A Taste of Three Continents - November 2005 travel blog

When we were still working, we could only travel during peak holiday times. I'll never forget a Christmas trip return to O'Hare. The baggage claim area was so full of unclaimed bags that there was literally nowhere to walk. We looked forward to retirement time, when we could travel during low season as we are today. How disappointing to arrive at the check in counter and be told that our plane was full. The agent said that these days, when a flight has lots of empty seats, they put an internet special up on the web and fill it up. From the bankrupt airline's point of view, this makes perfect sense, but when you face a long flight over the ocean and know that it will be spent with your true love's elbows in your ribs, this is a disappointment.

For reason only clear to the airlines, our route to Lisbon took us far to the northeast to Munich, where we changed planes from United to Lufthansa. Lo and behold, the internet special does not seem to have taken root yet in Europe. We spent the last two hours of our flying day stretched out on empty seats, only waking to eat a hot meal. Wine was also available for free, but after having missed a night's sleep, did not seem a wise choice. Now that the European Union is up to speed, we essentially entered Portugal when we entered Germany. The only passport stamp we got today was German and no one in Portugal showed the least interest in our baggage. I suppose weapons would show up in a security scan, but we were left wondering what other sorts of contraband come to the EU from the US with such lax supervision.

We had a typical European dinner tonight, al fresco on the sidewalk in the mild weather. The waiter brought rolls - don't take them unless you want to pay extra. He also brought interesting spreads - again an extra charge. He also brought some proscuitto smoked ham, unordered by us. You guessed it - an extra charge. We had plain water with the meal - it came out of a bottle and cost extra. Not a rip-off, but a wise traveler tries to know the rules before stuffing something into the mouth. The European tourist in the US must be equally mystified at the bounty of food on his table for "free." On the other hand he feels ripped off when he sees the notation for tax on the bottom of a bill. In Europe with VAT all the tax is built into the price - present but inperceptible.

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