Thoughts on visiting Europe

Eight countries, 170,000-plus steps, planes, trains, boats, subways and cars. We pretty much conquered Europe over 16 days.

I’m just going to take it one thought at a time.

  • At the risk of sounding like an ugly American, my wife and I could have never used local money or spoken a foreign word if we wanted. Everybody speaks at least some English and most seem fluent. Indeed, the hardest people to understand were the British. As for Copenhagen, Denmark, Helsinki, Finland, St. Petersburg, Russia, Gdansk, Poland, Stockholm, Sweden, Reykjavik, Iceland and a small seaport in Germany, communicating was not hard. And, everybody takes euros, even the Russians. Some took U.S. dollars, though I never tried it. Mostly, everyone pays by credit card for everything. A Swedish friend said, “The only people that pay cash are old people and criminals.” And, uh, tourists.  
  • My third-grade teacher said we needed to learn the metric system because the rest of the world is using it. Well, yes and no. You need to know meters and Celsius on a broad level. A sign saying a train was 1,300 meters away left me uncertain and it was a whole lot farther than I thought. But otherwise teach, we’re still good with feet and Fahrenheit.
  • Europe loves American music, but mostly it’s from either the 1950s or about 10 years ago.
  • A couple people asked me about the Redskins totally out of the blue.
  • A couple people commented on Trump. But, whatever, I’m on vacation.
  • I didn’t get a chance to try caviar in Russia. I later saw it in a tube in Iceland and figured that can’t be good. No one else at the hotel breakfast bar tried it, either.
  • A waiter in Iceland suggested I try horse on the appetizers. I said, “Like the ones you ride?” Yes. Hard pass on that, though I tried horse once about 40 years ago. Really didn’t try much for new foods since we ate on the cruise ship a lot.
  • The Baltic Sea is cold, especially over open waters. You need a serious jacket even in the cities where it’s 50s and 60s because an icy breeze will cut you in two.
  • Passing through Russian customs was no big deal. I was more worried about telling U.S. customs agents I visited Russia and being spirited away to an interrogation room. Passing through customs in England, Denmark, Iceland and the U.S. was so much quicker than my last international trip years ago. Dulles International Airport was a breeze.
  • Everywhere we went, the people were nice, streets were clean and cities seemed safe. Nothing bad to say.
  • I heartily recommend Hop On, Hop Off busses to get a good feel for a city. We rode them in London, Copenhagen and Reykjavik.
  • What was our favorite experience? Just too hard to pick, but the one city I’d like to see again would be Stockholm.
  • Ranking the cities is tough. The top three are clear favorites, the rest are pretty even.

1. Stockholm. Our old friend Marit made it more fun despite 17,000 steps and the only rain we saw on the trip. It’s a nice blend of old and new.

2. London. It was our third trip and we found new things like Henry the 8th’s castle. Not as big as I would have thought, but gave a real feel for what it was like.

3. Copenhagen. There are more bicyclists than cars during rush hour and bikes get their own lanes. They say the Danes are the happiest people on earth. It was a fun town. Don’t miss Tivoli Gardens, the world’s oldest theme park. Eat dinner on the pirate ship.

4. Helsinki. The Fins keep life simple and it’s an easy city to get around. The church of rocks, blasted right out of boulders, was very cool.

5. St. Petersburg. The Russians tried to beat Paris at its own architectural game and seemingly did so, but also lots of parks and music.

6. Wandemunde, Germany. A little seaside port for cruise tourists that frankly bored me.

7. Gdansk. It’s like seeing what happened to abused Soviet satellite countries left behind. Seeing Lech Walesa’s house was cool, though.

8. Reykjavik. Sorry, it’s no more than a day’s layover. The Golden Circle is nothing you can’t see here in the U.S. with geysers, volcanic areas and waterfalls. The Blue Lagoon is cool, but after a few minutes you wonder what’s the big deal. Insanely expensive, too.

Well, that’s a start for now. Let me know if you want to see the eight-hour slide show.

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