Germany

I’ll never forget my trip to Munich because it was my introduction to Europe and Germany being my first trip within Europe outside U.K. And this started the beautiful journey I am still on the path of. Germany really is the country of wonders, despite their history of war and violence it is an amazing modern society, hard working with a lot of focus on quality, efficiency and functionality of life. The first time I visited I expected blatant show off of wealth like UK and The US but German life is rather simple and they derive pleasure from smaller things rather than blatant showing off. (You can still see the mansions with private lakes in Bavaria if you want to satisfy the capitalist inside).

The infrastructure in cities is very good and clean and transport and social links are amazing. Despite their colder stance towards strangers Berlin is at the forefront of world Art and creative industries with and government backs start ups with innovative ideas extensively.

You have a lot of options for entertainment be it the Oktoberfest or the fetish pride or visiting the beautiful gothic castles, Germany has something to offer to everyone and with flights really cheap flying out really is very convenient…

The Racism Factor 

Germans are very friendly and nice people once you get to know them but they also don’t tolerate BS. With a lot of German friends I had this in mind so I approached the country accordingly and the experience was positive. Do not expect a heart warming welcome that you’d get in Middle East or Brazil but a slightly cautious but nice interaction that sweeten with time. At the time when I visited I didn’t experience any racism but I imagibe things must have changed slightly since the recent refugee influx and attacks so I’d suggest a cautious approach.

The Gay Factor 

Germany is very tolerent when it comes to sexuality so much so that Berlin is the fetish capital of the world. You will come across all sorts with a special fetish pride organized every year. The guys are quite goodlooking especially if you like blonde guys with blue eyes or if you like Turkish guys…

Berlin and Munich both have an established alternative scene with lots of bars and clubs offering everything from BDSM to dark rooms and everything in between. A down side of this is lots of drugs use and a tendency to indulge in risky sexual behaviour but i suppose each to his own.. In terms of hanging out and apps, there are a lot of guys around and with germans obsessed with perfect bodies you can drool over those six pack abs.

The society in general is very tolerant towards homosexuality in fact tolerance is probably the wrong word, they don’t discriminate or judge you based on being gay at least in the big cities..

Value for Money 

Germany is a high income developed country but it is reasonably priced. Berlins especially can be quite chea based on where you go and with a flourishing hispter and alternative scene it is quite easy to find cheap and great venues without a lot of looking around. Munich on the other hand can be a little expensive but coming from UK both cities seemed really reasnably priced to me.

Itinerary

I spend 3 days in Munich when I first travelled to Germany and the three days flew by. There’s quite a lot to do and see in the city and around. Similarly I spent a long weekend in Berlin a year later which was just the right time before I got depressed from all the WWI and WWII stuff..

Accommodation

In both my trips i stayed with friends who were living and working in the city. both cities have great accommodation options from hostels to hotels to Airbnb. with the recent crackdown on Airbnb in Germany, you should be cautious but I still see a lot of option on the site for stay and at a very good price.

A really good area to stay in Berlin is around Nollendorfplatz with a vibrant gay scene around and also close to everything and easy to travel around from. Similarly, the area around Sendlinger Tor metro station in Munich is great with good connections and is quite central so a place around this area would be very convenient.

Food

With everything else quite prim and proper the German food is probably the only thing I just couldn’t get myself to like and trust me I have tried a lot. One main reason is Pork and since I don’t eat it, most of the food is out of bounds and whatever is left is quite unappetizing but luckily both Berlin and munich have a good selection of restaurants especially Turkish restaurants that server amazing BBQ meat which I absolutely love.

Another thing to try is schnizel which is breaded parchment of veal usually but sadly even that is a bit bland. If you like sausages however, this is your place to be with sausages of each size and shape easily available every where. I loved this one place which sold amazing veal sauages with sour dough bread and strong mustard sauce so if you find a place serving that, give it  try…

Phone & Internet 

The phone reception in Germany is quite good within the cities and you get good reception even when underground using the metro. Internet is also fast and good and free wifi is easily and readily available. I used my roaming but if you want to get a sim card you can explore some options here. I saw plenty of shops selling these sim cards and you don’t even need your ID to buy them.

Cash & Cards 

Card payments were a bit of a shock for me especially in Berlin where a lot of places didn’t accept cards and we had to go looking for cash machines which were also not very common outside the city centre. It would be a great idea to keep some cash on you for these instances. Munich was much better though with most places accepting cards and quite a lot of cash machines.

There are quite a lot of money exchange shops every where in both cities especially in toutist hot spots but if you are coming from EU, it is the same currency (Euros) or if you are going from elsewhere you will need to convert.

Tips

  • Book your walking tour in advance for both cities because the companies are in high demand especially during summer.
  • There are a lot of reminiscents of WWI and WWII all around both cities and while visiting these places is a must, do prepare to be depressed and alternate your days to keep it balanced.
  • Germany is bitterly cold in winter and you should pack accordingly. I generally don’t get cold very often but this was a whole different level altogether.
  • A visit to a biergarten (Beer Garden) is a must but they are in high demand and the good one’s are fully booked weeks n advance so an advanced booking is a must.
  • If Opera is your thing, Germany has a lot to offer and I would strongly recommend booking your tickets well in advanced with good seats to avoid disappointment.
  • Brush up on your cycling skills for Potsdam because that is the best way to wander around in this beautiful town and you can easily rent cycles right outside the train station.
  • Don’t forget to try your luck at Berghain in Berlin and if you fail don’t forget to get a ‘I didn’t get into Berghain’ t shirt. 😉

 

France

Who doesn’t know France really! It is the country that lights up the romantic side in our brains with the French accent so soft and flowy it just makes your heart melt and every one dreams of visiting Paris with their loved ones to absorb the love in the air.

