A Battle in Barcelona

Barcelona Container Port

It was never how I imagined my European holiday would end – in a police car, driven at high speed, through the Barcelona Container Port.

But that’s how it ended – sitting in the passenger seat, next to a Spanish National Police Officer.

The drive from the terminal security gate to the pier took two minutes – no longer. Then, a grateful handshake with the Officer. I say, “Gracias”. Smiles and the customary farewells.

From the car trunk tumbled my bags. Two went over my shoulders; the third one clutched in hand. Thus burdened, I climbed the gangway from the pier.

Gangway to a freighter ship
Gangway to the Vera D

And it was done.

In the blink of an eye, Europe was behind me. I was on board.

After days of waiting, anxious delays and aborted efforts I was finally on my way. To Halifax! A passenger on the cargo freighter, the “Vera D”.

Only later did I fully appreciate that I was in fact, a ship‘s crew member. And thereby hangs a tale…..

Barcelona from the bridge of the Vera D
Barcelona Harbour from the bridge of the Vera D
Barcelona Harbour from the bridge of the Vera D

Last February, Bob’s Excellent Adventure was still in the planning stages. I wondered, “How I could minimize the climate impacts of my trip?” Flying generates tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. “What were my options if I wanted to return home from Europe solely by surface transportation?”

My friend, Barry Truter, had once taken a freighter from Vancouver to Vietnam. So, I called him. Barry put me in touch with his travel agency, “Slow Travel Experience”   https://www.langsamreisen.de/en/ . Based in Germany, they specialize in connecting passengers with freighters. Through them, I learned the Vera D would be travelling from Europe to Halifax about the time I wanted to come home.

I signed all the required forms:

  • acknowledging my needs as a passenger would be subservient at all times to cargo requirements;
  • my physician declaring I had no health problems requiring medical attention while in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean;
  • confirming I carried adequate travel insurance coverage in case of a medical emergency.

I paid the fare and reserved my spot. I would join the ship at Genoa in late June. With stops in Barcelona, Valencia and Lisbon, it would reach Halifax two weeks later in mid July.

I left Calgary on May 4th. No sooner had my flight arrived in Toronto, than I received the first of four notifications of an itinerary change. The freighter’s departure from Genoa would be delayed to early July.

“Ah, wonderful!”, I thought. Already this adventure was improving. More time in Europe. “What could be better than that?”

This process would repeat another three times. With each delay in the ship’s itinerary, I gained extra days to explore Europe. I could not have been more pleased.

The last itinerary change had a difference, though. The Genoa stop was cancelled. The ship would instead be leaving from Barcelona. To catch it, I would have to travel from the Czech Republic to Spain, not to Italy.

Even then, I welcomed the change. 30 Million tourists a year can’t be wrong. I was happy to find out for myself why Barcelona has such star power. http://www.barcelonaturisme.com/wv3/en/

Slow Travel Experience advised me to be in Barcelona a few days before the departure date of July 18. I would need to check in with the port agent as well as be available to board in case the ship departed earlier than scheduled.

The Shift

As directed, I arrived at the offices of the port agent to get my instructions. However, the interview had rude and unwelcome surprises. The manager of the port agency came out to speak with me. Instead of giving me the expected help, he objected to my travelling on the Vera D.

So far as he was aware, the charter company had not authorized the carrying of passengers. They only carried cargo. In fact, he had never before had a passenger on their freighter.

“Who sold you your ticket?”

“The ship’s owner”, I told him.

He replied that his company only represented the Cuban company that had chartered the ship, not the owner. If the owner wanted me to travel as a passenger, then the owner needed to have a separate agreement with his company to represent me as port agent.

“Anyway”, he continued, “the port where the Vera D will be arriving has no customs clearance. Only the ships’ crews are allowed there.” He did not know how I might get Immigration and Customs clearance to leave the country.

I have since thought often about that encounter. The ship could carry a maximum of only two passengers. Why would he be troubled about the tiny extra passenger revenue the owner could generate?

Perhaps he was threatened by discovering he was out of the loop;  or by uncertainty as to how to manage the anomalous passenger standing in front of him. Maybe there were already other problems between the owner and the charterer.

