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!