This vacation was the first time we were traveling in Europe. While we have transited several times through Frankfurt or Amsterdam, we never really visited the UK or Europe as tourists. While we truly enjoyed our time in both the countries, and hope to visit them again and again, here is a list of 35 things that we didn’t know and in some instances it was a pleasant surprise and in others, an unpleasant surprise.
These are in no particular order …..
1. An Indian was killed at the Dachau concentration camp. Noor Inayat Khan, worked as a French spy during WWII and was captured and executed at the Dachau camp.
2. Anne Frank being a Frankfurter. For some reason we assumed she was from Amsterdam.
3. Ulm – on the way from Frankfurt to Munich is the birthplace of Einstein. We also didn’t know that he spent time in Prague and loved the city. Well, who wouldn’t ?
4. Hitler won the election – his party got 37% of the votes polled. He didn’t strong-arm his way into becoming the Fuhrer.
5. There is a ban on use of pesticides in UK and Germany. So you can eat all the fruits and vegetables after rinsing them in water and not worry about ingesting poison. Krishnan ate his favourite grapes, as did I because in India we are just not able to eat them. The black grapes in India have oil based pesticides that will only be rinsed out when you soak the grapes in soap solution – yuck !
6. Sidewalks wider than the roads. You can walk everywhere and not be worried about anyone coming from any side and trying to run you over. Just stay off the cycling tracks because they whiz upto you silently :).
7. German steel – I wanted to buy the whole store and I am not too fond of steel stuff !! The quality of the pots and pans is soooooo good. So rather than buying some useless trinket, buy steel vessels in Germany.
8. Veganism on the rise everywhere. Sriman is struggling with Nikki going Vegan 🙂 but we were very happy to get amazing vegetarian food everywhere, especially in Prague.
9. Pizzas are not smothered with cheese – what a relief and hopefully Dominos and Pizza Hut in India and the US can learn from them. Pizzas actually are tasty, freshly made and don’t have a mountain of cheese on them.
10. German education system – parents will be hauled up if a child takes leave. Very amusing and a great way to teach children to be responsible.
11. Scotland – Medical admission not based on marks but the written essay, interview and related internship. The best thing that we learnt from this trip is that in Scotland or probably all of UK, you get a seat in a medical college based on the essay that the student writes detailing why they want to be a doctor and an interview to establish genuine intent. Children are also encouraged to do some summer internship as a way to test their own interest.
12. Importance for sports – Sachin told us that every village in Germany has great sports facilities and children are encouraged to take up some sport or the other. We also saw the love for the outdoors rather than remaining fixated on an idiot box. Infact I don’t think we watched TV at all in all these 30 days.
13. Dog ownership and training – Anyone wanting to own a dog has to undergo training on how to care for the dog. There will be periodic visits to confirm that the dog is maintained well otherwise it will be taken away !! No wonder the dogs are so well behaved :). I wanted to adopt one but then didn’t want to spoil the pooch by bringing it to India. Hahahaha. The dogs are truly well behaved and we struggled to find poop on the sidewalks, except in certain places.
14. Eating in public places and the underground is fairly common but the streets and the underground trains are still largely clean.
15. Pay-and-use Toilets – most public places and even in some train stations and parks you had to pay to use the toilet. Keep small change as the machines won’t return any change :).
16. Smoking in Germany – we struggled with this a bit. Almost everyone lights up in public. Someone told us it was worse in Paris, but even this level of smoking was difficult to deal with.
17. Windows and doors opening on top and sideways – we noticed this in all the Airbnb’s and Keshav’s house. All the glass doors and windows open sideways like regular doors and windows but you can also open them just on the top. Loved this feature.
18. Sunday is a day off – In Germany we found supermarkets and all kinds of shops remaining closed on Sundays as it is considered a day off. People are expected to spend time in leisure activities and with their families. We have decided to import this practise, personally.
19. Cow dung being used as a manure – In Seeheim, when we went out for a morning cycle ride with Sachin, he showed us fields where cow dung was being used as fertiliser. We were laughing that the Indian elite/pseudo-liberals debunk our age old practice of using cow dung as a fertiliser ! Maybe now they will agree with the process when it gets imported as a German best practise.
20. 70% of Czech Republic is atheist – While there are beautiful churches all over Prague, we were told that 70% of the population is atheist.
21. No homework – children aren’t burdened with homework !
22. No road rage – Unlike in the US and now in India too, we didn’t see any crazy emotional outpouring by drivers ! Everyone waits for pedestrians to cross and no one is showing a fist or banging their doors or honking loudly for any reason on the road.
23. No drunken scenes – while almost 100% of Germans drink beer and copious quantities of it, we didn’t come across any drunken brawls or drunks misbehaving. They just speak loudly amongst themselves at best.
24. Recycling in Germany – This was the most impressive thing about Germany. You can use water and paper freely because nothing is wasted, every drop of water and every shred of paper gets recycled. We need to get to this level of recycling in India because its almost impossible to change people’s habits but much easier to develop robust recycling programs. Plastics are on restricted usage and they also get recycled. Infact many of the garbage hunters were looking for plastic bottles/cans that they can exchange for a few cents.
25. Wasps hovering around sweets and trash cans – This was really a surprise in Germany. Every bakery had hoards of wasps sitting on all the goodies and no one seemed to have a problem with it. One of the wasps bit me as well :(. We initially thought it was bees but later realised that these are wasps.
26. Slovakia going their separate way from Czech Republic without any rancour – We never registered this event. So Czechoslovakia doesn’t exist anymore … its two countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia and they are great friends. This is one divorce that wasn’t bitter at all. Wowww ! India and Pakistan have much to learn from these two tiny countries.
27. Ghee, turmeric, coconut oil – on all the grocery store shelves as superfood. Was thrilled to see these items that are a staple in Indian diet being used across UK and Germany. While UK has a sizeable Asian population, it was great to see them in Germany.
28. Low cost airline Ryanair and their process – have written about this in a blog. Ryanair at Edinburgh Airport – a different check-in process.
29. No grills on the windows – all glass windows across UK and Germany with no special safety grills or anything. Theft seems remarkably low.
30. Cobblestoned walking areas – Both the Brits and the Germans have a fetish for cobble stoned pathways. While they look nice, they are sometimes a pain to walk over and certainly a pain when you are dragging your suitcases over them.
31. Trains coming to the station just 10 mins before departure time – This bothered Krishnan initially given our deep conditioning with the Indian train system where trains reach the starting station atleast an hour or so ahead of their scheduled departure time. After the first time, we got used to it and weren’t too concerned.
32. No one checking tickets in Underground – either in the UK or in Germany, we never got asked to show our tickets. High levels of trust in citizens following rules I guess. We just got caught with the wrong ticket in a tram at when we went to Seeheim.
33. The escalators that go both ways – We saw this only in Munich and it was fascinating. The same escalator changes direction once everyone gets off one way !! How cool is that :).
34. No en-suite bedrooms – two bedroom houses will have one bathroom and one toilet or at best a bathroom+toilet and a toilet separately.
35. Trains split one portion staying in one place and other coaches go to another location – Unlike in India where your ticket itself is booked in the coach which goes to your destination incase its a train that splits midway, in Munich we had to find the coaches that went to our destination rather than the ticket specifying it.
There may be other things that we didn’t notice, but this is a fairly comprehensive list. Please do add anything that some of you might have noticed as you travelled to these countries.