Things I've Learned While Traveling Through Parts of Europe

Eiffel Tower, Paris

Standing at 984 feet tall, the once tallest building in the world is still standing tall and proud--possibly one of Europe's best known landmarks.
Standing at 984 feet tall, the once tallest building in the world is still standing tall and proud--possibly one of Europe's best known landmarks. | Source


Going to Europe was always a dream, somewhere out there, not quite within reach but close enough to tease. A coy one at that. But a letter came that actually pushed the dream closer, to within grasp, yet not quite. My daughter (she had sent in an audition tape prior) was one of the eight Americans chosen to represent America in the International Cecchetti Ballet Competition in Manchester, England, the letter said. At first, I thought it was one of the soliciting letters that disguised itself as a “prestigious” opportunity. No, not falling for that but the director of the dance studio confirmed it. Now, that’s obviously an opportunity not to be missed since the next round of competition is three years later and it will be on American soil. So, should we sell some of our belongings on Craigslist and try to raise some money to make the trip…all four of us? When you leave no stones unturned, treasures can turn up in unexpected places. We uncovered some forgotten mileage we had with American Airlines, mileage the airlines has, no doubt, put a lock and key over and put it to rest. But with some degree of finagling, we managed to resurrect the lost mileage and brought ourselves four tickets at a reasonable price.

Cechetti International Ballet Competition

Shaina doing her Pequita variation.
Shaina doing her Pequita variation. | Source


So England, Bruges, Antwerp, Brussels (all in Belgium), Trier, Amsterdam and Paris—here we come!

Or in the words of the one and only Dr. Seuss:

Oh! The Places You’ll Go!

You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights

Given that we’re mainly holed up in Salford, Manchester for a week, while my daughter competed, we have 11 days to tour different parts of Europe after that. We didn’t time to do all the sight-seeing but we did get a feel of Europe. The experience was enriching, eye-opening, different, awe-inspiring and all the emotions in between. Here’s what I’ve learned as a casual traveler.

The Lowry at Manchester, England

The Lowry, where the competition took place.
The Lowry, where the competition took place. | Source


English Accent

It’s incredibly nice to be surrounded by English accents. Everywhere I turned in Manchester, I was serenaded by ear-pleasing English accent. It sounds so sophisticated: “Is everything alright?” instead of “How are you doing?” Lovely and brilliant replace awesome and amazing. Trash becomes rubbish, restrooms become toilets. More about toilets later.

The River Mersey flowing through Greater Manchester.

Surrounded by English accent and geese, too many roaming the quay around Mersey River, where we stayed. Geese and people canoe-ing co-exist...makes one wonder about hygiene.
Surrounded by English accent and geese, too many roaming the quay around Mersey River, where we stayed. Geese and people canoe-ing co-exist...makes one wonder about hygiene. | Source

Get tour books for beter insight before setting out:


Euros: No Sweet Exchange

Given our exchange rate—food can be expensive and pretty much everything else. A simple sit-down meal can set you back a hundred American dollars. So, if you’re on a budget, opt for sandwiches—they’re very good at making interesting sandwiches and the variety is astounding from mango chutney to duck wrap. If you eat in, they may charge a higher price. Most days, we opt for sandwiches and sometimes, we even eat them in the nearby park, or benches overlooking canals or gardens-- cost-effective and a good way to have a picnic.


Picnic in Luxemburg Gardens, Paris

Lunch on the lawn of Luxemburg Garden--the most delicious baguette (nobody makes them like the French), cheese and mustard--free gorgeous view, sweet summer air and free people gawking.
Lunch on the lawn of Luxemburg Garden--the most delicious baguette (nobody makes them like the French), cheese and mustard--free gorgeous view, sweet summer air and free people gawking. | Source


Wine, Beer or ….nothing

In America, water comes with the meal. It’s a given and it’s free. Try doing that in Europe and the waiter may look at you in funny way....like “Where have you been?” In most restaurants, they charge you for bottled water and sometimes, they are more expensive than ordering a glass of wine.


