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When in Europe: Tips For First Time Travelers

Here are some things I did on a 3-WEEK guided tour trip all over Europe. 

I will list the top things I did, and let you know if you need to know any specific tips. 

When in Amsterdam / Holland:

  •      At the Anne Frank house, you CAN take a picture of the bookcase door that opens up before you go up the stairs to the living area…but you can’t take a picture of anything else during the tour. The bookcase door is the best part anyway, in my opinion.
  •     The "Red Light District" is... interesting... and you probably want a tour guide to get you through to feel safer and to understand the things you see, including bars that sell items that Amsterdam is popular for (weed and absinthe).
  •     Hook of Holland
    •     Cutest little Holland town with windmill homes.
    •     An hour drive from Amsterdam...only good if you want to split a shuttle or something with multiple people or it may be expensive to get there. I'd still say it would be worth it.
  •     Bike ride tour / rent bikes in Holland
  •     Holland Cheese and Wooden Shoe Making Factory
  •     Things to eat/drink:
    •     Holland cheese
    •     Frites (french fries -- with mayonnaise...originated in Belgium)
    •     Indonesian or Oriental food (very authentic and popular in this part of Europe)
  •     Souvenir ideas:
    •     Holland cheese (has wax around it and doesn't have to be refrigerated)
    •     Dutch "Delft/Royal Blue" items
    •     Wooden shoes
    •     Fake tulips
    •     Item from Anne Frank gift shop
    •     " iamsterdam" shirt or item

"When in Rome" / Vatican City:

  •     Trevi Fountain
    •     Toss coin into fountain: left hand over right shoulder
      •     One coin toss: you will come back to Rome
      •     Two coin toss: you will fall in love with a Roman
      •     Three coin toss: you will marry a Roman
  •     Colosseum
  •     St. Peter's Basilica
  •     Vatican Museum / Sistine Chapel (same place)
    •     Sistine Chapel is at the VERY end of the museum.
    •     It is actually best to go to this museum when there are a lot of people (rush hour) because then the guards/cops can't control whether or not you take a picture of the "creation of Adam" painting on the ceiling...they just yell "No pictures! No talking!" and still everyone does it. 
    •     Michealangelo's Creation of Adam painting is in the very middle of the chapel's ceiling, way up high. It's kind of hard to see unless you use zoom on your camera, so find it first, then hurry and pull out your camera to take a picture.
  •     To see the tombs of priests/popes/etc. beneath St. Peters Basilica, it is only open for viewing at very specific hours. You can also go to the top of the Vatican tower (up many stairs) to get a great view and take pictures…but you might have to pay.
  •     Drinking water is available at random places for free to drink or fill up your water bottle...and it's GOOD, cold water (glacier water). We drank some from a leaking fountain thing located on a street sidewalk, and we drank some at the Forum from a spring/fountain thing. Rome/Vatican City is the only place I recommend getting free water (unless it is from inside a restaurant).
  •      Things to eat/drink:
    •     Red and white wine
    •     Margherita pizza
    •     Pasta
    •     Bruschetta
    •     Gelato
  •     Souvenir Ideas: 
    •     Rosary from Vatican City
    •     Funny "sexy" or Statue of David aprons
    •     Replica paintings/prints of the "creation of Adam" image on items or canvases
    •     Wine
    •     Italian leather items (purse, jacket, etc.)
  •     Other things we did:
    •     Pantheon
    •     Roman Forum
    •     Spanish Steps
    •     Piazza Navona
    •     Aventine Hill

When in Venice

  •     Gondola ride of the Grand Canal is a MUST…raining or not. This was the only place it rained our entire trip, and it rained hard, but it was worth it. Find a gondola with a singing gondolier!
  •     Feed the birds in Venice. This was the only place I really saw a lot of pigeons gathered together in one area (like you see in the movies).
  •     Visit glass blowing museum / factory
  •     Things to eat/drink:
    •     (same as Rome/Florence/Italy, in general)
  •     Souvenir ideas:
    •     Venice striped sweater or t-shirt
    •     Murano or blown glass items
  •     Other things you can do:
    •     St. Mark's Basilica
    •     Rialto Bridge
    •     Doge's Place

