European walking norms, worries about accessibility, with added bonus: statue of baby eating ogre


I’m my way home from Berne, Switzerland, writing this post in the Zurich airport. I cancelled some research travel this year, see recent post on rough times and tough choices. But this conference was one I couldn’t miss. It’s on family ethics, my main research area and I’m one of the invited speakers. I was there talking about the moral significance of extended family relationships.

While in Switzerland, I had the opportunity to think about getting around in European cities and how much walking is part of one’s everyday routine.

The directions conference organizers sent were amusingly clear, under “How to arrive at your hotel” they explained in excellent detail how to walk from the train station to the conference hotel. It should take no more than fifteen minutes, read our instructions. There are taxis in Berne, they said, but the university would be unable to reimburse us for costs incurred. Also, there is a tram but it would take as long as walking. Further explanations followed about buying “short distance” tickets.

They were right, of course. It was a perfectly pleasant fifteen minute walk even with bags. Once again, welcome to Europe, land of stairs and cobblestones, I was happy to have my back pack rather than a suitcase with wheels.

It helped that the temperatures were around zero. Felt like springtime. No polar vortex here.

Directions to the university were similarly laid out. In that case it was a very pleasant twenty minute walk.

This was all to my liking. There are very few cars in Berne centre. I wasn’t sure if they were forbidden in the downtown area, around the historical, medieval city square, or just rare. But bicycles bicycles everywhere. Signs to bike parking, lots full of bicycles, and then  “bicycles forbidden” signs to which were attached, you guessed it, hundreds of bicycles.

I love this about Europe. It feels right to me, like how I want to live.

I love the idea and the practise of building movement into our everyday lives. The idea of driving to the gym to walk on a treadmill must seem very odd to residents of these walkable cities. And frankly, it seems odd to me too.

But I have this nagging worry about those who aren’t so mobile. What do people in wheelchairs do? Or people with walkers for whom my pleasant twenty minute walk would take hours?

I have a greater awareness of the difficulties these days as I spend time pushing a relative in her chair. Berne’s  cobblestones might not be so picturesque then.

I’ve had similar thoughts about Parisian subways. I love the steep stairs, not an escalator to be seen, but surely there must be other options?

If you know anything about accessibility in Europe, let me know. I’m curious.

Oh, and you can read about the child eating ogre of Berne here.

Cheerful statue of ogre eating small children















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