Our first day in Rome, Italy, was quite an adventure. But who cares? We had wine.

Our first day in Rome, Italy, was quite an adventure. But who cares? We had wine.

Caio from Rome, Italy!

We made it and Rome and intentionally did not pre-plan much of our first day in Italy. We tried that a couple of years ago but a mechanical issue caused our flight out of Omaha to be canceled and we lost money on pre-purchased tickets for a Vatican tour. We ended that day eating Papa John’s pizza at Omaha’s Sleep Inn. We weren’t going to make that mistake again, so we left our first day in Rome wide open.

Since it was about 60 euros each way to take a taxi from our hotel into the city, we opted to save money by taking a shuttle bus and train instead. It was our first day abroad, after all, and we wanted a little adventure. We took the free shuttle bus back to the airport, then paid 14 euros each for a train to the main station. From there, we walked what seemed like 68 miles to buy a 24-hour Metro subway ticket for 7 more euros, each, so we could get to the Colosseum.

Our first stop in Rome was the Colosseum and Forum.

We’d toured the Colosseum a few years ago, but didn’t have a chance to walk around the Forum much, so we thought we’d try that if we could get a ticket. We walked around for a bit trying to decipher Italian signs and find an entrance to the Forum. We walked up and down hills, across cobblestones and flagstones, and even in and out of a church, looking for the entrance to the Forum. We finally figured out that tickets for the Colosseum and Forum were one in the same so we headed to the entrance of the Colosseum.

The forecast was not looking good when we arrived.

As we drew close, every five yards or so we were approached by a vendor selling everything from bicycle rides and guided tours to bracelets and hats. It was incredibly annoying. Finally, one of them asked if we would like a 40-minute guided tour of the Forum for 25 euros each. We considered paying the overpriced fee for a quick second, but then noticed dark clouds moving in and told him we’d come back another time. He insisted it wasn’t going to rain and pointed to a small corner of sky that was only partly cloudy. Knowing it seemed cloudier now than  just two minutes before, we still opted to try for the Forum another day.

Boy, are we glad we did. We walked back to the subway just as thunder and lightning began to fill the sky. We were hungry by then, and decided to look for a place to get our first tastes of authentic Italian pasta and wine.

We remembered a wonderful little place we’d eaten when we visited Rome three years ago, but couldn’t remember the name or location of the restaurant. Then, I had an idea! I remembered taking a photo of Steve pouring wine from a liter pitcher at the restaurant and searched through the photos on my phone. Finally, I was able to justify to Steve why it is necessary to keep 27,502 (and counting!) photos on my phone.

A search for wine in my iPhone photos found 150 matches. And no, I am not ashamed.

I easily found the photo from the restaurant (by searching for “wine”) and we got back on the subway to head that direction. When we arrived, we were about to leave the station when we realized it was a complete downpour outside. People were coming down the steps from the street above completely soaked. We shared a smile that we weren’t standing like wet dogs in the Forum.

Thunderstorms filled the sky on our first day in Rome, Italy.

At this point you probably assume that we reached into our trusty backpack and pulled out our rain gear. Well, you would be wrong. We forgot to pack any (#travelisreal). Instead, we reached into our pocket and pulled out 10 euros to buy two overpriced “Roma” ponchos from yet another random guy wandering around the station selling them to make a quick buck.

Yes, we paid 10 euro for two glorified garbage bags.

Thinking we had two or three blocks in the pouring rain to the restaurant (best we could tell from Google maps) we emerged from the underground station and had a good laugh when we saw the restaurant about 30 steps from the subway entrance.

Cute Roma poncho, don’t you think?

In any case, we made our way in, ordered a liter of the house wine, and enjoyed a wonderful Italian meal.

A liter of the house wine was just what we needed after a long day/night of traveling.

We started our Italian food experience with a four-piece bruschetta appetizer. The picture below shows three of them. Steve was just little eager to taste the prosciutto and mozzarella one and had it in his mouth stomach before I could take my 27,503rd photo.

The four-piece bruschetta sampler.

We shared a caprese salad (one of our favorites) and each ordered a pasta dish. Steve had the bucatini all’amatriciana (thick spaghetti with a bacon and tomato sauce) and I opted for the carbonara. Both were delizioso!

One of our favorites, caprese salad.

We ordered two pasta dishes, one with a tomato and bacon sauce and the carbonara.

