There is more to life than snacking, some say. I submit there is also less.
Wherever I wander, I delight in finding a cafe or bistro in which to enjoy a cup of coffee and a nutritious nibble. I especially like places with atmosphere close to my day's destination.
That's why I favor a coffeehouse called Odinn a block off Dam Square in central Amsterdam. I was led there by a handsome black cat, which started to cross my path but didn't.
Chamber music--mostly Mozart--was playing in the background. Ceiling fans turned slowly in front of old gilt mirrors. My husband ordered a Heineken; I chose a mug of rich coffee with thick Dutch cream. Amber lights glowed near the dark wood bar. Conversation was at a murmur.
I chose a small plate of brown bread and cheese and read the list of tempting sandwiches and omelets. Odinn's is in a narrow pedestrian passage called Zoutsteeg. It shares the block with arty poster shops and a sweet-smelling bakery.
A tempting spot on Dam Square (which the Dutch call "Dam") is the cafe in the Nieuwe Kerk, the "New Church," whose origins date to the 15th Century. A carillon of bells plays every half hour, day and night. Recitals on its 16th- and 17th-Century organs add to the mood.
Small candles glow in white crystal globes on each table. On warm days there is dining outside under umbrellas. People-watching can fill hours.
Church suppers and lunches have caught on in much of Europe. One of my favorite such restaurants is in the vaulted basement of St. Martin-in-the-Fields by London's Trafalgar Square. The food is tasty, the price is right and the location makes it convenient for before- or after-theater snacks. A bookshop and brass rubbing center share this historic site.
Nearby Soho restaurants continue to bring raves from London friends. A savvy critic just wrote that she is mad for Sutherlands on Lexington Street and Burts on Dean Street. I can hardly wait to check for myself.
My favorite snack in England is a traditional ploughman's lunch: a chunk of English Cheddar or Stilton, fresh bread and butter and adornments such as celery, tomato, pickled onion and chutney. Fancier pubs add options such as farmhouse pate or prawns.
In Bergen, Norway's second-largest city, though possibly first in spirit, I followed local advice to Peppe's Pizza, about 150 feet from the flower and fish markets at the harbor. Peppe's is off a dark timber corridor behind a famed row of gabled houses begun in the 14th and 15th centuries, when the Hanseatic League of northern ports ruled the waves of trade.
As I left Peppe's, a downpour hit. I took tea in the lobby of the SAS Royal Hotel, whose architect incorporated the pitched roof lines of the Hanseatic style. A framed poster in a hotel shop glittered with gilt raindrops that pelted a coastal forest and town. Its ecological plea was perfect for drizzle-prone Bergen: Save The Rain.
For snacking on a meal-size level, I would go back to the smorgasbord of the Bulls' Eye cafe at Bergen's classic Hotel Norge. This cozy eatery is named for the famed Norwegian violinist Ole Bulls, whose statue stands in a little park across the street.
In America there are few better brisk-weather pick-me-ups than fresh-baked gingerbread and a cup of steaming cider from the kitchens off Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg, Va. Shops throughout the restored village sell copies of old baking forms, as well as 17th-Century recipes for mulled ciders and spicy herb teas.
And across another ocean, in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, I succumbed to macadamia nut cookies at Suzanne's Bake Shop (open seven days a week), across from the ocean-front garden of the governor's palace on Alii Drive.
I view snacking as a worthy part of travel research. How better to check on local tastes?
One morning when I was browsing in the bookstore/coffeehouse of Upstart Crow in San Diego's Seaport Village, I heard myself order a slice of apple pie with a mug of autumn mocha. The work never stops . . . even 15 miles from home!