Unwarranted Travel Tips and Suggestions

A year in Germany. 32 cities, 11 countries. 57 trains and 18 planes. Here's what I've learned after a well-traveled year.

Lists, lists, and more lists. Have a list of things to pack. As someone who's taken fifteen overnight trips this year, make a list even when you think you've got a pretty stable mental list. Have a list of places to eat or things to buy. And most importantly, have a list of things to see, places to go. Sites like Wiki Travel or Trip Advisor are good. But, I really recommend:

Guide books. I prefer the Lonely Planet series but Rick Steves has excellent walking tours and more detail. These books can be expensive but a lot of them are free via Kindle Unlimited. Benefits of the Kindle versions: weightless! No room! For example, I currently have four - one for France, one for Germany, one for Italy, and one for London. I can be on the train to Paris, my France guidebook ready to go, but be reading up on Berlin via my German guidebook for next weekend. What's not so great about the Kindle versions - the maps. The latest version of Kindle has improved browsing functionality but the maps still aren't great. There's no way to mark the map itself as it's just an image. And Kindle doesn't offer much for zooming capabilities. Another pro for Kindle: bookmarking. You can bookmark the entire map or areas of interest. Another con: you're stuck with your device. Phone dies after too many pictures or struggling to find WiFi? Too bad, you're without a guide book (and a camera and half a dozen other terrible things). But get a guide book. You'll research the different buildings of London, only to forget which one is which and you don't have WiFi, so you can't go back to the Wiki travel. But you have your book!

Now that you have your list of things to see? Great. Now prioritize because...

Be flexible. You want to be able to take the time and enjoy the sites. Don't feel rushed to mark everything off your list. Identify the things you really want to see and the ones that would be nice to see. Respond and plan accordingly. But don't plan too much. Maybe you'll spend an hour in the Van Gogh museum or maybe you'll spend three. Maybe the line at the Anne Frank house will be two hours, maybe four. Or maybe you time it just right and you're in within the hour. Prioritize and be open to changes in schedule. Also, assess frequently. Waiting for your metro stop? Get out the list, see what you might need to move around based on what you have already crossed off and what's still on the list.

Planning. You've got your prioritized list. Great, now get a map. Maybe you think you know the city or that the image in your guidebook is enough. It probably won't be. Get a map. Mark all the things you want to see. Consult it often. A map of the public transit is also going to be super helpful. Also helpful: knowing hours. Add opening hours to your list. You have your priorities, but also think of the crowds. Visiting Notre Dame when it opens and visiting Notre Dame at one in the afternoon are completely different experiences, trust me.

When making that list with the hours, also check out the reviews in your guidebook or Wiki Travel. Some places are a lot easier to see with a tour. Viator has great options for almost any site. Eagle's Nest? So much easier via  tour. La Sagrada Familiar? Quicker with a tour, but I also got so much more out of the experience with her insight.

What to pack. That packing list. Here is what you'll need: comfortable shoes. This is serious. No flip flops. No heels. Comfortable shoes! Cloth shopping bag. Not all places will provide bags. And who knows when you'll need one. Example: on a recent trip to Italy, the weather was all over the place. I needed a jacket in the morning and evening, but not the rest of the day. After about ten minutes of carrying it, the bag came out and the jacket went in. Much more portable. Sunglasses, umbrella. Of these, get something compact. Crossbody bag. Avoid pick pockets. If you have to have a backpack, you may want to occasionally wear it on your front so you can monitor it. Scarf. Scarves are the best - you can wrap it around you if you're cold, soak it in water if you're hot. Also, really useful for visiting religious sites that require certain areas to be covered up or if you need something to put between you and your seat. 

Finally, in addition to the be flexible, have a good attitude. Be smart and cognizant of your surroundings, especially when you travel alone. I never felt unsafe but it's important to always be cautious and use common sense. Be careful of who you interact with. That being said, one of my favorite things about traveling, especially when I traveled alone, was interacting with other travelers. Having lunch at the Museum d’Orsay in Paris, to discover the woman sitting next to me was from Iowa and spending the meal chatting about living abroad; sharing sight tips with fellow travelers on the metro; discovering a guy on my tour in Berlin was going to Vienna the following week, a city I had just visited, and giving him museum recommendations; chatting with a British couple at lunch in the market in Valencia on the day of the Brexit vote about American and British politics. So be friendly, your fellow travelers can be your favorite memories and your best resources, but be cautious. Don’t give away too much information. I made it a year without anything getting stolen or any unwanted or dangerous interactions. Just be careful.

Be open-minded. Try the local food, check out that city or museum you didn't think you would like. Have fun!

Brexit: American Version

Just like with The Office, we go bigger and badder!

Last Monday, when I returned from my Italy trip, I started an elections roundup post. I recounted my excitement over the 2008 election, the first Presidential election I really followed, and the anxiety I felt as I watched Tim Kaine cast his vote in Virginia. It's really happening.

Then I woke up around 3 in the morning, GMT +1, on Wednesday, to see that it wasn't going so great. I want to respect the office of the Presidency (something our current PEOTUS has not done for the past 8 years) but I'm also a fan of self-care, so let's call him Don. Don was winning in states he was maybe going to win, like North Carolina. Then he won Florida, which had been decidedly pro-Clinton leading up to the race. By then it's almost 5 and my State-side friends have started frantically messaging me, what the fuck is going on. But Twitter assured me - there is still a path! Around 6, just as my alarm was going off, Wisconsin broke and the path was gone. Don was our next President, a reality TV show celebrity and gaudy real estate developer with zero days in public or military service.

I got ready for work. On the way in, I listened to music instead of NPR. I sat at my desk and checked Twitter. And then I started to cry. He had won Pennsylvania; it was over.

And the reason I started to cry is best summed up by Huffington Post's now defunct editor's note, which is missing sexual predator, which is a title Don added earlier, and liar, which was a gimme:

"Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar,rampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S."

Wednesday was a shitty day, end of story. A German colleague asked me if I needed help drafting paperwork to get German citizenship started up, as a joke, so of course I burst in to tears. Over the next half an hour, he listened to my biggest concerns - the Supreme Court, destroying the planet for generations, the racism and sexism and nationalism, Mike Pence is really a piece of shit too,  normalizing this asshat, looking at this idiot during times of crisis over the next four years, the eloquent Obama handing over the keys to a KKK-endorsed idiot who pushed the birther movement (seriously, no scandals for eight years and the Christian right is against this lovely family). And I would stop crying for a second, then start up again. I made fun of myself but he was sympathetic, as he had followed the election closely as well, and this is something that will have an effect here in Germany.