After our late lunch/early dinner, we took the overly crowded subway (and when I say overly crowded, I mean my body was touching at least six people at the same time) back the main train station, bought a ticket, and attempted to find the correct train back to the airport. It was a bit confusing and when we asked for help, we were directed to the wrong train. I got on before Steve pulled me back off.

One of our many stops at the train station on our first day in Rome.

We then went to the wrong track, backtracked, and missed our train. Thankfully, we could easily catch another one. The airport express runs every 15 minutes, unless the train is running late, which it was. We finally got back to the airport and then hopped the free shuttle to the hotel.

Rome is a busy city, full of people from all over the world. We were happy to represent Crete, Nebraska, USA.

By the time we got back we were ready to be away from the crowds of people that had surrounded us all day and get some sleep. We showered, did a quick load of laundry at the hotel (it will likely be our last chance for 10 days) and crashed. For about nine and half hours, to be exact.

Next stop – Siena, Tuscany, and our time with Massi the Driver and Italy Unfiltered. If you missed our earlier post about our hosts, Deb and Massi, you can read all about them HERE.

PIN FOR LATER

What we did in Rome, Italy, when we arrived with no pre-booked tickets or plans.

Where we’re headed in 2018

Where we’re headed in 2018

Some people make resolutions on New Year’s Day. Not us. We make reservations. It has become a bit of a tradition for us to sit in bed on New Year’s morning, sip mimosas and finalize vacation plans for the year. The best part of the day is when I get to click the, “complete booking” button.

This year, though, was a little different. We booked and started saving for our big trip of 2018 about 18 months ago. Still, we had a lot of planning to do, so our annual mimosa time (we did NOT change that tradition) was full of making travel decisions for 2018. What did we talk about? I’m glad you asked.

More blogging

Our little Postcard Jar blog is quickly growing into more than just a hobby. One of our biggest conversation topics for this new year revolves around how we will create a home business in the travel industry. Last year we dabbled in selling postcards and postcard jars. In addition to keeping some retail options, we are doing some travel consulting, and may even lead a trip or two. Obviously, we’re still trying to figure out a lot of things and in the meantime, we’re working hard on our blog and doing a lot of volunteer work in our community.

More time in Oklahoma

Our first trip of 2018 will likely be back to Oklahoma. We would like to travel to Tulsa to look at school our daughter might be interested in. Of course we’ll have to stop in Pawhuska so we can visit our new friends there, enjoy a chicken fried steak, and sip a Handy’s pop or 12.

Kihekah Ave., Pawhuska, Oklahoma

We fell in love with Oklahoma this year and are excited for our daughter, Meghan, to explore the possibilities of attending nursing school in Tulsa this year.

The great American road trip (or two)

As I write this, the temperature is -3 where we live in Nebraska, which makes us question our life choice of living in the Midwest. As a result, we have talked about taking a road trip south this winter to escape the brunt of the cold. I spent six years living in Mississippi, and Ann lived in South Carolina. We’d each like to take the other on a stroll down memory lane. We’d also like to head to Arizona where Ann spent time living with her dad when she was younger. I’ve heard an awful lot about Arizona; it’s high time we took a trip there so I can see it for myself.

We have really started to enjoy road trips in the U.S. and having the time to stop and see things along the way.

We have really started to enjoy road trips in the U.S. and having the time to stop and see things along the way.

National Track Championships

Ann and I help lead college ministry at our church and several of our college “sons” are seniors on the men’s track and field team so this is their last year to compete. With a more flexible schedule this year, we’re excited to be able to travel to the NAIA national championship meet to see them run.  We’ve booked our hotel for Pittsburgh, Kansas, for the Indoor Championships in March. Now the guys just have to do their part and qualify. The outdoor meet is in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and we’re looking into traveling there in May, as well.

A return to Rochester, Minnesota

Over the last four years, we’ve made more than a dozen trips to Rochester, Minnesota, for Ann to be seen and treated at the Mayo Clinic there. It’s time for her to have a follow up with cardiology to monitor her cardiac sarcoidosis and she will need to have a chest CT to make sure the tumor she had removed from her lung has not returned. With me not at school this year, we’ll likely expand the trip a little and try to see more of Minnesota while we’re up there. One place in particular we’d like to go is Roseville, located between Minneapolis and St. Paul, which makes it an ideal location for exploring the Twin Cities. We also have friends and family in the area we’d love to see.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota

The big one

In June, we will set off on our biggest trip of the year, and maybe our lives. It is a 10-night cruise from Italy to Greece and back aboard the Celebrity Reflection. We can’t wait to see the sights of Rome, Malta, Sicily, and Greece and reconnect with some cruise friends we met a couple summers ago. We hope to add a few more days to this vacation to visit other places in Italy like Tuscany and Venice. The best part is we’ve been planning (and saving) for this vacation for almost 18 months, now, so by the time it gets here, hopefully all we’ll have left to do is enjoy it.

