I arrive at my airline gate only to hear about a gate change. Seems that the plane to Caracas has some mechanical problem, and our plane, all ready to go, was given to them. They had an earlier departure time and giving us the plane under repair would give them more time to fix it. But things dragged on. Finally, an hour late we are ready to push back, but since it wasn't our time slot all crews were busy. Another 12 minutes and we are moving from the gate. Dinner did not come right away. Maybe they were serving business class first? And there was this fellow, two rows back and four seats plus an aisle over, that was talking very loudly. I could hear everything he said clearly, and he wouldn't stop talking. He was chatting with a fellow a couple seats closer. But what little this other fellow said couldn't be heard. I try to get some rest before dinner. Not much luck. After dinner the plane was the noisiest I have ever been on. There was a group of young men a couple rows back that talked very loud, and laughed even louder. They sounded like they had been drinking, and they apparently weren't going to try to sleep. Maybe it was their first overseas trip? I did get a chance to see the sun rise, and coming down through the clouds we twice saw a circular rainbow. More like a bulls eye.
We landed, of course, late. Lots and lots of walking at Heathrow. There were lines to buy the Heathrow Express tickets. One machine was broken and didn't take cards. The one I had was very unresponsive to the touch screen. Took me twice as long as it should have to get it to work. Coming into the Heathrow Express we had our first warning of the Underground strike. Very little of it was running. The train was quick, and it was bright and a little sunny out. Apparently this was the first day that it hadn't rained in months. I always have good weather on my holidays, and this is starting out to be no exception.
I get to Paddington Station, picked up my Bath day trip train ticket, observed the lines at the cash machines, and saw the horrendous queue for the taxi. With the underground strike everybody wanted a taxi. I walked out, crossed the street, and immediately found a cash machine with no line. I found the hotel a short block away. The room wasn't quite ready, so she offered me an orange juice. In a few minutes I got my room. Norfolk Court and St. David Hotel has just refurbished all of their rooms. My single with shared bath was very small, on the top floor (5th in American counting), but quite nice. Cost me £39 per night. Even a phone and a TV. I was starving. Had the plane left on time the hotel was going to give me breakfast, but I arrived an hour too late. So I figured I'd walk around and wait for lunch. I checked out the park in front of the hotel. I walked over to Hyde Park and then Kensington Gardens. I passed an Underground Station and learned a little more about the strike. No tubes to Wimbledon. I had been planning to visit Leigh, an old American friend there this afternoon. Maybe a train from which station? I figured I'd call Leigh. No one would give me change. Maybe with lunch? But Mughal, the local Indian restaurant with a buffet, even though it was past noon, wasn't ready yet. Come back in a half hour they said. So back to the room. I had to get Leigh's number anyway. Since there was a phone in the room I tried to call, but no answer. I updated my trip notes and returned to Mughal. A very filling mostly meat lunch for £6.95. Back to the room to call Leigh. I reached her and we decided to try to get together in London on Monday.
Off for a walk and antique furniture store window shopping. I found a few shops on Westbourne Grove. These are lower end shops, though one or two had some nice things. A tip to look on Portobello Road yielded no shops. There hadn't been any furniture in the past, and there aren't any now. Then down to Kensington Church St. Lots of shops to visit and to chat with the proprietors of. A strong tea to pick me up and then through Kensington Gardens to get back. I found Kensington Palace open, so I paid to go in. First some court costumes, then on to the public rooms, which is what interested me the most. A walk through the gardens brought me back to my room. Time for a nap. It rained while napping, but since I was napping the rain didn't count. I went out looking for a pub. I found Fountain Abbey and went in and had a pint of cider. Then more wandering. Then looking at restaurants I found Erra, a Malaysian one. I had seen another Malaysian one. I don't recall these in NYC. I went in and had a nice beef and coconut dish. Spicy, just like I like it. Then a stop back at the room. Since it was still early I decided to go back to Fountain Abbey. On the way I passed the Continental Hotel. Prices were posted. £23 for a small single (£26 for a regular) with shared bath. The lobby looked nicer than mine. What is the difference? I'll have to stop by later to check. [I never did, but what I hear is the rooms are filthy, and people often promptly leave and find another place.] At the pub I learn that all the people there work for the hospital across the street. And that it is among the most expensive. Nonetheless it is crowded. Another observation is many are drinking ices, Smirnoff Ice, Foster Ice, etc. These are the new malt based drinks. Back to the room for sleep.
