Trains, buses, and the Tube

4 Jan
It’s the little stories, observations, and encounters along-the-way that we remember far longer than we recall the stats we learn during a museum tour or even recall in our mind’s eye the finest art in a cathedral. That is certainly the case with our trip to Paris, London, and Switzerland during the Christmas season.
Love the double deckers. Sitting up front on top gives one an impressive view.

Love the double deckers. Sitting up front on top gives one an impressive view.

I have been trying to think of a way to blog about this trip. You’ve seen plenty of pictures of Christmas lights in Roma, Milano, and Paris (plus blogger John Henderson did a far better job than I ever could about Roma). A litany of the sites we saw is just another travelogue.
For the next few posts, I will share some vignettes, stories, and observations from our 4-countries-in-2-weeks trip. First up, a bit about transportation differences.
London Transportation Museum: Old-style bus.

London Transportation Museum: Old-style bus.

Italian trains and buses are anything but quiet. Bangladeshi housekeepers call their mamas in the old country on the super-affordable plan from TIM. Single travelers call everyone in their contact list (Sono in treno! Sono sul autobus!) to inform them of their transit woes. Families en route to their holiday travel with bags of food to sustain them and everyone is chatting ALL THE TIME. Ric’s mom came from the school of never let a moment pass in silence, but they would put her to shame. Italians are social creatures and constantly in touch. What they did before cell phones I cannot imagine, although personal conversation is still a strong suit. Texting happens, sure, but talking is far more prevalent. Who has so much to say? Ric and I can sit for an hour without speaking a word. We call it “companionable silence,” well-developed in 31 years.
Bernina Express . Just threw this one in as a beauty shot.

Bernina Express. Just threw this one in as a beauty shot.

In Paris, if you talk too loud on the bus or Metro you get the stink eye from the French. Conversations are sotto voce and cell phones are not used except to text, peruse Facebook, or other non-intrusive activity. How pleasant it is! The Swiss are similarly low-key, reserved, and, well, Swiss.
In London, we found people chatting a bit more, but in both Paris and London we saw a lot of people reading on the Tube, Metro or bus. Reading actual books, not on devices. One seldom sees a book pulled out on an Italian bus and it would be impossible to do on the Rome Metro since you are always cheek-by-jowl with scarcely room to change your mind. You cannot read on a Roman bus because most of them lack shock-absorbers and the kidney-pounding you take going over cobblestones makes it impossible to focus on a book.
The Metro in Rome is a dog pile. People are in constant motion. There is no queue. People can barely descend from the train before would-be riders crush forward. I have been pushed aside by young people and middle-aged men with no consideration for my gender, age, or the fact I might be dragging luggage. It is a free-for-all. The stations are filthy, the trash bins overflowing, and of course, the great tradition of graffiti covers trains as well as walls.
London Tube station. Excellent signage, lighting, acoustics. Far from Rome.

London Tube station. Excellent signage, lighting, acoustics. Far from Rome.

Ah, London and Paris, with your orderly queues, updated stations, and avoidance of unnecessary conversation! You can actually hear the announcements in a British or French tube station. The Tube stations in London are spotless, with no graffiti at least where we traveled. Even the older stations are well-maintained. I love the Parisian Metro stations that have the glass dividers that keep people from falling into the tracks and define the exit and entry points. Several Parisian men actually offered me their seats and no one pushed past me as though I were invisible. In London, we were able to sit down on the Tube most trips, thanks to a preponderance of trains and well-designed cars. Double-decker buses are, by the way, a delightful way to tour the city. I love how everyone is disciplined enough to get on at the front and off in the middle. Not quite that way in Roma…
Bernina Express interior. Lovely, quiet, comfy. Coffee cost us €4.50 each however. On Trenitalia you get one free.

Bernina Express interior. Lovely, quiet, comfy. Coffee cost us €4.50 each, however. On Trenitalia you get one free.

The Swiss train stations are oases of calm in a calm country. Well-signed, immaculate, orderly, no pushing or shoving (except by foreigners who carry their own habits along). The trains may not be as posh as the Frecciarossa or Italo Treno, but they are comfortable. With no discounting and no complimentary wine (sniff!), the Swiss railroad must be making some serious francs.
Italy, we love you! We love your trains and your warm-hearted people. We love not needing a car to travel all over the city, country, and continent. You do coffee better than anywhere we’ve lived or traveled, and we miss your food when we are out-of-the-country, but you could be just a smidge quieter and stand in line now-and-then.

11 Responses to “Trains, buses, and the Tube”

  1. Marcia Kakiuchi January 4, 2016 at 23:00 #

    I did find Italy ‘chaotic’ in the sense of noise and confusion. Warm. Personable but ohhhh so noisy!


    • gooddayrome January 5, 2016 at 06:16 #

      I know! Except when we get to a little place with no car traffic, it is much much better! I wish they’d have more pedestrian-only zones in Roma!


  2. Sarah Campbell January 4, 2016 at 20:55 #

    I love reading your blogs – this one is spot on according to my very limited travel experience in Italy and London. Thanks for keeping me amused and informed. Happy 2016 and Happy Travels!!


    • gooddayrome January 5, 2016 at 06:15 #

      Thanks Sarah. So nice to know I have an appreciative audience. Buon Anno a te!


  3. mvaden1948 January 4, 2016 at 20:19 #

    That’s what it is! “the school of never let a moment pass in silence”. I have several friends that must have graduated from there with honors. They absolutely wear me out. Particularly when I’m driving in an unfamiliar area and they are chatting away about whatever they are chatting about. Sometimes I just want to scream “will you please be quiet I’m trying to concentrate on my driving!”. And having one come to stay for a few days….OMG! I’m exhausted when she leaves. Thankfully she is a late sleeper and I have some quiet morning time with my coffee and my cat. And people think I’m talkative! Ha, they have not met these women. But, at least they aren’t checking their cell phones every second of the day and night.
    I think the saddest thing I ever saw was in Venice, a couple walking hand in hand in what can be the most romantic city in the world and each of them had their face buried in their cell phones and their earbuds in their ears!
    Glad you did get a bit of peace though.


    • gooddayrome January 5, 2016 at 06:14 #

      You make me laugh, Michelle, but in commiseration!


      • mvaden1948 January 5, 2016 at 06:27 #

        Glad I can add to your entertainment.
        It’s funny, I haven’t been on a train in Italy since 2010 and thought that they were all rather reserved with their cell phones, chatting quietly. Guess things have changed. Actually, I have never known Italians (real Italians) to be quiet people. And I love that about them.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Chloe Erkenbrecher January 4, 2016 at 20:05 #

    I am shocked at the number of people I see on their cell phones continuously in France. Much more than I see here in the US and even more than I saw in Italy. I agree about the stink eye one gets if too loud in public. I also love how polite the young people are in France. $witzerland is always expensive, but so beautiful. Lucky you to be back in Italy and that good food.


    • gooddayrome January 5, 2016 at 06:13 #

      So funny that as a resident you see more of that than we did. We thought the French quite controlled versus the Italians. I didn’t the French were quite so chatty. When we moved to Rome, I expected to see more politeness in the young people, but I think they are quite self-centered overall.


  5. marilyneb January 4, 2016 at 18:03 #

    I hope you enjoyed your time here in London. We do take our bus queues for granted and sometimes forget how lucky we are to have such a great service!


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