Originally published 1 April 2012
I’ve been home a few days, and have fought off allergies and jet lag to the point that I can write my comments and observations on our trip. They are in no particular order.
The blog- I did the blog with the intent of keeping our kids and a few friends informed. It turns out that it had quite a following! We've had over 900 reads so far....and it seems that some people looked forward to reading it every day. I never thought that we’d get that kind of following.....I just never thought we were that interesting! But thank all of you for reading.
My travel companion- Sharing this trip with Laurie was such a good thing for me. I love traveling with her and would rather travel with Laurie than anyone. I’m so glad we were able to share it. It was a joy to travel with her.
The rude French- As for the rude French guy you see in movies and such............he must have had the week off. Everyone we met treated us as well as we treated them. I did not feel alienated or anything like that in France. Everyone treated us well. We did try to initiate things in French, being able to say hello and ask if they spoke English in French went a long way. The verdict on the rude French, MYTH.
Coffee- I have always complained that you cannot get a decent cup of coffee in Sparta, where we live. The only place you can get a half way decent cup of coffee is 20 miles away in Cookeville. As for Europe, you can find decent coffee easily. In France, you can find excellent coffee ANYWHERE. We pulled into a gas station on the French interstate which had an espresso machine. You don’t have to look hard to find good coffee in Europe. Especially in France.
Peanut butter- We cut costs on this trip by buying groceries and having picnic lunches most days. The quality of the food was VERY good, with European chocolates and cookies, cheeses, breads, etc. I wanted a jar of peanut butter to keep in the car…..and I could not find peanut butter anywhere! (They had it in the UK, but not on the continent). I couldn’t find it in my foreign language dictionaries either. Maybe they don’t have it in Europe.
Foreign language phrase books- These were nearly WORTHLESS. Get a pocket dictionary, and have a few important phrases (hello, how are you, can you help me, please, thank you, etc.) on a sheet of paper. The dictionary will help you decode signs and menus and find important words you need. They will also help the people in your host country. We had someone who asked to use our dictionary to explain something to us as they did not know the English word. I will probably get a small pocket translator before we go again. But as for phrase books, don’t bother.
Chocolate-To quote a Scotsman in Glencoe where I was buying a candy bar......"no offense, but chocolate in the states is CRAP!" There is the stereotype that European chocolate is superior to that in the states. FACT FACT FACT FACT!!!!! Chocolate in Europe is awesome! It is high quality and readily available. Even the discount grocery store brands of chocolate were exceptionally good.
French smoking- There is a stereotype that the French are smokers. This is not true. They are smoking fiends! I’d be willing to bet that they give kids starter smokes when they’re little! Everyone there seems to smoke. It was like a redneck wedding! French smoking- FACT.
Food in Britain- For the most part it was pretty good. We did, however, have our only bad meal of the trip in London. It may have just been crappy food that night. There were some weird things in Scotland that we ate, but calling those things bad (black pudding Laurie tried, haggis we both tried) doesn’t count, as they are expected to be nasty. The beer was exceptional, and the Scottish whisky I am told by Laurie was quite good as well. We also had fantastic Italian food in Edinburgh, good Indian food in Glasgow, a great venison burger on Skye. Bad food in Britain- Myth. For the most part.
French food- I don’t think there is a single bad restaurant of any shape or form anywhere in this country. If you buy a sandwich at a gas station, it will be the best gas station sandwich you have had your entire life. We had all different types of food in different regions of the country. All were exceptionally good. Pastries, bread, coffee, wine, meats, you name it, they cook it so well it’s amazing. French cooking is good- FACT!
Food in Germany- Not bad. Heavy on sausage culture but it was good food everywhere we ate. Not a single complaint. It wasn’t France, but it wasn’t that bad meal we had in London either. Good cheeses, sausages, mustards, breads, and beer. And chocolate. (Added later- I love the orange soda in Germany and France. It's not really orange soda like we have in the states. It's more like club soda mixed with orange juice....with lots of pulp. It has real oranges in it! And it's not sticky sweet.)
Food in Amsterdam- It’s such a mishmash of cultures there that I don’t know what dutch food is. What we ate here was good. Really good. Like the little pancakes that Laurie loved so much. But they do put mayo on French fries. Take something borderline unhealthy and put mayo on it. Good plan. There’s also the place we passed that advertised a hot dog and a red bull for breakfast. Yummy. Not.
Breakfast- English breakfast consists of what they call bacon, and is more like what we call Canadian bacon, eggs, toast, grilled mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, beans, etc. French breakfast is a croissant and a cigarette. German breakfast is a lot of cold cuts, cheeses, breads, fruits, cereals, etc. Dutch breakfast....who the hell knows? We had cheese sandwiches. Breakfast winner? The UK ! Germany a solid second. The others were also rans.....or also smokes.
