Those of us of a certain age will recall the popular travel guides of some years ago that touted “See Europe on $$$$ per Day”. The fill in the blank number that I remember ranged from $20.00 to $200.00. These books were largely responsible for the flood of American tourists that roamed through Europe from the 60’s onward seeking to immerse themselves in European culture. The reality is that most of those that followed the proscriptions of such “How To” books became acquainted with small dingy hotel rooms, wine that tasted like paint thinner, and that particular brand of European body odor, but, nevertheless, returned home happy and knowing more than when they left.
I suspect that had S. and I not been busy raising babies and climbing young ambitions ladder we would’ve done the same (Europe on $20.00 or so a day) thing. Not now however. You see, among other things, our bedroom habits are different. No, it’s not what you think. It’s just that she goes to bed late and I get up early. She watches TV before sleeping, I read. I have to have coffee and the morning news by 6:00 a.m. and she has been known to sleep in well beyond my breakfast time. Why do I confide this to you? Only to explain that the normal European hotel room that you can stand in the center of and touch all four walls, and goes for a reasonable price, no longer works for us. We need a snoring couch, preferably in a separate space. And given the eccentricities of our various digestive systems, an extra loo is a strong plus. Euros tend to call this type of room by various names, but they all have words like “deluxe”, “suite”, “grande” or “superior” in its name, and they make you pay through the nose big time for the small bit of comfort that we now find essential. So we start out in a big hole trying to hew to a budget that’s at least one or two orders of magnitude higher than any normal traveling couple would target. That is to say, if we only ate small bits from street vendors, drank from the communal pump, and purchased nothing more than trinkets made in China, we would have a really hard time with the $2000/day thing. And, of course, we do none of the foregoing. There are many out there like us, and it’s this audience that needs my help.
Do not despair. I will, forthwith, provide you will some rules of the road, so to speak, that will allow you to wallow at will in the finest of European culture and squeeze the Euro to manageable levels. Pay strict attention for these are all proven, travel tested techniques of preserving one’s financial firepower while partaking of the finest Europe has to offer. Indeed, these maxims are useful to all travelers to the Old Country regardless of their budget.
1. When you make your hotel reservation, pretend that you are a Canadian. All you have to do is throw in “eh” every now and then and they won’t be able to tell the difference. It’s well known in European hotel circles that they love Canadians and give them the best rates and love/hate Americans and always try to get twice the going rate from them because they are all rich and obnoxious. An alternate strategy is to pretend that you’re from Bulgaria, because everyone knows that they have absolutely no money and always try to get by on the cheap. This strategy is hard to execute because no one knows exactly what a Bulgarian sounds like, so you might get mistaken for a Swiss….which for obvious reasons would be a disaster.
2. Never, and I mean never, eat in any restaurant that has, or has ever had a Michelin star, is reviewed in Zagat, or is even mentioned in TripAdvisor.com. Zagats and TripAdvisor have screwed up every restaurant they’ve ever listed in their publications. If the restaurant was, at one time, either a good or a cheap place to eat, the fact that they included them in their publication caused hordes of Americans and a few Germans to descend on them resulting in increased prices and reduced service. You will thank me for this. The Michelin star thing is a little more complex. It is possible to get some good vittels in one of these places, but keep two things in mind: 1) when you finish your meal you won’t have any idea what you just ate and will probably still be hungry and need to stop by the local Paki store for a bag or two of Salt and Vinegar Crisps and a Coke lite, and 2) the price of the meal would feed a small tribe in Swaziland for about eighteen months.
3. Always drink the local hooch. This takes some prior planning because if you’re a creature of habit like me, you will automatically belly up to the bar and order your customary poison without thinking of geography. This will be a big mistake. For example, you’re sitting in the corner pub in Dublin and need something to get the parch out of your gullet. Do not order your Michelobe Golden Ultra Light as you would back home unless you’re willing to relieve yourself of about $12.00 per pop. Instead, order a ha’ pint o’ Guiness and nurse it along for a couple of hours. I figure you’ll save about $100 bucks over the course of the evening and as a bonus the local squadron of barflies will have great admiration for your adventurous spirit.
4. Never ask for or order anything from the wine list. You won’t have ever heard of anything listed therein, and you will need a second mortgage on your manse to manage anything the waiter won’t giggle about. I, however, have a fool proof method for ingratiating yourself to even the most arrogant of waiters and saving big bucks at the same time. All you have to do is when he presents “le carte de vin” is say, “I understand you have a quite nice house red/white/rose. I’m always so impressed by restaurants that have the savoir faire to provide such intelligent choices to their patrons. Don’t you think that would be a good choice for us tonight”. That’s all there is to it. You’ll have the old bloke eating right out of your hand and save a couple of c-notes as well.
5. A word about guides. There are some compelling reasons to hire the services of a local guide. You can skip the lines. Yep, that’s what I said. You will not have to stand in the interminably long lines of tourists from god knows where to see the venue of choice. This is one of the odd things about Europe. Everybody wants to see the same stuff, and given the law of supply and demand, the resulting thongs tend to cue up and wait, and wait, and wait to see whatever it is. If you have a guide, they will either sneak you in the side door or bribe their cousin who is guarding the gate. Either way you win. Because of the effect of one above, you may be able to see two days worth of old churches and stuff in one day, or three days of same in two. You get the drift. Think of it, if by spending what a visit to your dermatologist cost, you can reduce your hotel and restaurant tabs by a day or two, you’ve made some real money. If you take my advice and sign up for a guide, I must offer one caution. Do not invite your guide to have lunch (or dinner) with you. The reason is clear. Most guides are notoriously stingy with their own money, and most likely will have eaten little or nothing when they get to you. If, in an excess of kindness and desire to use the lunch hour to learn a little more about the architecture of Byzantine churches, you invite them to join you for lunch, they may eat you into the poorhouse. At the minimum they will have all four courses and a double espresso to boot. Worse yet, as most work by the hour, you’ll be paying their hourly rate to pay for their meal. The bottom line….eat alone, and read your Frommer’s Guide.
So you see, it can be done. You can enjoy all the Europe has to offer and do it on a budget, just by following a few time and travel tested techniques.
I just can’t wait to go back.