Summer is a time for family, for friends and for indulging in a little sun worship. Ah, picnics; many of us have fond memories of those lazy afternoons in the company of our nearest and dearest while snaffling delicacies off a pristine gingham cloth. Many of us, though, were lucky if we got a scraggy piece of lettuce, some lukewarm potato salad and a curled up sandwich. And let's not mention the ants.
Below you'll find a way to recapture those halcyon days with ease, thanks to the wisdom of the h2g2 Community.
In a park, you can buy ice-cream and soft-drinks (just in case you forgot, didn't bring enough or want to have it cold). Parks are usually easily accessible by public transportation (Hyde Park in London, Central Park in New York or the Englischer Garten, Munich. They are easy to find by other people in case someone wants to meet there and they usually have sufficient wastebins to get rid of the detritus. Also, there is the questionable comfort of public toilets and mowed grass. Another advantage is that there are always extra people to play frisbee or volleyball with.
However, parks tend to be crowded at weekends, and that can be a nuisance.
Mountains and the Great Outdoors
The relax-factor on this type of picnic can easily reach 100% with fresh air and a perfect landscape. It is more exciting than picnicking in the park, and you have a tighter bond to the surrounding nature. There are no crowds either.
You will, however, need perfect organisation; how to get there, not to forget anything etc. Nature is beautiful but for the one preparing the picnic ground it is sometimes a hindrance (insects, stones, high grass). You'll also need to pay heed to waste, WC, injuries etc. Great outdoor picnics require long term planning and stable weather but they are ideal when combined with hiking.
Gardens and Rooftops
Unusual, but hey, why not? They are very spontaneous and require almost no preparation. Many people live or work near a picnic place and don't even realise it. It's an ideal pretext to take the kids out in the afternoon.
Great Picnic Places
Below is a list of some great picnic spots from around the world:
Regent's Park, London, UK, before taking in one of the plays at the Open Air Theatre.
Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian, Scotland, has a really beautiful lakeside with a gorgeous view of one of Scotland's most historic palaces.
The Grand Harbour, Valetta, Malta, in order to savour the history of one of Europe's most historic and sought after locations.
Anywhere in Paris (Bois de Boulogne, Place Vendôme, Montmatre, to name but a few).
Richmond Park, is the one place in London you can almost get away from the traffic noise.
On any sandy beach where you can hear the waves lap shore.
The Teirgarten in Berlin is perfect and the short stroll to the zoo, or the Brandenburg Gate, is ideal to walk off the excess after indulging.
Any beach in Cornwall, UK.
The Rocher des Domes, Avignon, France with the Rhône snaking around the famous bridge below and flora in abundance.
Under an umbrella with the one you love; location is irrelevant as the rain patters off the brolly.
Here are some interesting and/or enjoyable places to picnic:
- In a hotel room
- In a canoe
- In pitch blackness (lots of fun, but rather messy)
- On top of the monkey bars in a playground
- In a treehouse
- On a barge
- On one of those inflatable pool floaty things
- During a university lecture
- Beside a slow moving river or a tinkling stream
- Under a tree where it is cool enough to do stuff but warm enough to lounge
- In an art gallery
- Any Green Open Space in an Urban Area
- In you own front room, with the windows open on a warm summer's evening. With candlelight, wine and chilled strawberries and ice cream for afterwards. This beats them being squashed and melted, adds to the intimacy and saves on the washing up.
And then there's theme picnics. For example, if you picnic at the zoo, eat food as the different animals do (ie, eat honey with your hands, or use your feet to peel bananas). Again, rather messy, but pretty hysterical as well.
Picnics in Helsinki
The Finns are very keen on picnics, so much so it's become something of a spectator sport...
The two big picnics are on May Day and Midsummer's Day. May Day because it's the first date in the calendar where the weather is decent enough to even think about a picnic, and Midsummer because this lot are all druids; participants would deny it of course, but how else would you explain them staying up until midnight on Midsummer's Eve singing traditional folk songs and then lighting a bonfire to celebrate the start of Midsummer's Day? Granted not many of them dress up in sheets, but they do dance around in circles.
Back to the picnics. There is a big park in Helsinki and come 1 May and Midsummer's Day, those who haven't gone off to their summer cottages congregate for a mass picnic. Those that get there early get to sit on the grass, get out their picnic hampers and drink cheap champagne. Those that arrive late join what can best be described as 'spectator's row'. The park gets very busy in the mid-afternoon, and those without space to sit down take to the paths through the park. The most popular route takes you around in a spiral up to the top of a small hill in the middle of the park, from where you can gaze contentedly on those lucky enough to have somewhere to sit and eat.
