I've just returned from a week long visit to South West London and I feel I have to say a few words on the transport system there and Londoners in general.
A lot of negative things are said about the big city, most of it I've yet to experience. Whenever I've spent time in London I've always found it to be pleasant and the people very nice.
This week I felt like I learnt more about surburban London. I stayed on the outskirts and because I was staying so long I had to abandon my lazy ways and use the public transport. As a general rule I use taxis a lot. This is partly because the underground is somewhat scary to people who aren't used to it (like me) and it can be very confusing which line goes where and what branch and direction to take. But not this time.
Arriving on Saturday, I needed to get a tube to Waterloo but found that the service was down. Doing my usual scaredy cat routine, I didn't let the information lady tell me the alternative route but rushed off for a taxi. Easy enough then, I arrived at Waterloo and found that trains to my destination run very regularly and within minutes I was on a train heading the right way. (So, so easy.)
Because I was staying a week, taxis really weren't an option and so the friend I was staying with introduced me to the bus service. (Fortunately he'd already told me to get an oyster card, so bus travel was as easy as touching a card to a sensor.) On Monday, all alone and feeling brave, I jumped buses, found places and really started to enjoy the freedom of public transport. I've driven since I was 23 and I don't think I've actually been on a bus since then. But I can so see the appeal of the system down south. Why bother taking your car - it might be hard to park - when getting the bus is so simple, takes you directly where you want to go and is cheap? The bus service was also profilic and regular with buses arriving every few minutes, and the train service was likewise very frequent.
On Tuesday I went to meet my friend Alison for lunch at Waterloo and we hit the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf - yep I saw the dome - and the train service is again so frequent and so easy, that basically when you step off one train, the next one you want always seems to be there and ready to go.
And as far as Londoners are concerned ... I have never been smiled at so much in my life! On the said trains and buses, in the streets, the people are really lovely and friendly (even the cats seem friendlier) - so what's this rubbish about everyone being too rushed and too busy to smile and be nice? It is definitely not so! In fact, as a Mancunian girl, I'd say the big city has the edge on smiles.
On Thursday I had to find my way to Victoria Station for a meeting nearby. Once again, transport was very easy and I didn't feel intimidated at all to be out there on my own. In fact the return train was heading to Brighton, as well as my stop and the thought of seeing the sea was very tempting (maybe next time). And people always seem to want to chat to you on the train too!
If you've had the opposite experience I'd love to know, but remember this, try smiling and maybe you'll be greeted nicely. And maybe you'll be making a visitor to your own city/town/village feel that little bit more welcome.