I’ve just been sat on the tube looking over the shoulder of a French tourist who was reading a London guide book and I couldn’t help but let out a little titter when I saw the name of the chapter she was reading – “Les Pubs”!… and I’m sure that I find that more funny than anyone else who would read this but the fact is that when you use the tubes in London you see things that you just wouldn’t generally see anywhere else. So while the London Underground is a means to an end, it’s also a tourist attraction and a great experience particularly in people watching.
Normally when I first introduce a group to the map of the tube (a true work of art regardless of its practical use) they all look either totally confused or like rabbits caught in headlights!… but one way or another, after a couple of journeys they’re using it like anyone else who lives here, so you really shouldn’t let it panic you when you come to London but jump on it as soon as you can and embrace it as an experience which is just an integral part of your visit to our vibrant capital.
The lines all criss-cross each other around the whole of the city and surrounding area so it can get you from A to B very quickly, but having said that the easiest mistake to make as a first time visitor to London is to take unnecessary journeys like taking the tube between Leicester Square and Covent Garden which are actually stations within a walk of about 3-5 minutes apart at ground level. You only learn these lessons by making mistakes though. My last group seemed really quite nervous about using the tube (more than likely because I’d told them about it in rather harsh words when it’s not so harsh) and one girl got separated from the group on one occasion. However, the truth of it all is that if you get lost on the tube it’s actually a really good lesson in how to figure it all out for yourself. I actually find it more rare to not get separated from someone in my group on the tube than it is to keep everyone together for the whole time, and more so I find that anyone who does get separated is forced into becoming more street wise and finding their own way onward – subsequently they’re able to deal with the busy pace of the big city better than anyone else in the group. By the way, the girl who got lost actually just asked a member of staff at one of the stations for help and she called me and I was with her within less than 10 minutes!… in most scenarios travellers would find their own way around situations like this easily enough but in this case it was just easier for me to go back and fetch her.
There was also a time when crime was a major problem on the tube but because there are now far higher security values than ever before, the crime rate seems to have reduced considerably although I would still make a point of telling everyone to keep their personal items closely guarded. There are times of day (which seem less and less possible to predict) when the tube is so overcrowded that Londoners have clearly just got used to being squished into a corner having their faces shoved in someone’s armpit and visitors must accept this inevitability as par of the experience unless they are prepared to spend a fortune on taxis to get around. But it’s these times when you feel like your personal space is being invaded so much that no matter how regularly you travel, you still keep a really tight hold of your personal belongings.
Either way, the tube is both highly over crowded yet one of the most extensive an bizarrely efficient metropolitan transportation systems in the world no matter how much Londoners like to complain about it. And anyone who visits London as a tourist yet doesn’t experience using the tube, really hasn’t seen London from a local’s point of view, and hasn’t taken on one of the best experiences London has to offer which is such an integral part of the city!