My husband and I finally made the trip to Europe we had been dreaming of for more than 30 years. It was the first for both of us, but I’m determined it won’t be the last.
I figure most Arkansas Business readers have vastly more international experience than I do, so I’m not going to give you any travel advice. (Except this: arch supports.) But I do have some takeaways that I want to share:
This is an Opinion
► Air travel is miserable, especially for those of us who can’t afford (or rationalize) first-class, but train travel is fantastic. My only previous train trip, Amtrak from Boston to D.C., had been nice and comfortable, but traveling around Western Europe by train made a true believer out of me.
On a train from London to Bath (say “Baaaath”), we made the acquaintance of a woman who said her husband had just returned from Little Rock. He had been a guest of Warren Stephens at the Alotian Club. Nice. Also, she’s a big supporter of the monarchy. Of Prince Harry she said, “You can keep him.”
► The world is really small. At the train station in Bayeux, the station closest to the Normandy American Cemetery, we ran into a couple from Little Rock. On the sidewalk outside Harrods, a department store I had no business going into, someone called my name. It was a woman who used to live in Little Rock and who remains a Facebook friend.
► The school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, was huge news over there. It led the morning news shows in London and was on the front page of the newspapers. I was glad no one asked me why Americans tolerate routine slaughter of schoolchildren, because I don’t understand it myself. I’m actually surprised that Congress did take a little action, despite the fact that most Republicans in Congress — including every member of Arkansas’ delegation — opposed making even modest changes to the status quo.
► Americans aren’t alone in being selective about the history we acknowledge. The British, for instance, are quite proud that slavery was never technically legal there, but there’s an exhibit at the Tower of London of torture devices used against political enemies of the royals in the 16th and 17th centuries. A few weeks after our return from Europe, Rob and I went to the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, where British participation in the transatlantic slave trade to British colonies in the New World is on graphic display. Meanwhile, I know of no American museum that has a historical exhibit exploring the illegal torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in the 21st century.
► Pay toilets are terrible. They should be a violation of international law. I can’t remember seeing one in the United States, but they are common in the Netherlands. Paris, on the other hand, has freestanding (and free) public toilets that are automatically cleaned and disinfected after every use. I approve of this technology.
► Inflation is rampant in Europe, the same or worse than here, and gasoline is a bargain here by comparison. In Paris in mid-May, gasoline was €2.02 per liter, which calculated to about $8 a gallon. Fortunately, we weren’t driving, and the Metro subway in Paris is cheap — the equivalent of $2 per trip.
In fact, the prices on everything in Paris seemed reasonable, including lovely meals. The only time I felt ripped off was when taking a taxi from Bayeux to the American Cemetery and back, which I must assume was because virtually everyone who makes that trip is an American tourist.
► The Underground in London is noisier and more crowded and significantly more expensive than the Metro. But the “Tube” does have one fantastic feature that the Paris Metro does not: You can tap a debit or credit card or a mobile payment app rather than buying a ticket or a dedicated pass, and your account will automatically be charged for each trip up to the daily maximum. I was skeptical, but it worked perfectly. Now I wonder why we ever hand a credit card to anyone.
Lance Turner is on vacation.