Thursday, November 15, 2007

Travel Thursday 3: Bits of tid I can impart from learning them the hard way

Don't try to eat dinner on Labor Day in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska. The only place open will be crapplebees.

A national parks pass will get you in (or get you a discount) to a lot more places/attractions than one might think.

Wyoming has weird weather at all times of the year.

Tourist attractions in many big cities are not worth bothering with (Fisherman's Wharf in SF, for example).

If you're visiting Seattle when it isn't baseball season, the parking areas near the baseball stadium are much cheaper than the ones in the downtown area and a nice walk (not too far).

Don't camp in a campground right next to a major highway or a busy rail line if you have any desire for actual sleep.

Consuming regional specialties is usually a good idea, unless it's old fashioned horehound candy in Salem, Mass. which is just disgusting.

Diners in small towns/cities can provide great entertainment at breakfast.

Any attempt to speak French to locals is better than just addressing them in English and expecting them to accomodate you. Actually, that goes for most countries. It's just common courtesy to attempt to communicate in the native language unless (say, you're a white people in China) it's obvious that you're a foreigner.

Sortie means exit and once you exit the metro in Paris you can't get back in, even if it was a mistake.

Plan ahead for the Louvre and decide what you most want to see, because there's no way in hell you'll be able to see everything in one visit.

Eat bread. And cheese. And yogurt. And chocolate croissants. Drink wine.

Drink sangria. Eat paella. The Sagrada Familia and Park Guell are totally worthwhile, though it's probably best not to take your entire backpack if possible.

You can gamble at Monte Carlo, but will only have access to a few slot machines unless you are wicked wealthy (or at least willing to dress up and pay the entrance fee). Also, the aquarium here is really cool.

Do not let anyone dressed as a gladiator try to jump into your photos at the Coliseum in Rome, because then they will ask you for money.

Eat gelato. Eat tiramisu. Drink wine. Eat local specialities; they are almost always worth it.

Do not, under any circumstances, get stuck in the train station in Bologna between midnight and 4 am, because you will be afraid for your life and unable to sleep.

If at all possible, hike the entire Cinque Terre, even if you are sick and have a fever. You will not regret it.

If you are 12 like me, a lot of German words will make you laugh. Like abfart. Hee.

If you are vegan, expect to find hardly anything to eat. Maybe pretzels.

Do not eat the Mexican food. Eat the Turkish food instead (kebab etc.). Also, when in Rotenburg do not eat the regional specialty. It is gross (giant fried ball of greasy dough covered in powdered sugar or chocolate. The worst gutbomb ever). But do go to the torture museum.

The Museum of Science in Munich is worth every penny of the entrance fee.

Do not attempt to access the Black Forest from Stuttgart. It is impossible. Go to Freiburg instead.

Eat chocolate. Eat yogurt. Eat whatever is grown locally and in season. From Interlaken, do the waterfall hike.

The Sound of Music tour is just OK. But Salzburg is pretty.

Do not, under any circumstances, go to Auschwitz alone, especially if you are already depressed from leaving your traveling companion. Also, they don't sell nonfizzy bottled water (at least, I couldn't find any). Only water with more fizz and less fizz. Also, the pizza is not very good. But the bread they sell from carts on the street is very good.

Czech Republic:
Prague is a beautiful city to explore. Take the time to go down small alleys; you will find hidden shops and galleries that are very cool.

Be careful with the absinthe. Do not, under any circumstances, drink 5 shots of absinthe at your hostel, then go out and eat a magnum (ice cream) bar, then go to a bar and drink 2 more shots of absinthe, and then go outside and vomit all over your feet and the street. If you must do this, please do not wear socks and Birkenstocks, and PLEASE do not pull your camera out and take a picture of it. And if you MUST do all this, please at least change your clothes and socks before breakfast the next morning. UGH. (For the record, this was not me but some guy at my hostel. I will never forget the disgust I felt when I went to breakfast the next morning and he was still up and hadn't even changed his socks.)

England (London):

Don't walk around by yourself at night near King's Cross Station, because it's creepy and weird. In fact, try to stay someplace that is not there.

There is no way you can see all the stuff you want to see in 2 days.

See a play while you are there if at all possible.

Learn a few important words and phrases before you go, if possible. We learned hello and thank you, and while there we learned yes, no, I want it, I don't want it, water, go away. These are important things to learn.

If you are not Chinese you will be hounded incessantly in touristy areas to buy things. People will follow you for miles on the Great Wall. Be prepared for it.

Eat street food if you can see it being prepared. It is delicious.

If eating in a restaurant, especially one with no English menu, it is generally a better idea to see what other patrons are eating and point at something that looks good, rather than just pointing at an all Chinese menu and hoping for the best. You may end up with a dish of spicy peppers and mutton, which, while tasty, made for a very eye-watering meal.

Be prepared to be stared at. A lot. There is a very different concept of privacy (none).

Bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Bathrooms won't have toilet paper and will have only cold water, often with no soap.

If you want a Western toilet (rather than the squat kind), look for a McDonalds or KFC.

People spit all the time, everywhere. Don't drop anything on any floor-type surface and plan to eat it. The 3-second rule is not applicable in China.

If possible, tag-team when bargaining for souveniers. Also, listen to see how much other tourists are paying and try to judge your fair price accordingly. Prices will be incredibly inflated and you are expected to bargain them down to more reasonable levels; otherwise you will be thought an idiot.


Yank In Texas said...

Word. Eat local if at all possible. Follow the students for deals.
Gelato is very important in Italy.
The Eiffel Tower isn't really worth going up. There are much better views of Paris and the majority of them are free.
Do NOT attempt to cross the road to get to the Arc de Triomphe. There's an undergroud passageway. This is worth ascending.
I agree about the schneeball in Rothenburg. And about Freiburg. And the Kebabs. Mmmmmm.
Eat Vietnamese food in Paris. Really.
Go to Vienna and watch the Opera /Ballet for about $10 in Standing Room Only. Those people in the seats in front of you paid at least five times that for the same view.

Sara said...

We LOVED the Rothenberg torture museum! And probably half the ornaments on our tree every year are from the Christmas shop there. *sigh*

Abby said...

I love your tips, I still have yet to do the backpacking in europe thing, maybe someday (hopefully soon) but mainly I loved your travel tips for China. I agree 100% with all of them, especially with being followed on the Great Wall.

Dana said...

Aghh - fizzy water and less fizzy water. I had a minor meltdown on a 100 degree day in Germany once when *no one* sold non fizzy water.

Note - the casino in Monaco doesn't open until after noon (I think 2).