The Joy of a London Train Ride

Paddington Station. Home of the Paddington Bear and Heathrow Express (aka expensive 15 minute ride to the airport).

If you consider your average day — be it at work, school, or home — you most likely wake up each day and go through a pattern you’ve been through many times before. When you reflect on where you were a month ago, the details of each individual day easily blend together without much difference.

Life is built on routines and habits and patterns. It makes us efficient and allows us to walk down the street without obsessing about how we are going to coordinate every single muscle in order to walk without falling over.

I know many people think trains are slow and the root cause of delays. It’s not always true.

But the real depth and joy of living comes when we break away from these routines — which is why to travel is so engaging — it is a break from the daily pattern and it forces you to experience something new.

Unless you’re wealthy and have a lot of free time, it makes no sense owning a car when living in central London. The public transport is great (well, comprehensive), and owning a car is an expensive hassle with congestion charges, outrageous parking, sluggish traffic and costly petrol. But some days you just want to get out of town: so one of my favorite escapes was the 45 minute train ride down to Brighton.

Yes, I know Hereford is the opposite direction from Brighton.

Trains have always been a sort of a mystery to me: growing up in the US suburbs, trains were a fairy tale, as real as space ships and dragons. (Of course I know space ships and dragons are real, so trains must be too.) When I moved to London and was surrounded by trains and underground railways, the six year old in me was so excited, and it was always an adventure — especially when you get out of London. The British countryside is filled with the rolling hills and quaint rooftops you’d expect in a period drama.

Ok, and this is Oxford, also not on the way to Brighton. The point is to show a beautiful British rolling hill.

Brighton is a small touristy “beach” town on the Southern tip of England. I say “beach” in quotes, because there is no sand… just pebbles and rocks. (Which doesn’t qualify it as a beach, but the locals might disagree.)

The whole town is on the side of a hill, and you could ride a skateboard from the exit of the train station down to the beach in about 3 highly dangerous minutes (it’s a long, steep hill). There were main roads, but in between the streets would twist and turn, and there was always something to discover (little shops selling antique maps, an art museum that looks like it belongs in an Arabian desert, and that awesome cafe called Little Miss Piggies) — but you’d usually end up on the boardwalk, walking out to the end of the Brighton Pier.

This is the “Old Pier”. I never took a picture of the new one, because I didn’t want to feel like a tourist.

So, what is the point of all this?

For me, Brighton was a symbol of exploration, and inspiration through the discovery of it’s hidden surprises. The train ride down was one of anticipation and simple appreciation of being in this odd fairy tale world. The train ride back to London was usually one of reflection. All of this would break the daily routine and inject a breath of fresh air, for the cost of just a few quid and a few hours.

Sometimes it takes a push to explore something new, but the reward is a deeper appreciation for the life that we have. So get out there: go travel somewhere new!

This does not do the Brighton Museum justice. Seriously. Go check it out.

Also published on Aurai Online.

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