London Study Abroad: Navigating public transportation

london1Note: This is a special column from a London Study Abroad student.

By Olivia Herr

Before coming to the UK, I had never really taken up any opportunity to use public transportation other than in elementary school. So the buses, underground and cabs were all new to me.

AIFS gave us our oyster cards (public transportation passes) before we departed from our orientation so on the first day we arrived, the girls and I set out to explore. The underground was fairly easy to understand and use because there are very good signs and maps posted everywhere. Later that night, we tried the buses for the first time. I would say the buses are a little more complicated to figure out but we discovered which bus we needed, 134, and took that to Muswell Hill to meet up with Brian, another DMACC student. I would have to say that for our first day in London using the public transportation was a success.

It wasn’t until later in the week when the girls and I took a little adventure to Trafalgar Square that we experienced rush hour. It was about 5:00 p.m., and everyone was getting off work. Of course, we picked one of the busiest places in London to go shopping, so everyone was using the underground.  I was so surprised at just how many people could ultimately fit into one car of the train. When a tube would approach, we thought okay, this time we are going to push our way on, but the tube would come and there was simply no way that one more person could possibly fit, so we waited for the next tube to arrive with less people on it.

Jessica, Me, Kaitlin, Danielle on the bus

Jessica, Me, Kaitlin, Danielle on the bus

The most exciting or suspenseful times I used the underground were when I almost got separated from the girls twice. The first time we realized we had gotten on the wrong train and went to get off, but the doors shut in front of me before I could get off with Danielle. She turned around and realized I was on the other side of the door and it would have been okay in the end because I would have simply gotten off at the next stop, but thankfully, to my luck, the doors opened a moment later and I was able to get off with Danielle. The second time I was separated was when Jessica and Danielle ran to catch the tube leaving, and, sadly, I wasn’t quick enough. They went on without me and I met them after I caught up at the next stop by taking the next tube after I was left behind.

There are definitely some interesting people who ride the tube no matter what time of the day. From the fashion that we see, to the things that strangers do, we are constantly entertained. There was a man who was dressed all in white from head to toe who sat across from us and also a man who kept taking videos of his mouth over and over. I doubt we would only see that in London, but at least it gives us something to do, people watching that is. Another aspect that keeps us interested is the people who sing or play music. I didn’t know that a person would need to actually audition in order to perform in the underground but that is very impressive.

I haven’t yet taken the stairs down or up in the underground but others have. It is crazy to think about how deep in the ground the tubes actually are. The fact that during the Blitz in World War II when the Hitler was bombing the UK, people took shelter down in the underground is somewhat amazing. Without the system, who knows what the result of the war would have been. Also, it is fascinating to think about how the underground was built to begin with and about the technology it would take to build such a system back then. The engineer behind it all must have been very ahead of the times. Sometimes my ears end up popping, but that could also be because I have been sick. I also wonder if they clean or rather disinfect the tube because there are so many people actually using the tube.


Me, Kaitlin, Jessica on the tube

Beside the underground and the buses, London also has an incredible taxi system. The other weekend was the first time we had ridden in a black cab. It was late at night and we couldn’t get a night bus. Obviously, the driver was on the right side of the vehicle, which is completely foreign to us Americans. Brian sat in the front seat and declared that it was most strange to him because he felt he should be driving right then.

It is very odd that I don’t drive over here in the England because at home I drive everywhere. It is nice in the sense that I am getting that much more exercise here, but at the same time, I miss the convenience of being able to drive. On the other hand, it could also be said that it is a convenience not to have to drive anywhere because I can rely on the great public transportation offered to me.

There is a debate to be made about whether public transportation is a pro or con and I would have to think that it is a pro, at least for London. I’ve been told that driving here in the UK is rather difficult because it is expensive to get a license. There are charges to get into certain parts of the city and there is hardly parking anywhere. All of that must lead to such a headache, especially with the traffic.

All in all, I think I’ve pretty much already mastered the public transportation and will have it completely down by the time I leave. With only few weeks left, I might actually miss hearing the words, “Mind the Gap,” when I go home.

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