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Confessions of a European tourguide, Part II

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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Confessions of a European tourguide, Part II

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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Location: United States

After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Confessions of a European tourguide, Part II

Europeans have a festival for everything, here the "cows are coming home"!
I've shared some confessions of a European tourguide before.  I can see from the emails I received that I hit a nerve with some....a sense of nostalgia with others.  So, I thought I'd share the second part.  Again, I am sharing these tips in case you should ever take a tour in Europe.  These are obviously my own experiences...yours may be different....take them however you see fit.  Know what to expect before you go!

  • It is a custom on European buses for the tourguide to pass around a hat or envelope to tip the driver at the end of the trip.  Putting a few Euros or up to 5 euro per person in there is recommended.  I've seen busdrivers bust their butts packing and then hauling hundreds of boxes of Polish pottery (we love our Polish pottery?  Me too!).

  • Tipping local guides is also customary in Germany at least.  The local guide (not your tourguide) will typically stand by the exit of wherever you are can give a euro or two there.  If no one from my group gives, and if I didn't plan ahead and collect from you (also with a hat) before, then I give.  It's a tradition, cause they don't make much money either, sorry....

  • Yes, bathrooms do cost money in mostly Germany...which is also why they will be superclean and sometimes attended.  They cost anywhere from 1 to 2 euro and many take exact change only.  Even McDonald's charges and Starbucks will give you a code on your receipt if you purchase something.  In Belgium you'll find pay toilets at the entrances of restrooms in trainstations and other public places (airports are still free and relatively clean, thank God)...even Venice and some Italian cities have pay toilets.  The free ones are usually the dirtiest around....stopping in France to use the restroom can be a big shock to anyone!  Those are free along the highway.  Now you know why.

  • Make sure you take the items you need with you to your bus seat....and put it in the overhead.  I can't tell you the number of times my tourguides have had to dig around underneath the bus because someone forgot their camera or coat down there...oh, it's with my suitcase.  Also, don't overstuff your overhead ledge (it's not a bin)'ll cut off airflow, so the heat in winter or A/C in summer won't get to you at all.  In the summer, you can even draw the curtains near your seat, so when you get back on, the bus has less to cool.

  • Bring raingear with you....European weather can be rainy.  We had a tour where half the bus had no raingear (we left in beautiful, warm sunshine).  Some sucked it up, some bought overpriced umbrellas and a few missed the tour because they refused to get off the bus.  Our cute local guide in the local peasant girl's dress had her umbrella and was ready to go.  I'm still sorry that family missed out....because they missed a wonderful tour.

  • Wear sound walking shoes and dress for changing weather.  I've seen high heeled shoes turn ankles on cobblestone.  I've also seen people sweat in the AM in the high Alps and then freeze their tushes off and miss all the action when the sun started to go down and started casting its cold shadows.

  • Bring changes of clothes for your children...I'd even recommend bringing one for you.  I am amazed at all the spilled drinks and "accidents" that can happen.  In fact, I used to have extra shirts along, because it happened so often.

  • Recognize that a child may have never had motion sickness in their life...but will have it on this bus. I try to put those folks in the front (if you tell me).  Always have Dramamine or an equivalent, just in case.  I remember an older German I had once with his 4711 cologne (a German classic that has a fresh lemon scent), give a young child who was getting queasy....a handkerchief full of cologne to inhale (it worked).

  • Realize that sometimes, we can not always accommodate your regular mealtimes.  Bring snacks, especially for little ones.  Most buses will have drinks for sale at a nominal fee (1,50 to 2 euro)....but feel free to bring your own.  You can always leave your non-valuable items on the bus.  I would never leave anything expensive on the bus...not because we are thieves but because we don't want the responsibility or liability.

  • It's okay to dress comfortably on that bus...bringing a pillow or blanket is okay too.  You can leave it in your seat.

  • Singles, you did not pay for two bus seats...just one.  Realize that if the bus is going to be full, I will move you with another single (if you don't do it on your own), so that a family can at least sit together.

  • Most bus companies will not sell that single seat in the back, so if you are a family of four, you can get extra room in the back...the downside is that you can't recline, it can be louder (bus engine is underneath you) and it can be colder in winter months (my kids don't care...they always head to the back).

  • The front two pairs of seats are usually reserved for the tourguide, a local guide (when you pick them up), gear...basically for the company's use....please try to sit in the second row.  Yes, there is a jumpseat up front, but we typically do not sell those seats behind the driver....being in an uncomfortable jumpseat can be compared to torture when it is for long hours.  This is why we do this in case you wondered.

  • Many buses have a sleeping compartment across from the potty door (yes, most buses DO have toilets).  If your tour involves a lot of driving and the math does not support having one driver that whole time (remember breaks and driving time), a second driver must be hired or brought along.  They each use that compartment for sleeping/rest breaks so they can continuously hopfrog drive (this is ideal).  Why don't we do this all the time so we don't have to have all these breaks?  Because then we'd have to charge you more for your tour price.

  • When we figure out the cost for your tour, yes we do have a profit margin (believe me, it is not as big as you think)...the biggest chunk though will be the cost of your butt in that bus seat.  Premium tour buses are very expensive, especially double deckers which can cost up to 1 million euro each!  Yes, that's most double deckers are actually leased.  We do get some discounts on group entry tickets to castles and just about anything....but, we are not being exhorbitant in what we charge.  Remember also, we decide the price by figuring the MINIMUM people we will take on that take more, we get a bigger profit...sometimes we take the risk and take less...and either lose money or magically get the right amount of people to sign up last minute to at least break even!

  • Speaking of last minute....on some tours, we need minimum numbers of passengers before a certain date.  Many specialty tours, special dinners and other planned activities may have minimum participation.  I've done gourmet cooking classes and taken people bobsledding with Olympic caliber bobsledders as well as taken  a large group to the 65th Anniversary in Normandy, France to hear President Obama and other European leaders speak.  Many of those types of tours require lots of early planning and commitment by us.  That is why we encourage you to sign up helps us, and it helps keep costs down if we know we will hit the right numbers more often than not.

  • Watch the alcohol!  European beer has a much higher alcohol content than American beer, and if you forget will pay both that day and the next day for that mistake...and then some!  Moderation is key! 

  • And those are my top tips.  I have some thoughts on European hotel rooms as well...but will save those for another time.  Suffice it to say that European hotel rooms are not American hotel rooms and learning to recognize the differences can put you that much ahead on your travels.  Well, it's off to the dog and pony show...literally, at our local expo center.  Hope I don't have to touch any goats...

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    Blogger Catherine said...

    We've taken several Outdoor Rec trips via bus and I agree with all your advice. Along with dressing comfortably and for walking, dress nice. I've found in Italy that the nicer you're dressed, the better you're treated. I assume that goes for all of Europe.

    March 28, 2011 at 9:39 AM  
    Blogger MooAtU2 said...

    I haven't been to too many touristy places, but in some cities, McDonald's bathrooms are free. So far, I've seen bathroom prices from 30 to 50 cents. And yes, Autobahn bathrooms are free, but are pretty gross! Last week I saw a mom holding her daughter while she squatted behind a tree right outside of the autobahn bathroom, that's just how bad they were.

    March 28, 2011 at 9:32 PM  

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