Metros and buses and trains, oh, my!

Getting around in Europe is easy, once you figure out the system, and each country seems to have a bit different system than the one you were just in. In Paris the metro, aka subway/underground, took me everywhere I wanted to go, once I figured out that I had to buy tickets at machines, but I could choose English on most of them and buy either a trip ticket or a day pass. Day pass is good but sometimes a couple of one-way tickets are cheaper.

Buses work pretty much the same way. In Budapest, you buy a bus pass from a kiosk on the median where you wait for the trolley. I bought a 24-hour pass for about $6.00 and rode all over the city. Much cheaper than the hop on, hop off tour buses. The pass allowed me to ride either the tram or the regular bus, and when I got tired, I jumped on a bus and said, “I guess I’ll see where I end up!” Which turned out to be across the Danube from the Hungarian Parliament buildings, which could have passed for a castle, a royal residence, or a cathedral built a few centuries before a kind young woman took a picture of me with them in the background during one of the rare moments when the sun was shining. I definitely recommend day passes if you like to explore without timetables or a lot of blah blah blah.

Trains. I use them almost daily, thanks to my Eurail pass. A friend gave me one that allows me to travel for 30 days with no restrictions. Just pick a train, jump on, and fill in the departure city, the destination and the time. The conductor checks it and my passport, stamps the ticket and off I go. The only drawback is having to buy a supplementary ticket for a train that requires reservations, usually a high-speed train with few stops. Note: Romania has a way different standard of high-speed than other countries, but that’s another story.

The train stations, even the small ones, have scrolling electric signs that show your train number and which platform to board from. The farther east you go, the better the chances of ending up in a compartment with six to eight seats, considered first-class coaches in Hungary and Romania. Second-class riders are relegated to rows of seats. Sometimes I think the second-class carriages are more fun, but stretching out across three seats for a nap is a good thing, too.

Some trains are luxurious, with bar cars and food areas. Others are barely bearable. One in Croatia had toilets that were unflushable but that didn’t stop anyone from using them.  Except me. Bladders can be very strong when needed.

To little old rural me, who sees the California Zephyr shoot past twice a day, the luxury of mass transit is a gift. One I’ll always remember.

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