Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Tourism – Part 2


Continued from Part 1.

Generally the old town quarters of Ghent, Brugge and Ypres was cleaner than you would expect to find cities in New Zealand. I do not know what litter ordinances any of these places had in place, but little evidence of litter was found around them. This is important for all three, as tourism is a significant part of their economy.

Belgium towns have a lot of bars and cafes with a different culture to New Zealand. Namely if anyone drinks alcohol – and I did see a lot of people doing so – they would generally order something to eat as well. It could be something simple such as fries or a proper meal. All of them are bike friendly, and one could hire scooters for several hours or a day. Canal tours of various descriptions existed and seem to be well patronized.

The Hop on/Hop off bus is a well developed concept in all of the big cities – London, Stockholm, Goteburg, Brussels, Amsterdam and Singapore all have their own versions. The number of routes varied from one location to the next – Brussels had two lines – the No. 1 and No. 2 lines; Singapore has the Red, Brown, Yellow and Blue lines. All operated a pass system where one purchased a pass that would give them access to the network for 2-3 days or 5 days. It was an easy way to get around the city. The European cities also have a “_______” (enter name of city) City Pass that gives you access to the major attractions. Like the Hop on/Hop off passes they were set to last 2-3 days or 5 days.

I do not know if such passes exist in New Zealand, but it would be an easy way to ensure tourists used the public transport networks if it was too difficult for them to hire a rental car. In Auckland for example an “Auckland City Pass”, might include the Sky Tower, Auckland Museum, Auckland Zoo, Kelly Tarlton Sea Life Aquarium and so forth. The Hop on/Hop off route would have no trouble covering all of those in a reasonably quick time.

One thing that was notable in European cities was their charge for using the toilet. Many public places charged and I assume it was just their way of funding the up keep. Given – even if it was not necessarily said so – that it was polite to purchase something in the bars, cafes and restaurants that one would find themselves ducking into to relieve themselves, it did result in some otherwise unintended beverage and food purchases. On the other hand the bars, restaurants and cafes that I/we ducked into were not so fussy but we repaid them by having a round, a small bite or something whilst on the premises.

Given in some districts there is a small rate payer base, but high tourist numbers, such as the Mackenzie District in the South Island, a 0.50c fee for using the toilets would not be out of place. It would enable the charging council to keep a tighter rein on council rates as user pays would be a fairer model than simply making the whole district pay. With the summer tourist season coming up and local government elections due again next year, it will be interesting to see whether councils think about such approaches or elect to make the rate payers cough up more money.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Tourism – Part 1


When one is on holiday, it is a chance to note how the locals live and what one can learn from the experience. As a tourist through the United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands, I kept a photographic record of what I saw. This part focuses on tourism in Europe.

Starting off in the United Kingdom I visited central London over the course of several days. It is a nice city with much history. The congestion in the central city, despite the efforts of the local councils to reduce it is still as present as ever. I found that there were parts that were really clean and lovely and parts that were not so great. The grounds of the attractions were clean and well maintained, but the number of people just casually stubbing out cigarettes on the ground and leaving them there at railway stations like London Paddington was disappointing, as was the sight of full up rubbish bins that obviously needed urgent emptying.

The old town quarters in Stockholm and Goteburg were cleaner. That might have more to do with the banning of non emergency and service vehicles from them. As cars did not exist when the streets were first laid down, it is also too narrow for them to safely manoeuvre. But the great aspect of this was, as a tourist on foot, you did not need to worry about being run over, and it also enabled street artists to perform their crafts and let audiences gather to watch.

These centres also had nice pedestrian friendly squares where much activity was taking place. Again, no cars unless they are service or emergency vehicles. These public areas were being used for concerts and other public events, as well as food, craft stalls and buskers. I saw good examples of this in Amsterdam, Stockholm and Brussels.

Public square in Stockholm, Sweden, with the creamy coloured building housing the Nobel Prize Museum (R. GLENNIE)

Small towns such as Ypres had their own centres of public attention. Each night at Ypres, which spent most of World War 1 within both German and Allied artillery range, there is a short ceremony to acknowledge the huge loss of lives in the five battles that took place around it. The ceremony happens daily at 2000 hours at Menin Gate, which is this huge arch over one of the vehicle entry points into the old town. Roughly 800-1000 people turn up each night. Each panel in the walls of the arch from top to bottom are filled with the names of dead Australians, British, Canadian and other allied nationalities who fought in the battles.