Friday, March 30, 2001
I didn't get up as early as I usually would. But then with the time difference it's still in the middle of the night for me. But I reasoned that the bike shop doesn't open until 9, so what's the rush? Breakfast was fine. I was able to get eggs, Canadian bacon, beans, tomatoes, and orange juice. [On later days I was also able to get fried mushrooms.} I walked to the bike shop, getting there a few minutes before they opened. The only bike he had ready was missing the front mud guard (fender in American), but it was a practical "sit up and beg" bike. He said if I came back in the afternoon he could switch it.
I figured first to buy my souvenir umbrella. So off to Smith's on Oxford St. I arrived a few minutes before they opened at 9:30, so I biked around a little bit. He had some expensive Knirps, but I settled for a very lightweight collapsible British one (a Fulton weighing 6.5 ounces). I then wanted to visit a map store. I bicycled around until I found Stanford's on Long Acres Rd. I don't know why I went, there really weren't any maps that I wanted. Having passed Convent Garden I went back and walked around. The British Transport Museum interested me, but on Fridays it didn't open until 11. As it was only 10:30 I skipped it and moved on. My next visit was to be the antique shops on Kings Road and Fulham Road. I saved the best for last: Norman Adams on Hans Road. I chatted with the woman there about biking and my holidays. She suggested I go to Holland to bike. I liked the suggestion. I then biked through Hyde Park and checked if a bike with a front fender was ready. It wasn't. The mechanic had just gotten in. I stopped by my room. Then for another buffet lunch at Mughal. With the Critical Mass ride taking up my evening a large late lunch would have to suffice. Then a nap. After the nap I went back to the bike store. This time Tristan was gone and the woman there knew nothing of a different bike. I would just have to hope that it didn't rain. It was now time to head to Waterloo Bridge. I biked across Oxford Street and down Kingsway. A young woman with green hair and body piercings passed me. I then passed her, and she passed me again. After crossing the bridge I was wondering if she was on her way to the Critical Mass, but she kept on going, while I took a hairpin turn and looped underneath the bridge. Down by the water a crowd was forming. There was a café there and many were eating and drinking. A little after 6:30 some guys started blowing whistles and yelling to pull out. Eventually we did and off we went. A larger crowd than in NYC, possibly 500. Initially no police escort and corking the traffic trying to come into our sides was poor. Often a group would ride ahead, only to see the rest not following and having to bike back to join the others. Sometimes progress was slow. At one point there was an accident, a bike pulled under a car, and people waited until a police escort showed up. Apparently they usually have one, but for some reason we didn't start off with one that night. We biked around many of the famous sights and streets. It was a lovely evening, and with day light savings time already started, it was light for much of the ride, On the ride I learned that Barbara from NYC's Times Up! had been on the ride some months before. Did I know her? I would no doubt recognize her. While we were gathering I did notice that the woman with the green hair had joined us. On the ride I struck up a conversation. It was her first ride, and she didn't know where the start was. I asked her if she was going to join the others for drinks afterwards, and she said yes. Eventually we stopped at a pub near St. Martins. It was 8:45. We had been biking for more than two hours. Longer than NYC bikes for their Critical Mass. I met some people active in the London Cycling Campaign and gave them the Right of Way booklets. I passed out the "Cars Suck" stickers that I brought along. And I chatted with the woman with the green hair. Her name was Rosy. She was a student in costume design for the theatre. She was from Liverpool and was recently back in London. Eventually things broke up. I got back to my room a little before 11. I realized I was hungry, but now being past 11 it was too late. So I went to bed. I set the alarm for 6:15, figuring it would give me plenty of time to make my 7:45 train.