LIverpool Stadium

If you're a soccer fan, you may even willingly forgo the fish and chips and tour the liverpoool stadium and then lose yourself in the store that sells nothing but soccer paraphernalia.
If you're a soccer fan, you may even willingly forgo the fish and chips and tour the liverpoool stadium and then lose yourself in the store that sells nothing but soccer paraphernalia. | Source


Fish and Chips—Hold the Ketchup

England is well-known for its fish and chips (or what we call French fries). Beautifully golden, crunchy batter encasing white juicy fish famously paired with chips. Good restaurants serve home-made chips—firm wedges of potatoes that yield fluffy insides. Once you have one of those, you wonder how you’ve been hoodwinked and (and happy on top of that) with emancipated commercial fries all your life. I had the best French fries in Liverpool, England. And don’t ask for ketchup—they serve theirs with vinegar or tartar sauce. And if you dare ask for ketchup, they may just slap with a charge.



Harrods Food Hall

At Harrods food hall, you’ll think you died and went to food paradise. Chocolates of every kind, pastries to please your sweet cravings, cheeses (all too way overpriced by American standards), wraps and little good eats—enough to induce hunger pangs and drool. Practise restraint or you may end up nursing heartburn or dough regret. But that is not the most expensive part in Harrods. Wonder into other levels and you’ll find yourself in aisles of expensive, exclusive merchandise—branded goods and clothes that would require wads of Euros (actually they use pounds in England, still) and a certain degree of je ne sais quoi (which four scruffy tourists are wantonly lacking).


Harrods Food Hall --Eat Til You Drop?

All you can eat, if only the Euros were half the exchange rate.
All you can eat, if only the Euros were half the exchange rate. | Source


Where are the Restrooms?

With everything thing else being so expensive, you’d think you should get a break when it comes to using the restrooms. After all, it’s a natural body function….well, apparently not…they have sentinels (guardians or wardens or whatever you call them) stationed outside collecting money for most restroom use. Need to take leak? If you’re in a restaurant, you’re covered. If you’re out and about, you can sneak into hotels to use the loo—just act like you belong. Other than that, you can always look to McDonalds (Brits like McDonalds) but have some change ready—you may have to pay “extortion” money (that’s what I call it).


Eiffel Tower, all lit up at night.

Did we ever go up Eiffel Tower? You bet...not even long lines and bathroom needs can keep us away. We went back to the hotel, brought our tickets online (advice from concierge) and went back at night. Even more breath-taking and we beat the crowd.
Did we ever go up Eiffel Tower? You bet...not even long lines and bathroom needs can keep us away. We went back to the hotel, brought our tickets online (advice from concierge) and went back at night. Even more breath-taking and we beat the crowd. | Source


In Paris, the bathroom situation gets worse. If you’re blessed with a strong or big bladder, good for you. If not, hunting down a toilet can become your preoccupation and it can have disastrous consequences. Case in point—when we went to the Eiffel Tower, the lines snaked all the way around the grounds and out into the sidewalk. The wait could be two to three hours long. The sun bears down with all its August glory and the wait can be “leak-inducing.” The only restrooms are portable ones and the lines can test your patience. We abandoned our initial plan to go up Eiffel Tower (since one of us was in dire need of a restroom) and went in search of the elusive bathroom. It took some sleuth skills to finally locate one in the library and man, was the line long—everybody had the same idea! And be forewarned: the toilets may be unisex.

Old is Beautiful

The old is embraced and enthroned—cobblestone-paved town center, old Roman ruins, churches, castles and houses made of stones and moss. From Bruges to Antwerp to Paris, majestic centuries-old buildings inspire awe and a sense of longing….of a time long past, steeped in glory and culture and an enviable ancient past where life seemed so simple and romantic. Or so I thought, glazing at these architectural wonders.


