During late April and early May I was thrilled to travel to Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Krakow and Warsaw, and what a delight the trip was. Of course, I am so focused on anything green that I look for greening in everything I do. I was really pleased about many green things I experienced, and want to share them with you. I feel that Europe is more advanced than the US regarding greening for two simple reasons: Their 220k electricity is much more expensive than our 120k so consumers are going to work much harder to conserve it. Their land mass is more populated than ours, so there is much less space for landfills, etc. Real estate is much more expensive—so expensive that 100-year home mortgages are not uncommon.
On our first stop in Berlin, it was a thrill to see this guestroom phone with a full keyboard and a small screen for texting—a real step forward in ramping up the technology side of things.
This room and another had a live green plant in the room to keep the air fresher.
A special thrill for me came during a walk in Berlin’s huge and very central Tiergarten Park. Instead of composting clippings, downed branches and tree limbs by spreading them flat over the ground, all the brush was stacked in a very long row about 2-3’ high and 2’ wide which wandered through the woods. It won’t be clear in the photo shown, but the look overall of this pile of dead sticks and branches was, for some reason, very graceful and almost arty, and very pleasing to me. Beside the appealing appearance of the piled branches, the row could also serve as a bit of a fence to keep the public on the foot path rather than cutting through the thicket which they may be tempted to do.
Every hotel had soap dispensers. Most were utilitarian, but effective. All contained a combination soap and shampoo. I’ve read that the US is the only country in the world where people insist on a separate soap product to wash their hair.
This cloth bag and wicker basket are a particularly appealing green way to provide laundry services.
All toilets were dual flush, and all had large panels on the wall as you can see to choose a lot or a little water for the flush. Hotels that offered two rolls of bathroom tissue always offered both one-ply and two-ply paper rather than two rolls of the same type of paper.
Every hotel had a linen program asking guests to reuse towels. This card used a bear as a graphic on the posted card. The bear is apparently a favorite mascot to Germans.
Most of the hotels had an energy management system. Some appeared to be quite old, but nevertheless they were definitely managing the energy.
The most expensive hotel at which we stayed, in Prague, managed their energy by turning it off. Even though it was early May, it was quite hot during the day.
When we called because the AC didn’t come on, the front desk clerk said, “Oh, it’s not on at the moment.” As we soon learned, they still have a situation where they choose to have either heat or AC, but not both. So, we had to sleep with the windows wide open when we were paying $178 a night.
Online (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity/tariff) is a comparison of electricity costs around the world. While the average cost per 1 kWh (one kilowatt hour) in the US is 9.28¢, the cost in the UK is 18.59¢ and in Germany it is 30.66¢.
Television sets all had a button to turn off the “ready” light, which seems to be typical in Europe. I’ve never seen such in the US, but think it would be a great addition. About half of the hotels had large flat screen televisions. We found there were always at least two English-speaking channels: CNN and BBC.
We rented an apartment in Krakow which was particularly nice. Again, because of the difference in the cost of electricity, things we take for granted are just not available. Though the apartment was very nice and clearly newly renovated, there was no oven in the kitchen and no microwave. Apparently all cooking is accomplished on 4-burner electric cook-tops in most home kitchens.
The lady who cleaned the 4 large apartments had no clothes dryer. She washed our clothes for us, and hung them on a drying rack that folds out and holds lots of clothing.
Ceiling lights had two bulbs and two switches. So, you could choose the amount of light you prefer from the ceiling fixture.
All interior doors (except the bathroom door) in this apartment were 8-light doors which I’ve never seen before inside a home or apartment. Though there is a large window on all exterior walls, I assume the purpose is to bring more light into the space. A good green idea.
Grocery shopping is very different in Europe. Many small, crowded shops. The receipts given are tiny—generally about one inch wide. As our receipts in the US get longer and longer with enticements to go on-line for this or that, it was an interesting minimalization.
The only large grocery stores we found were very long and narrow, usually under a train station and often underground. The aisles are very narrow, and the shopping carts tiny (the size of a hand-carried basket in our stores).
Grocery store fruit generally has stickers, but the stickers were only advertisements. There was no other purpose. Those stickers have always bugged me a bit. It seems like a lot of trouble to put a sticker on every piece of fruit, and, of course, we have to deal with it at home. And, then there’s the glue . . .
Paper napkins in restaurants were small and very thin. In this case, the paper squares were very delicate and light. In another restaurant, our order was apparently going to take a little longer to serve. So, the waitress said, “I’ll bring you some bread and lard.” Which she did. She brought out a cup almost overflowing with lard that had traces of cooking bits in it.
Some things I particularly liked were all at a 5-star hotel in Dresden. A gentleman housekeeper wore a navy knit shirt with beige overalls. The overalls looked to be very comfortable as well as being attractive.
Newspapers are delivered to guest rooms in these beautifully embroidered cloth bags.
A large umbrella was available in the closet. Of course, the note said it may be purchased. I’m unsure if guests are allowed to use the umbrella on rainy days without purchase. A nice offering, and a possible sale!
A minor point was a brochure on a train. Instead of the whole brochure being covered with a shiny varnish, only the circles and colored portions of the brochure were varnished. It just means less varnish was used, which might have reduced the cost.
Walking the streets in these beautiful old cities with buildings hundreds of years old, I noticed that window sills almost never are wood. If they aren’t stone, then, as this one, they are sheet metal, copper or brass.
Between cities we traveled by train, and the rail cars are marked either first or second class. Second class is, of course, cheaper, but not by much. We only had one hitch in our train travel, but it was a doozy. Second class tickets are sold for use within 30 days, so you can use the ticket on any day on any train going to your destination. So, the train people have no idea how many people will actually travel on any one day on any one train second class. First class tickets are sold reserving a particular seat in a numbered rail car for a certain trip.
On a Monday morning, we were going from Prague to Krakow second class, and knew we had one train change. Things began very well, but at some point the conductor came and told us that at the next stop we, and anyone going on to Krakow, had to move to the last 5 cars because those cars were breaking off and going to Krakow. We knew it would be a mad dash, but we had no idea 100+ other people would be dashing too. Here’s where things got goofy. We ended up standing in the passage way at the end of a rail car along with about 5 other people and all the luggage. At one point, as the train stopped at different stations there were at least 10 of us standing in the very small area. The bathroom was also there, so we continually had people coming and going, squeezing between us and stepping over luggage to get to the bathroom. We ended up standing at the car’s end for over two hours during the 300-mile trip. You guessed it—that was the last of second class train travel for us!
What was absolutely amazing to me about the experience was that not one single person was even slightly upset or angry. Everyone was very calm, and accepted the situation gracefully. Obviously, they are used to the workings of their train travel.
All the people were all amazingly friendly and helpful. Almost everyone to the age of about 50 speaks English. Often people offered help when we’d not asked—clearly, we must have looked like we needed help!
Ah, as you know, it’s wonderful to go away and visit other places, but it’s always wonderful to come back home as well. I dearly love to travel. Every place we visit is interesting and exciting, and different from our everyday lives. I almost can’t wait for the next trip!