Europe on an Imprecise Number
of Dollars a Day
By Scott E. Roeben
When you're looking to travel, to broaden your horizons, there are many alternatives, but perhaps the most popular place to visit for those looking to expand their understanding of other cultures--as well as to gain a new appreciation of running water--is Europe.
Thousands of Americans go to Europe each year, and only a small portion end up there as a result of getting on the wrong bus. Europe offers a wide variety of people, sights and inedible foods to choose from, and it is important to know what to expect once one arrives. A trip to Europe can be either a wondrous, eye-opening experience, or a twisted, hellish nightmare comparable to having one's skin peeled off. Experts agree the latter is not pleasant, though their findings are not certain because it was difficult to hear them over their screams.
Planning is important when taking any trip, but it is especially important because it is mentioned in many travel guides. With proper planning, a trip to Europe will be far more enjoyable, and will help to avoid delays, confusion and long periods of incarceration.
Almost all travelers to Europe encounter difficulty with packing. This is especially true if one's luggage is on fire. In such an event, it is essential that the flames be put out immediately. European customs officials are often intolerant of foreigners brandishing festering burns, and have been known to make their dissatisfaction known by taping a "Detain Me" sign to an unsuspecting traveler's back.
American tourists almost always pack more things than they will need. Seasoned travelers always use this simple rule as a guideline. First, set out everything you think you will need for your trip. Next, put back everything that cannot survive being dropped from a 15-story building. (This approximates the damage likely to be done by an Italian baggage handler. Sober, that is.) Then, remove anything you would mind having stolen. Finally, put away everything else except for a pair of underwear (expendable), your toothbrush (optional) and several rubber gloves filled with Jello (a personal preference.)
When you begin travelling, you will be thankful for the fact that you are going light. And if you are like a lot of people, you will also be equally appreciative that penicillin was developed. But this will be mentioned later.
It cannot be overstated that when you travel to another country, your papers must be in order. This includes having your passport, inoculation records and visas validated and up-to-date. Officials in Europe may request your papers at any time, and if you are unable to present them, not much will happen, actually, but it's still a good idea to keep your papers with you. You might spill something.
Penicillin. See? I told you it would be mentioned later.
Make sure your travel arrangements have been made in advance. Be sure to solidify flight schedules, excursion itineraries or hotel reservations before you leave the states. Remember that once in Europe, you will be so busy mindlessly fumbling from one dreary tourist trap to the next that you will have little time to concern yourself with details. Good planning can almost eliminate the need to communicate with Europeans, and this is an excellent goal to keep in mind.
In America, we proudly say "If you can't talk good English, why don't you just get out of our country?" Well, when these people leave America, where do you think they go? That's right, Europe.
Europe is filled with people speaking other languages. This can sometimes be amusing, unless of course you have a bladder infection and need to find a public restroom. Or, if you need to find anything, for that matter. Europeans, thankfully, are used to having American tourists approach them, and are often excited at the prospect of spending the better part of an afternoon helping you use your phrase book until your meaning is clear. At times, a European may appear to be walking away in frustration, but in many cultures this is a sign of affection. To be courteous, you should forcibly stop the foreigner from going, even if restraints or sedation are necessary.
It is important to remember we are guests in Europe. Subsequently, it might be tempting to angrily disembowel a European in order to eliminate the language barrier, but this will in no way aid in your new appreciation of other cultures. Therefore, it is not recommended. Except in France.
Take the train.
(Needless to say, I am not being paid by the word here.)
Each of the countries in Europe has somehow managed to retain its individuality and cultural identity throughout the years. The one thing all European countries have in common is that they have all made the symbolic gesture of utilizing toilet paper with the approximate coarseness of a rasp. Other than that, each country is a unique entity, rich with its own resources, people, cuisine and really old buildings.
Germany. Germany is a lush, beautiful and immaculate country. And like many lush, beautiful and immaculate countries, you are not welcome there. The German countryside is covered with land, as well as Germans. Germans are curt with strangers, but are never too busy to show them into the closest bar, restaurant or confectionery oven.
Holland. Amsterdam, in Holland, is the home of Europe's famed Red Light District. Irritating to many visitors is the fact that vehicular traffic in this area is always at a standstill--the Belches apparently did not have the foresight to also install green lights. The principal mode of transportation in Amsterdam is the bicycle. But who cares? Once you find the Red Light District, it's unlikely you'll be going anywhere else.
