Peregrination Vignettes

Riding the city bus when you don’t have a bus map

When I first began to travel, riding a city bus was terrifying. How will I know when to get off? My experience with city buses in American cities has been that there are no announcements, or the announcements are not a spoken version of English that I understand. And when traveling in a foreign country – where you are not as familiar with the terrain and may be dealing with a new language – it is even more terrifying. I have found that it can be done successfully, though.

Quite commonly, I find my self riding the city bus despite not having a bus map, or having a bus map that I is too hard to understand. The bus map for Granada, Spain is completely unreadable. I downloaded it online before my trip and despite considerable effort to understand the routes, I gave up in frustration. The map is just a mess. While in Granada, I did ride the bus and it turned out to be be really easy to get to my destination. The signs at the bus stops listed all the stops along the route from where you were. And Granada is small. (I used to live in NYC, so all things are relative).

I simply failed to look for a bus map for Gibraltar in advance. I wasn’t planning to ride the bus – the place simply isn’t that big. Ok, it’s a long way up, but the main part of town is not very big. I rode the bus from the frontier to the place to get the cable car up to the top of the rock on a whim and had no trouble at all. But getting back to the frontier, it was less clear which bus to take. I ended up asking strangers and finally found a big bus map on a wall.

Sometimes you can just follow the crowd. I rode the bus from the Aventine part of Rome to Vatican City. Literally 95% of the people on the bus got off at Vatican City. Obviously, when the whole bus gets up and gets off, you have arrived someplace important. I have also found that city buses make frequent stops. If the bus stops are roughly a quarter mile apart, then if you miss your stop, it’s not a big deal to get off and walk back.

As for paying your fare, in the Granada, you can buy bus tickets in advance or you can buy them from the bus driver – who can even make change! There is literally a cash register right there beside the driver. By contrast, in Italy, you need to buy bus tickets in advance. When you get on a bus, you validate your ticket by sticking it in a machine that puts a time stamp on it so you can’t re-use it. In Hangzhou, the bus fare varied depending on he bus equipment – newer, or providing heat on a cold day or a/c on a hot day, or a so-called “tourist bus” (which were useless) – add a yuan for each amenity, literally. You paid when you got in the bus, the fare was posted where you could see it before you boarded, and no change given at all.

In Switzerland, lost tourists might be forgiven the fare. I rode the bus a few stops from the city center of Montreux to Chateau de Chillon, and the bus driver refused my money. He and the passengers on the bus were very attentive that I got off at the right place. The Swiss are like this in general. If you drop even a penny (whatever they call it) on the ground, every Swiss person in sight will make sure you know and insist that you pick it up.

Typically bus routes overlap each other, so a given bus stop will have multiple lines stopping at it. You need to read the signs at the bus stop to know which buses stop there, and read the signs on the buses as they arrive at the bus stop. Most countries use numbers – the same Arabic numerals that we use in the US. In that case it is easy.

Once on the bus, I use google maps (or another map app) on my phone to track where the bus is going. This is really useful. I know for sure that I’m going to the right way. I can estimate how much longer until arriving. And I know when to get off. Sometimes, it doesn’t work so well. I very nearly missed my stop in Orte (Italy) because the bus dropping off for the train station stopped where the station was not in sight.

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