I’ve ridden public transportation in just about every city I have visited ranging from to the oldest underground transportation system in the Southern Hemisphere (Buenos Aires), to a sardine packed metro car in Paris to a long since decommissioned American school bus in Nicaragua (school buses that are deemed unsafe for use anymore in the United States are often sold to countries in Latin America, where they then become public buses even though they still sport Williams Township School District on the side). The subway (or metro/underground/tube depending on what the local jargon is) is far and away my favorite form of public transportation when traveling, second only to my feet. Here are my top three subway picks.
1.) Seoul, South Korea-Surprising as it may seem, I found the subway in Seoul extremely easy to use. Even though I was a foreigner who did not speak much beyond a few words of Korean and could not read the Hangul alphabet, subway signage in Seoul is in both Korean and English in addition to pre-recorded voice announcements that indicated the upcoming station and any transfer points. I heard that the English signage and announcements were implemented when Seoul hosted the World Cup in 2002. Although not everyone would speak and read Korean, many would at least know some English, so I definitely benefited from this in 2004 when I studied there. Like everything else in the capital city, the cars were always immaculately clean and devoid of any graffiti, which is often the case in other cities’ subway systems (Paris and New York City). I never felt apprehensive about riding the subway alone; it was always once I got street side that my anxiety would kick in, since there was not always English signage and a pre-recorded English voice announcing where I was.
2.) Mexico City, Mexico-Mexico’s capital is often unfairly labeled as an extremely dangerous place. Not to say that there aren’t areas a tourist should avoid at all costs, but isn’t that the same for most major cities? I visited Mexico City twice and never felt at all threatened or in danger, even when riding the metro late one night after a concert at the city’s Palacio de los Deportes. No, the metro is by no means sleek or new, but for a city that is constantly given such a bad rap, its metro was 100% efficient and safe.
3.) London, England-It’s no secret that if I ever had the chance to live internationally for a time, London would be the place I adore it there and am the biggest of fans of its underground. On an interim study trip there in my sophomore year of college, I rode the “tube” all over and loved feeling like a quasi-local getting on at the Russell Square stop on the Piccadilly line each morning to start my day of touring. London’s subway system is by far one of the best in the world and I’m sure it’s even better now in terms of preparations for this year’s summer Olympics.
Cities whose subway systems I am not a fan of:
Brussels, Belgium-Although I only rode on the subway once while there, the “packs” of local youth who rode the subway, loud, obnoxious, and bordering on menacing, did not make my ride enjoyable nor have me feel completely at ease. It seems that this is an issue where the city’s public transportation system could step in and better police activity on the cars. I read that other people have had similar experiences.
Rome, Italy-Rome only has two subway lines but boy does the city need to build more if for no other reason than reducing some of the traffic and pollution street side with all of the buses. Riding out to Vatican City on Line A along with hundreds of other tourists was anything but enjoyable.
I know it’s extremely small and very Where’s Waldoesque, but can you spot Hwarangdae on the map below? That used to be my stop when I lived in Seoul. Hint-Line 6