Introduction

Experience Europe

Last year, I flew to Europe four days after my wife and mother-in-law flew to Ljubljana. I arrived in Munich around noon on Friday. Rather than drive straight to Slovenia, I stopped for the night in a small village on the Chiemsee. After a short rest, I went for a walk in the countryside. Passing a field with cows grazing, and a yard with chickens, I would up on the shore of the Chiemsee. You could see the mountains of the Bavarian Alps to the south. I then followed a path through a field back into the village before returning to my room.

This may not seem like much, but I was in heaven! There's something magical about the European landscape, familiar, yet foreign. It's a timeless landscape shaped by thousands of years of human settlement. A landscape that seems designed for people. Although roads lead practically everywhere, many are intended solely for bicycles or pedestrians.

Spend Your Vacation in Europe!

Many North Americans don't think about travelling outside their home continent. Why vacation in Europe? I can list several reasons:

First, there's a lot more to see and do. Europe is the cradle of western civilization with a documented history going back several millenia.

Second, you're not spending all your time driving from place to place like you do in North America. Since European countries are more densely populated, you don't have to go far to find things worth visiting. You can stay in one place, and easily spend a few days visiting sites in surrounding areas.

Third, you can travel Europe more comfortably and safely without breaking your budget. This may come as a surprise to North Americans, but comfortable, affordable, and safe accomodation is readily available. The only proviso is that this is true if you know what you're doing. Having a basic understanding of the local language helps to find good bed-and-breakfast rooms as well as to shop in local food stores.

Finally, Europe is much more friendly to people travelling alone. Unlike North America, single rooms are common in hotels and bed-and-breakfast houses, often at half the price of double rooms.

Driving

The rules of the road in Europe are generally the same as in North America, but there are a few significant differences. The biggest is that drivers in most European countries know the rules very well, and so drive very professionally. What may seem as chaos to North Americans is really just a very brisk traffic flow.

priority signEuropean drivers generally understand the rules of right-of-way very well. They insist on exercising their right-of-way when they have it and wait appropriately when they don't. One sign unfamiliar to North Americans is a yellow diamond with a broad white border. Roads with this sign have priority over others at intersections. Watch for similar signs with a diagonal slash. You'll soon encounter a stop or yield sign.

Pay attention to the speed limits. In most places, you won't see a speed limit sign, but most speed limits are implied. It's normally 50km/h in built-up areas. The sign indicating the name of a town or village indicates the start of the 50km/h zone. When you leave the built-up area, your speed limit becomes higher, 80km/h in most countries, but 100km/h in Germany. Many places have photo-radar equipment to control speeds, often less than a few hundred meters into the built-up area. The radar units are quite visible, and a flash indicates that you've been nailed!

Money

The proprietor of a souvenir shop on the main square of Rothenburg ob der Tauber has the first Canadian dollar bill and the first American dollar bill spent in his store on display. Some tourists still insist on buying using their home currency, but it's only common courtesy to use local money wherever you go.

Unlike banks in the United States, banks in Europe easily exchange Canadian travellers cheques into local currency. Credit card usage isn't as common as in North America, but more and more places are accepting them now. Bed-and-breakfast places only take cash, though.

Automated bank machines are becoming more and more common too. But before counting on them, check with your home branch first to see if your card is enabled for foreign cash withdrawals. If not, you can still use the machines for cash advances on your credit card. Some people pay into their credit card account before their trip to avoid interest charges on the cash advances.

Where to Go?

Simple answer: Practically anywhere!

Although you might be tempted to visit the usual tourist spots, like the Rhine river, Paris, Munich, etc., there are things to see almost anywhere you go. Most medium-sized towns and cities have at least a few of the following things: river, often crossed by an old stone bridge; castle or royal palace; church or cathedral; main square with city hall; and museums.

The countryside is also popular with Europeans. In the woodland regions, hotels and bed-and-breakfast houses are often quickly filled on weekends with people looking for a break from their hectic city life.