I recently went on a tour of Europe, which I had been planning and saving for quite a while. Being the cost-conscious person that I am, I needed us (the people I had convinced to join me on the tour) to not have to spend more if we could spend less. Anyway, we booked as early as we could and during the time in between researched the sanity out of travelling abroad and what fun things we could do in the countries we would visit.
We understood that the tour would involve a lot of walking and driving but boy were we not prepared for how much walking and driving there actually was. Despite these minor discomforts, the scenery was spectacular and we got to see more than the actual places that were our destinations as we covered countless kilometres of country sides during the drives. The world is beautiful and the beauty of it is unfathomable and nor can it be imagined, one needs to see for oneself if one can. God is quite the artist!
Accommodation and food was yet another challenge. We were to be booked on 2* or 3* hotels because it was a budget tour. The bathrooms were small in most hotels and showers were all that was available, no baths. The breakfasts were buffet style (mostly including things like croissants and jams, yoghurts and cereals with milk and coffee or tea and some cold meats like ham, salami and turkey) and were mostly passable and sometimes even a little impressive, but the dinners were not always appetising. I enjoyed the dinner I had at our hotel in Interlaken Switzerland and their breakfast was one of the better ones.
As for shopping, I would say Switzerland and Netherlands were best in my opinion. This is because it turns out cheaper for those working with the rand to shop in these places since, let’s face it; our currency is not the greatest performing when it comes to economics. Complaining that a t-shirt that costs twenty euros is expensive can be embarrassing when you travel with people with better currencies who don’t give a thought to what the cost translates to in their currency because it makes little difference.
Europe is full of history and historical monuments and buildings. They do things grand and most buildings are high so if one gets lost and needs to find one’s way, it can be a maze as you are not able to see beyond the buildings and thus may do a lot of wrong turns before you make the right one. But since the towns are usually not that big, it is easy to cover most of the towns on foot and getting lost is not something to pop a vein over, you always find your way. The metro system in Paris is a dream, or should I say I understand how it works really well. The one is Spain has less labyrinths and thus also easy to navigate.
The history of the Romans while they were pagans is quite gruesome, not for the fainthearted at all. Apparently the Coliseum (a.k.a. the Flavian Amphitheatre) was a place to entertain men with bloodshed and the bloodier the better. It is averred that they would take people from the places they conquered and enslave them and force them to be gladiators, where they would fight to the death to save themselves. The arena where this took place, what so efficiently organized that thousands of people could be admitted into the arena and seated within minutes. During these bloody duels, there were people who were hired to mop up the blood spillage and the word arena was derived from the fact that these activities were performed on a sanded surface because the sand could absorb the blood quickly. While I listened to this recount, my entire body was tense from the thoughts that ran through my head and I could not send enough thank yous to God for sparing me that kind of life.
There is a culture of people watching in most European countries and some of this people watching can be mistaken for staring. Our bus driver demonstrated this very ‘staring’ kind of people watching when he stared at my sister and friend during one of our dinners in Avignon.
So we went to see a Flamingo show while in Barcelona and were utterly disappointed when we compared the cost to the performance we received. The acoustics and fancy footwork were something to behold, but the singing what a nightmare! One of our compatriots likened it to “begrafnis van ‘n koei” so you can imagine how bad it was to our ears.
In Amsterdam, I was shocked by the blatancy of the red-light district and its activities, but I was even more shocked by the public urination facilities, which provide no privacy whatsoever! Another thing I noted was that, unlike many European cities, there are a lot of native Africans there and thus we were not a novelty or a rare sighting as we had often felt in most of the places we went to.
Something I also noted, whenever you feel homesick, you need just wonder the streets and you are bound to come across a Spar and you find yourself smiling despite yourself. I have to admit that I did not venture into any of these Spars; it was just comforting to see something that reminds me of home.
So, my advice to you if you are thinking of travelling abroad in the future;
- · Do not over plan, let your destination surprise you in what it has to offer as most things are seasonal and you may just frustrate yourself wanting something that is not offered at the time you will be visiting that country or city. We found out the hard way because one of our pre-planned activities did not happen and it was a huge disappointment as we were really looking forward to it.
- · Pack light as you are bound to do a lot of shopping despite yourself. If you are brave enough to leave with the clothes on your back and some toiletries plus pyjamas, then you can shop for your change of clothes at your destinations. It worked quite well for two of our friends who did exactly that.
- · Remember that flying to Europe and other continents has luggage restrictions, except for some countries in the African continent and SA is not one of them, and only one bag can be checked in at no charge so long as it does not exceed the allowed weight limit. You can check an extra bag but you will have to pay for it, regardless of the other bag not weighing the maximum weight allowed. *A tip, if you happen to have more than one bag, the sum of which make up the allowed weight, get them wrapped as one prior to checking in. Alternatively, just get one huge bag and have a back pack for hand luggage.
So…. Happy travelling and remember to enjoy yourselves!