Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thoughts on European Travel - 2013

Prior to embarking on a long trip to England-Holland-Belgium-Germany-France we looked over our travel journal from our visit to the same area 31 years ago.  Reading it we were impressed at how much we walked, carrying backpacks no less, and at how cheap things were.  One hotel we stayed at in England was 5.25 pounds per person.  We had beverages that cost that much this trip.

But this was by intent a less spartan journey.  Carpe Diem, you never know how many more such trips there will be.

A few observations, perhaps they may benefit other travelers.

1. Being Understood.

Modest improvement over last trip.  Our language skills in respectively, French and German have improved a bit.  And as the older generation passes away the percentage of folks with at least basic English is quite high.  The only down side is that in our mid 50s hearing is not quite as sharp as three decades ago.  I for instance found female voices in noisy rooms quite difficult.

2. Getting Around

This was a small town oriented trip, so rail passes were out.  We rented a car.  There was a bit of a mix up on our initial choice, so to make things right they offered us a choice of what they had on hand.  As I looked back and forth at a Ford Focus and an Alfa Romeo my spouse said:  "You won't be able to face your sons back home if you could have had the Alfa and did not take it."  Right as usual.  Sorta fun having the extra horses when they were needed.

Shockingly we wavered a bit on getting GPS.  Let me be clear, do not drive in Europe without it.

We never did get it to stop speaking French, but the map read in English and we had detail and long range views that helped a great deal.  Once, when we were not sure that what we were looking at was actually a chateau we just punched in the GPS coordinates.  Yep,  that's it all right!  Oddly the GPS functions somewhat differently in various countries.  That "turn in 30 meters" in The Netherlands is right on top of you.  In France you see it coming a ways off.

Depending on your day you can set it for fastest route or straightest route.  The latter takes you through some very interesting back roads that are worth the time if you have it to spare.

We heard some harrowing tales of American credit cards being ineffective on French toll roads.  They also do not take currency and the help button only gets you a tinny French voice of about the quality of a McDonalds drive through.  People sat there helpless as gesticulating and muttering Gauls stacked up behind them.  We just avoided these toll roads entirely.  Not actually an issue as most French roads radiate like a spoke and wheel system based on Paris.  We were going "across the grain" where the roads were all dinky in any event.

Of the Autobahn in Germany I will just say that the far left lane is like something out of Star see a little dot appearing in the distance and WHOOSH it goes past you at Warp Speed.

3. Staying in touch.

First ever trip with a Europe capable cell phone.  We did not use it often but it came in handy and was worth the modest expense.

All Bed and Breakfast options had excellent WiFi.  It is btw pronounce "weee-feee" in Europe.  Hotels were a little less good.  One place had a service that kept kicking us off.  As it turns out you need a separate access code for each "device".  My tablet and wife's iPad kept knocking each other off the connection.

For the record my  travel computer did fine.  The battery life was not as long as promised but the recharge time was very fast.  And the European power adapter did not fry it.  (I confess, the first time I plug something into one of those I always wince.)  Alas, some things do not work in some places.  Pandora was pretty much non functional.

Probably the biggest factor in making an ambitious trip smooth and easy was in fact the computer age. We found most of our lodgings by simply laying out a route on Google Maps and then calling up Bed and Breakfast options at various points.  All were good, one was so nice that spouse announced her intentions to just stay there and live.  We did locate and book one lodging through somewhat old school means, a link from a town's tourism site.

It was the chateau.

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