Getting around in our world
For the past two weeks Mary Lou and I have enjoyed visiting some amazing places in Switzerland, Germany, France, Netherlands and England. Some places we had visited before and some were new to one or both of us. We have truly seen some wonders during this trip, but I continue to be amazed at how we are getting around. Transportation in Europe is very different from what most Americans are used to.
During this vacation we have traveled by airplanes, river boats, automobiles, buses, trains and subways. What amazes me is how efficient all of these modes of transportation are and how they fit together in ways that just do not happen in the United States.
The purpose of our trip was to take a river cruise down the Rhine River from Switzerland to the Netherlands. Along the way, we got to see castles and cathedrals dating back to medieval times. They were built there in the first place because of the importance of the river as a transportation and trade route. That continues today with barges moving up and down the river in great numbers.
Our ship went through eleven locks. These are maintained and open twenty four hours a day. The Rhine River is a very important part of the economic backbone of these countries.
Trains are everywhere, carrying freight and people. With the exception of a couple of congested urban corridors most Americans have no concept of trains being able to take a lot of people between cities and countries.
The item that drove home the point to me that railroads are still a critically important resource in Europe was the railroad bridge in Cologne, Germany. The Hohenzollern Bridge carries over 1,200 trains per day across the Rhine. Not believing that could be possible, I watched and counted. If anything, I think they may be underestimating the traffic.
Although I never rode one, bicycles are absolutely everywhere. People older than me ride to work on bikes. You see them in the countryside and in the most congested parts of the cities. Bike lanes really work here and represent another important part of the transportation system.
We took the subway in London, known as the Underground or the Tube. Old and creaky in some areas, they work like a subterranean network taking you within a short walk of almost anywhere in the city. The subway we took back to our hotel was running every two minutes at eight o’clock at night. People use the Tube because it works.
We did have a car take us from the airport in London into the inner city. It is by far the most inefficient mode of transportation we have used. The driver had to wait for us after a delayed flight and then he fought traffic for another two hours taking us about 30 miles. I have given up any desire of actually driving in downtown London after our adventure in getting from the airport to our hotel.
As for the airplane part of our journey, flying made this type of trip possible. We slept in our seat, which flattened into a bed on the long journey over. The meals were worthy of an upscale restaurant and we landed with much less jetlag than you would expect from a nine hour flight. As I approach the two million mile mark on Delta Airlines, I continue to be amazed at how easy air flight is today, even with all the security concerns.
We will land in Atlanta next Thursday and will promptly drive three and a half hours home. This isn’t unheard of in Europe, but it is more unusual than you might think. Why would drive when you can get on trains that run on time, are comfortable and even have Wi-Fi service as you move through the countryside?
You certainly will not see me on the Chattahoochee River by boat or riding my bike through Georgia to get home. Nevertheless, it is fun to watch millions of people move around in ways we never give a second thought. In my way of thinking, they have some excellent methods of getting around in their part of the world.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com