Posts Tagged ‘europe’

Florence

August 24th, 2017

After my stay in Venice I jumped on a high speed train — the trains in Venice leave directly from the main islands via a bridge — over to Florence. Or as the Italians call the city, Firenze.

I stayed at Hotel Axial, a relatively no-frills hotel that occupies a single floor of a building (this is far more common in Europe than in the US.) Everyone who I interacted there was completely fluent in English. Finding the place proved to be challenging because my phone couldn’t get a signal, so I had to ask around to find it. As luck would have it there was an Apple Store nearby. After checking in at the hotel I walked over to the Apple Store with my iPhone to find out what was up.

The guy booking appointments for the Genius Bar told me suggested to first ask my carrier for help as the problem was likely on their end. Sure enough, after contacting a T-Mobile support person via their web chat my phone had a signal once more. Phew! I have to hand it to them, Apple Stores have consistently good customer service; even in the Mediterranean where “customer service” isn’t exactly part of the culture. Fortunately I never had another issue with T-Mobile’s (free!) roaming anywhere else on this trip.

The hotel was steps away from the Florence Cathedral, better known as the Duomo. It’s a massive building, one of the largest churches in Italy.

Florence Florence Florence Florence
 

On the one hand staying near the Duomo was great due to the central location. On the other… oh man was it crowded outside! I wish I’d looked at the map more closely before booking that hotel because as I mentioned back in the Barcelona post, “Hard Rock Cafe, Stay Far Away.” This hotel was right around the corner from a Hard Rock Cafe, and that chain tends to rent locations as close to tourist traps as possible — lesson learned.

Originally I’d booked a food tour for my first night in Florence but that was cancelled at the last minute and I was offered a different tour. More on that in a second. While the food in Florence (and Venice, for that matter) generally wasn’t anything to write home about, I was surprised by the quality of the espresso in Florence. One place I went even served a small cup of sparkling water with their espresso. Sound familiar? It should if you’ve ever ordered espresso at Blue Bottle.

Florence
 

Instead of the food tour I opted to take a guided tour of Michelangelo’s David. Originally the statue was going to be one in a series of similar statues lining the buttresses of the Duomo, but that never worked out. Today the statue is located in the Galleria dell’Accademia, a tiny but crowded museum primarily devoted to David and a handful of Michelangelo’s unfinished works.

Carved out of a single piece of marble, it’s hard to describe the scale of the sculpture to anyone who hasn’t seen it in person. I don’t think I would have appreciated Michelangelo’s works at all based on what I saw in the Vatican (my stay in Rome will be in another post) if it weren’t for this epic statue.

Florence
 

Florence is home to one of the oddest structures I’ve ever seen. From the Palazzo Vecchio government building with its tall clock tower is a long indoor hallway that goes across the Ponte Vecchio bridge to a palace on the other side of Tuscany’s Arno river.

Although this corridor was closed while I was in Florence, it was once used by the powerful banking and political Medici family to commute between the seat of government and their own palace. Now it’s being renovated into a walkway between two museums of Renaissance art. This makes sense today because if Florence is known for anything, it’s Renaissance art.

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence Ponte Vecchio bridge, Florence
 

That said, the reputation for art doesn’t stop at the end of the Renaissance. These days Florence has an active street art scene, most of which involves wheatpaste. The second photo here is also an interesting example of something I’ll get back to in a moment.

Florence Florence
 

But first, someone clearly spent a lot of time playfully messing around with Florence’s “Do Not Enter” signs. This might be the most common form of street art in Florence, which is impressive considering the overall abundance of street art in general.

Florence Florence Florence Florence
 

On my final day in Florence I’d thought about visiting the Duomo, but it was closed. Why? Well that turned out to be related to a number of parades around town, which looked like a Renaissance fair gone overboard. Turns out it was one of the local patron saints days for the city which meant there were celebrations all over town. There were also fireworks over the Arno river, though I unfortunately didn’t get a good look at the fireworks due to the massive crowds along the river.

Florence
 

As for that tiny door from earlier — the one with the wheatpaste over it — it was far from the only such door. Back in the day buildings with a wine cellar tended to have a small door on the side. If you wanted some wine you’d knock on the door, hand over some cash, and you’d get a cup of wine. This was basically a precursor to a modern wine bar. Who knew?

