Well, we are back - thirty fine folks enjoyed a wonderful 14 day Azorcan tour of Italy, Austria, Hungary and Germany over the past few weeks - with memories that will last forever. https://www.azorcan.net/
Obviously after 2 1/2 years 'much' has changed in the world of travel so here are a few thoughts from our trip overseas.
First off, airlines and airports have not 'fully' ramped up so the only hassles we experienced were in dealing with staff shortages, especially at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.
It's a 'big' airport and often you are at one end of the structure with a good long walk to get to your gate to transfer to wherever you are going to in Europe.
Don't forget that you have to clear customs there and factor that time in to your walk to get to your next plane. The line we experienced was long, to say the least, but it moved along very quickly.
One good thing they do is try to find out who has a tight connection, and they move you to the front of the line OR to a booth where you can scoot through relatively quickly.
There's a staff member moving around the area so make sure they know you need some assistance.
They'll ask for your flight details to confirm your time - then off you go.
However the airline we used was short staff, AND the ground crew is also not fully manned, which had us moving to three different gates in about twenty minutes.
At our third and final gate there was only one employee and she was rather overwhelmed - and the automated check in machine was acting up so she had to do a quick shuffle to get everybody through efficiently.
After we were cleared it was on to a 'shuttle' to get to the airplane waiting on the tarmac - but - they weren't ready to go and we had to stay in a very packed bus, at 30c, and watched as they loaded on food/beverage for our flight. Delay - about 30 minutes.
On the return flight, we only had one hour to get from one end of the airport to the other - clear customs - and race to the gate. Once boarded the Captain came on to apologize that the ground crew was busy loading/unloading another plane and we'd be delayed another hour or so to get on our way. In reality it was closer to an hour and a half.
Weather in the Atlantic (hurricane) forced us to go further north to avoid weather problems so the planned flight was 8 hours and 45 minutes ended up being around a 10.5 hour jaunt.
You're wise to use something like the TripCase app as it is updated continuously with any details that change. As well 'listen' carefully because announcements are also being made for the big shuffle.
Another big change, from past Euro trips, is that cell phone usage is now almost imperative. For the most part I always just use wifi BUT not only is it unreliable in several hotels/cities we were in but the new 'double' sign on process requires that you get a 'code' sent to your phone - and if you don't have cell service you're not going to get that code.
I had trouble signing on to my Canadian bank and had to turn my phone on for about ten seconds (at a cost of a full day from Bell) to get a new 'push notice' that allowed me to do my banking overseas.
Throughout Europe wifi can be either really good or horribly bad. At our first hotel it was almost impossible to use and speeds were extremely low. As the trip progressed wifi was better at our various hotel stops.
So - buy a cell package - and it's not as simple as it was before either. I actually went in to a Bell store to book it and they advised me that they couldn't help me and I'd have to go 'on line.' I was hoping to find an easy link to sign up for service for the two week trip to find out that they only sell 30 day packages - and that that option wasn't even listed on their app.
In Europe many restaurants and services now use QR codes for menu's, tickets, etc. If you're at that place, with no wife, you're hooped.
One thing you'll likely notice is the lack of American chains. Several shut down over the past few years and it played in to the 'shop local' theme that most of the world is adhering too.
There were very few McDonalds and Burger Kings - fewer Starbucks - and most of the KFC's are gone, as well as Subway and Pizza Huts. No loss in my mind. The Mcdonalds over there has a Cafe off to the side where fresh baking was available...much different from over here.
Why go to these beautiful unique cities that feature incredible food and dine on products that you constantly use over here? Try something new...you'll be glad you did!
In the past UBER was a big help to me - especially in countries with little English prevalent - as you dial in your destination, hit the request for service, and a driver comes to your pickup point. If they don't speak English everything is handled via the app - which is great - and no cash is required as it is debited from your account automatically.
Several places I tried to access the service showed that UBER wasn't available in that city. The good part is, however, that in some cities it is now possible to hail a CAB with the UBER app. Lots of price point checks.
Also with your cell, MAPS is a huge asset for you to get around town. Again - if you don't have wifi you're going to have a problem.
