Friday, March 18, 2016

Lunches with EF Tours in Europe

This is my second post in my series about my experiences as a Celiac with EF Tours, a travel company specializing in student tours.  For information about the meals provided by EF Tours, click here to read Part 1.

EF Tours provides breakfast and dinner each day, but you buy your own lunch.  That allows you freedom to either choose things that are more familiar to you, or to branch out and try something new.  Sadly, there were many kids who chose to head to McDonalds, Starbucks, or other familiar fast food joints.  (I even heard a teen whine that there was no Wendy's.  Seriously!)  With adult tastes, special needs, and a larger checkbook than the students, I opted for nicer restaurants when I could.  

Let me start by saying that I pre-ordered a GF meal from Delta on the flight there and back.  Three years ago, I got a GF meal on an international flight to Spain (United Airlines) and it was absolutely awful.  I was pleasantly supervised, therefore, that the GF meal on Delta was really good.  

GF Delta
Gluten Free Meal on International Delta Flight
Now, on to Europe!  There were a few occasions when we stopped at rest stops along the highway.  This is unavoidable on a tour like this, as there are days when we spent up to 5 hours on the bus.  I was always able to find something to eat, even if it wasn't always something exciting.  My favorite of these places was Autogrill, which was something like a German version of Buc-ee's.  (For non-Texans, Buc-ee's is the king of all convenience stores along the highway, with clean bathrooms and a huge selection of food and souvenirs.  It's basically a Stuckey's on steroids.)  Autogrill had everything I could ever want, including a small selection of individual Schar snacks.  Yay!

Most of our meals, however, were in the larger towns and we had many restaurants to chose from.

Rothenburg -- I took several of the teens with me into Ratsstube, a restaurant directly across from the Rathaus (town hall).  All of us ordered soup (it was a cold day) and I enjoyed my tomato soup.
GF Ratsstube
Tomato Soup at Ratsstube in Rothenburg

Dachau --  Seriously.  We ate lunch at the cafeteria at the Dachau concentration camp.  Yeesh.  It was hard to have an appetite in such morbid surroundings, but I had a surprisingly good Goulash Soup.  They had pamphlets listing allergens (in German) and the cafeteria lady happened to be gluten free, so she was able to steer me toward the soup.
GF Dachau
Goulash Soup

Innsbruck, Austira --  I was running low on GF snacks by this time, especially breakfast cereal, so I was delighted to find TWO health food stores in the middle of the tourist district in Innsbruck.  (They dropped us off at the Swarovski store.  I assume they get kick backs.  I found the first health food store about a block away.)  I loaded up on snacks and bought some cheese and fruit for my lunch.
GF Innsbruck
Picnic Lunch from a Health Food Store in Austria
Venice --  It was raining and freezing cold the day we were in Venice.  I didn't care where we ate or what we ate as long as it was indoors and warm.  As luck would have it, my random choices were good ones.  The first place was a two-story restaurant named Al Teatro Goldoni, down the street from the Disney store.  I stuck my head in and said "pasta senza glutine?" and the waitress said "si!" so in we went.  We ate upstairs, which was very nice.  It was crowded, but cozy.  Amazingly, they did indeed have GF pasta, and it wasn't terribly expensive at 10 euros, in a city known for price gouging the tourists.  

GF Venice
GF Pasta in Venice

A quick note about restaurants in Italy: they charge a service fee (coperto) per person fee of 1 or 2 Euros that's basically a charge for the privilege of using their chair, tablecloth, forks, etc.  There is no way around it, and that is in addition to the fact that the prices are probably higher if you sit and eat, rather than take your food "to-go."    So the total bill was somewhat more, and I was paying for the three teens with me, but I would happily have paid twice as much for a warm place to wait while the storms died down.
Later we went into a (random) coffee shop to warm up again, and I was delighted to see individually-wrapped gluten free cookies for sale.  My drink was delicious.  The Italians do know their coffee.

