It’s never during the excitement of the experience that you tend to notice the oddities of the world. It’s during the quiet down time, when you’re stuck in an airport or sitting quietly on a park bench or waiting out a transfer at the train station that you notice something about what you’ve experienced was strange. Something wasn’t what it once was, or it was just different than what you would have expected it to be. (Travel books ALWAYS gives you the best case scenario.) That’s the point when you know you’re actually experiencing travel. When you notice the small and out of place.
I tend to notice more stuff as I travel. Stuff that I never paid attention to when I was twenty. The small things. The interesting idiosyncrasies of places that make them the same, yet different. The things that have changed along the way. The odd. These realizations provide me with as much satisfaction these days, as the paintings in the museums do.
Some more of the things I noticed while backpacking around Europe in 2019 are below. I think they’re interesting oddities.
It is my profound belief that, at least once every city, you should stop and eat real food. Seriously, it’s easy to get lost in the endless cycle of vending machine candy bar and coke dinners, while waiting on a train to someplace new. food stalls on the streets of most cities can provide effective relief from the need to eat. Truthfully, half a dozen beers can do the same thing.
Sometime during all of the food stalls and vending machines you should pause and get real food. Go to a restaurant. Sit somewhere that has napkins and silverware. An actual person taking your order is also nice. There are lots of them, in almost every city. It will help you to relax and unwind. It will also help you to emotionally recharge. I highly recommend it. Plus, they usually have free wifi.
I’m not sure why I always end up going for pizza, when I think of real food. It might be the ability to get some loose definition of vegetables, without having to actually order them. Hahaha
I stared at this photo for a while, trying to remember where it came from. I’m pretty sure that if was from a restaurant adjacent to the Hapsburg Palace, in Vienna. And, if so, I do remember that it was tasty!
An Americano, Please?
One of the universal truths of traveling is that almost every country in the world thinks Americans drink bad coffee. If you don’t believe me, ask them. I have. The answer is universally the same. Why do we drink such awful things calling them coffee? I guess they just don’t like coffee filters in other places?
Normally, I tend to divert to whatever they drink in the the country I am in. During this trip around Europe, I decided to drink what I wanted to drink. The majority of the time, this meant Americanos. now, the European idea of American coffee is a thing far-removed from anything you would actually be able to get in the states. The most of it is … well, awful. you’re actually better off getting a cappuccino or an espresso, but seriously? What’s the point in that? Culture? Immersion in a different environment? trying new things? I say, sometimes you just want a taste of home, even when you’re abroad. Just sayin…
Close your eyes and think of coffee. You’re travelling, you stop into a shop or café and ask for a coffee. A suitably dressed man with a thick mustache brings you our a steaming cup with a rich smelling fluid in it. You inhale, and know you’re going to enjoy it.
This cup of very fine coffee was served after dinner, at a street-side restaurant in Istanbul.
This, my traveling friends, is much more like what you are going to receive. Europeans don’t understand the idea of filter-brewed coffee, and usually aren’t set up to do it that way. They simply don’t drink it or want to lower themselves to drink it.
What you will receive, if you ask for an Americano, is a cup of European coffee (usually an espresso) and a cup of hot water with which to dilute it down. It will usually also come with a strange expression from the server.
This cup of coffee was obtained from a street-side vendor, in a square in Geneva, Switzerland. The Metallica coming from the sound system was more enjoyable than the coffee. oh well, it got me out of the rain for a bit.
Getting Into Town.
I’m pretty sure that I’ve touched on this one before, but hitting it one more time won’t hurt anyone. Depending upon how you plan to get to a place, you really should pull up a map and see where that entry point is relative to the center of town. This will save you misery.
Back in the day when things weren’t as large, or in less-developed places where they still aren’t, train stations and airports were either in town or right on the edge. You could walk or cab from the airport to the train station and then go into town. As cities expand and build new infrastructure, this is becoming less the norm and more the exception.
