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cassieslisher Jan 7, 2010 10:46 AM

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!

  1. r
    reiflame Jan 13, 2010 05:47 AM

    Guatemala!

    It's got:

    1) Great food - you can get everything from pupusas on the street to fine French dining
    2) Amazing coffee
    3) Breakfasts are some of the best food I had there!
    4) There are tons of gorgeous colonial towns, the crown jewel of which is Antigua
    5) It's safe, but stay on the tourist track to make it really safe.

    And on the plus, it's pretty cheap and lightly touristed. If you're interested let me know and I'll tell you more about the trip I just got back from. It's a really, really neat country with a huge variety of stuff to do.

    6 Replies
    1. re: reiflame
      c
      cassieslisher Jan 13, 2010 10:58 AM

      Hi again, everyone. It has been really, really fun reading these replies and I do hope they keep coming! So many great suggestions! We're probably narrowing it down, for this next trip to Spain, Italy (again) or France. Mostly just because we have to narrow it down and pick something soon, or we won't be able to have any trip at all for lack of planning. Also we are a bit more familiar with Europe, and with the kids still little and travel with them still new, I think we'll leave destinations that are totally new ground for us until a year or two down the road. I love all the ideas though--we've really considered Mexico City and Buenos Aires, as well as (I think I mentioned this) India and Thailand. So we'll definitely be taking note of all the tips regarding those areas in future trips.

      We will be staying in an apartment--I agree, its the only way to go. We had such a great place in Rome with a lovely terrace in Trastavere. We did some shopping at the local market and also on Campo de Fiori and had plenty of lunches/dinners out on this beautiful sun-filled terrace filled with Mediterranean plants and a view of all these old tiled crumbling rooftops. So now are we not only spoiled by Rome itself, but also by the kind of apartments there. The terrace thing really seems to suit us. SInce we can't go out at night, its really nice to be able to have a pleasant place to sit and enjoy some wine while the kiddos are sleeping--not be cooped up indoors, whispering so as not to wake anyone. So, one of the things that's been difficult as we've looked further into Madrid and Paris is that we can't seem to find apartments that have ample terraces. All the stuff we've looked at in Madrid is very white and modern looking (nice, if you don't have two little kids running around with jam and pizza sauce on their fingers), and none of the places that we've seen so far have terraces--little balconies, yes, but not that you could squeeze a family onto. Ditto for Paris, thus far. Has anyone ever stayed at an apartment in Paris or Madrid with a nice terrace, especially one that has walls rather than wrought iron that little bodies could slip through?
      We are starting to open ourselves up to more rural areas as well. Several of you have suggested a city for the first part of the trip and then either day trips into rural areas or a second apartment in a rural area so we're considering that. Perhaps Paris for 4-5 days and then someplace in Provence? We're not averse to driving or trains or any other form of transport.
      We've also considered staying in Naples. Any votes on whether that is crazy or not, regarding safety, with the kids? I like that it is not likely to be heavily touristed and yet has all that awesome sounding food (I've been reading the Italy board). I've heard people say that violence in Naples is overreported, and that its just pickpocketing that is the big issue. I also wonder whether any of you would consider Naples a beautiful city? We have a pretty good tolerance for trash and grunge if there is old architecture and windy cobblestone streets and an interesting street culture (e.g. I've heard people describe Rome as too dirty--I didn't even notice; maybe I even thought it lent to the charm?). We also were looking into the Amalfi coast and were taken by the beauty of Sorrento (and its proximity to Naples) in the photos. I'm a little concerned with Sorrento, however, that it will be extremely touristy, even if we go in May or October (the likely time for our trip) versus mid-summer, when tourism is at its height. I read that everyone in Sorrento seems to speak fluent English which is, of course, really lovely and warm and accomodating, but does actually put me off a bit. I like the challenge of trying to use a language, and I like new things and immersing myself in a culture. So I'm a bit worried that Sorrento would be disappointing in that regard. I'm also worried about the food there--in my experience, the more tourists frequent a place, the worse the food is. We usually try to find places with no English on the menu.
      We would head up the coast to Tuscany, but have already been there. Not that its not worth repeating--it definitely is--but we'd like to break a little new ground before going back.
      We had a great experience in Sienna a while ago that I'd love to share--and I wish I could remember the name of the place to see if anyone else has been here. Little tiny place off the main square. No menu. I was hoping to try some bufalo mozzerella in a caprese salad (I think Sienna is not the place for that anyway, but didn't realize that then). So the proprieter rattles off the menu to us in rapid-fire italian. We knew a tiny bit of italian, if spoken slowly and repeated several times, but couldn't recognize much of what the proprieter siad so ordered what we did recognize--gnocchi and another pasta dish with a ragu. They were huge and heavenly. We were stuffed. When the proprieter came back, I thought I'd ask for the salad; wasn't hungry, just wanted to try it. So I asked. The guy gave me a very stern "no!" (I'd clearly broken protocol) and then rattled off the other options. We were really full and had planned to leave if there wasn't any salad, but I got uncharacteristically flustered and ended up agreeing to the only other thing that I recognized the guy saying--bistecca. I asked if my hubbie and I could split it. My husband looked aghast. We were so full already. So the proprieter walks a couple of feet away from us, pulls this enormous side of beef out of a cupboard, hoists it over the shoulder, walks to a tiny, open kitchen and starts hacking off two massive portions. We thought it must be for someone else, since we were to be splitting something. He seared the pieces lightly on both sides (I am not typically a rare-meat person, and was starting to tremble thinking that I might be soon facing an enormous pool of blood on a plate) and out it came. Two enormous plates--one for each of us--with the meat, very red, falling over the side of the plate. The biggest and rawest chunk of cow I have ever seen in my life, garnished with lemon juice. I thought I'd eat just enough to be polite, but once we tasted it, it was just so awesome that we both each ate our entire portions. Then we saw the potatoes others were getting, which looked divine, so we ordered some of those. Then we went out for gelato!!! And, somehow, wonder of wonders, we didn't feel insanely full. Ah, Italy is a magical place!
      Sorry this is so long-winded!
      I'll stay tuned. Thanks again for all the tips--extremely helpful and fun to read!

