Wednesday Jul 28, 2004

More Travel Tips For Germany

I thought of a few more travel tips to add. See my previous post.

  1. When tipping at a restaurant, the usual thing to do is round up to the nearest convenient number. If it's a really large bill, one normally rounds up to the nearest 5 or 10 Euro. This usually amounts to 5%-10%. (Unlike in the US, the service staff actually make a descent wage without tips.) Also, you tip when you pay the bill by telling the waitress or waiter how much you'd like to pay. For example, if the bill is 16.45EUR, I would hand the waitress a twenty and tell her to make it 18EUR. (That's convenient because I get a 2 Euro coin back.)
  2. You can find information about any big city and many smaller cities online under <city_name>.de. The trick is that you have to use the German spelling of the city name. For example, information on Nuremburg can be found at http://nuernberg.de.
  3. There are several good web sites to know about:
  4. Don't give up easily. Germany is very regulated. There is a law and a tax for almost everything you can imagine. They are, however, much more willing to bend the rules than we are in the US, especially for helpless foreigners. More than once I have been allowed to do things that aren't allowed simply because I asked nicely.
  5. The autobahns are not there for your entertainment. There are some very serious drivers driving at some very serious speeds who will kill your entire family if you're not paying attention. The basic rules are:
    • Stay as far right as is reasonable unless passing
    • Always use your blinker
    • Check your rearview mirror often
    • Don't drive fast unless you can devote your full attention to it
    • When passing, be very careful. Cars doing 230kph+ come behind you up so quickly it's like they materialize out of thin air.
  6. When taking a road trip into another country, be sure to fill up the car with gas before re-entering Germany. Gas in Germany is more expensive than in most of the neighboring countries, especially the Czech Republic.
  7. For most of the bigger cities, the best idea when driving there is to find somewhere safe outside of the city, park the car there, and leave it. The hassle of driving and parking a car in the city often far outweighs the benefits, especially with the quality of German public transit systems.
  8. When buying bus and U-bahn tickets, always check to see if there's a better deal available. One-way, single fares are always the most expensive. There is usually an option for an all-day pass or a group pass which is less expensive if you're planning on more than a one-way trip. Weekly passes are almost always a good deal if you're planning to stay that long. Ask a local to help you translate the ticket options on the automat, or find a manned service desk.

As before, if I think of more I will post them. Constatin has promised to post some as well, and he did.

Monday Jul 26, 2004

Travel Tips For Germany

I guess since I live here I should post something about Germany. Here's a list of the travel tips that our visiting friends have found most useful. They apply to Germany, although some may apply to other places as well.

  1. Never rent a car at the airport. Renting at the airport adds about 20% to the cost of the rental. It's much better to hop on the U-bahn and rent at an off-airport site.
  2. When eating at a German restaurant, if they give you a copy of the menu only in English, always ask for an extra copy in German. Very often the English translations will be incomprehensible or over translated (such as "cabbage in vinegar" instead of "sauerkraut"). The dishes on the German menu will usually be recognisable enough that in the cases where the English makes no sense, the German menu can provide a clue.
  3. When eating at a German restaurant, asking for water will get you bottled water, often sparkling. Asking for tap water will get you a blank stare. "Leitungswasser" (Ly-toongs-vasser) is the word you're looking for. It means tap water.
  4. Don't overestimate distance. When trying to get a flight into Germany from the US, especially on reward miles, it can be hard to find a reasonable flight to the exact airport you want. Be sure to check near by airports. We live near Munich, but when looking for flights, we look at Munich, Nuremberg, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt. With the Autobahns and the trains, distance is not really much of an issue.
  5. Crime in Germany is pretty minimal. Don't panic. Walking around in the middle of the night alone is actually pretty safe, depending on where you are. Ask the locals to be sure. There's no need to plan your whole trip around safety, or skip an attraction because it involves a dark alley. In Germany the worst that is likely to happen is a polite mugging, and those are pretty rare. Pickpockets are a little more common, but only in the really major cities. Berlin is the only one I worry about. Maybe Hamburg.
  6. If you're American, say so. Germans don't generally like foreigners of any kind, but they consider (still!) Americans to be the only good foreigners. And just because you're speaking English, don't expect that they can tell you're American. Most Germans can't tell the difference between an American accent and a British accent, or even a French accent. Being on the other side, I can see why. I can usually only pick out the very obvious accents in German, such as Bavarian and Polish.
  7. Don't talk politics. The Germans tend to be very liberal. Plus, their image of America comes almost entirely from our media. They have all seen Bowling For Columbine. Unless you like being told that you're government and social politics are stupid, just skip the topic altogether or play dumb.

That should do it for now. If I think of any others I'll add them later. (See my next post.)

Sunday Jul 18, 2004

Vietnamese Markets in Czech

This weekend we drove out to Bayrisch Eisenstein and crossed the border into the Czech Republic to visit the Vietnamese Sunday markets there. A friend's aunt said they were great. Great isn't exactly the word I would use.

First off, there was really very little there. Secondly every shop/stand had exactly the same set of stuff: backpacks, purses, lighters, watches, DVDs, CDs, GameBoy games, belts, and shoes. Thirdly, there was little selection among what they did have, and lastly, I don't trust for a moment that any of it was authentic.

In summary, if you're thinking of driving 2 hours out of your way to see the Sunday markets in Bayrisch Eisenstein, don't waste your time. You'd be better off just driving to the Tesco in Plzen.

Sunday Jul 11, 2004

Castles, Castles, and Castes, Oh My!

My wife and I just came back from a three-day castle hunting trip into the Czech Republic. Wow. We had previously never been farther into Czech than Prague. This time we covered pretty much the entire southern half of the country. In case anyone is looking for an opinion on which Czech castles are most worth seeing, here's my list:

CityRatingBrief Description
Tocnick\*\*Cool ruins near Prague
Pernstejn\*\*\*\*A classic example of a late Gothic castle
Vranov nad Dyji\*\*\*\*Gorgeous Windsor-style chateau overlooking the river
Hluboka nad Vltavou\*\*\*\*\*Unbelievable! Puts Neuschwanstein to shame!
Cesky Krumlov\*\*\*\*Very large UNESCO World Heritage castle

\* - The C in Cesky should have a '\^' over it. It's pronounced 'chesky'

And now you know.

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