Tuesday, September 06, 2016

A few notes on our summer trip to Europe

We've been back for 3 weeks already, but the first 2 don't count since I got a massive sinus infection that only released its hold on me after I started taking antibiotics. I'm feeling peppy now, so time to jot a few notes before everything fades. I also put up a few select pictures here.

My original goal was to try to recapture the experience of living overseas, that we had in Geneva a few years back (http://vasiliksinswitzerland.blogspot.com/). Kind of like a mini-sabbatical. I thought and researched a lot, but it turns out that kind of experience is really difficult to reproduce on a short-term basis, with a family. Maybe impossible. Yes, you can plop your family down in a new location, but unless you have some kind of connection there (school, work, family) I think you'd feel isolated and disconnected, if you were to stay there any length of time. I'd be happy to hear from people who discovered otherwise.

So, what we ended up doing was pretty much a regular touristy trip, just spending more time than most people would, in the various locations we stayed at. And that worked out fine.

Here's a few general impressions:

- There were next to no tourists in Belgium. At least, in the locations that we went to. I wonder if lots of people stayed away, spooked by the recent terrorist activity?
- The police presence in Brussels was very, very high. Possibly this was because the Brussels airport was where the recent terrorist attack took place.

But in a town less than a half hour away, Ghent, you saw almost no police, even at very large public gatherings (the Ghent Festival).

- The people in England were, in general, really friendly. People walking down the street would sometimes nod and smile at you. And we got into multiple longer chats with people. That didn't happen elsewhere. Apparently this is characteristic of northern England (which is where we stayed).

- England really seems to have a sex-segregated drinking culture. In England, on a Friday or Saturday night, you would see many large groups of people, either men or women, but usually not mixed. They were very carefully dressed, and it really seemed like a big deal. Also I saw lots of groups of women, wearing a colored sash indicating they were in the same group (like a "hen" party, or somebody's 40th birthday celebration).

- I would love to go back to Ghent and York, those were some of my favorite places. Central, friendly, easy, loads and loads of things to do. Both university towns.

What would we do differently? I should have stressed out less over not having everything planned. If you don't go to the main tourist locations at the very most busy times, you don't need to plan so far in advance.

Also, I should have tried harder to find quick-drying clothing. Since I was washing everything by hand, and then trying to hang things in the hotel rooms or apartments we were in, drying time was a major hassle for some things (I'm looking at you, 100% cotton). I did use the tips I wrote about in my article on hand-washing clothing, and that helped.


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