Bucharest, Lima, and Istanbul are just a few of the places where I landed and then had to take a long trip into town. The new western airport in the city of Istanbul (the main airport from Europe and the west) is a solid forty-minute highway ride outside of the city. The main airport in Ammon is almost as far away. In these situations it pays dividends, no matter the travel budget, to book an airport transfer. Airport transfers these days can be done completely online, which means that you can set them up from whatever country you happen to be in before you arrive. I utilized Kiwitaxi.com for a couple stops in Europe and they were fantastic. I am not affiliated with them, but I got exactly what I paid for and it was friendly.
If you don’t want to set one up in advance, stop at you airline’s service counter as you exit the plane. they will be happy to point you toward the best lobby counter to get help. As for the back leg, I set up all of those transfers from my hotel desk and never had a problem. Hotels usually always adjust for local travel times as well, so you don’t get there late. That, is key!
Time For A Drink.
When in Greece, I like an ouzo. When in Puerto Rico, I like a rum. Whenever I can find a bottle of Absinth, I attack it. That being said, if you’re unwinding at the hotel bar, you pretty much have to take what you can get. And what you tend to get is always the same.
Somewhere, sometime ago, in the dark and smoky back room of an unknown place, some people got together and decided what the standard assortment of liquor would be at every hotel bar on the planet. During some twenty-years of time in the international game, I can assure you that wherever that list is written down, it’s written in stone. The small assortment of universally available liquors haven’t really changed in all the years that I’ve been paying attention to such things. In the beginning, I drank whatever was available, because it was there. Now that I’m older and more seasoned, I tend to gravitate toward higher-priced choices. Still, when you need a drink after a long day of touring, you need a drink.
Have you ever noticed that all tourist hotel bars look the same? I don’t mean the bar itself (this one is from my hotel in Santorini, and was quite welcoming), but I mean the booze that’s available. I’m sure I’ve never actually bought a bottle of silver label Bacardi in my life, but I have obviously drank enough of it by necessity.
Normally, I bypass the hotel bar, and head downtown. It yields better booze.
Tracking Down The Bars.
When I was younger, okay actually not so long ago maybe, I really didn’t plan too far in advance. Life in Germany had taught me that I could show up to a place and figure out how to get around with little enough effort. Either at the train station or nearby at some information station there would be a map of the city with one of those “you are here” markers. You figured out where you were, and walked around or caught a cab. Sooner or later, you got wherever it was you were thinking of going. It worked perfectly well.
In today’s world of instant everything, travelers and tourists alike have lost the sense of exploration. Google maps and itinerary-driven travel books with outlined walking tours have taken most of the exploration out of exploring new places. Granted that, in a world full of more expensive travel, you want to maximize your time and experiences. Still, I think we’ve lost something along the way. Getting lost is part of what makes new experiences new.
Back in the day, there was a map like this located at every train station in Europe. You would get off the train, go look at the map, figure out where you wanted to go, and then head out into the city.
This map, located in the old town of Krakow, Poland, is a fine example of how to get around town without technology.
Now, everybody these days has technology, me included. There probably isn’t any going back to the local map days, as long as there is goggle maps and route tracking.
Seriously, if you have cell service, you have mapping these days. I’m not going back either, I just think being able read a map and follow it gave you a much better introduction to a new place. understanding roads and and city layout, is lost when walking along following a dot on your phone screen.
My friends, travel is a many splendored thing. It is also, strange, and exciting, and oddly revealing. I’m not saying you should search out the strange and different. Just, stay casually observant. Continued casual observation will lead you to crazy, funny insights that the travel books don’t begin to cover. And, it adds to the experience. Plus, it gives you a story, for when you need one in a bar. And, you will, at some point.
Now, once you decide that you’re no-longer scared of COVID, get out there and explore. Get a passport, get vaccinated, get a plane ticket, and go have some new experiences. It will help your life. It always helps mine.
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