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Eiffel Tower

One of the biggest economies and a vast diverse country in the middle of Western Europe, France always has been an important country and offers so much to everyone, it is impossible to deny its charm.

Toulouse at sunset

My interaction with France has been confined to Paris which I visited 3 years ago and recently Toulouse which is in South and called ‘The Pink city’ owing to the colour of buildings which comes from the stone in the area with which construction of most of the buildings was done but the other interaction has been a bit more extensive because of my exes who happen to be French. Both of them tried to teach me French but unfortunately all I remember are the swear words.. 😉

France proudly boasts its contributions to sciences, literature, arts, film festivals, food, revolutions, wars and not to forget fashion and fragrances which we all love to no end. The country proudly boasts some amazing beaches while the north has the Alps. Basically whatever reason you travel for France can provide it and really well.

The Racism Factor 

Everyone warned me of the snobbery of Parisians but my experience with the country has been very positive. I think greeting someone with Bonjour or Bonsoir softens the tone and most of the people were quite happy to help. With French the idea of nationalistic individuality is quite strong and they don’t like being herded into other categories, treat them that way and they won’t be harsh. The rest really depends on who you come across and how racist they are, caution is necessary.

In the south people are more chilled out and the vibe is much more friendly which I loved especially the people of Toulouse which seem closer to Spaniards than Parisians. I didn’t feel any discriminatory behaviour at all in fact people were really warm and sweet.

The Gay Factor 

France is very proud of its liberal stance on homosexuality and equal rights and it is something very casual for people. I didn’t really feel like it was an issue in any sense. You will see plenty of gay couples or guy holding hands in Le Marais in Paris with tons of gay bars and clubs. France gets brownie points for being so nice to me in this respect..

Toulouse was equally supportive and nice with plenty of gay bars and gay guys. In fact I loved it more than Paris because the guys are somewhat between Spanish and French and while they have slightly darker hair the accent is that charming French that just make you feel snuggly and they are very sweet and friendly.

Value for Money 

Depending on where you go the prices change quite a lot, Paris is quite expensive obviously especially Central Paris but the Toulouse was much cheaper in comparison. You need a big wallet to do everything in Paris that you wish but the same activities can be done quite cheaply in Toulouse so depending on where you go plan accordingly.

Itinerary

I visited Paris for 3 days which is definitely not enough and you need 4 to 5 days to see the very basic stuff especially if you want to see Louvre and other main stuff like Versais and Notre Damme.

Toulouse can be easily seen in 3 days unless you want to add Carcassonee or the surroundings. Since I visited in winter I decided to spend the time in the city and not go around t soak up more of the city.

Accommodation

In Paris, Le Marais is a nice area to stay with lots of hip bars , clubs and shopping and it is close to everything and with Airbnb it is possible to get a nice place and much cheaper than the hotels in the area.

For Toulouse, I stayed with a friend but I would recommend staying near Jean Jaures or Jeanne d’Arc stations because these will give you easy access to the city centre but to be honest it is quite a small city and you can easily go around without much time spent in the traffic or metro.

Food

French food is sheer pleasure and the selection is mind boggling but beware you will put on weight because the original food is amazing but very heavy with loads of dairy and butter in everything or fats and of course the bread. But since you’re on holiday who cares!

I was introduced to snails by my ex and  I am a huge fan and had it with every meal, mouth watering stuff! Paris has unlimited options for food from street food to fine dining and while you’ll love the restaurants with their amazing decor and food, the guys selling crepes outside stations are equally amazing.

Toulouse on the other hand is famous for duck and you can try it every which way here and absolutely delicious, you will fall in love! I’ve had duck and Fois Gras with pretty much every meal. My friends were very surprised that I hadn’t start quacking by the time I returned.

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Duck Casserole

Another amazing love of my life is cheese and you can get every type here and I’ve had lots of Blue cheese which is my absolute favourite, drool drool!

Phone & Internet 

Phone and internet coverage is quite amazing in France with perfect reception high up in the mountains and in cities. Free wifi is quite readily available and is generally quite fast. I used my roaming but if you want to buy sim cards, I would recommend SFR which has the best coverage, you can find more details here.

Cash & Cards 

France uses Euro as currency and while the cities use card machines everywhere you will need to keep some cash as well. I’ve been stranded a couple of times where the card machines didn’t work and I had to go out and get cash so yes to cards but keep cash as back up. Contactless cards can be used here and there though it is becoming more popular now.

Cash machines and money exchange bureaus are also quite easily found and are easy to use.

Tips

  • Learn some basic French and get used to the pronunciation of ‘r’ which is between ‘r’ and hard ‘gh’ and at times you will have to soften your r’s for the locals to understand you. Bonjour and Bonsoir are a great conversation starter and Merci really brings out a smile even though the conversation might be solely in English.
  • The weather is as unpredictable in France as in UK if not more, prepare for rain and sun in the same day and dress accordingly.
  • When it comes to food, don’t be afraid to ask the details of what’s in a dish because a pizza topped with frog legs is not everyone’s thing.