Having stayed for longer periods of time in seven different countries in the last six years, I consider myself to be some sort of expert-by-experience when it comes to public transport. Admittedly, I easily feel spoiled, coming from a small village in the Dutch countryside, where public transport was rather limited when I was growing up. One bus line (with on-call buses only during the weekends) would take you to the next village once an hour, one train an hour would take you to the next town. For Zeeland this was a particularly well-connected spot, most villages do not have the luxury of having their own station.
I moved to the ‘big city’ for studies right after finishing high school. Although I did no longer live in walking distance of the train station, my situation improved dramatically: buses and trains to practically anywhere that mattered. You could dedicate an entire blog to Dutch public transport though: it is notoriously unreliable. I remember one occasion where I left for a football match in Utrecht hours and hours in advance only to hear the first goal being scored when I was still outside the stadium, thanks to Connexxion.
Going abroad, I have seen my fair share of public transport. In Istanbul getting any reliable information on lines is practically impossible and there are so many different ways of getting yourself from one place to another that it takes a lifetime to get used to it. My favourite tactic here was to get to one of the major centers on the Asian or European side and take things from there. Not the most efficient way to get around, but well. You get the hang of Istanbul public transport fairly quickly too: I already learned on my first day that taking a bus across the Bosphorus during rush hour is an extremely bad idea. Like extremely, extremely bad. I arrived a couple of hours late to my appointment. Never happened again: you start taking into account such things, like the local you are.
Public transport in Kuwait hardly exists, as everyone has a fancy car and likes to show it off. Girls do not take public transport unless they want to risk their lives. So I have been told, as my mere suggestion that it would be interesting to try this one day caused a male friend to almost get a heart attack. Only those who cannot afford cars take public transport, and being the only girl in a bus with men who mostly are cut off from society and female company.. well, not the best idea ever. However, with the ever larger congestion of Kuwait City a mentality change in the near future would be advisable. For now however there is just talk of opening a metro system and linking Kuwait to Oman by means of the railway. My guess is that I will be old and grey though before I can take a train to Muscat from my beloved Kuwait.
Egypt is a case apart, as I once described in a previous blog. Every day a new adventure with bus drivers we nicknamed ‘crazy driver’ and a metro system that is a living example of Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’. No one seem to have told the Egyptians yet that it really makes a lot more sense to wait until people get off before getting on a train. Instead you must use your elbows and throw in all your weight to change trains. My time in Cairo taught me the perfect tactics though: you make sure not to be too far in the front of the queue, as otherwise a few dozen people will try to crush you, and not too far to the end of the queue either, or you might risk not being able to get on or off at all. Cairo public transport too has its manual, it just takes a while to discover.
Germany’s public transport system then is characterized by organization and frequency. Hamburg is being disappointed to see a bus leaving right in front of your nose, only to realize that 5 minutes later there will be another bus. The number of options is even more extensive than in Istanbul: you can take trains, regional trains, metronoms, the S-Bahn, the U-Bahn, buses and even ferries, all included in a monthly ticket that comes at such a cheap price that I do not even consider biking to work anymore. And apart from that one time that I tried to return to Hamburg from Leiden, German public transport has never failed me. Had this been the Netherlands I would have been late for work at least once a week, now I can just leave home at 8.45 and assume that I will be at work 35 minutes later, just in time for our daily morning meeting. And it is super easy to determine which sort of public transport option you should take to end up at your desired place, with the exception of my first day at work, I have not yet got lost. When it comes to public transport, Hamburg is certainly my favourite city to live in. And as an added bonus: you get to practice your German! ‘Can you please open the door?’, ‘Does this bus go to..?’, ‘Is this seat taken?’. Yup, working in an international company, you must cherish these moments..
Photo credits: Travelswiss1/Hafenfähren im HVV/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0