HOW TO EUROPE
The Complete Travelers Handbook
Internet edition. By John Bermont.
A page from
with photographer and author
and help from daughter Stephanie.
Open-top Hop On Hop Off buses are a feature of many major tourist cities. This is one of them in
Rome Italy. This is a great way to get an introduction to any city. You can get off and on at will
for the day. [DSCS0795-RomeHopOnHopOffBus. Photo by Stephanie.]
What's going on?
MANY CHOICE CHOICES
Selecting your itinerary from the cornucopia of Europe requires
careful preparation. It's all a matter of personal taste. You don't
have to visit museums if you would rather go on a balloon flight or
go to a bull fight or sit at a cafe and meet someone new.
Uh, No Thanks
As an example, one of the
most highly recommended items in all of the popular travel
guidebooks, TV travel shows, and guided tours is the Amsterdam
Canals Boat Excursion. I took this ride and I have a different
opinion. It is a waste of time and money. You're stuffed into this
long boat with a curved plexiglass roof, you and 80 other tourists.
In four languages, over a
miserable speaker system, you listen to a tape recording of
stupendous facts and statistics about the places you are floating
by. Good luck ever finding these places again as you walk around.
I was not the only one bored on board. On top of that, it seemed
that the boat was going to be swamped by a huge freighter when it
got out in the middle of the harbor What in Amsterdam's name were
we doing out in the harbor?
On the other hand, one of the
most fascinating exhibits in Europe is usually left out of the
popular guidebooks. Sins of omission are far from the major
problems with these books. Virtually every one I open has errors so
stupid that the only possible explanation is that the author did
not go to the place mentioned. See chapter 10,
Guidebooks, Maps, Dictionaries
, for reviews of the popular guidebooks.
Back to my story. My site to visit
is the intact 17th century armory at Graz, Austria. It is stocked
with some 30,000 weapons and sets of armor of all sorts, some dating to
the early 1500s. I wouldn't have known that this place exists
except that the Michelin Green Guide Austria gives Graz two stars,
worth a detour. I bid three stars and worth a return visit.
Your Million Dollar Trip
presents a few of the things that I have seen and/or done in Europe,
from the somber to the frivolous. You'll
learn something about me from this, but you'll also learn a bit
more about Europe.
If you are looking for a ring-in-your-nose guide, this chapter will be a
disappointment. Many guide book authors are rather arrogant and opinionated about
what to do or see, as if everyone shares their point of view. There are literally
hundreds of books wherein the authors give their perspective on the sights and events.
The better authors just present the facts. You decide what is best for you. My
recommendations for good guide books (and there are plenty of bad ones)
are to be found in the aforementioned chapter 10,
Guidebooks, Maps, Dictionaries.
In advance, learn as much as
possible about the places you will visit and only do those things
that suit your personal fancy. It's impossible to see and do
everything, unless you have five years and an extra million dollars
burning a hole in your pocket.
HOW TO TOUR
There are two basic ways to
travel on a package tour or on your own.
The tourist on the packaged
15-day tour will have already decided what he will see and do by
having placed him/herself in the hands of a tour operator. The cities and routes
are planned out and the names of the hotels might be available. The bus
will be parked in front of your hotel with the engine running at 6
am. All you have to do is get your suitcase to the curb, have
breakfast, and then get on board. Enjoy the ride. When you arrive
in another city down the road, after passing hundreds of worthwhile
places to visit, you and the other bovines are herded off the bus
into your luxury or budget hotel, as your case may be. You probably
won't know where you are. Collect your bag and key, and unpack
again. Later on, a guide will meet your group and tour you through
the museums and cathedrals listed in the tour booklet.
The tour buses make regular
pit stops where you have a chance to buy trinkets, use the potty,
and have lunch. The shops and cafes probably have annual contracts
with the tour operator which bring them the captive
I have never
done one of these tours but have seen plenty of them in action in
my travels, and I've read many tour brochures. If you want to sit
on a bus looking out a window for up to
six hours a day, some of the time stuck in the impossible big city
traffic jams, this is for you. You are hardly seeing Europe any more
than if you had
stayed home and watched the travel channel. If you take a package
tour, I hope that you have set aside enough time after the tour to
actually see some of Europe on your own.
If you are traveling on your
own you have the opportunity to select individual city tours. In
any city the number of guided tours is more or less proportional to
the size of the metropolis. In big cities you'll also find tours of
neighboring regions. Pick up brochures in city tourist offices and
in commercial tour offices located in downtown areas. Your hotel
desk clerk will probably be trying to sell you a tour, and look for
promo brochures on the table in your room.
