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Skip to my loo

I have all sorts of great–and not so great–photos of the European countryside and its famous landmarks. We saw many of the requisite tourist sites in the countries we visited. But the most interesting part for me was the little things that make life different. The details that make a writer's settings more authentic. Fun things like bathrooms, rest stops, electrical outlets, hotel rooms, and clothing.

In most countries we visited, the restrooms were called either some variation of toilette or WC (for water closet). WC was apt as most stalls had floor-to-ceiling walls and doors that provided much more privacy than I'm used to. And many of them required payment.

My kids thought this was crazy, but after seeing how nice the facilities were, we decided that we'd be willing to pay to pee in the US if the bathrooms at gas stations and rest stops were half as nice as those in Europe. You could even trade your ticket for a 50 cent (Euro) discount in the store.

Ticket for the toilet at a rest stop in Germany

Some places didn't have the fancy ticket machines and turnstiles like Germany and Austria. Italy had attendants who stood near the door accepting (usually) optional tips. The public toilet near Westminster Abbey in London had a coin-operated turnstile. In Switzerland and France, the restrooms we encountered were free.

Across Europe, the bathrooms in our hotel rooms were fairly standard, but try explaining what the extra “toilet” in the Italian rooms is to your kids. ūüėČ

Italian hotel bathroom

Coach class

In spite of our crazy summer, my family managed to squeeze in a 12-day trip to Europe that spanned six countries. It was a guided tour by coach (charter bus) where everything was preplanned and taken care of for us, including wake up calls, transportation, local tours and optional excursions, and most meals.

I've never been on a tour like this one (run by Trafalgar). You give up the ability to stop at will for pictures and side trips, but for this vacation it was worth the freedom from stress that traveling in so many foreign countries could induce. Just not having to drive was worth it, especially in the UK. No worrying about tolls, border crossings, fees to enter (Venice, London), or where to stay.

The guide prepared us for how things worked in each country. Little things like paying for restrooms, how to order a meal (it can be more confusing than you'd think even without the language barrier), and which tourist traps to avoid.

Spending 12 days with 45 people you don't know doesn't exactly sound like an introvert's dream way to travel, but I enjoyed it more than I expected to. We met some nice people, and it was fun to have others to discuss the experiences with. Plus, our companions added to the international flavor since we traveled with several folks from Australia and South Africa.

I would have liked to spend more time in most of our destinations, especially Germany, but for what it was, the coach tour was a great way to see as much as possible in the time we had, and within a certain budget. We saw not only the cities where we stopped, but also the beautiful scenery in between, albeit from 80-100 km/hour. And since a large portion of the trip was paid upfront (similar to an all-inclusive vacation), we weren't stressing over money the whole time.

Traveling with a coach tour isn't for everyone, or even for every trip, but it was perfect for us for this trip. Over the next few days, I'll share some of my experiences, fun things, and photos.

Until then, ciao, arriverderci, auf wiedersehen, au revoir, and good bye!

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