Rome, Italy

Conferring with experts

We just learned of a bloggers’ conference in Prague that takes place two weeks after our cruise, so that is a definite possibility. We’ve wanted to visit the Czech Republic for some time, and this might provide the push we need to make the visit. The fact we’d already be on that side of the Atlantic makes it much easier to go.

In September, we’ll head to the Finger Lakes region of New York for another TBEX conference for bloggers and those in the travel industry. That is an area of the country we’ve wanted to explore, as well, and autumn seems like a perfect time for a visit. Along the way we’ll likely take in Niagara Falls and other sights in the region.

TBEX Minneapolis/St. Paul

We attended the TBEX conference two years ago in Minneapolis/St. Paul and made a lot of good connections.

Spending time with our parents

It was such a blessing this year to have time to spend traveling with our parents and we’d like to do more of that this year, as well. We took my mom and dad on a trip through the Nebraska Sandhills last summer and would love to take them even further west (and northwest to Toadstool Geologic Park) if we’re able. We also had a great trip with Ann’s mom to Oregon and she’s already talking about wanting to travel to an away Husker game this year. Speaking of the Huskers …

Steve's parents in the Nebraska Sandhills

Steve’s mom and dad take a minute to enjoy the view across the Dismal River valley in the Sandhills.

Pioneer Woman Lodge kitchen, Pawhuska, Oklahoma

Carol has seen this stove in action on TV many times, and enjoyed checking it out for herself on our trip to the Drummond Ranch near Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

Go Big Red!

As you know by now, we are big Nebraska Cornhusker football fans and look forward to football season every year. This year promises to be extra special as we have a new coaching staff that promises to bring a new scheme and a return to the Husker culture of old. Fingers crossed! We’ll plan our travel schedule around home games and may even try to take in a road game if we can. We hear The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is an OK place to see a game.

We loved exploring the Pacific Northwest and despite a Husker loss, had a great time at the at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.

We love going to Husker road games. Last year we traveled to Eugene, Oregon, to see the Huskers play the Ducks.

Concerts, shows, and attractions

Finally, sprinkled in thought the year, there are a number of concerts and shows we’d like to see. We love everything from the symphony to musicals to modern country music, so we are always looking to see a show. We are lucky to live close to a place like the Lied Center in Lincoln, and we already have tickets to several great shows in 2018.

When we're not traveling, we love to see shows at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln, Nebraska.

When we’re not traveling, we love to see shows at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The great unknown

It is impossible to know on January 3 where, exactly, the year will take us. We know we have a lot of work ahead as we grow our blog and our business and that will be a big focus of our year. Undoubtedly, 2018 will bring new opportunities that we don’t know about today, and just as assuredly, things will happen that will prevent us from being able to do everything on this list. No matter where the year takes us, we will make the trip together, and that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.


Have you been to any of the places we listed? Is there any place else we should consider? Please let us know in the comments below.

A postcard from Husker fans

A postcard from Husker fans

We have had the privilege of having season tickets to Nebraska Cornhusker football games for the past five years. Every fall, we look forward to returning to Memorial Stadium, going through Gate 20, walking up and up and up to section 108, and squeezing ourselves in the 17-inch spaces known as row 1, seats 7 and 8.  We love having season tickets and cheering on our beloved Huskers each year. We’ve also grown to enjoy the other season ticket holders around us, some more than others. There’s the bearded man who sits down the row and can always be counted on for leading a GOOOOOOOOO — BIIIIIIIIIIIIIG — REEEEEEED chant, and there was the woman who for several years yelled, “Give it to Imani,” “first down,” and “run like a laser!”

But some of the people we’ve enjoyed most are Mark and Kathy, who drive 180 miles (each way) from Le Mars, Iowa for home games. They sit in the row behind us, just a few seats over. They arrive early like us. They yell when the defense is on the field and we can always count on them for a high five when the Huskers score. We like visiting with them before games, hearing their takes on the play calling and turning to Kathy for explanations of questionable penalties since she usually is listening to the radio broadcast through headphones.

We’ve enjoyed meeting their exchange students and hearing about what’s going on in Le Mars. We even stopped in Le Mars last summer on our way to Minnesota to see the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor (definitely worth the stop).