The next day, a room of half dozen German men laughed, with me or at me I'm not going to say, at the thought of President Don in general and my previous insistence that America was better than him, that there is no way he could be President. Because I've been representing the election since I came over in January.

Originally this post was going to be about being an expat in an election year in general. Instead, about moving on. Because Jesus Christ. It's Saturday. The initial shock has worn off. In the days since, there have been dozens of moments where I remember some other thing the President does or some other time I've really appreciated Obama, like when we needed a strong leader after Newtown or even just him being so charismatic at the Correspondents Dinner, and I throw up a bit thinking about President Don doing these things. And there will be a lot of moments like that, I think, until inauguration and it becomes fact. Michelle being replaced by a former illegal immigrant (the irony). Fun Uncle Joe will be replaced by that 'Christian-first' who thinks miscarriages should be buried and being gay is a choice.

Look, I understand some Republican ideas. Less government and trickle down economics and pull yourself up your own bootstraps. I think they're bullshit but if people agree with them, fine. But I can't agree with homophobic, isolationism, nationalism, xenophobia, Islamophobia ideals. Threatening people just because they're not white, straight, Christians (and preferably men).

But to be honest? This isn't going to destroy me. I'm a straight, white, female, with a decent job and a college education. I don't depend on Obamacare's exchanges or Planned Parenthood for services. My life-saving drugs aren't dependent on whatever ACA-replacement the asshats on the Hill are dreaming up right now. I don't depend on the strength of marriage equality to celebrate my family. Increase of racism does not affect me personally (though mysoginy and sexual assault, that hurts, okay). Want to get rid of the social net? I'm sitting here with my boxed wine and Netflix subscription. But a big chunk of the country can't say that. They're people of color and the lower middle class, immigrants and Muslims who have serious concerns about their health and safety.

And this is why I'm so disappointed in white women. You voted, 53% for this sexual assaulting piece of shit? Against the first woman President? And not just any woman 'let's hire her because she's a woman' (especially when we hired the least qualified candidate ever because 'we wanted an outsider') but a dedicated public servant with real ideals and suggestions for our country.

Here is where I also note that Hillary won the popular vote. By a lot. Like, by more than Presidents who have won the election have won. And PEOTUS won by less than other men have lost (McCain and Romney). That is huge. Today, I feel sorry for Hillary and Obama. I think she genuinely wanted to be President because she felt she could do good for women and children. I think she had real plans and proposals. I wish I could see the celebration she, and probably the Obamas, had planned for this week. The thought of her going home, slowly shedding her campaign, leaves me saddened and full of despair. Maybe that makes me a dumb liberal, but I don't care. I genuinely liked Clinton and thought she would be a good President. I voted for her because of that, not because she was a woman (though added bonus) or because she was running against an unqualified clown, but because I thought she would be a good leader, based on her tenure in the senate and state house, and I liked her ideas.

I also feet sorry for Obama, who has accomplished so much, despite Congress's total lack of cooperation, and has had such elegance and class his entire term. And now, our first black president, is handing over his legacy to a man backed by the KKK. Who spent a considerable amount of time saying he didn't deserve to be President because he wasn't truly a citizen. And this after Obama campaigned so vigorously and with such emotion for the woman he wanted to be his successor. Both he and Clinton have been gracious and handled this week's loss with dignity. I'm saving Clinton's concession speech for the next time I have to deal with an unqualified man.

So that's where we are. It sucks. I gave myself a few days to be sad. Drank a lot of wine, painted my nails black. It was all very dramatic. I'm still disappointed and, to be honest, terrified about what the next administration might look like. Our next President has taken multiple stances on multiple issues. He indicated he wants to keep his home in NYC his base instead of the White House. There's also dissent among the Republicans and their new President. Who knows! At least it will be a surprise? But first, here are a few shining bright spots.

There were other things on the ballot that went liberal, like marijuana legalization in some states and demolishing right-to-work in Virginia. We have way more women in the Senate, including the first Latina (thanks, Harry Reid, for Nevada).

Pantsuit Nation. In her classy and gracious concession speech, Hillary said that she knew the first female president was watching. My initial thought was of a young girl, around age 8, watching in Disney pajamas. It will be months, maybe longer, before we circle around a cause for this implosion in the Democratic part. But, especially given the pussy-grabbing opponent, my fear is, like Amy says in Veep, is that the blame is laid on the feet of woman. We just weren't ready for a woman president! Look at what the first female candidate lost to! But then I discovered Pantsuit Nation and other similar movements on Twitter, encouraging women to get involved and take up the mantle. It's still early and I know the movement will tamper, but this election seems to galvanize women and other progressives rather than disenchant.

And now what do we do?

I am excited to keep following Pantsuit Nation and its compatriots. But the Keepin' It 1600 bros reminded me that talk isn't enough, you need action. I've set up a recurring donation to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. Your candidate didn't win, so find the cause you really cared about that President Don is going to destroy (we haven't even mentioned climate change/ the environment yet!) and donate. There are also local and state races To have a Clinton or Obama, you have to start somewhere. We need a pipeline for fresh and inspiring talent. Or, you know, Booker 2020.

Now for some Monday morning quarterbacking! Again, we won't know for awhile. But, per turnout. I have thoughts! Clinton lost the 2012 numbers by 5m, Don won by less than 1m of Romney's 2012 loss. People just did not show up. Was it voter suppression? Lack of enthusiasm? Just two really unfavorable candidates? That final round of emails?

And what the fuck happened with what we thought we knew about politics? Don didn't follow any of the typical candidate rules (tax releases?, anyone) or behavior (no press conferences past couple of months, plus his general temperament, honestly). The polling was dramatically inaccurate. And yet, here we are. What do we do in future elections. The current thought is that it was a vote against the elite. So we went with a guy who lives in a gold tower in Manhattan?

Finally, the media and how we talk about elections. Each side is saying the media wasn't fair but here is what I know: Clinton's email scandal proved time and time again to be nothing. Sure, don't do that again, there are better alternatives, but nothing real there. The other guy? Sexual assault, a misleading university scamming people out of money, illegal Cuban ties, illegal Russian ties, no taxes, no charitable donations. There was a brief scandal about the Clinton Foundation that, again, turned out to be nothing. What about the Trump Organization? The for-profit business (as opposed to charity) that has international business ties that cause serious conflicts with the office of POTUS? And those are the ones I thought of off the top of my head. Not to mention the blatantly sexist and racist remarks and the serious lying that occurred almost daily. The fact that politifact and polls can be so different, that's the media and the false narrative they created during this election. We can't talk about Presidential (or other office) candidates like reality stars. These are serious policies and serious decisions that affect the everyday lives of real Americans. And non-Americans. So let's go buy a subscription to a newspaper and be careful about what we watch. At Michael Moore's suggestion, maybe we go watch The Bachelorette instead of wall-to-wall cable news.