Here’s a more obvious example of a wine door:

Florence
 

I went on the following tours in Florence:

  • The David Tour from Artviva. A British art historian walked my group to the statue of David, explaining the life of Michelangelo and the history of the statue along the way. The tour price includes museum admission. If you’re interested you should book online in advance.
  • Artviva’s Original Florence Walk. This covers a lot of the history of Florence near the city’s center. There’s a lot covered regarding the local religious and political families, as well as some of the historic architecture. Both this and the David tour start at Artviva’s office, which is located a couple blocks from the Duomo. Their office can be a little challenging to find at first since it’s upstairs in a large building with multiple entrances. Again, book in advance when possible.
  • The Florence Free Tour is a big free walking tour that cannot be booked in advance — just show up and bring some cash to tip your guide at the end. There’s some overlap between this free tour and Artviva’s paid “Original Florence Walk,” but this one is (surprisingly) longer and goes into more depth about the Medici family. That said, my guide wasn’t as fluent in English as I would have liked but I still got the gist of the tour. I should mention that both tours take you inside different historical buildings, and the Free Tour takes you to the other side of the Ponte Vecchio bridge whereas the Artviva tour does not.

The rest of my photos from Florence can be found in this Flickr album.

Venice

August 21st, 2017

Venice
 

In June after visiting Barcelona I took a flight to Venice and stayed for a few nights. I only visited the main island chain, though there are a handful of others that I would have liked to check out if I’d had more time.

From the airport — located on the mainland — I took a vaporetto (water bus) to meet my Airbnb host’s son. I was glad to have a local show me around because the layout is pretty confusing. These days Google Maps can help you get around Venice pretty well, although the location services and compass hardware on your phone are sometimes misleading due to the thick stone walls mixing the signals up a little.

Anyway, the Airbnb happened to be larger and more beautiful than it looked in the photos; much nicer than my own apartment in San Francisco.

Venice airport Venice AirBnB Venice AirBnB Venice AirBnB
 

The location I stayed at was relatively quiet, but steps away there was always something unexpected around every corner: historic buildings, bustling canals, local restaurants, temporary art installations, etc. Venice is weird like that; you can walk from an ultra-crowded touristy street to a seemingly abandoned alleyway in well under a minute.

If you’ve ever seen photos of Venice, the photos are not a lie — the entire city is a maze of buildings lined with canals, walkways, bridges, and town squares. Just wandering around and marveling at the place was easily the best activity in the city.

Venice Venice Venice Venice
 

The most touristy thing you can do in Venice is take a gondola ride. It’s absurdly expensive with a fixed, regulated price of 80 euros for a 30 minute ride. At a price like that it made me question whether I should continue my career as a software engineer when I could potentially make far more as a gondolier. Time to learn some Italian?

Although riding in a gondola didn’t really interest me it was fun to watch them, especially when the gondolas got into sticky situations like tight turns, going under bridges at high tide, or simply getting stuck in a traffic jam like in the photo below.

Venice
 

Before embarking on a gondola ride apparently you can tell the gondolier where you’d like to go. For whatever reason, couples riding gondolas seemed to enjoy taking a trip under a certain white bridge, often kissing while under it.

Did they know this is the Bridge of Sighs where prisoners were taking from the Doge’s Palace to the jail on the other side of the canal? I can’t even begin to guess how this weird tradition originated, but come on folks, just stop already. The least you can do as a tourist is spend a few minutes looking up basic facts about where you’re going on Wikipedia.

Venice
 

The second most touristy thing you can do in Venice is visit Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square.) During high tides it tends to flood and become a pigeon birdbath, but it’s also home to three of the most famous buildings in Venice: Saint Mark’s Basilica, Dodge’s Palace, and St Mark’s Campanile — the big brick bell tower that stands over the square. The current version of the Campanile is a re-creation of the original, which suddenly collapsed in the early 20th century after standing for nearly five hundred years.

The plaza takes its name from Saint Mark from the gospels in the bible, and the basilica there is allegedly home to his remains. According to legend, Venetian traders stole these remains from Egypt and hid them from Muslim customs agents by covering them in pork. It’s a fun story but as to whether it’s true… who knows.

By the way, in the first photo below there’s a building with a giant clock on the facade. Several buildings in Venice have similar clocks, but this one is particularly impressive in that the lone hand points not only to the hour, but the current zodiac sign, planetary locations, and phase of the moon.

Venice Venice Venice Venice
 

As for practicalities, everything from cargo to deliveries to people with medical emergencies in Venice are transported by boat. Forget UPS trucks, in Venice they’ve got UPS motorboats. Local delivery and garbage workers have specially designed hand carts with two sets of wheels on either side capable of going up and down stairs.