      1. re: cassieslisher
        NellyNel Jan 13, 2010 11:08 AM

        Thanks for the update!
        You have so many options - it's hard to choose I know - but what a fun dilema!

        I am sure that you will LOVE whereever you are - so no need to fret too much...

        Keep us posted!

        1. re: cassieslisher
          Scrapironchef Jan 13, 2010 11:31 AM

          You might try the lakes region in Italy, we stayed at a lovely villa outside Stresa right on Lake Maggiore, lots to do in the area or just hang out at the beach.

          Instead of Provence, consider Languedoc and the Cathar country near the Spanish border. Lots of history (the kids will love Carcassone) great beaches on the Med, and lots of good seafood. We stayed here - http://www.frenchconnections.co.uk/en... - lovely people and a great location.

          1. re: cassieslisher
            s
            Steve Jan 13, 2010 01:16 PM

            If you'd consider a village place in Provence, then you can't do better than Fontaine de Vaucluse. The village is a knockout, built on the site of a mysterious spring, and is well located to explore ochre quarries, vineyards, ruins, grottoes, cliff villages, chateaux, walled cities, and everything that makes Provence great including food and markets.

            Here is a village gite that you can book online:

            http://www.gites-de-france.com/gites/...

            You can always read Laurence Wylie's Village in the Vaucluse which has quite a following.

          2. re: reiflame
            s
            scrapplegirl May 21, 2010 06:59 AM

            Hi, I'm going to Antigua July 3. I'm a breakfast and coffee freak, so sounds perfect! Can you recommend good breakfast spots? What was the coolest place you had dinner? Any other suggestions welcome! Thanks.