But hey, at least a woman got to win the popular vote. And then concede to a man infinitely less qualified and experienced than her. Doesn't that feel familiar.

And now for what I had intended this post to be, while basking in Clinton-elect glory: living abroad during an election year!

Representation. Regardless of my emotion at the moment, this year I've had to represent the country. At work, there were a handful of political-minded Germans I worked with on a regular basis who, regardless of where we were in the cycle, would ask me about the election. Usually with some dismay at whatever idiotic thing Don had done, laugh at his chances for winning. Similarly, any time someone figured out my nationality while I was traveling, including museum docents and strangers on the train and the nice couple sitting next to me at dinner, the election came up. And it was all the same - you're not really going to elect that buffoon, are you? And my response was always the same - haha, don't worry, Hill's got this, look at all these statistics! And here, if I was in the office, is the point where I would bring up 538 or Upshot. And here is where I get wistful just thinking of those days. I didn't meet a single European that didn't agree with me - Clinton over that jackass, definitely. And there was a remove. Talking to politics with fellow Americans is tough. It's like dealing with a mine field, figuring out where you agree and disagree. My experience with Europeans has been much simpler. My experience with a Don president has been limited but so far people have expressed their sympathy or let me cry at him for half an hour.

Distance. This has been bad and good. Normally, in an election year, I bounce back and forth. I chat with colleagues and like-minded individuals. But I also interact with other Americans. In 2012 I may have been an Obama-marked Prius but I parked at Target next to a big Romney-Ryan SUV. Given the mean charge of this election, I've been glad to be on the sidelines. To live in my European bubble where Don is an idiot and Obama is pretty great and everything will be fine. I didn't have to park next to the other guy or see him at Target. It was nice not to be faced daily with the great divisive nature of our country, but it also made me complacent and less cognizant of how big the divide really was, making me too wrapped up in the election and also less aware of the other side.

Voting. Voting was a pain in the ass. It took months of emailing to get the ballot squared away, including emails to my local and state officials. But the rest of it? Excellent. Voting by absentee is the best - I had weeks to make the decision. I could Google every single thing on the ballot (I know, you can do this before you vote in person, but it was nice to be able to do it when you have the ballot in hand). And afterwards, I got an email saying that my ballot had been cast. That, honestly, was pretty fucking cool. I saved that one. Sure, my lady didn't win, but I did cast a vote for the first woman to a major party, who also won the popular vote, and I got to help elect Tammy Duckworth to IL senate. And I have an email that will be in my gmail storage for awhile.

How do I feel? Still terrified. Sure, I would have been idealogically opposed to a President Romney or McCain. But at least I would have felt them capable (minus Palin) and not racist or sexist. I join Obama and Clinton in hoping the best for the country.

And on bad days, I highly recommend John Oliver and Samantha Bee. Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers. Those last three have given excellent bits this week on the election and I can't wait to see what Oliver has to say tomorrow night. I also recommend checking out the Keepin' It 1600 podcast. Their two post-election episodes were encouraging.

Woche Zweiundvierzig: A Trip Home

I recently went home for a week. It was the middle of October, with two months left of my year in Germany. My expat contract included one home trip. I saved it to as close to the end of the year as possible, so I would have it in case an emergency came up. As I approached September and I had been emergency-free, I decided to go ahead and take the trip, picking the most important of holidays: Red Hill Weekend (more on this later).

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

Even before I left Germany, this trip provided a taste of home. I flew United instead of Lufthansa and an American airline meant an American crew, everything in English first. They even had Friends on the plane! I flew from Frankfurt to Chicago, landing in the Windy City a little before noon. Upon arrival, I felt relief, letting out a breath I didn't know I was holding in. English! Giordano's Pizza! Waiting for my second flight, I spent a few hours in the business lounge. I chatted with both the bartender and a fellow traveler and in both cases we were able to avoid that awkward pause of 'what language do you speak,' delving into English immediately. I picked up The New York Times, the non-international version. It was such a relief.

In addition to being a native speaker, there was also the phone. On my second day in the States, I got a new phone, upgrading from Samsung Galaxy 5 to Samsung Galaxy 7 (Not a Note, so it won't blow up. In general, I'm enjoying the phone, especially the additional storage, but it was a worse experience going from the 5 to the 7 than the 3 to the 5 a few years ago; get it together, Samsung). I had grown accustomed to relying upon WiFi and having a phone with data was a revelation. I could text instead of relying on gchat! I could access Twitter and Google without finding WiFi! No more lists of things to look up later or making a mental note to send off an email the next time I had the chance. Just pure 4G access. In some ways, limiting my phone usage to just WiFi the past year has probably been for the best. Who needs Twitter or FB access when you're in Paris or London? Who needs constant email updates when you're on a cruise on the Rhine? Turns out, me.

In addition to the States stuff (phones, English, all the Mexican food I can eat in a short time) there was also the home home stuff. Seeing my friends, meeting one of their kids for the first time. Also a few days at home. I had an abundance of family time, from taking the cat to the vet to camping with family to games by the fire. Yes, I took an international flight mostly for camping and games. And it was worth it! Seeing everyone in the flesh, watching my goddaughter's third Halloween, just the casual family and friend time that you don't get when you're meeting in Ireland for vacation. It was also a great break from work and news. After drama at work and following this stressful election way too closely, it was nice to escape for a few days.

The best part of my trip home was also the worst. I was to fly back to Germany on Monday; Sunday afternoon before my flight, my grandma had a stroke. The doctors at the local hospital determined it was a stroke around 11:30 and by 12:30 she was on a helicopter to a better-equipped hospital 2 hours away. And the family immobilized just as quickly - by the time she was in the helicopter, all six cousins had convened at the hospital, spending some time with her before her dramatic flight. Arrangements were quickly made to make the trip to the hospital. Overnight bags packed, caravans arranged. Children dropped off with friends of the family, offering their well wishes and prayers before taking up the kiddos. I made the drive to the hospital in a packed van - two cousins, one cousin's wife, my mom and I, our grandpa, my cousin driving. The drive was scary - we received two phone calls from the doctor after grandma had arrived, neither promising. At the hospital it wasn't much better, as her condition deteriorated. But we were all there, for her, for grandpa, for each other. A village, fifteen in total - cousins and aunts and uncles and siblings. Around 10:30 PM the doctor came back, telling us she was to have a procedure that might kill her but that skipping the procedure would definitely kill her.