As for why they do it, who knows? Some would suggest it is a combination of climate, vodka, and radiation leakage from mobile phones.
One of the important things is to check before you go is to make sure the park allows dogs. Dogs love to get out, meet other people, and other dogs. It's a great chance to spend some quality time with your pet. Of course, it's common courtesy to bring a bag to pick up droppings along the way.
Below is a short list of items that you really do not want to forget on your picnic.
- Sunglasses - it might be sunny, you never know
- Sun tan lotion - you never know, it might be sunny
- Newspapers - something to read. Big Sunday Supplements with colour magazine sections last a long time
- Notebook - for writing down interesting things
- Portable barbecue - if permitted
- Ice cooler
Items not to Bring
- A radio or music system of any kind, for the sake of others
- An unruly dog can cause a nuisance and spoil the enjoyment for other people
No rucksacks/backpacks or plastic shopping bags allowed! Upscale shops sell elegant and expensive wicker baskets filled with real china, stainless flatware, glasses, cork pull, and a nice, cotton cloth. The drawbacks are - aside from the cost - that these baskets are really heavy after you add in your food and drink. Unless one of your picnicking companions is quite buff and burly, stick with plastic cups, utensils and plates.
A cool bag/box is an absolute must. Put your food (and drinks) in it to get everything to the picnic site, with ice blocks on top. There's nothing worse than having warm drinks. It will also keep raw food (if you're planning on doing a barbecue) at a safe temperature, at which bacteria will not multiply.
You can get cool bags now designed especially to fit around boxes of wine. They even have a little hole type thing for the tap to poke out, which means you can keep your wine chilled even when you're pouring it.
Boules (pronounced 'bool') is a great picnic game because it can be played on most surfaces (grass, sand, tarmac), is very easy and involves the whole family. Cheap boules sets, made from coloured plastic, are available in many tourist shops, such as beach huts, and they work just as well. More expensive versions are made of metal, and are very heavy. With the metal boules you distinguish between the players by the stripe patterns engraved into the boules. Official rules will probably be supplied, but the basic principle is to try and chuck (by an underarm swinging motion) the big balls as close as possible to the small ball, called the 'jack', or conchonet (if you want to be fancy). Whoever threw the ball that ends up closest to the jack wins the round. You can also play by a points system where you get one point for coming closest but with someone else coming second, two points for the two closest balls, and so on. Only the winner gets any points. The game can be played with two players, with four balls each, or three or four players, with two balls each.
If the weather is pleasant, take some watercolours. Even if you are not so good at painting, it's a bit more personal and fulfilling than a photo of a picnic scene.
Fruit! Lots of fruit. Whatever is in season, strawberries (with or without cream), raspberries, bananas, apples, pears, and so on. You may also be able to pick blackberries if you can find any on nearby bramble bushes. Ham is traditional picnic food for meat eaters; you could go for the wafer-thin processed stuff found in the supermarkets, but you're on a picnic, so treat yourself to some nice stuff from a delicatessen. Parma ham is particularly nice if you can find some. Cheese, nuts and olives are also firm favourites with many people.
Just a few tips on how to keep creepy-crawlies out of your picnic food:
Food covers - These can be purchased from garden stores, or even places like Habitat or Cargo, who do quite nice patterned ones. They are very much like umbrellas, but without the handle in the middle. Get the largest one that you can afford, so that you can cover the food all in one go.
Citronella candles - Great if you are having a picnic in your garden. The natural citronella extract is meant to be a really good bug deterrent. Oh and it smells quite nice too - lemony and citrus. These do tend to be a fire risk in the outdoors, so remember to totally extinguish them and remove any matches from the area when you have finished.
Portable bug zapper - These run on batteries, and attract bugs towards them, and well, they soon become rather dead bugs.
Wrap food up - Keep food covered, eg, sandwiches in polythene wrap, other stuff in plastic pots. This means that even if bugs crawl over it, they are still protected by the wrap or the container.
Don't use sprays or bug powder - The chances are that you will get them into your food. Not very nice as these will cause stomach upsets.
Be aware! - Keep an eye on you food; if you do see that a wasp or other bug intends to eat it before you, wave it away with a newspaper.
Take your litter home
That way the perfect picnic spot remains a perfect picnic spot.