Travel Tips for Europe Part 3: When you land in Europe

This is the third post in the Travel in Europe series, the first one was all about research & planning for the dream European holiday and the second part was about how to pack for the Europe trip. And now we are onto the third...

So after months of preparation, running after visas, agonising over what clothes to take with you, shopping, finally you have packed your bags and your selfie stick and on the flight to your dream holiday. Let's get your prepared for what awaits once you land in Europe.

Some tips & tricks for you once you land in Europe.
Airport transfers: Most airports are situated a little away from the cities and there are usually several ways to get to the cities from the airports. Do a little research and figure out the cheapest way to get there. Usually there are buses/trains/underground trains connecting the airports to the cities. If you are planning to hire a cab, make sure you are taking the official ones. Our cab experiences in Istanbul & Rome hasn't been the best. Some hotel packages are inclusive of airport pickup. Specially in Turkey, so figure that out and let you hotel know about your arrival time in advance, so that they can sort out your pick-up.
Tip1: If you arrive early morning like say 2 a.m., in some cities the public transport network does not operate. The only way to get to the city is by taxi  or you could wait it out in the airport till the public transport starts operating. This is often a much more safer thing to do.
Tip2: All airports have Tourist Information Office, the symbol for which is a small i. In most cases the personnel manning the desks speak English, they will be able to help you out with all the relevant information.

Gondola ride along the canals in Venice is a must! But don't be afraid to haggle, fiercely!

Local transport: The most efficient way to get around a city is often the metro/tube/underground. Usually the underground has a wide network with several lines shooting off in different directions. There are network maps in each station and also on the platform walls. Study them carefully, you may have to make a change or two to get to your destination. Also make a note of the last stop of the line you have to take, that helps you get to the right platform. You can pick up free tube maps from the station in some cities. Grab one, it comes in really handy.
Tip1: Avoid the underground during the rush hours {approximately 7.30 to 9.30 in the mornings & 5 to 7 in the evenings}, you may be on holiday, but the city is not. Chances of you getting squashed during the peak hours are pretty high. And in summer that is not actually a very comfortable experience!
Bus/waterbus/trams though they take more time, lets you watch the city while travelling. I usually prefer using travelling in these*. More on this below.
Or just walk around the city. Like we love exploring Paris on foot. Though I find Rome a tad too sprawled out for walking. 
If you are planning to use the bus, you will need to purchase the ticket beforehand. Most buses do not sell tickets onboard. The ones which do, cost almost double of what it costs on the travel card.
Tickets can be purchased from underground stations/tobacco shops outside the stations, ticket vending machines at bus stops/train platforms. Most of these machines have English language option to help you complete your transaction. But you need to know what English is called in the language of the country you are visiting.

Air conditioned trams in Budapest are a cool refuge during the scorching hot summer afternoons!
Individual travel tickets are usually much more expensive than those bought in bulk. Most cities in Europe have day travel passes which enables you to travel unlimited times around the city. All you have to do is show the pass to the driver or swipe the ticket. There are usually no conductors on buses/trams. You are expected to swipe your pass. Random checks happen every once in a while by the police/transport department, so be careful that you punch in your ticket while using the transport.
Or some cities like Paris have books of travel tickets. Each book would contain 10 or 20 tickets and one ticket can be used to complete your one way journey, over several changes. Once activated your ticket would be valid for a certain period of time, say 1 hour. So if using these, don't throw them away after just one use. Do your research and check how far that ticket can take you.
Or you could even hire a bicycle and cycle around the city. It's great to cycle around cities like Amsterdam.

Travel Tip*: Most European cities are built on the banks of rivers, lakes, canals, seas and there are lots of luxury cruise options. Some offer meals and shows onboard as well. But if you are traveling on a tight budget, the cheapest way to do this is use the government ferry service, it may not be luxurious, but it serves the purpose and is likely covered by your day pass!

