Rainbow lines interlock and criss-cross forming circles, loops and rectangles, a complex schematic holding the key to efficient movement across the city for those who know the code. Victoria, Waterloo, DLR, London Overground and National Rail.
People rush down tiled passages, slipstreaming to right and left, barely glancing away from their iPhones and iPads as they scurry along familiar routes.
Trains scream; the wind roars down tunnels and along platforms sending hair flailing and dust particles spinning; neon signs flash 5mins, 4mins, 3mins, 2.
Inside the trains eye contact is taboo. Faces peer at screens across which thumbs move deftly; the Metro News gets passed from fingers to seats to fingers in real time recycling. Seats vacate and occupy at lightening speed like a game of well rehearsed musical chairs and space morphs from ample to premium in the rhythmical opening of doors.
“The next stop”, “mind the doors” and “change here for…” intones the PA system in a bright, BBC accent while all around voices talk on phones and to each other in languages that bring the globe within a single carriage.
And everywhere the urgency is palpable. Crowds hurtle along corridors beneath the ‘Do not run’ signs, taking stairs two at a time, throwing themselves between closing doors. Bodies surge forward as doors glide open, joining Mother Nature in her abhorrence of a vacuum as they squeeze into gaps that don’t exist, personal space sacrificed to time.
Confused beyond words, we ask for help:
“How can we get from here to World Travel Market at Excel for the next three days without the aid of a second mortgage?”
Careful explanations are given, routes are weighed up in terms of speed versus costs and a solution is agreed. Cards are issued, payments are made, advice is given – “ping the pink for transition, swipe the yellow for exit”. It becomes our daily mantra.
Each time we hesitate before stepping from platform to train a friendly face is there to reassure or redirect. From Stratford our every move is choreographed over the PA system: “this exit for press, that for new registrations”; “change at Canning Town”; “services are good”.
Soon we’ve joined the throng of humanity that twice daily traverses the city, our disposable coffee cups in hand, faces scanning our screens for #WTM2012 updates, our feet taking us unconsciously competently from Overground to Underground to DLR to WTM at lightening speed and little cost, pinging the pink and swiping the yellow as we go.
There must be days, or weeks when Londoners face delays and rail at the rails for failed appointments, wasted time and late arrivals but through the eyes of a visitor, this is a fast, efficient, clean and cost effective way of travelling around the greatest capital city in the world.
Thank you London.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+