As I mentioned in my prior post, I stopped by the “Bond in Motion” James Bond exhibit at one of the museums in the Covent Gardens area. I had about three hours before my flight back to Edinburgh left. I figured it was enough time. I had decided against taking the train back because it would take too long and the flight was only about $30.
After the Bond exhibit, I made my way back to the main streets, looking for an entrance to the subway station, or as the Brits call it, the Underground. I found an entrance to the Westminster Station and ran downstairs. I was in the heart of London and needed to make the train to Stansted Airport.
THE SEARCH FOR STANSTED
Before purchasing a ticket, I studied the subway map to see where Stansted Airport was. I couldn’t find it. I finally asked one of the Underground attendants for help. I asked him what was the quickest way to reach Stansted.
“Stansted?” That was his first response. It was like I had said New Zealand.
Then I asked him if it would be better to take the bus. “No, the bus won’t get you there.” What about a taxi? “You’ll pay a fortune.”
Wait a minute, how far away is Stansted Airport. “About 30 miles.” I nearly lost it.
So how do I get there from here? And here was the order of things, which I did write down. It was a good amount to remember: Get on Charing Cross, then to Warren Street, then to Seven Sisters. From Seven Sisters, I was to hop onto the Stansted Express, which would take me right to the airport.
Alright. Simple enough. I ran up and down the stairs a couple of times for good measure before realizing that I had to get to Charing Cross through the current Underground avenue. I ran through to Charing Cross until I realized that I was in the wrong location. I had been in the right location. So I ran back and swiped my card and jumped on the Charing Cross subway. My first time on a London subway and it was packed to the brim. I had to push people in order to get on.
After a few stops, I reached Warren Street and got off. I reached the Victoria Line and took the subway to Seven Sisters. I then followed the signs to the train and this is where it got pretty hairy.
THE TRICKY PART
I tried to purchase a ticket to Stansted through a kiosk, but it said there were no tickets available, because the train was not running. It said to ask a train station attendant if I had questions. Oh, I had questions. I ran up to the platform where everyone was standing awaiting the train and asked the girl in the newspaper and coffee stand where the train attendant was. She pointed behind and I walked up to a girl and asked her if the Stansted Express was running. Without looking at me, she said there was no train to Stansted.
Wait a second. That couldn’t be right. She offered no other information. So I asked where the Stansted Express was. “Tottenheim Square.” She told me that I needed to exit the station, get on the street level, and then pointed in the direction of where the entrance to the train station would be. The signs would point me in the right direction. With a shrug, I hustled out.
I exited the Seven Sisters station and got onto the street level. I walked past several signs that I couldn’t make out very well, as it was starting to get dark. I kept walking and then decided to go back a bit to get a better look at the signs. The sign pointed the opposite way toward Tottenheim Square.
X DOES NOT MARK THE SPOT
I ran up the street (at this point I was really tired of running) toward the Tottenheim Square entrance. When I reached the entrance, all of the card readers had a red X on them. Not a good sign. As I stood there, I heard someone yell, “Hey!” I turned and yelled back. He came up to me. He worked for the Underground. “We’re closed,” he said. “Will be for another month.” Good grief!
Then why did that girl tell me to come over here? He shrugged. He was a nice guy. He told me I needed to go back to Seven Sisters. The same one I exited. I ran back (loving the exercise), re-purchased a subway ticket, and asked a subway attendant to tell me exactly what I needed to do since the last two people I talked to had conflicting opinions. He wasn’t very helpful, but I purchased a ticket for the Stansted Express anyway. 16 pounds. Yeesh!
Once I got past the entrance, I asked another attendant what I should do and where I should go. My time was running out and I would be cutting it pretty close.
“You from America?” he asked. Yes. “I lived in California. Had to get out.” I wasn’t sure what he meant by that. Seemed a rather lateral move. But anyway. He gave me the directions I needed. I needed to take one stop down from Seven Sisters. Just one stop. That information could have been helpful before I reached the Seven Sisters in the first place. Get off at that stop and go to Terminal 3. That would lead me out to the train station. I had less than an hour before the airport gate would be closing.
I followed his directions and it led me right out to the train station. I turned right and went to the card reader. It wouldn’t take my card. I walked over to the attendant center and told him about it. He told me to tell the attendant next to the reader and he would let me in. They let me in. Glad 16 pounds didn’t go to waste. I was told to go to the end of the platform and wait for the Stansted Express.
I waited with a large group of people, and a small dog. It was announced on the intercom that the train would arrive in seven minutes. A train soon arrived and people piled on. I didn’t think it was the Stansted Express. I was led to believe that it was not. My beliefs changed when I saw it pull away and the side of it read “Stansted Express.” Oh for the love of all that is good and holy in this world!
I briskly walked to the attendant center and asked when the Stansted Express would arrive. “It’ll be here in just a few minutes.” What a huge relief!
I walked back to where I had been and waited. The Stansted Express arrived and we all piled in. I still had 40 minutes before the gate closed. I was feeling good about things.
THE SLOW TRAIN TO STANSTED
I figured I would make it in enough time to reach the airport before the gates closed, but this “express” train was definitely not express. All trains start slow to pick up speed (except bullet trains), but eventually they do pick up speed. This one never did. It was probably 30 minutes of slow going. It was probably moving about 15 mph during that whole span. I finally asked an older gentleman next to me if it always ran this slow. “No. It’s usually fast.” Just my luck. For all I knew, a dead cow or a herd of goats were blocking the path.
I looked up to the ceiling and said, in practical prayerful tone, “It would be so great if the plane was delayed 30 minutes.”
The gates closed at 7:35 p.m., which was also the same time the train got up to speed. It was too late. I would have to kick the terminal gate door open.
ARRIVING AT STANSTED
When the train doors opened, it was like an old west cattle drive. Everyone was running, including myself, up the escalator and through the countless shops of the airport. I saw on the sign that my flight was “Now Boarding” at Gate B-30. I ran faster. I ran past a sign that read B 19-39. I ran even faster. People stared, but they must not have thought it too strange since there were numerous people running.
I took a right around a corner and realized that in order to reach gates B 19-39, I would have to get on a little train. It was already 8 p.m.! The doors to the train finally closed. There were five other people in it with me. It moved forward a little ways and then stopped. The doors opened, but it was for gates B 1-18. In the words of Charlie Brown, “Arrggh!!!” The doors slowly closed back and slowly moved forward. Since I was alone, I figured I would flip out a bit. I started talking to myself and yelling that this stupid train could go faster, the Stansted Express could’ve gone faster, and the girl at the train platform could’ve had a clue, or at least looked at me.
The doors then opened, I hopped off, pushed the entrance door open and ran up stairs. I came to gate B-30 and there was a massive line to get through. Oh for Pete’s sake! The sign now read “Last Call.” I walked to the front of the line and told the lady at the counter that my flight was already boarding and asked if I could get through.
“The flight has been delayed. You’ll be fine.” Wow. What an absolute relief.
Remember that little prayer I uttered on the train. The flight was delayed exactly 30 minutes. Thank you, Jesus.
I finally boarded the plane, landed in Edinburgh, took the bus home, and went to bed. Whew! What a long and glorious, yet trying, day.