Blending in-We tried to blend in as much as possible with the locals mainly to avoid being hassled by merchants but also to avoid pickpockets and people trying to get us to join tours. in all the large cities except Istanbul there were enough of a mix of races of people that that did not play a factor. We took blending in a little to far by not wanting any writing on any of our clothes. We saw a lot of stores selling clothes with English on them so I don't think it made a difference. I do think that the tourists wearing the bright colors, shorts, and red faces did a good job of attracting the attention away from us though. The easiest way I could tell the tourist from locals was the direction of their heads. Locals looked straight or down focused on a task. Tourists looked more like bobble-heads and I’m sure I looked the same. If you judge by how many locals started talking to us in the local language while we are walking I apparently looked most like a Greek ( I guess my tan has gotten darker then I thought.) and L. looks German. It is really awkward when you have no idea what they are saying.
Phones-traveling with a phone to Europe from the USA takes 3 requirements. Everyone knows the phone must be GSM, but most people don't know that Europe uses different frequencies then the USA (the phone will be dual or tri-band if it works for both.) we bought new SIM cards but we were never in the country long enough to use the minutes. International calling was expensive (around 2-3 Euro a minute) and a little confusing since we had to look up the different codes to call out of the country where we bought the SIM card along with how that country handled the country codes. For jumping around to so many different countries just buying a cheap calling card that can be tossed would have been a better option. If we were exploring only a few countries then the cell phone would be better.
Accommodations-along with the guide book that we used so much we brought 5 different hostel books to cover all of Europe that we did not use once and a camping book that I think we were able to find the place once. The problem was that none of them gave good directions. The best way we found was just to book the next city on the internet since they always had good directions on their own websites or at least an address for the GPS. The other way that we used was just to drive to the tourist office and have them book the place. This may not have worked as well if this was a busy summer. There were a lot of hotels worked into the rest-stops and we tried to stop at the last one before the city but we always seemed to wait to long and end up in the city where there were no rest areas. We tried driving to the airport since they are easy to find and usually on the outskirts of the city with plenty of surrounding hotels. The problem we found with this is that the business traveler pays more so there are no cheap hotels near the airport.
Books- along with the hostel and camping books mentioned above that we did not use we brought a Rick Steves book for the museums. For how helpful his shows were the book (2005 so it was supposed to be updated.) only had an accuracy of about 50% when finding artwork in a museum. The lonely planet book for all of Europe was very helpful. We would just rip the pages out for the city we were exploring so we didn't have to carry around a heavy book.
These posts- I am glad I kept up on them. even while on my trip looking back things started to blur together. I am glad I could type them out using the thumb keyboard and saving it to the flash memory that could be uploaded at the internet cafés. I have tried to describe things exactly how they are, good and bad. I did not want to white wash anything and can only hope that it did not come across as me being cynical. Since the final destination for all this stuff being written is for me to reminisce it also includes a lot of my opinion and humor so I hope no one felt I was preachy, anti-USA, or was offended by the jokes. Going back and reading these posts I realize that the language sounds elementary. The reason for this is that I tried to write everything as concise as possible since writing using a thumb keyboard while in the passenger seat on narrow roads can require some dexterity. I also tried to write how I felt seeing something for the first time and it may have come across that I sound naive.
Safety- Our car looked out of place in Bulgaria and Romania but I don’t know how well founded the rumors are of having so many cars stolen. Either we were naive and lucky or paranoid. I’m not sure which. For all the stories of pick-pockets we never saw it happen. I think we took the right precautions by getting a car with a lockable trunk and paying for parking when in the cities. The main thing that I was worried about was having the bags stolen along with the car. While not having anything of value it would have messed things up since we would have lost things like chargers for our electronics.
Camping- I am glad that we made the choice to camp so much. Along with the security of parking outside the city it was also cheaper for parking. A tent is more private then hostels and we interacted with more local European tourist families instead of the teenagers just in town to party. It did rain about half the days we camped but our tent leaked only once without our bedding getting wet so I am satisfied.
Sickness- I was expecting to get sick more. Neither of us had any stomach problems that are so common with travelers getting used to new foods. The worst problem I had was the allergies and L.'s main problem she had was 50 bug bites all over her body in Paris. The most common problem we had was heat rash on our legs from hours of walking.
Surprise items- the 2 things we packed as after thought but are so glad that we did were flashlights, packable jackets. The flashlights we brought were the small LED head lamps. We did not use them much for camping like we thought we would but they were great for exploring dungeons and catacombs that we visited. The jackets stuffed into their own sacks about the size of the miniature umbrella. The weather while on the trip has been very unpredictable with it going from no clouds to rain in an hour. It has been nice to have the jackets in the backpack for the rain or colder weather then we were expecting for a summer vacation.
Pictures- I never was able to upload pictures in Europe. After getting back I realized it was my hosting provider that only allowed very slow uploads. So one of the first things I did was to cancel my account.