Brussels

The city center of Brussels--surounded by beautiful old architecture and a whole range of outdoor eateries--your cuppa may never taste that good.
The city center of Brussels--surounded by beautiful old architecture and a whole range of outdoor eateries--your cuppa may never taste that good. | Source


Watch Out for Bicycles

Canals rule in Amsterdam and so do bicycles. If you’re crossing the road, watch out not just for cars, but the tram and the fast zipping bicycles. Children are transported in buggies attached to bicycles and well-dressed ladies peddle past in pencil-thin skirt—all in a day’s work.


Amsterdam, Holland

Bicylce, bridges, canals, cinemas, markets--you'll find plenty of these and more in the largest city of the Netherlands. Amsterdam charms with its blend of modern architecture and historical buildings.
Bicylce, bridges, canals, cinemas, markets--you'll find plenty of these and more in the largest city of the Netherlands. Amsterdam charms with its blend of modern architecture and historical buildings. | Source


Take Time for Meals.

In America, we have drive-through and sometimes, when time is pressing, we eat our food while driving. The rush rush-through meal is quite the way of life. The afternoon, we pulled into Bruges and walked into the center of town, we just wanted to grab a bite and go on with some sight-seeing. We finally settled for a restaurant with outside sitting, looking out into the town center, with its ancient cobblestone, horse carriages clopping by, street musicians vying for attention and people wondering about with cameras…..and quickly placed our orders. The appetizers came quickly, but then the pace slowed….and then it seemed to take forever for them to produce the entrees and even longer for the dessert. At first, we wondered at the pace and then as we looked around us---the diners were all sipping their wine and talking---that no one was in a hurry, except us. And then it dawned on us…mealtime is supposed to be relaxing and it’s supposed to take forever. It took us two hours before we stepped out of the restaurant.


Bruges (Brugge), Belgium

Willow-lined canals, ornate houses, Bruges oozes medieval charm and sweet hospitality. Once a 13th century cloth making center, this city is often dubbed, the Venice of the north.
Willow-lined canals, ornate houses, Bruges oozes medieval charm and sweet hospitality. Once a 13th century cloth making center, this city is often dubbed, the Venice of the north. | Source

Using useful traveling accessories can take the headache away from traveling.


While August is a good month to go to Europe, it's also the time that shopkeepers take their summer break, so some shops are closed. However, that is a small matter, judging by the throng of tourists. It is advisable to buy tickets to major attractions online as you will save yourself plenty of time waiting in line just to buy the tickets.

Related Hubs:

Car Navigation System: Don't Leave Home Without It.


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Comments 26 comments

CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

Lovely hub, for a lovely holiday. I can't think of any chip shop that sells tartar sauce! Well you were up north! Did I miss it, but you didn't say how your daughter got on?


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 5 years ago from Germany

Very good hub. I know how it is looking a toilet or a loo in England or Paris. The first thing that came to my mind in going to a toilet was to go to Mc Donalds. That was the only sure place for me to have a toilet in Paris. Thanks for sharing.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 5 years ago from London, UK

I love your Hubs but this has to be one of my favourites. I love the way you wrote it - very interesting and fun to read.

It's nice that you take time to travel. I'd love to travel round Asia some time.

Thanks for the photos too.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

Caseworker, thanks for your comments. About the tartar sauce, maybe, I should revise it--I would say it's more of a mayo-based sauce. Thanks for asking, the five awards went to more experienced older dancers. Shaina is one of the youngest contestants--she had a lot of fun and learn lots from interacting with other dancers, though.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

Lady E. I appreciate your kind words. Taking off to travel is a good way to relax and appreciate other cultures. Thanks for commenting.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

Thelma Alberts, thanks for dropping by to share your experience. I see we've similar experience with toilet hunting. Take care.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Wow...wow....wow. I can't say anything except "wow". This was totally "great" and amazing information about Paris. I have a big dream to visit this city. You have done an excellent job here. Very well presentation, completed with stunning pictures. I'll bookmark this hub. You open my eyes about what should I do while in Paris. I'll press all buttons here, except funny. Vote up and useful!