            1. re: scrapplegirl
              r
              reiflame May 21, 2010 07:35 AM

              If you're there on a weekend, the street vendors will be out - the chorizo and pupusas are awesome.

              We had breakfast at Cafe Condesa - it's touristy but the food is really good. Friendly staff, cheap, delicious, beautiful surroundings; what more could you ask for!

              On the recommendation of our hotel, we had dinner at this tiny place called Hector's. There's no sign, it's just a plaquard on the sidewalk and a 3 seat restaurant with some seriously good food. It's up by La Merced. Go early or it might be tough to get a seat.

              The other really memorable thing we had was the pork adobado sandwhich at La Fonda de la Calle Real. It was just out of this world.

              Have a great trip!!

          3. s
            sidwich Jan 12, 2010 11:16 PM

            It's already been suggested, but I'll second the recommendation of Buenos Aires. The city is very reminiscent of great European capitals, with fantastic food of many stripes, as well as great museums, historic buildings and many, many lovely cafes to while away the hours. Between everything to see, all the afternoons just people-watching and some lovely day-trips, I was never bored in the two weeks I spent there last year. It's also been a relatively affordable city to visit in the last few years.

            Mostly people are wonderfully warm and hospitable, especially if you even attempt bumbling through with some basic Spanish. Plenty of nice apartments to rent, and there are also some lovely family-friendly small hotels and B&Bs.

            People do eat late, though, often 10 p.m. or later. Many cafes do serve throughout the day, though, or you could self-cater dinner with an apartment.

            1. msmarabini Jan 12, 2010 02:34 PM

              I agree with Latindancer and NellyNel: Portugal & Belgium are great rec's.

              Portugal is often overlooked, but is just beautiful and quite reasonably priced compared to Italy - foodwise. In Lisbon -sort of reminds me of a European San Francisco with all the hills and sea views and trolleys - you can have great coffee - uma bica - for breakfast with these little great egg custard pastries called pasteis de nata - just heaven!!! You can get great seafood - almost always quite simply prepared over the grill - but super fresh. I love the grilled sardines, even if they are fiddly to eat. Also good is the seafood cataplana - which is named after the large copper pot that locks and can cook on both sides - it's like a rich seafood stew - with lobster shellfish tomatoes peppers and wine. Also a fresh baked choripan from the bakery is nice treat - bread with chorizo sausage baked in. There is a town that is famous for roast suckling pig - can't remember name but is north of Lisbon - and the whole town is full of restaurants serving this really juicy roast pig. If you go to Lisbon, you should also go out towards the coast to Cascais and drive along up the coast going north - it is just beautiful going up towards Peniche - full of rocky coastlines, great beaches, big surf. Sintra is just inland & upwards from Lisbon and is a magical town with lots of history. I've also been down to the Algarve for work - in Portimao - where I had one of the best meals of my life! I love Portugal!!! But if you go, you really should get Lonely Planet's "World Food Portugal" - it is in-depth reading about Portuguese cuisine divided into the various regions and will make your mouth water! As for the people, they are lovely and polite and family oriented - and many speak English, which does make things easier.

              As for Belgium - just spent New Years holidays there. Brussels and Brugges have amazing architecture and beer and good food to boot. I heard somewhere that there are more Michelin starred restuarants in Brussels than anywhere else - is that right? Can someone please confirm??? Michelin-starred restaurants aren't usually my cup of tea - (I tend to go for more homestyle cooking or streetfood) but having so many in one place must be a good thing. I stayed with friends so didn't eat out as much as I'd have liked - but did enjoy some really hearty winter fare like stoeump (?), choucroute, moules & frites! The only problem with Belgium - for me - was that is was very cold and windy and grey the whole week we were there - granted it was the middle of winter. The people were polite too - but not really laid back like southern europeans (in Italy, Spain, & Portugal) and as for crime - well, our car was broken into, so that dampened the mood a bit.

