Bicycles in Copenhagen - We arrived in Copenhagen at night. This is one of many Scandinavian cities known for its bicycle traffic. There are bike lanes everywhere and they are well-used, reducing car traffic by unimaginable amounts. But I was astonished to see many bicyclists racing around in the inner city without helmets and wearing black clothes! I don't know how many of them die, but it says to me that they are pretty confident about not being plowed over by cars.
One lovely day we registered for the "CityBike" program, where you can take one of hundreds of bikes stationed all over town. You enter your membership number in a kiosk, remove a bike from the rack, and cycle whereever you want. Then when you're done you can locate a station, return the bike to a rack and be on your way. It's not only a great system, but the bike you get is a wonder! It not only has a GPS device and a screen that shows you your location, shows your route, nearby attractions and locates drop-off stations, but when you start pedaling an electric motor kicks in, making pedaling nearly effortless! All for a very few $ per hour! What a concept!
Bathrooms - As soon as I hit European soil I knew we were not in Kansas any more. I entered the bathroom at the airport and there behind the men's urinals was a woman calmly swabbing the floor. I soon discovered this was not uncommon. It didn't freak me out to have a woman in the men's room as long as she knew where she was, but obviously this is normal in Europe, a practice that would drive some Americans appopleptic. At the Brody Studio–where we performed in Budapest–we found a very reasonable solution to the bathroom issue: a unisex bathroom for everybody, built just like a woman's bathroom. Except for us confused Americans, it's a great system; all are accepted here except for any inappropriate sexual paranoia, which seems to rule only far-away places like North Carolina.
We also saw a great design at a public park in Vienna, where the porta-potty-sized toilet was a big stainless bowl with a seat that folds over it. Then after you flush you push a button and wash your hands over the same bowl. Hey, as long as it's clean, it makes for a very efficient machine!
Cobblestones - I'm amazed that in our age there are still billions of cobblestones making up the streets and sidewalks of Europe. Essentially these are hand-made streets, as each stone must be set into place by a person. This not only makes for very snappy street repairs as the paving can be replaced quickly, but the effect is very beautiful. Of course it makes for a rougher surface, but I also hear that studies show that walking on cobblestones is better for the brain! Apparently the minor adjustments needed to walk on the surface keep the brain in good shape.
I asked a fellow I sat next to on the bus about how cobblestones can still be justified. He said "Well, it sure keeps a lot of people employed." That I thought was a very generous answer, rather than, "More damn tax money down the drain!"
Constant Elevator - We saw one door-less elevator (on its weekend day of rest) that when it's working constantly moves, one up, one down. When the elevator hits your floor level you step on and it glides you to your new floor where you step off. Yes, it takes coordination but most of us are probably not going to decapitate ourselves (and really, what fun!) I don't think such a dangerous concept would survive for a week in letigious America, where I came back to see an innocent beachball with one whole panel taken up by warnings! God, I'd forgotten the world is so dangerous!
Windows - I'm not sure why in America we don't adopt the very clever European window design. There many of the new windows have two sets of hinges. If you turn the handle down, the window swings open to the side. Turn the handle up and the top opens up, hinging on the bottom. for ventilation. Even some doors work this way, so you can walk out, or–as we did on occasion– you lock the place up but leave the door open at the top for ventilation: secure and open at the same time.
Snogging - British expression for French kissing! (Sounds like something salamanders do). Who'd-a-thought?