I have taken some of these
city tours. They are good for openers, but in all of them the guide
mechanically recites the lines describing the place, along with
data and dates of questionable relevance. The guide is on a
schedule so there is little time to dwell on an interesting
The guides usually speak
English, with a heavy accent. I have been on some guided tours of
museums in France where only French and German were spoken. When
the guide held out his hand expecting a tip for the tour, I kept my
hand in my pocket. On a walking gastronomic tour of Haarlem the
guide spoke only Dutch but I could understand most of it. We ate so
much I could hardly move. My open top bus tour of Edinburgh was narrated
by a local gent speaking a heavy Scottish, understandable only to other
When taking a guided tour, it is essential to get in the front of the
bus or at a side on the top deck. Stay next to the guide on a walking tour. This way you can get
in questions about things you don't understand, or inquire about
interesting objects which aren't covered by the standard speech.
The guide usually has time for a little chitchat between sights and
exhibits and welcomes the opportunity to reply to curious visitors.
It indicates that you are interested and gives the guide an
opportunity to use some words that aren't in the standard
All of the things on a guided bus
tour can be seen more cheaply with the help of a good guidebook and
the public transportation system. The do-it-yourself traveler has
to find his own way about, find a hotel, locate restaurants, and
handle a number of mundane chores in order to enjoy the paintings
and cathedrals. Since you have read this far in How To Europe, you
know the basics and are probably anxious to start putting some of
these do-it-yourself traveling techniques to work. Be an
independent traveler and become a part of the scene — thus the title
of this chapter, "Melding With Europe."
The first thing you need for self touring is a good guide book. Use the
Michelin Green Guides for France, Britain, Italy, Germany, Holland,
Spain, and the other countries for which they are published.
Michelin Green Guides are available for different regions of
France, e.g. Burgundy and The Riviera, and for Paris. If buying
your copy in Europe, make sure that it is the English language
edition, unless you can read French. These books are classics for
travelers. They include historical sketches of the country, short
vocabulary lists, general maps of the country and regions, useful
information on local laws, customs, prices, driving, suggested
itineraries for one to three week auto tours, bibliography, and a
detailed discussion and map of every significant city, town, and
region in the country. This includes scaled maps showing tourist
offices, post offices, and city halls, along with museums,
cathedrals, and other items of interest. Major museums are
discussed in detail, giving floor plans. locations, open hours, and
descriptions of the works in each room. Go with Michelin
For the compleat European traveler I recommend Lonely Planet's Europe
on a Shoestring. This is an encyclopedic guidebook covering all of Europe,
and I mean all of Europe.
When traveling on your own, you may occasionally be offered native
bilingual guide service. An individual guide may sound like an
expensive way to travel, but I have had several and at absolutely
no cost. It was with a bit of luck I admit, but ordinary citizens
in some cities that don't see many Americans have proudly marched
me through the town and its cathedrals, helped me find a hotel, and
bought me coffee or a beer. One was an unpleasant experience (which
I should have recognized beforehand), but many others were
favorable. In L'viv, Ukraine I had probably the best help of any
city I have been in. It was not too many years ago that imminent
war between the USA and USSR was feared. If you are offered free
guide service, seriously consider canceling your previous plans, if
any, and accepting the offer.
By "basing" I mean where you
are going to sleep and store your luggage while you are out seeing
the sights and doing the town.
Most travelers go to the
major cities because that's where the big cathedrals and museums
are parked. But you don't have to put up with the big city all day
long. With excellent public transportation available everywhere,
you can stay in a medium sized city nearby and commute to the big
city. Eurailpass and local public transport passes make this
especially convenient. In a smaller
city, you are off the beaten tourist trail and more out of the way
of pickpockets, high prices for rooms and food, and pushy
hucksters. Things you can't measure are the friendlier atmosphere
and genuine welcome from almost everyone you meet in the smaller
out of the way places. You'll also find it more convenient to visit
other sights and events in the countryside.
example, when you are in Holland base yourself in Haarlem rather
than Amsterdam. There are six trains an hour from Haarlem making the 15 to 18
minute trip to the heart of Amsterdam.
Besides being convenient to
the heart of "A'dam," Haarlem itself features a couple of
impressive cathedrals — Sint Bavokerk which is usually
referred to as the Grote Kerk (the Big Church) and the
Basiliek Sint Bavo. Museums include the Frans Hals
and Tylers. The Cruquius Exposition is a huge 150
year old steam engine used to pump the water out of Lake Haarlem.
This lake is now a polder in which Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport resides,
about 15 feet below sea level. Near Haarlem you'll find
(magnificent flower garden in spring), Zandvoort (beach, casino,
and race track), Alkmaar (Friday cheese market), and
Kennemerland (dunes with bike paths). There are many other sights
dating back to the 17th century.
The city is convenient to
Schiphol Airport. Use Connexxion bus number 300 or 300R from the airport
direct to the Haarlem train station. The VVV Tourist
Information office of the city of Haarlem is inconveniently located in the
middle of the Gedempte Oude Gracht boulevard in front of the V+D department
store. That's about a 20 minute walk from the station. If you stay on the bus
at the station it will take you to the VVV after a 10 minute wait. The VVV will get you oriented
and help you find a hotel, hostel, or B&B. Several budget
hotels near the Big Church offer a good choice, along with a couple
of upscale business hotels in the city. Or book in advance at the
on the west side of the city to really save money and have a small
apartment to spread out in, including a generous Dutch breakfast in your sitting room.
