Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Things I Learned in Europe

Currently still iced into my house and becoming a little stir crazy... My left foot is starting to seem rather tasty ... Tomorrow will be the third day this week with no school and there's nothing that will get the inches of ice off the roads except for a very warm day....

I took a trip to Italy in 2012 and realized some interesting differences while I traveled across Spain, Italy, and London.  (We accidentally spent the night in London... Or not so accidentally if you want to blame British Airways.) 

1.  Spaniards like hot planes. The Iberia flight to Madrid was hot, and STILL the girl next to me covered up in a blanket the whole flight.  I'm mad at her.  She stole the aisle seat I had reserved, just to sleep and block me from getting up when I needed to.  Next time I will pretend I don't speak any Spanish and I'll play stupid.  

2.  Being able to go into an airport bathroom and freshen up because you didn't hand over everything to the airline (which lost other people's luggage for five days) is priceless and wonderful.  At the very least, don't hand over your toiletry kit to them. Use a Wisp on the plane.  Truuuuust me!

3. Taking an anytime, non-refrigerated, non-salty snack on your flight is a wonderful idea.  You never know when they'll serve food, what they'll serve, or when you will actually get hungry.  

4.  In Europe, chocolate is made without paraffin (American chocolate is full of it.) It has a much lower melting point, but it tastes so much better.

5.  If you're changing planes at the Madrid airport, they won't make you take off your shoes for x-raying right after you walk off the tarmac.  They said, "That won't be necessary.  This isn't the United States." Haha. It was funny, but a relief, because our plan was being held at the other end of the airport and we needed to save every minute.  We didn't even have time for a bathroom stop, which I needed but wasn't willing to risk missing my flight over.

6.  If you're quick, you can walk onto your plane and walk RIGHT to the back lavatory and use it, before anyone has a chance to tell you no.  :). While everyone else is juggling their luggage into the compartments, nobody is interested in the bathroom.  

7.  Bring diuretics and cold medicine with you, even in July.  Wear compression socks on the plane, too.  You may get a horrible case of cankles the likes of which you have never seen on yourself before.  They itch.  They kinda hurt.  Only putting your feet up on the wall over your head will help. And that's difficult to do on a tour bus.  As a matter of fact, I recommend restricting your sodium intake for about a week before you fly. Pseudoephedrine is hard to find in even the best hotel gift shop.  (There was a lovely one in the Renaissance Heathrow Hotel, with a kind Pakistani man working the counter.) If you are trapped in line for four hours, say, at the British Airways counter, immigration officials will not allow you to check any shops for medications that will help when your swollen sinuses.  (There was a Turkish man who said he had been there for 24 hours already.  He eventually started yelling that he wanted them to call his embassy -- he'd been cool up until that point.)

8.  Don't wait too long for your missing checked luggage.  It won't do any good, you'll miss one of the cities on your itinerary, and the tour guide won't be happy with you.  Why are you checking luggage when you have to change planes, anyway? That's a recipe for lost luggage.  

9.  Walking in Venice on a July day is like walking into a stone pizza oven. Buy water to drink.  Lots of water. Keep an empty water bottle on you in case you encounter a drinking fountain. Bring sunblock. Wear a wide-brimmed hat.  Wear good sunglasses.  And by the way, Venice does NOT have an intolerable stench.  It smells like a beach town, because it's cleaned by the tides every night.  (I wouldn't want to swim there, though.). Take your B-12, because Venice is gorgeous and magical... And exhausting to mere mortals.

10.  Soft drinks cost more in Europe, but they are made with sugar, not corn syrup, so they taste much better and don't create a craving for another one.  Canned sodas in machines have a charming foil cover over the rims to keep them clean.  Best Pepsi I've had in years. (Too bad Pepsi Throwback was just a gimmick.  They should have kept it on the market.)

11.  Europeans eat pizza with a knife and fork, and think we are pigs for eating it with our hands. Oh well.... Lol. Olive oil is a pizza topping, and it makes even a cheese pizza heavenly.  Pepperoni is not the same thing in Italy, and restauranteurs will be insulted if you request Parmesan cheese to put on their pizza.  This ain't a Dominos kind of pizza country.  Trust them... The plainest Italian pizza is miles ahead of American fast food pizza.

12.  If you see a gelato shop, remember, there's ALWAYS room for gelato.  I regret not eating more gelato while we were there.  Lol. And Caprese sandwiches. Mmmmm! If the meat on a sandwich looks questionable, Caprese is a great fall-back.   Seriously, I wish I'd eaten more gelato and tried more adventurous flavors.  I'm sure the sugar would have given me the energy I needed.  

13.  The fruit is better in Italy than it is in the US.  It doesn't have to travel as far when it's in season.  Luscious, yummy, fresh fruit.  I do wish we had visited the market in Rome.  I probably would have eaten more local fruit.  Lesson learned. :)

14.  Don't be afraid to buy liquid souvenirs (I bought Italian strawberry wine) if you can wrap them safely in your luggage.  You will have to check that bag, but do you really want to carry a bag heavy with liquids through airports yourself on the way home, when you're tired?  Nah.   I wrapped my dirty clothes around the bottles, then secured it with the crochet thread I had brought along for making shopping bags when I was bored on the bus, in the airport....  Next time I'm taking inflatable water wings.  You can take sheets of bubble wrap too, if you have the space.  (Was required to check that bag, containing big bottles of liquid, and British Airways lost it on the way home... But it showed up a couple of days later.)

15.  Just because you can't sleep a wink the night before your flight for fear of oversleeping, it doesn't mean you'll be able to sleep on the flight over the Atlantic.  But you'll sleep upright on that two hour bus ride to your hotel... 

16.  Hotel room keys in Italy are usually turned in at the desk upon leaving each day because they have a two pound fob on them to discourage taking them off the property.  Yikes. But they typically have a real key attached rather than a faulty electronic card.  Hotel elevators in Italy are claustrophobically tiny.  

17. Hotel bathrooms are often crazy tiny, with shower openings even smaller.  O.O  Soap up your hips! Give up perfectly smooth legs!  The bathroom plumbing may be strange to you.  Ask around, if you don't understand it.  You can always call housekeeping and explain your ignorance by telling them you're an American.  LOL 

18.  With so much walking to do each day, I always ate a big breakfast, and it never interfered with lunch.  Believe me, I burned off my eggs, raisin bran, yogurt, coffee, juice, and bread. Sometimes I just flat out sweated it off, because it was July in the Mediterranean, too.  :)

19.  An iPhone in airplane mode will still accurately geotag photos you take with it. :D Pure awesomeness!  Take a good backup battery with you for your smartphone so it doesn't die while it is living its life as a camera.  Figure out a way to turn your iPhone case into a case with a lanyard.  (I used a ponytail holder looped through the hole.) It alleviated a lot of pickpocket / loss worries for me when it was dangling inside my shirt.

20.  Don't tell them you're an American and then think they'll jump to do your bidding.  It sounds arrogant and bullying, and it doesn't matter one bit that you're American.  A lot of Europeans have bad opinions about Americans as it is.  Be oh-so-polite and accommodating at all times, and never forget that you are a guest in their country.  Smile. :)

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