30 days and 7 cities later I returned to San Francisco. I've already written about my itineraries but there are a few observations that I want to add.
In 2017 I expected to only need Euro when I travel to Europe. Unfortunately I had to use 4 different currencies for the 6 countries I went to. Hungary uses their Forint, Czech Republic and Sweden with their different Krona. Imagine the embarrassment when I handed the barista with a krona and was told it's not a Swedish Krona when clearly it said Krona on it (Swedish Krona is worth about 2.7 times as much).
I get it, different economies want to be able to inflate/deflate their currencies. But as a traveler it's very inconvenient to keep track. To add to the confusion, there were two versions of Swedish 1 Krona coins in circulation.
Of course, I could always use plastic instead of paper. But as I mentioned in the Stockholm post America chip and signature cards aren't always accepted in Europe. I had the most trouble in train stations (at both Barcelona and Stockholm) and also wasn't able to drink myself out of the trans-Atlantic flight misery (the flight attendant was very nice and offered me a free beer for embarrassing myself, but surely that's not enough for a 10-hours flight). There were also plenty of places that wouldn't accept credit card at all. Such as train stations in Prague. Which brings me to the next topic.
In general public transportation systems are really good in Europe. That said, as my friend Andrew likes to say, it's European good but not Asian excellent. Like I mentioned, in Barcelona the day passes were only valid from 05:00 - 23:00. And of course people who live there don't use day passes so no one could tell me when the pass stops working and it's not printed on the ticket itself. I got on a bus around midnight and to my surprise the ticket wouldn't validate, and with my limited Spanish eventually I understood that the ticket was "no good" for "noche". Thankfully on the buses they gave you change so I didn't have to have the exact amount.
In Vienna, Google Maps didn't have public transit directions and you buy bus tickets at cigarette stores (because they were cheaper there than buying them on the bus).
In Prague, the ticket machines generally only accepted coins and not paper. Many tram stations didn't even have ticket machines. If you had a local sim card I gathered that you could just text a number and get a ticket that way. In the main train station I found machines that would accept paper money but the maximum denomination accepted was 1000 and the ATMs only gave me denominations of 2000... The tickets were only $1 each so I could forgive a lot of their flaws.
In Germany, we stuck with day passes after the whole fiasco with getting a 10-ride ticket. Turned out for adults each ride took two stamps so 10-ride was really 5 rides which didn't split evenly between two people.
In Stockholm, you could get an app to buy subway tickets but they were notoriously expensive. Each ride was 43 SEK which was almost $5. They were valid for 75 minutes so sometimes you could rush through and get two trips out of each. Also, you get a QR code for the mobile tickets which you could scan at the station, but someone had to physically press a button to open the gate for you at the turnstile. So good luck if they were busy answering questions from tourists.
I found the Austrian-German food to be pretty boring although the Turkish food in Berlin was quite good. Food in Stockholm was generally uninspiring with the exception of the fish soup. The reindeer stew was hit and miss. I am already too spoiled by food in San Francisco but tapas were genuinely better in Barcelona. Czech and Hungarian food was okay, but things were cheaper there (especially in Budapest) so fancier restaurants were more affordable. Hipster places in Europe were just lesser versions of what I could find in San Francisco so I would avoid them next time.
There were lots of cafes everywhere in Europe although as a black coffee drinker I found most of their coffee just so so. Interestingly if you order an Americano many places would serve you an expresso and water in a separate cup. Only in Germany do they understand what "regular coffee" means. Still, I went to cafes more often than I usually do because I was walking around all day and so that I could use their wifi. I also ate more ice-cream there in a month than I do here in a year.
Many restaurant there charge for still water and often time that could be more expensive than a pint of beer or a glass of wine. It's perhaps not a wonder that Europeans drink so much. Supposedly Swedes drink less than Americans and coincidentally tap water there is free at restaurants. I've always liked Spanish wine but Hungarian wine was a surprising find. Anyone know where I can find that in SF?