Answers to questions i have been asked.

Some of you have asked questions about our travelling, so i thought i would just take this opportunity and spend one whole message as answering them.

  • "Are you using Travelers Checks or carrying a ton of cash?"
  • "Have you been using a rail pass, or buying train tickets and how expensive is it?"
  • "You seem to be doing a lot of walking. How are your feet?"
  • "How do you manage in countries where you don't speak the language?"
  • "Forgive me for asking if it is impolite, but have you been spending a lot of money?"
  • "Have the fake wedding rings helped you get rooms?"
  • "I know this sounds funny, but how do you pee? I don't mean HOW, i know that and i don't want to hear more, but where and how does it work?"
  • "How do you do laundry? And how often? Is it expensive?"
  • "How is Internet access - where do you find it, how much and so forth?"
  • "So how are the two of you getting along with all of this constant togetherness?"
  • "Have you been able to stay Vegitarian? Aren't some of these places all meat eaters?"
  • "Have you gotten homesick?"
  • "Have you had anything lost or stolen yet?"
  • "What do you do about buying new clothes? Or do you need to?"
  • "How bad is the smoking? Is it everywhere? Was Eastern Europe the worst?"
  • "You make it sound like everything is perfect -- don't things go wrong?"
  • "Isn't staying in Hostels uncomfortable?"
  • "I haven't gotten a travelogue in a long time. Is anything wrong?"

    "Are you using Travelers Checks or carrying a ton of cash?"

    Neither. Both are an unneccessary bother in the age of the ATM.

    We are carrying a rather small stash of US dollars and Deutchemarks for emergencies. We have used the DM a couple of times in Eastern Europe, but usually by choice, not nescesity. Otherwise the only cash we are carrying is for countries we have already left -- eventually, it all gets spent or changed. (Although the Dutch money is so beautiful i don't want to part with it!).

    Changing cash, or travelers checks at money changers ALWAYS costs 5 to 10% and when you change that same money again, you lose another 10%! And they always have tricks. We got a really bad rate getting ride of Belguin Franks in Hungary, partially because we were not careful. The Euro has also made this interesting -- since Euro Currencys don't float against each other some places charge a commission on ONLY the Euro currancies since they cannot play the market on them. (The best rate is usually to be found at these places, which make their profit on speculation, instead of commssions and lousy rates.)

    Using an ATM card lets you avoid all that crap AND avoid carrying much cash at all. I feel much safer. Best of all each machine gives you the up to the second exchange rate! Of course one important part of this is having an ATM card from a bank that does not charge you to use it. My Credit Union at home does not charge me to use my debit card. No machine i have used in all of the 29 countries has charged me a fee, either. A couple in Berlin threatened to, but it never came through on my statement. So it is so convienient and cheap and easy Travelers Checks are no longer necessary.

    I have a little palmtop organizer that i use to keep track of the bank balance. Since i can check my ballance and transactions on the internet, i always know within a couple of days exactly what rate i got -- in other words, exactly how much i withdrew in US dollars. AND i can keep a CLOSE eye on whether anyone else is trying to use my card!

    You will find that Visa cards are accepted (and accepted at no fee) in almost 100% of ATMS. The only exception was one chain of banks in Ljubljana, Slovenia which only took EC and MasterCard. MasterCard is less often accepted, but still common, as are Cirrus, EuroCard and quite a number of other networks. I would strongly recommend a no fee Visa Debit card. I have never had my card rejected out of hand from a machine. We have had a couple of scares when the networks were down and we couldn't get money, but that never lasted more than a couple of hours -- and then we just got a cash advance from a bank.

    There are literaly hundreds of ATMs in every city and even most of the smallest villages have had at least one. I was a bit worried at first about finding machines, but they are everywhere! (We went to a change desk once, and that was because the guidebooks said there were no ATMs in Romania. As usual, the books were wrong.)

    They have been so easy to find that i have been able to get just a little out each time and never carry much local cash at all. Everywhere you look, especially in Eastern Europe, you see a Bankomat. Every country calls them a Bankomats, except Germany and Holland where they are sometimes called a Geldautomat and England where they are often called a Cash Dispenser -- doesn't that sound like it gives out free money?

    "You seem to be doing a lot of walking. How are your feet?"

    Walking is a great way to really see a place, it feels good and it is good exersise. We love to hike in the country and just walk for hours in the city. Sometimes we just try to get lost. We wander around outside of the tourist areas and see what a place is really like.