Haarlem hotel rooms are generally the size of match boxes.
Get a map of Haarlem and
the booklet Uit Met Info tourist guide at the VVV.
The Haarlem train station rents bicycles with daily rates for less
than the price of lunch. You'll have a long time looking for a better place to ride
These are just a few specifics
about a place I am fortunate to know well. I first lived in Haarlem
from 1975-77 and then spent most of 1997 through 1999 here.
Not all major cities can boast of a nearby jewel like
Haarlem, but all do have suburbs easily accessible by public
transportation and which offer tourists unique and favorable
experiences not available in the big capital cities. You will get a
much more balanced image of the people in each country. After all,
would you think that a European visiting the USA should go to New
York City and/or Washington D.C. and/or Los Angeles and home again? Duh.
SIGHTS AND PURSUITS
My catalogue of
things to do and see in Europe is presented in no particular order.
It is meant to be a mere introduction to the nearly infinite range
of activities possible in your travels. It is certainly not
complete since it does not dwell on the subjects that you can
easily learn about from traditional information sources. These
sources include travel agents, official national tourist offices,
home sports and hobby associations, guidebooks, travel magazines,
Sunday travel sections in major newspapers, TV shows, and other
There must be a thousand
museums in Europe. Though we usually think of museums as art
museums, there are scores of other types featuring everything from
warfare to windmills to wine making. In a very few museums, e.g. those in castles, entry
is only allowed in the company of a museum guide. You might have to
wait a few minutes for enough English-speaking people to show up
and make it worth their while to walk the tour.
Typically museums are closed
one day a week to allow the staff time to dust off the artifacts.
Then the rush is on at other museums and sights. For example, the
Museum d'Orsay is closed on Monday and the Louvre is closed on
Tuesday. Therefore, wait until Thursday to visit a Paris museum
unless you like big crowds of tourists.
Most government owned museums allow free admission once a month, or
on some other schedule. If you want to save some money do the reseach
and find out when the free day is.
Sometimes a surcharge is made
if you are bringing in a camera, and sometimes cameras are
prohibited. Tripods and flash are always prohibited. Back packs and totes
are usually prohibited but can be left in the cloakroom.
Most museums have shops where
you can buy posters, postcards, books, jewelry, and other mementos.
If there is an entry charge for the museum, you can usually talk
your way into the souvenir shop without paying.
I don't go out of my way for
memorials to the carnage that engulfed Europe twice in the last century. It
seems so senseless that millions of people died so horribly.
But I have come upon some cemeteries and war museums in my travels
so I stopped to have a look. There is a massive memorial to the
American Army in Belgium that gripped me for hours. The American
Cemetery and Memorial in Cambridge, England is impressive.
The Eagle, a pub in Cambridge, was the hangout for many American and RAF pilots
who left their marks on the ceiling.
Cathedrals and Mosques
ancient cathedrals are main attractions throughout Europe. The
architecture and engineering that went into these structures is
overwhelming. You might say that these were the first skyscrapers.
There is rarely an entry fee though a donation basket is usually
conspicuous near the door.
All of these churches are
still in use as houses of worship. Use discretion when taking
photos and talking even if there is no sign advising of a service
in progress. Many tourists visit to pray, and you will occasionally
walk in during a service. I had an interesting time in a Kiev
church when I walked in during a multiple wedding ceremony. You are welcome to
visit the mosques in Istanbul. Women are admitted, though everybody
must leave their shoes at the door to walk on the carpets
A lot of people are buried in
those cathedrals, in crypts along the sides and under the stone
markers near the altars. The kings usually get the best positions.
In English churches, you can often buy
materials on the spot to make brass rubbings of the inscriptions.
Some former houses of royalty
are open to visitors. These may be empty shells or fully furnished,
or converted for use as museums, hotels, or restaurants. The famous
Schlösser along the Rhine are only a fraction of the
possibilities in Germany. The chateaux in the Loire Valley of
France are also major tourist attractions. The most spectacular
castle I have seen is at Sintra, Portugal. It's the kind of place
you envision a castle should be, and it is fully furnished. The
king had a short bed. Other tourists in the group I was with
dwelled over the queen's commode.
In the same breath you can
regard the walled towns of Europe. Most cities have torn down the
ramparts, or invading armies did it for them. One of the most
famous and beautiful of the survivors is Brugge, Belgium, though it
is extremely touristy. Rothenburg, Germany is the same. I have
stumbled upon several walled towns in France which have not
exploited their unique features. In other words, there were no
crowds of tourists when I arrived. There are scores of others
scattered about, usually on top of a hill with very steep
This is a very interesting way to spend a month or a few in Europe. Sign up
for language lessons at a university or institute in any of dozens of cities.
