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During our FYSAE orientation in London, we were led by Arcadia staff into our local station of London’s subway system, the Underground or “tube.” They walked us through how to get to school, how to get back, and the area near Big Ben and Parliament (Westminster). I tried to memorize the weird station names and was completely lost.
When classes started, I knew I had to learn for myself. But when I first got my oyster card, I had no idea the fun and hectic experiences that awaited me past the gates.
The city of London is divided into nine zones, with zones one and two— which cover the heart of the city— being the most populated. Instead of trying to absorb it all at once, I broke down the tube map according to the places I had to go. For example, Tottenham Court Road is the station I get off at for school, and Charing Cross is the Northern Line Branch that gets me there.
My next challenge came with figuring out a time table for my travels. For school, I spend twenty minutes in walking, plus the tube ride— which, timed by the several shuffled songs I listen to on Spotify, is about 12 to 15 minutes. It takes about a half hour altogether, depending on how fast I walk or if I can hop on the “fast lane” escalators. Most of my other destinations are not time sensitive, which allows me to take my time and enjoy the trip.
The rule of thumb for walking in London is to keep left— except on escalators, where if you don’t plan on running, you stay on the right side. Be warned: There’s always a long line of people on the right side, so running down the left saves me a minute or two. (Though, full disclosure, I usually end up waiting for my train and seeing everyone I passed on the escalators catching up, and I sometimes receive dirty looks. They probably don’t appreciate the hustle as much as I do.)
Navigating through crowds is another skill I had to develop on my tubing journeys. When I have a 9 a.m., the first few tubes are almost impossible to get on, due to the sheer number of people in line for the train or cramming into the cars. One Thursday, I left my dorm at 8:23, and I have never run so hard in my life. But thanks to the dual purpose of my oyster card, I took the bus down the hill to the station, flew down the escalator, and jumped on the first train I saw. A woman tried to get on with me, but there was no room, and she was met with a closing door, which knocked her coffee out of her hands and onto her jacket. As the train pulled away, I couldn't help but laugh at my luck.
The tube has a way with karma, though— I heard a prerecorded voice say the train was headed for Bank, not Charing Cross. This meant I had to get off at the next station and anxiously wait for another train. I made it to Tottenham Court at 8:52 and had to run for it. I made it to class with two minutes to spare, a dry throat, and sweat dripping down my face. Never again. The cardio does not outweigh the stress and anxiety.
Now a self-proclaimed expert tuber, I can travel virtually anywhere in zones one and two and know how to get home (with just a little help from Google maps). The tube is definitely a highlight of my time here so far, and I look forward to discovering new ways to travel and experiences that make my day a little more interesting.