In any event, whatever the reasons, he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help me.

Somewhat alarmed and dismayed, I described this turn of events to my travel agent. Clearly, we needed a Plan B*!

Plan B* – an Ingenious Solution Emerges

Ah yes, Plan B*! But Plan B* can sometimes have false starts. And this one certainly did.

I was first asked to call a company in Gibraltar. They would help me. I called. “No, sorry.” They had no jurisdiction to act in Barcelona. That was a dead end.

The next initiative seemed more promising. I was invited to the offices of Hamburg Sud, a large German cargo shipping line. One of their senior managers assured me they would arrange for their port agent to represent me.

I was at least heartened by his observation that after 45 years in the industry he had never seen such an impasse. To him, it was “crazy” that the charter company should object to a passenger joining a cargo ship. Amen to that.

Ships at anchor in the ocean
Ships at anchor outside Barcelona harbour

By now, the Vera D was in Barcelona at anchor outside the harbour waiting for a berth. It was anticipated it would dock on Saturday, July 22.

It wasn’t exactly panic, but on Saturday morning, the new port agent did not contact me and was not answering my phone calls to him.

As the morning wore on, I began to make urgent calls and emails to Slow Travel Experience. Miraculously, they were available throughout the day. They urged me to go to the terminal and present my ticket. I should do everything in my power to attempt to board while the ship was moored and loading cargo.

I called a taxi. With luggage loaded, we roared off to the container port terminal.

At the security control point, I showed my passport and ticket. “Where is your port agent?”, the security guard asked. “I don’t have one,” I replied.

“It is not possible to get to the docks without a port agent,” he said, handing me back my documents.

My stomach dropped. My heart sank. Fortunately, at least the taxi driver had not abandoned me. With the meter still ticking, he returned me to my accommodations in the city. (Another miracle. They had one room left.)

More emails to Slow Travel Experience. I began to search the internet for flight options to Canada from Europe.

Slow Travel Experience tried to reassure me. “The ship’s owner is working to get you on board.”

Finally! At 16:08, Saturday afternoon, Plan B* finally kicked in. Third time a charm.

I received an email from an entirely new source, “Barcelona Transcoma Shipping”. The email had directions, times and instructions. A few minutes later, I received a phone call confirming the details.

I would be picked up at 8:00 the next morning – Sunday. They would take me to the terminal security gate. They would not leave me until I was on board the ship.

Events unfolded more or less as promised. The much delayed Vera D had finally been allocated a dock. My young driver eventually appeared and took me to the terminal I had visited only the day before. However, after waiting with me at the security gate for nearly two hours, he was called away. “To the Immigration Office”, he said.

Something worked. Not long after he left, the Spanish National Police arrived to stamp my passport. Relief! Elation!

And then, fifteen minutes after that, my escort arrived – not my port agent, but again, the Spanish National Police.

It was only once on board and my journey commenced, did I come to understand the ingenious solution adopted by the ship’s owner. The charter company port agent continued to refuse me boarding the Vera D as a passenger. Instead, the owner simply added me to the ship’s crew list. This allowed the ship’s owner to use the port agent that represented their crew.

It also had another elegant advantage. The charter company port agent had the power to frustrate or prevent me from becoming a passenger. But he was powerless in preventing me from travelling as one of the owner’s crew.

Ah, Plan B*! It can be credited with “Besting a Barcelona Bully”!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Stay Tuned!

I’m currently passing through the Azore Islands. This part of Bob’s Excellent Adventure is on a freighter, The Vera D.

But we do not have Internet except for the short time we are passing through the Azores.

Look for more blogs from me after we arrive in Halifax in early August.

 

 

Have BionX. Will Travel.

Before drawing the line under my tricycling adventure, I have one more commentary.

It’s a word about gear:

“Excessive”.

Whew! There. I said it. I finally got it off my chest.

Now, please let me tell you a bit more about how I rolled.

In the picture is a suitcase, a backpack and a computer case.

In that suitcase is everything I needed (wanted) to sustain me on this adventure. When I left Calgary on May 4th, the leaves were not even out on the trees. It was still cold. When I get back to Calgary in early September, the leaves will be about to turn autumn gold.

