Sunday, July 24, 2005

Europe 2005 - Traveling

I was not sure if we would still want be traveling after 2 months. (I made sure that changing our tickets would be cheap.) My wife and I were expecting to get more homesick, but it has not happened. I think my curiosity has won out, and L. is happy as long as we take a slow day every once in a while

Spending 2 months with my wife-After being apart so much the last few months because of school it has been nice. There are some people that might be scared to spend 24/7 with their spouse for so long. We have been catching up on all the trivial stuff and now many comfortable silences as we drive. I know it is supposedly disgustingly cute when couples finish each others sentences and we are now saying entire sentences in unison so it is good there is no one else around to hear us when we do it.

Driving through so many countries- Yes, we get lost a lot. We do get in arguments when the stress is high, we're tired and we still cannot find the right part of the city. But going in expecting it will happen has made it easier. Wrong turns have led us into weird places-Prostitute Street in Bologna Italy,into some very surprised dock workers in Athens, more then a few times down narrow roads where there is nothing but us and the cafe tables.

Health-Getting allergies as bad as I did led me to get asthma and bronchitis that lasted about a month. Leslie has had a cold a couple of times but neither of us has caught something that holed us up for any length of time. Luckily no eating bad food problems that get so many travelers.

Food-the only food that I could not finish was a bottle of sparkling water. Every dish we have tried has tasted great. It has been frustrating paying for water and bread at restaurants. (especially when they just refill mineral water bottles. The sparkling water I got was accidently filled in a "sans-gas" bottle but I decided to try it.)

Rest-It might seem like after a really bad idea for after a stressful last semester of school to go plunge right in into this big of a excursion but I think it has helped. After being in school for so long I thought it was just how I looked. Then one day while driving I folded down the sun visor in the car and saw that the dark circles and bags were gone from under my eyes. I looked at Leslie and saw the same results. I swear that some of my grey hair has gone back to black.

Anti-americanism- the place where we saw the most anti-bush graffiti was in London. Everywhere else there has just been peace flags. Most people cannot tell the difference between British, and U.S. accents, or if English is their 2nd language (if that is the case they learn it with a British accent) so they will ask where you're from. Everyone that has asked wanted to know more when finding out we are from California.

Americanization- while there are McDonalds everywhere they are different then USA ones. We try to avoid them but seem to end up at a few when they are the only ones open. A lot sell beer, and we did get a “McGreek” in Greece and a Cheese Royal in France.
TV and movies are everywhere from the USA. I wonder what image people receive from seeing so many American media. It was amusing when we were taking the bus to the Toulouse airport and a British guy starts singing the Flintstones to reference the movie "Planes, Trains, and automobiles". (He had to know what the Flintstones are, how popular they are in context of the USA and wanted to watch a movie about getting home for Thanksgiving, an American Holiday. But to crack the joke by singing the song expected that much of other riders on the bus.)

Language barrier- the world is getting smaller all the time, this means more people learning English as more people travel. It was weird to hear a man say "but I am from Iran" to a turkish border worker in English. Anywhere there are tourists English is being spoken. It really makes me realize how little emphasis the USA puts into learning another language. When I talk to other tourists and they are fluent in 3-4 languages(English is a requirement for all years of middle and high school plus they then choose one for themselves then depending on the area they have 1 or 2 native languages.) it really makes me want to learn another language (which is something I abhorred in high school.). In the situations that we have been where we are trying to read signs I have been surprised by how often we get it right. The little spanish I do know has helped in also reading Italian and a little of the French. When we are shopping the main way we bridge the gap is through pictures. We learn all the fruit names pretty quick since juice usually has whatever fruit is in it. Any modern words sound the same and are just spelled different- “turizm”=tourism, “polis”=police,”taksi”=taxi for example in Turkey.

GPS-using a GPS for driving around is a must have. Doing it again I would use a dedicated GPS unit. About 1 in 50 locals use one and the favorite seems to be the tomtom

Phone-the phone that we are using is awful. I would not recommend the HP6315 to anyone. I would like to blame Microsoft's pocketPC but I think that this is a matter of HP shipping hardware without full testing. Even my wife has become an expert at restoring from the backed up image. It crashes on average twice a day, and a restore is required about once a week. The GPS software pushes it to the limit and it seems to crash under a heavy CPU load, usually in a city when we need it most. I got it because it was the only phone that had WiFi so I was going to try to use VOIP to make internet calls. It worked when I tested it at home but it only crashes now when I need it. This is one thing that is going on eBay when we get home. (no I did not just get a defective unit. HP released a patch before I bought the phone claiming it fixed the problems people were complaining about. I can only imagine how bad it was before then.) I really don't know what someone that does not know computers would think.

Guidebook-We are using Lonely Planet’s “Europe Guidebook”. I am amazed how much they fit in 1300 pages. There are a lot of the smaller cities we are driving through that are in there too.

Tivo- Before leaving we set our Tivo to record anything with "europe*" in the title or description. Since it was the the 60th anniversary of WWII there were a lot of war shows. The travel shows it recorded were Rick Steves which were helpful and Samantha Bee which is what a trust fund brat could watch for where to shop and stay. One of the more interesting shows it recorded was "European Journal" which was like "60 minutes" for Europe. They covered a lot of the stuff about the new EU countries and the problems right before we left with France voting "no" to the EU constitution.

The List- While watching the travel shows, reading the guidebook, and from taking Art history class we used laptops to create and compile a master list of places and cities they were in that we wanted to go in each country. The night before entering each country we map out where all the cities we need to visit to see the things we want too see, then decide what is really important and which route to take. We didn't know how far we would make it and how the balance between wanderlust and exhaustion would play out for our schedule. We thought we would make it to Istanbul. I am writing this as we are driving out of Turkey so the next 20 days are just the cream on top. It also looks like wanderlust won out as we have only had one real beach day.

Route path-The route we are taking we made the decision to do a highlights tour. There is no way we could really get a good sense of all the local cultures. We are making this trip as a grand circle of Europe. There is no way we could make these long drives with kids so this is more of an overview of Europe. Then when we have kids we can go back and stay in the areas we liked (so far switzerland tops the list) and stay longer and soak in more of the culture. I think this was a good idea for the first time around since we have grown numb to all surprising things that we would see otherwise. Now we just go hmmm when we see a truck with 20 feet of hay and 12 people riding on top as opposed to staring and causing an accident.

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