So prior to this summer, going overseas had consisted in the near past as traveling to Mexico which really doesn't count as going overseas especially if you live in Southern California. On our 14-day trip across France and Italy we learned a lot and for posterity and future recall here are our lessons in no particular order
- The French ( I am part French ) have a very different definition of service at restaurants than Americans For starters, the tip is often included in the bill and well below the 10% to 20% waiters get in the US. So the emphasis is not necessarily on making sure your every needs are met. But hey plus side is you don't have to tip.
- I've seen tons of restaurant reviews from tourist that start with something like "we waited 10 minutes before anyone greeted us or gave us menus...". The secret is to take the initiative, ie make eye contact with a waiter and ask for a menu (trying to ask in French helps). Although don't despair, the French universally dislike anyone other then immediate family. So whether you're an American, German or Chinese they don't particularly like you.
- Food in France is generally very expansive and in Paris, it's all tourists prices.
- Food in Italy rocks if you like awesome pasta and awesome pizza. But be prepared to spend at least an hour eating dinner.
- Don't be an AMerican/German/Chinese, in Italy restaurants close between lunch and dinner, and dinner doesn't really start till 8 or 9PM
- Sometimes its better to put down the recommendation app and just walk by restaurants and see which one is busiest and pick that one.
- In Italy try the granite drink on a hot day. Basically it's a ice slushy with flavored syrup over it. There version of Shave Ice.
- If you're traveling by train, make sure you have at least a couple of hours between connection. It's not uncommon for trains to be cancelled or two-hour delays. This is true of Italy and France.
- Look for Ticket ATMs. In France or Italy you can forgo the long 45 minute lines to talk to someone who seems irate that they have to answer question about train tickets and use Euros or credit cards to purchase.
- Carry Euros with you. Both the paper and coin type. Some ticket ATMs only take the coin kind.
- Europe seems to be phasing out credit card with the stripe in favor of credit cards with the smart chip on the front. This was an issue for us at a few restaurants but especially at automated kiosks.
- Carry plenty of water.
- Let me repeat myself carry plenty of water as in the summer, it gets extremely hot in France and Europe. Not Thailand "is this an oven hot" but close enough to "hey my armpits feel like they are underwater just like in Las Vegas"
- If you don't, there are plenty of small shops and merchant happy to sell you distilled water that is cold along the way.
- A train ride means a day dedicated to transit. Don't plan on doing much that day.
- Assigned seating is worth it, especially as trains get cancelled.
- If you can get first class, it's ridiculous how little it is and often it's the only coaches with working air conditioning.
- Stay in contact with wallets and purses at all times, as there are a lot of pick-pockets.
- In the planning stages take a look at Foursquares list for inspiration as to what to do.
- Walk, perhaps even bicycle but do not drive in France.
- Seriously stay off your damm smartphone and look around. Look at the Louvres, or Le Palais de Versailles. Take photos but stop checking your email because at the end of the day you are not important or the leader of the free world. Things will go on without your micromanagement or poor taste.
- If you absolutely have to, the smart thing to do if you have an unlocked iphone is to get a local sim card with a data plan. And since about 0.1% of the folks in the world have an unlocked smartphone, i suggest getting your carriers special price-gouging international data plan and turning off cellular data for only the essentials.
- Essential apps would not be email, but maps, foursquare and perhaps scramble so you can do something while waiting for those french waiters. Beware on iphones of settings data, cause that bad boy sucked it up like no other. Another thing i learn is that apps are fat when it comes to bandwidth. So use with caution.
- Most every cafe or restaurant has free wifi, not to mention it's pretty standard for hotels.
- Carry a converter, unless your laptop or phone can hold a charge for weeks at a time. Electricity in Europe is 220V and the socket is very different
Do you have any tips to add? If so please do so...