Cops in each country- British cops are awesome! They even let me sit on their bike! German cops are kinda creepy. They look way too businesslike and seem unapproachable. French cops, seemingly all armed with sub machine guns, seemed nice and were friendly. I didn’t ask the commandos with assault rifles I saw in the subway with the guy pinned down. I don’t think Amsterdam even has cops. At least I didn’t see one.
Flying in the US vs. flying in Europe- We flew twice in Europe, not counting the international flight home. Both times were painless, on time, security was not overly invasive and was courteous, and it was CHEAP. We didn’t have to take our shoes off........they only spot check people with BIG shoes. Laurie and I flew from London to Edinburgh on Easyjet, a discount airline. They charged extra for a checked bag and we had two. Cost of our flight? Around 100 bucks American. For both of us, not each. If we didn’t have checked bags, it would have been around 70-80 bucks. Flying domestically in Europe is much easier than in the US, and much cheaper.
Water and urine- It wasn’t like it everywhere, but most places we were at did not have water fountains. If you wanted a drink of water, you had to buy a bottle. No tap water available, no water fountains. France did have table water, which you asked for. I felt violated in Amsterdam when we paid 6 euros for a 2 liter bottle of water with dinner. In Germany and England, we were buying 2 liter bottles at Aldi or the grocery for 19 cents. As for bathrooms, most places, you had to pay. It was either 50 euro cents, or 70 euro cents. They did tend to be exceptionally clean. The pay toilets were run as a business.....like any other store along the street or in a rest stop along the highway, but one that sold you a place to pee. For most of Europe, no free water coming in OR leaving. Be prepared to pay.
European economy- If it’s not good now, I can’t imagine what it was like when it was good. They are building things EVERYWHERE. Road jobs, buildings, fit ups, renovations, you name it, they’re building it. At one point in Paris, I could count 14 (yes, fourteen) tower cranes. Everything else seemed to be popping right along as well.
Scottish people drinking- There is a stereotype of Scots being big drinkers. This is not a stereotype. They love to drink! And they’re great fun when they do! FACT!
Fuel prices- Fuel is not cheap there. It is about twice what it is in the states. The Europeans are quick to tell you that the difference in price between Europe and the US is taxes. They’re not fools....they realize they’re being screwed. They don’t like it any more than we do. Most of the cars in Europe are diesel as well. They get better mileage than their gas counterparts.
Scottish vs. British- According to the Scots, they’re Scots dammit! NOT British! And they’re part of the UK because they make them! Not because they want to!
Driving on the left- It wasn’t that big of a deal. After a few hours I had it down. The weirdest part was shifting with my left hand....not the driving on the left part. A six speed manual with your left hand gets tricky if you’re not used to it. Oddly enough, when driving in Germany, I had to keep reminding myself for the first few hours that people coming at me were not on the wrong side of the road.
Cell phones in Europe- I bought GSM quad band phones, used on eBay, before we left. We bought Sim cards in each country and never had to pay for more air time. The Sim card usually had a pre-set amount. The cards we got in France cost 10 euros and have 7.50 credit for air time. We used them the entire time we were in France, called the states often, called each other when we needed, and still left money on the table when we came home. I had around 4 euros left and Laurie had about 3. And this included lots of international calls. International calls to the states usually cost us between a few cents and a dime a minute, depending on where we were. That’s cheap by anybody’s standards. If you need more airtime, you walk into any convenience store, smoke shop, phone store, etc. and tell them you want to buy phone credit. You give them money and they give you a code to enter into your phone.
Drivers in each country- England seemed pretty normal, except for that driving on the left thing. Amsterdam was nuts mainly because it’s so densely populated. The Germans are very regimented and follow the rules. If you’re in the left lane and someone comes up behind you, you move the hell over! This is a lesson that could be learned by a lot of people in the states. The French are pretty much on par with US drivers. Left lane with the blinker on, not using mirrors, abrupt lane changes......yep. Just like home.
Speed limits in Europe- England has limits very similar to the states. Germany kicks it up a notch and has certain zones with no speed limit, which I of course loved. You can really cover ground on the autobahn. French interstates have a top speed limit of around 80 mph. Laurie said several times that it’s a good thing that the no speed limit thing in Germany doesn’t apply in France. There would be tons of wrecks and dead Frenchmen.
Amsterdam costs- Everything in Amsterdam is expensive. If you want bargains there, you’re going to the street markets. Other than that, you’re paying premium prices for everything. It was the most expensive place we visited by far.
