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Jan 7, 2010 10:46 AM

travel suggestions

Hi All--My husband and I seem to have fallen in love with Rome and Italy in general, particularly the food, and are having trouble, as we plan our next trip this year, in getting ourselves excited about other options. We first went to Rome 5 years ago and loved the food and cappuccinos--no fine dining, just lots of trattorias and osterias and pizza rustica. We also thought the city was beautiful, and the chaos that many people don't love about Rome just made it all the better for us. Last year we planned our first international trip since having children and decided to go to Rome again. Once again, it was great. This year we're determined to go somewhere else, but are having trouble settling on a spot. Here's what we're looking for: 1) great food; again we won't be doing any fine dining 2) hopefully great coffee (but not necessary) 3)a food culture that can be enjoyed in the morning and afternoon and, if possible, before 8pm in the evening (our kids are young, and we won't have a sitter) and 4) a beautiful place--we tend to find medieval cities/quarters beautiful with crumbling old buildings and cobblestone streets. 5) a place that is relatively safe (we were pretty intrepid before having kids, but . . .). We are thinking Europe, but are certainly open to other countries/ parts of the world. We think we want to be in a city, but are open to rural areas. We like to go places outside of the tourist season--I hate to be in with a crush of other Americans when I'm somewhere else.

I know that "great food" is open to interpretation--what we mean is something fresh and well-made that reflects the country/locality and is generally not available in the U.S. In terms of the culture, we'd consider anything, but we tend to love vacationing in places where the overall culture tends to be more expressive/exhuberant/chaotic than straight-laced and reserved.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! This is my first post--I've loved reading the boards for the past year, but have never previously registered. Feel free to tell me if I've breached any etiquette or anything--I'm not part of any other online communitites, so this is all new to me!

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  1. In Europe, we tend not to eat dinner as early as many Americans so it may not be too easy to combine "food culture" with it being before 8pm (depending on how you are defining food culture). However you're likely to come across good lunch deals.

    Without wishing to be impertinent here, I think you've started from the wrong place. You really need to do some holiday research first to see what the family is going to do with its time when it isnt eating.When you've got a short-list of places, then ask the food questions on the relevent international board. Otherwise, you are just going to attract a load of posts from folk trying to be helpful telling you where they have enjoyed a break.

    In terms of avoiding your co-patriots, a read of the international boards will quickly show you where Americans visit. For example, on the UK board, American tourists seemingly only visit London which gives you the rest of my country to visit and enjoy. Similarly, Spain seems to be limited to a small number of the large cities - such as Barcelona.

    Spain might actually be somewhere for you to consider first. It can be lively - particularly if you visit a town at fiests or feria time. There's excellent food to be had. And, IMO, the best coffee in Europe. Lunch is a big thing (but dinner is definitely late). And it's extremely child friendly.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Harters

      I think the before 8pm bit kills the idea of Spain. In the larger cities like Madrid and Barcelona, there are places to eat an earlier dinner, but they restaurants for tourists. A trip to Spain spent eating dinner before 8pm - and really before 10pm - is going to completely miss the food culture of the country. You can get tapas earlier than that, but tapas bar crawls aren't going to be much fun with kids in tow.
      I really hate to discourage people from going to Spain. Real Spanish food is damn near impossible to find in the US, and Spain, to me, has the greatest food cultures in Europe. It just doesn't sound like the ideal trip, given the circumstances.

    2. I think if you're thinking of Europe, it will be more difficult to find an expressive culture AND dinners before 8 pm.

      Possibly Barcelona, which is a cafe-oriented exuberant culture, where they eat REALLY late. But tapas is popular (even though it's more of a tradition in other parts of Spain), and you could make a very nice meal out of tapas dishes. In the Bari Gotic area, it's pedestrian, so you could easily sit at a cafe and let the kids wander around close by.

      In Italy, I would suggest Bologna, a city I love for its great food, non-touristy atmosphere and culture, but then you have the 8 pm problem.

      Another idea - the small city of Sarlat, in the Dordogne region of France. Beautiful old city, easy to get around, lots of restaurants in the city and in the surrounding area. Probably at least some will serve dinner before 8 pm. I don't necessarily consider the French to be expressive/chaotic, but Sarlat's a great place! We took our 10-year-old son there several years ago, and it was nice to be able to sit in the main place (pedestrian) and be able to let him wander around by himself. I'm guessing your kids are younger, but they could still wander closeby without you having to worry about cars.