 

The Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor in Le Mars, Iowa, is a great place to visit. The two-story building includes an old fashioned ice cream parlor, gift shop, a museum, and of course, lots of great Blue Bunny ice cream.

The Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor in Le Mars, Iowa, is a great place to visit. The two-story building includes an old fashioned ice cream parlor, gift shop, a museum, and of course, lots of great Blue Bunny ice cream.

So many choices of fantastic Blue Bunny ice cream. Two of our favorites are Mocha Me Hoppy and Bunny Tracks.

So many choices of fantastic Blue Bunny ice cream. Two of our favorites are Mocha Me Hoppy and Bunny Tracks.

We haven’t seen Mark and Kathy for more than a month now, but we knew they’d be gone. They told us when we played Illinois, Oct. 1, that they would not be in their seats for the next home game because they were going to be in Rome, Italy. We were excited for them to have the opportunity to travel abroad and reminded them to send us a postcard. We’re so glad they did!

Vatican postcard

Vatican postcard

 

They sent us a postcard from Vatican City in the heart of Rome, a place where we traveled in the summer os 2015. You can read more about that HERE.

It is always great to hear from people when they travel, and we’re hoping Mark and Kathy are back in their seats tonight as Nebraska takes on Minnesota. We have a lot of catching up to do.

[well]When you’re traveling next, be sure to send us a postcard at Postcard Jar, P.O. Box 334, Crete, NE 68333. We’d love to hear from you![/well]

Our Journey of a Lifetime

Our Journey of a Lifetime

It has been said that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Five years ago today, Ann and I took our first step together as we walked down the aisle at Westminster Presbyterian Church as a husband and wife. Since that day, we’ve been on an amazing life journey. As we celebrate our fifth anniversary today, we thought we’d share some of our most memorable experiences. As we look back, we are thankful for the opportunities we’ve had, and are even more grateful that we could experience these things together.

Honeymooning in Costa Rica

Great weddings require a lot of planning. I was happy to be involved in planning our wedding. I told Ann from the start that I trusted her judgment—I just wanted to work on the honeymoon. I cooked up a wonderful week in Costa Rica with what Ann called the perfect mix of relaxation and activity.

Tabacon Hot Springs Resort and Spa is, by far, one of the most romantic, relaxing places on earth.

Tabacon Hot Springs Resort and Spa is, by far, one of the most romantic, relaxing places on earth.

We basked in a volcanically heated river on the side of Arenal Volcano, took a zip-line adventure 400 feet above the treetops, and enjoyed what is probably the most romantic dinner of our lives—in a private gazebo in the rainforest served by our own chef and waiter.

What an exciting way to start a marriage -- zip lining 400 feet above the tree tops in Costa Rica.

What an exciting way to start a marriage — zip lining 400 feet above the tree tops in Costa Rica.

We loved exploring the rain forest and seeing the incredible plant life in Costa Rica.

We loved exploring the rain forest and seeing the incredible plant life in Costa Rica.

We loved the Costa Rican coffee and gallo pinto in the morning. We enjoyed the smells of the flowers and the views from the mountains. We cherished our time on the beach and the opportunity to dip our feet in the ocean. And most importantly, we fell even more in love with each other there. Pura vida at it’s best.

Treatments at the Mayo Clinic

Anyone who has been married will tell you that everything doesn’t always go just as you planned, and there really will be a time to remember your vow to be there for each other through sickness and health. Over the past few years we have made more trips to Rochester, Minnesota, than anywhere else.

One of the world's best medical treatment facilities - Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

One of the world’s best medical treatment facilities – Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Two and a half years ago, Ann was diagnosed with a rare immune disease called cardiac sarcoidosis and has had surgeries and treatments at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic there. 

Recovering from thoracic surgery at Mayo Clinic's St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota.

Recovering from thoracic surgery at Mayo Clinic’s St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota.

While these trips are no vacations for either of us, they have brought us closer together and have helped us treasure every day we have together. The Mayo Clinic is a place full of answers, help and hope and we are always grateful for the opportunity to go there.  In the end, our time spent in Rochester has been a big part of our first five years and even though it doesn’t always bring back the happiest of memories, it is a part of our journey.

Taking pictures in Alaska

In 2013, we took our first cruise and went on a family vacation to Alaska. 

A beautiful reflection shot, taken from a moving train en route to Anchorage, Alaska.

A beautiful reflection shot, taken from a moving train en route to Anchorage, Alaska.

