Here’s What Different in Europe Right Now
I just got back from Italy, England, Netherlands and Germany. There are crowds and not just post Covid crowds. When we plan vacations, Americans generally don’t research overseas holidays. In 2023, May 1 was a double holiday in many EU countries. I was there and witnessed unusually large jubilant crowds on the street, in airports and on public transportation. It has its origin from Roman times and it falls midway between the Summer Solstice and Spring Equinox. May 1 is a big deal in Europe. Schools are out, businesses closed, governments shut down. You need to investigate other big deal European holidays.
Before and after May 6, England went crazy; understandably so. The Coronation plus pre and post events were displayed any place you looked. Stores, streetlights, souvenir hawkers, peoples’ lapel buttons. When you opened your mouth and spoke “American”, the next question was about Harry and Meghan. Public transportation, including the new Elizabeth Line, was clean and safe. Ask me by email about Elizabeth Line; and why I like public transportation.
The Netherlands experienced a double holiday: Kings Day April 27 stretched to Labor Day, May 1. (King’s day is a an honor to the Dutch King and an ‘All Day Street Party’). Many Dutch citizens had off 2 consecutive weeks. And that time off is in addition to the 5-6 weeks most Europeans are lucky to get.
Italy’s official May 1 holiday dates from 1890 to celebrate workers’ rights. Today May 1 can bring strikes and parades- some festive, some not so. Important to us is possible slowdowns in public transportation and closings of public buildings. This year Italy moved its strikes to May 2, who knew? Be flexible is the rule. No train? Try Uber or Sixt? Use a bus? Radio car service? Leave time for changes and challenges. This year I added car services for each place visited. These services are on line and hotels will share names of good companies.
The Euro is still low and, for the first time, I saw signs of ‘discounts or bargains’ in local languages. In Europe, sales are generally only two times a year. My experience with European Discount Malls, is forget it unless you want a $6000 Chanel bag from 10 seasons ago. The VAT tax return is gone from the UK by the way.
There is a lot more cheap street food. In Pisa where I met with The Women’s Travel Group ladies on a cooking trip, we saw street markets filled with chocolate items, gelato and of course pizza vendors + toasted sandwiches: panini. In Italy the food is relatively cheap, and of generous portions.
In England, people were walking and eating, with food from Pret a Manger/Costa
Coffee/ Chez Paul type chains. Drugstores and supermarkets sell surprisingly good take away food. US junk food: Burger King and KFC are still popular. Five Guys seems to be growing overseas. Stay away from the flashy candy stores; some sell counterfeit candy from China.
In the Netherlands, the longest lines for street food were for French fries, covered with toppings: cheese, chili, ketchup. The fries are thick and served in a paper cone. The lesson here is stand on the longest line with locals for your street treat. Expect to get greasy.
Finally in Germany the easiest grab and go was pastry. US pastry is closest in origin to German baked goods. When not sure what a croissant or pastry filling was, I asked and 99% of staff spoke English well. Pretzels are covered variously with cheese, salt etc and delicious. NY street pretzels do not compare.
Museums I visited were crowded but not uncomfortably so. The big exhibit is the Vermeer in Holland; it’s been fully booked forever. The website is great though. Stores for basic shopping are quiet. If you want Hermes, there is a ‘fake’ line to make you anxious to buy. Forget Amex cards.
The other and last new phenomenon was increased use of English. When asking for directions, everyone responded in English. Brexit might have cut off an island but not its language.