Rent a room or an apartment and live in the local economy. I've taken lessons
in Holland and Germany while working there, and have taken French lessons
on a do-it-myself basis. I signed up for the Alliance Française
twice, learned a lot of French, enjoyed Paris, and met my ex-wife there. Our daughter
went a couple of decades later. Stephanie also spent six weeks studying Spanish
at the Universidad de Salamanca. See more information in chapter 26,
European Languages, Numbers, Alphabets:
Encounter The Tower of Babel in Europe.
Sports & Games
The common denominator in
Europe is soccer, generating more interest and fervor than American
baseball and football combined. Primarily of British interest is
rugby, an amazing bone-crunching game using a ball similar to our
football, but the players wear no helmets or body
The familiar American
pastimes of golf, tennis, and bowling are found, but on a limited
basis to travelers. These are usually private club sports, or
require reservations well in advance if open to the public. It is
best to know somebody and get invited if you wish to play, or make
arrangements through your travel agent before leaving home.
Ice skating and skiing are
national pastimes in the colder locales during the winter. Ice
skating is very democratic. Just find a frozen pond or river, or
pay hourly at an ice rink. Hockey is big in the north. Skiing
of course requires mountains. Scandinavia and
the Alpine regions of France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and
Austria feature hundreds of slopes. Affluent Europeans put the rush
on the good spots so plan and reserve early. The cold climates
also feature toboggan racing, curling, and other frozen water
events. Nonathletic types can build a snowman or snowwoman, or
enjoy the fireplace in a cozy mountain chalet.
Summer events which are
internationally publicized are the Grand Prix and numerous
other auto races. Bicycle races are held throughout Europe, the
most famous being the Tour de France every July.
I am a casual bike rider and there is no better place for it than
Holland. There are bicycle paths with their own street signals throughout
the country. We also enjoyed bicycling along the Main River in Germany.
There are horses for hire at
a few stables, but no welcome for cowboy riders. Saddles, stirrups,
and horse training are strictly English style. There is a horse in
Holland who was happy when I got off, I'm sure.
Boating, sailing, and water
skiing are popular along all the coastal areas and inland waterways
of Europe. Sailboats, cats, and power boats can be rented or
chartered in most ports and resort areas by the hour, day, or week.
The Atlantic coast of southern
France sports enough waves for surfing. I enjoyed an afternoon of body
surfing at Biaritz. Wind surfing is popular where nature provides no
Fishermen and hunters can
have a go at it. You will need a license. In Germany you must take
fishing lessons in order to get a license.
Additional activities for
participation or viewing are handball, field hockey, and canal
jumping (Dutch amusement). The Dutch are also into baseball. It's
called honkbal in Holland. Nearly every account I've ever
read or watched says that bullfighting is bad. I saw an afternoon
of it in southern France and it was OK by me. They are going to
keep doing it whether you watch it or not so why not enjoy a day in
Backgammon, bridge, checkers,
and chess have millions of ardent players in Europe. Expect an
intense win or die effort. Locals love to beat Americans. Billiards
has a cult following, and championship matches are broadcast on
TV. These games and others are often played in bars or cafes. If
you get involved, check the local rules of play before making any
wagers on your skill. Game rules are sometimes different over
This often promoted traveler's sport is as good as
they say it is. In most of the countries of Europe, cafe owners put
up tables and chairs on sidewalks and in the streets during good
weather. And in many cities, the cafe owner has glassed in a good
piece of the sidewalk so that he doesn't depend on the weather. It
seems to be the inverse of eminent domain.
Before sitting, make sure
that a pigeon has not made a deposit, then relax and let yourself
be amused. The waiter will arrive before dusk. Beer, wine, coffee,
tea, or mineral water generally cost about $5, maybe more
depending on the exchange rate. Getting a second one is usually
more difficult than the first. Stand at the bar inside to save money
on beverages. Table service on the sidewalk costs more.
Entertainment varies from zero to plenty. In a good
location you will have a constant parade of local citizens going
about their business, other tourists looking as uncertain as you
about whether or not to sit down, and assorted entertainers with
fifteen minute repertoires after which they pass the hat and leave
the sidewalk stage to the next busker, troubadour, mime, or
magician. You'll love it!
The ambiance of Paris must force creative types to let
it all out, and it needn't be at a cafe. In riding the
Metro, you'll often see soloists or five-piece string groups
board, blast away, pass the hat, and split at the next stop. Alas,
the good old days of this unique form of entertainment may be
ebbing. Signs in the Metro stations now say "For your
tranquility, entertainment and passing the hat are forbidden in the
Metro cars. Please do not encourage it." (free translation from
le Français). Metro access tunnels are
favorite habitats for violinists and flutists. The echo chamber is
real. But the city has imposed new restrictions. Musicians must
have a permit to play, and they must audition to receive one of the
few hundred available permits. I recently watched a group of opera quality.
