Entry 6: The Train Kept A’ Rollin’ Part III- written 10/27/09
This is the final entry for transport until we plan our flight to Dublin. London would take up too much room and requires a second entry which I will get around to after I get some extra time this week. nothing exciting here but very informative if you plan on traveling here!
Buses are inexpensive, efficient and easily accesable, but for a slightly higher fee, trains can deliver a faster, more comfortable and enjoyable experience. Before my trip, I was determined to cut costs wherever possible; choosing the cheaper Megabus route over the train when we planned short day trips. However after several uncomfortable and nerve-wracking bus trips and a personal revelation ignited by one of my flatmates soon changed my mind.
Since our arrival in Dundee, my friends and I had used the bus as a cheap way to travel for short trips in and around Angus and Fife. For the most part, one does not need to switch buses to get to their destination, and if you are making a trip last minute, you can easily hop on a bus at the nearest stop. More importantly, if registered far enough in advance, two bus tickets can cost between £10-20 in total; whereas a train can double that price to £30-40. This aside, personal experience with the UK bus system gained over the course of a month radically changed my perception.
First and foremost, riding a bus in the UK is not the same as riding one in the US. Although the buses might be the same double wide, 50-80 seater gas-guzzlers one finds with Megabus and Greyhound, you get two different travel experiences. American roads and highways (paved and built in the 1950’s; the golden age of the automobile) can easily handle buses of this size; whereas roads in the United Kingdom (as advanced as they were in the 18th and 19th century) are unable to cope with vehicles of this size. With every ride I took, the same scenario: big bus needs to make a turn from a main highway to a side road. Doing this requires a lot of coordination from the driver who has to make a turn so tight it can be considered a danger to pedestrians. I’ve seen many bystanders on a street corner come inches away from impact as the bus would; inadvertently, clip the sidewalk. There is also the stops (of which there are many). Picture yourself on a highway at cruising speed and then turning off at every exit down a winding road and stopping to pick up another passenger, then getting back onto the main road and repeating the process again. This occurs anywhere between 10-25 minutes and can be exceedingly annoying and nerve-wracking. Finally there are the traffic issues which are always an inconvenience. By the end of my first month overseas; and reaching the moment when we needed to book transport for London, I had reached an Impasse: dare I book an expensive, yet comfortable and fast trip on a train, or risk taking a cheap 14 hour bus ride from Dundee to London?
My knowledge of the UK rail system was limited to website ticket estimates and the seemingly naïve view that “if it’s a train it will get there faster but for a more expensive price”. My flatmate Sydney on the other hand had travelled throughout the UK prior to the start of the semester and suggested that a “Rail Card” was the best way to get cheap train tickets. Essentially a rail card is like a membership card for train travel. For £26.00, you can get a card that takes off 30% of the regular ticket price for a year. Best of all they have one specifically for students which gives additional discounts to students.
That week, Jen, Julie, Laura and I walked to the train station; passport sized photos for our rail cards in hand to fill out applications for the cards. The station freely hands out forms which we completed before making our way to the front desk where we held up a line of 20 or more impatient people as the attendant filed our cards and booked our tickets for London. In the end our tickets cost £37.00; which was only £10.00 over the price of the card. Booking the rail pass had already paid for itself and we could benefit from it for the rest of our stay! Excited about our new passes, we decided to try them out before the big trip and decided to go to a local destination.
We had passed Perth on our previous bus trip to Stirling. Although it did not appear to have much, the architecture of the buildings, the Blackwatch Museum, Scone Castle and the possibility to visit a local whisky distillery were enough to make the small town a destination worth seeing. The trip was going to be for one day and would give us enough experience with the train to get an idea of the service and comfort we would be expecting in our later travels. We had a group of 11 as well; making the journey all the more interesting. Unlike the London tickets, we bought ours for Perth on the day we were leaving. With the passes our tickets cost £4.50; without a little over £6. The train arrived on time and we took our seats in coach. The seats were comfortable and there were even booths with tables available for people who were lucky to get those assigned seats. For the rest of us there were drop down snack trays. There was also a snack cart that travelled back and forth that sold everything from sweets to red wine. Our train pulled into Perth 20 minutes after we left Dundee. It was almost identical to the experience of flying on a plane, except you get to see the countryside, it earned my seal of approval and I remember saying to myself “Wow, I love trains!”
The rest of our trip was uneventful. Since we had planned the trip last minute, we didn’t take into account that the museum would be closed on Saturday and that by the time our bus arrived at Scone, the last tour of the day was nearly over. However seeing the palace where the kings and queens of Scotland were crowned and wandering around the beautiful town of Perth made the journey worthwhile. Most importantly we now considered ourselves prepared for the trip we had been waiting for; 4 days and 4 nights in London, and what a trip it was going to be!