How to “Mind the Gap”
For those of us from the “former colonies” getting around London can be a bit formidable. With the Olympic Games just around the corner, we figured we could offer a few tips to help those first timers. We are ashamed to say, our first visit to the “Island”, we were a little naive. We though, we will just rent a car and drive around the city and see all the sites. Everything will be fine. Wrong! We learned a few things that we want to pass along to you.
1) Weather-Lets start with the basics. London has crumby weather. It rains a ton. It is cold. It can be miserable. Likewise, it can be beautiful. The key is, the weather can be extremely unpredictable. What does that have to do with getting around? It is key. Whatever mode of transport you chose, that you consider this variable. Taking the double decker bus around to see the town? Not ever bus top has a nice little heated shelter to wait in. intervals between buses can be sporadic. Be prepared.
2) The Tube—The London Underground is quite extensive, and extremely easy to use. Step one is getting a good map. Good maps are available at the airports, and in most of the tube terminals as well. Each line has its own color, each stop is clearly signed and marked.
Step 2 is buying an Oyster card. London Oyster cards can be used on all buses, trams, Tube, and nearly all British National Rail services. You can buy one in advance from the British Tourist office on the interwebs.
Oyster is an electronic smartcard ticket. Simply touch your card on the yellow reader to get through the Tube gates or board other London public transport services. It doesn’t even need to be removed from your purse or wallet to work. Cool huh?
So why do they call them Oysters? We were wondering that too. According to Andrew McCrum, now of Appella brand name consultants, who was brought in to find a name by high priced consultant Saatchi and Saatchi Design, Oyster was selected because of the metaphorical implications of security and value. There is also the connection with the hard bivalve shell and the concealed pearl; the association of London and the River Thames with oysters and the well-known travel-related idiom “the world is your oyster”. Now you know. We hear the transit card in Hong Kong is called the Octopus card. Not sure why. Ok…moving right along.
Mind the Gap– Yah…you really need to! When boarding Tube trains, you should be aware that there is generally a step of up to 8 inches (20cm), either up or down, between the platform and the train. Our advice? Mind the Gap.
A word about safety. Just like anywhere else in the world, exercise caution in using public transit. Avoid pulling a wad of cash out and begin to count it in front of a car load of passengers. After dark stick to well lighted areas and if possible stay in areas where there are other people. Common sense stuff huh? Again, purchasing an Oyster card will prevent you from having to pull out your wallet or purse each time your buy a ticket. A really good idea that Oyster thing.
Crowds—Be warnded. During rush hours there are going to be loads of people on the trains. As a prepared traveler, use these hours to visit museums and to eat.
3) Taxi—The London Taxi Scheme is the very, very best in the world. Cabs in London are all Black with a for hire light on top. They are very professional, highly trained drivers. There know exactly were everything is. With this perfection comes a cost. London Taxi’s are also some of the world’s most expensive. Be smart about your taxi use. If you are going to see one of the museums, take the underground. If you are looking for a obscure restaurant in an unfamiliar part of town. Always take a taxi.
A word about taxi prices. Fares are metered with a minimum charge of £2. Fares to and from London’s airports also have a surcharge. Most cabs take credit and debit cards, ask your driver before you to too far down the road if the plastic is going to work. Most have a minimum charge for credit cards and/or a small surcharge of a pound or less. Tips are not expected, but most folks round up to the nearest pound. If the driver is helpful with your luggage, it is typicall to add a pound per bag.
Are the taxi drivers really that good? Yes. “Before a taxi driver gets his Hackney Cab License he or she must pass a test called ‘The Knowledge’. This is a difficult test and requires the cabbie to know the streets of central London like the palm of their hand.
Taxi drivers in London undergo a demanding and arduous testing of their knowledge of the city, its daily traffic patterns and the fastest routes between locations. Estimates suggest that gathering the basic understanding needed to acquire The Knowledge involves a full-time year of study, absorbing the information provided by street maps and travelling around the city itself.” http://london-taxi.taxiblog.co.uk/
Have a great trip to London Town! Have another other really good tips for getting around? Please leave a comment below and let us know.
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