Subways Around the World

Well I was sitting around thinking about what sorts of things I like to read about in a blog. And I thought, well, in a blog, I like to read about places that people go to visit, things that they see there, who do they meet, what do they eat or drink. I like to read about restaurants that they go to and who they go with, what they talk about and what they eat.

I like blog posts about walks in the country, and what it was like to walk through the countryside. What the people saw and did there. Not great, dramatic, Indiana Jones type strolls through the world. Just little observations.

I was telling a friend that I like to read blog posts that say things like: well we went for a holiday in NYC and we found the subways really crowded. People in the subways in NYC are very strange because no one looks at anyone. The lights go off all the time but no one gets anxious, it’s normal over there. (I say this, of course, because I live in a place where it’s not normal for the lights to go off all the time on the subways, here if the lights go off, there’s an emergency!)

Or on the other hand, I might like to read: in Barcelona the subways are really neat, you can watch TV while you are waiting for the train so you don’t get bored, because there are televisions on the platform. There is also a sign that counts down the seconds till the next train is supposed to arrive.

So then I thought I’d make a blog post about subways around the world. Maybe it’s not the most transcendental, thought-provoking, wisdom-infused sort of topic that could occur to me. But, well, if someone else were to write a post about subways in places I had never been to, I know I would be interested in reading about it.

And it’s always nice to blog about things you would like to read about in other blogs. I think.

Well, so, let’s begin with NYC then. As I said, in NYC people never look at each other. In the subways I mean. And people tend to edge away from creepy looking fellows. The subways are very noisy – or at least they were when I was there, many years ago. There were also trains that drove straight through the station with a deafening zzzzzzzziiiiiiiiiiing!!! without stopping, if I recall. No wonder people found it easy to commit suicide there.

Once again I say that because it contrasted with the subways I was used to. So let’s talk about the subways I was used to.

Until I went to New York City I had only ever seen subways in Montreal. Subways (called metros) in Montreal are really neat. They “sing” when they take off. They are (or were) sky blue in colour, very distinctive from other trains that I’ve seen. And they looked very clean and new too.

Well, I’ve already mentioned subways in Barcelona. The ones in Madrid, on the other hand, are quite a nightmare. The reason is because of their ex-cru-ci-a-ting slooow-neeess! I used to live by a line where the train always seemed to sit about half an hour on the track without moving – and I didn’t live anywhere near the end of the line, either. It wasn’t near the centre of the city or on a very popular route, but then again, shouldn’t they make all the lines equally efficient?

If you have the time and can get over this little hassle, however, I do recommend that you drop by the Goya metro station. There you can see, all along the walls, engravings by Spain’s famous anti-war painter and artist, Francisco de Goya.

Well I guess by now you might be waiting to hear about more populous metropoles. Who cares about metros in Montreal or Barcelona anyways, right, you might be thinking. It’s not like lots of people go to Montreal or Barcelona anyways.

All right. So, how about Paris? Romantic ads in a romantic Romance language decorating all the walls. World-famous names like L’Arc de Triomphe or Champs-Élysées for every station. I remember being quite dazzled by the metro there, because it was the first time I had seen TV screens and flashing signs in a subway station. Since then I’ve discovered a few more, however (such as Barcelona for example), so they no longer dazzle me. How quickly we get accustomed to things, I do say!

The London tube is a real labyrinth. It takes forever to get anywhere on it, and you have to go up and down lots of stairs (fortunately they’re mechanical stairs) all the time in order to change lines. Many train lines also pass through the same set of tracks, so you have to be looking out all the time to make sure you read where each train is going before you board it, or you will not end up at your desired destination.

I remember encountering the first and only wooden mechanical stairs I have ever seen in London tube stations. I believe (but wouldn’t know because it has been ages since I last passed through this fascinating city) that they’ve since been changed for the more normal, conventional metallic escalators due to fire hazards.

In London the people are always rushing around. They are looking at the floor, or at their briefcases or their watches. It’s a different sort of apathy from what you could encounter in NYC, however. In New York City people were hostile, distrustful. Almost paranoid you could say. They deliberately hardened their hearts in order to ride a train in New York, and they watched their own backs.

In London, however, people weren’t hard, or hiding beneath a tough armour. They were just simply distracted, worried. They always looked like they were afraid they were going to arrive late for something.

Although I suppose if you have to depend on the subway, in any city, it’s almost inevitable that you will arrive late much of the time.

Now, Rome is another story altogether. It’s very difficult to get anywhere on the subway in Rome, because the system avoids much of the centre of the city. Too many valuable archaeological sites there. So it’s nice, because it’s always nice to be able to count on some sort of transportation that isn’t dependent on the fickleness of street-level traffic patterns. But it may take you a long time to get where you want to go if you have to by-pass the centre all the time. And chances are good that there may be no metro at all in the vicinity of where you want to go.

People on the metro in Rome are very nice, though. They don’t look all stressed-out like in London, nor do they look like they think you’re going to murder them all the time like they do in New York.

Mexico City, Mexico D.F., is one of the world’s greatest cities. It is so vast and extensive, even an airplane takes quite some time to cover over this territory. As you can imagine, its metro system is also humongous. However, in one of the stations (I don’t remember the name, sorry) they have a bewitching display of aboriginal Toltec art, vast and powerful stone heads. If you are in the area and can find out where it is exactly, I do recommend that you check it out. And if you go there, I’d love to hear about it, so leave me a comment, please! Which station is it in?

Oh, I guess I’ll finish with something a bit more original: Vancouver’s very own Skytrain. The Skytrain is really neat. It’s new, clean, silent and efficient. You never have to wait a long time for a train and these vehicles sure do move fast. I believe they cover a good number of Vancouver neighbourhoods and even go out to several suburban areas like Surrey. Unlike subways, this system moves around above the ground like an elevated train.

People in Vancouver are friendly, perhaps even a little bit naïve, compared to the tough dudes you’ll find in more established urban areas. So you might see that the people who ride with you on the Skytrain will probably act, in general, quite nice and polite.

Of course I can’t end without a little note about our very own Malaga subway. Well, it’s under construction! So not much to say about that. However we have high hopes for it – once it finally opens in about 50 years’ time.

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