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Squeezing My Way Around The Tube
London Underground in General
Member Name: Goonerette89
London Underground in General
Date: 16/01/12, updated on 17/01/12 (44 review reads)
Advantages: Efficient way of getting around London, relatively cheapish.
Disadvantages: Lots of passengers, very daunting to the first time user, can be hot and overcrowded.
It is interesting analysing the variation of reviews and opinions on the London Underground; some love it and some obviously do not. I personally am grateful it is there because whilst to me there's nothing quite like a red London double decker, the Tube does provide a more efficient, reliable alternative. Not to mention the cabs are so inexplicably expensive; although I happen to think they provide the best service of the lot. Private minicabs are an all together different deal. I got one that didn't know his way to the Royal Albert Hall, one of the most famous London landmarks, and had to use his Tom-Tom to help; and charged the earth at the end of it and the driving can be quite scary. I love walking in London, though. Honestly I do; especially in summer. I'm wouldn't go around in less than desirable places alone at night but that applies to anywhere and is common sense; but I really enjoy walking around the back streets of the West End and I love parks and cities in general so walking feels like the best way to explore and feel the vibe. However, whilst most of the major attractions are within reasonable walking distance, some are not so public transport may be your only option. It is also a more appealing option if it is pouring with rain or you're worried about losing your way. Driving? Like I have stated, I'm no driver and even if I was... in London? No!
However, when I plan a trip to the capital, I always locate the nearest Tube station to my intended destinations prior to any other mode of transport. I moved out of London when I was about seven and my accent has refused to budge so I gather I am suppose to be a Londoner and cannot wait to move back eventually. Not everyone does but I adore it; it's imperfect perfection. The Tube is a good description of the city as a whole: cosmopolitan, people rushing around and annoying you, exciting, dreary, confusing, mazy, unpredictable, old, modern, tourists, commuters, locals, foreigners... it has all these flaws but has this great energy and cosmopolitan vibe where you encounter people from all over the world; basically when you're in it, you often cannot wait to get out but without it, you'd miss it.
I have an Oyster Card which enables me to watch the money I'm spending on transport as I go along, but often buy a Travelcard because that covers all zones all day at under a tenner. Last time I used my Travelcard to as both a return ticket between Victoria and Bromley South as well as at a number of Tube stations throughout London, making my day in the capital stress free; it cost me just £8. Although you'd require an Oyster Card to buy a Travelcard that lasts longer than just a day. These can be bought on the TFL website or at stations. Prices range from about £2 to over £10 if you're travelling using an Oyster and from around £5 to £10 with Travelcards.
I always use Victoria as my base in London. I have no idea why as I am not a fan of running around Victoria Station but it just feels like an appropriate base geographically; so all trains that I catch end up there if I'm on my own. From there I will go up via escalator to Victoria Tube Station and let the fun and games continue! I think that the first thing you'd notice about the Tube if you're a first time user is the sheer complexity of it and it can be intimidating as a result. There are always plenty of maps on the walls to help you find your required platform (you'll probably need to check on an ordinary map of London to check which Tube station is located nearest to your destination) and it is a little bit of an underground maze. You'll find yourself going up the steps, down again, around the corner and back up the stairs again and back again... eventually you'll get to know your way and it'll become easier.
The London Underground is the oldest and second most extensive underground/metro system in the world with 270 stations in all so it's no surprise it becomes complicated to particularly first time users, although in effect it is quite simple. The stations are quite dull but feature lots of adverts on the walls and buskers along the corridors; it's quite grubby and has a particular smell. I know this is strange but I like that it has that typical 1980s big gritty city feeling - sometimes. In fact it's the pushing, shoving and staring on the platform that annoy me more. Overall I have never found the Underground to be particularly filthy as is claimed but it certainly isn't squeaky clean either. I think it just feels dated. Because of the old age of the Tube, accessibility is a problem despite lifts and escalators but this is due to be improved. It's more New York than Moscow grandeur; all quite simply designed.
Escalators can be very long as well: just stand on the Angel escalator and keep checking the time! Oh and do not stand on the incorrect side or loiter at the bottom - oh this annoys 'em bundles!
Once you've chosen your required Tube station, you'll need to work out how many rides you need to take to get there; it's no different to train journeys - just think of it as a short train journey and possibly requiring a stopover or two along the way!