    We are in better physical condition than we were when we left and our feet are great! My main walking shoes have held up very well, although they are just a tad too narrow and i sometimes get blisters on my baby toes. I got the Birkenstocks to give my feet a rest from them and i can walk as well in the Birks as in the Salomons.

    For the first few months we did not have any problems with Athletes foot, but lately it has been a problem. However i tried an old remedy which works extremely well! I was thrilled and surprised (wish i had known about it years ago!)... i won't go into details here because it can sound just a bit on the gross side, but if you are interested, i will be happy to share!

    Cheryln's Doc Martens have pretty much worn out and she can't walk comfortably in them any more. She left them in Bonn this last time because she bought some comfy new trendy hiking boot style shoes in Poprad Slovkia.

    "Have you been using a rail pass, or buying train tickets and how expensive is it?"

    We DID buy a railpass before we left the USA and it was probably the single biggest mistake we have made on this journey. I KNEW better, but we did it anyway.

    Domestic train tickets are not terribly expensive. Eastern Europe is very cheap and there are many discount plans that are easy to take advantage of in the expensive countries like Britian and Germany and Scandinavia. In anycase it is unquestionably cheaper and easier to buy each ticket -- AND more fun, you fit in more with the culture, have more of an idea of where you are going and have a great souvineer to take home.

    The International tickets cost more, and can be quite expensive, but there are tricks to doing that too (a round trip often costs LESS than a one way, AND you get a free journy you can use part of!)

    Rail passes are extremely expensive (doubly so if you are over 25, which we both, of course, are) and terribly limiting. The we bought pass was only good for 5 rides within 2 months (the cheapest pass they make). We had to do a great deal of planning and changing directions just in order to use the damned pass. IT cost $542 and tickets for the same rides would have cost $530. The frustration and complication it has caused has been a pain.

    Unless you are taking very long, international trains almost every day (and we only do so, on average three times a month) it is cheaper and MUCH easier to use tickets instead of the pass.

    As a rule, if you are travelling 3 weeks or less, are under 26 and are planning to cover more than 5 countries in that 3 weeks, a pass might be worth it. Otherwise it will always be cheaper without.

    "How do you manage in countries where you don't speak the language?"

    It's not too bad. We make do with a pidgin of English and German and the local language. Our German is getting much better, we now speak very good German in every country except Germany!

    We do a lot of pointing and smiling. You listen to what people say and pick up one or two words from a sentence or a gesture or a facial expression. It is really not very difficult -- most things are universal.

    In every country we learn the basics (Thank you is most important, also, please, hello, goodbye, one, two, yes, no, toilet ) on the way in and always pick up a bit, even in a few days. We found these basic words, to be exremely powerful.

    These words alone will open up almost any door -- and nowhere is that more obvious than in France. The French do NOT, as hersay would have it, hate Americans or English. They are very polite people and if you do not use the niceities they consider you rude. If you DO use the niceities (listen to what they say to each other!) such as a simple Bon Soir Madam. They are the friendlyest people around!

    Except in Italy people have been extremely helpful and understanding. Most people even think it is fun to try to communicate with us. And of course, many people do speak English, especailly the young people -- in Eastern Europe almost 100% of the people under the age of 25 speak some English.

    My favorite word so far? Slovkian for Ice Cream is zmrzlina!

    "Forgive me for asking if it is impolite, but have you been spending a lot of money?"

    No problem. Many people here and at home assume that we are indpendently wealthy to be doing this. It is not so. We are traveling very simply and very cheaply. We do not have a house or apartment back at home to pay rent on.

    Even including an enormous storage bill in Seattle, we are spending slightly LESS money, as a monthly average, then we do when we are living at home! We keep looking at things that we could've done more cheaply, but on the whole, except in Britian, we have spent around $19 per day EACH, plus the airplane ticket.

    "Have the fake wedding rings helped you get rooms?"

    Yes. They have not made a HUGE difference but they have helped make us seem less threatening to people on a number of occations, they have been conversation starters, and on several occations people have offered us private double rooms upon seeing the rings. We have certainly noticed people were more comfortable with us, and more helpful, after seeing the rings -- and it smoothed over our attempts to get a 'spouse' discount on our German rail cards (even though unmarrieds are generally accepted on that). On the other hand, despite all the dire warnings about cultural conventions, most of the couples we have met and or stayed with were not married either.

    "I know this sounds funny, but how do you pee? I don't mean HOW, i know that and i don't want to hear more, but where and how does it work?"

