One of the most difficult transitions from America to Belgium is the commuting lifestyle. In America, most often you will search how to get to the unknown destination on your phone and then drive to your destination, whether it takes 5 minutes or 25 minutes. From there, the driving isn’t terribly difficult because most roads run north, east, south, and west for easy navigation, and the parking situation is always vast. In Brussels, and most cities in Europe, public transportation is a way of life and is very efficient. I have met more people that simply do not obtain a driver’s license than people who own a car. The streets are narrow, average walking distances are 10 minutes, availability to public transportation is endless, people walk wherever they wish to step, drivers honk as many times as they feel necessary, gas is expensive and, therefore, public transportation has become very affordable when you weigh the benefits.
While public transportation is efficient and effective, the variety of options has aided to confusion. There are 5 modes of public transportation around Brussels, my daily commute to my internship class, offered through Vesalius College, consists of four of the many options to travel around the city and country. I believe the easiest way to explain the many confusing, detailed, and prone to strike options are through my daily 30 minute commute the European Union District.
Step 1: Walking distance. Walking is the single most important and free option of public transportation. The sidewalks are old and bumpy with many missing bricks that will aid an increase in stumbling, broken heels, suitcase wheels being frayed, and many water puddles. Therefore, when someone says ‘bring appropriate walking shoes’, listen, because wearing tennis shoes with any outfit is normal. I promise. The weather is always incredible however, and lets you see the architecture and history much easier.
Step 2: The wheels on the bus. Bus availability is the most expansive in Brussels and by getting on one or multiple, there is a very high chance your restaurant can be found on the bus routes. Also, a large map of the bus routes, and most public transportation routes, are located at each stop.
Step 3: The Tram stops here. The Tram is the next level of public transportation and the difference between the tram, the bus, and the metro is that the tram is attached to the railway lines above the ground, can be driven above ground or below, and does not have to take the main roads like a bus, giving it the advantage of traveling faster through traffic with frequent stops. Trams are my favorite passage of public transportation because of all these advantages, almost as many stops as a bus but can travel faster.
Step 4: Young metro doesn’t trust you. The metros are fast, on time, and incredibly dependable. There are 6 metro lines that run through all of Brussels that intersects with all other forms of transportation to get from one side of the city to the other faster. They, however, are more crowded than most an require a pass to get on every time unlike the tram and bus being able to slide by every once in a while.
Step 5: EU Turn. The last leg of my trip leads me passed the European Commission and the permanent representations of every member country. The fashionable area seems beautiful and robust when compared to the detailed historical buildings around the town center. 100 meters down the side walk, and 25 minutes later, I have finally arrived at the foot of my internship partner, Martin’s Hotels Brussels EU. You’ll never be happier to be sitting at a desk after your morning commute again.
Step 5.5: Trainin’ on up. Even though I personally do not take the train, the 5th option of public transportation, I thought I would speak on it anyway. The trains connect within the city at 4 stops of major intersections with other public transportation. Besides the transportation freezes from striking, the trains depart and arrive at their specified time or will show how many minutes late it is for convenient immediate service updates. The trains are reasonable, travel quickly, and run smoothly with very few stops along the way.
The end of the day always seems to fly smoother when commuting home. I follow the exact same path back to Etterbeek and arrive home after about half an hour. Public transportation takes the weight of driving, rising gas prices, and long car trips off our shoulders. Its convenient and efficient, what else could you ask for?
The world awaits…discover it.