What I Learned on My European Trip

My major reason for traveling is to learn about other people and their world. I learned a lot on our recent trip to Europe.

Build Your Fortress on High Ground

I knew that early people built their fortresses on high ground for two reasons:

  1. So they could see their enemy approaching
  2. So that they would defend their city by shooting down, not up, at their attackers

But it wasn’t until I saw with my own eyes so many castles built on high ground that I fully realized the truth of this dictum:

Castle 2Thanks to my husband for this photo, which well illustrates the advantage folks in the castle would have if invaders moved in, particularly if those invaders came by river.

European History, Culture, People

I didn’t know much about European history before this trip, and I learned a lot about how different cultures developed. I particularly enjoyed recognizing how people who we think today live near each other developed differently. Distances were much greater 500 years ago, and people who now live a short train ride apart developed different values, beliefs, and customs. Yet there are similarities, too, in language, religion, food, and culture.

I love “it’s a small world” stories, and this trip presented one after another.

Many Europeans Speak at Least Some English

In shops just about everywhere we stopped, someone spoke enough English for us to converse and do business.

My husband and I both caught a cold that ran through most of the people on our ship. In one German city we visited, we went into a pharmacy to get vitamins A and C to boost our immune systems. As soon as I asked the pharmacist if he had vitamins A and C, he said, in perfect English, “Oh, are you from the States?” He asked what I needed and why, then went over to a shelf and pointed to two packages. “This is what we take over here.” We left the pharmacy feeling we had gotten exactly what we wanted.

Most Europeans speak a second language because their schools start them early on studying another language in addition to their own. Although English isn’t usually their only option, some people we spoke to said that many choose English because it’s nearly universal. And it’s not unusual to come across someone who speaks at least a bit of three or four languages.

Our city guide in Budapest, Eszter (pronounced like the English name Esther), told us she speaks three languages. She also said that when she was in school during Russian rule of Hungary, students were required to study Russian. She and most others refused because it was the language of the oppressor, and their teacher let them sit in the back of the room and do homework while she worked up front with those who wanted to learn Russian. Eszter said that she now regrets not taking advantage of the opportunity to learn another language.

It is only here in the United States that we think learning a second language is unpatriotic. One of our fellow travelers said that his seven-year-old grandson attends a school in the U.S. where he’s learning Chinese along with English. I’ve always thought it extremely arrogant that we think everyone should learn our language while we make no effort to learn theirs.

Always Buy Travel Insurance That Includes Medical Coverage

I don’t know about other American health insurance, but Medicare is not in effect outside of the United States.

The old streets of many European cities are paved with very old, very uneven cobblestones. One of our shipmates, K., who is not particularly infirm, got wrong-footed and fell down, breaking a bone in her ankle. It can easily happen to anyone.

I did not ask K. about the details of payment for seeing a doctor and having her leg casted, but what happened to her did make me think about medical coverage. We recently booked a trip on a different cruise line. When I asked about medical insurance, the cruise line rep told me that they have two levels of travel insurance: one that includes medical coverage and one that doesn’t. We snapped up the one with medical coverage, even though it’s a bit more expensive. It’s comforting to know that if we get sick or injured and have to be helicoptered off the ship, we’re covered up to $10,000.

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