Things That Surprised Me

I’m going to try to write this list in order, as I feel surprise is a concept that grows as it evolves.  I also would like to point out how I was (stupidly) continually surprised at the same things, over and over again.  You’d think I would learn.  But alas, I did not.

I was surprised by how…

1.  hectic Victoria station was.
2.  difficult it was to find our way from Victoria station to easyHotel Victoria.  It was less than six blocks away, but we could not even figure out which direction to walk.
3.  much I enjoyed Westminster Abbey, even though I’d not slept in over 30 hours.
4.  improved my attitude was after taking a cab to a nicer, bigger hotel on our second day in London.
5.  big London really is.  Those guide book maps make everything seem really close.  It is not.
6.  many people could not answer us when we asked them for directions–it seems no one knows where they are in London, or how to get anywhere else.  We were actually asked by someone else how to get somewhere, and of course we couldn’t answer him, either!
7.  inefficient the London tube system is.  How can whole lines close on weekends?  What do people DO?
8.  expensive cabs are in London.  I guess that’s what ‘people do’–but holy crap, we spent more on transport than we did on food!
9.  annoyed I was to always have to have change for the restrooms.  I was prepared for this, as in ‘I knew I’d have to do it’, but not prepared for how difficult it would be to make sure I’d always have the proper change.
10.  awful it was stepping off of the Eurostar into a country where I didn’t speak the language.
11.  people just stood in line for a metro ticket machine, even though the line stretched up the stairs, which were far beyond the actual machine.
12.  the machine could just be broken, and no one fixed it or stepped in to help.
13.  long the line was for the taxi, and that this, too, was somehow ‘ok’.  ‘Ok’ to me is implied, again, by the fact that no one tried to remedy the situation.
14.  much I liked our apartment in Paris.  I thought it would be small and dirty–it was large and clean.
15.  many people–er, tourists–were in Paris, particularly at places like Notre Dame.
16.  again, things can just be broken.  Like restrooms.  At crowded tourist attractions.  Like Notre Dame.  And Sacre Coeur.  Imagine going to Disney World and the Disney people saying ‘sorry–toilets are out of order.  Enjoy your day!’  Right.
17.  how bad Paris smelled.  See above surprise about toilets.  It really shouldn’t have been a surprise.
18.  very true the statement ‘wherever you go, there you are’ is.  I thought planning this and looking forward to it for months would mean that I’d have a fresh, accepting attitude towards everything.  I did not.
19.  bad the food was in France.  I have never been so hungry for so long.
20.  very much my husband must love me.  Because at no point did he learn the French word for ‘divorce lawyer’.

Looking over those items, it seems I was experiencing ‘culture shock’.  But here’s another surprise for me–I didn’t think I’d be culturally shocked.  I honestly did not.  I assumed people who experience culture shock are shocked by things that others do, but that do not affect the shock-ee, like how I felt about dogs in grocery stores (read:  ‘oh, isn’t that quaint and different!’).  I was annoyed by things that AFFECTED ME–like broken machines, nauseating stench, and mind-blowingly long lines.  I didn’t think the ‘culture’ would affect me.  Well…surprise, surprise!

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21 responses to “Things That Surprised Me

  1. Interesting!!! I do have to disagree to some of what you said about the London tube system. There is no way it’s inefficient!! It is over 100 yrs old and they travel over 76,000 miles a years, so of course they have to close lines or parts of lines on Sundays for maintenance. I feel that most people accept this knowing that it’s the only way to keep the tubes in good condition.

    • yes, maybe i should rephrase number seven. something like ‘i was surprised by how the lines would close on the weekends and then I, personally, could not get anywhere because I chose a stupid location for a hotel and didn’t understand the bus system’. I have to admit to skipping the ‘how to use the bus system’ section in EVERY single guidebook that I’ve ever read (MANY!) because I just assumed I’d use the underground (like I do at home) so I, personally, had no other option but to spend crazy amounts of money on cabs. but then that sounds a lot like one of the items on ‘things i learned’ list. you can bet that in the future, i will read the bus section of the guide book AND get a more centrally located hotel–even if it costs more!

