I’m typing this from my comfy Eurostar train seat in the Chunnel under the English Channel, heading for London. My daughter and I have been away from home since 25 June and we go home again 15 July. We’ve had an amazing trip with stops in Brussels, Munich, Salzburg, Venice, Rome, Florence, Milan, Paris and London. Being a long time fan of a certain late night host (don’t want to name names in case it’s a copyright infringement), here are my Top Ten Lessons Learned from Two Weeks in Europe.
- Mass transit is awesome. We’ve used trains to get all over Europe and it’s been a pleasant and efficient way to travel. There’s no way we could’ve traveled to so many countries if I had been trying to drive us all over the place. While it’s not cheap, it’s nice not to have to drive or worry about finding parking. It’s also great to be able to take a short nap on the train, which is generally frowned upon while driving. Getting used to the nuances of each city’s system was another story, but we usually got the general hang of it by the second day.
- I really appreciate the availability of bathrooms in most restaurants and stores in the U.S. that are clean and free. Having to pay to use a Water Closet is overrated.
- Europeans smoke. A lot. Everywhere. It’s really annoying. Ok, let me put this in a positive light. I am so thankful for the “no smoking” laws in the States. While there are still many instances in the US where I encounter second-hand smoke it’s nothing compared to here.
- Holy cow is Europe ever expensive! Or, maybe the US Dollar just sucks. Either way, YIKES! How much would you expect to pay for a 20 oz. bottle of Coke in the US, maybe $1.75 or $2? Try double that (or more) over here. Drink water instead. Except…there are not very many drinking fountains (bubblers for some of you) to fill up water bottles. There were a bunch in Italy, but not so much in the other countries we visited. And I really don’t care for buying bottled water for my daily travels or even when dining out. Speaking of dining out…
- Ordering a meal from a waitress who doesn’t speak English is a bit difficult. And I wish it wasn’t so awkward to ask if the tip is included in the bill. I did find out from a restaurant employee in Florence (on our last day in Italy, of course) that “Italians never tip” since it’s included in the bill. Yet, in France it wasn’t. Or was it? I really don’t know because I got two different answers from two workers in the same Irish establishment in Paris. Come on Europe, make up your mind. I don’t want to be rude but I also don’t want to be a sucker and tip when it’s already been included.
- Tourists are easy marks. We stick out even if we try to blend in. There’s no way around it. Embrace it and be prepared to get asked for money by every beggar in every Metro station. And whatever you do, don’t accept flowers from a nice guy in a public area. He’s not being nice. He’s going to expect you to pay him for his, um, “niceness”. Same for the girl in the train station who will find you wandering in the station and ask you sweetly if she can help you. If you let her help you out then you can expect she’s not helping you simply out of the goodness of her heart. She’s going to expect to be paid for her 5-10 minutes of assistance. Although, if you look at it as a chance to skip the long lines at the ticket counter and a learning opportunity (how to use the automated ticket machine) then it’s not such a bad deal. Be warned.
- Sandals might not have been the best idea for a three week trip. Not because there’s so much walking. Nope, they’ve been just fine for all the walking. Because they stink. Literally. Probably doesn’t help that I’ve gotten them wet from the rainy places and they’ve never fully dried out. My shoes and feet are so smelly every evening that I have to wash my feet with soap and water and put the offending footwear as far away from my daughter as possible. I also douse them with baby powder nightly. Still doesn’t fully cover the smell. Oops. I’d consider buying some shoes but doubt I could find anything in a size 16.
- Basketball is a universal language. I saw some teenagers playing hoops at a park near our hotel in Paris and watched them for a few minutes. A few of them approached me and invited me to play with them. They were enamored with my height (over 2 meters!) and ability to dunk without much effort (yay 9’ rim) despite wearing my stinky sandals. One boy gave me the nickname of “Easy” because I kept making so many mid and long range jumpers without much (apparent) effort. They also wanted to know if I knew LeBron James because we’re both from America.
- Sometimes after waiting in line for an hour or two to enter a specific tourist attraction (that happens to be historical) it doesn’t live up to expectations. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Vatican/Sistine Chape, Mona Lisa and Palace of Versailles. Sometimes it does click (Eiffel Tower, Venice, David statue) and it makes it all worth it. You just never know.
- I’m pretty sure that people taking selfies EVERYWHERE is just about as annoying as all the smokers ruining the nice clean air I want to breathe. Of course, if you can’t snap your mug in front of whatever thing you’re seeing and post it on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter then it didn’t really happen, right?
Note: I typed this on 10 July but neglected to post it until now (14 July) because we were having so much fun in London.