Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lessons Learned

Things we’ve learned whilst roaming about Europe:
  1. Restaurants:  Completely different from the US. and boy do they take their time..  You will not receive a check unless you specifically ask for it.  When the waiter arrives at your table they expect you to have your entire order ready so I hope you've scoured that menu quick!   Whilst dining at an American restaurant a waiter/waitress will check in on your table approx. 3-5 times during your meal.  Maybe more, maybe less.  In Europe, once you receive your food thats it, no checking in and certainly no free refills, which brings me to my next point.  All food in Europe is severd a la carte.  An entree is priced by itself, if you want any sides, those are extra.  When you order a drink, you just get one.  Waste not perhaps?  Never thought I'd take that for granted in the US but boy is it nice.  Also probably why we are the most obese country..oh well, for those of us who can control our gluttonous rages the American restaurant system is quite lovely. 
    The last thing is  they do NOT split checks and get annoyed if you ask.  Because of this, it's always best to carry small change. 
    Point of advice though, don't be afraid to try the local tastes of the country, I have found almost all of them to be delicious!  Open your palate, open your world. Lessons learned.
  2. Bathrooms: 
    In Europe they are mostly referred to as "Water Closets" or "WC's" or even toilettes.  You will get a very dumb look if you ask for a bathroom.  Also, busy walking around the streets of Venice and suddenly that 2 liter bottle of water you chugged 20 minutes ago hits you with all the force of Niagra Falls?  Guess what, using the "water closet" to relieve yourself is going to cost you.  That's right, bigger cities in Europe charge you for the use of a public toilet.  I abhorred this and refused simply to use one opting instead to hold it until meal time and we sat down in a restaurant.  Ridiculous.  Other than that the bathrooms are all very unique looking in their own way.  Hard to explain this until you come to Europe and just experience them for yourselves.  Lessons learned.
  3. Drinking:
    Alcohol is completely acceptable at any time of the day, encouraged even.  Water does not seem to be a big deal here and no one seems too concerned about drinking it..odd.  You usually get a silly look from a restaurant if you ask for tap water but they will bring it for you, albeit reluctantly.  If you do not specify tap water you will get a big glass bottle of water that is certainly not free.  Also side note: if they bring you bread at your table, don't eat it unless you plan on paying for it.
    Europeans (especially Italians) down espresso like its water.  Nuts.  Walk up counters in cafes' are everywhere around here where people stand and order the traditional European breakfast of an espresso and croissant.  I've had a chocolate croissant nearly every morning in Europe, I'm in love.  Lessons learned.
  4. WWOOF
    Apparently me and Chris look like Swedish WWOOFERS which is ironic as I am dying to do WWOOFING.  Lessons learned.
  5. Hostels:
    Really truly and honestly are not that bad.  Like at all.  Sure its no 5 star luxury suite but for prices ranging from $9-$20 a night its a pretty dang good deal.  Also, look for hostels with kitchens and cook your own dinners!  So much cheaper and is actually really fun.  We unfortunately were only able to do it a few times but you meet a lot of your fellow hostel buddies doing that. When choosing a hostel, I never went below the 70% ratings or above the $29 per bed range.  It worked really well for us.  Lessons learned.
  6. Buying random things:
    In the big cities its hard to come by supermarkets.  They are not too prevalent, which is weird.  However you can buy, condoms, KY jelly, and cigarettes from street vending machines, but no medicine.  What? Awkward.  Lessons learned.
  7. Italians and Greeks:
    Do not seem to have much sense of time.  Greeks especially.  It's great.  Lessons learned.
  8. Pack:
    One bag is sufficient and don't be careless in how you pack it each time you move locations.  Learn the way everything fits best while its on your back and always take care to pack it that way each time.  Your back will thank you.  Lessons learned.
  9. WiFi:
    You will learn the value of pulling out your phone whenever you sit down to check that maybe, just maybe, wifi will be around you.  Lessons learned.
  10. Clothes:
    In every city/country I've visited (besides Spain) no one wears workout clothes (ie. nike gym shorts, tshirts, running shoes/chacos) Like ever.  Sorority girls all over the US just fell over dead.  No norts!? Nuts right??!  However, they do oddly enough, deem it socially acceptable to wear running shoes with almost any kind of outfit, and I mean ANY (picture, dress tops, skirts, dresses even!) yet I'm the one who gets the weird looks for wearing my tshirt, shorts, and chacos.  Who knew?  Lessons learned.
  11. Aladdin/Jasmine Pants:
    These are quite the rage in Europe, varying in styles.  Some are huge, baggy, and legit, I prefer the more subdued version of just slightly wider in the hips and taper down towards the ankle.  I course had to get a pair so you can watch for me to rock them in the US ;)   Lessons learned.
  12. European money:
    Simple, it looks just like monopoly money and therefore feels fake.  Dangerous.  Lessons learned.
  13. Languages:
    I have a very, and I mean VERY limited arsenal of words in different languages, by no means am I anywhere near fluent in anything other than good ol' english.  However, it really truly is not too hard to get around Europe.  It can be frustrating at times but almost everyone speaks general english, enough to aid you in your time of trouble.  My advice?  The younger the better, go for the people in the 18-30ish year range, they seem to know/speak the best english.  Lessons learned.
  14.  Maps:
    Do yourself a favor and pick up a map IMMEDIATELY upon arrival in every city you arrive in.  Also if you don't have an international data plan (I didn't), use the wifi when its available, map where you want to go, then save the pictures to your phone (iPhone users, screenshot like crazy!!  Not sure what to tell android users besides get an iPhone :) Zoom in on the final destination to get a good shot of all the surrounding streets and take a screenshot.  You will fall down in gratitude to me if you do this.  You'll see.  Lessons learned.
  15. Italian food:
    Delicious for..maybe 3 days.  Soon after you want to vomit if you see another pizza or pasta dish.  If there are 3,500 restaurants in any given city, 3,300 of them are italian places with the EXACT same menu.  Same 5-6 pizzas and same 3-4 pasta dishes.  Blah.  We were glad to leave Italy if only to get variety of food!  We almost cried when we found a (somewhat) authentic mexican restaurant while in Rome.
Now I know I'm a bit of jokester and kid a lot about the silly differences I've experienced, however I wouldn't have traded this experience for anything.  It has been the best (alongside college!) time of my life.  Something I will remember for forever.  I absolutely cannot wait until I am a mother and get to one day tell my kids all about the time I traipsed around Europe, backpacking my way from one adventure to the next. 

