Judging from all the Facebook and Instagram posts, everything in our Europe trip seems to be going well. Of course, when people ask you about your trip, you’d want to give them the positive side of it. The moon has a dark side, but no one needs to see it, right? But of course, this hasn’t been the case. All things considered, the trip is going pretty well, but during its course, there have been a few setbacks and challenges that we had to circumvent in some way or another.
Firstly, there is the basic problem of food. Of course when you’re back home European food seems very romanticized and luxurious, with festivals like Oktoberfest and food chains like Poulet and Chippy’s giving European food its good name. But the truth is, after a week’s worth of Western food, you tend to get very sick of it. In this part of the world, the variety of authentic cuisines available is very limited. The spices they use didn’t vary by a huge degree. You’d find yourself having a lot of salted meat and their staple food is either pasta, or potatoes. Forget about fragrant Thai rice and Roti Prata, these food items are a distant dream in a land so far away. So in the end, we ended up eating at Chinese or Indian restaurants when we could. Though it isn’t as authentic as the food back home, it kept our spirits up anyway.
You could also consider cooking a few meals now and then while you’re away. The average price of a filling meal here is about €10, and so if you have lunch and dinner outside every day, it would be €20 a day spent on food, and that is about S$30, which can take it’s toll on your wallet after a few days. The items sold at the supermarkets are surprisingly cheap, and most of the meat and cheese they sell here are much cheaper than back home because it is locally produced. Most AirBnb accommodations include a cooking area, while almost all hostels have a large kitchen for backpackers, so all you need to do is learn how to cook if you don’t already know!
Travelling within the city can be a problem if you’re not alert, because the train and bus systems here can be very complex. In Munich, there was a station with thirteen lines passing through it! You can imagine how hard it was for us to decode that at first. However, it was made much easier by clear signs on the walls and good colour coding. Some of the signs are displayed in a few languages including English, and the train maps are very clear. So far in Germany and Austria there have also been instructions given in English at the ticketing machines. This made purchasing tickets much more convenient and we hardly had to ask around. You just have to buy a day pass or a short-term pass for the few days you are staying and all you have to do is pay a lump sum. This will be cheaper and less of a hassle than getting one-way tickets every time. Unlike Singapore, there is not tap in area so it works mostly as an honour system. However, train conductors frequently patrol the metro, and if you’re caught without a ticket, no amount of play-acting can help you escape the hefty fine. You are much better off just getting the train ticket.
You may have heard many rumours of petty-theft being very rife in Europe. Unfortunately, these rumours are true. Though Europe is generally developed and bustling with economic activity, there will always be people out there who had received the short end of the stick and are desperate to cheat your money. They come in many forms: pickpockets, purse-snatchers, Gypsies and well, as we found out the hard way, two men posing as the German Police. What happened was, we were walking through a quiet street when two large men approached us and showed us their German Police IDs. They told us they needed to search us for drugs. At one glance we knew that they were fakes, but what could we do? If we tried to run but failed, we would most certainly be thrashed and our money would be taken anyway. We showed them our ID, passports and every thing while keeping a very close eye on their movements. The decisive moment came when one of them tried slipping some euro notes from Jasper’s wallet into his pocket while pretending to look through his passport. When your attention is diverted to the passport, you may not be so aware of your money being taken, but lucky for us, he saw what had happened and demanded for his money. The large man knew he couldn’t go on with his act, and so sheepishly put the money back in the wallet, smiled, and told us not to take drugs. We shook hands and they simply left us at the street corner, totally shaken but thankfully, after double checking, our possessions were untouched.
What we learned from that early incident was firstly, to never wander through small, deserted streets. If people wanted to corner you and demand for your money, there isn’t really much you can do. Secondly, you should always be wary of strangers who demand too much from you, or want to sift through your possessions. If it does come to that, keep a close eye on their hands, and not just on your belongings. They have only two hands, but you have way more belongings. They normally use passports and important documents to distract you so always, always observe where their hands go if you’re caught in such a situation. If they sense that you are alert, they will normally drop the act. There are more gullible people out there to cheat.
Just like how the moon only reveals one side of itself, most people only reveal the positive part of their trip. But overall I feel it’s important to show this elusive dark side, for in the final analysis, it gives depth and volume to the trip, and lifts it out of it’s two dimensional, happy-go-lucky feel. No trip can be problem-free, and I feel that a successful trip cannot exist without its own challenges. In return, these challenges will help you grow as a traveller. You become more careful and confident when approaching new experiences, and that is the intrinsic reward of travelling.