In the evening, Paris streets
come alive with some pretty unusual stuff. I have seen 15-piece
brass bands in the Montparnasse area. And the winner of them all
was a rat circus in which two very normal young men had a dozen
huge rats climbing ladders, walking the high wire, jumping through
burning hoops, and all manner of other acts on a Paris sidewalk!
The price is only what you want to toss in the hat.
There is more to life than
Paris. In many German cities, the Altstadt
(Old Town) features outdoor cafe sitting and street entertainment.
The relaxing atmosphere of a German beer garden on a warm afternoon
is all the more pleasant because local citizens often want to practice
their English, as opposed to Paris. Stores close in mid afternoon
on Saturdays in Germany so you have plenty of time to get revved up
for Saturday night.
Although some points on
shopping were discussed in chapter 23,
Shopping in Europe: Souvenirs, Gifts, and Stuff You Can't Live Without,
do not overlook its
recreational value. The central shopping streets in many cities of
Europe are forbidden to automobiles. Window shopping after dark is
excellent because most of the stores have lighted window displays,
and the crowds are all at home watching an American movie on TV.
For inside browsing, mornings are best. In some countries,
impatient salespeople are on your heels and expect you to buy the
first one of anything you look at. If you don't buy, you are
slammed out the door. Conversely, in other countries you won't be
noticed unless you scream.
If you are looking for a special item, get an
authoritative translation of its name, an illustration, and/or a
description of its features in the local language. Then go for it.
Many items are not displayed. Sales people must rummage through
drawers for things like shoe polish in the shoe
In Istanbul, go to the amazing Grand Bazaar and shop for Turkish
carpets, leather goods, and dust collectors.
Haggle, haggle, haggle, and keep on haggling.
While sport shopping, don't
forget houses, apartments, and automobiles. Walk into showrooms and
real estate agencies and start chatting. It helps to be well
dressed. You will be amazed at the features, size, and cost of
living quarters, and you will be glad that your grandfather or
great-grandfather got off his duff and emigrated to
Public swimming and
sunbathing beaches are spread along coasts throughout Europe. Most
are sand, though you will sometimes find a stony place like Nice,
France. Inland lakes and rivers usually have grass banks. Beaches
are popular, so if it is a warm Sunday, arrive early if you have a
car to park.
Resort beaches often have
cafes and bars right on the sand. These cafes rent beach chairs by
the half day. Just sit in one and sooner or later some fellow will
be around to collect a fee in local currency. He can bring you a
beer or sandwich or you can walk inside to order it, or you can
bring your own picnic.
A nice feature of beaches is that Europeans wear
considerably less on the sand than Americans. A large number of
girls in Europe wear nothing above the navel, and almost nothing on
the derriere. Topless with a thong is standard wear on some beaches,
or at most only the bottom half of a bikini.
Also, you can strip and go skinny dipping at one of the hundreds of nude
beaches throughout Europe. Nudism is called naturism in Europe and nudists
In discussing beaches, Zandvoort is one which is
overlooked by virtually every guidebook but which is most
enjoyable. You might be lolling around Amsterdam on a warm sunny
Sunday when you notice that the town is virtually deserted. Most
likely everybody went to the beach at Zandvoort aan Zee, and so should you.
There is a train every half hour from the Amsterdam Central Station
which arrives at Zandvoort in 30 minutes. Walk out the front door
of the station, go straight ahead two blocks and you're splashing
in the North Sea. The water will be warmer than the water off
southern California thanks to the Gulf Stream. Turn left (that's
south) and walk the length of the town, about one mile. Along the
whole beach from the station, "club" cafes and traveling wagons are
selling good Dutch beer, herring (haring), and other delicacies. Sailing
cats and wind surfers are available for rent. The beach and water
will be packed with Dutch and German people, at ease.
Actually, in the summer
you're likely to find more Dutch and other northern Europeans on
the beaches of France, Spain, Greece, and Italy. In fact, you're
likely to find too many and they already had all the hotels,
pensions, and campgrounds at the popular places booked solid months
ago. Do as the Europeans do book early.
Music lovers will have no end
of things to do in Europe. You have your choice almost everywhere.
Major cities have opera houses, though performances do not coincide
with the summer tourist season. A visit in fall or winter is
necessary. But summer is the time for free open air jazz and rock
n' roll in the streets and band shells throughout Europe, with beer
and wine going down the gullet of everybody in sight. You'll love
The Rome Opera House has many shows every year.
[DSCS0539-RomeOpera.jpg. Photo by Stephanie.]
Jazz bars are popular, friendly, very
down-home, and drink prices are reasonable. There is sometimes an
admission charge, but usually the jazz bars are the best free
entertainment in town. Almost all the music is from America, and some of the
entertainers are American expatriates. If you can rumble a
keyboard, you might think about living off the land as you travel.
When you are in a hot place, ask if you can do a few "guest
numbers" and try to work your way into something. The worst they
can do is say "No" and you've survived that word before.