Meanwhile, the summer in Europe has been hot, with temperatures consistently over 30+C.

Thankfully, I brought clothing for these big temperature fluctuations. But all that clothing also has meant bulk and weight to cart around.

In the backpack is my camera equipment. As you likely know, I love taking pictures. If you have enjoyed the images I’ve posted with my stories, then bringing a pack full of camera and lenses was essential, not extravagant.

In the third case is a Lenovo computer. It was state of the art technology nearly a decade ago. In other words, it has still done everything I have needed it to do. But it has also weighed 5 times more than its 2017 equivalent.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I did mail home to Canada two separate boxes of items I realized I could do without.

That’s another hidden advantage to Plan B*. It helps you simplify; identify the essentials.

I’ve previously introduced you to the AZUB Ti – Fly recumbent tricycle. You’ve made each other’s acquaintance. A couple more facts about the Ti Fly, though. It conveniently folds down for transport in the back of a car trunk. It can be disassembled for packing into a soft sided bag.

AZUB also has a trailer onto which the soft sided shipping bag fits so the trike can be loaded and transported. The trike fits into the bag; the bag fits onto the trailer; and the loaded trailer can be hauled on a train, plane or bus as overweight luggage. Or it can be loaded into a car trunk or SUV.

Conveniently, the trailer can also be attached to the Ti – Fly and act as a cargo carrier. It was the perfect size to carry all my gear as well as spare tire, inner tubes, air pump, and security chains for locking down at night.

Needless to say, compared to most cyclists, transporting my gear was like driving an 18 wheeler semi-trailer instead of a car.

Bob Hawkesworth sitting in recumbent tricycle

It sometimes kept me from going where cyclists could go.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Bob’s pedal power” on my own, would still be barely getting this rig out of the AZUB parking lot. What gave me the strength of my youth was a piece of great Canadian technology: a BionX battery and electric motor assist: http://ridebionx.com/

Bracket on a tricyle that holds a battery for the BionX system
Bracket for attaching the BionX battery.
Tricylce with BionX batter mounted in place
Ti – Fly with BionX battery attached.

Don’t get me wrong.

I still had to pedal like a mad fiend at times. Climbing long hills was a true grind. But when I pedaled like mad or crawled up the hills, I also made progress – thanks to the extra boost I could get from the BionX battery and motor.

I was tired at the end of each day. Exhausted even, at times.

But I did manage to haul all the big, bulky gear I brought. The BionX did more than make the cycling manageable. It also kept it fun.

By the numbers:

On the road:                                 21 days.

Distance travelled:                   712 kms.

Actual pedaling time:             45 hours & 41 minutes

Average speed:                         14.5 km/hr

Canadian technology can sometimes show up to give Plan B* a beneficial boost. For this excellent adventure, let’s add “B* is for *BionX”.

 

B* is for Bidding a Sad Farewell

The Czech Republic had two national holidays the same week that Canada celebrated its 150th birthday of Confederation.

Ivan and Maria were my hosts in Telč. We toasted Canada Day before I hit the road.

The first of the Czech holidays was July 5. It celebrated the missionaries that brought Christianity to the Slavs in the 9th century. One of the two, St. Cyril, invented the Cyrillic alphabet which for the first time enabled a written Slavic language. Today, over 300 million people use some variation of that script. http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/europe/cyril_and_methodius_day.php

The second holiday followed on the next day. It commemorated the martyrdom of Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. Hus had been influenced by Wycliffe, and believed common people had every right to be able to read the bible in their own language. Hus also preached in the Czech language, when preaching in Latin was the general practice.

Jan Hus memorial statue in Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic
Jan Hus memorial statue in the middle of Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

70 years before Luther, Hus condemned the commercialization and corruption of the Christian Church. At the time, the selling of indulgences was a significant source of revenue. His views got him in trouble with the authorities to the point that it cost him his life. http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/czech_republic/jan_hus_day.php

 

It feels like the Czech national identity incorporates two competing narratives. The founders are celebrated on the first day and the rebel celebrated on the next.

