In this last month, I had the opportunity to travel through 5 different countries of Europe. I always try to be kind of like a sponge and absorb as much information as I can to bring back to my home country (Costa Rica) and apply what I learn through my work. Other things I’ve learned are just things that might help you have in mind if you have the opening and time to travel, so here we go!
1. You will eat A LOT of bread.
This is a must, even if you’re not much into it or you decided you were not going to eat white bread for a while, well… I’m sorry, but they’ll practically shove it down your throat every time they can. Almost in every meal they bring bread to your table even if you don’t ask for it, and most of the time it’s freshly baked and tastes sooo good, damn it! Just be careful, you might also have to pay for it even if you don’t ask for it!
That brings us to the next point:
2. Expect a “Coperto” fee.
“Coperto” means cutlery in Italian. Yes, it means that when you sit down at a table and ask for a meal you are charged a certain amount just to “use the fork and knife”, even if you don’t use them. It’s like a fee for eating at the restaurant. So, if you’re in a group and you’re splitting the tip, remember that it’s also in the check!
That also reminds me…
3. Don’t split the bill.
I have no idea how groups of people go out to eat and pay like it is nothing, cause every time we tried to split the bill the waiters would get mad and tell us that they needed just one complete amount. We obviously couldn’t do that, so we had to divide it on our own and then someone had to pay somebody else, and you know… It was a very complicated and hectic part of our days. So, every time you sit down to eat, ask if the bills can be split or if you can pay separately, that is, if you need to.
4. Scale is something to get used to. You will feel small.
This might apply mostly to me and the country that I live in. Our skyscrapers don’t pass the 30 floors, generally because our ground is shaky and design yet is not pointing to tall buildings, though it should. In general, most buildings in the big cities tend to make you gaze up, and that is an amazing feeling. Just like what happened to me in Barcelona with the Sagrada Familia; your neck doesn’t get as strained here as it does walking around Paris, per se.
5. Take shorts with you, it might get hot.
My mother and sister were really stubborn on the fact that I was going to a colder place and that most of the countries I was visiting weren’t as hot as I thought. They were wrong. I had to buy as much light clothe as possible because the heat was unbearable in Paris, Venice and Rome. So, take shorts with you, I bet they will be a key element in your luggage if you travel in the season Transitions between summer and winter. Heat is unbearable in summer, so well, don’t be dumb enough to NOT take shorts if you travel at that time.
6. Walk, walk, walk, THEN relax.
This might sound logical and what you might always think you do, but many times when we travel we want to check our room get the key as fast as we can so we can lay down and have a nap before even thinking of getting to know the city. I propose, instead of relaxing first, go touring as soon as you can. European cities have many secrets, and if you’re staying for short periods of time in one city, the most you can do is grabbing your shoes and walking as far and wide as you can. Don’t stay in the room until night, you’ll have no other choice because the city dies at 10 pm mostly, and the metros close at 11 or 12 pm. So, sleep when it’s time to sleep and wake up before everyone else.
Every monument is better lived when there’s no crowd. I hate being in crowded places and even less when it’s a place I really wanted to see, so wake up as soon as possible and go to that place; you can thank me later.
7. Be as humble as possible.
What I’ve learned and knew even before traveling is that there are some countries in Europe with great unemployment index, Spain has a 22,7% unemployment rate, so that waiter attending you might be a very educated person, and might not be having a good time working there. So, I suggest being as humble and good client as you can possibly be. Imagine studying your *** off in some thing you’ve liked your whole life, having master degrees, or even doctorates and having to work as a waitress to support yourself because there’s no work on your field. I just don’t like making people have a worse time than they’re having at the moment.
Just smile and say thank you!
8. Eat at local markets.
This one is a must. The cheapest and best food I ate at through my trip were in the markets I visited. Yes, you must, also because people are warmer, food is fresh, and it really is an experience to walk around the markets with all the colors, sounds and smells.
9. With design comes good food, generally.
I must say I was told that the best places to eat were in the small streets where you walk a little bit more than the tourists, are small, feel local and such, I think that’s not really true. The best places I ate best at had a little bit more design thought to their space and you felt comfortable at. I just think well, better design, better salary for better chefs, and yes, obviously it might get a little bit more expensive, but when you finally find a really good restaurant and you eat great, it really pays off. This is a supposition and what I personally experienced, I don’t think this is always true either, there were other good restaurants with less design, smaller and super local that we enjoyed.
10. Say “no thank you” and keep walking.
People will ALWAYS try to persuade you from eating at their restaurant and will show your their menu and ask you where in their restaurant you want to eat and pressure you. Don’t give in. If you want to keep walking and looking at other menus, do. It’s a lot of pressure to say “no”,. and you will feel guilty when you walk away, but hey! Maybe at the restaurant beside there’s more people, indicating that it’s a better place to eat and cheaper! Keep walking until you have truly decided, don’t give in to pressure.
11.Public Space is Sacred.
The city I live in has green spaces somewhere and a park over here and a park over there, but compared to these countries, people don’t live public space as they do. Parks really are a place to relax and make yours as you want. People, as what I saw, really dig going to parks and enjoying their free time talking to other people and just sitting down an chilling in the park. I think we need to re-think the way we do public space and how we live this small lung placed inside the buildings to be a place to breathe and enjoy for the people that live around it.
12. Try local beers, it talks about the people.
If you like drinking beers, I suggest you don’t buy Heineken everywhere you want a beer because “it’s the only one you know” (and because they sell it in the streets and in every restaurant). Try other beers! Almost every city has their own different type of beer and some places, depending on what they make, have a singular type of beer. It’s a place being known by their Macaroons or something, but with a taste of beer.It really does talk about the culture and history of them.
