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!