It’s Monday morning and we’re on the 8:12 train, heading for the Austrian Alps on our way from Salzburg, Austria to Venice, Italy. My 14 year old daughter (E) and I left Seattle, Washington, last Wednesday and still have over two weeks left on our European vacation. Here are a few of the highlights/lessons learned from our first five days.
- It’s always best to be patient and polite. Despite a multitude of travel problems getting out of Seattle (cancelled flight, missed connections, no electronic ticket, long wait on hold…) I was able to keep my cool and not get frustrated at the people or circumstances. It was a good opportunity to extend grace to others even when inside I felt like releasing a Walt Whitman-like “barbaric yawp”.
- #1 is easier said than done, especially when you’re really really tired and just want to sleep somewhere that is comfortable. But we did it.
- American “passion” for the World Cup is nothing compared to the “PASSION” of Europeans. Yikes. They’re simply mad about it here. Cup Crazy. And it doesn’t matter if their team is any good, as demonstrated by the large crowd of people in London-Heathrow who gathered in front of the TVs to watch the U.S.-Germany game on 26 June. We arrived at our hotel in Brussels just before the start of Belgium’s last game and could hear the cheers and groans of the fans from our room. The loud cheering and horns just after midnight were a little annoying but an indicator of the passion they have for their team. The fever is everywhere. We spent two days in Germany and one in Austria and saw signs, posters, shirts, hats and more all over the place. I guess the only thing I could compare it to is the fervor of NFL fans for their teams, but on a national scale. (Bears fans, think about how you would’ve felt if you’d beaten the Packers in the NFC title game in 2011. Or how you felt in 1985.)
- There are a lot of really nice people out there who are willing to talk and visit. We’ve met so many people in just five days of traveling. Thanks to the 10 1/2 hour delay in Seattle we chatted with several fellow passengers who we wouldn’t have known if our flight had been on schedule. A kind lady on the train to Munich sat next to me and helped translate the announcements and even helped us find a hotel upon our arrival. Turns out that she’s a Literature professor at Shenandoah University in northern Virginia, back in Germany for some research this summer. While in Germany I met some people from Australia and some from Bulgaria. I learned that I’m terrible at deciphering accents. Except for American accents. Which leads me to my next point.
- Americans are obnoxious tourists. Case in point: while at a small bakery/café in rural Austria on Sunday, the loudest group was a table of five Americans. Completely unaware that their obscenity-laced conversation was dominating the entire room. Come on, people. We can be better than that. I’d expect such self-absorbed behavior from middle schoolers, not from grown adults.
- I’m tall. No. REALLY TALL! So tall that lots of people feel the need to point it out to me. I’m not remotely bothered by it. More entertained. At the train station in Cologne a guy who came around begging for money proceeded to dramatically point out how tall I am. Yeah, I’m 5’20” and I wear clown shoes. Move on.
- I wore a Packers football shirt on our trip to see castles in Bavaria. It was fun to see so many people say “Go Packers” upon seeing my shirt. Met people from Madison, Waukesha, Waupaca and Appleton. One guy from Atlanta, older and retired, asked me where I was from in Wisconsin. He knew Neenah (the city where I grew up) and all the cities in the Fox Valley…even Little Chute, Kimberly, Kaukauna and Combined Locks. Apparently he did a lot of business up there back in his day. What a small world. Then there was the guy from the suburbs of Chicago who saw my shirt…but what could he say? Turns out he’s a really nice guy (despite his taste in football team) and we had a pleasant conversation on our hike to the bus stop from the castle.
- I can understand why a lot of Germans settled in the Midwest when they came to the United States years ago. The rolling countryside of Bavaria is just like what you see in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Seeing the green fields, cows and barns seemed just like “home”.
- The public transportation here in Europe is amazing. We’ve taken trains everywhere and it’s been terrific. No hassles about parking. I can read or blog (like I am now) or enjoy the scenery. There is always a nearby WC for when nature calls. And you can rest. E has discovered that sleeping on trains is a great way to fight jet-lag. You just can’t do that if you’re driving. Too bad we Americans are so obsessed with our cars. And I’m certainly guilty of that.
- Solar power. I wonder how much less reliance on fossil fuels we would have in America if we put solar panels on top of our buildings? It’s so common here. There were even solar farms with hundreds of panels in dozens of rows. The technology exists. Why don’t we use it?
- Europeans seem to get a lot of lifestyle exercise. Our legs are already sore from all of the walking we’ve been doing and we’ve only been here for four days. A ten to fifteen minute walk is not considered a big deal over here. Maybe I should try to implement some of that mentality in my own life. Build in extra time for walking. Or biking. There are also a lot of bikers, including parents pulling young children. Even in the rain.