Here’s the thing about Alaska: it is stunningly beautiful. Everywhere we turned we were confronted with another jaw-dropping vista of mountains, ocean, glaciers, and wildlife.

We took a helicopter ride to the top of glacier where we were able to sip glacier water and explore the terrain.

We took a helicopter ride to the top of glacier where we were able to sip glacier water and explore the terrain.

Our whale watching tour was amazing. When we got back to shore, Steve asked Ann, "So who did it feel to be in photographer's heaven?"

Our whale watching tour was amazing. When we got back to shore, Steve asked Ann, “So how did it feel to be in photographer’s heaven?”

Where else on Earth can you find yourself on a small boat watching humpback whales dive literally 10 feet away while salmon jump over their tails, and gaze out across the water to admire a rainbow rising up over a mountain? It is truly a photographer’s heaven.

Meeting new people

We love to meet new people. Whether it is introducing ourselves to those sitting next to us at a bar or restaurant or shaking hands with people we’ve just met at a conference or event, we just love meeting new people. Over the past five years we’ve met some incredible people like innkeeper Jeanne in Chadron, Nebraska, and the staff at Luminae restaurant on the Celebrity Eclipse. We’ve developed new relationships with fellow bloggers, our readers, and travel enthusiasts. And, we’ve made some great new friends along the way.

But few meetings will be as memorable as the night we were invited backstage after a Garth Brooks show in Las Vegas to meet the country music legend and his wife and singer Trisha Yearwood. People often say, “Pics or it didn’t happen.” Well, here you go. For what it’s worth, Garth and Trisha are as gracious and kind as you’d expect.

Down to earth, personable, and boy can they sing! Our once in a lifetime experience meeting county music artists, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.

Down to earth, personable, and boy can they sing! Our once in a lifetime experience meeting county music artists, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.

Picking up our daughter from school

From Spain. Via Rome. As you know, all good parents make sure their children get home safely after school, and Ann and I are no exception. That’s why we we made the trek to Salamanca, Spain, last summer to pick Meghan up after she’d spent several weeks there studying Spanish. We were so proud of our daughter and all she had accomplished there and it was a real blessing to be able to see where she had studied, visit her favorite museums, and meet some of her teachers. 

Meghan studied Spanish Salamanca, Spain.

Meghan studied Spanish Salamanca, Spain.

And we loved Salamanca. It is a historical city dating back to Roman times and we savored every moment spent sitting in the open air cafes on the square, eating paella, drinking amazing wine and listening to bands playing traditional music.  As long as we were headed across the ocean, we stopped first in Rome, admired the incredible history there and enjoyed pasta at a sidewalk cafe before boarding a cruise to Spain. It was an amazing trip.

Our view of the Forum in Rome, Italy, seemed like it was right of a history book.

Our view of the Forum in Rome, Italy, seemed like it was right of a history book.

 

Exploring our home state, Nebraska

When Ann and I were married, I hadn’t done much travel in the state of Nebraska except on Interstate 80. Ann insisted that we take a trip around our state. She and Meghan had taken annual Nebraska trips for close to a decade and she said there were some pretty special things to be enjoyed if we just got off of I-80. Well, she was right.

Nebraska

A road in the Sandhills of northwest Nebraska near Crawford. Definitely not I-80.

One place she took me that blew me away was Toadstool Geologic Park. I’ve been twice, now, and both times I’ve been awed by the beauty and unique geography located in Nebraska. Last Spring we shared another experience that was a first for both of us: The Sandhill Crane migration.

We watched thousands of Sandhill Cranes gather at sunset on the Platte River near Grand Island, Nebraska.

We watched thousands of Sandhill Cranes gather at sunset on the Platte River near Grand Island, Nebraska.

Seeing the cranes land on the Platte River at sunset is an almost mystical experience, and it should be on your bucket list. Turns out Nebraska is a pretty special place if you just stop and look around a bit.

Watching the sun rise and set

Every day, God gives us two beautiful light shows that fill the whole sky: sunrise, and sunset. We have always tried to slow down and enjoy these moments when we can.

View of the sunset from our cruise ship in Nassau, Bahamas.

View of the sunset from our cruise ship in Nassau, Bahamas.

Whether it’s a fiery sky turning orange and red as the sun dips into the ocean, or a glistening sunrise in Estes Park or the Florida Keys — these are times to be savored.

Watching the sunrise over the mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes, Colorado.

Watching the sunrise over the mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes, Colorado.

A day of rejoicing with the sunrise on Easter morning from the Florida Keys.

