Training and Tubing in the UK and Europe
Most travelers to the UK and/or Europe ride the efficient train systems--as they should. The vast network of underground, above ground, and high speed rails make airflight so...yesterday. We'll discuss the high speed arteries in a future blog, but here are a few tips to help you feel like a UK/European railway veteran:
1. London's Underground (aka "The Tube") - it's clean, quick, convenient and the first choice of London locals. Don't be afraid to take the Tube just because it's below ground.
Buy a DAY PASS and you'll enjoy unlimited access within certain zones. If you purchase it before 930am, the cost will be 6.80 Pounds for unlimited access in Zones 1 and 2 (central London). After 930am, the price drops to 5.30 Pounds. (The price is different to encourage tourists to ride the Tube after the morning rush hour commute). A single ride costs 4 Pounds, so you see why paying for a DAY PASS is a "no brainer".
Like any other subway, you'll need to drop your DAY PASS into the turnstile slot to enter the track area. HOWEVER, unlike subways in the U.S., you'll also need to drop your card into the turnstile on your way out, after riding the train. So, don't drop your DAY PASS into a huge purse and rummage through it at the exit turnstile. You'll annoy many people forced to wait behind you.
2. Reserved Seating - On most above-ground commuter trains, there are entire cars with "reserved seating" AND/OR cars that have reserved seats mixed alongside unreserved seats. Be diligent about ensuring you are NOT sitting in a reserved car or seat unless you have paid for it. Good places to look for "reserved" signs include the car's exterior (usually above or below the side windows), inside the car above the doorway, and over the seats--where a luggage rack would typically be located.
You might be thinking, "Big deal. If I'm accidently sitting in someone's reserved seat, I'll just move to another one if necessary." Ahh, but the number of unreserved seats on a train can be very limited, especially on popular commuter lines during morning/evening rush hours. A bunch of people can pile on at a future stop and if you were mistakenly sitting in a reserved seat, guess who's standing for the rest of the way?
3. Left Luggage - Most of the major European and U.K. train stations have "left luggage" desks. These 21st century locker rentals are operated by employees of the station or independent companies. Most are equipped with x-ray machines to scan your bags for weapons, bombs, etc. (thank you terrorists). Costs vary, but we recently paid 6 Pounds for a 24-hour period. We removed important items (computer, camera, etc.), left the bag, received a receipt and paid with a credit card upon our return. Verify the left luggage desk's hours to ensure you can pick up your bags when you desire.
4. 20 cent Toilets - bathrooms in UK and European train stations are not free. So, keep loose change handy just in case nature calls. The purpose of the toilet tariff is not to beautify the porcelain thrones (public bathrooms here are just as depressing). Rather, the annoying fee is to keep vagabonds out--and it succeeds.
By the way, if you're on a train when nature calls, seek out a first-class cabin. Typically, first class toilets are a notch above those in second class cars/cabins. Although you need a first class ticket for a first class seat, nobody will check which ticket you're holding while your nickers are down. Just remember to flush while the train is moving--some empty contents immediately on the ground (more common on older trains and in Eastern Europe).