Card clash

If you are using public transport in London, you can use an Oyster card or a contactless credit or debit card. Yes, you can also use mobile devices with eg Apple Pay.

You often see people putting their wallets directly onto the readers. If these contain more than one card that could be used to pay for travel, it is possible that the wrong card is chosen by the machine, or no card or all cards are used. This is the so-called card clash.

Do avoid it by carefully taking your card out before using it.

Bank holiday

The end of August brings us a bank holiday. It is the last public holday until Christmas.

I don’t believe it celebrates anything in particular, just the end of summer.

It used to be that banks and other shops closed on these days. Travel was disrupted. The world came to a halt.

Now it’s less so. You may find that some train lines are closed for engineering. Museums or shops will probably be open, but do check. Transport sometimes operates a different, reduced service.

If you are visiting during the last weekend in August, and have plans, do double check your plans are not affected.

The big red one

We know that a large number of London visitors come from the USA, and, unless you live in a big city, you will be more used to driving and less used to public transport, certainly on the scale found in London.

Bus travel is really great if you are not in a hurry. You get to see lots of sights in relative comfort. But getting onto a bus is not the simplest thing in the world if you are not used to it, and drivers are typically not helpful.

So, here are a few practical tips.

There are no cash fares. Use an Oyster card, contactless credit card or paper pass. All buses have the usual yellow card reader, usually at the front by the driver. Show the driver your pass or use your card when you enter the bus. No need to when you leave.

Bus shelters show route maps, but there are also apps which help, if you have a mobile device that will work here. Many routes run at night, too, though sometimes the destinations change slightly (sometimes routes merge).

Not all red buses are red. Some can be other colours because of advertising.

Always let passengers off the bus before you get on. The reasons are surely obvious. Seats are marked priority for elderly, pregnant etc. This does not mean you cannot use them, just give them up if someone needs them more than you. And no smoking of any kind on the bus.

Here are the typical bus designs you will encounter:

an increasing majority of central London buses are these curvy buses. They are double decked and have three doors. If you are using card, any door can be used for exit or entrance as there are card readers at each door. If you have a paper pass, you must enter using the front door and show your pass to the driver.

two door double decker. These are being phased out. Enter at the front and exit at the middle door.

old fashioned Routemaster. There is still one service, the 15, where these run as a tourist attraction. These have conductors. Entry and exit at the back. DO NOT got on or off a bus except when it is stopped at a bus stop. It’s dangerous.

single deck two door. Like the second double decker example, get on at the front and off at the back.

single deck one door. These tend to be used on smaller routes outside the centre of London. Get on or off at the front door. Let the passengers off first.

We are not covering coaches eg to airports, or tourist buses, because they tend to have people to help you anyway and are not really ‘public’ transport.

If you like buses, especially old ones, don’t forget the London Transport museum, and there is a bus museum at the old race track in Brooklands.

Shocking stuff

I want, in these blogs, to give simple, practical and, hopefully, reassuring information to visitors to London. I know, as a solo traveller, that there are always things you don’t understand about how things work in a new place. If you come here, you should have a great time for every minute you are here, not spend hours worrying about how buses work, for example.

Then you see blogs and videos from others giving information too. Some are good, others not.

There is one by a large American guy with a pony tail, I won’t say a name, who makes a lot of travel videos that are either “don’ts” or “shocks”. These are accompanied with videos of his young children messing about in whatever place it may be he is talking about, highly inappropriate in my mind for many reasons.

One of his past London shocks was, it’s a big city. The implication is, it’s unmanageable. For someone who claims to have been coming here over twenty years, not realising it is a big city looks like bad research. Anyone coming, even for the first time, must surely realise that a population approaching 9 million is not small.

One of his don’ts was, don’t be surprised if you don’t understand what British people say. No-one does.

Now… If he had said, ‘as you travel the country you will find strong accents in some places that can be a little hard to follow at first’, I would agree, and say of course, just as in the USA. But to say no-one understands them…? You wouldn’t say that about France, because, if you don’t understand French, it’s all impenetrable.

Another don’t was, don’t be surprised if you find British food that is almost edible. British food has improved, and it may still not be good, but it’s possible to find something to eat, maybe.

I could point out that most high streets are dominated by American chains, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Starbucks, Pizza Hut and so on.

There is great food in this country, and there is slop, just like anywhere else. You get what you pay for. There are world class standard restaurants and caf├ęs. If you are coming to the UK, don’t just go for McDonald’s everyday. Try pubs, local restaurants. there is great variety. Let’s not condemn all UK food equally.

I agree there are chain restaurants that can be awful, but others that are great and good value. There are small, family run places that will treat you to some of the finest food you will have ever. And there are the tourist traps.

And, just because it’s not American does not mean it’s wrong.