Sunday, 30 December 2012

Europe vs. America

 Mohn Family December 2012

Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland
Chivalry is not dead!

We've just returned from a 5-day trip around Europe in a Ford 9-passenger van that we affectionally dubbed the "Mohn Marshrutka" (after the "mini" busses that are all over Kiev). My sister, Kristine, and friend, Poonam, left after a 12-day visit, and I have 9 more days of Christmas break, so it's time to write another blog after 3 months.

In case you're wondering, I've been loving teaching at KCA and my Christmas concert was the highlight of my professional career.

OK, enough about me. On to the topic of my blog: differences between Europe and America, for better or worse.

1. Bathrooms

Many toilets in Krakow, Budapest (did you know it's pronounced BudaPESHT???) and Vienna had 2 flusher buttons--one for a big flush and one for a little flush. Brilliant! I think it's a much better idea than mandating low-flow toilets that you have to sometimes flush multiple times. We also experienced the cleanest gas station bathroom ever in Hungary. Way to go Hungarians!

2. Stoplights:

Sir Josiah
The good: They turn flash green before they turn yellow and then turn yellow after red before going to green. It's kind of nice to have extra warning.

The not so good: In many places, the stoplights were on the near side of the intersection, so that when you pulled up to the intersection, you either had to look straight up to see the light, or couldn't really see it at all.

3. Driving:

They have white lines down the middle of the road, as well as for dividing lanes. I suppose it's all what you're used to, but I think 2 colors gets rid of much confusion!

I was very happy that drivers were more "normal" outside of Ukraine. I would NEVER want to drive in Ukraine--most drivers seem to be aggressive and crazy and I pray for my safety on every trip.

4. Snow removal:

How did she do this???
Happily in other countries, it was in the 30s-40s and there was no snow. In Ukraine, the sidewalks are covered with INCHES of packed snow/ice, as are the side streets. I feel bad for the babushkas and hope they don't fall and get hurt.

5. Babies

I wonder how many things we accept as fact in America are just traditions or old wives' tales? A KCA staff member told me that she doesn't hold Ukranian's babies anymore because the mothers get mad at her for how she holds them. They don't bend their babies at the waist, because it's better for them to be straight, and don't put any weight on their feet until they're older because evidently it might be bad for them. I'm sure we do things in America that they think are equally weird. I'd love responses on what some of those things might be!

6. Currency:

We were in 6 different countries (including Ukraine) with 5 different currencies. 210 Hungarian Forrents to the dollar, about .75 Euros to the dollar, 3 or so Polish Zlotys to the dollar...I'm thankful for one currency in the US! It is fun to have all the different types of money though!

7. Costs:

Go to Poland or Hungary. Prices are very reasonable ($70 for an apartment with kitchen that sleeps 7 per night!). Austria is very expensive. Also, don't go to Austria on Christmas. Most places were not only closed on the 25th, but also on the 26th and 27th and I don't know for how many more days. We couldn't buy groceries. Most restaurants were open on the 26th, so that helped! I am glad, however that workers get the 25th off!

8. Restaurants:

Poonam paid 1 Euro for a pat of butter! They brought her rolls and charged her for how many she ate. There were some great restaurants, but I do like the American system of having the cost of your condiments built into the cost of the meal. Austrian Apple Strudel is AMAZING and I highly recommend it.

9. Toll Roads:

Oops. We were told to buy a sticker for the Austrian motorway "at the border". There is no longer any border control and we missed any signs if they were in English that told us how to buy a sticker, so we thought that maybe our road wasn't a toll road and then forgot about it. On the day we left Austria, a cop came up to us at a gas station and fined us 120 Euros for not having a sticker. Live and learn. We bought a sticker for Czech Republic at a gas station for 17 Euros (kind of steep for one drive through the country to Poland!) I do like the sticker system though better than having to throw coins into toll booths every so often when driving across states like Illinois.
Never forget what happened...Auschwitz Crematorium

10. Concentration Camps:

We went to Auschwitz. I'd recommend going to a concentration camp at least once. It's powerful and important to remember what happened.

11. English:

It was really nice to have more people than not speak English when outside of Ukraine. It was also a much-needed break for my brain to not have to read the Cyrillic alphabet for a few days. I'm so thankful to speak a language that is fairly international across Europe!

12. Kendra's "best ofs"

Prettiest countryside: Czech Republic
Best city: Budapest
Best castle: Wawel in Krakow

Coolest tradition: Legend has it that at a church in Krakow, a trumpeter in the bell tower has played the same melody on every hour every day since the 1200s to commemorate a trumpeter that was shot in the throat while playing a warning of attack. The player stops at the exact spot where the original trumpeter stopped when he was killed. 800 years time 365 days a year times 24 hours a! I wonder if visiting trumpeters can volunteer? If you read more about it, that may not actually be the real story and there have been times when they didn't do the trumpeting and it hasn't always been every hour. It's still fun though.

Best restaurant: Hole in the wall pub in Krakow where we had great food (including 2 of the Polish Christmas dishes from Veggie Tales Christmas, for those of you who know the song I'm talking about!) and a choral group of some sort was in the next room and they kept singing and it was GORGEOUS!

Best side trip: Across the Slovakian border so we could say we've been there.

Airline: Wizz Air was great!!!

Thanks for reading...have a great day!