When in France / Paris:

  •     Seine River Cruise at dusk
    •     Make sure you have your camera settings correct for "night" pictures before the Eiffel Tower sparkles. I tried taking pictures of the sparkling Eiffel Tower but they didn't turn out very good, especially when I tried to get a picture of me with it in the background. 
  •         Basilique du Sacre-Coeur chapel 
    •      Great to watch the sunset go down (view of City of Paris) with all the locals. BYOB/wine, listen to local music, see (good) talent shows from street dancers, see Eiffel tower, see sunset go down.
  •      Orsay Museum and the Louvre are best museums to go to. 
  •      Eiffel Tower (especially at night when the lights sparkle)
  •     Notre Dame de Paris
  •     Arc de Triomphe 
  •     Fragonard Perfume Museum
  •     Palace of Versailles (incredible) and gardens
    •     About a 35 minute drive/taxi from Paris
  •     Things to eat/drink:
    •     Crepes
    •     Macarons
    •     Red wine
    •     Breakfast pastries
    •     Escargots (yes, snails, but get pesto flavored... surprisingly awesome.)
    •     Falafel
    •     Gelato
    •     Espresso
  •     Souvenir Ideas:
    •     Scarf
    •     French beret
    •     Painting
    •     Perfume
    •     Wine
    •     Sexy lingerie
    •     Book (many are sold on the streets)
    •     Fashion items
    •     Fur
  •     Other things you can do:
    •     Catacombs of Paris
    •     Palais Garnier
    •     AND SO MUCH MORE! Paris is full of things to do and see.

When in Germany / Munich :

  •     Munich's Hofbrauhaus
    •     Best place to get a German-sized stein of beer! 
  •     Biergartens in Munich
    •     They give you large steins... to keep or return the steins, that is the question.
  •     Things to eat/drink:
    •     Brauts (brautwurst) 
    •     Schnitzel (pretty much just fried meat and usually comes with fries) 
    •     Sauerkraut (don't like it, but it's traditional)
    •     Black Forest Cake (a.k.a. Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, strong rum flavor), 
    •     Apple Strudel (Apfelstrudel)
    •     and last but not least….even if you don’t like beer, you will like the Rattler beer (half lemonade, half lager—very popular and delicious). I didn't like beer at the time, but German beer (light beer) is very good…but you should at least TRY the Rattler.
  •     Souvenir ideas:
    •     Cuckoo clock
    •     Traditional bier-stein
    •     Babushka dolls or containers (the little containers that open up and have multiple ones inside each other)
    •     Bottle opener
  •     Other things you can do:
    •     Neuschwanstein Castle (what inspired the Disneyland castle)
    •     Nymphenburg Palace
    •     Oktoberfest
    •     Munich Residenz
    •     BMW Museum
    •     New Town Hall / Glockenspiel 
    •     Olympic Stadium
    •     Bike tours

When in Switzerland / Austria:

  •     Salzburg
    •     Sound of Music scenes and home of Mozart
  •     Hiking in the Swiss Alps (in summer!)
    •     Trails near Club la Costa Alpine Center in Austria (5 star resort)
  •     Rhine Falls in Switzerland
  •     Rhine River boat cruise / ferry
  •     Things to eat/drink:
    •     Swiss chocolate (refrain from buying a brand that already sells in the U.S., chocolate is not cheap but delicious, is bery delicate chocolate = will melt easily!)
    •     Swiss cheese
    •     Fondue
  •     Souvenir ideas: 
    •     Edelweiss cowbell keychain or home decor
    •     Swiss chocolate (keep out of heat and from getting squished…very delicate)
    •     Swiss Army knife or other items with Swiss cross logo on it
    •     Swatch Watch (popular watch brand in Germany/Switz and most parts of Europe)
  •     Other things you can do:
    •     Liechtenstein