You need family for a prognosis like that. She made it through the procedure as good as could be expected. Without knowing what else to do, I said goodbye to everyone, flying out the next day. In the business lounge in Chicago, where I hung out for a few hours that Monday, I kept getting updates from my mom, knowing that if I needed to, I could rent a car and be back with my family in just a few hours. By the time I boarded my international flight, Grandma had done a 180, talking and getting some of her memory back. Over a week later, we still don't know what the long term effects will be, but she's doing so much better and improving every day.

But I'm glad that I was there, for my family, for my grandparents, for myself. But I'm also glad I got those experiences with my family. The fun of the games and campfire but also for the quick response and support shown in times of need. So sure, it was nice to be in the States for the language and the phone and the Mexican, but even more so for the people and the moments we needed each other.

London Calling

I recently took two trips to London, spending a few days in the city with my mom and cousin after our Ireland tour and then a quick weekend back on my own. London, you had me at hello.

First up, one of the most iconic sights: The Tower of London. It's alarming to see - not far from a modern business center, a massive Medieval tower looms up along the river. Built in the 11th century, today it's a major tourist attraction. I recommend visiting and doing a bit of research beforehand. This is a place you can spend an hour or an entire day, depending on what exhibits within the tower you want to check out. There's a torture museum, white tower history, royal mint exhibit, and, of course, The Crown Jewels. There's also a place in the tower walls to catch a changing of the guard.

Next to the tower is Tower Bridge, another major symbol of London. Some sights fail to impress: The Statue of Liberty is really quite small, Navy Pier is lame. Not a problem with the Tower Bridge. Beautiful and imposing, it was one of my favorite sights in London. So much did I enjoy it, I checked it out in the evening and early Monday morning. More pictures later, don't worry. I walked the bridge later but didn't have time to visit the Bridge exhibit. A friend who went found it fascinating but she's a civil engineer and somewhat biased.

Here's another cool bridge, the Millennium Bridge, and St. Paul's Cathedral. One at a time:

- The Millennium Bridge is a pedestrian bridge, originally opening, as you probably guessed, in 2000. However, it was a bit 'wobbly' and shut down and stabilized, reopening in 2002. Due to its location, I crossed the bridge several times and never experienced any wobbles. Well done! Also, this bridge is destroyed by Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It might also be featured in other films, but this is the one that matters.

- St. Paul's Cathedral. The church is the seat of the bishop of London and plays a large part in several official city ceremonies.

A different perspective on the Bridge and Cathedral.

Big Ben and Parliament. We didn't have time to take a tour of Parliament but they're available, if that's your thing. I have to say, these guys were impressive. Let's set the scene. When you exit the Westminster metro station, the first thing to great you is the side of Big Ben. It will literally take your breath away. Impossibly ornate, the building is beautiful and worth its fame.

Westminster Abbey. Warning - it costs 20 pounds to get in, there's going to be a bit of a wait to get inside and a not insignificant crowd when you get in. And once you're in, no pictures allowed. I could give my usual 'get there right when it opens' spiel but I did and it didn't make much of a difference. All that aside, it's worth it. I've seen so many churches here in Europe, they're starting to run together (this is partly why my St. Paul's description is so minimal, sorry guys). Westminster does not have to worry about that.

First, there's the memorials and tombs. Everyone is either buried here or has a memorial! There's the scientists, from Darwin to Newton. Both are buried here but while Darwin gets a somewhat large slab, Newton has an elaborate sculpture. The engineer in me is happy to see the nerds getting so much credit. There's also the poet's corner, with everyone from Laurence Olivier to Shakespeare to Chaucer and Charles Dickens. There's also plenty of royalty, with Elizabeth I and her rival Mary taking the cake with elaborate tombs. There's also a really lovely memorial to the unknown soldier.

Second, there's the history of the abbey itself. Kings and queens have been coronated here for centuries. It's where Will and Kate tied the knot and also where Princess Diana was laid to rest. It was surreal to be in the room where so many things have happened (Hamilton reference just sneaked in there).

Finally, there's the building itself. It is gorgeous. The Lady's Chapel, especially, must be seen.

All this together, I was basically  near tears the entire time. Powerful place.

Atop the London Eye. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience itself. We went on a Saturday afternoon and waited maybe half an hour to get onto the Eye. The pod we were in wasn't terribly crowded. Sure, there were a few rude tourists who would not move out of the way once they had their picture/selfie/whatever, but otherwise it was fine. That being said, the view was not the best. You could see Parliament and Westminster and other various government buildings, but that was it. Other major icons of the London skyline were missing - Tower Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Gerkin, etc. If you want a great view of London, it might be better to go check out the Shard.

Next up, two things London has great examples of: palaces and parks. This is Buckingham Palace, as seen from St. James' Park.

First, the palace. You aren't allowed to take pictures inside but it's about what you'd expect - well-appointed rooms of various historical significance. There is a bit of a queue, so book ahead or be prepared to wait. We were there right when it opened on a Friday and it was still very busy. We were basically in a line the entire time we went through the palace. While we were there, the palace had an excellent exhibit on the Queen's fashion, starting with a by-the-decade peak at various styles and then a large line-up of some of her more famous ensembles. I was impressed by the sheer work and thought that went into her outfits.

Now, the park. It's in an excellent location, near Westminster Abbey and Parliament and the Churchill War Room and 10 Downing Street and, of course, Buckingham Palace. I killed a half hour here while I waited for the Churchill War Room to open and it was a nice experience. The park is around a large lake and has a few statues/memorials and well-manicured greenery. Lots of walking paths and shade and benches to hang out.

The park also has plenty of wildlife. I semi-judged some tourists in front of me for taking pictures of squirrels, but then I came across this guy. He was extremely ballsy. This critter must be used to some very generous tourists. He came up right next to me and almost begged for food. No fear at all. I didn't have any food; otherwise, he would have gotten a handful from me just out of appreciation for his gumption.

There was also a variety of birds that provided some entertainment while I read my book and waited for the museum to open. Check it out!

Next up: Kensington Palace and Hyde Park.

As for the palace, honestly, I wasn't that impressed. It was basically a nice house that a few kings and queens have used as a 'home-away-from-home.' If you only have time for one palace, do Buckingham. They had a fashion exhibit that was embarrassing and small when compared to the rich exhibit at Buckingham. Also ruining my trip was a way-too-friendly docent. I was just looking at a dress, minding my own business, when he starts chatting with me. For about fifteen minutes, he held me hostage (I tried to get away several times, really), talking about everything from all the famous people he knows (including all the living royals!) and also some somewhat racists views on Brexit. It was not appreciated.

All that said, this Princess Diana wallpaper was pretty cool.

