Chapter 1 of
HOW TO EUROPE
The Complete Travelers Handbook
By John Bermont. Internet edition.
A page from
with photographer and author
This was my first home in Europe — in the city of
Haarlem, The Netherlands, about 17 minutes from the heart of
Amsterdam. For two years I lived in the ground floor apartment of
the house on the right at the corner of the river Spaarne and the canal
Bakenessergracht. Most of the buildings
in this neighborhood are about 300 years old. The Teylers Museum, the oldest museum
in The Netherlands, is the building with the wings on top.
The Sint Bavokerk, also
known as the Grote Kerk, (Big Church) rises above the city.
This counter-weighted lift bridge, the Gravestenenbrug, is
attended full time during working hours and is raised dozens of
times a day to let boats pass up and down the Spaarne. Swans love all the
rivers and canals in Holland, and here are five of them on an afternoon cruise.
You can't swim in a car pool.
AN ALMOST FATAL MISTAKE
Transfer To The Netherlands
My boss walked into my office one fine California morning in 1975
and asked how would I like a
transfer to the company's office in The Netherlands. This doesn't happen every day.
I begged for some time and after
a few days of thinking it over I decided what the heck and
accepted. A few weeks later I landed on a chilly drizzly October morning
at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport to begin a two year adventure in
Europe, though I was lucky to live through the first month.
Just a Leaf
Shortly after arriving, I borrowed a friend's car to run
some errands. While driving on a narrow street, another car
suddenly came speeding from the opposite direction. The Dutch
driver flashed his lights and honked his horn but continued to race
ahead as if I was just a leaf on the pavement. He seemed eager for
the inevitable head-on collision, and was probably cussing as loud as I
was but we couldn't hear each other.
My only escape was to jump the curb and drive across
someone's front lawn. Then I circled the block to see what, if
anything, I had done wrong. The only visible sign at the street
where I turned in was a round red board with a white band across
it. That was something I had never seen before. Later, a Dutch
neighbor explained that this road sign means "Do Not Enter —
Wrong Way." It's always posted at the exit end of one-way streets.
A similar sign is now used in the United States on expressway exit
ramps, with the wording which is never on the European signs. Heck, even
if the sign had the wording I couldn't have read it anyway. Learning Dutch is
difficult and takes some months, or years.
GENESIS OF A BOOK
Living and Working in Holland
Within a few weeks I had found an apartment and started to
settle in. I made the short drive to the office every day, by car
or bike. Though it was the same work I had done in California, the
office environment and worker attitude were totally different.
After work was much different also. Being single, I didn't
have much in common with most of the Americans in Holland. The majority of
them were married, had families, and socialized through the American Women's Club.
My life was almost entirely among the Dutch and I got to know them
quite well. That was especially true of the friendly crowd who
habitated a bar we called the Proef, strategically located around the corner
from my apartment in Haarlem. I was the "Yank" — a name the Dutch
affectionately use for Americans.
Shipping my car over to Holland turned out to be an excellent move. I
put it to good use on the roads all over northern Europe. On drives up
to Stockholm, over to the former East German border, down to the
Italian Riviera, and many areas in between I experienced much of Europe on weekend
and one-week trips. I learned how to drive in Paris like a real Frenchman,
drive legally at 120 mph on the German Autobahnen (expressways), and
maneuver around Sunday strollers on narrow rural roads. For information on shipping
a car to Europe see chapter 22 part 1,
Moving to Europe:
Things to Know Before You Go. For details on actually driving in Europe see
Driving in Europe
Travel by Car, Van, or Motorcycle
Returning for Adventure
After nearly two years in Holland I went back to California but it
wasn't long before I started to regret leaving Europe. I decided to
return, but this time strictly as a traveler. I was still single
and had saved enough money to take some time off from the usual
To get ready for the return trip, I quit my job and spent
two months in full-time preparation. While sorting through most of
the popular guide books, plus a library of books, pamphlets, and
maps accumulated while living in Holland, it appeared that a new
book would be helpful. For example, up until 2006 you could not find
a description, much less a reasonable illustration, of the critical "Do Not
Enter" sign in any European guide book. The only popular book in which you can
find it now also plagiarizes a lot of other material from How To Europe. I guess he
knows a good thing when he sees it.
The round red one with
the white belt is "Do Not Enter." Learn more about the rest of
those important round signs in chapter 18,
Driving in Europe. Seeing as how this is
Amsterdam, a city with one of the finest public transportation
systems and most confusing driving conditions on the whole planet
earth, just don't drive here, unless you can read those little
white boards with other qualifiers written in good crisp Dutch
while a taxi snooks up your tailpipe and two bicycles brush you on
the right as a pedestrian and dog step out in front of you on the
My nearly fatal mistake on the one-way street was only
one of many "dumb foreigner" blunders I made in Europe. Each cost me time,
cash, or grief, or all of the above. Sometimes the local citizens
were not very amused. Many things are different over there and I
had to learn it all the hard way. As I learned the ropes, it became
apparent that other Americans on their first trip were just as
confounded by the mores of Europe as I was when I arrived the first time.
Many guide books presume a reader's familiarity with
the new surroundings, sometimes copy mistakes and overstatements
from each other, and are usually wordy and flowery galore. It was my intention
in How To Europe to introduce Americans to the art of travel through the
multi-culture of Europe, spiced with personal anecdotes to enhance
an understanding of the new adventures travelers will experience on
their first trip to Europe.
So a year after leaving Europe I returned with a notebook, a camera, and a
three-month EurailPass. I covered most of Europe in almost constant
travel, from Bordeaux in western France to Vienna in eastern Austria to
Narvik in the north of Norway.
Then I spent an additional three months visiting and studying in
Amsterdam, Paris, and London — the core triangle of Europe. After another
trip through nine countries in 1981, I published the first edition
of How To Europe the following spring.
The book reviews were very nice.
American Library Association's Booklist said ". . . outstandingly practical
. . ."
The Los Angeles Times said ". . . exceedingly complete . . ."
The International Travel News, the best
travel journal there is, said "Bermont has a knack for picking out
and clarifying the things that usually baffle American visitors."
Many others echoed the same sentiments.