Saturday, March 31, 2001
I got up and made my way down for breakfast. It had rained during the night. It was quite grey, but was drying up now. I had plenty of time. I got to the train station a little before 7:30. The track wasn't even posted yet. Eventually it's posted and a crowd heads for the train. Bike goes in the bike room in the first car. I settle in. At 7:45 the train moves a few feet. Then a fellow gets on the public address system saying there was a problem with the rear power car. At 8:05 they have us move to the 8:15 train. At 8:15 we take off. We get a little west of London and the sun comes out. Do the clouds only hang over London? Not really. We went through patches of clouds and sun. The train passed through some lovely green countrysides.
I go get my bike. I can't find the key! I approach the bike and there is the key in the lock. Oh well. The bike is still there. I decided I would start with Great Pulteney St. I find it. I then bike up to Lansdown Crescent. (Actually I walk up much of the way. The few speed bike can't handle the Bath hills.) The houses are not as grand as what I will find at the Royal Crescent, but the views are better. I then bike down to the Royal Crescent. I go into #1 and learn that had I come here before the Museum of the Building of Bath I could have gotten a discount there, but it doesn't work the other way around. I bike down to Queen Square. I have plenty of time, and I've seen all the musts listed by my newsgroup friend. So I head off to find Prior Park. It's up a steep hill, and the city bike doesn't have a very low low. I walk up. I get the opportunity to use my mother's National Trust card. I walk around the garden. It rains a little, but I had my new umbrella with me. At the end a conversation with a volunteer leads to the suggestion to visit the Holbourne Museum. Not much time left. It closes at 5. The rain has stopped and the pavement is dry. I get there at 25 minutes to, and she lets me in for £2. (Later I see that my #1 Royal Crescent ticket also gave me some discount here.) A very quick tour around finds some Gainsborough paintings, furniture, and a lovely Daniel Quare tall clock. On my way out I ask if there is a shorter way to get to the towpath. I know it's closed, but I can at least bike the portion in Bath. She tells me that is Sydney Garden, which is behind them, I'll find a gate. I find it and bike towards Bradford-on-Avon until I reach the signs saying it's closed. A couple of other cyclists ignore the signs and keep on going. A couple is walking towards me and I strike up a conversation. They live on the canal and are going to Sydney Garden to watch the Flying Scotsman go by. It's a famous coal fired steam locomotive. Her father used to be an engineer on it. They had seen it go by in the morning, and this was its return journey. While waiting for it we meet a fellow. His father was also an engineer, and his father took care of the engine after it was sold for a while to some rich American. One fellow there starts chatting and chatting about his trips to America. Finally the train comes. None of my pictures are very good. The camera has some sequencing feature, but I don't know how to use it. I guess I'll have to learn for the next time. I'm trying to take pictures of an object moving towards me very fast. I walk back to the canal with the original couple. Neither of them are from Bath. He's from Scotland and she's from some small village. We say goodbye and I bike into town and bike around. I find the Grand Parade, which I had not seen before. It's mostly a waterfall. Then I find the Parade Grounds. It's getting past six, so time to get some dinner before the 19:27 train. I had seen Curry Mahal earlier in the day and I had decided then that I would have diner there. But alas they had yoghurt in every single dish, and tinned tomatoes in everything but the tandoor and spinach. He wouldn't show me the ingredient list on the tin (they never will). I leave and head for Bengal Brasserie, another that I had seen during the day. For less money I get a lot more than I had at lunch. I would go back if I was in Bath again. Now there is time to get the train, but not much else. I get to the station 12 minutes before it was due. Then a PA announcement. It was to be late due to mechanical difficulties. First 21, then 18, and finally 24 minutes late. A fellow says they are running their equipment into the ground. Everybody is crowding at the middle of the train. That would be about Coach C, where my reserved ticket is for. But my bike is in Coach A. People tell me it doesn't matter. I sit in Coach A with only a handful of other people.
