Epilogue 2–Lessons learned

Although this was not the first time we had been to Europe, nor was it the first time we had traveled for long periods of time, our Excellent Adventure still taught us a few things–both positive and negative–to keep in mind for next time.

First and foremost–DON’T OVERPACK. We did, to our constant regret. The third bag is a heavy load to schlep around, and it can get expensive too.¬† Although we were able to duck avariciously exorbitant airline fees for the extra checked bag, when we were in Venice, we had to pay for a day’s storage, then a round trip on the vaporetto to pick up the cursed thing.

One reason we overpacked was we were panicked about winter in Europe. Even though I bravely told everyone that Europe would be substantially no colder than New Orleans, we were not so sure. But the real reason we overpacked was, we just overpacked. I packed four pairs of pants and wore two. Three pairs of shoes, including heavy boots and wore one. The boots came out of the suitcase one time and were not necessary at all. When you stay in a place for any extended time, you will have access to laundry. Just like at home.

The second lesson was that you can hire a company to cart your bags to the train station in Venice, and they will even let you ride on their workboat, saving you the extra 13 euro cost of the vaporetto. The net cost to us for the transport was only 15 euros. Just look up Trasbaglia when you get to Venice. They respond quickly to e-mail, and they show up exactly on time.

While we are on the subject of transportation, Uber works great in Paris, poorly in Nice and not much at all in Florence, where only Uber Black is available. On the other hand, taxis in those cities are first class and much less expensive than in the U.S.

Since we are from New Orleans, dining is of paramount importance, and it’s hard to find a bad meal in any of our European cities. We never did try for the uber-expensive Michelin-starred restaurants, preferring instead the neighborhood bistros where the locals eat. I wrote about this earlier, so I won’t belabor the point, but do not eat in any restaurant that displays photos of the dishes on their menu outside. The food will be bad and generally overpriced compared to the same cuisine better prepared down the street or around the corner from the tourist centers on the main squares.

We generally shared an appetizer or salad (most salads in Europe are huge), ordered one entreé each, with a bottle of wine. Only rarely did our bill exceed 100 euros. One of those occasions was well worth it (Ciasa Mia across the street from our apartment in Paris) and one was not (Il Profetta, which we had remembered from our first visit to Florence but greatly disappointed us this time).

Better still, if you return to the same restaurant and the owners get to know you, they may actually discount your bill. It happened to us twice in Florence.




Epilogue 1–Everyone’s three questions

Back home for more than two weeks now, and we are really not yet fully acclimated. It’s great to see our friends, enjoy Good Friday observances at Galatoire’s, recoil in horror with everyone else about Brussells (after all, we were in Paris only a month after the attack there) and generally try to return to life as it was before. But life will never be as it was before, because–just as we did some 21 years ago in the Caribbean–we have peeked behind the curtain and we have seen a different dimension of life.

And just like 21 years ago, everyone has the same three questions. And just like 21 years ago, the answers are pretty much the same.

  1. What was your favorite place?

A–All of them.

Paris is Paris. If you have been there, you know what I mean. If you read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast about his and Hadley’s Paris years in the early 1920s, you will understand. We walked up exactly the same streets Hemingway did, stopped at the same bookstore, which is still there to this day, drank in the same bistros.

Nice was a delightful discovery. The first time we visited there, back in 1999, we really did not spend much time in the city. We traveled through Provence more than explored Nice, so this was really our first time in the city. We found great restaurants, wonderful bars, even more wonderful people. Walking along the promenade next to the Mediterranean will live with us forever.

Venice is Venice. Don’t bother with Carneval, but Venice is the meeting place of East and West, with mystery and history uniquely combined. Hemingway and every other writer loved it too, and we know why. Getting lost in Venice is a wondrous thing, but even more wonderful is actually giving a tourist directions to the Rialto.

Florence is the birthplace and the center of the Renaissance, all art, architecture, churches and history in one walkable place. Where else can you go to see no fewer than four Michelangelo sculptures in one museum? And none of them named David.

2. How did you stay married?

A–Living together on a boat or extended travel in a foreign country is quite similar. You learn to live by the “one thing a day” rule. Just do one thing each day, whether for pleasure or for chores (laundry). Lynn and I are a team. That’s not to say we never disagreed. But remember, you are on an adventure, so remember to have fun, even when sitting in a lavenderia watching your clothes spin in the washing machine.

3. Did you experience the “ugly American” reaction from the locals? (This is the European version of the question about encountering pirates in the Caribbean.)

A–No. Never. Europeans love Americans, even though our politics and culture mystify them sometimes. Actually, a lot. And we love Europeans for their way of life, their food, their wine, their history. One essential for living in Europe (or just about anywhere else, for that matter, outside the U.S.)–greet locals in their language with a “good morning” or “good evening” before engaging in your broken French or Italian. They will immediately respond in English that’s better than your broken French or Italian. But they will appreciate your effort. It’s just the way things are done there. Bon jour and ciao go a long way.