A day of rejoicing with the sunrise on Easter morning from the Florida Keys.

When you stop and think about it, there is nothing made by human hands that can even compare.

We’ve been really fortunate to have been able to travel as much as we have the during these first five years of our marriage and we don’t take one trip for granted. Whether it is across the ocean or just down the road, we have always managed to learn something new on our adventures. We’ve experienced something different. And we’ve created memories together that will last a lifetime. None of us knows what our futures will hold. Only God knows whether we’ll have more days filled with or joy or sorrow, sickness or health, plenty or want. The important thing is to enjoy the journey and to remember that most of the time, the only trip you’ll ever regret taking is the one you don’t.

The Joy of Sidewalk Cafes

The Joy of Sidewalk Cafes

I have always loved travel. As a Spanish teacher, I thought it important to share my love of travel with my students. So, together with a German teacher colleague from across the hall who shared that belief, we planned a European tour for our students. It was hugely successful, and we resolved to do it again. Over the course of eight years, we actually wound up leading four school-sponsored European student tours together.

Outside the palace in Monaco on my fourth guided tour with students.

Outside the palace in Monaco on my fourth guided tour with students from the school where I taught Spanish.

I can’t say enough about the tours’ educational value for our students. The trips opened eyes, expanded world views, taught history and art appreciation, showed incredible sights, and provided much fun for all participants. But for me, personally, a critical element was missing.

On each of those trips, we’d walk past sidewalk cafes and I’d see people sitting in the sun on a beautiful day enjoying foods of their choice and some of the best beers and wines the world has to offer. I, however, was with other people’s teenage children on a tour, and our meals were planned, usually in the back corner of some restaurant’s basement. While the food was good, the menus were set, and it wasn’t appropriate for me, a teacher/school administrator leading students on a school trip to sample the beers or wine.

On our trip to Europe last summer, Ann and I went alone with no students by our side. This opened up a world of freedom I’d only dreamed about on those trips with the kids. I eagerly anticipated wandering the streets, looking for that perfect spot in the shade to have a wonderful meal.

We found just such a spot our first full day in Rome. We sat down and savored an amazing pasta lunch and sipped a pitcher of the house wine –some of the best wine we’ve ever had — in a meal that lasted a blissful two or three hours. (Let me pause a moment to say that in Italy, France, and Spain the wine is plentiful, wonderful, and cheap. Seriously, I’ve seen bottles of decent wine for less than the cost of a bottle of water.) It was so nice to have the freedom from student travel to pause where we wanted for the time we wanted to order from a menu and eat and drink what we wanted. Wine. Caprese. Foot-long sausages. You get the idea.

We make caprese salad all the time at home, but it tastes even better eaten with fresh mozzarella at a sidewalk cafe in the heart of Rome.

We loved the food in Spain, including this foot-long sausage rolled to perfection.

A day or so later, we hopped aboard the Celebrity Equinox and cruised the Mediterranean for a week. We disembarked in Barcelona, and checked in to our hotel. After settling in, we decided we’d like a bite for lunch so headed up the block and found another sidewalk cafe. We sat, sipped wine and beer, and indulged in a delicious meal of Spanish delicacies. We liked the spot enough that we went back for dinner that night, only we ate inside this time to better escape the Spanish heat. Once there, sitting among a multitude of delicious looking Spanish hams hanging over the bar, it hit us: we’d eaten in this place with students on our school-sponsored tour two years before.

Who could forget these hams?

Who could forget these hams?

Could it be true? Yes! The restrooms were in the basement as I remembered, and I even saw our downstairs table in the back corner next to them. Suddenly, my beer tasted a little better and the tapas we’d selected were a little more rich. And then karma served up the most delicious entree, yet: A tour of high school students walked in (and down the stairs). Glory day! I was so excited that I was able to enjoy a meal of my choosing without worrying about kiddos that Ann took a video of me to commemorate the occasion.

Through my schadenfreude, I did feel a little sorry for the adult sponsors, and tried (unsuccessfully) to express my sympathy to them.

Simply put, sidewalk cafes in Europe are all they are cracked up to be. Great food, good drinks, and a relaxing atmosphere where you aren’t pushed through your meal so the restaurant can seat the next group. I know that our future European trips will include slow, relaxing meals in sidewalk cafes–and frankly, I can’t wait.

[well]This blog post is part of a series about the “20 Things We’ll Remember Most About Our Summer Vacation.” Up next: Our Look at the Leaning Tower. [/well]