In the last couple of weeks, I have had the opportunities to pop down to London a couple of times and I just thought I would share two of these with you. I live along the Chiltern Mainline, which is basically the train line from Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone. It takes about an hour and a half to travel down to London from my station, from where I usually pop straight down onto the underground to wherever I fancy going.
On the first of my trips, I arrived at Marylebone at about half past ten in the morning. It was surprisingly busy for what was after the morning rush hour. I made my way down the platform with my printed ticket that I had bought online only a few days before. Handing it in at the security barriers, I then sped through the crowds to get hold of my underground ticket. Down the escalator I ran, with my brown leather jacket flung open. All the daily commuters stood to the right, I felt my own adrenalin rush as I moved swiftly through the passages to the platform. I was traveling southbound, straight for the city.After a couple of seats, the carriage emptied out and I managed to find myself a seat. I still had over half the journey to make, so why not? The tube experience was fun, different to the usual commute into Birmingham I usually make for college by a long way off. The names of passing stations came into view through the windows, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus. They were landmarks underground, each station name being a picture moment itself.
My aim for the day was to see as much as I could in one day, so it was planned to work backwards from the furthest point away from the station, which seemed logical. It made more sense when I thought the off peak ticket wouldn’t be valid the two hours before my train home – so I didn’t want to be stranded on the other side of the city.
The painstaking journey underground was soon to be over, as I popped up to the surface at my first destination. I had arrived at Tower Hill. I walked across to the Tower Bridge, before walking the circumference of the Tower of London. I had only spent half an hour in London by this point, with a further five and a half left I got back on the tube and headed back into the city centre to Westminster. It was precisely 12 o’clock when I arrived, picture perfect. The gold around the clock face were highlighted ready for the Olympics which begin in a few months time. Everything was clean, it was a giant show case. In just a few months time, the whole world will descend on the city. The whole world will be watching us.
I hung around Westminster for a little while, admiring the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. It was when I started getting hungry that I began to walk up to Buckingham Palace. I didn’t fancy the tube, plus it was a nice walk. I was guaranteed to walk past a Subway or McDonalds at some point, so the walk didn’t phase me.
Sods law took charge, not a food outlet in sight. After arriving at Buckingham Palace, and taking a couple of pictures, I headed up the Mall to Trafalgar Square. I completely missed Nelson’s Column and the National Museum, there was food. My McChicken sandwich went down a treat, putting some energy back into my mind. I was set up for the rest of the afternoon where I had Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street planned before the walk back to Marylebone.
For anybody who knows London, or has seen a map of London, you will see the kind of distance I saved myself walking by getting the tube from Charing Cross to Piccadilly Circus. To be brutally honest, I spent longer walking around the station’s passages than I would have done walking straight there. But I arrived, and I was happy. After spending a couple of days in New York City a few years ago, I have had a thing for busy places. Walking through Times Square as I did is something I dream of doing again. The lights at night were incredible, the atmosphere was just as manic. It was only about two o’clock by now, still daylight. I wasn’t sure what time it would be dark and instead of risking missing my train home, I moved onto Oxford Street.
I had a couple of hours left, allowing myself enough time to walk back to the station and grab a bite to eat before my train left. Oxford Street was the last point of call, but before I began walking over, I stopped off at a shop I visited a very long time ago. I have vague memories as a child, walking through this shop in particular. Wanting to explore the other floors. Looking up at the counter of sweets, oblivious to the price tag next to them. Fortnum and Mason was somewhere I wanted to visit, so I did. I dragged myself up the floors to see what was around. It was January, Christmas sale period. I wanted a laugh. On the top floor, Christmas decorations were for sale at discount price. I was carefully browsing. I say carefully, because I didn’t want to look like I was about to make a purchase. My wallet wasn’t big enough for these prices, especially when a box of 4 crackers cost £270.
I doubt you’ll get a flimsy pen in them…
Shopping has always taken up lots of time, souvenir shops were a painstakingly slow process. Should I buy this sicker? Or that drinks mat? It’s a tough call. I ended up with the pen and key ring, a post card too! I spent more on a bagel back at Marylebone than I did in that shop, although it has to be said, it was one bloody nice bagel.
