Getting Around in Europe

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First, we have to fly there!

One of my favorite parts of travel is not driving. We usually go places that are walkable and have good public transit. Since Germany was our first destination for this trip, I hit my dad up for information. We were flying into Frankfurt and had to get to Schwabisch Hall.

He’d recently made the same trip to visit his family and friends. I figured a train to Schwäbisch Hall, a short taxi ride to our hotel.

Fortunately, he told me the stuff that doesn’t appear in a travel brochure (which Schwäbisch Hall doesn’t, either, by the way). He recommended catching a train to Stuttgart and renting a car for the rest of the way.

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Boarding the train to Stuttgart

As it turns out, that was pretty darn perfect.

The Train to Stuttgart

After spending a night in Frankfurt, we left our hotel and headed to the Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof. Our train to Stuttgart took about 2 hours, and required no train changes. I just relaxed and read as the scenery flashed by, showing all these asphalt bike paths that made me long for a few weeks with my road bike in the German countryside. The stroller-friendly car had plenty of space for Anneka to practice her new skill of crawling. The price was $29 EUR each. You can get tickets right at the station without a problem.

One VW to Swabia

We rented a VW Golf Europcar at the airport and began a long, confusing search for the car in the multitude of parking garages. This was a stressful affair since nothing seemed to make any organized sense. Even worse, we weren’t sure how to install the carseat. The garage attendant was convinced there should be a base the carseat plugs into, while the desk people insisted otherwise. There’s a bit of a trick to using the seat belts to secure the carseat, but I can’t explain it here. And the staff could be far more helpful here (even though they’re very friendly).

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Let’s drive!

The VW Golf, by the way, is the only rental car I’ve ever liked as much as a Subaru. It handled beautifully, accelerating, braking and turning well in all circumstances – even rain. It was a six-speed manual, which was perfect for a guy who drives a manual at home. But I had a devil of a time figuring out how to put it in reverse. It turns out you push down on the shifter and move it to the top left. Good thing I had my smartphone to answer the question, or I’d still be stuck in that parking garage.

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The Eurostar will wow most American travelers.

Driving on the German freeways is nowhere near as frightening as you might expect, either. Yes, some people drive really damn fast. But they seem to use their heads along with their turn signals. Slower traffic is very good about keeping to the right. The highway signs are top-notch, and the pavement itself is in perfect shape.

Aboard the Eurostar

Our next train trip – and the London Tube doesn’t count – was the Eurostar from London to Brussels. Now, if you want to talk about an impressive train station, Saint Pancras Station is absolutely amazing. It’s huge, with a beautiful fusion of classic and modern design. It’s a bit confusing if you’re not familiar with the layout and all the different trains. Arrive early if it’s your first time.

English: St Pancras International Polski: St P...
English: St Pancras International Polski: St Pancras International (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The security is also a bit more airport-like, so be prepared for that. It’s considerably more genial than a typical US airport, though (a very charming security woman with an amazing Cockney accent referred to Anneka as our "lil’ chicken").

The train itself is comfortable and fast, with a very smooth ride. You’ll get a nice view of the the landscape on both sides of the Chunnel. The Eurostar slows down a bit as it goes under the English Channel.

Arrival in Brussels is pretty easy. We had little difficulty finding our local train into the city. Tickets start around $166, and the trip to Brussels took 2 hours, 30 minutes. Book early, ust in case.

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The ICE is nice – even moreso than the Eurostar.

That’s Right, ICE Man

The Eurostar set a high bar. And then the ICE, or Inter-City Express, completely vaulted over it. It was all just a touch sleeker, cleaner and more comfortable. Americans will long for high-speed rail service on par with the ICE after just one ride.

The ride from Brussels to Frankfurt was pleasant and comfortable, and without the added security measures of the Eurostar and its Chunnel route. Europe’s rail transit infrastructure is amazing, and I just don’t understand how the U.S. can allow itself to lag decades behind.

It takes about 3 hours and costs 99 EUR. Our car was often nearly empty, but I’d still book ahead of time.

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The trains in Belgian are clean and comfortable.

Based in Brussels

It’s also worth mentioning that Brussels has great rail transit headed to nearby destinations like Ghent and Bruges. For these short, 45-minute-or-so trips, you’re looking at $25 round trip on a clean, comfortable train. You can roll right to the station and purchase tickets.

A Warning

Escalators and elevators can be hard to find in Europe. And when you do find them, they might be small. Our BOB Ironman stroller was pretty awesome everywhere but in the elevators. Keep this in mind during your trip.

Music this Autumn: Concerts in Birmingham, England

Symphony Hall Birmingham interior
Music lovers will know how fantastic an experience a live concert can be. Listening to your favourite albums at home is one thing, but seeing your idols on stage is a whole different ball game. The Midlands city of Birmingham is always oozing with gigs from all music genres and this summer/autumn is no different. If you’re travelling from outside the city, or want to make an evening of it, Birmingham hotels from Travelodge can provide you with quality and comfort at amazing value.

In September, pop over to the Symphony Hall to spend an evening with Dave Stewart – one half of the incredibly successful group, the Eurythmics.  If you’re in the vicinity on the 15th September, be sure to book tickets to see The Cult on the Birmingham leg of their tour – playing at the O2 Academy with support from gothic rock band, The Mission and post-punk rockers, Killing Joke. The Cult developed a dedicated following in the 1980s with their post punk singles, such as ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ and broke America in the late ‘80s with some heavier tunes, including ‘Love Removal Machine’. They’ll be sure to put on a great show this September – be sure to go and check them out.

As autumn arrives, the music scene really picks up in the Midlands city. Top indie rockers, Bloc Party, fronted by Kele Okereke, are at the O2 Academy on the 15th October. For tickets, call the venue directly. Pop punkers, Bowling for Soup, well known for the Grammy award-winning song, "Girl All the Bad Guys Want" in 2003, are also at the Academy on the 24th October. If you’re after a musical night filled with fun, this is it. The English singer-songwriter and acoustic genius, Newton Faulkner plays at the academy on the 18th October. His first album released in 2007, Hand Built by Robots, reached double platinum and his new album, Write it on your Skin, reached number 1 in the UK album charts. If acoustic music and rhythmic guitar is your bag, this is the gig for you.

November sees a huge array of spectacular bands going on tour. We have the stadium rockers, Europe, giving their latest rendition of "A Final Countdown" among other well known hits to the O2 Academy on the 21st November, followed by The Levellers on the 23rd. Influenced by punk and traditional English music, these guys always fill the venues and are well worth watching at least once. The classical superstar, Andrea Bocelli, is playing at the LG Arena in the NEC on the 10th November. The Italian tenor will be sure to provide an emotional evening with his awe inspiring voice and incredible personality. If metal music is more up your street, two industrial metal veterans will be playing at the NIA on the 29th November; none other than the multi-talented Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson will be performing on their nationwide "Twins of Evil" tour and are not to be missed.

Whatever music you’re into, Birmingham is home to a huge number of venues that play host to music all over the genres and guarantee an awesome night for you and your mates.

This is a sponsored post encouraging travelers to visit Birmingham this fall to check out some live music.