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]

  • Like everything Ree Drummond does, the Pioneer Woman Boarding House is over the top in a really good way.⁣
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Guests in the appropriately named Emerald Room receive a true luxury experience especially in the bathroom. With a claw foot tub, walk-through shower, two vanities and two toilets, this room is a jewel. ⁣
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Have you stayed at the @pwboardinghouse? #postcardjar #midlifetravel #emptynesttravel #goplaces #emptynest #emptynesters #midlife #couplestravel #couplestrip #thepioneerwoman #reedrummond #pawhuska #mercantile #pwboardinghouse #oklahoma #ranchlife #oklahoma #visitok @visitoklahoma #okie @VisitOsageCounty
  • Strawberry fields forever...⁣
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While traveling, we adore stopping in farmers markets and checking out the fresh produce available for sale. When we saw these strawberries in Tallinn, Estonia, we just had to take a picture.⁣
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The vibrant color of the berries tells us they were ripened naturally on the vine. You just don't get that color trucked in to a supermarket. And that natural ripening means, of course, that these are some of the sweetest strawberries you'll ever taste. Yum! #postcardjar #midlifetravel #emptynesttravel #goplaces #emptynest #emptynesters #midlife #couplestravel #couplestrip #celebritycruises #cruising #seastheday #cruise #sea #beyondborders #humansatsea #cruiseaddict #cruisecritic #tallinn #lifeisbeautiful #cruiseship #cruiselife #estonia #strawberries #farmersmarket #lifeisshort #visitestonia #adventuregirls #tallinngram #berries
  • On our Baltic Sea cruise, we stopped in Stockholm, Sweden. To get there, we had to sail through the Stockholm Archipelago. ⁣
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For days leading up to our arrival in Stockholm, the captain of the ship kept telling us that we should plan to be up early so we could take in the scenery as we passed through the archipelago. After enough repetitions, we resolved to get up early to see what he was so excited about.⁣
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We are so glad we set the alarm. That morning, we sat on our balcony and had breakfast watching some of the most beautiful scenery we'd ever seen pass by our cabins. We had an up-close view of land that we've rarely had from a cruise ship unless it was docked. ⁣
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Sure, we travel to see specific things. Who doesn't? But we really love it when we find something like this that we didn't know existed, but it is so amazing it enriches our lives and makes us want to go back again and again.
  • In the @visitmasoncityiowa airport, is a new restaurant called CAVU American Kitchen & Cocktail Lounge. Offering chef-crafted foods and incredible cocktails, this restaurant has the best airport food we've ever eaten. In fact, we'll call this airport a destination.⁣
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Pictured here is Chef Cassie's fried potato salad. This was her elimination dish from the show, "Master Chef." Apparently, Wolfgang Puck didn't think much of it. After trying it, we don't think much of Wolfgang Puck's taste.⁣
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This dish, which is served warm, is composed of crispy fried potato chunks covered in delicious potato salad dressing. The combination of flavors and textures had us going back for more. #postcardjar #midlifetravel #emptynesttravel #goplaces #emptynest #emptynesters #midlife #couplestravel #couplestrip #midwestliving #midwestlivingmag  #midwestmoment #igersmidwest #midwestisbest #masoncity #clearlake @masoncity
  • In Rochester, Minnesota, in the shadow of the famed Mayo Clinic, is a beautiful pedestrian area called the Peace Plaza. Because of its location, it's often the last area a person walks through as they go to the clinic hoping for help. And, it's the first place people pass as they leave the clinic sometimes with good news, other times to confront their own mortality.⁣
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The designers of the plaza seemed to understand the huge role the space would play in the lives of the people coming through. They designed it as a calming, meditative space filled with tranquility. It's a place you can refocus a little, and take some time to transition from the clinic to the world. And, it's just one more example of the ways that @minnesotas_rochester demonstrates humanity to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come each year to the clinic.
  • Are these salt and pepper shakers not the cutest?? Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is a magical place at Christmastime. We stopped by the @pwmercantile this morning and snapped a few new pics. Getting excited for the Holiday Lights Parade tonight!
  • We have four holiday gift guides up on the blog for the traveler, home cook, cruise lover, and road tripper on your shopping list! Just click on the link in our bio to check out our blog. ⁣
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One of our all-time favorite items (it made two of our lists) are these @EagleCreek packing items. This starter set goes with us on every single trip. Last year, Steve packed 16 size XXL shirts in on of them. They are super lightweight, safe space in your suitcase, and help you stay organized as your travel. ⁣
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What are your favorite gift ideas for travelers this year? ⁣
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#postcardjar #midlifetravel #emptynesttravel #goplaces #emptynest #emptynesters #midlife #couplestravel #couplestrip #giftideas #giftsfortravelers #traveler #travelgifts #giftguide #roadtrippin #packingtips #packingbags #howtopack #packlight #eaglecreek #celebritycruises #travelblogger #packing #packinghack #giftsph #holidayshopping #giftidea #travelgram #packing101
  • Who's ready for some pumpkin pie??⁣
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The thought of digging in to a piece of pumpkin pie (served with a cup of coffee with pumpkin spice creamer) takes us back to a small town festival we love. ⁣
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A few years ago, our town of Crete, Nebraska, began holding the Great Pumpkin Festival during the first weekend of October.⁣
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From spring to fall, local volunteers tend gardens filled with pumpkin vines so that folks who come to the festival can take home a reasonably priced, locally-grown pumpkin. ⁣
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The festival is full of games, food, performances and fun. It's a wholesome day where the town turns out to celebrate another year together in a relaxed, calm atmosphere.⁣
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Does your town have a festival? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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