Observations while traveling in Europe

Observations while traveling in Europe

Traveling can be a beneficial learning experience. Not all countries provide services or solve problems using the same methods. Following are some observations:

In all of the cities and towns that we visited there was a substantial use of bicycles for common transportation. Also, the prevalence of electric power assisted bikes is increasing.

In the downtown sector of one town the public transport was with Electric buses.

Historic downtowns remain busy & vital with retail businesses on the ground floor and accommodation on the levels above. In some cases, restaurants are located in what used to the back yards between buildings with access via alley ways.

There is extensive use of round-abouts and traffic circles rather than stop signs and traffic signals.

Petrol & Propane gas hybrid cars and trucks are a popular cost containment option. Gas is very expensive usually costing double the cost in the US.

In one hotel’s bathroom the bathroom door served double duty. It could be used for bathroom access as well as to close off the area occupied by the commode!

One hotel had a self-service kiosk for guest check in & key room key issuing.

Trains coverage is extensive. They are reliable, fast, inexpensive and comfortable. The one we rode on was electric powered.

Rest areas were no more than 10 miles apart on the motorways.

When there was a traffic slow down or backup on the motorway the cars in the right-hand lane would move onto the shoulder, but keep moving slowly. The cars in the left-hand lane would all move to the extreme left side of that lane. This a allowed a center access lane for police & emergency vehicles if needed.

Not all of the EU countries have been granted the right to adopt the EU currency. There are economic conditions that must be met. In these countries the EU is still accepted by most shops but the US$ is not.

Taxes are always including in the selling price (not added on) and tipping is either included in the price or optional.

Two Americans in Europe

Two Americans in Europe

At the time of composing this Jeanette & I are on a river cruise on the Danube. So far, we have visited Budapest, Bratislava & Vienna (Wien), all capitals of their respective countries. Broadening education is always a bi-product of travel. All of the countries we have visited are members of the EU. All three are quite small, both in area and population.

Hungary has about 8 million folks with just under 2 million residing in Budapest. Slovakia has about 5.5 million with about ½ million in Bratislava & Austria has about 8 ½ million with just under 2 million in Wein.

Hungary is about the size of Indiana, Slovakia is about the size of Mississippi & Austria is about the size of Maine.

Not all members of the EU are using the Euro. One prior member (the UK) chose to retain their currency, while others were not authorized to use the Euro because their economies were considered too weak.  Hungary still uses the Florent, but almost all retailers accept the Euro. The official currency of both Slovakia & Austria is the Euro.

On a recent trip to Iceland our auto rental agent shared her view of US citizens. It was not that of the “ugly, loud American”, but that of naiveite. The more I travel the more that comment rings true.

America emerged from WW II as a superpower primarily because of a vibrant and growing economy. We were envied and admired by the rest of the world. We were considered to be number one in production (& productivity), technology, individual freedoms & standard of living. Many of us still believe that is true, but that is only a “belief” and not in touch with the facts. Unfortunately, we have been in a status decline for the past several decades. Our slide resembles the slide experienced by the UK that started over a 100 years ago. The UK was “the” superpower for several hundred years expanding their influence into America, Africa, India & Australasia (among others). Like many dominant countries & city states before them they eventually maxed out their influence and the decline commenced.

The US is still in the early stages of declining influence. The dollar, once the fall back currency for the entire world, is no longer accepted in most of Europe. If a country does not officially use the Euro, they always accept it as medium of exchange. While English is still the official 2nd language in most of Europe it is sobering to remember that is not ours and has its roots in the Germanic languages.

We have found most people here to be friendly and respectful, but not that interested in or concerned about goings on in the US. We do not seem to be the focus of their attention. The histories of these countries go back thousands of years. Borders have changed numerous times and all of have experienced numerous political systems.

stay tuned for more on this

Polarization and solutions

Polarization and solutions

Not long ago I posted my thoughts on polarization. Since then I have had the opportunity to discuss my view with others and also receive some interesting feedback.

One of my friends tends to agree with my position and is taking steps to implement a remedy. His view is that if persons with opposing viewpoints first can agree to have “civil” discussion on issues then we can begin to make progress toward a solution. If we are willing to take this first step then reaching a common ground is possible.

This gentleman is putting his money behind this idea. He has been working with and contributing financially to a university in support of a trial program. The idea is to take a controversial topic and invite students with opposing viewpoints to discuss potential solutions through a series of meets. He reports that the results have been encouraging. Exit interviews have revealed that the majority have come out of the meetings with a revised point of view and appreciation for the opposing position. He also reports that several common ground suggestions for resolution have been proposed.

I started thinking about this in my own life experience. I have another friend who I always considered holding political views quite far apart from mine. However, as I grew to know him better we were able to have quite civil discussions on numerous topics. While we will probably never agree on specific “income security” programs, we do agree that all should involve some degree of “contribution” (in the form of work or community service) and should have effective violator safeguards with penalties. We agree that SS disability is does not contain these safeguards and is out of control. Despite my position being a bit to left of my friend in many respects I was surprised to learn that I was more conservative on fiscal matters. We could agree on the need to reduce deficit spending and that spending on both healthcare and advanced education is out of control. However, we were not in agreement on the priority that should be assigned to these issues. Regardless, if asked, we could easily agree to common ground solutions to many of our issues.

The bottom line is that we, as tax payers, need to elect representatives that are solution oriented. I consider the trend to polarization to be anti-patriotic. It should be considered criminal. Senators, congressmen & the press that facilitate polarization should not be supported. The coming election is your chance to display your patriotism. Buck the trend of voting the party line. Vote for a person that is willing to work through solutions with all parties.