Perhaps it appealed to the “Canadian” in me. In our national identity, we have had to manage the tension of competing stories between settlers of French and English origins. This accommodation has had its rough patches over the decades. But by and large, Canada has made the tension a positive, creative and inclusive force.

Czechia is another country with two competing stories. And they celebrate them both – in back to back national Czech holidays.

What impact has this had on Czechs? It’s impossible for me to say with any confidence. Has it provided them with skills and ways of thinking that will prove valuable in the world of the 21st Century? Possibly.

For whatever reasons, the Czechs maintained their unique national identity within the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire for more than 300 years.

Their national identity was also sorely tested during two occupations of the 20th Century – first by the German Nazis and then by the Russian Communists.

Their first freely elected President at the end of the cold war, was a jailed poet.

Despite not knowing the language, I felt a strong affinity with the Czechs I met. Their interactions with me were, without exception, respectful, authentic, helpful and kind.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Honza Galla and Patrik Ištok at AZUB Recumbents http://azub.eu/ were good examples. They took time to give me invaluable advice. The two helped me extensively to chose a route and to prepare for my unusual tour. They didn’t have to, but they did it anyway.

Patrik Ištok, Sales Manager, Azub Recumbent

There was a “down to earth” quality in the Czechs I met that made me feel at home. At no time when I was in the Czech Republic, did I have an unpleasant encounter. I would have a hard time saying that after spending a month in my own country!

In other words, all the Czechs I met, acted like Canadians when we are on our best behaviour.

 

The Czech Republic has so much going for it. It’s capital city, Prague, is one of the most beautiful in Europe.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Czechia has been at the heart of European history from earliest ages. Their UNESCO World Heritage sites are merited and protected for good reason. The countryside is picture postcard perfect.

Here is a gallery of some favourite sights:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Plan B* is about creating and embracing new possibilities. What happens when those possibilities greatly exceed expectations?

My experiences in the Czech Republic greatly exceeded my expectations. I was not prepared for how sad I would feel once my visit there came to an end.

I hadn’t thought of sadness as a measure for enjoyment. But in a way, it makes sense. We are usually made sad by what we have lost.

For me, bidding a sad farewell to the Czech Republic is the measure of the meaning, pleasure and enjoyment I experienced there.

What’s the Czech secret? I can’t honestly say. I’ll only suggest that a country that celebrates founders and rebels at the same time has to have something unique going for it.

 

 

The World At Three Feet

When did you last travel through the world at a height of 3 feet?

I’m guessing you were 6 years old.

One of the surprising delights of riding a recumbent tricycle is that the seat is only about a foot off the ground. That means little kids of about 6 or 7 look me in the eye when I’m seated in it. Anyone older than that is looking down on me.

Cyclists standing n a city street waiting for a light
Cyclists waiting for a light, Uherske Hradiste, Czech Republic

Adults on bikes? They’re giants. I reach up to shake hands. They lean over and down. Just like when I was 6.

The sensation of travelling through the world with eyes at the 3 foot level triggers some deep, childish delight.

Everything on the ground is so much closer, so much more accessible. I’m easily distracted by the variety of flowers, the diversity of colours, the flitting of insects and the darting of butterflies.

Poppies with wheat field behind

Perhaps it’s because at 3 feet, you are so much closer to the world inhabited by flowers and insects.

Sunflowers

 

Travel by trike with trailer is slow travel. Especially crawling up long hills. Even the butterflies make faster progress.

This is travel that breaks the sound barrier, though. Or perhaps more accurately, it is slow travel that breaks the silence barrier.

There’s nothing between you and the world. No windshield. No radio. No hermetically sealed cabin. No thick shell to suppress against road noise.

There is no road noise. Just the swish, swish, swish of a pant leg with each pedal I push. And the barely audible, rolling thunder sound of the trailer dutifully following along in my wake.

Sounds take on a different dimension. Cyclists and hikers know this phenomenon. The birdsong, the buzz, the chirps, the hum, the croaks that comprise nature’s chorus. Moving at three feet from the ground, you can’t help but catch snatches of creation’s hymn.

Dragonfly

Plan B* has been re-discovering the world from a new perspective – like the perspective of those who are 6 and those who are lucky to be 6 a second time.

