It had been a childhood dream of mine to visit Europe, and it finally came to fruition last month. It took me some extensive research, countless phone calls & messages, and numerous moments of “I can’t do it anymore” to be able to plan a 15-day trip to Europe. And it was a blast!
I have been living in Costa Rica for 2 years now, and I love the kind of life my husband and I have built for ourselves here. So when I visited Europe last month, I found some things to be absolutely contrasting. Like sunset at 8.30 pm. Eating dinner during daylight. No dependency on Uber/taxis. And many more!
This is why I have come up with a list of things that you should know about Europe if you are used to Costa Rican life. Let’s start!
15 Things to Know About Travel to Europe
1. Elevators and escalators are not common here
Most public places like train stations, metro stations, museums, and tourist attractions also don’t have an escalator or elevator. So be prepared to walk and climb up and down the stairs.
The Louvre museum in Paris is so big that it can take you a whole day (even 1 day isn’t enough) to cover popular halls. And there are no escalators! You climb up and down the stairs multiple times in order to move across the halls.
2. Pack light
A large majority of hotels, hostels, and B&Bs in Europe are in old buildings, and you cannot expect an elevator. You will have to carry your luggage up several flights of stairs. So it’s wise to pack light. You may have to drag them on cobbled streets, and may even carry them when crossing multiple bridges in Venice.
We had a very hard time in Venice carrying our suitcases up and down the numerous bridges to our hotel from the train station and vice versa.
And as mentioned above, there are no escalators and lifts at train and metro stations, so taking a large suitcase on your Europe trip may end up giving you shoulder and back pain. Maybe consider carrying a hiking backpack or a rucksack!
3. The public transportation system is very developed
Everything you need to know about your next bus or train is just a Google search away. Just enter your destination on Google Maps and the results will show you bus and metro options from your location. No need to download a separate application.
Also, the passes are very convenient. Depending on the number of days you are planning to stay in the city, you can get a bus/metro pass that will cover all of your transportation during your stay. The duration is counted from the time when you first use your pass. For example, I took a 72-hour pass for 30 Euros in Paris, which included bus and metro rides.
4. Most restaurants shut down between 3 pm to 6 pm
Remember to have your lunch by 1 pm. This is a hard lesson that I learned. There is so much to do in European cities that you can sometimes get caught up in activities or simply forget to have your lunch. There were 2-3 occasions when I remembered to have lunch at around 3.30 pm, and most of the restaurants I visited, had closed down for a break.
5. Get used to late dining
During summer, there may be daylight even at 9 pm. Moreover, the Eiffel Tower lights up at around 8.45 pm (in April). So you may be busy watching sunsets on beaches, getting clicked after the Eiffel Tower lights up, or sitting in a park until it gets dark (which is between 9-10 pm).
If you are used to having dinner early, you may have to leave your habit at home and embrace late dining. Or get used to dining in the daylight!
6. English is the common connecting language
English is one language that is mostly spoken at tourist places, restaurants, and hotels, so it’s better to know basic English. I remember overhearing someone asking the lady at the reception desk of a Cruise Tour Company in Paris if she knew Spanish, and she replied that she only knew French and English.
7. Public toilets are paid
Be ready to pay around 1-1.5 Euros for using toilets at public places like train stations, parks, and major tourist attractions. Some restaurants will have restrooms free only for their customers. So it’s good to carry change with you at all times.
8. Most tourist attractions are overcrowded
When you think of Europe, you think of beautiful towns, with snow-clad mountains in the backdrop. Or you think of beautiful buildings, churches, and fountains. You imagine getting stunning pictures clicked of you. While in reality, you will find crowds in almost all places in Europe. And especially during summer.
When I first set foot in Venice, I couldn’t believe that there could be so many people in one place. Coming from Costa Rica, you are not used to seeing crowds at tourist places (Semana Santa being an exception). So prepare yourself to brave the crowds.
9. Book hotels in advance
If you are visiting Europe in the summer, book your hotels in advance. One, the good ones will sell out very fast. And you will be left with either low-rated options or ones that are not close to the popular tourist spots i.e. are on the outskirts. Two, they will be more expensive if you book close to your dates.
10. Food costs are almost the same as in Costa Rica
If you think that Europe is much more expensive than Costa Rica, I am happy to share that it is not. I found the food cost at restaurants to be almost the same as in Costa Rica. A main dish may cost between 6000-9000 colones, and you can buy coffee for 1500 colones. You can buy a medium pizza for around 6000 colones.
11. There are a multitude of restaurants, cafes, bakeries, candy shops, etc.
You can’t help but notice the jaw-dropping, mouth-watering chocolate, candy, bakery shops, ice cream parlors, and pizzerias, that you get lured to. Let go of your inhibitions or your weight loss goals and simply indulge in these delicacies. Because believe me, nowhere else will you get to choose from unlimited options.
Definitely try the ice creams in Italy. They are the best! When in Venice, taste different types of candies and chocolates. You need not necessarily buy them. Try bakery items in France. Simply amazing!
12. Europeans use amusing modes of commuting
One thing that I noticed immediately upon landing in Europe is that a lot of people use skateboards, kick scooters, electric scooters, skates, and bikes to commute to their destination. The roads can get very busy during rush hours and using the above modes helps them save time.
However, Rome was the most amusing of them all. Here I saw the Renault Twizy for the first time. It’s a 2 seater car, is very compact, and is a common sight in Rome. Since Rome is a bit congested and densely populated, it makes sense to drive a 2 seater car.
13. European architecture is simply beautiful
If you are visiting Europe to witness the marvelous architecture, you will surely not be disappointed. From the bridges, churches, and government buildings, to the wall paintings inside the churches, you will always be in awe of the beauty of these man-made marvels.
14. Beware of scams
Some cities like Paris are known for tourist scams. They are so common that you may find enough articles on the internet to help you learn about them. Do not fall prey to people trying to scam you on the roads. Be vigilant at all times, take care of your belongings, and do not pay attention to unsolicited advice from strangers. Avoid engaging in conversation with people trying to sell things to you.
15. Be ready to face desperation, homelessness, and even petty crime
Coming from Costa Rica, you are not used to seeing homeless people on the streets, and beggars asking you for money. You are not even used to bags being snatched away, being mugged on the streets, and people trying to scam you. Of course, San Jose is an exception, and you hear of 1 or 2 crimes once in a while, but if you are living in the Central Valley, you are mostly saved from the misery of encountering these sights.
But be ready to face these in Europe. Small towns may be an exception, but if you are visiting capitals like Paris, Rome, and Berlin, you may come across contrasting features. On one side is the Eiffel Tower, and on the other side you see a homeless person eating a pigeon that he just caught with his bare hands.
When planning to visit a different country, or a different continent altogether, be prepared to embrace different cuisines, different cultures, and different ways of doing things. Adapt yourself to the place you are visiting, and you are sure to have a memorable trip!
As the common saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.