Here it is: the long awaited conclusion post about our European vacation. With this post, I hope to give you a summary of the trip and find some way to rank cities, hostels, and mention some things that surprised me about the continent.
Here we go...
First, I want to clear up something about Amsterdam. Let's be, when anyone mentions Amsterdam, they immediately think one thing: marijuana. But here's something you might not know: it's technically still illegal there. Yeah, shocker, right? Well here's the deal. It's decriminalized.
The Dutch have this little policy where they are willing to deal with anything on three conditions: if it's profitable, if it doesn't hurt anyone and if it's not in the public eye. So marijuana is technically illegal, but you can't get in trouble for it. This also explains why the places that sell it are called "coffee shops." They can't advertise what they sell in there. As long as they keep up a front like their doing something else, they can get away with it. The Dutch government can tax these, so it helps them some. And it's not hurting anyone. Maybe just a few extra bike wrecks.
But here's the real surprise. Holland is (as far as I know) the only country in Europe where marijuana is "legal." So you would assume that it smokes the most, right? Wrong. They're actually seventh, just in Europe. Most of the locals don't even smoke that much. It's mostly the tourists. When people grow up with marijuana, it loses it's rebellious appeal and no one seems to care as much. Just something to think about when the discussion of legalization comes up....
Now for something just about Europe in general. One thing I have to admire is their different approach to transportation. Sure, there are cars in Europe, but not as many as there are here. So many people use scooters and bikes. Even more use metros and trains to get around. As we proved, you could easily get anywhere you want without ever touching a car. Try doing that in the U.S. and see what happens. Now of course the U.S. is more spread out and doesn't have the infrastructure to link the whole country like Europe is linked, but why can't we invest the same in public transportation that they do? Regional trains (like a system in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area) would make it so much easier to get around while also drastically reducing the amount of traffic on Interstate-40.
The reason they have such great infrastructure is because of long term investment. Taxes go toward public transportation. Gas and licenses are much more expensive to dissuade people from driving and using public transport more. Doing that here could have the same effect.
The cars that they do use are very energy efficient. You won't see a lot of SUVs and I don't remember seeing any trucks other than work trucks. Instead, there are tons of hybrids and Smart cars.
Finally, Germany is nothing like "Beerfest."
Now for the hostels. I'm going to list them all out. The ones with stars beside them are ones we recommend in each city.
Meininger City Hostel Berlin
Bob's Youth Hostel
Campground Amsterdam Bos*
St. Christopher's Paris*
Aloha Hostel (NEVER stay here)
Meininger City Hostel Munich (much better than the one in Berlin)
Now for the best and worse of the trip:
Best Hostel: B&B Maison (Florence)
Hands down, this place was awesome. It was the only place that really felt like a home away from home. The staff is amazing and the food is unforgettable. And you can't beat the great price. STAY HERE.
Worst Hostel: Aloha Hostel (Paris)
We should have known better than to stay at a place called "Aloha" in the middle of Europe, but we really didn't have a lot of choices. Anything would have been better. No lock on the door, mean people at reception and some random Russian people stole our beds. Never again.
Best nightlife: Berlin
I know this might come as a surprise given what happened that night, but Berlin nightlife was definitely the best. You can get whatever you want there and nothing closes down until dawn. And you can't beat banging techno music.
Worst nightlife: Florence
Not that we didn't have fun, but I just can't justify a beer costing 5 Euro for a pint. Next....
Best people: Germans
The Germans were the nicest people we met all trip. Most spoke English and humored us when we tried to butcher their language. They seemed to genuinely want to help us and make sure that we knew what we needed to get around.
Worst people: French
Do I really need to explain this?
And now, I'm going to try to rank the places we went and make some sort of sense of it.
1. Munich: it had everything. Germany is beautiful. the people are great and very laid back. Munich is smaller, has a beautiful park and beer gardens as far as the eye can see. Definitely enjoyed this place the most.
2. Florence: The food. It's amazing. The only reason it fell below Munich is because being in the city isn't very nice. It's tight and crowded and very touristy. But when you get outside of the city into the country, it's absolutely beautiful.
3. Amsterdam: I didn't like this place at first, but when I got out of the city and into the woodsy area, it was much nicer. I think a longer stay there at a place not as crazy as Bob's would give me a higher opinion.
4. Bruges: Awesome older city with amazing beer. And they have French fries and mayonnaise. Sold.
5. Berlin: This would be higher, but I had a bad experience and I didn't want to rank two German cities too high. It's a great place though and very cheap, which gives it major brownie points.
6. Paris: Despite all our bad luck, the city is very nice and has a lot of good things to see. And I've heard that the Latin Quarter is much better and cheaper. Maybe on a second visit I would spend more time there and away from the main part of the city.
7. Milan: Honestly, this is a slanted opinion because I only stayed there one night, but there's really not a whole lot to do there... at least free stuff.
All right, I think that's all I have for now. This post has gone on long enough. If I forgot about something, I'll be sure to put it up here.