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–as I mentioned in a previous post– 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 & 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)?