Why subways are good

22:04, Aug 13 2012

They smell of urine, there's no natural light, they're stinking hot, and I've actually seen rats down there. But, man, subways are good.

For someone who has spent hours waiting for buses to get from Karori to central Wellington, the way these trains arrive every five minutes and whip you off to your destination seems like magic to me.

I'm nervous when it comes to public transport overseas. I hate not knowing where to put my ticket, where to buy my ticket, and which gate to walk through. I want  clear signs. Preferably in English.

My biggest fear is Nathan getting on a train, the doors closing, and me being left behind. That, and having those doors slam on me. However, so far, so good. I haven't lost Nathan, and have not been crushed.

I've made good use of Chicago's CTA, New York's Subway, and the metros in both Washington DC and Paris, and feel equipped to do a bit of comparison.

Washington DC was my favorite, I like the way it blended underground rail with open rail so when you went out into the suburban areas you had light and sights. It was also unbelievably easy to get around on because there were only five lines, and it was the cleanest. Apparently the newest too.

New York stations had to be the worst places to wait. Not only were we tolerating something like 40C heat down there, but one day I looked across the track and saw a massive rat running along the other side. Shudder. However, I'm not taking anything away from New York because the convenience of that subway was unbelievable. From Harlem to Statue of Liberty line in minutes, just crazy fast.

Chicago was great because it got us to the airport. Albeit we had to take a cab back for the passports, but we can hardly blame that on the train now, can we?

And now we're in Paris. Our stop, St Amboise, must have the most stairs of any station. It's like climbing Everest to get home each time we use it. (Okay. It's probably not like Everest, just Mt Cook or something).
Our line is also the dirtiest. We went on a number one line to get to Arc de Triomphe and it was a whole new experience, like coming out of the dark and shady ages into a sparkly, space-age clean world.

The Metro has also taught us a couple of important lessons:

First, do check when the public transport closes for the night. We went to a late show at Moulin Rouge and came out at 1.30am well prepared, knowing exactly which station to go to, and where to switch trains to get home. Unfortunately, the station was closed. Un taxi, s'il vous plait?

We also managed to get face time with the Metro police after accidentally buying half-price, children's tickets. Having had a couple of drinks, I was feeling outraged (despite that fact that, let's face it, we were in the wrong). My angry "but, how were we supposed to know? IT WAS IN FRENCH! I want to speak to your boss," pleas got us nowhere, and we had to pay 30 euros each to get out of the station.

(Incidentally, don't the words Metro police bring to mind images of uniformed cops filing their nails and moisturising?)

Heaps of locals I've spoken to complain about their various underground train networks. About breakdowns, overcrowding, how every third person on them had BO (actually, that could be true), but, from my perspective, these systems are truly awesome.

I wish Wellington had one. I can see how that wouldn't work - you know, the town only being about 12 streets, the fact that we don't have the population for it... But how awesome would it be to have Midland Park stop, Basin Reserve stop, Embassy Theatre stop? So cool.

Does anyone have a good subway story? I particularly want to know if anyone has actually had those doors shut on them.

Also, London's next ... Is the Tube something to look forward to or dread?

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