Mind the gap!
The London Underground, or "tube," has 268 stations and just about as many miles of track. Approximately 8 million people currently reside in Greater London (not including tourists and out-of-town commuters). And in any given year, the number of passenger journeys recorded for the tube can number more than one BILLION. Put all these things together, and what you have is a) proof that the tube is the most efficient system of public transportation known to man and b) at times, sheer annoyance from being stuck having to travel via the most CROWDED system of public transportation known to man. Note: the latter conclusion is probably more accurate.
Welcome to the Picadilly Line (Northbound via Cockfosters):
I got stuck at King's Cross station for more than an hour Tuesday night because of this mess. Luckily, this was all happening AFTER I had finished Day 2 of my International Welcome Program for my "Uni," and I was able to pass the time with some good company - my iPod equipped with Shawn's exceptional going-away playlist.
It was 6:08 p.m. when I reached the platform and at first, being the newbie Londoner that I am, I just assumed it was the evening rush hour causing all the commotion. But by about 6:32 p.m., I started to notice something different. Intermixed with the other students, the suited men with their folios, and the stay-at-home wives with their shopping bags trying to beat their husbands home, were clusters of people wearing white and red shirts with the word "Arsenal" on them.
What is "Arsenal" you ask? Well, besides being a tube stop just 2 stations before my usual stop at Manor House, it's also a professional English football (aka soccer) team. I found out from my housemates later that whenever the Arsenal Gunners have a home game, that's when all the crazies come out and plague the Picadilly Line (as if it REALLY needed any more people during weekday rush hour). Forget about Los Angeles road rage - these Arsenal fanatics will kick any road rager's ass any day.
Needless to say, I wasn't in much of a position to get angry at these people for keeping me from getting home, so instead, I kept the playlist on and waited... and waited... and waited... and contemplated squeezing between some smelly drunk men and lovesick teenagers in hopes of catching the next train... then decided against it... then waited some more. It wasn't until after 7:30 that I finally took advantage of a very small gap of carriage space and was able to get inside a train. And THEN... because of all the traffic (I guess they had to add a bunch more trains to compensate for the crowds), it took me another 35 minutes to get to my stop... a journey that should only have lasted about 11 minutes. Not that I'm complaining or anything. On the contrary, I spent most of the time with a smile on my face and enjoying the music. It's not like I was in any hurry to get anywhere and besides, I was thoroughly enjoying the people watching.
Okay, so to backtrack a little bit... I mentioned earlier that I was taking part in a welcome program. Basically, it was a three-day introduction program to welcome international students and to give them some information on how to do essential things (i.e., enrollment British-style, how to set up a UK bank account, how to get a National Insurance Number for work... similar to the U.S. Social Security number, and how to register for free health insurance).
It was actually pretty informative and I was very happy to meet more people who were in the same boat as me. It turns out that the University of Westminster has 23,561 students enrolled for the coming year. And out of that number, 17% are international students... together, we come from more than 150 different countries. That's a real cosmopolitan learning environment, if I ever saw one.
Granted, all the information they gave was of stuff you easily could learn about online by yourself. But I think the main reason anybody goes to these things is to be social and make friends. And, it's definitely easy to do so... especially when the university serves wine at the reception and invites everyone to the on-campus bar downstairs after it's over. God bless the UK!
I've met so many great people already... lots of Americans, a bunch of Italians, a few Canadians and people from Poland, Croatia, Macedonia (yes, it still exists, can you believe it?), Turkey, Brazil, Russia, Japan, etc. And for some reason, the room of internationals was FULL of attractive people. Whatever direction I looked contained at least one head-turner (male or female). Generally speaking, the people who are most likely to flee to Europe for school tend to be the adventurous and interesting kind. The only problem is that it's really difficult to remember names, so sometimes you have to just remember people by their nationalities.
L-R: Turkish guy, Italian girl, Polish girl, Chicago guy and Brazilian girl.
Just kidding, I actually do know their names... but only because these are some of the people I was hanging out with the most. There are still several "friends" missing from this picture, probably because they were somewhere else getting drunk.
Ah, here they are:
Guiseppe from Italy and Megan from Washington
Anyway, the program concluded on Wednesday with a "disco" on the Thames, in which we paid £5 each to board a boat and cruise down the river. The view was gorgeous, despite the distracting and loud bass-bumping of the Macarena/Madonna remix happening on the bottom floor of the boat.
Personally, I was quite content staying on the upper deck with my cranberry and vodka, and camel blue cigarettes. It was much easier to have conversations with people up there...
L-R: me (with my warm, red peacoat YAY!), Natalia from Poland, and Will from Chicago
Besides, the upper deck had the best view of the sights, so nicely lit from the river vantage point.
The Tower Bridge
All-in-all, I think it's been a pretty productive week so far. I finally feel like I have some sort of a purpose for being here and most aspects of getting around are beginning to feel normal. It's also less lonely now that my cell phone is populated with phone numbers... and sometimes it actually rings! In fact, I'm meeting up with some friends tomorrow afternoon, which means no more solo-sightseeing. Hooray!
And to think I was apprehensive about meeting people...