Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Budget Eating in Europe

It has happened to most of us despite our good intentions and rapid forays into bakeries or stores before we leave the railhead, it pours with rain, the temperature plunges and the picnic on the trail is just going to be miserable. Or it can be that you simply have no food with you. In the UK we know that Garden Centres often incorporate excellent cafes and are located on the edges of towns. Reading through various cycling publications makes it clear that these are a boon to the cycling fraternity, since many older teashops have disappeared.
In Germany we’ve found that many supermarkets boast both bakeries and coffee shops, with savoury snacks and all manner of cakes. Discounters and similar outlets have sprung up here too, often on the margins of towns or marked by their signs and flags visible from the cycleway along the river or canal. Well-known furniture stores and other emporia have cafeterias, open from morning until 7 or 8 pm, which offer a great range of dishes, hot and cold, with salad and fruit options to suit almost every taste. OK it is NOT Haute Cuisine, but it is certainly not chips with everything or even ‘portion control’. Prices for a main dish will range from 7-10€, whilst drinks range from about 2.50€ for a normal coffee to a little more for the exotic variety. Beer or wine too, if you fancy them, but don’t forget a bike is a road vehicle like a car and 0.5 is the limit.
Leave your bikes outside, well locked up in the racks and grab a shopping trolley to stick your panniers in and take it with you, there are usually parking areas around the seats. No one will bat an eyelid if you are in complete ‘Tour de France’ gear or in T-shirt and your Dad’s old plus fours. We saw a young man, black singlet, baggy trousers and bare feet sipping a coffee shop latte a few weeks ago, when there was snow on the ground and the temperature close to 0 C. Chacun a son gout and why not!
Within shopping malls there is a choice of many eating styles and foods, some where you stand or perch, where you can have assembled a rocket sized baguette of this or that, collect a great hunk of tasty pizza, plus the usual fast food eateries we know and love or dislike. It will be warm or air conditioned cool inside, usually dry apart from the odd fountain and much more comfortable than the alternative bus shelter or overhanging eave of a barn and its nearby dung heap. It won’t break the bank either. If you are really not keen on waste you can eat your picnic in the evening, as long as your sandwich is well protected from the downpour. We know, we have done all of these things.
We have eaten in the Co-op and Migros chains in Switzerland, where the Swiss Franc goes further and in many French shopping complexes. With what you save you can afford a special meal, candlelight tete a tete, plus the local tipple later on in the trip. A recent feast in Tounus, Burgundy (Bresse chicken pate in pastry, roast hare, and a lemon dessert, plus several little appetisers) was truly delicious but the cost somewhat eye-watering!
Hospitals (Krankenhäusen or Klinik) too are often outside towns and have eating places open to the public, probably intended to mean patients and visitors, but we do know people who eat in hospital cafeterias at least once a week. Many staff and visitors cycle to hospitals here, wearing cycling clothing...so there really is no choice between freezing to death under a hedge at lunchtime or parking your bike and finding the hospital cafe. The hospital folks might get a bit upset if a huge party of tourers appeared, but a friendly group of four or so would be unlikely to be noticed.

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