Here are some thoughts from my recent trip to Munich, Bergen, and Amsterdam. If you’re going to Europe, you might find something interesting. Click any image for a larger view.
- Take an American Express card. We now have the new chip cards, but as you probably know, ours are chip-and-signature, while Europe is on chip-and-pin. You probably don’t have a pin (there are a few exceptions). This means that there are places that won’t accept your credit card, like some fare machines. I didn’t find any, however, that accepted Amex that wouldn’t take my card. I guess it must waive the need for a pin when necessary.
- Take two credit cards. I still remember the call from my Visa issuer one evening several years back, also in Munich. “Hi. There’s been suspicious activity on your card, so we’ve cancelled it.” “Great. You do know I’m in Germany.” The response was, essentially, that it wasn’t their problem. Fortunately, I had the Amex.
Cash is rapidly disappearing from Europe. Various forms of card / electronic payment are replacing it. So if the Euro zone does break up, at least we won’t have to go back to changing cash at every border we cross. I brought $200 in cash with me and took $200 in cash home — the Visa did work at the one ATM I tried. Gave the remaining Euros — practically all of them — to the hotel on the last night.
- The Mobile Passport app works great. Unfortunately, it’s only accepted at five airports so far. Fortunately, ATL is one of them. If yours isn’t part of Mobile Passport, sign up for Global Entry.
- Speaking of which, ATL is the world’s busiest, and I returned the day before Thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year. Everything went smooth as silk, even through the dreaded passport line (5 min — see “Mobile Passport” above). Kudos to TSA and the ATL crew.
- Amsterdam’s Shiphol Airport is still a delight. It’s not Singapore, but it has everything and is intelligently laid out. The Marriott Courtyard Shiphol isn’t really at the airport (about 15 min away in the town of Hoofddorp, approx. halfway to Haarlem), but sits in a nice park with lots of trails and a lake. I recommend it if you RON at Shiphol — very quiet. Temperature when I got in was a refreshing 2º C / 36º F with blowing rain. The Rijksmuseum downtown is as wonderful as ever (think “Night Watch”). Easily reachable via train from the airport & then tram (just ask at any info booth).
- As for Munich’s Franz-Joseph Strauss airport, nice facility, and very efficient: I was at the hotel in downtown Munich, 18 miles away, less than an hour after we landed. But once you go through departure security (at least at Terminal 1’s D gates), the pickings are pretty slim. No Starbucks, if you can believe it. If you have a few hours in Munich, hit the Deutsches Museum. It’s sort of a mini-Smithsonian. I got these two replicas of our cat at the glass-blowing exhibit.
- I had never swum in Europe, so I looked up public facilities before going. In Munich, the Müller’sche Volksbad is downtown, near an S-Bahn stop, in a delightful, fully restored 1901 complex. People are very friendly, but the lap lanes are a little shallow and got crowded on a Tuesday morning. Still, I got in about 3,000 m over two days. In Bergen, should you ever visit, which I highly recommend, they have the AdO Arena, a new, state-of-the-art facility with 50 m lap lanes at 3 m depth. Sauna is included in the price (extra in Munich). You can probably find great facilities in most any European city.
- Lots of yoga in Europe, too, should you be so inclined. Great way to recover from a long flight (I did sneak in a few Warrior I & IIs while in the air).
- Lots of folks walking and running, too. (Oddly, there’s also lots of folks still smoking, at least in Germany). In Munich, try the trails on the east bank of the Isar, which connect to the English Garden. Run forever, right downtown. On weekday mornings, these trails become autobahns for bikes, so be careful. In fact, watch out for bikes in most European cities. And the beer in Munich is still the beer in Munich. You’ll be thankful for the pools, if not for the running trails.