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Europe Travel Tips from Neville Millen, II

Neville Millen with some more tips on knowing where you're going, annoying cell phone people, packing and more:

Know how to get from the station to your bed
Prepare each city stop with detail of how to get to your sleeping digs from the train station as smoothly as possible. This requires Internet downloads or a guidebook with plans of station precincts and the best route to your accommodation. I cannot stress enough the vital need for this too much for a successful trip. This is why I book ahead with Bootsnall and then plan how to get to the lodgings. Many people, young and old, leave a lot to instinct and lucks a good fortune. They are playing with fire in the long term, for out of your comfort zone and the pressure of travel leads to stress in a big way and bad karma results for that person or others who happen to travel with the stress-bag who hasn’t done their preparation.
I find digs close to the rail or metro stations as a guarantee of success and as a guide to further easy travel while in the city ( if this is possible). A short 400 metre walk is nothing but no more with a full pack. I rarely use taxis as a minimum trip in Europe is $15 US. It is quite easy to download metro guides from the Internet but failing this seek out a outline guide while in the train station and always seek out the tourist-info office. Most are open in Europe at train stations or outside to 7 or 8pm in Summer.
Long hauler by night, city explorer by day
If you do travel long hauls and are not too interested in the scenery, travel at night, get into a station early in the morning before or after rush hour for work, and then train out to accommodation and book in, leaving bags at reception for they will usually take this to your room at 2pm onwards. You can then get out and see the surrounding area, scouring for a cheap food outlet such as a mini mart or supermarket, a local bar with some character, and any other placebo-comfort zone close to the hostel or hotel.
If you do want scenery and it is pretty spectacular along the Mediterranean or through the Alps or you want the smooth exhilaration of a fast train in France or Spain or Italy, then chose a morning train, say about 10am onwards and enjoy it like a coffee creme liqueur going down off the rocks.
‘Ang it oop or ah’ll coot yiz!
Hope you do not have to put up with too many rude people prattling on their mobile phones to spoil the experience. In Italy they are beyond redemption. Spain is next on the road to hell and France actually has little sleeping phone signs so they have become civilized. If someone dares to move their phone to their ear you can wag a finger and point to the sign and then show them your flick-knife if the message is not heeded. It they call a conductor, say you were testing the knife for opening a bottle ( make sure it has a corkscrew attached). great defence in court!!
Anticipation is a great thing, but heavy bags suck.
Travel is as much a pleasure in the anticipation as much as actually getting there, or so say some readers of Proust seem to indicate and I agree somewhat with them.
On the clothes front don’t commit the USA borne sin of taking the bloody kitchen sink with you like most middle aged conservative Norte Americanos. We have had to help several get their 10 bags of gear on and off trains while we have one backpack each , half full of wash and wear underwear, slacks or pants , shorts etc, Don’t forget the small elastic clothes line , some pegs and washing liquid in bottles. Clothes like this dry in Summer in Europe in your room in less than 2 hours , especially under a moving ceiling fan or hang it out the window or on a ledge or in the bathroom.
Take a plastic poncho big enough to cover you and a pack, a small fold-up umbrella, toiletry bag that folds up and hangs up vertical. Take assorted plastic wallets big enough to cover A 4 page size maps, downloads from a printer and one to hold all your receipts. ( I love assorted plastic wallets).
If you buy water buy a large water bottle and then transfer to two smaller bottles. Water is fine in most Euro cities and I drank it, but watch that you don’t get ripped off . water is charged at 2 euro a medium bottle in shops cold. Get to a supermarket and buy it for less than a euro and chill it in the room. Cold bottled water is half the price in a supermarket.
Keep it light- one warm wind cheater unlined or a sweater ( thin) to cut the wind, mostly wash and wear stuff, micro fibre is tops . Good boots ( light ) but especially one pair of top sandals with tread, the type that you can wash in the sink every week after walking and dry out – best made out of false leather with Velcro tabs. ( I wear a NZ brand called Merrell)- top gear. Make sure you have a hat or cap with air holes and use a non- oily sun screen that will not grease up all your gear and maps etc.
The key to good packing is repacking.
Every push you have on to a new place, spend the night before balancing the pack and saving room. Put out gear you need the next day. Socks go inside shoes, roll long-side every shirt , pants etc and pack across the pack , not down flat into it for this then allows the weight to hang down in lines like hung meat rather than across your back. Pack all batteries and hard objects in bags or wrap in clothes.
If you buy too many souvenirs or books (Like my wife and I did) , buy a small tow- on suitcase for about 20 euro in a market that will get down a train aisle . The aisles in European trains are small, as small as a plane , so the narrower a b-pack and case the better the travel you will have , especially getting on and off in a crush at a station the train only stops at for a few minute at most.
Don’t carry anything you can’t lift to an over head rack and if you must use end of carriage lockers or open racks sit looking towards it or chain it. If you buy posters invest in a plastic poster tube you can sling over your shoulder- handy also for carrying film in the bottom.
Just because you’re a traveler doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paranoid.
This sounds over cautious but you see crying people in train stations who have had gear pinched from such places. watch for guys ( mostly) browsing from carriage to carriage, looking from side to side. They are not looking for a newspaper or a better seat, rather unattended bags. On the trains in Italy especially we were more wary on local trains . You have my story of conductors.
Always clip your rail pass and ticket must be authenticated before you alight. keep the train conductors happy- most are but it is a stressful job and they have to deal with some desperate people trying on all sorts of cons.
If you wear glasses take a spare pair as my wife did. She lost a pair but had the backup packed.
If you take a towel get a micro fibre one that dries in 20 mins. Get at the biggest size, but we also have a smaller towel for travel to wipe of perspiration- it can get hot humping a pack or sightseeing and you can use it to cool down when you find water in parks etc.
If you need a small torch get one that fits on your head- great in bed if the light is not too bright and for writing at night.Don’t forget your metal cup and plastic glass. we also carry an electric element we use to boil water in our cups and presto you have a hot tea or coffee. I have heard that some take a small plunger for the better coffee / Not a bad idea but coffee and pastry standing at a bar in Italy or Spain is pretty cheap really – about 3 euro for two people and the coffee is tops ( in Italy).
Hope this all helps you and fellow travellers again