This is the second in a series about our recent trip to several European cities.You’ll find other entries here.
Before this trip, we had traveled by train in Europe, but always within individual countries (France, England, Italy), never across international borders. In planning our travel this time, I was excited for that moment in old movies where the conductor opens the door to your compartment and demands, “Passports, please!”
Unfortunately, that’s not how it’s done in the 21st century. Or probably since Peter Lorre died. All the countries we visited (Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, France) are part of the European Union, so we never had to show our passports to anyone before or during any train trip. Oh, and there aren’t compartments, just nice rows with two assigned seats on each side of the aisle. By the way, at no time did I spot anyone in a trench coat obviously involved in international intrigue.
Those trains really move, too, at a nice cruising speed of 185mph. That’s because European nations have, for decades, made a bigger commitment to rail infrastructure than the US, where high-speed rail has regularly been undermined by lobbying from the auto, airline, and oil industries.
Each train we were on was fairly crowded, but not very friendly to the disabled. On the local train from the Brussels airport to downtown, there were not only stairs to deal with in simply getting on board, but then more stairs to whichever of the two levels — upper or lower — you wanted to find a seat on.
We noticed this in several of the hotels we stayed in, as well. To get to some of the rooms, you had to take a few steps up. Sure, you could always request more accessible quarters, but I saw no way for someone in a wheelchair to get on and off those rail cars. Apparently, there’s no Europeans With Disabilities Act.
We did an enormous amount of walking in all of the cities we visited, but also used public transportation as much as possible and found it to be as much of a pleasure as the longer distance trains. Our favorite was the trams in Amsterdam, where we bought a pass good for three days and easily amortized that cost. Plus, we got to see stops with names like “Waterlooplein.”
Google Maps was amazingly helpful with getting around. To our surprise, it not only gives driving and walking directions, but also knows the routes and times of the trams, busses, and subways! That’s an aspect of the app we’ve never used in the US, but practically wore out in Europe.
On the other hand, on the few occasions when we used ride share, we were disappointed to find that Lyft doesn’t operate in those countries. Thus we were left in the clutches of Uber, whose app truly sucks. In every instance, it underestimated the amount of time it would take a car to pick us up, or didn’t give accurate information about where the driver was, or sent the vehicle to the wrong place, or cancelled the trip completely without my tapping the screen even once. No wonder that, by our final stop in Paris, we took actual taxis instead.
Still, moving around Europe without a car is remarkably easy, and crossing national borders there is no more complicated than passing over state lines here — except the native language doesn’t change just because I’ve left Missouri and entered Illinois.
Of course, there are different tongues, dialects, and foods to encounter in any European adventure, just like when you move around the US.
I’ll write about those soon.
You’ll find other entries in this series here.