Europe for Dummies

Old 10-25-06, 06:32 PM
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Europe for Dummies

We are going to Germany & Switzerland next summer. We will be staying in some small villages in and around the Alps. Part of me thinks that people speak engilsh everywhere, but part of me thinks, that in the small villages, I better learn a few words of German. Any thoughts on taking a family of four to rural Germany?
Also, how easy is it to navigate on the trains? Kind of same question, are the signs in German & English? Will at least the ticket taker speak english ?
Any other thoughts for this dummy?
Old 10-26-06, 04:51 PM
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There are many good travel books like Fodor's and websites (www.fodor' available. Study the areas you plan to visit beforehand. There are books on navigating Europe by car and train and with children. You need to do some reading so that you will know how to travel safely. Tourists can be targets for those who have ill intentions. Knowing where you are going in advance and making sure you will have a place to stay is important. Small rural villages will likely not have hotels. Good planning is crucial.

Picking up a German/English pocket dictionary may be helpful, but you need a German phrase book. At least learn to say "please," "excuse me," "sorry," "thank you," and "you're welcome." Most definitely learn how to ask where the toilet is.

There are many dialects in Germany. About 60% of Germans speak English but the % is probably much lower in small rural villages. There are many websites that offer free language lessons to help travelers learn basic German phrases.

International signs for driving are used. Some signs may be bilingual. Street signs may not be on a pole on the corner but rather posted on a building and may or may not be bilingual. There are websites that illustrate European and German signs. A good mapbook of the areas you plan to visit will be important. Some travel guides provide maps.

Auf Wiedersehen!
Old 10-26-06, 07:22 PM
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Europe for Dummies

You will always be able to find someone that speaks English. The younger people almost always seem to. You will have a little more of a problem in small towns than the larger cities.

If you think "rural" is rural, you may be in for a surprise once in a while. I was in a smaller town (15,000 population) near Frankfurt. The downtown was quaint. The second day, I discovered there was a 4 square block, two level shopping center under the downtown complete with an underground garage.

Roads are well marked and you should try to find a good map (Michelin or other) that has an explanation of the signs. Picture signs are easy. Steet signs will slow you up a bit. Most German words are brutally straight forward - Nord=North, Sud=South. You may feel uncomfortable at times because of the inability to be as quick as at home. You will have no problem with menus after a couple of days - they are laid out just like ours and the words are descriptive.

Whenever I traveled I got an interactive (listen and speak) language CD. If I was going to Germany, I would buy "Transparent German", for China, "Transparent China", etc. They were reasonable. The last one I bought was about 5 years ago and there are other similar products available.

The area just north of the alps is beautiful, but make sure you get into the Alps. Traveling south from Munich to or near the Alps and then east all the way over to Salzberg, Austria is beatiful. If you want the real Alps, go further South. Hitler's "Eagles Nest" is near that route. Geneva is O.K., Lucerne and Lucarno are great. Also try to see the big lakes (Geneva, Maggiorre(sp?), Como, etc.).

Have a great trip!!!!

Old 10-27-06, 04:50 PM
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Yes, in the bigger cities many people will speak English but do not count on it....

I was in Helsinki Finland in November and was riding the tram late one night. I noticed that it had gotten rather desolate outside when the tram stops and the driver goes "blla blla blla"... I give him the dumb tourist look and ask if he speaks English... "Llastt stopp. Gett off." Midnight, -30, and I'm lost and kicked off in the middle of nowhere...

After 10 or 15 minutes I found my way to a bus stop (which ran until 2). Then I notice a punk rock dude walking up. I started to get ready for a mugging. He said "blla blla blla" and I said that I did not speak Finnish very well. It turns out that punk rock dude spoke perfect English and was heading into the city to meet his friends. He invited me along and I ended up having a relly cool time with all his friends.

The moral of the story. Not speaking the language is not the end of the world. If you keep your cool and a good attitude thing usually turn out O.K. and you may learn something along the way.

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