With that in mind, here are a few initial experiences from various places I have been over the last while:
Welcome to France, here's your complimentary bottle of wine from a friendly stranger!
I could not possibly have wished for a better welcome to France. The story goes... After two full days of travel [three busses, a ferry, a shuttle bus, and three trains!] from Kilkenny, Ireland, with naught to sleep on but an uncomfortable chair on the ferry, I had arrived in Dieppe at around 2015h on a Thursday. Accompanying me was Jessica, who was travelling the same general direction as me, so we pooled our French language skills for a couple days to make initial survival in France easier.
There was nobody on the streets and we had no map, so we just started walking, hoping to see a sign for a hostel. Eventually we did, so we walked in the indicated direction for a while. The signs for the hostel stopped, but we saw the first signs of life: there was a couple out walking their dog. So, we stopped them to ask for directions, in French. After a bit, it became clear that the hostel was 'trop loin', but there was a very cheap hotel just around the corner. We thanked them and turned to go there, but they insisted on coming to make sure we got settled.
The hotel was completely booked. This couple insisted on driving us to the hostel since it was so far away, so we waited with madame et le chien while monsieur went to get the car. [Never did find out their names]. Backpacks in the trunk, we piled in the back seat and set off. Upon arrival at the hostel, we all discovered that it was closed down! Arg! M.+Mme. again insisted on driving us around to find a hotel.
Well, after driving a bit and declining one offer to stop for pizza (our need for rest outweighing hunger for the moment) we finally found another reasonably priced hotel a few kms from town center, and it had a twin room available. Mme. waited while Jessica and I checked in, meanwhile M. Snuck in behind us with our backpacks. Then, he brought us a bottle of wine (!!) before departing with Mme, safe in the knowledge that we were okay. We were floored. These were the friendliest people *ever*! Later, we both agreed that it was good that this hotel was not full, as we both suspected that they might offer us their couch or floor next, and we weren't sure how to deal with that.
Welcome to Paris, here's some poodle crap for your boot!
1.5 tonnes per day deposited on the sidewalks. Parisiens love their dogs, they just hate cleaning up after them. Really that covers all of France. In Avignon, a man turned to me after his dog stopped just beside me, and said by way of explanation "she needs to shit." ( in English. Maybe due to the obviously Australian hat? ) I kept walking, but looked back to see that once the dog was finished, they went on their merry way, leaving the steaming pile *in the courtyard of the Palace of the Popes.* Just... Wow.
Welcome to the Mediterannean coast, here's your cold, wet afternoon!
At least subsequent days were warmer, by my standards. Of course, while 20° weather made me wear shorts and sandals to the beach, most everyone else walking along there was still in their late-October fluffy overcoats with scarves and fur lined boots. Ladies fashion particularly boggles my mind: They wear the aforementioned heavy clothing over a short skirt and bare knees or nylons only. Make up your mind, are you warm or cold? *Tok-tok-tok* these Romans (Marseilleans, actually) are crazy!
Welcome to Switzerland, here's your spurting headwound!
It was more of a 'damn, now my hair is all sticky and I have to clean this up before I can eat, so would it just stop bleeding already? I'm hungry' than a pain. And who the hell puts sharp edged power transformers or whatever less than six feet above the sidewalk? At least it didn't reopen during the night or in the shower. Oh well, that's what you get for leaving your hat in your room and talking to someone while you walk!
Some random notes on France:
- Coffee does not come in cups or mugs. It comes in teaspoons or bowls. Originally I had made this note to mock both the tiny expresso [they spell it with an x here] cups and the contrasting large diameter, shallow depth, high volume mugs that are in use in Paris. However! The next place I stayed at literally used cereal bowls for coffee; you take two bowls and head over to the cereal dispenser and the cappucino machine... Other places since then have also used bowls.
- The French phrase for "non smoking" roughly translates to "we do not understand this concept." On a windy day there is still a haze of cigarette smoke over the children's play area.
- After the U.K. And Ireland, it is different again to have cars on the right hand side of the road. Then you realize that really, they use all sides of the road and also the sidewalks, so be careful!
"Wow, you sell chocolate by the kilo at the front desk of the hostel."
"Well of course. We are Swiss."
Actually I am fairly certain that fully half of the shops within a km of the train station sell watches, knives, chocolate, or some combination thereof. This hostel actually sells all three.
After carrying it around for two weeks, I finally started reading The Eye of the World on the train to Switzerland. I had been avoiding starting it until I could find out whether or not the 11 books of the series (The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan) was complete or whether I'd get to the end and have to wait for more books, but it was a boring train so I said "hell with it" and started anyway. Two chapters in, I was liking it, but then in Switzerland I finally had net access so could check if the series was complete... No, indeed the author has apparently long maintained that the upcoming but as-yet incompleted twelfth book will finish the series. Then he died two months ago. Dammit. Apparently it wasn't sudden, though, so he had time to make arrangements for the book to be finished the way he wanted it if he died before being able to do so himself, so maybe it will eventually see the light of day anyway.