A Moveable Feast

Monday, May 4, 2009

I've decided that it's time to spill my number one travel tip of all times. Not only is this a valuable takeaway for the budget-conscious traveler, but you may also be surprised to find that this secret will help you to immerse yourself in your new surroundings in an unforgettable and even romantic way. So what's my million dollar tip? Picnicking.
The Royal Gardens in Paris was one of our favorite places to picnic. 
Photo Source: Self

As a just-out-of-college couple, Kris and I were on a shoestring budget for our European adventure last summer, especially considering all the places on our itinerary that were exactly on the cheap particularly with a weak dollar up against the pound and the euro. After reading stacks of travel guides and doing due diligence research, we had created full itineraries for each day of our three week vacation. Surprisingly we stuck pretty well to our itineraries (with the exception of a missed early morning train to Brussels), and we also managed to stay within our budget range, which was pretty impressive considering it was our first time traveling together in Europe.

So how did we keep our costs down? Well aside from enlisting the trusty services of STA to handle the booking of our hostels and surprisingly nice hotels, we made a concerted effort to keep our food costs down, but without sacrificing taste. After all, what a waste it would be to travel to another country and not have the opportunity to sample the culture's culinary offerings. So we balanced out our cuisine costs in several ways. First, we took advantage of breakfast that was included at our hotels and hostels. With breakfast out of the way for most of our trip we made plans to eat dinner at a few nice and more expensive restaurants while we picnicked for most of our lunches and for some dinners.

While the rain stopped us from picnicking in the beautiful gardens
adjacent to Musee Rodin, we still enjoyed walking among the rows of colorful roses.
Photo Source: Self

Believe it or not, picnicking in different parts of the cities that we visited actually ended up being one of our favorite parts of the trip.  I'll forever cherish our picnics under the breezy blue Parisian sky. So how did we do it? Each morning we would set off and pick up a freshly-baked baguette (just follow your nose, bakeries seem to be on every street corner in Paris), cheese, fruit and a bottle of French wine from a close by shop or supermarket. Then we stowed away our treasures in Kris's backpack until we found the perfect place for a picnic in whatever part of the city we'd planned to be in for the day. For example, for the day we spent in the Louvre, we picnicked close by in the Royal Gardens, a beautiful area of the city with white rose gardens, tree-lined paths and fountains galore. With so much to see at one of the world's most famous museums, it was nice to dip our feet in one of the fountains and spend time in the summer sun without having to find a restaurant (and they all charge an arm and a leg if you're near the Louvre), waiting for a table and for food to be served. Instead we were able to come and go as we pleased and after a nice satisfying meal we returned to walk along more of the famed corridors. We even got to watch part of a movie being filmed in the garden while we ate. 

So what are my tips for picnicking success? There are so many beautiful parks in Paris and in Europe, so you have the fortune of many different picnic locations to chose from. Do your research and you'll have some special memories in some of the most beautiful places in the world.  Also, pack food early in the day before you become hungry so that you don't have to take time-consuming detours to satisfy your stomach.  

Sharing dinner on the lawns below Sacre Coeur made for 
the beginning of an enchanting evening in Montmarte.
Photo Source: Self

Other important pieces of picnic wisdom: Don't  forget to pack a wine opener and cups or glasses to drink from. We had a supply of plastic cups each day in our hotel room that we packed along with cutlery and napkins. Some stores and supermarkets had plastic eating utensils on hand, but with a language barrier it wasn't always easy to ask for these. Finally, be conscious of the weather forecast. If you're visiting London, it may be more difficult to plan regular picnics, whereas we were blessed with consistently amazing weather in Paris. Finally, be aware that although many parks in Paris and elsewhere may have beautifully manicured lawn space, unlike in America, this isn't necessarily up for grabs.  Many gardens and parks in Paris fenced off their lawn space keeping visitors from treading (and eating) in these areas. However, you'll find that there's usually not a shortage of park benches, so grab a seat without a cultural faux paus

On our last day in Paris, Kris and I enjoyed lunch on the banks 
of the Seine with Notre Dame in sight.
Photo Source: Self

The best piece of advice that I could offer is to just soak it all in and carpe diem, seize the moment. 

Best Places to Picnic in Paris 
1. Beneath the Eiffel Tower at dusk. A special treat awaits you as dark approaches. 
2. On the lawn of Sacre Coeur, especially on a weekend evening when the youth of Paris enjoy music and entertainment. Watch the sunset from the beautiful steps of the church, which is the highest point in Paris. 
3. In the Royal Gardens as a lunchtime break from the Louvre.
4. In Luxembourg Gardens. Watch children race toy sailboats in the fountain.
5. On the banks of the Seine with Notre Dame in full view. Enjoy watching riverboats pass you by.
6. In the gardens of Musee Rodin where you'll find the famous "Thinker" statue among a colorful orchestra of blooms.
7. In Place des Vosges, a romantic garden where you may hear a violinist play from time to time. It's also the oldest square in Paris. 

A couple other notable picnic spots include: 

1. Nice, France. Any picnic lunch you could ever dream up is waiting for you at the Cours Saleya Flower Market in Old Nice. Take your pick among the savory tables of treats and then climb La Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill) for phenomenal views of the city. Beautiful waterfalls cascade down the mountainside in the park at top that's littered with ruins of a 6th century chateau. Grab a picnic bench overlooking the beautiful view of the ocean and of neat rows of docked sailboats and yachts. 

Kris and I dined on the fattest olives we've ever had, which were soaked in olive oil and basil. We had delicious, juicy and ripe red raspberries and freshly baked focaccia bread with sun-dried tomatoes. It was a meal fit for a king that cost less than we ever would have paid for one meal for one person at one of the local restaurants! And we enjoyed it from the most breathtaking view of the city!

Kris and I posed in front of a waterfall at the park in the Chateau 
after enjoying a fresh picnic we picked up from 
the famous flower market in Old Nice.
Photo Source: Self

2. While we didn't picnic at Versailles, this would have been the picnic among all picnics! The extensive gardens are beautiful, and there is plenty of lawn space near the main channel where we watched the Grandes Eaux Musicales fountain show begin in the late afternoon. 

So where is your favorite picnic spot in the world? I'd love to hear of any suggestions!  Bonne nuit!


Mary said...

Great advice. Often I just throw some bread, nuts, an apple and a bottle of water in a bag.

Anonymous said...

Really great advice and above of all it is very romantic.

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