Tung’s Travel Journal #9: Breakfasts, Lucerne—but not those bathrooms—will bring me back to Europe

Sophomore Manson Tung, who spent March 25-April 2 in Switzerland and Germany on the school’s trip, contributed these travel blogs. This is the last in his series.

As my European trip (Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and a small part of Austria) comes to a close, I feel that I have gotten a pretty good hold on Central Europe. This part of the globe has both strengths and weaknesses.

One of the tastiest strengths here has been the massive breakfasts. Every morning, a spread of delicious meats and cheeses—with assorted artisan breads, juices and hard-boiled egg—is served. While I first thought that this was simply our one hotel, my week of travel has convinced me that Europeans live by the phrase “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”

Lucerne, Munich and Nuremberg, the three main cities that we have visited, have been unbelievably pedestrian friendly—Lucerne particularly.

On Sunday I explored Lucerne and discovered so many cobblestone alleyways filled with hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I spent a whole day wandering up and down them without any specific plans or transportation arrangements. The lakeside walkway, shopping plazas and river were all easily accessible within a 10-minute walk, making Lucerne my favorite location of the trip.

The walkability made me feel like a tourist, and an adult one at that. Not having to rely on someone else—or even myself—driving lent a new type of freedom in which packed places aren’t to be feared but embraced.

Among the incredible assets of Lucerne and, in fact, all the places we visited was a cleanliness that would be hard to match in any U.S. city. Except for a rather disgusting first day in Munich (I discovered later on that the trash collectors had gone on strike and dragged bags full of trash into the city just to give tourists a bad impression of the city), Central Europe is about as clean as Singapore. That’s impressive, given the fact that we weren’t in a small, easily managed city state, but city after city separated by hundreds of kilometers.

Although it has many attributes, Europe has weaknesses as well.

First on the list were the bathrooms, both public and private. Free public bathrooms basically don’t exist here in Europe; a charge of 50 cents to a whole euro ($1.37 USD)  is commonplace. The only places to pee free of charge were in restaurants we ate at. Even then, special codes locked bathroom doors, and bathroom attendants made sure you were a client before allowing entry into their inner sanctum.

The private bathrooms were another story entirely. While shower curtains are common in America, in Europe, half-bathtub length panes of glass separate the shower from the rest of the bathroom. In fact, in some of the rooms, no dividers were provided, and I had to hold the shower head above my head during the entire shower.

Elevators are also a weak point in Europe. It seems that any building shorter than five stories just doesn’t have one, and in the buildings that do, seldom are the elevators large enough to store more than three large suitcases.

Instead, our tour guide instructed us to send our luggage up in the elevator and sprint up the stairs. This worked fine, until we moved to a hotel without stairs.

As a self-admitted shopaholic who has bought everything and anything, everywhere and anywhere, lugging down my probably overweight suitcase was not something I looked forward to.

The final two weaknesses of this trip also seem to be distinctly European in nature. First was the lack of open stores. I had been warned about the lack of open stores in Lucerne by history teacher and Europhile Dan Neukom. After all, we were coming into town on their traditional day of rest (Sunday), and our purchasing expeditions would suffer because of it.

In fact, I found the main city thoroughfares catering mainly to tourists were open for business and ready for the horde of well-heeled shoppers pouring onto the streets.

It was the closing of stores during the afternoon hours and early at night that shocked me. In the middle of the afternoon and an hour before lunch hankering for ice cream wouldn’t be a problem in the States. But in Europe, it took me nearly an hour to find a store that sold anything remotely edible. It was only McDonald’s selling mojitos (Don’t worry, Uncle Dan, they were virgin!) that saved me in Lucerne.

Europe has its upsides and downsides, but I will definitely be back again.

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