Marathon bus journey review
Have you ever wanted to spend a whole day riding around on the London buses? (maybe you have in your nightmares). Well, it's your lucky day because I've got a route here that takes in practically every landmark and attraction in one morning; but there's a catch: you have to change buses four times and it will take you nearly four hours. But hey... at least you get to see a bit of London!
The timings are from actual journeys that I did myself (on a normal Thursday morning), so I haven't been lazy and just lifted them off a timetable — they are the real timings in daytime traffic.
First leg -- No.23 from Liverpool Street station to Paddington station (55 minutes)
This bus starts up at Liverpool Street station and goes past Bank, the Royal Exchange, Mansion House, the side and front of St. Paul's, and then down Fleet Street past the Royal Courts of Justice. Then it continues down the Strand to Trafalgar Square, past Nelson's Column and the National Gallery. Then it moves onto Waterloo Place, Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street, before turning left at Oxford Circus down Oxford Street, past Selfridges, Marble Arch and Speakers' Corner, before heading up the Edgware Road and Paddington. (Get off at Paddington Station.)
Whilst you're busy doing all of that let me tell you a little bit about riding the buses (this is mainly for the newbies, so you might want to skip it if you know what you're doing)...
If you want the bus to stop then it's easy: just stick your arm out in the street until the bus driver sees it and stops. If he doesn't stop then try waving your hand about. If that doesn't work then try getting some bigger hands (from the butchers), or wave both hands at once. If that doesn't work then you'd better buy some good shoes because you're going to be doing a lot of walking.
If you want to get off then all you've got to do is press the bell. They have it rigged up to a sound system which pipes a noise (a note) into the driver's ears, making him press the brakes. If you press the bell once then it will make him stop. If you press it twice then it will still make him stop. If you press it three or more times then it will make him shout at you as well.
Second leg -- No.205 from Paddington Station to Angel Islington station (45 minutes)
This bus heads down the Marylebone Road past Marylebone Station, Madame Tussaud's and the BT Tower. Then it takes you past the British Library, St. Pancras Chambers and King's Cross. (It gets a bit bland from here, but stick with it, because you need to reach the next bus-stop.) Get off at Angel Islington station.
I wonder why kids always want to sit at the back of the bus? Sitting at the back seems like a lot of fun to them, but the mums and dads say no, no—sit at the front please. We are not sitting at the back because it's too dangerous. That is where the hoodlums sit. Sit at the front where we can see you, please.
Third leg -- No.38 from Angel Islington station to Victoria station (30 minutes)
We're going to head back through the centre of London now. After passing through the leafy streets of Finsbury you'll head towards Holborn and Bloomsbury and enter the West End through Shaftesbury Avenue. This will take you past Chinatown (on the left) and back to Piccadilly Circus. Then you'll drive down Piccadilly past the Royal Academy and the Ritz Hotel, skirting the edge of Green Park until you reach Apsley House and Wellington Arch. The big brown brick wall on your left with the barbed wire on top hides the Queen's gardens at Buckingham Palace. Shortly after that you will reach Victoria Station (where you should get off).
One of the things that really winds me up about bus travel is when you get a selfish idiot occupying the outside of a two-seater seat, to prevent anybody from sitting next to them. Sometimes they will place a handbag or a corner of their coat strategically across the neighbouring cushion instead, a bit like planting a flag and saying "this is mine". These people are worse than criminals. They are worse than murderers. If they want their own space then there is a simple solution: sit on the roof. If I were in charge I would cement a couple of wooden stakes up there and anyone caught hogging the seats would be tied to a stake and we'd drive them around the streets in the howling wind and driving rain until their skin and sinews get blown off their body. By the time we reached the end of the route all that would be left of them would be a pair of cheap-tat bangles hula-hooping around the pole. Maybe you think that is a little bit harsh, but that is what thirty years of bus travel in London does to you. You will be the same after one week of holiday.
Fourth leg -- No.11 from Victoria station to Aldwych (35 minutes)
This next bus is a good one. It will take you straight past Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, before heading around the side of Parliament Square past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Then it will take you up Whitehall to see the Cenotaph, Downing Street, Banqueting House and the soldiers outside Horse Guards. Then it's back past Admiralty Arch and Trafalgar Square again, and up the Strand to Aldwych (get off outside the Waldorf Hotel).
The bus drivers can be a bit moody too. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen somebody running for the bus only to throw their arms up in frustration as it speeds past at fifty miles per hour. The only way you can get a driver to slow down between stops is if you look like Bridget Bardot (as she was in the sixties, obviously. I don't mean as she looks now).
Sometimes you will witness a commotion on the bus which flares up into a full-blown ding-dong, and you can sit back and enjoy the show whilst they go at it hammer and tongs. The most common argument is when a woman gets on with a pram and tries to wheel it down the centre aisle instead of entering at the middle doors. Have you seen the size of the prams these days? Some of them are bigger than the bus. They come with plastic sun roofs and boot space for their shopping. Half the time the prams won't fit through the door, let alone go down the aisle, but that won't stop them trying to wedge it in and mangle peoples' feet on the way past. Then she'll approach the wheelchair space and the four poor people standing there will have to shift. Make way for the pram! A mum is coming! Part the waves and let her through!
Fifth and final leg -- RV1 from Aldwych to Tower Bridge (30 minutes)
You'll find the bus-stop for this one just round the corner by the Novello Theatre. It starts off with a quick look at Somerset House and a ride over Waterloo Bridge (look to the left for St. Paul's and the Gherkin) then it drives past the London Eye and Royal Festival Hall and on towards Southwark. You'll go straight by The Shard and over the top of Tower Bridge (look left for City Hall and HMS Belfast) before ending your trip at the Tower of London.
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