Thursday, July 22, 2010

No Detail Too Small

Anyone who actually looks at the blog calendar may have noticed that Lynn posted on my date (thanks, Lynn!). She was nice enough to switch with me since I did not have Internet access on the 12th.

That's because my husband and I recently took the kids on a 12-day tour of Europe. We hit the highlights of cities like London, Venice, and Paris, and enjoyed the natural beauty of Innsbruck and Lucerne. But the most interesting part for me was the details that made Europe different from the US.

Not just foreign languages, old buildings, different food, and paying to use the restroom. I mean the things you might never discover without visiting.

For example, in many of the hotels, the lights wouldn't turn on unless you inserted your key card into a slot by the door. After the first night in one of those hotels, the tour group was laughing about how long it took each of us to figure it out.

If you're in continental Europe and you want a Diet Pepsi, too bad. Pepsi apparently failed Euro-marketing 101. It wasn't even in the little grocery stores. And if you want a Diet Coke, it's Coke Light.

In Innsbruck, there are boxes at the crosswalks, but no obvious button to push to request the walk signal. We never did figure out if it was a motion sensor or what.

If you need to know what street you're on, check the wall of the nearest building. No street signs on poles.

The commercial rest stops are amazing. Clean bathrooms, great food, and nice displays. They reminded me of the toll road oases in Illinois and New Jersey, but nicer.

Just to make things confusing in Italy, if you wanted self-service food, it worked like a cafeteria, but if you wanted something made-to-order, you had to pick it out, get a ticket for it, pay at the cashier, then take the receipt back to pick it up. We stuck with self-service and still got excellent food like the tortellini above.

The UK had fun names for its pubs. We didn't get a chance to eat at The Slug and Lettuce ("Slug" for short), but we dined at a pub called The Bunch of Grapes (near Harrod's).

This is just a sampling of the things that I noticed on our trip, but I think they're the unique aspects of a place that make it interesting. And as a writer, it's the little details that make a setting real to the reader. I'm already dreaming up ways to incorporate some of the places we visited into a new book.

What are some of the fun things you've learned about different places you've been (foreign or not)?


JoAnn said...

Fun, Gwen! Sounds like you had a great time!

In Ireland, don't toss your chewed-up-gum on the sidewalks: you could be fined 150 euros! (There are "Bin your gum" signs posted all over.)

Gwen Hernandez said...

Oh, JoAnn, I love that: "bin your gum". The front walk of my son's school needs that. ;-)

We had a great time. Wish I could go every year!

Heather said...

Sounds like a fantastic trip. The details and differences are always what make the trips special.

pensees said...

"If you're in continental Europe and you want a Diet Pepsi, too bad. Pepsi apparently failed Euro-marketing 101. It wasn't even in the little grocery stores. And if you want a Diet Coke, it's Coke Light." << I Know! I had the same experience on my first trip to Europe. I loved the coffee but I sure missed my Diet Pepsi! :)


Christine said...

The trip sounds fabulous. I love the European rest stops--glad you had a wonderful time.

Kathy said...

I love Europe! The things you just shared are so appealing to me.

I've lived overseas a total of 13 years during my lifetime. Great times! Great memories!

Glad you enjoyed your vaca, Gwen! ;)

Gwen Hernandez said...

Heather, it was great. I agree.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Pensees: I missed my Diet Pepsi too, but my kids enjoyed the regular Coke with sugar instead of HFCS. And they discovered cappuccino. ;-)

Gwen Hernandez said...

Christine: The rest stops totally floored me, and it's something I never would have known if we'd flown everywhere instead of traveling by coach.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Kathy: Where did you live? My family was stationed in Germany twice when I was a child and I have such great memories. I kept hoping my husband would get an assignment overseas, but I don't think it's going to happen.

This trip was a chance to introduce Europe to my own kids, and see everything through the eyes of an adult. I'm ready to go back already.

Carla Swafford said...

Great blog! And loved the pictures.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Thanks, Carla!