In some downtown cores there is now blanket wifi - especially in the tourist areas - so you can access your cell apps.
For the most part a quick 'ask' around you yields somebody who can help you. We had a great waitress dial in our hotel while we were seemingly lost - and she handed over her phone so that we could see how to get to it by 'walking' and bingo we were on our way.
Another big thing that has changed is TAP. Many places have it, but on a few occasions it didn't work back to my bank in Canada. A few times we had servers who couldn't speak English so you try to ask to use the 'swipe' (some worked - some didn't) and I was forced to use cash for the transaction.
In other places...no problem. So...carry cash, a debit card, and a credit card so that you're covered.
Another tip for you...if you're going to visit any attraction, and you're not on a group tour where you have purchased tickets, you'd be wise to book ON LINE for that visit. As travel is getting back in to full swing you're likely to find large crowds to deal with and some places are still restricting numbers of people allowed in to the buildings so you could be left out of the attraction and miss seeing some of the great places in the world.
Another good app to have is the 'translate' app - and there are several. Some are very good and can be utilized via text, voice, and even using your picture/scan feature to translate from English to whatever language you require.
Rick Steeve's Europe app is also very good and he hosts walking tours around cities. Simply start where the app directs you and crank up your headphones for a description of the walk around town.
Other app's that I use - Spotify for podcasts and music - and various video streaming services - also require wifi (or pre download) so that you can stay entertained on the airplane or on long bus rides around the country. And the currency app...know what you are paying.
Another big change since the covid shutdown is the use of EBikes - they can be a godsend on hilly roads - and can help extend your enjoyment by covering a fair amount of ground. There are guided EBike tours available now too.
In many cities the Lime EScooters are also available. Rome was 'covered' with these things, and many business's aren't too pleased about it as they are often just dropped in the middle of the sidewalk in front of their shops. Download the Lime app here before you go and a quick scan has you scooting around your destination. (Some areas are now restricted so be cognizant of where you can/can't ride)
In Austria there are a good amount of bikes/scooters, yet in Budapest I saw few - if any - available.
Google search a city before you go to see what is available.
ATM's are available everywhere, but all are different, and may take a few minutes to learn how to flip to English so that you can utilize their machines.
If you're travelling in a group consider building a WhatsApp list so that you can keep in touch with other folks in your group. This comes in handy if you're wandering around different parts of the city and need some assistance.
WhatsApp is also good for sharing your photo's on the trip. As well you might think about a group Instagram setup so that your travelling friends can all contribute to the Insta with their pictures. Just multiplies the fun when people back home are following along with you.
If you're driving around Europe you'll be pleased to see how they operate gas stations in rural areas. Very often you'll find full bakeries and food services in the stations featuring a wide array of really good food.
Remember too that many restrooms over there that require payment. Costs vary but usually around 50c or 1 Euro. Always carry extra change for these pit stops.
On public transit make sure you buy your ticket AND get it stamped when you board the bus/train. There were stories of tourists getting big fines for not doing so. Lack of understanding is no excuse.
As well there are several 'no sitting' restrictions too - including stairs - and guards will quickly scoot you off their protected areas.
Also, remember that each country has different covid restrictions and, although most everything is now fully open and operational, some public transit requires full masking and SOME require N95 masks exclusively to use their service.
While we were away the ArriveCan app requirement was dropped so that problem has now gone away.
On the airplane, and around Europe, there are still people who are wearing masks but I'd say less than 5% seems realistic. Personal choice is just that!
Finally, double check your Passport and Nexus dates. If your expiry date is within six months you could face problems. Or...you may have forgotten to renew your passes and it's taking a good while to get them replaced or updated.
It was so great to see the world again and I can't wait to get back over to catch up on the three trips that my wife and I lost due to the covid shut down.
Europe is so diverse and so enjoyable to visit. Study up a bit on your history before you to really benefit from the trip. The Tourism Boards do great video work,
Remember... 'celebrate the difference.'
Lots of things differ greatly from over here so be prepared and see how the other half lives.
It can be quite enriching and enjoyable - but yes - it can cause concerns so be prepared.
I hope you found a few helpful tips here.
I'm allready planning my next jaunt over...an April river cruise in Portugal.