I just arrived back home after a stellar two-week vacation with my family in Germany and Austria (with an added short side trip to Prague, Czech Republic). I’ve been to Europe before, but all the destinations we visited on this trip were new to me, so I was constantly surrounded by new sounds, smells, sights and stimuli.
I’m still finishing up a bit of laundry and catching up on work, but I wanted to share a few immediate thoughts and observations from our time abroad.
Oh, how I absolutely love and adore public transportation! I jumped from train to tram to subway, and I loved every minute of it! We rented a car to reach our city home bases (Salzburg, Vienna and Munich), and we also used them for a handful of day trips. However, once the cars were parked (a challenge in and of itself), we lived on public transportation. I am ridiculously smitten with subways anyway, but I found the above-ground tram systems in Munich and Vienna to incredibly efficient and a great way to see parts of the cities we wouldn’t normally have happened upon. We jumped on the train for a comfortable 4+ hour ride to Prague, and we also used the main train line to get outside of Vienna for a day of cycling and wine tasting.
Using public transportation is so incredibly simple, and every time I’m in Europe, I’m reminded how convenient, cost efficient and effective it is. I will never understand why the United States can’t get on board with public transportation. I would be happy to ditch one of our cars if we had transportation options like Europeans do.
Tap water should be a right. It drives me absolutely crazy that you have to pay for tap water at restaurants in Germany, Austria and much of the rest of Europe. I drink a ridiculous amount of water every day, and I think it’s absurd that you have to pay so much for a glass of tap water to go with a meal. Moreover, how can there not be water fountains in some European airports?
In addition to this small annoyance, I know how inexpensive soda is, and the fact that you have to pay upwards of four euro for less than half a liter of Coke or Sprite just feels like a crime. Needless to say, I filled a lot of water bottles in bathroom sinks and spent a fair amount of time dehydrated simply from the lack of available drinking water at every turn.
The autobahn: Where are cars are the norm. I feel absolutely dwarfed on the road in the United States. As I zip around town in my little Honda Fit, I am often surrounded at lights and on the road by massive pick-up trucks and SUVs. These vehicles are often too big to make proper u-turns or park in normal-sized parking spaces. In parts of the country where vehicles may need to plow through feet of snow in the winter, I can possibly understand why someone would need to own a vehicle this size, but I’m convinced the average person does not need to own one.
And in Europe, they don’t. Thankfully. The autobahn is a bit harrowing as it is with vehicles whizzing by at ungodly speeds, but at least these vehicles are almost exclusively cars. And they should be … because no one needs to be driving around in a Hummer or a pick-up truck jacked up so high it requires a stair step.
It’s raining! It’s hot! It’s cloudy! Dear Europe, your weather confuses me! I’ve been to a lot of places at a variety of times throughout the year, but the weather in Germany and Austria truly perplexes me. One day the temperature would be hovering near 90F and the humidity was nearly unbearable. The next day, it would be somewhere in the mid-60s with a chance of rain. Say what?!
Every time we headed out, I felt the need to carry sunglasses, a rain jacket, a long-sleeved shirt and sunscreen because the weather was so unpredictable from day to day. I’d be curious to see what winter is like there.
And, once again, my desire to speak another language fluently resurfaces. I picked up a bit of Spanish from two years in high school, and I learned enough Swahili to get by in Kenya. The only language I ever studied at length was German, which I minored in in college. That was more than ten years ago, however, and this was my first trip to Germany, so while I managed to pick up pieces of the language, I realize I’ve lost the vast majority of what I learned over the years.
I love the idea of learning—and really knowing and speaking—a language other than English. Now that I’ve had the chance to dabble in one once again, maybe I’ll start learning (or relearning) one in earnest. In the meantime, I continue to be incredibly impressed by how fluently Europeans speak English. Big kudos go out to everyone with whom I communicated who met me more than halfway so that I could order food, find my way around and enjoy my trip as much as I did.