Popular musical groups tour
during the summer. If you have the chance, attend one of these
concerts for a look at the young life. At an outdoor performance of
the "Eagles" in Stockholm a number of years ago, I saw what must
have been half of the teenage population of Sweden.
Festivals and Carnivals
the biggest parties in the world takes place in Munich, Germany for
two weeks every September the famous Oktoberfest. It is
truly an amazement, but it isn't the only party. There are hundreds
of lesser ones scattered throughout Europe. Many of these celebrate
the harvest of the grape. It would appear that they often drink
most of the crop straight away and have nothing left to export. For
a darn good time, drop by and help them taste the beverages at any
German wine festival. The French are more subdued, even drinking
the raisin juice.
Carnaval or Carnival is the same as
Mardi Gras. Revelry and ridiculous parades occupy the
residents and visitors of some cities from Friday to the Tuesday
before Ash Wednesday. I was on duty in Maastricht, The Netherlands,
for several days of Carnaval some years ago. The costumes and
unbridled behavior of the citizen actors are unbelievable. The
memories will keep you laughing for decades.
Bar none, my favorite party is
(Queen's Day) in Amsterdam on April 30 every
year. It seems like the entire country comes to town to drain the breweries
and/or sell the family junque. The streets are mobbed curb to curb.
It is just unbelievable that a major city can turn into such
debauchery for an entire day. Unfortunately the weather is highly
variable at the end of April in Holland. Sometimes you'll have a beautiful
sunny day and within 24 hours a wicked storm will come in off the North Sea.
Some major cities have
amusement parks and zoos. For many years probably the most famous
of the amusement parks was Tivoli Garden in Copenhagen. This
is open during the summer, and is definitely worth a day and
evening visit. Started in 1843 on the outskirts of the city,
Tivoli is surrounded by city now, and the train station is
across the street. You'll be reminded of Disneyland when in
Tivoli, and it would appear that Walt Disney was inspired by
some of what he must have seen there. The admission fee to Tivoli
is much less than for Disneyland.
Speaking of Disney,
EuroDisney opened near Paris in 1993.
There was great hoopla and great moola, except the moola
went the wrong way. The park was rejected by the French en
masse and was a disaster for the investors, ranking up there with
government projects. EuroDisney lost about $1 billion before
starting to earn some of it back. Disney sold half of their stake
to a bank in Saudi Arabia to cut losses and then renamed it
Disneyland Paris to further insult the French. I guess that the
word hubris was invented to describe such behavior. Mouse brain at
find much more reasonably priced amusement centers set up in many
cities as part of their annual fair. These are usually summer
events and are a lot of fun, especially for the children. As you
travel keep your eye out for posters advertising these mini
carnivals and circuses. If you see a ferris wheel in the distance
you'll know what's happening.
Movies are very, very popular
in Europe. Most American movies appear in Europe shortly after they
open in the United States, sometimes at the same time. The local
language is usually dubbed in. But in Holland, Portugal, Greece,
and Scandinavia you'll probably hear the original sound track and
see a subtitle with the local translation. Check with the box
office before entering. Simply ask the ticket seller or another
customer in line if the sound track is in English.
Breweries & Wineries
throughout Europe welcome visitors. Some of the famous and not-so-famous
Danish, Dutch, Irish, and German breweries will admit you, normally for a
small fee, and give you a tasting and snacks at the end of the
tour. Sometimes the original brewery has been converted into a museum, but
the suds are still available.
Wineries are different. They
are smaller and have different market. They might not appear so
hospitable but you will be warmly welcomed as a customer. When we
lived in Germany we drove over to France about every six months,
bought the ruby liquid en vrac (10 to 30 liter plastic
barrels), loaded up the trunk of the car with as much as 120
liters, and then drove home where I bottled it in our cellar. You
can also buy it bottled and bring it home to the USA, up to the
limits of your home state alcoholic beverage rules. Our trips were
to Burgundy, the area in the environs of Dijon. In Beaune and the
surrounding villages and countryside you can find scores of
Caves de Degustation where you taste the beverage before
buying. This is a nice way to really experience the ambiance of
France and come home with delicious souvenirs, while extending your
life span according to the latest medical research. But don't overdo
it or you are in line for an early trip to the morgue. When in Dijon
we also bought the mustard, decidedly sharper than the stuff made
in Connecticut under the same name.
For information on a wide variety of wineries, consult
The Winetasters Guide to Europe by Anthony Hogg.
WHERE IS ACTION CENTRAL?
Up to here, this chapter has focused
on the mild side, except for that mustard. What do you do after
dinner in Europe? Hit the sack? How about hitting the wild side
I experienced Europe first as a single man in the 1970s and 1980s.
The "bar scene" over there is not exactly what you have in the USA.
