We were in Austria and Switzerland on a Globus tour with people from Canada, Australia, and the U.S. during our recent political and public embarrassment over the debt ceiling. Of course, President Obama, his allies, and his opposition were a constant topic of conversation, wonder, and bewilderment.
A foreign commentator on CNN summed it up by quoting Winston Churchill. “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing–after they’ve tried everything else.”
Like Florida, the locals seem a bit tourist-weary. A resident in Zermatt told us there weren’t as many Americans, and those who came spent less money.
In Vienna, a bookstore proprietress with no patience for a non-German speaker browsing her shelves asked one tour member to leave the store.
We talked with a young man from Croatia. He told us how much he appreciated the Americans. “You came and stopped the war.” His sincerity was without question.
The huge airports in Paris, Vienna, and Zurich were all less confusing, easier to navigate, and more friendly than Atlanta, and that’s without speaking the language.
The woman directing traffic to the customs exit in Atlanta was rude and pushy in any language. I’m not sure she spoke mine.
OK, the customs guy who stamped our passports in Paris was bored and unsmiling.
The places we visited were clean and well-kept, without exception. I understand we saw the ‘tourist’ spots, but we saw some local places as well.
The food shopping practices intrigue me. Home refrigerators are the small under-counter variety. People shop nearly every day, except Sunday, for their perishables. The open air markets have meats, dairy, some fish, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Shoppers carry their own small shopping bags or baskets. The market experience seems to be social as well as task-oriented. The products were beautiful.
In Vienna, classical music is in the forefront. We were told that the waltz in popular, all teenagers attend waltz school willingly–I am too American to completely believe that–and dances are held in the parks where people of all ages enjoy.
I expected the Mozart and Strauss concert we attended to be a tourist event, like the ballet we saw in St. Petersburg a few years ago, but that wasn’t the case. The audience was primarily Viennese with a smattering of tourists mixed in. Wonderful.
Expresso is the primary coffee served in the places we visited. If we requested American coffee, the server usually offered a brew called filtered coffee, which was double the expresso’s volume and about halfway between the strength of our Starbucks regular and expresso. They served the coffee with a four-ounce water chaser.
Water, however, is not served with meals unless ordered (still or carbonated?) and paid for as a beverage. Our tour director managed to have pitchers of tap water appear on our tables. The tap water was clear, clean, and free of chemical-additive taste.
Starbucks shops are common. The American coffee served at the one in Berne was weak, about the strength of what I grew drinking in North Dakota. Or maybe my taste buds adjusted to the rich brews of the previous days.
The Alps were everything I imagined and more.
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