What They Don't Tell You About Traveling to Europe

1:05:00 PM

budapest chain bridge

Europe is a pretty big land mass, with hundreds of different languages, cultures, and sets of social norms. It’s so big that it’s nearly impossible to see everything in just one trip. For real, instead of bragging about our trip (that barely scratched the surface of Europe), I’d rather post about the bizarre experiences and things that surprised us when we visited the EU for the first time. Let it be known though, this post is based from our practical observation and does not intend to generalize all of Europe.

And nope, this is not a spoiler for your future Eurotrip.

Rather, these are things that you probably find rare in the Internet. A hiatus from the usual, “Europe? Oh my, sublime is an understatement.” EU is so diverse you’ll surely have experiences that are one for the books! Here’s ours:

17 Things They Don't Tell You About Traveling to Europe

1. Do go to McDonald's
Hear me out! You are not avoiding cultural immersion when you eat in McDonald’s in Europe. McDo does this clever thing to cater to local culinary favorites in major European cities. For example, the dark chocolate cake, cappuccino and caffe latte we tried in McDonald’s Florence tasted so good! In Milan, you can add a salad to your meal for 1 eur. It wasn’t so bad because the lettuce were really fresh and the dressing was delicious. In Paris, instead of the usual ketchup dip for fries, they will give you a tangy but yummy “pommes-frite-sauce” instead. They had macaroons too! Don’t be ashamed to try McDo during your Eurotrip especially if it would mean saving a few euros to visit more museums or eat in a better restaurant for dinner. But of course, nothing beats real, local food.
al fresco dining in barcelona
A night in McDonald's Barcelona
2. Queuing is a must
Whether you're falling in line for the Colosseum, the Louvre, the Vatican, or for the fresh breads in a boulangerie, just calm down. At first you may find it frustrating. But there’s no way around it than to get used to it. Though a museum pass with skip the line features can help, sometimes queuing is still inescapable especially on security checks. Just remember- it will all be worth it!

3. You have to plan meticulously
And know when to throw out the plan and be spontaneous. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail they say. When visiting Europe, you have to plan your trip meticulously or you suffer the consequences. Unless you have an unlimited disposable income in which case I hate you. Planning will save you lots of money, time, emotions. To cut the cost from cross-country transfers, search for at least 3 alternatives. Book the cheapest in advance, keep the other 2 as contingency plan in case your advance bookings screw things up. You also have to search for more information about, but not limited to:
• rampant scams, pickpocket-prone cities and areas
• how to get in and out of each city
• metro maps - cool if there’s a one-stop app for this!
• sunrise and sunset hours - especially during summer and winter when days are longer, and days are shorter respectively
• hotels with best view of the city
• appropriate clothes to wear depending on which season you’ll visit
News flash! You still have to plan for your Schengen Visa application!


4. Biking is Terrifying in Amsterdam
Am I the only one who thinks biking in Amsterdam is scary AF? I knew the Dutch have fought for years to get their own bike lane and that bike culture is really “a thing” in Amsterdam. In fact, when you read reviews about the city, biking is one of its top not-to-be-missed experiences. Sure, I can bike. But in Amsterdam, local bikers tend to bike so fast, they honk and cut your way through. It freaked me out. Maybe because I was too careful that I tend to pedal too slow? Also, our bikes were almost robbed near Van Gogh museum. We parked and locked our bikes in one of the posts near the museum like locals and visitors did. Our hotel receptionist warned us about bike theft in the city so we took extra care of our bikes. I never thought someone would steal a bike that’s so distinct - vivid tangerine, with laminated sticker of our hotel, not tastefully spruced up. I was thankful we came in just in time to stop that bike thievery.
biking in amsterdam
What a beautiful city despite the bad weather
5. The people are main attractions
If you’ve read my previous post about Paris, I mentioned there that we stayed in 2nd arrondissement - one of the upscale areas of the city. Not sure if it’s only around this vicinity that you get to feel like you’re in a Zara or ANTM fashion show. Parisian women are beautiful and they really dress up so well! I envy how they look so simple yet gorgeous in their scarves, messy hair and natural make-up look. The Italians are also fashionable people. But the thing I noticed about them is that they love chitchats. Whether it is in the train or the plane, they love to converse. Their accent is music to my ears! On the contrary, the locals we met in Prague and Budapest seemed more reserved and less imposing. And the friendliest? The Dutch. Their brand of friendliness is more natural and they’re good and helpful to tourists!