Hop on & Hop Off Buses: If you are too lazy to use the local transport, there is always the option of Hop on and Hop off buses. Buy a 24 hour pass and see the city from the comfort of the moving bus. Hop off in front of whichever destination you want to go inside and catch the bus again once you are done. Don't throw away the receipt, they usually offer a discount on your next ticket purchase! So you could save some precious Euros there!

Safety: Don't assume that all the pickpockets are lurking in India and Europe is safe & sound. Well most parts are, but some  bits are rather notorious. Cities like Paris, Barcelona, Prague are known for purse snatching, duping gullible tourists etc. In fact I was so freaked out with all the stories doing rounds about Barcelona on the internet I didn't even carry my DSLR. Read about the safety in each of these cities and be alert. 
Tip1: Real police won't come unto you on the road asking to check your passports! Those are imposters who pounce on your cash while you open your bag for the passports. There are several other ways you can be cheated. Check online and be on your guard. One of my friends had her purse containing her passport, credit cards, cash snatched in Barcelona. She had a harrowing time trying to report it to the police and trying to reapply for her passport. A vacation can easily turn into a nightmare unless you are vigilant.

Eating: Most hotels serve breakfast. Look for hotels with breakfast deals while booking. Tourists like eating breakfast early before starting the day's sightseeing, so if you reach the breakfast buffet too late you may find it a tad empty. Hotel breakfasts are pretty much the same fare, not all hotels in Europe serve cooked breakfast, but depending on the city you will get a wide choice of meat, cheese, fruits,  yogurt, breads and pastries too.

Lunch: If you have a long day's sightseeing planned, it's best to have a light lunch. In Europe lunch in a restaurant costs half of what dinner in the same place cost. So keep space in your schedule for a lingering lunch or two. 
Dinner: Europeans are rather particular about their dinner. They dress for it, they make reservations, they drink wine with it and deliberate over the menu in great length before ordering. It is also an expensive affair. But do give formal dinning a try. It's definitely worth the experience.
Tip1: Make use of the local grocery stores/farmers' markets. Pick up some fresh, seasonal fruits, local cheese, cuts of meats, fresh bread, a bottle or two of local wine or beer. Have a picnic dinner in one of the parks or beside the river. We love doing this. 
Tip2: Most cities have restaurants catering to the tourists. The biggest giveaway is the menu in English. While reading the menu in English is  convenient, in these places you won't get authentic fare. For that you need to get out of the touristy places and venture into the local parts of the cities. Do a little research. We found an awesome seafood place in Barcelona away from all the touristy madness. It was a canteen of sorts filled to the brim with fresh local catch. No one spoke a single word of English, we ordered in broken, basic Spanish and hand gestures. If you are a seafood fan you will go mad there and the prices are much cheaper too.
Tip 3: Join a guide for a tour of the local food markets and a cooking workshop. I did this in Istanbul and had a great time exploring the cities bustling markets & shops with a local. Do this in the beginning of your trip, so that you can use the knowledge during the rest of your stay.

Europeans & tourists love dinning al fresco in summer. Often musicians play in the squares and it's lovely to sit outside and take it all in!

Say Hello in the local language: People in Europe mostly understand and speak English. But if you start the conversation with a greeting in their language, they feel you are making an effort and are more likely to be friendly and help you out. Pick up a scattering of phrases and practice your language skills on the locals.

Getting the VAT back: Most European countries return the VAT they charged on your purchase if you have shopped above a certain amount in one transaction. In the billing section they will fill out a VAT return form and give it to you. On the day of your departure you will have to take your purchased item, the VAT return form to the appropriate counter in the airport. If you are planning to do this, arrive early. This takes time. You can get more information on this here.
We have never done this, but if you are planning on going crazy on shopping it's worth a try specially since VAT in Europe varies between 15 to 25%. That is a lot of money in Indian currency.

All the best for your travels, make the most of it and stay safe!

I am planning to end this series with a post on London. If you want any other travel topics covered, do let me know and I could do another post on that.

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