Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Trains, buses and oysters

OK, so there are many reasons not to drive on vacation in England: 1. It's the wrong side of the road (left-hand side) driving; 2. The roads are extremely congested; 3. Every moment in the narrow lanes one expects a crash, so there is the stress of driving; 4. There is essentially no parking, the parking attendents (usually called by less pleasant names) are extremely vigilant, since they earn a percentage of their take. While we were there my friend Barry received two parking tickets, one when the voucher he placed on the dashboard was blown off when he shut the door of the car and a second when the attendant disputed the way he had filled out the form. It is massively unpleasant and expensive.

So once we returned our rented car we had instead to travel by public transport or taxi. The London Underground is a marvel of organized efficient rapid transport. BUT! In each station each line (we were on the Northern Line) is deliberately complex. For example the Northern Line has two bifurcations, making 4 possibilites and sometimes you can't get there from here. One day there was a problem with the signals on the Camden Town side during the rush hour and so we had to squeeze into the railcars that were absolutely full, you literally had to push yourself in against a wall of humanity. Simon and Sharon gave up and went up to the surface and took a cab, but the rest of us managed to travel. As I was being pushed from all sides in an extremely hot, humid car (no air conditioning) I dreamed of a sleek Mercedes rental car. But, that was an illusion.

And it is exhausting to get around, the train lines are placed maximal distances apart so you have to traipse along tunnels and corridors and up and down stairs and escalators following the signs and if you get lost forget it, there is no way out. Here is an example, we were in Knightsbridge visiting the Czech Torah Scroll Museum, and afterwards the others had decided to go to the British Museum. Since we were one stop from South Kensington station I decided we should visit the Science Museum there. But, when you come out of S. Kensington station there is an underground tunnel that stretches for miles, it literally vanishes into the distance and you trudge along this depressing thoroughfare with the crowds for miles and miles. On the way back I couldn't stand it, so we actually walked above ground. If you are going to the Science Museum why can't they transport you, or even have a modest escalator, its yesterday's technology, but they manage to have them at airports?

Then there are the Oyster Cards, don't ask me why they call them that, noone I asked knew. They are pre-paid cards that allow you to swipe a yellow surface on the automatic doors to go into and out of the system. By buying them you supposedly get a discount on each trip and you don't have to buy tickets for each trip. But, they charge an enormous amount for the cards (we paid £35 each) and then they stop working (wrong zone) and you have to "top them up," which also costs an arm and a leg. But, one advantage is that they also work on the buses as well as the Underground.

However, the Oyster Cards do not work on British Rail, the mainline trains, so when we went to Cambriudge it would ahve been very expensive, but Simon called and spoke to several people and found that they have cheap day family returns that cost only £11 each instead of 25. So a family of four can go for 44 pounds and an extra child pays only 1 pound. So we all went to Cambridge for less than 100 pounds.

I know you are wondering about the Czech Torah Scroll Museum and what we did in Cambridge, more of that next.


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