              You could always go back to Italy - there is sooooo sooooo much more to explore and eat - you could never get bored.

              18 Replies
              1. re: msmarabini
                steve h. Jan 12, 2010 02:51 PM

                Deb and I rent an apartment in Rome every March. Whether we need it or not.

                1. re: steve h.
                  Sam Fujisaka Jan 12, 2010 03:22 PM

                  ides or no ides!?

                  Yeah, yeah, you've heard that before ...!!

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                    steve h. Jan 12, 2010 03:36 PM

                    Yes to the ides!

                    BTW, I snagged a reservation from the Scavi. Seems Deb and I are going back in time. Should be interesting. Maybe I can find an Indiana Jones fedora.

                    On a different tack, we plan on cooking more at our rental this year. Both the markets at the Campo de' Fiori and Testaccio are fair game. Wines will be featured.

                    1. re: steve h.
                      c oliver Jan 13, 2010 08:08 AM

                      I love cooking when we travel internationally. So many things that we either can't get at all or not the same quality and quantity. We started out renting flats and now do exchanges. I could never go back to hotels again.

                      1. re: c oliver
                        steve h. Jan 13, 2010 09:28 AM

                        Renting a flat opens up worlds. I never could wrap my mind around the "all-inclusive resort" concept.

                        1. re: steve h.
                          NellyNel Jan 13, 2010 09:35 AM

                          Steve,

                          I love to travel but I also like to "vacation" - to me they are two completely different experiences.
                          I have been to a few absolutely wonderful small "all inclusives" (and one big horrible one!)
                          Most of them had incredibly good food and drink.

                          I adore traveling to a place and discovering restaurant gems and meeting the people.....However, there is something to be said for lying on a beach with several free drinks in your hands without a care in the world...ahhhh

                          1. re: NellyNel
                            steve h. Jan 13, 2010 09:50 AM

                            Hi NellyNel,
                            That's why Deb and I are sailors: life at 5 knots, a beer in my hand and a foot on the wheel. It's always a hoot to pull into a strange port, grab some groceries, do the laundry and discover a fresh pub.

                            1. re: steve h.
                              NellyNel Jan 13, 2010 09:51 AM

                              That does sound excellent!

                              Happy travels! (and eats!)

                          2. re: steve h.
                            c oliver Jan 13, 2010 09:52 AM

                            Food-wise, it seems like LCD (lowest common denominator) food. We went to the Costa del Sol a few years ago cause I found an incredible deal. We had a little studio apt and It included one meal (B or L) and you could pay to dine there more often. To our knowledge we were the ONLY ones who actually cooked - ever. And we didn't know that it's where a lot of Europeans go on holiday. The odd part of that was how we had to search out Spanish food. English, German, etc. galore. But we could walk several miles along the beach and get really great food. We've figured out over the years that we can't travel with just any one :)

                            1. re: c oliver
                              steve h. Jan 13, 2010 10:04 AM

                              There's a fundamental connection between you and your surroundings when you live on the local economy.: your senses sharpen; your language skills improve by orders of magnitude. Your understanding of how and why things work a certain way lead you on a wonderful path of discovery. When it's over, you have a sense of accomplishment.

                              Travel broadens.

                              1. re: steve h.
                                c oliver Jan 13, 2010 02:40 PM

                                We own an apartment in Rio and we eat and shop and do everything with the locals. And 99% of them speak NO English. We love it. Our Portuguese sucks but we get points for the effort and, if it's important enough, there's always the dictionario :) We love the food and seeing how different it is. And the open air markets where we can buy every possible meat, fish, fruit, vegetable imaginable. All ready to go. Our next exchange will probably be in the Dordogne region of France --- where truffles are famous. Eeek.

                                1. re: c oliver
                                  steve h. Jan 13, 2010 02:49 PM

                                  Gotta love the full immersion stuff. Deb and I spend time every year in Europe and Asia. We like them both. South America is a big, inviting blank for us right now. I'm looking forward to some modest exploration.

