellaneous bags into a bar/restaurant with you. And they certainly don’t have lockers into which you can put your stuff.
Very few people living in the city have garages in their buildings to park their cars – unless they’re somewhat well-to-do and their buildings are less than a quarter-century old. But even if I owned a car I wouldn’t/couldn’t take it food shopping. Here, you just can’t drive shop-to-shop, 50–250 metres at a time, and dream of finding a parking space anywhere near where your objective. It’s just not sensible.
So for now, as long as I’m living in the city of Madrid (and not well-to-do), I’ll continue shopping on foot. It’s an easy trade-off for living in the city of my daily daydreams.
Local shopping in Madrid
Supermarkets, or 'grocery stores' as we call them often in the United States, are found in every Madrid neighborhood and also outside the city in the Centros Comerciales. You have your Dia (cheap), PLUS (cheap), Lidl (cheap), Maxcoop (average), Carrefour (average), Alcampo (average), Mercadona (average), Caprabo (average), Champion (average), El Corte Inglés Supermarket (expensive), and a number of others.
I really dislike going to the supermarket for a number of reasons, besides having to walk home with heavy bags and then climbing four flights of stairs (which is particularly difficult and uncomfortable in summertime when it’s hot). Additionally, the lines in the supermarkets are often very long and few cash registers open to accommodate the public. Then, with all the people waiting behind you in line you still have to bag your own groceries. Finally, neighborhood grocery stores in Madrid are small and so the selection is very limited.
What I do like about shopping in the neighborhood are the individual, specialised stores – also found in markets. Specialised stores might sell only meats, only chicken products, only fruits and vegetables, only bread, or only potato chips! Shopping like this takes more time but the quality of products is usually better and fresher than when bought in supermarkets. And the products aside, it’s always a nice way to meet your neighborhood store owners, exchange some casual conversation about vacations, family, or weather. These store owners always recognise you, can sometimes guess your order, are quick to send a smile your way, and if you’re short on cash they’ll often allow you to pay the balance on your next visit. You can’t get that kind of treatment at a supermarket.
Going to the Centros Comerciales outside of the city, like to a Carrefour, is a different experience altogether. First, you need a car to get there and traffic in these areas can be crazy. Second, on busy days/hours there can be long lines and difficulty parking in the underground parking garages. Third, these places are huge and so the lines at the cash registers can be super long. Fourth, at busy times there’s lots of shopping cart traffic with lots of left-or-right-looking drivers. They never look forward. Fifth, the selection is great and the prices are usually very good too. This is really the only positive to going to places like these. Six, on busy days there can be a shortage of shopping carts, causing you to wait for one to be returned – or go searching on different floors. And you’d better have the proper coin for the security lock. And seven, after going back home, I still have to carry up a dozen or so bags up four flights of stairs. Exhausting. Almost without exception, I leave places like this with a throbbing headache from all the stress. These excursions can take up to four hours.
On the upside, at Carrefour, customers have the option of requesting a 'pedido', having the food sent to your home either the same day or the next day. There’s a charge for this but when filling a shopping cart with food and spending EUR 150, the extra EUR 5 delivery charge doesn’t bother me in the least. Luckily I work at home so this is very convenient – when I can find someone to drive me to the shopping center in the first place.
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