Since the title of this blog is "lessons learned" I suppose I should also go into detail a bit more about a few other things.  Before departing on this journey I knew already that I had a bit of a gypsy heart.  The desire/urge/passion/want to experience new and exciting places has always been a part of me.  I was practically bursting at the seams for the past 5-6 years waiting for this trip to happen. 

Now what are the parts I didn't know? 

Well, I had never traveled on my own before, neither had I ever made it farther east than the Carolina's, farther west than Nevada, farther North than the middle of Canada, and farther south than Mexico.  Needless to say, I was in a bubble of experiences. I plan on traveling most parts of the world throughout my life but of course wanted to start with Europe first. 

Unknowns:  Would I actually like the different countries?  Would I hate the food?  Would I get homesick?  Would I tire of the nomadic lifestyle of having no permanent home and living out of a backpack?

What I discovered was that I happened to experience a little bit of truth (to an extent) in most of the above.  I did love every country I saw.  I actually loved the food but did quickly tire of the same kind of food (ie. Italy..),, I got homesick perhaps a couple times, but soon quickly forgot the feeling as we would walk out the door to something new, and then finally did I tire of the nomadic lifestyle?

The answer is a bit complicated, but to make it easier, yes.  I'll explain further.

Backpacking from place to place is wildly exciting and I have loved it no matter how exhausting it was.  What I have discovered about myself however, is that I miss having a "home" of my own.  A place that is all mine, a place I can come back to, cozy up on the couch with all my surroundings so achingly familiar to my eyes and nose.  It doesn't really matter where this "home" is, it's not a specific place for me yet, but regardless, I love having something so comforting to return to after all your travels. 

I would love to actually pick a country and move there for a couple of years.  I want to truly "live" the culture and not just "visit" it.  Backpacking will always hold a special place in my heart though and by no means do I think those days are over but it is nice to discover the kind of traveling you most prefer.  For me, I want a home base where I can do shorter trips to places all over but still be able to return home when needed.  Tells me I need to move to Europe eh?  We shall see...

I've got ideas already bubbling around in my head for other trips.  I believe Asia will be my next venture..not sure when I'll get to experience that soon enough.

Traveling will forever be a part of my life.  Now I just need to find the right kind of career to foster that. 

Upon my return I plan on doing anything and everything to make some money for myself whilst I relentlessly pursue whatever it is that makes my heart come most alive.  I am determined to not get another "career" job until it incorporates the things that I truly love to do.  Life is much too short to work the majority of your time, hating what you do!

I will leave you with this excerpt from a fantastic book I read about a year ago.  It's called "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein.  It is told from the unique perspective of the family dog and his perspective on human life.  Now, before you dismiss the book because of how weird that sounds.  Don't.  Just read it.

"To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live.

To feel the joy of life.

To separate oneself from the burden, the angst, the anguish that we all encounter every day.

To say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am.

I am.

That is something to aspire to."

Lessons Learned,



ps.  Look for another blog from me soon detailing our adventures throughout Italy and Spain!  When I return home I will also detail out my budget and ways to travel for cheap for those who have similar dreams as mine that feel it is not possible!