How to Travel in Europe—from a European’s Perspective

February 21, 2019
Carole Pinto

How to practice a language in Europe:

If you want to travel in Europe in order to practice a language, you need to know that most European people absolutely LOVE to speak English and that they are going to try and practice THEIR English, which can be a great source of frustration for you. You need to let them know that, even if your level of the language you are trying to learn is not very good, you are here to learn and not the other way around (e.g., “Je suis désolé(e), mais je préférerais parler français/espagnol/allemand. Je suis venu(e) pour apprendre votre langue, cela ne vous dérange pas ?” or “I am sorry, but I would prefer to speak in French/Spanish/German. I came to learn your language; would that be OK for us to speak in that?”)

If you are planning to visit a big city, you need to be careful in public transportation. People on their way to work do not really have the time to help you find your way and can be a little aggressive in certain countries or just ignore you. When trying to ask for directions in the street or in the subway, try and ask people who don’t seem in a rush or don’t look like they are going to work. For examples, senior citizens would be more than happy to help. You can also ask people in shops or bakeries and enjoy a local pastry while you chat!

Be your own tour guide:

Try and get off the beaten track: visit small towns and avoid what the French call “Les pièges à touristes” or “tourist traps,” where the food is very expensive and actually not cooked in the restaurant itself. It comes from industrial packages, which is not mentioned in the menu. If a menu shows more than three entrées and main courses or desserts for a cheap price, it’s probably not a good value for your money: it’s basically industrially packaged food that came out of vacuum packaging ,and caterers are trying to make you think it’s been cooked by a chef.

Here is a typical example in France:

This says “Unauthentic Gourmet Bistrot” to me…

If you have a look at the menu below, this says, “We are big liars.”

There is absolutely no way caterers could offer so many dishes for such low prices. Their food has to be industrial.

The only country in Europe where caterers have to mention what is cooked by a chef or not is Italy: they have the obligation to mention it in the menus. Otherwise, it’s a huge rip-off.

But don’t get paranoid and do the opposite, or you will end up eating at McDonald’s or Subway, which is so expensive in Europe, it’s unreal. There are lovely tapas restaurants in Spain or very nice and cheap restaurants all over Europe; you just need to plan in advance where you are going to eat lunch.

This is why I bought the Lonely Planet guide when I visited Australia, the UK, and French Guiana. When I visited Ireland, I planned a trip on my own, booking a lovely bed-and-breakfast place in the cities I wanted to visit and rented a car so I could go wherever I wanted, without depending on a tour guide. I also drove to Lisbon with friends and was able to visit this beautiful city via tram and drive to further amazing places I would not have otherwise been able to see without a car.

The best option ever if you want to discover authentic places is to have friends or relatives who live in the city you are visiting show you around. I didn’t think much of Barcelona the first two times I visited it, but the third time I went there, I stayed at a friend’s who actually knew the best places to visit. I discovered Sitgès, ate the best tapas ever in Barcelona, went to Cadaqués where I visited Dalí’s home, and la Pedrera in Barcelona (Gaudi’s home). Figueras is a lovely authentic city, and the Dalí museum is a place you should not miss since the food is also yummy.

Try and find city tour websites to find interesting places to go to: for instance, do an online search of “Beautiful places to visit around Barcelona,” and you won’t be disappointed.

The best way to plan a trip to Europe from any country in the world is to buy a Lonely Planet guide dedicated to the country you are visiting. This is how I discovered the most amazing places in Europe, the UK, Australia, the United States, French Guinea, Ireland, and many other countries. You will find the best and cheapest options to discover a country not as a tourist, but as a local. You will find great tips about accommodations, food, restaurants, hotels, hostels, and tourist sites. Beware of these “tourist traps,” or you might end up selling an arm and a limb. Or a kidney, as the French say…

Try and visit a country off-season unless you are not agoraphobic, but if you really have to, try and avoid seaside resorts between July 1 and August 15. Definitely visit Paris in August: all the Parisians are on vacation, and the city is very quiet, peaceful, and lovely (and full of American tourists!).

Make sure you respect the country you are visiting by not doing as other tourists do in southern countries, where there are not many trashcans available. Keep a small recycling plastic bag in your backpack in order to put your garbage in it until you find the next trashcans available, because it might take a while until you find a new one.

Incivilities have risen over the last years, and you may be shocked at how disrespectful people can act in big cities. However, don’t be scared; you won’t feel the same way in small cities or villages or if you try and talk to the right people.

If you meet people who beg on the streets, try to not give them any money because, since there are so many of them, you might spend your trip sponsoring them. I am not telling you not to help them, but if you do, buy them some food instead, because most of the time they use this money in order to buy alcohol. Sad but true. Whereas, when offering a sandwich or a croissant to a beggar, you will probably see tears in their eyes because, yes, they are starving.

Plan your ideal vacation:

But let’s not get depressed: try and make your dream vacation come true!

For this to happen, there is one thing you need to plan: what to wear. If you are going to visit Southern Europe, you need to keep in mind that the Mediterranean Sea is pretty warm indeed, but you can only start taking a swim from early June, so don’t plan basking in the sun if you’re going to visit Costa Brava or the French Riviera in March or you may be slightly disappointed. There is an old French saying you may find useful: “En avril, ne te découvre pas d’un fil, en mai, fais ce qu’il te plaît” (“Cast not a clout till may is out;/Till April’s dead, change not a thread).

If you’re visiting southern countries like Spain, you need to know that the temperatures get so high it is impossible to get out between noon and 4:00 p.m. (temperatures very often reach 116 °F in Madrid)… Try to get a nap, and get ready to have a late dinner and enjoy a lovely summer night!

Try to avoid places or countries where most Anglo-Saxons go, or at least try to not go there in the summer: Malta and Ibiza are lovely, but they have been invaded by British people, and you may feel disappointed to end up in a country with British and Irish pubs or shops or end up buying clothes at the Gap when you would actually want to buy a genuine article from the country you are visiting.

Make sure you are going to the right place in order to make your dream holiday come true: do some research on the place or country you want to visit. For instance, I visited the Canary Islands twice, and Tenerife is amazing and lovely with its banana plantations, the volcano, the black sandy beaches, the city itself, and the Spanish food, but Fuerteventura is so touristy and boring, it was a waste of money, in my opinion.

Try and find free places to visit and free activities that you will find in a guidebook. Europe has become very expensive, and most sites are very pricy. City tours are generally pretty cheap, and some museums are free. Go to the tourist office in order to get as much information as you can. They often sell discount tickets to museums there as well.In conclusion, plan your dream vacation and bon voyage!

Posted By Carole Pinto | Translator

Born in France, Carole Pinto works as a freelance translator, after studying English and French Literature/Linguistics/History at the University of Montpellier and living in London. Passionate about the English-speaking culture she later earned a Master’s in Translation at the University of Avignon and travels, reads, blogs, and writes.

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