Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Our short magical stay in Riva San Vitale sadly came to an end today. After three fantastic weeks in the beautiful canton of Ticino, we all bid our final farewell to the Villa Maderni and hopped on a train to Zurich. After traveling to Italy this past weekend, I have gained a new appreciation for the sophistication and promptness of the Swiss train system. The Swiss people truly have a wonderful transit system at their disposal. It is incredibly clean, fast, and easy to ride. If we had a system like this in America, I would probably sell my car and never drive again. Sustainability is the theme for the program, and that is about as sustainable as you can get.
Once we arrived in Zurich, we were treated to a walking tour of the city. Trams, trolleys, bikes, cars, and pedestrians whirled all around us. Everywhere you looked it seemed as if a new form of transportation appeared. Signs showed the exact times that trams would arrive. Bicyclists had their own painted lane sandwiched between cars and tramcars. Cars rushed by, changing lanes trying to pass each other. Pedestrians strode through all of this, trying to reach their destinations safely. We all learned something interesting today. The trams do not stop. Not for anyone, or anything. They have a strict schedule to keep, which means they have the right of way at crosswalks. So bicyclists and walkers beware of the trams. They are big. They are fast. Most importantly, they are on schedule.
After our walking tour of the city, the group traveled to city hall to sneak a quick look at the model of the city. It was simply spectacular to see as evidenced by the oohs and ahhs of the class as it first came into view. It was as if the class was six years old, and we were allowed to play with toys again. The only thing missing from the scene was a tiny toy car to roll down the miniature streets of Zurich.
Following our short four-hour stay in Zurich, we departed for Freiburg, Germany. Freiburg is quite a town. It is an old city, but was entirely rebuilt after World War II due to extensive damage. The interesting part is that the city used all of the old building plans. The new construction was built exactly where the original buildings sat. As a result of this, the city has an old-timey feel mixed with modern energy. The buildings appear modern, but possess a charm that only comes from an earlier century. I cannot wait to explore the city more, and luckily we have a chance to do that on bikes. I do not know if I have ever seen so many bikes in my life. Instead of parking lots, Freiburg has bike lots. Bike after bike is lined up waiting for its owner to return. The bikes in Germany have character. Instead of an American bike geared up for an extensive exercise regimen, German bikes look like they are out for a stroll on the town. Baskets, stickers, lights, and comfy seats are the norm for the bikes here. People ride along leisurely in regular clothes to reach their destinations. I envy the people of Freiburg for that reason.
The people of Freiburg appear so relaxed and cool as they bike alongside the pedestrians. It is something you rarely see in America. If we were back in the good ole USA, most people would be in cars on highways, not a bike on the side of a major road. That is why I am so thankful for this opportunity to study in Europe. It has exposed me to so many things that I never would have experiences if I had not traveled across the Atlantic. I just hope that someday America will learn some of Europe’s transit practices. But for now, I am just happy to be experiencing it at all.
Guest Contributor: Amy Cooper