Sunday, July 30, 2006

On the Road to Cambridge (June 27, 2006)

Shruuuuuubberies! Get your shrubberies here! Getting to Cambridge from Gatwick is like trying to get from Pittsburgh to Cleveland by way of Columbus, by train, underground, bus, and foot. This is crazy.

Since arriving in London (Gatwick) at 9am, I’ve been making my way, double-backing, making my way, double-backing some more, and well you get the picture. To elaborate. After making it through customs, I bought a train ticket from Gatwick to Cambridge. In the directions I have from the conference, it says take the train to Victoria, the underground to Kings Cross, and then take a train to Cambridge. Sounds easy right? But hmmm... the guy at the train counter says, don’t go to Kings Cross go to Finsbury Park. To which I respond, “Um... are you sure?” And he says, yes it’s faster. Well, ok Mr. Train Ticket Salesman. No problem.

So, I catch a train to Victoria and upon arrival find myself staring at the gigantic oversized board that flashes which train is going where. Unfortunately, none of the trains are going to Kings Cross or Finsbury! Ugh. So, I ask a coffee shop worker how to get to Finsbury and they said they don’t know because they don’t really use the trains. Great! Next up, I walked over towards the platforms and asked one of the workers how to get to Cambridge. To this inquery he responds that I don’t want a “train”, I want the “underground” to Kings Cross. Thank you very much, but are you sure I want to go to Kings Cross? The answer - definitely - and I must take Platform 2. Alrighty.... here I go.

So, into the underground I go. I have my train ticket, but now I’m in the underground, will my train ticket work? I look around, but everyone’s underground ticket looks completely different than my train ticket. Great. I can’t find an underground employee anywhere, it’s super super super crowded (Tokyo-style), the face-to-face ticket counters are jam-packet (there must be at least 50 people in line), and I’m standing in the middle of the underground ticket-purchasing section with a confused touristy look on my face. Oh boy - not good. I repeat - oh boy - not good. *ding* *ding* *ding*.... The warning bells are going off in my head. So, I go to stand in line for an automatic ticket machine that accepts credit cards (Halleluya - because I have yet to hit an ATM yet - yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but I’m a bit sleep deprived).

When I get to the front of the line, everything goes smoothly in the transaction. Single zone ticket? Check. Insert card? Check. Remove card? Check. Error - your card can not be read, please find an attendant or cancel this transaction. This process repeated several times, someone behind me (a non-Londoner also) tries to help out - but alas. In the end I cancel the transaction and let the angry hoard behind me continue on with their day.

Now, I still don’t like option 1 (try to use my train ticket) or option 2 (wait in the 50+ person line for the person at the ticket window), so what do I do? Well, I find another ticket machine. This time all works well. Whew! Double Whew! And I’m just about ready to get down on my knees and thank the lord!

Alright, so now I’ve got my ticket, now I’ve got to figure out which Victoria line I want. Can you believe it - there are two lines a yellow/green line and a blue line. After a minute of deliberation I realize both go to Kings Cross and the blue line is actually called the “Victoria” line. So blue it is.

I use my ticket and have to go down (it is the “underground”) to the platforms. Yet another dilemma - there is only a Platform 3 and a Platform 4. There is no Platform 2! What planet that I walk onto? What the dangnabbit is going on? Ok, ok, no need to panic - I find out that if need be, there is a walkway (albeit a long one) to the yellow/green line to see if those are actually Platform 1 and 2. But first I check to see where Platform 3 goes. Thankfully, after some confusion I realize it goes to Kings Cross. And it goes to Finsbury a couple of stops later. Woohoo. I’m in good shape - or so it seems (que the Twiight Zone music)

So, I grab the next train and get off at Kings Cross. Now, which underground/train line do I need? Could it be the “Northern” line? That would make sense since I’m going “north”, but there are two other underground lins and I have no idea, so I figure I’ll go upstairs and ask a worker. And that’s what I do. The answer - yes, you can grab a connection to Cambridge from here. Hmm... connection? Does she mean an underground or train? Well, no time to ask, because apparently I can’t grab a connection today. You see, normally you can, but.... not when there’s a fire - that’s right a fire - the previous evening at Kings Cross. Are you kidding me? My transfer to Cambridge was just not meant to be.

So, back down to the Victoria line I go. I grab the next train to Finsbury, get off and proceed to ask a worker how to get to Cambridge. Go left, left, up and you’re there. Um... ok. So I go left, left, then up and.... I have another choice, I can either go right to the underground or left and up again. Lucky for me there are a multitude of cops/bobbies/whatever patrolling and helping out with the mass confusion that I realized was going on around me. You see, everything that was leaving from Kings Cross was rerouted to Finsbury. Wonderful. A nice officer says, go on up - track 3. Finally! So, up I go and a I’m about to get on the train when that little voice in my head tells me that with everything that’s been going on I should ask if this is the right train before getting on. So I do. And what do you know? The train is not going to Cambridge. The next train will go to Cambridge - they think.

You think? I ask what he means by this statement. He says, well there aren’t any fixed schedules today because of the Kings Cross fiasco. So I ask if they have an idea when the next train to Cambridge will come along. The answer is not reassuring - neither he, nor the other workers were sure, but they would let all of us know when the train did come along. Where am I, a third world country? Who knew that London could have such problems.

So, I take my seat and end up in a conversaion with a recently graduated Cambridge student who is making his way back to the city after a holiday. Nice guy, he reassured me that it isn’t always this crazy to get to Cambridge - but that sometimes it really is. In fact, he says, that on particular days, such as the Sunday that I’ll be going back, the train doesn’t run at all! He response - “WHAT?!?!?!?”! But no fear - they will run a shuttle bus in that case and I’ll be fine. This is absolutely crazy.

Anyway, after a couple of trains and a half-hour later, the cambridge train finally arrives. It’s been an hour now, and I’m still on the train to Cambridge, but at least I know I’ll actually get there today.

Reminder to self - Pay the extra $500 and fly to London - Stanstead Airport. It’s north of the city and only a 20 mile ride to Cambridge.

But solace - to some extent - at least I’ll be there with plenty of time to find a pub and watch the Brazil-Ghana world cup match!


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