Coffee in Venice

Sirmione -- By this point, the teens were no longer willing to eat with me, preferring to wander off on their own (which their actual teachers didn't have a problem with, so I felt I couldn't object) and I was eating by myself in Sirmione, a pretty little seaside town in Italy.  Again, I stuck my head in the door of the most promising looking restaurant, and said "senza glutine?" and they said "Si!"  So I got another gluten free pasta meal in Italy.  Yum!  This time, I did get the name of the place.  It was called Ristorante Pizzeria Modi.
GF Modi
Gluten Free Pasta at Modi in Sirmione

Example of a Coperto in Italy

There was also a gelato place in Sirmione that had a sign saying gluten free, but when I asked the server about it, she warned me that there was cross-contamination issues due to the scoops touching the ice cream cones over and over again.   I appreciated her honesty.

Lucerne -- In Lucerne I was eating by myself again, and took the opportunity to finally have some wine with my meal. Molte grazie! I had gone to the Stadtkeller Brauerei, on the advice of my Find Me Gluten Free app, but was disappointed when the server didn't think there was much on the menu I could eat. I wandered directly across the street to the beautiful Restaurant Fritschi where an English and French speaking server was very helpful. I got cheese fondue in Switzerland! Often in Switzerland, you have the choice of bread or boiled potatoes to go with your fondue, and I love the boiled potatoes. Not only are they gluten free, but they don't fall apart in your cheese the way bread does. I was under the impression that "raclette" meant boiled potato, but Wikipedia tells me it is melted cheese, so I am not sure how to make sure you get those yummy potatoes in German.
Restaurant Fritschi in Lucerne
GF Fondue
Cheese Fondue and Boiled Potatoes

GF Fondue
Cheese-y Goodness in Lucerne

I was feeling pretty guilty about my expensive lunch (40 Swiss Francs) until I met back up with the kids.  One of the ravenous teenage boys went to McDonald's and spent 40 Francs for his three Big Macs, large fries, and Coke.  At least I got a gourmet meal for my $40.  

All in all, it was very easy to find tasty and gluten-free food in all the locations EF Tours dropped us at.  They tended to be very pricey meals, as we were usually in the middle of the tourist district, but that is to be expected for those areas.  I am very happy with my experiences and glad that I went along.


GF with EF Tours


We just returned from a 10 day student trip to Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland with EF Tours.

My high school daughter signed up to take this trip with students from her school. There are few things in the world I wanted to do less than travel on a cheap-o student tour with smelly teens, but because of some health problems my daughter has been experiencing, I did not feel comfortable sending her alone.  So, voila, I became a chaperon.  My expectations were not high, especially when it came to food.  I anticipated living on Laurabars for a week.

Fortunately, I was wrong.  First of all, EF Tours provides fantastic value for the price.  Europe is expensive.  Really really expensive.  So I assumed that for the price we were paying, we would be staying in rat-traps and eating at truck stops.  Not true!

The hotels we stayed at were clean and quaint.  Not luxury hotels by any stretch, but very comfortable.  Hotels in Europe aren't up to American standards anyway, so things like small rooms and spotty Wi-Fi are to be expected, even if you were paying top dollar.

On to the food!  I had the good fortune to have a tour director who was also gluten intolerant. That was helpful, in that she was already thinking about what food was gluten free, so I was never forgotten; however, she had little to do with arranging the food, so sometimes we were both left with less than stellar options.

Breakfast and dinner were included with the package.  I will talk about those meals first.  Lunch we chose and paid for on our own, and I will cover that in a separate post.

Breakfast was always at the hotel.  Some days there was eggs and bacon, some days just cold cuts, but there was always some type of protein being offered.  Breakfast was obviously the hardest thing for me, especially since I don't tolerate eggs well on an empty stomach.  So I brought some packets of cereal with me from home.  Yay, gluten free Cheerios!  Between that and the fruit and yogurt available at most of the hotels, I was in pretty good shape for breakfast.