Now for Hyde Park. I just walked the grounds for maybe an hour, waiting for Kensington to open. As I've said in previous posts, I really enjoy city parks. They're usually impressive and a nice break from the city. Tiergarten in Berlin is still my favorite but Hyde Park is up there. I do recommend getting a bike. The grounds are large and extensive. It's difficult to just go by foot and see everything. I was there Sunday morning so it wasn't terribly crowded and a bike would be easy to manage. Not sure about more peak hours.

Awesome things in Hyde Park include several statues and memorials, like this monument to Prince Albert. There's also a lake, a playground, and several gardens. Kensington Gardens are right next door to Hyde Park and are equally impressive.

And now, the museums. London has several museums and I just hit the main ones. From the lists online, you could probably spend weeks just museum-hopping. Here are the ones I visited.

First up, Churchill War Rooms. A few general recommendations on this one. It's under a government building and there are no cloak rooms for security reasons, so be careful what you bring. I had a backpack (this museum was before my flight back to Germany) which wasn't terrible but any large items or actual suitcases are a serious no-no. The museum is somewhat tight so just be cognizant that you're stuck with whatever you have on your person when you visit. Also, I know I say this often, but this is definitely a 'get there as early as you can' stop. I was at the door at 9:30 and by the time I left at 11 there was a serious line. There are also private tours that might be more accommodating.

As for the museum itself, super neat! The actual war rooms offer a comprehensive insight into Britain's efforts during WWII and the audio guide does a great job adding to the exhibit itself. Along with the war rooms, there is an intense Churchill museum, focusing on his leadership during WWII and then coming back to cover his life before and after the war.

I was struck by how influential and respected this guy was, from his funeral to his extensive awards from other countries to his friendship with Roosevelt. It was very humbling. It also offered a stark contrast to our political shenanigans today. Looking at what Churchill sacrificed, including the rooms he and his wife occupied during the height of the war, to fulfill his role made me all the more disappointed and frustrated with that orange idiot we having running in our country. But this too shall pass - Churchill lost reelection in 1945 and look how history has reflected on him.

Overall, an excellent museum, especially if you're interested in 20th century history. Personally, I very much enjoyed the visit and have now added a half-dozen Churchill books to my Amazon wishlist.

Up next, the best of the museums I visited - the British Museum. If you have the chance, spread your visit over several days. There is so much content, you need a breather to consume it all. If you don't have that option, I recommend trying the museum's 'must-see' list. This is what I did. They have a map that indicates the location of some of their most important pieces, scattered all over the museum. For me, this was ideal. It gave me a purpose and a thing to look for but also a clear path throughout the museum, allowing me to stop and explore whatever else piqued my interested, as opposed to attempting to slog through the whole thing.

Here is where I also note that London has many excellent free museums. They recommend a donation and things like audio guides and maps require a fee but it was a nice deviation from costly entrance fees. Of the sights, I had to pay for the Churchill War Rooms, entrance to the Abbey, tour of the Globe, and entrance to both palaces. All the other museums were free, including several that I didn't get the chance to visit.

The main gallery within the British Museum. This is the largest covered square in Europe. I visited the museum on a Sunday afternoon and was struck by how not-crowded it was. For a weekend afternoon, the place was surprisingly easy to navigate. Even when stopping by the museum's self-claimed wonders, there was never much of a crowd. Except for my next image, I never struggled to get to a placard or eye-ball a piece. Well-done, British Museum. Finally, this hall had an excellent shop if you need a few gifts. I had to stop myself from going crazy in the book section.

Okay, this piece had a bit of a crowd. Understandable! It's THE Rosetta Stone. So that was pretty cool to see. The other major pieces, per the museum, ranged from African art to Japanese pottery to ancient Roman game pieces. A great museum, definitely a must-see if you're in London. And it's free, so no excuses.

Next up: Tate Modern. This was my 'killing forty minutes before I go to the airport museum'. The majority of the exhibits were free but some, like their Georgia O'Keefe temporary collection, required an entrance fee. Honestly, I'm not a huge modern art person. But, if it's  your cup of tee, the Tate Modern offers four floors of the stuff. My only caution is when to go. I went on a Monday and the place was full of students of all ages participating in art classes. Museums shouldn't be experienced when there are a bunch of kids running around and their teachers yelling after them.

In addition to Tate Modern, there's also Tate Britain, further down along the Thames.

If Instagram posts belonged in a museum.

And now something more my speed: the National Gallery, on Trafalgar Square. Also free!

An example of the lovely building the National Gallery is housed in. Like the British Museum, this museum didn't feel overly crowded. And this was on a rainy Saturday, prime museum-visiting times.

They had a few Van Gogh pieces and his Sunflowers was the only piece that really had an unwielding crowd. Other major artists include Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Renoir.

Trafalgar Square at night. Pretty architecture is all I have to add here.

A blurry view of Big Ben from Trafalgar Square. Let's take a minute to talk about getting around. You will definitely need to take the metro in London. Things are somewhat close. The Eye is by Parliament, which is kind of by Buckingham Palace, which is kind of by Piccadilly Circus, which is kind of by Trafalgar Square, etc. This is fine but put all together, that's a lot of walking. And some spots, like King's Cross and Camden Market, really require a metro. We got an Oyster card and it worked really well. It's scanned at the entrance and exit of every metro and the fare is adjusted based on your use to ensure you get the best deal.

Leicester Square. The square is busy and has plenty of options for restaurants and street performers. This is also the location of the M&M World and several casinos.

Just down the road, we have Piccadilly Circus. In general, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, and Piccadilly Circus are close to each other. They're busy areas with plenty of options for museums, theaters, restaurants, shopping, and people watching. Most of the theaters are in this area so expect to spend some time here if you plan to take in a West End show.

Now, for a pop culture break. London has a large presence in our pop culture landscape. It's the place of Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes and most Hugh Grant movies. Personally, every time I would mention I was going to London, internally I would hear the voice of Joey Tribbiani shrieking "In London?" as in that episode he finds about Monica and Chandler. But that's a personal problem. On to the city itself, which has done an admirable job or embracing it's role.

First up, the most obvious: Harry Potter. King's Cross has this lovely stop, where you can pick out your house scarf and get a picture taken at this mock Platform 9 3/4. Getting your picture taken is free. While there is an official photographer there, instructing you to take one picture with a wand and one picture jumping through the barrier, you can also have a friend/random stranger take pictures with your own camera/phone for free. Side note - there was about a fifteen minute wait (it's a quick process but there is always a line) and only one person chose a scarf other than Gryffindor.

After getting your picture taken, head over to the King's Cross Harry Potter shop. There, you can get a print out and digital version of the professional photos as well as plenty of Harry Potter-related items. When we visited, I hadn't done much in the way of souvenir shopping yet so I went wild, picking up the copies of the pictures along with a t-shirt, a copy of The Cursed Child (I haven't read it but the detailed synopsis on Wikipedia sounds like fanfiction), and a few postcards. Buyer beware, enter at your own risk.

