Going to the Olympics? Mind the Gap!
If you’re going to London for the Olympics or at some future time, you’ll want to use their Underground system to get around easily, efficiently and inexpensively. Taking taxis around London can be expensive and time consuming because of the number of cars on the road backing down traffic, traffic signals and streets that become one-way at certain time of day or night. Don’t confuse the British Rail train system that will take you all around England, Wales and Scotland, with the London Underground which will take you around London and some of its suburbs.
You’ll see the words “Mind the Gap” on signs near the places where you board underground trains and painted on the platform around where the trains stop and doors open. The signs refer to the space created between the stopped train and the platform. At some stations, the gap the signs refer to are large enough for a small child to easily fall through or for a big shopping bag to slide through easily. Sometimes, the gap is not a question of a large space between platform and train but a lack of alignment of platform and train which creates a large step up or step down for entering or exiting passengers.
These gap areas are particularly hazardous for people traveling with small children, lots of packages, or who have mobility challenges and are dealing with crutches and wheelchairs. You will find on the Underground maps notations of Handicap-Accessible Underground train stops that make it easy for people who have children in strollers or those with mobility challenges to reach the trains. My observation is that these specially marked train stations have no steps to enter the ground level waiting rooms and ticket purchase offices and are often on the same level as the train platforms or there are elevators to transport those who have difficulty dealing with stairs to access the train platforms or exits if they are getting off the train at that station.
What I find unfathomable is that the very stations that are marked as handicapped-accessible also have some Grand Canyon-sized “gap” areas that appear to be impossible for someone with mobility issues to leap across. When the train rolls into many of the stations designated for easy handicapped access, you’ll note the “Mind the Gap” sign alerts passengers to a difference of 8 to 12 inches between the level of the floor of the train and the level of the train platform making it impossible for someone on crutches, with a wheel chair or whose knees are just not cooperating to make the giant leap off or onto the train.
Note that there are terms you’ll want to understand to use the Underground system in London. Firstly, in cities in the US that have a subway system, we walk through the “underground” to get to the “subway” train. In London, you walk through the “subway” to get to the “underground,” the train which is also called “the tube.”
It’s easy to use the London underground train system and their maps are simple to use. The various underground “tube” lines are color-coded and when you look at a map of the system you can see easily what station you need to get off at to change to another line to get where you want to go. Every station is well marked on the paper maps, on map boards in the stations and on posters easily found in every car on every train. The stations are well marked and brightly lighted and the name of each station is posted in huge letters. You’d have to want to get lost in order to lose your way! At some of the biggest train stations you can hop from one train line to another more easily because every ‘color’ train line stops in the biggest stations.
While you’ll probably enter a train station in order to board a train, some stations, like Victoria Station, Kings Cross and Paddington Station, offer a wide variety of shops, places to dine, and, in the case of Paddington Station, a grand kiosk with Paddington Bear plus toys in sizes from key chain ornaments to more than 2 meters tall, all dressed with Wellington Boots, his signature hat and coat, the occasional suitcase adornment, and the attached note inviting you to, “Please take care of this bear. Thank you.”
It’s almost worth checking out Paddington Station just to interface with the Paddington Bear Kiosk. And remember that you can connect with the Underground trains in the Paddington Underground Station (entrance located on Praed Street) as well as with the British Railway trains in the Paddington.
If you are flying into or departing from London Heathrow International Airport, you’ll be able to hop aboard the Heathrow Express, a wonderful train that links the airport with London in comfort and ease in the most civilized way to travel that route and avoid what I often refer to as ‘the taxi ride from Hell!’ Don’t try to make this train trip if you have lots of luggage or more kids than you have hands to hold them! But if you choose to take the Heathrow Express, you pick the train up at the airport or at Paddington Station giving you one more chance to buy a bear! And remember: Mind the Gap!
--Gotta Fly Now!sm
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