 

 

There Is Magic

“Magic” is the word that captures the unexpected delights and surprises of this trip.

Each day, as I start my travel, I have a general direction. (West, through southern Moravia, following the border with Austria.)

Beyond that, I know very little about what to expect, what I will see or what I will encounter. I have no certainty where my day will end. I don’t know where I will spend the night.

This is Plan B*, after all.

Yesterday, I started pedaling. A hill rose in front of me. I crawled and strained. Then the hill fell away. I picked up speed and raced in exhilaration to the bottom.

Near Znojmo, Czech Republic

I slowed as the next hill rose in front of me. I repeated the process again. Crawl up. Race down.

And again. Crawl. Race.

There is a form of magic in that. Hard work and then fun. It may be why many people get so attached to cycling.

But then, other magic happened.

I pulled off the road to stop for a lunchtime snack.

Side road, near Lukov, Czech Republic

Why there? Why then? 10 meters down a side road was a tree loaded with black cherries. Abundant with cherries. More cherries within reach than could be eaten in a week. (Hint: You have to know how much I love cherries!)

Each day I pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread”. Yesterday, I never expected it would mean fresh, ripe cherries directly from the tree!

A person holding black cherries in their hand
The black cherries I’ve found here, look like Kalamata olives and are about the same size

“Thank you, God for answering my prayer.”

(And thank you for the magic of exceeding expectations!)

Energized and rested, I was back on the road.

Still the hills kept rising and falling. My legs began to flag. Where should I be looking to stay for the night?

I consulted the map. At my current pace, in less than an hour, was “Vranov nad Dyji”. I’d never heard of it. I wondered what was there. What would I find?

I was at least confident of finding a room. There would likely be at least one “penzion” (guesthouse), perhaps two. Every small Czech town or village I’d passed had had a least one, “penzion”.

Decision made: “Vranov nad Dyji”, here I come!

Then that magic happened again.

I came around a bend in the road. All of a sudden, Vranov nad Dyji was spread out in front of me. It was more than some non-descript name on a map. It was a place of real and unexpected beauty.

Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic

Here was a delightful, fairy tale beautiful, picturesque village hugging the river below a castle.

Like magic.

A view of Vranov nad Dyji from Vranov Chateau
A view of Vranov nad Dyji from Vranov Chateau

Vranov can take your breath away.

Vranov Chateau from the village of Vanov nad Dyji, Czech Republic
Vranov Chateau, Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic

And exploring Vranov revealed many other visual delights and treasures.

Many towns wish they had the natural beauty and historic legacies of Vranov.

Yet Vranov does not get any special promotion. It remains anonymous. Probably, it is because the Czech Republic is filled with towns that share some of Vranov’s magic. I’ve been delighted and awed at nearly every turn in the road as I’ve travelled here.

When beautiful, picture perfect places are the norm, then you know the country where they are found is exceptional.

A suitable description of the Czech Republic might be: “Small, but mighty (magical)”.

Did magic uncork Plan B*? Or did Plan B* uncork the magic?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that there is magic in Plan B*.

And so far, Plan B* in the Czech Republic have made magic happen for me.

Easy Rider

Easy Does it

Nope, I’m not Wyatt. Nor Billy.

Bob’s Excellent Adventure is not about some counterculture dude on a road trip.

Wait a minute.

Maybe it is – at least a wee bit. It is a Plan B* road trip after all!

Bob Hawkesworth sitting in recumbent tricycle
Definitely not Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper

What I want to mean by “Easy Rider” is that everyone, and I mean Everyone on wheels is faster than me.  Little kids and octogenarians alike. They all whiz past me. I have yet to overtake a single biker.

And the guys on bikes wearing the spandex?

I can hardly say “Dobrý den”, before they are half a kilometre down the road.

Two cyclists riding through a forest

Just call me your turtle traveler. Your plodder blogger. Your slacker tracker.

Motorist speed display monitor
Independent verification, if needed. No excessive speeding laws were broken in the making of this adventure (so far)

For the record, I travelled a distance of 80+ kms in the first three days. That’s an average of about 4 times faster than walking. I’m certainly not breaking any land speed records.

