I’ve been to Europe 4 times in the past 5 years — Ireland in 2009, Italy/Prague in 2010, Berlin/Paris in 2012, and now Amsterdam/Barcelona in 2014. By no means am I an expert on Europe or European travel. If anything, my experiences are probably fairly typical for an American coming over here every so often, only that I’m thinking Conor things while I’m here.
- The quality of life in the US is racing ahead of Europe. This isn’t a statement on the differences between the US and European economies, but the day-to-day things. Beds are uncomfortable, air conditioning is lacking where it’d be desired, pharmacies remain small corner stores, and the downside of cute, old buildings is that they’re, well, old. Barcelona, on my international data plan anyway, doesn’t have LTE service, and it drains my battery about twice as fast as it drains in the US. The quality of food and drink has improved so much in the US over the past 10-15 years, but especially the past 5, that food here feels increasingly pedestrian in terms of its lack of variety. Yes, the tapas are amazing, but you can’t find a good salad anywhere, you can’t find eggs or avocados in most places, and I guess brunch isn’t a thing here. What Europe does well it probably does better than what the US does well, but I honestly won’t miss the dining scene.
- Ignorant American comment — Barcelona people don’t consider themselves a part of Spain. Legally Barcelona is a part of Spain, which is a part of the EU. But their hearts aren’t in it. The only Spanish flags you see here are on the government buildings where they’re required. The signs are in Catalan, and that’s what everyone speaks. Living in the states where we’re constantly thinking about global markets for technology and finance, it strikes me as quaint and petty. Catalonia is a region of 7-8 million people. There will never be a Facebook or a Twitter founded in Catalonia — the native-speaking market isn’t big enough. There are perhaps 3 global languages in the 21st century — English, Spanish, and Madarin — and many parts of Europe, by holding onto their national historical languages, have chosen to isolate themselves.
- Asian tourism is growing. In our various tourist groups — a bike tour, a tapas tour, a paella cooking class tour, and tours at La Sagrada Familia, all in English, Asians and/or Asian Americans probably represented 20-25% of the attendees. If tourism is a competition for resources, which is why Millennials go to Prague and Croatia when their parents went to France and Italy, then our kids will be fighting with Asians for tourism resources in 2035.
- Tourism hot spots are increasingly becoming artificial Disneyland-like theme parks with old buildings and churches as props. This Bloomberg article on Berlin talks about it somewhat. Europe is hurting, its depression perhaps worse than the 1930’s, yet you’d never know it as a tourist. Almost by definition, anything popular you do based on a TripAdvisor review is thriving. The breadth and depth of tourist activities geared towards foreigners has grown over the years. As a result, it’s quite easy to spend days here doing typical tourist sightseeing, a Fat Tire bike tour, a cooking/food tour in your native language, gorge on gelato/coffee/croissants for awhile, eat at a few restaurants with high Yelp scores, and then head out of town. It’s not an American experience, but it’s debatable whether it’s really a European experience. With two big markets for global tourism — Asians and empty nester Baby Boomers — growing, and Europe’s struggle seemingly never-ending, look for tourism to increasingly crowd out the local economies in places like Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Italy, and Prague.
- I miss Atlanta. Europe feels to me like a place that respects its past and lives for the present because it’s unable to envision any sort of future. It’s perhaps a great environment as a tourist — “look at how their priorities are balanced!” — but depressing to a future-oriented person like myself. In Atlanta the debate is more about what our future should look like — transportation options, the Beltline, school reform, and housing — but basically all the city thinks about is its future. I’ll miss the non-car transportation options here but I think another generation of Europeans may need to pass on before this continent figures out what it wants to be in the 21st century.