TagEurope trip

How do you enjoy the roses: Smell them or photograph them?

A tram in Milan, outside the Castello Sforzesco and near the Milano Cardona train station, where I arrived from a short trip from Como.

My mother is one to consistently tell me, a communications and photography obsessed traveler who bikes 60 miles per week with a camera around my neck, to “stop and smell the roses” instead of “stop and take their picture”. My 18,208 photos taken in the last 12 months are probably a testament that I’m doing more clicking than sniffing. But the photos I take are there to enhance my stories when I come home. I feel I enjoy my trips even if half the time my eyes are looking through the lens.

On my trip to Europe this year, I made a commitment to myself to not worry about costs – I had money to spend on a wonderful trip. This came after I spend 10+ hours calculating on the value of a Eurail Pass that would give me unlimited free trips on all local trains and discounted trips on high-speed trains. A simple rule eventually made the decision for me: the ticket took two weeks to mail and my trip was in five days. After all those calculations, and understanding the pass’s restrictions, I was moving towards a decision to buy my tickets à la carte, or as I needed them. I kept all of my receipts to monitor the cost of my journeys. Guess what? They came out the same: I spent $512.55 on 19 train trips (including metros; conversion made on January 25, 2011)*. A Eurail Pass that would have gotten me the same trips (and more if I wanted to) was $716 or $771. By keeping my mind focused on enjoying the trip instead of analyzing my costs.

Why do I bring all of this up now? Wired’s October issue has a “travel optimization” article and I love that the author was in a similar quandary:

Halfway through my visit I missed a text message that cost me $5,000 in lost income. At the moment the message arrived (or didn’t arrive), I was enjoying a eucalyptus steam bath with an old laborer who’d belonged to the Solidarity Union, which had helped defeat communism in Eastern Europe. His stories were thrilling, but were they $5,000 worth of thrilling?

Of course they were, I concluded on the flight back. When the mind of the traveler grows overly preoccupied with estimating opportunity costs, the capacity for discovery diminishes, displaced by the obsession with efficiency. The voyager may as well have stayed home, since he’s not really on a voyage anymore; he’s researching economics in the field.

That is exactly the state of being I wanted to avoid. And I did a pretty great job.

I’ve got another example: When it came time to pay the bill after dinner and drinks in Copenhagen, I opened my wallet and said (mainly because I was unfamiliar with how to convert kroner to dollars), “This is what I have”. Thankfully it was enough, although I had to visit the ATM a couple times per day in Copenhagen.

*Add on $85 for a flight from Milan to Hanover. I rode on trains operated by at least 10 different companies and agencies – it was one of the most splendid journeys of my life.

Welcome to Amsterdam

The coolest city in Europe. And probably where I spent most of the time bicycling around town. I carried my GPS tracker with me at all times in Europe. I had to edit the routes to exclude my train trip to Utrecht and back. In the end, I biked about 134 kilometers / 83 miles (see my map).

My rental bike on the docklands in the ‘t IJ looking towards Centraal Station. The cruise ship passenger terminal is on the left. The bike is a Gazelle Superieur Special. I paid €5 per day and a €50 deposit. Thanks to Álvaro for the recommendation of Recycled Rentals.

One of the free ferries, this one to IJ-Buurtveer. I took this one instead, to Buiksloterwegveer (Amsterdam Nord).

Amsterdam can be boiled down to a few things: Bikes, beer, and water. This post is heavy on water, and light on bikes. A beautifully yellow tugboat owned by the Port of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam has trains going everywhere, from Centraal Station, every few minutes. 32 trains every hour. An additional 18 trains daily. The Thalys has service to Brussels, Belgium, and Paris, France, nine times per day. I arrived in the station from Wuppertal, Germany (via Venlo and Eindhoven). I left the station to get to Utrecht for a day trip and then I left the station on the DB CityNightLine to Copenhagen (a magical 15-hour journey).

Houseboats in the canals and Amstel river are quite common. A Flickr commenter describes a little more about it (click on the photo to read it).

Not everyone has a purpose-built cargo bike in Amsterdam, but more exist here than anywhere else (except perhaps Copenhagen). Just tote your stuff under your arm, including a sheet of plywood. You might want to try out the WorkCycles Fr8 – a locally designed cargo bike.

And a gratuitous shot of me bicycling towards the docklands. I should have been smiling – as I was having such a wonderful time, but maybe I’m not because it was kind of cold.

View the 60 other photos I’ve uploaded of Amsterdam. If you want to visit, let me help you plan your trip.

Photos from Milan, Italy

I was in Milan on two separate days. The first for an hour while I waited for my train to Como after arriving from Rome. The second I spent eight hours there, walking around the castle, park, neighborhoods, and the Duomo. View the entire photo set.

Milano Centrale, the main train station, northeast of Piazza Duomo (I guess you would call this the “old center”). Grandi Stazioni is a company charged with “upgrading, valorizing and managing Italy’s 13 largest railway stations.”

On some of the pedestrian bridges in Parco Sempione, couples attach locks to signify their love. You may have zoom in on the photo to see the locks attached to mermaid’s “staff.” Here’s a closer view.