Sunday, April 1, 2001
I'm slow in getting out of bed. It is pretty hard to find weather on the TV. I make it down for breakfast at 8:15. Peak time in the breakfast room! [I later learn they serve 150 breakfasts a day.] 25 minutes later I'm back in my room. I finally get off around 9:40. I'm bringing with me my Central London bike map and The London Cycle Guide, which has 25 rides in Greater London. I decide to go west. I have a couple bike maps for the west, but didn't bring them from NY. I had figured I wouldn't get so far west. But the guide has maps of rides, so I figured I was okay. I start through Hyde Park and down Exhibition Road. Lined by lovely museums, and ended with the stunning Museum of Natural History. I made my way through side streets to Kings Road. I was planning to cross the Thames at the Putney Bridge. Before crossing I was thinking of biking on the north side of the river, but while biking around Bishop's Park I noticed a green line on my bike map along the other side of the river. I crossed Putney Bridge and biked the south side until I reached Barnes Bridge. I crossed it and was able to follow one of the rides in the guide book (Route 21). It followed the Thames on the north side. I biked through Chiswick. Getting hungry, and I not having seen any Indian restaurants, I decided to stop in a McDonald's. I order two Big Macs (that's four very small patties) with lettuce, tomato and onion. The guy making it asks if I want sauce. No. I want lettuce, tomato and onion. I get the burgers and they have mayonnaise. I take them back and on the second try they get them right. I get back on my bike, go a few blocks, and there are a row of stores. And there was an Indian restaurant! Oh well. At least the McD's was cheap. He only charged me £2.68. An Indian meal, though much bigger, would have been triple that. When I get to Brentford (I think the McD's and Indian restaurant may have been in Brentford) I make some side trips to see the locks. I didn't take the Thames Path along the water, but in hindsight I could have walked it with my bike. When I get to Syon Park I switch to another ride in the guide (Route 12). This ride goes right through the middle of Syon Park. I knew from the ride description that it went past two great houses. The first was Syon House. So I locked up my bike and paid for the garden and house. One of the most opulent houses I've been in, circa 1830. I walk around the grounds and then head off. After the park the ride gets back to the banks of the Thames. It then veers away from the water with a dashed line alongside the water. The sign for this stretch, called Duck's Walk, stated we could cycle it. It was a little shorter, and more scenic (I guess). At Hammersmith I take the ferry across the Thames to Ham House. This was a National Trust property, and I was able to use my mother's card to get in free. In contrast to Syon House this was much, much older. Originally built in 1610, with additions in the late 1670s, when it was the heart of Restoration court life and intrigue. It is the oldest house open, and pretty much all original. Over the years it was either unoccupied, or had elderly residents. It was given to the trust in 1948. Having no central heat it isn't open to the public until about March 31st. Being April 1st I just made it. After Ham House I bike through Ham Common. I was then going to bike through Richmond Park, but it was closed due to foot-and-mouth. It has reindeer that they want to protect. This threw me off the routes and on to the streets that I did not have a map for. The next ride I planned to partially follow (Route 13) was in Wimbledon Common. This would get me into Wimbledon where I was planning a surprise visit with Leigh, the old American friend. Also once I reached Wimbledon Common my Central London bike map would kick in again. With help from passersby I biked through Kingston and reached Kingston Vale, where I was able to pick up Route 13 through Wimbledon Common. Using my bike map I made a little detour to avoid a muddy part. I took Robin Hood Road through the Common. That was all for this route, now I'm dependent on the bike map. Exiting the Common I'm in Wimbledon Village. There is a bike route straight through a park where Rushmere Pond is. It doesn't save me on distance, but keeps me off the road. A mistake. It was muddy, and even going around on the grass put me deep in muddy water. The tires are covered with mud and the front