European Travel — Some random thoughts and helpful hints

Christmas — the perfect time to change things up a bit and talk about my favorite pastime, travel.

My wife and I frequently travel in November, anxious to shorten the long Alaska winter.  This fall we returned to Europe, exploring new places and revisiting old favorites, mostly in Austria, Italy and Spain. Some random thoughts and observations.

I love to travel by train in Europe.   It is usually convenient, sometimes fast, and can be inexpensive. German trains tend to be relatively expensive while trains in Italy are among the cheapest I’ve encountered.   Fast trains don’t always go where you want to go which means it can sometimes be faster and cheaper to fly. Try getting from Rome to Barcelona on a train.

On this past trip we scheduled a train from Innsbruck to Verona around a scheduled Italian rail strike.  We knew when the one day strike would end, and purchased our tickets accordingly.  Sure enough the train showed up.  We had a great trip through the Alps by train.

Avoid what Italians call American coffee, stick with espresso or cappuccino.  I don’t know what happens at the border.  Coffee in Austria is OK, cross into Italy and it ….well….just stick to cappuccino.

If you want to experience slow service in Italy…..pay for a meal with a credit card.   I once waited 20 minutes for my server to take my VISA card.  I finally gave up and put down a few euros….swoosh …it was gone in an instant, and my change arrived a minute or two later.

Sausages in Austria taste nothing like the American version of Vienna Sausages.

I’m a big fan of the breakfasts served in most hotels in Continental Europe;  wonderful breads, espresso drinks, yummy cheeses and cold cuts, maybe some eggs and/or bacon,  juices,  and fruits including some I’ve never seen before.

Question 1:  Why are egg yokes a darker color in Europe?

Question 2:  Does anybody grow seedless table grapes in Europe?

Question 3:  Who uses money changers? The kiosks are everywhere in Europe and the rates are awful.   Want to really get ripped off, cash a travelers check in a foreign currency. You get a lousy exchange rate, and get charged an additional fee because it’s a check.    Last year I read a guide book actually recommending them….how 1970’s.

ATM’s are everywhere and free.  And the exchange rate is better at an ATM too.  I’ve taken to charging stuff only when necessary.  Cash is king and you avoid the foreign currency fees on your credit card when you use ATM’s.

Question 4:  I wonder how much soda is taxed?  I was in a convenience story in Italy.  Wine started at 2 euro for a 750 ml bottle, a giant bottle of beer was 2.8 euro and a coke was 3 euro  for a small can.  My solution to this dilemma….drink wine.

Happy traveling

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