Saturday, May 22, 2010

Training For Travel (Again)

~ Yesterday, I caught a train into the centre of Adelaide. Hardly a remarkable event given the everyday nature of the task. However it soon dawned on me that all transport systems are not created equal, and the transport system in dear little Adelaide is probably the least equal of all the major cities in Australia.

The reason for catching the train was so I could start getting used to the idea of not having my own motor vehicle to speed me from point A to point B, in a convenient and timely manner. You see, in ten days I fly to Melbourne for three weeks to house sit for the same people I house sat for in January. While in Melbourne I will be relying on that city’s extensive network of trams to get me from Fitzroy North into the city centre (and home again). And when I hit New York in July, I will be using the subway system there to navigate my way quickly from Washington Heights to downtown Manhattan.

Unfortunately, Adelaide is not Melbourne or Manhattan. As a result, the transport system here is nowhere near as frequent as the ones found in those two cities. Apart from the rush hour, here the trains run every half hour or so, and at night about once an hour. On weekends the trains again run about once an hour.

It stands to reason that if you are going to use the train system here, it helps to have a timetable for the line servicing your suburb, since if you miss one train you might have to wait up to an hour for the next one! In Melbourne and Manhattan, it doesn’t seem to matter that much if you miss your train/tram when you know another one will be along in 10-15 minutes. When the transport system is that frequent, you can pretty much dispense with timetables. Not so in Adelaide. Luckily I only had to wait for 20 minutes or so for the ride into town, but that was more than enough (and yes, I do now have a timetable for the Outer Harbor line which passes close to my home).

Still it’s good practise for world travel. It is easy to take modern transport systems for granted, even one as intermittent as Adelaide’s. But once you start travelling from country to country, using public transport becomes as much a part of the experience and adventure as anything else you might do. Especially when the signage and timetables (if they exist at all), are in a language you cannot speak – let alone read.

Come to think of it, this is as good a place to bear in mind this quote from Clifton Fadiman: "When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable."

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