Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mind The Gap!



This year, the London Underground, lovingly called "the Tube", celebrates its 150th anniversary. Can you imagine? 150 years - which means they started running the tube in 1863! It opened on January 9, 1863, and very soon after that date it already carried over 26,000 passengers a day. The first trains were steam-hauled which meant they needed vents in the tunnels to let the steam out and get fresh air in. I don't even want to imagine what it must have been like - riding on the train and waiting in the underground station. Ugh.

The nickname "the Tube" comes from the circular tube-like tunnels through which the trains travel. Unfortunately in my photo you can't really see it, but imagine the round shape of the station close around the approaching train:


After Seoul, Shanghai and Beijing, the London Underground is the fourth largest metro system in the world in terms of route miles. You can really get almost everywhere via the Tube. The tube map is quite famous - I will show you the one I have, back from 1986 (there are more lines existing today):


You can see how worn the map is - I always had it in my jeans pockets or in a tiny purse or some place where I could grab it quickly whenever I needed. Those little pocket guides were really handy - I wonder whether they still make them.


I rode the London Underground many many times, back in the eighties when London was like my second home, thanks to my then-boyfriend. Whenever possible and money allowed I would fly over - just a mere 75 minutes flight from Stuttgart, my nearest airport, to Heathrow - sometimes just for a weekend, sometimes for longer. London belongs to my happiest memories. While my boyfriend was working during the day, I explored the city, and very soon I was so familiar with the Tube system that I often didn't need the map anymore.

There were modern trains, silver and sleek, and older trains that rumpled and screamed in every little bend of the tunnels. The trains are loud and noisy, and rather rocky. Some stations had big gaps between the trains and the platform, and whenever a train would run into the station that voice came on over the loudspeaker, "Mind the gap! Mind the gap!". Another one of those announcements I remember is "Stand clear of the doors". For me, it belonged to London. I wonder whether they still say this? I sure hope so.

I still remember those old wooden escalators in the stations that would transport you into the deep world of the tunnel system. They made a lot of noise and were rather slow. I think they are all replaced now since that terrible fire in King's Cross Station on November 18th, 1987. Some of the tube stations are so far below the surface that you can only reach them by elevator, which I hated - I usually used the stairs, no matter how many steps I had to climb (I was so fit back then!). At some stations, you can't see the other end of the escalator which is quite thrilling. It's easy to imagine that the tube served as bomb shelters for the London population through the blitz. As you can see, even the escalators are in "tubes"!


I get a bit nostalgic about the London Tube. It's stinky and noisy and dirty - but still, it's so London. It's the fastest way to get you from A to B. If you can avoid the rush hour, it's actually quite fun - you can do a lot of people watching, listen to musicians who play in the stations - their music carries a long way through all those tubes!

If I would go there again today - I would take way more pictures!





16 comments:

Jeanne said...

A fun post, and can hardly imagine that the tube opened in the 1800's. WOW, would have never thought that.

Lisa Isabella Russo said...

I haven't traveled underground very much, a little when I was visiting San Francisco. I love your photos! The roundness of everything is so neat. 150 years is very impressive!

gina said...

London calling! Such a nice tribute to the London metro system. I enjoyed taking the tube when we were in London a few years ago. I like comparing different cities metro systems. I think Boston has to have one of the oldest in the US -- some of the original cars still seem to be running!

thequeenofcansandjars said...

A fun read! I, too, spent a lot of time in London in the 80's, traveling the Tube, and I remember those steep, deep escalators... and always someone playing the saxophone or violin somewhere along the way...and the cool names of the lines... like Picadilly Line... and station names, like Elephant&Castle... I'm getting all nostalgic now...

Micki Wilde said...

Stinky, noisy and dirty is right on the nose where the underground is concerned and if you like playing squished sardines then it's fun but for a hermit like me it's hell in a tube lol ;o)

As a kid I do remember finding it intriguing but now as an adult with kids I only see the bad side of it i'm afraid.

Fortunately for me I only have to go occasionally when I visit my brother who lives in London and then breath a sigh of relief when I am back in the Midlands with fresh air and green stuff ;o)

I love hearing people's tales of London though, it sure is a place with many tales to tell.

It was fun to hear your tale, you put a romantic spin on it x

Maria Ontiveros said...

I love Europoean subways. My kids are really good at planning trips on them.
Rinda

Deborah Tisch said...

Carola, what a fascinating story! I enjoyed reading this.

Lynn Richards said...

Fascinating! Something I will add to my wish list of things to do.
xo
lynn

Sue H said...

I used to live almost at the end of the Picadilly line (Southgate) and worked in the City - which meant a LOT of tube travel! (& in the height of Summer it was really not as romantic as you paint it - all squashed in with your nose in someone's armpit! ;-p)

I remember those old rickety wooden escalators and the way you knew a train was approaching because you'd feel the air being pushed out of the tunnel in front of it.

I was always a little wary of those very steep escalators at certain stations - you learn very quickly (especially in rush hour!) that you stand on the 'right' and allow walking 'traffic' to pass on the left!!

The iconic travel maps are still alive and well - but the ticket booths are fast disappearing as most regular commuters/users have automatic 'Oyster cards' they tap on the barriers for each journey.

travelintoadventure@gmail.com said...

Enjoyed your post - I have NEVER traveled underground I think I would like to experience it -ha
Lot of history indeed!Thanks for sharing..
Hugs

patty said...

So interesting Carola and this is all new to me. I have only been once to London and did not ride on it. It always just blows me away to think about how in the world they built stuff like this (especially so long ago!) I guess that's for the engineers to worry about and the rest of us just get to enjoy it. Thanks for sharing!!

Randy said...

Just once in my lifetime I would love to visit London. Wonderful post.

Robin aka Gotham Girl said...

I can't wait to visit London one day! Thanks for the education!

Marcie said...

What a wonderful photo-documentary and story about London's subway system. It is - as I recall - such a lot of fun to ride!!!

Ginnie said...

Oh how fun, Carola, to be reminded of such a brilliant way to transport oneself from here to there in London. It should be on everyone's Bucket List. :)

CJ STITCHING AND BLOOMS said...

I truly enjoyed your post. It is amazing to read about the history of the Underground in London and what it looks like now. I would love to ride on it. Hugs Judy