The following year I was back again hitting the four
corners of then Western Europe — Helsinki, Finland to Dublin, Ireland to
Lisbon, Porugal to Athens, Greece — crisscrossing by train and boat for ten weeks ending
in early 1984. The second edition went to press later that year and
sold out three printings in three years.
I let the book sleep after getting married, having a child, and holding a regular job.
I am a chemical engineer. But I continued traveling and taking photos and eventually published
the fourth edition in 2003. This web site is a continuing update of my book.
The Changing Times
Europe has undergone incredible changes in
some aspects over the past three decades, but most things are still
the same. The things that are still the same are the artifacts and natural wonders that people
have always gone to Europe for, and always will.
Eastern Europe: The most significant change is the
fact that the Berlin Wall is down and the communist dictatorships
are gone. We are now free to travel in most of what was once a huge
prison, the so-called Peoples Democratic Republics. There are still
a few of these bastardizations left in other parts of the world but
Europe is rid of them, with the possible exception of Russia and a couple
of its friends.
Uh oh, they saw my camera. This
couple with their pet grizzly came quickly to get a donation. We
were stuck in traffic in Constanta, Romania but got moving before
the bear paws reached us.
The technological revolution
of the 1990s has helped Europe immensely. It has brought the
archaic telecommunications systems up to and above the quality we
enjoy in the USA. The caliber of transportation — plane,
train, and auto — has improved dramatically. Unfortunately so
has the frequency of traffic jams and overcrowded trains.
Living in France, Germany, and Switzerland
I've also changed. I
moved to Paris in the summer of 1986 to study French and to work on
the third edition. There I met Elizabeth and amour, which
lasted about 10 years. Our daughter Stephanie was born in late 1987.
Then, the company I worked for transferred us to Germany in 1991 for
a three year period. Taking advantage of the new freedoms in the east
I drove throughout eastern Europe, going into the Ukraine twice. We
finished up the German experience with a one month drive as far as
Istanbul, returning back to Germany via Bulgaria, Romania, Poland,
and several other countries. My January 2006 trip included
travels by bus through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, all of which
were former captives of the commies in Moscow. This internet edition
will get you up to speed on travel in the former "Evil Empire." My first 2008 trip
was an intense one week in Holland to help the Dutchies celebrate the fantastic one-day
party known as
and to welcome the beautiful blooming tulips at
Keukenhof. My 2009
round about of Britain and Ireland reacquainted me with lands I hadn't seen in some years. See
much more about my qualifications at
Europe's New Money:The euro is the new currency of about 1/3 of the nations
in Europe. This is a momentous step for Europe, and a great benefit
to travelers. No longer do we need to exchange money every time we
cross the borders of many countries in Europe. How sweet it is. There are
still more than 30 other countries in Europe which have their individual currencies, though
the euro is legal in some of these. For more about the euro see
and Other Currencies:
Exchange Rates for Travel in Europe.
Unmovable Artifacts: But for the most part the
character and charm of old Europe remains — the monuments are
still where they have been for hundreds of years. Notre Dame
Cathedral plus a thousand monuments and museums have not moved a
millimeter, and won't. You do not need this year's date on the cover of your guide book.
WHAT IS THIS BOOK?
Most people think of travel books as guide books. Au
contraire, mon ami, for How To Europe is not really a travel
guide book. This means that it is not a catalog of hotels,
restaurants, and sights, telling you what is "comfortable" or
"cheap" or "charming" or whatever. There are many good and many not so
good guide books doing this already. You'll find recommendations and cautions
for buying guide books in chapter 10,
Europe Guide Books and Maps:
Travel in Europe with a Good Guidebook.
A Travelers Handbook
Rather than a specific guide book, How To Europe is a
general and practical handbook for Americans planning a
do-it-yourself trip to
Europe. It is essential reading for first-time travelers and will
probably enlighten and amuse even experienced Europhiles. I've
received letters from native Europeans telling me how much they've
learned from this book. Other much better known travel
writers have told me how much they like this book. Some of them
have even copied from it. Damn plagiarists are everywhere.
Among my unique advantages as a travel writer
are that I have lived in four countries in Europe, speak some of
the languages, have European relatives and friends whom I visit,
and have traveled just about everywhere and by any means.
How To Europe is zero-base. This means it does not
presume that you know how to drive on a German expressway, use a
French telephone, get service in a Dutch restaurant, find a hotel
in the Ukraine, or board an Italian train. Amongst many other
things, what it does do is show you how to find the best values in
any city in Europe without guiding you and a thousand other
Americans to the same cheap hotels and restaurants. You'll learn
how to travel like a European, thus getting the most from your time
and money while dodging the travel gremlins.
At least as important as anything, How To Europe teaches
you how to avoid becoming another victim of the ever-present
pickpockets and baggage thieves operating throughout Europe.
Thieves are concentrated in the major cities and resort areas, but
can strike anywhere and anytime. This ubiquitous army of villains,
usually not native to the locale, can mess up your trip — very
seriously. Security should always be on your mind. See the first
section of chapter 8,
Cash, ATMs, Credit Cards.
Photos To Learn By
Together with the captions, the photographs explain many of
the mundane but essential points of life in Europe, those things
that differ from our upbringing in America. Reviewers of the first
two editions have especially noted the uniqueness and value of these photos.
And for flattery, after teaching another travel writer how to take photos he has copied many
of mine in his own books. My travel photography tips are at chapter 12,
Photography in Europe.
I took all of the pictures in the book and on this web site, except for a few as noted
or as obvious. Most of the chapters available on line do not include the photos
because of the size of the files. A single photo has about
the same file size as the text of a complete chapter. Also, if you order the
complete book at
Amazon.com please be aware that the photos in the book are all black and
white. Some of the photos in this internet edition are in color and are different, and there are
a number of text differences in the two editions. This internet edition is far more
up to date than the 2003 print edition. I should start calling that one the legacy edition.
The Fifth Arrondissement (fifth ward) of Paris welcomes visitors with
this street side map locating hotels and sights. The bulls eye is
accompanied by the words vous etes ici (you are here). My
Paris apartment was just a tad southeast of the bull's eye on rue des Trois
Portes, 200 yards from the back door of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Check the inset "Paris V" to see where you are in the city
— I should say THE City.
