Travel Tips for Europe
© 2003 Max Lent
If you are a typical American, your are a couch potato by any European standard. Europeans walk a lot. They also climb a lot of stairs. On one trip to Europe, I had to endure the symptoms of a torn meniscus in a knee. Stairs, uneven cobble stone streets, and long distances between trains and stations caused me a great deal of pain. What I discovered was that Europe is designed to accommodate very healthy sturdy walkers who look upon stairs as a hardy way to get exercise. Cripples, wheel chairs, and the weak are not invited. Do a little research on what Hitler did to cripples, homosexuals, and the mentally ill and you will better understand the European perspective on dealing with the vulnerable.
Even modern airports have multiple flights of stairs designed as if to say “we told you to pack light.” Bring along several pieces of large luggage and you will feel the pain.
How good a shape must an American be in to travel in Europe? If you can walk about 5 miles a day over rough terrain with brief bursts of speed and climb ten flights of stairs, you meet the minimum requirements. To really train for your trip, carry a ten pound bag of sugar or flour in a market bag or brief case. An even more realistic training regimen would include about thirty pounds of extra weight. This last method takes into account all of the books, souvenirs, maps, cameras, clothes, and other goodies that you will find yourself carrying by the end of each day.
If you belong to a health club, work out using a treadmill with it set to hill climbs that are variable and at a fairly steep angle. If you don't belong to a health club, do mall walks. Mall walks are easier than anything you will do in in Europe, so do a couple a laps a couple of times a day.
Learn how to stretch. Any book on running should provide you with information on stretching. You will need to stretch at least once a day.
You will need very supportive (ugly) hiking shoes. These shoes must have good arches and be ruggedly constructed. Cheap shoes sold by discount clothing stores will not be satisfactory. They will fall apart after a few days, they won't have adequate arch supports, and they will be made of mostly synthetic materials that will result in hot sweaty feet.
Have walking shoes professionally fitted to your feet. Buy your socks before you buy your shoes and fit your shoes with while wearing your new socks.
You will need good socks to wear with your shoes. They should be thick, padded, and will not cost less than $6 a pair. $12/pair is not too much to pay. Clean socks are a daily requirement. Buy enough for the whole trip. Alternatively, buy as many as you can wear between washings.
Bring a wash cloth and a re-closable freezer bag or two to store it in while you are between hotels. Apparently, Europeans don't fully bathe or they don't think that foreigners need to. You will rarely find a wash cloth in a European hotel. Some luxury hotels and some rare tourist friendly hotels may have wash cloths. If you see one, you are most likely mistaking a hand towel for a wash cloth.
European and many American hotels mistakenly believe that guests can adequately dry themselves with a piece of cloth about twice the size of notebook paper and about twice as thick.
If there is an evaluation card in your hotel room fill it out. Request giant bath sheets, huge fluffy bath towels, large absorbent hand towels, and bath mats that cover the floor. It won't help you this time, but it may help you the next time you visit Europe.
Toilets may have any number of flushing handles, plungers, panels, or even chains. They will most likely be located at the top of the water container, but may also be located on the floor.
Ever showered with a telephone receiver? If you haven't, you will in Europe. Shower heads are usually portable in that they can be taken off of the wall and used to rinse hair or delicate parts of the body. Consider that water that feels comfortably warm on the head can feel uncomfortably hot when sprayed elsewhere. Spraying elsewhere is also a problem. European and many American hotels don't have adequate shower curtains. It is very easy to flood the bathroom if you aren't careful. Remember that you will only have a couple of tiny little towels for mopping up the mess.
Pillows will range from sacks of unknown content that feel like clay to fluffy feather pillows that collapse to thickness that barely exceeds the back and front layers of the pillow covering. You may have request a fiber or foam pillow, but you may not get one unless you are staying at a better hotel. I have often had to use my soft suitcase as a pillow even in expensive hotels.
European hotels seem to replace their mattresses about every quarter century whether they need it or not. Unlike American hotels they buy better mattresses. That assumes that better mattresses are so hard that they cannot be worn down to the deep valleys often found in American hotel beds. If you like hard mattresses, you are in luck. If not, try the floor if the carpet is padded, it may be softer.
While staying in a hotel in Europe (and some places in the U.S.) if you find yourself feeling hot and half awake in bed in the middle of the night, do not be disturbed about your health. It is unlikely that you are experiencing malarial symptoms. This assumes that you have not just come from a lengthy stay in some tropical country. The tossing and turning, and feeling hot then cold is part of the hot mattress syndrome..
European hotels seem to universally use rubber mattress pads. These pads are made of the same material as hospital bed coverings and serve the same function, the prevention of body fluids soaking the mattress. If you want a good night's sleep, peel back the cloth sheets and remove the rubber mattress pad. Be cautious about looking at the mattress. It may be stained to the point where you might decide to put the pad back on or sleep on the floor.
Many European hotels and now some American hotels provide continental breakfasts. The word breakfast is a misnomer. What they really mean is pre-breakfast snacks. Hotel breakfasts in Europe are interesting little treats if you are into bread, coffee or tea, maybe some meats and cheese. A few hotels will make available a tasteless cereal or an all too flavorful muesli. Depending where you are, cold cereal may come with hot boiled milk. Still other places will provide a runny tart yogurt for your cereal. Fruit for your cereal may be hard to come by. Depending where you are, you might not want fruit for health reasons.
If you are used to an American breakfast of something like bacon, eggs, and fried potatoes, you are out of luck. It is possible to adapt after a few days, but not easily. If you drink coffee or tea, remember that you may be consuming more than the usual amount of caffeine on a nearly empty stomach. This could make you jittery and irritable during meetings later in the morning. Suggestion: Eat as much of the bread or whatever is available that you can force down. Lunch will be a long time off and you may not be any more impressed with it.
Lunches may consist of a smallish roll with a thin slice of meat, a thin slice of tomato, a tiny piece of lettuce and maybe a thin slice of cheese. For many Americans, this would represent one tenth of a good deli sandwich. If you find good ones, you might consider eating them by the dozen. If you are lucky, your hosts will take you to a restaurant for a formal lunch. This seems like great news until you gobble everything in sight and drink half a litter of wine. Remember that light breakfast you had. Your body will immediately interpret your feast as the ending of fasting and send most of your blood to your stomach and intestine to digest what you just ate and drank. Nap time. Some Espresso or chocolate is your only hope for staying awake under these conditions.
The best way to eat your way through the day is to start the day is with a hardy breakfast, have a moderate lunch and an early light dinner. Europeans do the exact opposite. They eat nearly nothing for breakfast, have light lunch with alcohol, and a late large dinner. This pace takes some getting used to. Try cheating as much as you can while still being polite to your hosts.
Powerbars or some other energy bar may be just what you need to get you through the day. Bring at least one for every day you are traveling, including time on planes. Airline foods my not be edible if you have good taste in food.
If you are traveling through Italy, stop at gelati parlors for a quick ice cream snack.