Originally published 8 January 2017
Great views from the tower in Venice
We're home. We arrived into Philadelphia Saturday afternoon, in the middle of a snowstorm. We got off the plane, looked at the departures board, and were greeted with the word "cancelled" way too often. When we arrived at our flight, it was delayed. We kept our fingers crossed and our flight actually brought us home. It was, however, about 90 minutes late. We'll take it.
I started back to work today and arrived to my cubical built into "ye olde cottage cubical". I guess they thought I'd miss Europe so they were trying to ease me back into things. I still work at Tennessee Tech. I work at a fantastic place, I have a fantastic boss, and I have fantastic co-workers. Coming back to work in a situation like that really isn't like going back to work. It's like coming home.
As with all my previous blogs, I'll address things about this trip. As in the past, they are in no particular order. I basically comment on them as they come to mind. So......here we go!
American Airlines- Well....this trip we flew with American Airlines. We booked a scandalously cheap flight back and forth and decided to give them a try. There was good and bad. The good was that any time we dealt with actual people like counter folks, flight attendants, basically any human that worked at American, they were great. They got us there pretty much on time and got us home during a snowstorm. They didn't lose our bags. All of these are positives.
When it came to ANYTHING electronic or web based, I've yet to find anything that worked right. When I tried to check in online, it let Laurie check in. It refused to let me as it said my "documents and name on the ticket did not agree". I call the American and spend around 3 hours on the phone with multiple people, none of whom spoke English as a first language.
It turns out that our Global Entry information required me to put my last name with Jr. as it is my legal name and it is on my passport that way. When I bought the ticket, I tried to put my last name and Jr. and it rejected the transaction. I was told at that time by phone to go ahead and purchase without the Jr. as it didn't matter. I was told this was a software glitch and they were working on it. Guess what. It mattered. I got to the airport and checked in with no problems....then again, there was a person there.
On the plane, the seatback entertainment systems were touch screens. The only problem was that if you touched them, they may or may not work. Or they worked at random times. I found at one point if you licked your finger and touched the screen it sometimes helped. I watched hundreds of people peck furiously at a screen in a seatback and finally settle for not what they wanted to watch, but whatever they could get to work.
As for American, anything people related was great. And yes, we traveled WAY cheap. And yes, they got us there both ways and didn't lose our luggage. Would we travel them again? I don't know. The uncertainty and frustration not being able to work things out on the phone or online wasn't pleasant and made for a difficult start to the trip. We'll see what options are next time. There are several of the European discount carriers who are flying to the U.S. now....at great prices.
Other airlines- Speaking of European discount carriers, we flew on 3 while in Europe. We flew Eurowings from London to Berlin, Air Berlin from Berlin to Copenhagen, and Transavia from Copenhagen to Munich. While you always arrive and leave from a terminal so far out in the boonies you're not even sure you're at the same airport, they got us there. They got us there on time. They got our luggage there. And they did all of this for a price we can't even approach in the states. All positives for the discount airlines in Europe.
England- We always love the U.K. The people are incredibly friendly, it's fun, there are lots of things to see and do. It was a great stop on the way to Berlin to have breakfast and get our wits about us. Our U.K. stop got us in the mindset for the rest of our adventure. We'll be back for sure.
Berlin- Berlin is a city we could keep returning to indefinitely. Laurie says "we're going to keep coming back until they figure out it's so cheap and jack up the prices". She's right, Berlin is a huge bargain. From lodging to food, it's cheaper than most places in the states. And I don't mean places we travel. Berlin is cheaper than Cookeville and Sparta, where we live. It is a city full of history, great restaurants, great museums, and this year good Christmas markets. Berlin is wonderful! It's one of our favorite cities.
Copenhagen- This was my first trip to Scandinavia. From what we had read and seen in travel documentaries, we expected a fairly reserved and private people. We had read not to expect great service in the restaurants as there was no tipping and people weren't motivated. We read that while they were willing to help if you asked, they didn't normally engage people in conversation. Verdict on all 3.....WRONG!!!!
People in Copenhagen were no different than anywhere else. If you're nice to them, they're nice to you. They actually seemed a bit more friendly and helpful than a lot of places. They would see us reading a map and would stop to ask if they could help. Wait staff was friendly, sometimes even engaging and funny. Copenhagen defied expectations where the people were concerned.
Copenhagen as a city...well, it's a city. It was also very expensive....one of the most expensive places we've traveled. We saw the things that were there, and in the three and a half days we were there, feel we pretty well covered it. I have nothing bad to say about Copenhagen, our experiences there were totally positive. I just don't feel the draw to come back like we feel with other cities.
The Alps- I am drawn to the Alps. They are one of my favorite places on earth. And this year I got to ski in the Alps. All of the fun we had watching the ski races, and jumping, hanging out with the locals, I just love the Alps.
Venice- Venice is a strange place. It's in Italy, and that's pretty different. If you're used to German (and Austrian) precision and reliability, you best dial that back a bit in Italy. They're sure to disappoint. Don't get me wrong, Italy was not disappointing. It's just not as regimented as some of the other places.
We head into Italy and as if by magic, all the trains start running 30 minutes late. Long lunches are the norm, running anywhere from 1.5 hours on up. A lot of stuff closes up at weird times. It's just how they are.
We've read that the food in Venice is not as good as Italian food in the rest of the country. With the exception of one so-so restaurant, our food there was wonderful. We ate in cicchetti bars with the locals, food stands, and restaurants. It was all pretty good for the most part.
The Italian people seem friendly...just like everywhere else. Our lack of ability to speak much Italian may have hamstrung us, but we did fine getting around. Laurie's ability to speak pretty passable spanish did help her understand a lot of Italian that was spoken. The people we talked to were friendly and nice.
