No Ordinary Walk in the Park
Brandon Sun, July 26, 2008 - David McConkey
A recent trip to England and France left my wife and me with many
wonderful memories. Plus thoughts about citizenship, technology, and
We were continually struck by the sheer numbers of people. Millions move quickly and safely through such venues as trains, subways, and tourist attractions. And this is accomplished with increased security measures.
We were impressed by the efficiency of this mass movement, the friendliness of staff everywhere, and the patience of people.
We went on the Eye – the big ferris wheel in the centre of London. Visitors ride in 32 capsules attached to the wheel, getting a spectacular view of the city.
All visitors to the Eye are frisked and have their bags checked. Staff whisk the two dozen people who have had their ride out of their capsule, do a sweep for bombs, and then quickly usher in a new group. All this time, the wheel continues to turn. Three million people a year ride on the Eye.
England and France, like Canada, have become multi-cultural and multi-racial societies. We did notice, however, something in France. The people there have an air about them: a certain élan, a panache, a je ne sais quoi. As my wife remarked, teenagers, small children, even the dogs, all seemed to be cultured and well-mannered.
We took the Eurostar train from London, under the English Channel, to Paris - in just over two hours. In France, we took advantage of the fantastic train system to travel throughout the country. (We had bought rail pases here on the Internet before the trip.) The trains are always on time, and have a great reputation for safety.
Especially impressive is the TGV – the French abbreviation for “high speed train.” These trains regularly travel as quickly as 300 kilometres per hour. Train travel is very comfortable. The trains move very smoothly; there is no “clickety-clack.” In the bar car, bottles of wine stay standing in place on the counter, even at top speed.
We found the trains to be typical of France: the trains are speedy but the people don’t seem rushed. People are asked to turn off their cell phones and be discrete while on the train. Those who used their phones left the coach or covered their mouths while they spoke. The whole experience befits a technologically advanced, gracious, society.
French trains also address current issues of energy efficiency, air pollution, and global warming. The trains are electric, with much of the electricity in France supplied by nuclear power.
Of course, we Canadians are quick to dismiss the idea of having trains like that here. We have a small population, long distances, and plenty of fossil fuels to burn. But isn’t that a good reason to travel, to open our minds to different possibilities?
Travel is changing. The Internet, plus thick detailed guide books, make travel much more informed. Planning beforehand, we were virtually overwhelmed by the choices and information online. While over there, we were laden down with lots of really heavy books!
We made some reservations in advance on the Internet, and others when we got over there. Every arrangement went without a hitch.
Ways can be found to beat the increasing crowds. We travelled in May, not the busiest time. When going to the Louvre Museum in Paris, we followed the advice of our guide book and showed up at opening time in the morning. After a wait of just a few minutes at a security checkpoint to get our handbags X-rayed, we were in.
Overseas travel is under pressure as both fuel prices and climate change concerns increase. Hopefully, mitigating ways – such as new technology and carbon offset schemes – can be developed.
Foreign travel offers people of all ages opportunities to nurture awareness, sensitivity, and self confidence. Many great travel experiences are discovered by serendipity. Many are not expensive.
When we were in Nice, in southern France, we noticed there was free admittance to all museums that Saturday evening. We greatly enjoyed a modern art exhibition that until then we had not thought of attending. Another time, we found ourselves caught up in a student political demonstration. Both happenings were a pleasant surprise and both were so very French.
One of our most cherished memories was from Paris. At our home in Brandon beforehand we had reserved our hotel on the Internet. In Paris, around the corner from the hotel, we would buy a bottle of wine, some cheese, and a loaf of bread. We then would take a 15-minute walk to a park to enjoy our supper. The park was right beside the Eiffel Tower.
We weren’t in Manitoba anymore!
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