Travel days are the worst. Times are thrown off. Meals are thrown off. You have to make it to the airport two or maybe three hours ahead. When you land, you have to figure out how to get to the place you are staying, often in a place with an unfamiliar language. And then you have to hope that whoever you are meeting to get the keys to the place is there. It's stressful!
I know, I could just take a taxi in each new city. Sometimes, that is necessary, but rarely is it the most cost effective. We do not object to public transportation, but you do have to learn the system.
I'm getting to my point. When we arrived in Rome, we had to get tickets for a bus to take us from the airport to a metro station. It was nerve wracking at first. We didn't know where we were. Would we find the right bus? The right train? But once on the bus, it was just riding on a bus. And when we were descending the escalator into the metro station, I was totally at home. I was in a subway!
We arrived in Athens. It was hard to figure out how do I get here? How do I get there? Finding information was a challenge because of the different languages. But once we saw the bus routes and the subway routes, it was easy! Their public transportation is well laid out and comprehensive. And again, compared to New York, it was easy to navigate.
Now we are in Budapest. Again, we had to take a bus to a metro which we took to a different metro line to get near our apartment. And once I looked over their maps, it was no trouble. They have four metro lines that connect in only a few places. Four lines! Each line has only two unique endpoints, so you don't have to worry about which train to catch. It's not like, well, at these hours the F train goes to this location, but in other hours the F train goes to some other location. And weekends, fuhgeddaboutit.
And it's not just subways and buses. I walk through the streets, and no, I don't know how they all connect. But I'm there, surrounded by big buildings, just like in New York. There are public parks that take up an entire city block, just like in New York. Many places where multiple streets come together, that's called a square (or a ter or a piazza or a πλατεία,) just like in New York.
And that familiarity helps me. I don't think it makes me overconfident, though I could be wrong. I still remember there is crime. I keep myself aware of who is near me and when some alley clearly is not a place to go.
Instead, I think the familiarity makes me just the right level of confident. And because I don't feel so nervous, I can better navigate, make decisions, or deal with things when they go wrong. Or if none of those benefit materialize, at least I'm not getting ulcers at every new step of my journey.
Soon, London is coming. And that will have a lot more than four subway lines and a plethora of buses. The good news there is that I've been to London before. I don't remember it, but I think that will also give me some of the confidence I need. Plus, I will have the additional benefit of the signage all being in my language. Other than spelling on a few words.
So, coming back to my thesis, as my high school English teachers would desperately want me to do, I'm glad I lived and worked in a big city for awhile. I hope my kids will have that chance one day too. And really anyone who dreams of travel, it doesn't hurt to have made yourself familiar with the ways of a big city in your home country. Because once you have, those big cities are a little bit littler.