Sunday, September 21, 2008
Europe Travel Notes
Deb and I have been in Europe (Switzerland and France, specifically) for almost two weeks, and have had a marvelous time. My favorite photos have been uploaded to Picasa. (Photos are in time order - sorry if you can't deal with the destination jumps. See the map reference if you're not sure where the photo was snapped.)
It's too easy to compare Europe and the places we visited with the U.S., and California specifically. However, some differences are quite surprising.
Europeans are methodical, disciplined drivers. Roads are well-maintained with excellent signage. There are strict laws about slower traffic staying to the right and against any form of passing on the right. And these laws are obeyed! Paris traffic is amazing; out of apparent chaos, there is established order among cars, two-wheelers, and pedestrians which creates a fluid motion. Nobody runs red lights. Everybody stops when required. We saw zero accidents in three days. The only close call was when a roller blader almost plowed into us while attempting to stop.
By comparison, California roads are in crappy condition, and the drivers are mostly idiots. They drive in whatever damn lane they please. They run red lights and stop signs with abandon. They don't know how to pass properly and safely. Pedestrians cross where and whenever they please. And the accident rate reflects this.
I don't understand what all the fuss is about French cuisine. Sure, it has its highlights, but I wasn't going to spend 100 Euros (about $165 US these days) to find out just how great it was. The local eateries were fine. Beef was tough, bread and cheese were awesome. The local French greens are a nice surprise. They love their wine from Burgundy, but I actually prefer the much cheaper wines from Bordeaux that actually taste like wine.
California, what can I say? Food is fresher, the meats (especially the free-range kind) are awesome, and the wines are great, albeit overpriced compared with similar French quality. (I'm talking Bordeaux again.)
Given Europeans' tolerance for bodily displays and interactions, I don't know what the deal is with the lack of public toilets, and the few that do exist are typically closed or poorly stocked. Debbi even had someone try to stop her from using the restroom in a restaurant, and we were eating there!
In California, they may be smelly, but every town has a public toilet somewhere, and it usually has toilet paper. 'Nuf said.
Livestock, the Canine Variety
In France, dogs pretty much roam as they please in the same vicinity as their owners, despite leash laws. But, they are all trained and well-behaved. Dog crap piles in Paris are a common, unattractive site. But, at least they have taste when selecting a breed: light-colored Golden Retrievers are everywhere!
In California, most people are terrified of dogs, and leash laws reflect this. I suppose there is a reason, because most people don't know how to properly handle their dogs even when on a leash. And I'm speaking here as a dedicated dog owner.
Airport Security, Passport Control, and Customs
In Europe, you are welcome to come and go with the glance of a passport, and nobody looks in your luggage or makes you take your laptop out of its case or make you go into a "puffy chamber." Well, the UK still makes you put your carry-on liquids in a plastic bag and their metal detectors will go off if you have some coins in your pocket. But they've been beholden to US standards since 9/11, haven't they?
In the USA, we have the TSA, and they still don't know what the f*** they are looking for or how to "protect" us. People, it really is a bad joke, because they aren't making us any safer. Don't believe me? Read this about how anyone can circumvent airport ID checks if he/she is not checking baggage. Where's the hue and fury about that? Besides that, we have the INS and Customs service, whose joint purpose is to suspect everyone of trying to enter illegally while carrying child porn or illegal content on a laptop or memory stick.
Livestock, the Eating Variety
In Europe, livestock are mostly open penned, raised traditionally.
In the US, two words: Industrial Agriculture. 'Nuf said.
Anyway, Deb and I would come back here in a heartbeat. That is, as long as we always keep a roll of toilet paper with us.