brake doesn't like it. (The back brake is an internal drum brake.) Oh well. I bike down The Grange and Ridgeway. Lovely views. I later learn that these are the most expensive houses there. I find Leigh's house, near the center of Wimbledon. I think I hear noises from the back. I ring the bell. No answer. I ring again. Her husband appears. He recognizes me and is a bit surprised, as he wasn't expecting me. I go in and we spend an hour or more chatting in the back yard. The house is pristine. It was a shell when they bought it. They gutted it and everything is now perfect, plus a couple of small additions. Before leaving I take out my London bike map and we plan a route back to Paddington. I make a couple mistakes along the way, missing turns, but none take me out of my way. We had decided I'd cross Albert Bridge, much prettier than the Battersea Bridge, and as I approached it I saw Battersea Park. I was able to cut through there without going out of my way. Crossing the Albert Bridge I see a sign for the Carlyle House, one of the Trust properties in Central London. Maybe I can make it back tomorrow? I retrace my route up Exhibition Road, through Hyde Park, and I'm back at my hotel with daylight to spare. I put the bike in the sidewalk vault and walk over to Mughal for dinner. A bit more expensive than the menu in the window--that must be a lunch one--but I stay anyway. It comes to £12.20, without a service charge. I leave £14. It's now 8:50. Too early for bed, and my day's notes were done while waiting for dinner. So off I went to Fountain Abbey. There was a group of young women, and a fellow, that I was noticing. After the place closed, early being Sunday, they got ahead of me. When I get back to the hotel I find they were also guests there. Had I known I would have had an excuse to start up a conversation. (I later learn that they are part of a group of two dozen German students on spring break. All women and one guy. From a translation school that has been sending a new group to London each spring for 15 years.)
Monday, April 2, 2001
I get going earlier today and I'm off a little after 8:30. As I was starting I realized I had forgotten my helmet. Being nicer to ride without it I decided to keep on going. The woman at the hotel had suggested going up to Hampstead. The book has a route for there. On my way I head to Regent's Park. That ride (Route 1) has one circling the park. I saw others cycling in the park, so I did also. I decided to check out Queen Mary's gardens. I locked up the bike and walked around. The roses were just beginning to get their leaves. There were lots and lots of them! The gardens were in perfect maintenance. The British certainly are willing to spend money on parks, in contrast to New Yorkers. Needing to head north I cycled up the Broadwalk, past the zoo. Exiting the park I crossed the Regent's Canal. I decided to take it west. I took it until I came to a tunnel and had to exit. Pulling out my map I found myself on Lisson Grove. I planned a route on my bike map that would get me to the Hampstead ride. It took me up Grove End Road, Loudoun Road, Fairfax Road, College Crescent, Belize Lane, Lyndhurst Gardens, Eldon Road, Thurlow Road, and Downshire Hill. At the end of Downshire Hill I was able to pick up Route 10, as it entered Hampshire Heath. I followed the cycle path clockwise for a while. All along I could see this large building looming over the park. So I asked a fellow what it was. He said the building was flats, and illegal, as it was encroaching on the park. We ended up chatting for a while. We talked about the Caribbean and the route I was planning to take. He wasn't aware of the abandoned rail right-of-way that I was planning to ride, and he lived there. He suggested I visit Fenton House, one of the Trust properties, as it was only a short detour from my route. I found it, but it was closed on Mondays. Back on the route I took West Heath Road and the Sandy Cycle Path around West Heath. The route in the book has one taking North End Way and Spaniards Road. It seemed shorter to take some residential streets and then walk my bike on a footpath. So I took Hampstead Way, Wildwood Road, and the footpath to get to Spaniards Road. That turns into Hampstead Lane. I passed Kenwood, which looked like another park. Later, when eating lunch I was reading the commentary for Route 10 and it said that Kenwood House has an art gallery worth visiting. Had I realized this I would have