After a month traveling through Eastern Europe (plus Amsterdam), we’ve encountered a countless array of random and odd things that are probably only interesting to us ignorant Americans. (Or maybe just me.) Here are some of the most memorable ones…
Paying to Pee: Most of the public restrooms throughout Eastern Europe require payment for use (usually somewhere around 25-50 cents). Paying a person stationed closely outside the restroom seems a bit strange in its own respect. But the most bizarre thing (for me anyway) was in the Krakow train station, where the cost differed depending on whether I planned on using a toilet (more expensive) or just a urinal (less expensive). In essence, I had to tell the lady beforehand exactly what I planned on doing inside that restroom (for the record: just peeing). Seems a bit strange and awkward, no?
More Toilet Talk: Amsterdam has a popular, late-night square surrounded by scores of bars that is thus filled with scores of drunken men at night roaming around the square. What’s the best restroom solution for hundreds of drunken guys and late-night loitering? Well, the city installed outdoor urinals near the middle of the square, in public display of everyone...
Obama-Mania. Every country we visit (including Asia and New Zealand) is obsessed with our new president. The local newspapers talk endlessly about him, and the local people—when we tell them that we are from the U.S.—continually ask us about him and/or tell us how much they prefer him to our previous president. (At this point, he’s pretty much like an international rock star.)
U.S. & Seattle Travelers. Throughout our travels, we have met hundreds of travelers… but very few Americans. Compared with other nations (especially England and Australia, or even Canada), a much smaller percentage of Americans seem to travel abroad for long stretches of time (except perhaps for the summer after college graduation). And, for shorter trips, few Americans seem to travel outside of the summer and Christmas seasons.
However, for as few Americans as we’ve met, we’ve met quite a few travelers from Seattle. (We’ve easily met more people from Seattle than any other U.S. city.) Is it a coincidence, or are Seattleites more apt to get out and see the world? (Just today, we met a Seattle guy who went to college and was good friends with two of my hometown friends from Prosser. Small world.)
Vancouver Travelers. As for cities outside of the U.S., we have probably met more travelers from Vancouver, B.C. than from any other city. Sydney, Australia and London, England are a very close second.
Coffee. It is pretty much impossible to find standard drip coffee. Everything is espresso here. The closest we can get to standard coffee is to order essentially an Americano or what’s known as a “long black”(espresso with hot water). Amy’s mom took it a step farther in Croatia by ordering a separate cup of hot water to add to her coffee, which was a great idea. We’ve told various European travelers that we prefer American coffee, which they always find quite shocking. (They think American-style coffee is too thin and watery and far too weak.)
Night Trains. We’ve taken night trains on several occasions, including trips from Prague to Krakow and from Krakow to Budapest. This is a fantastic way to travel large distances. We found our private cabins to be more spacious than we expected, and night travels saves time (plus the expense of a hotel). Highly recommended. With respect to train travel in general, our only word of caution is that some trains do not have any food or beverage service. We took a 9-hour train ride from Budapest to Ljubljana that—to our shock—lacked a dining car or any food service whatsoever. We travelled from noon until 9 o’clock that day without any food (other than a croissant that we had brought, which we rationed sparingly throughout the trip). Not good.
Beer. We may have pined for American-style coffee, but the beer in Eastern Europe is consistently superior. Even the Budweiser is better. Far better. (The Czech “Budweiser” has reportedly been in constant litigation with the American one.)
Gelato. The gelato in Eastern Europe is incredibly good, found on seemingly every street corner, and is quite cheap. (Usually about a dollar per scoop.) I’ll bet we are average two scoops a day on this trip. Highly addictive. Hard to resist.
Escalators. This is random, but the escalators in much of Eastern Europe are often extremely steep and extremely fast. You definitely have to pay attention and time your steps when getting on and off them. (Not sure why I needed to point this out. But now you know.)
Vacation Days. When we talk with foreign travellers about life and culture in the United States, the thing that shocks them the most is the small amount of vacation days that Americans typically receive from their employers. In much of Europe, for instance, it is common for someone right out of school (with zero experience) to get a job with five weeks paid vacation (plus holidays). So they are quite shocked when we tell them that two weeks vacation is fairly typical in the United States. (And, wow, you wouldn't even believe some of the standard maternity/paternity leaves that are offered in many European countries. Ridiculous.)
Dyed-Red Hair: Throughout Eastern Europe, it is very common to see middle-aged or elderly woman with the same exact color of hair dye. We read that this a remnant of the Communist days, when the red hair dye was the only dye available for purchase.
Hot Wine: Who knew that heated wine with cinnamon could be so good? We drank this incessantly in the Czech Republic, where “hot wine” is available in nearly every restaurant and even sold by street vendors. On a cold day, this is tough to beat. And Amy and I have already vowed to make hot wine a Winter Holiday tradition.
Anyway, we are presently travelling around Turkey. Hot air balloons, cave hotels, enormous mosques, tree house hostels, overnight gullet trips, underground cities… yup, we definitely have a lot to report (and some great photos to show). More soon…