Tuesday, January 25, 2011

BCers Visit Italy, Switzerland & France; Pt 17: What I Did & Didn't Know On My Travels

MY WORLD is in BC as well as the places I travel. I needed a nudge to leave the comforts of home to visit Europe, particularly in these times of travel frustrations. My husband and I did our best to prepare for what awaited us in countries we never set foot in but felt we knew through books and media. There was much we didn’t know in hindsight, not only about the emotional experience but also about the small peculiarities.

There were a lot of firsts in Europe. We could not anticipate how seeing Venice for the first time would make us feel. As we sailed closer to the city seemingly suspended over water, we marveled at how ancient yet futuristic it appeared on the horizon. The crumbling magnificence of the Colosseum in Rome took our breath away. The perfection of David in Florence made history and art intertwine beautifully. Mona Lisa, a surprisingly “little” painting wrapped in mystery, almost brought me to tears. Perhaps it was the right mix of weather and mood, but it was surprisingly more heavenly on top of Mt. Pilatus in Switzerland than in any elaborate church we visited. This was totally unexpected since I thought I didn’t like heights. Picturing places didn't compare to soaking in the atmosphere with all five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

When traveling to unfamiliar destinations, practical matters needed attention. We planned some things right. My cap, vest and big purse turned out to be good things to take on our trip. Since I'm prone to earaches, the red cap came in handy on a breezy October evening during a boat ride on the river Seine in Paris. My vest with its upper pockets was handy for glasses and for the ear pieces we required during guided tours. Since it didn’t have pockets on the inside, I wore a passport/money purse around my neck under the vest and a "dummy" purse (suggested by the travel agent) containing small change over my shoulder. A woman on our tour had a significant amount of cash stolen from her purse when on public transit. This can happen in any country.

The large purse I brought turned out to be a good idea since knapsacks needed to be stored upon entering many museums. I think this was less about potential threats and more about bulky knapsacks accidentally knocking into exhibits in crowded places. It was a nuisance for some who had to collect their knapsacks after a tour rather than simply exit the building. I'm not sure if men's shoulder bags (or purses) avoid storage. But this might be a solution.

We were glad the hotels booked by our bus tour company provided breakfast. Most included eggs, fruit salad, yogurt, croissants, oatmeal and other cereal as well as fresh fruit. I took an apple with me one morning to snack on during a long bus ride to a new location. I probably should have done this every morning because it was sometimes a while between stops.

Unlike on a cruise, luggage must be transported from bus to hotel at each new location. We thought smaller would be better but noticed other tourists had relatively large suitcases. Our tour director explained bigger pieces of luggage are less likely to get snatched while waiting to be moved from hotel doorways, lobbies and streets where the tour buses park.

I packed comfortable footwear with good support. This is essential since walking is the major activity on tours. Despite my sensible footwear, I managed to have a serious fall.

This quickly made me realize I should also have packed a greater variety of over-the-counter drugs for different aliments. Although I did bring a few things, I didn’t bring the right thing for swelling. Luckily, a fellow passenger offered me an appropriate and familiar brand.

I was surprised to find NO facecloths in our hotels in Italy or Switzerland. I didn’t pack any because I assumed they were common as towels in hotels. Hand towels were too large and awkward to wash my face with and I would have appreciated a lightweight cool facecloth to nurse my wounds after I fell.

On a boat ride in Lucerne, it was nice to see one of these (pictured above) since our tour director discouraged us from using a similar facility on the bus. This REALLY surprised me and is probably because emptying lavatory contents doesn't occur until the completion of a bus tour. Although travel tips suggest drinking lots of bottled water, I felt compelled to limit the intake of fluids while on the bus. In most tourist locations the restrooms had incredibly long waiting lines for women and short to non-existent lines for men. So to the ladies ... it might be wise to bring liners for undergarments just in case.

My husband made a couple of excellent purchases prior to the trip: a battery operated shaver that worked on four AA batteries that lasted the entire two weeks. He also purchased an electric plug adapter for charging the camera battery in hotel rooms. As it turned out, we didn’t need to take the electric hairdryer as one was provided in each of our hotels.

I should have brought a strap for my camera. I missed several good shots not wanting to hold it over water or edges of things. In fact, the camera did escape from my hands once ... and just missed falling into the water in Venice.

Speaking of "shots", I probably should have gotten a flu shot before my travels. There was a very sick little boy near me on the flight home. Whether I got his bug or caught it elsewhere, I was sick for weeks after getting home.

As I said in an earlier post, I was glad my husband wore a brightly colored jacket. I often wore a red sweater under my black vest. It is incredibly easy to get lost in the crowd. One person on our tour did wander away and was eventually found by her husband after a long and worrying search.

I realize now that although we wanted to be prepared, it is the "not knowing" that made our trip an adventure.

New experiences, unexpected situations and different ways of doing even simple things like turning on a tap increases the fun. Bumbling through an unfamiliar language just to say “thank you” added humility, joy and laughter to our journey.


  1. I love reading your travelogues and if I ever get to Europe, I would love to follow in your footsteps (minus the fall!). The photos are lovely...you make each post so very interesting and personal. Thank you for doing this!

  2. Lots of super travel hints here. I'm glad Bill wore an orange jacket so you could find him if you lost him, but even happier you thought to wear a red sweater under your vest, so you could be found. Must have been very scary for the lady who was lost, as well as for her husband and the rest of the tour members.
    -- K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  3. Time-pressed, Penelope, so will combine my comment for your last two posts, each one so very informative and interesting. You have documented your trip beautifully, creating a memory that you will now be able to live many times over whenever you find the time to look at your stunning photographs, and reread the descriptions of trials, pleasures, adventures, and breathtaking moments. At the same time, your readers who may be planning a voyage, while still having to go through their own learning experiences, will be inspired and spared some mistakes because of your posts. I am so sorry you hurt yourself - it really adds to the pain when you are far from home, injured, and trying to deal with the mysteries of a strange place as you look for aid. And, to arrive home ill had to be quite discouraging. Nevertheless, it is clear to me that you captured and relished the beautiful moments while acknowledging but never dwelling on the difficulties. A true Penelope attitude to life that I love!

  4. Enjoyed your travelogue though I need to come and read again. I'm from BC also and though I've done a lot of travelling, I've never really travelled much in Europe. Something I do want to do :-) Happy travels.

  5. Thank you for the travel tips! I never would have thought there would be no facecloths in the hotels.

    Boy! I think I could easily have been the one who got lost. I am often interested in things no one else is...and NOT interested in what many are. I like the idea of wearing RED.

  6. No wonder that travel broadens the mind.
    In Europe it is a good idea to have pain killers with you as in France, for instance it was impossible to get even decent aspirin from the chemist not to speak of paracetamol which is the only one I am allowed to use.

    We have always travelled by ourselves and as you so wisely did, had valuables and credit cards next to the skin. When traveling in foreign countries I looped the string of y valuable' pouch around the side of my bra and tucked the pouch in the side of my knickers as
    there had occasionally been whole trains gassed with sleeping gas in Italy where the passengers had been stripped of everything. Money belts were soon detected.

    Now that you have the bug, maybe wou will brave the wilds more often.


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