Europe 2014 – A Summary – Part One

We’ve been back in the States now for a little over a month and have settled into a nice routine that may or may not be the one we pursue in the future. We’re currently on the road, driving to the west coast for the holidays, a trip that will last about six weeks.

Throughout this first month back we’ve been asked a number of questions about our trip, about Europe, and about the people there. I’ve given it some thought and incorporated much of what we’ve answered, a discourse that has now become practiced, one that either Joanna or I can deliver equally effectively, honed by the number of times it has been told.

What was your most memorable place, experience, or time in Europe?

This was the number one question asked of us upon our return. For a shorter trip, there is often one place or experience that stands out from all of the others. But for this journey, given its length and the scope of our travel, no one occurrence stands out amongst the rest. What tends to happen is that the highs and lows are muted in one long landscape of places and events.

Overall, we’d both say that our five plus weeks in Spain were the highlight of the trip, due primarily to it being early in the journey when we were full of enthusiasm and charged up about being there. Spain was new to us as well, not having been there before, so we were hungry to see as much as we could. Finally, the camping and the weather were both very good; when every day is sunny with pleasantly warm days and nights, any trip would be good.

By August we were beginning to tire of being on the road and this translated into a bit less enthusiasm for being a tourist. But as I recall the events of the trip, many days and activities from that time period are viewed favorably through the lens of time. Perhaps if we’d reversed the order of the trip, we think about places visited during the second half of the trip in a different light and I’d be reporting that those were our favorite times.

How hard was it to communicate?

This was my eleventh trip to Europe since the first in 1977 and one change we’ve witnessed is the emergence of English as the default language for travel. For many Europeans, it is the second one they learn and generally, our interactions with most people took place in it. Places I thought would be problematic (Italy and Spain) didn’t prove to be so; in fact our interactions in those countries were almost robust as in the countries (Netherlands and Germany) where you would expect to encounter English being spoken.

What else has changed since you first visited Europe in the 1970’s?

For all of us, much has changed since the 1970’s and those changes have been incorporated in the European lifestyle much as it has in the States. Cell phones, social media, and access to the Internet have dramatically changed the way we all travel, whether at home or abroad.

What was camping like this time?

Camping has certainly changed. Just as in the United States, camping in the 1970’s was predominately accomplished in a tent, with motorhomes and trailers (RV’s) beginning to become ascendant. Today those percentages have reversed, with RV travel the dominant form and due to this the campgrounds have changed as well. In the past they would have been comprised of open fields with no designated sites; now the majority we visited had some form of an assigned campsite. Universally, the facilities were good, some better than others, each having its own particular, or peculiar, charm, depending on your mood.

How different do the Europeans look compared to Americans?

In early trips, particularly during the 70’s and 80’s, it was easy to tell a European apart from an American purely by the way they dressed. Clothing was still manufactured locally and the brands you saw in store windows were with very few exceptions, different than what we had in the States. Today this has all changed. The interconnected nature of our global economy means the same brands we shop for and wear here are available there, many times in the same stores we shop in here.

What it is like to shop?

The romantic vision we have of shopping, particularly for food, in Europe is going to multiple small shops to get the item they specialize in, be it meat, bread, cheese, fruit and vegetables. The reality is that this notion still exists but many Europeans have adopted our habit of patronizing large super Target or Wal-Mart type stores that carry a bit of everything including groceries. Readers of the blog will recall our many visits to Carrefour, Dia, or other branded markets or supermarkets.

The outskirts of most towns we’d enter are now similar to those here in the States, populated with fast food chains (McDonalds, Quick Burger, KFC and many Europe specific brands), sporting goods, home improvement and furniture stores. This was one of the key takeaways from this journey for me; how much we’ve become like each other as we shop, eat, drink, and connect ever more so through some form of technology. We’re not all that different.

What about the food? Which was your favorite?

European food, throughout the continent and country-by-country cannot be rivaled. Although fast food has invaded the place, an appreciation for quality of life still permeates the growth, preparation, and consumption of all kinds of food.

The only downside of traveling for a long time and spending as much as a month in one country is that one does get tired of the fare. As Americans we don’t generally have a recognizable cuisine; indeed we are often presented with a plethora of choices at any given dining interaction. Not so in Europe, where food choices are very consistent in each country. Germany and Italy are both good examples of this, where you’ll encounter some regional differences in preparation but generally find the same type and style at every dining occasion.

Because of this, we probably enjoyed the food in France the most given the wide range of options that comprise French cooking. One of my favorite French options was a poulet crudites, a sandwich with shredded chicken breast on a fresh baguette with mayo, lettuce and tomato. In Germany it would be a wurst (almost one a day), in Italy some type of pizza. Most places had different offerings but these were my go to snacks.

Poulet Crudites for Lunch

Poulet Crudites for Lunch

In the next post, I’ll finish the summary and discuss the financial elements of the trip. And then it will all be over except planning for the next one. We’re both ready to do it all again.

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