18 Things I’ve Learned from Three Months in Europe

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  1. Bikes exist with motors that are activated by pedaling. The bike share program in Madrid uses these bikes. You feel like you have a super power as each effort shoots you forward much faster than it should. I would love to have one of these to pedal around at home (if I had a home.)
    Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 8.22.39 PM
  2. Spain has the third most tourists in the world.
  3. Finland is terrible at soccer.
  4. I can walk 25 km (15.5 miles) comfortably, and then walking any further becomes hellish. I learned this by walking 36 km (22 miles) with a group that was starting the Camino a Santiago Compostela in Madrid. Most were walking 100 km (62 miles) in 24 hours.
    Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 7.17.37 PM Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 7.17.59 PM
  5. Countries with a small minority population of native foreign language speakers are willing to accommodate them, even beyond the point of reasonableness. Countries with a large minority population of native foreign language speakers try to curtail the second language’s use. Compare Finland putting every road sign in Swedish for the 5% of people who speak it as a first language versus Latvia, where 34% of people speak Russian at home requiring schools to teach at least 60% of subjects in Latvian and planning to ban Russian as a language of instruction by 2018. (I realize there’s more to these issues than how I’ve presented them.)
  6. On August 23, 1989, a 675 km (420 miles) human chain of 2 million people ran from Vilnius, Lithuania to Tallinn, Estonia. The protesters wanted independence from the Soviet Union.
  7. Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian are part of the Finno-Urgic branch of the Uralic language family. Latvian and Lithuanian are Baltic languages that are part of the Balto-Slavic languages of most of Eastern Europe including Russian. Romanian is a Romance language like Spanish and French. Look at a map and try to make sense of that!
  8. In the 15th century, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe.

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    Trakai Castle, Lithuania
  9. Written Serbian is a very rare example of synchronic digraphia, ie when a language has two writing systems at the same time. I saw about 50% usage of the Serbian cyrillic alphabet and 50% usage of the Roman alphabet when I was in Belgrade.
  10. Americans are not the only ones who use fake boats. Most nightlife in Belgrade, Serbia during the summer is on splavovi, which are rafts docked to the Sava and Danube Rivers that look like boats.
  11. I look dumb enough–but I’m not–to pay $30 for a 2.5 mile taxi ride.
  12. The Ottoman Empire stretched much further into Europe, and much more recently, than I realized.
  13. There are majority Muslim countries in Europe other than Turkey.
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  14. In the early 20th century, The First Balkan War kicked the Ottoman Empire out of Europe. Bulgaria started the Second Balkan War because it was upset about not getting enough new territory after the First Balkan War. Ironically Bulgaria lost territory during the Second Balkan War.
  15. Romania started World War II neutral, joined Germany as an Axis Power, was invaded by the Soviet Union, and finally joined the Allies after a coup. Despite being a big help to the Allies in the end, Romania was not mentioned as a co-belligerent at the 1947 Treaty of Paris and ended up losing quite a bit of territory.
  16. Ceaușescu’s bungled final speech and even more bungled attempt to flee were a fantastically fitting end to his reign. Romania’s entire 1989 revolution is fascinating.
  17. The Wikipedia article glosses over the days after the Romanian Revolution, but they’re definitely the strangest part: “On 24 December, Bucharest was a city at war. Tanks, APCs and trucks continued to patrol the city and surround trouble spots in order to protect them. At intersections near strategic objectives, roadblocks were built; automatic gunfire continued in and around University Square, the Gara de Nord (the city’s main railroad station) and Palace Square. Yet amid the chaos, some people were seen clutching makeshift Christmas trees. ‘Terrorist activities’ continued until 27 December, when they abruptly stopped. Nobody ever found out who conducted them, or who ordered their termination.” [emphasis mine] A woman one year older than me told me her first memories are running through the city with her parents during the revolution trying to get to a safe apartment, and playing in the apartment of her uncle and picking up bullets that had gotten into the apartment. Two young Romanians echoed to me the comments that “no one knows” who the “terrorists” were that were fighting for those few days or why they stopped.
  18. Romanians are SO proud to be in the European Union. You rarely see a Romanian flag that is not flying next to an EU flag. Exception: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Carol Park in Bucharest.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry to contradict your comment on the Lithuanian Language.it is the
    Oldest language descended from Indo European roots. It is in no way a ‘balto-Slavic
    And most defiantly NOT Russian…please recheck your sources beyond Wikipedia…

    • Of course it is not Russian. Of course it IS Balto-Slavic. The article you link to says as much.

      Indo-European
      Balto-Slavic
      Baltic
      Eastern Baltic
      Lithuanian

  2. But I am extremely impressed about the Finno-Ugric comment, even though, it is spelled wrong as “Finno-Urgic”. It was interesting to read your list.

    • Edited. Yes, it’s pretty surprising to me that Hungarian and Estonian are more closely related than everything in between.

  3. Thank you for such an interesting post with so much information. And, even as you acknowledged that you’d simplified the situations, such an example of why the distribution and the use or non-use of the languages would have made sense if you had included the history. Most impressed that you did manage the 22 miles, and the 15 were respectable enough–it must have been hot as well…

  4. Thanks for your response Scott.
    However, further investigation will reveal that the Lithuanian language is the closest European language to Sanskrit..
    A surprise to most, thus it serves as the ROOT to all others in the area, Balt etc. except for Finn-Urogic…as the chart submitted clearly shows as it is totally separate and is listed by Itself..
    Enjoy your travel reports and have utilized your informative CC info to my advantage.

  5. Very interesting, but I think you meant “flee” and not the tiny parasite “flea” in #16. Kinda funny, though.

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