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Random Travel Notes 2 June 13, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Up and Away.
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(For the curious, the “first” installment of Random Travel Notes is here.)

Locally, in Europe. Going on tour usually involves being shown the sights by a local guide. While touring Switzerland, Bavaria and Austria, we ended up with a British tour director and a coach driver hailing from Luxembourg. In short, neither were “local” to any of the places we visited, at least in the usual sense of the word. Something tells me there’s an insightful commentary on the global community and European transnationalism crying out to be written here.

Love the Euro. Being my first trip to Europe since the Euro became a paper currency I must say I’m very impressed. Having a common medium of exchange greatly simplifies matters for travelers, especially when the trip involves passing through several countries in as many days. In the academe debates have been raging as to whether Europe’s present is Asia’s future, at least in economic (read: currency) terms. I think there are enough practical reasons to hope that this will indeed be the case. (Then again, it is already possible to pay one’s way in some Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, entirely in dollars. But that’s another story for another day.)

Size vs. Smoke. Based on armchair observation, there appear to be more overweight Americans than Europeans. On the other hand, Europeans do love to light up more, with Europe seemingly less progressive where banning smoking in public places is concerned. This just goes to show that while one continent struggles with obesity and heart ailments, another must confront the realities of lung cancer and respiratory disease. Which species dies out first, only time will tell.

Ice, Anyone? Another armchair observation: Europeans don’t generally take their softdrinks (or water) with ice, at least not in the copious amounts that usually accompany beverages in Manila or the US. From personal experience, such beverages are typically served chilled, and when one asks for ice either none or very little is available. I think there is a cultural explanation for this: as wine or beer are the staple accompaniments to meals in the societies in question, and neither is typically served with ice, it stands to reason that other beverages won’t be served with ice either by force of habit.

Canned Good. It turns out that canned “Vienna Sausage” actually tastes reasonably like the real deal. Strange, but true.

“When in Roam.” It’s funny, but Europe is one of those places where it’s sometimes quicker to get from one country to another by briefly passing through a third. Now since the our mobile phones were set for international roaming, this led to a chorus of messages coming in each time we’d be within a different country’s territory (no matter how briefly while in transit), informing us that we’d been logged on to the local service provider. In at least one instance, we each received around fifteen of such messages in as many minutes precisely because we were just “passing through”, and some of these “welcome” messages were redundant as we’d ended up back in the country where we began, albeit somewhere different.

Philippine Customs. The Philippine Customs Declaration form for disembarking passengers is at best an inconvenience and at worst an embarrasing reminder of how backward and illogical our laws and lawmakers are. To begin with, the latest version of the form comes with a dizzying list of instructions and information far too long and complicated for weary travelers to fill out. More, reading through these gives the impression that the government intends to levy duties on anyone bringing in each and every little thing bought abroad. Worse, some of the instructions just can’t hold up against the litmus test of common sense. For instance, it would appear that “immoral” and “offensive” items are prohibited in the Philippines, without saying what would constitute something “immoral” or “offensive”, nor according to whom (a can of worms on its own). Also, there is a requirement that anyone removing Php10,000 in monetary instruments from the Philippines must first obtain permission from the proper authorities. Sensible? Well, only until one realizes that Php10,000 is roughly worth only around US$200.

Politically Incorrect Tourist Joke. As told to us: An American tourist in Britain has the misfortune of needing to relieve himself but is unable to find a restroom. Desperate, he steals away to a secluded alley to do his thing, but before nature can take its course a police officer happens by and accosts him:

“Just what do you think you’re doing?”

“Please, sir. I’m just a tourist. I can’t find a restroom and I need to go really badly.”

“Is that so? You’re American, eh? Follow me.”

The tourist manages to hold it together and dutifully follows in the policeman’s footsteps. After going a short distance and taking in several twists and turns, the policeman takes the tourist through a gate to a beautiful, clean and finely manicured garden. The tourist is stunned. The policeman thereafter instructs the tourist to go ahead with his business, discretely walking a few yards away to wait.

The tourist, so relieved, thereafter catches up with the policeman.

“Thanks a lot!” he says. “This is amazing! I never would’ve thought you guys would have places like this. If you don’t mind, could you tell me what you call this place if I’m ever in a similar emergency?”

“That place, sir,” replied the policeman, “is called the French Embassy.”

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