My first experience on the London Underground – the Tube – totally shaped how I viewed London above ground. I was in 8th grade traveling with my parents to London, Paris, and Rome. Our hotel was near Paddington Station and we used the Tube to get pretty much everywhere. I thought the city had to be so spread out. Though the rides on the Underground were mostly under 10 minutes long, I didn’t understand how anyone walked anywhere. None of the tourist attractions seemed near each other with the exception of Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus as you can see one from the other.
When I returned to London for my Master’s, I still had this concept of the city being unwalkable. Fortunately, this notion was greatly disproved – and on my first day in town. After I dropped my luggage off at my temporary home, I went for a walk to kill the time before I could actually get to my room and take a much desired shower. From High Holborn I quickly came upon Covent Garden. As I wandered a bit further west I soon found myself in Leicester Square.
I paused for a moment when I saw all the ticket booth signs and movie theatres indicating my arrival to Leicester Square. How were these two locations so close? We “had” to take the Tube when I was with my parents. But the entire process of purchasing tickets, getting down to and then up from the platforms, and the ride itself took the same amount of time if not less than walking. The size of London above ground was forever changed. In no time the city no longer felt unmanageable and intimidating, rather it became intimate and welcoming.
Never having lived in a town with a good public transport system, or a town with a need for one, the Tube was the best introduction. I loved/love/will forever love the Underground maps, the great variance in station atmosphere and design, the ease of use, and the reminder to “Mind the Gap.” Even during rush hour in the summer when I was sweating and smelling the sweat of those pushed up against me, there was still a part of me that loved it.
I recently learned that the London Underground will be celebrating its 150th birthday/anniversary in January. The 150 great things about the Underground blog was created by an admirer of the Tube. The photographer/blogger has taken pictures of 70 things (at the time of posting) so far that he finds architecturally, historically, and even aurally interesting about the Tube and its stations. As a London-ophile, looking through the list I enjoyed having the little details be made explicit as I long to return and check them out in person. Happy 150th, London Underground!