In general, it is a relaxing socializing atmosphere. Serious talk
predominates over "game playing." Our games
were backgammon and liar's dice. Solo girls could walk into a cafe
and order a drink without stigma, though they would certainly get
attention proportional to their appearance. Cafes were the social
center of Dutch life. TV broadcasting started at about 6:30pm and
went off the air at about 11:00pm. Then I would usually put
on my shoes and go over to my favorite cafe, call it a pub. So did
a bunch of others. Even though TV is on 24 hours now, the old
traditions continue. Many Dutch, and I suppose people in other
countries, consider a few neighborhood cafes as extensions of their
home. I see regulars in the places I visit every time. The
atmosphere has not changed much, nor have the hangings on the wall,
in the 30 years I have known Holland. Some of those cafes have been
there for hundreds of years.
The European Bar Scene
In the gamut
of establishments from dope dens to luxurious piano bars throughout
Europe, I prefer the stand-up talking bars when I can find them.
These places generally have enough chairs for less than 1/3 of the
clients, enough stand up floor space for another 1/3, and the last
1/3 have their head in somebody else's armpit. Finding these places
is not easy, especially when you're traveling and still having
trouble finding your own hotel after three days in town. One thing
certain is that the good spots do not advertise because they are so
busy that it's almost impossible to get in, especially on Friday
night. With a lack of fire marshals, they usually allow anyone in
who can get through the jovial mob.
These places are not well
staffed behind the bar, and you may get pretty thirsty before being
served on a busy night. The bartender will serve his familiar
patrons (standing behind you) and may completely ignore you. But be
patient, wave your hand, and yell, "Hello!" One or two nights of
practice and you'll get the hang of it.
I didn't find most of my favorite
places, I was led to them. And of those that I did find, virtually
all were stumbled upon by pure accident. A few features common to
popular places, are: steamed up windows, too many cars and/or
bicycles parked on the street and sidewalk, taxis standing around,
light-headed wobbly people walking out, loud laughter, a din of
voices, and cheap drinks. People like cheap drinks.
For first time visitors to
Europe, a good place to start, and to finish it all, is Amsterdam.
The often mentioned Leidseplein is a favorite of the Dutch and
tourists alike. In addition to the bars (some with outdoor seating)
at the Leidseplein, the whole area is peppered with restaurants and
cafes. The Dutch love to practice their English and buy a beer for
a "Yank," so it is very easy to get acquainted and find leaders to
other cozy places. Most bars in Holland are open until 2 am. After
that it is disco fever till dawn.
Almost every city and town in
Holland, England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the
Czech Republic has similar establishments serving brew, food, and
good times. In Germany, the Altstadt revelry starts early on
Saturday since stores close at 2 pm (except for the first Saturday
of each month).
In Spain drinking is nice and
inexpensive. Many bars serve tapas — saucers of olives, cakes,
seafood, and other nice munchies with the drink in mid afternoon
and early evening. The Madrid tourist office has a convenient guide
map to these tapas bars.
What you drink can have a big influence on your budget.
In general, Europeans drink
beer. Even the French drink beer, but the Italians are big on wine.
Beer is cheap, except in Scandinavia.
A shot of locally distilled spirits in an average cafe
is usually about the same price as a local beer. Prices
increase dramatically for foreign distilled spirits so it is far
cheaper to drink the local firewater, especially in the eastern
countries. Distilled spirits are often dispensed in 2 cl or 4 cl
amounts from special measuring cups on the bottle, or in equivalent
amounts expressed in grams. Except in Spain, do not expect a
generous splash from a friendly bartender.
Carbonated drinks and fruit
juices in abbreviated bottles can be had almost everywhere. Soft
drinks usually cost more than beer. If you are traveling with a
child you can save money if you carry a few of his/her favorite
beverages that you bought in a grocery store.
Measure and Head
should not expect the "American pour" down the side of the glass
to minimize the head. In Holland, they pour a tall head, let it
settle a minute and top it off. Then a plastic knife is used to shear off
the head at the brim. In Germany, "pilsner" takes 7 minutes to pour
in successive draws, each one after the head has settled a bit. If
you order "export" you get immediate service without the seven
The normal glass of beer in
Europe is 25 cls, equal to about 8 ounces. You can also find it
poured as 33 cls equal to 11 ounces and 50 cls equal to about 17
ounces. In Finland, beer is dispensed in automats at the bar giving
exactly one half liter. In Greece it is poured as 500 grams and 330
grams, roughly equal to 50 cls and 33 cls. In Britain and Ireland it
is poured by the pint, the Imperial pint that is. One pint over
there is about 19 ounces. See chapter 27,
The Metric System in Europe, for information on grams and liters.
As in America, if you call
your brand to a waitress you can expect to be cheated with
inferior goods many times. If you insist on a certain brand, sit at
or near the bar so you can see what is being poured.