Really Straight Talk
Here and there I recommend some
products, publications, and services, and offer a few words of
caution about other things which did not measure up. I
paid retail for everything in my travels and received no payment or other
consideration for any comment in this book. I mention this because
virtually all travel writers accept free air travel, ground
transportation, hotels, and/or meals from companies in the travel
business. That is why you rarely, if ever, read a travel article
with the least bit of criticism of anything. Those who bite the
golden hand are not invited to eat again. I didn't take any
freebees so I can tell it like it is.
I have been to every place I've discussed in this book. I
did not hire others to "research" or write this book or take the
photos. If you see a book with a famous author's name on the cover
— it is marketing bull. Most of the popular guide books these
days are written by hired writers for politically correct
corporations. Those travel writers are paid to travel.
I pay to travel, on my own tight budget.
From the Algarve to the east side of the Ukraine, Iceland to
Istanbul, Narvik to Naples, I've traveled the rails and roads
throughout Europe. I've slept in hotels deluxe and on deck chairs,
dined in gourmet restaurants and picnicked on park benches, and
walked the boulevards and back alleys of cities big to small. I was
lost and found, rained on, frozen, sun burnt, insulted,
complimented, ripped off, embraced, and scorned. How To Europe
gives it to you straight, no matter what your schedule, budget, or
EUROPE, WHY NOT?
Why go to Europe? Curiosity, culture, entertainment,
sports, adventure, relatives, roots, education, business, a job,
diet, or just plain fun may entice you. If you haven't made the
decision yet, the holdup is probably due to one of three things:
money, time, or timidity.
Can't Afford It?
A major problem is the high cost. Travel is expensive. But
a few things are cheaper in Europe, most are negotiable, and airline
and hotel bargains can be found with diligent searching. Despite
the high cost of travel, you can budget accurately with the
information presented in chapter 2,
On Budget in Europe. The key to low cost
travel is up-front smarts and plenty of cautious shopping. Do a little home
budget swapping to tide you over. You might want to postpone buying
a new car to put some European flavor in your life.
Don't Have Time?
Another problem for most of us is lack of time. A standard
American corporate vacation of two or three weeks is hardly enough to see
one country, much less the four dozen or so in Europe. Request an extra
four or five weeks of unpaid leave from your job and go on your
own. A longer tour will enable you to get your feet on the ground
and wander off the dusty tourist trail. By the way, Europeans
are horrified when you tell them that you are allowed a two week
vacation. In most of Europe the standard vacation is four to six
weeks. Some companies even pay their employees for a "13th month" so
they have enough money to enjoy themselves on vacation.
A couple of
celebrants brandish their beers at Koninginnedag (Queen's Day), an annual festival
in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I kept pace. What a beautiful day.
If you suffer from ochlophobia stay out of Amsterdam on April 30. My 2008 trip
is photo logged at
Afraid of All Those Foreigners?
Aside from the limitations of time and money, many
Americans are afraid to go. The adventure of travel is not always
fun. On the road, aggravations often outnumber the laughs. Travel
is not always relaxing. It can be tiresome visiting strange places
with different languages, money, customs, food, and poor service.
Why leave the security and comfort of home to find yourself lost in
France in the rain? But look at this from another perspective. Your
nest is just another place on our earth and those strangers are
just as human as you and your home town neighbors.
If you really do find yourself in trouble over there, help
is readily available and it usually comes with a bigger heart
because you are a foreigner. Just ask. Women, of course, must be a
little more careful than men. For encouragement and advice, ladies
should consult the books of Mesdames
Louise Purwin Zobel,
Dena Kaye, and
Eleanor Adams Baxel.
Some of these books are decades old but the advice is timeless.
And after reading How To Europe you should have as much
confidence in visiting Europe as you have in going to your corner
The unspeakable monstrosity which struck America and
civilization on 9/11, 11 September 2001, cannot be ignored by those planning a trip, or
even by those going to work every day. Many more innocent people were
killed at their desks than were killed on the planes that morning. The surprise
September 11, 2001 attack by 20 al-Qaida terrorists on American
soil killed more people and did more damage than the huge Japanese military
attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. A new and brutal war without
limits or front lines is all around us and has been going on for longer
than World War Two. The enemy is well organized, financed, and concealed. The head of the
evil was finally found and sent to Hell with a bullet in his bloody brain on May 2, 2011.
Thank you, gentlemen of the United States Navy Seals. We can expect that another murderer
will take his place and try to establish his place in infamy.
A Paragraph of European History to Keep in Mind
The world wide "war on terror" appears to be another "phony war" again, like France and
Britain conducted after declaring war on Germany, September 1939. Nothing much happened
other than having Stalin and Hitler divide up Poland and slaughter the population. Later,
Hitler looked north and invaded Norway and Denmark in April 1940. His Blitzkrieg
moved against the BeNeLux countries and France in the next month. The Germans overran everything
all the way to the English Channel in six weeks. He then looked east and invaded Russia
in June 1941. That was called Operation Barbarossa, the largest military operation in world history. The
Germans were repelled at the gates
of Moscow. Ironically it was an August 1939 secret treaty, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
between Russia and Germany, that provided Hitler with his
eastern cover so he could initially attack north and west. Stalin covered Hitler's back and then
Hitler stabbed Stalin in his back. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. The Nazi tyranny lasted for four years
throughout much of Europe. Then the Americans led the invasion on the French beaches
at Normandy on June 6, 1944, D-Day. They sealed victory in Europe eleven months
later on May 7, 1945. There was no final body count but it is estimated that over
50 million people perished. With radical insane dictators running several well-armed
nations these days, plus plenty of undercover al-Qaida murderers and wannabees on the loose,
this could happen again, only worse. It will be a sneak attack.
Personal Experience with Terror
The effects of terror hit close to me years ago. The first edition of How To Europe
published in 1982, and all subsequent editions, are
dedicated to an early victim of a terrorist bombing, my dear friend
She was an adventurer and became a flight attendant to see the world. Annette
was murdered on December 31, 1980 in Nairobi, Kenya.
The coward who killed her had placed a time bomb in his closet at the Norfolk Hotel
that afternoon and flew off to Saudi Arabia without checking out of his room. His bomb
exploded just above the ballroom as the New Year's Eve party was getting underway.
