Monday, June 1, 2009

10 tips for traveling to Europe this summer

It's that time of year again. The cherries are in season and so are the tourists. Don't get me wrong - I love visitors to our city. They remind me to open my eyes and appreciate the experience of living in France.

If you'll be traveling to Europe this summer, here are my 10 tips for a more enjoyable experience. Bon voyage!

1. Make a scan.
Before leaving on your trip, scan your passport, travel documents and emergency contact numbers (including credit card companies and banks). E-mail the scans to yourself so you can access them from any cybercafé in case of loss or theft.

2. Look around.
If no one else is wearing shorts in the Fine Arts museum, maybe you shouldn't be either.

3. Get a name.
Each time you visit a new site, first take a photo of a sign or brochure with the name of the location. That way when you go to look at your photos after the trip, you'll remember which basilica had the beautiful mosaic and which square had the sculpture of the women driving a chariot.

4. Step aside.
In many countries it is polite to stand to one side on escalators to allow others in a hurry to pass you. France is one of these countries. For the record, I think it's brilliant.

5. Get close.
Americans have a much larger sense of personal space than many other cultures. If the subway is crowded, squeeze in to make room for others. We're all in this mass transit thing together!

6. Have a plan P.
You may soon find that public restrooms are something you took for granted back home. I don't mean nice, clean restrooms. I mean any restroom. Go when you have the opportunity (hotel, restaurants, museums...). Otherwise, look for pay toilets (usually 25 to 50 centimes in France). Near tourist attractions you may find Turkish toilets, a.k.a. 'squatty potties'. Ladies, time to work those quads! The trick is to stand as far as you can from the 'flush button' and push it with your foot so you don't get hosed. Oh, and carry tissues in your purse.

7. Go local.
There are usually two kinds of local food specialties. The first one everyone eats, the second only the locals eat. Try both.

8. Ditch the pack.
Not the pack as in the group, but as the fanny pack (or bum bag if you're Australian). Opt for a travel wallet instead. You can wear them discreetly under your clothes and your wallet and travel documents will be much safer than if worn around your waist.

9. Use your inside voice.
Remember that someone around you probably understands English. (Trust me.) That means they can understand if you complain about their country/food/public restrooms/many prostitutes. They also understand when you tell your friend your wallet is in your pocket, but credit card is in your backpack.

10. Keep reading.
And if you haven't yet decided where to go this summer, I recommend that you read the following reviews of Lyon...

"France's second-largest metropolitan area, Lyon has many of the same charms as Paris: great opera, chic shops, river cruises, world-class museums and even a tall, 1893 metal structure that looks like the Eiffel Tower. But Lyon is older than Paris, has more Roman ruins and, as local residents will tell you, better food. "
--Going to Lyon, New York Times

"Lyon is the best base for exploring the Rhône region. It has the finest food in France and a historic core unequaled in the region."
--Introduction to Lyon, Frommer's

"Lyon has been among France's leading cities since when the Romans ruled...Lyon is the most historic and culturally important city in France after Paris. Here you'll experience Old World cobbled alleys, Renaissance mansions, and the classy, Parisian-feeling shopping streets of the Presqu'île district. "
--Sightseeing High and Low in Hilly Lyon, by Rick Steves

"Food? Art? History? It's all here in this slightly quirky city."
--A Taste of Lyon, LA Times

"Dirty, sprawling, fast, sexy, Lyon is like Paris waking up after a hard weekend. It has its beautiful parts – what better place to build a city than at the confluence of two of France’s most graceful rivers, the Rhône and the Saône – and its history stretches back to Roman times, but France’s second city is best loved for the here and now: for food, fashion and culture."

1 comment:

  1. Know atleast the english immersion: According to me as I believe that while we travel abroad, we would have to deal with foreign language. Again to be a real traveller we should know some/few words of foreign language. I think if we ask them questions in their local language they would surely appreciate our effort and also try to find someone who could understand us as well as may prove to be helpful for us.To be very frank it would be very helpfull to know atleast English immersion as if for instance, when someone from Holland or Greece visits Europe would most likely speak English.