By the way, Paris Metro subways are beautiful and not as sketchy as one would read, even though it might be smart to keep your belongings as close to you as possible. The stations are wide like squashed ovals, and have lots of seating and signage. Don’t expect to lay down if you’re stuck in the station for long. Also, prepare for lots of gates and stairs.
London Underground tube subways are claustrophobic as Hell, and you really do feel how small and constricted the tunnels actually are. The walls of the cars are not straight; they are rounded to fit the tube, which means you don’t have much floor for standing during peak ridership. Ventilation isn’t great, either. Also, some of the stations are so deep underground, you have to take an elevator and several escalators just to reach surface. Get comfortable with that, and you will be able to go anywhere.
London has the Oyster card; get one and preload it with fare money, because you are charged between turnstiles, from the station into which you enter the transit system to the station from which you leave the transit system. You tap the card to login, and tap to logout and be charged.
Berlin’s U-Bahn is large and spacious, but trundles with an unknown speed. The stations are frequent, and usually lined with glossy tile, giving the typical Berlin vibe of clean-everything. The S-Bahn overground stations are elevated and as airy as airplane hangars. And the biggest station is the HauptBahnhoff, even though Zoologischer Station is the previous king of West Berlin.
Berlin (and most European cites) require you to handle your tickets in the two-step method: 1) purchase the pass (usually 1 day), and then (most importantly) 2) validate your pass, which starts the timer on the ticket’s usefulness. If you buy a ticket but don’t validate it, you will get fined and/or kicked off the train by Kontrol. The validation machine is usually next to the ticket vending kiosk. And the Kontrollers usually don’t have uniforms; they’re in street clothes, and you will only know them by their badges and their handheld ticket verification devices. There are no turnstiles, so fare revenue is guaranteed only under the honor system of random Kontrol.
Zürich’s train stations are lined with steel, concrete, and shiny grey marble, and everything is as clean as a church bus and as punctual as you’d expect from Swiss time. The analog clocks at every platform have a second hand that runs fast and pauses at the top of the minute until a timing signal is sent down the line to start the next minute. That’s what you use to synchronize your wristwatch. The outside platforms have lots of overhead shelters, because it’s generally rainy there.
Finally, Köln (Cologne) has an U-Bahn/S-Bahn/Tram system that works very well, keeps great time, and gets you to most places in the city. Be prepared to wait a while on the platform, and you will be rewarded with a busy but clean ride.
Filed under Travel Tips for Newbies and Yanks of All Stripes.