13. Details, materials and language are to be contemplated.
When I speak of language is not the vocabulary one, but the architectural one. There is something to be seen when you walk through the European streets: architecture and history are very important. For example, London has a very good maintenance of their buildings, they take care of their facades have decades of being built, and you can see a linear and specific way of how everything has been conserved to when it was originally built, and that enriches the space in such a level that you understand the organization of streets and how people make homage to their history with these details. This also makes materials stand out much more, making the city beautiful.
14. Don’t even think of renting a car. Just don’t.
Most European countries run with a metro and public transportation. I don’t have this facility in my country because public transportation is not really that good, and we don’t have a metro. Just recently the train started working again, but the wagons were brought from Spain because they were not using them anymore, so, guess how good it might be. Don’t rent a car. You don’t need it. The metro is made so that you just have to walk about 500 meters until the next underground station, so as you find the next station you can walk around and look at the city!
It really is easy to move around, and you will never get lost, I promise.These are cities meant to be walked.
15. Always have your backpacks in front.
This is a disadvantage of metro stations and walking; pickpockets. People have mastered the skill of pick pocketing, and because metro stations might get so crowded that you are vulnerable to being robbed. Don’t be afraid, they will not hurt you, nor point a gun at you or a knife, like it might happen here, but they might open you purse and pickpocket you without you even noticing it. This happens, though, only if you are not aware of it and concerned of your belongings. Always be checking, always be aware of your surroundings. Don’t be skeptic though, just aware.
Nothing happened to a group of 20 in a month, nothing will happen to you.
16. The Grande Arche de la Fraternité (Grande Arche) is bigger than you thought.
It is. It really is. The problem is, you’ll only understand me when you’re there and looking up.
17. Get to know Gaudi’s masterpieces; they are life-changing.
Gaudi was a master, a real alchemist that turned space into gold, and material into form. His works are his buildings and in them you can find that what you’ve thought of architecture can be changed in a matter of seconds. I really don’t understand how this person can actually be a person who lived in this Earth, because what he did makes it seem like it has always been there or as if the Earth just started going into his buildings. It is amazing.
18. Ride a bike.
We did this in Barcelona, and I think you can do it anywhere else, though Barcelona has what it needs for you to have the most of the experience of bike riding. You will not be disappointed I promise! It’s one of the greatest activities we did there and had the most fun with. The city is not only for walking but also for two wheeling, and once you get the hang of it, a smile will come right up your face! I totally recommend you rent one and get yourself moving!
19. Lower down your camera, just enjoy the space.
In this day an age and with smartphones, all we want to do is take pictures and pictures of places that you are looking at, separating ourselves from the environment. We are not really taking in what’s in front of us because there’s a screen blocking you. You have traveled all the way here, ENJOY IT. Lower down your camera and live the space. You will find that your trip will be much more worthwhile once you stop thinking about the pictures and start thinking more about the new things around you.
20. Enjoy a good coffee, a gelato, a crepe, a macaroon, or a waffle!
Look: you can worry about your “extra pounds” later, that most of the time are not even there. Enjoy the sweet things that these places have, and try everything you can! A waffle in Brussels (a MUST), crepe in Paris, Gelato in Asisi (or anywhere in Italy), a Macaroon in Vezelay… Any of these, all of these… Try them, and it’s flavors; you haven’t really gone to any of them if you don’t.
21.Drink A LOT of Water.
If you are traveling to get to know as much of the city as possible, you will always have to remember to carry a bottle of water with you, and be conscious of taking a sip every now and then. Water is necessary, because before you know it, and after walking 20 km every day, your body will not like it, and that’s when headaches arrive, and nobody likes walking with a headache. I just balance out that it’s better to be peeing every now and then than having to take pills for the unbearable headache and pain. This applies even more when the heat doesn’t even let you stay long in the sun.
22. Wear deodorant.
This. This is important. You might hear the stories that European people don’t take baths and don’t wear deodorant. Well, that’s not true for most of them, but you will notice who does that when you’re inside a bus or a train. Don’t be that person.
23. Keep spare change for bathrooms.
There are public bathrooms every now and then. Keep spare change for that because an emergency is not free everywhere. Some bathrooms are don’t have someone charging but instead you have to pay like a vending machine style and enter the bathroom. Have that in mind when you’re traveling through the city. By the way, all of the bathrooms are really clean, you won’t have a hard time with this. They charge for something.
24. You don’t know you’re not allowed to enter.
I apply this when I don’t see a DO NOT ENTER sign anywhere and a place I really want to get to know from inside. Most of the countries you might visit don’t have signs in english or spanish, so… How would you know it says “do not enter” or “restricted”? Well, if you were not allowed, and someone comes to take you out, you just lower your head, say “sorry”, make signs as if you didn’t understand, and walk out. No body will hurt you if you look like an innocent puppy, and you saw what you wanted to see.
25. Take as less clothe as possible.
A lot of clothe means a big luggage, and a big luggage means space and mostly more weight. Take what you need, not what you might think you need. In a month I took 3 pants, 2 shorts, like 6 shirts, 6 under wares, 2 pairs of shoes and some socks, and what I needed I bought there, but from my group I was the one who traveled lighter and could bought whatever I wanted and not be worried about being charged for weight, nor did I worry that I didn’t have space or something. What you do is that every time you can, clean your clothes in the bathtub of the hotel or hostel you stay in, and if you have to leave and it’s still wet, put it inside a Ziploc bag and take it with you to the next place where you can hang it. Or, just go to a laundry local once in a while.
Well, I hope these tips and observations work for your next trip! They are a result of what I lived in that month moving from city to city!