Warning: Rantage ahead.
It’s no coincidence that the only time we spent in a private car during the trip to Paris was back here at home, driving to and from the airport. We had looked at non-driving options, but due to Tri-Met cutbacks the connections from our house to the airport just didn’t work for getting us to PDX in a timely manner.
It wasn’t like that in Europe.
On arrival at Schiphol, we went out to our hotel’s van. Fairly standard for a lot of places, not that different from the US. Except that, given the isolated location of the hotel from the downtown and from the train station, the hotel van operated on a regular shuffle from the hotel to the airport.
Schiphol is not just an airport, it’s a train station. I didn’t do a very good job of photo-documenting this, except for one picture where I was really focusing on the Christmas decoration.
Schiphol’s train station has six platforms, two of which serve the European high-speed rail systems (i.e., bullet trains). It’s possible to go directly from airplane to train either to downtown Amsterdam or immediately transfer to a train to travel to Brussels, Paris, or other European locations (we didn’t do that because we wanted at least some time to recuperate from jet lag).
We were able to, later on, take the hotel shuttle to Schiphol to hop a train to downtown Amsterdam for dinner. Except the local run was down for maintenance. A problem requiring a taxi? No. Bus service was provided to the closest train station not affected by the maintenance. Once in town, we used the handy tram system that runs through Amsterdam (buy your tickets on the tram itself).
The next day we hopped in the shuttle, went to Schiphol, bought tickets for the Thalys high-speed rail, and headed for Paris. Three and a half hours later, we were at Gare de Nord, hopped off, and got on the Metro, which deposited us five minutes away from our apartment. The rest of our stay, we used water taxi (the Batobus, which operates on a regular cycle between monuments close to the Seine), Metro, and the RER train to get around Paris. We bought carnets of tickets which we could use on Metro, the RER and buses, though we didn’t use any buses. At the end, we hopped on the RER to go to our hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport, rode a big shuttle bus that dropped riders off at hotels, then caught it again in the morning to go to the airport.
There are damned few places where you can do this in the US, at least as easily as we were able to do in Europe. And that is just plain wrong. Mind you, I’m not saying you can’t do it in the US–but the possibilities are very limited. A visitor to Portland can’t catch a high speed train at PDX (um, high speed train on the West Coast? Choke, splutter, gasp).
Granted, we were sticking to urban locations which are transit centers. But I look at the options available to us in both Amsterdam and Paris, as well as the opportunities for rail transit from both locations, and I’ve just gotta say….something’s wrong.
As we approach retirement age, one consideration we have with regard to a future residence is the degree to which we would need to depend on a car to get around. Cars are expensive to buy, maintain, and a hassle. As someone who drives too damned far to work every day, my love affair with the car is rapidly dwindling. I much preferred cruising around on the Metro and RER, even with the crowds and potential pickpockets. After all, on Friday we came across this on the RER:
Buskers on the RER sure add a festive note to a Friday.
Ah well, maybe one of these days we’ll gain some sense here in the US.
(and if you believe that, I have a bridge or two up for sale….)