Live music for dancing is
virtually nonexistent in Europe. For years they have been dancing
at the discotheque, a French word for "record collection." In some
cities they are called "night clubs," sometimes in the local
Discos don't get going until
after 10 pm and then stay open until 4 or 5 am. They often
advertise in the local newspapers and are mentioned in the "This
Week in . . ." booklets which are published in the major cities
listing current events. Booklets are free at the front desk of the
major hotels and in city tourist offices.
Depending on local custom, discos may
or may not charge an admission or membership fee. Virtually all
have locked front doors, door bell, and peep hole. If they don't
like your looks they just don't open the door. In Spain, they leave
the front door open, but have two huge doormen collecting an
admission fee. This includes one drink. In Holland, the doorman
expects a tip on your way out.
Discos are dressy, snobbish, expensive, crowded, and
don't seem to attract a very intelligent class of people. Watch out
that your drink is not stolen by another patron in the Scandinavian
countries. This has happened to me several times in Sweden and
Norway where a beer costs about what we would pay for a case at
home. Prices of beverages in all night clubs is astronomical. Don't be
surprised to pay $15 for a drink.
Casinos are scattered throughout Europe in the haunts
of the wealthy and idle. None of the European casinos compare in
glitter and glitz to Las Vegas. The typical European casino is
sedate and quiet. Some have a strict dress code requiring jacket and tie
or turtleneck, and evening dress for ladies. You will need your
passport when entering and normally must pay an admission charge.
Roulette, 30/40, blackjack, and baccarat are usually the only games
on the tables.
Estoril, Portugal claims to have the largest casino in
Europe. You must decide on entering this one whether you want to
play bingo, slot machines, or the gaming tables. For a nominal
charge I was admitted to a large hall with roulette, french bank,
Holland has casinos scattered around the country.
Their first one was a cozy little place in Zandvoort in
the 70s. They also have one in Schiphol, Amsterdam's international
airport. If you have a layover you can play the machine games.
Casinos are scattered throughout Germany, generally in places whose
names start with Bad (that's German for "bath"). The most famous is
in Baden-Baden, a beautiful little city in the Black Forest. France
has casinos in Nice and a number of other resort areas.
Note that game rules vary and
are not the same as those you may be familiar with. Get the
brochure detailing local game rules before you start putting your
In major cities of Spain and
Holland, slot machine parlors have been established. You'll also
find slot machines, black jack, and roulette on some international
ferries. Some of the luxury hotels in Helsinki have a blackjack
table in the lobby. Ties go to the dealer.
Stephanie, looking very Italian today, sits on a bridge railing in Rome. [DSCS0821-StephanieRome. Photo by a friend of Stephanie.]
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.
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 essential. This is a great lightweight water repellent windbreaker.
Devon & Jones Women's Signature Colorblock 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
My "standard" shirt for off-season travel in Europe.
Kingsize Big & Tall Turtleneck Long-Sleeve Cotton Shirt
My favorite T-shirt/undershirt has a pocket for securely carrying passport, cash, and credit cards.
Turfer Tagless ComfortSoft T-Shirt with Pocket
New Casual Grey Herringbone Wool Cap
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.
For leg comfort on the plane.
Arriva Travel-Tec Travel Legwear with Smart Compression Technology
Rail Map of Britain and Ireland
Thomas Cook Rail Map
Europe by Rail:
The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers (Thomas Cook Rail Guides)
Europe by Eurail 2012: Touring Europe by Train
A Travel Guide to World War II Sites in Italy: Museums, Monuments, and Battlegrounds
The 25 Essential World War II Sites: European Theater: The Ultimate Traveler's Guide to Battlefields, Monuments, and Museums
Fields of War: Fifty Key Battlefields in France and Belgium
Michelin Battle of Normandy Map No.102
The Holocaust Sites of Europe: An Historical Guide
You will need one or more of these plug adapters for your appliances and chargers.
For details on electricity 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 Britain and Ireland.
Universal Grounded Adaptor Plug.
UK 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
If your gizmos charge through a USB port this can keep you going. European cars have the same
12 volt system as American cars.
Scosche Dual USB
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 can keep you going. European cars have the same
12 volt system as American cars.
Scosche Dual USB
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 sack. 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.
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
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
Keep your stuff organized.
Luggage Packing Cubes
eBags 3pc Set
eBags Small Packing Cubes - 3pc Set
This carry-on liquids kit meets TSA airline rules.
Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Custom Travel Bottle Set
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, and doesn't leave a messy residue. Fixes luggage, serves as
a clothesline, wraps your international mail packages, etc., etc.
1" x 60 yards
3M Company #8957-1
Rolling luggage sure beats lugging a pack on your back.
Delsey Luggage Helium Fusion Light 21 Inches Expandable Carryon
Day luggage for your walkabout.
Travelpro Luggage WalkAbout LITE 4 Deluxe Tote
Here is a convenient travel purse.
Rothco Venturer Travel Portfolio Bag
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
A bungee cord is very handy for tying your shoulder bag to your roller bag frame.
Crawford-Lehigh 6102 Bungee Stretch Cords Assortment
Who wrote this?
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