After spending almost six hours walking around the city, with so much of a half hour pit stop for lunch, a bbq chicken bagel with melted cheese was the way forward. It has become a ritual now to me, that whenever I wait for a train at Marylebone, I will have a bagel. Simple as that really.
Only a week and a half later, I was back in the city. My reason for travelling down this time was for a hour-long meeting over by Kings Cross St Pancreas, but it wasn’t going to stop me seeing a couple more sights. In between my visits, I had found out that the underground ticket was valid all afternoon without restrictions. This meant that I had no limits. My day, was my day. I did exactly what I wanted to do.
I knew what to expect at Marylebone now, so before the train arrived, I shuffled through the carriages to the front, ready to rush through the surge of people to the ticket office for my underground ticket. I was travelling an hour early, arriving in peak time still. People everywhere, you had to walk with a purpose. I learnt that in New York, from my tour guide.
“You don’t get mugged if you walk with a purpose. Tourists are too obvious, they walk around with their heads in the sky taking photos. Pick-pockiters just walk around looking for you…”
Ever since I heard that, I have always walked with a purpose. I also find that walking faster makes you ‘one of them’. I don’t know who they are, but you seem to fit in with the city vibe better. It helps having a long black coat too, and a scarf. A shoulder bag is also necessary for the look too. I think I qualify for the role as arrogant commuter then, as this is exactly what I wore.
My first stop today was in the opposite direction than before, I had dreamt of living in Maida Vale for years. I just had to see what it was like there. Maida Vale was also home to the Abbey Road Studios, made famous by the Beatles, who walked out on the pelican crossing just outside.
It was a busy junction, cars passing all the time. There were plenty of tourists too, waiting for an opportunity to take a photo of themselves on the famous crossing.
I walked through the district once more, back to Maida Vale station where I boarded the tube to take me into the city. After a change, I popped back up at Wood Lane, directly opposite the BBC Television Center. The building appeared to be smaller than I anticipated, with the ‘Prank Patrol’ van driving into the gates. I hung around for a bit, waiting to see if I could spot any celebrities. It didn’t take very long for me to give up, looking at my watch I didn’t have a lot of time left and the sky was getting darker. There was one thing I needed to do before I left.
I hopped onto the tube at White City. After all, it was only a few minutes walk away from Wood Lane and on the central line.I headed up to Oxford Street, changing back onto the Bakerloo line. Instead of heading to Marylebone, I went back to my spot. Piccadilly Circus. It was dark. The lights were vibrant, it was the atmosphere I love. Streams of colour lit the area, the rush of people flooded the streets. A clear night’s sky was a beautiful blue, contrasting to the red on the advert. This was always going to be my spot here in London.
Time was pressing on, a countdown echoed in the back of my mind. ’18:07′ flashed throughout my head, the time of my train. It was half five now.
The tube took me direct to Marylebone, my final destination of the day. I ordered my bbq chicken and cheese bagel, as promised, eating it on a bench to the side of the ticket office. I had also bought a bottle of lemonade and packet of crisps for the journey home. Two items cost me a fifteen minute wait. The cash register seemed to break every couple of minutes, with the cue of people growing by the minute. I was lucky, out at ten to six, I sat and waited for the platform number to be displayed.
A large group of people were hanging around, all waiting for the same train. It was busier now than last time I came down. I was unsure I would get a seat and for an hour and a half long journey, I wasn’t going to let myself suffer. I quite fancied a table too! Being the cheeky little kid I am, I discretely made my way over to one of the platforms early. Preying it would be my train. It was a chance I was willing to make, something which was well paid off. The platform was announced, and the swarm of people headed in my direction from the concourse. I was right by the doors, first pick of the seats. My legs took no more stress, I was relaxed, ready to go home. Slouched in my seat, the luxury from the silverline service comforting my aching body.
It was a day well spent, I was dead chuffed.
I will next be visiting London on the 2nd March, travelling down during the morning peak. It is going to be fun…