09 March 2010

Viva Italia!

Today was a beautiful, sunny day—a real treat during this mostly gray-skies time of year in Prague. I took the opportunity to hop a tram, followed by the metro, to go to a distant shopping area and explore that vicinity of the city.

Before I joined the Foreign Service, I spent my entire life in southern United States. Mass transit really doesn’t exist in the South, other than a rather limited system in Atlanta, so being involved with some of the world’s largest and most sophisticated mass-transit systems has been of real interest to me, both in technology and in the culture of mass travel.

Most of my metro/tram experience has been in Europe, but I was also a frequent rider of the Mexico City metro, while serving in that post. Frankly, most of my colleagues wouldn’t ride the Mexico City metro, for fear of pickpockets or of being squashed to death. The latter was a real possibility, as I quickly discovered one rush hour when I witnessed a young woman trying to exit the train and be literally picked up by the oncoming rush of people and pushed back into the car. I hoped she was able to get off at the following stop.

My favorite thing about living in Moscow was the metro system. This system is HUGE! It is dependable, inexpensive and has the most artistic stations I’ve ever seen. I spent many weekends just traveling the metro and taking pictures of station decorations, which was strictly forbidden but not enforced. There are tours of the Moscow subway stations—I took one just to learn more about the history—and coffee-table picture books of the most ornate.

The culture of mass transit in Moscow is interesting. There is a set etiquette for travel, and it includes being straight-faced and, preferably, quiet. If one must speak to another passenger, it is to be done at a whisper and as quickly as possible. And one should never ever smile, nod or make eye contact with other travelers.

In contrast is travel on the Rome metro, where jabbering travelers might be entertained by a fellow commuter(s) who breaks out in song—usually opera—for a few minutes, and then finishes to raucous clapping. While Rome stations are not particularly ornate, in comparison to Moscow stations, their displays of Roman antiquities are a real plus.

In Bucharest, I sometimes traveled on the new and modern metro, usually with only a few other passengers. The line is rather limited, but so expensive that most people couldn’t afford to travel. Sure kept those cars clean and shiny, though.

In Budapest, the stations were underground shopping malls with food courts, stores, flower shops and travel agencies—sort of one-stop shopping while going to or from home. I mostly used the trams in Budapest, and I don’t think I was ever on one that wasn’t standing-room-only, which became an issue when tram police jumped on to check tickets. People without tickets would start pushing to the other end of the car, hoping to get off at the next stop before getting caught and fined. It was great entertainment, if I could get out of the way.

The metro and trams in Prague are modern and quite utilitarian, and the system is widespread. The most important thing is, they are punctual with a great frequency schedule. Unlike our neighbors to the far northeast, people happily chat and smile at each other, though not so much to strangers. On my tram ride back home today, our car was serenaded by a group of three young men—visiting Italians!

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

1 comment:

  1. It's Friday, and that means that the Fourth Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up - and you're on it!

    Here is the link:


    (If I quoted your text and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)