To work this out you need to decide which line you need - there's the Piccadilly, Northern, Jubilee, Victoria, Central, Bakerloo, District, Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Waterloo & City and then there's the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) and Overground; all are represented by a different colour and run in straight lines across the city.
When you've got an idea of what line you need you'll find directions around the station of what trains run on what platform. This is where the running around comes into it. It will tell you whether you require southbound, northbound, westbound or eastbound depending on line direction and you invariably follow that rule, literally. Once you've found the correct platform via the help of signposting the train will be along in about five or so minutes. It's very efficient, unlike buses. Sometimes both platform and trains are packed with people, other times it is empty and it depends on time and location.
Off the top of my head the last Tube journey I took was from Holloway Road station to Victoria where I went on to catch the train down to Southampton. My journey took about fifteen minutes in all. As you'll notice on a Tube map, Holloway Road is located on the Piccadilly line but this doesn't travel direct to Victoria. So I took the Tube to the nearest station on the Picadilly line to Victoria; Green Park. I got off at Green Park and changed to the Victoria line which ran to Victoria station by one stop. I did the same journey in the other direction. Of course it is like maths: it is up to you how you work out your journeys and which stations you choose to change at as long as you get there.
On the trains it can be extremely hot in summer due to lack of air conditioning but this is to be improved upon eventually. Also, it can be annoyingly overcrowded so there's a good chance you'll have to stand and end up squashed in like sardines. My biggest problem is knowing where to look. If you have some music, a book or a pair of sunglasses on you, it helps. If there are a lot of people they tend to stare at you and other passengers. I'm sure I have done it without realising but I find it quite off putting because some people do it the whole journey and I think, 'Please look at the guy next to me now!' Sometimes it is just down to daydreaming, perhaps or people watching, which I admit is always fascinating. People can be quite rude but there are also a lot of people (British, foreign, tourists, young, old, locals etc.) who are probably thinking what you are thinking. I once went to sit down on the Tube a few inches from the seat and this grown man actually rushed over from nowhere so he could sit on it first. He won. I lost.
The trains are not especially dirty but again, like the stations, they're dull. On the train it will tell you via audio the next stop and it says above the seating what stops the train will be visiting so you shouldn't get lost... unless you've boarded the incorrect train!
You'll need either your Oyster or Travel card to scan/insert into the machine as you enter or exit the stations. This part is extremely simple but make sure you have your card ready as you arrive at your destination as I used to end up searching my handbag by the exit whilst people were trying to get past - I didn't mean to be annoying but was scared I'd lose my ticket and you certainly don't want to be caught travelling without your ticket! I managed to put the ticket in a safe yet easy spot in the side of my bag instead of the back of my purse where it was.
Oyster Cards are simply like top up vouchers. Travelcards provide you with one paid ticket. The London map is divided into zones with zone 1 covering the popular, touristy areas of central London, zone 2 covering the outskirts of central London and zone 6 the edges of London, more or less and prices vary, becoming more expensive the further out of central London you travel and of course if you travel at peak times.
I think in any major city it is always ideal to look as little like a tourist or someone who is unsure of their way as possible. If you look like a tourist, you'll automatically stand out and become a target to less than desirable characters. I found this out in Barcelona once although the thieves are less discreet there (they come straight up to you and start shouting at you and you have to try to ignore them and walk on in the hope they'll leave you alone). I always keep my handbag tightly to the side or go with a satchel bag instead so it's in no way open to criminals, let's say. Of course I have another worry with that: that is if a character pulled my bag, it would also pull me which is scary thinking and I'd find it difficult to just let my bag go and it would seem as though I was fighting back, which as much as I'd like to, I wouldn't have the bottle to. So there's two arguments in my head to how I should carry my bag! I think it is best to walk confidently as though you know where you're going even if you're slightly unsure; basically look like a local who knows the game so plan your Tube journey ahead if possible and try to hold your belongings on your lap - mentioning this out of personal experience again.
So once you have found that famous roundel, go inside, find a destination and have fun reaching it. Daunting at first, yes, but it'll get better the more you get to know it and with all its faults you'll be thankful you have it on hand - I guess it is the brother I never knew I had!
The TFL website is on hand to offer travel updates on each of the lines as well the option to buy tickets and help with planning your journey:
Another useful website is this one:
I hope that you found this useful if you've never travelled on the London Underground previously.
Summary: Three stars when you first start, five stars when you get to know it... normally.
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