Venice Venice
 

Venice doesn’t have a lot of traditional artwork — no fresco would survive the climate, obviously — but these days the city is lined with temporary art installations. From a flying car to lifelike statues of female swimmers, there wasn’t enough time to see all of it.

Venice Venice Venice Venice Venice Venice
 

There’s a quirky bookstore in Venice called Libreria Acqua Alta, which roughly translates to “High Tide Bookstore.” Since it sits on the ground floor of a building on a small canal, the store floods frequently. Rather than put up a flood barrier they’ve come to terms with the water, storing many of the books in bathtubs, high up on bookshelves, or even on an indoor gondola.

In the back there’s a small patio with a staircase made out of books. It’s not the most stable staircase, but at the top there’s a nice view of the canal outside. On the other side of the wall, there’s a “fire exit” which leads directly into the same canal. The bookstore is also home to a number of cats.

Venice Venice Venice Venice Venice Venice
 

I’d say the best time to wander around in Venice is at night, when the street lights come on and it’s getting dark. It goes from beautiful to surreal during that hour, to the point where I had this feeling like I was somehow walking through a painting of a place that couldn’t possibly exist. And yet, there it all was.

Venice Venice
 

Finally, on one evening not far from my Airbnb I heard live music echoing in the distance and took a short walk to find it. I pulled out my phone to record the journey, and while it struggled to stay in focus with the dim light I did eventually find a band playing outside a local church in a town square. See my video below:


 

I only went on two tours in Venice, but both are really interesting and available in English:

  • The Free Walking Tour has a starting point that’s difficult to find, but it’s otherwise very well organized and goes into a lot of detail about Venice’s history. The tour shuns most tourist attractions, focusing instead on how the island once operated, the constant restoration required due to the saltwater, and some of the historical quirks like men bleaching their hair with urine and why there’s so many stores selling masks. If you go bring questions for your guide and a few euros for a tip at the end. Advance booking is recommended.
  • Speaking of history, the Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries Tour grants you access to the Doge’s Palace along with a tour of the secret parts of the palace (many rooms are rebuilt from the original plans.) Back when Venice was an independent country, this was the seat of government and as such includes everything from jails to courtrooms to torture chambers to secret passages. A walk across the aforementioned Bridge of Sighs is included in this tour. At 20 euros it’s a bargain. Definitely book this one in advance to skip the super long ticket line.

For the rest of my photos in Venice, check out this Flickr album.

Barcelona

August 16th, 2017

In the very first post in this blog, I justified its creation by stating that I had some things to talk about, or “In other words, no vacation slides” as I said at the time. Realistically I wanted to start a blog to talk about my fascination with a local immersive art installation known as The Jejune Institute rather than an aversion to vacation photos.

Look no further back than my 2012 visit to Copenhagen to see an example of a violation of the principles outlined in that first blog post. Yeah, I lied… though somehow I never got around to writing about my 2013 trip to Shanghai on this blog for whatever that’s worth. So forget the no vacation photos thing and let’s move on.

As I wrote in my first post about my vacation to Europe this summer, I started and ended the trip in Barcelona because I booked cheap flights. This meant I stayed at two different hotels a few days in June and again a few days in July.
 

My trip’s first hotel was Hotel Via Augusta in the L’Eixample District, near the Gracia neighborhood. L’Eixample means “expansion,” and it’s literally an expansion of the original part of Barcelona. The original city is now known as the Gothic Quarter and was once surrounded by a wall. After the city wall was demolished the city built outward, mostly in large, dense blocks that had tapered edges to accommodate streetcars. That last factoid plays a pivotal moment in Barcelona’s history, so read on.

Gracia is an older neighborhood that wasn’t originally part of Barcelona. Even though most of the buildings look new, the streets are very narrow with a layout that’s slightly more contemporary (less chaotic) than the Gothic Quarter. It’s a lively, family friendly neighborhood that doesn’t attract as many tourists as other parts of town. That said, it’s walkable from a number of Metro stops and not far from Sagrada Familia. Gracia grew on me quickly with one exception — it’s completely dead on Sundays. Depending on your schedule this can add a significant challenge when you need food. For my part on Sunday I found a “takeaway” lunch at a sushi restaurant (they have Philly rolls in Spain!) and a gazpacho dinner from a convenience store.

Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona
 

It’s fashionable everywhere to gouge and generally hate on tourists; Gracia was no different. But I couldn’t help laughing at this anti-tourist sticker with a skull and selfie stick “crossbones”:

Barcelona
 

Further out in the L’Eixample District, the architecture takes on a life of its own. Local architect Antoni Gaudí and his contemporaries built — or in many cases renovated — buildings with their own modernist styles. Not all of them survived Spain’s civil war intact.

Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona
 

The most astonishing architecture near my first stop is also the most famous: Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, an enormous church that’s been under construction since 1882. Gaudi knew he wouldn’t live to see the end of the construction, and as fate would have it he was killed by a collision with a streetcar in 1926. His original plans for the structure were also destroyed in Spain’s civil war.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
 

With the interior largely complete, the exterior still has one facade and several more towers to go. Will it be complete by the deadline of 2026? I doubt it, even though they’ve switched from stone to modern reinforced concrete for the main facade — which has barely begun construction. Still this is an amazing building to visit and its unfinished, changing nature is a part of its allure.

For better or worse, I booked tickets for the tower on the Passion facade. The ticket included an elevator ride up, but (unbeknownst to me) not back down. The views from there were spectacular, but the path down involves narrow stone staircases. The last part of the climb down has a handrail on one side, and a steep drop on the other. This is an alarming descent, especially when the temperature is 95 degrees and your hands are a little too sweaty to firmly grip the handrail.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
 

Fast forward to the end of my trip, and I stayed in at Hotel Cortes in the Gothic Quarter, the old and original part of Barcelona. Like many folks in Barcelona, the guy running the front desk when I arrived barely spoke any English. Fortunately others in the hotel spoke English fluently, and my limited (Castilian) Spanish was enough to get by.

Everyone will tell you the Gothic Quarter is the most touristy part of Barcelona, but it’s also historically significant, and even today is quite lively. That said, if you want to check out the architecture, wake up early on a Sunday when everything’s closed and stroll the narrow streets for a few hours. It’s a gorgeous part of town when it’s empty, and the clash of styles between the old buildings and the modern street art really shines.

Even during the day, the restaurants, bars, and cafes a little ways off the beaten path are worth checking out. In particular I found a bar with excellent gazpacho, a taqueria (yes, really) with killer margaritas, and vegan British pub with not only good beer, but surprisingly good food.

Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona Taco Alto, Barcelona Gazpacho, Barcelona
 

Though the Gothic Quarter can be touristy, one part in particular stands out as a serious tourist trap: La Rambla, a wide street going down the middle of the neighborhood towards the sea. Despite a few useful shops, for the most part the place is crowded with tourists and poorly rated restaurants, including (of course) Barcelona’s Hard Rock Cafe.

As a general tip for traveling, remember this helpful rhyme: “Hard Rock Cafe, Stay Far Away.” I’ll get into that more when I discus my trip to Florence.

Barcelona
 

From the Gothic Quarter I wandered up to Montjuic, a scenic viewpoint on a tall hill. An aerial tramway connects the hill with a (man made) beach. It’s fun to find your way up the hill, especially because not all the pathways are marked. On the way there I happened to walk past “El Gato de Botero,” a large metal sculpture of an overweight house cat. Silly, but worth checking out. The top of Montjuic sports a hotel, a couple restaurants, and an immaculate garden.

Although it’s not included in the panorama below, from several vantage points on top of Montjuic you can easily spot Sagrada Familia. The numerous cranes are a dead giveaway.

El Gato de Botero, Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona
 

On the opposite side of the city from Montjuic (yeah, I got around) there’s another high vantage point: Park Guell. Built into the side of a hill, Park Guell is filled with lush gardens, meandering pathways, playgrounds, and a number of homes designed by Gaudi. Commissioned by a man named Guell, the place was intended as a small village for a handful of rich families with sweeping views of the city. Ultimately it was a failure, and the place was eventually handed over to the city to be used as a park.

The most built out and decorated part of this development is near the bottom, with a number of buildings, man made cave-like structures, fountains, and mosaics. This part currently costs extra to enter most of the time, although it’s arguably no more or less interesting than the rest of the park.

Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona
 

The street art scene in Barcelona is pretty wild, especially in the Gothic Quarter. I took dozens of photos — too many for an already long blog post — but here are a few works I found interesting and representative.