 

Next up, Dr. Who. Here is where I admit I honestly have never seen a single episode of the show. That being said, my cousin is a huge fan. I recommend touring London with a Who fan, if you can. Every landmark had some Who reference, from the stairs in front of St. Paul's (attacked by aliens) to the Tate museum (blown up). This police box/Tardis is right in front of a subway station. We took the metro to said station, took a picture, then got back on the metro for our next stop. Efficient!

And now for Sherlock Holmes. In addition to these fun subway logos, there was also a statue of Sherlock right outside the metro station. Around the corner, at 221b Baker Street, there is a Sherlock museum and a Sherlock shop. We stopped by the museum, which had a variety of Sherlock memorabilia, including DVDs of the Cumberbatch version and most of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books.

Our last stop on this mini pop culture tour is Abbey Road. Nearby is the famous Abbey Road studio, which you can tour. We just did our tourist due-diligence, stopping by for a photo op on one of the most famous cross-walks.

Our next London theme: theater. The Globe Theater has been reconstructed as faithfully as possible to the original, where several Shakespeare plays debuted. I highly recommend taking a tour. It provides insight into theater during Shakespeare's time as well as the history of the theater, up to present day, where it puts on multiple shows a day. The tour was fun and informative. If you want to skip the tour, there's also a helpful mini-museum on Shakespeare and the theater. Like the Harry Potter shop, this was another place I spent way too much money. The souvenir shop had a variety of Shakespeare-related products, including various books of his plays as well as books on the man, the theater, and the plays. Then there was the usual souvenir items - magents and mugs and t-shirts and prints. Something for everyone!

Coming back this past weekend, I also had the chance to actually see something at The Globe Theater. This is not actually the Globe but the Sam Wanamaker playhouse, the indoor theater next to the Globe. I saw Two Gentlemen of Verona, updated to take place in the 60's (see the music stage). It was fun to see a Shakespeare production is such an iconic setting. I definitely recommend if you have the time.

As for tickets, they're cheap. Seats run from 30 to 60 pounds but standing room (my seat) was only 10 pounds. The Globe actually has pit standing at 5 pounds. As for booking the tickets, the tickets go on sale about a week in advance and sell out quickly. I recommend checking incessantly if you really want a ticket. My showing was sold out but I kept checking and, randomly, the Wednesday before (I saw it on a Saturday), a couple of standing room seats (are they still called seats?) became available.

Two London things I really enjoyed: Shakespeare and the metro. First, let's chat about the metro. There are some cities that really require the visitor to become familiar with the metro (London, Paris, DC, NYC, Barcelona). A fellow frequent traveler collects these as art, getting prints of the subway station for home decor. Honestly, this isn't a bad idea. The outlay of the metro reminds you of the city, the places you visited. And they can look pretty cool. The tea towel I bought at the Globe theater is genius - it's the metro of London, with all the stops replaced by Shakespeare characters or locations. And each line has a theme - villain, title character, major couples, etc. Love it. I'm framing it whenever I return to the states. As for the metro line, I also bought a mug with the major stops of London. And I've added those prints to my pinterest wishlist.

Next up: Book of Mormon. I can't believe I missed this when I was in NYC in May. I saw this one with my mom and cousin and they basically only went because I really wanted to see it and they were fine with checking out a show of some kind. Asking someone to pay 50 or 100 bucks for a ticket is very risky but it paid off. Hamilton is still closest to my heart but this one is certainly up there as well. I had listened to the music so I knew it was funny and crass and shocking, but I wasn't expecting the heart and to be moved as much as I was. Yes, it's hilarious and you'll laugh until you cry, but there's also a grander statement about religion and the things we tell ourselves that will stick with you.

I really recommend this one. All hype is lived up to. And like Hamilton, I can listen to the music incessantly and I can't wait to see it again. Luckily, it's basically everywhere and looks like it'll have a good home on West End and Broadway for years to come.

Before Miranda and co gave us Alexander and Eliza, there was Usnavi and Vanessa, Benny and Nina. First up, let's chat about the theater. It's at King's Cross theater, which is very unique. It was built in 2014 specifically for The Railway Children. It reminds me of gym that's being used for a performance. It's sort of an in-the-round setting, with the stage essentially a strip in the middle of the space and seating on either side. The musical itself was just joy. Be prepared to be reminded of your college-age self and tear up a bit.

Okay we're out of themes. This is just the rest of it. Here is Harrod's. I didn't actually enter because the crowd was bananas. It's around the corner from Hyde Park and I stopped by just to see it and accidentally arrived just when it was opening. Do not recommend this! That being said, the place is huge and the building lovely.

Monday morning, I got up really early and went for a walk along the river, waiting for my museums to open. Glad I did as I happened upon this complete mosaic of the history of London, covering everything up to 2014.

I warned you we would revisit Tower Bridge. Monday, while I was waiting for museums to open, I took a walk along the Thames, starting with the bridge itself. I stopped at Starbucks beforehand and my barista, a fellow expat, warned me that I would be mostly alone. And he was right. The place was mostly deserted. It was nice! As for the Bridge itself, walking it was a nice perspective. I took a lot of pictures. And watching the sunrise from this vantage point wasn't the worst.

And now the other end of the spectrum: Tower Bridge at night, one more time. Good night London. Be back soon!

 

 

Woche Sechsunddreissig: A Rock and a Hard Place

This week's expat chat: being stuck in the middle and also an un-tethered balloon, floating along.

Pierre Bonnard's The White Cat at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. Also, how I feel half the time.

Pierre Bonnard's The White Cat at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. Also, how I feel half the time.

I'm about to get very messy with metaphors. But first, I really feel that cat right now.

While I'm here, I get a very 'untethered balloon feeling.' I can't think about my situation too much or I freak out. I'm kind of homeless (using my parents' address for official legal purposes and voting, States work address for some stuff, German apartment address for others). While I have a job for me back home once this year is over, I don't know what it is. Here in Germany, outside of work and my non-English-speaking neighbor, I don't know anyone here. 'Anyone here' as in this city, this country, this continent. I only kind of have an idea of what I would do if something really terrible happened. An entire ocean is between me and my family and friends. My life is dramatically different than it was a year ago and it will be dramatically different again in a year. There are people I used to talk to every day that I email maybe once a week now. On the other hand, the people I see every day here, I probably won't see them again. Any time I go somewhere, I wonder, is this the last time I'm at this place? I've discovered several places I really believe I'll return on some future European trip (Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, London). Other places? I liked Hamburg and Dresden, but I can't imagine purposefully traveling to these places. It's a bizarre, ethereal feeling.