                                  1. re: steve h.
                                    c oliver Jan 13, 2010 02:56 PM

                                    Email me sometime if you're interested in Rio. We have a decently outfitted kitchen and close to everything.

                              2. re: c oliver
                                NellyNel Jan 13, 2010 10:06 AM

                                Yes, Spain can be shockingly touristy in places...
                                You'll find a ton of "fish & chip" places and English pubs....
                                (as an American - I found this to be really surprising!)
                                However - go off the beaten track a bit and you will discover the gems!

                                I like to find the restaurants and local food and hardly ever have cooked during my travels, but I do like to shop in the supermarkets! I find it fascinating ! (A habit which both DH's think/thought odd!)

                                1. re: c oliver
                                  Scrapironchef Jan 13, 2010 10:54 AM

                                  My wife is iffy about Spain because of all the ex-pats living there, she's worried we'll wind up somewhere with English food. We like to rent a place and explore an area for a week or so. She's spends a lot of time on the internet finding just the right place and doesn't want to ruin her winning streak.

                                  1. re: Scrapironchef
                                    NellyNel Jan 13, 2010 11:05 AM

                                    Don't give up on Spain -
                                    Even in VERY touristy places- if you just drive 5 or 10 minutes off the trail you will discover AMAZING places.

                      2. re: msmarabini
                        PBSF Jan 12, 2010 09:33 PM

                        Brussels does have excellent food but it does not have the most Michelin starred restaurants. The current honor by a wide margin goes to Tokyo.

                        1. re: PBSF
                          msmarabini Jan 13, 2010 10:55 AM

                          Cheers PBSF! Thanks for clearing that up for me.

                      3. Jetgirly Jan 11, 2010 03:20 PM

                        I would recommend Mexico City. It's shockingly, unexpectedly beautiful (for those who haven't been to Latin America before) and the city centre is, in many ways, very remniscent of great European capitals. There's lots to do to keep busy, and there are lots of great restaurants at all price points- from market stalls to very high-end restaurants. Breakfast and lunch are often bigger meals than dinner, so you can definitely fit in lots of great dining before 8:00 pm. My parents (in their mid-50s) came to visit me when I lived in Mexico, and we popped down to Mexico City for a few days- they loved it. My mom said it reminded her of Barcelona. We always felt safe, and that included doing things like taking the subway at rush hour, hopping in any and every taxi, and finding our own way to Teotihuacan using intercity busses. There are a few English-speaking tourists here and there, but not an overwhelming number.

                        Another suggestion would be Piemonte, Italy. This is the region around Torino, which is the home of Slow Food. You could try to time your trip for the biennial Salon del Gusto, which is the big Slow Food event, but if you hit an off year you can also go to the Cheese festival held in Bra. Other great culinary trips from Torino include Asti (Spumanti!) and Alba (Nutella!). There is lots of great food in Torino too, as well as the most developed aperitivo culture I experienced in Italy (pay eight or ten euros for a cocktail or glass of wine and you've got access to a buffet of food). Torino is a real architectural jewel, as it's home to many former Savoy palaces, but there are lots of other amazing things to do as well (the Cinema Museum is amazing, there's a great Egyptian Museum, you can tour the original Fiat factory which is now a shopping mall, etc. Every Sunday Torino has a large open-air antiques market, which balloons once a month, and it is also home to Europe's largest open-air market (Porto Palazzo, if I recall correctly). I lived in Torino in 2005 and 2006, and rarely met a tourist. Even after the Olympics it seemed to drop off the tourist map right away. Torino has a fairly big international airport, but it's also easy to get there from Malpensa in Milan (there are two or three direct busses to and from Malpensa every day, otherwise you can hop a bus from Malpensa to Milano Centrale and then take a high-speed train into Torino).

