Monday, 3 October 2011

Getting from Here to There

If, like most students from Harlaxton, you are from the Midwest, you have probably had very little experience with public transportation as a means of travel. I know for me, the only public transportation available in my hometown is a bus system that is often unreliable and a rather scary. My town even has an Amtrak station, a rarity these days, but it is only practical for traveling to Chicago. But coming to Europe introduced me to the realm of public transportation by force.

Having been in England a little more than a month (how time flies!), I’ve experienced just about every form of public transportation. So I’m going to use this blog to give you a quick rundown of what you need to know. We start, of course, with the Harlaxton shuttle.

Some people may not consider the shuttle when they think of public transportation, but I think it deserves a mention. The shuttle runs several times a day Monday-Friday and several times a day on Saturday, though with an altered schedule. On Sunday the shuttle only runs back and forth to church. The biggest resource of the shuttle comes from talking to the drivers. Locals themselves, they know everything from how to find the movie theater to where to find the best food in town to finding that one item on your shopping list that seems to be not in stores anywhere (such as index cards…).

Next we have public buses. This is the one form of transportationn I haven’t really used yet. The shuttle drops you off at the Grantham bus station, so I know there are plenty of buses to take that run around Grantham and to a variety of close cities, such as Lincoln and Nottingham. There are also bus systems that run around most of the tourist cities, but I am content to walk most places. If you have any tips about using buses, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Trains. To me, trains are the quintessential form of transportation around England. They travel quickly (significantly faster than cars) and, in the United Kingdom, can get you to almost any destination. If you invest in a Young Persons Railcard, it will quickly pay for itself. Armed with, you can get almost anywhere in Great Britain. The Grantham train station is small, but you can get connecting trains to many of the bigger stations. If you’ve never traveled by train before, my one tip is that the departure board is your friend. As soon as you get to a station, locate the departure board. Your train will be listed by the time it is set to depart the station and the final destination of the line. This destination will likely not be where you are headed, but that’s ok. When you get to your platform, there will be a list of stations that the train is calling at and your destination should be listed there. The trains are almost always exactly on time (a big change from the American Amtrak…), so be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to be on time. I’ve already traveled to Edinburgh and London by train, and I’m still in love with train travel.

Along the same line as the train, we have the Underground in London. Because London is such a popular destination for Harlaxton students, I feel it deserves its own mention. The Underground is wonderful- you can get from one side of London to the other in around half an hour, depending on how far out you are going. Once you understand the concept of the different lines and how to change lines, the Underground quickly becomes your best friend. One thing you should make sure to be aware of is line closures. As Miranda noted in her most recent London blog, we recently found ourselves facing closures that almost made us miss our train. Luckily, the tubes stops are close enough that we could make it to another one without too much hassle, but it was still annoying. So, before you head into London, make sure to check line closures, especially on weekends. Also, if you are coming this coming spring, be especially on the lookout- the Underground is being upgraded in preparation for the Olympics, resulting in more closures than normal. Even in September, more than half the lines were completely or partially closed for construction work. Other than that, invest in an Oyster card (a huge savings on individual tickets) and make use of the Underground. Though it may be a little bit crowded, it does get you from point A to point B quickly. And you don’t have to navigate the confusing city streets of London.

Finally we come to taxis. I would venture to guess that everyone coming to Harlaxton will take a taxi at least once during their stay. And for many students, this is a new experience. I have taken a taxi twice home from the train station and once to the train station. One tip- if you can call ahead, even a full day ahead, so schedule the taxi, do so. Otherwise, it can take a while for your taxi to get to you and often takes much longer than they tell you it will take. Harlaxton has a deal with a local taxi company that offers a trip to the manor for either 6 or 9 pounds, depending on the time of day. This deal is worth planning ahead to make sure you can get a cab with this company.

I hope this was somewhat informative and gave you an insight into public transport. If you have any more tips or questions, feel free to leave them below!

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