Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Five Things I Love About Europe and Five Things I Dislike!


1. Pay toilets. I really really hate this. First of all, the coffee in Europe is strong and when we make our own we make it strong. What this means is that when we go on an outing, Kaley and I need to find WC's fairly often. In Europe, pay toilets are everywhere--in train stations, in remote areas, and at ferry docks on Lake Balaton. Frankly, I think the U.N. should make a universal law that pay toilets are illegal and barbaric.

The worst was when we were at the caves in Slovenia. The tour into the caves was 90 minutes so Kaley and I decided to use the facilities first. A Slovenian woman who spoke no English was sitting guard. I did not have the right change for the two of us so back up these stairs in the heat and about a block away, I find Dave and Lucas. Slovenia, though a member of the EU has not yet adopted the Euro and their money is challenging. He gives me some change so back I go and at this point a line has formed. Evidently, I gave the toilet guard way too much for two people. She was having a difficult time making change with the huge line of ladies waiting and dancing to get in. All of them were looking at me with disgust. The toilet guard was scrupulously honest and kind so she sent Kaley and me in and motioned she would give change on our way out--which she did. Humiliating! You are not supposed to do anything but pay the exact amount so we stood out committing a cultural faux pas just because we had to pee!

2. Fees for a waterfall. As I stated down below, Slovenia was beautiful and reminded me of Western Montana. Rick Steves recommended a little hike to this waterfall. But sure enough, a little way up the trail was a ticket booth. We were all completely disturbed. The waterfall wasn't that great to us. We live next to the "Cascade" Mountains so named because of cascades of water you can see from I-90 or Highway 2. Moreover, the pool at the bottom was bricked up and it looked fakey. It is possible the Romans did it in which case, it was totally cool.

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Slovenian Waterfall

3. Outlets. I wish the U.N. would make a universal law that outlets all over the world should be the same. Those adapter things don't work. We lived without hair dryers and curling irons but it would have been nice to have fixed my hair properly at least once. And I urge everyone to NOT try to use a fan as a blow dryer---especially if you have longer hair. It was not my son, nor my daughter, nor my bald husband who tried this stunt, I am ashamed to say.

4. Washcloths. The Europeans do not use washcloths. In Venice, I used the hand towel because I was saving the few I'd brought for our cottage stays. I guess they just wash all of their body parts, including their faces with bare hands??!!

5. Communist Toilet Paper. To be honest, this is probably the most environment friendly stuff there is. It is rough, gray and minimally processed so that you can see specks of whatever paper it used to be before recycling. But, please, it is horrible and completely non-absorbant---kinda like using sandpaper. I have used leaves in the forest that worked better. At least, the Hungarian grocery store had an alternative but not the pay toilets.


1. Outdoor cafes. This is the most wonderful and charming thing about all of Europe. The only time we ate inside was in Croatia where it was 110 degrees. The restaurants and cafes are streetside, canal side, riverside or overlooking a lake. You can sit and order coffee or a glass of wine and some bread and sit there for as long as you want. It is so civilized and pleasant. In America, you might be expected to order a meal and in any event, the waiter tends to rush you so the table can be turned over to another customer.

2. Ease of Communication. True, it is frustrating when people do not speak English and you do not speak a word of, say, Hungarian. But in general, Europeans are used to multiple languages and they have embraced it. It is highly unusual for Europeans to speak only one language. In our country, we seem to get in a snit that many of our newer residents speak Spanish. So what?? Let's embrace them and learn their language. They are not going away. Believe me, I now know how it feels to not be understood.

3. Trying new foods. I had read that in Slovenia, they eat horse meat. I was terrified of ordering it by mistake and we did see it on a menu in Ljubljana.

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They served foal here though I ordered lamb--I hope!

Also, I was doing everything I could to keep from eating carp in Hungary. But, we tried "burek" in Slovenia which is hard to explain but it is kind of like a calzone but the dough is the dough they use in baklava. Also, potica is just a normal bread/pastry in Slovenia. I spend oodles of money ordering povatica (the same) at Christmas time out of a food catalog. We always had it when I was a kid at Christmas because one of my Dad's fellow teachers and fishing buddy was Serbian and they gave us some every year. But in Eastern Europe it is everywhere.

"Palascinta" were like crepes and every food stand had them in Hungary. Also, I ordered this delicious gigantic deep fried thing that had a bit of cheeze sprinkled on it. I can't remember the name but I do believe eating one of these per lifetime is enough.

4. Ancient ruins. I love visiting medieval castles and trying to imagine the difficult lives that existed there. Keeping warm, bathing, raising children without fear that half of them will die in childhood are all things we take for granted. Everywhere we go, I continue to marvel at the Romans and the expanse of their empire and their basic plumbing that rivals ours.

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Inside Pedjama Castle

5. Grocery Stores. You absolutely get a feel for local culture by visiting a market or grocery store. It is so much fun! You see what people eat and buy and what they value. Definitely, they love all sorts of peppers and tomatoes in Eastern Europe. In Hungary, I was amazed at the shelves of pickles. Not only were there regular pickles of every sort you can possibly imagine but they pickle every sort of vegetable, too, whether it be corn or peppers or sauerkraut. This is why we try to avoid hotels and stay in apartments or cottages with kitchens whenever we travel. Not only is it less expensive for four people but then you can actually buy wonderful things and fix interesting meals.

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Market in Ljubljana