So it turns out that English isn’t the only language spoken in the world. While you may know this in your head, you really don’t know it in your heart of hearts until you’ve been shopping in a European supermarket. We were travelling on a budget, so there was certainly no sitting at restaurants and pointing to the menu and hoping for the best. No, everything was done via the supermarkets. Every country did it differently, so you can know what’s good in Germany, but then you drive an hour or two and everything changes. Again. Different language, different food. Sometimes it was a bit of a lucky dip.
Salzburg. We came here to photograph a wedding, which (if you’re really lucky) you may get to see some other time in a different blog post (it’s a goody, just saying). But Salzburg itself was as big an attraction as any place on the entire planet for our family. Possibly even bigger. Salzburg, the home of The Sound of Music. While I did watch it relentlessly as a kid, my children have taken it to the next level. They know every scene, every word, every song off by heart. So it was without a shadow of a doubt that we would spend a day stalking the sites from the movie, like the tourists we had finally accepted that we were.
Did we sing as we skipped along the path that Maria and the children skipped? Heck yes we did.
Did we laugh at the water-out-of-his-nostrils horse that featured in the film? Also, yes.
Did we pose in front of the Sound of Music house, some of us more excited about it than others? Yes. Indeed, we did. We spent the entire day following the Sound of Music trail. We stalked Nuns (not in a bad way), we danced in front of the ‘I am sixteen going on seventeen’ scene and we sat quietly in a very old church. Of course, we have many, MANY more photos I could show you – but I’m trying really hard not to be that guy who invites you to a ‘holiday photos screening night’. No one needs that.
Alright. I think it might be time to fill you in on some more interesting facts for Kiwi travellers. Things you may not realise until you turn up to Europe. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, I think that’s what they say.
1. When you leave a town or district there is a sign with the name of the town and then a big red line through it. I’m pretty sure this means that you are no longer in that town. Sometimes handy, but not really all that often. Also road signs will have some kind of alert on it, and then a big line through it, indicating that NO, this sign is not actually valid. It’s really, REALLY weird.
2. Milk. It’s best to approach this by just renaming the substance, otherwise you just get really sad, really often. I have to be honest here, and say I’m a bit spoiled with my milk here in New Zealand as I usually get it straight from the farmer down the road, so I KNOW what real milk tastes like. Singapore milk tastes like drain – not that I’ve ever tasted drain before, but I think I now know what it tastes like. Europe milk isn’t quite as bad, but lets be honest, drain tasting milk is not a very high bar to reach. Much of the milk is actually warm on the shelves, all UHT. A small selection is in the fridge, but even then a large percentage is UHT. On the upside, milk is very cheap. So that’s something.
3. Supermarkets are cheap. Crazy cheap. I filled a trolley for roughly 70 Euro (just over $100). When you’re feeding 8 people for 9 weeks, this stuff matters. Cheese is delicious, and so cheap it made me seriously consider moving (then I remembered about the milk).
4. Wine and beer is so cheap they’re practically giving it away. You can buy hard liquor pretty much anywhere, including service stations. Beer is everywhere. Like, actually everywhere. You get it as an option with your McDonald’s combo.
5. Everyone smokes. Well, probably not everyone, but it sure does feel that way. You can also buy smokes, cheap as chips from a vending machine on the side of the road. Also weird.
6. There is no such thing as a double mattress. It’s two single beds pushed together. Or if there is a double (or queen, I guess) bed frame, it will contain two single mattresses. I checked at the shop, this is actually how they are sold.
7. Don’t accidentally stand on someone’s grass, if it’s their private grass. It’s probably a gross generalisation on my part, but Austrians will yell at you if you stand on their private grass. Just don’t do it.
Oh! This is when we took a gondola to the top of a mountain near Salzburg. I never thought there could be a country as pretty as New Zealand, but I think I was wrong. Austria is actually, INSANELY, beautiful.
We couldn’t be this close to Italy, and not spend a few days there. Italy is amazing. The people are beautiful and animated. There ACTUALLY is pizza on every street. And gelato. And Venice actually looks like this.
The small people ate a lot of ice cream. I think any Good Parent points we earned by taking them to the other side of the world, were offset by the points we lost due to allowing excessive amounts of ice cream.
Also Venice. When you want to visit your neighbour, but you just – can’t – quite – reach….
Another exciting daytrip was to Verona. More really, really old stuff.
And also the setting for Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps someone could explain to me how it is possible to visit Juliet’s balcony when the entire story was fiction. There never was a Juliet, was there? So how are we visiting her home, and paying to go stand on her balcony?
We had two weeks in Paris, and I must say I think we all enjoyed it more than we expected to! There was more old stuff to look at. Here we are at the Louvre. Beautiful and fascinating and so, SO, very chocka block full of very old things. These goat/guys were from back in Babylon days. Could Sophie and Charlotte care less? No. Not at all. While I tried to explain how very interesting and important old stuff is, it just didn’t seem to fly with them. To be honest, they were in it for the ice cream.
The only downside to the Louvre was that it didn’t come with English explanations. So you’re just kind of left guessing what exhibits might mean. Here, for example, is someone proudly showing you his potted succulent, while his friend next to him is singing ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands…’
All of these people here wanted to see the Mona Lisa. There was pushing and shoving and telling off. The guards tried to keep people moving through, all of these people who desperately wanted a glimpse at Ms Lisa herself, and maybe even get a picture of it. I thought it was actually pretty funny.
During our two weeks in Paris we parked up our van and relied entirely on public transport. By this stage we were getting pretty good at navigating the big city and it was a whole lot easier than driving the mini bus through crowded ancient streets!
Montmartre. The hill full of artists who will do a beautiful portrait of you, all you have to do is sit still for a little under an hour. So worth it. Best selfie ever.
You’ve got to pick your artists though, some are definitely better than others. The gentleman that did the three girls was utterly incredible. I wanted to pop him in my suitcase and take him home. But that would have been weird, so I left him there.
So, here we are, at about week seven of nine. We’re feeling pretty international by this stage, and we’re starting to get a pretty good grip of exactly how blessed we are to live in New Zealand. I’ve got one more instalment of this series to go, so if you’re interested, watch this space in a day or two!
(you can check out part four here)