European Odds and Ends

(♦)  Expect occasional squinting through a haze of Other Guy’s cigarette smoke while waiting for rides in both Zurich and Copenhagen.  (And perhaps in Stockholm and Moscow, too.  Your scribe took inadequate notes.)

‘Smoking europe’ in the omnibox pulled up this.

(♦)  Also expect to see much more graffiti in both Zurich and Copenhagen than in most American cities. In Moscow, I spotted a couple of desecrated metro car interiors, but little beyond that.

Stockholm may again benefit from my inattentiveness. I don’t remember the graffiti there. As a visiting savant, I felt obligated to conduct occasional scholarly surveys of Sweden’s famously beautiful womenfolk, purely (of course) in the hope of more learnedly describing Nordic anthropological traits upon my return to the states. This distracted me a bit. I’m sure other great thinkers will understand.

Oresundtrain at Ørestad station
Oresundtrain at Ørestad station

Back to the graffiti:

Expect it on trains, buses, signs, walls, but only rarely in transit vehicle interiors. You might have to look at it as the train pulls up, but probably won’t once aboard.

In Zurich (and nowhere else) I saw a handful of creations that I might compliment as ‘graffiti art.’ Such work deserves space and a legal permit; after all, Keith Haring got his start on walls in New York City. But the vast, vast majority was of the sort a middle school teacher would roll eyes over in a twelve year old’s notebook: endless, repetitive, gradient shaded letters, with edge effects and day glo backgrounds. Over and over and over. Maybe such monotonous graffiti represents youth’s revenge for cuts in art funding.

(♦)  Stockholm’s T-Bana packs in the standees at rush hour. Most metros do, I guess. They’re expected to. Why raid the vault for a conventional metro if you don’t expect peak hour crowds?

Still, those brief and easily suffered stints in Swedish cattle cars were enough to pull Stockholm from the heady heights of the transitophile top tier. The stints didn’t bother me, but would bother middle class Americans accustomed to their own seats and airspace in car commutes. I’m being very fussy. I admit it.

 Cyclist and #2 Sofia bus on Södermalm island in Stockholm
Cyclists and #2 Sofia bus on Södermalm island in Stockholm

The Zurich and Copenhagen systems are so phenomenal that I think some of my untraveled transit geek pals in California would really and truly wonder if they had died and gone to heaven, if pumped full of anaesthetic, FedEx’d to Europe in crates-with-airholes and awakened on an S Train. I mean it. Even the atheist geeks would wonder.

‘Where … where are we, Tim? Why is everything so nice and clean? You mean there’s … there’s another train like this in a few minutes?! And look … look at those bicyclists on cycle tracks! The cars can’t hit them there! And those clean buses with free seats! I must be dead. The Christians must have been right. We’re in heaven! Heaven!”

(♦)  The New York Times informs me of a fare dodging underground in Stockholm. I won’t argue, but saw nothing suggestive of this behavior, and would wager plenty wampum that Stockholm serves up nothing as dysfunctional as the epidemic fare dodging I regularly see on San Francisco’s south side. S.F.’s all-door boarding speeds boarding times, but courts a problem I never saw in Los Angeles.

Sweden doesn’t need me to defend its honor, but news of this fare dodging group really soured my morning tea. Maybe nation states should reconsider prohibitions against deporting the native born. If you let me cherry pick, I could furnish honest, hard-working, law-abiding Central American immigrants worth the whole membership roster of

Trade! Swap! Pay Guatemala to take them off your hands. Why should they get to behave so destructively in one of the world’s most enlightened democracies? Let them duck the fare on this. Or try to.

(♦)  I now collect transit IC cards. My mother collected refrigerator magnets. I’ll bet the same gene can be blamed. I still have an L.A. TAP, of course, and my well-used Clipper, and a misplaced MARTA Breeze hiding in one of my desk drawers, and on the living room mantle — yes, the mantle, where everyone can see them; I’m that weird — IC cards from Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, Moscow and Stockholm.

But nothing from Zurich. The ticket options are listed here; maybe you’ll see the IC card that might have been mine. I feel like I missed something obvious.

Copenhagen does offer an IC card, the Rejsekort, but isn’t sure if it wants you to have one. The ‘Rejsekort Personal’ card is free, but can’t be had online without a Danish ID. The ‘Rejsekort Anonymous’ can be had for cash on the barrelhead, like IC cards elsewhere, but goes for a whopping $12 for the card alone, and may not be available where tourists would be most likely to seek them out: at the airport, or Copenhagen’s central train station.

