We’ve been on the road for 5 weeks now and have visited a total of 9 countries. Since we will be back in Poland (our starting point) tomorrow, I wanted to do a quick overview of each country we have seen.
Northern Poland has beautiful beaches with white sand not too dissimilar to beaches I have seen in Mexico. People are young, tall, skinny, attractive, friendly, helpful and most of them speak English. The cost of living in Poland is about half as much as it would be in Canada. We managed to eat and drink like kings for about $15 a day between the two of us. Krakow has a stunning city centre with tall old buildings painted in a way that reminds me of Venice. We visited a tiny town at the southern border of Poland called Zakopane, by far my favorite place. The hills were intense green and populated by goats. The houses, with their sloped roofs, had a “Swiss Alps” look to them. The entire time I was there I wanted to take up yodeling.
Poland has a ridiculous amount of grocery stores. You think Starbucks is bad in Canada, Poland has a Walmart type store beside a SuperStore with a Safeway kiddy corner and 3 Mom & Pop stores down the street. I obviously loved having so much food at my disposal but what puzzled me was the produce. There is no variety, well variety in brands but no variety in produce. A huge store would have a 25 foot long isle selling strictly onions. Another sells 600 variations of butter, next isle is devoted to 50 slightly different types of Gouda, undistinguishable to even my cheesy pallet. And every store sells the same things, how do they make money? Which store do you choose?
We only spent a night and 2 days there. We found it to be even cheaper than Poland and a lot less attractive. The country side is really pretty and green but the city we stayed in, Zilina, lacked charm. The people were a little haggard looking but very friendly.
Go to Prague, it’s ridiculously pretty. Every street looks like a fancy opera house with ornate cast iron balconies and plaster cornices molded into cherubs and flowers. Unfortunately the city is very Americanized and The Gap and other big name stores dominate the city centre. Happily, food and drinks in the grocery store are just as reasonable as Poland. Have cash on you at all times, no one takes credit cards except large grocery stores and gas stations. A little shady in my opinion.
Expensive! Most cities wouldn’t even take our Visa card because they have their own credit cards and do not except foreign cards. Too bizarre. Everyone we met spoke perfect English and were very helpful. Germany was nice, especially our random trip to Berlin, but it’s rather large and boring to drive thru.
Amsterdam was our only stop there but it was completely worth it. The canals and cobblestone streets are extremely romantic. Everyone in Amsterdam is 6 feet tall, beautiful, trilingual +, healthy and ride an old school bike. Like Germany, it was rather expensive but if you find a good supermarket you can buy the best caviar for $1.50 and beers for $0.50
To be honest I didn’t know much about the country apart from it’s beer and fries, what a pleasant surprise. The city of Bruges is a must see. Old buildings on the water with ivy growing up it’s sides and a maze of cobblestone streets, lined with cute houses with window boxes full of bright red flowers. Matt and I ate about 5 gallons of fries dipped in mayo during our stay and probably drank the same amount of their world famous strong beers. Belgium wasn’t terribly expensive but not cheap either.
If you are taking the boat to England remember to book your sailing a few days before you leave. The cost triples the day of the sailing and it’s damn expensive. Hell, everything in England is expensive, even public transportation. Matt and I got to see our best friends and had a wonderful time bowling and karaokeing for Jenner’s birthday. The trip was really fun and I would love to see everyone again but maybe next time we could meet in a less expensive country like Poland.
France! I love France. Not one person will admit that they speak English, yet I know very well that they all do. I was happy to practice my French and the differnces between Quebec French and Parisian French kept me on my toes. Some of their expressions had me rolling on the floor with laughter and/or rolling my eyes. No one was particularly helpful, yet no one was particularly rude. For example, at lunch time there was a huge lineup to go up the Eiffel tower so I asked the guard, in French,” usually what time is the best time to come to avoid the long wait. Is night time better?” He responded, “I do nut know, I finish zee work in t’urty minutez, I know nutting about zee nightz.” Ok, fair enough.
The food in France is amazing. I’m extremely sad that we had run out of propane and could not cook hot meals when we were there. Each country only exchanges it’s own propane and our tank is from Poland, shitty luck, live and learn. Out of everything that we ate, thing that probably stood out the most was a duck mousse terrine that we bought in Reims. It sang in our mouths, light and airy with loads of flavor plus it went well with our $1.99 sparkling wine. France is expensive but if you buy local things like cheeses and meats it can be really affordable.
We drove thru it in a few hours. We really wanted to walk down the streets of the city of Luxemburg because it looked so lovely from our car windows but it was raining cats and dogs, again.
Parking lots: Big box stores have great parking lots to stay in over night. They are well lit and safe because they are usually away from the city and not too far from the highway. The only issue is getting in and out. They usually only have one unmarked entrance and if you miss it you might have to drive 1-2 kilometers to circle the block to get back in. Hello people, more entrances please! Once you’re in and are ready to get out, you must unnecessarily weave your way thru a maze of barriers. Not cool.
Round abouts: They are everywhere, even on highways, learn to use the Canada because they really work (though they are not very good for our van).
Health: Europeans love to be outside, they socialized, they eat and drink heavily and everyone looks great. There is considerably less obesity than Canada and the U.S. What are they doing right?
Weather: OH MY GOD could it please stop raining! The weather sucks, it’s cold and it rains a few times a day regardless which country we are in. I think the weather is getting to us, we will be much happier campers when we get a few days of sun.