Transportation: probably the most important aspect of any trip, especially one half a world away. Getting from place to place in Europe is not too different from here in the States, but there are some quirks to it that make it just a little unusual to the average American.
First of all, there is the London subway system, or “the Tube,” as Londoners know it. It’s almost identical to the subways in New York or the Metro in Washington D.C., and it comes with the soothing voice of a young British woman calmly advising you of which stop you’ve arrived at. While in London, my family and I didn’t use it all that much, but from what we’ve seen of it, it is much cleaner and less cramped than in New York and D.C., and the people riding on it seemed to be a little more “normal,” as well as more polite, which I know isn’t very difficult, but still. It also is nice that there are many, many stops around London, so you are never more than a short walk away from a station when in London proper. For us, it was both a blessing and a curse, since there was a stop directly outside our hotel, which was quite convenient, but it also resulted in loads of completely drunk British dudes getting off it at 11:30, the final stop of the night, making all sorts of noise. Overall, the Tube is a great way to get around the city, and, despite a flaw or two, it is far superior to subways I’ve been on here in the States.
Next up is good ol’ fashioned walking. In London, walking was great, and my family used our feet to get practically every place we wanted. Unfortunately, London is a pretty spread-out city, so we ended up walking three to six miles daily to get places. Despite this, what made it so great was the simplicity. Unlike the Tube or cab rides, all you need to do is slip on a pair of shoes and go. We walked to dinner every night we were in London, and it worked out very well. The streets were crowded, but not nearly as crowded as, say, New York. London itself is very “walker-friendly,” with wide sidewalks on every street, as well as a convenient grid-shaped pattern, making it easy for the average dumb American tourist such as myself to get from place to place with ease. Walking in Germany, however, was not nearly as good. German cities, at least the ones that I visited (Dusseldorf, Cologne, and Heidelberg) are spread out similar to London, but are set on hilly terrain, making the walk much less enjoyable for obvious reasons. The streets also were more windy with narrower sidewalks, making it much easier to get lost, especially for first-time American tourists. Overall, walking proved to be a great method of transportation, especially in London, if you’re willing to put up with it.
Third, we have London taxi cabs. The cabs are far different from the traditional yellow cab we see in the States. They are all jet-black, vintage British cars, such as Vauxhalls and Minis, and let me tell you, a fleet of those quaint little cars going up and down the strip that leads to Buckingham Palace is one of the most inherently British things you’ll ever see. They are very overpriced, however, and a single cab ride from Heathrow Airport to our hotel, which was in downtown London, cost us roughly £100, or around $121 (shout out to Brexit for preventing that from being even more expensive). The cabs, because they are significantly smaller, were pretty darn cramped – the cab barely held the three of us, let alone the three of us plus all of our luggage. In addition, using a cab to go through the city is incredibly impractical, since the traffic during the day is so slow at times it is faster (and free!) to just simply walk it. Long story short, British cabs are a waste of time and money.
Fourth, we have driving. Driving in Germany is far superior to driving in the States, for one main reason: the Autobahn. It is just plain fun to be zipping by in a little BMW 3-series, hitting speeds up to 170 kph, or roughly 106 miles per hour. I tried hard to get my dad to gun it to the BMW’s top speed of around 240 kph (150 mph), but he sadly refused. The Autobahn also makes it fun to look out the window while in the car, watching a bunch of crazy Germans in their Audi A3s and their Volkswagens tear down the speedway at speeds exceeding 200 kph, swerving and overtaking people left and right. In addition, the rules and regulations are much better on that side of the pond. For example, trucks are not allowed in the left lane (the “fast lane”), which is great because it prevents you and your little VW Beetle from getting boxed in and surrounded by three or four massive eighteen-wheelers. Also, they do not have police cars taking radar, waiting to pull over an unsuspecting civilian for speeding. They simply have cameras set up every few miles, usually mounted to a sign of some sort, that detect if someone is speeding, and the camera will simply flash, taking a picture of your license plate and sending you a ticket in the mail a couple weeks later. This eliminates the hassle of getting pulled over by an officer, having to show him/her your license and registration and all that jazz, making you late to wherever you were heading, and overall creating a big headache over something minuscule. There are also some pretty cool tunnels, which I always found way more exciting than they really are. I am not even going to talk about driving in London, since it is impractical and virtually impossible. Driving in Germany, however, is great, and far superior to driving in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
Fifth, and finally, water taxis. Since both London and a couple of the places I visited in Germany were on rivers, the Thames and the Rhine respectively, taking a water taxi was sometimes the easiest way to get across the river to a certain attraction. In Germany, they were nice because they provided great views of several hundred year-old castles built on the Rhine. The main advantage of them is the scenic views they provide, which is great if you don’t mind taking your sweet time getting places, but they move slower than Internet Explorer, clocking in at around 5 mph. This doesn’t matter if you are only traveling a very short distance, but if you are traveling more than a mile or two, they can get very boring, very fast. Long story short, water taxis are not ideal if you want to get to your destination as quick as humanly possible, but they do allow for some fantastic views.
Well, that concludes this edition of My European Experience. I hope you all enjoyed this issue, and stay tuned for #3!