Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Midnight Train To Cambridge

One of cultural shifts I've found so interesting is how quickly we have become use to taking the train. I don't mean the subway, though London's Tube system is impressive (I still miss DC's Metro, particulary the Red line). I mean real trains that go from town to town. We regualrly take the train into London, a trip that takes about 45 minutes on an express train (no stops) or as much as an 75 minutes on one that makes many stops on the way. The express train runs every 30 minutes during most of the day and the trains go from Cambridge to two different stops on the Tube network, King's Cross or Liverpool St.

The UK rail system use to be run by the government but it was privatized in 1994. Since then prices have risen considerably, much to the dismay of commuters. Without discount cards, a roundtrip to London can cost nearly 30 pounds ($60)! But the trains are remarkably good at being on time and one can eat and drink on them (even beer) unlike on DC's Metro.

This is all a long-winded intro to the events of Monday when I went into London to visit my Canadian cousin Millicent (center of picture), her husband Jim (next to me) and the two friends, Eric and Margaret, they were staying with. Jim and Millicent were doing a London-Paris jaunt on the way to a meeting in Copenhagen and it was their first trip to Europe. Though I had just flown in from Nice (that post is coming!) that morning, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to say hi. The only problem was we didn't start dinner til after 9pm and I didn't pay attention to the train schedule.
After a nice but very slow dinner (at the Wolseley), I hopped on the Tube for a short ride to King's Cross. It was about 11:30pm when I got there but I still expected to see several trains to Cambridge on the departure board. Nope. I quickly used my phone to check whether Liverpool St station had any--none until the 3:30am morning training. Uh-oh. Finding it hard to believe there were no trains home, I looked again at the King's Cross board and noted that there was a 12:07am train to Stevenage with a note "Bus to Cambridge" in small print. Apparently my normal train stopped half-way so work could be done on the tracks and people had to bus the remaining distance. No one besides me seemed surprised by all this so I reluctantly got on the train. After a 45 minute ride on the train, another hour ride on the bus with about 15 people, and a short taxi ride, I finally arrived home at 2am in the chilly drizzle. Hard to believe I had woken up 20 hours earlier in Nice and ate freshly-baked croissants looking at the blue Mediterranean waters. Long day.

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