    Well there is an interesting phenomonom in Europe. It costs money, and often a lot! In some places in Eastern Europe it cost so much that the locals would not use it at all. So we've spent some money on public restrooms. Plus we have been creative. Train bathrooms are free, but trainstations have the most expensive bathrooms in town. And we have often found wooded areas or alleyways. You can often walk confidentaly into a resturant or such and there is ALWAYS an 'American Embassy' (aka McDonalds) around. Sometimes the place we are staying has been convenient enough for us to stop by there a couple of times during the day. Anyway you make do. It is something we are aware of, and have to work around, but it has rarely, if ever, been a huge problem.

    "How do you do laundry? And how often? Is it expensive?"

    Many hostels have machines, most cities have laundrymats around and everyone that we have stayed with has offered to do our laundry (we went about 2.5 months without having to pay for laundry at one point!!!) And sometimes you just let it go a bit longer. We only have a couple of changes of clothing, but we are quite used to it and standards we might have at home do not apply. We each have our control factor: mine is socks, that is the one thing i cannot wear repeatedly, and when i run out, i'm in trouble. We often wash small items in the sink. Except for those we usually go about 2 to 3 weeks between laundry, but it varies. Since we have rarely paid for laundry, it is hard to say how expensive it is. The few times we HAVE done it it seemed VERY expensive. 4 to 6 dollars at hostels in Scotland for one load wash and dry. An eco-laundrymat in Bonn was 12.5 bucks for 3 loads wash and dry -- like i said, most times we have not paid.

    "How is Internet access - where do you find it, how much and so forth?"

    In general the Internet acess has been slow and extremely expensive. It is also often difficult to find (there are exceptions, Edinburgh and Cluj and Prague seemed to have places everywhere); more than once we have spent entire days looking for it. It is almost always VERY VERY slow, much slower than a dialup at home. We HAVE discovered that Sunday evenings (when it is Sunday morning in USA) are the best time because the least people are on the net around the world. You can DEFINATELY tell when America wakes up! Anyway we have found SOMETHING in every city, even if it was too expensive. After food, trains and beds, we have spent more on Internet than on anything else -- and we have been lucky enough to find it for free in a number of places: we have logged in from libraries, universities, and friends houses -- as well as the occational FREE internet cafe! There are telephone cards on sale in every country we have been to which advertise rates to the USA that range from 1.5 cents to 4 cents per minute. I assume there is some kind of catch, but if there is not, it would CERTAINLY be far far cheaper to bring a laptop and just call my provider back home. At 3.5 cents per minute we would have been able to spend half hour EVERY DAY of the trip on the Internet before we had spent as much as we have spent (for about 1 hour each per week!) at Internet cafes & clubs. Nevertheless it has been a very important connection for us. It is wonderful to hear from friends while travelling and to be able to check our bank accounts and exchange rates and news from home. Also writing these journals has been important to me since i am unable to keep a daily diary with a pen. There is also an interesting frustration that we have noticed with email: everytime we leave an interenet place we both tend to be very irritable and introspective. Part of it is that we can never do as much as we would like. Never write enough journals, read enough news, write enough messages to friends -- it is a task that is never done and seems to consume A LOT of time. However, searching for Internet Clubs, especailly the cheap, locally oriented off the beaten track ones, has been a great way to see interesting parts of the cities!

    "So how are the two of you getting along with all of this constant togetherness?"

    We have been doing very well. It is surprising -- neither of us has been interested in taking any time away from the other yet. We expected that by this point we would have taken a few breaks for a day or two, but we have not even done it for a half a day. It IS nice when we get to run around for an hour or so alone, but neither of us are longing for space. We depend on each other for a lot of support and we both try hard to treat each other well. We get grumpy and annoyed at each other, but that is part of the deal and it never lasts long.

    "Have you been able to stay Vegitarian? Aren't some of these places all meat eaters?"

    I made a decision to eat red meat, if necessary; so before i left home i trained my tummy a bit. I have not had to use that training more than once or twice, and that might have been avoided. Cheryln has not had any. I have been eating chicken or fish now and then when there is nothing else around, but that has not been often. Except in Italy, everyone we have met has been very helpful and understanding about our food choices and it has not been a problem. Poland was especailly easy because of the Milk Bars. We also very often stay in places with kitchens where we can cook for ourselves to save money! There are certainly places we've been to which eat primarly meat, but it has never been a PROBLEM finding something to eat -- it is an issue we are always aware of, but it is never a problem.

