Expectation v. Reality: Reflections on the UK, Ireland, Belgium and Norway

This four part series is a compilation of something both memorable and shocking for each of the countries we have visited. Alas, the first of an ever evolving set of self-reflective, preparation posts for the questions that I’ll inevitably get when I return home:

“What’s changed?” and “Do you feel any different?”

And I’m reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis: Day to day, nothing seems different, until one day you look back and find that everything has changed.

This is more a fun, haphazard collection of preconceived ideas, romantic fantasies and expectations of easy living I had before and during the visits to the following countries, along with their earth-shattering thought replacements:

  1. There are absolutely zero downfalls of public transportation! – England

Or so I said, before visiting London, which is really a country in itself. Not only does it get uber smelly on the underground, which is always busy, even at 1pm on a Wednesday, but tube strikes are not uncommon. Have you ever been to London when there’s a tube strike going on? The giant sidewalks aren’t big enough for the throngs of people waiting for the buses that are already full of smelly people nor are the roads able to afford anyone unlucky enough to be driving a car during a tube strike any traveling space. The tube strike that happened in July cost London nearly $500 million.

New thought: Sometimes, public transportation and the throngs of people in your personal space actually really sucks.

  1. Every capital city is worth going to. – Norway

Norway, for at least one year out of the past five, was the most expensive country on the planet. And we were warned that Oslo is perhaps the most underwhelming capital city Europe has to offer (We’ve since found one worse). Go to Norway? Yes. Go to Oslo? Hell no. Save yourself. Go anywhere else in Norway. Don’t go to Oslo.

Pub dinner: $110
Oslo’s version of Chipotle: $38

How can I eat my way through culture when every time I take a bite money actually ejects itself from my wallet and self-destructs?

Please don’t visit Oslo. Seriously.

New thought: After a dozen or so capital cities, they all really look the same. Fly into a capital city, and establish an adventure base elsewhere.

  1. The United Kingdom totally drives in kilometers per hour just like the rest of the continent. – Scotland

One of those situations where I would have bet money that I was right and I would have lost the bet. Funny story, abridged:

We rented a car in Edinburgh and got on the motorway (highway for us Americans) and came to a sign that says 70, so we do 70 kph. We approach signs telling us speed cameras. Other cars flash high-beams and swerve around us. We think all those people are stupid and are all getting speeding tickets. Next day, we confirm Mark’s suspicion. The UK drives in MPH, not KPH. The clincher? Distance is measured in meters, as in, “Hotel, 800 meters ahead.” Way to be confusing, Britain.

New thought: UK (and Ireland) drive on the left. Rest of Europe, on the right.

  1. Ireland is the place to get drunk on the cheap.

With the reputation that Ireland has of being a nation in perpetual drunkenness, I definitely thought that it would be ridiculously cheap to drink here – say 2 or 3 euros for a beer.

Color me surprised, it’s not.

It’s about 5 or 6 euros for a beer, and more in the touristy Temple Bar area, which is definitely not acceptable for drinking on a budget.

The tour of the Guinness Storehouse did shine a bit of light on a Guinness pour: if you get your stout less than two minutes after you requested it, the bartender poured it wrong. There’s mad science behind all of this which Mark is slated to explain.

New thought: Get drunk in Prague. Cheaper and more interesting a crowd.

  1. Living above restaurants is awesome and I want to have the life Marshall & Lily have. – Belgium

Wow, I was dead wrong on this. We stayed at an Airbnb that was up 8 very dark flights of stairs. The building apparently had no lights. The entrance opened up into the street with a restaurant to the left and to the right. I’m not a morning person, and I am very used to a long wake-up period. Not so in Brussels. As soon as we opened the door people were milling about in front of it from dawn to the middle of the night. After our evening meal and drinks, near the wee hours of the morning, we had to push people out of the way to get to the front door. Once we traipsed up eight flights of stairs in total darkness, we thought we’d be in the zone to sleep, but we couldn’t, because it was so dreadfully hot we had to leave the windows open and thus gave us an earful of the drunken commotion happening below.

New Thought: Overhearing yelling, screaming, fighting and crying until 3 or 4 in the morning is definitely not my idea of a good time or a good stay.

Have you been to any of these places? What were your experiences? Send us a shout in the comments below.

