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Thursday, June 18, 2009

London Calling: Part I

Given a dollar-to-pound exchange rate boost of 25% over last year, many of you may be heading to England this summer. If so, here are a few words of advice about getting from the airport into central London.

For those flying into Gatwick, Gatwick Express trains take 30 minutes to Victoria Station. One way tickets start at 16.9 pounds. If you are flying into Heathrow, there are several inexpensive and traffic-free options for getting into London. The Heathrow Express train takes about 20 minutes door to door (the other door being at Paddington Station). Tickets start at 16.5 pounds one way (free with many rail passes). A round-trip economy ticket is 32 pounds. London Underground's Piccadilly Line also runs into London from Heathrow. The ride takes about an hour into central London. Prices start at four pounds. You can select any Piccadilly Line station to enter and exit the system.

Here's the rub. If you are traveling with heavy luggage, public transportation can be tricky. For example, The Heathrow Express is fine if you are starting at the airport and ending at Paddington. But if you plan to get onto the Tube at Paddington, be aware that there are steps, many steps...and no elevators (remember, the London Underground dates back to 1863). Similarly, some of the stops along the Piccadilly Line are elevator-free. When pondering what stops to use, look at the tube map and note which stations are accessible. Those stations will come equipped with escalators and elevators.

Otherwise, if like me, you end up winding your way through a steps-only station (namely Paddington), you may have to rely on the kindness of strangers for help. Fortunately, Londoners are quite polite and more than happy to help, especially if you are a woman who appears to be struggling with heavy lifting. And one other note on how sexism can sometimes be a good thing--gentlemen actually give up their seats to ladies on the Tube. Imagine that happening in New York or DC!

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