6. Amsterdam is a crazy place with smell of weed smoking (almost) everywhere
I don’t know about you, but I hate the smell of weed. Though they say it’s not legal everywhere in Amsterdam, you’ll know if the person next to you has just smoked weed. It sucks. I’ve read it’s illegal to advertise marijuana in Amsterdam, but it’s okay to buy it in legit coffee shops. I am not against it since some experts claim it has medical and therapeutic benefits. What I hate is when people who smoke don’t care about the people who don’t. Nope, I don’t intend to generalize Amsterdam or the Dutch here, these are just my personal experiences.

7. You will definitely get lost.
If you do, rule number one is not to cry. Seriously. It’s a foolish behavior. Keep in mind the name of the Metro station closest to your hotel. Write down your hotel’s address or get your hotel’s calling card- most have maps at the back. Make sure your smartphone’s battery is enough to use GPS and make sure to load your vicinity and destination in Google Maps before you leave. That way, it will be easier to navigate. Worse comes to worst, it’s not a good idea to talk to strangers when you’re lost. Restaurant managers or waiters may be rude but they can help you. As much as possible, avoid shady alleys and assume you’re a target for pickpockets. Be vigilant and try not to walk alone.
Venci Gelato in Florence
It's okay to eat gelato even if it's freezing outside! Walang makakapigil samin :P Try Venci when you're (lost) in Florence
8. Speak the language. Or at least try.
In the Philippines, we giggle when foreigners say “Salamat” in their accent. Same is true for Europeans, while you don’t see them giggle, you’ll know they appreciate you when you try to speak their language. I’m just a foreigner who can’t speak their language properly, why are they going to want to talk to me, you say? You don’t need to learn their language. A simple “Hi” and “Thank you” in their dialect is good enough. In Paris, you’ll see a genuine smile from the locals when you say “bonjour” when entering a store, as well as uttering “merci beaucoup” when you leave. Truly, nothing beats feelings brought about by human interactions regardless of language differences.

9. Public restrooms are not easy to find
Nor are they free. Of all the ten cities we’ve visited, I think it was only Prague that had clear signages to locate public restrooms. It’s really a hassle especially if you’re visiting during cold months. I’m also used to Php 5 (Eur 0.01) toilet fee in the Philippines. I didn’t know that even public toilets are expensive in Europe. In Budapest, I paid Php 75 (Eur 1.30) for one pee in a dirty restroom with broken flush. Not sure if I was scammed? In other big cities, the fee is about Php 20-40, still expensive. So yea, take advantage of free toilet in restaurants where you dine. You’re lucky if there’s McDo near you when mother nature calls.

10. Call your credit and debit card company
Even if you called, sometimes your card wouldn’t just work. Before you leave the Philippines, call your bank and make sure to declare the cities you’ll visit in Europe, including the duration of stay. I believe they would automatically disable access in PH on your day of departure. My debit card didn’t work in Europe despite enabling its international withdrawal. Good thing my boyfriend’s credit and debit card worked just fine. Also, cash is still king in Europe!


11. Audio guides are worth your money
No doubt, the paintings and architectures in Europe are mindblowing. You’ll surely admire the artists who made these wonders. However, it will all start to look the same at one point especially if you’ve already visited so many museums in France and Italy. Sure, it’s a joy to wander inside the museums and stare on beautiful paintings. But to give a certain depth to your visit is something else. Understanding the stories behind the paintings will make you appreciate history and art even more. Php 270 (Eur 5) for an audio guide may seem steep. But if you have a partner with you, split the cost and share it. Trust me, you’ll adore the paintings more! It’s educational.

12. The street music is amazing
Especially in Prague, the streets are alive with music! Our hotel in Prague was just at the foot of the Charles Bridge and we get to hear musicians sing in their local language. It was a lovely sight. There are also solo violinists who play along Charles Bridge. They give Prague a very romantic feel. It’s good to give the musicians your loose change if you love their music. But I think it’s better if you purchase their CD. In other cities like Paris, you’ll surely see people who play the harmonica or acoustic guitar in the Metro. Though this is illegal, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to leave a token of your appreciation. It’s also my first time to see a live Didgeridoo performance- for free in the streets of Paris. It was out of this world!
john lennon pub in prague
Now you know what I mean. #fangirling
13. Rome is the can and you are the sardine
Italy’s holy trinity is crowded AF even in low season, especially the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. We were in Europe during the end of the autumn season. It’s off-peak they say. But hell no in Italy. Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome and the Vatican were all packed with tourists. I assume it’s worse during summer months. Sights like the Pantheon, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Sistine Chapel were literally thronged by tourists. Big Italian cities can get crowded but it’s not enough reason to skip them. Rome is beautiful, so are Vatican, Florence Milan and Venice. Just extend your patience because Italy is so worth it.

