Revelations on the Tube

Oct 8, 2018 9:37:59 AM / by Genevieve Rice

In this week's post, Genevieve muses about everything she's learned from commuting on the Tube in London

Some say that the underground—subway, metro, what have you--of a big city is the gut, churning, digesting and absorbing all joy and energy of the traveler in a mere twenty-five to fifty minutes. I can understand this description, especially during rush hour at King’s Cross St Pancras (I always think St Pancreas and wonder how much teasing the fourteen-year-old martyr it was named after endured). The enormous crowds that somehow manage to organize into makeshift queues, even in the chaos, certainly drain the life out of most people who use the tube for their daily commute.  The shadowed tunnels that connect the stations certainly inspire the idea of the bowels of the city, but personally, I do not believe that this analogy adequately describe London’s tube. 

Genevieve Rice Beginning of CommuteMy morning commute always starts out quiet.

No, the tube isn’t the bowels of the city, it is the heart. Pulling in people from all walks of life and parts of the city, bringing them together for fifty minutes a day and then pumping them back out into the world again. The whoosh of passing trains like the constant rush of life flowing from every person’s heart. Existing in London gets overwhelming. The pressure to go more and do more is constantly screaming in my ear, especially when doing an internship and classes. However, there is a moment almost every day when life slows down. It clicks and all the worry over everything that is going on fades away. For me, that moment happens in the tube, usually in the morning, when the sunlight that I was told not to expect in London shines through the windows of the train. I take the moment to look up and out, at the people standing around me, at their briefcases swaying gently along to the music of the train’s wheels; then I look out farther, through the windows and out at the forest of buildings, each housing a person whose life will flow on with or without me. I take a deep breath and, as Sylvia Plath so elegantly wrote, listen to the old brag of my heart, beating in time with the clicking and clacking of the rails.

Windows of the TubeThe windows frame the sunsets

When I question my choice to leave the familiar, and that happens at least once a week during my hour-long rides, I simply look up and look around and know that this is exactly where I want to be. I want to be in the middle of outside of my comfort zone. I want to be exploring a city that while huge and somewhat impersonal, is becoming dearer each day. Study abroad isn’t always comfortable, but the longer I am away from home, the more the unfamiliar shows me that this is worth it. Exploring and pushing myself is worth it, because I am learning so much about life and other people. The day when I no longer required my city-mapper app (which I highly recommend if you are doing any traveling in a big city) was a day of victory because it revealed to me that I am adapting and learning London in a tangible way.

Now I know how to switch platforms at King’s Cross without disrupting the flow of foot traffic. The best way to describe it is a strange dance of changing partners as I weave throughout the countless people.

I know that Londoners like their queues, especially around the escalators—there are two of them, the right for those who want to stand and the left for those who want to walk up the escalator and switching is prohibited after choosing your side.

I know that to get onto the Northern Line during rush hour, which I don’t recommend, but do every day, I need to be a little aggressive. Be silent and polite, but don’t be afraid to squeeze forward in the crowd to make sure to get on that train! Just no cutting. Queues are sacred.

Walking to the TubeWalking is a necessary part of any trip on the tube.

I know that walking is going to happen, and it happens fast. Londoners are a nation of speed walkers, but I manage to keep up now.

I know to leave ten minutes earlier than I think I need to, or than any app tells me I need to, because there are going to be at least three red signals that the train must stop for. I am on time…now.

Tube Train with Plenty of SeatingTrains are more fun if you have somewhere to sit!

I have learned so much from the tube, and it has given me a sense of assurance and comfort in this ever-changing city. Public transport in London is special. It is huge and bustling as New York, but cleaner. It is silent, unlike the metro in Paris. And it is so much bigger than the ones in Vienna or Budapest. It is the beating heart of the city, bringing Londoners together and revealing to me that this semester is exactly where I want to be. The purpose and drive of the city flows freely in the tube, injecting its passengers with the determination that is required for survival in this global city. Just not on the weekends, because weekends are when at least one line is on strike or closed for maintenance.

Thanks, Genevieve!

Genevieve Rice


Genevieve Rice is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An English Literature major at Anderson University, she is studying abroad in London this semester.

Genevieve's journey continues every Monday so stay tuned.


Learn More about the CAPA London Program

Topics: London, England, Local Culture