    "Have you gotten homesick?"

    No, not really. I do miss Seattle, and occationally miss the stability of a home. I think moving out of the apartment helped -- if i still had a home set up i might miss it more. I do miss my friends and i miss my bicycles and computer terribily. I think often of Seattle and this has been a strange year for our city. We are quite worried about how much IT will have changed by the time we get back home! We are worried we may never really feel connected to it again. Before we left we had a reoccuring conversation about weather or not we wanted the big earthquake to happen while we were gone or not. Because i sure don't want to live through that, but would we REALLY want to miss it? Now i kind of feel like that has happened.

    "Have you had anything lost or stolen yet?"

    Well, not really. We lost a bandana last week -- knew exactly where we left it 20 minutes after we left, but it was too late. (But we have also aquired TWO bandanas along the way!) I lost one of my motion sickness armbands in Zakopane Poland because instead of putting it away like i should've i just shoved it in my coat pocket with my gloves and hat. When i pulled out my hat, it fell out. Part of the way we pack, very organized, is designed to make certain we have everything, and we both double check every room and seat before leaving. Nothing else (that i know of) has been lost and nothing has been stolen. We are very careful, but there have been no problems. Just like with the armband, if there is a problem, it will because we do something stupid. Of course that first week we lost my wonderful, expensive, beautiful, Pike-Place-Market-crafts- booth, wooden cribbage board which i loved so much. I was in the line for customs to get in to England and i had to dig through my pack to get a document, i pulled the board out and left it on the seat of the boat. I am still very sad about it -- and the worst part was that we were really looking forward to playing lots of cribbage on the trip.

    "What do you do about buying new clothes? Or do you need to?"

    We've picked up a pair of socks here and there. We each bought winter coats in Budapest and i bought warm pants for the winter. We each bought a pair of shoes and Cheryln may need to buy another. Cheryln is knitting me a sweater (talk about looking harmless on trains!).

    "How bad is the smoking? Is it everywhere? Was Eastern Europe the worst?"

    It's pretty bad. Some places are worse than others. Poland was excellent -- all public places were smoke free and most establishments were too. Budapest was not bad, almost nothing except the lobby of the hostel we stayed in for two days. Vienna was horrible and Germany is pretty bad. It's funny, the germans are tremendously health and environment concious about EVERYTHING, except smoking -- it seems like a big contridiction! Even in the vinyards when we were cutting grapes there were usually people smoking. Italy is by far the worst -- it is the first place we have been where the smoke is absolutely inescapable. I'm so frustrated i want to cry. Since getting here i am starting to feel like a smoker i have inhaled so much smoke. I dream of being in Seattle and being able to breathe without my throat burning!

    "You make it sound like everything is perfect -- don't things go wrong?"

    Sure, things don't go the way we plan all the time. And there are problems, missed trains, short nights of sleep, ciggarette smoke, mean people. I could write a long letter about disappointments, frustrations, things that went wrong, and other bummers. But why dwell on it? The first time i went to Europe i got a fantastic piece of advice from my brother who had done the whirlwind tour a couple of years previous. He said, "If you are running to catch a train and your backpack strap rips, and you drop your ice cream cone and you miss your train by mere seconds, instead of getting bummed out about it you have to say 'COOL! I get to stay here another day!' or 'I'm in ITALY!!!, that's COOL!'". You make the best of it. There are always good things to focus on and it's just no fun if you focus on the bad things. Besides, when you tell other people how great things are, you go a long way to convincing yourself of it! Sure, bad things happen, and we get down at times. Sometimes, in the difficult and unpleasent places (Prague, Florence) it is hard to keep a good attitude, but most of the time it is easy -- and all the time it is vital. IF we get to where we can't keep a good attitude, i think we will just bag it and go home --- but so far, everything is absolutely GREAT! Really.

    "Isn't staying in Hostels uncomfortable?"

    "I haven't gotten a travelogue in a long time. Is anything wrong?"

    No, nothing is wrong -- i have gotten pretty far behind, and i'm sorry. I have been having a lot of experinces and little ability to get to a computer. I really am sad that i don't have a way to type, a micro laptop or someting. I also find that i have become filled up and am having trouble digesting all that has happened! I will try to write some while i am here in Sicily and have a compter availible (thanks to my cousin!). I don't think that everything will be in chronological order, but i will get to everything. And of course everything will be posted, in order, on the website, at! (Thanks to Amber!!) Next adventure
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