You did it. You made it to London. Perhaps you are here for a day, a month, or have you moved here? Well whichever one it is, welcome to Britain and the big city, Old Blighty, the Smoke, the Big Smoke. I know, the names are endless.
It’s daunting when you first arrive, the sheer vastness of the city paired with the thousands of faces you see each day that you will never see again. Is that Jim from… ? No, it isn’t Jim, it never is. It could be Joe though -- there are a surprising number of men here named Joe.
So how do you navigate this big, thriving, terrifying, amazing city that always smells faintly of cigarette smoke even though smoking is banned in official places, including the tube? You need a guide – that’s me.
We’ll begin this tour with the only way to get around London - the Tube.
You may have dreamt of red London buses or long held a wish to hail a black cab, all fun experiences but for the fastest way to weave in and out of the various tourist spots and must-see sites the Tube is the way to go.
First thing to know is to, ‘Please, mind the gap!’ A cavernous space that sometimes exists between the train and the platform. It comes in various sizes, all to be feared equally.
Second is that you are going to get lost. We all do. The London Underground has 11 lines and stops at 270 different stations not including the Overground Lines and the Docklands Light Railway.
Each line is given its own “unique” colour, but even the keenest eye has trouble discerning between light blue, turquoise, dark blue and black. Between the Piccadilly line, Victoria line, and Waterloo & City lines things can get a little confusing. Add that to the pink of the Hammersmith & City line and the magenta of the Metropolitan line you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself in Stratford rather than Richmond. The trains do come with a brilliant frequency, as long as there are no delays, so if you get on the wrong one or fail to get on because of the crowds, you shouldn’t have to wait any more than four minutes to get on another.
Oh, and you will go in the wrong direction on the right line at least once, and you will also get off at the wrong stop multiple times, it’s almost a rule, like minding the gap.
When it comes to buying your train tickets, there is no reason to buy an individual Tube ticket. With Oyster cards (because the world is your oyster) offering discounts and easily available for £5, purchasing a ticket seems a waste. Even more excitingly, your contactless card is just as good, if you aren’t being charged for every overseas transaction you make.
That’s the logistics of the trains covered but what about the physical aspect of riding through the catacombs of the London Underground? The physical aspect, you ask? Why yes, let me introduce you to two of the greatest sports you will ever play; Train Surf, my favourite and Rush Crush. They sound like apps for your phone, but these are the thrilling real-life equivalent.
Rush Crush is simply terrifying. It’s 8 a.m. and everyone is on their way to work and in the impatient city of London no one is going to wait for the next train even if it is just one minute away. Pull your bag close to you and be prepared to be swept off your feet, literally, as the crowd of yawning city-dwellers stampedes you onto the train, while minding the gap, of course. If you are short like me, you will find yourself stuck under the armpits of at least 10 jam-packed commuters. Pleasant.
As for Train Surf you are in for a treat. Best practised when the train is empty, most needed when the train is full, this is a game of balance. Can you hold two bags of shopping, a phone, your Oyster card and still not go flying when the train lurches to a stop? Bend your knees, lean back on your heels, now rock forward onto your tip toes. You’ll get there, one day you may even be able to add a copy of the Evening Standard newspaper into the mix. You’ll do it all and you’ll mind the gap.