First Impressions of Europe

There are many interesting aspects of this first trip to Europe that caught my eye. Many would be worth elaborating on, but probably i won’t have time and the following annotated list will have to do.
* Cool small cars of Europe. Why can’t we get some of these in America? There are so many kinds! Sporty, cheap, practical, extravagant. To take just one company for example, VW in America offers the Golf, Jetta, and Passat, from small to large. In Vienna, I also saw a VW Polo, smaller than the Golf, and the VW Lupo, smaller than the Polo! VW also makes the Sharan mini-van, which looks like it could compete will with the Dodge Caravan. And, a small delivery truck, and a larger delivery van around the size of the Eurovan.
* Most cars in Vienna (and here in Strasbourg) are diesel, but there’s absolutely no diesel smell. It’s because the diesel fuel is higher quality, with lower sulfer. Why the heck can’t we get better quality diesel fuel in the States? Answer: Energy lobbyists. “Too costly.” Funny how smaller countries can afford it, but not the US. I think we’re supposed to get low-sulfer diesel in 2006 or 2007, if they don’t push the regulations back due to the costs of Halliburton’s Iraq budget, the New New Orleans patronage act of 2005, and the on-going “sacrifice nothing” tax cuts for the top 1%.
* Combining the two above: Wake me up when I can buy an Audi A3 four-door with a diesel engine in the US. I am prepared to sign papers immediately.
* Small increments for energy savings. For instance, at Hotel Europa when you enter the room there is a key-card slot just inside the doorway, where the light switch would be. I didn’t immediately notice this, but I did notice that upon arrival none of the lights or electrical outlets worked. Thinking maybe there was an outage (but i just got off the elevator, duh), I called the front desk. They asked, “Did you put your room key into the activation slot?” Uh, no. This handy convention means two things: 1) you cannot leave a light on wasting energy when you leave the room; 2) it’s pretty hard to forget your room key, being that it’s right next to the door handle as you exit. That’s pretty cool.
* Focus on style over size. Things are smaller, and things are cooler. What “things?” Buildings, cars, objects, coffee’s, chairs, food portions, desserts, windows, shopping malls.
* Focus on compliance over control. Two examples: 1) On the “U” (subways) you buy a ticket, but there are not always turnstiles to take them, you can just walk on. Occasionally a conductor will ask you for your ticket. If you don’t have one, you are fined (somehow, I didn’t learn that!). In other words, trust the 99% of the honest people, and don’t slow them down due to 1% taking advantage of the system. Further, some of those 1% are, to take just one reasonable example, poor people trying to get a job – better to let them ride for free to a job interview, than to not be able to get there, eh? 2) People drink beer and wine on the pedestrian shopping street, on the subways, anywhere in public. In other words, they are not regulating consumption, but behavior. The focus is on outcome, not input. How much money might this save, were we to focus on the outcomes of our efforts, rather than the efforts themselves. Instead of hearing, “It’s hard work,” we might hear about tangible results, spin-free. In the world of public policy, the focus would be on governance, not politics.
* Solar panels everywhere. On the train from Vienna to Strasbourg (nine hours), we saw hundreds of them. A few panels on houses, and whole house roofs covered with them. Industrial factories with solar roofs. Freestanding solar arrays near large commercial office buildings. Also, a few windmill clusters on ridge lines. This “alternative” energy thing isn’t so alternative over here.
* Lots of gardens. Again, on the train ride, most people had gardens, both flower and vegetable. Large and small. Elaborate or simple. Large houses or small. Didn’t seem to correlate to home quality or upkeep. Just part of the fabric.
* Multiple transport lanes. I posted a photo showing a lane for cars, one for light-rail trams, one for walking, and one for biking. This is common, and in addition to the energy savings, the increased exercise, and the reduced pollution, it also adds a great flavor walking around. There’s just a lot more motion, of different frequencies, with different sounds, at human scale.
Summary: We like visiting here! While there’s still enough oil to fly commercial airplanes, this is a great way to spend vacation dollars.