- A good breakfast is a very good thing. We’ve enjoyed the fresh fruits, pastries, eggs and sausages every morning so far.
- I can understand more German than I thought I would. My Spanish minor from college isn’t helping me much, but there are quite a few words that I pick up from time to time when hearing German announcements or reading sign
- Rude cell phone users know no nationality. They’re everywhere. Trains. Cafes. Shops. Hotel lobbies. Sidewalks. Bus stops. Even castles and gardens. The lady in the train compartment with us is now on her third call. Seriously.
- Speaking of cell phones…it’s been nice not having cell coverage here. Unplugged vacation (at least during the day) is quite a throwback. While having a smart phone is nice it’s been pleasant to use it just as a camera during the day. I will admit that there have been multiple times that I would’ve googled something to find out more about where we were but couldn’t since I have no coverage here. Yet, we still managed.
- Don’t buy stinky cheese and then put it in your backpack. Even if it’s wrapped and double-bagged in Zip-Lock bags it’s still going to stink. It was going to be my lunch today but I don’t think my fellow passengers on the train would be very happy if I opened it up. Although, if that lady next to me starts on her cell phone again…
- I really love history. I knew that already but it’s being confirmed on this trip. And, it appears that E loves it as well. She impressed our tour guide (who happens to be a history professor in Switzerland) with her knowledge on our trip to the castles in Bavaria. While over half our tour group rudely talked during his short historical presentation (on the train to the castles), E was really into it and he was pleased. So much that on the way back after the tours he came over and spent a lot of extra time telling us more details and sharing interesting tidbits with us that the rest of the group didn’t hear. Which reminds me, history is fascinating when presented properly. It’s too bad that so many people hate history because of the boring way it’s often taught in schools. Hearing about how King Ludwig of Bavaria sold his kingdom to King Bismarck of Prussia for money to build his famous Neuschwanstein Castle was incredible. But, that’s not all to the story. It gets better. Yet, we only learned that information because our tour guide happens to love history and shared his passion with us. Without him, we wouldn’t have known that, to this day, King Ludwig is still despised and hated by the people of Bavaria. And that his castle, made famous by Walt Disney, is a symbol of greed and selfishness to the locals while a beautiful tourist spot for almost everyone else. Also, in the nearby small town of Füssen there is a statue of the uncle of King Ludwig who removed Ludwig from the throne. Every day a new wreath or crown of some sort is placed upon his head by the local people, as display of their affection for him, even though these events all took place over 125 years ago. Now, THAT is history coming alive.
- I miss my family. Don’t get me wrong. I’m loving this trip and the break from the daily responsibilities of being a Stay At Home Dad. But, seeing little kids with their parents makes me miss my own kids that are at back in the States. I especially miss the snuggling and cuddling of my little girls, ages 4 and 1. But, then I hear the same cute kids fussing, fighting or screaming and I don’t miss them quite as much. I really appreciate FaceTime. It’s nice to see my family for at least a few moments.
- Of course, visiting so many romantic spots here makes me miss my own true-love, but I doubt anyone wants me to go on about that. If they’re reading this, I’m sure my own kids are losing their appetites at the very thought. I love her and am thankful for her hard work at home to care for our kids (with the help of her mom – thanks!) and to fund this trip.
- Finally, I’m reminded of the importance of this one on one time with my daughter. She’s really a great person and I like being around her. The memories that we’re making on this trip are priceless and precious. I’m looking forward to what the next two weeks holds in store for us.
Check out many more photos of our trip on the Big Cheese Dad Facebook page. Watch for daily additions to the Europe Trip 2014 album. We’re going to be in Italy for the next week, followed by a few days in Paris before finishing our trip in London.
Having just been to Germany myself spending 2 weeks on holiday and 1 week working, I can relate personally to much of this. It is refreshing to hear an American say what the rest of the world knows; American tourists are the loudest, most obnoxious and most arrogant of all travellers. Having said that, I had 3 couples on my tour who were American and all 3 acknowledged that trait and wanted to show the couples from England, Scotland and Australia that they could buck the trend.
On a different note; castles and cheese. 2 things that are abundant in Germany and 2 of my loves. So glad you experienced both on your trip.
It’s been my experience on two Alaskan cruises and countless other trips that Americans are so poorly behaved compared to others as a whole. Sadly, I doubt most are even aware of how the rest of the world perceives them. Or would even care if they knew.