Pedaling a recumbent tricycle uses different muscles from walking. So, I’m taking it easy. Getting into a routine, into shape and setting a manageable pace.

View over Moravian Hills in Czech Republic
At the top of the first hill. Whew! And a view worth the effort.

Most importantly (for me) I’m taking the time to enjoy the journey. I’m learning the joys of slow travel.

Slow travel has its own rewards, something our culture has lost.

Small motor boats travelling through a lock in a canal in Moravia, Czech Republic
Another form of slow travel. Small motor boats navigate through a lock in a canal near Uhersky Ostroh, Czech Republic

It takes time to notice all the gifts hidden in plain view.

Easy does it. But easy doesn’t come easily.

 

I’ve discovered a few of those gifts by being mindful of the present without a deadline to meet or even a destination to keep. Here are a few from just one day to share with you.

 

Cherry tree
Cherries! Free! For the taking. Who in their right mind would race past an opportunity like this?

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

B* is for *By-passing *Boundaries

As in: I’ve never done this before!

Over the years, numerous friends have raved about how much fun they had cycling in Europe: “We had the time of our life”; “It was awesome”; “It’s a great way to see the countryside”; “We’re going again this next summer”…etc., they would say.

So, I know how the seed was planted.

Bob Hawkesworth sitting in a recumbent tricycle

But cycling in Europe on a recumbent tricycle? Where did that idea come from?

Until last week, I had never in my life even ridden a recumbent trike. Why I was in Uhersky Brod, Czech Republic to take delivery of one?

AZUB made Ti-Fly recumbent tricycle

If you ask me why I did it, I’m not sure I have an easy answer. It could be just one of life’s impenetrable mysteries.

Or. The answer could simply be, “Well, why not?” Propelling myself through the landscape in a lawn chair just struck me as the coolest thing imaginable. If you want to keep open the door to possibilities, you sometimes just have to bypass convention.

Anyway, let’s see if I can shed any further light on this question over the next little while.

First, the basics: My tricycle was made by AZUB in the Czech Republic: http://azub.eu/. This is still a niche market, and so far as I can tell, the numerous recumbent trike manufacturers tend to do small scale fabrication as opposed to assembly line production. But AZUB has established an excellent reputation for quality, value and good engineering.

I purchased the trike through the AZUB dealership in Calgary, Funwest Sports: http://www.funwestsports.ca/.

Re: Cycling

I’ll keep at this until it’s not fun anymore or until I have to return home – whichever comes first. I’ll share photos with you from along the way so you can catch a flavour of what I’ve seen.

Now it begins. This cycle of Bob’s Excellent Adventure starts with Nivnice:

Czech Republic Cycle Route sign to Nivnice
Czech Republic Cycle Route sign to Nivnice

Europe Rocks When It Rolls

Europe holds many pleasures. Getting around by public transport is definitely one of them. Maybe, it’s because I’m a municipal guy. You know: “You can take the boy out of the City (of Calgary), but you can’t take the City (of Calgary) out of the boy.”

You may not share my interest quite as strongly. But, public transportation has an interest, even a fascination perhaps, for me. Europe, as I have discovered, has a way of feeding that interest at every turn. 

For anyone who wonders how the rest of the world gets from point A to B to C to…..without a car, Europe has lots of interesting technology and solutions on offer.

For Bob’s Excellent Adventure, I’ve wanted to get anywhere and everywhere, as much as I can without the hassle or cost of renting a car. From that stand point, European rail and public transportation have proven to be just the ticket; the cat’s meow; what the doctor ordered.

 From City to City

Eurostar train
The Eurostar in London St. Pancras Station.

 

The rail option between places can be fast. The Eurostar took me from London to Paris in about two and a half hours. Our top speed was 300 km/hour.

Then there are the unexpected surprises and delights of rail travel in Europe. While waiting at the Gare de Lyon in Paris for my connecting train to Zurich, I could hear beautiful piano music. It pulled me from my seat to investigate.

A man plays a piano in Gare de Lyon in Paris, France
Impromptu Concert in Gare de Lyon, Paris.

