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So, you made it through the long flight and customs and are at large in Europe. The airport intercom is blaring announcements in some language you can't understand, and you are feeling completely lost. First stop, tourist information.

One of Europe's most wonderful tourist treasures is not a castle, river, or mountain. Rather, it is the comprehensive network of tourist information offices spread throughout western Europe and into parts of eastern Europe.

Especially in such organized countries as Germany and Switzerland, you will find tourist offices in all but the smallest towns. While each office has its own personality and level of competency, they are all there to assist you and to make sure you have a good time. Most will offer free city maps, transportation guides, events schedules, details on special local attractions, lists of accommodations and other general information. Many also have accommodation booking services, which will give you a list of accommodations in your price range, and then phone ahead to reserve a room for you (usually for a small booking fee).

In large cities the staff can be overworked and bordering on burnout, but in some of the smaller, less-touristed towns, the staff are often delighted to have a foreigner and will spend extra time with you to answer your every need. (You can spend hours chatting in the tourist offices in rural Wales or Ireland.) After experiencing the efficiency of most European travel offices, you will wonder how Europeans ever manage to get around in your country.

The offices are most often located in or near the railway stations, and also in the international airports. Once you are off the plane and through customs, proceed straight to the airport tourist office. While they are usually overrun with noisy tourists, you should at least pick up a city map and transportation guide, and ask how to get to where you want to go. The first thing to find is a place to stay, so ask how to get to the budget accommodation district (most large cities have areas where impoverished backpackers and budgeteers hang out). Remember that smiles generally beget smiles, and if you don't bust their chops they often will not bust yours. They might offer more accurate advice if you are nice, too.

Likewise, the local tourist office should be your first stop upon arrival in any new town as you are going along. In train stations, do not confuse the tourist offices with the train information offices. The latter exist in most major train stations, to offer advice on tickets, sleeping compartments, schedules, etc. These are often operated by cranky public servants who most often will only answer your train-related questions.

Once you have your bearings, try to find accommodation. That way you have the rest of the day to goof around; you might also find cheaper rooms earlier in the day. Keep in mind that banks, shops and other needs have much less convenient hours than back home, so shop as needed during business hours. Be mindful of local holidays when everything closes. Always have some spare cash in case you forget to change money before the weekend. Larger hotels will often exchange cash after hours.

Planes, trains, ferries, barges, buses, subways, street trams, taxis, private cars, and of course your feet are all methods of movement you can consider within and between destinations.

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