In Australia, picnics don’t require much thinking.
Well okay, perhaps not beyond where you are going to park the car, if there is enough ice in the Esky to last the day, and the vague hope that you might get through the proceedings relatively unscathed by the native wildlife.
I think this is partly because most parks, beaches, and harbour or riverside locales tend to come ready-made with barbeques, tables and benches. Then there is the ubiquitous fish-and-chips or hamburger purveyor conveniently located nearby, where you can easily fill the gaps should you run out of food or forget to bring the meat.
Now in cities like Paris, Rome or Barcelona, it is well known that everyone loves a picnic. It’s just that you may find yourself in a similar setting to the ones above but without any of the relative comforts of home (but, on the bright side, for the most part without the pesky wildlife).
Picnics in Europe, especially evening ones, can often be a more spontaneous, last minute affair, due to the famous vagaries of the weather. While weekend picnics can be hyper-organised, gourmet gatherings, with the traditional three-course lunch replicated in the open-air, a sudden spike in temperatures during the week in the warmer months could well find you gathering your supplies on the hop after work from a combination of the nearest supermarket, cheese shop, bakery or butcher (prêt à emporter bbq chicken, always a winner!)
And so it has come to my attention over the years that in these situations, people tend to come a little more, shall we say, under-prepared. Or perhaps they are happier to wing it. Either way, I find that this results in wildly varying picnic experiences when just a tiny bit of forward thinking would make for a much better time had by all.
Either way – you guessed it – I have been compiling a little list of things that I feel are essential to the success of your outdoor picnic, and ensure maximum enjoyment with minimum fuss.
1. Some small comforts of home. At the very least, you will need something to sit on and something upon which to place the food.* The grass may still be damp, many riverbanks are paved or covered in concrete, and do you really want to stand all afternoon/evening? It need not be a heavy picnic blanket – a sarong, tablecloth or even a towel will do nicely. I also like to bring a tea towel to act as a tablecloth-cum-placemat, especially for items that could leak or spill while everyone is helping themselves to the bountiful buffet.
*This may all seem blindingly obvious but you’d be surprised how many people turn up with nary a bag of crisps and a six-pack of beer to their name and proceed to stand on the one piece of groundcover, but I digress and am in danger of ranting, so perhaps it’s best I continue.
2. Picnic-friendly attire. Okay this one is a little trickier, and does depend on the location/time of day/expected temperature of your little outing. If it’s daytime, remember that the sun will be shining and therefore any part of you that is exposed to the elements will be subject to its ever-penetrating rays (YES, this includes cloudy days when, contrary to popular opinion, you are actually more likely to burn as you can’t feel the heat on your skin as much, making sunblock even more essential).
The solution? Either cover up completely – a shirt with a collar, lightweight cotton pants or jeans for example – or wear something that won’t cause you too much distress at the end of the day (singlet tops with thin straps or strapless dresses) when you arrive home to find that you only got colour on the bits you left exposed.
Other essential items apart from sunblock include an umbrella (you never know! especially in Paris, and I assure you that you’ll feel a lot less foolish sitting prettily under your parasol during a passing shower, plus it protects the food!), a hat during the day, and a cardigan or lightweight wrap if you are out at night or in the the event that the temperature has dropped significantly by the time you are wending your merry way home.
3. Dining practicalities. I find that, at the bare minimum, plastic cups, one good knife and a few forks if you have something that can’t be eaten with fingers are ample, stretching to plates if you have something a little more difficult to eat. Hot picnic tip!: if you are going to be in a crowded picnic area, I would actually suggest NOT bringing a bottle opener, as I have found from personal experience that this is, in fact, a really good way to meet people as you are forced to wander off amongst the crowds and be sociable in order to find one!
4. The F and B. Sometimes it’s great to plan ahead and give everyone their special something to bring. But sometimes, less really is more and it’s more about the experience than anything else. Liquid refreshments are essential of course, but don’t stress if you haven’t time to make a salad or go all out, it’s just not that important. If I have time, I like to warm up a quiche and take it along with me sliced & ready to eat. Gazpacho is great too as you just pour & drink. Anything you can eat with your hands – cherry tomatoes, fruit, a bit of cheese and some carrots to dip into your hummus – seriously, whatever takes your fancy! As I vividly recall from travelling through the south of France with my parents when I was 8 years old, the most memorable picnics of all can be had parked by the side of the road in the sunshine with a baguette, a slab of cheese and a bottle of wine…
5. Location – to view or not to view? At the end of the day, all you really need for your picnic is somewhere to sit and something to contemplate. Day or night, by the light of a full moon or by a sparkling, sludgy green canal, alone or with a group of like-minded individuals, it’s all about being outdoors and taking some time out. Ahhh, so relaxing!! Scrabble anyone? 😀
Happy picnicking, in style of course!!