Untethered balloon, right?

My other feeling is very much 'rock and hard place.' Part of my current role makes me a liaison between the two sites (my original site in the States and my current German site). And while I'm addicted to US politics right now, I do not appreciate office politics. And suddenly it's a big part of my job. I don't belong to the German site but I don't really belong to the States site any more either. People ask me which site I'm at and the answer is, it depends. I'm paid through the States but my email is German. My benefits and my boss are American, but my insurance and residency is Deutsche.

I think if this was a longer assignment, I would be more focused. This is where I'm at the next three years, the next five years. Instead, it's this weird, fractured thing, part of me making the most of my time here, another part counting down the time I have left, the time to when I can start my 'real life.' Wherever I land next year, I'm putting down an anchor, growing roots, building something on rocks. Pick a metaphor.

Beer, Fog, and More Beer: Four days in Ireland

Recently, my family and I did a tour of Ireland, trying to see as much of the country as we could in a few days. Here is a rundown:

Sunday - arrive in Dublin, see as much of the city as we can.

Monday - Cliffs of Moher, driving to the start of Ring of Kerry.

Tuesday - Ring of Kerry.

Wednesday - Blarney Castle, Cobh, Cork, and back to Dublin.

Thursday - Fly to London.

This trip was very different from my other European excursions. This is the first time I've rented a car - all other trips have been a combination of planes, trains, subways, and my feet. Ireland itself isn't a big country (my cousin kept quoting a stat that it is about the size of the state of Indiana) but even Indiana takes a few hours to get around. Lots of car time on this trip. And reminder: Ireland is one of those 'other side of the road' countries.

Temple Bar: the name of a Dublin city district and, you know, a bar.

Temple Bar: the name of a Dublin city district and, you know, a bar.

Dublin, in general, was a nice European city. There was the modern bits - excellent shopping district with pedestrian access, fancy bridge and waterway action - but also rooted in history you can't get back in the States. Included is the oldest book, a castle, and fancy historic churches. It was a city we probably should have spent another day or so in, to be honest.

As for Temple Bar, a great place for the tourist to start. It has everything - good food and bars, shopping, and exciting nightlife. We came here multiple times, both for dinner and lunch, and also topped off our Ireland souvenir shopping before heading over to London.

PS, I have been doing way too much documentation at work - I kept typing 'Template Bar' instead of 'Template Bar'.

If you go to Dublin and don't get to Guinness, did you really go to Dublin?

If you go to Dublin and don't get to Guinness, did you really go to Dublin?

Ah, the Guinness Storehouse. The most essential of Ireland tourism. And, honestly, the people at Guinness have done a fantastic job of putting together a fun experience. And I say this as someone who isn't a Guinness fan. There's an exhibit on making the beer, including real-life hops and barley (I legit had no idea what hops looked like - it was a plant?!?) as well as a general history of the brand. Then there's a tasting room, where you can smell the different ingredients, and a great summary of the truly excellent advertising from the brand. At one point, there's a fish on a bike. Don Draper would be proud! Finally, the tour finishes with a tutorial on how to poor the perfect Guinness and a chance to test it out yourself. It was funner than I thought it would be and afterwards we took our self-poured beers up to the top floor and sipped with a great view of Dublin.

Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. We never actually made it inside the thing. The hours were odd. The outside was pretty at least? This is where I realize I don't have many pictures of Dublin. We also visited Dublin Castle and Oscar Wilde's house.

Cliffs of Moher. They were truly breathtaking. In addition to just snapping some pictures, there were also exhibits on the Cliffs at the visitors center and a puffin viewing spot.

O'Briens Tower. When taking this photo, the Cliffs were behind me. You can pay a couple of Euro to climb to the top of the tower but I can't imagine the view is much better.

The Cliffs of Moher tourism folks had roped off much of the site for liability reasons. Luckily, the ropes were easy to get around. Just a few meters after the rope, you come across this great view. A theme of my time in Ireland: we didn't have nearly enough time here. I recommend wearing some hiking-adjacent clothing and spending at least half a day, really checking out the sites at the Cliffs.

Burren National Park: a detour on the way to the Cliffs from Dublin.

At some point we took a ferry!

Roadside Pictures: Get ready for a lot of them.

Roadside Pictures: Get ready for a lot of them.

And now we get to the Ring of Kerry. Per Wikipedia, the Ring of Kerry is a 179 km route in Kerry, south-western Ireland. Basically, you drive in a circle and stop at various points to take pictures. We did it in a day, which meant about 7 hours or so in a car, occasionally get out for photo opportunities or food. Honestly, don't do this. It was a very rushed, long day. There were several places we could have spent more time at and those guide books that say spend a few days on the Ring really mean it. Sure, it's not a big space (about 111 miles) but there are lots of places to stop and explore. Also, a big chunk of the roads were tiny. Be prepared to go slow or pull off to the side frequently to let a car coming the other direction pass. Two-lane roads, my ass.

Look! Another place we pulled off the road to stop. It was, unfortunately, seriously foggy that day. At some places, the visibility was impressively limited. This is nice, but imagine if there wasn't fog!

More scenic views along the Ring of Kerry. It's not clear in this picture but there were a couple of waterways coming together in this area. It was noisy, cold, and beautiful. Here is where I recommend layering for Ireland - depending on proximity to the coast, it could be cold. But you're also sitting in a car all day, so dress accordingly.

This might be a specific thing but I really think we juts pulled off to the side of the road when something was extra-picturesque. So here I am going to ramble about driving! This was my first experience driving on the other side of the road. I was surprised to find that the hardest part was getting used to the car itself. Spatial awareness was really tough - you're used to the car being on the other side of you! It was especially alarming to be in the backseat. My tip for driving: give yourself time to get used to the new car layout. Once you've figured out spacial awareness, the other side of the road thing isn't  bad. There are lots of signs everywhere, both for drivers and pedestrians. They're used to tourists coming in and being idiots.

The other thing about driving in Ireland: those are some tiny, tiny roads, with lots of corners and hills, making it difficult to see if anyone is coming your way. And the speed limit is much, much higher than you're going to think it should be. At one point, I was driving up and down very steep inclines with fog to the point that I could barely see the car in front of me. It was tense. Also, manual cars are way cheaper to rent than automatics. Only get a manual if you can really drive one! Our rental car guy asked us multiple times if we could drive a stick - apparently people lie to get the cheaper option, thinking it will be easy to manage, only to come back and ask for an automatic because they really can't handle it. Also, be prepared to continually move to shift with your right hand even though it's on your left.

A slate quarry along the Ring of Kerry. It was a weekday so there were workers. We took pictures and climbed some of the rocks. I bet they hated us.