  2. Few comments
    I’m so glad that you mentioned the tube being closed on weekends in London. I will be there in September, and while I am only there for one weekend day, I am making sure I know the bus routes near my hotel that get me where I want and need to go. The bus also answers the question of what people do when the tube stops running.

    I’m also glad you mention how large Victoria station is. I am seeing Wicked at the theatre near there, so I am making sure I google Street Map it, so I know which buildings to look for.

    Paris is the most visited place in the world, and July is one of the most popular months for traveling, put two and two together and you can expect super long lines.

    Food wise, I can’t say I agree with how bad the food was in France. I have read your entire blog, way back from the first post and have noticed that you said you don’t eat while sightseeing, this and not the bad food is probably why you were so hungry. There is lots of wonderful street food in Paris and bakeries where you could have found something to eat. (Just don’t drink water with it). Also you mentioned you would always pick the cheapest thing on the menu

  3. opps hit enter to soon! You were disapointed that you would always get a salad. If you pick the cheapest thing on an english menu here in North America, you would also get a small salad. By law in France, restaurants have to post their menu outside, next time (if there is a next time you go to Paris) check the outside menus before going in to look at prices and see if there is anything you would want to eat.

    • yeah–we did utilize the signs outside. i didn’t know that was a law, though–interesting. and i didn’t start ordering the smallest, cheapest thing until after a few really awful meals. every piece of meat i had there was either fatty and/or on the bone, which i think is gross (my personal preference–my husband LOVED every single piece of duck confit he ordered!), so after a while i did just give up and switched to salads (and, my savior, gazpacho!) and you’re right–had i tried more ‘street food’ types of things, i might have had a different experience. but i don’t eat street food, nor do i eat on the street. i saw SO MANY people walking around and eating at the same time, and thought that was gross. so see–really it is my issues that i’m dealing with here! i did have one crepe from the stand down the street from our apartment, and it was really good. additionally, a friend asked me if i had any pastry while i was there–nope, none of that, either. i’m not a sweets fan. so perhaps i was just eating all of the wrong things. maybe i should change #19 to ‘how much I hated French food’?

    • Vanessa, I hope you see this, I wanted to tell you that the tubes in London are not completely down on Sundays. Yes, they do close a line or part of a line for maintenance but you can still get around London using the tube. It truly isn’t as bad as Tracy made it sounded. And as for Victoria Station, it’s easy to get around in, we have never had trouble.

      • no, you’re right, it’s not as bad as i’m making it out to be–as long as you pick your lodging wisely. we did NOT! the entire station near our hotel (the hoxton) closed down every weekend (that was a normal thing–the old street station, on the northern line) and both lines that ran at the other ‘closest’ station–which was about a 20 minute walk through a construction zone and a scary part of town–were either entirely or partially closed on the saturday and sunday we were there. had we stayed, say, in the covent garden area, or around victoria, we would have been fine. had we chosen a better location for our hotel, we even could have used the river to get around–the river rover pass is very reasonable, and a lot of sights are on or near the thames.

  4. Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame may attract tourists but they are not ‘tourist attractions’ in the same way as Disneyland or Disney World, so it’s not really fair to compare them for toilet facilities. I was recently in a situation where, running late for a tour of the White House, my group had to run about six blocks, stand in a long line in the heat (twice) to get checked off of a list, and then go in for our tour. There were NO restroom facilities available anywhere closer than three blocks away from the line, nor did we have time to get there. The White House attracts a fair number of tourists, yet it doesn’t provide for restroom facilities at all. They just expect you to take care of that before you get there. I think you said your hotel was a 15 minute walk from Notre Dame so it shouldn’t have been an immediately desperate situation.

