It took us quite a bit of time to reflect before trying to answer the question “What did we learn?”
Well, here are a few suggestions:
Probably, the most profound thing that we learned on our seven week trip was that the Mediterranean diet was dead or dying. Both of us had previously spent a lot of time in Italy so we were particularly shocked at the deterioration in the Italian diet, especially in the North but also the South. We observed that both tourists and Italians were typically dining out on pasta and pizza. What really shocked us was seeing young children having a portion of french fries on top of their pizza! For us, “fast food” seemed to have replaced the Mediterranean diet.
2. NORTH/ SOUTH VARIATIONS
These days the media is full of stories about the economic and social differences between North and South Europe because of the Euro. Sadly, this has created too many stereo-types, in our view. Travelling for seven weeks across both North and South Europe, we observed that from our perspective that reality was slightly different to the media inspired stereo-types. For example, we found that costs in Germany and Austria compared favorably with the UK but Italy was more expensive. We talked to Australians who shared that Eastern Europe was becoming more popular as a travel destination because of the high level of costs in Western European cities.
3. OPEN-TOP TOUR BUSES
After good experiences in Montreal, Sydney, and Edinburgh, we had become fans of the open-top buses to familiarize ourselves with new cities. We took open-top city tours in our European adventure in Vienna and Budapest which were excellent. In Prague we took a city tour both on foot and by bus. In Venice we used the ferries extensively or just walked. In Florence, Brugge and Frankfurt, we walked or took taxis.
4. COST OF TOURS
The cost of overnight accommodation was what we had expected. Similarly, the cost of eating out was not that surprising too – as indicated earlier, we were surprised at the premium cost of quality food in Italy. On the other hand, we had completely under-estimated the cost of tours, so we soon learned to be discerning in are choices.
There is still good value to be found, especially in Italy but beware of the tourist traps which are still very expensive. Check out the shopping malls where the locals go.
6. FOLLOW THE LOCALS
Quite a few times, we deliberately tried to steer away from the tourists and typically followed the locals. We tried to stay overnight and eat in areas that were popular with local people, not just tourists.