Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Thoughts on Traveling in Europe

I was lucky enough to travel in Germany last year. I spent a few months there and learned a few things about traveling.
Americans tend to over pack. I'm no exception to that premise. I thought I'd pack smart but in hind sight it turned out that I didn't pack as well as I thought.
I spent the winter in Germany and being from one of those places where it isn't really cold all the time I bought some winter clothes here thinking I'd be okay over there. I found out rather quickly the nice warm jacket and gloves I wore here did nothing over there. I was fortunate in the fact that it was around Christmas and there were tons of sales and I was able to replace those items rather cheaply. Cheap being a relative term in that while the clothes were not expensive spending money for them did cut into my operating expenses.
I did pack with the intent of leaving much of my clothes behind. I took old clothes, pants and shirts I also bought some boots that were rated to -40 F. I live in Arizona and where I live I don't need boots like that. I was glad that I had them, it was better when I got some really nice wool socks to go along with them. We walked everywhere and as this was one of the coldest winters in decades it was nice to know that my feet were warm even when the temperature was in the -10 C range or colder.
As we were there for several months we got to a point where laundry was something to look into. At our first apartment our landlady did our laundry along with hers. One of our other apartments had laundry facilities there and we were able to use those. We didn't have access to a regular facility where we stayed the longest and their laundry prices were a bit high, 10 € for a shirt. We took to 'doing laundry' as we showered then used the heater registers to dry our clothes.
Check your camera gear especially your chargers. I discovered that some of my equipment chargers were multi volt so all I needed was an adapter to plug in. I didn't need a power converter for them. We took three different power converters some worked some time and others never worked at all. I bought a large use transformer there and it was a life saver in terms of power and safety. The smaller converters sometimes got very hot if left plugged in for long periods of time. An additional bonus was that the converter had a small light when it was on and this worked as sort of a night light. Strange rooms are sort of hard to navigate if you are half asleep.
We became fast friends with the local post office. The things that you purchase over there can easily be sent home on a one price box, we call it "if it fits we ship" here. If you get some expensive items in the store then let them send them home. The shipping and insurance is almost the same as the tax price and you don't have the hassle of going through one more stop in customs to declare your tax items. You'll need all of your receipts and show each item and the receipt.
In Germany you can find extended stay places called fewo pronounced Fay Vo. It is best to look several months in advance for these places if you intend to stay several days or a week or longer. You can save some money because these places usually have cooking facilities that range from very basic, hotplate, micro wave coffee pot to full kitchens. Grocery shopping in Germany is an experience unto itself but not very bad overall. We stayed in a hotel room that was over a butcher shop and the bakery was across the street. You can order in Bavaria a Pretzel (Bretze) with butter and a cup of coffee. Buy what you can eat in an evening. Germans don't use a lot of preservatives so things will spoil quickly. That wonderful crisp roll you bought yesterday will be like a rock later.
Our hotel had breakfast with the room. You will find many hotels in Germany that say Hotel Garni and this means that they serve breakfast only so there is no Pension (all meals included) halb Pension (Breakfast and evening meal). On the subject of meals. I had a waitress explain to me the art of tipping in Germany. She was very good and I was going to pay her several Euro for a tip. The waitstaff in Germany are employees of the place where you are eating. Unlike here they get paid a very good salary and tips are not a mandatory survival item. Tips are usually included with the meal anyhow so the extra tip is nice. One or two Euro extra is generous more than that is sort of an insult. These tips (Trinkgeld or drinking money) are tax free and not reported as income.
As a side note and really important. Germans count using their thumb first not their index finger so if you want one of something as a shop then hold up your thumb if you put up your index finger don't be surprised if you find you are given two of what you asked for.

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