Ciao

7 Golden Rules to Surviving the Colosseum

In a universe far, far away, the Colosseum isn’t a hive swarming of tourists without deodorant. It isn’t in an awkward stage of half renovation where one side of the amphitheater looks completely fake and the other is a historic wonder of the world.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that universe. I’d love to visit the Colosseum in those circumstances. Begrudgingly sometimes I go to such iconic places because it seems to make every life that visits it so. much. better.

The Colosseum is impressive. It is worth visiting. Because I know you’re going to go, here’s seven survival tips to make it much more enjoyable.

7. If you’re going between April and October, go to your Dollar Store/ Poundland and buy handheld fans. 

Otherwise you’ll melt. Honestly. Imagine a human current that takes you to different places and you’re shuffling along (and not in the cool way). There’s no way to not sweat. Bring a handheld fan and not only do you get to keep cool but you also get to accidentally hit stupid people that intentionally block your photo.

6. Toilet before you walk.

Toilets are by the audioguide pickup which is really inconvenient to get to once you’ve started walking around, that is. You have to walk downstairs (or through a hallway) and then you have to shuffle and scoot past the people that are trying to enter and shuffle and scowl at the people crowded around the audioguide pickup because the concept of a queue is lost here.

5. BYOB. Water bottles, that is.

I did mention it gets atrociously hot. Put some water bottles in the freezer and take them with you in your satchel/ man purse/ backpack and by the time you get into the Colosseum you’ll have about half a bottle of water to drink.

4. Buy your tickets here. Don’t be a dimwit and think you want to buy them at the door. Breezing past all of those people makes you feel like:

happy leo

And who doesn’t want to feel like that?

3. Pack a 4-liter bottle of patience. Or maybe just bring a flask to tolerate the very annoying groups.

You know, the kind that everyone loves that amass a group of about 20-30 people and then STOP RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WALKWAY AND DECIDE TO GIVE A TEN MINUTE DISSERTATION ABOUT BRICKS.

2. Go to this restaurant to escape the crowds and the heat. 

Lovely, jovial older Italian gentleman who cracks jokes and has a sweet smile. They have little croissants for 3 euro and some really good espresso and Mark ordered lasagna which was divine and then some. Oh and for all my fellow AC-loving Americans, they have real air conditioning!

1. Get up at 7am and take the first uber there around 8am. 

Thank God Uber is here! The Colosseum is worth losing sleep to get even an hour without the droning and humming of the mid-morning tourists.

If you would like a quick look at the interior, from our perspective while we visited, see below!

Ciao, beautiful people.

Don’t Rush into the London Pass

We almost bought them. It seemed like a great deal, which is reason to be all the more suspicious of it. In short, it gives you access to 60 attractions for one, two, three or six days, including things like Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, a Tower Bridge Experience, Windsor Castle, Globe Theatre, and a Thames River Cruise. The price for the pass goes up naturally with the number of days you plan on using it. It all sounds perfect, right?

Here’s why I didn’t get it. You have to see a whole lot of attractions in order for the pass to save you money. For example, I wanted to see:

Tower of London: 22
Westminster Abbey: 20
Beefeater Gin Distillery Tour: 12
Chislehurst Caves: 6
Jewish Museum: 8

Equalling 68 pounds. In order for the pass to save me any money, I would have to do these things in one day with the one-day London Pass, which costs 52 for an adult, which is frankly insane for the following reasons:

  1. We were at the Tower of London (where the Crown Jewels are) for over three hours and made it through the history of currency and mint exhibition, the White Tower, the Crown Jewels, and the Bloody Tower. There’s no way to see the entire Tower in less than half of a day.
  2. The Beefeater Gin Distillery is across town and takes another two hours in itself.

We took pictures of Westminster Abbey (not all that interested in the lineage of the royal families) and haven’t made it to the other attractions but the point of this is:

You would have to be hustling through major points of interest to save any money with the pass.

What would you prefer – spend a little more money for a lot more leisure, or save a little money for a lot more stress (and possibly pain?)

BUT, If you insist on purchasing the London Pass, please pick it up from a vendor in London. Buying it online will cost you an additional 10 pounds or more. (We saw rates much cheaper in London in person).

Leave comments with questions. We’re happy to elaborate.

Cheers.

xx