Helpline Question of the Month:
Cobblestones: love 'em or hate 'em?
|The world has become bland enough. Anything that slows people down and makes them think about where they are (and what the place means in its historical context) is a good thing.|
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Rick Steves' Travelers Helpline is where we take a step back, and let travelers share information directly with one another.
About the differences that travelers encounter, Rick has said, "If something's not to your liking, change your liking." And if there's one difference in Europe that's set in stone (so to speak) it's the ubiquitous cobblestone. The nemesis of stiletto heels, rolling luggage, umbrella strollers — and distracted tourists — the cobblestone simply needs to be coped with, there's no getting around it.
So, Thomas posted this question for our Helpline contributors...
Just for fun on a Friday: Where do you stand on the big question of cobblestones? Love 'em or hate 'em? Generally I love them. To me they are symbolic of Europe's history and charm. I have a small cobble stone from Prague on my desk as a paper weight. A friend and I were once sitting at a café in Vienna, watching 2 local beauties in 4-inch stiletto heels float across the cobbles with extreme grace and dignity. How did they do that? We debated whether it was a skill innate to European women. Our wives were not amused. The one area where I don't like cobblestones is when driving at speed. We have a stretch of highway nearby that is cobbled. I find it nerve jarring and try to avoid it. Nonetheless I still regret it whenever cobbles are replaced by soulless asphalt. Got any funny cobblestone stories? Strong feelings one way or the other?
P.S. — I love that Rome has a name for its cobblestones.
— Thomas in Vienna, Austria
Rose in NYC:
Excellent post and wonderful BBC article. Thanks. I, too, love the cobbles. I even love saying the word. It *is* dangerous when a missing cobblestone could cause someone to twist an ankle or even fall, but I really hope the cobbles won't all be paved over in the name of 'progress' or convenience. The world has become bland enough. Anything that slows people down and makes them think about where they are (and what the place means in its historical context) is a good thing.
Tom in Hüttenfeld, Hessen Germany:
As a man who wears man-shoes, perhaps I'm not in a position to weigh-in with a "love or hate" opinion. I kind of like the noise that cars (and horses) make when riding over them, although if I lived on a cobblestone street, I might have a different opinion. The best thing about cobblestones, though? The annual "Cobblestone Classics" cycling races in northern France and Belgium. They add a certain "X factor" to these races that just makes them that much more exciting. Every time the peloton hits a section of cobblestone, it shakes up the race in a way that smooth asphalt can't match.
Robin Z in Troy, OH:
I love cobblestone streets!! As Thomas said, they are symbolic of Europe history and its charm.
Kira in Seattle, WA:
Oh I love cobblestones! To look at, that is. As a female woman of the opposite gender I have gotta hand it to all the European women who can navigate cobblestones in heels. In the rain. At night. While flirting with their escorts and not staring straight down at their feet. :-) Dang near KILLED myself in Paris a few years ago when I tried to wear heels to walk up to Sacré Coeur. OUCH! I look really cute in the pictures, but it was not worth it.
Alex in Longmont, CO:
Imagine The Third Man without those cobblestone streets. Seeing those streets in the movie was part of what made me want to journey to Vienna in the first place. They can be the devil to bike over, but I love them.
Tom in Chicago:
If you're 60 or over, walking on cobblestones can reduce your blood pressure and improve your balance and physical performance. Don't believe it? Read this.
Jo in Frankfurt, Germany:
Everything you might ever want to know about cobblestones, though it seems what we often call cobblestones, aren't cobblestones at all.
Nigel in East Midlands, England:
Did you see the photos this week of Keira Knightley (dunno the name of her new hub) going over on the cobbles and breaking the heel of her hi risers? Not everybody floats over them every time.
Teresa in Seattle:
Someone else mentioned this already, but I do love the sound of horseshoes on cobblestones (and I always send up a little prayer that the horses are well looked after). I, too, marvel at how many European women can stride confidently along the cobbles, often without even looking. I twisted the bejeezus out of my ankle on a raised cobblestone in Brussels a couple of weeks ago, and I was paying attention!
