the paper‘s London Bureau brings a special report on the perils of the UK’s public transportation
by Olivia Langenberg
Before you go abroad for a semester, people always tell you how much you’re going to travel and see in just a few months. They claim it’s much cheaper to travel around Europe! Everything’s so close together! I believed them. And then I ventured to Scotland and back to England on some bus rides from hell.
This pressure to be constantly traveling has honestly been eating me alive. I do have a ton of time on my hands, but there’s a lot that goes into booking a trip. One of the primary things being, how the hell am I going to get there? When two friends and I decided we wanted to go up to Scotland, we weighed our options. We had journeyed to Wales a few weeks prior on a bus, which was quite affordable and painless. Turns out going to Scotland on a bus was also a cheap option. The only difference here was about 7 hours of travel time… which I brushed off as no big deal. Another mistake here was choosing to take the bus overnight.
The big day came and we were pumped. We had a painless journey to the bus station and were some of the first people to board the bus. My two friends sat beside each other, leaving me a whole row behind them to myself. Boy, I thought I had it made. It was about 11:15 pm when we left London and we were due to arrive in Scotland at 7:30 am. I popped some melatonin and snuggled up against the window of the bus, only to discover moments later that there was absolutely no heat on this bus. Now, if you’re familiar at all with the weather in England, you’ll know that it’s not a particularly warm place. In other words, I was fucking freezing on this bus and there was a solid 8 hours before I was getting off it. Fantastic.
I was doing everything I could not to be a brat about the situation. “Just suck it up,” I told myself. About an hour later, the bus stopped in the outskirts of London to pick up more passengers. I crossed my fingers that no one would sit by me. I watch a couple and their two toddlers board the bus, and to my dismay, plop right down next to me. (Again, not trying to be a brat, but why are you taking babies on an overnight bus? I digress…) The couple was arguing at full volume for the next 30 minutes, likely due to the fact that they were unable to find seats next to each other. At one point, the woman got up and left her child beside me. I, crumpled up against the window, shivering, sighed as I watched the child sleep peacefully. If only that was me.
It was about 2am when my world was once again shaken to its core. The bus stopped in Birmingham, England, all the lights came on, and people started to get off. Mind you, the driver of the bus said absolutely nothing, and the majority of us were confused. Turns out we were supposed to figure out on our own that we all had to get off and switch onto another bus. How delightful. All I can hope for is heat on this second bus.
Now boarded on an entirely different bus, we leave Birmingham. Will we ever get to Scotland? Only time will tell. On this ride, a friendly 20-something is beside me, but at least he isn’t screaming. Many hours later, we stop again at a rest stop somewhere in-between England and Scotland, where we sit for approximately an hour. It’s 5am now and I’m fully delirious. Where am I and why have I chosen this path in life?
By the time 8:30 rolls around and we pull into the bus station in Scotland, I have lost all my marbles. I definitely smell like I’ve been on a bus for nine hours. I’ve had my contacts in for far too long and my eyes are burning. But I’ve survived. My friends and I decide we had made a horrible error and we will not be taking an overnight bus ever again. The only problem was our equally-as-long bus ride back to London in two days.
The ride back was not as exciting as the ride there, but guess what? It was even longer. I was on this bus for ten and a half hours. The ride itself is hazy, as I have done everything I can to forget it happened, but I do remember inhaling some McDonald’s chicken nuggets at a rest stop. I will neither confirm nor deny that I cried during the last hour of the bus ride.
What’s the moral of this story? Time is precious. Cough up an extra $10 and cut your travel time in half instead of letting your soul rot on a bus that may or may not even have heat.