Sacre Coeur, Paris
1. Europeans are much more environment friendly than other continents. Much more public transport, avid bikers, energy saving. This is something we should learn from our Dutch or French counterparts.
2. Europeans in general are more reserve then Americans: Its a common thing to greet a stranger with a cheery "Hello, How are you?" or a "Good Morning" in America, not so in Europe. At the very best, one can expect a Nod, or a smile.
3. The Paper is not as ubiquitous in Europe as in America: Ok they do have TP in the restrooms, but don't bet on Paper towels near sinks or in your hotel rooms. They use paper sparingly, most of the places still believe in the old fashioned fabric.
4. People are lean: There were many times when I looked around on a crowded subway platform and didn't find a single person seriously overweight. (How do they manage it - Bicycles?)
5.People are fashionable: In the cold January morning you can find women in sheer stockings. No sneakers for ladies - I looked around many a times and found that I was the only one ( gasp!) donning sneakers around.
6. Paris and Brussels are stunningly beautiful - We kept walking from one place to another and the cities never failed to amaze us. Average walk a day 7 miles or more. Yaay!! for my sneakers.
7. You PAY (Gasps!!!) for the use of restrooms: Seriously people! thats something I had to check twice to believe. Even in restaurants you've to pay to use the restrooms, at least in Holland. And to think they pay big taxes out there.
8. Graffiti Everywhere: I think spray cans are dirt cheap in Europe. Top of the buildings, subway stations, tunnels, trains...nothing has been spared of the big bold letters. I saw graffiti even in the places really difficult to get to, like the inside of a tunnel where trains were passing every two minutes. Either Europe needs to nurture its graffiti talent by organising graffiti marathons and graffiti olympics or they need to increase the price of those spray cans.
9. Going to Europe - Pack an adapter and a pin converter for your electronic devices. The voltage is different and so is power plug design, make sure you are equipped to work with that.
10. Charge, Charge and Charge - This is something that we goofed up on many times. We had a camera, cellphone and a GPS. We inevitably kept forgetting to charge one or the other of these, and ran into issues like the camera dying on us at Notre Dame or GPS threatening to die on our way to hotel late in the night ( We used GPS to navigate in pedestrian mode.) Its a good idea to let the critical accessories charge as soon as you reach your abode.
11. Despite having high speed internet connections, I figure that Europeans dont make a big deal of internet. You wont find many surfing internet on places with wi-fi availability, like the hi-speed trains. In fact, a lot of tourist attractions don't even offer tickets on internet.
12. Walking on foot is enjoyable - Although most European cities boast a robust and efficient public transport system, for closer distance it is actually better to walk. You will come across many a sights and things that you wouldn't otherwise. While going to Sacre Coeur in Paris, we decided to walk and came across a vintage car rally. We wouldn't have seen it we had taken a Metro instead.
13. Metro is the best way to get around in Paris. For 19 Euros per person, we could roam freely through the city for 3 days.
14. Make sure you have a small backpack on you when you go to the tourist attractions, otherwise carrying things like water bottles, light snacks, guide books, umbrella, camera etc would be problematic. It isn't easy to take pictures while your shoulder or other hand is balancing a water bottle or tote bag. We actually faced this issue and had to buy an overpriced backpack at Paris.
15. In Paris, be prepared to stand in long queues, whether its Eiffel Tower, Louvre or Versailles. There are long queues everywhere.
16. Looks like the French skimped on signs and directions, I found that signs for crucial information were missing at many prominent tourist places.
17. Pack sufficient cash and if possible get it converted into Euros while you're in the home country. That would give you a chance to get the best deal for currency conversion, or you'll lose a serious chunk of change when you do it in Europe.
18. Ticketing machines and many offical cash registers don't accept US credit cards ( and sometimes not even European cards). While you are out there, cash is king. Also make sure you have some 50c or 1Euro coins on you to pay for restrooms, train tickets etc.
19. Contrary to my assumption, not everyone understands English in Europe. It will be a good idea to learn some basic words and phrases in French/German depending on where you're going.
20. Europeans are not as big on tipping as Americans. Although we're still expected to tip the waiters etc, it is not mandatory to tip every person you deal with during the course of travel.