 

The station had thoughtfully placed a piano in a central spot for travelers to enjoy. There, was a guy in a tee shirt (a fellow traveler, perhaps?) In a beautiful operatic voice, he filled the space with aria after aria. The crowd gathered and was enthralled.

A crowd listens while a man plays a piano in Gare de Lyon in Paris, France
A crowd gathers to enjoy a free concert while waiting for their trains.

 

You have to love a place, a country, a transportation system where a delight like that is possible!

Concert over, it was on to Zurich.

 

The TVG Lyria is ready to whisk us from Gare de Lyon Paris to Zurich in 4 hours.

TGV stands for Train à Grande Vitesse or High Speed Train. Like the Eurostar, it is faster than flying from one city to the next.

By comparison to flying, a trip on the TGV Lyria has a tiny  impact on climate warming. My ticket stated that the C0₂ generated by travelling across France to Switzerland was only 2.1 kg! ( I wonder if the reason is because so much of the French electricity comes from nuclear power?)

Some trains in Europe also provide overnight accommodations.  In Zurich, I caught the night train to Prague. This was my bedroom that night.

Sleeper car on a train
Sleeper car for three. The only thing to do is roll into bed. When booking these cars, men and women are in separate compartments. On fellow traveler was from Vietnam, the other from Czech Republic. None of us really knew the languages of the others. So, after a few short “hellos”, it was lights out and a quiet night.

 

Shifts happen!  That Plan B* just keeps showing up. The night train to Prague from Zurich had engine trouble and had to be replaced.

Man attaching an engine to a train
Plan B* replacement engine being attached to Zurich/Prague train.

 

Our arrival into Prague was delayed by two hours. Engine trouble on a plane can easily delay a flight longer than that.

Prague Railway Station
Prague Railway Station

 

City Travels

Trains are great for whisking travelers quickly from city centre to city. centre. The rail stations have all been built in city cores. Once you arrive in a place, public transit takes over.  It’s a simple matter to walk from the train platform, down a corridor or out a door to reach bus terminals, metro underground stations, and tram lines. City accommodations and attractions are then in easy reach.

Oxford city double decker bus
Oxford City bus. It has similar technology to my Prius! The battery is recharged when the gas (diesel) motor is running. Much of the time, the battery can run the bus with just the electric motor, thus greatly improving the mileage and reducing fuel consumption. This is one of many examples where Europeans are making a shift to lower their greenhouse gas emissions.

Transit fares and day passes are affordable. For example, a three day transit pass in Budapest for all trams, buses, subway cost me approximately $20 (Canadian).

European cities treat transit as one of the family. Transit shares the road with all the other street users.

Horse and buggy travel along a Krakow, Poland street with a tram following along behind
A tourist horse and buggy travel along a Krakow, Poland street with a tram following behind.
Budapest, Hungary trams share the street with cars
Budapest, Hungary trams share the street with cars and pedestrians

It’s been fun to figure out the transit system and connections in all the cities I’ve visited.  By day two in a city, using the bus, tram or subway is generally a breeze.

Budapest underground station on the M1/yellow line
This Budapest underground metro line was the first on the European continent. It still has the 1896 vibe from when it opened.

What about when shifts happen and you take the wrong direction? Yup. It’s happened. But so far, it hasn’t been a problem. My Plan B* is pretty simple. Get off, then catch a ride back in the direction from which I’ve come. Transit service is so frequent, it’s only a matter of minutes before the needed ride shows up.

Taking public transit gives a visitor a fascinating opportunity to watch and listen to people. What are they carrying? How are they dressed? You can’t help but overhear snippets of chatter; or the one side of a cell phone conversation. I may not always know the language being used, but the tone and cadence of a voice can carry meaning.

Transit riders are also offered an unvarnished view of a city as it unfolds before their eyes. Derelict or prosperous; neo-classical  or modern apartment blocks; newly renovated, or boarded up office buildings. Every city has stories to tell, for those who want to glimpse them through the windows of a tram or bus.

Also seen from the window of a bus. A cyclist on the motorway from Oxford to London. Obviously not everyone is convinced of the merits of transit as a mode of travel!

Man riding a bicycle on a motor way in the United Kingdom
Road warrior.

 

That’s how I roll. And so far, it has rocked!