Ten Tips for the Baby Boomer’s European OE.
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Europe is one of the most fascinating land masses on the planet. It’s what we baby boomers, on the other side of the world, view from a distance as the place from where the fairy tales of our childhood emerged; where Christmas is cold and white and the seasons are back to front; the place where history and mythology collide and romance never dies.
Of course, you don’t have to be a romantic to want to visit Europe. Some of the best ski fields in the world can be found in Austria; there are scores of casinos, charter fishing tours, and summer and winter sports to follow and, for the wine buff, France and Italy’s vineyards can keep you busy wine tasting for months. Ille, in Belgium, has the biggest market in Europe (and there are a lot). Its stalls are said to be 65 km long. Go to:
Whether you are visiting Europe on a shoe string, or money is no object; if it’s your first time and you are doing it without the aid of an organised tour, there are things you should know. Here are a few.
1) Comfortable shoes and clothing: Chances are you will be doing a lot of walking. Forget the designer skirts and high heels (take them anyway, just not for sightseeing). If you’re worried about being seen at less than your best, believe me, unless you plan to be paraded around in an air-conditioned limousine, by the end of a day’s sightseeing, you will covet – with a passion that may surprise you – the plain, sensible walking shoes and baggy shorts you had previously mocked as something your Aunt Alice would have worn and you’d never be seen dead in.
2) Something warm: Okay, it’s a European Spring you are going to and all the books you’ve ever read about like `Love on the streets of Paris;’ `Hot and torrid in Naples;’ `The Sound of Music in Salzburg,’ have all expounded upon the long warm evenings, the balmy breezes and the golden European tans. Despite the romantic pictures your mind has painted, take a warm top anyway. Temperatures are fickle in Europe just as much as in your own home town. If you are avoiding bulk, take a fine knit jersey and a nylon anorak that can be rolled up small in your luggage.
3) Jeans. No matter what the season, a good pair of jeans will serve you well in Europe.
4) A great camera. Worth spending a few extra dollars, particularly if this is going to be your one and only trip to the shores of Europe. Wide angle and zoom lenses will take pictures you can walk into and re-live – a good area not to scrimp.
5) Chanel sunglasses: A luxury that will prove its weight in gold. Chuck the old cheap plastics and invest in something good. Your eyes will thank you for the extra UV protection and, besides, designer sunnies look and feel great.
6) Credit cards: Preferably more than one – with plenty of available credit. It might pay to be aware that Debit cards are not as widely useful here. Most places take the usual Visa, Mastercard and American Express but for some reason I haven’t figured out, the Debit card doesn’t always work – despite the cash that’s sitting in there just waiting to be spent.
7) Change for tipping: This is an accepted and expected practise for services in all of Europe and most of the UK. It doesn’t normally apply to retail but wherever you receive a service, this (recommended 10%) extra is something the waiter, taxi driver, housemaid etc relies upon as part of their wage.
8) Six months of strict dieting and intensive exercise (walking) before you leave home: I cannot stress this enough. You will be surprised at the amount of walking you will do and, unless you are one of those lucky people to whom food is just something you eat to sustain your energy, you will be lured by the sights and smells of the vast and different array of foods waylaying you at every turn.
9) Planning and Budgeting: Unless money and time are absolutely no problem – you have oodles of both – it’s a good idea to plan a route and a budget. When doing this you can also build in a contingency fund for the odd emergency and occasional splurge. For budgeting there is a good section for holidays on www.about.com and for trip planning, www.planapple.com is well worth a look.
10) MOST IMPORTANT – a well-oiled smile: If your conversational French, Italian, Spanish or German lets you down, a nice wide Kiwi smile will get them every time and break through any language barrier. Leave all attitudes, other than good ones, at home and you will return with great memories.
The European continent is as diverse and wonderful as the rest of the world rolled into one. Its history will astound and fascinate you; the scenery will leave you breathless. In Europe you can sunbathe on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world; swim in warm crystal clear waters; shop at markets vibrant with colour and offering foods of every type and description, impossible to resist.
It is the coat of many colours; the Noah’s Ark of the East and West; a part of the planet that is as internally diverse as north from south, sun from moon, sky from sea. Be prepared to fall in love as you waft between the past and present on this amazing continent.
One thing is for sure – if this is your first visit to Europe and you do fall in love with its never-ending ability to amaze and delight – you will never be the same again. And one trip will certainly never be enough.
1) Don’t forget some travel insurance. See your bank or existing insurer and www.lonelyplanet.com is also worth checking out for an instant quote. Some credit cards also offer this facility.
2) Driving in Germany – buy a permit before entering the Autobahn. Cost is around 8 Euro from fuel stations and can save you an instant fine of, I am told, around 200 Euro.
3) Toll roads – There are quite a few of these. Some toll booths require a credit card for payment, some cash; so be prepared with plenty of coinage.