Death by Dessert, or How to Watch the World Cup On the Border

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We became pretty solid soccer fans while living in Germany, especially around World Cup time, so on our recent return trip, we were psyched to watch games with our German friends.

For the U.S. v. Germany game, though, we were on our own in France. We planned the whole evening around the game, which aired at 6 p.m. in that time zone.

It was also the only night we could eat at the local Michelin-starred restaurant—and the night they serve a very reasonable prix-fixe menu. So we made a late reservation to fit in both, planning to watch the game at our B & B.

Gourmet Salad

We’d biked 15 miles that day (a lot for us), and I planned to take a shower during half time.

One big problem. After the pre-game commentator chatter, the screen went blank with a message that said something like: “This game is not authorized to be shown in this region.” We flipped around, hoping another station would carry it, but the only game on was the other World Cup match happening at the same time.

Luckily, we were staying right near the German border, so I took a 3 minute shower, hopped into a dress, and we loaded up and drove to the ferry to cross the Rhine. On the other side, my husband knocked on restaurant doors until we found one with public viewing in its little bar area.

The one long table was full of retiree-aged tennis table club members, and the only free seats were at the front with a mustachioed man who’d already had a few too many beers.

He was friendly, though, and when he found out we were American, he told us over and over how much he loved Americans and how the best possible outcome for the game would be a 1-1 tie. He reminded us many times (a few too many) that the German coach and the American team coach (also German) were best friends and how they would both want this.

If you were watching, too, you know the Americans actually lost 0-1. We were disappointed, but after the game, everyone (except the kids) was treated to house-made pear Schnapps while the table tennis team sang the German victory song (is there a name for this?). Everyone was very friendly, and when it was over, we thanked our hosts and dashed back across the river to make our 8:30 reservation.

The restaurant was lovely, with a view to a garden and a stream. The noise level was nearly silent, but our kids were completely awesome and went with the flow.

We opted for the prix-fixe menu and added on the “Festival of Desserts,” which sounded perfect. We envisioned a dessert sampler.

First course (salad above) was great, second course (some kind of meat pie) was amazing. Meanwhile the service was first-rate. Our hostess made sure to graciously inform us when we were missing something, i.e. “You can actually eat those flowers,” and, “Those table decorations are actually pretzels” (in the first photo, the rock-looking things behind the ceramic elves).

Here’s the cheese table, from which we could choose what we liked.

Cheese Course

And then the desserts started. First, a platter of teeny tiny cookies of many kinds. Then, a pastry with gelato. Another pastry with gelato. Another….we were losing count.

French dessert

Surely the cookies had counted as dessert #1. There were supposed to be five desserts in total. Surely the gelato counted for one and the pastry counted for another, right? Wrong. The desserts kept coming, and we slowed down so much that we started getting two at once. The cookies hadn’t even counted as part of the five.

Gourmet dessert

Not only that, but the kids had gotten (included) a dessert of their own, so they couldn’t help us out so much. Still, we were determined to do our duty and eat every bite. On top of the five desserts + cookies + cheese course, there was a tiny truffle course where we could choose our own adventure. How could we say no?

At one point I said, “If they bring another dessert, I’m going to cry,” and we all started laughing, on the verge of breaking the Code of Near-Silence.

Finally we ate our way through the last plate, now having finished enough dessert for about ten people. The last plate was probably my favorite, some kind of cherry cake (pictured above). We rolled out, giggling to ourselves.

My son said the other day, “Let’s never take the circus of desserts next time.” Amen. Maybe just 1/10 of it.

Below is a picture of one of the children’s desserts.

Ice Cream Rabbit

And in case you’re wondering yes, I threw the whole gluten-free eating thing out the window that week. I paid for it the next week, but it was well worth it!

 

 

8 Tips for Traveling with Little Ones in Europe

Tip Number 1: Leave them at home!

For real. Unless you have a few weeks on your hands, think about it. Do you really want to drag a jet-lagged toddler to the hours-long line at the museum you’ve always dreamed of visiting? 

But you have your reasons, you say, and so do we. Since we’re living here in Europe for awhile, when we go on vacation, it’s usually on this continent. And it’s been great fun to explore  as a family, although a bit different from how we’d do it as a couple.

On to the real tips. These are a few things we’ve learned to help maximize the fun and minimize the stress. Maybe these ideas will help you.

1) Consider the countryside or small towns over big cities

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not avoiding the biggest cities altogether, but in general we find it’s much easier to navigate smaller towns with small kids. The pace of life is a bit slower, and people seem more understanding of children. It’s easier to find your way around, which makes everything else a little less stressful. And of course, there are fewer crowds.

2) Rent an apartment, or look ahead for family rooms or suites

Can you sleep in the same room with your darlings? Well, lucky you. We can’t. Luckily, there are options for light sleepers like us. We’ve done a lot of house/ cottage/ apartment rentals. These allow more space for sleeping as well as cooking facilities and often laundry facilities, too. This is usually more affordable than staying in hotels, too.

It does take more work to find a rental than to find a well-known hotel. For me, the benefits are worth it. We have had success with the following websites:

Home Away

This by far my favorite website when it comes to finding rentals because it’s well-designed, easy to use, and infinitely searchable. Covers every country all across the globe. In most cases, you rent directly from the owner.