Prasetio


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago

angInwu, wow, your daughter is so talented to have chosen to represent America in the International Cecchetti Ballet Competition in Manchester ! That's not an easy accomplishment. Bravo to you and your daughter ! She looks so pretty and professional in the photo.

Secondly, you know what, my family and I just travelled to Manchester 2 weeks ago ! It's one of the cities we stopped by. We had a great time there.

I must say I had a bit of culture shock when we were in UK. The cyber technology has changed the countries so much. For e.g, almost everyone is booking their car for hire through internet, booking their hotels from the web, rarely do people go to a car rental shops or travel agent nowadays. So, we don't see much of these shops even in tourist places.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

What an awesome trip you had! I enjoyed reading this very much, and you made me really want to try French fries with vinegar and tartar sauce. Whenever you plan to revisit Europe, please let me know. I'll sneak into your suitcase!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

Prasetio, you've always brought the world to us. I'm sure you'll love to viist Europe. Paris is amazing but my favorite has to be Amsterdam. Thanks for voting it up. I appreciate your visit and kind words.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

Ingenira, thank you so much for your kinds words. I'm sure my daughter will be happy to know that. It was indeed an honor and a great experience.

It's funny how we were in Manchester around the same time, give or take a couple of weeks difference. The week after we left, the riot broke up. We're in Paris when the news was all over the place. Were you there just after the riot?

Yes, some culture shock. It was hard to find their car rental places--they are mostly hidden in garages and in Paris, we drove around for an hour or so until my daughter spotted the tiny sign on the outside of a parking structure. It would have been easier with GPS, of course. But all said, yes, booking everything online seems so much easier and the way to go there.

Thank you for sharing your experience, that defintely adds to this hub.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

Haha, Om, sneak into my suitcase? That would be the most expensive lugguage I'll be carrying. Thanks for dropping by to comment. Always a pleasure to see you.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago

angInwu, we were in Manchester a few weeks after the riot. We didn't feel insecure at all the whole time we were in UK. The only thing we noticed was more policemen patrolling the street in Manchester.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

Ingenira, we were there almost the same time...kinda. Are you based in Malaysia or elsewhere? If you're in Malaysia, we should meet up the next time I visit Singapore. Thanks again for checking back.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago

I am based in KL, let me know when you are here and have time to meet up. :)


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

Ingenira, I'm going to keep that in mind when I next go home. I love shopping in KL. Take care.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco

What a great Hub! I lived in Europe for 4 years and I think you captured nicely all the wonderful things about the Continent. Thank you for sharing all of the pictures and advice.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

Thanks, livelonger, grateful for your comments. And definitely, that's brussels--after a while, when you've so many pictures, they seem to run together. Have a great day.


Winsome profile image

Winsome 5 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

Lovely guide and review anglnwu, thanks for the trip, you saved me a lot of money. Just kidding, I can hardly wait to go myself. =:)


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

Thanks, winsome. I did save some money--from taking free tours to eating out in the park. You will love it when you get there.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

We are headed in that direction in July--not sure what I am going to do about the bathrooms!!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 4 years ago Author

Audrey, sorry if i scare you. You'll survive--I promise. Thanks for reading.


Peter Sleeckx 4 years ago

Thank you for slowing down in Bruges :-)

If you slow down, your body has the time to absorb what is happening around you and as a result you will remember it better.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 4 years ago Author

Peter, I agree--glad to be able to slow down in Bruges--so beautiful. Just wish our trip wasn't such a quick one. Thanks for your comments.


StayPos profile image

StayPos 4 years ago from Florida, USA

anglnwu,

I enjoyed reading your hub and loved the reference on British Accents.

You also got my attention with your coverage of

" bathroom breaks " :-)

Very nicely written hub and great pictures too! Thanks for sharing some great insights to keep in mind on travels to Europe.

Voted Up and Awesome!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 4 years ago Author

Staypos, thanks for your positive comments. I'm glad you liked it.

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