Friday, October 17, 2014

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part three)

This is the third installment of our recent European trip:

What makes European travel complicated is that there are so many countries and so many different time schedules, regulations and customs. For example, when are various shops open, and where do you buy various items?

In France, Italy and some other countries, you buy postage stamps and bus tickets at the tobacco shop. How on earth are American visitors supposed to know this? Anita and I joke that perhaps you buy toilet paper at the shoemaker, or books and newspapers at the bakery or the butcher shop? And speaking of butchers, France has three kinds: the charcuterie, where you buy processed meats such as salami and paté, the boucherie, where you buy your raw meat, such as cuts of beef or veal or hamburger, and then the boucherie chevaline, where you buy horse meat. The latter is always recognizable by a statue of a horse head in front of the store.

But things get even more complicated: in France, most groceries and other food stores are closed on Monday. On the other hand, huge department stores like the Galeries Lafayette are closed on Sunday. In Rome, it’s the museums that are closed on Monday. Except that some sites are closed on Tuesday, such as Cinecitta and the Baths of Caracalla. Then, some attractions are closed period, because they are being repaired. This was the case with the Trevi fountain this time.
I have gone to sites only to find that they were closed so many times that I now have a new rule of thumb:

Any museum, site or store will be closed on the day that Tom Kando wants to visit it.

Another issue is space. Eating lunch at a Paris sidewalk restaurant is risky. Your sidewalk table is about 2 x 2 feet in size. Hotel rooms are equally minuscule. I read somewhere that Paris has the highest population density of any major city. I suppose Europe’s population density is still considerably higher than ours. Also, culturally, Europeans’ personal space is smaller than ours. They don’t mind smelling each other as much as Americans do.

Also contributing to hotel discomfort are the inadequate showers, which often malfunction and sometimes cause you to flood the entire bathroom floor. Some hotels, at least in the provinces, advertise swimming pools and jacuzzis. Typically, the jacuzzis will be ice cold.

The bathroom problem is perennial: Free, public bathrooms are not something Europeans believe in. I have often wondered why Europeans don’t seem to have a need to pee. The 12 million people of greater Paris probably share 17 public bathrooms together. Same in Rome. If you are so lucky as to find one, it’ll cost you at least 1.50 euro. That’s TWO dollars to take a pee! In recent years, the number of public bathrooms has increased a bit. Jot this down: there is one right behind the Colosseum, and one by the Southwest foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Have you ever tried to use a café’s bathroom without ordering a drink? Sometimes, you HAVE to go, and you run into a café, no matter what. Then, all hell breaks loose. They are likely to become physically abusive. I did this once in Switzerland, and a waitress BLOCKED the bathroom door to prevent access. In Germany, after I came out of a bathroom, a waiter grabbed me by the shoulder. In France, After Anita made an emergency pitstop in a restaurant, as she walked out several waiters began insulting her and jeering (I am told that the Benelux countries allow you to pee without buying a drink).
(To be continued)
© Tom Kando 2014

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