04 February 2012

Getting around

After two solid weeks of miserable rain, I commented to a friend that I much prefer those very cold sunny days, or cold and snow, to the slog of winter rain. We had a day of relative warmth and sun as a lovely respite, and then the temperatures plummeted and I've gotten my wish and then some: at least a week so far of temperatures in the teens with crystal clear skies, and now a true snowfall! (Gabriel is very excited, as this is his first real experience of fluffy snow--seeing as we didn't have a white Christmas in Boston this year.) But the experience of extremely cold temperature is actually a little more than I bargained for. In Vermont or Indiana, when it got this cold, we would hop from a warm house to a soon-heated car to get to our destination, whereas here getting to and from places requires a bit of a walk that has me (and poor Gabriel!) out in the frigid air for upwards of a half hour at a time--bringing him to daycare puts me outside for about 50 minutes. We bundle up as best we can but he still cries when the sharp wind buffets his little rosy cheeks. I've taken to putting the rain cover on the stroller, which he hates but actually keeps him quite a lot more comfortable, since it blocks the wind and creates a little cocoon of warm(er) air.

Anyway. I've been considering and coveting alternative modes of transportation now that it's this cold. Most of my friends here (and most of the population) ride bikes, and I'm longing for one of those sturdy European cruisers with a little kiddy seat on the back. We'd zip to daycare in ten minutes! But the Mister and our families are a bit skeptical of that plan, especially since I'm 22 weeks pregnant, and only getting bigger. Plus, a bike means a colder, even if shorter, commute, and the snow days would probably require walking anyway. When it rains, bike riders just grin and bear it, and wear waterproof coats, but it still doesn't sound very nice, especially for the little passenger. Although: I get soaked anyway, when it rains, because it's pretty impossible to steer a heavy stroller around bumpy cobblestone streets, narrow sidewalks, and parked-bike hazards while carrying an umbrella. Plus, everything is really designed for bikes. Pedestrians definitely don't have right-of-way, given that there are many places where zebra crossings dead end into bike lanes, and you simply have to be very aware of whizzing bikes at all times. There are bike lanes literally everywhere, as well-organized as the roads themselves. I feel like we might even be safer on a bike (especially wearing helmets, which we would, even though most people here, even kids! don't).

I have great memories of the times in my life when I've been a bike commuter. When I lived in Salzburg, I rode one of the free Seminar bikes to get downtown, and I loved the freedom it gave me to zip around easily. In Oxford, I sometimes rode a bike to get from our student house to the center, although probably more often took the bus. In Barcelona, I was for a brief time a frequent user of Bicing, the bike transport system, which worked well even though Barcelona's roads aren't quite as well prepared for bicycles. In Bloomington, my first year there, I bought a bike at police auction that turned out to be a complete dud, but I did drive it to campus for a while. I'm not the most confident biker ever, but I have enough experience to be comfortable, and here I'd just be one of the crowds, and riding mostly on dedicated paths rather than the street.

And then there's the car option. We don't have a car, and we love it: we love walking everywhere, taking buses and trains, and we love that Europe makes it possible to live car-free. We love not having car payments, or the expense of gas and maintenance. But, we've always sort of imagined that we'd eventually buy one, especially once our critical mass of children makes it more complicated to get around. I'm not sure when that tipping point will happen, but I have to admit that on cold days like these the idea of getting into a quickly-heated car is awfully appealing. The schlepping is already sometimes uncomfortable with one child, and I can't quite imagine what it will be like with two. I have much more to say on this subject (the car seat dilemma, especially: not lugging one on trips means traveling more lightly but it means we can't take taxis, which means dragging suitcases around on our own, and while I handle the stroller that leaves the Mister with the bags...). Then again, I don't relish the thought of driving around narrow-laned Europe, and there's the whole driver's license issue, which merits its own blog post. (Short version: I was supposed to be able to trade in my American license for a Belgian one, but annoying and unnecessary red tape has put that notion to the test.) So. I go in circles, I think about the various kinds of wheels we may have someday, and meanwhile, I walk.

1 comment:

Caela said...

Woah. 50 minutes in the freezing cold back and forth? We Americans are so spoiled. You are awesome.