This was supposed to be my trip to Costa Rica. That's where I planned for, packed for, and told everyone I was heading for. I drove a rental car from MFEMFEM to Charleston AFB South Carolina on 6 September '01 to catch a flight to Costa Rica. However the Costa Rica flight was not taking passengers, and there wasn't another Air Force flight to Costa Rica until October. Those are the breaks. After a few days of waiting I caught a flight to Dover Delaware and from there to Germany. When you are trying to fly cheap you have to be flexible. I figured I could spend a few weeks in Germany, catch the Oktoberfest, return to the U.S. and see about another flight to Costa Rica. It didn't work out that way.
September 11 made it difficult to return to the U.S., so I made other plans. I went from Munich to the Czech Republic back to Munich for Oktoberfest then back to Prague then caught a cheap flight to Bangkok (Prague is a great place to find cheap flights) then went to Cambodia then back to Thailand then to Laos then back to Thailand and caught a flight to the U.S. on Christmas day. All the way around the world and didn't make it to Costa Rica. Oh well, I'll try again.
Let's see, about six and a half months, visiting Germany, Poland, Lithuania, St Petersburg Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey (though technically Turkey is mostly in Asia), Greece, Italy, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands--that's eighteen countries, or about one and a half weeks per country. That's not enough time to get to know a place, but at least I know the places I want to go back to and spend more time (Prague). Of course I would expand the list if I were rich (Prague and Paris), but being on a budget I'll stick with a realistic choice of a great, affordable place to be (Prague).
First the bad news, I didn't go on a wild rampage across Europe. I maintained a low profile and stayed out of trouble. No arrests, no confrontations with police--well, not with real police, and no need to bribe anyone, which disappointed one official. I almost made it the entire six months without getting ripped off, except for one sticky fingered taxi driver in Istanbul. I'm still p.o.'d about that one.
There were some entertaining moments though. Bag-day in St Petersburg, some useful information on bribing conventions when in Russia, a very entertaining beggar in Bucharest, a run in with the "Tourist Police" in Budapest (that one's worth reading about if you're going to Europe, it's a scam that is used in many countries), crossing the Rumanian border at night (watch your camera), dropping through an unmarked hole in the ground in Turkey to take a short walk underneath the ruins of Aphrodisias, and sharing a train car with a Bulgarian shoe smuggler. That last one wasn't too exciting, I just like the sound of it--"Bulgarian shoe smuggler".
The most interesting stuff happened in east/central Europe. I've read that some of the people in the former Warsaw Block countries don't like being thought of as east Europe; it smacks too much of Russia. Whatever. Most of this part of Europe is not nearly as well traveled as west Europe so things aren't as structured and predictable. This leaves more opportunity for interesting things to happen. West Europe has the most impressive museums, with the exception of the Hermitage in St Petersburg, but east Europe is more fun. Also it's much cheaper, which again leaves more opportunity for fun. I want to go back, starting in Prague. Prague was a blast. No great stories to tell, just a beautiful place to hang out and drink beer. Best beer in the world for about fifty cents a half liter. I really liked Prague.
Travel in western Europe is much easier, predictable, and expensive. There ares lots of famous sights and lots of conventional travelers. I socialize better with unconventional people. If you're reading this because you are a friend of mine you'll probably concur. So there are many pictures in the western Europe pages, but not as many stories. I need to keep that in mind in choosing destinations--unconventional is good, so long as it is cheap and there is beer. I think that rules out Iran and Afghanistan.
Here is the first of many travel tips I have thrown in through-out this website: People planning a long sociable visit to Europe should review twentieth century history. That century had much more traumatic affects on Europe than the U.S. One consequence of this is the citizens there, even the young, are much more aware of modern history than the average American. Unless you are content to present yourself as a remarkably ignorant American, thereby confirming some unflattering stereotypes, a review of modern history is advisable. If you can't read up in advance, carry a decent history book with you.
Reading is easy when traveling, there are frequent periods when you have nothing else to do. I did more pleasure reading while I traveled than any other time in my adult life. Some classics, some history, some mythology and a little philosophy--general frivolous stuff I never had time for when working as an engineer.
I don't think the little philosophy I've read has improved me. I read The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant and my favorite part doesn't have to do much with philosophy; it is where Durant describes Immanuel Kant with the sentence "He thought everything out carefully before acting; and therefore remained a bachelor all his life long." I love that sentence, it can be interpreted so many ways. I think I'll get it printed on a T-shirt.
I went off on an unnecessary tangent in the preceding paragraphs, and I'll do it again in the pages that follow. My mind works that way. I don't think my friends would recognize me if I didn't go off on occasional tangents. But that's enough tangents for this page. The frame to the left has the countries in the order that I visited them. I made separate pages for many of the cities, and the Louvre, to keep country pages to a reasonable size. Every page with pictures has thumbnail links to the pictures. In spite of breaking things up into many pages, some of the cities, like Rome and Prague, will take a while to download because they have many thumbnails in them. Just in case the frame to the left doesn't work, I have provided country links below. The same country links, plus an "Intro" link back to this page, are provided at the bottom of each of the country and city pages.
One disclaimer before ending this page; many spellings of European names and words are inaccurate best efforts. Some European languages make frequent use of `, ~, ^, and other symbols not on my keyboard. It is difficult to spell correctly when you don't have all the necessary symbols. There is a good reason for the symbols; these languages attempt to have a unique letter or letter combination for every sound used, so they can spell things phonetically. They have intelligent writing systems. Unlike English, where one letter can have many sounds and one sound can be designated by many letters or letter combinations. English writing also uses many silent letters; I don't know why. Learning written English is tough. I sympathize with those who grew up with a different language and attempt it.
Finally, if you want to write and let me know what a great job I did, just e-mail me below.