The son-of-a-bitch murdered 20 people.
Annette Kampinga was an international KLM flight attendant until she was murdered by a
terrorist at a New Year's Eve party in 1980.
Link: Annette Kampinga, KLM Flight Attendant.
Closer to my own body, I was evacuated from Los Angeles
International Airport along with hundreds of others when someone
phoned in a bomb threat. On another trip I flew to Amsterdam and traveled on to
Paris just a few days after President Reagan bombed Libya in April
1986. My friends were concerned that I might be flying into a war zone but one
hard slap of the bully al-Qadhafi set him back. But Al-Qadhafi returned
with the bombing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. His agent
murdered 243 passengers, 16 crew, and 11 people going about their lives on the ground. The
son-of-a-bitch Qadhafi is now with his brothers in Hell.
While living in Paris that summer of 1986 I enjoyed the beauty and charm of
the City, and met the beauty and charm of Elizabeth who became my
wife later that year. One afternoon I was walking past the
Hôtel de Ville in the center of the city at about noon on a warm sunny day.
Suddenly a police car screamed around the corner and almost rolled behind me.
I kept walking and a few blocks further I happened on a building with
all of the windows on the 4th floor blown out. The story was that a bomb
went off in a men's room of what is the French
equivalent of the FBI. The assistant director was killed.
In following days other bombs were set off around Paris. One was
in the post office of the Hôtel de Ville, a small post office I used
often. Some customers were murdered in that bombing. Army patrols were everywhere.
In all train stations 3 man squads with carbines armed and ready marched continuously
through the crowds. This was deadly serious business.
I flew into Frankfurt in January 1991, a few days before the first
Gulf War started. I flew out a week later on PanAm while the other
five in our group jumped ship and thought they would be safer on
Five years later I was in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, June 1996, on the
night that a terrorist gang blew up the Khobar Towers and murdered
19 American servicemen. That bomb went off a couple of miles from
my apartment with effects remarkably similar to those of the Oklahoma City
bombing. The truth on the Al Khobar attack is still concealed, though
Osama bin Laden was the mastermind whispered about at the American
Consulate. I made regular Friday visits to the Consulate library to read magazines
and got to know the staff quite well.
It happened again — on Christmas Day 2009. Northwest flight 253
from Amsterdam to Detroit was saved by a young Dutch fellow. When he saw the smoke
he jumped over seats, pulled the bomb from the terrorist's crotch, put out
the flames, and subdued the son of a bitch. Secretary Napolitano, head of the Department
of Homeland Security, claimed that the security systems "worked." Napolitano is a
prima-facie dingbat and amateur spin doctor. Airline security systems and enforcement
were an absolute total failure that day. Hundreds of people would have been murdered had it not
been for the quick and decisive reaction of one passenger. Thank God. The Dutch fellow
needed hospital care for his burned hands. I flew from Los Angeles to Atlanta the day
after this terrorist attack. If there was any added security compared to the week
before when I flew to Los Angeles it was well hidden.
Benghazi to Boston
Well, there they go again. It was Benghazi in September 2012 and Boston in April 2013. After the fact
investigations usually turn up evidence to suggest that these domestic terrorist attacks could have been prevented,
but at what cost to civil liberties. Only Sherlock Holmes could have figured out what some young
guys would be doing with pressure cookers in Boston. On the other hand the evidence was painted all
over the wall at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's office that someting was coming down in Benghazi.
The terrorist attack came at 3:30 in the afternoon Washington, D.C. time on the anniversary of the
attack on the World Trade Center, 11 September 2001, an event best known as 911.
Were Clinton and Obama taking a nap or smoking a joint or what? They are covering it so
viciously that we may never know where the government was that day. It is obvious that
Commander-in-Chief Obama was off-duty. He is still in cover-up mode, six months
after the attack. He can cover his ass but he can't hide the smell.
Security causes delays in airports. You are
advised to get to the airport two to three hours early and be on board a half hour
before scheduled departure. I use that time to plug in my laptop and
get to work on this book and web site for a few hours. If you're not writing a book,
bring one and relax. Also bring a sandwich to save $15 in the airport
restaurants. I used to bring a beer but the carry-on rules do not allow liquids of that
size past the security check point any more, and I stopped drinking anyway.
The TSA guards are getting stupider and more arrogant every year. Unfortunately this
Federal Government agency is responsible for security at most American airports. In the
past year I have been stopped for testing by some kind of electronic device twice. One of these
things reported that I had explosives on my hands. What a crock. All of my electronic devices
were taken into another room. I have no idea what the idiots did with my stuff.
I was given a hard frisk, to the crotch. The shake-down lastest for nearly
half an hour. I think that TSA agents are selected from the group who failed the reading test
on the post office employment exam.
One of my brothers was murdered in
Chicago. He stopped his taxi for the wrong "customer" who
immediately shot him. The Chicago cops supposedly know who did it
but never arrested anybody.
The point is that you do not know when or where or how your
Maker is going to call you back. Look at the situation in our
schools. Vulnerable teachers and students are killed in their classrooms every
year, usually by classmates. It seems to be happening every week.
This is murder and mayhem and a violation of citizens rights,
but typically the only rights being respected are those of the mad
dogs who do the crime, even when they are filmed in the act and
caught with blood on their hands. It is actually more dangerous being in school
than flying on a plane in the USA.
Have no fear, but be alert and ready for action. Those
people on the "shoe bomber" flight from Paris saved themselves.
Perhaps, some day, so must you and your fellow passengers.
The bottom line on mass murder by terror is that it can and
probably will happen again. But the odds are that it will not happen
to you if you fly every day for the next 50 years. Let your Maker
select your inevitable last day. You enjoy your life while you have
it. Don't let the bastards get you down.
You Are Already Too Thin?
My last reason for not going to Europe is not especially
profound. If you've watched the
evening news at all for the past few years you certainly have heard
about the French paradoxes. One has to do with their high
consumption of wine and their less than (American) average
incidence of heart disease. The other has to do with their dietary
intake of beautiful rich foods — lamb, duck, paté,
cheeses — with their inverse correlation to the American
waistline. You rarely see fat French people. So, if you don't want
to lose weight, don't go on a one-month French restaurant crawl.