Barcelona Barcelona Post No Bills, Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona
 

While I explored Barcelona mostly on my own, here are all the tours I went on:

  • Sagrada Familia top views. For 29 euros you get to go up one of two towers and get an audio guide. You have to book this one at least a day or two in advance. Third party operators also provide tours, but I suspect you’re better off sticking with the official tour.
  • Free walking tour of the Gothic Quarter. This is a very well put together tour available in three languages (each with a different guide.) Even though it’s free, they do encourage tips at the end of the tour so it’s more of a pay what you want kind of thing. You don’t have to book in advance, but if there’s no space available you may not get in if you show up at the last minute.
  • Craft Tours: Barcelona Beer Tour. Who knew Barcelona has a beer scene? This is the same company as the free tour, but it costs money upfront — and includes tapas and a lot of beer. This one has to be booked in advance.
  • Craft Tours: Discover Gaudi & Modernisme. Another tour from Craft Tours that also requires booking online, this one goes into detail about the modernist architecture in Barcelona in the L’Eixample District, mostly around the time of Gaudi and his contemporaries. The tour ends after a brief Metro ride at Sagrada Familia.
  • Park Guell Monumental Zone. While Park Guell itself is completely free, the core “Monumental Zone” costs seven euros to enter, and you generally have to book in advance — though if you arrive very early in the morning it’s free. It did seem a bit overpriced, though maybe the guided tour option would be more interesting.

For more photos, see my Flickr albums for part one and part two of my Barcelona trip.

Eurotrip 2017: Itinerary and transportation costs

August 2nd, 2017

In a previous post about my trip to the Mediterranean earlier this summer, I broke down how I decided to take a month long vacation on a whim after finding out about a cheap flight directly from Oakland to Barcelona. Here, I’m going to explain where I went and how much the transportation cost at and between each location.

I’m won’t go into what I spent at each location on food, hotels, tours, etc. since unlike transportation costs that’s going to vary wildly from one person’s budget to the next. Some people can afford luxury hotels and fancy restaurants, others couch surf and make their own food — but the costs are more or less fixed when we’re talking about getting from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time. And yes, you can pay more for “first class” airfare, but why? Let’s get real, flying still sucks no matter how much money you squander on it, so don’t be an idiot.
 

Barcelona

The trip began and ended in Barcelona. I landed on June 17th, took the Aerobus to the central Plaça de Catalunya, and walked to my hotel from there. The Aerobus is very convenient, and a reasonable deal at 10.20 euros for a round trip or 5.90 one way. You can buy tickets online or at either terminal stop. I also bought a T-10 pass on the Metro for up to 10 trips for just under 10 euros. Individual rides cost about two euros, so I got an okay rate despite only using it six times total.

Fair warning that in Barcelona, the two main languages are Catalan Spanish and Castilian Spanish. Many locals don’t speak anything else, so be aware that you may have to get by with pointing at things and using basic Castilian (or English) phrases in some situations. But for buying passes on the Aerobus and the metro, English is fine.

Transportation cost: 10.20 euros ($12.08) + 10 euros ($11.84) = $23.92
 

Venice

On the 20th I left Barcelona for Venice. I took a Vueling flight for just under $71. If you’ve never flown Vueling before, it’s an absolutely no-frills discount airline based in Spain that flies throughout Europe. There’s no in-flight entertainment whatsoever on Vueling, so bring a book, magazine, movie, etc. to keep yourself entertained.

I should point out that the Venice airport isn’t on the main island (which is technically a chain of islands, but who’s counting.) From the Marco Polo airport, I took a water bus — or “vaporetto” — to the stop closest to my Airbnb. I used Alilaguna’s blue line vaporetto, which cost 15 euros for a one way trip. Tickets are sold at the airport, and you can pay by cash or credit card.

For a large group of people it may be more economical to take a water taxi, but as an individual that would have been a little pricey. Once you’re on the main island it’s very walkable, though you have the option of getting around via vaporetto or water taxi — or take a gondola ride, but that’s silly and overpriced.

Transportation cost: $71 + 15 euros ($17.71) = $88.71
 

Florence

Originally I wasn’t planning on staying in Florence, but after looking at the layout of Italy’s rail system it seemed reasonable to stop in Florence for a couple nights on my way to Rome. So I stayed at a hotel from the 23rd to the 25th right in the heart of Florence, steps away from the famous Il Duomo cathedral. The only transportation cost within the city was the wear and tear on my shoes.

How much did the rail trip cost? Well, hold on a sec. After Florence, I got on the train again to visit…
 

Rome

I bought my rail tickets all at once so I don’t have a cost breakdown, but from Venice to Florence, and then from Florence to Rome I spent $71. That’s it — all the train stations were easily walkable from where I was staying, so no additional bus, subway, taxi, etc. charges were needed. If you can, high speed rail is by far the best way to travel.

