As of last Friday (August 17th) I have been abroad for 8 weeks. While I do plan on writing a longer post at the end of my trip (which is unfortunately/fortunately approaching quite rapidly - more on that later), I wanted to do a quick reflection on travel and life in Europe. So, here we go, some of my takeaways:
- It is quite possible that I did not speak a word of Swedish or Danish while there - now, I was in major cities (Stockholm, Gothenburg, Copenhagen) but still. This is something that many Americans most likely take for granted. Signs and menus are in English. People are readily willing to switch to English. The next time you're in a major city in the U.S. take stock of how much non-English is around you.
- Stockholm has quite possibly the greatest public transit system in the world. It's easy to use, it's easy to understand (compared with pretty much everywhere else I've been) and it's on time and clean.
- Denmarkians are bike gods. This may seem like a no-brainer, but really, they take biking to a new level. You might think you can bike, but you can't Danish bike. That takes practice.
- Christiania is a super cool place that I think gets overlooked because of its sale of marijuana. There is much more to this town than Pusher Street so do yourself a favor and go.
- Denmark takes food trucks to the next level (much like biking!) They have a whole area in the city that is just food trucks (and a beer hall)-- there's music and water and happiness AND it's a destination. There's a bus stop right next to it.
Germany: Full disclosure, I was only in Freiburg
- Freiburg is a badass town full of lovely people- but you do need some German (or be really comfortable pointing and miming). You can feel a language barrier here, but again it's nothing compared to what people face when they come to the U.S.
- Freiburgians are no joke when it comes to biking- they love biking, they have giant rental bike places by the train station, and they'll bike you until you're good and tired... and it will be worth it.
- Freiburg loves music and drinks, but they're into old school beer. Meaning, if you want something besides a simple lager, don't expect it. The main brewery in town brews 1 (maybe 2?) beers. They're refreshing on a hot day but they don't have crazy brews that U.S.-bounders might be craving.
- German food is meat and carb heavy and it is delightful. After Sweden/Denmark where I was basically a vegetarian for a month, Germany was the opposite end of the extreme. But it was all amazing. From späetzle to sauerkraut to sausages to potatoes to pretzels. Yum.
- German train systems are not as well-oiled as Sweden/Denmark. While the rail system is still great, it did not have the punctuality of Sweden/Denmark nor the clarity that its northern neighbors possessed...Note, still WAY BETTER than in the U.S.
Switzerland: Since I spent almost a month here I won't go into the gory details in this post, but just a few highlights:
- Train travel may be the way of Sweden and Denmark, but I'm telling you, Switzerland has perfected it. Signage everywhere... that syncs with their app that syncs with the track notifications that syncs with the announcements (given in German, French, and English). And everything's on time and if a train is late there are, wait for it, apologies. It's crazy!
- Wait are they speaking German or French? Or Italian? Depending on where you are there is a language barrier... and it can get confusing if you think you need German but you are actually in the French portion of Switzerland... let alone the Italian portion. Learn some key phrases.
- There is a very big cultural divide between German Switzerland and French Switzerland. It would probably take a book to adequately describe and discuss the differences. Come visit and see for yourself.
- As a guest you can get a month-long Swiss half pass which gives you half fare on 2nd or 1st class train tickets. It's almost always a better deal than the Swiss unlimited travel pass so check it out. You do need to print it if you order online but all their other tickets are digital which is nice.
- Depending on where you are there are free public transit passes! Geneva and Lausanne hotels give you free transit passes which is rock and roll (especially in Lausanne where its hilly).
- Sundays are days of rest... aka a lot of stuff is shutdown or closed. Rather than getting angry or annoyed about it, plan your time better and enjoy the fact that you get a whole day a week when you don't have to run errands because you have a valid excuse.
- Grocery stores- bring your own bag or pay for one. Plain. Simple. Everyone brings their own. Amazing.
Ok, I will stop there for now- especially because this got a bit longer than planned. The only other thing I'll mention is the "unfortunately/fortunately my trip is ending soon" comment I mentioned above. 8 weeks (well 9+ by the time I leave) is a long time to leave family and friends (and beloved 4-legged children) so I am really excited to be home for those reasons. However, I absolutely love it here and am already planning my next trip. Europe is doing really well on many many things and the U.S. could adopt a few lessons... but more on that later!