The daily remembrance ceremony at Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium. (R. GLENNIE)

Others, such as Brugge did not so much have a focal point, as a wide range of craft stores. Brugge is renown for its chocolate, waffles and craft beers – all specialties of Belgium. Bars, restaurants and cafes as well museums with rich local histories all help make the flavour of the town. To cap it off, a functional wind mill and historic watch towers also exist in the town limits.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Alcohol consumption


I was in Belgium on my recently completed trip I was fortunate enough to try some of their superb craft beer. Belgium has a well established reputation for craft beer – indeed on a canal boat trip I did with my parents in Brugge, the guide/driver pointed out a place which he said has over 1400 craft beers in it. We initially thought he was joking, but I will let you make you minds up after you look at the photo below (it was considerably longer than this):

The author and the beer wall (part of it) in Brugge, Belgium. (R. GLENNIE)

This and other experiences with alcohol culture in Belgium and other countries around Europe got me thinking about how and why New Zealanders behave in the way they do with alcohol. Is there any way to make New Zealanders drink more responsibly without taking away the pleasure of a beer or wine? Is there a way of having a good time without filling up Accident and Emergency Departments in our hospitals or waking up the following day wishing one had never had that extra round (vomited all over the floor, smashed something, started a fight or other totally improper conduct)?

Belgian craft beer is not weak in alcohol. One might think it does not taste so, but very often I was drinking beers with 8.0-10.0% alcohol. They would be served in 330ml or 500ml glasses. At no point in the trip did I have more than two rounds at a given location and all were accompanied by food or food was consumed prior to alcohol consumption.

I noticed some key differences about the conduct of Europeans around it. I did not not note any seriously drunken behaviour. There were to be sure some loud conversations going on, but a few of the places I had beers at did have acoustic set ups that made things seem louder than they probably were. But I never saw any fights, uncivilized behaviour or police officers arresting anyone.

In many places people would come in, perhaps by bike or on foot, they would order a round and have it. Many would go after just one round. A few would stick around for more. Food was readily available. These establishments would even on Friday generally be shut by 2200-2300, though they were open right through the day.

I did some research. In Belgium 0.05 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood is the limit. Bus drivers and truck drivers, fee paying passenger services – taxi’s, limousines with chauffeurs – have to abide by a 0.2 milligram limit. Compare that with the limits in New Zealand: 0.05 milligrams per 100ml of blood/250 micrograms per litre of breath.

Alcohol limits across the European Union vary considerably. From 0.08 milligrams of alcohol per litre of blood in the United Kingdom, to zero in the Czech Republic and Slovenia (zero generally being interpreted as below detection levels). So do the attendant rules around driver types – some countries set professional drivers (which I take to mean truck, emergency services, etc)low limits such as 0.02 and others make it an offence to drive with any alcohol on board.

Of the wider alcohol problem in New Zealand, I thought about that too. Supermarkets are currently able to sell alcohol. In Europe I saw wine and beer being available in places like service stations, which were more like small scale supermarkets or suprettes. I think that is too liberal and that alcohol should be restricted to alcohol stores, which rigorously enforce the 18+ law. That will take away some of the marketing in front of youths. It will not solve all of the problems with drunkenness, but that was likely to require a societal shift in attitudes anyway.

 

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Transport – Part 3


Ship passing through lock, Brugge, Belgium. (R. GLENNIE)

This is the third part in my Lessons from Europe and Singapore series, and the last from the transport segment.

One of the great revelations in terms of transport during my trip to Europe was the canal and lock system in the Netherlands and Belgium. Centuries old, it first began to form when towns such as Ghent and Brugge were reliant on two modes of transport for goods: the horse pulled cart and the barge. Even hundreds of years later one can still see significant ships plying these canals.

In New Zealand obviously, we do not have the appropriate geography for canals that can take ships. Few, if any, rivers are likely to be deep enough to take ships and those that are often have hazardous features such as hidden shoals that would make navigation tricky.

