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As an American visiting Europe for the first time, I expected some culture shock, but it was fun to note the differences that did surprise me while traveling. I visited Spain, Hungary, Austria, and Italy. I found it so fun to compare the different countries to the United States and then to each other. Each country (and even city) I went to was so different from the last. Here are a few observations that surprised me from my trip:
Water isn’t free
Asking for tap water in Barcelona and Italy just resulted in a confused look. Even though when I looked up if the tap water was safe to drink in the areas I was in (it was), restaurants still don’t really allow you to drink it. So, I mostly carried around my own water bottle, and there were fountains to fill them around cities like Rome and Venice (which were especially good about this). Honestly, it wasn’t too expensive for bottled water, but especially when I’m traveling and doing a ton of walking (and trying to stick to my rules for budget travel!), I tend to drink a lot of it, so that adds up quickly.
Public bathrooms aren’t free
I was at a subway station when I found this one out. I didn’t have any euros on me, so I had to make a quick run to the nearest McDonald’s. It’s not every country, but typically Eastern European countries do charge in public places.
American music is played everywhere
It was so weird to me, but just about every restaurant and little shop I peeped into played our music. I was pretty surprised to hear some Diplo while drinking local espresso in Barcelona.
Food isn’t always what you expect it to be
I ordered from a menu in Austria that said egg and bacon (yes, egg singular — I thought it was a typo) and was served a soft boiled egg in a little silver holder with a side of prosciutto. Prosciutto sounds so fancy, but I just kept thinking, “This is raw bacon!” But I got over it, it was bomb, and I really enjoyed it.
Being on time is extremely important
If you are taking a train somewhere, you seriously better get to that train station early and make sure you know where you’re going. If the train ticket says 14:03, it’s leaving at 14:03. Being late is one of my specialties, so I had to make an extra effort to be really early everywhere in case I got lost (another one of my fortes).
I could survive without Uber and Lyft
The transportation system in Europe rocks. You have trains, subways, and buses. I was really nervous, since I’m not familiar with train stations, bus stops, and subway systems, but once I got the hang of it, it really wasn’t bad. And it was way cheaper than Uber and Lyft!
I can drink a ton of wine and not have a pounding headache the next day
I was not much of a wine person before my trip, because I always woke up with a major headache the following morning. In Austria and Italy, there weren’t too many drink options that appealed to me, so I usually went with wine. No headache in the morning, and it was definitely some of the best wine I’ve ever had.
Sidenote: I absolutely LOVED this tour to Tuscany from Florence!
Barcelona was my least favorite
I’m a foodie, and I honestly couldn’t find any food here I enjoyed, so that plays a major role in this statement. It was so hard for me to find a vegetable. I ordered a Greek salad, and it was a bowl of cheese cubes with some tomato and olives. Don’t get me wrong — there were a lot of awesome things about Barcelona, but out of the places I went, it was just my least favorite. The majority of the bars and restaurants seemed so similar to each other, whereas in the other countries I went to, there seemed to be more unique spots.
Austrian and Hungarian cuisine was my favorite (yes, even over Italian!)
I was so freakin’ pumped to have authentic chicken paprikash, but other than that, I wasn’t sure how much I would like Hungary’s food. They served veggies with just about everything! They gave little arugula salads with most of the breakfasts I ordered and served cucumber salads with a lot of the mains. There was not one bad meal in Hungary. It was even more of a surprise to me how much I loved Austrian cuisine.
It’s really hard to find a flavored latte or flavored vodka
Flavored lattes are seriously my go-to. I pretty much got a super-puzzled look at any coffee shop I went to if I asked about their flavors. And it is so crazy how many flavors of vodka we have in the United States, because anywhere in Europe I went, that wasn’t an option.
Americans are totally spoiled
Europe has English versions of menus, English advertisements on billboards, and English-speaking employees in the majority of tourist spots. There were definitely times when I needed to pull out Google Translate (one of my favorite travel apps), especially in the smaller towns in Italy I visited as well as Siofok, Hungary, but other than that, we had a very easy time.
If you’ve been to Europe what were some things you were surprised to find out?