National Gite Registry

This site used to have an English version, but currently I can’t find it to save my life—maybe it was removed? If you’re looking to rent in France, especially on a farm or vineyard, this site has everything. Google translate, if not completely fluent, is your friend.

Rent-a-Villa in Tuscany

This site/ agency is easy to use and designed for the English-speaking traveler in mind. An added bonus: you can order meals to be cooked in your villa—-so convenient with the kids.

I also hear good things about interchalet.co.uk. It’s another well-designed site, but I haven’t rented through it personally.

Rental options are often but not always limited to rental by the week. If you can’t find an option for a shorter stay, or you don’t need separate rooms, or you want a more full-service experience, look for “family rooms.” Hotels usually have limited numbers of these, so it helps to think ahead.

3) Book a fun place to hang out

Traveling with small children usually means you’ll spend some time sitting around while your kids sleep, whether for naps or at bedtime. We’ve found we feel a lot less trapped if we book a place that isn’t just a crash pad. If we can enjoy a view or sit on a pretty porch or balcony, we don’t mind (so much) having to settle in early for the night. Add a glass of wine and good book and you’re all set.

4) Plan ahead

We’ve found in general here that you’re expected to book anything (hotels, restaurants, museums) well in advance, and you might miss out if you don’t. This is not the land of the last minute. We recently booked a place two months in advance and were told it was a “last-minute” reservation. You’ll have a LOT better luck with restaurants if you make reservations a day or more ahead. Also, many popular attractions have a book-ahead option. You can reserve a time slot and save hours of line-waiting. Totally worth it.

While you’re thinking ahead, try getting the kids interested in the history or artwork of a place before your travel. It goes a long way in keeping their attention. Look for children’s books related to the city or country you’re visiting.

5) Beware safety issues

As an American, I was used to having lots of rules telling me where I could and couldn’t take my kids. You don’t find that much here. Often it’s nice, because you can make up your own mind. However, there have been times when we took our littlest one on an adventure that, in retrospect, probably wasn’t the best idea for him (i.e. high places with little in the way of railing). So, check things out before you climb because chances are, no one is going to stop you from doing something risky.

6) Research the local restaurant culture

Every country seems to be different on the whole restaurant scene, and it helps to know what to expect. In our year in Europe, we’ve found only one restaurant that provides crayons and a coloring page. Definitely bring your own. Some restaurants will have a children’s menu, but many don’t. We’ve gotten good at figuring out how to adapt a menu for children. Most restaurants will work with you on that.

While we’ve found establishments to be pretty tolerant of children, many just aren’t adapted for the under five set. In France and Italy, for instance, we found no restaurants that opened for dinner before 7:30 p.m., and a lot opened even later.

Also in France, you are expected, almost required (by the way the menu is set up) to order four or more courses. It’s fabulous, but it’s a long time to entertain your little ones while you try to enjoy the food. On our vacations we’ve done a lot of eating out for lunch and then making a light supper at our apartment.

Always make reservations. The best places get filled up quickly, so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stroll in and find a table. Unlike American restaurants, European ones often only take one seating per table per night, so once they’re all reserved, that’s the end of them. The nice part is that once you have a table, you can take as long as you like.

In addition to restaurants, make sure to visit the produce markets, which are a wonderful way to enjoy the local food with the kids along.

7) Together, learn (at least) the politeness words in the language of your host country

Not only is it fun, and, you know, polite, but words like “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “please” go a long way when your kids are laughing too loudly or diving under the table at a nice restaurant.

8 ) Think outside the tourist attraction

That museum you’ve always wanted to see? It may be a little hard to do with your little ones. Maybe you’ll want to swap off kid-duty with your spouse. Or maybe you’ll want to try what we do, which is to look for attractions that have an interesting outside component. This doesn’t mean limiting yourself to playgrounds and amusement parks, though those can be fun, too.

Many historic sights and even museums have outside grounds that are just as fabulous as the inside, if not more. Having a little space to run around can make all the difference between a great time or a stressful day.

Have fun planning your trip! If you enjoyed this post, you may want to read other posts about places we’ve enjoyed as a family in Europe:

Germany:

Hamburg, Celle, Mosel Valley, North Sea, Bueckeburg Castle

The Netherlands:

In and Around Amsterdam

Italy:  Siena, Pisa, Volterra

Sketch from Burgundy

 

I haven’t had a chance to say anything about our trip to France over the summer. I had always wanted to go, so it was really a dream come true. I took a bajillion pictures, some of which I may share on flickr if you’re interested. We spent time in La Camargue, on the coast, and in Burgundy. We loved it all, but the week in Burgundy was so relaxing. I was dying to paint for the first time in ages. I still love to paint, but it’s not often that I get this overwhelming urge to do it—-or even the head space to think about it. Right now it’s just not a very practical pursuit (oil painting anyway), so, I drew a tiny bit.

We could see this church from our bedroom window, and we walked by it nearly every day. I photographed it in every possible light. There’s just something about its simple elegance that struck me.

I was a little anxious but also excited to try out my rusty schoolgirl French. It was received very warmly, I’m glad to say, and we managed just fine. It actually made me feel more confident about using my German back here in Hannover. I’m beginning to accept that it’s okay for me to speak bad German and use hand gestures—-this is the only way I’m going to get better at it, after all. Though I do start German class again next week, which I’m really glad about.