four days, two countries: what we could learn from europe’s smaller cities

something north americans never do at home: travel to two different countries in a matter of hours. that’s exactly what I did last weekend, when I took a night bus from paris to amsterdam (highly recommended, for longer bus rides) then, two days later, hopped on a three-hour bus to brussels before finally heading back to paris.

amsterdam, is, obviously amazing. beyond it’s famous, umm, physical pleasures, it’s a beautiful city with tons of great museums, friendly people and good food.

this cute little piece of branding is found behind Rijksmuseum, Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands

this cute little piece of branding is found behind Rijksmuseum, Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands

one of the city's many bridges. one of europe's three canal cities (venice and bruges are the other two), there's water everywhere in amsterdam.

one of the city’s many bridges. one of europe’s three canal cities (venice and bruges are the other two), there’s water everywhere in amsterdam.

coffeeshops also sell baked goods laced with marijuana.

coffeeshops also sell baked goods laced with marijuana.

dutch pancakes are somewhere in between an american pancake and crepes. you can get them with all kinds of stuff cooked inside, namely meats and cheeses.

dutch pancakes are somewhere in between an american pancake and crepes. you can get them with all kinds of stuff cooked inside, namely meats and cheeses. this one was from pancakes! amsterdam, berenstraat 38, 1016 gh amsterdam, netherlands.

but, while visiting my fifth european city this year, I couldn’t help but draw some comparisons between the great cities of europe and of america, both big and small. there’s a lot that I wish were more american about europe—a heightened sense of customer service at restaurants being number one—but there’s also a lot that I wish america had picked up from our western brethren.

number one: my god, man, why is our transportation network so far behind?!?!

the metro in amsterdam, a city of less than 800,000 people (according to UN data) has its own independent subway system. no city in texas, where at least five are more populous than amsterdam, has an underground, high-speed metro.

the metro in amsterdam, a city of less than 800,000 people (according to UN data) has its own independent subway system. no city in texas, where at least five are more populous than amsterdam, has an underground, high-speed metro.

now, this has been said. and said again. and reiterated. the old europe-vs-america transit argument was probably written inside of an Egyptian pyramid in hieroglyphics centuries ago. it’s an old, battered and tired argument. but that doesn’t make it any less true. I’m guessing that the car lobby isn’t as strong in places like amsterdam, but it’s a little baffling to an american when you visit big cities and small towns alike to never, ever have to step foot in a car.

another observation? multiple ways to get around in a socially acceptable fashion.

walking. people walk a lot more in europe than in the average american city. (obvs. there are walkable exceptions like several east coast cities including new york and dc)

walking. people walk a lot more in europe than in the average american city. (obvs. there are walkable exceptions like several east coast cities including new york and dc)

bikes, everywhere. I read somewhere that about 70 percent of all trips in amsterdam are taken by bike. astounding.

bikes, everywhere. I read somewhere that about 70 percent of all trips in amsterdam are taken by bike. astounding.

also, skateboards, scooters, motorized scooters seem to be much more popular in the european cities I’ve visited than in the american cities where I’ve visited or lived. not all european cities are created equally, though, as amsterdam is, by far, the most bikeable city I’ve ever experienced. bikers have the right of way on roads and there are real bike lanes everywhere (not the skinny portion of car-road that bikers are given in dc and new york).

brussels and ghent, where I visited in belgium, were also incredibly bikeable places where cars seemed more scarce.

a parking lot for bikes in ghent. I have never seen anything like it!

a parking lot for bikes in ghent. I have never seen anything like it!

 

two months in, I am absolutely missing my beautiful america (and anxiously awaiting a possible early return—more on that later, though). but, I do wish that I could bring some aspects of european life back to the states with me.

some other random pics:

hot dog stands all over amsterdam.

hot dog stands all over amsterdam.

as a native english speaker, I was unexpectedly happy to see so many w's and k's while in a dutch-speaking country.

as a native english speaker, I was unexpectedly happy to see so many w’s and k’s while in a dutch-speaking country.

downtown brussels is pretty cool!

downtown brussels is pretty cool!

random words in dutch—so cool-looking!

random words in dutch—so cool-looking!

2 thoughts on “four days, two countries: what we could learn from europe’s smaller cities

  1. Awesome! You’re right we are so behind in the transpo department. Texans are all geeked that we are finally getting a speedrail to transport between the northern and southern parts of the state. It only took 200 years, LOL.

  2. There’s talk of high speed rail in California. LA in 3 hours instead of eight! I never wanted something so much! We’re broke apparently but I’m crossing my fingers!

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