Cultural Observations from Europe
My wife and I just returned from a fantastic trip to Europe. It was our 25th wedding anniversary present to each other (our 25th was a couple years ago but it took us a while to actually do it). And we LOVED it! My wife is from Germany, so she loves to go back home and see family and friends, while I like to explore. On this trip we did both.
In this post I wanted to share some of our experiences and also share some of my observations about the European culture. Also, I will talk about online security and how crappy the airlines are nowadays.
Our trip started in Italy.
One of Bettina's friends rents a house in Italy every year, and this year she invited us to join them. It was a wonderful place in the Tuscan countryside. Every day was hot, but it wasn't humid like Nebraska, so the heat was tolerable. It would cool down at night and be very pleasant.
In a week's time, I think I was bitten by only three mosquitoes, and they were tiny, gentle mosquitoes. Nothing like the hummingbird-sized blood suckers armed with hypodermic needles that we have in Nebraska.
Our goal while in Italy was to shut down and do nothing. I sat around, read a book and would swim in the pool. I didn't realize how much I needed to shut down and do nothing for a while. Awesome!
In the evening, we'd go into one of the many small towns and go to a different restaurant - primarily pizza. I recommend checking out the town of Lucca if you ever get a chance!
I'm standing 100 feet underground in a Roman water reservoir build 2,100 years ago!
I was fascinated by Italy. The first thing that stood out to me is that every square inch of the country has groves of olive trees, a vineyard or both. This is a great way to ensure that a source of wealth and revenue is handed down from generation to generation. Many of the olive trees are hundreds of years old, and they become more prolific every year. What a great way to give something to your future generations.
From the house that we were staying in, we drove 1/2 an hour to an old Roman structure. It's absolutely amazing how advanced the Romans were. The building had running water and a sewer system. We saw a 2,100 year old Roman water reservoir. The workmanship was truly impressive. I can't think of much that we produce today that will look that good in 2,000 years.
Life is definitely slower in Italy, but they have something figured out. They know how to live life. Life just seems to flow in a relaxed way there.
Then we flew to Germany and stayed on the German / Swiss / Austrian border for three days.
We were then invited to stay at one of Bettina's friend's house for a few days (10 days in and we hadn't paid for a single hotel room).
This was the first time I'd been in that part of Germany, and WOW, is it beautiful! I liked Italy, but for me it doesn't compare to Germany. The German culture is relaxed, the countryside is beautiful and the food is delicious.
We stayed near Lindau on the Bodensee (Lake Constance in English). Here's a picture of an ice cream we had while sitting on the lake - that is Switzerland in the background. As an aside, I'd like to state that German ice cream is delicious.
Then we headed over to Meersburg and toured the oldest castle in Germany. It was pretty fantastic, but I have to admit to being slightly disappointed at not being able to stay and explore the castle and old town as I would have liked. Germans, including my wife, don't appreciate the history like Americans do. I suppose that's to be expected because it's human nature. But think about this...
...this castle was built 800 years before America was even discovered! Pretty awesome.
Meersburg Castle on the Bodensee.
From Meersburg, we then traveled to Marburg, another fantastically old city built around a castle built in the 11th century. Marburg is one of my favorite places! If you go to Germany, visit Marburg.
As a quick bit of useless information, Marburg is the town that the "Marburg Virus" is named after, because in the 1960's some people in Marburg got sick and died from the disease after it passed from monkeys to humans. It's a hemorrhagic fever virus that is considered to be extremely dangerous.
Anyway, back to Germany... I wrote another post about cultural values and how they shape a country (see it here). I marvel at how well built everything is in Germany, and this has been a cultural trait for over a thousand years.
Two more things I like about Europe...
There are hardly any stop lights. They use round-abouts, everywhere! It's awesome. Stop lights are very inefficient. With round-abouts you never have to stop.
Ridiculously cheap airfare! It cost my wife $25 to fly from Germany to Italy! And it's a good airline. If we had airfare like that, I'd be traveling all the time in the USA!
GPS & Navigation
I want to say a few words about navigation systems, because they are so crucial in today's world.
Basically, what it comes down to is that when they are working properly, navigation systems are a God-Send. You can drive anywhere you want to go in the most efficient way and without stress. But the key phrase is "when they are working properly".
I have three navigation apps on my phone; Apple Maps / Siri, Google Maps and Waze. Each are good (Waze is the best), but at random times each of them would stop working - I have no idea why. And if your navigation system stops working in Italy or Germany, you're going to be stuck. It's important to have different navigation options and to not rely on a single app. Very important!
As you know, I'm a security nut. First of all, I want to again mention my Pick-Pocket-Proof Pants. I love these pants and I recommend them, especially on overseas trips because if your passport or credit card gets stolen overseas it can ruin your entire trip.
VPN. There are times when I had to get online and check sensitive data. I would NEVER, EVER, EVER, check my bank balance or do anything of a sensitive nature unless I was using a trusted VPN. A VPN (virtual private network) is software that you load onto your computer that keeps your internet connection encrypted. I use PIA VPN and have never had a problem.
Announcing My Absence. You will notice that I did not announce that I was going on a trip before I left. Nor do I tell anyone on FB (yes, I have a Facebook account that I use minimally) that I am away on a trip. I think it's crazy to tell everyone that you will be gone from your home. But I have to say that even though I was very careful in this regard, this doesn't stop my wife from posting pictures of us on our trip and telling the whole world that we are gone. What can you do?
As a final notice, every single one of my flights on Delta was delayed, and I missed two flights because of this. As I write this, my brother and father are stuck in Chicago because their flight on United was delayed, delayed and then cancelled. They are now renting a car to drive home. The morale of the story; airlines really suck right now. Make sure you get plenty of time for connecting flights.
I don't want to end my story on a downer though. We had a great trip. I think it's so incredibly valuable for people to travel and see different cultures. Do it every chance you can!
Please leave me a comment on stuff you've learned through your travels.