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Portland Leadership Institute

Nourish the Leader Within You

Leadership for the 21st Century


Travel throughout the World: Returning Home from France

Posted on 2 February, 2013 at 15:31
Travel and transportation:  just one way we are all different from each other.

I was scheduled to return home on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.  Taxi to the airport in Lyon, early morning flight to Amsterdam, non-stop flight to Portland.  Pretty simple, right?

However, Sunday 9:00 PM E-mail from KLM:  "your flight, Lyon to Amsterdam, has been canceled.  We apologize for any inconvenience."

Inconvenience!!?!  I'm not getting home Monday!  Oh well, the sun will shine in Lyon, the extra day will be wonderful.  So with Jeanna's help from the US, me skyping her while she speaks directly to KLM, we reschedule for Tuesday.

The problem is the weather.  London, Paris, and A'dam airports are smothered in snow.  It's on TV and everyone's minds.  I soon find on Monday that Tuesday's plane is canceled also.  What gives?

KLM tells me they are compelled to cancel 40% of their flights due to the weather, so they choose to cancel the local flights and retain the international flights.  Well, that does me no good.  I'm stuck.

But I just finished teaching my leadership class, with the final session focusing on being stuck.  So I check and I check, looking for options, searching for clues, again going to the KLM ap.  What do I find?  The train!  Yes, the train from Lyon to Paris, non-stop flight to Seattle, then Horizon (always with free micro brews!) to Portland.  I'm in luck.

So why is this blog about transportation differences?  This solution is not available in most places in the US, certainly not in Portland. 
  • My KLM air ticket has the train ticket embedded in it, including boarding pass, as if it were another flight.  In the US?  Non!
  • Lyon->Paris airport is ~300 miles.  With two stops we do the trip in two hours, arriving 8:00 AM.  I sleep most of the way.  US?  Uh uh.
  • Arrive in Paris:  I ride the escalator up two flights, and suddenly I am no longer in the train station.  I am at Charles de Gaulle airport!  I go through customs and security, and check in for my flight.  In Portland?  After arriving at the train station, it would be a few blocks walk or taxi to light rail, then a 45 minute ride to the airport.  Not quite the same.

Over the years we have observed so many travel differences throughout the world.  Here are some more:

Driving cars
  • throughout Europe the standard speed limit on autoroutes is 130km, 81 MPH, with most cars driving ~140.  Germany has no speed limit, and 100 mph is the norm.  The "old ladies" lane is typically 80 mph.  Slower is unsafe.
  • Left and center lanes in Europe are for passing only.  99.5% of all drivers immediately go into the right hand lane when they are not passing.  Thus a three lane highway has three usable lanes, and there is never a need to pass a slower car on the right.
  • Driving 100 MPH is like a video game, a potentially lethal video game.  Simultaneously watch all three lanes in front of you, and the middle and left hand lanes behind you.  Watch traffic signs and the quickly moving and talking GPS to see where you go next.  Always be careful of the big black Mercedes bearing down on you at 140 MPH in the left hand lane; this is when you suddenly floor it to 120 to pass the middle lane car poking along at only 95 MPH.
  • Traffic signals and stop signs in Greece and other parts of southern and eastern Europe are treated as if they are "advisory only."  Everyone is on alert at all times.
  • Asia (our experience is Bali, Korea, Viet Nam, China):  Anything goes.  Just don't hit another car or a pedestrian. 
  • One way streets and sidewalks:  if it's necessary to go where you "shouldn't" (wrong way, sidewalk, etc.), just make sure it's safe.
  • Gas costs ~$6.00/gallon.  Affordable?  Absolutely.  Because their cars get 40-60 MPG.  How do they do this?  Everyone drives a stick shift (why did the US move away from this in the 1960s?), and diesel is the standard.  Diesel is cheaper than regular when mass produced, gets better gas mileage, and is cleaner/better for the environment than regular unleaded or electric cars.  The extra tax money goes into improving the roads so you can drive faster.  And yes, a stick shift is better for us, cheaper to produce, and more fun to drive.

  • in Portland and Seattle (and much of the western US) walk as slowly as you can, stopping as much traffic as possible, because you have the right of way
  • in China, put your head on a swivel, watching for anything come at you in any direction, and dash across whenever necessary.  Be certain to look for bikes and mopeds also.
  • in Viet Nam (we've said this in a previous blog), decide when you will cross, look for an opening, and carefully go out into the street.  Walk at a brisk and careful pace, be predictable, don't stop or retreat, and the vehicles will evade you.  If you are an American, use a little old lady to help you cross.
  • In NY or Lyon combine the best of China and Viet Nam.  I found Lyon traffic and pedestrians to be closer to my native NYC than anywhere else in the world.  Remember that vehicles have the right of way, but that they will respect pedestrians who are respectful of drivers and move rapidly when taking chances.  I truly enjoyed walking in Lyon.

Bicycles, motorized bikes, and mopeds
  • they are at a mature level in Europe and Asia, coexisting peacefully with pedestrians and automobiles.  It is said that there are 1.3 billion people in China, with 1.1 billion bicycles.  We believe it. 
  • In much of the world, cars, bikes, pedestrians all look out for each other, have few run-ins with the other "species."  They don't block the other, don't yell at or hit the other. 
  • In much of Asia these are the prime form of transportation; cars are too expensive.  In Bali, outside the major city, it felt as if the ratio of two-wheelers to cars was 10:1. 

The rest of the world is a walking and train driven world. 
  • Pedestrian Malls.  This is the enormous downtown difference between the US and Europe/Asia.  We have never been in a European city without a significant pedestrian mall in the heart of the city, giving people free reign.  The impact on city life is enormous.
  • Parking and driving restrictions abound in Europe.  For American driving visitors this is challenging, especially when the GPS says "drive here," and "here" is blocked by a post that requires a local security card.  But this keeps the inner city clear, which is truly what the aforementioned American longs for.
  • I landed in Lyon at 5:00 PM on a Saturday and was told to take the express train to the main train station and then walk 1 km to my hotel.  However, after a long day I was exhausted, so went to the taxi stand.  No cabs!  After waiting 10 minutes I took the suggestion of my hosts.  I had a great conversation on the train, was shown where to walk to my hotel, and arrived refreshed.
  • Throughout my time in Lyon I walked everywhere, even bypassing the Metro.  Again, completely refreshing.
  • Lyon is the size of Portland, with a mature bus and light rail system, a la PDX.  However, it also has the metro.  I don't know how many US cities of its size also has a subway system. 

We thoroughly enjoy European travel, even with its ups and downs.  Asia has always been more challenging (we'll probably never drive there), although we find it easy to get around.  And there is no travel that I enjoy as much as the Autobahn.  However, at 100 MPH the world goes by quite fast.

Categories: Teaching around the world

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