Eurotrip 2011: London.1

Read about all the locations of our three-week jaunt around Europe here.

After three days in the English countryside, we left the lush West Country a bit wistful, but also excited for some time in a major city. Our long-time pal CW commutes from Melksham to London on a weekly basis, so the three of us carpooled to Heathrow where we dropped off our rental and picked up the Piccadilly line into the city to the Queen's Way tube stop. Our goal was to make it to the Fat Tire bike shop in time to catch the 11 a.m. tour (which seemed reasonable to us after leaving Melksham promptly at 7 a.m.), but we missed it by 15 minutes. It's unreal that it took us over four hours to get door-to-door! I'll blame the huge backpacks we were lugging around. 

Fortunately, Fat Tire had a second tour in the afternoon, which we signed up for. Additionally, they were willing to store our bags for the interim hours while we explored the city. I certainly was not prepared to haul 40 pounds around for an entire day! It was like being pregnant on my back! (Okay, so I've never been pregnant, but isn't that about right?!) We soon were on our way, with an ultimate goal of eating a meal of traditional English fish and chips.

After taking the Circle line to Bank Street, we walked along the Thames River walk to scope out the London skyline. I took the photo above in Borough Market, which was on the way to the river walk. Loved that section; it reminded me of the market street from My Fair Lady.

Not much to report on the river walk (which was, of course, quite pretty, particularly considering the sunny weather), except that I got my first set of blisters from the pair of Skechers I wore. [Maybe they're meant to be worn with legit socks, rather than the shoe liners and Dr. Scholls gel heel inserts I had on. In any case, my choice for (loosely-termed) fashion over comfort did not pay off in this instance.] I was hurting pretty badly by the time we arrived at Master's Fish & Chips - touted as one of the top three "chippies" in London (by the guy at Fat Tire.) Time Out London seems to agree.

I have no complaints about our meal, but to be honest, I'm not a F&C girl. And anyway, I was more concerned about my chafed heels. Fortunately, I had kept a pair of flip flops in our day backpack, so this became my footwear of choice for the next few hours. While Havaianas flip flops might not be the most supportive shoes in the world, they certainly don't give blisters, and my toes happily had room to stretch.

We slowly made our way back to Queen's Way (fitting in a Starbucks stop - one place I routinely miss while living in Cayman), and before long, we had selected two of Fat Tire's beach cruisers and were enjoying our first bike tour. I've since concluded that this is an excellent way to be introduced to a city. By what means can you better see the sights at a reasonable speed, efficiently covering multiple neighborhoods, chatting with fellow bikers, all while being so eco-friendly? Plus, I can't say enough about the euphoric experience of feeling the wind in your hair. It truly does the body good.

Kensington Palace

Wellington Arch

Imposing ornate gates? Buckingham Palace, of course.
Another benefit to an organized bike tour is that you meet some very interesting people. Firstly, the tour guide gives relevant historical and cultural facts, while also adding in his own personal experiences of the city. Also, other tour participants are generally non-locals, so can add an international flavor to the group. (For instance, on this tour, an Australian family biked along with us.) And lastly, lots of European cities have all sorts of cartoonish guards that you can (try to) meet. Note my attempt below:

That hat prevents him from even seeing me in his peripheral.
Didn't really get a convo going.
Fat Tire, as the name suggests, outfits their guests with 3-speed beach cruisers. They may not be the world's sweetest bikes, but they're comfortable, sturdy, and perfect for exploring the flat cityscape.

My only complaint about being on a bike tour is you literally ride through so many lovely sections and don't get a chance to photograph them all. While I may have returned from Europe with 3,000 photos, I seriously could have shot so many more.

Super romantic spot in St. James Park, with gorgeous views of Buckingham, the London Eye, and Houses of Parliament.
Nothing else remained on our agenda for the day other than finding our accommodations. We were lucky enough to have met JB, a friend-of-a-friend, while he visited Cayman earlier this year. JB owns a soon-to-be-renovated flat in Clapham Junction, and he offered to let us crash for a few nights while we toured around London. What a gem! The flat was a good size (by London standards) and was perfect for us, as we had no intention of using it as more than a place to rest our heads. We met up with JB near Green Park around 8:00 pm; he must be a true Londoner, because the poor guy was still in a suit, tie, and cuff links. I don't miss that lifestyle. The three of us caught the bus to the overground, which took us to Clapham. A few blocks away, we were at his flat and finally, literally, took a load off.

JB had lots of suggestions for nice places to eat in the neighborhood, as Clapham is home to many young professionals much like ourselves. But as you can imagine, after a full day that started rather early and included plenty of backpack-hauling, blister-induced walking, and cycling among the busy streets of London, neither one of us had the energy for a proper dinner out. We all know what that means: Pizza and an iPad movie (which I slept through).

Notice the container of OJ (sans cups), which we picked up at a Sainsbury Local - a tiny neighborhood grocery store with all the essentials. Also, notice N's handy knife, which we used to cut the pizza. This knife will show up again in a future story.

A full day touring in a major city feels like two anywhere else. I slept quite soundly that night. Which was good, because we had plenty on our agenda for the next two days. More to come!


  1. This is such a neat blog post. I am so enjoying reading about your travels! Pizza and a movie on the Ipad - I love it! And now I TOTALLY have to do a bike tour sometime! I know I would just love it! :D