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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Subways for Dummies


No, not that Subway. You know, the train subway. Not the sandwich kind...! Got it? Alright then...fasten your seatbelt, don your surgical gloves and let’s get on with it, shall we?

Prague Subway: Metro
Lines: A (Green), B (Yellow), C (Red)
Frequency: Trains run from 5 a.m. till midnight in 2-3 min. intervals during peak hours and in 4-10 min. intervals in the off hours.
Trivia: The Prague Metro is about 30 years old and is mostly Russian built. Therefore, many of the stations have beautifully decorated floors, walls you name it.
Pros and cons: Finding a Metro station is easy, if you know your way around the city, and if you can find the main square without getting lost in the many back alleys and shortcuts. The problem stands in trying to purchase a ticket at the vending machine. See, there’s a single ticket, which is valid only for a short ride. But how short is a short ride? Do I have to purchase a new ticket en route if I decide to ride further? Then there’s the transfer ticker, which is valid for transfers of course, and for longer rides.
Now let’s get something straight: There is no such thing as a long Metro ride in Prague. The city is simply too small. My co-workers once dragged me to a bar and I sat happily in the metro car, thinking "Omg, I’m going to see a new part of the city!". But when we got to our destination, I realized we were in an area I could have walked to from work in 25 minutes. Go Figure.
The stations all have nice escalators. Now here’s the catch. Some of the stations have escalators that run quickly. Very quickly. So if you’re in a mood, feeling homesick, or simply wishing for a visit to Six Flags or Disney World, all you have to do is find one of these metro stations, step on to the escalator and woooooooooosh!
Now, the trains look kind of old in a Russian communistic kind of way, if you catch my drift, and the people don’t always smell great (they’re not big on deodorant) even though most of them are really friendly and warm people, and a subway seems out of place in a fairytale city such as Prague, but hey, let them have their fun!

Now on to the

London Subway: the Underground.
Lines: Many, too many.
Frequency: Do I look like a mathematician to you?
Trivia: First subway system ever (I think).
Pros and cons: The London Underground is all over. Yes, it’s all over, we have nowhere to escape to, where’s Indiana Jones when we need him?
Seriously though, the Underground system runs very efficiently, as far as I remember, and it takes an hour to study the map because of how large it is, but you’ll get to your destination eventually, as long as you don’t get off in the wrong neighborhood. Ticket prices are astronomical of course, but you will buy a day-pass anyhow, because after having seen all the "Mind the Gap" key chains, stickers, T-shirts, balloons, you name it, your mind will be completely brainwashed, and you will wander into the nearest underground station muttering "mind the gap, mind the gap. Mind the gap..."

Rome Subway: Metro
Lines: A, B, C
Frequency: You will never have to wait too long (relatively speaking) for an A train. Mainly because most tourists end up on the A train. But don’t get me started on the B train. Bring your lunch, your dinner, an extra drink, a crossword puzzle, a book, a Game boy Advance ,some change for the persistent gypsies, if you are planning on catching the B train on any given day. Especially on a Sunday.
The C is a new addition to the A. It runs to an obscure neighborhood on a hill where I go to have my eyes checked. But let us not digress.
Pros and cons: Italians don’t believe in air conditioning, so if you suffer from asthma, anemia, or anything of the sort, do not ride the Metro in the summer. Just don’t, trust me. Trains can get very crowded at rush hour, so crowded that at times it will be impossible to reach the doors at your stop. That’s a proven fact. Like those famous sardines, you’ll just have to deal with it. And if some obscure individual takes advantage of the situation and presses against you exaggeratedly, well then, all you have to do is cry out and a valiant Italian will come to your rescue. In no time at all, all the little old ladies and smartly dressed businessmen will be shaking their heads while staring at the offender, and murmuring "Eh no, non si fa...non si fa..." Romans are sweet like that. Another proven fact.
Watch out for the gypsies, they are very sneaky. Hide any chains and necklaces, and carry your backpack on your...front. Don’t worry, everybody does it. You won’t look weird. To your fellow tourists at least. The Romans might stare at you but staring at people is part of being a Roman, so take no notice.

Rome is a big city. Why are there only three metro lines then, you ask? Well simply because whenever they start digging, they come across another archeological detail, and the law requires them to stop right there and find another area to dig in. In some of the subway stations, you can view ancient walls and columns behind glass. Pretty cool, if I may say so myself. They uncovered an entire ancient Roman square a couple years ago. Whoever said construction was a boring job?

New York Subway: Uhm...the Subway.
Lines: Many letters and numbers. Some of them go to all the same places. Just hop on any train, you’ll get somewhere.
Frequency: Trains pass by often, unless Upper Manhattan is flooded, in which case there will be congestion all over the city and you will be stuck at the station for a while, and in the train en route for another while. But the cars are new and nicely aired. Bring a sweater if you’re from Europe.
Pros and cons: New York is New York. The stations are disgusting, the rats are a subway’s best friend, the workers are unfriendly, but the trains will get you somewhere and that’s what counts. Besides, observing the diversity of the subway riders is enough to keep you entertained for a decade, should you have the wild idea to ride a train for ten years straight.