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European Transportation, a traveler’s perspective Part 2 of 2

Feb 02, 2011
European Transportation, a traveler’s perspective Part 2 of 2

by Naomi Buell, Marketing Coordinator for VIA Architecture

If you read part I of this post, you will recall some of my conclusions about Paris and their transportation preferences – little city, little cars, huge metro system. This week I will be talking about my observations while in Belgium – trams, trams and more trams.

I will start with the first city I visited in Belgium called Ghent. It is a beautiful town and at night when the lights ricochet off the facades of the buildings it feels like something out of a fairy tale. The city still has much of its medieval architecture including Gravensteen castle, from which this picture was taken, which just adds to its fairy tale like nature.

The main form of transportation in the city centre appeared to be walking, bicycling, bussing and the use of the 4 tram lines. Many of the streets in the city centre were closed off to cars, likely because they are very narrow and made of cobblestones. However, as the picture below depicts, some of the narrow alleys are used by cars despite their difficult maneuverability. The cars appeared to be slightly bigger than those we saw in Paris which with alley’s like this did not make much sense. However, with a little elbow grease and the proper angling in of the side mirrors, we were ready to go.

Like many places in Europe, Ghent has entire bicycle parking lots. As there appeared to be lots of areas where cars couldn’t drive, bicycles seemed to be the obvious choice to navigate the narrow roads. It should also be mentioned that the cyclists ride in style. Girls will bike with heels or boots and skirts. I did not see spandex or reflective jackets as is common in Vancouver. I suppose Lululemon has not yet infiltrated the European market.

Upon leaving Ghent, we got a little lost and ended up in a small town called De Panne in Belgium. It turned out that there was a tram that went from De Panne, down through a number of different cities and ended up in Oostente, a beautiful seaside town which we were more than happy to visit. We were shocked that a tram would have such a long route but after about an hour, we arrived at our destination. I am not sure what the word ‘bad’ means in Flemish but I took this picture for pure comedic value, sorry West End I think you are beautiful but you seem to have made some enemies in Belgium.

While on the tram I noticed that people would listen to music or watch TV or youtube on their phones which would be fine had it not been for the fact that it was on speaker phone and billowing out through the tram. In Vancouver there are signs reminding riders to turn down their devices even while using headphones, I am not sure what people would have done had they heard entire songs and TV shows. Another frustration came from the signage on the tram. Although it had a sign which listed stop names, not all the stops were listed (I am guessing this was a result of having so many stops as the line was about an hour and a half long). At one point we heard the name of a stop so we tried to see how much longer we had but we couldn’t see the name of the current stop on the sign so we just hoped for the best. Despite this, the tram was very comfortable and smooth on the rails below.

At the end of our ride, which felt kind of like a longer darker version of the train that travels around Disney Land, we arrived in Oostente. We found a nice Chinese restaurant, yes Europe has amazing Chinese food, and a hotel and called it a night.

A few warm croissants here, some fresh mussels there and a warm chocolate Belgium waffle and it was back to Paris to prepare for our flight back to Canada. It truly was a planes, trains but little automobile experience.