For most of September, I was in a timezone far, far away and using much more colorful currencies, visiting Google's offices in London, Zurich, Munich, and Krakow. Most of what I heard about Europe was generally true: people are more fashionable and thinner, everything is more expensive, good customer service is hard to find, and if you want to use a public bathroom, expect to pay for it. There are exceptions, of course, but being politically correct is not as fun as confirming blanket stereotypes for a whole continent, so I'll err on that side. And here is an assortment of random observations on really important topics from the cities I visited:
- On airports... Heathrow is still horrible, but they did get some nice pod-like seats in the main corral that are more comfortable than your average airport waiting area seat. Points for effort.
- On food... I tried to get recommendations for places I could try traditional English food when I was in London, but everyone just recommended eating Thai or Indian. I ended up having some greasy fish and chips on principal.
- On fashion... I was clearly not in California anymore. People were dressed nicer and greyer. I was wearing a lime green fleece one day and I felt like an alien (sometimes I do anyways) because everyone was in some suit of grey, dark grey, black, or a shade in between.
- On street intersections... street signs were really hard to find in London, by far the hardest of all the cities I visited. If they exist at all, they are delicately camouflaged on building sides, and I expect in those cases, it's only for their decorative quality. On the other hand, they have a great traffic light system at heavy intersections and reminders on the street for which way to look. Of course, no one really pays attention to the traffic lights; people walk whenever it looks free or if they think they can hussle faster than an oncoming bike, taxi, or bus. It was interesting to see how different the behavior was at street intersections in the cities I visited (read further).
- On airports... there is a soundtrack featuring horns and cows playing as you walk through the airport toward baggage claim. I didn't actually make it to the Alps, but I suppose this is what it sounds like.
- On food... there is chocolate everywhere. Nothing more needs to be said.
- On fashion... I saw some of the most coiffed and done up teenage boy's hairdos in Zurich. I really wish I got a picture because I can't even explain some of the styles I saw, but teasing, curling, and lots of hairspray were clearly involved. Oh, you're also not allowed to do laundry on Sundays after 10pm. It causes a disturbance of the peace.
- On street intersections... cars will actually stop to let you pass in Zurich, even if there is no clear reason to. It's almost like they are looking for an opportunity to let a pedestrian pass in front of them. Strangers were the nicest to me in Zurich, so I'll relate this strange, yet genuine "car yielding to pedestrian" thing back to that.
- On airports... there is a huge BMW at the airport baggage claim. If you step on a medallion located in front of it, the engine will start (Vroooom!!) and the lights will go on -- and there you have the secret sequence to unlock the airport secret in Level Munich. Ridiculous.
- On food... there is no ice anywhere. I stayed at a 4 star hotel and they had no ice machine, no ice trays, and gave me the strangest look when I asked where I could find either. No ice in gas stations, no ice trays in convenience or grocery stories. No ice. Period.
- On fashion... if you go during Oktoberfest, you'll get to see local Bavarian clothes all over the city. I expected this in the beer tents, but it's everywhere. People wear lederhosen and dirndls to work, out to dinner, and I can only assume, when they go to sleep.
- On intersections... people obey traffic lights at street intersections, almost absurdly so. I saw people wait at totally empty streets for a traffic walk light to turn on. I got strange looks when I walked across an empty street against the light. Germans follow the rules!
- On airports... Krakow airport is cute and small. All the signs have bubbly letters and pictures.
- On food... Krakow is apparently the birthplace of the bagel (or Obwarzanek). Fresh baked bagels and pretzels are sold on most street corners during the day. They smell like salty carb deliciousness and should be tasted at least once.
- On fashion... there was nothing extraordinary about clothes in Poland, except that it was a lot more affordable than London, Zurich, or Munich. They did have a lot of cool amber jewelry, which is a popular tourist gift to purchase (and I did).
- On street intersections... I was staying mostly around Rynek Glowny, Krakow's central square, where cars and humans and hundreds of pigeons and horse drawn carriages all just get along and don't get in eachother's way. No further traffic direction required.