Remember That One Time in London When…
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...we were evacuated from the train station due to a strike!
How a Normal Day Turned into an Unforgettable Adventure
Public transportation in London is the way to get around. We’ve used the Underground, the buses, the trains, the Overground, and the DLR. We prefer it to having a rental car. It’s easier, faster, and you don’t have to worry about parking.
That being said, it’s no surprise that when planning our visit to Windsor castle, we decided to take public transportation. We’d heard for days in advance that there was a planned strike on the Underground that would disrupt service. The smart move in this situation was to avoid the Underground and take the trains instead. We asked at a station just to be sure that the trains we planned on taking wouldn’t be affected by the strike. We were assured this would be fine, one of the two trains we were taking was going to go on strike, but not until the following day.
The Journey, Plan A
We started off bright and early at 8 am. We arrived at the packed Balham rail station and two trains came and went before the third one had enough space fur us to board. If you’ve traveled during rush hour on London public transport, then you know that trains, tubes (Underground) and buses get packed. Every sense of personal space is lost, because you’re crammed into the train until no space is left. It’s not uncommon for people to push their way onto the train, not have enough space and get their stuff, or worse their head stuck in the closing doors. Seriously, we witnessed several people shake off the train door after it closed onto their head!
We took the train to Clapham Junction where we planned on transferring to a different train that would get us to Windsor Castle. Our pay as you go Oyster card would only work within central London, and the second train we planned on taking went out of the fare zone of the card. So, we knew we’d have to manually buy tickets to get onto our second train. We disembarked the first train at Clapham Junction and set off to buy tickets for the second leg of our journey. However, since the ticket machines are outside of the ‘turn-styles’, we’d have to exit the train station, buy the tickets, and re-enter the train station. Pretty simple right?
Well, not this day. Instead, we were greeted with security guards holding back hundreds of people at the entrance to the station. Once we found a guard that wasn’t being berated or yelled at by a commuter, we asked what was happening. He told us that the train station was metering the entrance, only letting in a certain number of people at a time. He didn’t know when anyone would be let in, but it was probably going to be a while.
If we exited to purchase our tickets, we wouldn’t be able to get back into the station anytime soon. But, if we stayed, we wouldn’t be able to get on the train to Windsor Castle because we didn’t have valid tickets. We felt stuck. Fortunately, we kicked into troubleshooting mode and came up with a plan. Presumably, train stations further out of city center would be less busy, therefore allowing us to easily exit, purchase tickets and re-enter. Also, as long as we stayed within the London zone, we’d be able to pay with our Oyster card. So, our plan was to take a train a few stations out, staying within the London zone, and purchase tickets that would allow us to board the train to Windsor Castle from there. This, no doubt, would take some navigating to find the correct train(s) that would get us to the castle, but nothing we couldn’t handle.
Now that we had plan B formulated, we headed back into the main part of the station. We figured out the platform we needed to get to and started weaving our way through the crowds. As we walked, we started to hear train personnel yelling something we couldn’t make out and pointing towards the exit. The crowds of people became even thicker as we made our way further into the station. Then we started to piece together what was being yelled, and it was confirmed by the overhead announcement on the speakers. Everyone was being told to exit the train station, due to overcrowding. To top it off, all trains were being cancelled.
Seriously!? We stepped to the side and contemplated what to do. We considered staying on the side of the pathway, in hopes that it was misinformation and the trains would resume service. But, ultimately, we thought better of it, and for our safety we abided by the directions and evacuated with everyone else.
Not to worry though, not that big of a deal, we weren't that fond of Plan B anyway!
If the Underground and the trains are shut down, then no problem, we’ll take the bus! Common sense, right? Sure. However, the problem was that about 1,000 other people had the same idea.
We exited the station and looked up directions on our phone to see what bus we should hop on. We located the stop, about 50-feet in front of us, and started to make our way there. However, there was a huge crowd surrounding the stop and more people filling up the sidewalk around it. It was clear, there was no way we’d make it on that bus anytime soon.
Hmmmm, if plan C didn't work, we wondered how far into the alphabet we'd get before one of our plans actually worked out.
Quickly, we decided to track the route of the bus on our phone. It became clear that we had to board the bus before it got to the crowded bus stop at the train station. We traced the bus route and found the stop prior to the crowded one in front of the evacuated train station. Our plan was to board there, before the massive crowd got on at the train station. While not an original idea, at least two dozen other people thought of it as well, we were able to board the first bus that stopped. We got on the bus, tucked ourselves next to a railing and a window and stood for the ride. At that point our goal was to get out of city center. The bus was so full that the driver didn’t even stop at the next two stops. We rode the bus for about 45-minutes before we started to look up the new route we needed to take to get to our destination.
Per the new route, we were going to have to make a transfer to a second bus, that would take us to a third bus, that would finally get us to Windsor Castle. Thankfully, while the buses in this area of town were still full, due to rush hour and the time of day, it was nothing out of the ordinary. We caught the second bus and got a seat this time. We waited for our stop when suddenly, we heard an announcement over the loudspeaker that said the next stop would be the final stop. We knew that couldn’t be right. And from the looks on the faces of everyone else on the bus, it didn’t seem right to them either. But sure enough, the bus stopped and everyone had to get off. We grabbed a transfer slip and walked to the next stop. Thankfully, it was only a six or seven-minute wait for the next bus. From what we can put together, the bus we were on was being taken off route, and we just had to wait for the next bus to come and pick everyone up and continue the route.
We rode the bus, and got to our stop, where we had a short walk to where we'd catch the bus that would take us to Windsor Castle. However, when we got to our final bus stop we noticed the bus stop sign was different. It was a ‘Coach’ stop, not a bus stop. We’d missed that small detail when looking at our transit map. Since we hadn’t taken a coach in London, when it pulled up we asked the driver a few questions. We didn’t want to overlook something. From our brief conversation with the driver we learned that Coaches don’t accept Oyster cards, so we’d need cash. The problem was, we needed £8 apiece for one-way travel. We didn’t have this much cash on us.
D, we barely knew ya'. E, here we come!
We thanked the Coach driver and he closed the doors and drove off. We walked away from the stop and re-grouped (yet again). Windsor Castle just wasn’t going to happen today. We pulled up the Google map we’d created with our intended London sights and attractions. We looked for places within walking distance and made an entirely new plan for the day. We ended up going to several museums around London and had a great time. We avoided the bus for the rest of the day, until it was time to go home. We’d spent almost four hours navigating public transport that morning. The train system remained down for the rest of the day and buses were packed. Our evening commute back to where we were staying was full of new adventures and, of course, consisted of squeezing onto several over packed buses. In short, it took us another two hours to get home.
All in all, it was an adventure we won’t forget. We walked over 12-miles that day and saw some amazing sights in London. Once again, we learned that flexibility and adaptability are necessary in life. Of course, we weren’t commuting to a job and we didn’t have a meeting we'd be late to, but we think, because of our ability to just enjoy the adventure, we were likely the least stressed and one of the happiest pairs of people commuting in London that day.