I stayed in Rome from the 25th to July 5th. Within Rome I mostly walked, although I bought a seven day bus/metro pass for 24 euros and used it when needed. Which if I’m going to be totally honest, was not very much; Rome is a very walkable city, I barely used the pass at all.

On my way to the airport, I took the not terribly fast “express” airport train for 14 euros from the main train station.

Rome/Florence transportation cost: $71 + 24 euros ($28.34) + 14 euros ($16.53) = $115.87
 

Athens and Greek islands

From Rome I took a flight to Athens on Aegean for $115 USD on July 5th. Despite what you may think, the Greek economic problems doesn’t mean everything there is cheap. That said Greece doesn’t attract as many tourists these days — most of the tours I booked wound up as personalized tours because nobody else showed up!

My Greek friend, his girlfriend, and I spent a long weekend on the island of Spetses. I also ventured out on a One Day Cruise which went from Hydra to Poros to Aegina. Combined, both the day cruise and the hydrofoil tickets to and from Spetses cost just slightly over $200 USD.

I also took a handful of trips on the Greek metro, but since I paid in cash there’s no paper trail on how much I spent. It’s only 1.40 euros per trip, I probably spent less than $15 total. Greek taxis are also fairly cheap, so maybe that’s $25 on local transit if you include the two times I took a taxi — a very liberal estimate.

Transportation cost: $115 + $200 + $25 = $340
 

Barcelona, part 2

From Athens back to Barcelona was not cheap, I wound up paying $175 for a Vueling flight. That said, flying to or from Athens isn’t cheap on any airline, and it was still cheaper to fly back to Barcelona then back to the Bay Area than to fly back from Athens directly. Besides, I very much enjoyed spending more time in Barcelona. I arrived on the 13th, heading home on the 16th.

While I had to buy another round trip on the Aerobus for another 10.20 euros, I also continued using my ten ride Barcelona metro pass. I didn’t spend anything else on transit in Barcelona.

Transportation cost: $175 + 10.20 euros ($12.04) = $186.98
 

Conclusion

Let’s add this all up:

Barcelona part 1: $23.92
Venice: $88.71
Florence and Rome: $115.87
Athens and four Greek islands: $340
Barcelona part 2: $186.98

Total European transportation expenses: $755.48

So traveling around Europe doesn’t have to be all that expensive these days. Something to think about if you’ve got a lot of vacation days saved up, or a job where you can work remotely. Wrapping it all up, here’s my takeaways about getting around in Europe on the cheap:

  • When possible, travel by high speed rail. When you have to fly, research how you’ll get to and from the airport in advance.
  • For the best deals on airfare, book as far in advance as you can; for rail you can book at the last minute and it won’t matter.
  • Compact, walkable cities are great to visit since you won’t need to spend much (if anything!) on getting around.
  • Riding public transit is usually a bargain, but don’t do what I did and pay for more than you need.
  • Google Maps is your friend! But make sure to keep your phone charged, and add labels at places your staying or traveling to so you don’t get lost.

It’s a trap! Why American bathrooms don’t smell awful

October 24th, 2012

Why European bathrooms stink

Above: a sink with no trap

 

Do you ever get up in the morning, head to the bathroom, take a nice deep breath and proclaim, “Gee, I’m sure glad my bathroom doesn’t smell like shit!”

Of course not. Because as an American, you live in a country where bathrooms only smell terrible after someone has recently defecated.

What you may not realize is that most of the world isn’t so lucky. In fact, even modern European countries have bathrooms that smell absolutely terrible at all times. The smell often noticeably makes its way to the rest of the building, and I say this as someone who’s hard of smelling.

So why is America different? IT’S A TRAP!

Ever since British plumbing guru Thomas Crapper invented the U-shaped “trap,” pretty much every sink drain in the US has used his design. Go look under a sink and see for yourself.

The purpose of this invention is to contain a small amount of water in the U section that air cannot escape through. This prevents foul gas from the sewers from rising into your house and making your bathroom stink.

For some reason in much of Europe, Mexico, etc. the trap never gained much traction. Instead, people prefer to save a couple bucks on plumbing (see above photo) and pretend that the disgusting sewer smell is normal.

There’s plenty of things I’ll never understand about the rest of the world. This is #1 on that list.