Mona in Santa Barbara:
One day when I was walking in Germany I met a woman who was pushing her baby in a stroller. As we got closer to each other I could hear the baby getting louder and louder with a constant stream of ah*ah*ah*AHs as he was bouncing along in his stroller over the bumpy cobblestone. It put a smile on my face for the rest of the day (and beyond).
Kathleen in Victoria, BC Canada:
I too love them. I am enthralled by the wavy shell pattern, and how the craftsmen lay them so.
Nancy in Bloomington, IL:
A number of years ago, my daughter, then 13, was pushing her cousin, 3, in an umbrella stroller in Rouen. One of the wheels got caught in the cobbles, and she launched him out onto the street. No injury, no harm done, but it's one of those stories we still kid her about.
James in Frisco:
When you are looking down at those cobble stones you might notice one of these. They are all over Europe now.
Terry Kathryn in Ann Arbor, MI:
I agree...love those cobblestones and even though they might be a bit of a challenge to walk on, it's a challenge I enjoy and long for! One of my friends who I have traveled with to Europe owns a wonderful store called Cobblestone Rose, and needless to say it has lots of European home décor!
JER in Seattle, USA:
Dissenting voice here. I was on a walking tour in the rain in Lisbon on a slick, steep stretch of cobblestones and slipped. Broke both my fibula and tibia in four places, and ruptured two tendons for good measure. The rest of the trip was memorable, but not in a good way. Returned home, had surgery the next morning, got two plates, two rods and 11 screws inserted. Spent the next four months non-weight-bearing on crutches, and still can't walk without a cane some eight months later. Yeah, cute but deadly. P.S. I just made my first return trip to Europe last month — much rain throughout the UK, France and Spain. Plenty of wet cobblestones...
Terry Kathryn in Ann Arbor, MI:
@JER... that's terrible, and yes, they can be treacherous. I try to avoid them if they are wet. Just like the wet marble steps in Florence... I was with a friend and her shoes were so slippery in the rain she had to take them off and walk barefoot while I tried to help her...we were laughing so hard we almost fell, but it was really dangerous. The same thing happened to me in the rain in Las Vegas and it was cold and I had to walk barefoot on the crazy slippery sidewalks as my shoes were so slippery. Must have worn off the traction.
Jesse in Tulsa, Oklahoma:
I love them. And as a woman who has a hard time in heels on regular ground I am always amazed as I watch Europeans walk so effortlessly in heels on them.
Sarah in Stuttgart, Germany:
I might like them more if I didn't have to deal with them on a daily basis. Put me in the hate camp. Also, slick icy cobblestones during winter? No. Just no.
Agnes in Alexandria, VA:
Love them, along with brick sidewalks. We have a few preserved cobblestone streets and brick sidewalks where I live in Old Town Alexandria, VA. It substantially increases the charm of the town.
Nancy in London, UK:
I'm with Sarah — hate them! I admit — they do seem charming but living with them is another story. I live in a village where they are everywhere. Have slipped, turned my ankle and just about every other thing on those stones. They are rubbish in the winter — slippery in rain. Give me an even surface anytime!
Sarah in Stuttgart, Germany:
The worst is when I occasionally put on a pair of heels and go out for the night. There are certain kinds of stones here that have tiny little spaces between them. It's OK if I have a wide heel, but with stilettos? My heel gets stuck and I end up walking right out of my shoe. I haven't fallen yet, but that's a miracle. I'm sure it will happen eventually.
Southam in Windsor, Ontario Canada:
Another European traditional use of cobblestones: Ammo in street riots.
Ilja in Seattle:
Our ancestors knew why they used cobblestones. You put them the right way once and for centuries you don't have to take care of them. Put asphalt there and fix it every two years.
(Note: some posts have been edited for spelling and clarity)
Our independent, volunteer Travelers Helpline contributors are sincere, but not infallible! Follow their advice at your own risk. This thread was gently edited for brevity and clarity. Ask your European travel question on the Travelers Helpline.