        1. re: carolinadawg

          I second Paris or I have also bean to Venice and I swear as long as you venture of the tourist path it is really brilliant..Anthony Bourdain did a Venice show and 2 of the restaurant's he went to I went too as well. Paris is well Paris I have found that dressing more European opened many door that may I may not have enjoyed if I wore sneakers and shorts and such.
          Nothing big just nice pants and they seem to look at shoes leather is better? cannot say why twice I have been and the first time was not as great as the second mind you both times I still do not speak French Just have fun good luck and enjoy

          1. re: pikiliz

            Another rec for Paris. you can base yourself in Paris for a week, rent an apartment, see the city and venture into the countryside for day trips via train or car. An apartment with kitchen would be ideal for a family with children.

            Instead of being conventional and staying in for breakfast and lunch and going out for dinner, go out for breakfast and/or lunch and stay in for dinner. Each arrondisment (neighborhood) has its own lovely market where you can buy roasted chickens, prepared salads/sides, lovely bakeries & boulangeries with breads, pastries, etc.

            Public transportation is excellent in Paris and you do not have to speak fluent French, although locals will be MUCH warmer if you use the basics - bonjour, s'il vous plait, merci, etc. As long as you try, I have found the French very nice and hospitable.

            In Paris, there is tons of lovely, yummy street food as well. You can eat like a gourmet for very little. True, dinner begins at 8 p.m. and we did not see many young children in fine restaurants. But, that's why I suggested brining dinner in your hotel/apartment or having a picnic at a lovely park.

            1. re: Diane in Bexley

              I like the Paris idea also and esp. the idea to rent an apt. or do an exchange. We typically eat breakfast/lunch out and cook dinner. Also they could take the train(s) to Brugges which is incredibly beautiful and has good food. Don't know how "lively" it is however.

        2. 1. Puebla or Oaxaca, Mexico.
          2. Lima, Peru
          3. Hong Kong or Singapore
          4. Istanbul
          5. Vientiane or Chiang Mai
          7. Capetown
          6. Ho Chi Minh or Hue

          2 Replies
          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            All of Sam's reccos plus Buenos Aires and Kyoto.

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              I like Sam's list a lot. I would add London to the mix.

            2. From your wish list of numbers 1 to 5, sounds like your heart is back to Europe again. As other posters have stated, it would be helpful if you can be more specific; for example, besides Rome, have you been to anywhere outside the US; how long will your trip be; do you prefer to stay put or more incline to move from place to place; is driving an option; your family's comfort level with different cultures; besides eating, what other activities does your family enjoy. Without more information, you'll be getting loads of suggestions that might not even remotely fit what you are looking for. Do a little more research and try to zero in what you want from a foreign trip. For some people, there is nothing wrong with traveling back to somewhere familiar, for others, it is always something exotic and different. From my experience with foreign travel, nothing worst than going to a place that one is not fully sold on.

              4 Replies
              1. re: PBSF

                Hi Again Everyone and thanks for your thoughts and responses. They've actually been very helpful thus far. As I said, this is the first board of any kind I've ever posted on it, and its so nice to be getting travel suggestions from other people who are into good food! I find it to be so much a part of the travel experience.

                I'll try to be a little more specific, as requested by many of you. In terms of where we've been before: I spent a summer in Africa (Malawi, and a little travel through surrounding countries), and my husband spent a year in Europe (Austria and travel in surrounding areas). We've both been to Spain, but a looooong time ago, and before we would have been appreciative of good cuisine. More recently, the only places we've traveled outside of the U.S. are Costa Rica and Italy. We love travel and are interested in going almost anywhere--lately (that is, if we can peel ourselves away from Italy), we've been interested in India, Thailand, China, Spain and France, and have also considered South/Central American countries. It's embarrassingly hard for me to peel myself away from good coffee, and I worry that in some of these countries I'll be stuck with tea (not a tea fan, unfortunately; maybe I'd convert but unlikely). The biggest consideration right now in addition to food is the kids and what will keep us all happy together. On vacations, what my husband and I like to do is (given a pretty and/or interesting area) walk, walk, walk, eat, walk walk walk, sit at cafe, walk walk walk, eat, walk walk sit at cafe etc etc. Throw in a museum or two and gardens (we're probably more into gardens than museums) and we are happy as clams. The kids, 4 and 2, seem to prefer cities to the country and were very entertained in Rome just watching the world go by with frequent stops at cafes. I'd say some safe-ish pedestrian squares with cafes, like some of you mentioned, would be a big plus.
                In terms of experiencing good food before 8pm, we know we'll miss out on a lot and its just a sacrifice we might have to make at this point. We have been seriously considering Spain--for all of the reasons many of you have mentioned--but we're a little worried that we'll be restricted to chocolate and churros and ham sandwiches which, however divine, might get a little tiresome after a while. I wonder if there is more of a variety of lunch cuisine available? We'll probably get an apartment or do a home exchange and so, in the evenings, will cook most of our dinners. So availability of good markets is a good thing.

