What not to do while traveling

Freiberg is home to the friendliest people

I decided to go to Germany yesterday, so I got on a train and now I’m here. It’s been a really lovely trip so far, but it wouldn’t have been if it weren’t for the unbelievable kindness of all the people here in Freiberg. My train didn’t get into town until almost midnight, meaning I didn’t get to my bed and breakfast until midnight. As my taxi drove away, I read the sign that said that check-ins were supposed to be before 10. The windows were dark and I was wondering what I was going to do. But I rang the bell for reception and it turns out the owner of the bed and breakfast lived up the street and came down in the middle of the night to let me in. And he was nice about it. After 5 hours of traveling in the hot summer weather, I couldn’t have been more grateful.

As I set out in the morning to walk to the temple, googlemaps was a little vague about how I was supposed to get there. I got to the end of the road and knew that I wasn’t  where I should be turning yet. And so two really sweet older women who didn’t speak any English after I showed them the address I was looking for, directed me toward this tiny road that looked more like a driveway. I don’t know if I would have found it otherwise.

I had a 5 minute conversation with a man in German today. Well, he only spoke German and I only spoke English and we barely understood anything the other was saying, but somehow we had a great time of it.

I waited at the bus stop to get back to the train station and after about 10 minutes, checked the bus schedule again. Although I don’t speak German, I’ve seen enough bus schedules to realize that the bus I was waiting for didn’t run on Saturday. So, by a stroke of luck the man waiting at the bus stop with me spoke perfect English. He was waiting for a taxi and helped me figure out that there was another bus I could take, but it didn’t come for 45 minutes and the ride would probably be another 45. Like the other fantastically kind people in Freiberg, he convinced the taxi he was waiting for to take me to the train station on the way to where he was going. I can’t be more grateful. If it weren’t for him, I would just barely have gotten onto that bus and wasted the whole day just getting home. Because he was willing to be so kind, I’m already on a train back to Dresden, and I might even have 3 hours to enjoy the city.

What did we take away from this story? I’m a terrible American tourist. I’m what all Europeans hate about Americans. So let me share a few words of wisdom from my adventure so that you can learn from my bad example.

1. If you are staying in a small city or at a small hotel in a big city, they don’t have 24-hour reception like a lot of American hotels. Think of them more like a Bed and Breakfast. That being said, plan your travel so that you get into the city at a normal hour. If there’s no getting around a late arrival or an early checkout, make sure you write them in advance so that they can plan.

2. This is more of a random fact, than a piece of advice, but complimentary breakfast in Europe is quite different that what Americans consider breakfast. They often include bread and meat; coffee and juice; and hard-boiled eggs. If you can’t live without your cereal (like me), you can generally buy cereal at grocery stores. So plan ahead.

3. This is the one thing I did right. I took a picture of the address I was going to. That way, when I got lost (because when you’re traveling, there’s always a moment or two when you’re not exactly sure where you are) you can show a local the address and they’ll point you in the right direction. It’s amazing what you can do even with a language barrier. I always check that I’m where I think I am every 2-3 minutes, either on the map or by asking locals.

4.  Pick up some vocabulary before you go. That way when you are asking for directions, or talking to a waitress, or a random older gentleman wants to talk to you, you can kind of figure out what they’re saying. I’m always excited to learn words, but don’t know which ones would be important. Hello, Please, Thank You, How are you?, Train station, Airport, What time?, How much?, Numbers, and any food you think you might want is a pretty good place to start.

5. Look up bus and train schedules in advance. It’s true that in Europe there are a lot more buses and trains than in your average US city, but that doesn’t mean that they come often or go exactly where you want. A little bit of research is important, or you’ll be stranded in the middle of a tiny German town with no idea how to get home. It’s true; you can take a taxi (most train stations will have taxis outside of them), but if you’re anywhere else in the city, you’ll need to call for a taxi so get the number from the internet before you go.

6. Be friendly and ask for help. Not in a needy annoying way, but in a “Wow, I love your city and I’m looking for this building, am I going in the right direction sort of way.” Don’t expect them to bend over backwards for you, but if they offer, take the help.

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