Gentle readers: I’ve come full circle and have reached London once more. There will be more posts here, but on a less frenetic basis. I will be visiting three UK schemes before Christmas also, for a bit of compare and contrast. Thank you for your comments, both online and otherwise. Please follow me on Twitter to get the latest. In the meantime:
My top 20 tips for an extended study trip through Europe, should you be lucky enough (or barking enough) to do it.
01 Get an app like CityMaps2Go. It allows you to download whole cities, plug in and save destinations and also to see where you are WITHOUT data being switched on. I know – who knew? This app was utterly invaluable – I am sure there are others but…
02 Main stations are important, including the welcome you feel on arrival. St. Pancras ain’t bad. Other winners are Copenhagen, Rotterdam and Berlin. Losers: Stockholm and Utrecht. (I arrived by ferry in Helsinki but its station wins the architectural prize).
03 ‘Man In Seat 61’ is an essential online read prior to train travel. The French and Italians in particular have draconian reservation rules. I used two unlimited interrail tickets (yes, adults can buy these too).
04 Most trains don’t have wifi (or good wifi) yet. So don’t bank on doing research or posting en route. (Incidentally, about 40% of my trains were late. So the myth of European trains running like clockwork is just that.)
05 Having said that, people are asked to be discreet about mobile use on Euro trains and there are very few pointless announcements. The resulting peace is a joy to this Londoner, weary of being ear-bashed by Health and Safety drivel.
06 For heaven’s sake hire the city’s own hire bikes in each city, even if only in the ones with cycle lanes. It’s the only way (as David Byrne knows) to see a lot, and see it properly. And it works off the copious ham and cheese diet.
07 Visit the architecture centres first in each city – and their websites – you will find unexpected new things to see.
08 Also look at city websites before going. The city-led development process in most of Europe means that there is a very good inventory of schemes and contacts there.
09 Beware the temptation to ‘architecture spot’ – look at everything in between as well.
10 Meet as many people connected with the schemes as you are able to for a long chat. This requires very early research and pleading emails.
11 Don’t be So Very British. Speak to residents. Get them to let you into the buildings. I didn’t have one negative encounter.
12 Change your plans freely.
13 Unglue your eyes from your devices – on the train, in the cafe, down the street…
14 Go back to places twice if you can, at different times of the day/week.
15 95% of people spoke English very well (how humiliating) but learn at least these phrases in the local lingo: Do you speak English? Do you live here? Would you mind speaking to me about this building? I’d like a big coffee please. Thank you. (It will be appreciated).
16 If you plan to write en route, it takes a long time and some solitude. Leave yourself enough space and time for it.
17 Find the best buzzy cafés in each city (ho(s)tel ground floors can also be good) which has speedy free wifi.
18 Pack half as much as you were going to (and I am a light traveller). But take your swimming costume – a surprising amount of cities allow some beach space/time.
19 Take the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki – an interrail ticket gets you a reduced fare and it’s quite an experience.
20 Never take cheese on a train.
PS: An appropriate venue for a last evening Parisian meal with my mum!