Another mode of transport that I think we should take greater note of is railways. The large cities in Europe all have modern railway stations that at any given time whilst I was there might have had 500 people or more in my immediate or near vicinity, all either coming to or going from a train at the station. The trains were a mix of faster ones that were normally express trains to places like Schipol Airport or cross border ones that ran into neighbouring countries like Germany/Belgium or France. In Sweden for example, there is an express train running between Stockholm Centralen and Stockholm Arlanda (Airport), which reaches speeds of up to 180km/h. Processing tickets was easy – they were purchased at the counter or an automatic teller where one entered the destination, indicated how many tickets they were purchasing and whom they were for (children/adults/seniors, etc).

All I can say is that all of the trains were on time, clean inside and a pleasure to ride. The only problem was the announcements were sometimes not always in English, but a digital display on board saying where ones train was next stopping made things easier. Railway stations are sited in generally central areas with good car, bicycle and foot access. Light railway stops would often be just outside, so that if one needed to transit to something going within a city’s limits they could do that easily.

The railway station at Amsterdam, Netherlands. (R. GLENNIE)

Investing like this would be very expensive and not necessarily worth the cost. A more realistic investment might be to electrify the main trunk line in the South Island and upgrade the rolling stock. I do see a time in the near future with the hikes in petroleum prices when trains might be required to move petroleum in bulk instead of putting it into a fleet of tankers. As for passenger trains, restoring The Southerner in the South Island is perhaps the best bet – there are too few people in the southern half of New Zealand’s land mass to make large scale passenger services economic – Christchurch for example would need by my guess another 100-150,000 people to even get close to considering light rail.

In conclusion, I think it is fair to say whilst numerous lessons can be taken from what I saw and experienced in Europe, not all are applicable. We can learn from their integration of different modules and invest more in non vehicular alternatives, but others such as the canals will not be workable.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Transport – Part 2


Continued on from Part 1. This part looks at the logistical issues of owning a vehicle in densely populated European centres, and the advantages of bikes in these locations.

Whilst it is certainly true that the European cities I visited have their share of cars, it is also true that urban planning rules have limited where the cars can go. I visited the old quarters in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Amsterdam and Brussels during my time in Europe. Each city had its own way of dealing with private vehicles.

Some places like Stockholm restricted the vehicular access to emergency and service vehicles. This is understandable. Many of the streets in their old quarter are very narrow and not suited to larger vehicles and would impede foot and cycle traffic. Also to maintain the old city ambiance and not damage the cobbled roads which have been in place since the old city was built.

The old city quarters in Stockholm. (R. GLENNIE)

I also visited Ypres and Brugge in Belgium. These are two towns in rural Belgium in/near the area popularly known as Flanders Field. Here I was able to see other measures that were used to control the number of vehicles in the towns.

One measure, which I understand was in place for Brugge, is that if people live in the old part of town, they cannot bring their vehicle into the old town except for purposes such as dropping off shopping or visitors. On one hand this seemed rather awkward in terms of freedom of movement. On the other it was simply necessary. The streets of the old town were built hundreds of years before motor vehicles were even a remote possibility and therefore without tearing down large tracts of the old town, it is simply not practical or proper to park ones vehicle or vehicles outside their home, for the street frontage might be only a few metres of a house or apartment that is 2-3 stories high. The vehicle, even if parked right up on the footpath would then pose an immediate impediment to the considerable foot and bicycle traffic passing through.

Just a small portion of the bicycles in the vicinity of Amsterdam railway station. (R. GLENNIE)

Bikes are a very popular transport mode in European cities. Their ease of use, low cost in maintaining – a kit for punctured wheels, a lock, working brakes and maybe a helmet (they appeared to be optional, or maybe authorities had given up trying to police any rules) – and one is “away laughing”. Mass bike locks were present in Amsterdam. The ratio of cyclists to other road users was far higher than I have ever seen in New Zealand – or am probably likely to see – and for the most part they were far politer than their New Zealand counterparts.

Cycle ways clearly denoted where the cyclist was allowed to go. There was occasional confusion about what was allowed in the cycle way as motorized scooters sometimes mingled with them as well. Cycle lock up facilities exist in central parts of these urban areas, where the cycle is locked up in a large area with other cycles. But it was just as common to see them locked to lamp posts, canal railings, or simply parked outside buildings.

So, these are just a few observations made of transport on my trip to Europe. Feel free to comment.