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Published: October 14th 2007
2 years ago (in Nov 2005) I posted a blog on travelling from Vancouver, BC to Seattle, WA for only USD$4. Today, I have a similar acheivement. I managed to travel from Slough to Bluewater, Millenium Dome and Thames Barrier for only £3! This trip is very similar to my Vancouver-to-Seattle trip 2 years ago because this time I made use of public buses extensively again. I'm very grateful to Transport for London
because of the oyster daily price capping for buses. (If you use the oyster card "pay as you go" to make multiple journeys on buses from 04:30 to 04:30 the next day, the cost of all journeys will be capped at £3.) Thanks to the price capping, I could travel from Slough (the western end of the London bus network) to Bluewater (the eastern end of the London bus network) by bus for only £3. Although it's very cheap to travel by bus, the journey time is very very long. But, as a budget-conscious traveller, I will go for the cheapest choice if I have all the time in the world... (If I take train or tube, the prices will definitely be more than £7...)
making maximum use of the London bus network requires careful planning. Luckily, things are less complicated than my Vancouver-to-Seattle trip, because most London bus routes have high frequencies. (Many London bus routes have a frequency of less than 10 minutes, unlike parts of Washington State where there's only 1 or 2 buses per day.) Also, planning was made easy with the TfL (Transport for London) website. With a few clicks, I can see the travel instructions with all the connections and the estimated duration. To travel from Slough to Bluewater entirely by bus, I had to make connections at Hounslow, Central London and Woolwich. To minimise travelling time, I had to set off at 5am, because there's a night bus (N9) directly from Hounslow to Central London and the last night bus leaves Hounslow at 0550. If I miss the night bus, I would have to take a bus to Shepherd's Bush and transfer to another bus to Trafalgar Square, and this would make the journey longer. Also, if I don't set off early, I would be caught in the morning traffic jam in Central London...
I left home at 04:45 and reached Slough High Street at 05:00. There,
I took bus 81 to Hounslow, where I took bus N9 to Trafalgar Square. When I reached Trafalgar Square, it was 06:40 and the streets were empty. I walked to Whitehall to catch bus 53 to Woolwich. When I reached Woolwich Arsenal station, it was around 07:40. After waiting for 10 minutes, I boarded bus 96 to Bluewater, and I arrived at Bluewater at 08:45.
I chose to visit Bluewater because it's the 2nd largest shopping mall in the UK. (The largest is the MetroCentre in Gateshead, but it's too far away from London.) The mall definitely didn't disappoint me. With 330 stores, the variety of items sold and services offered are impressive. Besides the common stores (such as Mark & Spencer, WH Smith, Boots, H&M, etc), there are some world-famous brands which don't have many stores in the UK... Examples are Apple, Lego, Eurostar, etc. (There's an Eurostar store because Ebbsfleet International Station, a new station near Bluewater, is opening in November.)
After shopping for the whole morning, I decided to visit the O2 (formally known as the Millenium Dome). I took bus 96 to Bexleyheath, where I changed to bus 486 to North Greenwich. The O2
is a new entertainment complex housed in the original Millenium Dome. It includes an arena, a music club, a cinema, and an entertainment avenue lined with shops and restaurants. When I was there, part of the complex was closed due to a sports event. At the same time, one restaurant was closed for filming. After viewing the interior, I walked to the Thames Path and walked along the Thames from the east side of O2 to the west side of O2. After enjoying the view of the Canary Wharf skyscrapers across the Thames, I walked back to the O2 and took bus 472 to the Bugsby's Way/Gallions Road bus stop. From there, I walked to the Thames to see the majestic Thames Barrier.
The Thames Barrier is a movable flood barrier used to prevent London being flooded when the sea level is higher than the river level. It was built between 1974 and 1984 and is the second largest movable barrier (after the Oosterscheldekering in the Netherlands). It's an amazing sight to see a series of metallic structures in the middle of the Thames and it's certainly an impressive feat of engineering. After taking photos and looking at some
of the outdoor signs and displays, I walked to the main road to catch bus 161 to Woolwich Ferry. The ferry is a vital connection for vehicles between Woolwich and North Woolwich as the nearest road crossing is the Blackwall Tunnel 2 miles upstream. Pedestrians can choose to use the Woolwich Tunnel as an alternative to Woolwich Ferry, but I choose to use the ferry because it was a sunny day and I was not in a hurry.
At North Woolwich, I decided to make my way home, as it was getting late (it was already 17:30) and I predicted that the journey back to Slough by bus would take a long time. I took bus 474 to Canning Town, passing by London City Airport along the way. At Canning Town, I took bus 115 to Aldgate, where I could catch bus 15 to Oxford Circus. However, at Aldgate, I missed bus 15, so I took bus 25 instead. After a long ride on bus 25 (thanks to evening traffic jams and lots of red traffic lights), the bus stopped at Holborn and, to the surprise to many passengers, the driver announced that the bus was terminating at Holborn
instead of the normal Oxford Circus. To make things worse, another bus 25 went past us without stopping. Since my original plan was to go to Oxford Circus to catch bus 94, I decided to change my plan by taking bus 38 to Piccadilly Circus to catch bus 94. I was quite luckily that I boarded bus 94 at Piccadilly Circus, because a lot of passengers boarded the bus along Regent Street, and by the time the bus reached Oxford Circus, there were no more seats left.
After a long and slow journey on bus 94, I finally reached Shepherd's Bush at 19:30. From Shepherd's Bush, I took bus 237 to Hounslow. It was dark outside, and there was a bulky man sitting beside me who occupied 2/3 of the seat, leaving 1/3 for me and all my shopping bags. I couldn't see the street signs, and it was inconvenient for me to take out my map. As a result, I missed the bus stop outside Hounslow Bus Station... I alighted at Hounslow High Street and was dismayed to find that bus 81 (the bus to Slough) doesn't stop at High Street. I made my way to Hanworth Road
to wait for bus 81, and stood beside the shelter-less bus stop, shivering in the cold for more than 20 minutes... (I reached the bus stop at 20:21. According to the timetable the next bus would come at 20:29. But the bus only appeared at 20:43.) The bus reached Slough at 21:35 and I finally reached home at 21:55...
In general, travelling by bus in London is cheap and it allows you to see a lot of things along the way. However, journeys are long, slow and tiring, and things become worse when you encounter traffic jams and are stuck in a gridlock along London's narrow streets. It's definitely not for the faint-hearted or the impatient type (unless saving money is your top priority)...
After a long day, I felt tired but satisfied. Now, I'm planning my next £3 adventure! (I'm planning to take advantage of TfL's £3 oyster daily capping again, to visit another part of Greater London...)
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