As no-doubt everyone reading this blog will know, my summer holiday this year has been dedicated to utilising the lax passport controls we’ve paid so much for over the past few decades. To that end me and my long suffering partner in… well… many things, have driven from the most lovely town that we live in (Bolsover) to the eastern edges of both the Adriatic Sea and Europe itself, then started back again. After travelling some 2394 miles, I’d like to share with you a few things I’ve discovered thus far about the closest continent to our British Isles.
Driving is what you make of it
To comply with the law in different countries along our route we assembled a plethora of items that will probably never be used. We have a full spare bulb set (inclusive of every single bulb on the car), a full first aid kit, two high-visibility jackets, a fire extinguisher and two emergency road triangles. However, as soon as you get off that ferry every rule of the road itself goes out the window, it’s you verses them, survival of the fittest. No-one drives to the speed limit (even when it’s 85Mph), 50% of people never indicate as a matter of principle and zebra crossings mean absolutely nothing (woe-betide anyone who thinks otherwise, on foot or in a car, you will be struck and noisily ridiculed for your foolishness).
The customer is a nuisance
In central and northern Europe all is good, service is quick, precise and polite. In stark contrast, southern and eastern Europeans attitudes are somewhat more… “relaxed”, in almost every respect. If you walk into an empty restaurant and two of you sit at a table for four you will be ordered (not asked) to move immediately. You may wait up to 15 minutes to order a drink and then wait a further 15 for them to arrive. Another 15 minutes will pass before you’re asked what you’d like to eat and if it’s off the menu the waiter(ess) will retire at once, for a further 15 minutes. An hour in and you might be able to order something to eat but don’t even think about paying up and leaving or complaining, as it will be made quite clear to you that it’s entirely your fault and that you shouldn’t have bothered frequenting their establishment in the first place.
If you want to pee, you’ve gotta pay for it
It seems to be a universal truth across continental Europe that, if you’re not at either a restaurant or cafe bar, then you’ll have to part with some coin in order to evacuate your bladder. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve just spent on petrol or if you’ve purchased several hefty sandwiches with accompanying drinks at a service station. If you’re at some type of attraction, say a museum or a castle you’ve already paid far too much funny money to get into. You might even find yourself walking around one of Europe’s finest cities with an excellent public transport system, a pristine road network and free public access to some of the finest culture in the world. However, no matter what you do or where you are, at every toilet you will find a small bowl, usually on a little table in front of a bedraggled old lady, dressed in her finest tabard, and you will not be allowed to pass her (or anything else for that matter) without stumping up the cash. Ok, so it’s usually around 50p a throw but still… and you’ve gotta think it’s maybe why some of these places have a rather ammonia-like scent that lingers in the air.
I think that’s about enough for now loyal reader, if I’m honest I can’t believe you stuck with me this far. In any case, stay tuned for the next instalment that I’ll almost certainly forget to write, coming to a computer screen near your face soon…