A Trip To Europe, Hold the Tourists Please

A Trip to Europe, Hold the Tourists Please
A Cup of Strange Tastes

All contents © 1999 Philip Semanchuk.

"A proper vacation has to happen in a different time zone."
- My friend Mary Williams


Have a look at a map of Europe

In August of 1999 I took a great four week trip in Europe -- in southeast England (briefly), Sweden, Poland, Prague and Frankfurt, Germany (for a day). As an inexperienced traveller my eyes were wide open (most of the time); I took lots of notes. The trip report below is composed of those notes, emails I sent to my siblings from Internet cafés, and journal notes I almost certainly would have written if I'd had a flat surface to write on.

Addendum May 2002 - I took the Nynäshamn-to-Gdansk ferry again last year, and this time it was my turn to sleep on the floor. It wasn't out of poverty; it was just that all the rooms were booked. My previous observations paid off and I knew exactly what to do -- buy a bottle of Absolut in the duty-free and hunker down in a seat. (Actually I slept behind a row of seats but that's another story.) In any case, I have learned a lot since this 1999 trip but I don't want to clutter this report up with a bunch of changes and additions. The existing text is 95% unaltered first impressions from my notes and that it shall stay, naive and immediate.

Practical travel tips are incidental except for these: before I left I read Rick Steve's Europe Through The Back Door. On my trip I carried the Rough Guide to Sweden and Lonely Planet's book on Central Europe. I highly recommend all of these books. For luggage I followed Rick Steve's "Pack light pack light pack light!" advice and took only Eagle Creek's Continental Journey backpack which worked (and still works) really well for me.

This text occasionally contains language that Pat Robertson would find objectionable.

Notes from August 6th, Air Canada flight from RDU in Durham, NC to Toronto, Ontario

This is ace! Vegetarian meal and all...but I sat on the wrong side of the plane to see Niagra falls, AGAIN. Most uncomfortable airplane seat I've ever sat in. RDU metal detector attendant was a grouch about hand checking my film.

Notes on Why is Sweden So Cool

A Swedish 20 kronor note is cool

Let me tell you, Sweden is cool. And I haven't even been there yet. In the checkin line at the Toronto airport I met Helena Jernström who was on her way home to Sweden to visit family and friends. She gave me advice on things to do in Sweden as well as her email address and her phone number in case I needed help while I was there. This is what I had heard a typical Swede was like -- cheerful, friendly, and good looking -- but it seemed to good to be true. Believe it, it is true.

Notes from August 6th, Air Canada flight from Toronto to London after spending an afternoon in downtown Toronto waiting for my late evening flight

Nobody in Toronto jaywalks. Are they dazed tourists or polite locals? Had a shitty vegetarian burger in downtown Toronto along with a "local" beer that is "brewed locally" by Molson. Ahem. But the high quality peoplewatching in the airport lounge makes up for any forgettable gastronomic experiences. Argued about film with baggage inspectors again.

Note: avoid bulkhead seats.

A still from the movie Out of Towners

Nighttime on the flight lasts just long enough for a Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn movie. The sunrise is like none I've ever seen. A 180 degree view and a perfect rainbow spectrum on the horizon. Space is still dark above. It makes it possible to understand how blue becomes black. A ship on the ocean far below...the green in the sky is so pale. We pass over another jet's contrail, like a dust cloud suspended behind a horse and rider long after they've gone...The yellow is almost fierce now and the stars are gone. Several rows behind me someone shuffles, coughs. We're parallelling the contrail and it looks like DNA -- endless variety, endless repitition. We eventually pass the other jet.

The lights come on in the plane. That was not eight hours, you can't fool me. The sound you hear is my internal clock stripping gears. More shades of blue than I dreamed possible...breakfast is fruity; grapes over a bed of clouds and a cup of Encanto, Air Canada's exclusive blend of coffee. The standard breakfast is vegetarian but I get a special veg breakfast anyway which includes tons of extra fruit. Two seats to my right, the seasoned business traveller who is clearly unhappy about being stuck in coach class for this pleasure trip gripes about the fact that his breakfast is smaller than mine. When his wife points out that he isn't eating his breakfast anyway, he replies, "I know, I just want something to complain about."

The sunrise alone was worth the price of the flight.


On to England...