Why fly?

Seriously, why do people automatically assume that any journey between capitals requires flying? I will pick one particular example, a journey I have done several times and my choice has always been the same: going from Edinburgh to London, the best choice is always the train.

Q: Huh? Are you really advocating taking a train in the UK?

A: Yes, that’s exactly right.

Q: But how long will it take?

A: Less time than you think… in fact, just 4 and a half hours.

Q: 4h30? But a flight takes far less time: 1h30 at most.

A: Think again. The flight, perhaps; but did you take into account getting to the airport, on time, going through security, then getting to the city centre at the other end?

Q: Hmm, I guess… so even flying might add up to 4h, you think?

A: At least. Overall travel time is pretty balanced.

Q: What about cost?

A: That depends. In theory, it’s pretty even, but if you can buy in advance (even by only a few days), train fares are significantly cheaper. There’s also a range of railcards available, which give 1/3 off your fare and are often worthwhile buying even for one trip (when ticket price is over £100).

Q: Are there any other advantages?

A: Many, but my favourite is the fact that once you board the train, you can sit down and sit/sleep/work/read/listen to music/watch a film, undisturbed for the entire journey time, instead of having to check in, drop-off your luggage, drink all your liquids, strip off all metallic belongings, go through security, buy a new drink, find your gate, wait to board and switch off all electronic devices – and that’s before your plane has even taken off!

Q: You know what…?

A: I think I do. 😉

Borrowing Boris’ Bikes

For those not in the know, “Boris Bikes” is the popular name of the London Bike Hire scheme (officially “Barclays Cycle Hire“) which allows anyone to ride around London for free (almost). The basics are that you pay a £1 fee (by debit card) to gain 24h access to hiring bikes. You then insert your card again and obtain a ‘release code’ to take your Boris Bike from the stand. If you cycle around and return the bike within 30 minutes, you don’t have to pay a penny. And if you need to go further, just wait a few minutes, then get another bike and continue for another 30 minutes absolutely FREE. Docking stations are located roughly 300m apart, so you should always be within reach, both at your departure point and destination, of one of the 8000 bikes which form part of the scheme which was launched in the summer of 2010.

Having never lived in London itself, I have only used the bikes occasionally, but my experience has been positive and I think that the scheme is a fantastic idea, despite the criticisms which follow. 😉 The process of acquiring a bike could be made a little smoother (for those who don’t have a release key which literally frees a bike in seconds), as the touchscreens of the terminals seemed a little unresponsive – then again, probably a design decision to make them durable. The bikes themselves are heavy. Very heavy. Luckily, London is mostly flat so instead of complaining about the robust design, enjoy the wide saddle and thick tires, which actually make for a pretty comfy ride. My biggest concern remains London traffic, but as more Boris bikes are seen on the streets, drivers become more aware of them and safety increases in numbers. Meanwhile the mayor is doing his best to improve cycle paths and lanes, going as far as constructing “cycle superhighways” – arteries to connect outer boroughs with the centre.

Undoubtedly, bikes aren’t for everyone, but if you can see the benefits of picking one up to get from A to B instead of packing onto the ever-crowded tube, you can enjoy the sights above ground, save some money and feel good about getting some exercise.