Dinners were hit or miss, but mostly hits.  Some days we ate in restaurants, some days we ate at the hotel.  Our first night (outside Rothenberg) we ate at the hotel, Gut Wildbad.  The buffet offered mostly pasta, but also salads (green salads and more traditional German salads with tons of vinegar) and soup.  The broccoli cheese soup was gluten free and delicious.  I also enjoyed the German potato salad.

The next night we ate in a "brewery house" in Munich called Franziskaner in der Au.  It was very crowded that night, as there was a "football" (soccer) match on and the pub was filled to the rafters with cheering fans.  On the table, each person had there own individual mason jar with a vinegar-style salad in it.  I think it was Rettichsalat (radish salad), but honestly, I only ate a few bites of it.  I am not a big fan of those types of salads.  It was certainly very German, however, and the presentation was cute.

Bavarian Salad in Munich
Unfortunately, the meal only went downhill from there.  I got rice.  Just rice.  It had a few little veggies on top, more than a garnish, but not by much.  A couple broccoli florets and a few strips of bell pepper.  I had to laugh.  Like I said, the tour guide was stuck with the same meal, so that took the wind out of my sails as far as complaining is concerned.  I mean, I only have to do this once.  She does these tours over and over again.  Yikes.  There was a dessert custard, but the tour director was unsure about it, so I didn't eat it.

The third night was also in Munich, this time at Muhlbacher an der Au.  I did better here, as I was able to eat the same meal as everyone else.  We had chicken, with rice and veggies, and the chicken was very tasty.  For dessert we had a little dish of strawberry yogurt.  By the way, "Au" is the district in which these two restaurants are located, hence both have "an der Au" in their name.

Muhlbacher an der Au

The fourth and fifth nights, we ate dinner at our hotel M14 in Padova.  I loved this hotel!  I had a huge room with wood floors (I hate putting my bare feet on carpets in hotels.  Ick.) and a nice bathroom.  The teens were all amused by the bidets, which most of them had never seen before. Also, they had the only reliable Wi-Fi we saw on this whole trip.
M14 Hotel in Padova

 This hotel does not normally serve dinner, but they had it catered in for us in their banquet room.  The first night they brought me a huge garden salad with shredded pork on top, which was delicious, in lieu of the pasta the teens were eating.  

The next night, I was able to eat the same dish as the kids, which was pork and potatoes.  It was very good.  I assume there was a dessert served here, but I was so tired, I asked to be excused early both nights and went straight to bed.

Our sixth night, we ate a our hotel near Lucerne: the Hotel Engel.  This was a really nifty place.  It was very quaint and sweet, nestled in the Alps, looking so picturesque.

View from my room at the Hotel Engel
Interior of my room at the Hotel Engel

 The meals we ate there were simple, but tasty.  I can't remember, but I think I ate the same meal as the teens on the first night.  The second night, the kids had spaghetti with a meat sauce, and I had chicken with a side of gluten free pasta.
Dinner 1 at the Hotel Engel

Dinner 2 at the Hotel Engel (with gluten free pasta)

Our very last meal was in Heidelberg at a local restaurant called Schnookeloch, a fun and historic pub right in the heart of the Old Town.  It was a very upbeat place to end on, and my food was delicious.  I wasn't served the same dish as the kids.  Instead I got a baked potato with meat and salad. (Beef? Pork?  I am not sure, but it tasted good.)  The potato was smothered in either a creme fraiche or yogurt sauce.  I am not sure which, but it was definitely not sour cream.  Either way, it was good.

So for the most part, EF Tours was a win, food wise.  There were several vegetarians on the trip as well, and they were accommodated too, mostly with pasta.  It's not a foodie experience, but for cheap eats on a student tour, they did very well by me.  I would definitely travel with EF Tours again.