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]

  • Perched high on a hill in Tuscany is the medieval village of Montepulciano. In the center of town is the piazza grande paved with bricks laid in a herringbone pattern in the 14th century. ⁣
⁣
Standing in the piazza, looking at the bricks, we were filled with a sense of awe at the history these bricks have seen. They've been there for 700 years so have seen times of war and peace, celebration and sorrow. Generation after generation of townsfolk were born, lived and died, and all have walked on these bricks. ⁣
⁣
This is one of the things we love most about traveling. It gives us an authentic feel for history, one we wouldn't have if we just stayed at home.
  • We were so tickled when @thechefandthedish reached out and asked us if we'd like to take a complimentary cooking class with them. They offer private cooking classes with chefs from all over the world that you can take right in your own kitchen. ⁣
⁣
For this class, we Skyped with chef Paola who taught us to make strawberry risotto, traditional bruschetta, and a delicious poached pear dessert that blew our minds. ⁣
⁣
Risotto always seemed like a difficult dish to make, but Chef Paola explained it so well that it wound up being pretty easy. We spent a great afternoon with friends, learned something new, and enjoyed a great meal after. A class with The Chef & The Dish is a great gift idea, as well. Follow the link in our bio, and you can read more about our class on our blog.
  • The world is a big place, and there's so much to discover. Go places, and see things. It doesn't matter if you don't have a detailed itinerary, either. Sometimes, it's more about the journey and what you see and experience along the way, than it is about the destination.
  • During our trip in Tuscany with @italyunfiltered, we stopped at a small family winery. After learning about the organic methods they use to produce high quality Chianti Clasico wines, we had a tasting. ⁣
⁣
Wine tastings in Italy are nothing like those in the US. They are glorious affairs complete with delicious foods paired with the incredible wines. This particular winery brought us samples of homemade, organic jams made from fruits grown in the family's garden. We dabbed these on locally produced pecorino cheese. Yum!⁣
⁣
We're so glad that we had a local driver and guide. Stopping here was a highlight of our Italian adventure, and we never would have found it on our own.
  • The village of Marsaxlokk, Malta, is famous for these brightly painted fishing boats. The design is rather ancient, possibly dating back to Phoenician times, though it's still used today because it is very strong and holds up well in rough weather. One feature of each boat's decorations, are eyes painted on the bow of the boat. These eyes are said to protect the people fishing while they are at sea.
  • The blue cobblestones of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, are actually part of a recycling project which started 500 years ago. Iron foundries in Spain produced huge piles of waste, called slag. Rather than throw these piles away, the slag was made into blocks which was placed into ships as ballast. The ballast was offloaded in Puerto Rico when they loaded products bound for Spain. The blocks were then used to pave the streets. ⁣
⁣
Pretty good idea, and 500 years later, they are holding up well!
  • The Overseas Highway connects Key West and the Florida Keys to the mainland U.S. While the entire road is a marvel of engineering, the centerpiece is the Seven Mile Bridge, which runs over water for, well, seven miles.⁣
⁣
The next time you're driving, reset your trip odometer and wait until it gets to seven miles. You'll see that's a pretty long distance. And then think about the fact that people built a bridge over water with no land to support them for that distance. Pretty incredible-especially since the first one was built in 1912.
  • We'd never heard of cannonball rocks before we drove past them at North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and asked each other, "did you see that?" We'd never seen anything quite like these natural "concretions" created when water leaked into pockets of minerals in the ground. Now, as a hill erodes, these formations are exposed.⁣
⁣
Seeing these rocks was such a cool experience because it reminded us of why we travel. We never know when we'll find something new, something that we never knew existed. We got along fine not knowing about cannonball rocks, yet now that we've seen them, our lives are a little richer. ⁣
⁣
The world is a pretty cool place. Check it out.⁣
⁣
@ndlegendary

Second most popular blog in Pawhuska