Monday, October 12, 2015

25 Observations From My European Vacation

I just returned from my first trip to Europe.  We were gone for two weeks and visited 6 countries.  As you can imagine, I have TONS to write about.  But as I collect my thoughts, here are 25 "observations" from my trip in no particular order:

  1. Stairs - There are no elevators in Europe.  Or so it seems.  But realistically, most old historic buildings do not come equipped with elevators or lifts.  So be prepared to climb.  At one point, I joked ("joked") that I would dub this vacation "The Staircases of Western Europe".  Heed my warning.
  2. Children Ruin Stuff - It's wonderful that people want to expose their children to history.  But some kids just aren't into it.  And they rebel - loudly!  Ask yourself when you were 7, was walking down uneven cobblestone streets and looking at old buildings your idea of fun?
  3. Tourists Suck - Regardless of where they're from or where they are, tourists are horrible.  They block the path and block the view and seemingly have absolutely no spacial awareness.  We ALL want the shot, okay?  Learn to take your quick turn.
  4. The Euro - One unit of currency throughout many countries is a great idea.  The UK and the Czech Republic should get on board.
  5. Selfie Sticks - The selfie stick is alive and well in Europe, particularly among Asian tourists.  They selfie themselves in front of everything, several times in the same pose.
  6. Glamour Shots - And speaking of Asians and cameras, they seem to think that every shot should be a glamour shot.  Without embarrassment of shame, they will pose in front of just about anything like its a step-and-repeat at a movie opening.  It's amusing until Number 5 and Number 3 get in the way.
  7. Smokers - There are certainly more smokers in Europe than the US.  At first I thought I was just exposed to them more since the smoking bans are different.  But no.  I had lots of smoke blown in my face in every country. 
  8. Bicycles - I used to think the Europeans cycled around their cities in order to promote health.  But I learned that cycling is more out of necessity.  It's the only really convenient way to get around some of these towns with their tiny, curved streets.  Driving in Europe is a nightmare.
  9. Every Little Town Looks Similar - They are all charming in their own way, but in reality, every little town throughout Germany and Belgium (in my experience) looked pretty much the same.  They all have a market square surrounded by beautiful buildings and a tall tower.  Still wonderful, but similar.
  10. Cobblestones - In some towns, it's difficult to know if an open space is a street, a sidewalk, a parking lots, a market square, etc.  There are few clear delineations to help one know where to walk to drive.  Apparently if your car fits, you can drive there.  It makes walking in open areas rather tricky.
  11. Cobblestone, Part 2 - Cobblestones are murder on roller bags.  After 10 days, I lost a wheel on my luggage.  Cobblestone streets are lovely, but not practical.
  12. Bruges Loves Shoppers - While Bruges is a wonderful place to see charming buildings and canals, it's also world class shopping.  If you like your history with a side of Marco O'Polo and Ann Taylor, this is your kinda place.
  13. Schwangau - This tiny town that houses two glorious castles is basically given in to tourism.  I was surprised that these places had become commercialized.  I just expected to drive up some winding roads and park at the castle entrances.  Not so.  There are ticket halls, hotels, restaurants and of course, shopping.
  14. Reutte - We drove to Austria on the spur of the moment and landed in a small village of Reutte.  It's an adorable town that's heavy on the charm.  It is indicative of all the towns in the Tirol state.  Plus it has two castle ruins, a fort, and sports the highest Tibetan-style bridge in the world according to Guinness.
  15. I Look Bavarian - The young group of German revelers we met at Oktoberfest swore I was from Bavaria.  The full beard most likely helped.  Plus I am of German descent.
  16. Rüedesheim am Rhein - This is a small wine-making town that we popped into between Wiesbaden and Trier, and is more a testament to going off your path now and then to see what lies on the perimeter.  
  17. Letna Park - This is a hilltop park in Prague that I doubt many tourists visit.  It can be seen from a distance due to the giant Metronom sculpture on the horizon.  There was once a 50-foot statue of Stalin where the Metronom now stands, but it was blown up in 1962.  The park offers amazing views of the city.
  18. Brussels - It ain't all that.  The only thing this city has put out is Tin Tin, Poirot, Jean Claude Van Damme, and a tiny statue of a boy peeing.
  19. Oktoberfest - I wasn't quite sure what to expect in the compound, but I was not prepared for the carnival-like atmosphere with rides and games.  Fun for the whole family.
  20. Reichelsheim - After years of researching my dad's family tree, I managed to trace them back to this small town and visiting it was a high point for this trip.  Coming full circle on my dad's behalf meant everything to me.  And I was happy to find a cute, quaint little town, much like the others we'd seen but more rural.  I'm proud to come from there.
  21. Woodrow Wilson - I only saw one American President's name during my trip, but I saw it two times in two places.  Once in a German train station and once on a street sign.  I found this to be interesting.
  22. Treaty of Ghent - Although this was not the reason we went to this town, I remembered from high school history that something to do with a treaty involving a war with the US took place in Ghent.  Sure enough, we located the building where the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, was negotiated.  There was a plaque on the building and everything.  It's now an Esprit store.
  23. The Autobahn - I drove the fastest I've ever driven in my life:  160km/hr or 99.4mph.  And cars passed me like I was standing still.  It was exhilarating.
  24. T-Mobile is da bomb! - I've been with T-Mobile since 1999.  Without knowing it, T-Mobile is a hot network in Europe, so I had free unlimited data and texting the entire time we were on our trip.  Calls were $.20/minute.  
  25. Troutman Mix Doesn't Travel Well - My mom makes a version of Chex mix that Kevin calls Troutman Mix.  And he LOVES it.  My mom made three bags full for our trip and Kevin has one half gone before we left Chicago.  Despite packing it well, Bag #3 was mostly crumbs and powder.  Kevin ate it anyway.
And there you have it.  More to come...