Woche Vierunddreissig: An Ode to the Bahn

When in Europe.

Wicked  in Chicago!

Wicked in Chicago!

I took my first train ride for my 20th birthday, to see the musical Wicked in Chicago. I didn't take another train until I went to Europe for work for the first time, in February 2015. Since then, I have taken 58 train rides, not including various changes. 58!

And this is the purpose of this week's 'Life in Germany': the beauty of European public transit system, especially the bahn.

Sure, we do okay in the USA. Some individual cities have great subways or tram lines - DC, Boston, NYC. But transport connecting cities? Not so much. And traveling by trains is, honestly, the best. I will miss being able to hop on a train and be in a major city within a few hours. Paris is a 3 hour train ride away, Berlin 5, Munich 3.

When traveling in Europe, I highly recommend checking out the site GoEuro. It does a quick comparison of the major travel methods - car, train, bus, and plane - and offers time and cost for each of these methods. I've only traveled by bus once. Honestly, it was fun and I would do it again as long as the time is to my advantage - overall, buses are cheaper than trains but usually take much longer. Major bus stations are usually next to train stations, making bus/train combos easy. As for cars, I honestly prefer the train as much as possible. Cars mean finding parking and paying attention, though you are on your own timeline with a car, which can be nice. Finally, planes. Fuck flying. Seriously, flying has to be one of the least efficient modes of transportation. All that time getting to an airport (they're never centrally located; this is not case with train stations) and then going through security and then the waiting. Waiting for your flight. Waiting to get on the flight. Waiting to get off the plane. Waiting for your luggage. While there is some waiting for trains (there are always lines and herding of people), it is significantly less than that of a plane.

- Luggage. This is a pro and a con. In a train, you can't just drop the luggage off at curb side and waltz through your travels with just a purse or backpack. Nope, you are responsible for your luggage the whole time. In my experience, there's always some storage option on the train, whether it's a luggage bin or overhead storage. And for crowded train cars, a suitcase sometimes provides a place to sit. But it also means no waiting for your luggage and no pesky limitations. Want to bring a full bottle of shampoo? Go for it!

Next: Food! Booze! Movies! Television! This is my favorite part, honestly. You can watch movies or television, no worries about paying attention to the road or trying not to get in an accident. Pro-tip: Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes let you download movies/shows to watch offline. Amazon allows this with Prime, though there is a 48-hour time limit. This is excellent for trains as WiFi is usually spotty. I have a tablet this year and it's changed the way I travel. As for food and booze, you can bring whatever you want from home and train stations usually have decent options themselves, for last minute purchases. Try to stock up before you get on board - you can buy things on the train but, like planes, it's expensive. Recently, during a train ride, my friends and I had wine and cheese we had picked up in Amsterdam. That is essentially European travel.

The other major advantage to trains versus planes: accuracy and scheduling. That 58 list? I've had trains delayed maybe 3 of those times. Honestly. I remember the first time I booked a train with multiple changes. The booking site suggested five, ten minutes in between trains. I was baffled, accustomed to airport layovers where anything less than 2 hours meant you weren't making your connection.  Short train layovers mean less waiting around but the precision of the system also means less missing connections, less anxiety.

Finally, trains have gotten me everywhere; even when I fly, trains are involved. First, there are long distance-trains. Instead of flying to Barcelona, I could have taken a train. Sure, it would have taken around 18 hours but I could have experienced a sleeper car and they're supposed to be lovely, per other friends who have taken them. Even for the trip to Barcelona, though, I took a train to the airport here in Germany and took a train from the Barcelona airport to my hotel. When I arrived in Spain, all other transits, including trips to Valencia and Madrid, used a train. They get you wherever you need to go and are almost as unavoidable in Europe as an Uber is in the States.

Basically, European train system, I love you and I'll miss you when I'm gone.