When my sister and I travel, we go on our own in the U.S., but overseas, we like someone to meet us at the airport and give us a short half-day tour and then leave us alone to do our own thing.
We have several routines we follow. The first thing we do is to get a map of the Metro (subway) and bus routes for the city we are in and plot what lines we need to take to get to the places we want to visit. They are generally available at the hotel main desk. Most major cities will sell all-day tickets or tickets good for a certain time period. These tickets will get you on the bus and the Metro. Rarely does anyone check to see if you have a ticket, but if a conductor happens to come by and check and you don't have a ticket, it is a seriously large fine. So I hate to tell you, but we have bumblingly managed to steal rides on the Metro in several major cities.
In Rome, you have to buy your tickets at the tobacco shops, really stores that sell snack stuff. If you don't get them early in the day, they sell out. It was Sunday, and my sister had to return to a store that sold soap with the Coliseum carved on it. All we needed was about 20 more minutes to accomplish that and get back to our hotel. But we only had 10 minutes left on our ticket and no where to purchase another one. So we stole the last 10-minute ride. We were nervous, but souvenirs are important.
If you ride the Metro in Rome, you may be serenaded, usually by a man with an accordion. His children (maybe) pass the hat. Be careful, they are pickpockets.
We took a fast train from Rome to Florence so we could spend a day in Florence. We bought tickets and rode to Florence and no one checked on us. My sister commented that we did not need to buy tickets. But on the return trip, a conductor did come by and check our tickets. Good thing we had them.
In Vienna, tickets are available at huge mechanized kiosks in the Metro stations. The kiosks have ticket information in at least six languages, sell a variety of tickets and take your credit cards. We bought what we thought we needed for our stay in one fell swoop so to speak and then had some left over when the machine at Schonbrunn Palace would not take our ticket. Another ride stolen.
We bought tickets for the Metro in Prague at another tobacco shop and managed to get this small bit of information from the proprietor who did not speak much English. "Go through the yellow gates." We looked and looked and could not find any yellow gates. We were imagining large metal gates painted bright yellow. So we got on the train and rode to our destination, tickets in hand. When we got off, the guard stopped us and noted our tickets were not stamped. We explained our confusion. We found out the yellow gates are small parking-meter sized things that stamp your ticket. He let us go because he said we were senior citizens and had paid too much for our ticket. Another ride stolen.
Prague must have a thing for senior citizens because we never rode the Metro in Prague that someone didn't get up and give us a seat. I have never had that happen in any other city.
In Budapest, we had to combine trolley and Metro rides to get to destinations. The Metro has the standard parking-meter things to stamp your tickets. But the trolley confused us. You have to get on in the middle of the car and manually pull down a mechanism which punches a hole in your ticket. We got on in the back and didn't realize what we had to do. Another ride stolen.
But we figured it out. It was a good thing too. The next time we rode the trolley, a conductor came by and checked our tickets.
Riding the Metro in foreign cities is an adventure in itself from trying to figure out which line to deciphering the station names, especially in Hungry. Luckily, the various lines are color coded. The uncertainty adds to the adventure of our trip.
Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be reached at email@example.com.