    • I guess I was comparing the two (in my head) because I continually felt like I was in an amusement park, as that’s the only place I’ve ever stood in line so often! That and because I also hate amusement parks…but yes, you are right, the two are very different (particularly because you have to pay to get into Disney etc.) I like your DC comparison, because, first, I love DC. It is one of my favorite cities in the world. And the thing about DC that I’ve noticed–at least in regards to the public restroom situation–and especially in regards to my statement on culture shock in general–is that at least the ‘people in charge’ in DC are trying to remedy the problem. Yes, for White House tours, the nearest facilities are a bit away at the visitor’s center. But they’ve recently (maybe two years ago?) finished the Capitol Visitor’s center, which provided, among other things, restrooms at a place that sorely needed them. That was actually part of the impetus to build the (expensive, but beautiful) facility. And ever since the new security measures were put in place (and thus people can’t just ‘pop in’ to a museum to use the facilities) the city has placed (working) port-o-johns along the sides of the mall (ideal, no, but it keeps our capitol from smelling like pee) So, you see, in ‘my world’, an issue is identified and then dealt with. In France–not so much, whether we’re dealing with broken facilities, broken machines, or mile long taxi lines.

  5. But a first-time visitor to DC who had not yet encountered the Visitor Center could easily have the same reaction about DC as you had about Paris, “How could they NOT have provided restrooms at a tourist attraction like the White House?! They obviously just don’t care.” In as far as perception is reality, that was what you assumed to be true in Paris, but a visitor to DC could also assume that those in charge in DC weren’t doing anything about the problem, either. It’s hard not to generalize, or compare one place to another, but you have to remember that you encountered a new place at a single moment in time. How do you know they had not called a ticket machine repair guy and he just hadn’t arrived yet? You don’t, but that doesn’t mean that it is always broken or that no one cared about it. It just means it was broken when you wanted to use it.

    • I guess I was annoyed that I’d done my research (I know I have issues with going to the bathroom all the time, so I took the time to look up locations of restrooms and sanisettes before I left…I even made a sanisette google earth map! And then they were all out of order!) and I was still stuck spending half of my sightseeing time looking for a toilet. Also–we were there for two weeks–the restrooms of which I speak and the ticket machine I reference were broken when we arrived and when we left. I read somewhere that EVERY SINGLE restroom in terminal 1 of CDG was out of order for TWO years! (the author even said ‘how long does it take to fix a restroom?’) My next vacation will either be a cruise or Vegas (again) where there are lots of clean, free public restrooms, or a hiking trip somewhere, where there are lots of trees! It will also be in a country (this one or one of our territories) that accepts my credit and debit cards, where transportation is easy and/or not even required, and where people speak English. I’ve learned ALL of my lessons!

  6. I agree with Nancy, there is no way you could compare Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame to Disney World. Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame are fantastic and you must remember their age and history. As for DC, I wouldn’t go back there if someone paid me. It’s easier finding a toilet in London and Paris then in DC. I think that London and Paris was just to much for Tracy (which is okay), she just isn’t a big city person.

    • Yes, London and Paris were too much for me–as I’m sure they would be for some other people, but not for others. Though oddly, I LOVED London the one day we returned on our way home. It was so much better than Paris, so comparatively, I was forced to like it! It just goes to show that travel is so subjective. You couldn’t pay me to go back to Paris–and I realize how insane that sounds (I seriously picture myself on a game show, winning an all expenses paid trip to Paris, and being like ‘CRAP!’ ha ha ha!!!)

      • Hi Tracy, I agree I’m sure that London and Paris would be too much for some as it was for you…but that’s okay. I personally LOVE London, I think it’s fantastic and would go there once a month if I could afford to.
        As for Paris, it’s okay…been there several times but really have no real desire to go back, I want to spend all my time in the UK…..London and the beautiful country side.

