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London Below

New things can often bring a feeling of trepidation – I was never concerned about the flight or our baggage getting lost, or any of those normal travel concerns. I’ve done this before and I’m pretty proud to say that I’m an old hand at most of it. I still get a little sweaty when I go through customs (though that might have been because London was just obscenely humid), but I’ve been pulled aside and searched and had my luggage gone though and I’ve been through customs when I didn’t speak the language; so that part of it isn’t as stressful as it used to be. This time it was something else. I was on my way to London, home of Windsor Castle, Big Ben, Westminster Cathedral and… the tube. 

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You would think, as I was about to be in such prestigious company, that I would be focusing on the beautiful architecture I was about the see. The history that I would be immersed in. The footsteps I would be following. However, that wasn’t entirely the case.

Prior to this trip, my familiarity with London and particularily the London Underground (or the tube), came strictly from movies and books. The most notable one being a particular novel (which is also a mini-series), by Neil Gaiman, titled Neverwhere. All of my expectations were coloured by this novel, so as you can imagine (if you have read/seen it), I was anticipating dark dank corridors and suspicious characters slinking among the shadows. There were supposed to be dark side tunnels leading off into the abandoned depths and rats scurrying beneath my feet.

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Note: This is actually a subway beneath the Thames, not the London Underground.

Seeing as how I’m more of a ‘well-lit-corridor’ kind of girl, <sarcasm> I was of course terribly excited for this eventuality. I was also very much looking forward to the crowds. </sarcasm>How did I know to expect them? … Well it’s London. So there was a decent chance I was going to find a slightly higher concentration of people than what I’m used to.

You may be shocked to discover that I didn’t see a single rat, and that the London Underground was a mite more ordinary and civilised than I had anticipated. In fact, if you have ever been on any inner-city transit involving rails– you are well prepared for the tube. The number of people will probably be higher and the escalators are very long and very steep but as long as you ‘stand on the right’ you’ll be just fine.

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Our first journey was a little uncomfortable and a bit daunting – we weren’t sure which line was the one we needed and we ended up on a rather packed train with our packs on (which make you not only rather conspicuous but you take up a ridiculous amount of room).  That being said, we survived and from then on travelling on the tube became just another part of our day.

How to Navigate the London Underground

There are underground stations all over the place, it really is quite brilliant! Travelling between them takes a fraction of the time that it would if you were stuck in the traffic of the world above. You might have to get up close and personal with Londoners, especially during rush hour, but you’ll also find yourself arriving at your destination in record time.

Note the map on the wall. (Left hand side)
Note the map on the wall. (Left hand side)

The tube maps can seem a little daunting – but after a ride or two you will find yourself getting the hang of it, especially if you are travelling more-or-less within the same area of London. (We became very familiar with the Bakerloo line.) If you have trouble we found the tube staff more than willing to point us in the right direction. There are also detailed maps all over the place, above and below ground.

Making it Easy

My only other suggestion, should you be needing to travel to London at any point, is that you pick up an Oyster Card. Basically it’s a card that you pre-load with money for your trips on the tube. This way, you get to the tube station, scan your card and walk through the gates into the station. Then you travel around the tube to your hearts content, you can go direct, transfer, whatever you need. Once you reach your destination you simply scan your card again at the gate on the way out. It will automatically calculate the length of your trip and it deducts the correct amount from your balance. It’s brilliant. No tickets, no standing in line, you don’t have to figure out your exact route before-hand. You just scan in and out! You can return your card if you have money left on it when your trip is over and they will refund you what is left; AND each trip you take will cost you about half of what it would if you had bought individual tickets at the station. (Which for anyone travelling on a budget — is just about the best thing ever!)

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See, brilliant! You can buy them right at the airport after you land so you don’t even have to make it somewhere specific in London to pick it up.

It might seem a little odd that my first post once we actually started to travel is about something is benign as public transit, but for a girl from a small town, this kind of publicly available transportation is heaven-sent. It made everything about our time in London so much easier!

Try it out! And let me know how it goes. :)

Don’t forget: Stand on the right while riding the escalators… and always, Mind The Gap!

  • Anna

    Great advice!