Poland Stories and Tips


Fisherman's Bastion Photo, Budapest, Hungary

Before getting into planning and organizing an eight week trip to Europe, I need to explain why I do the things I do and how I travel. I have written about the subject before in places, but it bears repeating here. Solo travel works very well for me and many others, and I hope that you will try it. It's not that it is so much less expensive, or that the "single supplement" increases dramatically the price of a tour. There are frequently tours that are on sale at very reasonable prices, but they are not for me, regardless of how little they may cost. I need the freedom to make my own choices and to travel at the speed that is comfortable for me.

It has been proved that an audience in a seminar on virtually any subject will retain about fifteen per cent of what the presenter attempts to impart - just 15%! Professional speakers know this and tailor their presentations to highlight that most important fifteen per cent. I believe that this is true with travel as well, but most tour guides deliver so much information that it all kind of runs together.

I make a joke about how slowly I travel and it is true, I am deliberately slow. But I have listened to so many people that upon returning from a trip almost anywhere, telling their friends about how wonderful their guide was and how much information he or she had given them. When questioned, it becomes obvious that they received lots of information, but only a small amount was retained. It is simply "information overload." The brain just cannot remember the details of a tour if there was more than one per day. The brain needs time to process information and it also requires time to rest. At least mine does. Also, learning something about a culture and its' people requires time. A tour guide once told me that Prague is 65% Atheist. I don't care so much about the percentage as I do about the reason why the percentage is so high. He had no answer for that except that it has been that way for a long time. At that point my focus becomes finding an explanation for that high percentage.

Anyway, I travel slowly so that I can learn something about the culture and the people of a country, and to do that, I have to be able to communicate with them in English since I don't have any other language skills. I learn recent history from the older people that I meet, and trends and attitudes from younger people. It is so easy if one has or takes the time. Virtually every European city has a university and it is easy to meet students and professors, most of whom do speak English. All it takes is a little time, just an afternoon where the students are (instead of shopping perhaps). For me, knowing just a little about a country or city or region is so much more valuable than just a lot of buildings and churches and museums regardless of what they contain or how old they are. I want to know about the wars over the ages and what the political climate was, is, and why. If I detect any anti-American sentiment, I want to understand the reasons for it. Maybe I can change someone's opinion of us or at least set another person straight about our country. If I don't know about them, they don't know about me either. We can exchange so much information about each other, and it takes time, but it's worth it and it makes travel so much more interesting, exciting, and rewarding.

As examples, I can cite the following. Not long ago our perception was that Europeans didn't like Americans. We heard that we were considered arrogant and spoiled. When traveling, many Americans put Canadian maple leaf decals on their suitcases so that the Europeans would think that they were Canadian, not American. And while it is true that many Europeans do not like our government, politics and some of our politicians, clearly, they don't hate Americans and never did. And more importantly, European citizens are at least as politically sophisticated as we are. In fact, many people in Europe know more about our system and our politics than a lot of us do, and because they don't understand it either, they would like our opinions. That takes time.

Another example. I have heard for years about how the French are rude and arrogant and uncooperative, especially in Paris. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The French are wonderful people, very kind and friendly, but just like us, until we get to know someone a little, even we Americans can be standoffish. If our country, cities, and towns were inundated with tourists, by the time September rolls around, I think that I would be sick of the same questions asked over and over.

Also, for years, I have had people tell me that most Germans are arrogant and are still fighting WWII and still hate Americans, or at least don't like us. I have been spending time all over Germany for 50 years and, to be honest, not all Germans I have met like me or me, them. Surprisingly, there are even some Americans that don't like me - especially those with whom I am "politically incorrect" or "undiplomatic" when I correct them about our European friends. First, we must remember that most of those involved in WWII are dead, and second, history is written by the winners.

Next: Assumptions and Reasons

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