Tall Big Old Pretty Things
Wondering what to take pictures of when you're sightseeing? All you need to know is four words: tall, big, old and pretty. If it is any one or combination of these four, take a picture of it. You know you want to.
Get Good at Dodging Camera Shots!
You're walking, looking at the huge statue to your right and all of a sudden you find yourself in front of a group of frustrated tourists trying to get their picture taken without you in it. This happens all the time in touristy areas. Sometimes it is unavoidable, but just make sure to be aware of where you're walking (or who you're walking in front of) as you're looking at the sights around you. Don't be "that dumb tourist."
That Weird Statue Guy
Watch out for the street performers EVERYWHERE in Europe. Some are amazing, some are really interesting, and some are just downright weird. If you enjoyed their short show, I'd suggest giving them a few coins from the mountains of change in your pockets.
(that weird statue guy...)
Barter Like its 1499
In all the big European cities, it seems like there's a souvenir shop on every street corner. They all have pretty much the exact same stuff at the same prices. Some of them, however, barter with you to get you to buy. Take them up on it! But beware that they probably offered the "one time only-for-you 30% discount" to the person who passed you on the way out of the store. Barter your way down to what you think is a fair price. If the sales person isn't budging, just tell him you'll go to the store next door. That usually makes them suddenly offer deeper discounts...imagine that.
Churches, Churches, and More Churches...
Be prepared to see millions and millions of old churches. Okay, that's a little bit of an exaggeration, but seriously, Europe seems like it was obsessed with building churches at one point. Most of them are very old, some of them are small and some of them are huge. A lot of times, they're the center point of a city. Make sure to check the famous ones out, but I have to say, they almost all eventually blend together and stop becoming all that interesting.
(and another church)
One of the Few Times You'll Ever Want to Turn Down Something Free
Some friendly guy comes up to you as you're in line outside a museum, and he kindly offers you a rose to give to your female travel companion. Seems nice, right? NOPE. If you take it (or sometimes they'll even shove it at you), they expect to receive money in return...taking advantage of the rule of reciprocity. It's a shame, but they'll make a scene if you don't give them something in return. This happened to Ryan and me in Florence when a guy came up to us and handed us each a small wooden carved turtle. Taken off guard, we both accepted it before we even realized the true motives of the guy. Let's just say the guy wasn't so friendly after we refused to pay for something we didn't ask for.
More than Just a Cheap Place to Stay
Get used to sleeping in hostels with complete strangers. At first this was really weird, but eventually I got used to it. Thankfully I didn't have any bad experiences with my "roommates" at any of the hostels I stayed at, but I have heard of bad stories from others. Lock up your stuff and be considerate of others and you should be fine. Make new friends too! I met people from all over the world, including other Americans, in the hostels I stayed at. This is one of the best parts about hostels. Oh, and try not to snore if you can help it.
You Might Have to Dodge Some Bikes Too
This one is especially for Cologne. If you hear a bike bell behind you, get out of the f***ing way! You're probably in a bike path and about to get run over. It's the law to have a bell on your bike in Germany and Germans sure aren't afraid to use it. I can't even count how many close calls I had with bikes in the city. After a while, it made me jump every time I heard a little RING RING.
(heck, nuns might even run you over if you're not careful)
Vut vus dat u zed?
Get good at detecting accents. The longer you stay abroad, the better you'll become at identifying the many different accents you'll hear on the street. Once you're good at this, you'll know who to ask for directions in what language.
Sono Americano e non capisco
Learn a little bit of the language of the country you're traveling to. You can find the basic phrases online or in a travel guide. Even if you're terrible at the language, it will win you brownie points with the locals you're communicating with and even might help you get out of a sticky situation. Locals will know you're a tourist, but they'll appreciate you trying to speak their language. Ja, natürlich!