                        1. NellyNel Jan 11, 2010 09:51 AM

                          Hi there!

                          I have traveled all over Europe, and my absolutely favorite place for food, drink and stunning beauty would be Belgium. If I had to chooses a city - it would be Brugges.

                          Between the beer, chocolate, frites, mussells and waffles - I seriously cannot imagine a better place to indulge..
                          Brugges is an amazingly charming place as well.
                          I have never had better fresh chocolate anywhere in my life (made with fresh cream so you can't even take it home with you! it must be eaten that day!
                          also if you like beer - the Belgian beer that you have there is soooo much better than the stuff that's imported...
                          Foodies - go to Belgium!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: NellyNel
                            c oliver Jan 13, 2010 08:06 AM

                            Oops, didn't read all the way through and now see you recommended Brugges also.

                            1. re: c oliver
                              NellyNel Jan 13, 2010 08:24 AM

                              Ya - I love Brugges...
                              Another city in Belgium well known for Gastronomy is a place called Durbuy...the food was SPECTACULAR...OMG.....
                              As well as the scenery....a very charming place... but I remember it being quite out of the way

                          2. RetiredChef Jan 11, 2010 08:34 AM

                            My suggestion (because I like change) would be to pick someplace other than Europe.

                            Taipei is chaotic and the people are extremely friendly to westerners, plus the food is great and inexpensive.
                            Hong Kong – got to visit it to experience it, if you like cities that has to be my #1 WOW city of the world.
                            Malaysia – Beautiful beaches and a highly underrated cuisine.
                            India – Tons of beauty with tons of squalor mixed in, but very much fun to travel around.

                            I could go on and on South America, Africa, Russia, etc.

                            If you are stuck on Europe one of my favorite and often overlooked city is Vienna, great food, lots of history and a beautiful city and you will be able to eat early.

                            1. s
                              Steve Jan 9, 2010 08:17 PM

                              have you done any traveling in Europe in the countryside by car? there are towns with medieval squares that are seemingly untouched over the years.

                              The food in Auvergne in central France and Provence remain two of my favorite areas for eating. And you can eat before 8pm, of course you can. With a child, I have enjoyed renting a gite, visiting local markets, and doing a combination of cooking / dining. there are over 39,000 houses to rent at reasonable prices on the following website:

                              www.gite-de-france.com

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Steve
                                Scrapironchef Jan 10, 2010 01:33 PM

                                A solid vote for getting out on your own and renting a place in the country, or you can do both and rent a houseboat on one of the canals. http://www.leboat.com/ - great people to deal with. We've done this four times and rented houses four times, having your own kitchen makes all the difference.

                              2. PBSF Jan 8, 2010 09:33 AM

                                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
                                  c
                                  cassieslisher Jan 8, 2010 05:29 PM

                                  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
                                    s
                                    Sinicle Jan 8, 2010 05:59 PM

                                    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
                                      l
                                      latindancer Jan 9, 2010 07:46 PM

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

                                      1. re: cassieslisher
                                        PBSF Jan 9, 2010 07:58 PM

                                        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.

                                    2. Sam Fujisaka Jan 7, 2010 04:18 PM

                                      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
                                        Scrapironchef Jan 10, 2010 01:19 PM

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

                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                          steve h. Jan 10, 2010 01:26 PM

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

                                        2. carolinadawg Jan 7, 2010 02:57 PM

                                          Paris, France

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: carolinadawg
                                            pikiliz Jan 7, 2010 03:55 PM

                                            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
                                              d
                                              Diane in Bexley Jan 11, 2010 10:14 AM

                                              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
                                                c oliver Jan 13, 2010 08:03 AM

                                                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. l
                                            Lexma90 Jan 7, 2010 02:10 PM

                                            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. h
                                              Harters Jan 7, 2010 01:51 PM

                                              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
                                                d
                                                danieljdwyer Jan 8, 2010 10:59 AM

                                                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.

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