Missing the Underground
I haven’t been on the Underground since March 2020. That seems strange. I love the Underground, but with the pandemic raging, it seemed the best short-term decision which seems to have lasted a year. Unbelievable! I still can’t believe it has been over a year since I was on a tube train!
London Underground has a fantastic history of several underground initiatives eventually being bought up one at a time by an American from Chicago who had a sketchy past of his own. Charles Yerkes (rhymes with turkeys) created the LURL after buying up the Metropolitan line, Circle line and ……. this eventually became the London Underground.
It was the 1930’s and everything was done with class and style. Style — as in, they created a specific look and feel for the Underground that still lasts today. From the fonts and signage to the patterns on the seats, the design behind the Underground is meticulous in creating familiarity and timelessness.
Riding on the Underground is wonderful, and despite the common Londoner complaints, I still find it a little magical. I think it takes me back to when I was a child and my Dad would take me to the airport for my flight back home after spending some time with him. We would go a little early, with enough time to ride Houston’s Intercontinental Airport underground trolly. It was boxy and brown, and the lights would go whizzing by as we travelled from one terminal to the next. I remember thinking it was the most futuristic thing ever, and somehow the promise of a better future lied in that silly underground people mover.
When I was a flight attendant and living in New Jersey, I would take the PATH train to New York City and then attempt to navigate the subway. It required a bit more thought and planning, and often I remember being preoccupied with my surroundings to try and enjoy the journey. I never got lost on the NYC subway system, but I don’t really remember riding it with as much carefree feeling as I do in London.
In Paris, the Metro system should be approached as a “fun challenge”. It’s in French, so you really need to know where you are going and where you need to get off. The seats are not cushioned as they are in London, so it’s all plastic and metal. Very businesslike. It isn’t for pleasure, it is for transport! I like the Metro, and the art deco signage above each station entrance is dreamy, but I don’t love it like I do the Underground.
Athens, Greece has an underground. I was shocked to learn this, because I kind of assumed it would be too old of a place for something like this. But they have one, and it is easy to navigate and gets you to the places you need to go. But like most European cities (Brussels, Bucharest, Madrid) they all kind of blend into my memory as being modern and same. Nothing stands out too much.
But London Underground —— what a glorious place. Each station tells a story, of its history, decoration or architecture. Each line has unique characteristics that help identify it from the others. Each train has an inviting familiarity that welcomes you to sit, stand or squeeze as you ride to your destination. Sure, it has problems from time to time and is considered the most expensive public transportation in the world, but the quirky perfection helps to soften the blow to your wallet or your watch.
My favourite line is the Jubilee Line. It is the line I take most often. It was named in hon our of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 but didn’t opened until 1979, and makes its way from the northwest corner of London, cutting diagonally through the centre and then heading south and then east. It crosses over every other line at some point, and works well for tourists who are trying to get to Abbey Road, Westminster Abbey and Borough Market all in one day.
I also love the Central Line. When I first moved to London, the Central Line still had some old rolling stock in use (which means old passenger cars). I remember stepping onto a train that had a wooden floor. I couldn’t believe it! It made me think of the old wooden escalator at the Macy’s New York City store that was so famous. My interests seem to include liking really, really old things or super futuristic ones. I guess the stuff in the middle is a bit hum-drum to me. The Central Line cuts right through the middle of London, and is perfect for trying to get from Notting Hill to St Paul’s Cathedral. I’m often doing this when I am rushing from my Paddington Bear tour to my Supercalifragilistic Tour. (I’m also wolfing down a sandwich and swapping out bits of costume in the process. No one looks at each other on the tube, so I have tons of privacy!)
Another popular and well used line is the Northern Line. For some reason, I associate this line with work because it is the line I took when I was first working in London. I used it quite a bit when travelling to and from meetings, so it doesn’t resonate warm feelings. But the Northern Line takes you from leafy Morden, through to Kennington — where you then get to choose your own adventure and either go via the City or via Waterloo, Charing Cross and Leicester Square. Then you marry back up at Euston before choosing again to divert to High Barnet or Edgware Road. So many possibilities on the Northern Line, so long as you remember if you are cutting through all of the zones and need a solid amount of money on your Oyster to exit.
Many tourists will stay on the Circle/District Line, because there are locations like Paddington and Gloucester Road that have good hotel options nearby. Paddington is good for those who are using the Heathrow Express, and want to be near the trains. Gloucester Road is good because you are near the museum district and a short walk to Kensington Palace. Plus, the Circle Line can get you to all of the other lines at some point or another, making your journey only a two or three change option.
Piccadilly Line is also great for getting you from Harrods to Harry Potter’s platform at King’s Cross, or to St Pancras for your Eurostar to Paris. Bakerloo Line will get you from Sherlock Holmes’ Museum and Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum at Baker Street to the London Eye at Waterloo in no time!
As you can read, I have a soft place in my heart for the London Underground. I love it. It is the imperfectly expensive way to get around London in the most efficient manner, apart from any delays. I am counting down to when I might take my next journey and then find myself back in the daily grind of overcrowded trains and long escalators. Until then, it’s the bicycle or walking for me!