Liquor laws in Europe- Basically, there weren’t any. They had beer and wine at McDonalds. It was common to see someone with a glass of wine at a picnic in a public place, even on a bench having lunch. In Germany, they have what is called raddler, which is half beer and half sprite. It’s meant for kids to drink. Drinking there is a part of the meal, a part of the day, a part of the culture. There are no taboos like in the states. People don’t drink to get drunk there.....the drink is part of the meal, part of the event, part of their everyday life. Consequently, it’s no big deal and no one makes a fuss about it. It’s not forbidden fruit like in the states. There’s no intrigue to it.
Pastry shops and the problem pastry consumer- Get me off this continent......before I eat my own weight in pastry! They’re fantastic, available everywhere, and they’ve ruined me on American pastries. There is no comparison.
Healthy Europeans- I’m not sure how healthy they are.....LOTS of them smoke more than a Japanese nuke plant after an earthquake. And they walk or bike everywhere. Maybe that balances out. They tend to be thinner than Americans. Maybe it’s all that smoking and walking......
Paris cafe culture, laid back atmosphere- The laid back, easy going cafe culture we’ve read about in Paris must have left town with the surly French guy. Paris was busy, all the time. It’s a big city and it had a lot of people in a hurry. Yes, you occasionally saw people sitting in the cafes, but it was not as common as I expected. Kinda like NYC, but they spoke French and were nicer.
Amsterdam tolerance- They’re pretty laid back in Amsterdam. Prostitution is no big deal, smoking marijuana is no big deal, people pretty much mind their own damn business and worry little about what other people are doing. There’s a lesson in this..........
Driving in Munich- Had to return a rental car in Munich. Lets just say it was intense. Dense traffic, lots of people, driving in Munich is a handful. Do it only if you have to.
Driving in Paris- Oh HELL no.......that ain’t happening. Those people are crazy. I was on Laurie the whole trip. She’d get a walk signal and would step off the curb. I kept telling her that just because she was right, and they were supposed to stop, didn’t mean that they would. Double this in Paris. Laurie was in the Louvre, I was crossing the street. I had the signal, I was in a crosswalk, two cars had already stopped for me. I started across the street, and a car ran the signal, and actually hit my hand on it’s way by. Screw driving in Paris. Walking is dangerous enough.
Stores in Europe- They have everything’s a dollar stores in Europe too! In England it’s the 99p store, or......POUNDTOWN! Where everything is a pound or less! There aren’t big discount stores like Walmart or Target there. They don’t do one stop shopping. There are butchers, bakers, shoe repair shops, housewares stores, hardware stores, they tend to specialize.....like we used to do in the states. They also don’t stay open late. That’s rare over there. Most stores close at 5 or 6 pm unless you’re in a big city.
European terror readiness- They are a densely populated continent. There are surveillance cameras everywhere. Things aren’t spread out like they are here. They’re on top of things, and they’re on top of them quickly.....just like the commando team in the subway in Paris who had the guy pinned down. Most of the cops carry sidearms AND sub machineguns. Europe is a hard target. Bring your A game if you wanna cause trouble. They will not hesitate to take you down.
Travel in Europe- They looked at our passport when we flew into Amsterdam. No customs. There was no border control/passport control or customs anywhere else we traveled. Going from EU country to EU country, the border stations have been turned into B and B’s or storage sheds. People come and go as they please. We traveled via car, plane, train, and bus. We crossed a border in each of these.......it’s like going from NC to VA in the states.
The Germans and WW2- There was little if any mention of World War 2 in Germany, with the exception of the museums. As I said previously, I guess if you’re on the wrong end of an ass kicking, you don’t like to keep talking about it. We did, however, meet Germans traveling in France to Normandy, to learn about the war. One guy we met said that it was talked about in school while growing up....and that the Nazis were bad.....and they are not to let it happen again. There were German school groups at Dachau....they seem to be set to teach their children the errors of the past.
The French and WW2- If there are a people who have not forgotten World War II, will not forget WWII, and their children will not forget WWII, it is the French in Normandy. They are grateful, they will never forget, and they view the Americans as conquering heroes and saviors of the French people. 68 years after it happened, they still sing the praises of the American soldiers.....even though few of them were even alive then.
That’s pretty much it. Just some comments on what I saw, and what I thought of it. Thanks everyone for reading about our exploits. It was one of those once in a lifetime trips and it was nothing but positive. And I shared it with Laurie, which made it all the more special. Stay tuned for the next trip.....sometime in the future......somewhere down the road.
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I'm Bill. My wife Laurie and I love to travel and share our stories. We especially love it when we have been able to motivate our readers to start traveling on their own, and making their own stories.