In 2016, I had my first trip to Europe. My wife always wanted to take the cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest. Consequently, after starting our tour in Paris and enjoying the river cruise, we finished our tour in Prague. So we saw much of Europe and we were in for a few surprises. Let me tell you about them
We went to Europe in July, not long after the terrorist attack in Paris. We were expecting a heavy police/military presence at Charles de Gaulle airport. But there seemed to be less security there than we had at our Australian airports. The only place we saw any armed soldiers was at Prague Airport in part of the terminal away from the crowds having a quiet conversation unconcerned about their surroundings.
On the bus tour of Paris, we noticed that almost all the buildings were the same height, about five or six stories high with lots of chimneys. Most were of a similar design not like the many and varied shapes that we see in Australian cities.
In Paris, we noted around all the apartment buildings there were many small restaurants with people eating quite late by Australian standards. In Australia, restaurants tend to be around shopping areas or on main roads.
Our hotel in Paris caused a bit of sensation with the way the floors of the building were named. At the hotel lifts, we found the ground floor was floor zero and the basement was floor -1. On getting into a lift at the hotel, we met a lady with her dog on a leash about to go for a walk. That’s not something you see in Australia.
In Amsterdam, we first noticed the bike paths in the city as we left our cruise boat. The first thing we noticed it that they are very wide and were even being used by motor bikes. Next, we found ourselves almost run over because we are used to traffic nearest to us coming from our right. With cars driving on the opposite side of the road to Australia, our checking of the road or bike path had to be reversed. That’s somewhat difficult to achieve seeing that we were breaking a lifelong habit. Driving in a bus into a roundabout causes us dismay as well.
The other issue, apart from the crowds in the popular parts of the cities we visited, was the amount of smoking that took place everywhere. Smoking is banned in many parts of Australia in clubs, restaurants, shopping centres and the like.
Along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers we visited many towns in many countries. The cruise just seamlessly floats from country to country through Europe. That surprised us-no passport controls, customs or the like.
The cities and towns along the rivers were different in many ways to our Australian cities and towns. Statutes abound on bridges, in and on buildings and many of them were gilded. Every city has its many roomed palace or castle with large gardens and squares in front. To us Australians, a castle is a defensive building. But most we saw were just large ornate buildings.
The other obvious difference came with the churches and cathedrals. Most were a mixture of different architectural styles. They were full of statues, (many gilded), and stain glass windows. Many of the apartments in the main city areas have a Madonna statue, as well.
What you notice as the cruise boat moves along the river is the large number of bridges of all shapes and sizes carrying rail, tram, trolley bus and vehicle traffic. Although we saw lots of road traffic, we saw few semitrailers or four wheel drive cars. Along the rivers, there were many camping grounds with many caravans. However these camping grounds didn’t seem to have much in the way of facilities that you would expect in Australian caravan parks.
In the main areas of the cities along the river, the streets are narrow with cobblestones. These streets, along with town squares, are shared by car, trolley buses and people. There is not the hustle and bustle of our city streets evident.
The river offers its own differences. The most evident features are the locks. Except on perhaps the Murray River, these are unknown to Australians. It is fascinating to watch the whole lock clearing process and to learn that the locks lift the cruise boat over 400 metres above sea level during the journey. One such lock lifted the cruise boat over thirty metres.
Then, of course, History is a big point of interest for the Australian visitor. We were immersed in it with every walking tour in each city as our guide talked us through the history of the area and the architecture of the castles and churches. In Australia, with our short history of European settlement we have few historical sites, with Port Arthur in Tasmania being our most significant after 200 years.
The other major difference is the distances we travelled. Many of the countries we travelled in would together fit into Australia. Still there seemed to be lots of open land away from the cities but nowhere near the space in Australian countryside. Our bus journey from Paris to Amsterdam took about six hours. That six hours’ journey in Australia would not see you very far into country Australia.
This is but a small glimpse of Europe. But what is evident despite the differences we noted, people seem just the same as we are, going about their lives as we would in Australia.