Note this is the trimmed version.... it still seems like so much.
I wanted to do a little post that's different from the others, and now with this break between Ireland and Scotland is as good of a place as any to put it. This post is called lessons, and that's just what you're getting: all the lessons I've learned so far on my travels.
Firstly, the practical things:
- The toilets are awful. I don't know what knob designed the system of toilets where to get rid of waste you just throw more water on it and HOPE it goes away, but they should be put down. The supposedly "green" toilets often end up costing more water than they're meant to save!
- Elevators are a luxury. Most buildings don't have elevators, and the ones that do will have very small, slow things that are not meant to hoist you around with any great speed.
- Paying in Sterling sucks. Right now, one pound is one and a half american dollars, and prices are rarely lower in pounds. If you want to visit the UK, expect to be paying much more than you think you'll have to for things.
- Have a chip and pin credit card! You'll be hard pressed to use your credit card with ease if you don't have a CC with a chip on it. We still need to sign for our purchases, but we're still able to use our card because it has a chip. Honestly, chip and pin is an amazing system. I would never be worried if someone stole my card if it was protected by digits and not my sloppy signature. In fact, cards with signatures are so rare (I think they're actually non-existent but I'm not positive) in Europe that many times the cashiers have had to go to the office to grab a pen for us to use.
- Speaking of payment, carry cash. Maybe not fat stacks of it, but carry enough to pay for your dinner at any given time. There are a few out of the way cities that will only accept cash and have no ATM's to offer.
- Beware of the shops that keep their merchendise outside. There are the shops that are run by people who only sell cheap off brand rip offs. If it was something of quality, they wouldn't put it on the sidewalk.
- Europe closes early. In America you have your 24 hour everythings: diners, shopping centers, laundromats, take out. Even Hayward, WI has a 24-hour Wal-Mart. Here? Not so much. I've seen maybe five 24-hour "express" food stores, and that's it. Everything else? Well, I hope you didn't need to go there past 6pm! Even bars close up shop at midnight.
- People over here know how to handle being around bikes. Well, mostly. Some people still are crazy cautions, but for the most part cars and bikes are good friends. Buses, however, are a completely different story. Bikes and buses share the lane in most larger cities, and buses act as if bikes just aren't a thing. The three times I've nearly been hit on my bike are all at the fault of blind bus drivers who just cannot be asked to look and see if there's a bike in the lane.
- BEWARE THE MIDGES!
- No, really, beware the midges! You don't know what midges are? Have you ever imagined what might happen if there was a bug that bit like a mosquito, flew in a swarm like gnats, was smaller than dust, and was as common as flies? Well, wonder no longer! midges exist, and that is the perfect description of what they're like. Honestly, I cannot imagine an insect out there worse than this.
- Oh wait, I lied... England has one more offering that's far worse than midges: Giant House Spiders. Spiders in England are as common as rainy days, and far, far larger than they should be. We were terrified one morning to find one of these monsters come out from under our bed. It was at least the size of my hand, probably larger, and it wasn't just some one hit wonder, that's just the size they are. No wonder the pilgrims made a break for it.
It isn't only eateries that suffer from this, really its the disappointment that very little of the original picture of Europe still remains. After growing up in a giant melting pot, I was excited to go off and see "the real thing". I wanted to see where I came from, I expected to see a modern version of the medieval or Victorian. Instead, I've found that the rest of the world is just one giant melting pot. Perhaps I was naive, but I think it's more akin to a desire for things to just be rare or exotic again.
Even when I was a kid, before the internet was really a huge deal, some things were still hard to come by. I remember my family had to drive to Chicago's Chinatown in order to buy a rice cooker and rice. Now I could go to literally any department store and pick both of those things up, probably on sale to boot. Sure, this is a good thing in that the whole world has access to all the rest of the world.
There's still a part of me that wishes for things to be special.
The most "exotic" thing I've had on this entire trip is a bag of Monster Munch. It's this crazy, puffed snack that's pickled onion flavor. Sounds weird, but I love it, and I've only seen it in the UK which is possibly part of why I love it so much. Imagine if that thing you collect, that one really rare piece? Well, when you collected it, it was hard to get. Now, everyone has one. Some people have five. It isn't unique, it isn't rare, we all have one Terry.
Apart from the unique buildings, natural formations, and terrible toilets, there's very little so far that doesn't have the same feel to it that America has. There are nice people, and there are complete jackasses. There are nice parts of the city, and parts you just don't go to. Some cities you feel very safe and peaceful in, others you feel very on edge and keep looking over your shoulder.
The trip has been a grand experience. We're both enjoying ourselves very much. We've found some great things and seen amazing sights that we wouldn't find anywhere else. When it comes down to it, I really couldn't expect any less of the world. Everything is always changing, everything is growing, and everything is updating. I will say though, that so far my favorite places have been the places just a bit out of the way. They're the towns and villages that haven't really caught up to the rest of the world, and still have the old world feel I was expecting.
So good on you world for progressing. All that I secretly hope for is that the little burghs which have managed to maintain their unique charm stay that way long enough for more people to enjoy.