An Ode to the Barcelona Metro

On this 4th of July I have a wide range of thoughts on travel and I promise I’ll share them, but first a bit of an apology. I know I’ve been gone for a while. My wife and I went to Spain for 3 weeks. The day after I returned my employer of 14 years (with over 200K employees) advised me of their decision to eliminate my position as being unaligned with the new model for the department. Blah blah blah. Right business decision. No reflection on anyone we laid off. Blah blah blah. At less than a year away from eligibility for an early retirement pension, I was not amused. But it does open all kinds of doors, so I’m not terribly upset.

This means we get to fluff the pillows, wrap up our bathroom remodel, touch up the paint, and put our house on the market in order to manage costs. It also means we get to escalate our retirement planning in order to find a place to live that bridges the financial gap. At our house this is an exciting phase. Moving opens all kinds of new horizons. We meet new people. We find new places to love. We are going to miss some of the people in our current home town like crazy, but we also know that we will stay in touch. So the idea of moving is making us feel a bit festive. We’re strange like that.

Travel around Spain, a country approximately the size of Wisconsin… makes me realize how completely backward things are in the US. Spain has dedicated large sums to creating high speed train service that will get you from one large metropolitan area to another in an hour or two. Barcelona to Madrid? No problem. No checked luggage. No unfriendly security protocols. Reserve your ticket the day before and take a cheap taxi to the station. Barcelona to Girona, the same. There are also slower trains that stop at a long string of small picturesque towns. Most of the country is connected by rail. It’s fabulous.

The Barcelona Metro is a miracle of user friendly signage, automated ticket kiosks, with adequate but unobtrusive security. The bus and metro system in Seville is adequate to the needs of the city, if less spectacular than Barcelona’s.

There is an underlying assumption in Spain that one should acknowledge: private cars are not essential to living a comfortable middle class life.

Think about that for a minute. Imagine no car payment, no auto insurance, no money and time spent fueling up on a regular basis. Imagine walking five minutes to the closest bus or train stop, checking the clock that shows the time until the next train arrives. In under ten minutes you are heading toward your destination. We used a taxi once in our two weeks in Barcelona. Their Metro, by itself, was enough to make me want to stay forever.

Experiencing Spain’s commitment to mass transit does leave me pondering American attitudes toward transportation. I believe different generations have different feelings on the matter. Maybe it’s just the Gen Xers and our parents who wouldn’t feel complete without a personal automobile. I’m not sure, but having seen how well it all works in another country, I admit I’d be willing to give a car-free life a try.

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