Towards the end of my trip last year, I wrote out a long list of topics that I wanted to "blog" about, yet a year later the more eloquent thoughts about such topics have dissipated from my mind. And looking at my notes, some things I wrote make no sense at all. Yet, I do want to comment on some of them so this is going to be a multi-topic post.
Women in Art
Although I only really went to two large art museums, each church or iconic landmark contained numerous paintings so I saw quite a bit of artwork and there was one thing that really stood out to me. I've never studied art and really know nothing about it as a critic, but I can tell you I really liked how accurate the depiction of women was. In a society obsessed with dieting, beauty and airbrushing/photoshop, it was so nice to see women with curves and that little pudge of stomach I know I have around the belly button. It was so shocking to see every single bare skin painting have this aspect of a woman's body. Even the Egyptian statue made of stone had the belly pudge. I know that being skinny was bad back then cause it meant you were poor, but I still wish girls were raised with these images instead of all size 0 models and celebrities. Its funny how the image of "ideal" has been completely inverted.
Cece's Advice #6 - Don't feel guilty about not doing everything you want, or feel you should.
I already wrote out my apology for not enjoying Vienna that much, but I want to give a little advice for those out there like me with obsessions about utilizing and not wasting time/money. With everything I did I thought about whether each activity was worth the admission cost or the time and effort; or whether I was utilizing my time during the day well enough. So in Vienna, when I did a day and a half of activities in three, I just kept having to remind myself "it's okay not to do everything...I'm tired...I'm on a budget..." This way, the guilt was suppressed. I occasionally had to tell myself that same thing in Paris or Rome because there was just so much to do, but there's only so many hours in a day that places are open, and I just had to accept that its alright that some things were missed. Its like picking and choosing your battles. And I only ever had two days to do "everything."
He who would travel happily must travel light - Antoine de St. Exupery
While I already said my spiel about the suitcase vs. backpack debate, and what is the best way to hold all your belongings on a trip, I didn't talk about what goes inside. If I recall correctly, this was the contents of my suitcase: 7 long-sleeve shirts, 3 jeans, 7 pairs of underwear, 3 bras, 7 or so pairs of socks, 1 pair of sweatpants for sleeping, 1 or 2 t-shirts for sleeping, 1 sweatshirt, 2 fleece zip-up jackets, 1 windbreaker, 1 hat, 1 scarf, 3 pairs of gloves, 1 pair of hiking boots, 1 pair of sneakers, 1 belt. Sounds like a lot when all listed out, but for 21 days, it's actually not that much. Especially since I didn't do laundry at all (I understand if you think I'm completely disgusting right now). My clothing decision was probably the most "down and dirty" one I made, but it saved me a lot of money and time/effort in not having to find a laundromat. In the end, it was a good decision and I had thick enough skin for the worst of the dirty laundry. But...had I not had a shower available at least once a day, my feelings may have been different.
When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money - Susan Heller
I've touched upon keeping a tight budget in many posts and how I'm really cheap, therefore decided not to visit certain museums or eat because of that. But I thought I'd mention it one more time because it's important. And I really liked the quote. It kind of goes along with the packing/laundry piece above. Besides my plane ticket, which was purchased with frequent flyer miles, I spent about $2000...that's less than $100/day. Before I even left, $500 was spent on my EuroRail pass which was my main source of transportation and all my lodging was $300. That's almost half of my total expenses. Add in the $400 I planned to spend based on my research about city passes and tourist cards plus the $150 I budgeted in advance for the "big events" like the bike tour, chateau tour and "Sound of Music" Tour and you've got a grand total of $1350. Which means I spent $650 on food, souvenirs, gifts, train reservations, other transportation and anything else I needed. That's only $30/day, which I think is pretty good for a vacation like that especially when I think about all I did and accomplished. Although I budgeted for a total less than $2000, I can tell you that I wasn't way over and easily could have spent more if I wasn't so cheap.
This one is not related to Europe specifically, but travel in general. I think people's behavior in airports and airplanes is fascinating. You go to the airport and sit at the gate, and the second they warn you boarding will start in 5-10 minutes, people are already standing and getting in line. Even if they're in the last boarding group. It's really funny. They're trying to be the first on in order just to sit some more. And unless you're flying Southwest, its all assigned seating so it's not like being early is going to get you a better seat. Best choice in overhead baggage storage, but that's about it. I do think part of it comes from nerves and anxiety around flying, but sitting in the Vienna airports, I was just really astounded and absorbed in all the "craziness" I was witnessing.
Pros/Cons of Traveling in Low Tourist Season
I traveled from November 18th - December 8th, certainly not prime tourist season (though by the time I hit Vienna, it was much busier due to the Christmas season). And as such, there were definite pros and cons I discovered to traveling at that time of year. The biggest pro of all was fewer people, fewer people, fewer people. If you got the hint earlier, I'm not a huge fan of crowds. I love cities, but being pushed and shoved and surrounded by people in small spaces stresses me out. And less people also means more availability with lodging therefore more choices, shorter lines...all great things. Hotel/hostel rates were another pro. I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure the rates I got at my hostels were less than during prime tourist season. Especially in Venice, when our hotel in Lido cost almost nothing for 3 people. It's an island, so like Nantucket, is dead in the winter...giving way to great lodging rates. The cons were few and far between, but the one that kept popping up for me was limited hours of operation, and in some cases complete unavailability for some attractions. Many places didn't open until 9 or 10am, and then they also closed at 4pm rather than 5 or 6. Another battle I had to overcome in terms of scheduling.
Before I left for Europe, a lot of what I heard from people were bad things about items getting stolen, and warnings to be careful. I should bring a mace, or a weapon or something. I listened, sure, and did my research about safety; but in the end all I brought for security was a money belt, my laptop security cord and a small TSA approved lock for my suitcase. The money belt was a great thing to have because I was never paranoid about my wallet, passport or any other important document being stolen or falling out of my bag. It was always on me no matter where I went. Sure the money got a little sweaty and my passport a little warped and I looked like an idiot when paying for stuff, but it took so much nervous anxiety away and allowed me to enjoy myself much more. I wasn't paranoid or scared about anything else except losing my money, or passport, or driver's license, so quelling these fears by wearing the belt was an excellent decision. I had one fright on the Paris-Milan night train that I'd lost my license, and had accepted it was officially lost when I departed, until I pulled it from the pages of my passport.
The laptop security cord was from college and is used to lock laptops to desks to prevent stealing. I used it to lock my suitcase to my hostel beds. Each night I would organize everything and pack it all up tight, loop the cord through the handle of the suitcase, around my bed post and then lock it, along with the zipper of the bag, with the TSA lock. It may have looked crazy and paranoid but it helped me sleep at night. When I was 13, I was a victim of attempted pick-pocketry in Bolivia so robbery scares me more than anything else. A friend's mother thinks I'm an absolute nutjob that I shared co-ed hostel rooms, and in Munich's case my roommates were all male, but that didn't phase me at all. It was whether or not my belongings would be there the next morning that freaked me out.
Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time - Stephen Wright
So true, Stephen Wright, so true. With each city I came upon, I was one with the streets. In Paris and Rome I would take a train to a "starting" point for the day, but each city was easy to navigate and I could find an efficient walking route that hit all the landmarks and led me back around to the hostel by the end of the day. All that walking, combined with all the tower climbing, gave me thighs of steel by the end.