Italy. Italian cities are full of the most caring, open and gracious people. People from India, to be exact. Italians are also to be found there. As is well known, Italians often speak with their hands. During my stay, I also met one who spoke with his wristwatch. Venice, at Italy's moistest point, is composed mainly of water. Transportation takes the form of the gondola. Amazingly, gondolas are also used to transport people to the top of the Alps, though at the higher elevations, the serenading by the guys in the funny hats usually stops.
Switzerland. Switzerland is a very small country. In fact, if you are on a moving train, and go into the bathroom to make love to a Swiss student with lovely blue eyes and thighs that could shatter marble, you might miss it. Unfortunately, this will never happen. Ever. In fact, the Swiss are completely fed up with Americans making passes at them.
Some may even go so far as to become violent if sexual advances are even implied. Oh, which reminds me.
This topic probably should have gone under "Travel Preparations," but apparently none of the organizational skills of the Swiss rubbed off on me. It is essential you have medical insurance before you leave the states. Be sure you are covered for injuries incurred while "being flung headlong from a fast-moving train." While this has never happened to anyone, trust me, you can never be too careful when travelling overseas.
Now, if I may continue.
Austria. See "Germany," only taller.
Spain. Spain is a great place for those interested in shopping during their trip. In Spain, everything is negotiable. Authentic Spanish antiques such as Frank Sinatra coffee mugs and the ever-popular "flies" can be had for a song. ("The Yellow Rose of Texas.") Spain is also known for its bullfights. The sport of bullfighting entails taunting a bull and stabbing it to death. The same kind of creativity that went into devising this sport also went into the development of Spain's main program for economic growth, which can be summarized in two words, "foreign aid."
Greece. This country, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, is full of dancing and singing, and is comprised of many small islands which were responsible for it being one of the biggest box office draws of any country ever made.
Okinawa. Okinawa is mainly agricultural, and its main exports are flooding and typhoons. The Okinawans are best known for living in a country that only 2% of American high school students (or network news anchors) can locate on a map. Many travelers to Europe overlook this quaint country, probably due to the fact that much of the literature concerning Europe fails to mention it.
France. The French have the reputation for being rude, arrogant, abusive, werewolf-like, obnoxious and selfish. This reputation has been exaggerated. Specifically, they do not have as much hair as werewolves. The best food in France is Greek food. The most beautiful music in France is Austrian. The greatest art in France is Italian. The only thing worthwhile in France is the beach in Nice. It is well known you are much less likely to mind someone being snide when they are at least partially nude.
There are several other countries in Europe. They would be included here, except for the fact that their being omitted makes this impossible.
In Europe, each country has its own form of currency. In Italy, there is the lire. In the Netherlands, the guilder. In Spain, there is the peso, and in England, the wicket. It is better not to concern yourself with the various currencies, as the local citizens are more than willing to accept your American dollars. (Though often they insist you reside at gunpoint for the duration of the transaction.)
Many U.S. tourists choose to carry American Express Traveler's Cheques when they go abroad. Since these "Traveler's Cheques" are an excellent idea, we have no other choice but to wonder why they have been mentioned here.
Going Through Customs
Making your way through customs, both on your way to Europe as well as on your return to America, can be trying. Remember that customs officials have a job to do, and the fact that their job is to delay, interrogate and humiliate you should not effect your conduct. Be polite, answer all questions and under no circumstances should you go through any customs check without insisting on an orifice search. This is your right. And after all, bargains such as these are the things that will make your trip memorable.
While there is a good deal of appeal in just viewing the many sights of Europe, it is important not to forget the enjoyment that can come from meeting people who come from countries vastly different from our own. You will be astonished at how friendly Europeans are once they see that you have a smile, open arms and a camera or purse that has been left unattended.
Always respect the idiosyncrasies of the people you are visiting, and never try to take a European home with you. While you may not immediately be able to discern that a given European does not wish to be removed from his or her homeland, keep in mind this is because he or she is SPEAKING ANOTHER LANGUAGE. (See "Language Problems.")
Once again, we are guests in Europe, and we should act as such. Accordingly, it is perfectly acceptable to help yourself to as many towels as you can carry.
Finally, a trip to Europe can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, unless, of course, you go to Europe more than once. Then again, who in their right mind would want to do that?
One thing is for sure, when you return, you will not be the same person as when you left. (Thankfully, due to the airlines, you will also not have the same luggage as when you left, so it works out all right.) Europe can be exciting for both young and old, though if the truth be told, the "old" look rather ridiculous wearing backpacks.
As you travel through Europe, it is useful to keep this old traveler's adage in mind: "Keep your hand on your wallet, and keep reaching for the Pepto."
© Scott Roeben, 2000. All rights reserved.