Not hardly, these days, if it involves commercial air travel and it’s not First Class…getting there means mostly hassle and discomfort. Our redeye flight to Berlin was unexpectedly pleasant (a little plug here for Air Berlin – free drinks in coach! Inseat Entertainment with your own monitor and program choices, decent meals free in coach). Our first stroke of luck.
But it was the “getting around” that was the highlight of our trip. Boats and trains, trams and buses. Bicycles. And walking. In Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Bruges and Manhattan – these were our modes of transport. Learning the ins and outs of each city’s metro system turned out to be quite easy, and freedom from the car meant freedom from hassles of traffic, navigating a strange city, scarce parking.
The Hop On Hop Off bus tour was our introduction to Berlin. And the Hop on Hop Off canal boat did the same in Amsterdam. A walking tour introduced us to Brussels.
Our Berlin hotel, just on the edge of the city center and in a trendy neighborhood, let us walk to dozens of restaurants patronized by locals and feel as though we were locals ourselves. It had been my second choice, with a sigh of regret in bypassing the double the-cost hotel centered among the major tourist attractions. Now, when we return to Berlin, we wouldn’t think of staying any place else, and we will feel like we are “home.”
Trains and the Eurail Pass, that I had agonized over choosing, took us between cities. All you’ve heard about the train systems of Europe is true – comfortable, attractive and fast. A picnic on board for the longer trips was de rigeur and again made us feel like locals (grab a baguette and charcuterie before you board). Such a pleasure compared to trekking to the airport, suffering through security lines, checking baggage, getting from airport into the center of town. The train has already deposited you right where you want to be.
But I’ve saved the best for last. It was our “We Bike Amsterdam” bicycle tour that showed me how to really get to know a place. Our 30-something guide took us only to off-the beaten track spots as our little group became indistinguishable from the legions of Amsterdamians who move around their city only by bike. There was a small snafu when one of our group took a tumble, on a narrow passage lined three-deep with parked bicycles. A kind local woman stopped to ask if she was okay while, simultaneously, a local “gentleman” practically ran her over objecting loudly to her incompetence and the inconvenience she had caused him. His English was good; his manners were not.
But that little glitch could not blight our experience. Arriving in San Diego and retrieving our car to drive home, my husband commented that he hadn’t been behind the wheel in a month. We didn’t miss it.