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Traveling Europe the best way

| Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Since my last installment of this column, the London program kids have finally been able to travel around Europe. For the first three weekends of the semester, we had a Friday class named “Inside: London,” which introduced us to the city and its multifaceted nature as a cultural, political and economic hub. By the end of January, though, impatience with the class and the restrictions it placed on our traveling time had reached a boiling point.

Consequently, over the past two weekends, the majority of the students have scattered all across Europe, from Barcelona to Bucharest and Florence to Frankfurt. I myself was lucky enough to have traveled to Paris and Dublin over the first two weekends.
Both cities were fantastic, and exactly what you would expect given their reputations. Paris was full of art, culture and romance: from wandering the Louvre at night to a visit to Versailles and watching couples stroll along the Seine, we barely had enough time to fit in the highlights of the city. Dublin, by contrast, was all about the craic (fun, in Irish). Soaking in live music at a pub, seeing Aviva Stadium and a visit to the Jameson factory (basically a legal obligation for me) were the most memorable moments of the weekend.

However, the biggest benefit of my travels to date has been the variety of forms of transportation that I’ve used to reach my two European destinations. After only two weeks of country-hopping, I feel that I’m able to dispense some valuable advice about how to get around continental Europe. So hold on to your hats, boys and girls, because here comes some hard-hitting consumer advice.

No. 3: the Bus

Starting from the bottom, the bus is unequivocally my least favorite form of transportation I have ever taken. While it’s perfectly fine for a quick jaunt from O’Hare to campus, under no circumstances should you ever try to take it from Paris to London. First of all, the journey was scheduled to be nine hours long, which, for comparative purposes, is longer than it took for the program to fly from Washington to London. It’s simply a staggering amount of time, which allowed me to finish my homework, watch two movies and know deeply personal things about the relationship of the two people across the aisle.

Also, the bus has to use the Chunnel train to get back to England, which, rather inevitably, was delayed, and meant that we spent about 10-and-a-half hours on the journey back to London. It was the trip equivalent of receiving a Dementor’s Kiss: it was draining on the soul. The best thing that can be said for the bus is that it is cheap, and only cost 19 euros to return from Paris.

No. 2: the Airplane

Air travel, particularly through cheap airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet, is much maligned by both the London program leadership and past participants in study abroad. However, I think air travel has gotten a bad rap, as I used Ryanair to get to Dublin and had a wonderful experience. Due to cost-cutting measures, it’s required you print your boarding pass at home, which saves a lot of time at check-in. Security checkpoints are more numerous and efficient than in the USA, and Ryanair uses both doors on the plane to board people, which means that passengers are seated quickly and the flight gets underway. Honestly, there is a lot that US airlines could learn, from a business perspective, from budget airlines, but it was the pleasant experience from check-in to clearing customs that made flying a clear No. 2.

No. 1: the Train

The train is, by miles, my favorite way to travel Europe. I used the Eurostar to get from London to Paris, and it was the greatest travel experience I’ve ever had. Security procedures are much like an airport, but once you clear the checkpoint, the travel experience is on a totally different level. The waiting lounge had WiFi and complementary cups of coffee or tea (I took the 5:40 a.m. train, needless to say, they were out of both when I got there), and unlike an airplane, the concept of personal space actually exists while you are on the train. Another added bonus when compared to air travel is the ability to see the countryside out of the window. The train whips along at 140 miles per hour, which got me to Paris in two-and-a-half hours, as compared to the 10-hour bus ride. Overall, the experience was remarkably refreshing and felt like a “real” European way to travel.

So, if you are ever in Europe, and want to know how best to get around, just remember: train, plane and, if all else fails, automobile.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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