Especially, I encourage everyone to stay out of Bourgogne
(Burgundy), one of the least touristed regions of France and my
favorite for food and wine.
The crew of this hostel information stand in the Krakow, Poland train
station will find you a low cost bed for the night. They were very helpful to me.
It was a cold January morning in the unheated station but these dedicated
people tolerated the deep freeze with a smile. Krakow is a city you must visit.
WHEN AND WHERE
Americans traditionally travel in the summer. That's
equally true in Europe. Northern Europeans head for the sun, sea, and sand
around the Mediterranean in July and August. Many also take
winter holidays, skiing in the Alps and other cold climes.
Out of Season
Those who have the opportunity to travel off-season are
lucky. You can travel more economically and in far less crowded
circumstances with a spring trip. Air fares are drastically lower
off-season, and the roads and trains are noticeably less crowded.
Off-season is anytime other than July and August and the holiday
periods around Christmas and Easter. April through June is the best
off-season travel period. On my 30 day trip in January 2006 the
trains were nearly empty except for rush hour. I found myself
alone in hostel rooms with up to a dozen empty beds.
The obvious feature of off-season travel is that it is
cooler in the south and colder in the north. The opposite is true
of in-season travel, since it can get uncomfortably hot and humid
in southern Europe during the summer. Spring is the driest time of
year in northern Europe. You are less likely to get rained on in
April and May, and the length of daylight is about the same as in
July and August.
A significant problem when traveling in the fall is that
hotel space may be scarce or impossible to find in major cities. This is caused by
the plethora of trade shows and business conventions in
the big cities. These are known as fairs and congresses
to most Europeans. Go to one if you have the chance. These
exhibitions feature everything from French cuisine to hazardous
waste treatment, and many are open to the public, not just to those
in the trade.
All the Seasons
Those with a transportable profession can enjoy Europe
throughout the year, and have someone else pay the bill. Just get
a job in Europe. I've lived and worked in The Netherlands and
Germany. Not only do you get a salary boost but there can be other
financial rewards as well, depending on your employer. See more
about this in chapter 21,
Working in Europe, chapter 22 part 1,
Moving to Europe and chapter 22 part 2,
Living in Europe.
Tivoli is an amusement park in Copenhagen, Denmark, right across the street from the railway station.
It is great for kids and adults of all ages and not as stodgy or as expensive as another famous place
which has copied some of its designs, and added a talking
mouse. Enjoy Tivoli Garden from mid spring to the end of fall. Exact dates
vary from year to year. It also has a Christmas season from mid November to the end of the year.
Your interest in special events may dictate your timing.
Oktoberfest, for instance, is held in late September in Munich. The
tulips bloom at Keukenhof, Holland, in middle spring, weather
permitting. These and other events can live with you for life.
Where is the best place to go?
Friends and students are always asking me which place in
Europe I like the most. My preferences would be of little value to
anyone else. These places are mostly associated with memories of
the people I met there, whether locals or other travelers.
Pick your own pleasure. Prepare thoroughly for your travels
using the general and specific information in this book, as well as
other books discussed in chapter 10,
Europe Guide Books and Maps. Make your own
itinerary based on your lifestyle and preferences. Chapter 30,
Melding with Europe,
presents an overview of the kinds of activities that are possible,
although I don't pretend to list everything. Nobody can prescribe
a universal list of all the "good stuff" or "the best." Chapter 30 is just a peek at the
menu. You must make your own selections.
HOW TO GO
Should you travel alone, with a friend, or with a group?
Each way has its advantages.
When single I usually traveled alone. Now that I am single again I travel alone
again. This offers the best
opportunities for meeting local citizens and other travelers.
Getting in a train compartment or sitting at a table on a ship, I
would tell the others "Sorry, I only speak English." At least half
the time, this would result in a non-stop conversation with a local
citizen that lasted until one of us got off the train, or the boat
docked, or one of us fell asleep. Sometimes I would practice my French or German or Dutch,
depending on the situation. If I happened to meet another vagabond or two
from some spot on the planet we would sometimes team up for a couple of days.
These are great experiences. You're never alone unless you want to be.
When traveling with a EurailPass in first class, you are
likely to meet educated Europeans and other travelers from the
United States, Canada, Australia, South America, Japan, and China.
It is even easier to meet others on the overnight ferries between
Ireland and France, between Greece and Italy, between Sweden and
Finland, between Finland and Estonia, and others. Seating in the
bars and restaurants is crowded, and you'll have a lot of spare
time. Only a hermit could avoid meeting someone on board. Travelers
have a great deal in common, develop camaraderie, and help each
other with tips on hotels, cafes, sights, and rip-offs.
You don't have to be a man to travel alone. I've met
American and Australian college girls, and even a few ladies in
their sixties, on their own, all over Europe. At the Romanian
border leaving Bulgaria we met a young French woman traveling in
a Citroen 2CV with her dog. That's adventure in a tin can, the
auto known as the "duck." 2CV was pronounced "dough-che-vo" in Holland.
They are probably all in junkyards or museums by now.
Use a coin or a card. The German phone on the left accepts coins. The
one on the right accepts telephone cards. This picture reminds me
of a study done by a sociology professor at the University of
Aachen, Germany. On side by side phones he put a "Nur Herren" (men
only) sign on one and a "Nur Frauen" (women only) sign on the
other. A couple dozen people used the phones while he and his class
observed at a distance. All the men used the men's phone and all
the women used the women's phone, with one exceptional exception.
They rushed over to interview the woman to discover why she had
shown contempt for the German obsession with obedience. She was
French. You might think that maybe she couldn't read German, but
that is unlikely. More likely she proudly displayed the French
addiction to disobedience, especially regarding anything that is
not French. Viva la France!
Traveling with a friend, or friends, requires compromises
from each. Preferred itineraries must be agreed on, and it sure
helps if everybody is on the same general budget. Being with a
small group puts you in a better bargaining position when
negotiating the room price with a hotel keeper. Another advantage of
traveling in company is that the hotel rooms are better. You get a
lot more comfort at a lower per person cost in a double room.
