Now that we have been home for a little while, I’m pondering what lessons I may have learned, what experiences we had on our long journey. Here are some random thoughts:
**First and foremost, Anthony Bourdain was right: “In a scary, cruel world: people are pretty nice everywhere.” Except for a very few instances, we had nothing but positive experiences meeting people everywhere we went. Even when we had no idea how to speak the language and the other people spoke little or no English, everyone was willing to help us find our way, and to share smiles and stories.
**Mass transit is sometimes frustrating and one often needs patience to decipher the schedules and routes, but European transit systems are the way to go! I haven’t driven a car in 10 months! Vienna’s system was excellent, as was London’s (believe it or not!); Berlin’s was predictably take-it-or-leave-it but efficient; Lisbon’s was quaint yet shabby
and buses were horrible; Barcelona’s was good but theft-ridden; Athens had reliable subways; Trieste’s busses were fun; and the Balkans had various degrees of bus and tram service, too.
**European roads are now completely modern, and the freeways and highways easier to drive on than most American roads now. While I didn’t drive a car at all in Europe, George did, and we rented cars several times. Auto rental services are now extremely competitive, so the prices are very good when booked on-line. We rented a car for one week, and going one way, from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, for about €120.
**I really am a wuss about cold weather–I don’t know if I could have endured an entire winter in Vienna. Lisbon had the best weather, and we were there in its coldest and rainiest month! Barcelona was colder in February than we had expected but still gloriously sunny on many days, and March in Athens and on Andros Island was cool and VERY windy, not yet warm enough to dip into the Aegean. April and May in the Balkans and Trieste was a QUITE changeable period, with the Bora (the famous Adriatic winds) appearing rather fiercely a few times, and then an unfortunate week of SNOW in Slovenia! Climate change is having an impact.
**Never do business with friends, or if you do, get everything in writing from the start, so there are no misunderstandings.
**I am totally dependent on cyberspace. The internet and the cyber universe have changed everything about the entire world, and nowhere more dramatically than in the possibilities they offer for those who are travelling; globalization is the result. Not only were we able to do all our business online from anywhere we were staying that had WiFi, but Skype and Google Hangouts made it possible for us to talk to and see family–including a brand new baby grandson!–while sitting in an apartment in Slovenia or at a restaurant in Gdansk.
**I learned a lot about how Europeans really live in their homes, thanks to the internet. For one of the great innovations of the internet made such a long trip possible. That is, of course, the development of accommodation sites, AirBnB, HomeAway, and SabbaticalHomes.com. We found a perfect tenant for our house through SabbaticalHomes–the best site for finding academic long-term rentals–and we found great apartments through AirBnB and HomeAway. One needs to be careful with these sites, especially AirBnB, to make sure you ask all the right questions, e.g., WHAT FLOOR IS THE APARTMENT ON? More than once, we ended up having to schlep our bags up 5 flights of stairs. Photos can also be deceiving, so if the size of the rooms/room is important to you, be sure to ask for dimensions. That being said, for us, staying in apartments and homes rather than hotels is the ONLY way to travel! We could never have afforded eating in restaurants for all of our meals, and having space to spread out and get out of our suitcases was important to us.
**There are no real estate deals left in Europe, unless, of course, you don’t mind being out in the middle of nowhere in less than desirable locations. We looked at real estate prices in all the places where we stayed, and almost all of them were comparable to what one would have to pay in a desirable city/town in North America, sometimes higher, sometimes a little bit lower, but essentially the same. We did find some “fixer upper” farmhouses out in places like Zwettl, Austria or Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic, so if you don’t mind being in the country, it may be possible to get modest deals. In most cases, we’re talking apartments, not houses, although in the country, farmhouses have been discovered by city folk, and so rural areas near desirable cities have gotten pricey, too.
**While we did end up wearing absolutely everything we brought with us, I do think that next time, I would take fewer things, and buy stuff locally instead. Travelling with so many suitcases got very tiresome and encumbering.
**I learned that I really have no patience with global mass tourism. I know that makes me a snob of the first rank, but the endless crowds and throngs pouring out of tour busses at popular sites such as Park Güell, the Parthenon, and the entire town of Dubrovnik, just made the experience unenjoyable for me. We were so tired of dealing with this phenomenon that when in Trieste we chose not to go to Venice.
**I loved seeing so many children wherever we went. The adorable groups of daycare attendees being led by their minders–holding hands and walking in pairs–just boosted my spirits every time. Most of the school-age kids still walked to school on their own, lots of them played outdoors unsupervised, and to my eyes, they seemed to be allowed to be children longer than happens in America now. They did have cell phones and played video games, but still seemed a bit less involved with media, and were still able to run free.
**Architecture. It’s all about architecture. Need I say more?
**Oh, and nature. So many gorgeous vistas, immaculate city parks, verdant landscapes, forested mountainsides, and wildflowers everywhere in the spring. Nature was the one of the best parts of our travels, everywhere we went.
**Although I already knew this in my heart, I did learn that I really couldn’t bear living where I couldn’t speak the language, no matter how much English is spoken there.
**I like nothing better than to be in museums. It’s my continuing passion. The greatest thrill on this trip was to see so many new artworks and to discover genres I have admired for so long. I learned that my affinity for the Spanish Romanesque was validated: seeing the Beatus of Gerona in the Girona Cathedral was a thrilling moment–a big one off of my bucket list!
**I discovered that I am far more resilient than I thought I was. I stopped running to the doctor every time I had an ache or pain, chiefly because we would have to pay high rates to go to a physician. Instead, I just walked my way through the wonky knees and hips. All those flights of stairs just had to be climbed! This has been for me one of the best lessons absorbed on our travels–if it isn’t life-threatening or too painful, then just deal with the small ailments, and get on with things. I am consequently now less neurotic about my old body, I hope.
**I learned that we are perfectly happy being together 24/7, day after day, in small spaces, as long as we can sleep in separate beds! We had SUCH a wonderful time together!