Venice as a city is an interesting study. It's a big rabbit warren. The street layout makes absolutely no sense, and around each corner lies a new surprise. I think if you started walking the streets of Venice, it would take you 3 months to walk what you THOUGHT were all the streets. My money says you missed a few.
I think the appeal of Venice is based in it's randomness. There is a new treasure of the undiscovered around each corner. It's sort of like an advent calendar, except behind each little door is another door. Or one of those Russian nesting dolls. It's just a surprise inside of a surprise, and it goes on forever.
I can see us going back to Venice at some point, to discover the things we didn't see last time. The guide books and articles told us to go to Venice in winter as no one was there. While it may be less crowded than in the summer, there were plenty of people there. I don't think I'd like it if there were more.
Trains- We love our trains. From Munich airport, to Munich airport, into the Alps, across the Alps into Italy, and back to Munich. We did plenty of train travel. It's (for the most part) pretty relaxing, you have more room than on an airplane, it's easy to socialize and meet people....there are a lot of reasons that trains are a great way to travel.
The trip home- On the plane home, I was able to get the seatback screen to work enough to watch two movies. One was "Bridge of Spies", a mostly true account of trading spies with the Russians in Berlin during the cold war. The other was my personal favorite movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". Both were very appropriate movies to end the trip with, as they both are reminders as to why we travel.
"Bridge of Spies" reminds me of the places we've been. Granted, it's about Berlin and not all of the other places. But the movie is a reminder of the history. When we travel, we see things that connect us with the past. By connecting with the past we are able to have a better handle of who we are and where we are going in the world.
Having a tangible link with this history, to go to the actual places it happened, to touch it, to smell it, to feel it.......makes it all more real, and more important than someplace mentioned in a book. This feeling is not soon forgotten, and makes an impression on us that someone else's account cannot do.
This affects how we view and relate to other people. I've found portrayals in the media of people of any certain country to be almost uniformly wrong. The media define us as being different, being disrespectful of each other, being at odds. And it is all WRONG.
It's all a bunch of contrived crap to make us into what someone else wants us to be, instead of what we are. And what we are is very much like everyone else. We have an incredible amount in common with almost anyone in any of the countries we traveled. Travel breaks down these barriers and makes the world smaller instead of bigger...and that is such a positive thing.
As for "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", it is about getting out of your shell, out of where and who you are. It's about being bold and venturing into the different. And it's about how much this venture into the new and different shapes who you become.
Aldous Huxley, a English writer and philosopher said "To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries". When the perception of other countries is negative, to discover that everyone is wrong, is wonderful. If the perception of other countries is positive and you discover that the other country is negative, that's wonderful too. It allows you to establish your own opinions and views, based on your own experience, not what someone else tells you it should be. Life should be lived like that.
I want to thank everyone for following along. I love traveling with Laurie, the best traveling companion anyone could ask for. We love sharing our travels, and it is our sincere hope that seeing what we've done and where we've been will spark a similar interest in you......and open up the world for you. Go. See. Do. Do it for yourself.
Until next time.
Different countries, different customs, yet commonalities. The world is not as large as we sometimes think. What always amazes me about Europe is how small the countries are. An hour's flight brings a whole new experience with different language and ways of life.
Having spent more time in German speaking countries made being there more familiar. I was getting more comfortable with the language which made it easier to engage withe people. Berlin is an awesome city. It has a vibrancy that NYC has, or had. It hasn't become homogonized like NYC and has that feel of a place where chance happenings can be exciting and stimulating.
The history there is, of course, a huge part of the city. It has a very active night life that we don't really partake in. This time we finished seeing some of the things we didn't have time for like Museum Island. There is still more to see and do, and it is a city that reveals another dimension every time we're there. Now we are more familiar with the mass transit system which makes it feel more familiar.
Copenhagen was interesting and a way of life different that Germany. Very tidy, very controlled in a different way the Germany. Having spent 6 months in Finland when I was in high school, it seemed similar. I love the bike oriented culture. And winter didn't phase them at all, just carried on as usual. It is a different culture though when the days are so short for the winter, and long for the summer. It did seem that people spend time being cozy in their own homes, rather than in public places.
Public transportation outside the city center was a little less efficient and there is probable a reason for that - everyone rides bikes. I really liked the contrast of Christiana with the mainstream. Its messy and untidy, spontaneous in ways that seemed to differ from the Danish norm. Denmark as a country though is one I have always admired. They take care of their citizens and have an awesome educational system.
Skiing in the alps was a nice break from the cities. I was pleased I could still make it down the hill in one piece. It felt good. It was a relief though each time I finished a run upright.
Venice was the high point for me. I miss being near the water so being in a city surrounded by water was wonderful. It is so clear how that city evolved once you're there and experience it. As we exited the train station and the first thing I saw was a huge bascilica and the vaporettos and gondolas filling the canal. It was breath taking and I knew I was going to really love this city. It is definitely true that you should keep plans loose and be open to whatever you stumble across. We did a lot of that.
Italy is certainly different that Germany. They seem to be a people who know how to have fun. Venice is so old, and unique in Europe in that it is completely intact from the beginning. It didn't get bombed in the war so when a church says it was built in 900 BC, it is the original structure.
As Bill said, everything we read said winter was a slow season. Guess the rest of the tourists didn't get that memo. But it wasn't hard to get away from the crowds, and experience the Venice that I'm sure the locals love. Now I want to see more of Italy.
Now we are back home and Bill is already preparing for our next trip. Stay tuned
A final slide show
Click on the links directly below to take you to a specific day and place on our trip!