We’re travelling a lot this summer. Moving around with three small children is never easy, particularly when it comes to lunch. In our pre-children days Tanya and I loved nothing better than exploring a town or village and discovering a new restaurant or cafe in which to have a leisurely meal. It’s one of the delights of living in France.
These days our priorities are slightly different. A month or so ago, we’d turned off the motorway on the way to Spain and were heading into central Beziers. Still thinking like our old selves, we’d resolved to have a wander around and soak up the atmosphere of a town we’d visited before and loved. Our intentions changed in an instant:
‘Playground’ shrieked my wife, as we passed by a Buffalo Grill located in an Industrial zone. I slammed on the brakes and performed a sharp right turn. It was 11.45am, even the French office worker had yet to down tools, but for Tanya and I the prospect of being able to sit at a table and eat a meal, while the children amused themselves in an adjacent fenced-in playground, was just too good to miss. The charming streets of Bezier could wait. For the record the Steak frite in the Buffalo grill was good and well priced, at least equal to the food served up in many cafes.
Fast forward to our trip to Italy, at the beginning of August. We were in the village of Barcelonette, in the far North of Provence on the Anglo/Italian border. We’d eaten in a bar glacier in the usual chaotic fashion, trying to get reviving mouthfuls of spag-bol down the throats of our exhausted kids. The bill came and I politely queried it. The young waiter agreed with me. I’d asked for children’s portions and been charged the full price. Enter the owner. Upset at his sharp-handedness being revealed in front of his clientele he started shouting at us: ‘Next time I’ll charge you extra for the mess your children have made.’
We left and entered Italy. By this stage we’d given up on eating out. En famille we entered a panatecca to buy some sandwiches. The old lady behind the counter raised her hands to the heavens. ‘Mama Mia, que bella.’ What follows is a terrible approximation of Italian….’que bella familia,’ she said calling to her husband and looking to the heavens, while waving her hand excitedly to calm her beating heart. The husband arrived. He too threw his arms to the skies, ‘cosa bella,dios mios, bambalinos’ ‘Mama’ he cried and a grandmother entered the shop. Before long the entire extended family of the panatecca owners’ was standing chattering away about our children. Sandwiches, they enquired, if we wanted we could come into the backroom and they’d feed us pasta with Mama’s special sauce until we popped.
We’d arrived in Italy….the land that loves children.
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