Tuesday, June 16, 2009

European preflections

I'm about to head back to Europe. As an adult, this will be my fourth trip. As I lived in Europe for four years as a kid, it's tough to have an overall count. In the broad scope of people who would consider themselves to be real travelers, I'm very much an amateur. But for the average American, sad as it may be, I'm practically an expert. Before I depart for this next trip, I want to write out some things I've learned from my first trip.

The first trip was to Italy. The biggest thing I had to figure out in that trip was how to pack. I bought a suitcase that also served as a backpack and was also small enough to carry on. I spent days and days trying to pack up everything I thought I would need for a couple weeks and make it fit. It didn't work. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get it all to fit in that tiny pack. So I returned it and bought the next size up. I had to check it, and it was heavy.

What I figured out while I was there was that my packing problems were due to my casual American clothes. You see, to be a light packer, you need to be able to do laundry quickly and easily in the sink in the hotel room. With jeans, cotton shirts, boxers, and socks, you can't really do that. They need to soak longer, they need more activation in the water, and they take way too long to dry. That means that you need to find laundry facilities, and that not only takes money, but too much time. So I had to bring more shirts, boxers, and socks in order to stretch out the time. So before the next trip, I spent some cash at REI before going to get some travel clothes. Now every few days on the trip, I fill the sink with water, a few drops of Woolite, and soak the clothes for awhile. Then swish them around for awhile, rinse, stamp out the water, and they are clean and dry the next morning. If you plan to travel light, get some travel clothes.

I also learned the need to have the occasional link to home. I left with this mentality that I was going to travel correctly as a European - there was no way I was eating at McDonalds! That didn't last too long, as I soon discovered that while I like trying new stuff, I don't always like what I try. The lousy meal can easily be followed up with a Big Mac. I had plenty of lousy meals, as on that trip, I wasn't good at picking places to eat. I didn't really learn that until the next trip.

But it was a strong link to home that I had near the end of the trip that allowed me to make it happily through the last few days. My last stop on that trip was five days in Rome. For the previous 10 days or so, I had been dropped head first into this other culture. Cold drinks were rare. I didn't often hear English. On that first day in Rome, I had to do laundry one last time. Again, it was an inconvenience of time. But I had also spent the past couple days doing a lot of exhausting activities, so I was beat. I knew I had five more days, but I was feeling like they might be spent just lying in my hotel. I needed something to kick me in the butt.

So I was lucky to find a full service laundry. I just had to drop off everything, and it would be ready a few hours later. So I started walking around to find food. By that time, it was an almost dreaded activity. As I mentioned before, I wasn't good at finding food. Even in Italy, which has some of the best food on Earth, I had found some of the either worst or most expensive (or both) food imaginable (Yep, even pizza. I managed to find the worst pizza ever in Venice). But on this night, fate was with me. I turned a corner to find this nice little neighborhood with outdoor dining, fairly typical of Europe. And right in the middle, there it was. It was a beautiful sight. It was - The Hard Rock Cafe.

You see, if I were to find a Hard Rock Cafe anywhere else, at any other time, I would probalby keep on walking. Yeah, I've had a Hard Rock T-Shirt before. I've eaten there and enjoyed the decor. But after leaving my early 20s, I lost interest. But you see, there were a few things that linked me back to home. Of course, they played music videos the whole time. American videos. Comfort music from home. I had a big, fat burger that wasn't a McDonalds burger. I had a Caesar salad, so that I would feel like I was still in the Roman spirit. But the best thing of all was the drink. It was a Pepsi. With ICE. And free refills. Even though I was there and went through it myself, I feel a bit like an idiot even typing about the event and how excited I was for ice and refills. But at that moment almost six years ago, it was a huge deal, and it got me through the next few days with a renewed vigor.

I don't want to type out the stories right now, but here are some other things I learned about travel in Europe. 1. Always check your pizza to see if it was cut into slices. 2. Check the top of your bottle to see if it's a twist off. 3. If you aren't 100% sure you know where the bus goes after your stop, don't stay on to sight see. They don't all make round trips (D'oh!)

My second trip was the biggie. I was there for six weeks, covering as much of Western Europe as I could. I discovered that it was just a bit too long. I was ready to come home about about five, and I kinda started losing it a bit. When you start talking to yourself out loud (in your head or mumbling lightly is always perfectly acceptable) at the Aquarium Portugal about the majesty of the Ocean (singular), it's about two days after you should have gone home.

The third trip was to Central Europe. You can see the details of that trip on my website (www.scottcharris.com), though I still haven't finished the last four days. I keep telling myself that I will actually finish the website, and perhaps this trip will encourage me to do so. I tried to make the site much more complicated than it needed to be. For this trip, I'm going to post some pictures and updates to the blog. I know that I'll put something on the website. But it won't be as complicated, especially since I don't really know how to use the software that I have on this laptop.

So here's the approximate schedule. I arrive in Stockholm Wednesday morning. I'll take an overnight cruise to Tallinn, Estonia, then spend Thursday night there. On Friday, I speed up to Helsinki, Finland and spend the night there. Saturday night I'll take another overnight cruise back to Stockholm. On Sunday I start the tour. Here are the details. Late afternoon of the tours end, Day 14 ( July 4) I'll fly back to Oslo to spend the night before flying back home on the 5th. So when I have some internet access, I'll let you know how I'm doing and show you a few pictures.

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