Wednesday, November 11, 2009


After a month of ferries, trains and buses through Italy, Croatia and Montenegro, it was nice to pick up a car again upon reaching France – happily another diesel, though unluckily another Ford.  Cars offer freedom and comfort, and are essential for visiting small towns.  The downside is driving in European cities.  It is a trial.  They are also the most expensive travel option, though there are some ways to mitigate the cost.  Diesel is a cheaper fuel than petrol and more economical.  You'll fill the tank less frequently, and for less.  Pre-booked packages through travel agencies will always be a better deal than a walk-in rental, which is extortion (I don't even want to admit how much it cost me to rent that car in Andalucia).  A good, cheap agency I used several times is Holiday AutosDriveaway Holidays was also good.  And I never buy the additional insurance.  The rental companies just sell this to make money, and there is already sufficient coverage on the car.

Trains are great no-brainers—you get on, you get off, and in between you read, nap, and stroll around while somebody else does all the driving.  European trains are comfortable, the system is efficient, and the high speed network is growing all the time.  Overnight trains are even better if you're travelling a long enough distance; the extra cost for a cabin is comparable to a hotel room you'd have to rent anyway, and you save time travelling while you're asleep.  But outside the more major destinations the regional lines can be time-consuming and tedious.

Intercity buses are often fast, frequent, and potentially the cheapest option, but are my least favoured because, like a plane, you’re restricted to your seat.  More than three hours sitting in one place gets uncomfortable, especially if the passenger beside you hasn't showered.

Ferries are a novelty and have even more space to walk around than trains, but are slow, can be pricey, and make limited stops.  And, of course, you need a great bloody body of water.  But again, they make good travelling hotel rooms.

Any metro within a European city is often cheap and convenient.  I love Madrid's modern and extensive network.  The Paris and London metros are also justifiably well-regarded.  And the aged but character-filled Budapest metro also deserves mention.

Trams are even better because you can sightsee en route.  Both Prague's and Lisbon's excellent and extensive tram systems are over a hundred years old, but run both modern rolling stock as well as older, charming carriages. Meanwhile, Seville’s brand new tram "network" is so limited with its single line that it almost makes the Sydney monorail look useful (almost).

My favourite method of transportation?  Hands down, on foot.  I am a walker.  While transport is slow, you are always in control, never miss a stop, and see more of the city than any other way.  It's also free.

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