I brought my camera into the museum, Pinacoteca di Brera. This worker was busy restoring artwork.

In many places in Milan, the trams had segregated right-of-way. I think it looks beautiful when trains run over and through separated, landscaped corridors. See a smaller tram (one car) outside the Milano Centrale train station.

If the roof is open, go up! You get some nice views of the Piazza below, as well as the always-there crowds and the Galleria. You can also get a closer view of the cathedral buttresses.

Coming from Chicago, I don’t have access to protected or separated bike lanes. And I was surprised to see them in Milan! But I shouldn’t have been surprised, because most cities in Europe have them.

Intercity bike paths, or “bike roads”

Imagine every suburb around Chicagoland connected to a handful of others by a “bike road.” In the Netherlands, it’s a strip of pavement about 1.5 American-car lanes wide but the bicyclist always has priority and any drivers must drive at the speed of the bicyclist. For cars, the road serves mostly rural towns, but for bicycling, it serves as part of a cross-country and intercity bikeway. On some parts of your trip to another town you might ride on bike roads, and others on bike-only paths.

This bike road helps connect Houten and Utrecht. I’m traveling north alongside a Nederlandse Spoorwegen Sprinter train. See more photos from my day trip to Utrecht and Houten.

The Cal-Sag Trail is a typical multi-use path in the works and will do something similar, connecting south suburban Cook County communities (like Calumet Park, Blue Island, and Alsip) along the Calumet River and the Calumet-Sag Channel. It will be car-free. While multi-use paths in Illinois are often used for recreational or touring use (many don’t lead to destinations, or are out of the way for convenient routes), the Cal-Sag Trail will be useful for social, shopping, and school trips as well as fitness. Additionally, it will connect to at least three existing trails.

When any path or road opens it needs sufficient wayfinding. The “United States Numbered Bicycle Routes” system began in 1982 to do for bicycling what numbered highways did for driving: make it easy to create and follow a route. Planning for the system was revitalized in 2010.

Several European countries (including Netherlands and Germany) have had such a system for years but instead of numbering routes, they number junctions. Starting at any origin shown on the junction map, find the junctions that connect the route segments to your destination and remember their numbers. Then watch for signs that point you in the direction of the next number. You only need to remember 2-3 numbered junctions at a time because there will eventually be a new map to remind you which junction is next. See photo and route example below.

This junction is number 34. To go to Houten from here, follow the directional signs, first to 33, then to 36, then to 01. The “bike road” photo above was taken near junction 36.

Welcome to the grand entrance of the Illinois Prairie Path to Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Aurora, and Batavia!

Another Chicago trail example

There’s a great example near Chicago of a trail that’s “80% there.” The Illinois Prairie Path begins in Maywood, Illinois, a couple miles from the western edge of Chicago, and a mile from the Forest Park Blue Line terminal. Getting there from Chicago is a problem: it’s not connected to anything but 4-lane, fast-moving 1st Avenue. And bicycling to Maywood from anywhere in Chicago there is a lack of safe routes, regarding infrastructure and personal safety (a lot of Chicagoans would consider the center west side quite dangerous). I grew up the far western suburb of Batavia and have occasionally ridden the trail, but only once did I ride it while living in Chicago.

Another view of the trailhead. Photo by Carlton Holls.

I wanted to visit Fry’s Electronics in Downers Grove, just 4 miles from the trail. It took me over an hour to get to the entrance and then I missed the sign (or wasn’t there one?) for Finley Road and went too far. It was getting dark, so I decided to call the trip a small loss and boarded a Metra train at Glen Ellyn for downtown.

Italian train network looks modern and decrepit simultaneously

Italian trains and stations look modern and decrepit simultaneously. One of a thousand observations on my trip to Europe in December and January.

MODERN: Roma Termini (main station) has at least 50 automatic ticket vending machines that accept credit and debit cards and display text in multiple languages.

DECREPIT: Many train cars have copious graffiti. This train appeared as if it hadn’t moved in weeks, like the one on the right in this photo.

MODERN: But then Italy has something the United States will not have for several more years (go Florida!): a high-speed train. This one travels up to 300 KM/H (186 M/H). I caught my train going 247 KM/H from Roma to Milano.

In Chicago, I think there’s more of a balance to the train state of affairs: not so modern, but not so decrepit either. New stations opened on the Brown Line but without the fancy glass ceilings from the early renderings (had to cut costs). Train cars are 40 years old (new ones in testing). Subway stations have dismal lighting (coupled with the dirty windows it’s hard to tell the difference between the platform and the tunnel areas). Metra just started accepting credit cards at the downtown stations in 2010.

Europe trip recap: List of cities I visited

All links lead to a photo or photoset of that city. More links will be added as I upload more photos. Cities are in the order I traveled through Europe, over 18 days.

All blogs about this trip are under the tag, Europe trip.

A bike “jam” – everyone in the photo is performing a “Copenhagen left” or box turn.

The Schwebebahn is the world’s oldest operating monorail that operates daily in the North Rhine-Westphalia city of Wuppertal, Germany.

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