Before going to Europe, we talked to family who had gone to France, Poland, Germany and Belgium and consulted books and looked on the internet. There are some things they just don’t talk about.
If you have a secret death wish, go ahead and drive in Europe. All the cars are small. We saw only three pickups in three weeks. Each driver is qualifying for LeMans, and you never see police on the highways; I think they are too afraid.
In large cities like Paris and Berlin, use the Hop On and Hop Off buses to see the sights and laugh at the anthill of drivers around you. If you are in a single lane and decide to turn left, for example, you might have a bus, two bikes, a motorcycle and moped clinging to your rear end as you turn. They all want your spot. The left lane is for the crazies. You could be exceeding the speed limit, but suddenly, a nut will be on your bumper and you can see his nose hairs in your back window because he does not know how to apply the brakes. He just wants your space.
French Tolls: We are not talking chump change here folks. They want 8 and 10 euros, and they get it about every five or 10 minutes.
Gas is charged by the liter. There are approximately 3.5 liters per gallon. They charge $1.30 to $1.60 per liter. Yeah, it is bad. If you are from California, it won’t hurt as much.
Don’t leave home without Google Maps or some kind of GPS. Get used to the term “roundabout.” Trust me on this one. The GPS lady is hilarious. She cannot pronounce the names of the streets any better than you can. Germany is the most fun because they have philosophy that why use three letters in a word when you can use 35.
Street signs are absolutely crazy. A typical street sign has at least 10 names on it or numbers. It never coordinates with the map or GPS. Driving will increase your ability to hear colorful words from your driver.
Cab drivers hate taking credit cards but most will. I don’t tip them because you realize they just sit in traffic, you pay $20 to go two miles, and they just took most roundabout way possible to get to your destination. Just get in, put on your seatbelt, close your eyes and take a Prozac. They can carry on a conversation on their phone, drive and talk to you all at the same time. Most cab drivers are Arab and cussing involves a lot of hand waving. It's colorful language.
Buses, subways and trains are dirty with no air conditioning but much better price.
If you can’t walk, don’t go. Europeans are all skinny, and you can spot an American because they are squishy.
Parking is unbelievable. Most people live in apartments. None have garages or parking spots. European hotels charge for parking. We paid about 20 to 30 euros per day or you park on the street. Everyone should have to take anger management courses as a requirement.
Imagine a street with people parking on the sidewalk. They are smashed together leaving inches to extricate yourself and if the space left is tiny they park perpendicular to the curb. I think that is why God created smart cars.
I was walking on the sidewalk and was honked at because a car was bearing down on me. It makes people like me want to drink.
I maintain they are all on drugs. Mopeds will go up against huge buses and not blink. Ladies with 5-inch heels are on mopeds, motorized scooters, etc.
Their idea of breakfast is bread, bread, cold cuts, cheese, tomatoes, cereal and more bread. By the way, butter is 50 cents extra and they look at you weird when you ask for it. Water is not free. You must buy water, gas (mineral) or no gas (regular water.) There must be an ice shortage because we never got any. When I asked for it, I would get four to six cubes and worried they would spit in my food.
They have mystery meat so ask questions before you order. I ordered meatloaf in a German restaurant and got an inch thick slice of hot bologna. I have not had a bologna sandwich since I was a kid, enough said.
We ordered a pizza, and they put a raw egg on the top of it. OMG. They do not do Mexican food, and if you find some, ask yourself if you feel lucky.
Germany had the best food. Spaetzle and schnitzel were great. Don’t ask, just order. Never go to a “goner” restaurant, it could get ugly. Why spend all that money to hang out in the toilet.
McDonald’s are huge and beautiful. Filled with frustrated Americans I am sure.
Service is nonexistent and it seems that in Europe, we experienced this time after time. You sit down and no one comes over. Sometimes, 15 minutes passes. I don’t care if you ordered one piece of cake, there is no such thing as fast food in Europe.
I read tour books that said tipping is not expected in most of Europe. (Refer to service is nonexistent.)
Beware of hotels that say "budget." We booked a room at Ibis Hotel in Liziet, France, and there is no attendant at the hotel. Yes, I did just say that. The place is locked up, there is an automated box in lobby and when you put in confirmation number it does not work and information is in French. They only have people there from 5 to 9 a.m. and from 5 to 9 p.m. Saying bad words to the machine helps.
Ask if they have air conditioning or an elevator. We booked a gorgeous hotel in Krakow in town square. It looked like something out of a movie. It had a “lift” that was in a cage, overlooked a picturesque square with flower boxes on the balconies, but there was no air conditioning, and it was 95 degrees. I was “glowing” a lot.
Sometimes, you just get lucky. We ended up in a chateau in Hanflour, France, and it was over the top. We stopped by a castle with a whiskey distillery attached. They made whiskey out of apples and gave us a taste of 40 proof. It felt as if hair was growing in my throat. We ended up buying apple juice for the road. Getting old sucks.
From now on, I am referring to any ditch at our home as a moat because it sounds so much classier.
Our Paris hotel was wild. Each room looked like a French Boudoir (Or Cat House). Bill’s reaction was worth the price of the room. Beware of the different types of showers. I know I am a mechanical moron, but these were crazy.
I like simple bathrooms. I like sinks with handles that turn off and on easily, soap that comes in dispensers you merely tap to use and towels to be dispensed by a crank. Now you enter a bathroom and end up waving your hands and arms in front of things and look like a nut. Half the time, they don’t work and then you find out they are manual. By the way, I was not this cranky all my life.
Viator, Tripadvisor and more have tours. They need to have disclaimers. I suggest tours have legends that read:
A. Marathon and triathlon participants
B. Skinny people used to walking a lot
C. Fat tourists who are lucky to get out of bed unassisted.
We booked a tour for Auschwitz, Birkinau and Salt Mines. They pick you up in air-conditioned tour bus with comfy seats and then you realize that the tour director used to be a concentration camp guard. The temperature that day was 95 degrees. Auschwitz has tons of stairs and hundreds of people on tours. You walk the second concentration camp and then they take you to the Salt Mines. There were 380 steps down at the beginning, then two hours of walking up and down stairs and on uneven ground. The tour guide kept smiling and saying it was only 15 minutes more. They lie. After this 12-hour tour, you could stick a fork in me.
When you sign up, they say it is “English,” tour but in reality, you get a person from different country who tries to speak English. Like a bad phone connection, you get every third word.
The biggest disappointment on the trip was not seeing the Louvre Museum in Paris. With more than 35,000 pieces of artwork and a beautiful location, we went online to buy tickets and it was sold out for days. There was an air show in town. If you are going, realize that these places sell out.
Some places, you are better off going on a tour because if not, you stand in line for hours to buy tickets; we found that out at Versailles. We had to stand in the rain that was fun.
Television is very different. The first night, we were trying to find a show in English, and came across a game show called "Naked Attraction." Imagine this one: The contestants are completely naked except for the host who is dressed. In the U.S., they at least shade certain areas of the anatomy but not in Europe.
You have not lived until you've seen "Bonanza" in German.
After three weeks, I was glad to click my heels, pack up Toto and come home to Texas.