      • I would return to London, but I’m DEFINITELY game for a UK country roads tour. We only saw the countryside from the train to bath (and nothing is really very scenic on a train line, but we still passed many cute far off villages I’d love to explore) and on the bus from Bath to Stonehenge. I think I took fifty pictures on the sixty minute ride! It was that beautiful. All the way back to Bath my husband and I talked about returning to do an English countryside tour. That will most certainly be on my ‘next vacations’ list! In fact, the next time we fly across the ocean, it will NOT be in coach, and it will be to somewhere in the UK, where a rental car will be waiting for us!

  7. Hi Robin.
    Thanks for your response, I do realize that the Tube isn’t that bad, but Tracy’s mentioning it allowed me to find a site that lists all of the closures etc, which I have saved. I was also able to find out that the bus to St. Pancras from my hotel is actually faster than the Tube as well. I’m staying in the Kensington area, which I have stayed in before so I know the area well.

    I’m not too concerned about Victoria station, I’ve traveled often by myself in Europe and can find my way around a train station, in any language but I’ll likely google street view it anyway.

    • that website you found is the one we used while we were there–it was a life saver! you can search closings by day, weeks in advance even. just having looked at that, you’ll be FAR better prepared than we were! have a great trip!

  8. I “met” you also on the RS hotline, in fact, I gave you some ideas about things in Barcelona so I was anxious to follow your blog and was even a little envious of what you were doing. I am sorry that your trip was not what you hoped it to be. Please don’t take this as criticism because I have thought about how best to word it for a long time and have appreciated your honesty. I hate to admit it, but the best thing you did was not to go to Barcelona. Though I loved it there and hope to return , the things that you disliked about London and Paris would have been multiplied in Barcelona especially because of the number of people there and the heat. We did laugh though that all the signs on Las Ramblas were in Spanish except for the ones about “Don’t urinate on the street” which was in English. What does that say? I think that you summed up your feelings before you even left in your “I hateNY” when you said. There are just way too many people and not enough toilets. Though I don’t share your views about London or Paris ,which I love and have never had the same experiences that you have, I would ask you this – if you think you had trouble finding a bathroom in a large city, do you think it would be any easier roaming the English countryside. After three weeks in Spain, I suggest you stick to your cruise or Vegas idea. Take care and enjoy the rest of your summer. I, too, teach in a high school so I know how important it is to recoup before school starts.

    • Leslie–of course I do not take it as criticism. In fact, you are confirming what I’d thought about Barcelona–that’s HUGE for me, and I’m very grateful for you sharing that thought. While I’ve never once regretted canceling that part of the trip (in fact, my yesterday facebook status was something like ‘so glad to be at a spanish restaurant with my husband rather than in spain alone’) I do occasionally think that others might feel that I ‘wussed out’–though I’m so eternally grateful that I was able to come home, I don’t really care what ‘those people’ think! It is extremely good to hear–from someone who has been there–that I made a good decision. Thanks so much for your comment!

      Oh–and as for finding a restroom in the countryside–that’s the best part about countryside. You don’t NEED to find a restroom. There are bushes and trees 😉 (I used to be this huge wannabe hippie girl, so I’m all about hiking and outdoors and camping and nature, and with that come, well, ‘going’ in it! Stupid, stupid me, planning a four city tour!)

  9. Tracy – i too do not mean this as a criticism – i am
    just curious – you did do alot of research and go on
    the rs board alot – most people do stress the importance of hotel location – how did you choose
    your hotel?

    • I booked a room at The Hoxton because it was nice, inexpensive, and close to an underground station. I did not know that particular underground station was closed on weekends. This is the kind of information that I feel should be printed in bold on the cover of guide books. Alas, it is not. Nor is it shouted from the rooftops of the RS helpline. I know all about money belts and walking shoes, neither of which I used or needed. But ‘hey–you know, several tube stations close on weekend’–that’s a practical tip anyone could use. And, to be fair, I did an insane amount of research outside of the helpline and the books, and I STILL did not learn this until I arrived.

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