If you have not made your way to Great Britain, then the phrase “mind the gap” won’t make much sense to you; if you have been so fortunate as to visit the grand little island and made use of its public transport then you know how often the phrase is recited by various recorded voice-overs every time a train arrives. It will amuse almost as much as the various station names on the London Underground, which as a grown adult you try your best not to giggle at–try not to giggle.
We’ll start with Planes. This trip, as many people seemed shocked and amused to hear, was my first time in an airplane. I was honestly more concerned about managing the massive DFW airport than I was about flying. That being said, the first thing I do when I get to my seat is read the safety instructions and I refused to look outside when we took off, instead I held tightly to my armrests and stared at the ceiling in front of me. One thing that perplexed me during both of our flights was the buttons above our heads, even if I wanted something I had no idea which was a call button for the flight attendants so I was nervous to push any of them (would labels hurt?)
I was a bit better in our 747 going to London Heathrow, this time with a window seat, but it was probably because it was nine at night and I could only see lights. During take-off the person in front of us tried to get out of their seat—this lasted for a while and I’m still curious about what the big deal was. I never really got comfortable during the flight, I kept having pressure on my stomach like you get when swimming. I only ate half of my in-flight meal because they ran out of the kind I want and I’m suspicious of chickpeas. Never went to sleep that I’m aware of, so I attribute my tiredness when we landed at nine in the morning in London to lack of sleep not jet-lag.
So not too much to help you with your experience but feel free to be amused at my experience with the giant metal birds.
I read pages and pages of websites hopping to get insight to traversing the London underground system, especially with multiples suitcases. Everything I’d read made going through the underground with copious amounts of luggage seem like a serious pain and challenge. My experience? The underground might have been the least-stressful form of transportation we’ve used since arriving in Europe and that includes our trip across London with three suitcases and a 50-lb backpack.
· First of all, get yourself an Oyster card—it’s a refillable card so you can top it off whenever you get low (you’ll see the amount you have remaining whenever you swipe at the turnstiles) and can return for a refund whenever you leave England (you can keep it too-it won’t expire).
· There are maps at all the stops and in the car so you can keep track of where you are supposed to be going. I’m directionally challenged and I managed to get a go handle on the routes we should use (you can get maps to keep with you of course, we went the entire week until a tourism person gave us one, oh well).
· Luggage is only an issue at stops that are not handicap accessible. Go through the handicap turnstile—they’re wider (I believe we went through regular turnstiles and still didn’t have an issue). Non-accessible stations lack escalators and lifts so enjoy the workout you get from hefting your luggage up and down the stairs. (Yes, at some stations you will have to do both to get where you need to go).
The National Rail Service and Eurostar
To make our few days on the rails easier (and cheaper!) we got a BritRail pass, and if you happen to visit the UK and use the trains to get around I highly recommend getting the pass, just 2 days of train travel easily paid for the passes and then some. The only sad thing was that our pass could’ve taken us to Scotland we just didn’t have the time. Traveling is pretty straightforward with the pass, figure out what train you need and hop on. Only hiccup you might incur is if it’s a busy train and all the seats are reserved. You either stand in between cars and hop for an empty seat (we did this for a bit) or wait at stops to see if anyone takes the reserved seats and risk sitting there once you’ve left the station (did this on our last leg back to London after visiting Chatsworth).
Eurostar requires a bit more work—it’s a bit like traveling by an airplane and a train combined. This is because you’re leaving the country. You have to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure to go through security and customs, then join the swarm of people all heading to the same train. The train travels around 200 mph and only about half an hour is underwater so before you know it the Irish conductor is welcoming you to France!