Check out posts for Rejsekort IC card
Check out posts for Rejsekort IC card

(I write ‘may not’ because now claims otherwise, although the map shows no Rejsekort Anonymous outlets at either the airport or Central station.)

I shrugged, and bought the souvenir IC card I craved at an out-of-the-way retailer. I didn’t especially mind the bother, but will gently chide the Vikings for having crashed the ol’ longship in their Rejsekort marketing.

If you get a Rejsekort, please remember to tap the card on the appropriate blue circle on the way into the train, and also on the way out.  The ‘check in’ circles are on the other side of the posts above.

(♦)  I didn’t provide an URL for the huge .pdf of Copenhagen’s cycling map in my ‘Zurich and Copenhagen’ post, and will remedy that omission now.

I worry that scrutiny of this map may provoke unproductively rageful foaming-at-the-mouth among some California pedal-pushers. It’s one thing to look at a fuzzy impressionistic sketch of a faraway bicycling heaven, and another to stare wild-eyed at the excruciating details of Heaven’s street grid, and count the blocks of protected cycling track that aren’t available where U.S. cyclists must daily risk life and limb.

I will defend municipal government by pointing out that only so much can be done at one time, and that not all California voters share my interest in catering to cyclists.

Pay toilet in Zürich HauptbahnhofPay toilet in Zürich Hauptbahnhof
Pay toilet in Zürich Hauptbahnhof

(♦)  ‘WC’ seem to be the two letters to be looked for when hunting a public toilet in Europe. (Although not in the shot above.) Expect said toilet to be clean — sometimes spotlessly clean, in Zurich — and to cost some change to be gotten into. I guess that’s how they deal with locos who hole up in bathroom stalls. The small fee may encourage locos to hole up elsewhere.

(♦)  The carfree can get around in the Swiss boonies aboard PostBus, a subsidiary company of Switzerland’s postal service, just as the name suggests. This I learned from two fellow Unitarians on an IC train back to Zurich, following the Easter Sunday service at UU Basel. Both hail from the states, and have lived in Switzerland about a year.

They also told me:

  • It took nearly a month to get used to the high prices.
  • Switzerland can feel like a fantasyland, an untroubled utopia. One meditated on the potential downside of raising children away from the everyday crudities found in the rest of the world.
  • The efficient Swiss may be intolerant of disorganizations taken in stride elsewhere. If you approach a retail counter gushing that you ‘almost have the paperwork sorted out,’ the Swiss agent probably won’t let others wait behind you while you figure out what paper goes where. Off to one side you’ll be sent, politely, firmly and quickly.

(My companions didn’t say so, but I’ll appraise Switzerland as one of the world’s worst vacation destinations for the habitually tardy. A Never-On-Time on holiday in Switzerland is like a Porterhouse buff frowning at the vegan offerings at Herbivore. You’re in the wrong place, pal.)

Tram approaching Stadelhofen station in Zurich
Tram approaching Stadelhofen station in Zurich

(♦)   Several Danes met on the flight home seemed eager to revel in America just as it is. One spoke with relish of his plans to rent a five liter Mustang V8 in L.A.. He had researched this carefully, and obviously anticipated his stint in the ‘Stang as an American holiday highlight. Denmark’s auto-related taxes would have made such a romp prohibitively expensive on his own turf.

He asked me where he might go to wring the ‘Stang out. I suggested Las Vegas.

Many years ago, a Los Angeles cop told me that some loadies — even well-to-do loadies — were fond of camping out in skid row hotel rooms for what might be termed stoner holidays. They stuffed themselves with readily available narcotics, slouched goggle-eyed on walls and parking meters, soiled their britches, did whatever such inebriates like to do, then sobered up, scraped off the skid row filth and returned to their own better-managed neighborhoods, where such debaucheries aren’t permitted.

I’m afraid that the Dane’s plans for a likely 100 mph freeway rocket ride on the 15 reminded me of that old anecdote. Maybe I’m not being fair.

* * * * *

(♦)  I’ll allow myself one not-in-Europe aside, because I won’t work it in anywhere else: Tokyo subways do get very crowded, but the would-be critic should remember where those subways exist. Japan is a little smaller than Montana, and inconveniently covered with mountains. Not much space to work with.

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