                One last clarification; we'll be gone 10 days to 2 weeks and will probably try to spend that in one or two locations (within the same country). If we changed every few nights, the kids probably won't sleep and we'll all be miserable no matter how good the food! We're fine with any safe-ish mode of transport.

                Again, thanks so much for your suggestions! These have really got me thinking!

                1. re: cassieslisher

                  It is difficult to choose from the whole world, but I would vote for Spain...certainly not all chocolate,churros,ham (not that there is anything wrong with this). Fine dining is a bit later than you wish, but tapas are highly varied and can be eaten much earlier. Suckling pig for lunch at El Botin in Madrid is truly an experience.

                  1. re: cassieslisher

                    Lisbon, Portugal.
                    A cafe on every corner (for your coffee) listening to Fado.

                    1. re: cassieslisher

                      I think you've been spoiled by Rome, one of the great cities of the world, especially for strolling, coffee or just sitting in a cafe watching people and soaking up the layers and layers of history. The only city that I've been to that can compare to it is Paris. If you have not been there, that would be an obvious choice. The history, the famous monuments, the different neighborhoods, shops, the Seine all make for great walking. And the people watching and cafe life can't be beat. Then there is the food; it is everywhere. Be forewarn that even though Parisians consume much coffee, in general, the quality does not come close to that of Italy, where there is no such thing as a bad cup. There is plenty to see and do for a ten day trip. An option is to rent an apartment where your family might be more comfortable; it also allows one to visit the numerous markets, cook and set ones own meal schedule. The eating is similar to Rome: coffee and simple pastry in the morning, a sit down lunch, then cafe sitting in the afternoon, dinner at 7pm or later, more cafe afterward. And Rome spoils one when it comes to gelato; Paris has great ice cream but it costs at least twice as much as a cone in Rome. Since there are so many discount airlines (very cheap flights) in Europe flying between the large cities, another option is to divide time between two cities; ie Paris and Madrid or Barcelona or Andalucia. Spain is not all hot chocolate and churro. There are all sorts of pastries for breakfast and better coffee than Paris. There is an enormous variety in the food. The main drawback is that the evening meal in restaurants do not start until after 9pm. As previous mentioned, there are tapas and pintxos for earlier eating. Also take your main meal during midday. It is this eating informality that I love. And there is cafe life and strolling in Madrid and Barcelona and Seville is a real pleasure. Of course, one of the great strolling city in the world is Venice. We spend at least a month every year in our apartment there and never seem to get bore. The center is full of visitors (and not all of them are Americans; in fact there are probably more Italian visitors in Venice then any other nationality) but the quaint outlying neighborhood is mostly quiet and serene. And great coffee and cafe life, wonderful seafood though expensive. I also second Lisbon, a wonderful compact city full of life, cafes and good traditional food. A full ten days might be too long but it would make a great choice for a two city trip.
                      I love Southeast Asia, especially Thailand but it is outside of the big cities that I find it most enjoyable. The big cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, have much to offer but because of the year round heat, humidity and congestion, it is not the best for strolling. A short stay is always exciting but for me, any longer is exhausting. And coffee is not the primary drink though one will run into Starbuck in just about any big city.
                      A suggestion is to visit the different International Boards of this site to check out some of the posts. It will give one a good idea of the food. There are quite a few posts on traveling with children in Paris and also Barcelona. Since this site is devoted to food, there will not be much else.