Family With or Without Child
When I was married, most of my traveling was with
Elizabeth, and often with our daughter Stephanie in the car or on
the train. Family people will recognize the pilot/navigator
scenario with nearly constant back-seat commentary "Are we there
yet?" until the little one falls asleep. The extra hotel cost is
usually none or negligible, though a soft drink for the
kid normally costs more than a glass of beer or wine.
Excess baggage in the extreme was a problem when traveling
on the trains and negotiating the train stations with two-year old
Stephanie. A kid of that age has more luggage than two adults.
Families have the option of parking the kid(s) with a relative or friend so
mom and dad can have a vacation on their own. We did that for our
one month expedition to Istanbul and our week in Budapest.
Package Group Tours
It can be a lot of work traveling on your own.
Do-it-yourselfers make many decisions every day. If you choose to
travel with a group on an organized tour, you'll find that tour
directors do most of the work and make most of the decisions for
you. Group tours usually include hotels, air and ground
transportation, guided sightseeing excursions, many meals, and time
off for independent side trips.
Advertised tour prices are always per person, double occupancy.
Solo travelers pay a "single supplement." Tours are ideal for the
timid, for those who do not have time or inclination for detailed
travel planning, and for those who would rather sit back, enjoy the
sights, and leave all the routine details in the hands of
experienced tour managers.
I scoff at package group tours for anyone except the
physically handicapped. Tours are overpriced, rigid in schedule,
and full of Americans looking out the bus window. Anybody who has
graduated from high school can travel independently in Europe,
especially after reading How To Europe.
Traveling off-season in May I was probably the
only guest in this Biarritz, France hotel. This economical, clean,
and comfortable little hotel is way up the hill from the city, and
that is a hike. In compensation, there is a great little Basque restaurant a few blocks away.
THE COST OF TRAVEL
Prices of products and services are mentioned on a very
limited basis in this book. How To Europe is designed to be valid
for several years into the future. Therefore only indicative prices are given for a few
representative items. Remember that most books which include prices are in error before they
are printed, which is many many months before you get your hands on
them. For example, the 2012 edition of a popular guide book was available in mid-August, 2011.
By the time you travel in the summer of 2012 the information is already 12 to 15 months out of date.
For other sins of travel writers and the guide book industry see chapter 10,
Europe Guide Books and Maps.
In chapter 2,
On Budget in Europe, you'll learn how to make
a detailed budget for your travels. First, here are
some general notes to keep in mind.
In virtually any major city you can find meals for $5 or $500.
The same goes for sleeps, but with a floor price of about $30.
Be a frugal traveler, but don't pick the
cheapest places to bunk in. Select what appears to be clean and
amenable. Pass it up if the price is not right. For hotels,
negotiate — always. See the detailed discussion on
negotiating for a hotel room in chapter 14,
European Hotels, Hostels, B&Bs, Private Homes:
Sleep Options for Travel in Europe. You can save 20% to 50% at almost
any hotel with any number of stars almost every night almost
anywhere no matter what your budget and no matter how expensive the
hotel. My negotiating strategy has nothing to do with the fact that
I wrote a travel book since I travel under my real name, not mentioning
my nom de plume "John Bermont" or anything about this book, except
sometimes on check-out if I need some additional information.
This beautiful walk street in Salzburg,
Austria, can turn your clock back a few decades. Parking within
reach of the No Parking sign (blue and round with a red slash) is
a common European pastime. The other sign prohibits entry to
bicycles and mopeds. 
Another reason prices are not given in How To Europe is
that dirty "I" word — inflation. As we all know, prices are
always changing, usually up. In some European countries inflation
is higher than in America. In others it is less.
However, the inflation rate for the overall economy does
not translate equally to the inflation rate for the discretionary
economy. Travel services are cyclic in demand, but fixed in supply.
They don't haul extra hotel rooms into Paris when tourist season
starts. Small changes in demand can move the price dramatically.
Big changes in demand, for instance between off season and in
season, can change prices by an order of magnitude. Nothing
demonstrates this better than the price of flying to Europe.
Compare a ticket in February to one in May to one in July.
In the chapters dealing with air travel, hotels, and
dining, I present tried and true strategies for reducing your
outlay regardless of your budget. You might think it cheesy to
negotiate and/or shop around over these things, but just call it a
game for profit. You can't lose and you can save beaucoup bucks. Depending on
your situation you can save enough for a tea kettle or a new
Dollar Exchange Rate
Another cost factor in the travel equation is the value of
the dollar. Currency exchange rates change continuously. The dollar
may be worth more or less in European currencies at the time of your
travels. The dollar dipped to record lows in 1978. For a number of
years it was on a strong upward trend. It set record highs against
many European currencies in 1985. Then by the mid-1990's the dollar
fell well below its levels of ten years prior.
After a nice 40% bounce upward in 2002 the dollar began to sink
again. As of the close of 2004, the dollar had ended its
upward trend, given up all of its gains of 2002, and plunged to new
lows versus the euro. Throughout most of 2005 the dollar had been a rising star,
up about 15% as of late November. Then it started falling gradually until
mid April 2006 when it suddenly fell off the cliff. As of autuum 2012 it is
hovering around $1.30 after rising and falling in the past few years.
What this means to travelers is that a hotel room priced at €60
costs about $78 in autuum 2012 whereas a few years ago a €60 room was only $50.
The difference is a 56% increase in terms of dollars. Where the dollar
goes from here can only be determined with tomorrow's newspaper
— something like the weather.
There is much more about money in chapter 8,
Cash, ATMs, Credit Cards. The euro is
the new currency of the European Union, most of the members that
is. The euro symbol is €. Other major currencies of Europe are the British
pound and the Swiss Franc. For current exchange rates see
and Other Currencies:
Exchange Rates for Travel in Europe.
"If it wasn't for the last minute, a lot of things wouldn't
get done," according to a sign in my brother's apartment.
But a successful and favorably memorable trip requires
careful preparation. You are better off planning far ahead and
using that last minute for good-bye hugs and kisses.
I read a few travel forums on the internet where people write in asking questions
about where to go or proposing a list of cities and asking if it sounds reasonable.
For pete's sake, get a map! Get some guide books! If you can't think for yourself
then take a planned bus tour.