There was a lighthouse near here... But pretty rocks!

There were a few beaches along the Ring of Kerry. This is one of them! Too cold to actually get in the water but a nice stop for some pictures and to pick up some sand or seashells.

The Staigue fort. According to Wikipedia, it was built around 300 or 400 AD for a local lord or king. After lots of impressive nature along the Ring, it was interesting to get in some history/human accomplishments. Also, you could climb up to the top for a good photo opportunity.

I can't find this online. Google has failed me! One of the towns along the Ring that we stopped at had this stone structure. Nearby was a 'wishing' tree: write your heart's desire on a piece of paper and tie it to a tree. So we were good tourists and did as told.

Literally just pulled off to the side to take pictures. Here is where I also note that there were sheep everywhere. Some we interacted with - at one point a herd rushed us when stopped near their fence. Others fled at our approach. Most did not care. Sheep have no fucks to give.

I know what this one is! This is Ladies View, named after Queen Victoria visited in 1861 and this view impressed her ladies in waiting. It was a breathtaking view. Here is an excerpt of it.

Pretty! Another perspective on Ladies view.

Torc Waterfall. This is another place you really could have spent some time, as there was plenty of hiking nearby. Also, I lived in Oregon for a year and, in general, Ireland reminded me so much of the Pacific Northwest. Mountains? Check. Lots of greenery? Check. Awesome waterfalls? Check. Cold but pretty beaches? Check. So, if you want a poor man's Ireland trip, go check out the Columbia Gorge and Cannon Beach.

That's it for my Ring of Kerry pictures. Places we also stopped to check out that I don't have pictures of (sometimes I forgot my phone in the car where it was charging, sorry friends): Muckross House (we did a very quick stop, it's a nice place you could spend an hour or so walking around), Derrynane House (house itself is interesting but the nearby view is excellent), Ross Castle (it's on a lake, lots of fishermen nearby), and lots more 'stop and take a picture' spots.

Blarney Castle. This was an interesting and eclectic stop - there was the Stone of Eloquence, which you can kiss and supposedly it grants you eloquence, there was a very interesting and informative poison garden. The grounds are immense with lots of different points of interest and various gardens and waterfalls. We didn't get the chance to spend much time here, unfortunately. I would recommend dedicating at least a half day to the Castle.

Next, on our way back to Dublin, we stopped by Cobh. Here, we had lunch and checked out the harbor, the Titanic's last port of call before it headed across the Atlantic. We didn't have time to go through the Titanic museum/exhibit but we did pick up a couple of souvenirs (all huge fans of the film, obviously). After Cobh, we took a detour to drive through Cork, then headed back to Dublin. Summary of my time in Ireland: not enough actual time spent anywhere, instead just rushing from one spot to the next. Do not recommend! Instead, I suggest spending closer to ten days to see the stuff that we did or cutting back on stops.

There's always cider. One more at the airport before I head back to Germany and switch to hefeweizen.

Woche Vierunddreissig: An Ode to the Bahn

When in Europe.

Wicked  in Chicago!

Wicked in Chicago!

I took my first train ride for my 20th birthday, to see the musical Wicked in Chicago. I didn't take another train until I went to Europe for work for the first time, in February 2015. Since then, I have taken 58 train rides, not including various changes. 58!

And this is the purpose of this week's 'Life in Germany': the beauty of European public transit system, especially the bahn.

Sure, we do okay in the USA. Some individual cities have great subways or tram lines - DC, Boston, NYC. But transport connecting cities? Not so much. And traveling by trains is, honestly, the best. I will miss being able to hop on a train and be in a major city within a few hours. Paris is a 3 hour train ride away, Berlin 5, Munich 3.

When traveling in Europe, I highly recommend checking out the site GoEuro. It does a quick comparison of the major travel methods - car, train, bus, and plane - and offers time and cost for each of these methods. I've only traveled by bus once. Honestly, it was fun and I would do it again as long as the time is to my advantage - overall, buses are cheaper than trains but usually take much longer. Major bus stations are usually next to train stations, making bus/train combos easy. As for cars, I honestly prefer the train as much as possible. Cars mean finding parking and paying attention, though you are on your own timeline with a car, which can be nice. Finally, planes. Fuck flying. Seriously, flying has to be one of the least efficient modes of transportation. All that time getting to an airport (they're never centrally located; this is not case with train stations) and then going through security and then the waiting. Waiting for your flight. Waiting to get on the flight. Waiting to get off the plane. Waiting for your luggage. While there is some waiting for trains (there are always lines and herding of people), it is significantly less than that of a plane.

- Luggage. This is a pro and a con. In a train, you can't just drop the luggage off at curb side and waltz through your travels with just a purse or backpack. Nope, you are responsible for your luggage the whole time. In my experience, there's always some storage option on the train, whether it's a luggage bin or overhead storage. And for crowded train cars, a suitcase sometimes provides a place to sit. But it also means no waiting for your luggage and no pesky limitations. Want to bring a full bottle of shampoo? Go for it!

Next: Food! Booze! Movies! Television! This is my favorite part, honestly. You can watch movies or television, no worries about paying attention to the road or trying not to get in an accident. Pro-tip: Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes let you download movies/shows to watch offline. Amazon allows this with Prime, though there is a 48-hour time limit. This is excellent for trains as WiFi is usually spotty. I have a tablet this year and it's changed the way I travel. As for food and booze, you can bring whatever you want from home and train stations usually have decent options themselves, for last minute purchases. Try to stock up before you get on board - you can buy things on the train but, like planes, it's expensive. Recently, during a train ride, my friends and I had wine and cheese we had picked up in Amsterdam. That is essentially European travel.

The other major advantage to trains versus planes: accuracy and scheduling. That 58 list? I've had trains delayed maybe 3 of those times. Honestly. I remember the first time I booked a train with multiple changes. The booking site suggested five, ten minutes in between trains. I was baffled, accustomed to airport layovers where anything less than 2 hours meant you weren't making your connection.  Short train layovers mean less waiting around but the precision of the system also means less missing connections, less anxiety.

Finally, trains have gotten me everywhere; even when I fly, trains are involved. First, there are long distance-trains. Instead of flying to Barcelona, I could have taken a train. Sure, it would have taken around 18 hours but I could have experienced a sleeper car and they're supposed to be lovely, per other friends who have taken them. Even for the trip to Barcelona, though, I took a train to the airport here in Germany and took a train from the Barcelona airport to my hotel. When I arrived in Spain, all other transits, including trips to Valencia and Madrid, used a train. They get you wherever you need to go and are almost as unavoidable in Europe as an Uber is in the States.

Basically, European train system, I love you and I'll miss you when I'm gone.