stopped in and paid (it wasn't a Trust property). I continued circling Hampstead Heath until I turned off on North Road, then Southwood Lane, then Jackson's Lane, and a little of Holmsdale Road, to get to the start of the rail track, called Parkland Walk. It had a slight downgrade and went over bridges and through tunnels. A bit muddy. They'll have to wash the wheels after I take the bike back. At the end of the walk I was a foot bridge away from Finsbury Park. I crossed over and checked out the park. Nothing special. I went back to the route and took Oxford Road and then Tollington Park. Reaching Stroud Green Road I looked around and asked for an Indian restaurant. I found a fast food one. I stuffed myself and went through the routes. I decided to leave Route 10 and pick up the start of Route 2, which was in Camden Locks. This would take me off the maps a little bit until the Central London map kicked in. I pieced it together and headed down Stroud Green Road. After Seven Sisters I walked across some one way streets and picked up St. Thomas's Road, then Gillespie, then Drayton Park, MacKenzie Road, Market Road, York Way, Agar Grove, and Randolph's. The one way streets were confusing me. But I was next to an entrance to the canal. What a perfect way to get to Camden Locks! So, that is the way I went. At Camden Locks there is a market. Quiet now, not a weekend, but lots and lots of people selling crafts and related things, like books. This was the start of Route 2. It takes one down Arlington Road, Mornington Crescent, Hampstead Road, Gower Street, and Bloomsbury Street. Passing Bedford Square I biked around it. Lined with 18 century row houses. When reaching Shaftesbury I switched to Route 1. This took me down Haymarket, and then Pall Mall. I missed the turn on Regent Street, but this gave me an opportunity to bike around James Square. As directed I carried my bike down the steps to The Mall. I then went down Horse Guards Road, with a detour through the Horse Guards Parade to Whitehall Street. Then across Birdcage walk to Buckingham Palace. While taking a picture there a fellow asked if my camera was a 950 or 990. He had a 950 for two weeks and he didn't know how to change the picture size setting. Could I help him? I showed him how. He had a 64MB card, but as he was taking them at Normal each was taking up 5.5MB! He had already used up the card. I biked the cycle path in James Park along Constitution Hill, then returned to Buckingham Palace. That was a better place to leave the route and head towards Carlyle House. I tried following some cycle routes on the cycle map, Buckingham Gate, Artillery Row, Greycoat Place, Horseferry Road, Marsham Street, John Islip, but then I lost track and ended up on Grosvenor Road, which runs along the Thames. I knew this would get me right to the Carlyle House. I got there and found it closed. Like the Fenton House it was not open on Monday or Tuesday. It was beginning to rain, so I quickly biked back to my room, following the same route I used to get back the day before. I got a bit damp, but the roads were still dry enough that I wasn't splattered from not having a front fender. I got the helmet and walked and rode the bike back to the store. I walked back to the room, rested a little watching the news. I wasn't yet hungry, it was a big lunch, so I walked around for an hour, then got my maps, pad, and pencil to take my notes at dinner. I went back to the Malaysian restaurant to try something different. I wrote my notes until all the tables were full and another couple entered. I finished the page I was working on at a front counter, but then I was out of paper. So back to the room for more paper. It was now raining steadily. I got a little wet. While getting my keys one of the older desk guys asked me where my bike was. I told him it was a hired bike and I had returned it. He asked me how much, I replied £20 for a long weekend, from Friday morning to Monday afternoon. He said for that I could have gotten a transit pass. To go to all the places I'd been? Yes he said. I just left. He wouldn't understand the flexibility of a bike. I caught up with my notes in my room. Now 9 PM. Too early for bed. So I head to Fountain Abbey for a cider, with my new umbrella. It is so small and lightweight that at the pub I was able to stick it in my back pants pocket. Some of the German students are there. Some are in another nearby pub. And others elsewhere. Then early to bed.