There are many things to do before you go. The first is to
make a planning schedule, notwithstanding the old adage about the
plans of mice and men. This assures that you will get everything
done without a last-minute panic. The earlier you begin, the easier
it will be. Two months of preparation is appropriate, but six
months would not be out of order for a long journey. If you wait
until the last minute you will have to hurry and be faced with the
old Dutch adage: "The hurrier you go the behinder you get."
For a planning schedule use a calendar desk pad, available at stationery
stores. Keep it in a conspicuous place as a daily reminder.
Next, begin your check lists. A long piece of adding
machine paper is ideal. Have at least three lists: "Things to do
before leaving," "Things to buy before leaving," and "Packing
list." Carry these lists in your pocket, reviewing them daily,
scratching off items as they are done, and adding new items which
come to mind. Review chapter 5
What to Wear in Europe and chapter 6
A Packing List for Europe
to get you started.
A summary packing list is presented in The Finale,
Packing List and Last Call:
For Travel in Europe.
Additional lists such as "Things to buy in Europe" and
"Things to do and see in Europe" can be made as you study
guide books and tourist brochures and talk to other travelers. Write this stuff
down because you will be distracted as you cope with the daily issues of travel.
The first thing on your list should be "Get a passport." That should also be
the first one you cross off. Go to your local post office and get an
application right now. It can take about a month with normal processing. Ask
the clerk what the current wait period is when you get the application.
The process can be expedited to a week or so if you pay a heavy fee.
Because of the relationship between several topics in the
book and my objective of making every chapter as complete as
possible on the subject at hand, there are some redundancies in the
book. These second looks are not long and usually concern items
like the Michelin, Lonely Planet, and Thomas Cook publications, and
The International Travel News, an inexpensive
and extremely informative monthly magazine.
These should be emphasized anyway.
For brevity, throughout the book, certain areas of Europe
are referred to without listing each of the countries to which a
comment is applicable. The conventional and created terms used
throughout the book are:
The Continent: all of Western Europe excluding
Ireland and Great Britain.
The Islands: Ireland and Great Britain.
Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and
Iberia: Portugal and Spain.
The Mediterranean countries: Portugal, Spain, Italy,
Greece, Cyprus, and Malta.
The Eastern countries: All of those formerly under
communist domination. The names have changed and some have broken
up into pieces. As of this writing, the names are Russia, Ukraine,
Belarus, Moldavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia,
Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic,
Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Former East
Germany is not necessarily in this group. It received special
privileges from former West Germany which has brought it into the
modern world much faster than the others from the former Soviet
Bloc. I first visited a dreary Dresden in 1992 and then had the privilege
of seeing the rejuvenated city in 2006. It was much improved, and probably has
the best tram system in Europe. Some people in the
"eastern" countries prefer to say they are in
"central" Europe. Technically they are correct. The center of my
National Geographic map of Europe is in Poland. But,
for the time being, Eastern Europe is still that part of Europe
formerly known as "peoples democratic republics" — the
countries from which citizens used to risk their lives fleeing. I
know one man who made it out alive. Many others were shot in the
back as they tried to escape to freedom.
Of course, Portugal does not front the Mediterranean, but
France does, and some people do not consider Finland to be part of
Scandinavia. But these six groupings indicate convenient
demarcations in customs, food, weather, and the general character
of the peoples. Examples will be seen throughout the book.
A small piece of Turkey lies in Europe. This is a good
enough reason to go to Istanbul, truly a fascinating city that you
don't want to miss in this life.
The dining car crew consented to pose with a smile
during my 21 hour rail journey across the Ukraine.
Spelling and Speaking
There is no consistency in this book on spellings of cities
and places. This is deliberate because there is no consistency anywhere
on spellings, or on pronunciations. You have to stay loose and get a smell for things
— like Corinth and Korinthe, Munich and München,
Göteborg and Gothenburg, Basel and Bâle, and scores of
other places with two or more names. If you try to buy a train ticket to
Orleans when you are in France be prepared for a blank stare. The French
pronounciation is something like Oh-lee-ohn. Tip: write it down. "Orleans, 2nd class,
time of departure, number of persons."
Generally, foreign words are italicized in this book
with the American translation (in parentheses) right next to it. I
say American translation, not English, because there are some
dialectical differences between American and British "English." See
more on this subject in chapter 26
Languages, Numbers, Alphabets:
Encounter the Tower of Babel in Europe.
NOTE TO READERS
I welcome questions and comments. If you have any concerns about your trip to
Europe that have not been covered well enough in this chapter do not hesitate to write and ask.
My email address is
When you write please include as much detail as possible. There are about 50 countries in Europe.
It will help me answer if you mention the countries and/or cities you plan to visit.
I will reply in a day or two.
Don't forget to scroll through the Table of Contents below. The other 29 chapters of
HOW TO EUROPE
are also available, free to read on line. In addition, the Google search box below can locate specific subjects
in any chapter or page on site.
For a check-off punchlist of everything go to The Finale,
Packing List and Last Call: For Travel in Europe.
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Have a good trip in life,
Note: Italicized notations by the author.
It rains. Be prepared.
Totes Titanium Auto-Open/Close Umbrella
Weather protection is important. This is a great lightweight water repellent windbreaker.
Turfer Women's Featherweight Jacket
Look sharp and be comfortable.
Hot Chillys Women's Peach Skins Solid T-Neck Shirt
London Fog Women's Double Breasted Trench Coat
Clarks Women's Wave.Run Slip-On
Tilley Endurables TH9 Women's Hemp Hat
Wear a scarf for comfort and style. Nobody will ever suspect that you are an American.
Very soft houndstooth neck scarf, Kanye West style, different colors available
I wore one similar to this on my early spring trip to London and Dublin.
Leather Bomber Jacket
This is my "standard" shirt for most of the year in Europe.
Men's Combed Cotton Euro Design Ski Turtleneck
My favorite T-shirt/undershirt has a pocket for securely carrying passport, cash, and credit cards
under my outer shirt.
Hanes Tagless Short Sleeve Tee with Pocket
New Casual Grey Herringbone Wool Cap
Weather protection and extra pockets.
SCOTTEVEST Travel Vest for Men
SCOTTEVEST Travel Vest for Women
Walk on cork for all day comfort.
Birkenstock Bali Sandal
Birkenstock Arizona Sandal
Just as comfortable as tennies but look great. I've gone through several pairs over the years.