Tips in General

  •      Personalities:
    •       French are reserved and may come across as rude, but they are decently nice and just don’t smile much.
    •     Germans are loud and don’t hold back, but they are pretty rude/rushed and you may feel like you are in their way. Also the taxi drivers are a bit crazy.
    •      Italians speak the language of love and the men will say “beautiful woman/lady” a lot, especially when it comes to selling you things.
  •     Driving Situations:
    •     Germans are also the craziest drivers, so be careful when crossing road and buckle up when riding in one.
    •      Europeans in general seemed to be crazy drivers…especially in large cities like Paris, Rome, and Munich. Crazier than NYC drivers.
  •     Streets & Pathways:
    •     ***Many cities in Europe have a street, a sidewalk for pedestrians....AND a separate “bike” lane (for mopeds, bicycles, and motorcycles), which is also located on the same path as the pedestrian walking path
    •     The bike path is designated in a different color than the walking path, but WATCH OUT where you are walking and make sure to stay out of the bike path!
      •     Multiple times we didn’t realize we were standing in it and almost got ran over!!! This was especially true in Amsterdam. Very dangerous.
    •      Make sure you look BOTH ways before crossing any street or “bike path.” Not only will you forget which way the cars go on the roads (most are different than in America) but also because the bike paths are 2-way and mopeds may come…I mean SPEED… from all directions. It can be quite scary, and very easy to forget.
  •     Scammers & Beggars:
    •     Do not pay to see a trick or magic or other skit. Many friends got ripped off because it was a  “See if you can do this, and if you can you will win $50,” and of course it’s a rigged game and they lost a bunch of money.
    •      Beggars are EVERYWHERE. They aren’t the typical beggars like we see in America (homeless look). Some are crippled, old women, or doing numerous types of acts to get tips from by passers.
    •      If you don’t want to give to them (and you will come across TONS of them), just don’t make eye contact and ignore them if they talk to you, or if they come up to you while you are sitting down just say “NO” sternly so they know not to mess with you.
    •      You may feel mean at first or like a bad person for ignoring them, but after awhile you will get sick of so many beggars coming up to you or people trying to sell you things that you will stop caring.
  •      Souvenir shops:
    •      The only thing I noticed about souvenir shops is that they DO NOT have the same prices on the same things. For example, one shop sells scarves for $6, but just a few shops down they may sell the same quality of scarves for just $3. Shop around if you are not in a rush.
  •        Language Barrier:
    •      English was surprisingly easy to find and see everywhere we went. There wasn’t really a place that we HAD to know the language. In Amsterdam, English is the main language. It is still helpful to know at least the main words you will use for each language, such as: yes, no, thank you, hello, and goodbye.
    •        **Note: The only problem I ran into while trying to speak the language to sellers was in Italy when I said “How much?” (in Italian)…and then they started speaking to me in Italian and I had to be like “Oh no sorry do you speak English??” (in English) because I didn’t know the price they were telling me. So start out in English, and if they don’t speak it then you can try to use their language.
    •      ADVICE: if you speak in English, use their accent...they will actually understand you better, especially since we have different American accents (hick, twang, boston, etc) and it may be difficult for them to understand us.
  •      Electronics:
    •      Do not bring a Chi straightener or other expensive plug-in devices. My Chi was ruined in Europe, even with an adaptor, because the watts were too big.
    •      Buy a cheap straightener/blow dryer/etc to bring with you or wait until you get to Europe…although they may not be cheap there and harder to find. My friend’s cheap/low voltage straighteners and blow dryers worked well in Europe with their adaptors.
  •      Pictures:
    •      Many people took pics in Europe with their iPhones, which took great pictures, so you can rely on your phone to take pics if your camera battery dies. However, it's the trip of a lifetime so if you have a nice camera, bring it.
  •      Necessities:
    •      General/pharmacy/convenient stores are not that easy to find, except in Paris. Everywhere else we looked to find a store to get Tylenol, chapstick, gum, etc. and either it took us a long time or we didn’t find one at all.
  •      ATM:
    •      We used the ATM multiple times, so don’t be afraid to use them. Fees are the same as in America. They aren’t at every corner though, so when you see one and you are about to be in need of cash, go use it.
  •     Accents:
    •     Last but not least, if someone from France is trying to speak English to you and you can't understand them, try to think what you would say in their accent. 
    •     For example,  a french guy said “Josh Clennay”…they are actually saying “George Clooney” with a French accent. 


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