14. So. Many. Museums.
Now, some numbers to get us to the point. There are almost 250 museums in Paris alone; 175 in Berlin; 50 in Amsterdam; 45 monuments, museums and archaeological sites in Rome. So how on earth are we supposed to decide which ones to see? You don’t need to see all the museums! Just pick at least 2 in each city or more depending on your itinerary. Buying a museum pass can also be of help if you want to see as many museums during your visit. For me, the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay are non-negotiables when you visit Paris. Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam is also beautiful but can get crowded. Make sure to research on opening hours as they vary depending on the season.
crowded trevi fountain
The Scene @ Trevi Fountain
15. The Metro is easy to master
Especially in smaller cities like Budapest, where there are only 3-5 train lines. Before you get into any city, make sure you have a map of their train system. In larger cities where there are more than 300 stations, for sure there’s a smartphone app ready to help you navigate. Don’t forget to confirm ticketing regulations because they may vary between cities. Always validate your tickets to the turnstiles. It seems easy to get a free ride in most metro stations in Europe because there are usually no guards in the ticket fences. Because you are no master of any Metro - do not attempt to tailgate! There are inspectors positioned in different stations or trains to check for tickets. You don’t want to be fined or sent to jail, don’t you? Be honest. Buy and use your tickets properly.

16. Taking a Gondola ride is overrated: WRONG
What a better way to see the beauty of Venice than in a Gondola? It took me a lot of convincing before I gave in to this 90-Euro ride. It’s really expensive. I may lack the words to express how unforgettable this experience was. But coming from a penny-pinching person like me, I hope you believe me when I say, “Sobrang sulit!” It’s even one of my favorites in our Eurotrip. I just convinced myself that this is probably the first and last time that I’ll be in Venice. So, why not?! It’s the original Gondola ride anyway. And no, the canals don’t stink.
gondola ride in venice
This thing is pricey but not overrated. Thirty minutes of pure delight!
17. Not all things in Europe are expensive
In fact, there are many beautiful sights to see for free. It’s free to stroll around great places like the grounds of Prague Castle, the streets of Paris, the canals of Amsterdam, see a sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence and many other beautiful sights. Some big museums offer free admissions on first Sunday of the month too. Accommodation may not be as cheap as South East Asia. But you can definitely stay in a decent hotel for as low as Php 1000 especially in Eastern countries.

That's it! Thanks for reading! Make sure you subscribe to get updated when new posts come out.

Suggested Reading:
Visit Paris on a Php50,000 Budget

XO,
Brenda
Find me on Facebook: One Week to Travel
I follow back on Instagram: @shes_abadb

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8 comments

  1. I have to disagree with biking in Amsterdam and Gondolas in Venice. Biking my dear, is a way of life in Amsterdam, people go to work by biking, they go to groceries by biking, they go to shops by biking - definitely, all are in a hurry to get to their destination. IF you are a tourist just trying to be a local, the diss the bike - or maybe, you can do your biking in Vondelpark. Gondolas? Overrated. nuff said. hahahaha.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey there! Vondelpark is good but we wanted to bike along the canals, the little and big streets, and to the windmills. It was a good experience! But can be really challenging. I got really scared with the cutting through though. I love their traffic lights with bike Signs and customized bikes for everyday living! :p

      Re: gondola
      Dont want to argue with you because many people said (like paris) it's overrated. I liked it despite what ive read online. I just wish it's cheaper.

      Many thanks!

      Delete
  2. and sorry, but queueing is a must in all places - etiquette 101. Nobody supposed to tell you that . It's common sense.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To clarify, I didnt need to queue to see most attractions in asia say, the temples in bagan. Beautiful attractions in Europe can get crowded even during off peak. Yup, falling in line is an etiquette.
      Thanks for your comment woooh!

      Delete
  3. Haha mcdo!!! I love venice and gondolas!agree its expensive, but its worth the experience L. Definitely not overrated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Three Places! Mcdo isnt really the nicest thing but we loved it. think it was in mcdo florence where we had delish breads in a mccafe.
      Thanks for your comment! Glad you liked gondola rides too. *high five*

      Delete
  4. Nice one B! Very helpful and entertaining blogs! Xo

    ReplyDelete

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