A very helpful planning map, worth bringing for rail travelers.
Rail Map Europe
You will need one or more of these plug adapters for your appliances and chargers.
For details on electricity in Europe see chapter 11,
Electricity in Europe: Travel Voltage Fundamentals
Plug Adapter (doubler)
Universal to Continental Europe "Europlug."
4.0 mm prongs
SIMRAN PLUG ADAPTER
Adapts grounded USA plugs to European "Shucko" plug.
4.8 mm prongs
This is a universal plug adapter for the UK and Ireland.
Grounded Adaptor Plug for Britain and Ireland
This series of "3-Pack" Ceptics brand grounded universal plug adapters is handy if you are carrying multiple
gizmos or if you have travel companions who also need a charge.
Britain and Ireland
This 110-250 volt power surge strip has three universal outlets and an American grounded plug
so it needs a plug adapter for the countries you are visiting.
Make sure your gizmos are rated for 110-240 volts.
SM-60 Universal 3 Outlet Power Strip Surge Protector for Worldwide Travel. 110V-250V with Overload Protection.
For charging up to six gizmos at a time use this 250 volt universal
power strip. It comes with a grounded Continental plug.
6 Universal Outlets
220/240 Volt 50/60Hz
OK, this is the elephant. If you are moving over and taking your electric saw, drill, kitchen appliances, and other
gear rated at less than 500 watts I recommend it.
Transformer - 1000 Watt Non Grounded Heavy Duty
Absolutely the best battery for digital cameras which use AA batteries.
AA Lithium Batteries
Rechargeable batteries are expensive but pay for themselves over and over.
This charger is good for worldwide voltage and comes with 4 pre-charged batteries.
It requires a plug adapter for the countries you are visiting.
Sanyo SEC-MQN064 Eneloop 4 Pack AA NiMH Pre-Charged Rechargable Batteries
with Worldwide 110-240 volt charger
This kit includes a pair of rechargeable batteries with a USB powered charger.
SANYO NEW 1500 eneloop 2-AA Ni-MH Pre-Charged Rechargeable Batteries
w/ USB Charger
If your gizmos charge through a USB port this device can keep you going. European cars have the same
12 volt system as American cars.
Scosche Dual USB
5v 500ma per outlet
Be on time. Trains and planes don't wait.
Casio Men's G-Shock Ana-Digi Chronograph Sport Watch
Casio Women's BLX100-1 Baby-G Multi-Function Digital Black Resin Sport Watch
To help find your way on the winding and poorly posted roads of Europe.
Lensatic Military Marching Compass
Listen to radio to get more immersed in the local culture.
FM/AM Radio Walkman
with MDR Headphones
This will come in very handy very often.
Make sure that your electrical appliances are 110-220 dual voltage so they will work in Europe.
These appliances require a plug adapter(s), NOT a converter, for the countries you are visiting.
Vagabond Compact Styler
Conair's Dual-Voltage Ionic Hair Dryer
Conair Flat Iron 2" Ceramic Straightener
Travel Hair Setter
SteamFast SF-717 Home-and-Away Mini Steam Iron (dual voltage)
Braun Series 1 150 Men's Shaver with Automatic Worldwide Voltage Adjustment
For light sleepers here is an international "white noise" machine. Includes a Continental
Marsona TSCi-330 White Noise Travel Sound Conditioner For both USA and International Use
For coffee or tea in your room, without waiting or paying for room service.
Lewis N. Clark Immersion Heater 120/240V
Starbucks makes the best instant coffee I have found, and these little packets cost only 58¢ each
in the 50 unit box. That's a bargain in the USA and an absolute steal anyplace in Europe.
Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Coffee, available in House Blend, Colombia, Italian, and Italian Decaf roasts.
Keep your stuff organized.
Luggage Packing Cubes
eBags 3pc Set
eBags Small Packing Cubes - 3pc Set
This is one amazing multi tool.
New Wave Multitool
with Leather Sheath
The two gallon size is excellent for packing your clothes, but it is hard to find in Europe.
2 gal. clear plastic bags
ZipLoc by SC Johnson
Much stronger than duct tape.
1" x 60 yards
3M Company #8957-1
Wash in your room basin and save time, trouble, and money.
Woolite Laundry Soap
20 packs, ¼ ounce each
Inflatable clothes hangars help with drip dry clothes washed in your room.
Inflatable Travel Laundry Hangers Set Of 4 by Whitney Design
To relax and sleep on the plane. This is a natural herb, not a drug. It works great.
Organic Valerian Root 515mg - 100 - Capsule
Rolling luggage sure beats lugging a pack around on your back.
Delsey Luggage Helium Fusion Light 21 Inches Expandable Carryon
Day luggage for your walkabout.
Travelpro Luggage WalkAbout LITE 4 Deluxe Tote
Wear a money belt under your shirt to protect your passport and valuables, especially if you are staying in hostels or dorms.
Victorinox Deluxe Concealed Security Belt
An RFID blocking wallet protects your passport and credit cards from identity theft in public places.
Travelon RFID Blocking Passport Case
This portable combo door stopper and alarm will give you additional security in your hotel room.
GE 50246 Smart Home
Door Stop Alarm
This carry-on liquids kit meets TSA airline rules.
Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Custom Travel Bottle Set
Bring home the memories.
Olympus FE360 8MP Digital Camera with 3x Optical Dual Zoom (Silver)
This is the camera that I use,
Nikon D60 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)
with this amazing lens,
Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR [Vibration Reduction] DX Lens
and this filter.
HOYA 72mm Circularizing Polarizing Filter
More camera options.
Canon Rebel XTi 10.1MP
Digital SLR Camera with
18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens
Olympus Evolt E500 8MP
Digital SLR with
14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 40-150mm f/3.5-4.5
35mm SLR Camera
Deluxe Kit with 28-90mm Lens
Canon EOS Rebel 2000 Silver Date
Sony DCR-DVD108 DVD
with 40x Optical Zoom
This tripod clamp is a handy accessory.
Adorama SMALL 4001
Olympus 2 GB Type M xD-Picture Card 202170
Sony MSMT4G 4GB Memory Stick PRO Duo (Mark2) Media
SanDisk ULTRA II 4GB
Who wrote this?
Home and general index.