Monday, November 4, 2013

Travelblog 4: Bikes, Trains and Automobiles

Getting around in Holland is amazingly easy and efficient. Trains can take you almost anywhere, and where they don’t go you can always find a bus or tram that will. The road system is both immaculate and brilliantly planned, so if you are fortunate enough to own an automobile, or share one like Erik and Annemieke do, using a car is also very easy. But cars cannot beat the rapid transit system for going to the centers of larger towns like Amsterdam, Arnhem, den Bosch, den Haag, or Rotterdam. Between the cost of gas to get there and the cost of parking to be close to the center, you probably will pay less if you travel by train and/or bus. On top of that, if you buy a transportation card for a set amount, you get ticket discounts and a very convenient scan in-scan out system that keeps track of what you have spent. Travel guru Rick Steves swears by such cards, and I’m with him. Because we could not afford to rent a car this trip, and because Annemieke now has a driver’s license and part-time access to a car, we spent much of our vacation on the rails. Each trip was a comfortable and delightful experience. The trains are clean and well maintained, with roomy seating. If you travel during commuter hours seats might be a bit hard to find, but as a visitor you can pick less crowded times to go longer distances. If your destination is a larger city, you will be stunned by the bustle of activity in the central stations. Most have major shopping opportunities right there, from Starbuck’s to Albert Hein Express, and just off the main area stores selling just about anything you could want. It’s like airports, only better (Sorry, no duty-free for international travelers). The most amazing thing to me wherever I go is that there is so much stuff available to buy, and there are so many people dependent on our desire and ability to buy. I keep wondering how we all can afford all that stuff. But we do. And if you are a commuter in Holland, merchants of all sorts have made certain that you can find them while en route to work or home. The train system connects the country with remarkable ease and speed. Once in a city, using the trams or buses is just as easy, and the same travel card can be used to pay for it as long as you have enough credit on the card. And it’s fun – I love being able to sit back and watch the city roll by me while somebody else has the responsibility of driving. With my Dutch relatives along, I don’t even have to worry about watching for my stop! We used the train to get to all those cities mentioned above. We took the bus from the central station to the rock show in den Bosch. We took the tram in Amsterdam. We took a bus ride through the country from Culemborg to Tiel, where Diane found an outfit on a sale rack outside a lady’s store and could buy it with utter confidence that it could fit and would be stylin’ in America. Erik and I took a bus and tram, the slow way, through the fields around Culemborg to Viannen and then on to Utrecht, then took the regular train line back. We determined that a car was not a necessity in Holland, like it is here in Montana. Here rapid transit is a 70 MPH speed limit. In Holland, all you need is the trains and buses and trams and a good pair of walking shoes, or a bike. Bikes are still big in Holland. Wherever you go, there are bikes parked along bridge rails, store fronts, and train stations. Bicycle parking lots are always full. This trip, we experienced that first hand as well. For me, it was the first time I had been on a bike since 2007. For Di it was the first time since she was 17 years old.. And we survived. Not only did we survive, we enjoyed it. Erik and I shopped for groceries, splitting the load between us. Then we biked out into the country. Di and Annemieke biked on the trails around Ootmarsum in Dinkelland, and even crossed the border into Germany on their bikes. I think it safe to say that, as closely as possible, on this trip Diane and I went native and lived to tell about it.

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